Exercises, or Feel the burn

I’m stuck.  Horribly, painfully, terrifyingly stuck.  It’s the dreaded block, man. I’ve had this before, and I do notwant to get derailed by this again.  So, in an effort to jump start my gears, I’ve been writing little vignettes.  I don’t draft, I don’t think about what’s going to come next.  I just choose a first sentence and go from there.  Painful, but therapeutic, I think, I end.  Here’s one I think is sort of alright.

*          *          *          *          *

“I’m tired of this,” Cara whined.

Christian didn’t even bother to look up from his paper.  Cara was always tired of something.  “What is it this time?”

“Well, for starters, I’m tired of you not paying attention to me,” she said, pouting.

Christian turned a page, taking pains to remain as neutral and calm as possible.  “I am paying attention to you.  Case in point: if I were not paying attention, then we wouldn’t even be having this conversation.”

“You’re not even looking at me!”

Heavy silence from Christian.

Cara wasn’t stupid.  She had noticed, of course, that it took longer each time for her husband to respond to (diffuse, rather) her little outbursts.  She knew those few extra seconds he took were to calm his own temper.  That didn’t worry her.  It was perhaps a testament to her own self-absorption that she had never even considered the ramifications of such.  Christian had indulged these little fits of hers for the entire duration of their relationship and, she believed, would continue to do so without fail.

Christian, for his part, did love his wife.  She was the light of his soul, the still point of his world.  He would have done anything, gone anywhere, if only to make her happy.  But no matter how much love or devotion, twenty years of temper tantrums will wear anyone’s patience thin.

The human brain works amazingly fast.  He thought of all this and more in those three seconds of silence.

“Cara,” he rumbled, and Cara, so unused to such gravity in her husband’s voice, jumped in surprise.  Exasperation, yes.  Placation, of course.  But gravity?  She shivered involuntarily.

Christian set down his book and rose from his chair.  With even stride, he crossed to his wife, who suddenly felt as timid as a rabbit before this 300-pound giant.

“Cara,” he said, taking her small hands in his own bear-like fists.  His fists.  Strange she had never thought of them that way before.  She swallowed hard.

“Cara.  Stop.”


Meat and marrow

I submit this post to you today in hopes of clearing my mind of familiar troubles.  Dear readers, I am unsettled.  This gift I had for writing–or maybe thought I had–has atrophied.  I can’t do what I once could.  I now stumble for words and phrases, and the ease with which I used to create has receded, pulled back like a wild thing easily startled, a deer or a flower, Sleeping Grass you dare not touch.  This frightens me.  What am I if not a writer?  Writers create, writers seduce.  They can be nasty or standoffish, but the moment you read the story–or poem, song lyric, whatever–you feel that connection, see all those tender bits laid bare, years of intimacy distilled down into a single page, words simple but rife with double meaning.  At least, that’s what good writing means to me.  All of my favorite writers are what others might call navel gazers: those who choose internal narrative over dialogue, raw emotion over action.  Neil Gaiman, whose light sci-fi sits shotgun to perception.  Marguerite Duras, whose stream-of-consciousness style captured the oft-buried emotions of her protagonists.  John Paul Sartre, who accurately described my own feelings of remoteness.  These writers I love and emulate.  I fear I shall never reach their levels greatness.

I’m editing this story, or, rather, trying to edit it.  I’m not sure exactly what the problem is, maybe too much dialogue, but every rewrite has been stilted, jerky, not at all smooth and flowing as I would prefer. Either I skimp on character direction, or I put in too much, and I just can’t.  Get. It. Right.  And I feel stupid and sub-par and bad, because it’s always what I’ve wanted to do and I can’t do it and I’ve had all this time and what am I if I’m not a writer?  *sigh* I’m just so discouraged.


