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Category: Writing (page 2 of 21)

1000 Words – Empty Basement

A day will come when you can give of yourself freely. You will give of yourself generously and selflessly for no other reason than that it is the right thing to do. For no other reason than that you want to. You will have a chance to pay forward all the kindnesses given to you when you were having a rough time, when you were bottoming out, when you really needed a helping hand. But today is not that day. Today is a day to take.

And take we shall.

Today is a day we shall take and we shall take dearly. The world will feel. What will the world feel, you ask? I don’t know. I am just the instrument. These decisions, they’re not mine. I am told to act and I obey. And today, they told me, today the world will feel what it is like to lose. The world will feel what it is like to suffer and anguish and lose.

Do not judge me. I do not make these decisions. I am told what to do and I act. Is that so difficult to reconcile with your notions of free will, of life, of morality? Is it such a difficult thing to believe that I act without considering the ramifications of the orders I am given? To kill a child? To bomb a church? To poison a well? Figuratively speaking on that last one of course. These days, you’d want to go for a large municipal water source. A reservoir, for example. That is the most efficient way to take out an entire population, beyond something like a thermonuclear strike. But those are so crude. So noisy. They lack subtlety.

We like subtlety. I think.

A few days ago an associate of mine—let us call him Bertrand, not his real name but it will suffice—thought that he would have a change of heart. He was given orders in the manner we are given orders, that is, hidden in the newspapers so that no one can trace their source, just like a hundred times before. Just like a hundred jobs before. But this time, Bertrand decided to think about the orders issued to him. He had a change of heart. He took issue with the task at hand.

Poor Bertrand. He was always so conflicted. There had been many times over the years I could see minuscule flickers of doubt dance across his eyes, but he never let them affect his performance. His commitment to our duty had been admirable even by the gold standard set by yours truly. He was a loyal, dedicated soldier who carried out his orders to the fullest extent every time. Except this time.

This is no hiding from the ones making our decisions for us. If an impure thought creeps into your head, they know. Every doubt, every hesitation, every slight misgiving and they know. To survive and thrive, one must become a pawn. Willfulness is your enemy. Let go. Be free. Act without thinking about why.

Bertrand asked why. Why killed Bertrand. Or more accurately, you might say I killed Bertrand, but the truth is that why is the reason he is dead. I was just the instrument. An appropriate word choice too. I made sweet music with Bertrand. I will never forget the great sweeping crescendo we achieved before crashing into silence. I loved Bertrand, but in the end he did not love me. It is the nature of my work, not to be loved, and this time was no different.

They know that we exist to serve and that to serve means not to be loved. It is essential to the human experience to seek love. We are social creatures, by nature, and love is the greatest natural expression of that. We give of ourselves when we love freely and unconditionally. To deny that instinct is to make yourself something more and less than human. A superdemihuman, if you will. That’s kind of funny, right? I just made that up. Feel free to use it later when people ask what happened.

Just a little while now.

Sometimes I remember my family. I remember my family and people I called friends. Do you remember your family? One of the first things they take from you is your memories. They are convinced that remembering will dull your effectiveness. In a lot of ways, they are right. I only assume this. No one has ever told me. I only guess based on what I have lost. My memories. My feelings. My loves. I understand what it is to give and why people do it, but I don’t know what it feels like. I don’t know what anything feels like. Do you remember your mother?

I am excited about what’s coming up. You’re curious, aren’t you? I know you are. I can tell. That is ok. You’ll find out what we have in store for you soon enough, but for now think about when you were a child. Think about the first time you rode a bike. About the first time you fell off that bike. Think about how scared you were. About how badly your knee hurt. About the way your fear intensified when you saw the slick shiny patch of blood seeping down your shin. How was that for you? Did you call out for your mother? Did she come to you?

You would never guess by looking at it, but this earthen floor holds a secret. A very big secret. I received my orders to give this gift to the world in the Sunday Times. Sunday papers always contained the biggest jobs and this was an Easter Sunday paper. Very big indeed.

