Sunday, October 31, 2010

Mischief Night

He’d had enough. After years of toilet paper in trees and eggs smashed on the walkway and bags of flaming dog poop he had finally hit his limit. Apparently his live and let live philosophy wasn’t enough for these maggots. He knew what they wanted, they’d told him in their lists of demands. It all boiled down to the same damned thing: candy.
He couldn’t understand why he was obligated to provide candy to people he had no relation to, no interest in and who had never done anything for him. Because of some archaic ritual that, like so many others celebrated every year, had altered so much from its original form as to be unrecognizable. It was a poor excuse to hold someone’s house ransom.
It had taken him a long time to figure out how he was going to get back at them. The neighborhood kids weren’t terribly original with their ideas for torment and he wanted, if at all possible, to prove his chicanery superior to theirs.
In the end had actually been one of the neighborhood bullies that gave him the idea after he’d observed him pelt a friend of his with small balls filled with paint shot at high velocity from a gun. A small amount of research led him to uncover that this device was called a paintball gun, apparently from an entire “sport” based on the idea of reliving epic battles without fear of death. This ‘sport’ was apparently so popular that there was a supply store not too far from him.
So he went, he invested far more than he ever would have if he weren’t driven by revenge, and he purchased himself a small but high powered paintball gun. He had guestimated the size limitations looking at the rifle before purchasing it and was delighted to find that standard sized sour balls would fit perfectly. As he loaded up his gun that Halloween morn he happily thought to himself ‘If it’s candy they want, it’s candy they’ll get!”

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Autopsy

The medical examiner had experienced rather large productions over autopsy results before. When the waiting room was filled with detectives on a high profile homicide there’d been quite a lot of pressure to get the results quickly. Or when the mayor’s daughter died suddenly and his advisors were eager to pin it on a political rival. Or when a somewhat famous soap opera star was found face down in his Jacuzzi in the mountains nearby while on vacation. So having to do a detailed autopsy in a pinch was something he was used to.
But in all his years Dr. Stroud had never seen anything quite like the scene waiting for him now. The room was literally bursting with people, all desperately eager to get the results of Mrs. Moyer’s autopsy. What was unusual about her death wasn’t the fact that it had been caused (or so everyone feared) by the sudden reappearance of her late husband while she and the rest of the family were burying him. No, post mortem mobility had become common place for reasons his better paid colleagues were still trying to uncover. What was strange about Mrs. Moyer’s case was the fact that there had been so many precautions against exactly the thing that had happened.
First, there was the undertaker who had charged for the “safe service” wherein the brain is removed so that motor reflexes are cut off at the source. An earlier autopsy of Mr. Moyer’s body had revealed that the undertaker had missed this critical step. In some ways he was already screwed, but would be much more so if Mrs. Moyer’s autopsy revealed that the undertaker’s careless mistake had lead to her untimely death.
Next there were the inventors of the “Rest in Peace” coffin which was designed to destroy the brain-body connection via removal of the head through a special mechanism inside designed to go off upon closure of the lid. Why open casket viewings were still so popular he would never understand, especially with the risk of the dearly deceased climbing out in the middle or services. But it wasn’t his money. At any rate, Mr. Moyer had appeared in the examining room with head and brain intact, thus it would seem the patent-pending system might still have a few kinks to work out.
Last were the family members of Mr. and Mrs. Moyer who, although appearing genuinely distressed, would have the most to gain from the findings that Mr. Moyer’s rise had directly lead to Mrs. Moyer’s death. They had made the biggest scene when he’d poked his head in earlier, especially the one daughter who insisted on caterwauling throughout the ordeal. He couldn’t help but notice that she quieted significantly when he saw her alone in the hallway during his water break and he suspected that her waterworks were less genuine than staged.
All in all, there was a lot riding on this case and Dr. Stroud was working quickly to reach a conclusion. In spite of the obvious- the fact that seeing one’s late husband bursting out of their coffin in the middle of the funeral and shambling over towards you could make just about anyone’s heart stop from sheer terror- there was much more to be considered. And it was important to be absolutely, 100% sure when the results would almost definitely be used in several legal cases.
So in addition to fully examining the organs Dr. Stroud had also insisted on doing a toxicology screening of the old woman, even though everyone in the family had said that would needlessly delay the results. But it was partially their desire to be done with everything so quickly that had convinced him that this step should not be skipped. So the family, the inventors and the poor, desperately tired looking undertaker had sat in the waiting room for what was now going on 20 hours and waited.
When he had the report in his hand he raised an eyebrow at the findings. Even he had to admit he hadn’t seen it coming, although it did explain the abnormal deterioration of the woman’s heart. He stood up from his desk, took a deep breath, and made his way to the waiting mass.
When he pushed through the double doors a quiet fell over the entire crowd. The obnoxious daughter stopped her crying instantly and looked on with wide eyes. The tired undertaker looked as though he was holding his breath. The inventor and his wife sat there wringing their hands. And the t.v. in the corner blared on it’s endless advertisements, taking no notice of the proceedings. He picked up the remote nearby and switched it off.
“Eh- ehm,” he made a sound clearing his throat. “I have the toxicology report here and it has validated my findings from the physical examination.”
“Well, what does it say?” this from the daughter who seemed to be spilling out of her seat with anticipation.
“Well, the ultimate cause of death was heart failure which-“
“See? See, it was fear!” the daughter interrupted him. “Fright killed my mother, that’s right! You hear that, you bastards? You’re going to pay for making such shoddy merchandise and for having such horrible service!”
“Excuse me, ma’am- I wasn’t finished,” he interjected.
“Oh, oh- I’m so sorry. Please continue,” she said in an obviously fake sweet tone.
“As I was saying, the ultimate cause was heart failure but what seemed unusual about the case since the moment I opened the body cavity was the fact that her heart was in such bad condition.”
“Why is that surprising? She was 87,” came a small voice which belonged to one of the elder grandchildren.
“Well, her heart was in bad condition for an 87 year-old. Actually, her heart was in bad condition for any year-old. It’s rather miraculous she hadn’t had heart problems earlier. At any rate, the toxicology report exclaimed this abnormal deterioration.”
“How?” this from the undertaker who had turned whiter than the walls he stood in front of.
“It returned with large amounts of methamphetamine,” he said and then was still, waiting for it to sink in.
“Wait, you mean speed?” came a question from the inventor.
“Uh, yes- speed, crank, however it’s referred to nowadays.”
“Well, what does that mean? I mean did that cause her to get so frightened that when she saw my father get up she died?” the daughter asked. There was a confused, yet hopeful tone in her voice.
“Uh, no. Actually it means that the drug- not the fear- caused her heart to stop.”
“Wait, so the zom- er, post mortem mobility wasn’t the cause?” again, the inventor.
“Not directly, no.”
Silence fell over the room as the point sank in on each face. The youngest grandchild was the first to break the quiet.
“Huh. Who knew granny was a meth head?”

Friday, October 29, 2010

Duh

He was dead, I was sure of it. There’s no human being on the planet capable of surviving every shot in a full revolver. I knew I got him at least twice in the chest- I’d seen him jolt when they hit. And one of them must have gotten him in the leg because a dark, thick liquid was steadily making its way down his shin before he’d crumpled to the ground. Carefully I tiptoed closer and found the guarantee I was looking for: a large dark puddle forming around his head and thicker chunks of what must have been brain goo.
I forced myself to release the breath I was holding, but I still felt unsettled. I stood there in the dark, looking down at the form, wondering what was underneath that damned mask and reassuring myself that I’d chucked the machete far enough that he couldn’t suddenly jump up and grab it.
What was I thinking? Jump up? There’s freakin’ brain bits seeping out of his skull! He’s dead! It’s over!
But there was this choking sensation in my throat or chest or wherever that I couldn’t breathe past. This trepidation that I couldn’t shake. Every fiber of my intelligent mind where logical and rational thought ruled was telling me to calm down, to slow down my pulse before I had a heart attack. But the insistent pounding of my heart against my rib cage told me that my logical brain did not know the full story, that there was still cause for fear.
I took a step back, suddenly feeling faint from the massive blood pressure. Just then his hand shot up, grabbed me by the neck, and started to lift me off the ground. I hadn’t seen him stand up, hadn’t seen him move! I pulled the trigger of my gun and it clicked empty. I kept clicking at his chest futilely and screaming at myself in my head. What the hell! He’s dead! He’s dead!
The last thing I heard before the darkness blacked out my vision was an inhumanely deep voice coming out of a throat that sounded like it had been torn open:
“What? You never watch a horror movie?”

