Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Character Shaping

When I was young, I used to take bits and pieces of junk and fashion them into the shape of an animal or person. I struck a big hit with my cheese wax people and JUJYFRUITS disembodied heads. I failed miserably at making popular the bony owl pellet animals. However, all my creations were not without merit. Each had been laboriously endowed with a personality, sets of moral codes and ethics, a past, and names before destruction. The more complicated the character, the less likely I was going to share this creation with anyone who might reject it.

Now, we skip to my adulthood as an author and I realize that I have not changed from my younger self in this respect. I still attempt to protect these very special characters by never fully integrating them into my stories as main players. There are any number of reasons that I could give you for not placing them in the foreground of the story. The single most telling reason is I do not want the story's environment and plot direction to change the character that I have grown to know so well in my head. This is not an unfounded fear, neither is it irrational. But, I am taking a pledge right here and now that I will no longer allow myself to indulge in this behavior with my writing. So, we will see what is to come from here on out. We will see how close I can get to making my people literary flesh and blood from what, at first glance, seems to be cognitive garbage.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Garfield Park Conservatory Tomorrow

Philip, his grandmother, and I will be headed to Garfield Park Conservatory tomorrow. They are currently celebrating their 100th year and the garden is still (unbelievably) free to the public.


Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Home Corner

He purposefully and continuously seeks this corner on which to set up his magazine tables, so he can attract business and attention from north, south, east and westbound pedestrians in the Village. They stop to buy his trash-picked magazines for two or three bucks and throw their condescending faces forward toward the rest of their day never giving his life a second thought. They never think about how he would have to sleep on this same corner, or hire a placeholder, in order to save his spot for the next day. He knew this to be true.

He looks at them in tailored black and white and sweat-free city clothes, business casual, strolling in slingbacks and loafers away from his table thinking these people can even transform garbage and that’s how I make my way everyday.

He calls out to the women “My goodness, your beautiful! You looks just like one of these women in this here French Elle, but I sure don’t think they have anythin’ on you. Come take a look here. Go on! Take a look!” and the women purse their lips and lower their eyelids halfway in judgment of the situation and the jolt to the impracticality of their path being interrupted. They never quickly step forward to accept his compliments. He doesn’t take this as an affront to his blackness. The women are simply being New Yorkers and they are still inferior to him, because he really knows how to take care of himself. They usually end up buying the magazine. He knows they want it, they just didn’t know it until he showed them.

At the newsstand stand across the street, some of these imported magazines and catalogues could cost between fifteen and twenty-five dollars, but if his customers can wait until he found them in the bundled recycle piles in the street far below nine-hundred thousand dollar lofts, then they can have them for three or five. One rich, white person’s trash is another entrepreneurial black man’s food, shelter, clothing and freedom from the restrictions he might encounter in dealing with the bureaucracy of the social welfare system. There are too many drug addicts and alcoholics in the same profession. They give him a bad name with their shady dealings and unwashed bodies and pissing right on the sides of buildings, because the restaurants won’t let them use their restrooms. He doesn’t have that problem, because everyone in the Chinese restaurant on the opposite corner knows he’s a respectable man and he frequently plays Mah Jong with the restaurant owner on slow days on the corner of his table. Mr. Feng sits on a milk crate just off to the side so as not to block any customers’ views of the merchandise and Mr. Feng will watch the magazine table while he uses the men’s room at the back of the red silk lanterned and peanut oil smelling room. In this way, he does not have to hire a table watcher, so he can run three blocks north and two blocks east just to take a dump in a rimless and feces-covered toilet surrounded by wads of soiled newspaper and fast food wrappers.

The places are marked on the sidewalk where a table can be placed and the “public character” and the magazine stock must be so many feet from storefronts, so as not to impede the pedestrian’s progress in achieving their lofty goals and midday pursuits. Making eye contact and smiling is the only way he can get their attention and get their money. Necessity dictates than when this potential customer is a man, he must smile in an ingratiating and friendly manner as if to say we’re all men here and we’re all buddies. He might start this off with “Hey there, Guy! That cigar smells great! You mind showin’ me what brand it is in this here Cigar Aficionado? If it’s not in this one, it might be in November’s issue here. They gets all the brands in this issue ... 'cause of Christmas” and the men will step up confidently and reply, “I’m glad you asked me, because … ” and they begin to instruct him on the pleasures of being a man with expendable income. All he is really learning is how to make the sale and all he is achieving is utter and complete ownership of his individual freedom to act and do as he pleases.

