Friday, December 29, 2017

Mash Up


The Full Bitonto

My writing teacher described this as "a mixture of Kafka and Jane Austen." I'll take it.
-------
Once there lived a cockroach named Bitonto underneath the boards of a great house. Bitonto was the youngest and had many brothers and sisters who called him Bitty for short. His siblings would dare each other to amazing feats when food was scarce or when they were just plumb bored. One dare was to crawl on bigger-person flesh and see how long you could stay before being flicked off and the person went shrieking and wriggling away, doing a funny dance. Another was to run across the floor of the ballroom when there was a party: if you made it to the other end alive, you got an additional mark on your exoskeleton - but it didn’t count if you lost a leg or antenna or something.

One night, there was a particularly huge party on the floorboards above - the biggest in living memory. All the cockroaches peered through the cracks and jostled each other for the best view.

There was a fairy and a centaur who were making high pitched keens and deep rumblings at each other over a bassinet that held a baby.

“Bet you can’t run across,” his oldest sibling Frida mouthed at him, cuffing his unmarked back,
“scaredy-bug!”  The other cockroach siblings sniggered and nudged each other.

“I can so TOO,” Bitty cried out.

A sudden silence up above made him afraid that he’d been heard. But then he realized that was impossible. A cacophony of sound began to fill up the room and ooze through every crack and crevice.

“This is IT,” thought Bitonto, “This is MY TIME.”

Bitonto leapt for the cracks, scrabbling through to win the smooth surface of the ballroom floor. He heard his siblings hootin’ and hollarin’ behind him and felt pretty smug for a second, prancing forward a few steps forward before a shower of sparks erupted above and cascaded down onto his
head. He felt like sneezing.  He sneezed.

And felt himself expanding. His head blossomed before the rest of him followed suit. Dizzying towers seemed to shrink and resolved into interested looking faces above stalky legs and poufs of green and black petals. Knowing that these beings mostly stood on on their two hind legs and not wanting to be thought impolite or offend anyone powerful, he followed suit. It was difficult, but he managed after only falling on his back three times. He heard a smattering of applause and bowed very, very carefully - first to the right, then to the left, then to the front where the Fairy and Centaur stood watching him.

“It appears we have another guest,” Bitonto heard a clear voice ringing out from the bassinet. In the bassinet there was no longer a baby but a young roan lady, like a horse-y satyr, dressed in a plain white dress. She was the most beautiful creature Bitonto had ever seen and he immediately resolved to ask for her hand in marriage.

This creature clapped her hands and twelve servants immediately stepped forward and coughed discreetly as one unit. One stepped up holding underwear. Another socks. A third some breeches. And so on. They marched up to Bitonto and made him dress up in these fine clothes. It was terribly embarrassing to do that in front of so many eyes and with such bad balance - plus, Bitonto knew that his siblings were watching through the cracks, too, so he blushed a bit and tried to get it over with as fast as possible.

“Now we shall feast and make merry to celebrate my name day!” said the roan-lady. “What is to be my name?”

“How do you like the name...Gertrude?” asked the Centaur, stroking his beard - but the roan-lady made a face.

“Father, that does not suit.”

“What about Carlotta?” asked the Fairy, shooting a look at the Centaur - and the roan-lady whinnied her approval. The Fairy stuck out her tongue at the Centaur and flounced triumphantly a bit chanting in a strange language. 

Someone leaned over and whispered to Bitonto: “Since you are our guest, you must lead the way to the feast with Carlotta. It is our law.” So he found himself at the head of a long line of fairies and centaurs, with Carlotta on one of his arms, entering another grand hall bedecked with trellises of Morning Glories and sheafs of Baby’s’ Breath mixed with Blue Moon Flowers that smelled so softly sweet. They all sat on wooden benches to eat and golden plates laden with cornish hens, piles of fruit, and freshly baked crisp bread dripping with honey were placed on the table. Everyone tucked in with gusto, but Bitonto toyed with his fork.

“You are not hungry?” Carlotta asked, her eyes flashing dangerously.

“My lady, I beg your pardon,” Bitonto said, “But my stomach is not used to such fine fare. I fear this would give me indigestion and that I would wind up being indelicate.” He so hoped he would not embarrass himself in front of her.

Carlotta furrowed her brows then called an attendant over and ordered him to scour the castle in search of decaying flesh, grease, and a bit of sewage - for she was wise in the ways of beasts and insects though she was but a few days old. The attendant hurried away and returned soon after with the choicest bits he could find from the garbage and outhouse, putting a sprig of parsley on top as a garnish and a slice of lemon by the side of the plate.

“Buon appetito,” Carlotta said and smiled as she raised her glass and drank some blood red pomegranate juice. Bitonto made sure to drop a little of everything he ate onto the floor for those below even if they had teased him earlier. He also sent his compliments to the chef.

After everyone finished feasting, there was dancing. Bitonto was not much for dancing, but Carlotta was and, so, he found himself in a corner of the room and chatting with the Centaur.

“Sir,” said Bitonto, “Though I have known you but a short amount of time, I admire you greatly and esteem your daughter even more. I would like to marry Carlotta.”

The Centaur eyed Bitonto up and down and finally said: “Well, what’s that to me?” before cantering off to dance with the Fairy Queen. Bitonto figured that was all fine. He had noticed that some folks squared themselves up before asking for a dance, so he tried to emulate that and gave his jacket a little tug before approaching Carlotta.

“Hello, fine lady” he said. “May I have this dance and your hand in marriage, please?”
Carlotta stopped dancing and the music abruptly ended. “I shall marry you,” she declared, “if you complete this one task: the Fearsome Beast, which has lived in the hills and terrorized our kingdom for eons, must be defeated. Do this thing, bring me its head, and you shall have my hand in marriage.”

“Done,” said Bitonto. He gallantly kissed her elbow and withdrew.

“The same goes for any suitors,” said Carlotta, and hoofed it.

“Defeat the Fearsome Beast,” Bitonto murmured to himself and paced the floor back and forth.

Finally, he went into the ballroom and flopped down to talk to his siblings. “FRIDA,” he whispered loudly, “can you please get a bunch of spider-webs from Mrs. Recluse and weave me some armor? I will drop SO MUCH food down for you, like, a million times, and you can have my comic books.”
There was the sound as of a thousand cockroaches moving and Bitonto lay there on the floor, waiting. After some hours, a thin thread of white was thrust out the floorboards. Bitonto took the end of it and pulled out a gossamer suit of armor, which even had crows embroidered on it. He carefully slipped into it. The armor fit snugly over his clothes and you could not even tell he was wearing it except for the strange way that he seemed to shimmer now and then in the light. “THANK YOU,” he whispered.

Then he went into the kitchen because he was pretty sure that the Fearsome Beast would require some intricate knifework and this place seemed to have no armory. The Chef of the kitchen had a huge scar on one side of his face from when the Fearsome Beast caught him unawares walking home from a field late at night, and happily offered the best of what the kitchen had when Bitonto explained his purpose.

“This spit, here,” said the Chef, “has been in my family for generations. It has spitted many a fowl and ox along with the occasional pig and one unicorn. It is pretty sharp on one end. You can use it.” Then the Chef also let him have a cleaver, an ax, and the top of a large pot as a shield. Bitonto thanked the Chef warmly, and armed himself: the spit in his right-top hand, the cleaver in his bottom-right, the ax on the top-left, the pot lid on the bottom. He posed, he thought heroically, then snuck for a minute into the bathroom to practice some ferocious faces and his swagger.

