Sunday, December 22, 2013

Love and Other Wrong Reasons: A Bench in Fiddler's Green Part II

    In November, I woke from a dream. Funny. Despite the fogginess of those summer days, I can remember that dream quite clearly. I was in a gathering hall, maybe a lunch room. Above all of us it was fairly dark, but we seemed lit by candles and local lamps. By "us," I mean everyone from that summer. They were all there. If I had kept looking, maybe I'd find everyone else I'd met--the room seemed large enough for it--but everyone around me was from that summer. I searched around until I found L_____. She was holding a cup of something, as if this were some cocktail party, and smiled as I approached. The conversation is lost, as distinct words in dreams often are, but I remember saying something like:
    "It is so good to see you. I never really got a chance to tell you that I really appreciated our time together. It meant a lot to me and I really loved getting to know you. I wish we would have had more time together."
    We fell into a concise but front conversation. I woke after that and wrote it all down--which I'm sure is still tucked in my closet at my mother's house--before falling back to dreamless sleep. I missed L____. Tremendously. I had this moment with her, this moment of honesty and of clarity. Despite never coming forward with my feelings for L____, that time still feels... intimate, I guess. Another word may fit better, but it escapes me. We were un-pretentious and unguarded around one another. That sort of thing may be easy for many people at that age, but it stands out. No matter what followed--months, years down the road--I will always appreciate that time with L____. I don't appreciate it for what it became (which I'll get to), but for what it was. Those quiet card games and walks, that last night being close to her, it defined a real innocence (despite adolescence) of what I should expect or desire in a partner, whether that partner might be a friend or something more.
    In the morning that followed--it must have been a Saturday because I remember writing it immediately--I wrote L____ a letter. I hope she still has it, tucked away in a shoebox, forgotten in a closet or basement. I don't care if she ever reads it again, I just want it to exist. I wrote to her about the dream and, without assumptions, that I would like to talk to her, write to her, hear from her. In whatever words I used in that letter, I was asking her to be in my life.
    When I came back from that summer studies program, K_____ and I met and talked things out. I had a profound patience with the process. During the summer I had written to her with a crayon drawing of us holding hands. It was the sort of childlike cuteness I thought she'd appreciate. When she called after receiving the letter she was utterly surprised and distant. Somehow we had managed to totally miss each other in how we were relating to one another. While I had assumed we would "figure things out" after the summer, but were more or less still seeing each other, she understood that we were separate and it was inappropriate for me to send her letters (we must have been writing to each other weekly) in which two waxy depictions showed us holding hands.
    I would later write to K_____ in a sealed letter that managed to be interpretted in the worst possible way. At the time I had gone from being sadly broken up with someone I'd "invested" in, to mellowly seeing someone I appreciated and continued to speak with, to falling into a very unnerving gray area of neither having been with nor separate from that person. I fell into a funk and could not make sense of what had happened. I had suggested "figuring out later" the relationship because K_____ was having such a difficult time; I thought it would be stabilizing. Afterward, I felt incredibly unbalanced and unable to make sense of it. I had wanted to be supportive, unassuming, caring; I felt that I'd been mislead, betrayed, and confounded.
    When I wrote to L____ it felt like the first certain romantic thing I'd done in months. When I heard back from her, I was thrilled. Later, I learned that she and her boyfriend--the one from that summer--had just broken up. It all seemed remarkable, harmonious even how I had broached something that we recognized as mutual and had even dreamed of her the night that she most needed somone to reach out to her. (At least, that is how the whole thing felt as a late teenager in the first throes of a more adult affection.) So many pieces clicked together that the correspondence that followed assumed a bewildering fortitude.
    We wrote to each other regularly for months. Maybe every other week we would talk on the phone. We sent packages to each other--I had small Japanese gummy candies for years afterward--and became close. I think it was January when I asked if she might want to consider what was happening a relationship. It was a fumbling phone conversation with a hefty, cordless landline phone; I was constantly afraid thay my mother my pick up the phone while we spoke. I fumbled through the words, not exactly mumbling but apologizing with every word for what might have unraveled our friendship.
    "You know, if it's okay with you, I thought we might consider this--I mean, you and me--seeing each other."
    Not exactly those words, but about as drawn out. She answered yes, that that sounded just great to her. All my friends knew that there was this beautiful young woman, half the country away, with whom I was quite taken. (The year before I had been speaking with J____ and had fallen into a similar, if slightly more overblown mode. I wonder if they expected it by now.)  Did she tell her friends? My mother, who has always been fairly conservative in her readings of my romances, had commented on phone bills and my absences. At that moment, though, at the affirmation that my feelings were echoing back to me, I was happy. I was certain that whatever was happening as concrete and present in a way that I hadn't really known before.
    For Valentine's Day that year, I bought a dozen white roses. White seemed best for L____. They were austere and classy, something I picked up from the grocery store as if I could actually hand them off to my sweetheart. The only other time I have ever bought roses was in middle school when I quietly handed one to the cute girl in school; it had added to the dozen or so she already had. Now I had someone who I wanted to give a whole dozen to. Hell, I would have bought six dozen, twelve. But I bought the one dozen from the grocery store where I'd had my first job and took a picture of them in the car the night before. I sent the picture to L____, adding that I would have handed them to her had I the chance. Instead, I took them to school the next day and handed one to each of my female friends who wasn't, to my knowledge, seeing someone.
    And that was how I felt about my love for L____: Whatever I gave to her I had that much more to give to everyone else in my life. With L____ with me, even divided by a thousand miles, I could give more of myself and be certain I would still have enough for me. And enough for her.
    Near the end of the school year I was getting more anxious. I wanted to touch and hold someone. I wanted someone I could think of as mine, someone who wanted to think of me as hers. I was envious of A_____ who had started dating K______, a sharp and befuddling young woman with a strong Germanic jawline and keen eyes. I spoke with M____ who had dated A______ after I started seeing K_____ and had been dismayed because of my choice. A__ may have been in the picture still, who provided some of the same allure of distance by living in Omaha an hour away while being just as striking if less well-focused in her passions. Meanwhile, other friends were off enjoying more explicit delights than have ever been my preference.
    Summer came and we wanted to make a visit, a week and then a weekend that we might see each other, go exploring, find nooks to sneak kisses, to watch old movies with my arm around her. I must have dreamed about that trip that never was every night. I wanted her and I missed her and I could not make sense of why it wasn't clicking like it had with that first letter, with those card games. She had always moved so effortlessly on the quad, but each moment took on new weight.
    We were both prepared to say it was over at the end of the summer. We were off to different colleges, no closer than before, and it just made sense. We didn't want to "hold each other back." So we didn't. We said goodbye, keep in touch, and good luck.
    I must have entered college with a similar lightness to when I'd gone to Duke for the summer studies program. I wanted to know everyone, I could talk to anyone, I was unencumbered in a way I hadn't been for months. As I mentioned, A____ and I fumbled into our relationship. Shortly after that started, L____ sent me a letter. Maybe I had sent the last one and this was a response. We had written to each other so much that it had become ritual. She was seeing someone, too.
    Later, we never talked about that correspondence, but I had gone out to the Arboretum and cried. It was a cool fall day in Minnesota, I think there was a light rain that day. I checked in with a half dozen new friends for comfort, but they all had there own crises. It was freshman year and we were all in our own heads, trying to figure out our own hearts. It makes sense now, but that night I thought that all I needed was one good friend and got nothing; and L____, the stalwart in my life for the entire year before, had slipped through my fingers.
    The winter of my summer year I visited my friend S____ in Chicago. We went to high school together and I was thrilled to see my fellow lexophile again. On the "L" I reflected on that summer and my interest in counseling at the camp where I was once a student. By the time the semester started again in February (following a January term), I had applied for the position at Duke University West Campus.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Love and Other Wrong Reasons: A Bench in Fiddler's Green