Yet, last night he had slept in a hotel because it was cold outside and his placeholder let his tables and stock get confiscated by the police, because his placeholder had taken the half of the nightly fee that he had already paid the placeholder and bought a rock that the placeholder smoked in the park far from the corner. Karl Watts had jumped at the chance to get a table on his corner and now he eyed it from a bad spot, mid-block and across the street. He wanted his corner back. He felt very homeless.

Monday, August 10, 2009



The couple took off for Prince Edward Island. One kid was left in Sunnyvale with his great aunt and great uncle to watch Road Warrior everyday while having his lunch. The other kid was left in Palo Alto with her maternal grandparents to have Happy-Hour-At-Home where, at 4:15 p.m. on the nose, she had a Coors Original while her grandmother sipped on two jiggers of Old Crow with a splash of water.

Prince Edward Island

The couple is trying to get to Confederation Bridge to go back to the mainland. She has the crisply unfolded map gripped widthwise, then lengthwise, everywhichway but upsidedown. The signs at the crossroads, every junction being a crossroad, look like something from Looney Tunes: a wooden post with arrowed slats pointing to the various communities of Kilkora, Lower Freetown, Summerside; she tries to reconcile the topography of her view with the AAA map by the slant of the roads. There is yelling.

“We’re going the wrong direction!”

“Whose fault is that?!”

Words are as adversarial blows rather than transmissive devices. He pulls over to the side shouldering a potato field. Both are down for the count and…there is silence, intolerable silence. No verbal darts between the couple. No way to talk around the remarks they really want to make. He switches on the radio and tunes into a BBC game show of word association.


He plugs the tape (Memorex) into the VCR (Sanyo) and maneuvers himself back around the TV tray (oak) on which sits a chicken salad sandwich (with grapes and almonds on cracked wheat), carrots (raw, cut into sticks), and a 7-UP (slightly flat, ½ drank). Mel Gibson (Max) flexes (triceps, biceps, his sister, Suzanne, would be impressed) and the dust (powder-fine) flies. He absently picks at the scab (cracked and scaly) on his knee from the previous week’s skateboarding mishap.

His eyes (blue, Daniel) widen as the dune buggies roar toward certain violence (death and destruction). His parents (Harvey and Kay) had a date once where they had dinner in the movie theater’s (The Guild, The Park, The Varsity, he couldn’t remember the name) courtyard followed by a viewing of Road Warrior. He saw what they viewed (death and destruction). They said they had almost lost their dinners (steak or something). His lunch (chicken salad sandwich, carrots, and 7-UP) was staying down quite nicely.

Game Show

[CONTESTANT clears his throat and crosses himself silently, almost without discernable gestures. He stretches his neck forward while widening his eyes. His body becomes rigid and his mouth is drawn. The microphone is positioned approximately six inches from his mouth. The word is MAPS. Pause.]

Contestant: This is something that can come between the closest of friends.

Palo Alto

Looking at the grandmother, a former home economics teacher. Sitting on the couch. The grandmother sitting in a chair. The grandmother having the right hand with the permanently limp fingers resting in the lap. The grandmother having the left hand curling about the sweating cocktail. Both the hands are gripping the can of beer.

There is slow and hesitant talking. Words unfurling from half drooping and quivering lips. The neural networks are tangling as the rest of the body.

There is active and reactive listening. Words are taken in to, into, a growing mind. There is building, and inheriting, of memory, in bits, and pieces.

The grandfather, a former electrical engineer and radio announcer, is in the garage building electrical devices that are somehow connected to radio transmission.

Game Show

[AUDIENCE applause for approximately 10 seconds. Pause.]


