Calm Waters

After last week’s midterms, I have been able to relax. My schedule this week has emphasized light reading and light writing. The perfect existence, I think, would be to read and to write and to think and to sleep (until sleeping is cured), and to be interrupted occasionally by experience. I imagine this flow of time would resemble Stephen Jay Gould and Niles Eldredge’s theory of punctuated equilibrium.

My sad public admission this week: I’m not very well read. I have read a lot of books, but most of them have been science fiction, fantasy, horror, and nonfiction about technology and the planets. Thankfully, this semester has really opened my eyes to literature. This week I read works from  16th century England including sonnets by the Italian Petrarch translated to English by  Sir Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey; Edmund Spenser’s Sonnets 1 and 68 from Amoretti and “Epithalamion”; and Sir Philip Sidney’s “The Defense of Poesy.” I also read David Foster Wallace’s essay “Derivative Sport in Tornado Alley” and the first several pages of Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys. I started reading Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë in anticipation of Wide Sargasso Sea, but I will probably have to finish it after the latter is due for class. I read and critiqued short stories from three classmates in my fiction writing class. Inspiring, all of them.

As for writing, I wrote a new essay – “Space Tomatoes” – and a short poem – “Erotica” – for a weekly #WednesdayChallenge on App.net.

National Novel Writing Month begins next week. The goal is 50,000 words by the end of November by writing rapidly and without regard to quality. I succeeded in 2010 but not since. The goal will be extra challenging this year because of school, but I do plan to participate. I have not decided on a story yet, except I want to write something smaller in scope than my previous novels, with fewer characters and locations. I need practice with tales that lie somewhere between short stories and ambitious epic novels, where 50,000 words contains all of the beginning, middle, and end. The story needs to be set not on a global stage but locally. Somewhere calm waters are about to splash.

Praise Him

[Essay #3 for ENGL 215, in the style of Maggie Nelson’s Bluets. We were asked to be vulnerable, whatever that means to us.]

1. Everyone else seems to love huge mirrors in bedrooms.

2. He told me they especially loved the mirror in my bedroom. He told me it was his apartment, too. His wife kept calling, asking me where he was. I lied to her but it was the truth. I didn’t see the waitress when I arrived home from work the next morning. She was a lump in a blanket. His lump was in my throat. She wanted a shower. I went out to my balcony, sat down, and stared. He laughed at me when he found me there. Chided me. Touched me. I was silent. I drove him to work.

3. Family trees don’t list friends.

4. I no longer shared my apartment when I had sex, both times. I didn’t look at the mirror. I looked into his eyes. Even when he was sleeping. I sleep when I’m alone. There’s no reason to be alone otherwise.

4a. My friend’s friend. We were just as surprised. I had no idea about blowjobs. The next morning he boasted he was going to find a threesome at the bars that night. No need for a ride back to my place.

4b. The neighbor’s dog was afraid of men. She ran up to me. She was a dog, not a psychologist. After our first date I grabbed him by the collar when he was leaving. I dragged him back to me. I couldn’t stop kissing him. I didn’t know what to do next. He said we should go to my bedroom. He told me he liked my penis. But his was bigger. I just said “thanks” ungratefully and worried I was doing it wrong. I knew him long enough to pull up my roots. I don’t feel guilty about this; his dog was right.

5. My dad and his children are part of a thick book, the genealogy easy with those branches. My mom? Her children only remember great-grandmothers. Their parents’ parents have no names. I wanted him to bite my blood and tell me.

6. He burned a mix to CD for his wife. I returned the waitress’ blanket to her friend. What I received was “Austin” by Blake Sheldon and fear of friends. Maybe if I had come home from work sick, I could have watched him and the waitress in the mirror. I might still have his body. I think he would have liked that. I wonder if all men look into the mirror and don’t see me.

7. The bloodline won’t branch with me.

Eppure Si Muove

[Essay #2 for ENGL 215, in the style of Lia Purpura.]

Here is what I did with my body one day: I fan-folded, needle in arm. My brain? Kept me breathing, seizing. The entry was massive Mount St. Helens, no longer latent, gray ash excluding outwardly. I was a hot fogged globe, a great silence interrupted, rushing winds, metal tart, pepper before sneezing, the only casualty, the s-wave, confined, silent.

My counselor recently told me about his client suffering from insomnia rippled from a childhood climacteric. He is flying in to retrieve her, to drop her off in a reframed past. She asked her father at the low elevation of her days about after death, and he pointed up to “oblivion.” Her immature cartography wisely mapped destination to nothingness. If she went to sleep and never woke, it would be, she believed, a black place she could fear in.

