Just Keep Going

“Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live.”
-- Norman Cousins

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Midas Is King, and He Holds Me So Tight (He Turns Me To Gold In The Sunlight)

Bless me, Blogger, for I have sinned.
It has been - oh, I could do the math, but let's just say it's been a long, long time since my last confession. Since then, I've... done stuff, you know.
My partner and I are doing better than I think we ever have in our relationship. In the rather stormy seas of circumstance which we are currently sailing, it's one one bright light, the one constant and true thing to which both of us can cling. Oh, we've had our setbacks, who hasn't? I think the current trough we're in has got to be our lowest, financially and materially, and it's worrying, but... Like he said to me just the other day, 'Even if we end up homeless I know I'll be okay if you're there with me.' Isn't he the greatest? I think I'd be dead a dozen times over if it weren't for him.
But that's not the kind of thing you want to hear, is it? Everybody wants the gory stuff nowadays, the stuff that used to make us horribly uncomfortable and now seems so exciting. So:
I have fallen into what is possibly the worst sin of all, I think: I have rejected the world and tried to exist without it, even though we're in it for such a short time. I've broken so, so many relationships without any real reason other than my angry pride and stiff neck. Plus I've made my partner shoulder more of the burden than he should have to carry when he was already carrying so many heavy weights of his own. I am living in an exile of my own choosing rather than fighting what I know in my heart is the only good fight left. Those are my sins, and I carry them like a stain on my face every day, a visible mark of Cain that turns every brother's hand against me.
Disappointing, you say? If I am to be honest, and I guess that's the point of this, I'd have to agree. Bitter, disillusioned? Like a teenager all over again. I was never very good at making the right choices, and lately I've just thrown up my hands and refused to choose at all. And no, it's really not working out for me.
I suppose I could try to justify myself; the arguments sound good to me, however bad they taste in my mouth. But I'm not going to do that. I didn't come here to get my feelings validated or be granted absolution. I don't believe in absolution. We're all guilty, every day, and me more than most.
I came here to tell you something instead.
In the depths of my despair, I've started writing again. It's been awhile, and what I'm writing is in all objective probability utter trash. But I'm doing it. I've written the whole first act, I'm into the second and I know sort of how I want it to end. I'm not going to tell you about it, not the slightest little bit. Like I said, it's most likely crap. I'm just going to keep on doing it. Maybe it will lead to another, and another, and each of them will get a little better. I don't know. What I hope - and I'll tell you this freely - is that someday it might lead to a place where you'd see my smiling face again, all time.
We'll see.
In the meantime, it's been good to be here. Good to think of you, out there, thinking of me. Most of modern life is a relentless shower of watery bullshit - because nobody even does real bullshit any more, they fake that too - but this internet thingy here, it can be really neat sometimes. Plus the porn's not bad, either - but I digress! I was trying to express my wry holiday wishes, even though the holidays are a moneygrab that profits nobody who deserves it. It's the feelings that count, and I hope you have a wonderful holiday with your loved ones. As long as I'm with my guy, I know I will too.
So, Goodbye and best wishes... For now.