First: This is a very rough draft of the first two sections. I'm working on variety and quantity before I prune and revise. In some ways, this is the heart of what I'm working on. It also seems to be in the way of me doing anything else. The writing is loose and meandering and I am okay with that. It'll tighten up with revision, but I don't think I mind the overall flow.

As you may notice, I'm not sure how to refer to people respectfully. Though there are individuals I know wouldn't mind my reference to them, it seems in poor taste to include their names and not others. So far, there are several L_ named people. This is just my life, so don't get uppity if it's confusing. If anyone knows some conventions on respectful pseudonyms, let me know.

Lastly, I'm trying to frame a story I'm somewhat tired of telling without telling a tired story. Where I cut is probably 1/3 of the way through the whole piece. There will be two more sections on the primary story so that the structure will be A B B A B A, with A being more commentary/reflection and B being more narrative and focused on the primary arch. If I were to write this all as a story, I would dig out the journals and read them. I don't want to and don't have to. I'm the writer and this seems like the most appropriate way for me to handle this story at this time. I end this on a certain note with the expectation it will be easy to pick up again.


    I still take in a healthy dose of romanticism now and then. As a teenager, every woman became more charming the further away she was. I dated lovely women with large personalities and quirks to stand out. I thought I could tell one or another that I loved her and, at the time, I think I was telling the truth. Love, I think, is at first a simple thing. As a child, love is what we give caring parents, what we have for our siblings on the better days, and what comes in cards from grandparents and aunts that keeps the check from falling out until you've properly read the card. And those things are love, or the signifiers of love, until it gets rolled up with other things.
    L_____, L____, and I were walking by the athletic center one night. If memory serves, it would have been early or mid-spring of 2006. I had met the two of them in January and had latched onto them. It was my freshman year of college, a hard year for many, myself included. My college was one of those small liberal arts institutions scattered around the upper Midwest. Later I'd joke that I was no more than two steps removed from everyone and that if I were, I probably didn't want to know them anyway. I mean, who would be so interesting that didn't already know one of the interesting people I'd had in class or as a friend or seen perform?
    We were talking about love. We were being direct and unassuming in a way that has gotten harder. I'm tempted to make something up, but in the end I can't really remember much of the conversation. It was a time in my life when I thought everything I had to say was important and only after the matter would try to write down anyone else's ideas. This, I have no doubt, is an entirely ficitonal monologue loosely "based on real events;" but here it goes:
    "I wonder if love is something that gets heavier and heavier," I said, trying to make sense of the tumbling thoughts. "Early on, love is light, even weightless at times. When you're in love you feel like you're barely touching the ground. As you go along your love picks up things. There was that date and that heartbreak that stick to the outside. They get wrapped up by something else. Before you know it, you're carrying the weight of the world on you. Eventually, you need someone to help you carry it or you just can't imagine adding more weight. That's when you find someone.
    "It isn't that you love that person more than anyone else. It is that you make yourself love that person differently. It comes from a certain perspectve you didn't have before"--and this is where I'm sure I'm making things up in an effort to condense the questions L_____ and L____ asked, the specifics of which I can't recall. "It sounds like you're surrending, that suddenly you can't help settling on this person. I think I know some people like that." And yes, I would have been so brazen to say something like that. "Or maybe you're suddenly ready, because of the weight, for something that you weren't ready for before."
    I think that this is a really awful position. Just truly horrible. It valorizes the noncommital, the wavering, the "afraid of commitment" in an effort to explain away youthful anxiety about love. It was also coming at a transition point. Of course, college is the obvious one, but I would have recently ended with the elegance of a flatulent bison my first college relationship. A___ has since become one of my dearest and most valuable friends and I can validate my floundering, frustrating, and frankly unkind treatment of her as some necessary means to get to where we are now. Why she is not regularly angry at me I cannot say, unless it has to do with her northern Minnesota demeanor. Whatever it is, I am thankful for it.
     A___ had caught me--because I pretty much thrust myself at her one night--in the wake of another relationship ending. Somehow, I have to begin that story. The story has been told so many time so as to be threadbare, its edges are frayed, and I know that memory is such a thing that whatever I tell now is quite different from anything that actually happened. I can even play indifferent about the story, that it was a moment (or two, really) in my life that has passed, almost forgotten. I've been storing it in drawers and closets, tucking it outside of the light, but everywhere I have gone I have packed into a box or chest or suitcase. I'm tired of moving it, hauling it around, tucking it away. I want to toss it out.
      K_____ and I had one of those relationships that only makes sense in high school. I remember us splitting up before I left for a summer camp at Duke University in the summer of 2004. I had a cell phone that was supposed to be for calling home when I'd be out late and if I ever got into a car accident. It came with me to North Carolina and I was talking to K_____ more often than my parents. One night I told her, "Maybe we should just hold off on deciding if we're broken up or not." (Like I said, a strictly high school relationship.) I remember her agreeing. To me we were, if strangely, more or less together again. At the same time I knew that K_____ was dating someone else. Someone I'd met and found uninspired and cold. I didn't mind. At the end of the day K_____ would call me and we'd talk about the dozens of uninteresting things that had happened that day.
      Not that my life was uneventful. I was away from home with dozens of other high school students. There was over a hundred of us, all of us quite proud of our wits and grades, interested in esoteric academia, readers of nonfiction for fun. I was introduced in the first critical way to philosophy and it has stolen my heart in ways that another person never can--though every new attempt thrills and entices me. My new friends were sharp and quirky and full of bite. I took a class titled the Anthropology of Violence in which I read so many books on people hurting others that I quit two-thirds of the way through from emotional exhaustion. As one might expect with a dormitory full of high schoolers, romance and intrigue were rampant.
