Thursday, December 24, 2009

It's a Festivus Miracle!

Yes indeed, in one of my own most noteworthy "Feats of Strength," I actually made a blog post on December 23rd, and only eight days later than I had originally promised! Such is the magic of Festivus.

I'm very pleased with how that last story came out, in terms of expressing the kind of feelings that I meant to express. I wrote The Modern Spirit, in part, to explore what I jokingly call my own childhood insanity. That is to say that when I was a child (and, admittedly, often to this day) I would hold conversations imaginary conversations with people who were not actually there. Sometimes they were "real" people, and sometimes they weren't, but in any case it was always one of my principle methods of thinking. The "imaginary" character in this story is sort of an ageless doppelganger of the main character, which is not the kind of person I would deliberately conjure up for my own imaginary conversations, but I think it made sense for the story I was trying to tell.

I purposefully did a couple of weird things, such as writing a long stretch of dialogue without expressly attributing any of the lines to any particular character. I think it works, though I may have oversold the emphasis by immediately commenting on it afterward, but I think the dialogue, as strange as it is to read, is one of the most essential parts of the story. Whether such gimmicks are in line with anyone else's idea of good writing is of course an open question, but I like it, so there.

Another miracle of sorts happened today, the 24th, so it's not quite a Festivus miracle (though you could certainly call it a feat of strength). I am referring to the passage of a health reform bill in the Senate. It would have been truly miraculous if it had passed with a public insurance option, but it seems that America, as always, is an unrepentant tease. Barring a string of shinobi-style assassinations of Democratic lawmakers, or a military coup, or perhaps a giant asteroid impact, health reform is very probably going to happen, and that makes me a happy guy, especially since no ninja have been sighted in the DC area since at least 1901*.

America will likely reward the Democrats for their Christmas present with some painful losses in the Congressional elections next year. Such is the way of things, so let us be happy we've accomplished what we have, and look forward to improvements down the road, even if we don't know just how far down the road they are.

*Yes, Leon Czolgosz was a ninja. A Polish ninja.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Modern Spirit

Saturdays in springtime are like oases, unspeakably benign, so often taken for granted in spite of all they have to offer for the weary of mind and soul. Days like these are all but synonymous with the flowing of water and the flight of birds, and cool grass under sneakers and toes. Like all such paradises, Saturdays in springtime are made for children, though grownups might hope to approximate its joys through earnest effort. Unfortunately for them, their old dreams no longer fit them, and and their eyes can no longer see what their memories describe; what's lost is lost, and can only be remembered, not recalled.

So it is for children, uncomprehending and uncomplicated, to experience what poets most wish for; to come face to face with the sublime, and call it by its true name. Of course they do not know its true name, only that they love it. In this way they are blessed, or lucky, but they are not yet wise, and the great tragedy of existence is that one cannot be both.

Charles Allen was blessed, or lucky, but especially the latter, because it was a Saturday in springtime and he was by himself. He was in the forest, and of course no one is ever actually alone in a forest, it being filled with animals who lurk in the trees, the grass and the water. Charlie sat in a clearing where all of these things were at hand, and the sounds of frogs and crickets confirmed that the woods were alive, and full of lives.

And although he was alone, Charlie had a companion, who might not have actually been there, or even existed at all. But as far as Charlie could tell, he was there, and to be present implies existence. Still, his "presence" was admittedly a dodgy matter, as he seemed to shift about the scene, silently, without ever actually moving. He could be sitting to Charlie's left, or to his right; he might be standing right in front of him, or he might be somewhere behind him, heard but unseen. Sometimes he rested on a low hanging oak branch, which extended at a shallow angle from the base of the trunk, but more often he did not.

Charlie had never met his companion before, but he didn't question his "presence," as it were. He had appeared as soon as Charlie became alone on that sunny Saturday morning, and they had talked immediately as old friends, each knowing or assuming all of the salient facts about the other. For the companion, it was Charlie's name, his age (eight years, nearly nine), his interests, and various trifling details of his family and social life. As for Charlie, he did not actually know any details, not even his companion's name; it may well be that neither of them actually thought those facts were important, and so they were neither spoken nor assumed.