He thinks that Max (Mel Gibson) is a lot like Dirty Harry (Clint Eastwood). Max is a good guy (Superman, Ronald Reagan, Eddie Van Halen). He thinks there doesn’t seem to be much to save (dirty clothes, dirty houses, dirty roads), but Max (Mel Gibson) still wants to do it.

He pauses the VCR (Sanyo) to get up and go to the bathroom (body moisturizers, seashell shaped soaps, blue toilet water, pink toilet paper).

The hallway (off which there are two bedrooms and one bathroom) is a gallery of family photographs (great aunt and great uncle’s wedding, 1st cousin once removed, the Album family, grandparents, brothers, sisters, unidentifiable family members). The rug is a Persian runner that had formerly lain in his grandparents’ (where Suzanne is) hallway. There are no rugs in the movie (Road Warrior), only rags.

Palo Alto

The grandmother is finishing the drink and dry Cheerios. She is finishing the one and only beer for the day, and the small saucer of mixed nuts whose chill from the freezer had thawed.

The conversation is done. The grandmother is sitting silently licking the lips while she is sitting silently watching the grandmother. She is thinking of the brother at the great aunt and uncle’s house. She is glad that the brother and she cannot fight over such a distance. She is glad the brother is not sitting in the grandparents’ living room. She is bored, so she decides to read one of the mystery books that are lying on the end table, unread, by the grandfather’s chair.


He returns to the chair (oak with a floral cushion tied to the seat) in front of the TV (and the oak TV tray that now held the empty plate that had sat under his lunch) and uses the remote control (for the Sanyo VCR) to take the movie (Road Warrior) off pause.

He decides not to watch the movie (Road Warrior) all the way through today (Tuesday, 12:37 p.m.).

Prince Edward Island

There is complete disbelief, followed by laughter. He pulls away from the shoulder while she, with a lingering titter and flap of her hand, guides the map back into its folds. The wounds are sutured, creating another map of sorts, one more appealing to this newly found liberty born of the laughter and release of the resentment.

“Let’s go exploring.”

“Yes, let’s.”

Sunday, August 09, 2009

A St. Elmo's Fire Pantoum

There are massive atmospheric potential differences.
A thunderstorm between queenie and quentin, the variables in this equitable quarrel, are
Charging the electric field outside,
In which they stand as two Highland cattle horns.

A thunderstorm between queenie and quentin, the variables in this equitable quarrel, are
Ionizing the air in the spark gap of argumentative space,
In which they stand as two Highland cattle horns,
Exchanging an electro-luminescent discharge of glances.

Ionizing the air in the spark gap of argumentative space,
As two anodes that are attracting anions of malevolence and
Exchanging an electro-luminescent discharge of glances,
Leading to atomic orbitals of lies becoming separated from the molecule of truth.

As two anodes that are attracting anions of malevolence and
Collecting ions and electrons of charged issues, which are no longer bound to each other,
Leading to atomic orbitals of lies becoming separated from the molecule of truth.
Dealing with the fourth state of this matter,

Collecting ions and electrons of charged issues, which are no longer bound to each other,
The bright bluish-white glow of their denials is cold.
Dealing with the fourth state of this matter,
Their sharply pointed structures emit light at low temperatures.

The bright bluish-white glow of their denials is cold,
Though the electric field of the fight is hotter than Hell:
Their sharply pointed structures emit light at low temperatures,
The light between them, a set of traveling disturbances,

Though the electric field of the fight is hotter than Hell
They are thinking of Helena, the fling, betwixt them,
The light between them, a set of traveling disturbances,
The twins, Pollux and Castor, have become involved.

