Wednesday, February 27, 2013

How You Sleep at Night

(Image stolen from the Etsy store of one Shelle Kennedy.)

The latest issue of visceral Toronto lit zine The Puritan is out. It contains a short story I wrote called "How You Sleep at Night."

If you want to skip the table of contents and get right to my story, you can do that -- but I would recommend checking out the whole issue instead. My story is one of three fiction pieces, and I'm not sure whether I feel honored or somewhat inadequate to see my work placed alongside D. Hancock's "New Jersey" and A. Grassi's "Air Show," both of which are necessary reading.

Either way, I think this is pretty cool.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Passing fancies and structures.

(Borrowed from The Anti Room.)

There's a pleasure in etymology beyond that of the purely trivial, of knowledge for its own sake, of tracing of one word of one language to an older word in a different language. Before the abstract (which language is) there existed the material, the innumerable objects and phenomena of the physical world -- or more concisely, nature. No matter how long, circuitous, or obscure the path, every noun, verb, and adjective leads back to nature, and sometimes studying language brings to our attention the exquisiteness of natural patterns, the germs of which are inextricable from our words.

I recall an evening some time ago -- whenever it was, it was during the winter, and I was in Jersey. Snow had fallen during the day; in the evening the clouds blew over, but the trees were still laden with snow, frozen to the branches.

I went for a walk that night on one of the trails through the woods. There's one path I've always frequented more than any of the others (probably because it's so close to my mother's house), and there's a certain tree that always caught my attention. It's unusual because it's a spruce -- the only evergreen in sight, towered over on all sides by the older ash and maple trees. It's the odd man out, and I've always felt a fondness (even a sort of kinship) for this tree.

It might have been last year, probably around Christmas. I had come from Pennsylvania to visit the folks, and I had gone out to walk the old path and pay my respects to the evergreen odd man.

It must have been Christmas because it was between midnight and 1:00 -- this I do remember -- and Orion was overhead.

It was exceedingly frigid, even for late December: the sky was a limpid black and the stars shone cold and crisp. (Cold nights are best for stargazing in the northeastern United States: the lower the temperature of the air, the less obfuscatory moisture and dust it can hold.) I remember standing beside the spruce and looking up through a gap in the bare canopy.

The loveliness of the winter sky is distinguished by an intimation of geometrical structure. It's dense and richly patterned, almost arabesque. The straight lines of Orion's belt and scabbard; the conjoined pairs in Auriga, Gemini, and Canis Minor; the "V" shape of Taurus, and the prongs of Canis Major -- and all of these are as points and branching outgrowths of a hexagon, a wheel with Betelgeuse at the fulcrum.

As I gazed at the stars through a trellis of spruce branches (and bear in mind that the geometry of evergreen growth, all straight, divergent lines, is suggestive of fractal patterns) there was a gust of wind, scattering ice crystals overhead. The stars were so bright and the snow so reflective that wisp of ice momentarily sparkled -- and during this moment of superpositioning between the snow, stars, and spruce branches, the words occurred to me.

"Stellar dendrite."

From The Online Etymology Dictionary:

stellar (adj.) 1650s, "pertaining to stars, star-like," from Latin stellaris "pertaining to a star, starry," from stella (see star (n.)).

dendrite (n.) mid-18c., from Greek dendrites "of or pertaining to a tree," from dendron "tree" (see dendro-).

Stellar dendrite, then: "of stars, that of a tree."

This is, of course, is the term used to describe a structure seen in ice crystals and snowflakes.

(Taken from On Flat Lake Time.)

It was a small and passing thing, but ineffable and astonishing. If I had the conviction or faith, I might have said a prayer. I don't think I said anything. I'm certain I didn't.

I would like to say that I marveled, like Whitman, in perfect, knowing silence, knowing that silence is the language of the ineffable. But I didn't say anything because I didn't have the words to speak of what had touched me.

All language stems from nature, but sadly tends to lack the precision and felicity of its estranged parent.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Valentine's Day Tips for the Guys

 (Stolen from Just Call Me Frank.)

Valentine's Day is right around the corner, as I'm sure the advertisers have incessantly reminded you. If you're a single male, the 14th is often a sad occasion, a holiday apparently devised to rub all the happiness of the world's couples in your lonely face. If you're a male with a girlfriend (forgive me for being heteronormative here), the occasion is certainly not lonely, but it is stressful. You can be assured that your sugar plum is carefully taking notes on how her friends' beaux are treating them on the 14th, and will either choose to keep you around or begin the process of dumping you depending on how your efforts measure up. (If you're a married man, don't worry about it. By this point it will be enough if you just cut your toenails for christ's sake.)

Since so much hangs in the balance and you are undoubtedly anxious, your own judgement is not to be trusted. Fear not! Here are some tips on how you can really make an impression on your sweetie this Valentine's Day!

1.) Write Her a Poem

Ha ha! Just kidding. Seriously, do not try to do this. In all likelihood you will only bring about mutual embarrassment by handing over such poetical dingleberries as:

on the day we met
even though i didn't know it yet
you and i were meant to be
like a sort of something.....tree?