It is not.

Nothing is. Not me. No body and nobody knows.

The exit was a Pollock, dripping wet until I spied his dry footprints beside the canvas. The p-wave survivors above me with dumb looks as my taking form smarted made sure I didn’t swallow my tongue. “You fainted,” the nurse stated, and I have no idea. In my absence my history belonged to her. I never knew I moved! Such was the entry and the exit that in between I demand a daughter who doesn’t pay seventy-five dollars per hour to be sent back to her elderly father so he can assure her he did not intend her waking detour.

Space Tomatoes

[For essay #5 due October 24, 2013 in ENGL 215 we were required to pay close attention to some of the techniques we have been learning about related to creative nonfiction, as illustrated by the writing of David Foster Wallace. For more information about the SEEDS program, see this article from 1992 or the following YouTube video.]

In 1990, NASA distributed to K-12 schools around the world the 12.5 million tomato seeds stranded in space on board the Long Duration Exposure Facility (LDEF) satellite, as part of the Space Exposed Experiment Developed for Students (SEEDS) program. My biology teacher at James Madison High School in Portland, Oregon handpicked me to participate, and the spotlight prompted an interview with a local news channel. Their features reporter visited me in the biology lab, where I soared against a bench in my cleanest jeans and a solid-colored long-sleeve button-up shirt while his questions expressed my inner teacher and the astronaut and child. It matters, I thought, my heart on my elbow, finding this nervous speaking tremendously exciting, a new nonchalance like the quiet balance of roots and stems uncertain which direction is up, yet eager to grow up. He would be back, the reporter promised, to see how my share of seeds turned out. The local news segment ended with something about “planting seeds in the minds of gifted students.”

Picture this. An upstairs bedroom. A tray of space tomato seeds coordinated within wet dark soil. Next to a window. A small window. With poor lighting. Meager sprouts. Timid sprouts. Shy and tiny sprouts. I am the minor celebrity and they are not growing well. Do you imagine mutated seeds, harmed by space radiation, insides gooed?

“Why didn’t you ask for help,” my dad screamed. He had come up to my bedroom to see failure, so he carried the space tomatoes away in confirmed rage, outside, by the filthy pool ringed by concrete walk ringed by decorative gravel ringed by grassy backyard, and there he overturned my careful grid, that dark green tray, the black soil and white fertilizer granules carrying their pale green celestial shoots easily into careless rocks. He returned to the house. I stood alone, engraved, wrinkled, fucked.

Inside, later: “Why didn’t you pick them up and replant them! Shows how much you care. You don’t give one fuck about anything!”

My non-verbal barely response.

His disgust.

My unuttered justification, seething: I could not find them, among the debris, and even if I could, I couldn’t tell which was which, and the experiment is over, that is all that matters, you goddamn MOTHERFUCKER! Hate.

His ignorance.

Shame.

How do you tell your teacher? How long do you carry the stranger guilt that the reporter won’t need to come back for a follow-up, strange student? When does a father engage with his own son in benevolence and shared interest, guide him and be his friend, and when does the son reconcile these vertical guilts?

With regret. For decades. Never, and many years later. Somewhat.

There were once tomato seeds flown in space. I planted them with blackest thumb, idiot teenager, lazy!, procrastinating, caring more about dreaming than difficult and rigorous science to be carefully documented, and I watered them. Their regretted trajectory from space through my dick father’s hands to confused fall then with the earthbound sticks and weeds to wilt and die was their longest journey finding no great beginning but their very end.

A History of Blogging

[Essay #4 written for ENGL 215 “The Craft of Writing”  at the University of Arizona and turned in on October 22, 2013. The assignment was to write 500 words in the style of David Foster Wallace, and to attempt humor. I attempted.]