They are thinking of Helena, the fling, betwixt them,
Charging the electric field outside.
The twins, Pollux and Castor, have become involved.
There are massive atmospheric potential differences.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Too Much Information

It's important to keep in mind that, within your sphere of capabilities, you need to be able to exercise your inalienable right NOT to know. Sometimes, you must have that courage to tell that certain someone with diarrhea of the mouth that, "I'm not comfortable with you telling me this." Following, you'll be that much happier, I promise.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

How Lila Might Lose An Abstract Noun

"How Lila Might Lose an Abstract Noun"

Last, Lila finds it necessary to define “love” or is it “Love” or, possibly, “LOVE” (and, in ending this sentence, the author/narrator/collaborator with Lila and her fictitious life finds it difficult to decide whether to use a “?” or a “.”) It is, quite possibly, the reader/sympathizer/empathizer’s job to create a meaning for this word. The author/narrator/ collaborator with Lila and her fictitious life is going to abstain from defining this abstract noun; it is not the author/narrator/collaborator with Lila and her fictitious life’s job. At first glance, the reader/sympathizer/empathizer will assign the task of shaping the reader/sympathizer/empathizer’s definition of “love” or “Love” or “LOVE” to be Lila’s responsibility. This cannot possibly be the case as the author/narrator/collaborator with Lila and her fictitious life is going to present Lila in third person (which, at all points in the narrative, will be limited to strictly Lila’s sphere of activity, or environment) and will not be omniscient [all the reader/sympathizer/empathizer will be presented with, or the narrator/author/collaborator with Lila and her fictitious life will present, is physical loss of supposed “love” or “Love” or “LOVE” (which cannot be defined by the reader in terms of Lila because, without the omniscient view from Lila’s perspective, or the imposed meaning displayed by the author/narrator/collaborator with Lila and her fictitious life, it will be up to the reader/sympathizer/empathizer to decide what “love” or “Love” or “LOVE” means to them in terms of Lila’s experiences presented by the author/narrator/collaborator with Lila and her fictitious life)].
At this point in the narrative, which might be offered as a beginning, but is truly an end as well, the narrative style calls to be simplified. The narrative cannot continue to repeat the designated titles that have come to represent the persons and the abstracts in this story (which, as of yet, does not seem to have fashioned, or been fashioned, into any sort of story). From X → (which is to represent ← X), the reader/sympathizer/empathizer will simply be “the reader” [though minus the quotation marks, as they are unnecessary (capitalizing the words “the”, and “reader”, at intervals where appropriate, and, quite possibly, when not)]; the author/narrator/collaborator with Lila and her fictitious life will be known to all as whichever of the three titles (or, conceivably, a combination of two titles, but never all three) is chosen at that particular moment [such as: NOW … when the author (who is a she, but this matters not) chooses the word “author” at this point for the sound quality and dignity it represents, and the agency and authority which it instills in The Reader’s mind]; Lila will remain “Lila” where capitalization is of no consequence as it is constant; and “Love” or “love” will be shown the consideration the noun deserves dependent upon grammatical correctness of beginning, ending, or in the midst of a sentence until completion of the narrative.
Has the story started, yet? Has the narrative begun, yet? Who is responsible for presenting what? Who is responsible for deriving meaning from this? Let all of us (The Reader, The Author/Narrator, and Lila) start with the latest in a series of accounts that occurred (but all will not be recorded), presented in third person.
Travis moved into Lila’s apartment with his two tabby cats (one of which would curl up in her lap while she read, the other at her feet while she slept); his Sonicare® toothbrush with charger (for which he purchased an addition toothbrush for her to charge on alternate days); his air guitar (which he had played for her whenever their favorite headbanging song, Love Screams Your Name From My Toes To My Nose, brushing the air around his right thigh with one hand and fingering his left breast with the other); his toothpicks (that were NEVER used at the table because etiquette dictates that this is rude); his lap blanket; and his blue suede La-z-boy® armchair (in which they had had sex three times, two of which she had been on top with the lap blanket wrapped around their ankles); and numerous other things that fit neatly in, around, and on top of Lila’s things … in the beginning.