She can respond to this in one of two ways.

One: She tells you it's beautiful and she loves it. Of course she's lying in order to spare your feelings, thus introducing to your hitherto honest and pure relationship the pervasive taint of mendacity. Now it will only be a matter of time until she's faking her orgasms and fibbing about the results of her recent chlamydia test, and you've only got yourself to blame.

Two: She tells you it's beautiful and she loves it -- and she means it. In this case, you've just learned that your beloved is an idiot. It's probably better that you found out sooner than later, but it's sure going to make the Valentine's dinner to which you're treating her taste rotten.

The rules are different, however, if you can play guitar and sing your stupid little poem to her. Go ahead and do it -- she will be impressed, even if you probably don't deserve it. Asshole.

2.) Watch a Movie Together

This one is fairly obvious. Ideally, you’d take her out for an evening at the theatre, but all the tickets for the Valentine’s Day performance of The Phantom of the Opera have been snatched up by more considerate boyfriends than you. The cineplex is your only recourse, but let’s face it: everything playing today is shit. Since the alternatives are Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters and Identity Thief, there’s no shame in falling back on a Netflix rental.

Casablanca is an excellent choice, as is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and I hear good things about Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Many females also cherish an intemperate (and wholly inexplicable) fondness for Moulin Rouge.

Personally, I recommend the 1966 classic, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. Advantages:

One: It’s a damned good film based on a touchstone of American drama. Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor give stellar performances.

Two: It will give you a chance to show your sweetheart how cultured you are. Given how much you’ve been talking at her about the new season of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic lately, you probably could stand to earn back a few points in that department.

Three: Your sweetheart has been hinting, with increasing assertiveness, that she thinks it is time you “took the next step” with respect to her. This film will present a chilling vision of things to come should she choose to persist in this course.

Furthermore, I recommend that the two of you watch the film on February 13, and then speaking to each other like George and Martha in front of your family and friends throughout the 14th. If your partner actually agrees to this, you probably should just go ahead and marry her. She’s worth it.

3.) Romantic Gifts

A box of chocolates or bouquet of roses won't cut it: she has no way of knowing that you didn’t just pick them up from the gas station on the way to her place. This is why you covertly deliver a series of gifts on the nights leading up to the 14th. And these can’t just be flowers or candies, either: they must speak to the special relationship the two of you share.


February 10: Box of anal beads; one-gallon carton of pomegranate-flavored lubricant (extra chunky).

February 11: Eighteen-inch motorized dildo that plays “Flight of the Valkyries” when activated.

February 12: Leather girdle, studded thong, and cherry-red ball gag -- with a post-it note attached reading “for me ;)”.

February 13: Artificial dolphin vagina. (These do exist, but you’ll have to through some pretty bizarre Fur channels to get your mitts on one. Make sure you get the kind with the straps; otherwise include a roll of duct tape in the gift box.)

February 14: With any luck, you’ll arrive on the big night to find her door locked and the lights out. Now you can go home and spend an evening playing video games and jacking off like you’ve been wanting to for the last five months.

4.) Spice Up Your Romance. . .Chemically

Come on, you know you were curious.

Drunk sex is one thing, but lovemaking on LSD or psilocybin is transcendent (so I'm told), and some people swear it’s hard to resign yourself to a lifetime of sober sex once you’ve done it on MDMA a few times.

But you feel these are all too predictable, and you don’t have the sketchy connections to make them happen besides.

My perfectly legal recommendation, then, is a heroic dose of bath salts and Viagra -- spend all Valentine’s evening uncontrollably fucking and/or destroying everything at your sweetie’s place, including your sweetie herself. (Like most tender Valentine’s gestures, this one is best offered as a surprise.)

At any rate, you'll give her a Valentine's Day she won't soon forget. And if you do it right, she won't ever demand or hope for a Valentine's surprise again.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

February Ping

I've written four short stories in the last ten months; that means in 2012 400% increase in short story composition over the entire period between 2005 and 2011.

One of these stories ("How You Sleep at Night") will be appearing in The Puritan, a Toronto-based literary magazine. Check them out -- their stuff is pretty visceral.

PUBLICATION. The hallowed legitimizer of the terminal scrawler. In the last year or two I've gotten so many rejection slips from so many journals, literary agents, and small presses I'm not even certain how to feel about an acceptance letter. Actually, for a good two or three hours I was positively megalomaniacal. But after that -- well, there's this Calvin and Hobbes strip I'm reminded of:

(thumbnail! click!)

One usually need not worry much about sitting on his laurels. The world usually doesn't give one much of a chance, and neither does oneself.

Speaking of which -- revising this manuscript has been more more of a process that I thought it would be (though I've been doing this long enough now that I probably should have anticipated as much). Progress is about 60%. I am losing sleep over it, yes.

(Have I already parroted that one George Orwell line? Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness.)

Back to work I go.