Monday, December 10, 2018


For about three and a half years I wrote every weekday, every morning for about twenty minutes. My benchmark was to write at least five hundred words.

I did this because I read that the key to becoming a better writer was to write every day.

Okay. Easy. I woke up early, I fought against any distractions. I stayed diligent and disciplined.

Some days I would write something 'interesting'. But most days I would just complain or spew some stream of consciousness nonsense. For the last two years of this period I worked on a novel every morning. The structure of the novel was pretty simple: is was a series of journal entries from a doctor living in Russia around 1860 as he leaves 'the capitol' and travels east into Siberia. A hopeless misanthrope he casts aside all luxuries and ruminates on his hatred of the well bred socialites he left in 'the capitol' as well as the coarse and ignorant peasants of the countryside.

I wrote three or four draft of this but it never really went anywhere. I was hoping it would be a sort of Chekhov through Bernhard with maybe some abstract folk-horror thrown in, but it just never came together.

I stopped working on it in February and moved to writing short stories. I had taken a short story class and figured it would be easier to work on (and publish) short stories. I aimed to write one short story a month. I think I got three short stories together but these too just sort of fizzled out into nothing.

It felt so shitty because I figured if I researched something and worked on it regularly for a long time it would come together. Isn't that the formula for this stuff? If I do all of those things and nothing substantial comes out of it then what does that mean? Does it mean I am an inherently shitty writer? Does it mean that I will never be able to produce something significant and whole?

So then I moved and was busy with other things so I stopped writing.

I basically haven't written much since then, so about three or four months.

There was one day where I got a good idea for a way to finish up a piece. I wrote pretty frantically for a few hours but then there was this pretty significant gap in the middle of the piece, and I couldn't get it all together.

It just wouldn't resolve unless I forced it, but I knew that that wouldn't work.

So I guess this is one question that comes up: if I am not writing that am I still a writer?

For a long time I had this sense that my only meaning in life was provided by the fiction that I wrote. That the only record of my existence, the only semi-permanent mark of me being here was what I wrote down. That the creative act justified my place on this planet and justified me consuming stuff. It set me apart from others who just go through life with no purpose, who work and consume and leave no trace and are subsumed by the black tides of time to be forgotten years or month or even days after their death. It made me better and more interesting. It elevated me and made me more than just human.

That was the idea.

This feeling, and thus the work, was born out of a sort of anxiety and existential flailing. But now that I am not writing my existence is not producing anything, so my existence is pretty much meaningless. But I don't really have this anxiety anymore. It is a strange feeling.

I just like don't care. It's like 'I'm not writing but it doesn't matter because all of these ideas I had about writing were just delusions. Like I'm not the sort of person who gets off on craft. I just want to make something so that some other person can forget their self and interface with the divine for a little while. And if I can't achieve that (and I have not been) then there is no point in writing.

So it's not that I don't really feel unmotivated to write. Not any more or less that I ever really did. It's just that I don't see the point, I guess. If I worked every day for nearly four years and in fact published less than I did when I was just writing occasionally, then why was I writing every day?

Why put in the work? Why wake up early? Why feel this anxiety?

I guess I wonder why other people write and if I lack that drive or that work ethic or creative aspect that they have. For others it seems so effortless, just a natural extension of their being. Maybe I am idealizing this. But then why is there such a struggle for my own work?

I am trying not to complain but rather putting these questions out, rhetorically.

And what would it mean (and I hope this isn't the case) if I were to never write again?

Previously I worked best when I had literally nothing going on. I was fortunate enough to have months of time where I could just spend all day reading and writing. And I got a lot done. Finished  novels. But I can't expect that those sorts of situation will happen again. It's like only eating when you have free pate de foie gras or whatever. You will starve if you don't eat bread and cheese most of the time. But I don't know. I just can't do it (?) And I am not sure why.

It isn't writer's block. I have never had writers block before. I even have ideas that I could write down! A decent amount of them. I have a story that is two-thirds finished right now. I just need to finish it up. But I just don't see the point. I just don't understand why I would. It would add nothing. I would just be another piece of piss soaked garbage placed on top of another piece of piss soaked garbage.

I want to think that I can dig myself out of this whole, write something that someone else finds interesting. Write ANYTHING that is worthwhile, or that even just I feel is interesting.

Well, and it's something else that I have always dealt with, and maybe other writers do to, although I never seem to hear them talk about: you worth as a writer is dependent on how much your publish and what others say about your work. Good writers get publication and acclaim, bad writers do not. And if you just write for yourself, then what? You just write for yourself.

I guess I just envy people who can write a story for themselves and just enjoy it and the process and can feel good about whatever they come up with. I am really jealous of those people who don't feel the need to show their stuff to someone else and get a thumbs up and a gold star and a publication in some obscure internet journal that will only be read by the Editor (god bless them). I am jealous of those people who don't get jealous of those who get awards and fellowships and book deals because I am not one of those people.

If I am going to be totally honest I just look out at those who get published and feel furious. I get pissed. I just don't understand it. But then I guess at the end of the day they are working harder than I am, have worked longer than I have and are getting the rewards.

