Categories
Uncategorized

The Shortest Best Story Ever

This post originally appeared in Old Road Apples’ very first week of existence. No one noticed it. No one even read it. So, I’m giving it a chance at new life, as I will be doing with other, carefully selected posts in the coming weeks.

Image

Among the students voted “best…” and “most likely to…” for the Senior Class Personalities in my kids’ yearbooks, I noted what has to be the most flattering and impressive designation, “Talks the least. Says the Most.”  I can’t think of a higher salute from one’s peers.

Now I’m thinking about the writer Ernest Hemingway.

Hemingway was one of those “gateway writers” who collectively inspired me to study literature and read obsessively.  An early selection of my adolescence-generated prose stinks of derivation, but as I stumbled into my pretentious twenties I mocked him along with other, equally unsubtle critics.  He ate a sandwich.  It was a good, moist sandwich with meat and cheese. The cheese was yellow and good. He had eaten kind of sandwich Nick ate in Italy.  I fell in love with bombast, magical realism, what I jokingly called “maximumism.”  That passed, too, and I’ve come full circle to recognize the subtle  genius behind the man who writes the least  and says, or at least edits, the most.

My favorite story about Hemingway involves him sitting around a table, possibly at The Algonquin, with his friends, a few of whom were towering talents in their own right, and betting the house that he could write an entire story with just a few words.  His eager companions bade him put his money where he mouth (and pen) was.  Hemingway replied with a 6-word novel, hastily scribbled onto a napkin  It read:

“For sale: baby shoes.  Never worn.”

His companions read the words, probably grumbled a little, and paid the man.

Categories
Commentary

Henry Miller’s 11 Writing Commandments

I’m offering a rare repost, but this one is irresistible–not only for the racy photo of Henry Miller, but his rules for writing. I’ve broken all of them within recent memory–my shortcomings and failures are no longer inexplicable. Check out “Journelle Frivolous”–it’s well worth the time.

Categories
Commentary Poetry

Two Poems Stuck In My Head

Forgive me, it’s been over 6 weeks since i sat down and tried to think in verse.  Forget about the actual work of putting it on paper and tinkering.  I could blame all the obligations–work, kid’s stuff, chores, a wedding, a vacation, fiction, and this damned blog–but I don’t do excuses with writing. It’s like Kermit says to Luke Skywalker in Star Wars: do or do not.

I’ve been doing not…

But the weird thing is that whenever I think of poems, and my not making time for them, my mind plugs up with two fairly famous poems, one often replacing the other when I try to force the former from my consciousness.  Neither are pieces with particularly resounding significance to either my brain or my soul, but it’s as if they’ve infected me.  The Dickinson poem is a ubiquitous piece in high school English classes–or used to be before poetry was marginalized in order to make more room for standardized test prep, and I’ve seen the Oliver poem frequently anthologized as well–no idea why they’re colonized my brain, though.

Anyone ever experience anything like this?

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

from Dream Work by Mary Oliver published by Atlantic Monthly Press

I heard a Fly buzz – when I died

I heard a Fly buzz – when I died –
The Stillness in the Room
Was like the Stillness in the Air –
Between the Heaves of Storm –

The Eyes around – had wrung them dry –
And Breaths were gathering firm
For that last Onset – when the King
Be witnessed – in the Room –

I willed my Keepsakes – Signed away
What portion of me be
Assignable – and then it was
There interposed a Fly –

With Blue – uncertain – stumbling Buzz –
Between the light – and me –
And then the Windows failed – and then
I could not see to see –

from The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, edited by Thomas H. Johnson.

Categories
Fiction Excerpt

Excerpt: Novel in Progress

Someone asked me about the novel in progress…here’s some:

It took both of them to drag me up from the hole, and from their grunts and curses  it wasn’t easy for them.  I had stopped struggling weeks before, and was paid for it with harder currency than when I’d fought back, but there wasn’t a chance in hell I’d walk docile, like a cow, to whatever was next.  Passive resistance was the better option,  although that brought the gnawing pleasure of my bare feet and ankles thumped against each concrete stair riser as they dragged me up, one thug under each arm.  My boots had been taken with my uniform—government property

At the stop of the steps they paused, waiting for the sentry outside, calling after her with additional profanity.  She wasn’t one of them—just one of those who stood by idly, day after day, doing what she was told, avoiding eye contact, complicit in their silence.  I can’t say that I blame her—or any of them—and had spent countless hours fixated on the question: would I do it again?  A better man than I certainly would.  A lesser man would lie and tell you he would.  I can’t say that I could. I’m not proud to admit it, but what’s pride but something someone stronger than you can take?

Tumblers spun inside the door, a bolt was thrown, and the armored entry swiveled open.  The goons and sentry exchanged more curses, and I was dragged to the right.  A turn to the left would have meant another visit with the Colonel, and another beating wrapped in a skin of interrogation.  The passage to the right led down a long hallway, through another armored door, and outside.  I could be headed for the stocks again, or the mudpit, the colonel’s preferred discipline—a pool of sopping mud into which a prisoner was tied spread-eagle and face up into the incessant rain. The mudpit was kept sodden, but not full, so a prisoner could relax as long as the rains were brief and widespread.  Prolonged showers filled the pool with slick mud, forcing the punished to crane his neck up and forward  in order to breath, for as long as it took for the rains to stop and the liquid to sink down into the sodden ground.

