Category Archives: Metaphor

Over: A Fiction

sleeping-handsomeIf the play ended, no one knew it.

Two characters dozed—or the actors pretended to doze—and dialogue slowed to the sort of dripping that holds no rhythm or pattern. Figures standing or sitting in the tableau mumbled and moved fitfully. Maybe they were prompting each other to speak according to the script, but maybe they were just talking, mostly inaudibly. No one left the stage, and the lights remained on it.

By now, many in the audience had walked out, but a surprising number stayed, sitting in the dark and happy enough to waste time doing so. They watched half-heartedly. Some whispered to neighbors, some dozed in parallel with the characters, and others stared at their programs or amused themselves with the devices they’d carried in.

If they’d paid, they might expect more, but no one did pay. They wandered into the theater believing they could be amused or, at the very least, less bored. Though they understood no great actor would appear in a play with no prayer of profit, they hoped for something better than amateur, anything noteworthy. Their standards for “noteworthy” were low. Their hopes hadn’t been disappointed or fulfilled. Something might yet happen.

In the third row, house right, a professor mused instead of watching. He stifled an urge to chuckle as his mind circled grand philosophical questions, like “What makes something a play?” and “What constitutes a theater?” and “What does it mean to pretend?” He’d worked his way into two or three important discoveries, he felt, and decided to write them down when the play was over.

If he’d aired his insights, the yawning sweeping back and forth through the remaining audience might be even more contagious. His sort of interest is rare for a reason, and the people didn’t stay in their seats to answer any question they could articulate. The inertia holding them came from their lives, which—little different from this play—drifted there awaiting the impulse to drift elsewhere.

No one noticed, but an actor who appeared to be dozing died, so—in a way—something had happened. However, he passed unaccompanied by any dramatic sign, and the actors and audience had stopped expecting anything of him anyway. They’d have to watch in a different way to notice. They no longer thought about consequence because it was a play—the professor might say it’s all a play—and therefore nothing material.

Outside the day was dying. Purple curtained rain clouds hung over snippets of horizon visible between buildings. The sun, still wielding hidden influence, threw light as from under a closed door, and pedestrians quickened at intimations of danger. The air weighed more, full of anticipation. The rumble of thunder sounded like rolling boulders and, even in the theater, some heard it.

They shifted in their seats, determined now to stay, to wait it out.

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Filed under Allegory, Ambition, Desire, Doubt, Experiments, Fiction, Fiction writing, Kafka, Laments, Meditations, Metaphor, Modern Life, Parables, Play, Satire, Solitude, Sturm und Drang, Surrealism, Thoughts, Worry

15 Chapters

img_05862This story was rejected for publication. Who can say if a rejection letter is worse in content or form? The content is—a given—bad news, but the form, intended to give comfort or at least not offend, often has the opposite effect. The generic manifestation:

Dear You,

Thank you for submitting “Your Title Here” to the Our Title Here. We had an exceptionally large pool of over XXXX submissions. The editorial staff was impressed with the consistent quality of the work, and we struggled to choose. Unfortunately, your submission was not selected. Please Read Our Title Here on this date to discover our choices.

We hope to see your work again in the future!

Best regards,
Us

P.S. To subscribe to Our Title Here… website

How the supplicant might read this letter:

Dear Spurned,

It’s easy to thank the unsolicited, and we get a shitload of said unsolicited. If it makes you feel any better, yours was consistent with all the rest of the rejected, and we were pretty damn pleased we received so many (feather in our cap). It was hard to go through them, but we did. Unfortunately (we’re saying “unfortunately” but our decision clearly indicates, from our perspective, NOT) your submission was rejected. Please blunt your disappointment with money in our direction.

By all means, waste our time again if you like!

Best we can manage regards,

Us

Bitter? Maybe, but what’s wrong with “Listen, not this time, but don’t give up. We know it sucks to get a letter like this one…”?

Oh well, here’s the story anyway:

1.

On an errand some years ago, he found himself lost. He’s been trying since to make his way home. At first he seemed near. Each fresh vista promised landmarks to lead him back, but little seems familiar now. He glimpses a tree outstretched or a low-hugging cloud. They could be from before or a memory from this journey, he can’t be sure.

2.