When they met, Charlie was running by himself along a trail through the forest, and his companion was running beside him, though he sometimes jumped, moving almost like a frog, or a monkey, keeping pace with uncanny agility and ease. They ran through the woods as the sun approached its highest point, and the day was growing steadily warmer; a breeze was picking up, and it caused the leaves to whisper to one another. They had nothing in particular to say, but they said it eagerly, for they burst with the spirit of life, were animated by the forces of nature, and they would not be still, even if they could. The companion, however, did have something to say, or rather to ask.

As Charlie grew tired of running, and the trail took the runners into steep, hilly territory, he slowed to a walk, and glanced back in the direction he had come from. His companion asked, "Why are you running from your father?" and it was a fair question, because his father (not to mention his sister and his brother) was indeed behind them, and Charlie's rapid backward glance could almost have been called fearful. But he was not afraid of being followed.

"I'm not. I just wanted to be by myself."

"But why would you want that?"

"It's more fun like this."

"What a strange thing for a boy your age to want," said the companion, and it might have seemed strange to anyone listening in, although it didn't seem strange to Charlie. The companion himself had the appearance of a boy Charlie's age, though this can easily be overstated. He might have appeared to be eight, nearly nine years old, but he seemed much older; really he seemed to be any number of years, neither very old nor young, but but somehow possessing his age, whereas others simply experienced theirs.

None of this bothered Charlie, who only insisted that it was truly what he wanted. "Besides," he added, "I told them I'd be back soon."

"How soon?"

"I don't know." The pair walked quietly down the path, feeling the warmth of the sun and treasuring each path of leafy shade as it came; it being close to noon, shade was scarce on the trail itself, and Charlie, his mouth dry from running, began to feel thirsty. He'd left his water bottle behind, and now decided he could do without it for a while longer, and drink his fill when he returned to the rest of the group. What he had now was more precious by far than water: solitude, closeness, peace.

His companion walked now to his right, though he had not always been there, and it wasn't clear when he had gotten there. More importantly, Charlie noticed that he was about to brush up against a tangled mass of leaves, and he spoke up urgently, "Look out, poison oak!" His companion, now perceiving the danger, nimbly jumped back, kicking the plant with his toe, but avoiding contact with his legs which, like Charlie's, were bare below the knees. Edging in close for inspection, the pair confirmed the plant's identity, taking care not to touch the leaves.

"Thanks, Charlie. How did you know it was poison oak?"

"I read about it in my nature book. You can tell by the number of leaves," he said, cautiously counting them with one finger, one, two, three. "I only saw it because I was looking for animal tracks in the dirt."

"Did you find any?"

"Well, there's some here on the trail, but I think they're just dog tracks." An animal is an animal, even if it's just a dog, but Charlie was clearly disappointed by what he saw, or didn't see.

"Are you sure they aren't coyote tracks? Coyotes look a lot like dogs, so their tracks probably do too."

"Maybe!" The thought pleased Charlie, and the tracks became coyote tracks, though in others' eyes their identity might remain an open question. In any event, he still wanted to see more interesting tracks; like raccoons, with their spindly fingers and thumbs, or deer, with their dainty cloven hooves, or even the large, deep-set paws of a cougar.

"You know," said the companion, who might well have been reading his mind, "we could probably find more interesting tracks down by the creek." Pointing a short distance ahead, he indicated a small sub-path, leading down the western slope of the hill to a dense grove of trees; the sound of the flowing water was just barely audible over the wind and the whisperings of the leaves. It was naturally quiet, like the silence of the universe swathed in the cumulative murmur of its inhabitants, and punctuated by broken twigs and stomping shoes as the child left the main path.

That is how the boy and his companion found themselves in the clearing that Saturday in springtime. At first they scanned the banks of the creek for tracks, as they had meant to, but they couldn't find anything as exotic as cougars, or even deer. "Perhaps," the companion suggested, "the cougars ate all of the deer, and now they're all gone."

"But where would they go?"