I much preferred the stocks, or the beatings for that matter.  Beatings lasted for minutes, then they left you alone.  It could rain here for a week straight.

“Hey there, Mikey’s awake,” Corporal Charkviani rumbled. Igor Charkvani, a perfect goddamn Igor if ever such a beast roamed.

Raul Cloutier laughed his exaggerated, hyena laugh. “We’re in trouble now, Private Space Command gonna is to get us.”

Charkviani, a leering, menacing coil of muscle and tendons, rumbled his amusement.  I imagined Cloutier, younger and smaller and ever ready to please, jumping up and down, clapping in satisfaction.

They had put the usual black bag over my head, bound tightly at the neck, ostensibly for safety—lest some maniac like me discover their true identities.  Of course, they insisted on tormenting and teasing me, with a regular selection of violence, all the while keeping a running dialogue in their distinctive, heavily accented voices. I held faith that the time would come that I could repay their hospitality.  In fact, I lived for the moment.

They wore rain hoods and goggles

The bag came off my face.  I squinted into the deep gray skies as specks of rain fell upon my cheeks.  Though afraid to look up—the guards responded intensely to eye contact—I recognized our location immediately.  We stood at the threshold of the main gate, far from the hewn wood scaffold the Colonel had erected behind the administration building.  A pair of sentries stood on either side of the gate, stone-faced  in their narrow shelters—Clarke and Modobo, decent soldiers not known to be the Colonel’s lackeys, but not the sort to take a stand against him, either.  Like most of the unit, their sin was in pretending not to see, and staying silent when what they saw was unavoidable.  Still, I doubted they’d let their compatriots execute me, at least not in the middle of the fort.

They had no problem with one last thrashing, however.  Charkvani and Cloutier wasted no time…

Categories
Commentary Uncategorized

The Automatic Poetry Generator

Image

I’m not making this up.

http://www.languageisavirus.com/automatic_poetry_generator.html

Finally, a poem I write–er–create makes sense.

All electric before the air
Dark and musty against the fire
I condemn heavy tentacles beyond the rain
Be transparent. The bastard will vanish
So dark over the gods
I poke colorful brains behind the trees
Damn! The end is done
All electric before the air
I envision misty hooks within the water
Awaken! The feeling continues
shadowed silent
crossing the frontier
an unreliable map
In how many places
my father
leave his home
trying to remember

Categories
Commentary Uncategorized

Micro/Psuedo-Intellectualism

Image

I took a free online course on Coursera recently–read some good old books.  For each selection, students were required to write a brief, 350-word essay that was then distributed to five random classmates for peer review.  The following dreck was my first offering, which was modestly reviewed–two of my five peers, one English and another American, complained that I used “too many big words.” Another American was appalled that I abandoned the accepted 5-paragraph essay form by editing out both conclusive (reiterative, it seems to me) paragraph and let the little essay dangled there from the edge of it’s own cliff.  The content, of course, was mostly stream of consciousness bullshit–I was going for sound as well as substance, but it was still an interesting exercise both in making a succinct and intelligible response and in observing that unlike most of our mass art today, the Grimm folk tales are almost anti-moralistic.  I haven’t taken another Coursera class, but the experience was certainly worthwhile.

 Ubiquitous in western culture, the tales collected by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm are most familiar to modern readers as homogenized “Disney-fied” fantasies of plucky, rosy-cheeked protagonists set upon by, and ultimately prevailing over, evil—often psychotically so—villains. In a modern reality defined by the expectations of Hollywood accountants, the innocent victims—preferably princesses—prevail despite the devilry and magic summoned against them by armies of jealous Queens, cackling witches, and sociopathic stepmothers. Justice is delivered and all is set right in the world. 

Interestingly, the Grimm stories as translated by Lucy Crane present a much different and arbitrary chain of action between villain (where there is one), victim, and resolution. One might presume that social and cultural changes, specifically the conditions of a largely agrarian, pre-industrial society and the greater exposure to and familiarity with the often capricious forces of nature, result in a more nuanced, grittier and often less formulaic depiction of good, evil, and justice.

In the very first selection, The Rabbit’s Bride, it is difficult to even discern which character is villain and which is the victim: the lonely Rabbit, raiding the cabbage patch and seducing the maiden, or the maiden who allows herself to be seduced and betrothed before betraying her suitor and breaking his heart?  We see this unconventional approach again and again, from the bloodbath that is The Death of The Hen to The Straw, The Coal, and The Bean and on.  There is no justice in these sad tales, and the only possible moral is that tragedy and terror are only a few heartbeats away.

Even a seemingly traditional tale like Rumplestiltskin delivers questionable justice. However unfavorable the heroine’s condition, she strikes a deal with the odd little man and spends her time seeking a way to renege her contract. The story seems almost unfair, but justice in the Grimms’ stories often has less to do with right and wrong, or good and bad, than it does with elevating wit over stupidity.  Time and time again, the wily character prevails and the idiot suffers—whether that idiot is a dolt like Hans In Luck or Prudent Hans, or an inept villain like the Red Riding Hood wolf or the Hansel and Grethel witch.