Feeling sufficiently armed and armored, he sauntered out and made for the hills where the Fearsome Beast slept. It was a rainy, dreary day - not the sort of day that’s pleasant to be out in at all, and he happened across an old tinkerer who was selling pots and pans, huddled under a small cart and looking miserable as the cart didn’t keep the rain out and there was mud everywhere but not even a bit of warmth in sight. Bitonto felt very sorry for this old tinkerer but, not having any money, decided, instead, to give the tinkerer the pot lid he had since it was made of some shiny material and was surely worth something.

“Bless you,” said the tinkerer. “Your heart is kind and, for this, I will tell you something to your advantage: the Fearsome Beast is weakest right as he has his tea in the afternoon.” Bitonto thanked the tinkerer - or tried to, but the tinkerer and his cart had vanished. Shrugging, Bitonto picked up a large branch to replace the lid and continued on his way.

Bitonto reached the dwelling of the Fearsome Beast in the morning. Remembering the words of the tinkerer, he hid out in some bushes and waited until afternoon tea. Just as the Fearsome Beast took his first sip of restorative Earl Grey, Bitonto leapt out of the bushes and cried out “HO!”

“That is not a very nice thing to call me,” growled the Fearsome Beast which looked a little bit like a tired tan dog with brown spots and a very long neck. The Fearsome Beast gnashed its teeth and sprang from its chair with a drawn-out yowl, and bit Bitonto’s stomach! But the webby-armor held firm and repelled the bite.

Bitonto had a moment to think before he threw the branch he was holding and shouted out “FETCH!”
The Fearsome Beast looked at him as if he were an idiot, so Bitonto blushed - but then spit the Fearsome Beast to the ground and chopped off its head with two blows from the ax and cleaver.

“Well, that wasn’t so bad,” he thought and carefully picked up the head and brought it back to Carlotta. There was still music and dancing in the hall when Bitonto got back. Not knowing quite what the etiquette was, he went up to Carlotta and dropped the head of the Fearsome Beast at her hooves.

“Lady,” he said, “I have brought you the head of the Fearsome Beast.”

Carlotta laughed happily and clapped her hands together in delight.  “Good,” she cried, “then we shall have the finest head cheese at our wedding!” 
The End.

Reasons to love D&D

"I give three war-caws."

"What would it take to get grass and mushrooms to grow from my mask?"

"They yell out 'kree-aaaak! Which means: LET'S TRASH THESE MOTHER-F*CKERS!"

"No. I am going to say you can't open the baby bundle with a hammer and crowbar."

"My character can only speak in Disney songs/quotes."
*later, sees a crowd of orcs approaching and runs back to the group*
"STAMPEDE!!!! IN THE GORGE!!!"

Friday, December 01, 2017

Resonating

"But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart"

At times, it feels like there is not much I can contribute externally. I do not have the knack of sustaining interest or conversation - perhaps it's because I am not effusive. I'm certainly *appreciative*, though, and keep people and their peculiarities and ponder them deep in my heart.

------

My cockroach story is proceeding apace and I am rather pleased with how it's shaping up. It still needs a bit more spice and the fulfillment of the quests - I am excited about depicting a cockroach wielding four swords as it battles a fearsome beast:

Once there lived a cockroach named Bitonto underneath the boards of a great house. Bitonto was the youngest and had many brothers and sisters who called him Bitty for short. His siblings would dare each other to amazing feats when food was scarce or when they were just plumb bored. One dare was to crawl on bigger-person flesh and see how long you could stay before being flicked off and the person went shrieking and wriggling away, doing a funny dance. Another was to run across the floor of the ballroom when there was a party: if you made it to the other end alive, you got an additional mark on your exoskeleton - but it didn’t count if you lost a leg or antenna or something.

One night, there was a particularly huge party on the floorboards above - the biggest in living memory. All the cockroaches peered through the cracks and jostled each other for the best view. There was a fairy and a centaur who were making high pitched keens and deep rumblings at each other over a bassinet that held a baby.

“Bet you can’t run across,” his oldest sibling Frida mouthed at him, cuffing his unmarked back. “Scaredy-bug!”  The other cockroach siblings sniggered and nudged each other.

“I can so TOO,” Bitty cried out.

A sudden silence up above made him afraid that he’d been heard. But then he realized that was impossible. A cacophony of sound began to fill up the room and ooze through every crack and crevice.

“This is IT,” thought Bitonto, “This is MY TIME.”

Bitonto leapt for the cracks, scrabbling through to win the smooth surface of the ballroom floor. He heard his siblings hootin’ and hollarin’ behind him and felt pretty smug for a second, prancing forward a few steps forward before a shower of sparks erupted above and cascaded down onto his head. He felt like sneezing.

He sneezed.

And felt himself expanding. His head blossomed before the rest of him followed suit. Dizzying towers seemed to shrink and resolved into interested looking faces above stalky legs and poufs of green and black petals. Knowing that these beings mostly stood on on their two hind legs and not wanting to be thought impolite or offend anyone powerful, he followed suit. It was difficult, but he managed after only falling on his back three times. He heard a smattering of applause and bowed very, very carefully - first to the right, then to the left, then to the front where the Fairy and Centaur stood watching him.

“It appears we have another guest!” Bitonto heard a clear voice from the bassinet. In the bassinet there was no longer a baby but a young roan lady, like a horse-y satyr, dressed in a plain white dress. She was the most beautiful creature Bitonto had ever seen and he immediately resolved to ask for her hand in marriage.

This creature clapped her hands and twelve servants immediately stepped forward and coughed discreetly as one unit. One stepped up holding underwear. Another socks. A third some breeches. And so on. They marched up to Bitonto and made him dress up in these fine clothes. It was terribly embarrassing to do that in front of so many eyes and with such bad balance - plus, Bitonto knew that his siblings were watching through the cracks, too, so he blushed a bit and tried to get it over with as fast as possible.

“Now we shall feast and make merry to celebrate my name day!” said the roan-lady. “What is to be my name?”
“How do you like the name...Gertrude?” asked the Centaur, stroking his beard - but the roan-lady made a face.
“Father, that does not suit.”
“What about Carlotta?” asked the Fairy, shooting a look at the Centaur  - and the roan-lady whinnied her approval. The Fairy stuck out her tongue at the Centaur and flounced triumphantly a bit chanting in another language.

Someone leaned over and whispered to Bitonto: “Since you are our guest, you must lead the way to the feast with Carlotta. It is our law.” So he found himself at the head of a long line of fairies and centaurs, with Carlotta on one of his arms, entering another grand hall bedecked with trellises of Morning Glories and sheafs of Baby’s’ Breath mixed with Blue Moon Flowers that smelled so softly sweet. They all sat on wooden benches to eat and golden plates laden with cornish hens, piles of fruit, and freshly baked crisp bread dripping with honey were placed on the table. Everyone tucked in with gusto, but Bitonto toyed with his fork.

“You are not hungry?” Carlotta asked, her eyes flashing dangerously.
“My lady, I beg your pardon,” Bitonto said, “But my stomach is not used to such fine fare. I fear this would give me indigestion and that I would wind up being indelicate.” He had so hoped he would not embarrass himself in front of her.

Carlotta furrowed her brows then called an attendant over and ordered him to scour the castle in search of decaying flesh, grease, and a bit of sewage - for she was wise in the ways of beasts and insects though she was but a few days old. The attendant hurried away and returned soon after with the choicest bits he could find from the garbage and outhouse, putting a sprig of parsley on top as a garnish and a slice of lemon by the side of the plate. “Buon appetito,” Carlotta said and smiled as she raised her glass and drank some blood red pomegranate juice.