I look at other artists, people who are making really cool stuff, or at least stuff that gets picked up and published and reviewed and I figure that there must be some fundamental difference between them and me, some attitude or vision or understanding that allows them to create great work while I can do what I have done and still remain mired in nothingness. I am not sure whether this is right or not but this is the first thought that comes to mind.

The rewards of publication have always been paltry for me. I don't know what I expect will happen but what has happened in the past is that the piece goes up, I look at it once or twice, I put the link in my blog and then? I can put the credit in my bio for the next twelve month.

I feel like a boat listing. Or just on its side.

And I am not sure what to do.

Add onto this that I have this sort of curse. It is the other thing that pushed me towards writing, but not like a good push, more like the prick at the end of a spear: I have this unshakable delusion that I will do something great. It is like this thing you get when you are a teenager or whatever - I think a lot of people get it - that you want to be famous, but then most people grow out of it pretty quick. I figured that I would have gotten out of it by now but no, it is sort of always in the back of my head. I think fifty years ago it would have been diagnosed by an analyst as a superiority complex but now I think everyone just keeps quiet about it.

Around the age of nineteen I just figured that I would have to be an important writer. Like there was no question about it, it was just what needed to happen. And so this pushes me on, or rather, by not fulfilling this I will fail at my life. It is not a goal, it is a default failure condition and it is immensely frustrating. Maybe everyone has this and they never talk about it. But it is stifling, because this ties into my inability to do something just for myself, to write just for myself. I need that thumbs up, I need whatever paltry gold star can me thrown my way to feel good about myself.

I guess it is sort of addictive and you get a little reinforcement as a kid and then you get focused on it for the rest of your life. Or at least I do. Did.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018


I just woke up from a long, detailed 'plot-driven' dream where I was struggling with dropping out of medical school.

Did my dream scripts get mixed up last night or something? Like who writes this shit?

(I have never, ever considered going to medical school. This is literally...from the day I under stood what being a doctor entailed - sometime in senior year of high school - I knew I absolutely did not want to be a doctor, so this isn't some case where I am like dealing with some long repressed desires or current angst or anything like that)

And it's not like this dream was surreal or strange in any way. I was pretty much just going around campus, attending small classes, talking with people. There were three separate incidents where I bombed an assignment. I literally drank from a water fountain at one point (that was sort of funny because the water fountain was next to a computer or something and the librarian thought I was on the computer and she said something about how the computer was broken (but it was something technical and related to the computer - like 'the disk drive is broken' or something) and I tried to make a joke about how the water fountain was broken in the way the computer was broken and then AND THEN: she didn't hear me. And I had to repeat myself. I just want to point out, again, and for emphasis, how banal this dream was: I made a stupid joke and I had to repeat myself because I didn't say it loud enough the first time (probably because I knew how stupid it was).

Jesus. I need new dream writers or something.

I guess there was one cool part: At the end, after I had pretty much decided that I was going to drop out the next day I needed to finish up some task. So it was dark, and a little drizzly and I was walking around campus and I went to this very tall building on the medical campus. It had this high speed elevator, sort of like a pod. When it ran you could feel the g's pulling on you. And I went to what I  assume was the top floor which was this very futuristic, quiet, dark lab setting, and I laid these four or so glowing orange parallellograms into a pool. That was it. Then I descended the elevator and walked around a bit more. There was a research building which advertized that they were 'Verifying the claims of Apple 3.1' or something, which I wondered around in the dream but I guess it mean that apple set out these claims for one of their OS's and this research group was like checking these claims which I guess was a full time job and very important in that world.


I guess waking up from that dream made me think a bit about my writing. I guess it made me think about how some dreams, at least some of my dreams can be very plot driven or very impressionistic. I guess I find the impressionistic/feeling based ones way more compelling and interesting. The plot based ones are generally less so (though I mean here I am, writing at length about one of them at three am, but this is an exception, and most just because I am so amused at what the mind will do). And so it caused me to reassess the sort of writing that I want to do, which is impressionistic.

I guess if I could write a story that had no plot and no characters (and maybe even no setting, though I mean this in the sense of no formal setting, but with a great deal of 'setting' in the sense of atnosphere) I would be very happy. I feel like some stories can act like programs. literally analogous to computer programs, where the sequence of words can act like a set of rules that hit just the right keys or whatever in a person's mind and elicit a feeling.

I mean maybe I am conveying this in a strange way, but this should not really be that unusual. A banal example would be this: There is a man and a woman. They come to love each other to an a significant and unusually high degree. They marry and have a child. The child has some strong physical characteristics of the mother as well as natural mannerisms and traits that come from the mother. The mother dies in a tragic accident. The child is still so young when this happens that she never really forms any memories or conception of the mother. Now when the father sees characterists of the mother in the child he is reminded of the mother and how the child will never get to see herself in her mother. The father is made very sad by this.

So a story like this would engender a feeling of sadness in the reader. Of course you need to flesh out the story a great deal, with more plot and characters and so on to really make things pop, but in this case the heart of the story would be evoking that sense of sadness in the reader, trying to convey that sadness that the bereft widower felt every time he saw his child.