      A_____ and I disagreed on everything I could think up but her freckles and light orange (or was it strawberry blonde) hair were so endearing I thought I'd crumple. S____ was loud and curvacious and bounded with such seductive confidence that I thought her attention must electrify anyone it fell on. S____ and N___ quickly became my dear friends and stalwarts; only later did I find out that they played a game of tallying who of the two of them had received more of my attention that day and, therefore, I was actually "crushing on." Even M____ told me one night that he thought I'd be the nice boy to bring home to show his parents.
      In the end, I felt "spoken for" by K_____. I'd grown up heavy and still feel that weight on me most days. It had slowed me down, encouraged me to read more than talk, taught me the blessings of a creative mind. In the fall or spring prior--the school year of 2003-2004--had I learned to be outgoing, engaging, even entertaining in groups. I maintained more skill in communicating one-on-one and that tendency ignited small sparks of interest. The notion that I might be charming, even alluring to young women embarrassed me. It also ennervated me. By being attentive but slightly disinterested, conversational but noncommittal, caring but not doting I was exploring an unusual, even (and I wouldn't learn the term for some time) queer space.
      Years before I'd been queered by acquaintances and classmates. It happened regularly in college. I never learned to keep my hands by my sides when I spoke. My mother continues to be kind and caring, traits that I appreciate and share. Showing hospitality is both a basic demand of civility and very respectful to guests. Light touches mixed with an avoidance of competitive sport all placed me in the "confused" category. Though I wasn't always happy with my shape, my skills, or my looks, I was happy with who I was, my friends, and my pasttimes.
      Maybe I balanced the outsideness with a skill for invisibility, but growing up where I did, how I did made me safe. I had a community of open-minded peers, educators who liked to challenge norms, and an incredibly caring and patient mother. What I mean is that in various small ways and by various people, I was identified as gay. Women I'm interested in have often commented they considerd I might be gay. I was never threatened and my anxieties arose from other things. The experience has given me some perspective without the burden of actually coming out, of being directly confronted by overt homophobia, or being interrogated by family and friends because of their prejudices.
    So my junior year and again at the summer studies program, I was a pleasantly aloof, engaging, and gently affectionate young person. There are girls, now women, with whom I might have been close and think about from time to time. When K_____ and I started dating, it was to deny others I also cared about. It was much the same when K_____ and I "called off" the break up. That said, there is nothing like a dormitory of teenagers to inflame hearts.
    This is where I met L____. I remember seeing her cross the quad in long, flowing skirts. I woke earlier than S____ and N___ or just about anyone else I knew. I'd read over a quiet breakfast and started returning to the dorms, to wake S____ and N___ with cups of coffee. They would both huddle in little forts under their beds talking with friends or tapping away on their computers. Both were (and I assume still are) small framed women; they'd wear each other's clothes as often as their own. So I'd knock on their unlocked door and let myself in with steaming cups of coffee. N___ once joked that I was Daddy Caleb, which in light of everything else is somewhat perplexing.
    L____ and I crossed paths regularly before sharing words. We did not have class together and lived on different sides of the dormitory. Maybe she was taking an art history or a literature class. Years later she was interning at the art museum, but her interests have always been diverse. I have it all written down somewhere--I was fastidious about journaling then--but now I can only think of a handful of actual meetings.
    We played cards in one of the common rooms. Rummy, I think, or maybe gin rummy. I remember trying not to stare at her. L____ is classically beautiful. It sounds trite now, and I've met other women who idolize or resemble Audrey Hepburn, but L____ had always made more sense as a movie star or foreign royalty than as someone I met in summer camp. I remember being taken aback that her mother was a botanist of a certain stripe; I was interested, but it seemed so... material compared to the airiness with which she walked, the gentleness with which she spoke, her delicately sharp bone structure.
    Despite my friends' encouragement at the last dance of the camp, I could not ask her to join me. The formality of asking someone to dance still fills me with anxiety, I've just gotten better at overcoming it. We had gone on evening walks several times. Duke University has more than a few flaws, but its grounds are stunning. Dormitories and faculty halls are weighty with large red bricks and age. Malls of trimmed grass and the stubborn trails of packed earth stretch beneath generous, overhanging trees. Small gardens and leisurely boulevards provide innumerable landmarks for wanderers. The Sarah P. Duke Gardens are expansive and regal with plaques on plants and donors and a plaza dedicated to Thomas Jefferson (though I believe they were out of bounds for ust at that time). Whoever I found myself with, L____ included, we were never without topics related to class, friends, or our own dreams for ourselves. (I can remember one exception to this rule.) Most of us had been told in one way or another that we were brilliant young people, capable of anything, and we pretty much believed them.
    Now that I say that, I think that L____ and I--with similar notions of romanticism--walked quietly in the evening. We did not hold hands--both of us had someone at home--and were not too nervous to talk. Nevertheless, we seemed in tune with those meditative moments. We took in the sights, each step, the company of the other like two people who had known each other long enough to not have to talk. With L____, I thought a whole day, a whole week might rise and set and we would have enjoyed each change. We were astronomers, fascinated with the gyrations of flowers and the patter of rainfall and the arteries of this place we shared for six weeks.
    I found Laura after the dance. No one slept much the night before we were to depart. I think we sat close on a hard university sofa. I set my arm around her, I think. Whatever gesture it was, she enjoyed it. I enjoyed it. We might have played cards. I'm not sure on all the details. I know that I was happy and that we were together.
    S____, or maybe A____ (though I think it was S____), and I shared a cab to the airport. We were quiet. Tired. Excited and sad and somehow dozens of other feelings crammed together. We were young and everything is dialed to eleven when you're seventeen years old. We had spiral bound term books with scattered black and white photos and spreadsheets of names, addresses, phone numbers. I remember writing to S____ and N___ a little, but mostly the book slid onto a shelf and was forgotten.
    In November, I woke from a dream. Funny. Despite the fogginess of those summer days, I can remember that dream quite clearly.