Small gifts

Sunday is universally regarded as a day of rest.  Not just by religious types; even your basic secular folks view Sunday as the pinnacle of non-work.  I am no different.  For some reason, though, I had decided to do stuff.  I have no explanation for this sudden, strange inclination.  Perhaps my mood had something do with it.  The last two days had been very good indeed.   Sunday afternoon, I awoke in even temperament.  I started some laundry, picked up my prescription decongestant (half of a two prong remedy to rid myself of a nasty middle ear infection), and bought food for the day.  Then, remembering the advice of my new friend, I checked the free section of Craigslist—I did need a few things, and free is always amenable.  After a bit, I’d found what I thought was a good bet, an after-garage-sale bonanza in West Plano.  The owners had left the stuff sitting in the driveway, waiting for scroungers like myself to haul it away.  With directions firmly in phone, I set off.

By the time I got to the place, there was almost nothing was left—just a couple of old mops and a stained baby bumper.  I hadn’t really expected to find anything useful, so I wasn’t too disappointed.  I got back into the car and, five minutes into a disastrous attempt at reverse navigation, I was pulled over.  In uppity West Plano.  Eesh.

I hate being stopped, and I’m broke, besides.  I should have been disgusted with myself, but I wasn’t.  Perhaps the niceness of the last two days had something to do with my easygoing attitude.  The cop was very pleasant, and calmly informed me that not only was my taillight was out, but I was missing a license plate in front (which I wasn’t even aware was an offense, but there you go.  There I go, Toyota.  Thank you for not drilling any license plate holes in the front bumper, I really appreciate that).  I was just starting to ruminate over the cost of a ticket I didn’t have, when the cop came back and gave me a warning.  I think I heard angels singing.

In the car, congratulating myself on not pissing off the cop for the amount of time it took for him to give me the warning, distracted and simultaneously fiddling with my GPS so that I might actually get home, I BAM–ran up on the median and blew out my tire.  D’oh.

Yeouch.

I had a spare, of course, but it was hot as balls, and I didn’t know how to work my jack.  (In my defense, readers, I’d only had one flat with this car.)  To top it off, I’d bent the wheel.  More d’oh.

Three men (separately) drove by and asked if I needed help, but  I pride myself on not being the typical female in distress, so I told them no, but the last one got out to help anyway.  Blessed man.  He taught me how to use my jack, for which I was so grateful that I purposely didn’t sneer inwardly at the law enforcement patch on his starched shirtfront pocket.  (I really, really don’t like cops.)  I should have been exasperated with myself, but two missing hubcaps and a bent wheel later, all I could think was that I now had a legitimate reason to buy me some rims.  And that, after all that, I deserved a beer.

This nasty--um, CHEAP beer was my reward. Hum.


First flight

This weekend, a new friend and I went to an amusement park called Zero Gravity Thrill Park.  Zero Gravity only has five rides, but all five are the most hardcore in the metroplex.  There’s the bungee jump, the free fall, the slingshot, the swing, and the skyscraper.  His favorite, he told me, was the 16-story free fall.  He had such a smile on his face when he said it; dreamy and content.  Happy.  I’m such a sucker for a smile.  I suggested we go on it.

Dear readers:  I am a wuss.

My wussiness is a fact of nature, like species-specific circadian rhythms, or the simple-yet-mystifying mechanics of soap.  I won’t sleep in a tent.  I can’t get under the bedclothes without first taking a shower.  And I absolutely hate roller coasters.  I’ve ridden the beasts less than ten times in my life (excepting the Mine Train, which doesn’t count because it isn’t a real roller coaster), and only then with persistent goading from family members.  It’s not that I’m afraid of heights–I’m afraid of falling from heights.  I’m afraid of the climb.  I worry that the track will break and the car will fall backwards, and I, strapped into that car, will fall backwards, too, until I finally hit the ground, horribly and painfully, snapped back against hard-packed dirt and unforgiving metal.  My brain is my own worst enemy.

The park was a lot smaller than I had expected.  There were a good number of people, but virtually few lines.  Spectators.  Yet another thing I tried not to think about.  The free fall, we found, was shut down; there was too much wind. For perhaps the fifth time that night, my friend turned to me and asked if I want to stay.  I could see the concern in his eyes, and I knew he wouldn’t think any less of me for doing so, but I was just  so tired of being a punk.  I told him I wanted to stay, and he steered me over to the Skycoaster.