Thursday, October 28, 2010

A Clarification of Semantics

Given the responses I got from yesterday’s post I feel the need to clarify my meaning. And today’s word of the day just happens to lend itself perfectly to the task.

When I spoke about life sucking and letting go of Hope for it getting better I was speaking mainly of my job. You all know this already because I’ve been kvetching about my job situation virtually non-stop since I was hired six months ago. Most of you are pretty damned sick of hearing about it, and I’m right there with you.

What I mean when I talk about letting go of Hope is letting go of the notion that something- be it a crappy job, a bad relationship (which thankfully I have none of in my personal life) or a bad personal habit will improve when you have no evidence to back this up. Hope, in this context, is destructive. It prevents one from focusing on the problem or working on fixing it because it keeps your focus on the future and that imaginary hope of things being better in that future.

Hope in this sense is very different than the context it is often used in when speaking casually. I.E. “I hope it stops raining this weekend.” This use of the word is perfectly appropriate because you have evidence to base it on: It was sunny before, it has gone from sunny to raining and back again in the past, there is good reason to believe that this current episode of rain will end and it will return to being sunny. That kind of Hope is perfectly appropriate.

Hope in the context that I’ve been using it in is not appropriate. My job did not become crappy after being good for a while. It was crappy from the beginning and for many months I hoped that it would improve. This was not a wise choice as I had no evidence on which to base the belief that it could improve other than a misguided faith that nothing could actually be that laughably bad. That’s the kind of hope that I need less of in my life.

For the majority of my adult life I’ve been experiencing things- events, people, what have you- that have made me think “Well, it can’t actually be all that bad.” Or “he can’t be that much of an asshole.” Or “they can’t really be that stupid, right?” The answer, unanimously, is “Yes, actually it/he/that can.” And hoping for whatever it happens to be to improve when everything you’ve ever experienced has taught you that it really is that bad is a crappy plan.

It is in cases like these that hope is destructive. Because hope, in these cases, keeps one in a perpetual state of denial. “It can’t really be that bad” leaves one waiting, anticipating and hoping for some future improvement that you have no factual reason to believe will occur. And waiting is inaction. Inaction breeds stagnancy, bitterness, cynicism- basically all the things I have become by hoping.

So, if I abandon hope and accept that things are really that bad then I can focus not on some future which most likely will never come, but on the present. And specifically on what I can do in the present to bring about a positive change for myself. For example: my job. If I accept that it will not improve I will have more energy to focus on getting the hell out of it.

And in the meantime, if I accept that it will not improve then I can stop giving a useless status update to those who care about me. Instead of answering “Nope, it still sucks.” And kvetching about how much it sucks I can instead focus my attention on the things that are good in life.

This is what made me think of Wemmick. Wemmick was one of the most miserable bastards you could ever hope not to meet when the main character first encountered him. We later learned that this was because he had to be in order to remain sane in such a cruel job. But outside the office in his personal life he was one of the most jovial people you’d ever stumble into and he made it pleasant to be around him. (He lived in a castle with a moat, for pete’s sake! That’s awesome!)

In this respect, I want to be Wemmick: my job can be crappy all day, everyday. But instead of coming home and complaining about how utterly miserable it makes me to everyone around me I need to focus on the rest of my life. My relationships, after all, are pretty great. My hobbies are pretty bad ass. My favorite holiday is coming up. These are things I should be talking about and focusing on. Happy, giddy Bev outside of work. Stone cold, no crap Bev inside of work, to survive.

So, to clarify, my life in no way sucks. There are many things that I have to deal with, as a matter of circumstance that have, do, and probably always will suck. It would be a disservice to me to continue to hope that those things will improve.

However, if I let go of that useless hope and focus on the small percentage of things in my life that I do have control over and therefore are pretty damned good (see John’s comment which lists quite a few of them), I can and will be happy, for the most part.

Some of you may be reading this and thinking “Well, yeah- that’s what optimism is.” Or “Duh, that’s why they always say ‘(insert random phrase I’m not familiar with that sums up everything I just said in a much more succinct way)’. But for me, it’s a bit of a revelation. (Which explains these posts describing it.)

P.S. I intend to end the month on far more silly, ridiculous, fantastical and happily Halloween-themed posts so stay tuned!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Abandoning the Shackles of Hope

I started off this month talking about satori and hoping that I might be able to gain some sense of it in spite of a rather important element of my life being in crisis. It is the same desire that I have had since this whole career crisis of mine began back in March and I hate to admit that I haven’t had much progress during that time.
However, I was speaking to a friend of mine last night about this whole thing and I explained how cynical, disillusioned and jaded I have become with my entire career path since all this hit the fan. I stated my hypothesis that this change of perspective has turned me into an incurable pessimist.
My friend, who is one of the smartest people I know and who despite what I can only assume is a very stressful job and a busy schedule and all of the same everyday headaches and crises and other crap that I and everyone else on the planet endures, is a die hard optimist. No matter what may be going on in his life he is still one of the most legitimately happy people I know. He explained that this is because he is one of the few people in the world who gets genuinely excited about solving problems. You can see how this would be valuable: the more messed up things are the more opportunities to problem solve.
He said that he did not believe I was a pessimist. He said that my disillusionment seemed to be based on reality and that my perspective, therefore, was not pessimistic but rather realistic. I asked him how I can be that jaded and cynical and disillusioned if I’m a realist. And he said the obvious answer: because things really are that bad. That the hard truth of the matter is that, in a nutshell, life’s a bitch and then you die.
I always used to consider myself someone who, because of their steadfast belief in the possibility of a life slightly less ordinary, could see things differently and approach the world and all of the problems in it from a different point of view. That I could operate both in my personal life and in my professional life without getting bogged down by how difficult things are. That I could enjoy life because I allowed myself to act like a kid, see things outside the box, and live in enough of my own world that I wouldn’t get bogged down by the problems of the real one.
I have come to the conclusion that I was not. I was, I now realize, naive and sentimental in a way that prevented me from acknowledging the hard truths. And when forced to acknowledge them I did not accept them and move on (as evidenced by my handling of this year’s events)- I just got depressed.
And when faced with this conclusion- that life actually is that crappy and that all of these beliefs I held were inaccurate- my first inclination is to get depressed. Woe is me, jobs suck, people are cruel and I’m going to have to fight tooth and nail to survive in this shit hole, blah, blah, blah.
But I have an idea- an inchoate little fantasy- that perhaps, with another change of perspective, I could accept this hard reality without getting depressed. That I could look at the world and at my life with the clear understanding of how much of it will be challenging and of how little will come to me because it’s the right thing (morally, ethically, karma-wise, whatnot) and enjoy it anyway. That I could accept- truly accept without becoming depressed or feeling sorry for myself- how many things really are just that bad and still enjoy the little bit left over that I can control and enjoy.
I haven’t fleshed this idea out yet. I don’t quite know how to execute it. But if this many people- my friend whom I’ve mentioned here, my writing Yoda, my dear friends whom I’m eagerly anticipating Thanksgiving with- can go through so much crap and see things as dire as they really are without being depressed about it then why the hell can’t I?
My answer? Because, I think, up to this point I haven’t really tried. I never allowed myself to admit that things really were that unfair. I kept holding out hope. And I’m starting to think that that wasn’t the way to go about it. I’m starting to think that perhaps letting go of hope might be the best course of action.
Because to truly understand all the evils of the world, and to accept how little of life is anything we would choose for ourselves but have to endure anyway and STILL be happy? Well, that’s a heck of a lot better than hoping for things to stop being the way they are.
I’ve always been a fan of Charles Dickens. Specifically, of Great Expectations. Even more specifically of the character Wemmick. Wemmick was a man who absolutely refused to discuss any detail of his private life at work and who just as steadfastly refused to discuss or even acknowledge any element of work in his private life. He separated things so strictly that he was almost two different people. I’ve always thought that he might be on to something, but the full weight of his efforts are only starting to illuminate themselves in my mind.
Although I do not want to become a split personality, I would like to invoke a bit of Wemmick in my life. I would like to be able to be cutthroat and unmoving in work and endure all the horror it throws my way but still be silly, happy, child-like and excited in my personal life. Not that I’m wishing to have a shitty job. I would still very much like, and am still actively pursuing, a better job. But I would like to-even if I have a shitty job- have a good life. So that's what I plan to do.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Ghost Hunter