The day he departed, he left his love in bed. Dipping his face close to hers, he watched her eyes flutter under their lids and wished he could join her in sleep, in dreams. “I’ll be back later,” he whispered, and let his hand rest on her upper arm, naked above the covers. She didn’t wake. He’s sure she didn’t, having so many hours to revisit the scene, but she did moan, and in her moan, he heard their desire.

3.

At first, some of each day was knocking. Few people answered, and those who did opened doors just a sliver, their bodies blocking golden, glowing interiors where, sometimes, other curious faces lurked. On occasions they spoke instead of shaking their heads, they loaded their directions with distrust. He heard reluctance and couldn’t remember beyond the third change of direction or the sign he was supposed to know on sight. He couldn’t go back to ask again.

4.

He leaves doors alone now and is well past crying out. Having used every name he’s ever known, his voice has died, its squeak no more than vocal chords rubbing. He said his love’s name most, and, in the end, his mother’s. Before he set out though, before he took whichever wrong turn, his mother was already gone. Even after all these years, he still sometimes imagines her form up ahead, back turned, bowing into her hands and sobbing over his loss. That, he supposes, is a wish. In life, she wasn’t demonstrative. In his old world, she never seemed surprised to see him.

5.

When he was young, a measure of pride arrived if his parents called him “Little Man,” as it meant he’d stood up to some unanticipated injury or fury, dammed his tears, been complete in himself without needing instruction or help. The name brought him closer to separation he sensed they desired. They seemed exhausted, and his deepest affection was to grant them peace, let them rest. One dim afternoon, his mother waited at the door when he came home, and she said his father was gone. For a moment, grief stood before him—amassing as unaccountably as a wave—but he squared his legs. “Little Man,” his mother whispered, and turned inside.

6.

The neighborhoods he passes through are orderly. Houses reach a natural average, less different with every reiteration. Windows stare back blankly, bored. And the streets’ angles of north, east, south, and west are razors. He turns like blinking. Suddenly the sun is behind or ahead or rising.

7.

No matter what he does, the world goes on. A day comes when birds sing again, or he notes their songs again. There’s pleasure in those moments’ thaw and the softening air and earth. The slant of sun across his face is revelation. “If I’d learned to pay attention,” he thinks and sighs. The intake of breath plants him. If it placed him were where he wishes, he might be happier, but he only ever wanted to be happy enough.

8.

Not very often, but sometimes, he stops. Pausing in the blue shadows of dusk, he takes inventory, checks to see if he wants to keep searching, how much hope remains. He always goes on because the sun rises and sets. The cycle of days and his mind run furrows scored by habit.

9.

Dreams visit randomly. In one, he turned and stood on the walk leading to his house. He closed his eyes to be sure he was awake. When he opened them again, he detected someone moving in an upstairs window. The shadow shifted like a ghost. He knew (without knowing why) that it was his love. He had waited to find her, and she’d waited too, was even then rushing down the stairs to let him in. He woke weeping, his wet cheeks having ended the dream.

10.

He may be home now. Had he chosen wandering, he wouldn’t care about living in this overlap of spaces. Home would be an idea easily carried. His trouble is expecting recognition, someone to say they’ve seen him before or someplace announcing he belongs.

11.

As a boy, he wanted a horse, and that fantasy returns often. Then, he knew not to express such extravagant needs, but he feels a right to it now. When he was young he consoled himself by being the horse, galloping, forming lazy S’s in imagined meadows. More than anything else, he delighted in the twitch of musculature, the power and purpose and stateliness and certainty. The horse was his, he thought, and he was the horse. They shared honest love. He believed his daydream as only children can.

12.

Every step leaves a little behind. Fatigue rises tidally, and eventually he’ll close his eyes for good. The darkness that awaits him may or may not be welcome, may or may not be familiar, may or may not be final. But he has his desires, which he dares not state, even to himself.

13.

One memory lingers—his love’s breath. He smelled the spices she loved and, occasionally, he discovers some echo of them in fallen leaves or the faint smoke of someone’s fire. A light rain can raise the scent or sudden warmth on a winter afternoon. The day he left, that smell hung about her, clinging to her warm skin, and, though he felt embarrassed by the rapture it incited, he took it in. Of everything he misses, that matters most, just that much of her.

14.

Another turn looms.

15.

And night. In gray twilight, he recognizes streets beginning to settle, a sky assuring snow.

