Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Courtesy For Beginners

"And what I could have said then was: I’ll come home and we’ll talk and you’ll feel like somebody understands and you won’t have to hit yourself or throw everything you have around the room. Or you can come up and see me, come up and visit, come up and be a part of the worst camp anybody’s ever seen. Or let’s keep our records together. Let’s keep them in your room. Let’s make a list of all the ones we’ve got. Or I’m sorry I make it harder and I have trouble too and maybe if we take walks or get a hobby we can figure out how to get through this. Or put Daddy on, you can’t go away, you have to stay, we have to stay together. But what I did was the kind of thing you’d do and the kind of thing you’ve done: I felt bad for him and for myself and I went on with my week and then with my summer and I started telling my story to whoever would listen. And my story was: I survived camp. I survived my brother. I survived my own bad feelings. Love me for being so sad about it. Love me for knowing what I did. Love me for being in the lifeboat after everyone else went under. And my story made me feel better and it made me feel worse. And it worked."
-Jim Shepard - Like You'd Understand, Anyway

I am consistently in awe of Jim Shepard's writing. It made a lot more sense that I found a lot of his adolescent-focused fiction relatable once I found out he's from Stafford, CT. In his novel, Project X, he said that the cross country runners get less respect than dorks on the chess team. I used to run cross country meets in his hometown. The above quote feels like a mission statement for writers, at least one for myself. I survived and now I am going to tell you my story, I am going to tell you other people's stories.
I'll be posting some other Shepard quotes and thoughts soon, probably.

P.S. The story I quote was originally in A Public Space Issue Four. Represent!

The Mountain Goats - Sax Rohmer #1

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Only Story That Feels Complete

A House of Words
The Living Room
This is where we watch TV, where we entertain guests and let them add to the walls. You can see some of the words from the last dinner party on the ceiling if you look hard enough. There’s this is just fabulous in the left hand corner, can you see it? Mrs. Evans said that when she saw her words first appear on the walls. When there were still parties here, we’d hire a syntax repairman to come in and clean the walls up before a party. He removed the words we don’t want to see with an ice chipper; we’d make him rearrange the words we’d said to look smart and grammatically correct.
The Basement
Sorry, this place is a mess. This is where we save some of the words that we’ve taken down, words that used to mean something, the ones worth saving. There’s I Got a Good Deal…a nice little lie I told her. She loved it. There’s some light-hearted ones down here too, things we’ve said about TV shows and hockey games, the things that were important but don’t really matter. Look over there, can you believe how excited I was when the Rangers won the cup? I don’t even think that’s a real word! There’s some things from the argument room in here too. They’re here so we won’t forget.
The Silence Room
Hold on, we’re about to enter the silence room…let me get a pen and paper.
This is the room that we’re not allowed to talk in. She’ll have a fit if she sees any of our words in here. I’ve been spending a lot of time in here lately. This is a quiet place to think, to stare at a blank ceiling like normal people do. You can see that our ceilings start out white. I guess that makes silence white.
The Colored Room
This is just a little room to have fun. Sometimes when we feel silly, we’d buy a few buckets of paint and throw them at the walls, because black can be so boring. We said love, and now our love is bright green, and queasy is a dark red. We tear down the words in here about once a month, it takes hours to get rid of our words. For the most part, all it takes is a hammer and an ice pick, and little pieces of nothing or everything fall to the ground. Sometimes, though, the syntax man has to bring a crowbar and some elbow grease; some words simply refuse to disappear…some are thicker than others too. One word was so unwilling to go that the syntax man brought a blow torch, but I will not tell you what it was.
The Lovemaking Room
Where’s that pen and paper?
Look at the words, the sentences. Everything that we said was perfect…it kind of looks like poetry, doesn’t it? The moans never entered the ceiling, the I Love Yous just layered on top of one another. The syntax, the sentence flow, the grammar: I wouldn’t change a thing.
The Argument Room
I get uncomfortable when I take people in here. This is where I fought with her. You can probably find all the dirty words here, all the embarrassing insults and little things we yell about. We wouldn’t argue anywhere else. Once an argument started, we’d walk in here. We yelled so much in here that the walls couldn’t control our words, they start to fall and break the foundation, they started falling on us, and hitting us; the words let us know just how important they are. See this bump on the back of my head? That came from a giant asshole falling off the ceiling and joining the pile of curses that grew beneath our feet. It reminded us to stop; the falling words were trying to tell us to save ourselves. And we did, for a while at least. We took most of the words away, throw them outside. I’ve seen neighborhood children collect them and make word huts with them…you probably saw a few on your way over.
Where is she? Her mom’s place, I think. I can picture her right now, just talking, talking, talking, waiting to see words, but nothing will come of it. Maybe she’s lying in bed, thinking about the lovemaking room, of the silence room, or the colored room. Maybe every time she sees a written word, she thinks of me. She’ll be back soon. Last night I saw a hut that said I don’t love you anymore and I ran all the way home, fell asleep in the silence room, wishing that words didn’t exist.