When Mac announced to his family that he was going to become a professional ghost hunter his father nearly had a heart attack (it later turned out the chest pains were from a panic attack) and his mother began crying hysterically. To them, it was as if he had announced that he was going to join the circus. How could someone with an engineering degree from an accredited universtiy wilingly throw away a good career to chase the boogyman? How did he possibly expect to eke out a living? How would he afford any lifestyle at all, let alone a family? He must have been crazy.
In hindsight, he recognized that he was. There had to be a certain level of craziness or disconnection from reality in order to believe in paranormal activities. To see the specters as they apparated, to feel that cold chill that came from crossing the path of one, to allow onself to believe all of these things which everything that logic teaches us proves they're impossible was a bit crazy. But that didn't mean it wasn't real.
Years later he found that those who loved him, even if they didn't understand his work, appreciated his viewpoint. And they certainly appreciated the tv show he'd managed to introduce to approving audiences.
He wondered sometimes if he was dishonoring or even angering the spirits he encountered by exposing them to the world. But then he often received the answer that they wanted their story to be told and that that was why they hung around in the first place. So he consoled himself with the knowledge that he was doing a service. Not to the living whom he provided with entertainment and a connection to the otherworld they might not be able to acheive indepedently, but to the dead.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Test

Jim walked into math class with that small tightness in his stomach that he always got before a big test. He'd stayed up till 2am the previous night cramming and had, he thought, finally cemented as much of the information as he was going to get into his brain. He'd been studying all week to try and finalize the equations he'd need in his memory and practicing well over a hundred problems in preparation. He told his nerves that he was as prepared as he was going to be and now was the time to bite the bullet and let his mind spit out what he'd crammed in.
He walked in, sat himself at his desk, and looked over at his friend Matt who was pouring over sloppily written notes that seemed like they'd been stained with last night's dinner. In front of him was an assortment of objects- stones, a pilot's pin, a rabbit's foot and a variety of other small items.
"What's all this about?" Jim asked as he reached over and picked up the foot.
Matt jumped and grabbed the foot back, stroking it and carefully placing it back on the desk where it had been.
"Don't mess with my juju, dude. I need this shit," he said, going back to his notes.
"Hey, I know this is going to sound absolutely crazy to you but some people have better luck studying rather than relying on, you know- luck," he teased.
"Whatever, dude- you got your plan and I got mine. You won't be laughing when I pass this thing."
Jim raised an eyebrow at him and chuckled.
"Alright, alright- papers away. The only things you should have are your calculators and two -count them- two number 2 pencils. Anyone who does not have a number two pencil may come up to my desk and beg my mercy," the teacher instructed.
Jim watched Matt fumble with his notes and cram them, sloppily, into his backpack. His legs started vibrating under his desk as he straightened his pencils on his desk and stroked his rabbit's foot repetitively.
Jim took a deep breath, closed his eyes, reminded himself that he knew everything he needed to know, and waited for the tests to be passed out.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

A Moment With Gran

I agreed to go apple picking with my grandmom operating under the false assumption that it would not interfere with my regular Saturday schedule. I.E. sleeping until noon. Needless to say, I was confused and ill tempered when awoke at 8am.
“Come on, slugabed- time to get up. You know what they say, the early bird catches the worm,” she said in far more perky tone of voice than any human being should be capable of at 8am on a Saturday.
I sat up, rubbed the sleep out my eyes and tried to make sense of what the hell she’d just said. I had no earthly idea what a slugabed but I gathered it wasn’t a term of endearment. And what was this about worms?
“I thought we were going apple picking?” I said blearily.
“We are silly- where do you think the bird gets the worm from?”
I thought about this for a second and couldn’t come up with any response more appropriate than “Eeewww.”
Fast forward an hour and we were in the car on the way to east bumble fart because apparently there aren’t apple orchards anywhere near where she lived. Had I know this vital piece of information I would have passed.
In spite of myself, I enjoyed the car ride. She was right- you can’t see anything worthwhile in terms of landscape unless you get the hell out of the city. And as boring of a game as 20 questions I’ve never found a more entertaining person to play it with.
We got the orchard around 10am and made our way up the hill. The apple varieties were parceled out by what you used them for: a list of sauce-making apples, a list of pie-making apples, a list of sweet, a list of tart. Gran had been an avid sauce maker since I was a baby and she’d promised me years ago that one day she would take me and show me all the tools of her trade.
We picked what seemed like a full bushel of apples and I had to get a wagon because the bin was too heavy to carry. By the time the sun past its midpoint we’d collected what seemed like a ton of apples. As much as I bemoaned the manual labor of lugging all the apples back to the car and then into her kitchen I had to admit it had been a nice outing.
She then began the process of showing me how to peel, slice and soak the apples (apparently they had to be soaked in order for the spices to set in). Then we threw them all into a huge pot on the stove and checked as the slowly simmered for seemed like an eternity.
She promised me that freshly made hot apple sauce was better than anything else in the apple kingdom I could have tasted and after an eternity she gave ma bowl and I had the chance to see for myself. I took a spoonful and blew on, somewhat trepidations about putting steaming applesauce into my mouth. I took my bite and found that my grandmother was right, it was even better than pie.
I sat there, spooning through my bowl of hot, freshly-made applesauce and I had one of those moments where you realize that you’re in a moment. A moment that means something. A moment you’ll remember. A moment that you might tell your grandkids about in another lifetime. I looked over at Gran thinking all of this and she smiled at me.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The View From The Other Side of the Sentence

I've always believed, incorrectly, that there were some things that certain people just "got". For example: math. I have never in my entire existence understood math. From as early on as I can remember I struggled more with that subject than just about any other I encountered. It just wasn't something I 'got'. So, relatively early on, I concluded that my brain just wasn't meant to "get it" and I gave up on ever forming any rudimentary understanding of the subject. I mean, don't get me wrong- I can calculate the tip for dinner in my head, but that's really about it. You ask me to perform any basic mathematical calculations towards an end goal of, let's say... figuring out my taxes? Nope, not happening. It doesn't really bother me that I'm math illiterate save for times when my more math-savvy peers will ask me a question they think is extremely basic and I look at them like they're speaking Martian.
Another thing which I never really got is grammar. I know some very basic things- like the difference between your and you're and when to use it's vs. its and some other things like that. But if you asked me to explain adverbs and prepositions and split infinitives I'd be at a total loss.
It isn't that I wasn't educated. I can remember sitting in class and the teacher parsing out a sentence and having us identify the object, the noun, the verb, stuff like that. But when it came to using those concepts to check my own compositions it seemed much like looking at math equations that I didn't understand.
I like writing, obviously, Otherwise why would I continuously subject myself to all this? And I believe, on some level, that I'm not horrifically bad it. Save for my grammar. My elementary school teaching friend has told me that it has, somewhat inexplicably, improved over the years. I'm inclined to believe her simply because I wouldn't be able to tell.
I know that I could, with some time and effort, learn how to correctly use grammar in sentence construction. I could dig out my old copy of Strunk and White and start pulling apart some passages I admire and see if I can figure out the elements involved. I know that "getting" grammar isn't magic, that it takes practice like anything else.
But the fact of the matter is that, to me, that would be an exercise in torture. To dissect a sentence like that would defeat everything positive about writing and turn it into something... sterile, uninspired, bland. To me, the fire and passion that comes from writing is that momentary thrill from slamming your fingers down on the keyboard to get out a thought or an idea or a scene as fast as you can so you don't lose it.
Maybe that's why I like NaNoWriMo so much. And why I've never been able to really successfully edit. Any why I tend to prefer relatively simple sentence structures. And why I write in so many damned fragments.
Maybe it's a maturity that one reaches in writing? When you become more seasoned and gain the ability to hold onto whatever you loved about what you wrote while revising it into something more expressive and coherent. Maybe it's something I'll gain over time.
Or maybe I'll continue to butcher the english language and send Strunk on a daily spin in his grave. I don't know yet. Hopefully, in time, I'll learn.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Bet