Bitonto made sure to drop a little of everything he ate onto the floor for those below even if they had teased him earlier.

After the feast, there was dancing. Bitonto was not much for dancing, but Carlotta was and, so, he found himself in a corner of the room and chatting with the Centaur. “Sir,” said Bitonto, “Though I have known you but a short amount of time, I admire you greatly and esteem your daughter even more. I would like to marry Carlotta.”

The Centaur eyed Bitonto up and down and finally said: “Well, what’s that to me?” before cantering off to dance with the Fairy Queen.

Bitonto figured that was all fine. He had noticed that some folks squared themselves up before asking for a dance, so he tried to emulate that and gave his evening coat a little tug before approaching Carlotta.

“Hello, fine lady” he said. “May I have this dance and your hand in marriage, please?”

Carlotta stopped dancing, her hoofs clattering to a stand-still, and the music abruptly ended. “I shall marry you,” she declared, “if you complete three tasks. First, I would like an invisible cloak. Second, I would like the most beautiful puppy in the world. Third, the Fearsome Beast must be defeated. Do these three things, and you shall have my hand in marriage.”  

------

I had three strange dreams lately.

The first two were apocalyptic and I had the option of saving myself or others. On the first, I saved others and woke up feeling rather smug. On the second, I selfishly refused to save others (saved myself) and woke up mortified. 

The third dream involved a great battle being waged - it felt cosmic and weighty. We (self and a crew) were in the thick of it when we stumbled across a Marian shrine. Immediately, I fell to my knees and began praying which was REALLY annoying to all the fighters around me. But I refused to move and no one died during the time I prayed. So then I mocked those around me for doubting in divine providence (or think I did? dreams are hard to remember).

It's always a mixed bag.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Writing Exercise - Short

The day started off badly. Laetizia felt the rumblings around her and bits of plaster and drywall sprinkled down onto her, her bed, and her papers - she waited for a few seconds to see if the intensity would increase, but it stopped abruptly. The clock read the seventh minute of the seventh hour. As good a time as any to get up. Laetizia groaned, dusted herself off, and rolled over to peep out the window. Day was breaking and the distant red glow of a sunrise was reflected in the window opposite hers. These buildings were old, built to withstand much, and had assumed personalities of their own what with chunks of them coming off in the tremors and the graffiti that graced the exteriors. They looked a bit like giant tattooed gargoyles.

She got up and stretched, set her Moka Pot going, then ate a meager breakfast of a dry slice of toast. Today she presented her paper on Situational Ethics: a small branch of philosophical thought that rejected the notion of any robust/stable character traits. Experience seemed to bear out this tenet - frame a person in a situation just so, taking into account their historical accretion of situations, and you could guess how they’d react. Sometimes. People could surprise you.

Laetizia pulled on her favorite black calfskin boots with buckles on, paired with a dress and blazer, then added her mother’s heirloom necklace of semi-precious gems, said to be a good-luck charm, which glinted in the morning sun. Her mother had sent it to her a few weeks before for the occasion. "You can do this," she mouthed as picked up her papers and looked at her reflection in the mirror. It might have been her imagination, but she thought she felt something standing behind her. The mirror contained only her reflection. “No more magic,” she thought to herself, firmly, and left the room.

Outside, it was already bustling: businessmen, women, children - all were heading into the city center, jumping onto trams, busses, and, sometimes, whizzing by on their velocipedes. The preternatural investigatory unit had cordoned off an area of the sidewalk, right under her window, and a body lay covered with a sheet. The investigators had their hand on someone’s shoulder. It looked unfriendly. A few spectators talked in hushed tones about how terrible these things were and one was holding a newspaper with the headlines visible: “OFFICIALS STILL PUZZLED BY SPATE OF MAGIC-ASSOCIATED DEATHS.”

Laetizia shivered and crossed to the other side of the street to the tram stop. The tram passed over the River Whey - a deep, dark river choked with refuse and steaming run-off. “Excuse me, excuse ME,” Laetizia called out as she elbowed and shoved her way onto the next tram and wedged herself in-between a stocky man in a ripped leather jacket and an old lady with a granny cart. The doors closed. Everyone was so tightly packed together that there was no need to reach for any of the dangling handholds: the mass of bodies supported each other.

As the tram moved along its tracks, Laetizia noticed that people were looking slightly uncomfortable - wrinkling their noses and side-eyeing each other to see if anyone else noticed anything. Then Laetizia smelled it. Something plastic was burning. Dark smoke puffed out of the ventilation chambers. Everyone began to shout: “FIRE, FIRE!!! CONDUCTOR, OPEN THE DOORS! FIRE!!!” But the tram continued chugging along. The next stop wasn’t far but it wasn’t close, either, and the smoke gathered ever more thick and dark. A lick or two of flame shot out and the heat became palpable. “DO SOMETHING” wailed a mother holding a baby. Those around became more panicked and looked at each other to see if anyone would take risk. Laetizia kept her head down. “Not ME,” she thought, and clutched her good luck charm.

A stoic looking elderly man with wispy white hair finally began to mutter something under his breath and made small somatic movements. The tram jerked to a halt, metal screeching, and the doors slid forcefully open in their grooves. Everyone cried out in relief and poured out through the doors. Laetizia barely escaped being trampled. She’d have a few bruises to show for this the next day. At a safe distance from the tram, she paused to look back even though this whole delay meant she’d be late for her presentation.

The old man had taken a seat amidst the flames and closed his eyes. The skin on Laetizia’s neck prickled. Something was there by the man - though she couldn’t see anything. The man stiffened suddenly and his eyes roll back in his head. Unable to look away, she saw him convulse for a few moments before slumping down into his seat. The feeling of another thing faded. “DEFINITELY no more magic,” she swore, breaking into a cold sweat. She said a silent prayer for the old man, then hailed a taxi.
--------
NB: This is for a class I'm taking. The assignment was to create a story of ~750 words with an element of fancy to it.

Friday, November 03, 2017

NaNoWriMo

I am using NaNoWriMo as an inspiration to write just a little bit every day - life is too crazy crowded to attempt more. I've been wanting to write more on this fairy-esque tale because fairy tales we're my first fodder after Flash Gordon comics (which I learned to read from) and are dear to me.

My parents used to have an illustrated book of Russian Fairy Tales, covered in a soft red velvety material that felt friendly to the touch. Some book covers are cold and stand-offish. Others, you touch them and feel invited, in. Too young to read, I absorbed images of heroes on steeds, heroines with gauzy wisps of veil, and Baba Yaga and her house ringed skulls. When I learned how to write my name, I wrote it in the flyleaf of that book - and on several walls and a JPII paper doll book. My mother made me scrub my name off the walls but couldn't do anything about the Russian fairy tales. I felt a swell of satisfaction each time I opened that book and found that my name connected to something so wonderful.

The Berkeley library children's section had cut-out window seats, areas of light and dark, wood, places where you could become lost - at least, that was how it felt. I shall never know how it actually was because it was renovated and is now an alien sterile-feeling place of concrete. In one of the dark aisles lived the fairy tales, Andrew Lang's many colors. I can remember reverently opening several of them and comparing the stories of one colored book to another and weighing which ones to get. My backpack was so loaded that, on one occasion, after hefting up my treasures, I staggered and fell flat onto my back on the sidewalk.

Fairy tales speak to me: of glory, of beauty, of horror, of things mysterious, of things profound, of a subtext, an undercurrent that you suspect exists in some way even if it's not what you see in the world. Forces of good and evil in a cosmic struggle crystallized in the figures moving across the pages - flat in some ways, but deep in others.