We’re almost there. Soon you will find out what secret I have kept from you. I think you’ll like it. But first, think about your mother. Think about being a child and wanting your mother near you. Do you feel that right now? If you don’t, you’re about to. I do. I am very excited to give you this gift. Very excited. Because I love you.

1000 Words – Lady Boxers

“Why, Mr. Hardy, I do believe that my lady boxer shall best yours in this contest.”

“Nonsense, Percival! I would wager my pith helmet that my Gertrude will knock the fancy hat off your pugilista this very day.”

“You have my Myrtle confused with some common barroom brawler, sir. I have no doubt she shall be the victor in this contest of fisticuffs.”

“Would you like to make this a little more interesting, Percival?”

“Quite, Mr. Hardy.”

“Let us say that whoever the trainer of the lady boxer who loses this fine match is will be obliged to shear his whiskers and look like some wretched Chinaman unable to grow a fine mustache like my own. Or, in your care, Percival, a beard.”

“I accept your terms, Mr. Hardy.”

“Thank you, Percival.”

“No, thank you, Mr. Hardy.”

“I hope you are prepared, Percival. I’ve brought along this white bucket and towel for when Gertrude defeats your unkempt Myrtle.”

“Unkempt, sir! You have crossed the line!”

“Unkempt, Percival. Look at the crudeness with which she applied the detail to her skirt. No man with functioning eyes would claim that to be the work of a fine seamstress.”

“The gall, Mr. Hardy! I might also comment on the utter lack of decoration on your Gertrude’s dress! Or do you consider her black sash the finest of French fashion?”

“Simplicity is in the vogue, Percival. We are entering an age when needless decoration will be a thing of the past. You look on Myrtle’s poor embroidery and see elegance, where as I, a man of the times, see the old fashion. She resides in the past, my loyal servant.”

“Your father never would have stood for such words, Mr. Hardy. No, he was a man of great tact and kindness. You do his memory a disservice.”

“Percival, this era of Victoria as Queen, long may she reign, is nearly at an end. Why, soon it shall be the twentieth century and the British Empire has never been stronger. We must look to the future, not only in the way we clothe our lady boxers, but also in our attitudes toward change. We have great steam engines now! Miraculous balloons that float delicately upon the air! Coal for every family that can afford it and jobs for the children of the families that cannot! Percival, do you not see we are living in a gilded age? That we are living on the very precipice of the future?”

“Mr. Hardy, I must confess that you have lost me here.”

“What I am telling you, Percival, is that you and your Myrtle are woefully out of touch with the times. You are much like those giant lizards being dug from the earth by intrepid British explorers.”

“If I did not know better, Mr. Hardy, I would venture that you were trying to insult me.”

“Never, Percival. I only seek to express that you shall never win this wager of our, for your fighter has no chance of defeating mine. Surely you’ve heard of the Chinese Wu Shu?”

“No, sir, I have not.”

“Heavens, Percival!”

“My apologies for my grave misstep, Mr. Hardy.”

“Do see that you take measures to correct this, Percival. Anyhow, Wu Shu is a barbarous oriental fighting technique much too base for a good British gentleman like myself. However the study of this technique is not unlike dancing and I’ve found a great many women are quite adept at it. And when this ‘dance-fight’ is incorporated into a lady boxer’s repertoire of moves, I do find she becomes significantly more formidable. Would you like a demonstration?”

“No, sir, I consider the use of heathen knowledge to be a blight on our fair contest and tantamount to cheating. Indeed, if I did not know you to be a good Christian man, I would suspect you of indulging in the Devil’s handiwork.”

“Oh, Percival, you are so very superstitious. These are the Chinese we are discussing, not some heathen darkies from Africa. Have some sense, man. The Chinese may be no better than vermin, but heathens they are not. All right, granted, I will allow that some of them may be heathens, yet I know a good many Christian Chinese in Hong Kong who can prove to be quite white in their disposition. And those people do know their way around a duck.”

“If I believe you allow your Gertrude to execute some of your…what did you call it? ‘Woo shoe’ arts, I will consider you a scoundrel and scab, sir, and accuse you of foul play.”