It was a stupid bet to make, Jake knew that. Anyone would tell you that of the bunch Jake was the easiest to scare. In fact, that’s part of the reason why these bets were made so often. If someone jumped out at him it was good money he’d startle. He knew his friends weren’t deliberately trying to be mean, but it had started to wear on him none-the-less.
So it was he, and not them, who had come up with this wager. He bet all of them that he could spend the night in the 'Deadly Forest' all by himself without shitting his pants. He knew the same stories as they did- that the little girl who was found dead there back in the 70’s still haunted the place, searching for her killer and trying to find a way out. But he figured that a forest tucked in between the recycling plant and the police station couldn’t really be that dangerous. And he hadn’t quite made up his mind about the whole ghost thing, anyway, he was hoping he’d prove intelligent enough not to believe in such things.
His friends were more reluctant to take the bet than he would have thought. They expressed genuine concern for him, after they got the hysterical laughter out of their systems and concluded he was serious.
“You? Are you kidding me? There’s no way you’ll make it a whole night. You’ll literally die of fright!” they’d warned.
“I don’t believe in ghosts, that’s stupid,” he’d chided.
“Ghosts or not- you’ll be scared. YOU will scare yourself even if there isn’t anything to be scared of!”
“Maybe I’m not as much of a scaredy cat as you think. Without you assholes jumping out at me I’d be fine!”
“Ok, dude. Your funeral.”
He couldn’t help but think about that conversation as he set up the campsite. He trained the camera on his sleeping bag so he wouldn’t have to adjust it when he went to sleep. He checked the sound, started a fire, and sat. He was perfectly happy to read and listen to his discman until the crepuscular dim made it too dark to read. Then he decided to get up and stretch.
He checked the camera, the red light was blinking consistently letting him know that all was being recorded. He stopped his discman and took off his ear buds out to listen to the sounds of the forest. He could hear the nocturnal animals coming out- the hoot of an owl, the scamper of a rabbit running through the brush, something climbing up a tree. He couldn’t resist the urge to advertise the fact that he wasn’t scared of the noises and the dark.
“Oh, boy- it sure is getting scary out here,” he taunted the camera. “Don’t know what I’m going to do!” He chuckled and gave the finger to the camera. “This is so dumb, but hey if you guys are stupid enough to shell out fifty bucks just for me to do a sleepover in the woods that’s your bad. I’ll be enjoying my gametime on God of War and laughing when you guys can’t afford it for yourselves."
There was a sudden snap like a twig breaking and he couldn’t help but snap his head around to see where it came from. His eyes wouldn’t let him make out anything other than the shape of tree branches and vines. His heart sped up into his throat for a second until he closed his eyes and forced himself to realize what an idiot he was being. The biggest risk he ran in these woods was running across a skunk and so long as he had the flashlight from his cell phone he’d be fine. Logic revived him and he opened his eyes again. Nothing had moved, the shadows were where they had been. He laughed at himself and settled his ear buds back in place and slipped into his sleeping bag, content to watch the red blinking light on the camera. Why his brother had invested in a camera with night vision he never understood, but he was glad for it now.
In spite of his fear he was able to focus in on the music and it lulled him to sleep, just as he had planned. He slept soundly, or at least as soundly as one can when resting on leaves in the middle of the woods. The night went on as it usually did. Mice ran through the underbrush, hungry foxes chased them, the occasional owl hoot echoed through the clearing. At one point Jake came unknowingly close to his greatest fear as a curios skunk walked disturbingly close to his sleeping bag and then moved on. Jake slept undisturbed by all of it, dreaming of pulling off awesome combination attacks in God of War.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Real Vampires

As a long-time fan of the vampire genre I can't help but be appalled at what has happened to the vampiric costumes this year. I tend to browse online for the year's costume fads for fun and i've noticed a disturbing trend of skinny, emo-looking boys wearing white cake make-up and spiked hair and claiming to be "Edward". WTF?
As if the books themselves weren't insulting enough you're actually encouraging people to dress up like the pansy characters? What do you do to get in character? Sit around and brood? That is painfully lame!
Vampires are supposed to be powerful, blood-thirsty monsters not angsty, emo boys who look like they dropped out of an Ambercrombie and Finch catalog and suddenly started coruscating!
Where's the fear? Where's the awe at their inhuman abilities? Where's everything that we hold near and dear about the genre? The only vampire movie that's come out in past years that was even remotely tollerable was 30 Days of Night and that wasn't even that good. I mean, at least they were monsters that would rip your throat out and slaughter people for fun! Of course, then brooding Josh Harnett had to go and mess that up, too. (But at least he fried in the end, that was rewarding.)
My point? If you're going to dress up like a vampire this year please, please dress up like a respectable one. The Dracula cape and fake fangs may have been done to death but at least they reflect a time when it still meant something to be a vampire.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

My old Jalopy

“Ok, what have we got here-ere… oh…”
“What? What’s wrong?”
“Uh, I don’t think I’m gonna be of much help here.”
“But you said you ‘fixed a million old cars’- your words, not mine.”
“I said old, not antediluvian!”
“It’s not that old- it’s an 87! It’s not like I’m asking you to fix a 50’s antique!”
“That’d be easier- people collect those things, they at least have stores that carry the parts. But this? What the hell kind of make is this?”
“Uh, let me see- it says “AMC’. Yeah, AMC.”
“Ha! That company doesn’t even exist anymore! I’d have to look through a junk yard to find parts for this thing. You know why? Because they’re junk!”
“Ok… so what do I do?”
“I’d say put it in the junk yard with its friends”
“Uh, yeah- that’d be great if I could get a new car to replace it. But I’m poor. Need money to buy new car.”
“How are you even driving this still?”
“It’s not that bad.”
“Not that bad? Have you ever heard the term ‘moving death trap’?”
“Quite a lot, actually.”
“I’m not surprised driving a hunk of crap like this. I’m surprised the thing hasn’t spontaneously combusted!”
“Look, as much as I appreciate you endlessly ridiculing my car I’m in need of actual, you know- help. If I can’t get the parts then what am I supposed to do? I don’t have money for a new car.”
“Hmmm… you could enter it in a demolition derby- might win money. Then you could get something that runs!”
“Uh- huh. I’m sure that worked well in whatever 80’s tv show you’re referring to but this is the real world, you know? Non- syndicated? I have a job, what do you want me to do? Sell a kidney? Rob a bank?”
“Well how did you get this car?”
“My dad gave it to me.”
“Oy. Your dad doesn’t like you very much, does he?”

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Tastiest Treats

I have become overly fond of baking in my adult life. It took me a while to figure out why I liked baking so much and yet avoided cooking real food whenever possible. I figured it out, eventually.
There are two main reasons. Number one: baking involves sugar. I am a sugar addict. (I know that’s an odd thing for a diabetic to say, but it’s true. I don’t know how I’ve managed to re-introduce so much sugar into my diet and still stay within in a normal range but I’m not about to look that gift horse in the mouth!) Sugar is the tastiest substance on the planet and there are not many dinners I know of that utilize it. Garlic? Sure. Salt? Yup. Other various spices that are far more healthy for you? Usually. But sugar? No.
Number two: baking, in general, is done for a much larger group of people. When I make dinner, only I and my boyfriend eat it. Before I moved in with boyfriend I did almost no cooking at all. Why would I want to put so much time and effort into something that only I would eat when I could so easily pop something in the microwave or eat something that takes five minutes of boiling water out of the box? Now that I do live with someone I have developed a rather 1950’s-esque desire to make a healthy home-cooked meal for my man but not so much that my hard-core laziness doesn’t win over that desire pretty frequently.
Why does the large audience matter? For the same reason that you want people to come to your music recital or sports event: praise. Having people ooo and ahh over my tasty treats is one of the greatest pay backs I know of. In fact, I have gone to extremes making baked goods that take hours of rather difficult preparation simply for the satisfaction of having someone take a bite and proclaim its deliciousness. I would never, short of serving an entire party of people, go to extremes making a dinner. Baking is just far more rewarding in that way.
Thus, for my upcoming Halloween party I plan on cooking up a whole variety of viands for my guests to enjoy. I am so into Halloween baking, in fact, that for my birthday I asked for (and received) two Halloween-themed cookbooks. Why? Because the only thing that makes my favorite holiday even better is spending the whole day leading up to it making tasty, sugary, weird and/or creepy-looking deserts whilst listening to Monster Mash repeatedly.
That delightful scene is only a week away and I am purposefully allowing the excitement to get to me in anticipation. Halloween baked goods: it’s what’s for dinner!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Spectacular Specter