Title Lyric From "Rabbit Heart" by Florence and the Machine

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Maybe There's A God Above

I wanted to go out to the market this morning. Chimelle usually does all of that for us, the shopping and whatnot, but I wanted to go to the market myself. I'd've gone with her if she was home, but she was seeing her friend at the baths; she can't be underfoot all the time, I want her to have a life. There was just no chocolate in the entire house, and I was restless, so I put on my coat with the big hood and went out.
I left from the little servant's door in the back of the temple, and I kept my hood pulled all around my face as I walked up the alley to the street. I was sure nobody had seen me. I just wanted to buy some chocolate and listen to the guitar players that congregate in the Mullioned Court, nothing so big. I walked slowly, enjoying the cold winter air and the way the white snow softened all of the hard stone surfaces of the city, the way it glossed over the dirt from a million chimneys and the painted boastings of ten thousand juvenile taggers. It was snowing as I walked; I put my hood back, feeling the snowflakes on my heated cheeks, and that was probably my mistake.
"Oh sir," the woman said to me, and I paused for her. She stood in the little recess between two row houses, an hemi-octagonal space of walls and windows and holiday decorations. She was thin, and dark of skin, hair and eye. She looked at my feet as she spoke, and that only softly, so that I had to strain to catch her words. "Please," she said to me, "Sir," she said. "Let me but touch the hem of your garment."
She looked up at me then, and I knew my mistake. She knew me. She could have spoken my name. There are so many people who want my help, so many who could but with a little bit of effort raise themselves higher than they ask me to elevate them. They are a constant weight upon me, thronging my temples, tugging at my sleeves, always asking. 'Please,' they say. 'I am unworthy, but if you would only...' Their pleas are heartbreaking, and constant, and more numerous than all the waves on all the shores of all the human worlds at once. How am I to answer them all in the flesh? When I stand outside the Multiverse, looking down on the human worlds from a place where there is no time, I could help them all... But I will not. I know (in that place, which is not a place) that there is no end to their pleas, that in the end I would live their lives for them if they could only impel me to do so.
But incarnate, I am weak.
"What is it that you want from me?" I asked, bracing myself. It's always more horrible than you imagine.
She swallowed several times, and I saw that she was reaching some internal compromise with herself, that she was reasoning with herself in order to sound more reasonable to me. "My Lord," she said, and swallowed again. "My Lord, please." And she caught the collar of her dress in one of her bone thin hands. With one motion she tore the bodice half away, revealing her breasts in their corset. "Lie with me, my Lord. They say you dwell in the body of a human man - come, let me give you the gift of the flesh, so that you cannot deny me." She wiped feverishly at her face, at her forehead. "Please, my Lord. I will do anything that you desire of a woman. I will-"
"Why do you desire my help?" I said, not wanting to hear what despicable acts she would willingly commit herself. "What is it that you want!"
She looked at me, searching my face, her lips working as she sorted through her words, her forehead furrowed with a heavy crop of pain and yearning. "My daughter," she finally said. "She-" but the words stuck in her throat, and the tears welled in her eyes, so that she could not go on. "She...! Oh," she gasped.
I closed my eyes, and laid my hand on her head. Immediately I saw her daughter lying in her narrow child's bed, almost dead of an ailment any competent physician could have diagnosed and healed. I could feel the child's shallow pulse, and her mother's agony over it; I could smell the infection that tainted her immature blood on her breath, and count the ceaseless nights her mother had spent bathing her forehead with a cool cloth, praying for the fever to break. But it would not; the organisms multiplying in her cells and bloodstream had won their battles, and she would die, probably this night.
I sighed heavily, and took my hand from her mother.
"Go home, woman," I told her roughly. I could see others watching, realizing who it was that this woman of the streets had accosted. "Go to your daughter. She will need you now."
I saw hope dawning on her face, and hated her for it. She could not see the future, or how much better it might have been for that little girl to have died before reaching the age of majority, or the sins she would commit as a woman against all of humanity. Even if she could have seen as I did, she most likely would have done the same. Such is a mother's love.
"Cover yourself," I said, indicating her half-bared breasts. "Go home to her." I looked around. Others were converging on us, the sick, the poor, the halt and the lame. Always they are with us.
No sense in pretending now, I told myself, and holding up my palms to the sky I rose into the air. They fell to their knees and worshiped me, and in my guilt over running from them I healed all of them that had ailments amenable to remediation. Why not? For what other reason am I God?
But I went back to the temple and sulked in my rooms until Chimelle came and asked if I wanted anything from the market, whereupon I irritatedly gave her my list and sent her on her way with short words.
I regret it, but then, regret is the legacy of humanity. To be human is to know guilt, and after all I could just be God, everlasting, immanent and immaterial without resorting to this whole messy incarnation business. I chose what I chose... And so be it.

Title lyric from "Hallelujah" by John Cale.