But can't we strip things bare and evoke even more abstract feelings?

I admit I haven't searched super hard online, but I am surprised I haven't ever heard mention of 'abstract fiction'. I mean i guess this is what poetry is: writing stripped away from its unnecessary bits. But what would abstract or impressionistic fiction be like, fiction that uses broad strokes or stripped away features in order to elicit a feeling?

What would be most interesting would be eliciting more abstract and complex feelings, ones that cannot be boiled down to just 'fear' 'joy' 'sadness'. We can experience such a wide, subtle range of feelings and there must be some that are rarely, if every, evoked by fiction.

Time to break new ground I guess.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Temple #1

Temple #1 is an artwork to be situated in a remote place, ideally a desert or a large plain.

The primary element of Temple #1 will consist of an open structure created out of flat slabs of concrete. Four slabs will form the front, sides and back of the structure.

The structure will be oriented North/South so that light enters the structure primarily in the morning and evening and so that it is relatively dark in the middle of the day.

The structure will be approximately 3 meters high 4 meters long and 2 meters wide.

There will be no doors but only an opening in the 'front' concrete slab running the height of the slab  approximately two thirds of a meter wide (or roughly the width of a person's shoulders).

This opening will have a rectangular concrete pillar before it parallel with the front slab and around a meter and a half in width, placed about a meter away so as to prevent wind/sun et c. from getting into Temple #1.

There will be two slits about a third of a meter in width running the height of the two 'side' slabs located near the front quarter of those slabs so as to allow light into the front of Temple #1.

The floor, walls and ceilings of Temple #1 will remain bare, unpainted and unadorned aside from the following:

In the floor, located at midline and around a meter and a half away from the entrance there will be a rectangle cut directly out of the floor. It will be around a quarter of a meter in width, length and depth. This will be lined with black stone and filled with tan sand.

From the ceiling affixed with steel cable, at the midline of length and width, will be a very large set of five metal chimes. Thee bottom of the chimes will be aligned so that they hover no more than a third of a meter over the floor. These chimes will be immense, ideally a foot in diameter. The tong of these chimes should be weighted so that they ring occasionally, perhaps once a minute.

Leading to the primary structure of Temple #1 should be a path, either running curved up a hill, or straight along a straight path. The path should be about a meter wide, dug down and filled with fine gravel. At intervals along each side of the path should be planted upright a large oblong stone, white or grey, a meter in width and two or three meters in length.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Wendy (unpublished story)

About 3600 words
Sam Moss

        Nearing thirty, he found himself living a mundane and pointless life out in the forgotten expanse of the country. It was good, and he wasted his days reading and writing and not doing much at all. When he tried to remember how he had come out there, what decisions he had made that led him to that place, he had a vague recollection of escaping some strife, of trying to make a move for the better but these decisions seemed far off now and made by someone else entirely.
He hated to work but this was fine, since he had come into enough money to live frugally on the farm for at least a short time. The farm itself was a sort of compound with a few other men and women, back to the earth types with names like Art, Gaia and Blackberry. There were a few animals: some goats, chickens and turkeys which were slaughtered wholesome and happy but sold at a loss. A few acres of squash and kale that were sold at a farmer’s market in town. The farmers did their own thing and he did his and as long as he did some dishes and swept and took care of a bit of weeding they let him pay more rent and sleep in a converted schoolbus behind what was called the ‘Big House’. 
        The big house was a crumbling Victorian that had been built back when wheat prices had been high and the farm itself had measured a full quarter section. Some seven bedrooms the place was now a mess of peeling paint and hanging pipes. The hippies lived in it well enough, had communal dinners most nights and square dances out in the back yard for entertainment. The cell signal was poor and broadband was expensive which they had come to see as a bit of a blessing. Everyone was poorer than dirt except for him but this didn’t matter a whole lot.
        He would wake up most mornings with the sun. He would lay in bed for some time, running his hand under the sheet to get the lumbering tabby that hung around the house called Fern to attack. When he got up he would wander into the house’s kitchen and linger over a bowl of cereal and a lukewarm mug of the leftover barrel scraped coffee. Mostly the others in the house were early risers and were gone by the time he arrived. He liked it this way. It allowed him to think more. And this was what he liked most about this place: it allowed him to think. There was a great deal of time and space for thinking, far more than he had ever come across in his life. He felt indulgent, guilty almost, at how he could spend hours just letting his mind wander. He could pick up a book for a bit then set it aside when a train of thought came along or walk around and stare out the window or walk down the road a ways on no errand at all. 
        Over the years an impressive collection of old vinyl records had accrued in the house, alongside a second hand Japanese stereo system with arrays of dubious knobs and light and horribly temperamental from loose solder. With a steady hand and some tin foil shims he had learned to get the thing working in a spectacular way. In the afternoons he would stretch out on the couch and listen to Pet Sounds and Highway 61 Revisited and Aja. 
         When he grew tired of thinking he would help out around the farm. This happened just frequently enough to abate most serious concerns and claims of his laziness. But mostly they let him hang around because when bills came due and the farm had run out of money he could quietly provide five hundred or a thousand dollars on the first request.
        The others on the farm, or at least those concerned with these sorts of things, had always assumed that this money was bottomless. In fact it was not, and he alone knew that it was reaching its dregs. He knew that soon enough his hatred of work and his budding poverty would meet in a spectacular and apocalyptic way, a way he wished to avoid. So he decided to leave the farm and start living a real life, full of toil and pain and severity.
        It was the twenty-third of May, near noon.