“But, my man, that is the beauty of Wu Shu. You will never know. I defy you to call out Gertrude’s Wu Shu moves when she employs them on the manly countenance of your Myrtle, for she does resemble a man of poor breeding even when she is dressed in her finest.”

“Sir!”

“Where did you find her, Percival? On the docks lifting crates onto a ship bound for India?”

“Well, I never! I will have you know, Mr. Hardy, that Myrtle is the daughter of my late brother Albert. I have raised since she was a child. She was a childhood playmate of your cousin Gertrude there.”

“I do say, Percival, I never knew that such a homely little girl would grow up into such a homely man.”

“You wound me, Mr. Hardy.”

“I vow not to cut your face as I shear your beard off later, Percival. I shall treat you like the most delicate of spring lambs as I remove your whiskers. Your wife will not recognize you when I have finished.”

“My wife has been in the grave these three years past, Mr. Hardy.”

“Oh, yes, quite. I do now recall. Be that as it may, were she alive today, Percival, she would not be able to recognize you.”

“Yes, sir.”

“You would do well to continue to agree with me, Percival.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Let us get this little match on, shall we?

“Yes, sir.”

In a lady boxing match for the ages, Myrtle defeated Gertrude in 10 rounds by technical knockout. However, instead of honoring his end of the wager and allowing Percival to shave his whiskers, Mr. Hardy accused Percival and Myrtle of incest and they were both hanged by the local constabulary.

Introducing “1000 Words”

Recently I have been toying with the idea of starting a new feature here on The Black Laser called “1000 Words” wherein I take a photo I find on the internet and write at least 1000 words inspired by it. It’s that simple. The photo can be of anything at all and the writing can be anything at all, but it must be inspired by the photo. And with Tumblr and reddit and Facebook and all those things, there is no short supply in random weird photographs to inspire me to write.

If you have been keeping up (you have, haven’t you?!?!), you are aware that I am slipping behind on my 100,000 word quota for this year. Bad news. But, writing in 1000 word chunks is a great way to start making good progress on the overall quota. And who knows what will come out of these little exercises? I might be inspired to write something great well beyond the scope of that particular piece. I might just write a funny 1100 word story. I might write a steaming pile of crap. Who knows?! Only time will tell what “1000 Words” will yield.

The idea is a riff on the old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words (duh). You’ve heard it, I’ve heard it, we’ve all heard it. I shopped the idea around a few of friends to see what they thought about it and the response was universally and overwhelmingly positive. Always a good sign, eh?

With that, I announce the beginning of “1000 Words” here on The Black Laser. I’ve already got one written which I will post after this and two more photos lined up.

Enjoy! And if you find a particularly choice photo you think I should write about, send it to me!

A Letter To The Black Laser

Dear The Black Laser,

I would start this off with pleasantries and an inquiry into how you were doing, but we both know that is totally unnecessary. We both know how you (we) (I) are doing, so let’s just skip to the meat of this letter, shall we? Ok.

The Black Laser, my old friend, my alter-ego, my weird internet outlet, I am growing incredibly bored of you. For years you have been a place where I can share whatever random crap I’ve been thinking about or enjoying or learning about. I really liked that. It was nice to come here and think, “You know what? I bet someone out there would want to watch a death metal video today because I want to watch a death metal video today. Let’s find one.” This site has more than 1100 examples of exactly that train of thought. “Maybe someone out there will enjoy this piece of ephemera as much as I do. Share time!”

My regular readers will recognize that over the last few months the regularity and quality of my posts have dropped. Indeed, they are dropping still. Currently on the front page there is a post dating from March 30. That means that I have written fewer than 8 posts for all of April. Posting this letter will push that March entry off the front page, but the point still stands. I am just not writing that much here these days. It has not been some conscious decision, but just a lack of joy in the process. I am uninterested, unfulfilled, uninspired.

I don’t hate you, The Black Laser. I am just having a hard time these days mustering up the energy to contribute to you regularly. I am not thinking of funny things to rant about. I am not able to give a damn about most of the music I am finding these days. Work is slow. Life is slow. My brain is messy. And you have been a casualty of that, my old friend. You are not the only aspect of my life suffering, but you are a visible, public one and the fade has been clear.