Magnetic Fields - Please Stop Dancing

It Sums Up Last Semester Nicely

This was the first assignment I wrote for my Short Shorts class. He said to write an experimental play and this was all I could come up and this was how I felt about writing for a long time.

No Regrets, No Apologies

MEN 1-1500: Men of every age, race, shape, and size. All of them are wearing slippers.
THE AUTHOR: A bland-looking, forgettable male, preferably with a widow’s peak.
ROBOTS 1-1500: Silver robots similar to those of older Sci-Fi films.

Open Curtain. MEN 1-9 and THE AUTHOR are sitting in a spacious room with a fireplace. Spotlight on MAN 1, knitting a scarf.

MAN 1: I have several ideas about God and love.

MAN 2: It’s too bad that no one wants to hear them.

MAN 3: Do you think we’re going to be OK?

MAN 4: I’m not sure…maybe we should ask him.

MAN 4 gestures stage right to THE AUTHOR, seen in the fetal position while writing thinly veiled autobiographies.

MAN 5: Well, are we going to be OK?

THE AUTHOR: I don’t know. I don’t know anything. I know that MAN 1 has several ideas about God and love that nobody will ever hear.

MAN 8: You are a massive failure and have doomed us all.

THE AUTHOR: Where are 6 and 7?

MAN 9: They joined the choir.

THE AUTHOR: There’s a choir in this play?

THE AUTHOR gestures stage left as MAN 6, MAN 7, and MEN 10-1499 burst through the door with wide smiles and yellow robes on.

MEN 6, 7, 10-1499: [singing]
It is right to give Him thanks and praise
I will worship Him for all my days
Even when I cannot write
Lord I ask you shine a light

THE AUTHOR: This all seems a bit unnecessary.

MAN 4: It is.

MAN 5: Why aren’t we using elevated diction?

MAN 8: What do you mean?

MAN 5: You know, like in France and stuff. Maybe it’s just a translation thing. I don’t know.

MAN 3: We don’t know because the author doesn’t know.

MAN 1500: Does anyone want to go fishing?


THE AUTHOR: I don’t remember creating Man 1500.

MAN 4: I think we’re going to be OK.

Man 5: No, you don’t.

MAN 1368: This play could use more set pieces. Maybe some quirky talking animals too.

THE AUTHOR: I can do that. Talking animal set pieces.

THE AUTHOR writes something down and three lions have a conversation about the merits of internet dating. Clouds appear and disappear in the background for no reason.

MAN 2: Do your classmates hate you?

THE AUTHOR: A few. Most people are pretty indifferent.

MAN 29: Well, they’re sure going to hate you now.

THE AUTHOR high-fives MAN 29. Several things you’d expect to see in an experimental play appear in the background. ROBOT 14 enters stage left.

ROBOT 14: Is there room for me in this?

THE AUTHOR: Why not?

MAN 1: I have several ideas about God and love.

THE AUTHOR: No, you don’t.

Robots 1-13, and 15-1500 slaughter MEN 1-1500. ROBOT 14 shrugs indifferently, and gives THE AUTHOR a hug. ROBOTS 1-13, 15-1500 develop a new robot society in front of the audience, open a furniture store, have an identity crisis, start listening to Bruce Springsteen, move to Oklahoma City, return to the stage, and beg THE AUTHOR to kill them after several years of growing bitter and depressed. THE AUTHOR seems eager but unable to do so, and goes to sleep instead.

ROBOT 643: God is dead.

ROBOT 14: He’s just asleep.

ROBOT 643: Oh.

ROBOT 2: What do we do now?

ROBOT 36: Maybe we should start a farm and forget our troubles.

ROBOT 14: I think Candide ended that way.

ROBOT 82: Fuck. What’s a Candide?

THE AUTHOR mumbles something about fear of the future in his sleep, startling THE ROBOTS, who begin running in circles.

ROBOT 14: Everything will be OK. It’s true because I believe it and I’m not going to worry about it.

ROBOT 1500: That’s probably the best explanation we’re going to get. Let’s move back to Oklahoma City.

THE ROBOTS exit, carrying the 1500 human corpses with them. THE AUTHOR wakes up, eats cereal, and looks up when he notices that he is alone, smiles, and starts writing again. Fade to black.

Daft Punk - Human After All (Sebastian Remix)