        When he decided he needed to leave the farm, he first had to go into town. There were a few things to buy, a few letters to be sent, some bank actions to be made. He hated going into town alone and as a rule avoid it, but no one was around and the day was already aching into the afternoon so he signed out the keys for the old Toyota truck and went on his way.
        Where he hated the town he loved the drive to and from. In early-summer the top-heavy light caught on the rising stalks of corn and spindly wheat. A few fields of some low leafy crop that he had never come to identify were coming into their own, the furrows growing over with the first pale green leaves. Nothing looked bare any more, nothing looked dead. It filled him with a sort of happiness.
        The town itself was little more than half a dozen streets north-south and the same number east-west. When the place had been properly inhabited in the fifties a few department stores had built up brick edifices which remained, still and molding, to the present time. Emptied out years ago they were now office space for farm insurance salesmen and antiques stores. Soon enough even these would go out of business and the buildings would have to harbor computer servers or people working on servers and if not that then just empty space. The only real, external, change to the town had been the grocery cooperative which had been constructed in the nineties and remodeled every seven years or so. Its stark glass façade and brilliant green sign stood out from the bath of burnt brick, an austere oracle of alien make.
        He parked near the open grassy spot that was called the playground. It had a newer play structure and an old rusting play structure. A handful of children swung on the rusting iron of the old play structure. The new one, resin and shining burgundy, stood empty.
         As he got out of the car he saw them and smiled to himself.
        “Hey!” one of them called.
        He turned. They had all stopped and were staring at him. He placed a hand over his eyes to block the sun but said nothing.
        “Hey. Come here.”
        It was a boy, ten or eleven, perched near the top of the structure.
        He smiled to himself and took a few steps toward them, loose wood chips from the playground crunching under his feet.
        “How may I help you?”
        “You one of those faggots from the hippie farm?
        He laughed once to himself, looked around for some parents, then to see if anyone else had witnessed this.
        “Ah, yeah I’m from the farm. But it’s probably best if you don’t use that word.”
        He tried to size them up: the children were dressed well, quite well in fact. Were clean and well groomed. The one boy was wearing a light blue polo and pressed jeans. They were not neglected or strays or feral.
        The boy dropped from the structure in a cool, effortless way. The others came down after him. Their faces were blank and full of majesty.
        “You all do fucked up satanic shit. I know that. And you think you can just come into town and show your faces? You think you can just waltz around here like you own the place? This isn’t your town.”
        The boy’s gaze was unrelenting. 
        One of the other boys, a skinny kid with gleaming buck teeth leaned to and spoke softly to the cruel boy. The cruel boy whispered back.
        “Sorry, I’m just here to send some mail. And I’ve been coming here for years. I don’t see what the problem is?”
        “Shut up. Look: if you come here, into our town, and think you can use our post office and our grocery store then you better be ready to pay up.”
        He had become anxious, shaking a bit, sweating. Out of fear of the boy or an indignant rage, either one, or both, it was all the same.
        “Look I do pay. I buy stamps and I pay for my groceries.”
        “Bullshit,” the boy with the buck teeth said.
        A look of surprise passed over his face and the faces of the other children, as if this were the first outburst he had ever made. Filled with excitement, he grew louder.
        “You’re a bunch of fucking socialists. You don’t pay for shit.”
        “Sorry,” he had to laugh at this, “We do pay. We pay for everything.”
        “My mom works at the grocery store.” One girl said. She spoke toward the air between the children and the man, “She says they don’t pay for anything.”
        She seemed embarrassed for a moment. The children all assented passed through with a frisson of recognition. She blushed.
        “Look, we pay. Some of our collective members have benefits. That’s all granted by the government. It’s all legal.”
        “So is that why you came here? To steal more food from us?”
        He looked at the cruel boy. He truly looked at him for the first time. The child was lean, charismatic, the sort of charisma that lived in every part of his flesh. He would one day be an executive or a lawyer. Something powerful. He would live every day in his power and disdain and wear these like a pair of comfortable pants.
        He stopped and took stock of his ground. It occurred to him that he was trying to argue with the children as if they were adults, that he could just as well ignore them or walk off or tell them to fuck off. There was something inside him that forced his reason and this urge over took everything else. Here, a man nearing thirty, just trying to get his mail, trying to stop by the Co-op for a few groceries, just enough to fill one bag, being berated and challenged by a handful of pre-teens. Tweens. The word passed through his mind. He had always hated that word and now here it was, personified, hating him. He could step away without a moment’s notice, turn his back on this and leave. The rules of polite engagement did not apply here, he was free to go at any time and with any degree of abruptness. But a curiosity had welled up within him. What did they want? Really? He felt there was some hidden truth waiting within these children, that they had clear and articulable motives that he might dig down and discover, that there was some fundamental sociological or psychological rule that was being expressed here, one that might be exposed with only the right word.
        Then the boy had punched him. Pretty hard. In the gut. His fist was so small it not only hurt, it stung, like being hit with a tennis bell. The pain radiated through his skin and muscle and well into his organs and a flush of that visceral, internal pain like a whole body’s nausea flew through him.
        “Don’t fucking ignore me.” The boy said, softly.
        He doubled over and sat, mostly crumpling, onto the concrete lip of the playground.
        “Sorry, I was thinking. Why did you punch me?”
        He had not even noticed the boy’s approach.
        “You were ignoring me. I was talking and you were ignoring me.”
        The rest of the children had gathered around him in a circle. They wore the look of the curiosity of hungry dogs. The head of one boy blocked out the light of the sun. His blowing outer blond hairs were lit from behind and glowed like a halo 
        A black tide of nausea rose and fell within him. He could only grip his gut and rock back and forth.
        “What was it you wanted?” His own voice was harsh and horse and seemed to be sucked from him.
        “Your money. How much money do you have?”
        He pulled around his bag and reached for his wallet. Before he had it open one of the boys had snatched it from him. His hands worked weakly and it was all his will power to keep them gripping his sides. The grabbing boy pulled out all the cash and handed it to the cruel boy who counted it, intent but disinterested, like a mafia don.
        The cruel boy folded the bills once, twice and put them in his pocket.
        “Shit these socialists are poor.”
        The cruel boy then pulled the cards out of the wallet, scanned each in a bored way then dropped them one after another onto the ground. 
        The man gathered them up into a pile and shuffled them together. Grit and wood shavings had been gathered into the deck. The pain was subsiding and he stood slowly.
        “Look,” the cruel boy’s demeanor had changed now to something between a fed up parent and an indulgent cop, “Were gonna let you go. Were gonna let you go about your business. I don’t like you being in this town, hell, I don’t like the fact that you live near this town, but we all gotta learn to accept those around us, even if we don’t like them. That’s what America is about.”
        He was not looking at the man as much as the other children around him. They were nodding at his sermon in a solemn way.
        “We have to accept and forgive for past transgressions. We have to allow those around us to walk in peace. Every day.”
        The children stood silently. Many of them had bowed their heads.