"I don't know."

So thwarted, and perhaps ill-advisedly, the boy took a drink of water from the creek, satisfying his thirst (but suffering the awful taste). He sat all alone in the clearing, resting his mind while his companion offered insights into this and that. For a while he spoke of the clearing, which was ideal, shaded by oak trees which offered even the clumsiest child a perch to climb on. A slight canopy of branches hid the sun but let its light pass, striking the fine, sandy soil as gently as could be. The ambient sounds of the woods were invariable, because they were perfect. They were the products of nature and nothing else. Charlie could hardly have realized it, because he was still preoccupied by the paucity of animal tracks, but he sat at the threshold of the wild world, which waited for him to cross it.

"What a camp site this would make!"

"Do you think people ever come here?"

"They must come here sometimes. It's perfect."

"The dirt is so soft..."

"Do you think we've gone too far?"

"I wouldn't want to stay too long. If I fell asleep, the cougars might come back."

"What's that floating down the creek?"

"Look at the way those branches spread out over the trunk."

"It looks just like a castle. Whose castle is it?"

"Maybe the squirrels? Or maybe it's our now!"

"This root is shaped funny, like a drumstick."

"This whole place is ours; we're the only ones here."

"I like this place better than the lake."

"Do you think they've caught up yet?"

"Look there, in the water!"

"I love these rocks, especially when they're wet."

"I like to see them with the algae growing on the side."

"I like to see them drying in the sun."

"Brrr, it's getting chilly in the wind!"

"I want to go out and climb on the big rock in the middle!"

"I'm going to go sit in the sun."

"I wish there were more clouds out today, shaped like things."

"I just threw some rocks in the water, did you see?"

"Yeah, that was awesome!"

"Where do you think they all come from?"

"They're everywhere, that's just the way it is."

"I thought I saw a deer track in the sand just now, but I think it just looks like one."

"Well you never know. Let's say it is!"

"I wish there were more around here."

"Is that a campfire spot?"

"I guess so. Maybe there were some people here before us."

"Why did they leave? I wouldn't ever want to leave this place."

"I'd like to have a tree house in the castle."

"We could put a roof in, and walls."

"What could we put in there?"

"It's like a house, so we could have chairs, and comic books, and a TV, and we could stay there all day!"

"But what would we eat?"

"I don't know."

"We could go back and get sandwiches."

"Did you hear that!?"

"No, what was it?"

"I think it was a cougar!"

"Maybe it was the others, following us."

"Look there, in the that a cougar?"

"I think it's probably just a rock. See how it's shaped?"

"Ahh....too bad!"

"I can't hear anyone. I think we're all alone."

"There's only boring animals here. Just frogs and bugs!"

"Wouldn't it be cool if we saw a bear?"

"There's no bears here!"

"But wouldn't it be cool?"

"Shut up! There's no bears here!"

"I'll bet one will show up any minute now, and what will we do then?"

"We could hide in the castle, and throw water balloons at him!"

"But we don't have any of those."

"We could hide them in there when we build the tree house."

"Hey look, a red-tailed hawk!"

"I love those birds! Do you think they have any bald eagles around, too?"

"I don't know."

"Where are they, do you think?"

The two of them went on like this for a long time, and it was never clear who was saying what, or what was said when, or when it came to a gradual stop, when Charlie found he was less interested in talking than before. Soon he was merely thinking, and thinking only requires one, but as simple as it was he could hardly think of anything at all. So for many minutes Charlie sat alone, not thinking but waiting for something to change, so that he could move again, or at least talk again. He closed his eyes, and the Earth grew no louder; he wanted to open them again.

"Where are they, do you think?" Charlie turned to his left, seeking answers and solace from his companion.

"I don't know. They might have passed us."

"Won't they come looking for me?"

"Probably. But how will they know where to look?"

Charlie had no idea; regrettably, he had not planned on getting back, because he seldom ever had to make plans for himself. He knew what he should not have done.

"But aren't you glad we did it?"