The Skycoaster is like a giant swing.  One to three people are harnessed to a cable, attached to a central pivot, and pulled back as far as possible.  At the signal, one pulls a rip cord to release the locking mechanism and engage the swing.  I looked at the woman already in the swing being reeled up to the top, heels pressed to her eyes, as her children catcalled from below.  I felt the anxiety slowly start to build.  “Don’t worry,” he said.  “They’re hang gliding harnesses.”  “So it’s like flying?  I’ve always wondered what it would be like to fly.  I’ll hold out my arms, then.”  Flippancy, I thought, would release tension, and redirect my nervous energy into more benign areas.  It worked, kind of, and I instead thought of those childish daydreams I had of flying, felt awe instead of apprehension.  Then he said for me to pull the rip cord.  I considered the ramifications of playing an active role in my own very probably and painful demise, and instantly deflated.

The trip up was a bitch.  Sight only increased the pull of gravity, so I kept my eyes shut for most of that.  When we finally stopped, and I opened my eyes, I for one split second thought I was going to start screaming and crying in terror. Thankfully, I didn’t have to wait long before the attendant gave the signal.  I quickly compressed my thoughts and pulled the cord.  The bottom dropped out of my stomach, and then I did scream as we wooshed down and then up, up past the horizon.  The lights of the city were tiny and muted, but pretty in the strangeness of my vantage point.  It was scary.  It was beautiful.  The two are not mutually exclusive.

Sample vid from the Zero Gravity website.  None of these girls are me.

Soon we reached the apex of the first swing, and as we fell away into the next climb, the grandness of the moment–wind coupled with near-weightlessness and the knowledge that you’re as close to flying as a human can ever get–turned frigid terror into wide-eyed awe.  I couldn’t get over what I was seeing. It was magical in a way that my stodgy, cliché-hating self cannot deny.  Even now, three days later–more than enough for me to overthink, to downplay, dissect, and analyze–I can’t help but say that it was one of the best things I’ve ever done.


Essentials

I absolutely love pens.  I feel about my pens the same way some feel about their cars.  They’re important to me, and when I find a special one, I cherish it until I either lose it or it gives up in exhaustion.  Some might find it strange.  I find it strange, but more and more I think that I should just accept it. Musicians are particular about their instruments.  Artists are choosy about their paints and brushes.  Why am I so unforgiving about my love of pens?

I like notebooks, too.  I like anything you write on or with, really.  I love going to the school section of the store (any store) and looking through their writing goods. I’ve spent a small fortune in pens. Loose-leaf paper, as well, though I almost never use it. I can’t think into a word processor like some, I have to write everything out longhand, so it’s necessary, right? Right? I’ve tried to break myself of the habit, but it’s so hard to pass up such pretty things. I romanticize things easily.  Anything odd catches my eye.  This entry, for example, was written on a loose-leaf sugarcane paper I found at the office supply store. I like this paper: it’s tan, not bleached blinding white.  The boundary line colors blend easily into the surface, so it’s easier to read, and it’s so nice and crinkly when written on.

The Zebra G-301 Gel

I’m very demanding of my pens.  Nothing too cheap or flash, they must be dependable and comfortable in my hand.  One of my favorites is the Zebra Gel Roller.  It only comes in medium point, which I’m not fond of, but it’s so smooth.  (*sigh* Love is never perfect.)  My notebooks, too, I hold to similar standards.  No high-priced journals for me.  I must have something modest, functional, and, above all, college-ruled.  Spirals aren’t good as regular writing notebooks, they bend too easy.  Hard covers are more versatile than plain card, but they’re so hard to find. So many requirements!  Only the stately composition book comes close. Do you know how hard it is to find a college-ruled composition book? They’re not cheap, either.


The (sur)real world

Cool thing of the day: Man, Woman, and the Wall.