        Work had let out and the coop was busy. His gut no longer hurt but the roiling sensation remained. Perhaps it was his soul that had been injured. He grabbed a few things, bananas, potatoes, a leek.
        Near the check-out line he saw a woman he had met at a potluck a few months back. She had her own small organic farm. Every time he saw her she was wearing overalls, work boots and mustard yellow work gloves. She was wearing them now. In her hand basket were only paper towels and a birthday card. She was in her early sixties, greying hair. He had heard that she had left some high paying job in corporate management to start her farm. Had left behind the cubicles and politics and slideshows to pick up on the farm. She was doing better too than the ragged folk who had been there ten years or more. He had forgotten her name. 
        “Hiya.” She had a great smile on her face.
        “How’s it going?”
        “Ah good. Not great.”
        “Your chard get eaten too?”
        “Oh I was just talking with Andy from Singing Elk. All his chard got eaten up last week and so was mine. Kale is fine. Butter lettuce is fine, but the chard it all gone. Must have been something small and hideous. I don’t want to put out any traps or anything but that’s gonna be a dig at the end of the season for sure.”
        “Yeah. Oh, no.”
        She stared at him for a moment as if struggling to comprehend how a person’s cares or worries could exist outside of farming.
        “No there were these kids out here.” He gestured with his thumb, felt a wave of embarrassment. He was holding the farm’s joint debit card in his hand. It was still covered in a thin layer of dust.
        “Sorry what happened?” He smiled slightly, perhaps thinking he was joking.
        He told her then what had happened near the playground.
        When he had finished she stood for a moment, then said,
        “Shit no.”
        He could not tell what this meant. 
        She either did not believe his story or was totally indignant. 
        She grabbed his arm and pointed at the register and said,
        “Go buy your stuff.” With an upwards nod.
        She was waiting for him at the line’s outlet her face drawn and bare. She had become terrifying.
        She walked behind him, exerting some pressure with her body language and pace in such a way as to herd him out the door. This happened only at the very edge of his perception.
        “Show me.”
        It only occurred to him now that she saw him as something that needed to be protected, or avenged.
They stepped outside. The town was quiet. The sun was hanging low. It had already been a long day, the sort of summer day that runs so long that the morning and the evening seem like members of two different days, of two different world even.
The playground was down the street, just visible. Some children were there, though he could not tell if they were the same ones.
He pointed to it and she started walking, pushing him along before her.
As they drew nearer he could see the cruel boy standing near the top of the old pipes. The others were around him. Just standing there. The boy with the teeth briefly glanced down at him and the woman, then said something to the cruel boy.
“Which one was it?” She asked
He pointed to the boy. 
“That one, the one in the blue polo.”
She broke into a trot, hopped up onto the bed of wood chips.
The children turned.
“You,” she was pointing at the boy. “Down here. Now.”
“Fuck off Wendy.”
“Don’t play with me scum bag. I want that money back.”
The boy rubbed under his chin with the back of his hand his elbow cocked high, his head to the side. That easy gesture of confrontation and contempt he might have seen on the pitcher’s mound or an old western or, most terrifying of all, was simply atavistic, born in him by centuries of frontier living prelude to fistfights over bulls or woman or nothing at all. He walked across a chain bridge and stood under an arch atop a short ladder. The hand grips rubbed bare by countless twisting hands.
“We spent it already. It’s gone.”
His stomach dropped. He put a hand on her shoulder.
“It’s alright, really.”
She raised a hand, batting his own away.
“Bullshit. Turn out your pockets.”
“I’m not,” He did not break his gaze for a moment, “Look I’m not gonna get pushed around by you Wendy. You want to deal with me you talk to my dad. He already told you that.”
Only after she had scaled the ladder did he notice the yellow work gloves laying on the ground. It all happened so fast and without a sound.
She was blocking his view of the boy.
He took two steps toward the play structure.
“Wendy. Really.” He said.
She had the cruel boy pinned up against the wall. Not touching him but using that force, that magic of posture and adherence, practiced in those years of narrow carpeted hallways and copy machines. They were speaking in low voices, so slowly and quietly.
Her hand was moving toward the cruel boy, so slowly and gently, two fingers extended.
“This isn’t about the flower beds Jeff.” She said, “It was never about the flower beds. It’s about the social contract, of which you too are a part. It is about participating in the pagent of humanity, of putting on your mask in the great festival of our race. You don’t put on that mask just for them Jeff, you put on that mask to protect yourself, you put on that mask so that you can make it through the day.”
The boy seemed spellbound, out of fear or curiosity or something else altogether it was not clear.
Her fingers dipped into the cruel boy’s right pocket. He did nothing to prevent this,  he either did not notice or did not care. She was still speaking, so quietly now that only the boy would be able to hear her. Even as she inserted her fingers to the second knuckle the fabric there did not shift in the slightest, like the action of a pickpocket. The other children too watched, motionless, barely breathing.
When her fingers returned a dull green was visible.
She backed away from the cruel boy, descended the ladder with short quick steps and continued backing away until she was in line with him. She never broke her gaze with the boy. Standing beside him she extended her hand, the bills there folded thrice.
“Count it.”
“Count it.” she hissed.
He took the bills, unfolded them and counted.
“It’s all,” his voice broke, “Yeah, it’s all there.”
On the other side of town the whistle in the defunct mill blew like it did every day at 6:05. Birds resting on the sills of the old bank and the silo and everywhere else in town took to flight. The tone was long, shrill, alien. It was impossible to be within earshot when it went off and not stop what you were doing, for no other reason than the harsh note blocked all other thoughts. The town council had kept the whistle running, every day but Sunday, even though the mill itself had gone bankrupt in 1983 and the complex had lain dormant since. Ostensibly the did this because the mill was a town icon which represented the area’s deep and unbreakable agricultural roots. In reality it was hooked directly into the town’s power supply in such a critical and byzantine way that no one could figure out how to turn the thing off without forever cutting power to the whole town.