Charlie spread his hands through the loose, sandy soil, and the grey dust clung to the pale skin between his fingers. It was no good, now that his hands were dirty, but he loved the way it felt, and he wished that the dirt in his own back yard was so fine; or that this could be his new back yard, and his home would be right across the creek, with a little foot bridge; or even in the castle, the tree castle of low-hanging branches and gnarled bark.

Soon the two of them climbed the tree. Charlie climbed as high as he would dare, but his companion rested amongst the very highest leaves, impossible light, held aloft by little more than twigs and air. Even Charlie, however, was able to see quite a distance from his modest vantage. But what he saw was not helpful, only trees and mountains, green but browning in anticipation of summer's heat and dry, dry winds. The companion might have seen the trail, but he was not looking for it. He, who was not really there, was there in his element, unseen, unheard, except by the one who was there.

So there was joy in that tree, even though there was also terror, the subtle, cautious terror felt by children who know they have made a grave mistake, but still believe that their parents, in their wisdom will set everything right. There was no panic, because it was a Saturday in springtime and the trees and water and dust were all beautiful, and Charlie was not alone. But there was terror all the same.

"Why are you afraid?" asked the companion.

"I don't know what to do!"

"We can stay here, in this place."

"No, I can't! They'll never find me here." Charlie looked down, and thought that he might fall; his sneakers slid slightly on the bark, and his fingers dug in, paralyzed as he was. If he were any more frightened, he might have cried, but his companion would not have noticed.

"Do you hear that? The sound the hawk just made? The creek? The rattlesnake? Do you feel that little chill in the wind, and the warmth of the sun, and the way when you're up high, every direction is down, except for up? It's perfect, and you know it, and everything you want is here; why would you ever want to leave it?"

Charlie said nothing, and closed his eyes, unwilling to acknowledge that he agreed. He did not want to leave, any more than he wanted to be left. His dusty fingers ached, as they squeezed tighter and tighter. He opened his eyes, glancing up to see the sun.

His companion was on the ground again, standing near the path. "I think I hear your father, calling your name," he shouted, just as Charlie was thinking that he heard the very same thing; the faint echo of his own name rolling quietly through the grove. "Come on down, let's go!"

The boy gingerly made his way down the branch, until he was low enough to be brave enough to make a jump. He fell, landing on his feet, and kept falling until he was sprawled to the ground, and a big dusty cloud rose up from the dirt to give him its final goodbye. It didn't last long, and Charlie, thoroughly coated in dust, was up on his feet again, and they rushed back in the direction of the main path.

Charlie rushed through thickets and shrubs, because the sub-path had never been properly cleared; it would not have been very difficult to lose his way, if he hadn't remembered to follow the contours of the hill. The tree tops blocked up much of the sun's light, and sticks, twigs, and even thorns threatened his bare shins; he did not even think to check for poison oak. If any animals were around they surely made themselves unseen, because Charlie ran as fast as he could run, making what a squirrel or a cougar would consider a terrible racket. Charlie didn't care for the noise himself, but it couldn't be helped.

He emerged from the woods, dusty and out of breath, his legs nicked with faint scratches from the foliage. Glancing quickly down the path, he saw his father walking toward him, hands cupped around his mouth and shouting Charlie's name, just as he thought that he'd heard. When his father saw him, he stopped yelling, and rushed to meet his son, and the son rushed to do the same; it was the happiest he'd ever been in his entire life.

"Where have you been?" his father asked, and Charlie could only point in the direction of the creek and vaguely, excitedly describe the clearing and the castle. "Never mind," said his father, "everyone's waiting for us at the lake."

The two of them walked down the trail together, exhausted but happy, and while the father was no doubt shaken by thoughts of what might have been, Charlie had already put his anxieties behind him, eagerly anticipating the lake and the soft green grass. They walked together by themselves, without another human soul in sight, and as Charlie left the place that was made just for him, the forest took it back. Saturday passed to Sunday, and springtime passed to summer, and things were never quite the same again.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Good things come to those who wait...

...especially if they live long enough.