Tuesday, December 15, 2009

This Is Your Promised Land

All my life I lived with my grandmother in her trailer, and we traveled with the carnival.
My grandmother was tiny and wizened, her shrunken face all giant liquid black eyes and expressive little china-doll's mouth with a tiny little button nose bumped up between them. She had a braid of snow-white hair so long she could sit on it, and a whole collection of wonderful pins with jewels and colored stones and little statues on the ends that she stuck through the braid while she was in the tent. She told fortunes, of course. Her stage name was Cassandra Envenimer, and old John who was her barker said it all French and mysterious.
She was very good at telling fortunes.
She used cards, sure, but she also used a leather sack full of flat stones, each with a funny pointy letter scratched in it - roons, she called them. She had another sort of leather canister with weird twisted sticks in it too, and every once in awhile she'd cast those and study them too. She told me that all of the world was a pattern, and that you could see the big pattern that changed only slowly in the little patterns that change all the time. She said it was like seeing the sky in a mud puddle - if you knew how to read them, the ripples told you what was going on around it, and the shapes of the clouds told you things too. I didn't understand much of that. She also told me that my father was no good, a confidence man, and that he would undoubtedly take anybody handy along with him when his terrible fortune called in its due. That I understood quite clearly.
Still, the carnival didn't satisfy me very much. The children changed from day to day, so I could never make a friendship that lasted. My grandmother was always trying to teach me to read the cards, but I had no talent for it. What I could do quite easily was to make a candle go out, or light if it was already out; to shut a door without touching it; to make a feather dance under my fingertip as if caught in a breeze. Grandmother said I must never let anyone see me doing that sort of trick. For that, she said, the marks would not pay; instead, they would come with torches and burn you to death. I understood that quite clearly too, and did my best to appear as approximately normal as my limited contact with the marks would allow.

Title lyric from "Tyranny" by the Stabilizers.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

When I Was Not So Strong, You Know

I tried the trick that my father had shown me a few weeks later.
I needed money, and my mother wouldn't give me any. All the kids from the regular high school were going to the dance, so of course I wanted to go too.
I went down to the drugstore where I girl I knew slightly from the neighborhood worked a cash register. She was in there leaning on the counter, buffing her nails and cracking her gum just like every girl that age I've ever known. I figured she'd be easier to push than a stranger. I went up with a couple candy bars and a two liter of pop and bravely handed her my dollar bill with trembling hands. I'd spent hours looking at pictures of real hundred dollar bills, I'd spent even more hours practicing, visualizing the dollar as a hundred. Still, when I looked in her eyes, I understood finally that all of that had been for nothing.
I understood that it really was a push, just as easy as reaching out and giving her a shove with my hands. Just as easy, and just as mean.
"Hey big spender," she said, still looking uncertainly at me. "Don't you got anything smaller?"
I remembered to pat my pockets just like my father had done. "Nope. Sorry."
I watched her count out the change: ninety six dollars and thirty one cents.
"Have a nice day," she said, and looked at me. Looked at me again. So I pushed her once more.
Don't remember.
I went to the dance that night, and with over ninety bucks I can tell you I had a pretty good time. It was probably two or three days later that I saw that girl sitting on her porch with red eyes when she ought to have been at work, and of course I knew. I knew that she'd been fired, that it had been because of me, and most of all that she couldn't even have told on me to save herself... Because she didn't even remember.
So I could do it too. Just as well as my old man. Maybe better. The part where, unless I was so careful, I'd hurt somebody every time I used it... I had to learn that part all by myself. He left it out when he took me to the movies.
That was when I started to realize, though, that there were other things I could do, too. Things I could do better than push people into making mistakes or believing things that weren't true.
Some of those things would have even more painful consequences than seeing the pain I wrought that very first time.
Probably because it didn't stop me.

Title lyric from "Magic Man" by Heart.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Never Seen Eyes So Blue

This is how my father made his living:

He took me to one of those almost-restaurant/nearly-ice cream parlor deals down by the highway. “Order whatever you want,” he told me affably. Given the liberty, I ordered a huge banana split. I remember that he had a big milkshake of some offbeat flavor, like coffee or butterscotch. Something very grownup, I remember that. The bill probably came to four or five dollars, most of it for my huge split; I saw him passing a dollar bill over and was instantly, utterly mortified, before the girl at the counter – Hi, I’m Diane! Her nametag said – had even realized, before he’d begun the apology that I could already half-hear in my head.