My earliest online diary entry appears to be from June 24, 1997 and it is full of angst and includes the word “cybernudism.” When on September 27, 2005 I announced via my blog I was changing its name from “Leis on Life” (and still nobody knew how to pronounce my last name) to “Cybernudism,” I had already exposed not my body but fleshy thoughts and opinions over several earnest years. You want to see growth? Don’t read my blog. About the name change I wrote “Cybernudism is a word I coined that represents that Internet-inspired drive to expose yourself to the world, in more ways than just visually and nakedly.” What drives us to record and broadcast our inner stratigraphy? The website was http://www.cybernudism.com and you probably shouldn’t go there.1

The history of blogging begins with the online diary, a digital naked form that emerged in 1994 from antecedents that when listed against their arrival dates chart the history of the Internet, printing, writing, and the emergence of life on this planet. Wikipedia’s entry on “Online diary” informs us that “The end of 1997 is generally considered the cut-off date for early adopters.” Why this should matter is less important than these personal observations: (1) I take a lemming’s comfort in knowing there were others in that era who kept an online diary, and (2), hell yeah, I got in under the wire!2

Wikipedia’s lengthy entry on “Pornography” recommends that if you are looking for more details on pornography’s history, you should read the lengthy entry “History of erotic depictions.” I’m not bringing this up because “cybernudism” has anything to do with porn but because the history of blogging and the history of erotic depictions are similar in their webby lists of antecedents.3 This model of knowledge and knowledge-seeking has, along with blogging, been distilled to what we now call “liking,” which, like any modern push-button sharing scheme, informs your social graph4 of your wants and desires, with minimal effort, a kind of cybernudism that suggests tiny ants with jaws clamped down on leaves as fungus5 breaches their chitinous heads to drops spores on uninfected ants far below. The sexual analog here is masturbation.6 It is a small mercy that the social networks have so far resisted the masses desire for a “don’t like” button despite its obvious utility as demonstrated in comment sections web-wide. Could I explain the “don’t like” button with a sexual analog? Doubtful.

Where will the meathooks of history take blogging next? I would propose a new definition for “cybernudism” but until there is a Wikipedia entry for the current definition this would just be speculation.

Footnotes

  1. I haven’t owned that domain in years.
  2. This was before wireless.
  3. Wikipedia’s entry on “Antecedent” includes a definition and a list of links to entries about the word in various contexts; this hyperlinked document model of knowledge also works with history.
  4. Not the movie.
  5. You can learn all about Ophiocordyceps unilateralis on Wikipedia, of course.
  6. Not mutual, despite the ability for others to recursively like your like.

A Writing Journal

What was previously my blog – full of news, likes and commentary – should now, I think, become a writing journal, a document more closely related to the craft of writing. The individual posts might be daily reflections on writing, or, more likely, periodic summaries, but I would not be surprised if there is occasion for unrelated news, likes and commentary.

Today – this being Saturday, October 19, 2013 – I reflect on the week just passing. I am in the middle of fall semester at the University of Arizona, taking classes in literature and the craft of writing. I am forty years old and it seems like I finally know how to go to school. I completed two midterms this week without my mid-semester collapse that often shattered past attempts at an undergraduate education. Not to say that this semester has been easy, but the difference is probably a shift in emphasis: the point of my effort is to benefit my writing, rather than to receive a degree. After eight weeks my excitement remains and my writing has improved. I think this is working.

In ENGL 373A, “Survey of British Literature from Beowulf to 1660,” we have arrived at the strange world of England in the sixteenth century. One has only to read the introduction to the ninth edition of The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Volume B: The Sixteenth Century  and The Early Seventeenth Century to put today’s world and its issues into perspective. The threads that tie the Old World to modern America are prominent stitches to be explored reverently with fingers, before picking and pulling to untie them. Why, I’m asking myself this afternoon, are there still pockets of this awful place even today? Is William Gibson’s famous quote “The future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed” a tenet of history? Maybe the chasm between the best world and the worst world grows wider over time, even as all worlds move forward. In our time, technology spreads rapidly to where even the worst poverty lies, but it has also already reached places where archaic notions of how women and children, for example, should be treated still exist. Are we a globalized world, and better off, or are we a hall of mirrors, reflecting in each pane the either our happiest dreams or our most frightening nightmares?

This is my education now, where reading about literature makes me question the impact of technology, and the horrors of the past frame exquisite accomplishments in writing (my favorite so far is Doctor Faustus, the play written by Christopher Marlowe.)

I’m forty years old and maybe I finally know how to learn.

Meanwhile, I write: journal entries (welcome!), essays and literary analysis for class, and fiction. Yesterday in ENGL 304, “Intermediate Fiction Writing,” the class critiqued my latest short story, “Horrible Daughter”. The critiques were generally favorable and the suggestions I received will indeed make for a better work. That my story cleaved the class in half according to their sympathies to certain characters demonstrates, I think, the story’s relevance.

I am, in summary, where I want to be. I hope, if you are reading this journal entry, you find it interesting.