Love and Other Wrong Reasons: Foreword

I've begun a project. Though this is called a "foreword," it is sort of a project scope. Like too many project scopes, it has started out expansive and will be fine-tuned, trimmed, and sculpted as the end result comes into focus. This is also a free range to exercise muscles that have fallen into disuse. I'm likely to get a little lost, but that is one of the benefits of making this kind of space for myself. So here goes the first breadcrumb, I hope I can find it on my way back.


    This project is a meditation on bad decisions, mine and others', that may or may not be rooted in love. Like any literary project, I suppose there is a strong possibility I will unearth my own shortcomings. This may even be a means of overcoming them. I am in the midst of a standoff with myself around romance, decision-making, and what I actually want for myself. Some of the writing here will touch on that. Most of it will not. Hopefully all of it is engaging and interesting.
    We'll see about that.
    I have a persistent obsession with Raymond Carver's "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love." This story defined much of my aspirational writing style for years. It is wildly different from my more recent obsessions, but marks a zenith of handling an everpresent topic in a fresh, mature, and challenging way. Each year provides a new lens through which I can read the story, glean lessons, and be taken aback. I do not want to populate this manuscript with mediocre imitations of that piece. Just as "What We Talk About" comes from a deeply insightful, mature, and reflective place, I want to assume a similar posture towards my own experience, my present situattion, and my writing.
    In a similar mode, I want these stories to examine recurring motifs that trouble or challenge me. "Why I Hate White Boys" is my attempt at taking a critical stance on a whole body of media that places entitled white teenagers as if they were sympathetic tragic heroes. I do this in part to identify my own position or even displace it in a system of privilege and oppression. The title comes from my immediate reaction to these characters in media and not from any deep-seated condemnation. Like much of the work here, it is written and hopefully read in a spirit of playful critique.
    This playful critique is a foolish position. The Fool represents impulse, creativity, and idealistic matters--amongst other things. In the traditional depiction of the Fool, he is a clad in bright green and off on an adventure, oblivious that he is about step off the edge. Meanwhile, his faithful canine companion is tugging fervently at the leg of his trousers to keep him safely eathbound. If the Fool is so idealistic, perhaps he is the faithful man in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade who is willing to trust that Providence will guide his step to divine safety in search of the Holy Grail. Or maybe the Fool is willing to explore not the air itself, but the mysteries of what has not been explored. The dog, so faithful and true, wants to remain on the solid, the known, the material. It is impossible for the dog to go where he has not already been. Then again, he is at least safe.
    I want to let myself make mistakes again. Not just the mistakes of indifference or laziness or distraction, which are all common enough, but the mistakes of staying safe. In "A Bench in Fiddler's Green," I take on one of my most defining experiences as a young adult and romantic person. The memories I associate with this story are sometimes comforting and warm but more often foggy, confusing, and profoundly strange. These memories may be read as the companion regularly tugging me back to safety when I should be leaping forward, onto an adventure that may reward with years or even decades of support, affection, and care.
    Selfishly, these pieces may help uproot the barriers that these hound dog memories maintain. I have been blessed by the care and affection and even--Dare I say?--love of wonderful women. Presumption is its own foolishness, but presumption is also necessary for the closeness needed in love. In love we consider we may actually know what another person thinks and feels. We presume to understand some parallel universe of experience, perception, interpretation, and sensation. I think that I have set aside that presumption with the excuse of respect and the private expectation of some sort of emotional stability.
    All of that is far too serious. The airiness of foolishness means taking a different and especially comedic look at things. As Charlie Chaplin put it, "Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot." The foolish position allows us to see the comedy--or the tragicomedy when needed--in the tragedy. Someone I used to know (a phrase borrowed from Elliott Smith) once described me as a tragic figure. It was high school and we had dated and she was a theatrical type of person. When she dropped me off at home, she came around the car and attacked me with kicks and wild punches. The self-awareness and peculiarity of the day--including a beautiful Midwest fall day at the park--provided almost immediate distance from the event and I was able to laugh about it within days. I actually sort of deserved a hard slap or swift punch or two for what had happened, but the mad fumbling aggression queerly mirrored the mad fumbling of our relationship as a whole.
    I hope that I am not a tragic figure. They always die at the end or lose their friends and lovers. I want this effort to divorce me from whatever tragic figure she thought I was. I want it to divorce me from the hard memories that weigh at my feet. I don't know if I would settle for a comedic figure, but at least they get to get hitched at the end.
    This work is about love being one of "all the wrong reasons." I posed this question in conjunction with the 70's catchphrase, "A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle." I think of this phrase often when some hetero-female friend of mine is going through one romantic crisis or another, knowing that it also reflects on me and my social position. The other quote buzzing in my head has been Zsa Zsa Gabor's: "Getting divorced just because you don't love a man is almost as silly as getting married just because you do." Unfortunately, I didn't know any catchy images to go along with it.
    I am part of some sort of demographic group that sees romantic love as the gravitational center around which we are supposed to define our lives. Mostly, we see this as a feminine attribute--like little girls wearing pillow cases for veils as they rehearse the Big Day--, but I reassure you that there is a corollary amongst men. I also find myself at that age when more and more familiar faces are adorned with formal wear, rings, and little cherubic faces. If we--this generation, demographic, or some other categorical grouping--are making these decisions because we think love is so definitive, what happens when that gets force gets disrupted by some rogue planet or even a rare eclipse of that loving, weighty luminosity?
    I have seen bad relationships persist because of love. I have seen good relationships dissolve despite love. I can see the breakdown of good relationships, of loving relationships not because love isn't there, but because love simply isn't the satisfactory salve for the wounds two people might inflict on one another. It is one reason, sometimes the right reason and sometimes the wrong reason, for making decisions. This is an attempt to better understand the latter. In the end, I may even understand the former a little bit.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Free Write - Industrial Internet Musing

I've let some of the ideas from the internet of things/industrial internet flow. I still don't have a plot, but it feels like a rich world to work in. I wanted to get some writing done--to get back in the practice and since I have the time--but couldn't focus much on Vincenzi. I like this--though I haven't reread it--just as a musing/exercise. It is not  a story, though it makes sense that it is part of one. I can also consider doing a sort of Jennifer Egan Visit From the Goon Squad sort of meandering narrative perspective thing. For the phones, I'm totally stealing from design fiction and Borealis's phones (basically iPhones that just look like glass slabs) and imagining plenty of Bluetooth/wireless communication between objects. Oh, then there's the inter-object data gathering.