Thursday, March 29, 2018

When younger/Love is Colder Than Death

When younger (especially around 17-18) I was pretty caught up with coming off as insane. I was plagued by something, not a full blown anxiety, but a recurring self-questioning. In hindsight it is sort of silly, but grounded in some sort of truth. I would just look at the situation I was in (generally while at work as a bag boy at the grocery store or while out with friends, generally while I was alone) and wonder how I could know that I was not totally insane and the world around me was an illusion/delusion). It was not so intense as to paralyze me or really change my behavior much, but it was always in the back of my head.

Not only did I question my apparent sanity, I think I assumed that I probably was totally insane at points. Like I just figured that the base hypothesis had to be that the world that I lived in was an illusion and a lie and I was really a raving maniac detached from reality. Or something like that. Again, it does not really make sense now, but at the time it seemed logical.

I think it gave me a bit of an edge. It made me act 'extra sane' or at least try to, in order to compensate for my assumed insanity. In reality a lot of this stemmed from a very basic misunderstanding of what mental illness was and how it worked. I think if I had even a basic awareness of what schizophrenia looked like or expressed itself I would have lost this problem pretty quickly. If anything it probably stemmed from a movie I saw or a book I read that used this as a plot point and as I learned more about mental illness this faded pretty quickly.

But it is almost a shame. I never worry about this any more. It is a totally irrational fear or consideration but it never comes to mind. And it makes me wonder.