So, I am working, bit by bit on a fairy tale of sorts. It's not an homage. It's simply the beginning of a tale.

---------

Once upon a time,

There lived a small cockroach named Hugo underneath the boards of a great house. Hugo had many brothers and sisters who would dare each other to amazing feats when food was scarce or when they were just plumb bored. One dare was to crawl on a human’s flesh and see how long you could stay before being flicked off and the human went shrieking and wriggling away, doing a funny dance. Another was to run across the floor of the ballroom when there was a party. If you made it to the other end alive, you got an additional mark on your exoskeleton - but it didn’t count if you lost a leg or antenna or something.

One night, there was a particularly huge party on the floorboards above - the biggest in living memory. All the cockroaches peered through the cracks and jostled each other for the best view. There was a fairy and a centaur who were making high pitched keens and deep rumblings at each other over a bassinet that held a baby.

“Bet you can’t run across,” his sister Frida mouthed at him, cuffing his unmarked back.  The other cockroach siblings sniggered and nudged each other.

“I can so TOO,” Hugo cried out.

A sudden silence up above made him afraid that he’d been heard. Then he realized that was impossible. A cacaphony of sound began to fill up the room and ooze through every crack and crevice.

“This is IT,” thought Hugo, “This is MY TIME.”

Hugo leapt for the cracks, scrabbling through to win the smooth surface of the ballroom floor. He heard his siblings hootin’ and hollarin’ behind him and felt pretty darn smug for a second. During that second, he pranced forward a few steps before a shower of sparks erupted above and cascaded down onto his head. He felt like sneezing.

He sneezed.

And felt himself expanding. His head blossomed before the rest of him followed suit. Dizzying towers of color became closer to his side and resolved into interested looking faces above stalky legs and poufs of green petals. Knowing that these beings mostly stood on on their two hind legs and not wanting to be thought impolite, Hugo followed suit. It was difficult, given cockroach legs, but he managed. There was a small smattering of applause, so Hugo bowed very, very carefully - first to the right, then to the left, then to the front where the fairy and centaur stood watching him.

“It appears we have another guest!” Hugo heard a clear voice chime from the bassinet. In the bassinet there was no longer a baby but a young girl dressed in dandelions, holding a branch traced with silver. As she said this, twelve servants stepped forward and coughed discreetly at once. One stepped forward holding underwear. Another socks. A third some breeches. And so on. They marched up to Hugo and made him dress up in these fine clothes and the very last one put a top-hat square between his antennae and tucked a kerchief into his breast pocket. It was terribly embarrassing to be dressed in front of so many eyes and with such bad balance - plus, Hugo knew that his siblings were watching through the cracks and probably screaming with laughter. So, he blushed a bit and tried to get it over with as fast as possible.

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Cracking Under Pressure

Me: Nice costume.
Him: Thanks, it was stolen! 
Me: ...
Him: *feeling the need to clarify* By friends ... 15 years ago.
Me: Oh.
Him: From a school.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Spitsportsball

I do not like x.
∴ no one should like x because it is not worth liking

There is a sort of person who scoffs at things others enjoy because that person, himself, does not enjoy it. How could anyone enjoy it if this self, measure of measures, is not pleased by it? Generalities take a-whirl.

It's good to know that you're perceived as a being with arms and legs that stick into dimensions beyond work or school - that you have passions which people identify with you. It's bad when you are attacked for having those passions: from dance to anime to sports - or when others inform you that these passions are not worth spit.

Often, the attacks are cloaked in the form of a tease: ahooo, you say, you sportsball watchers with your jerseys and foam fingers, you are stupid and the ball-sport you love is stupid (I am quite good with pithy make-someone-feel-bad-insults - Do Not Cross Me). There's also an appeal to our final destination (heaven/hell) which is  used to cement the fact that what you love is infinitesimally insignificant. Yes, but. Not yes and.

People sometimes NEED you to like or not like something -- or, since they don't like it, cannot see its worth and can't see that ANYONE needs to like it. 
But you never know whether your dismissive words are the first words which sow doubt in the mind that this thing that is loved is worthwhile, whether it's part of the deafening discouraging roar, or whether it's the final straw that breaks the back and heart.

You don't know.

You don't know the worth of this thing in itself or worth to that other person. This person might find dance worthwhile because they see soul-as-form-of-bodied intensified and catch a glimpse of the glorified body. That person watches anime because it shows a reality that is so beautiful they long for it: maybe because it's what they've never had, maybe because it's what they hope for themselves or for the world - a reminder that things can be beautiful. It's not all shadows. That person watches sports because....well, I'm not a sports watcher, but I can *imagine* that there's something in it that speaks on some primordial level and hits that aching soul spot squarely like a resounding bell or a bellowing beast.

Point being: these small things ARE worthwhile. These small loves are not ultimately insignificant - they're a shard of Being, a sliver of God's goodness which is accessible and  which can lead along the path of salvation.

Is being good? Is life worthwhile?

If these small things are good, if these small things are worthwhile, maybe other things are good? Maybe there is greater good? Maybe there is The Good?

So, for heaven's sake, don't squarsh people when they love things. Back up a bit and realize that you are not the rule by which things are measured. You might not see how such a thing can have worth since it has no worth to you. But it has worth to your brother in Christ - and, if it does not contravene what is good, then, I would suggest, perhaps do not be the one who snuffs out that smoldering wick.

Bless the Lord, all you works of the Lord,
praise and exalt him above all forever.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Pepperpots

Watched Bladerunner 2049 and might watch it again to check my impressions and get a bit more of the story. When you have a movie theater nearby where you can catch a show for $5/6, it becomes not ludicrously expensive (mwah, Grand Lake Theater) to do extravagant things like...see a movie twice.

I saw what everyone is saying about mammary glands. Yup. Accurate.

(Not really spoilers.)

This isn't a review, but two impressions that I took away.

First, something I liked: you sit with set scenes and experience them in distended theater time. The characters in this movie are at home in these magnificent otherwordly sets but you, the viewer, are not. The scenes are lingered on and you're given time and space to experience them, to get grounded in that universe. There's no dilution of your own impressions by seeing them through the eyes of another (for the most part - and I think when that shifts it's maybe intentional - as in, K maybe did not see before that these things were worth pausing on and exclaiming over), though there is ambient music/sound which does prep you for certain feelings. Contrast with a scene like this:



It's SO FAST and you see it through the eyes of Judy: she is impressed so you wanna be, too. And it is impressive!

Blade Runner 2049 is not like that. It takes a different approach to give a sense of both distance and immersion through the set-usage, purposefully, I think, to give us a taste of how a replicant might view the world: no attachment, no comment, just moving through and doing what you were programmed to do.

Which, second, leads me to a disappointment. On the macro level, I felt like the world was really excellently conceived. On the micro, at least for the city scenes (and maybe one or two others - but mostly the city scenes)....ehhhh.... It felt like it wasn't the bustling metropolis in the original and seemed...almost empty? Sterile? Too neat. The original somehow conveyed the sense that this was a mish mash of cultures in extremely tight quarters - but without explicitly showing much:



The new one? Not so much.

Overall, I really enjoyed the film. EXCEPT for accidental circumstances. I happened to sit in front of two really loud teen? college? girls who, at first, kept up a conversation in tones louder than the movie... Until enough people craned their necks to stare pointedly at them and they finally got this rather subtle hint.

BUT they were also the sort who scream out "OH GROSS!" or "what's he gonna do!?" and the like. So the entire movie was a bit of a purgatory. They reminded me a bit of this skit:



Sunday, October 08, 2017

Simon Says: Rocks, broken bones, and load-bearing

There have been two moments in life when the presence of God has become almost tangible - where I call out and He responds like a dead weight crushing against my consciousness.