He’d been aiming for the award for the bulk of his afterlife. Every ghost in the business had. But it wasn’t enough just to put on a show anymore- people couldn't just be scared. They had to be scarred for life. They had to be scared so badly that they would develop phobias that years of therapy with expensive analysts couldn’t undo. This, needless to say, was no easy task.
He’d been studying the winners and noticing a trend at the annual ceremonies. These weren’t the moaning, humanistic ghosts of his youth. No, these were the laconic serial killers of the underworld. No gimmicks, no huge production, just little things building up until they can’t take anymore. And then- when their sanity is hanging on by a shred- that’s when you strike. At least, that seemed to be the trend.
So, he went slowly. A random creak in the floor, an appliance turning on out of nowhere, a knock at the window. At first he thought that maybe she was just hard of hearing, so he got a little louder. Not much, still within the realm of normal everyday noises. But loud enough so that he was sure she’d heard.
The sound of footsteps walking down the hall. Ruffling upstairs where no one was. Moving objects to another room. The wind howling when it wasn’t particularly windy. But still, nothing.
He thought she was a sure bet- old widow living all alone, few visitors, ridiculously superstitious. All of the classic signs of someone easy to crack. And yet here he was, months later, and he couldn’t even get her to show signs of paranoia. It had taken the one from 'paranormal activity' less than a month to completely destroy that young couple. Granted, he’d never physically dragged this woman screaming from the bed but he’d messed with her sheets, turned on her fan in the middle of the night, hidden her glasses from her. And with no one else in the house to be doing these things it seemed guaranteed that she’d worry, or at least think it odd.
But she went on about her life as if nothing were at all peculiar. At this rate he would never win the coveted title of Spectacular Specter. Hell, at this rate he might be the one to crack first.
Finally, he resorted to drastic measures. He took her hair ribbon off her armoire and waited for her to sit and braid her hair as she did every evening before bed. She combed out her long, white mane and began folding the hair over on itself as she always did. He waited behind her, watching her in the mirror and trying very hard to make her feel it. She finished the braid and reached down for her ribbon which was not there.
That’s when he slowly, but deliberately dragged it across her neck and started pulling it tight. She looked up into the mirror as if she’d be looking at him if he a reflection and spoke in the calmest, most content voice: “You know if you were trying to scare me you were better off with footsteps.”

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Death by Cocktail Party

Jeff had situated himself in the corner near the bar and was watching the party goers with a bored expression. he had made his rounds and grabbed himself a gin and tonic as was his now usual custom. He could remember a time, not too long ago, when he actually looked forward to these events: a chance to meet and greet some of the top names in the field and shake the hands of practicing researchers he'd admired. But it didn't take long for the amusing math jokes to grow old and for the stories to start repeating themselves.
If he, like every other scientist there wasn't desperate for the funding he'd had have stopped coming to these things when the novelty wore off. But he was desperate and every year no matter how much they published it never became any less of a fight to get the funds to field the next study. So now he stationed himself in the corner so he could nod and wave to those he recognized, be visible to those who came late, and sip his drink in peace.
He saw his buddy Dave enter and gave him a wave of acknowledgement. Dave nodded back, rolled his eyes, and entered the fray. Within short order he too finished his rounds and made his way over to Jeff's corner.
"Hey," he greeted him.
"Hey Dave," he said, offering his hand. "You gonna make it?"
"I don't know, man," he said, shaking the hand that was offered. "These things are getting so damned old."
"I know, i'm right there with you. Or rather right here with you biding my time in the corner," Jeff said, taking another sip.
"You think we can quiety slip out before the speeches?"
"No way, Chuck would spot us or something. I swear he has x-ray vision and can see you across a room full of bodies as soon as you make a break for it."
"Yeah. Well, then what the hell are we gonna do with ourselves for the next hour?"
Jeff thought about it for a minute and then had an idea.
"Well, my dear chap- why don't we make a wager?" he said in his faux english accent which popped up from time to time when he'd had enough drinks to bypass the usual embarrasment it would cause.
"Oh, no- you're doing the british voice again? This can't be good," Dave said warily.
"Humor me, won't you? I say we pass our time by seeing who can spot the most fulsome fellow first."
"Hmmm," Dave said, stroking his non-existent beard. "Alright. But let's make it interesting, shall we?"
"You mean a wager?"
Dave nodded.
"Delightful! How much shall we wager?"
"Oh, let's say twenty pounds," Dave mocked in best faux english accent.
"Pip, pip- good show. I'll wager you twenty pounds that... oh, let's see," Jeff said, scanning the crowd. "Ah! I'll wager you twenty pounds that our dear Dr. Bromley will show his true colors first."
"Dr, Bromely, eh? Alright then, i'll take that wager."
And so the two watched for the next half hour as the subject of their bet made his way through the party. He started off in good performance, laughing far louder than was necessary at jokes the two had heard at least a dozen times and shaking the hands of literally everyone he crossed paths with. But after a good run straight out of the gate he began to show signs of strain. He quieted and meandered over to the bar to refill his drink without even stopping to sing the praises of their boss.
"I don't know, my friend- he seems to be running out of steam," Dave said.
"Come, now- have faith!" Jeff replied.
Just then the director of research for one of the wealthier companies walked up to the bar. Both Dave and Jeff knew that the man hadn't done anything more exciting then sit on the board and snore quiety for the past five years and therefore would be difficult to compliment. Jeff grew excited when he saw Dr. Bromley look up from his drink and smile at the old man.
"Arnold, how are you?" he said in the same exagerated air he'd held for most of the evening.
"Good, good, I suppose- getting tired in my old age," he said, putting his empty glass down on the bar and signaling for a refill.
"Oh, well you don't look it. You look rather distringuished. In fact, have you done something with your hair?"
Jeff sputtered and chocked on the sip he'd been about to swallow and had to stop himself from launching into hysterical laughter.
"He didn't!" Dave whispered.
As soon as Jeff regained the ability to breath properly he cleared his throat and pronounced "Oh yes, he did- he just complimented his toupe! Pay up!"

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Homicidal English

My teacher told me to write from the heart. She praised my grammar, my diction in reading my work out loud, my correct sentence structure. But she said that wasn’t enough and she told me to “dig deeper”. I had no idea what that meant and I told her so.

She asked me to think about the most exciting experience I’d ever had. At age 14 I didn’t have much experience to draw from. In fact, I hated her for asking me. I sat up late the night before class, racking my brain for something, anything that might make an interesting poem. Apparently writing about landscapes wasn’t exciting enough for her. After what seemed like an eternity with no ideas that seemed interesting enough placate her I gave up and went to sleep cursing my composition teacher for suggesting I take the stupid creative writing course in the first place.

At class the next day my heart was pounding a mile a minute as she walked up to my desk and looked down at me. I told her I hadn’t come up with anything. To increase my embarrassment at my ineptitude she called me to the front of the class and invited them to help me brainstorm. It seemed like a purposeful excuse to torture me further and I found myself thinking homicidally.

“Come on now,” she teased, “everyone’s got something they’re passionate about. Class, help Martin think of something he’s passionate about.”

“What’s your favorite animal?”

“What’s the coolest vacation you’ve ever taken?”

“What’s your favorite food?”

“Do you play any sports?”

My classmates called out over and over, and I just wanted to crawl under my desk and hide.

“Now, now- one at a time,” my teacher asked. “Raise your hand if you have an idea.”

One hand shot up faster than anyone else’s and I knew who it was before even looking. Chelsey was the biggest ass kiss I’d ever met and she loved any excuse to play herself off as the perfect student.

“Well, I recently wrote a poem about my grandfather because he inspires me. Is there anyone in your life that inspires you?”