This is the beginning of the end after eleven months of living together: Travis lost his job (that abstract/concrete thing that allowed for him to pay for pet food, his half of the rent, his half of the bills, etc.) Instead of attempting to find a new job, he simply stayed in the apartment playing with his tabby cats, brushing his teeth with his Sonicare® toothbrush, playing air guitar and masturbating in his La-z-boy® as evidenced by the rise and fall of the lap blanket. The reader should note at this point that they might feel “sympathy”, or even “empathy”, with Lila (or, quite possibly, Travis, but this is not his story), in which case the reader can identify himself, or herself, with whichever title seems to suit them best. Once having chosen a title, though, it is important to understand “WHY” that particular title was chosen because it is going to determine how one views the outcome of this scenario.
If The Reader sympathizes, becoming The Sympathizer, then one might feel bad that Lila has this boyfriend, Travis, who moved in and now she becomes “Poor Lila” as viewed from the outside. This type of reader may sit happily and hear all of the inactivity that Travis displays now that he is jobless and unwilling to move forward in the narrative. This might be a poor choice as this story’s only concern should be with what Lila does and says contained within this particular set of circumstances.
If The Reader empathizes, becoming The Empathizer, then one might say, “Oh God, something like this happened to me and DAMN did it piss me off and/or make me cry, or got me up off my butt to get my man/woman back on track!” which loudly calls for action on Lila’s part. But, what should Lila do? She cannot wait for Travis to act because his character refuses dynamicism purely through the position he occupies within the narrative. The author/narrator refuses to tell Travis’ tale and recognizes that this story, by all rights, belongs to Lila. But, is this the best approach to the story? This approach would invariably exclude many readers, and that would just not be exercising fairness (another abstract noun to wrap one’s head around).
It is, therefore, the author’s responsibility to write in an action, or set of actions, that ultimately would indicate whether Lila had possessed “love” with Travis, or not. This is a huge hurdle to clear. Will there be an accident of some sort … or the author’s computer going “kaput” before getting it down?
Ah! An idea! There needs to be a very specific scene drawn in which whatever action can take place. Possibly, if the author can formulate this very specific scene, the answer to how Lila should take action will inevitably establish itself.
The author makes a decision to let the narrator side of her profession take the lead where the narrator will be as a camera eye, with no access whatsoever to Lila’s mind. This is the scene the narrator views with complete anonymity and with no prejudice (so, to a certain extent, the narrator IS omniscient, as seeing things from above): Travis lays in the La-z-boy® with the lap blanket pulled up to the middle of his chest and BOTH arms beneath the blanket; one tabby “rrrroowwws” at a standing Lila, alternately looking from her to a nearby chair; the other tabby “rrroowwws” in the hallway by the bedroom door, the proximity to the bedroom door can be discerned by the register of the cat’s voice; Lila stands between the doorway to the family room and the La-z-boy® with a Sonicare® toothbrush in her hand, poised as if to begin to brush; and Lila’s eyes and Travis eyes meet, but only for that moment that the camera eye catches, by pure chance.
This scene leaves the narrative limited; it needs the introduction of one or more new props. Hence, the author decides upon … upon …oh, what does the reader think? Why, this a fine idea the author just had … an unread (as evidenced by its pristine condition, and with the red pencil still lying in the same direction atop, which Lila had placed on it at 6:23 that very morning) Thursday newspaper which, by collective American societal knowledge (Did we forget to mention that this scene takes place in ____, _____, USA?), contains this week’s classified ads which, in turn, contains this week’s job listings which, in turn, contains some singular job listings for which Travis might well be suited.
So, how should Lila react to this scene? We all know (the reader, the narrator, and Lila) that she placed the paper in this spot at 6:23 a.m. with the red pencil (it is inferred, within the text, that as in school days, to call attention to important elements, red pencil might be used to accentuate plausible errors, conflicts, or successes, and could also be used to circle want ads) balanced atop. We all know Travis likes to sit and masturbate in this chair (but, what we all do not know is how often, why, or what he thinks of when doing so) and we all know the cats live in the household (though, we have no clue as to whether they are ever let out, what their names are, and if these are even matters of any relevancy). And, we all can only come to the conclusion that it is relatively close to bedtime because Lila is getting ready to brush her teeth (there are certain clues in fiction that only arise at opportune moments and, let us all, The Reader, The Author/Narrator, face it, brushing your teeth is one of them).
Now would be a fine time for the dialogue that this manuscript has since been lacking.