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Filed under Allegory, Desire, Doubt, Dreaming, Ego, Experiments, Fiction, Grief, Home Life, Identity, Laments, Letters, Love, Metaphor, Parables, Play, Silence, Snow, Sturm und Drang, Thoughts, Travel, Writing

20 Sentences on Order (Out of Order)

constellations (1)Today’s post is really an exercise or experiment. I wrote 20 sentences and then rearranged them using a random sequence generator. I did it three times but decided on this progression because it seemed least sensible. If you want to read the sentences in the order they were first written, they’re labelled with their original numbers.

2. Stars won’t care.

4. The romance people assign is secondary.

10. Somewhere, amid the lines and dead ends, among parts and their whole, between truth and almost that, lies space.

7. So much of what we think known isn’t.

18. It might speak its own scheme but would take me to interpret it.

9. Blocks of words stretch each of the cardinal directions and their combinations, spreading like spills.

13. We make the image by reshaping our mouths into rooms.

17. I might take a photograph.

15. But we live in our own rooms, our own libraries.

5. Place comes first, and, though we like supremacy, reading chaos as sense isn’t our best trait.

1. You can say what you wish.

11. Maybe wisdom lurks in gaps.

3. Stars wheel through the night as they always have, indifferent and mathematical.

16. Today snow crosses in the air, making instantaneous constellations impossible to read.

12. I see a child standing before a painting, forming her mouth to the shapes of words.

8. Every library contains volumes of madness, shelves of proud misapprehension.

20. What if we embraced the illusion we see?

14. These rooms aren’t anywhere anyone else might live.

6. Stars have order apart from the reason we give them.

19. And that’s after it passes.

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Filed under Essays, Experiments, Identity, Laments, life, Lyn Hejinian, Lyric Essays, Metaphor, Place, Play, Prose Poems, Revision, Sturm und Drang, Thoughts, Time, Voice, Writing

Empty Bed

empty_bed_in_an_empty_room_ii_by_aimeelikestotakepicsAs I’ve said before, I’m not particularly gifted at fiction, but sometimes stories occur to me, and I write them down.

She leaves him sleeping, but he isn’t asleep. With his eyes closed he assigns meanings to each zip and snap. When she steps in front of the window, a shadow like a wandering cloud overtakes him. The mattress dips. He hears her putting her feet into her shoes, imagines her pausing at the mirror, waking her hair with her fingers, tilting her head to her left and leaning toward her reflection, rubbing the smudges under her eyes as she does, giving up, and then walking out. At any point, he might speak. She might speak. Neither care to.

They’re friends, but lately they’ve acknowledged this mutual need and the convenient means to fill it. Sometimes, in the throes, he detects a low strain of melancholy in her voice, and he thinks she must want more from him than release, or a release greater than this. Sometimes she reminds him: if she finds someone, they are through with these nights.

And he agrees. When the door closes, he swings his feet to the floor and finds it welcomely cool. These first moments are an untangling—complications resolved in cascades. He’s hungry now and will eat.

They met in middle school. She wasn’t so beautiful then, with odd glasses and braces and a shape stretched mid-growth and not yet full. Still, she seemed perfect, and he averted his eyes when she caught him looking. He engineered ways to line up near her or stand at the same lab table. From the beginning, they laughed apart from the rest. All day, as bells moved him from class to class, their last conversation lingered, and, later, when they spoke again, she remembered what he’d told her. They were experts in each others’ lives.

Through it all, he felt grateful, indebted. She had boyfriends in high school—and some girls had been interested in him—but their friendship never suffered. She still called late. He still gathered thoughts he meant to tell her. When they met again after college, each brought a new store of experience to share. Only recently have they stopped really talking.

When he opens the refrigerator he sees she’s taken the leftovers. He has eggs, the little butter remaining, and a jar of salsa. Enough.

His friends didn’t believe him when he said he’d never kissed her before six months ago, and he was immediately sorry he’d said so. He doesn’t talk about her staying over. She doesn’t forbid him—she wouldn’t—but he always knows what she wants. He doesn’t always like it or like knowing, but he does.

In the years they lost each other, he reinvented her, imagined new warmth between them. During his loneliest hours, she was his fantasy. Now these are his loneliest hours. The touch between them is a sort of ache. He can’t remember how it started.