Supposing I'll work through this more, I figure the man will have to get a name. That said, I like how he gets to be a sort of object in space while his phone and other gadgetry is more communicative than he is. There is a sort of gravitational pull toward competing theories of technology: Are the objects moving us through predetermined space or are we developing a world where technology allows us to move more smoothly through space? It is Frederick Kittler inspired--thanks to Too Much Information's Four Big Ideas show--which means I should be doing some more research (such as Kittler and Tom McCarthy's C). It would also tie in nicely to a statistical technologist role that gets to be the new Leviathan as it defines the directions of others' lives through predictive statistical models.

Maybe I'm shouting in the dark these days. I think I'm trying to make sense of my own reliance on technology in the context of an expanding (I started out with "growing," but feel that is too organic) technical space. This technical space/network is part of the working title, "EcoTechnics," which suggests a technical ecosystem that may be complementary but just as likely is competitive with organic systems.

The last bit is that this feels slightly utopian and dystopian at the same time. On one end, we have technology making our lives easier, on the other the technology further enslaves us to the alienation and false consciousness of such a world.

Enjoy... I hope!


At 06:23 the shades begin to turn, casting the room in warm amber hues, but still lanced with dark shadows. The body stirs and coolant runs through the mattress, gradually lowering the temperature in the bed while memory threads in the comforter shrink, responding to the new light. A ghostly form seems to draw the sheets from the sleeping body. He is in a fetal position, his right hand nestles close to his face. A small gurgling sound can be heard coming from the kitchenette. The closet door slides open and an outfit creaks out into the open room.

The man groans, but it is quiet. He feebly reaches for the comforter but it is already near his ankles. Without rubbing his eyes, he rolls off the bed onto his feet and they make small smacking noises. Invisibly, the finished concrete had warmed in preparation for his touch. It is 6:24 and the smell of Arabica with just a hint of chocolate is in the air. He grabs at the clothes set aside to him by the closet, tosses them onto the kitchen counter, pours himself a full mug of coffee. A strategic half cup remains in the pot. The seat of the pot has shut off, but its residual heat maintains the thin lake of java.

The kitchen is softly flouresced and a subtle trip hop tempo emanates from everywhere and nowhere. The light is sun-like, but dim, mirroring the dawn outside. A glass topped table adjacent to the slim, black sofa glimmers with a slow flashing blue: a small ring of keys--two small cards, two traditional metal cuttings, and a fifth key cut from plastic in the shape of a crude single tumbler key--sit atop it. Near the door, another table glimmers in an opposing pattern: a clean glass rectangle sits next to a slim, faux-leather billfold. The billfold matches the couch. A face of the man looks out from the billfold and glistens with holographic watermarks.

A digital clock with an analog faces reads: 6:38. The man is dressed and the remains of a slender bagel sit on the counter. He finishes his coffee and takes a small, blue bill from off an illuminated circle of the counter and smashes it between his teeth. There are slight flashes as breath freshening crystals crackle in his mouth. The light in the room now matches outside. The clock bleeps unevenly every two to five seconds encouragingly. The tables with his items are flashing more quickly, their counter-rhythms increasingly distracting. He snatches the keys and tosses them into a jacket pocket and the light flashes, then dims. He slides the billfold and glass panel phone into the same interior jacket pocket. The phone flashes a blushing face affectionately, but the man has seen it too many times to care. The time above the face reads 06:40. The bleeping clock quiets.

A rodent sized machine that resembles a dump truck and street sweeper whirs out to the bagel, tosses it briskly into its basket, and polishes the lighlty oiled countertop. Memory coils in the bed relax, small magnets draw the pillows to predetermined destinations, and the coffee pot runs a dilute sanitizing solution before draining it through a nearly invisible hole in the base.

The elevator door bings open just as the man turns the corner. A neatly dressed middle-aged woman is already in the elevator. A small earpiece murmurs headlines and stock prices into her ear. The two nod to each other; neither entertain dialogue. The elevator rapidly descendes while the man looks at his phone: a banner automatically displays a coffee date for 16:30 that has been arranged based on similar tastes in coffeeshops, films of the late 1990s, and both are "mostly vegetarian." He slides the banner and "Jezzie_Belle" tops the screen, a picture of a pale brunette with a tattoo on her collar sits in the middle, and a set of possible conversation starters read below it.  The woman sharing the elevator shifts and he puts the phone back into his pocket.

They step out into a clean, narrow marble hallway. A group of four are walking to the door and an elevator behind them rings once they step into the space. There is a steady flow of humanity as the eight elevators release their passengers. Outside a light drizzle is kept at bay by unfurled awnings. The woman walks into the street and into a taxi that stops just in front of her. The man strolls just along the perimeter of the awnings and feels the morning light and the gentle pinpricks of rain on his face. He doubletimes it to the bus as it pulls up. His phone has been bleeping and vibrating since he left the lobby and it stills itself as he hops on the bus.

He slides the billfold over a scanner which flashes from dull blue to a bright, happy green. The second to last passenger slides three crumpled bills beneath the scanner while the driver grumbles. The man ascends the narrow staircase to the second story, the pattering drizzle calling to him. He taps two earbuds into place and a low droning music harmonizes with the tamber. Four rows of seats are marked by green lights along the floor; he chooses the middle-most row and the rightward window seat, sliding into it as the bus picks up speed. His phone reads 6:52 and shows a map of the route with two stops circled in red; he taps one and the phone flashes a gleeful emoji. The man smiles back and another emoji, surprised and red-cheeked flashes onscreen before the man turns to the streetscape outside.

The early morning had promised light, scattered clouds, a day of warmth, it had soured into a gray mishmash of mottled lines, a few dashes in the clouds letting in sunbeams unevenly reflecting off of the tall buildings. The awnings were now entirely unfurled to protect pedestrians, though the man noticed several struggling against damaged mechanisms. A yellow glow on the opposite side of the bus drew his attention and he looked outward; down a street cut into the buildings there was a flash of double rainbows. His phone buzzed satisfyingly, emitting some Fat Buddha grin, though it remained in his pocket.

He flipped through current events on his phone, banners flashing as familiar people boarded the bus--a young man he'd met at a bar over pool, a red-headed woman he eyed at the grocery store but had not spoken with, a coworker from a different department, a cousin he might see at weddings and funerals. Each flash gave him a chance to turn away in case they ascended to the second storey--or, in the case of the red-head, turned to expectantly. Despite the warnings, the man was nearly alone as he scanned headlines and streetlife. A light smile flits on his lips as he reads.