What does this mean for your future, The Black Laser? Nothing really. This is not a good bye, but a “don’t get too excited because it’s going to be slow going for a bit.” Even writing this letter is like pulling teeth. I am fighting just to finish it and not give up in the middle and let it slide. Just terrible.

I’m sorry.

Sincerely,

Me.

A Letter to the MTA Regarding the Reopening of the 7 Connection at Court Square

Dear The MTA,

Months ago, after spending many months prior building the connection between the 7 train and the E and M trains at Court Square in Long Island City, you decided you then needed to close the brand new same-station connection to do track work on the 7. That was, what, maybe December of last year? People were furious. And understandably. You inconvenienced riders for months to build the connection and, as soon as it was open and they’d breathed a sigh of relief, you closed the damn 7 train at Court Square. Fuck that!

Signs sprouted all over the station informing people that the track work would be finished April 2nd, 2012. No one believed you. I mean, I didn’t take a poll or anything, but I am going to assume no one believed you. Why would they? You don’t exactly have a sterling track record in this area. We lived with exiting at 21st St and walking over to the other 7 stop for months. It was a pain, but we dealt. How the hell else are people supposed to get into town?

We heard the announcement every single time we stopped at every single Court-bound G stop. There was no 7 service at Court Square. You need to get off at 21st and walk over to Hunters Point. So on and so forth ad nauseam. It became like a little song, like the regular “Stand clear of the closing door” announcements you hear so often that they cease to be words and become a collection of sounds, meaningless, musical, abstract.

And then, April 2nd happened and the 7 train at Court Square started running again exactly as you had promised. I was absolutely amazed. Amazed. And surprised. And shocked.

And that’s what this letter is about. I am not writing to express gratitude to you for opening on time, when you said you were going to, but to express how thoroughly disappointing it is that I am amazed, surprised, and shocked that you did something on time, as you initially claimed. Fuck that. Doing things on time and on schedule should be the base. Yes, I understand that sometimes projects get out of hand or things change and deadlines push and expectations have to be shifted, but that should be the exception, not the rule. To have me absolutely astounded that you managed to finish a project when you said you were going to is fucking pathetic.

FUCKING. PATHETIC.

I work in a fast-paced industry where deadlines are tight, nights are long, and the work is hard. We will work around the clock to make sure we meet our clients’ expectations because that is how we keep our jobs. If we were to behave as you do, MTA—letting deadlines slip, projects drag on, budgets explode—we would be out on the street without a penny to our names. And we don’t even do anything that actually has real benefit to people! When was the last time you heard someone say, “Man, I couldn’t get to work/school/whatever on time because the advertisements were late.” Never. But how many times have you heard, “Man, I couldn’t get to work/school/whatever on time because the G is down again for some fucking reason and the god damned L isn’t running into Manhattan and the 7 isn’t connecting and for some reason the M doesn’t come into Queens on weekends, so I had to go all the way downtown, then all the way back up, and what the fuck, I hate the MTA.”

I hear that all the time. Literally all the time. I don’t know if you know, but when you use “literally” to describe something what you’re saying is “the words I am using mean exactly what I am saying and in no way am I using metaphor, hyperbole, or any other literary device”. So imagine, MTA, what it means that I hear that literally all the time. Yeah. I know. It’s terrible.

And can you do something about these fucking metrocard bonuses? Why don’t they just work out to an even number of extra rides? It is infuriating to have like 4 extra metrocards in my wallet, each with less than a single fare on them. Get your shit together!

I hate that I have to rely on you.

Sincerely,

The Black Laser.

A Letter To My Gums Regarding Their Excessive Bloodiness

Dear gums,

What the fucking fuck, you guys? Do I not take care of you?! Have I not spent my entire life converting the things I eat and drink into fuel for your continued replenishment?! It’s not like I even brush you super hard! I have a soft bristled toothbrush for fuck’s sake. Do you know how emasculating that is? Do you?!