I saw her frown at the dollar, just as I expected. Then she said, “Don’t you have anything smaller?”

My father patted his pockets with an apologetic smile. “All I’ve got, I’m afraid,” he said. So she just nodded and counted out his change, ninety three dollars and seventeen cents; I’d been wrong, the bill had been over six dollars. Six dollars and eighty seven cents, apparently.

As we walked back to the car, I waited to be out of earshot and then said in a low, accusing tone, “I saw what you did.”

“Did you now?” my father said blandly, and unlocked the car for me. I got in, barely keeping my huge plastic platter of ice cream steady.

“Yes, I did. You gave her a dollar and she gave you change for a hundred dollar bill.” I waited for him to argue with me; I knew what I’d seen, the single “1” had been too plain to me. I wasn’t wrong.

But he didn’t argue. He just started the car. “If you say so, kiddo.” He took a minute to suck up an absolutely brain-freezing amount of his milkshake before sliding us out into traffic. Humming vaguely, he drove us down the street to the gas station.

He’d driven past three gas stations on the way to the ice cream store. Why? Because he hadn’t had any money. Now he did – the money he’d somehow tricked the girl at the ice cream place into giving him.

“Why are you stopping for gas here?” I asked as innocently as possible. “It was cheaper at the three places on the WAY to the ice cream shop, you know.”

“Was it?” He was plainly only half listening. “I’ll have to pay better attention next time.” He got out and pumped his gas. He’d left his wallet on the car seat; he was always doing that, probably because he had to make sure all the bills faced in the same direction before he put them away. I waited for him to come back for it so he could pay for the gas – I was surprised that he’d gotten any, since all the places I’d ever had to wait in made you pay for the gas up front.

Instead, he came out with another handful of money, patting his pockets. “Ah, THERE’S my wallet,” he said gratefully, and sorted the handful he’d gotten from the gas station into the bill fold.

“Looks like you only took them for fifty,” I said, again as innocent as a lamb.

“On top of the full tank of gas,” he replied archly, and for a minute I knew I had his full attention. “Don’t knock it til you’ve tried it, kiddo. You never know when you’ll be in a pinch and the most convenient way out isn’t always the most noble one.” He nodded decisively and drove us out of the gas station. “So, you wanna go see a movie?”

He got us into the movie for free, too.


Title lyric from "Magic Man" by Heart.