“Chelsey, thank you for that wonderful suggestion. Martin- is there anyone in your life that you find inspiring? Someone that’s accomplished something or lived through an interesting period in history?”

I thought about it. No one immediately jumped out. My head felt like it was on fire and I seriously thought there was a good chance I’d faint before actually coming up with anything. But then it occurred to me that of all the things an adolescent boy could do that might get them a bad reputation accompanied by a horribly insulting nick-name fainting had to be high on the list. So, I clenched my fists and tried to think of something, anything, other than the room of students starting at me.

“Uh, my uncle’s pretty cool, I guess,” I stammered.

“Ok, what is your uncle like? Or what does he do that inspires you?”

“He’s a pilot. He took me out on his plane once and he let me fly.”

“Cool,” came from one of the kids in the back. It made me feel a little better to know there was approval.

“Perfect!” my teacher exclaimed and jumped to write the word “Flying” on the board, her chalk almost slipping out of her hand. In all my schooling I’d never had another teacher that got so animated over using a blackboard.
“And what did that feel like? To fly a plane, how did it feel?”

Again, I thought. It had been really cool, though not the earth-shattering experience she seemed to be looking for. I didn’t really know what to say about it. “It’s ineffable,” I replied hoping that my vocabulary might make up for my lack of descriptive powers.

“Oh, come now, martin,” my teacher chastised me. “If that were true we wouldn’t have any great writers.”

I looked at her face and imagined what it might look like if her neck were replaced with a large pike. The thought made me smile.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Blaster

At age 5 it was considered quite normal for him to play with his toy soldiers. Although tripping over the little green pieces of plastic may have annoyed his parents, no one thought it unusual.
At age 10 it was considered lucky that his favorite subject was history and that he excelled at memorization of war dates and famous generals.
At age 15 Norman had accepted that chicks didn't dig history buffs and accepted his fate as the ridiculously intelligent although forever single head of the school's sparsely populated Society for Historical Reenactments.
At age 18 when guesses as to what he would study in college ranged from heading straight to the military to pursuing a doctorate in order to become a history professor he shocked everyone by skipping college and joining an excavation crew.
At age 23 when he'd been an apprentice for years and his parents had given up on their son "the scholar" he got to head his first demolition as leader.
As he suspected, he'd never experienced any greater thrill in his life than watching a 29 story hotel that had taken years to construct be blasted to smithereens in mere seconds. From the time the dust settled, and for the rest of his short life, he was hooked.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The First Date (Part 2)

"So, where're you from?" he asked, simply because it was ground that had to be covered at some point during the evening.
"Oh, all over. Boston, New York, Georgia, South Dakota, L.A., Seattle, Phoenix... I sort-of hopscotched around my whole life," she answered without looking up.
"You a military brat?" he asked, because it was the obvious answer.
"Am I that obvious?" she asked, now intrigued.
"Oh, I don't know. Tough as nails woman making her way around the city with no help from anybody. I guess I figure that kind-of fierce independence usually starts young."
"Well, I guess you're right. Are you always this good at reading people?" she asked.
"It sort-of goes with the territory, you know?"
"Yeah, I imagine it's an occupational hazard, huh? So how'd you get into journalism anyway?"
"Um... indirectly. I liked writing but I was never any good at fiction. I could think of a lot of different angles to look at something that was already there but I could never figure out how to draw something from scratch. I tired, you know. That's what I went to school for. I mean, not that writing isn't writing to some extent but the program I was in didn't really give much credit to non-fiction. It wasn't until I went on my summer abroad that I found people who appreciated what I could write."
"And where was that?"
"London. Typical, I know. But I always wanted to go."
"Well, it makes sense for a writer."
"I guess," he said, and smiled at her.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

My Favorite Apocopation

"They couldn't shoot an elephant from this dist-" *gunshot*
-General John Sedgwick, said to his soldiers before being shot dead

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Damned Superstitious Chicks

“Oh, no- this is very bad. Very bad indeed,” the woman muttered as she stared intently at the book she was consulting.
“What- what is it?” came a nervous voice from the small man across the table from her. He played with his tie as he often did while nervous, one of the main reasons he could never play poker with co-workers. “What does it say?” he asked, leaning forward to try to spy the passage of the book that was so upsetting her.
“Venus is in retrograde today- that means she’s begining her return to direct motion through the zodiac,” the woman said, voice loaded with anticipation.
The little nervous man stopped fumbling with his tie and looked at her, dumfounded. He blinked at her, waiting for an explanation that made sense.
“You don’t know who Venus is?” the woman asked, lowering her eyes at him.
“Uh, I thought it was a planet,” he replied.
“Well, yes- this is true. But in the signs of the zodiac Venus has to do with matters of the heart, based on the goddess of love.”
“Ok…” he said, still not understanding.
“Well, in matters of the heart you must be active, and having venus in retrograde is a time of fate, of true nature kicking in. It can be a time of great possibility, a time of change and reinvention,” she said looking over the cards in front of her.
“Ok, that sounds good” he said, starting to get excited.
“But you have the High Priestess!” she exclaimed, pointing to the card in the center.
“Ok- that’s… bad?”
“Well, the Priestess is patient- she waits and observes, she does not act. This can be a time of contemplation and self discovery. But with the four of swords reinforcing it it means inaction,” she said, referring to the card in the lower left corner.
“Ok… so, I’m fated to wait?”
“No, fate requires action, as does love and trust. You cannot open your heart while sitting patiently on the side and waiting for love to come to you. Haven’t you ever heard the expression ‘when fate comes knocking, you open the door’?”
“Uh… no, actually,” he said, looking down at the cards with his brow furrowed in worry. “But what does that mean?” he asked, pointing to the figure of the man upside down.
“The hanged man,” she said, stroking the card as if contemplating. “It means surrender, surrendering to your fate.”
“And my fate is?” he asked suspiciously.
“It appears that your fate is to be alone,” she concluded solemnly.

Outside his friend looked over his shoulder to watch him emerge, the door ringing closed behind him.
“So, what’d she say?” he asked, excited.
The nervous man, now deflated, hung his head as he said “She said I don’t have a chance in hell at getting laid,” he said. “Apparently I’m too inactive to make anything happen with this chick.”
“Ha!” his friend exclaimed excitedly, reaching out an open palm. “Pay up!”
He reached into his pocket and pulled out a fresh twenty dollar bill which he’d gotten from the atm on the corner of Delancey and Olind only an hour ago. He angrily slapped it down into his friend’s waiting hand. “Last time I go after a chick who believes in astrology,” he muttered as he dismounted the last step and started his walk back to the subway.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Santa Beard

"What'll ya have?" the old man asked me. I had a hard time seeing his face over his giant Santa beard. Normally it would've made me smile. Not tonight.
"Got any nepenthe?" I asked, then immediately kicked myself for trying to show off my useless trivia knowledge.
"What's your trouble?" he asked without skipping a beat. I was surprised and it caught me for a second, forcing me to study him a bit more closely. He didn't strike me as anything more than on old bartender- large beer gut, working-man hands, crows feet that said he had to fake smiles a lot. But if I forced myself to study his eyes a little more closely there seemed to be some depth there I'd missed the first time. I decided to indulge him partly because it was technically part of his job and mostly because I was feeling sorry for myself.
"Eh, usual, I guess- Job, boss, wife."
"So you wanna bitch about 'em or just shut up and drink?"
He surprised me again and I looked him with suspicion now. Maybe he hadn't read the same job description I had.
"You always this blunt?"
"Just like to know what you're ordering is all." He looked straight at me with no sympathy. It bugged me now that he got the reference, maybe he was too smart to be a good bartender.
"Tequila, straight up" I said.
"Wow, you are tryin' to forget." he said while pouring the shot. He was right, of course. I never drank the stuff straight unless I was aiming for the fastest route of travel between sobriety and inebriation. It bugged me that he knew that, too. I looked at the Santa beard again and figured out that it had nothing to do with being jolly.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The First Date