So, let's start off with the cold hard truth, and follow it up with a light, optimistic compensation. There's no new story this week (gasp!) I had it in my head that I could finish the one I'm currently working on, but things didn't work out that way. Fortunately, however, I am about halfway through with this new short story, to be posted next Tuesday, the Fifteenth day of this here December, to be very, very specific. It is a sort of fantastic, stylistic piece that might even be called a ghost story, entitled The Modern Spirit. I'm pretty excited about it, and I am eager to share it, but it's not done! Such things deserve all the proper care and consideration that their creators can give them, and furthermore to be protected from prying eyes until they have the proper form.

In other news, I've recently been turned on to Google Wave. Initially, I did not realize exactly what it was; I knew it was being promoted for creative types, but I was not immediately to tell how it was different from Gmail. Shows what I get for not paying close attention; it's actually an ideal tool for online collaboration. As a matter of fact, a good buddy of mine is exploring collaborative possibilities with me right now, using this marvelous technology. I find myself admitting that, while the prospect of huge corporations inserting themselves into the destinies of ordinary people remains a dystopian horror, I really don't mind if it's Google.

Once this collaboration is made, it will probably be posted on one or both of our sites, because we're sharers like that. In the meantime, it should make for an interesting Christmas vacation.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

There's a Civil War Outside My House

Really, there is; a vicious war, fought between ducks and beavers, over who will control the ponds and streams of this fair state for the next year. The losers, it is my understanding, must make do with the lesser ponds and streams of Idaho, until such time as Civil War is invoked again. For the time being, the streets are clogged with bloodied feathers and pelts, and the air rings with the squawking of beaks, and the thumping of flat, fleshy tails. It's really quite noisy, I mean to say.

This is, at any rate, how I visualize the annual UO/OSU football game taking place tonight. The streets are actually clogged with automobiles, a few of them no doubt piloted by ducks and/or beavers of dubious sobriety. The ducks/beavers in this instance are actually people, which probably makes them slightly less dangerous behind the wheel, but that's hardly the point. The point is, Civil War has come to Autzen stadium, and I am trapped in my house.

Which is fine, I supposed. I've got my music, to drown out the dull roar of the stadium (as well as the fuzzy blupt-de-blup of the PA system), I've got my book, I've got my tea, and I've got the game on TV. Yes, the game is taking place literally across the street, and I'm watching it on TV. On low volume, so that it does not clash with the music.

Speaking of music, I've got a semi-interesting program going on, listening to my entire iTunes music library, alphabetically by album, without skipping a single track. This is a very epic endeavor; I've been at it in bursts over five days, and I'm now waist deep in the Beatles Anthology. Why do this? Boredom, you might think. And you're right! But I have rationalizations, too; namely, a desire to look at my collection from a new perspective. I can go a long time without listening to some albums, and that's not fair to anybody.

Of course, my digital album collection, as it stands, comes in at nearly ten days, five hours of continuous tunes. I may be at this for a while.

Pausing the music for a second, I open the window; the roar comes from both the TV and the stadium. It's like talking to yourself on the telephone.

Go Ducks!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Poetry Jam #2

Gather around, however few of you, for the second (long awaited?) installment of poems by myself. Once again, I make no claims with regard to quality, except that I assume I must be getting better at these over time. I've thrown a great many out, rewritten a few that seemed worth it, and dithered, and dithered, and dithered some more, before finally sucking it up and sticking another handful out into the cold, cruel world. I'll stick some commentary down below, for those of you who think auto-analysis is halfway interesting.

Lady, Do You Like the Blues?

Lady, do you like the blues?
Do you like to hear them sung?
Can you overlook the cheap guitars,
And see the lovely, aching hearts?

Will you pay them any mind,
The sad young men who sing them?
Will you take the time to feel their art,
Can you hear it with a feeling heart?

Will You Come?

I don't trust you to feel like I feel,
'Till you answer me true, do you see like I do?
Then I will know that you see like I see,
Do you hear what I see, do you see me this way
Like I see you?

Do I need you?

Will you be there?

If I might love you and you would love me
I don't know what I'd do, I've been feeling so blue,
And if I ask you to make me feel well,
If I give you the call, will you see me at all,

Will you come?