Monday, September 21, 2009

You Don't Know Me At All

See, there's this guy. Close your eyes and try to see him if you can.
It won't be easy: he's nondescript, physically average in almost every way. He's about six feet tall, but the way he holds his shoulders when he stands, very square, and the straight-backed way he walks makes him appear taller. People think that he's taller, anyway. You'd have to look at him closely to realize that he's not, and nobody does that very much. Maybe it's his coloring; his neutral-colored hair which fails to be definitively blond or brown, or the not-ethnic but not-alabaster tone of his skin. It could be his voice, not deep or high tenor but decidedly unmusical, almost hoarse. When he speaks his words have that embarrassing quality of one's own recorded voice. Perhaps it has more to do with his manner, which is quietly assured without being confident or aggressive. Whatever it is, he is utterly forgettable. Try to remember him and he fades like a dream upon waking. Most people don't even look at him even as they're interacting with him. They've already pasted a mental image of someone they already know over him based on some slight resemblance. Ask them to describe him later and they'll find themselves describing the person he reminds them of instead. This is our hero.
In that awkward time of year when summer should be over but refuses to go and let autumn take the stage, this man is walking down the street in a large midwest city. His scuffed and beaten sneakers, once very expensive, occasionally drag and grate against the concrete of the sidewalk. He is not graceful, but he does not stumble or fall. If he were to pass by someone known to him they might greet him, thereby giving us his name, but nobody knows him here. He is not out for exercise but rather has his own mission, which presently leads him (and us) to a large brick building, once a factory, that now marks the edge of a pocket of extreme urban decay in a sea of otherwise unremarkable suburbs. This area was once full of industrious activity, back when steel was king of this city. Now it is the home of those who make their living and economy outside the legally drawn limits. This is where his mission takes him, and so we must follow.
Across the street from the brick building stands an even larger abandoned factory. In its recessed doorway lounge several young men who are clearly up to no good, and might not even recognize a good motive were it presented to them. They stir and stiffen as the man approaches, and when he has drawn close enough, the tallest and thinnest of the three speaks.
"Hey mister," he says with mock civility, "You got a cigarette you could spare me?"
The nondescript man's cheeks hollow briefly; this, you see, is how he smiles. "Smoking is bad for you," he says, and suddenly all three youths are standing at alert.
"You a cop?" One of the other boys asks, but the tall one tells him to shut up.
"I'm not, in fact, a policeman," the plain man tells them. "I'm just a guy. I'm looking for someone you might have seen recently."
"Yeah?" The lead boy has gathered his meager courage enough to sound aggressive. "What's that to us?"
The man reaches slowly into his pocket and extracts a picture. It's a Christmas scene, the decorated tree clear in the background. In the foreground stands the plain man with his arm around another, younger man. "I need to find him very badly," the plain man says, indicating the younger man in the picture. "If you can help me, I can help you." His hand dips again into his pocket and comes up with a baggie knotted at the corner to contain a white substance. "What do you say?"
The three boys gather around and study the picture. "Holy cow!" One whispers, and the plain man and his two compatriots regard him with interest. "That's the guy who's staying with Arnie," the exclaimer mutters. "I seen him there this morning."
"Arnie's the one who lives over the Coach and Four bar on Triskett street?" the plain man asks pleasantly, but in such a way that they know he's already sure he's right.
The leader once again tells his subordinate to shut up. "Arnie ain't gonna like that, y'know," he tells the exclaimer. "You telling people his business and all."
"Why not let me worry about that?" the plain man suggests, and tosses the baggie up in the air. The lead boy snatches it so quickly that it seems to have vanished by magic. "Thanks for your help, gentlemen," he says, and turns back in the direction he came from.
Watching him go, the youngest of the boys, silent up til now, says: "Think we oughta try to roll him?"
"Nope," the leader says decisively. "That dude's packing, I'll bet you money. Besides," he tosses the baggie up in the air himself and catches it again, "we got better things to do."
A moment later, the deserted doorway is once again vacant and undisturbed.

Title lyric from "You Don't Know Me" by Ben Folds Five (featuring Regina Spektor)


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Saturday, September 19, 2009

I Got Too Much Life, Flowing Through My Veins, Going To Waste

Sometimes it's really hard to write.
Not that it's hard to parse reality into words; I can't seem to stop doing that most of the time, even when I try. My mind just ticks on and on, always trying to more accurately and deftly capture my experience in those funny verbal/text signals we call language.
No, my trouble lies somewhere else.
In every story, there's this point. You start out in the same way every time: there's this place, there's this person or people, this is the situation those people or that place exist inside. Here they are, now care about them. That's all well and good. It's the point where we shift from the general to the particular that the trouble slips in. This is who they are, this is where they are... and now, this is what happens. As a writer, you have to believe in what happens to your characters. Your situation has to evolve in way that is natural and symmetrical to you - but the catch is, it has to seem real and natural enough to someone reading that they believe it too. It's that point, where the description of who and where ends and what happens next begins, that the devil enters through the details.
I really love to write. It actually feels good to slip into another reality, even one confined entirely within your head. I have become a better writer just by constantly trying to better grasp and convey what I see and hear; but now, I want to overcome that biggest hurdle of all. I want to write what others will not only want to read, but to return to again and again. I want to write the words that will make people angry, make people laugh, make them sad... Maybe even weep for joy. I know it's a lot to want. So many people try and fail; a lot of people - not so brave, but maybe wise - would say that it's better never to try at all.
But I'm going to try anyway. What have I got to lose? My time is short enough, I want to do all I can with it.
So here goes....

Title lyric from "Feel" by Robbie Williams.