The pair emerged from the art museum in silence, each too scared to make the first remark on what they had just seen.
Ben ran over the evening in his head, cursing himself for selecting a modern art museum as a first date.
“I might as well have taken her to a political debate!” he berated himself. “What the hell was I thinking?” He looked over at the delicate jaw line of his date and the hair falling over her ear and lamented the fact that he wouldn’t have a chance in hell at touching it if she found out he knew nothing about modern art.
They walked on and Ben wondered if he should wait for her to speak and just fake agreement or if she would know that he was faking it by not having the passion to speak first. Her lack of verbalizations only fueled his nervousness and he could feel the cold sweat starting to drip down his back. In his mind he visualized the success of his evening crashing and burning like a shot-down fighter jet. They walked on and still she said nothing.
Finally, when he felt like he would explode if she didn’t say something, he gambled on an opening sentence.
“So…” he began nervously, “what’d you think?”
She seemed to pause as if gathering herself, then looked up with bright eyes and responded “I’ve got to be honest- I’ve never been a fan of bricolage art.”
“Oh thank god,” he exhaled. “I didn’t know what to say- you were so quiet in there I thought you were seriously contemplating the pieces. I saw that pile of melted doll parts and I was petrified,” he laughed.
“Oh, I know- and that bath tub filled with packing peanuts and corn syrup? What was that?” she said, her voice light and amused.
He looked at her then, noting the raised eyebrows and brilliant smile and thought that he might just have a shot afterall.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Dr. Edelstein’s All- Natural Tonic

Ladies and gentlemen, step right up- be the first to try Dr. Edelstein’s revitalizing, maximizing, energizing tonic! The strongest roborant you’ll find this side of the Mississippi. You feeling dragged down, lifeless? Your step lost its spring? Your once bright eyes dull, your once bouncy hair flat, your back aching, your feet sore, your ears ringing with the noise of the streets? Well this here tonic is the one-shot sure-fire cure-all for all that ails you! Made from all natural ingredients and brewed in the doctor’s own lab using a patent-pending distillation process this little bottle is sure to put a pep back in your stride and a smile back on your face. And today only I’m letting this little miracle go for only ten cents a bottle! Don’t crowd the podium, now- I’ve got enough for everybody!

Friday, October 8, 2010

To My Friends on the Eve of their Marriage

A wassail to my friends as they embark on the crazy, fun, challenging, lovely, inspiring, and wondrous journey of marriage:
May you never stop making each other laugh.
May you never run out of games to play.
May there be some jokes that only the two of you will ever understand.
May you help each other grow.
May your family grow in joy.
May your disagreements be short and your make-up snuggles plentiful.
May your vacations take you to wherever you want to be together.
May your home forever emit warmth and welcome.
May you find yourselves stronger after the storms you face.
May you find yourselves blessed time and again, and always be grateful.
And may your memories last far longer than your bodies.
To J & J: Congratulations!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Nothing New Under the Sun

How funny that when I saw the word of the day today I thought "Oh, I know what that is- but when did roleplay terminology make it into the dictionary?" How surprised was I when I clicked on the entry and found that the term meant something entirely different than the context I knew it in.

But that shouldn't really be surprising. What's that saying? Nothing new under the sun? It's a concept I've struggled with a long time. If these ideas have been done a million times before than why are mine any different?

The answer? They're not, really. Creativity isn't usually much more than a new spin on an old idea. When it comes down to it they're the same characters in the same roles with the same struggles and quests and story arcs. The difference? Those little twists and idiosyncrasies that come from seeing the same story through someone else's eyes.

I was recently describing a brief synopsis of the novel I plan to start writing in a few weeks to a friend and I found myself labeling it in terms of movies and stories it was similar to. And you know what's funny about that? I didn't mind.

My novel, at its basis, is like a whole lot of other stories that have already been told. And that, for some strange reason, doesn't bother me.

I used to talk about ideas I had or stories I was thinking and I'd get reactions of "Oh, this sounds like this book" or "Oh, that's just like the so and so movie that came out a few years ago". When I got those reactions I'd get all defensive- trying to come up with some reasons why my story was different, unique, a completely new creation.

But I realize now- maybe because I'm older, maybe because I've been through NaNoWriMo once and found that I didn't care how many ideas I recycled if it filled my word count- that there is nothing really "new". And if there was, we probably wouldn't get it anyway.

The reason we can so easily connect with stories and characters and quests is because they are familiar to us, because we have seen them before. That's what allows us to connect with them. Even in science fiction and horror and fantasy where the laws of physics may not apply or the creatures aren't human or the universe is strange we still find a way to connect because of the familiar parts. The protagonist's struggle, their desires, their needs, their confusion. We've seen it all before so we can put ourselves in their shoes without thinking twice.

I'd even argue that if there was something so new that there was nothing even remotely familiar about it there'd be no story because the audience wouldn't be able to attach. Like the art of schizophrenics- it's amazingly creative, but no one really connects to it because that world is too foreign and alien to us, we can't see ourselves inside.

So whether mana is rechargeable magic needed to cast spells or another way to think of energy or someone's soul or the name of some random alternative rock group doesn't really matter- chances are some will recognize it. And in the end, that's a good thing.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Acta Fumeria

"No, that is is not what I am saying. I am not- what did she say?" he rummaged on his desk for the newspaper article which had so enraged him. "Attempting to destroy the proud history of our small town by adding the memoir of a deranged mind to our town history," he said, slamming the offending paper back down on his desk. "All I am saying is that this happened here and we can't hide it!" he argued.

"It's damaging to admit that such a vivid trade took place here, it reverses a lot of what we thought we knew about the town's founders and-"

"Damaging? To who?" he interrupted his consultant. "We didn't run illegal Opium dens in order to fund the buildings. We didn't set down this "religious morality" society- we're not the hypocrites, they are. And if we lie about the history of this place then we become just like them. Look, I'm not the one who said let's hire these crazy archaeologists to dig a giant hole in the center of the square after some kid found a 19th century toothpick- that was you. And if you recall, it was you who argued that the damned book was such an important find. If I'd had my way this damned 'Acta Fumeria' would have stayed buried along with the crazy italian who wrote it and we could have kept having our 'Butt Out' day without ever thinking more of it. But we can't reverse history. So our smoke free town used to be the hottest opium emporium this side of San Francisco. At least now we can say that we learned from our mistakes, right?"

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Check the Site First

Everyone had told him he was crazy to buy a piece of waterfront property in a place he'd never been.

"You gotta check the site first!" they'd told him.

"What if it's a scam?"

"My cousin brought property down in Florida that looked like beach front property in the brochure but ended up being in the middle of a swamp! That could happen to you!"

Virtually no one had thought he was sane. But no one had his passion for adventure and steadfast belief that he could make such a leap and be better for it. No one considered that thrid world fisherman probably didn't have the skills to swindle a well educated American. No believed in the global connectivity that allowed him to discover and take advantage of this opportunity. But they would see they were wrong.

... At least that's what he'd told himself on the flight over as his nerves started to finally kick in with shock waves of that terrifying "uh-oh" feeling.

If he'd seen a brochure he would had said that it certainly didn't match but as was all he'd to go off of was the fisherman's description and his own imagination. And his imagination had envision a vast channel leading to an ocean teeming with fish, lush tropical plant life providing ample shade, a sandy spot set back from the shore to build a hut and a small village the closest sign of civilization.

What he saw was not what he imagined.

"Um- er... sam- samahani?" he said trying to get the attention of the man in the nearby boat pulling a crab cage out of the water. "Is this.. um... bahari mtazamo?"

"hakuna, hii ni tiba ya maji taka kupanda" the man yelled back.

He fumbled through his translation book trying to find the words the man had yelled. "Waste" was the first one he discovered, then eventually "Water" and "Treatment". The man in his little boat had set off long before he finally formulated the sentence "waste water treatment plant". Looking at the map again he found the piece of land he had paid for- "Sea View." And indeed, sitting on a slab of concrete in front of him was a large sewage plant with the words "Bahari Mtazamo" on the banner.

He couldn't help but think that it would've been cheaper to buy a swamp in Florida.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Unanswerable Question

Mr. Charles Wilkes saw himself as one of the few remaining ‘true believers’. He didn’t teach because of the pay which was considerably better than many other professions. Or because he loved kids far more than adults who he saw as lacking the nympholepsy for life that children naturally possessed and which kept them in state of unending curiosity. Or because of the summers off which allowed him to continue working on his unpublishable novel while sleeping late and catching the occasional thunderstorm on the beach.