Movie poster with Sora Aoi (right) and Keita Ono (left).

Netflix was good enough to suggest this flick, based on my preference for creepy, cerebral movies, of which there are lots. I’ve seen so many, I’m kind of burnt out on the genre. This one was Japanese, though, so I had to watch it. Yeah, I’m a Japanophile otaku geek, but I’m also awesome, so it’s OK.

Before I  begin, dear readers, a small (but important) disclaimer. Stalking is bad. Stalking is bad. Stalking is bad. But for some reason, it’s really entertaining to watch.

Reporter Ryo moves to a new apartment with very thin walls. His neighbor to the right is a young woman named Satsuki. He hears her all the time: in the shower, on the phone, having sex with her boyfriend. Ryo quickly starts to fantasize about her; he even buys equipment to better eavesdrop on her life.  But Ryo soon finds that he isn’t alone in his voyeurism.

This is an awesome movie for lots of reasons. The plot was solid, the characters well drawn, and there was a lot of detail to the set designs. I wasn’t too crazy about the cinematography or editing, but nothing’s perfect, right? I know very little Japanese, but I understood enough to judge the actors (mostly) competent in their roles.

I love movies that are both realistic and believable. I love flawed characters. Archetypes are fun to play with, but I like the complexity of real people. I think a lot of writers are scared to have truly fucked up protagonists–drug dealers, sadists, murderers, despots, etc–but those characters are the most interesting to create. I may loathe their actions and ideologies, but it’s fun to try to work them out. Some people may say that creating bad characters is bad, too, but, then again, those are the same people who claim that violent video games make children violent.  *snorts*  As if the parents have nothing to do with it.

So, in conclusion, Man, Woman, and the Wall was a mixed bag of awesomeness.  For reals.


Open letter to my brother

Dear A,

I’ve secretly stalked you for over a year now.  I’ve befriended you via one of the largest, vilest social networking sites.  I’ve commented on your posts—not because I wanted you to take notice of me, but because I was genuinely interested in what you had to say.  I’ve checked out your friends, your enemies, and your detractors.  I’ve even Googled your name and found out your school activities.  Creepy, I know, but I wanted to know about you.  I’ve noticed similarities between us.  Given that I’m a colossal fuck-up, I don’t yet know if this is good or bad.  I have to remind myself that you are not me, that you will not necessarily make the same mistakes I have, or have the same regrets, but, still, I can’t help but worry.

I respond to you always with the buried hope that you will, eventually, notice that there’s something off with the faux-me, and wonder, just who is this person whose photo I’ve never seen, lives in a different state, and talks like a middle-aged female?  What am I to him?  How does he know me, anyway?  Have you ever wondered?  I know little enough about you to say. Perhaps I’ve put too much into this—this sham persona, this approximation of familiarity.

 You see where I’m going with this, yes?  Clearly, this situation is not going to resolve itself.  I guess I’ll just have to do what everyone else does—I’ll have to send you a letter.


On the spot with J.U.L

Last month, the Just-Us League, a collection of local artists who create live art at live events, held a fundraiser for the earthquake/tsunami victims in Japan.  I wasn’t involved with the fundraiser at all.  I came in at the tail-end of the night, looking around at the art left (donations from locals, and a couple of famous people), carefully not bidding on anything because I didn’t have any money.  As usual, there was a large canvas for everyone to add their art, this time extended to all the event volunteers, as well as the attendees. In the spirit of the J.U.L.’s live art vibe, this, too was an on-the-spot creation.  I penned this at the last possible moment, Jerod patiently waiting for me to finish, as he was trying to pack up everything. It’s a little off–muddied, cluttered with repetition, in dire need of a good edit–but it’s there.  Also, please excuse the crappy-ness of the pic itself, as I only had my woefully inadequate 2.0 MP camera phone on me, and I absolutely suck at photo editing.

I also drew a few leaf/branch things right above it, but I didn’t think to get a picture of that.  This banner is currently in the possession of the Japan-America Society of DFW; maybe I’ll go by there one day and get one.