Hello, Anna

Hello Anna, can I meet you after class?
This is one test that I'm never gonna pass,
I'm twenty one, but my voice begins to crack,
And there's nothing anyone can do about that,

Anna, tell me, would you please go out with me?
Now you smile, and your answer I can see,
You say I'm nice, and my offer's very sweet,
But you're seeing someone, and he isn't me

It wouldn't be so bad, but you sit in front of me
And every other day, I look up and I see
Your soft brown hair, and it's speaking to me,
Telling me the lovely things we'll never be

Goodbye, Anna, hope you have a happy life,
I see you go, and you're such a pretty sight,
And now my heart is feeling small and tight,
And my head is spinning, my mind is feeling light

And there's nothing anyone can do about that,
There's nothing that I can do about that.

In the Very Same Way

I don't know why, but it sounds so appropriate
Late at night on a bus,
Though you and I have never met,

But it strikes me, as the lights are tuning out
And the saxophone is playing,
And you are beautiful, in the very same way

You turn your head, you button your coat,
And the saxophone blows,
It is beautiful,
And you are beautiful, in the very same way


It came to a head, on that unassuming day. The weather was mild, and I had very little to say. But so much depended on that day.

That rhyme was not intentional. I'll try to be more careful.

Due dates, deadlines, random settings
Conspire, collude, to drive me crazy
So much depends upon this day,
But why'd it have to be this way?
House guests, hearings, unknown crises
Arise, erode and ignore my needs,
So much is slotted for this day,
Oh, why'd it have to be this way?

Pressure, pressure, f****** pressure,
Not quite enough to make me faster,
Why'd they overload this day,
Oh why'd it have to be this way?

A poem in three parts, two parts put together.

So much done, on this day of reckoning,
So why have I failed to change a thing?


You know that sometimes I need a drink
To get me through the day,
I feel like someone who's on the brink,
Of failing to stay awake

Asleep, you know I'm falling asleep
And it's nobody's fault,
I don't think,
Believe, I think I'm losing myself,
I need someone's help,
I need that drink

I am so heavy, I'm going to fall,
I'll lose my grip on thought,
I feel like someone who's going to sink;
I slowly sip from my straw.


These poems all range from approximately one year to eight months old. Lady, Do You Like the Blues? is actually the oldest one here, and is probably even older than the idea for this website. It's sort of an experimental half-poem, written mainly to test the possibility that I was actually capable of poetry. It's kind of cute.

I actually really like Will You Come?, for reasons that I'm not even sure of myself. Maybe it's good, or maybe I've got to like something I've written or I'll go crazy.

Of all of these, the one I'm most conflicted about is Hello Anna, a poem which is almost completely autobiographical; after going back and forth for a few weeks about asking a girl in my history class out to coffee, I took the plunge, looked a little silly, and got politely shot down. A few days later, I started thinking about a song the Beatles recorded on their first album, Anna (Go to Him), and somehow, a set of words came to me. At the time, I was really proud of it because it came quickly, but it didn't take me long to feel slightly embarrassed by it. But rather than let it stew in my binder forever, I'll put it out in the light with the usual caveats. It's the only poem I've saved two drafts of, and the version here is slightly different from both, as I saw fit to remove one or two of the corniest phrases.

In the Very Same Way was written a short time after I'd downloaded the Cowboy Bebop soundtrack box set, and was, you guessed it, listening to it on the bus. It's a simple poem expressing a very simple idea, but I think the idea is charming, to say nothing of my presentation.

February is barely a poem. Let's just say that February 2009 seemed like an unusually hectic time, and I felt like doing something with it. It also contains a very naughty word, which I've censored here, because I'm a pansy. You know what it is, though.

Lastly, I want to be clear about Drink. The drink is tea. Iced tea, in particular. I love me some iced tea. The poem is about drinking said tea in afternoon classes because by all rights, the afternoon is nap time, dammit. The original draft includes a drawing of a plastic cup containing ice, which I have faithfully reproduced in MS paint. Enjoy!