One moment was many years ago. I was praying for a boy I'd never met who'd been in a horrific car accident. My friend, the boy's brother, had broken down crying when asking a group for prayers. He then left the room, shading his eyes, covering his sorrow: the situation seemed hopeless. I went into a nearby chapel, knelt, and prayed. No voice spoke in the stillness, but an absolute certainty settled upon my heart that God had heard and God had answered. That being that, I thanked God, genuflected out of the pew, and left - dipping my fingers into the holy water on my way out. There was a trail of ants leading to it, drinking on that hot day, from that same font of incomprehensible mercy.

A few weeks later, the boy was well on the path to recovery.

But I don't know God through moments of ecstasy or flashes of certainty - and don't expect that any personal experiences will be convincing to others. Honestly...I find personal testimonies rather more suspicious than convincing.

Mmm. But here gotta be careful. Because, epistemologically, I do find witness convincing (see: Apostolic succession). But the personal testimony flavor leaves me cold. It might be because I've known too many people who hear the experiences of others, when I think of my own experiences, and wonder: "Why HER, why not me? What is it that **I** lack?" You hear the miracles granted to others, you expect miracles, and, then,  when you scream from the depths of the soul ... you only hear an echo of your own voice that becomes faint and fainter before being absorbed by a universe of implacable rock-faced walls.

That feeling is why I believe, to be, perhaps, too overt in parallels. I find it repugnant to think that so many voices should be crying out because a burden, not of their choosing, has been placed upon them - to think that so many will end life in an agony of fear, anger, pain. To never, ever, be made whole. I cannot accept that. I will not accept that.

SUCKS TO BE YOU, KIDDO? SHOULD'A BEEN BORN TO DIFFERENT PARENTS IN AN AFFLUENT COUNTRY!!! YOU HAD ONE SHOT AND YOU BLEW IT!

There but for the grace of God? Do such as they not also have God's grace? Is that supposed to make that person who went *there* feel like they are worthy of love, of dignity? Or even that the person carrying some heavy burden feels like they're somehow blessed? Really? That's what you say and not: oh, hey....That looks....heavy....can I help you carry that?

Justice is a large part of why I believe.

God is the only lens through which suffering in the world becomes something not-pointless. I won't say acceptable or even tolerable. Not on a human-experiential level, at least. I would, instead, say intellectually passable. God does not will physical evils in se (and moral evils in no way). But He does will to allow physical evils so that some good might come about. The problem is this: clumsy speaking lends itself to misunderstanding. You get your dream job? God's will. You become deathly ill? God's will. The implication is that if this is God’s will, then it is also good and to be embraced (or even desired) as such. And, when you expand that without making distinctions, you get all sorts of crazy messed up ideas about mercy and justice.

God's grace moves beyond what we can see and He will wipe away every tear. If not in this world, then in the next: the Lazaruses will find respite. God forbid we should find ourselves on the other end of that great divide.
---
Edit: This should be read and is quasi-related - but it is dark so do not venture if it might be too much.

Friday, October 06, 2017

This Week

This week was pretty hellish and my mood was like so:


But it is no longer quite like that.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Anime Music Videos






 


In Him we live and move and have our being

Lotsa people feel isolated from their Catholic Community, from what I see/hear/read.

Parishes try to encourage the formation of community by having bible studies, youth groups, young adult groups, parish events, and whatnot - throwing a hodge podge group of people together and being all "halloooo, Catholic hoomans, here are other Catholic hoomans! Ain't religion just the thing?"

And it doesn't work (if that's all it is) - it's like kids with playmobils mashing toy faces together.

There's a strict delineation some have between Church-friends and friend-friends. Occasionally, a Church-friend might slip into the friend-friend category but it is not (in my experience) because the circumstances surrounding this transition are inherently conducive to nurturing this development. They're rather the opposite: here are utter strangers - you sit awkwardly around a table and make small talk, read the bible, go to Mass, and agree that having a Catholic Identity is Really Important.

Then you part ways, go home, and forget these individuals even exist -- unless there's a t'eh fetching guy who catches your eye and makes your heart race and then you catch yourself using heart emojis and smiley faces everywhere and sternly say to yourself: "Self," you say, "he's probably one of those Nice Catholic Guys."*

Part of the problem is we romanticize Catholic Community as something other-worldly: this community will be holy and help us get to heaven and it will be set apart from and above our regular day-to-day world of drudge work, commutes, and making dinner for the fam while squeezing in an episode of some tv show. This is the CITY OF GOD, maaan.

Well, yes. And no.

The "yes" bit is that yeah, we are signed and sealed by the Holy Spirit, our destiny is shared and heavenly, and we are supposed to (1) get there and (2) help others get there (sorry, sounding like an airplane oxygen-mask PSA). This earthly home is not our final home and our hearts yearn for something greater and beyond. There will always be this yearning and dissatisfied feel because that's how we are, structurally, due to the jarring disunity effected by original sin. THANKS, ADAM AND EVE. GREAT JOB, GUYS. [Nb: they must be really sick of people on earth saying stuff like this.]

The "no" bit is how we understand that role and how it affects us on a practical level.

We are not pure spirit. We need support on a physical and emotional level as well as the spiritual. We have passions and hopes and dreams for this world which are legitimate and worthwhile: of getting a better job so you can support your family, of having a family, of having people around you that you can simply call up and say - without pretext - do you want to be with me in some way?

I'd argue you cannot effectively engage on the spiritual unless you're also engaging on those other levels. Catholicism is not at the expense of these lesser worldly things: it's the context for them, the giving of a proper order.

And that's one reason why (not THE reason, but A reason) - I think - we sometimes feel disconnected from our local Catholic Community. Because so much stress is placed on the spiritual, the rest feels immaterial or unimportant. And it's not. So it is that while we may be brothers and sisters in Christ we've never cooked a meal together, never watched a movie (unless it's a *religious* movie), never read then discussed a book, (unless it's a *religious* book), and never shared our interests and passions (unless they're *religious* ones). And unless you reveal who you are, people cannot connect with you or you with them: you can't build or have a community that feels or is real.

I don't really have any solutions except to say: creating an authentic Catholic Community is not about shoving the world into some neglected corner. God saw that it was good. It's not THE GOOD, but it's aight. We need more of a permeation of the Good News that settles into our bones and breath and every aspect of our daily lives and less of the "NOW IZ RELIGION TIME! ALL T'EH REST IS IN A DIFFERENT SPHERE!!!" feel to Catholic gatherings.

The day-to-day sorrows and joys are what we bond over as human beings. We care about beauty regimes, sports teams, dancing, authors, and art. We glory in the beauty we see around us and weep at the pain. It's not an either/or. It's a both/and (so long as by 'the world' you don't mean it in the sense of 'worldly').

It's not the intent to create the suggestion of these different spheres, I'm quite sure. And it is true that we must put God before all things: learn to know Christ more, Church Fathers and other befitting works, etc. But that's not ALL that we must do with others if we want to be friends with them, if we want to form a community.

This is all terribly, terribly abstract and vague - and also based off of personal experience with these types of events - yes.  Sorry. This is about Things I've Observed and Conclusions I've Drawn.

----
* This is a pejorative. Many Nice Catholic Folk unthinkingly - even blasphemously - use religion as a pious mask for some truly messed up crap.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

French Animation

French animators are doing some super cool things these days:












Friday, September 15, 2017

Dribs and Drabs

I read this essay, recommended to me by someone in real life, and he proposed the following:

Such folk as these should not, properly speaking, be called philosophers - they should be called assholes. Would you invite them to your philosophers' club? Would you invite them to a dinner party? Would you invite them into your home unless it were to remonstrate with them in private?