“What are you doing?”
This seems weak, does it not? The reader and the narrator are not even sure who is speaking. For that matter, The Author is not quite sure either. If given the chance to reflect, any number of people might suggest that this moment, with Lila being human, might well have been rehearsed and would not have sounded so cavalier. So, we MUST start over at the beginning, or is it the middle, and might well be the end (do we use a “?” or a “.”)
The author needs to decide at this juncture whether to have Lila sound like we imagine Barbie® doll sounds when pissed off at Ken (Is this even trademarked? How can the Mattel® corporation go about trademarking the name when it so obviously is short for Kenneth?) ® (the author will place the trademark symbol in the narrative to cover her ass against a lawsuit), or to sound like Jane Fonda, in Barbarella, the movie.
Before the narrative begins anew (or, in the middle) with dialogue that will drive the story forward (or backward) and renewal of the current conflict (or past conflict), a time must be set that Travis has been laying back in the easy chair. From Lila’s perspective it is probably days or weeks. From Travis’ perspective it may be hours or minutes since he got up and say … pissed or snacked out of the fridge. Since this is Lila’s story, let us all assume that he has not moved (except for bed-sleep, pissing, pooping and eating out of the fridge) since the previous week or approximately, six days.
“What are you doing?” (It is the same question! The author cannot decide whether the question has been repeated, or the dialogue is beginning afresh. We all now know that it is Lila who is speaking and, in some way, this question now sounds more loaded with pent animosity, does it not?)
“Nothing.” (An entirely expected response.)
“Well, I can see you’re doing NOTHING NOW, but what did you do today?”
“Looked for a job.”
“What … on the back of your eyelids? With your right hand wrapped around your ding-a ling?”
Ouch! Has Lila REALLY HAD IT, or what? Or, is this just some utter b*tch (The author is very proud of herself for this little pun. The words utter and udder sound not so very different. Get it?) that he moved in with. The Author does not enjoy or condone swearing, so this is how this now definitive word for a female dog when used in reference to a female human will be represented in the text. The author believes that when a person swears, it negates everything said before and everything following.
“No … I looked on-line.”
“We don’t have a computer.”
“ …” (This, with quotations, is to represent a brief, but heavy, pause in the dialogue were either of the two characters may speak following its appearance.)
“I had Chad look on-line for me.” (Who the hell is Chad? Where did he come from? Let us all come to the unanimous decision to oust Chad, for he serves no real purpose.)
“That’s B.S., and you know it!” [Two things are happening in this sentence of which we all should take note: 1) We all find that another fine way to swear is by contraction or acronym, which we all know to be perfectly acceptable in social circles; and A) Lila has insinuated that Travis is a “liar” which we all can only assume to be true because she has, so far, not really given us all any reason to doubt her. (The use of “1” and “A” were intentional in that the author could not make a decision on which to use because both points appeared to be equally important, but one still has to follow the other. The reader may not agree with the degree of importance, but then the reader is not the author, or are they?)]
Should the author have Lila put her toothbrushed hand on her hip and stare him down until he folds? Should the narrator step in and remove the reader from this scene to a wholly new scenario? Should the reader even keep reading with the headache that would inevitably arise from trying to decipher clearly the meaning behind this tale (This story is at its tail, or beginning, which is the end, do not fret!)?
Now is the time for a brief, but heavy, pause (and also, a return to the dialogue).
“ …”
We all now discover that we cannot go back to the dialogue yet, because someone needs to try to define “love.” Questions only appear in lieu of definitions: would Lila speak to Travis in this manner if she had any “love” for him; if Travis has “love” for Lila, would he be making a little more effort not to unduly burden her financially and emotionally; is this Lila’s first “romantic love” that is being soured by Travis’ static bearing; what defines Lila’s “love” anyway? The author chooses a response that seems to fit the story:
“Tomorrow I’ll help you … ‘cause we can’t go on like this.”
“Tomorrow I’m talking to Chad about moving into his place.”
“ …”
Is Lila losing her “love”? Everything goes back to trying to define this word that is an abstract noun, that means something, however slightly or grandly, different to every person in America. Does a word, a singular word, for “love” exist in every language, in every nation, and in every faction of humanity?
And, the author is like a parrot — regurgitating and regurgitating what the parrot mimics (and, parrots NEVER LIE … unless they are fictitious).