This is, as we both know, a fairly new issue. I think it started just before the trip to Breckenridge about three weeks ago. One day I’m brushing my teeth fine and dandy, like I have for years, brush brush brush, and the next day any time a toothbrush gets near my mouth I taste that familiar copper flavor of blood and spit rust stained toothpaste into the sink. Real cool, gums. Way to be hypersensitive dicks about it. I’m just trying to keep my fucking mouth clean. Why not help a player out a little?

What’s worse is that it’s not just the toothbrush that makes you bleed, it’s pretty much anything: eating apples, smiling, sucking cashew chunks from between my teeth, laughing, breathing, fidgeting with my tongue, anything. What’s that about? I try to be gentle with you and this is the thanks I get? Fuck you, gums.

And now what am I supposed to do about it? I don’t have dental insurance so a trip the dentist is right out. Ditto for healthy insurance. No doctors or inexpensive prescriptions for me. I suppose I’ll just brush my teeth with a damp microfibre cloth until it seems like you’ve had a chance to heal. Until then, we are not friends. I am sick of spitting blood into the shower. Remember last year, gums, when I had a nosebleed every day for like 3 months? Yeah, this isn’t nearly as bad, but it’s still pretty fucking annoying.

If I didn’t need you as an important barrier between my teeth and my raw, exposed skull, I’d fucking cut you, gums. Get well soon!

Sincerely,

The Black Laser.

Thoughts on Scalzi’s “You’re Not Fooling Anyone”

I’ve read a lot of books about writing. I’ve read books on character. I’ve read books on plot. I’ve read books on structure. I’ve read literary critique. I’ve read about genre, about symbolism, about publishing, about inspiration, about the creative process, about screenwriting, about fiction writing, about novel writing, about short story writing, about all sorts of things. And, in their own minor ways, each has been helpful to me. As it goes. I wouldn’t say that any of them have been truly inspiring, but when have you ever read a book about the mechanics of your craft that blew your mind? Yeah, I can’t think of one either.

A while back I stumbled across John Scalzi’s You’re Not Fooling Anyone When You Take Your Laptop to a Coffee Shop: Scalzi on Writing. I have been a regular reader of Scalzi’s blog Whatever for years and was a fan of his novel Old Man’s War, so when I saw that he had released a book about writing I naturally spent the 5 bucks for the Kindle version. And there it languished for ages as other books came and went and life passed us all by in a torrent of images and sounds and happinesses and sadnesses.

Recently, I was between books and decided to read something from my shelf that was on dead trees which is fine and all, but sometimes I don’t feel like carrying the book with me when I am not taking my backpack to and from work. The advantage of the Kindle is that it syncs with the Kindle app on my phone so even if I leave the device at home, I can continue to read on my phone while riding the train or waiting in a bar or doing whatever the hell it is. That’s not possible with a book on, you know, real paper. While riding the train one morning I decided to start into You’re Not Fooling Anyone. I have a hard time reading more than one fiction book at once, but no problem at all keeping track of a novel and a non-fiction book. Weird, I guess, but it also makes a sort of sense.

You’re Not Fooling Anyone is a collection of articles Scalzi wrote for Whatever between 2001 and 2006 that deal with many aspects of writing, but not with craft. Instead they deal with the lifestyle of a working writer, how to sell fiction, what to expect in the marketplace, what pitfalls to avoid as a working writer, what you can expect when working with publishers and editors, and a whole mess of opinion on the state and future of the market. They cover a whole lot of things that nothing else I’ve ever read covered in a Scalzi’s utterly matter-of-fact, no bullshit, this-is-how-the-real-world-works voice. And I appreciate that.

To explain that, let me digress for a moment. I have never considered myself an artist. I am uncomfortable with that label. I firmly believe that art is for other people to decide and my job, as a creator of things, is to do the damn best job I can on whatever the hell it is I am working on. It doesn’t matter if we are talking about writing or photography or editing video, I always strive to do the best I can at my craft. And that’s the important thing: to me, it is craft. It is no different than a skilled cobbler or builder of homes or tailor. What I do as a creative person is to craft things the best way I know how, to learn from the process, and to try and do even better the next time. I have always, and will always, prefer the term “craftsman” to “artist” and “craft” to “art” when referring to myself. “Art” gets stuck up in the clouds; “craft” is firmly rooted in the real world.