On reflection, I think he's right. You can absolutely hold that (1) such and such a person made a great contribution to philosophy but (2) demonstrated a significant lack of intellectual virtue and therefore (3) is not, properly speaking, a philosopher.

I certainly would hesitate to class Frege or Heidegger (alas, much as I like Heidegger and, yes, there is debate -- but things seem rather damning) with the likes of the gently insistent Socrates or the poetic Pieper. It feels a bit obscene in setting them alongside each other.

Everyone has their blind-spots and compartmentalizes their beliefs so that incompatible ones don't accidentally touch and explode - if not on the purely intellectual level, then as regards how these beliefs are applied in practice. Yes, here is a universal principle...but it doesn't apply in these particular circumstances. Ayiii, practical syllogisms.

But there is some point at which you cannot say both that this person is pursuing truth, is a gen-uuuu-iiine lover of wisdom, and yet holds certain patently false - even self-acknowledged as irrational - beliefs. It seems incompatible.

Will such folk ever not be called philosophers? Probably not. Nevertheless, I do not think we should call them as such. Call them Frege or Heidegger, call them a great thinker, but do not call them a philosopher.
-----------------
In other news, I am starting on a fantasy short story about a cockroach:


Once upon a time,
There lived a small cockroach named Hugo underneath the boards of a great house. Hugo had many brothers and sisters who would dare each other to amazing feats when food was scarce or when they were just plumb bored. One dare was to crawl on a human’s flesh and see how long you could stay before being flicked off and the human went shrieking and wriggling away, doing a funny dance. Another was to run across the floor of the ballroom when there was a party. If you made it to the other end alive, you got an additional mark on your exoskeleton - but it didn’t count if you lost a leg or antenna or something.

One night, there was a particularly huge party on the floorboards above - the biggest in living memory. All the cockroaches peered through the cracks and jostled each other for the best view. There was a fairy and a centaur who were making high pitched keens and deep rumblings at each other over a bassinet.

“Bet you can’t run across,” his sister Frida mouthed at him, cuffing his unmarked back.  The other cockroach siblings sniggered and nudged each other.

“I can so TOO,” Hugo cried out.

A sudden silence up above made him afraid that he’d been heard. Then he realized that was impossible.

Saturday, September 09, 2017

Self-Abasement

My first writing class is over and it drove home a realization: writing is HARD. There's much crafting that goes into every story: refined ideas, minute word choices, plausibility, pacing, arcs, endings. Few people are gifted such that this all comes naturally. I knew this on some level but had hoped that I was among those gorgeous shining ranks that set their pen to paper and...magic would simply happen. Ink would neither blot nor congeal: it would flow and be set aflame, burned into paper, into minds and hearts.

After reading, men and women would stroke their beards (or the beards of their male friends) meditatively and quote extensively.

Friends have told me that I have a gift for writing. But experience has taught me to be suspicious of the estimation of friends. They see and want the best - and sometimes cannot bear to tell someone dear to them to drop a pursuit, to say that there is no actual potential, that their strengths lie elsewhere. Listening to friends' estimations has led to some grievously embarrassing moments in life: the equivalent of the wedding banquet where the man who sets himself in the seat of honor is told to take the lower(est) seat. These experiences engender hesitations and hiccups.

But there's a difference, I think.

I will never be a great dancer: I do not have the imaginative prowess to act in the moment, to be un-self-consciously performative, and my body is simply incapable of executing or holding taxing movements. I cannot even do a push-up.

One of my philosophy professors was sure that I would become a great name in philosophy. His convictions were mighty strong - but he was woefully unacquainted with the natural laziness that resides as a beast within me. An autodidact I am not - nor an original thinker. There has not been one original thought coursing through my brain (to my knowledge). If anything, my virtue in studies lies in sitting with ideas: offering them a cup of tea and observing their outlines or sideways glances. But that is merely surface-scratching.

Writing doesn't *feel* like those cases, though.

When non-vested strangers tell me of some glimmer that caught their fancy, some passage that affected them, something that kept their eyes following the words that plod across the barren white expanse. When they laugh or are touched by something that touched me, I feel as if the imperfect might, possibly, be brought closer to perfection.

And people in the writing class told me that.

It is not like throwing oneself against some implacable wall of actuality. There's a path. A hard path, it's true, but a path. So I signed up for another writing class, starting November.

Until then, you might expect more blog posts.
---------
Addendum: on re-reading, it sounded like I was denigrating the support of friends so I edited the post up a bit. It's more that...I showed one story to several irl friends, asked for their honest opinion, and they praised and thought it perfect. On showing it to my writing class, there were pages of critiques, but also moderate praise.

I *know* my writing is faulty and when friends insist there's only perfection, or refuse to breath a hint of criticism, well, I understand they're being supportive and I do appreciate that, but don't entirely trust what they say. Yet, if these friends hadn't told me I had a gift (their words, not mine), I probably would not have attempted a writing class, so I'm incredibly grateful to them for providing me with the impetus and for seeing something worthwhile.

Mish Mash of Current Listenings



Friday, September 08, 2017

My Friday Night

'D, watcha up to this evening?'
'Oh. The usge.'
'Wanna grab a beer?'
'Mebbe not tonight. Kinda tired.'

Reality:


And this is the usge - meds via infusion 1x/month! It's a weird experience. I share rooms with cancer patients who have little time left as well as rooms with other sufferers of autoimmune diseases: observing their families, seeing how they handle this strange reality, how they face their mortality.

I come by myself because my treatment is fairly mild (relatively). Others come surrounded with dear ones, ready to sit for at least four hours with the patient. The man being treated opposite me tonight is sharing Chinese food with his son and they were chuckling happily over the discovery of soy sauce packet that they thought had been forgotten with their take-out. His family has been calling him - they end conversations with 'I love you.'

His voice is barely above a whisper and it's beautiful.

But there are those who talk to me of the daughter who never comes.

Pray for all these folks.
----
*Fixed the phone editing.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Seek Suffering

Right now I'm supposed to be working on my short story that's due in a little over a week. But my soul feels achy so I will post a quote that's been returning to my mind -- and then go to bed.
If the evil-doing of men moves you to indignation and overwhelming distress, even to a desire for vengeance on the evil-doers, shun above all things that feeling. Go at once and seek suffering for yourself, as though you were yourself guilty of that wrong. Accept that suffering and bear it and your heart will find comfort, and you will understand that you too are guilty, for you might have been a light to the evil-doers, even as the one man sinless, and you were not a light to them. If you had been a light, you would have lightened the path for others too, and the evil-doer might perhaps have been saved by your light from his sin. And even though your light was shining, yet you see men were not saved by it, hold firm and doubt not the power of the heavenly light. Believe that if they were not saved, they will be saved hereafter. And if they are not saved hereafter, then their sons will be saved, for your light will not die even when you are dead...You are working for the whole, you are acting for the future.
-Fr. Zosimov in the Brother's K by Doestoevsky.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Maybe

“But you believe, don't you,” Rose implored him, 'you think it's true?'

“Of course it's true,” the Boy said. “What else could there be?” he went scornfully on. “Why,” he said “it's the only thing that fits. These atheists, they don't know nothing. Of course there's Hell, Flames, and damnation,” he said with his eyes on the dark shifting water and the lightning and the lamps going out above the black struts of the Palace Pier, 'torments.'