Is sharing caring?

Today, I read a Yahoo! article (yes, I know) about the TLC Show “Sister Wife”.  At the bottom of the article was a real life interview (did you catch the sarcasm?) with a true sister wife–a woman who had entered into a plural marriage with her younger sister’s husband.  She admitted that she was (and is) unhappy in her marriage; she admitted that she and her sister don’t often talk.  However, she calls one woman extending a plural marriage to another a gift.  A gift?  You just said that you’re unhappy, and you and your sister have so many issues with each other, not a few because of this polygamous marriage, yet you say she gave you a gift?  I don’t get it.  What about this is a gift?

An FLDS man with his wives. Stephanie Sinclair/VII for National Geographic.

Don’t get me wrong; I don’t (and wont) prohibit or demonize any lifestyle that a consenting adult wishes to enter into.  Adults have a right to do what they want, as long as it doesn’t harm another.  But I do have the right to express my confusion at this particular practice, and wonder at the blind adherence of the adults who ascribe to this particular lifestyle (I speak of those fundamentalists who practice polygamy, not the people who decided, outside or regardless of any religious or societal mores, that they’d like to give it a go).  How, exactly, do you consider this a gift, an honor?  To me, a gift is something you endow to someone that is wholly their own; asking them to halve their own happiness is a burden of self-sacrifice–and why would you think it right to ask someone you respect and/or trust to sacrifice their happiness for someone else’s?  I won’t get into all the other concerns I have about plural marriage; I just wanted to bring up a point that I hadn’t yet seen anyone else mention.

I’m reminded of a book I read many years ago, called The Kitchen God’s Wife, (by Amy Tan, if you’re at all interested).  In this book, the mother, Winnie, bemoaned her daughter’s guest bedroom, which was much smaller than the master bedroom the daughter and husband shared.  She called the reservation of second best for guests a very American way of thinking, while the reverse (only the highest and best for honored guests) was the Chinese way of thinking.  (By the way, readers, I do see the irony in using this fictional literary anecdote to question the fundamentalist view of polygyny–as the practice was very widespread in China–but I’m using it anyway.)  Whatever happened to the tenet of “give others the better of yourselves” that I learned in Girl Scouts?  Is this only a Girl Scout thing?  Did the dear GS teach me wrong?  Or does this only apply to children and those not allowed or deemed unfit to decide upon their own welfare?


It begins

“Man,” I cried, “how ignorant art thou in thy pride of wisdom!”

 – Mary Shelley, Frankenstein


Replica of Maschinenmensch Maria from Fritz Lange's iconic film Metropolis. On display at the Museum Tinguely.

Today’s cool thing of the day is definitely cool, but scary, too. It’s the genesis of a scenario we’ve seen played out in countless sci-fi novels and films, has been the subject of international symposiums, and spawned a life’s age worth of individual–and societal–anxiety.  I’m speaking, of course, of artificial intelligence. That’s right, guys.  Think Terminator, think the Matrix. Hell, think Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury, Philip K. Dick and Frank Herbert.  The advent of artificial intelligence has been around for centuries (both Frankenstein and Pygmalion dealt with sentient, man-made beings), but I don’t think it ever seemed as close as right now.

http://www.cyberdyne.jp/english/robotsuithal/

You think I’m being an alarmist?  ‘Cause I don’t. Peep that name, ya’ll; these people are not playing.

Though I’ve only read a few of his short stories, I really do think that Isaac Asimov best described the struggle between humans and robots.  Movies only focus on the strife between the two; they fail to address the causes of the problem.  What humans have to ask each other–what they’ve never asked each other–is: are robots people?  No matter that they are man-made.  If AI is intelligent, sentient, and able to reason, doesn’t that mean that they are, in fact, people deserving of rights?  Doesn’t the mere fact that we created them mean that we must take pains to bestow, and, indeed, allow such rights?

History reminds us time and again that man is phenomenally bad at sharing.  That being said, it may be best that we quit while we’re ahead.