Monday, July 29, 2013

SF Stewing

I'm stewing on some ideas in the hopes that they come together into something coherent. It may need cleaning up my board and brainstorming plots on it--though that means erasing the Vincenzi stuff I have up there. Here's what I have:


Reading Wired's stuff  on the internet of things/industrial internet, I wonder what a society dominated by "smart" objects might look like. If your clothes are tagged and your closet, hamper, and laundry machine talk to each other, does that mean your closet would recommend a certain shirt on Tuesday? If I grab a certain pair of paints, would it tell me to try out a certain shirt? If I get up ten minutes later than normal, would I have black tea waiting for me instead of green? Could my bed, closet, shower, and vehicle cross-communicate to know what I like to do on early Saturday volunteer days?

Would this world create a more insular space--always wearing slacks on Monday with the blue shirt, jeans on Saturday with the striped black shirt--or would there be a way to introduce spice, play, and discovery to such a system? I can imagine that such a system could deeply cement the tedium of workaday lifestyles, but wouldn't necessarily do that. At the same time, "smart" objects depend on incredible quantities of data mapped across a life. This could produce an elite class of statistical programmers producing more efficient worlds by having increasingly responsive objects (an incredible expansion on the increased transcription proficiency of voice capture on smartphones).

How would this elite class define its goals? Would they simply be interested in efficiency (an immediate goal and product of smart objects) to the end of producing a para-governmental body that focuses and adapts services based on the measured behaviors of clients? Such goals could encourage insular lifestyles and ultimately undermine the imagination in a disempowering way, despite increasing overall efficiency. This is dystopic without be anti-utopian. Then again, meta-analysis may introduce new media to your diet and bring about a more cosmopolitan and dynamic world (the way good broadcasting schedules or even mixtapes can).

How this fits together into a story is pretty unclear. I can imagine someone working through this space--or even working in it--or having two people who use the technology in divergent ways... Then there are the political ramifications that could develop a more intricate, even spy-fi style intrigue. I think of this as "EcoTechnics," a field or business that looks at the overlay of technical systems in ecological, inter-related ways (hence a late morning needs more coffee because of poor sleep). And then there is:


I'm still sorting this out, but SciFri was discussing--and I had previously read a brief on--how scientists are working to rewrite mouse memories. The therapeutic end may be the treatment of trauma patients--rewriting damaged PTSD neurons--to alternative therapies to dementia and or Alzheimer's. This suggests some crazy mind control stuff which I wouldn't mind hinting at but have no interest in focusing on. Instead, I want to consider the more unnerving repercussions of such therapy.

For example (and this is the story/character I can consider playing with in some form), if we take someone with PTSD and run them through a mnemonic gamut that reconnects the trauma with neutral or positive sentiments, won't that just inspire the actions that initially caused the PTSD? Now, though, those actions are part of a neural process that is positive rather than damaging; the person has just been cognitively primed to pursue high-danger acts.

In a more casual environment, you could get something like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, though not in the dominant story. One of the technicians (Elijah Wood) uses the memories of Clementine (Kate Winslet) to activate her sympathies based on how Joel (Jim Carrey) had wooed her previously. If neural pathways have a certain valence (a fight with your partner is negative), but that valence can be neutralized or challenged, then the initial stimulus no longer has the weight attached to it (the fight no longer bears emotional weight).

This relates to how Hume and Spinoza (in different ways) look to emotions as accurate and effective triggers for decision making; it becomes the challenge of ethicists to persuade through both logical argumentation and emotional triggers their points. Argumentation lays the reasoning for a particular position, but the emotional triggers actually make people act differently. If the emotional valence is suddenly trivialized--it can be established post facto--then how would human relationships, intimate and otherwise, change?


I can imagine tying these together. I would like to think of SF as responding to a whole suite of technological and social changes or providing a novel perspective on our current political and technological footing. To meet the former, I want to envision the world as a unified whole that has been dramatically changed by technologies and politics emerging now. The potential for statistical behavioral analysis and an adaptive physical environment with the implications for rewriting the emotional relevancy of human memory is exciting and horrible. That said, I don't really have characters emerging from this yet.

So stewing I will continue.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Story - An Unfamiliar Coin

I wrote this in one go and would like to revise it a bit. That said, I don't know when I'm going to make the time. Also, I'd prefer to think of this as a picture book--even an adult reader-oriented picture book--rather than a story. It would be easy enough to capture the familiarity in either a muted or gray tone color scheme. You could also get a better sense of the strangeness of the world--not to mention an opportunity to show off weird, Lovecraftian architecture.