“And Heaven too,” Rose said with anxiety, while the rain fell interminably on.

“Oh, maybe,” the Boy said, “maybe.”

-Brighton Rock, Graham Greene

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Bus Encounters

Was groping for the topic of my next short story which is due in a couple of weeks. At first, I thought that perhaps I would adapt an old myth but it's hard to adapt things like: "once there was a maiden and the devil wanted to take her but she was super clean so the dad forbade her to wash but her tears bathed her and then the dad chopped off her hands..."  (Src.)

But, then, FB reminded me of this past encounter via memories:

Grumpy bus driver versus elderly proper Englishman -- WHO WILL WIN?
Englishman: *pushes stop button*
Bus Driver: *blatantly ignores stop*
Englishman: *standing up and going to the front* Sir! I say! Sir! I DID push the 'request stop button'!
Bus Driver: *keeps going without comment*
Englishman: SIR!!!
Bus Driver: *stops the bus and just -looks- at the Englishman*
Englishman: Oh I say! Thank you, sir. Have a good day, sir. *exits bus*

----------

So I decided to write on bus encounters, since public transit is a weird set of weird/scary/beautiful vignettes, and below is the start. The bit with the woman making out with her reflection is something drawn from experience albeit with details modified and some stuff left out.

-----------

Basil was having a troublesome day. Firstly, his car wouldn’t start. Secondly, his front tooth had cracked and fallen out. Thirdly, he had an important interview. Cursing, he flipped open his phone to take a look at the bus times. One was a convenient 10 minutes away - enough time to book it over, lanky limbs splaying with unaccustomed gait, and breath coming out in chuffs. He slowed down about half a block away from the stop, pretending to the world that he was not wholly desperate, and casually took his place in the queue. The woman in front of him caught his eye, dressed in subdued work hues but with a brightly colored necklace and scarf to add some pop. She gave him a friendly smile and he grinned back in response, watching her the muscles on her face stiffen to hold her smile as the macabre interior of his own mouth gaped open. Well, shit. The bus pulled up just then, giving him cover to glance away and fumble for his bus pass. Thank goodness he still had it. Or did he...? Yes, there it was.

He got on, showed his pass, and looked around for a seat. A seat would be nice. This bus would take 45 minutes. Ah, ok, a pretty full bus but one seat left - next to a lady who seemed like she wouldn’t be weird. He sat down, gratefully, and sat back into his chair, absentmindedly tonguing the place where his tooth should have been. A few stops later and an old granny gets on the bus. Her eyes swing around like flaming torches, seeking a seat or someone who would give up theirs. Basil hunched down and pretended to be very focused on this interesting article he was reading about the strength of the dollar. The granny slowly went and stood in the middle aisle of the bus and looked as piteous as possible. Don’t make eye contact, don’t make eye contact, don’t make eye contact.

“Oh, thank you, dear!” Phew. Someone else had given up in the game of granny-chicken. Relieved, he looked past his seatmate and out the window.  36 minutes to go. At the next stop, a large woman with long dark hair got onto the bus and stood holding a pole by the window. She was humming to herself “love me like you do, lu-lu-luve me like you do.” She started to sing along. Her voice started to rise in volume until she was almost sobbing the song out and everyone watched intently as this woman locked gaze with her reflection and then started making out with it. Typical morning commute. A few stops later, the woman got off.

Next, a couple got on, in the middle of a fight. The guy had cheated on the girl with a mutual and she was not going to let a public audience get in the way of a good tongue-thrashing. But the guy was not going to take it lying down. It was all HER fault for being so cold and unavailable. She screeched at him, he yelled at her, and the rest of the bus was very uncomfortable caught between the two until the guy finally decided he couldn’t be in her presence and strode to the back of the bus saying “we’re through, you mother-fucking bitch!”  Everyone let out a breath of relief as the girl took out her phone, didn’t follow the guy, and began angry-cry texting someone. Basil did not feel sympathy for her. Maybe now for some peace and quiet?

“Excuse me, I’m getting off at the next stop. Could I squeeze by you?” Basil retracted his legs as far as they would go and his seatmate brushed past. Now for a strategic choice: did he inch in and take the seat by the window? He wouldn’t feel the pressure, then, to get up should some other elderly person climb aboard the bus. But then there’s a trade-off: take that seat and you could get hemmed in by someone who is smelly and takes up more than their share of space. Basil slid over and watched to see if his gamble had paid off.

Saturday, August 05, 2017

Here Be Dragons


Second take, with ending. Gonna tweak it and then tweak some more.

The ending is not strong enough.

----------
Edit: removing this story because I realized it needed severe editing/

Saturday, July 29, 2017

I Got Angry Online Today

Few things get me into a really fighty mood - or, at least, fighty *enough* so that I forget that online back-and-forths are more like dipping oneself into the fondue pot of insanity versus the more civilized brawls one might happen into at a dive bar.

Two things that get me into this mood are:
1. Dissing Bay Area Catholics
2. Dissing the Bay Area

The Bay Area is visible, an epicenter of sorts, so it gets an immense amount of casual hate. From my teenage years on, I felt a sense of inferiority started and reinforced by what I read/experienced online: Catholics from other localities would raise a virtual eyebrow when they heard my origins and I would lol as I fanned out my Catholic credentials as proof that I wasn't going to be lobbying for women priests or defending PP anytime soon.

And it hurt!

It hurts to feel apologetic about a place you love, where you see genuine good taking root and growing, where you hope for better things.

In college, I was a member of Cal Students for Life. We'd run diaper drives, host conferences, and offered babysitting services to the student parent center on campus (we never were taken up on that offer, but we made it earnestly). I also spent a lot of time designing, volunteering, and promoting a group that would do things like...host a Humanae Vitae conference! Give lectures on encyclicals that stuck to Church teachings like the close-talker to an excessively polite victim! Offer classes on the history of Catholic art!

Weary, I'd go online, find that someone had taken another cheap shot at the Bay Area, and feel like my breath had been knocked from my body.

It's true, I rag on SF and places east of the Caldecott Tunnel. But there are friendly city rivalries (mostly between EB and SF) and then...there's that one person who finds themselves the butt of every ill-natured joke, the one whose head you step on so that you can feel elevated by a few more inches, the one you snigger at as you trip them when they're just trying to go about their business.

*That* is how it felt.

It wasn't about desiring recognition, it was that *keeping on going* was made harder by fellow Catholics who always had a sharp word and a hundred opinions about the bad but remained silent about the good things that people threw themselves into heart and soul.

The good can wither and die from silence as much as silence can foster the existence and growth of evil.

Perhaps I am over-sensitive - it's entirely possible. But at least think twice when you're about to heap abuse on a locality or its inhabitants for the sake of scoring easy laughs. *Why* are you doing that? Are you also supporting the good? Or just...hatin' on it?

With all its faults, with all that is wrong with the Bay Area (and there is much!), there is also much good, much source for joy, much cause for hope.

Plus, as a 6th-gen native on my Dad's side, I WILL fight you.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Short story in-the-works

Threading together some of the things I've written for the creative writing class I'm in. Behold something unfinished - still gotta write a couple of pages more, but I **think** this will keep its form (more or less).

--- 

It was a hot evening. The smell of chlorine from a pool somewhere drifted enticingly on the almost-still breeze. Her phone, thrown with abandon onto the bed, buzzed and hummed in its soft nest. Erica ignored it and walked to the window - watching the sunset reflected in the glass panes of a window with a view, turning on no lights, hearing the sounds of the world revolve around her. The father of the family next door was teaching his son how to play basketball in the dwindling light, giving muted pep-talks. Somewhere, a ukulele was being gently strummed. All around, the world brimmed with lazy contentment. She resolved to go to Mass the next morning. Mass might shake this feeling. She turned on a tv episode to watch marionette figures create whimsical dishes as she opened a can of sardines, squeezed lemon over it, and ate straight from the can.