I saw my first Fassbinder film last night. His first, 'Love is a Thing Colder than Death'. I was a little underwhelmed at first, but then it picks up and you can see these glimmers of brilliance in it, especially considering it was his first film. Fassbinder himself is a brilliant actor, pretty understated and clever. I mean the plot itself is pretty pointless, but there are all these little things that set it aside. For instance it is amazing how the characters are so uniquely shitty. There are all these rote routes that he could have gone down to display their cruelty and brutality, but they are always sort of surprising and unique. The scene where Johanna is lying on the floor and Bruno comes over to her and tries to kiss her. What a strange scene. She just sits there with her head cocked (like a Renaissance painting, like a Madonna or something) and he comes over to her and stands over her and, he doesn't kick her but just sort of pressed his foot against her side for a moment, what is he even doing? then he lays down next to her. It is all this dance, sort of, choreographed like two animals, and then he tries to kiss here and she laughs. And here, Bruno, this guy who killed two people, who killed his own father in cold blood just does nothing, just sort of defeated by the power of this woman. And then she goes over to Franz, and when he slaps her and she asks why he says 'You laughed at Bruno...and Bruno is my friend." I mean this dude slaps his own long term girl friend because she laughed in the face of a man he men only recently while he was coming on to her. You watch this scene and your mind just gets scrambled. What kind of ass backwards world does Franz live in? What sort of bizzare rules does he even follow? This might even be the most dialogue we get out of him, and yet it says maybe more than anything in the film. This dude is just a total nut, nothing that goes on within or around him makes any sense,

The one scene holds the movie together, I think.

The scene when they are in the store that sells glasses is pretty brilliant as well. Sort of a dark take on physical comedy. It is all very serious, but has the sort of pacing and clever quick thinking activity that you would see in like some 40's comedy routine.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

A Strange Place

Something sort of strange has happened.

About a week ago the team I was on (at my job) was 'dissolved' (I'm not sure if this is the word they used or if I started using this, but it describes what happened). So we were told that there was still plenty of money 'in the organization' but that it had shifted around so that our team was not getting any money any more. Okay, fine. A strange choice, our team functioned really well and had some worthwhile projects, but the flawless wisdom of corporate executives is no to be questioned, so whatever.

Most of the people on my team were moved off onto other teams nearby. Figuratively, as well as literally. Most folks moved a few seats and started working with people they either already knew or had already been working with in some small capacity. I was moved to a team in New Jersey I had never really interacted with. I have essentially no understanding of what they are working on, it is all in a language that I do not know and they seem to have zero interest in having me on the team.

I don't blame them, I was sort of dropped in. I doubt they had any say in this either. But it puts me in this strange situation, where all the work from my old team has been either cancelled or wrapped up, but I am not being given any new work from my new team. I suppose a real proactive go getter would jump in and start asking where they could be helpful, would strive to learn the new language and products in order to be a productive member of the team and drive innovation (ah they love this phrase 'drive innovation') but I just have to be totally honest, I don't care. I just have no interest in doing this. At all. Being treated like an asset is so distateful. I feel like I owe nothing, least of all my exertion and striving. I liked my job, I liked my team, I felt like I was being productive. And I did not change this. They did. Too, It's sort of like jumping into a busy, high-end kitchen at dinner time. Everything is so busy and so well planned out that even trying to do something like chopping vegetables would probably just get in the way (plus the vegetables are not chopped here, they are all julienned, so I would need someone to show me how to julienne vegetables, which would take time away from more pressing tasks).

Regardless, I find myself in this strange situation where I really have no work assigned to me and no one looking to assign me work. I am tinkering with one projects which is wrapping up now, but it is small and there is only so much work that I can do there before it is totally finished. So then what? How do I spend my time? How long until someone really notices that I am still around? It is sort of kafkaesque, or a reverse Bartleby. Or like something out of office space. This just sort of strange lacuna in the corporate world, the sort of forgotten person floating around with nothing to do. Honestly, I don't mind. It means I get to apply for jobs and read whatever I want. Stress is low (naturally). Expectations are low. The one concerning this is how long it is going to last.

More than anything I am not bitter or really even disappointed. Just sort of amused. Of course everything is going to work out, I'll either get moved again or maybe assimilated further into the team, though probably not. Hopefully just get a higher paying job closer to home. But it is just sort of amazing that these things can happen, that a person (and this must happen all over the time, all over this company) can just sort of get shuffled off to the side, fall into a crack and just sort of stay there for a little while. It must happen in cases far worse than my own.

I have not drummed up the courage to just start writing full time during work. There are still to many obligations and meetings and distractions to keep that from becoming a reality. Though it would be funny, to just have my computer open all day, no messages coming in, no work assigned to me, just over in the corner knocking away at the novel or whatever. I would feel a little guilty but not too guilty. They would fire me eventually but I'd still be getting paid, have health insurance and so one.

Friday, March 23, 2018


I just turned thirty a few days ago.

I'm not terribly sentimental for those sorts of things. In this case though I set a goal a number of years ago: I wanted to publish my first novel before I turned thirty.

I made three attempts and all attempts have failed.

It feels significant.

I am not sure what to make of it.

I am going to push through, but I cannot just ignore it.

I am not totally sure what to do with it. I can't feel bad about it for too long, but I did fail to meet this goal.