No, he taught because he genuinely believed in teaching the next generation, in the ability of inheritors to make a change with what is passed down. He taught because he honestly loved it. And it was this, he thought, that made him a good teacher. It wasn't because he was “cool” and let the kids call him Charlie. It wasn’t because he rewarded good grades with baking parties or class trips that were purely for fun. It wasn’t even because of his bonus questions.

He had devised the bonus question system years ago as a way to allow children to naturally let off the steam they needed to let off at the end of a test. After handing out the exam and allowing the allotted amount of time for the students to enter their answers he would collect them back, hand out a few blank pieces of paper to each child, and then raise the projector screen to show the hidden question on the board.

His questions weren’t brilliant, he was the first to admit. But they allowed for a great deal of imagination and creativity which he desired above all other qualities. Especially because you didn’t win by getting the question right, you won by coming up with the most creative answer you could devise in five minutes.

The student who answered “A little boy and a stuffed tiger” to the question “Who are Calvin & Hobbes?” scored no points. A student who answered “Two famous philosophers” also scored no points. No, the entry that won was the little boy who answered “Calvin was a famous jet fighter pilot who single-handedly turned the tide of the Great Indo-China war of 1741 simply because he loved the crumb cakes of a famous baker named Hobbes and didn’t want his bakery to be destroyed in the war. Oh, he really liked his black and white cookies, too.” That little boy was Alexander.

Alexander won far more often than any other student in the class simply because his answers were so intricately woven in such a short period of time and never took the obvious into consideration. He won for drawing a complex diagram in answer to the question “What would chairs look like if our knees were on the back of our legs?” He won for writing a recipe with several difficult steps in answer to the question “How do you make a flying melon?” And he won for creating a series of dance steps in answer to the question “What is an elastic conversion?”

Partially because Alexander won so often, and partially because he was a good student the bonus test points originally offered as reward became boring and Alexander asked from something different. After a brief discussion, the class concluded that in reward for answering the question the winning student should be able to ask the teacher a question in return.

In the beginning, Charlie got some boring questions like “How do you skin a cat?” and “What is the air-speed velocity of unladen swallow traveling through the forest at noon?” which didn’t require too much thought and ended up with answers that seemed to rival Alexander’s, at least to Charlie.

But one particular afternoon, after learning that he was once again the winner of the bonus question, Alexander got a very serious, very concerned look on his face. His brow furrowed, his lip tucked firmly between his teeth and his thumbs furiously circled each other as Alexander looked down at his desk and sat in silence. Charlie was enticed by this, expecting that the boy was coming up with a masterful conundrum for him to solve. After what seemed like far longer than his fellow students could possibly bear Alexander nodded his head and looked up to his teacher with a determined expression.

“Ok, Charlie. I have a real question. One that I haven’t been able to get a straight answer from out of anyone.”

At this Charlie’s heartbeat jumped and he tried to brace himself for what seemed like it would be something completely inappropriate for a class of 8th graders.

“Why,” Alexander continued, “do we die?”

The class turned in anticipation to look at the silent teacher in front of the room. Charlie considered the young boy standing at his desk. He knew the look in his eyes as it was one he’d had himself many times. When you look to an adult you respect and hope that they will be honest and tell you the truth that you need to hear. When you wait for a piece of invaluable information to be dispensed.

Unfortunately for Charlie, he didn’t know a deserving answer. He could refer him to a science lesson about how the cells of the human body break down over time or point him in the direction of a philosophical discussion or tell him to ask his parents what their religion teaches them or cite some old country expressions his grandmother used to tell him which always seemed profound. But none of those would have given him the answer he was seeking. So, he told him the only answer that would treat the question with the respect it deserved.

“I don’t know,” he said.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

A Conversation Overheard in the Ale House

“Ah, Grews- where the hell have ya been?”
“Oh you know, same ‘ol, same ‘ol. A scrap o’ wood here, a bit o’ paint there, stack the hay in the barn and if I’m lucky I end up at the end of me day with enough for a pint. What ya been about?”
“Ah, well- funny you should mention but I’ve found meself a new profession.”
“Oh, have ye? Well, don’t keep us waiting ol’ Douf- what are ya doing?”
“I’ve been digging the graves down at the Ol’ Barley.”
“Grave digger? Well, why, man?”
“Because there’s no better place to fossick for riches, me dull friend!”
“Ya… ya steal from the bodies?”
“Well, I wouldn’t call it stealin- they got no use for ‘em no more. Who needs a pocket watch in eternity? It’s ludicrous the things people send to be buried in the ground.”
“But aren’t ye afraid of yer eternity?”
“Nah, that’s all rubbish they tell ya to keep ya actin all good n’ proper. I never did take for such tales.”
“But… but what about the grim?”
“The grim? What are ya blatherin’ on about now?”
“The GRIM- don’t you know anything? The grim ain’t no tale- he’s real. I heard of this ol Barley man back when I was a wee one- he got himself the same scheme as you… and the Grim got ‘im.”
“What do ya mean ‘got ‘im’?”
“I mean he pulled him right down into the ground an ate ‘im alive. No one could hear him howlin’ and wailin’ under all that dirt. And when they found his bones they were licked dry. That’s what I mean the grim got ‘im.”
“How do ya know it was ‘the grim’? He coulda’ been eaten by a pack of wolves.”
“No, no- the bite marks, they were human-sized. No animal fur or paw prints or nothing, just a nice set ‘a clean bones.”
“Oh, you’re all full feathers an ticks- there ain’t no grim. I bet ya mammy just tell ya that to keep you from snoopin’ around in the Barley.”
“Nope, it’s true, I tell ya- ask around the mill, they’ll tell ya. Lost a lot of souls wanderin’ through the Barley lookin’ for riches, just like ya.”
“I ain’t got time for ya mad rambling, I got me a grave to dig.”
“Be careful- the Grim might be feelin’ a bit peckish bout now!”

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Don't Wake the Baby

He walked into the room half asleep without really thinking of his surroundings or the caution he should have taken. Inevitably, he knocked over the book which had been precariously placed on the edge of the table and it fell to the floor with a small but audible clatter.

A fierce “Sshhhh!” came from behind him and he turned to see his wife leaning over the crib of their new born, feverishly mussitating the words “I just got her to sleep!”

He held a finger to his lips and tiptoed back out of the room, careful not to breathe too loudly.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Zen in everday life

Portrait of a moment in time:

A young woman sits at her desk, buzzing with caffeine and nervous energy, eying her phone nervously. She is clearly trying not to focus on the phone: she searches the binder in front of her for information, enters it into her excel sheet, strives to work productively. But her eyes involuntarily wander back to the phone.

She picks it up, checks for voicemail. There is none. Of course there wouldn't be, she thinks to herself, it didn't ring. She puts it back down and mentally chastises herself.

The phone rings. She jumps, fumbling to answer it. Her light eyes instantly dull as she realizes it is not the call she's been waiting for. And so the day moves on... This young woman is me, of course. And this moment in time is my Friday.

I've studied the power of now. I've talked about living in the moment. I've even studied buddhism at a monastery when I was younger: learning to meditate, trying to imagine life outside of the realm I know it in. During calm periods of life I've actually lived in the moment- for a moment or so. I've always thought, in that way that someone who isn't a buddhist monk might think, that if I spent all day everyday mediating and studying the words of those much more enlightened than me, and had nothing more to distract from these practices than sunlight, wind and the occasional chirping of a grasshopper that I might be capable of reaching satori, too. (Maybe even nirvana, eventually.)

But I don't. My life is real. I have nothing but attachments to the physical world. Every second of everyday I am constantly pulled into it, like gravity. Sure, you can jump- but you always come back down to earth. It makes sense that monks must seek such a simple existence in order to achieve enlightenment: there's just too much noise otherwise.

So I think that hoping for a higher way of living that would somehow allow me to walk the path of enlightenment while still living in the real world is just too tall of an order. At least for me.

No, I think the key that I should seek is not to understand the true nature of existence. I think what I should seek, and what I might actually have a shot at, is being at peace with NOT KNOWING.

Not knowing when or if I will get what I want, what my life will look like in the future, how I will handle the challenges I face, or what the hell it all means. To know, in an enlightened way, that I DON'T know and to be ok with that? Now that's enlightenment worth seeking.