What resonated with me in You’re Not Fooling Anyone is that Scalzi clearly has the same opinion of the writing process I do. Specifically, that it is a craft, not some high-falutin’ higher calling from the muses. It’s not. That’s crazy. It’s no more a higher calling than driving a bus is. That doesn’t mean it’s not damn fun work that can be incredibly satisfying, but it is still work. Work work work. When I read him reiterating my opinions relatively early in You’re Not Fooling Anyone, I suspected that I had found something special. As I progressed, that suspicion was confirmed over and over again. The book is, possibly, the only book I’ve read so far on writing that got my brain buzzing with ideas. Not because he says, “Write this way or that way,” but because he got me thinking about my own writing in a different way by discussing the way he thinks about his writing. That’s the important thing. It’s so easy to get stuck thinking about your work in just one way that you can get mired in it and lose steam. To have someone or something come along and say, “Hey, have you thought about it this way?” is often all you need to work through it. Because that’s what we do, right? We’re creative people and we create, even if, as imperfect meatbags, we sometimes get stuck.

Lord knows regular readers of The Black Laser have read many thousands of words of me rambling on and on about my creative process (or lack thereof), so reading the same musings from someone else is a real kick for me. And makes me want to inflict even more rambling on all you poor sons of bitches.

If you are a writer, you should read this book. If you are a person who makes things that might not be words, you should read this book. If you are not a creative person (WHO THE HELL ARE YOU PEOPLE?) but are curious what the brain of someone who makes a living being creative is like, you should read this book. It’s that good. And it’s incredibly accessible. There are no academic blatherings about post-modernism here, just opinion earned through years of hard work and experience. I sincerely hope we get a second volume of 2007-2012. It’s been five years and I would happily spend another 5 bucks on the Kindle version.

A Brief Review of Kelly Link’s Stranger Things Happen

I cannot stop talking about this book. Kelly Link’s Stranger Things Happen is one of the most moving, masterful collections of short stories I’ve ever read. I literally (read: figuratively) cannot believe how good it is. Reading it even upset me because I am fairly certain that I will never in my life be able to write something this good. It is so good.

I picked up the book one afternoon last summer at Word here in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. It’s a lovely independent book store and if you’re ever in the neighborhood, you should go there and give them your money in exchange for books. Who doesn’t need more books? It was with that thought in mind that I entered Word and browsed through their well-curated selection. Stranger Things Happen was one of the four or five books I bought that day and as soon as it got home it went directly onto my bookshelf and was forgotten. Such is the fate of many books languishing upon my shelves.

After putting down The Girl Who Played With Fire, the second of the dragon tattoo books, which was entirely unremarkable and didn’t warrant my continued attention, I pulled Link’s book off my shelf, dusted it off, and threw it into my bag for the train. I swear I nearly missed my stop because I had my face buried in the book. I didn’t want to get off the train. And I always want to get off the train. I hate the train.

The book contains 11 short stories on all sorts of topics with all sorts of characters (and a lot of cats). They are magical without being ridiculous, difficult without being abstract, feminine without being saccharine, fantastical yet completely real. (Isa, I wrote yours first.) She has managed to blend the real and the unreal into a wholly believable tapestry. The stories are full of mystery and sadness and love and death. I can’t believe you have not already purchased the book. It is SO good.

The quote by Jonathan Lethem on the cover sums the whole thing up quite nicely.

Kelly Link is the exact best and strangest and funniest short story writer on earth that you have never heard of at the exact moment you are reading these words and making them slightly inexact. Now pay for the book.

And guess what? You don’t have to pay for the book! You can download it for free at her website. But I think you should pay for the book because it is amazing and you would be a fool not to support her efforts. I ordered her second collection of short stories yesterday (which is also available for free) directly from their website. Read the book and then come back here and tell me how much you loved it. I loved it. I am sad it is done. However, I intend to do a TBLR of one of the stories. Look out for that.

Thanks for kicking ass, Kelly Link.