I guess I just sort of have to analyze why this is. Did I not work hard enough? Was I not dedicated enough? Did I not network enough? It feels like I tried all of those things, I pushed myself in all of those things, but I guess I just did not try hard enough or push hard enough?

I researched and submitted. They all came back rejections. I networked and went to conferences and readings. I met some nice people but nothing really significant has come out of that. No mentors, no collaborations, no offers. I can't say I am bitter for the people I have met, but these are supposed to be the things that come of this expenditure of energy, right?

I submitted a piece to maybe fifteen venues, starting last April and until about last September. A lot of these were venues that I had received encouraging feedback from. No one took the piece. I have not published a piece since 2014. This is four years. I don't understand how time got away from me like this. I mean I have been working on novels through that time, but still, it is pretty incredible. And I would have expected that with all the work I have been doing it would have increased my chances of getting published?

I'm not sure what to make of this.

I'm not sure what is causing this, whether I am not editing my work enough or if it is just inherently shoddy or if I am submitting to the wrong places?

I am not sure what to do with my work when I am done with it. Should I just sit on it?

I guess I am not supposed to be focused on publishing. I guess I am supposed to forget about it. But I did that. I have done that. And four years disappeared. Why should I forget about publishing if I have done it in the past? Why have I been published in the past but should just forget about it now? I have this four year hole in my publication credits.

I am ruminating on this, I understand. And ruminating is not good and it makes for boring writing. But I am trying to understand this situation so that I can get better. I feel like the only way to get past this is to analyze it at least a little bit, to try and figure out what the problem is so that I can address it.

And I am also tying my worth as a writing to my publication, which I also understand is not good. You always see the advice that you should only think about writing and not about publishing. But this advice always seems to come from writers who have been published pretty extensively. I can't swallow that I can just totally forget about publishing and it will just magically come to me. Again, I have been trying this for five years and it had not happened. I have not been writing to get published either. That is, I have not altered my writing in order to make it more 'publishable'. I have edited my writing with the aim of making it better, but never as an attempt to get inside an editor's head and figure out what they want to see and provide that.

I guess I am just frustrated. Frustrated now and frustrated for years. The same frustration. The same confusion. The same confusion as to how long it takes to actually get good at this stuff. The confusion as to what it takes to get good at this stuff, as if there is some magic step that I am missing, some hallway that everyone else can see and walk down but which I am blind to.

I did something strange. I applied to an writing program. An MFA program. Only two. They are/were very competetive, but I figure I am only interested in doing a program if it is funded and in a place that I would like to live, et c. I was not sure what I was expecting. I mean on the one hand, with acceptance rates < 1% I knew intuitively, statistically, that I had no chance of getting in. But I did have this sort of deluded hope that my writing was good enough (at least better than fresh bachelors grads) that I might get an acceptance. I sort of had this fantasy of getting the acceptance letter and throwing it in their faces like 'Ha, I don't even need your paltry academic program.' No, but I did not even get the chance to do that. The rejection letter was short and sort of pitying. 'This does not reflect the quality of your work.' like they feel that they cannot hurt the applicant's feelings. There was a part of me that was glad, in all honesty it would have been a difficult choice and one that might have created a lot of stress. I would have had to think about it very seriously, and moving across the country to a city I have never lived in before to make less than minimum wage to teach freshman comp would have truly had a lot of serious pros and cons. There is still one application out, but it is an order of magnitude more selective, so I have no pretensions there.

What is also frustrating is this manuscript. It has been, or was, a two year false start. Two years, every day. Five scratch drafts. I have not counted the pages but it must be somewhere around five to six hundred pages. But it never really come together. I never gelled. I could never tell where it was going. I had high hopes for this. I always have high hopes, but I was doing things like researching. I was trying to immerse myself in this world. But it just became repetitive. I would just write the same thing over and over. I was a little bored writing it from time to time, and though I could have cut those parts I just imagine the reader would have been bored to tears. Also a week or two ago I learned that a pretty well known indie writer is coming out with a book that (without having read it, though I bought it and am excited to read it) sound very similar to the ms  have been working on. Like similar enough that if I were to submit it to an indie press I figure they would just read the synopsis and say something like 'Doesn't this just sound like Jesse Ball's 'Census'? Naw, we can't touch this.' So I put it down. I might pick it up some time in the future, but perhaps that was my real, first false start, just an idea not worth pursuing.

Right now my only hope is winning the lottery. I mean this sounds like a joke, and it pretty much is, but occasionally, like once a year I will just get obsessed with winning the lottery. I know this isn't unusual, but you would think that someone who has even a basic grasp of probability would be immune to this sort of thinking. I never actually buy any tickets, I just think about it endlessly. I plan out what I would do. In my head there is a lot of philanthropy going on but in reality i probably would not do it. But I would probably buy a couple hundred acres of land, drop a small house or a cabin on it and just write, every day. I would probably be able to sustain that for a few months or a year, who knows. I'd probably hire some editor to rip my stuff apart. But even then, I mean would that much change? Really? I guess having more time is the critical thing. It just feel so much better when I can dedicate hours every day to a piece of work.