The next morning, she watched the priest with the too-plump mottled face as he gave a homily. The pulpit stood directly beneath a scowling statue of Jesus that seemed incensed at every word the priest uttered, every prayer of the faithful, every living thing within its line of vision. The priest's voice belied his appearance - it was like a lilting bird that lifted and dipped, sweet and clear. But his words were out of focus.

He was saying something about God being love.

She prayed: "Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed."

"Say the word," she begged the implacable plaster face.

"Please, say it."

After Mass, she genuflected and walked away.

She strode along, a silent fury of frustration amid the street lights and stop signs. Passing a playground full of laughing children, she saw a nondescript tan car parked, its butt bestrewed with bumper stickers. "Practice random acts of kindness" one advised her, smugly, she thought. She drew her keys from her purse and glared at the vehicle before crouching down and methodically scoring the sticker several times with her jagged metal extensions.

Pedestrians looked at her one lone time. Only the owner of the car could practice such precision obliteration, they assumed: perhaps she’d found the universe cruel and the words empty and void. The more attuned felt the billowy emanations of wrath, wondering uneasily for a slo-mo blink what her deal was, allowing a wide berth on the sidewalk, and then disappearing into their lives.

Erica wouldn't have minded if people were honest but conveyed with cliché. The inverse was odious. These mealy-mouthed moieties resonated with people who had no dirt about them. Pristine and secure, platitudes fell from their mouths like vomit from a third-story apartment. They didn't have to deal with the stench or the clean-up, and were left with the purgative feeling of a tum tum emptied of alcoholic turbulence. 

Standing up, she noticed with irritation that crossing the strip of vegetation from the sidewalk to the car had left verdant plant vegetation clinging to her trousers. Seed faces looked up in hope. Destiny held for them a watery death followed by hot blasts of dryer air. They would never touch soil.

Erica continued walking, her destination a few blocks ahead. Abruptly tripping on the lip of a sidewalk that was edged up by the ambitious roots of a nearby redwood, she fell onto her knees, stiffening her wrists against all reason, and felt the shock of compression run up her arms, the grit of ground stinging into her palms. Gingerly getting up and shaking her arms loose of the trauma, she figured it must be karmic retribution for what she’d just done, and mentally apologized to the owner of the car for destroying their property though she retained the right to judge based off a single declaratory sticker. How dare they?

A homeless man with grey matted hair and a ripe scent, sitting cross-legged by a boutique store-front, asked with aloof concern:
"You ok, miss?"
"I will be, thanks."

She could feel him sizing her up, using the estimative powers shared by higher-animals, gauging whether to ask and, if so, with what words and pathos. He settled simply with: 

"Spare some change?" 
His voice lacked conviction and she felt stung by his doubt. Reaching into her purse, she yanked her wallet from its dusky interior and pulled out a $20 bill. Suddenly embarrassed, she dropped it into the makeshift-bucket he was holding out, limping briskly past so as not to seem to want or care for his thanks. Indeed, she didn't want or care for them as charity for her was not a performance art and she felt uncomfortable receiving thanks. Who was she to be thanked? It was a drop in the bucket, a temporary stay against the pressing indignities of life, a shifting bit of nothing.
"THANKS, LADY!" she heard from behind.

She didn’t respond.

Stopping in front of a cheerful looking café with potted plants and a small outdoor patio, she double-checked the name in the text message: Baladin’s Café. Yes, this was it. Pushing open the door, her eyes traveled around the bustling yellow room, decorated with nondescript paintings, until they rested on a group of friends in moods of full weekend gaiety. Sara’s deeply brown eyes met hers; she grinned and waved Erica over, indicating a seat that had been saved for her. Of course, it had to be the seat abutting the busy narrow aisle.  Of course.

A chorus of good mornings exchanged, Erica settled in and edged gingerly into the flow of the conversations around her. Jennifer, who’d organized the ladies bruncheon, was telling others about her next trip to Italy: how she’d rented a little villa in Santa Marinella, a beach-town a short train ride away from Rome. She was passing around her phone to show pictures of the villa and Erica looked at it ravenously. The exterior was  orange. Not the bright neon American orange so intense that it hurts the eyes, but muted, almost anemic, with white trim. It bordered a piazza dotted with fan palms and had a view of the azure ocean. It held the promise of idyllic afternoons spent on beaches or eating  frutti di mare.“Very pretty,” she commented and passed the phone to Sara before picking up a menu and scanning it to find something that her stomach could keep down.

“We’ll be spending about one week there before heading north. We always make a point to stop in Verona for a couple weeks. Pietro has family there - so many cousins! I’m just worried that one day we might have to return the favor...”

Imagine, thought Erica to herself, Jennifer a host to a horde of her husband’s Italian cousins seeping through their sterile apartment doors with loud effusive due baci greetings, Moka pots, and motorino mentalities. She’d met some Italians once. They were almost too large for life and held court in the small bar they’d happened to find themselves in because they’d misjudged the distance from LA to San Francisco and had to stop overnight in this town. One had kissed her in the stairwell as she was leaving, holding her close in the dim light and letting her go breathless.   

“Are you ladies ready to order?” an officious waiter interjected, scattering her thoughts. The café was a hot-spot and these ladies took up a four-top.  

“Yes, I’ll have the biscuits and gravy.” “The french toast.” “Biscuits and gravy for me, too.”

The waiter was now staring at Erica. “I’ll have the oatmeal with the fruit bowl, please.” She hoped it wouldn’t cause her to run to the toilet with bowels spasming in angry protest as Satan’s tic tacs danced around her innards.

“Thank you, ladies.” He snapped closed his little pad and industriously moved to put their order in.

“Oooh, you’re so good, Erica,” said Jennifer, covertly glancing to see if her manicure had chipped.

“You don’t exercise but you never seem put on even a bit of weight. How do you do it?” asked Sara, enviously.

Erica felt a wave of bile whelming up her throat, but laughed deprecatingly instead. “Some people just win the genetic lottery.”
---

Later the next day, Erica was on a plasticy chair. “Do you want a blanket? Or some juice?”

“No thanks, I’m fine.”

She pressed the button on her chair, reclining to look up at the drab ceiling. Her temporary roommate, a large defeated-looking woman, was having her IV line set. The nurse had to plunge into the veins several times before striking gold and threading the plastic tubing into the ruby blood. The woman did not even protest or make a sign that the needle digging around in her flesh was somehow an uncouth violation.  

The nurse pushed a few buttons on the machine and saline began to drip from the bag and into the body. “They’re mixing up the meds now. We’ll bring it out when it’s ready. Let me know if you need anything.” She drew off the plastic gloves and tossed them casually into a biohazard bin before pushing the stool away and standing up to enter a few more details into the computer.

Erica’s eyes followed the nurse as her capable body tended to others: stolid, secure, healthy.

When her sister had given birth, Erica had gone to visit in the hospital. Her nephew, hopelessly ugly and squished, had been passed into her arms. She’d looked down into his sleeping face and found her arms trembling under the load of 8lb 5oz. Possible worlds, but not hers.

Some people in the clinic were cheery and outgoing. They told you all about their disease, what they were on, and how it affected them. Others preferred silence as they suffered. One wry old man had looked up as she entered the room and said: “Welcome to purgatory. May your stay be short.” 

She didn't know how to take that.