An Unfamiliar Coin - for Emily (literally)
July 22, 2013

A young man went walking on his lunch break. On some days he studied. On some days he worked. But it did not matter what he was doing this day because what matters is that he went for a walk. 
On his walk, he saw the many familiar buildings in the familiar neighborhoods. He decided--or maybe it was decided for him--that he would venture out of these familiar places find unfamiliar places. At first, this was rather difficult. 
The young man at first retraced the steps to his favorite cafeteria where he often lunched. Through the broad front window he saw many familiar people eating familiar foods. A young woman waved at him and her company saw him and also waved. He waved back, smiling but not cheerful, and continued on his way. 
Next, the young man walked to the market where he often bought his dinner as he left from his workplace or from his university. He saw the shelves of familiar boxes displaying familiar images of what was inside. There were Gala apples and Bartlett pears, the bunches of carrots and stacks of zucchini, there were tidy bunches of fresh herbs and a fridge with glass bottles each with its own distinct but familiar flavor. The shopkeeper noticed him watching through the window. The young man nodded at the shopkeeper and walked on.
The young man then strolled through a park where he often read the newspaper in the morning and would, from time to time, read a novel in the clear afternoon light. Familiar trees cast familiar shadows on the passers-by, on the walkway and the central plaza, on the grass and flower beds. Even the strangers in the park were familiar and even the fountain in the center of the park seemed to cast the same flickering light patterns that he had seen so many times before.
As he left the park, the young man was disparaged. He felt that everything he was seeing, everywhere he was walking through was what he had always seen. He worried that it was all he would ever see. As he walked he tried looking up at the sky and became dizzy. He could feel people walk past in the disturbances of their wakes. Then, he looked down at the ground and walked looking at the ground. 
He lost track of how long he had been walking when he noticed that the shoes of the other pedetrian were rather strange. Rather than the laces and shiny leather he was used to, they seemed soft or jeweled or peculiarly colored. The young man was suddenly anxious and was not sure if he wanted to look up.
Suddenly, a flash of light caught his eye. It was off to the left and he darted toward it. In doing so he heard the complaints of the pedestrians around him, though he paid them little notice. He picked up the flashing object and it was a bright, silver coin unlike any coin he had seen. 
The coin had seven sides and either face of the coin was a detailed portrait. One side showed a young man who seemed deep in thought who looked out of the coin at the holder. On the opposite face was an elderly queen, arranged with jewels and a cloak. The queen looked out to the right as if she saw something ahead of her. 
The young man held the coin for some time. There wasn't any writing he recognized on it, though there were small symbols on it, and he wandered what it was worth. After inspecting one face, then the other, then the edges of the coin which had a smooth edge to them before the seven rounded corners, he looked around. 
Indeed, the people around him were strange to him. They wore bright clothing with odd accoutrements like feathers, tails, halos, horns, wings. As he watched them, he saw that they moved differently, too. Rather than the smooth rise and fall of heads in a crowd, they seemed to bob and weave and duck to their own rhythm. It was hard to make sense of how each person moved. They seemed distant even when they were close. And when they were close, they slipped into the tumultuous crowd quickly and were lost to his sight.
The buildings, too, were unfamiliar. He could not exactly make out how, but it seemed that their peaks were too high, that their bases were too narror, the middles too broad, the doorways a myriad of shapes and sizes. Above him, he also saw stars alighting in the sky despite the sun being just past its zenith.
The young man was still anxious about this unfamiliar place. He had so wanted to find something unlike where he had been and had, after some searching, found it. In finding it he felt distant and alone. The unfamiliar people around him did not look his way, though he believed that they could sense him. His strangeness to them, he realized, must be almost as profound as their strangeness to him.
After looking, he listened. He listened to the strange striding sounds--hooves and faint wafting of wings and soft-skinned footfalls--that formed a peculiar orchestra all around him. He wanted to listen to it, but it inflamed his anxiousness. So he closed his eyes and he strained his ears. He also smelled the strange smells of this unfamiliar people, this unfamiliar place. People brushed passed him and he felt fur and feathers and fishy scales and slimy salamander flesh and craggy lizard skin.
The young man thought of the familiar cafeteria the smells and tastes of its dishes. He thought of the feel of a soft, forgiving pear in his hand and how the sweetness was hinted but not given by its texture. He thought of the park with its dappling sunlight and the young families happy to enjoy an afternoon, of the children playing with balls and frisbees or sipping from juiceboxes with cartoons emblazoned on them. He thought of his university and its library smelling of old pages and of his workplace and the pleasant tapping clatter of pens and keys and heels.
He thought of these things when he heard the ring of a bell. The bell was not at first familiar, but unlike everything else it became so. He opened his eyes to the cacophonous strangeness and was not surprised that it was as it was when he had closed his eyes. In the distance, straight ahead, was a phonebooth. And the phonebooth was ringing.
Slipping between the strange people in this strange place he worked to get to the phone. Each ring sounded increasingly familiar and he worried that it would its last. He reached and stepped and danced through the crowd. The phone booth was not enclosed in a glass box, but was open to the air and covered by a small roof. He picked up the phone and called into it.
He heard a click. He called into it but heard nothing. A low, endless hum emanated fromt he receiver. The young man slumped to the floor still holding the phone.
Just as the peculiar surroundings surged back to fill his faded hope, he held up the coin. He looked at its two faces, and its seven-edges, and then back at the phonebooth. There was a slot on the front of the phone, though no numbers anywhere on it. The slot was situated such that the coin went in on a flat side, not on its edge.
Holding the coin in front of him, he gingerly kissed the queen on one side and slipped it into the slot. He waited...
And waited...
And waited some more.
Just as he was about to give up, a woman's voice said through the line:
"Well, what do you have to say for yourself?"
"I... I'm sorry?"
"Don't be sorry. What do you have to say for yourself?" The woman was spoke with a sharp tongue, but one that had been earned through experience and wisdom. 
"I'm trying to get back home."
"And you're looking for help, I assume?"
"Yes. Yes, I guess I am."
"Well you did it wrong, young man."
"I did what wrong?"
"You called me! I can tell you things but I can't help you do them!"
"I'm sorry?"
"As you should be. I deserve my rest. Especially from silly young men like yourself."
"So you can't help me?"
"Well, I can do one thing for you," and with a click the coin spilled out below the coin slot that the young man had not at first seen.
"Hello? Are you still there?" He asked, then tapped frantically on the hook. The woman was gone. He picked up the coin and flipped it around, looking at each side. He looked at the young man deep in thought. He slipped it into the coin slot and waited.
And waited...
And waited some more.
And just as he was becoming worried all over again, the line picked up. 
"Well it is about time."
"About time for what?"
"For you to figure it out."
"To figure what out?"
"The coin! What a numbskull."
"But," and the young man had idea, "but you looked deep in thought on the coin."
"Well what else am I going to do until someone calls me?" The man on the other line exclaimed. "I've been watching and waiting for you to get give me a call. Who do you think made the phone ring?"
"I... I don't know. I just figured it was ringing."
"Just figured it was ringing? A phone doesn't just ring! It rings for a reason."
"And you're that reason?"
"No you nitwit, you are!"
"I'm the reason the phone was ringing?"
"Well, it is if you have a job for me to do. I'm more of a doer than a talker, so let's get to doing!"
"I want to get home."
"You do? Well that sounds like something for you to do, not for me to do."
"But I don't know how!"
"There's the hitch, isn't there?" The man on the other end sighed. "Well, I guess you'll just have to follow me." And with that, the line clicked and the coin slid out. 
Instead of the coin catching on the lip as it had before, it slid down with such rapidity that it hit the lip and hopped out of the catch. The young man, not sure what to do, dropped the phone and began dashing between the legs of the people trying to catch the coin. It rolled unevenly on its seven edges, but with surprising speed. More than once it looked as if it were about to fall on a face when some hoof or claw or foot would tap it along and it just moved along in its own awkward and unpredictable way. 
The young many was leaned over trying to keep an eye on the coin and pumping into the hips and knees of the passers-by. He kept reaching out for the coin but it kept sliding just away from him or getting kicked or nudged in the opposite direction. He felt dizziness overtake him.
He kept after the coin, his footing almost sliding out from under him. Then, just as he was about slump over and collapse on the sidewalk, he snatched up the coin! It felt warm and solid in his hand and suddenly heavy. The weight dragged him down and he held onto the coin just hard enough to keep it from slipping out of his hand.
He wheezed on the ground holding the coin in his fist, his eyes closed. He wandered what his next step would be, how he might get back to the university, to the office, to the cafeteria or market or park when he heard a familiar voice above him.
"Are you alright?"
He peeked one eye open. His hair had fallen in front of his face, but even still he could see the familiar young woman from the cafeteria who had offered him a seat at the table. She leaned over and her hair made little bars around him and he thought of the willow tree in the park that he liked to sit under during light rain showers. He saw her eyes, brown with just a hint of green, and they reminded him of the bartlett pears he could smell in the market, with their light sweetness like honeysuckle.
"Are you alright?" she asked again. She straightened up and offered her hand.
"Y-yeah. I guess I am." He took her hand and she firmly pulled him up. He saw that her familiar compatriots were down the sidewalk looking back at them. 
"Well, that was a bit of a spill."
"I," and he felt the coin, still faintly warm, in his hand, "I dropped a coin. I guess it was getting away from me."
"It must be a valuable coin."
"I guess it is." And he opened his hand and showed it to her.
"That is a strange coin." She traced its outline with her finger. The young man's face was upturned. "Where did you find it?"
"You know," he said smiling, "I don't really know."
"Well I'm glad you didn't lose it." She placed her hand under his and eased his fingers around the coin. "Hold onto it next time."
"I'll try."
She smiled. He smiled back.
"Are you walking back with us?" she asked.
"I guess I am," he said. And they walked up to her familiar friends and they walked the familiar streets of the town. 

Friday, July 19, 2013

Vincenzi - Resurrections: Mirror Excerpt

I'm trying to figure out how magic works in this world I'm exploring. I want the magic to be believable, reminiscent of meditation or happenstance or that weird knowing that some people seem to have. I'm not interested in blasts of fire and mind control. I think about Aleister Crowley writing, “Magick is the science and art of causing change to occur in conformity with will.”  Somewhere (possibly in Kenneth Grant's The Magical Revival)I remember reading a story of Crowley mimicking a hapless man on the street, then feigned a misstep, and the man "tripped" from Crowley's influence. It would also mirror my use of the Tarot as a form of meditation.

In this case, I have Alecia Castavettes, Vincenzi's niece who has fled her overbearing parents (and the prep school she attends) to haphazardly follow Lorenzo's profession. She is also adequately acquainted with his world to connect with the lecherous Cranston who is quietly practicing his own sorcery. Consider this itself a "found item" in the larger story of Resurrections, this page being introduced sometime after Alecia's return to the Vincenzi's world.

As I said, I want sorcery to exist here. I want it to be believable in a contemporary world. I draw from some of my own experiences and want to make the habit of identifying potential magical "found items" based on their connection to the larger story. This will give Alecia more "wiggle room" in the narrative space and ultimately provide her with the magical-linguistic prowess to contest the construction of a narrative world.

This probably all sounds like nonsense but it makes sense in my head.


A Torn Page in a Tight, Cursive Scrawl, [Undated]
Cranston has been teaching me. He calls it the "Study." We've been using found objects. He has a habit of snatching mirrors from women's purses. Why he is deft at pickpocketing from women is not especially my concern. I do keep a sharp eye on my few things and bring only the necessary to his shop.

There was a small, plastic Estée Lauder mirror I found on the sidewalk. Its ivory plastic frame is cheap and I worry that it hasn't been owned for long. The more time an owner has had an item, the more it retains. The more of what, I'm not exactly sure. The mirror has a small scratch along one corner. I focus on that scratch.

At first, it is just a damaged reflection. I am there, but cut or split or somehow not me. I relax and let the mirror show me what it is. Silver and sand, heat and industry; it is something of use and something unused. One moment I feel Cranston watching me with his impatient eyes, the next moment my breath catches in my throat and the perspective... slides.

The scratch isn't in the mirror anymore. It is in the world. The mirror shows the wholeness that is unclear. It is a crease in the folds in the origami of the room, of the folding fabric of the City; it is a thread in the world just beginning to fray. On the thread is a chord, a song of time and history. I follow the twine out into the world, into the labyrinth of time and space and roads; the trail of the mirror follows itself back to the sidewalk and back into the purse.

I hold it there, match step with the purse, its owner, the world of the purse and its owner. I am there. The street wraps around me/us/this, the people, and buildings a fisheye lens, a tidal wave on each side threatening, enveloping, warmed with previously lived life.

She is beautiful but does not walk confidently. She is made tall by wedge heels. The skirt of a dress--a cleaner shade of ivory than the mirror--whirls around her, casting her lightly tanned legs in soft, wavering shadows. The light around her is cleaner than the dingy street, the food carts and gutters muddle in grays. Her shoulders are almost bare, the straps contrasting softly with her delicate shoulders, and blonde hair dances just above them.

I see her from behind--a reflection, the past, the chase of what has gone. I see her as she sees herself, or how she wants to see herself. Mirrors, especially the throwaway variety, are fickle. It tells me this from behind my ear, from somewhere in the present. "I am fickle," it says, "I see what can be, what is desired."

The image shifts. It flattens.

The odd bits of litter--napkins, a straw, a fractured cup with a rounded double arches--clarify. A man sleeping in a doorway with a cardboard sign appears, as if hidden in a pocket suddenly inverted. A myriad of smells--hotdogs on sugary white bread buns, piss in humid alleys, the faint acridity of body odor at 5:23, the reek of a shattered whiskey bottle, greasy French fries emanating from a glass doorway--but all deadened and defined and cleaned by the silver and glass.

She has become... something else. The scrubbed stains of her dress glare. Her perfect hair is marred by undyed roots. A scar presses against her dress, a scar like a window left wide to the rattling wind, the crumpling leaves, the bits of broken glass and a single rusted knife; an open wound no longer concealed.

I see her face. Her eyes are light in darkness, Her face is weighed from hiding the stories of her skin.

I am following the thread, simultaneously in and out of the mirror. I know its truth and I know its limits. I am on the mirror's edge trying to see the world as it is while being shown the world as it is seen.

Or the mirror reflects the world I would see. I see the cheap food and the booze and the veteran being hollowed out from underneath his rags and skin. The light is dim, each line sharpened by its potential to cut, each face looks on with brutal intensity and obliviousness. The white bread is diabetes; the reshaped organ meat: heart disease; the phenols slowly stab a tired liver.

The world breaks from underneath/around me. It is not within. I feel the edge and my eyes open/close: open on the world of Cranston's shop/close on the thread and streets of the ivory dressed woman with shimmering crystal eyes.

The mirror lies broken in front of me. Broken mirror line a jagged maw. Cranston holds a hammer, comically large in his small-boned hand. My eyes blink, the afterimage of the street stands inverted on my eyelids.

"That is enough for today," he says. "Do better next time."