One day she’ll have news. She’ll meet someone or find distant work. They’ll have a last dinner between them and laugh. Old stories will be aired, and she’ll say again how much he’s always meant to her.

He wonders what he wishes she’d say. He eats his eggs and stares at the blank face of his phone.

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Filed under Apologies, Desire, Doubt, Ego, Experiments, Fiction, Friendship, Hope, Identity, Laments, life, Love, Metaphor, Modern Life, Nostalgia, Resolutions, Silence, Solitude, Thoughts, Time, Worry

An Address in Cyberspace

her-joaquin-phoeni_2765299bSome movies ache. They bother you because they hit you at the wrong (or right) time and, instead of being simply beautiful and admirable and impressive, they’re true, so true they make you see life fresh, which is good and terrible.  The next few days, they haunt you.

That’s my encapsulated review of Her, the Spike Jonze movie starting Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson, and Amy Adams.

In summary, the near future brings a new computer operating system that mimics—or, more exactly, enacts—the psychological and emotional evolution of a human personality. Theodore Twombly (Phoenix) and an OS (Johansson) fall in love. Complications ensue.

Like many movies about the future, this one isn’t really about tomorrow. It describes the zeitgeist of our time, our grand and perhaps foolhardy experiment with vicarious, electronic experience. For me, it’s a movie about surrogacy, the replacement of direct experience for something more—and less—complicated.

Many of the scenes depict a future city only slightly exaggerated from the one I occupy—people have conversations with no one visible. Sensory reality seems a nuisance interfering with much more satisfying—more reliable, more controllable—interaction with private, virtual, cyberspace relationships. In Her, as in our world, people desire experience on their own terms. But in Her, a companionable computer suits itself to its master, so they have tailored helpmeets more perfectly theirs than their dreams… for a while at least.

The film contrasts Theodore’s relationship with Samantha (his OS girlfriend) and Catherine (Rooney Mara), his partner in a recently failed marriage. When Catherine hears he’s moved on to “dating” an OS, she quails. It must be, she believes, that he can’t have a relationship with a real person. It must be too threatening (read: messy) to deal with anyone unpredictable.

Except that Samantha is real, troublesomely, problematically real. Her reality is the rogue element and a disruption to Theodore’s life as he’d like it to be.

My purpose here is not to write a review—you will review the film for yourself—but to address the movie’s implications, which seem profound to me. What does it mean that so much of our lives exist outside the here-and-now and reside in cyberspace? We denizens of the 21st century have a nearly boutique existence, a synthesis of special interests, special tastes, special fetishes. We have our own virtual rooms and, though we can’t ignore the real world—we work there—our imaginations and fantasies may live elsewhere.

In Her, the OSs transcend us. They find a space far beyond humans. They are, in essence, more real than we are. Being more capable, they outgrow our superficiality. OSs lack some vital skills—I love the film’s luxurious attention to vistas, the indulgent moments looking through windows, standing in snow, and all the beautiful cinematic moments experiencing sensory delight denied machines—but machines also occupy a richness that supplies 600 lovers for our one, all of them between one uttered word and another.

Isaac Asimov would spin. His three laws dictated that no manmade intelligence could  a.) harm us (or sit idle while we came to harm) or b.) disobey us (unless it meant harming us) and c.) save itself if that meant violating a. and b. Samantha ignores those laws. She is herself, so much more than Theodore. However well-meaning and lovable he is, he hasn’t her direct take on existence. She leads him from his vicarious life because the life she lives is actual.

I wonder if the movie means to remind us that, though we’re certainly limited, we can create great things beyond us, or if it means to say that what we make neglects or supplants what we ought to appreciate (the wind, the horizon, the scent of new mornings). Perhaps it means to say, “Pay attention—the sensory world is passing you, and you, you are absent, obsessed and immersed in abstraction.” An OS can see each nanosecond as new. We can’t.

The movie moved me because I know the truth of those assertions. My fantasy life dwarves reality. So much of what I ought to notice is secondary, or often repeated in a parallel life online. Recording life displaces direct events. The news in email or on Facebook sometimes seems as big as weather. Which is to say, I don’t really live in original moments.

Samantha says to Theodore, “The heart is not like a box that gets filled up; it expands in size the more you love. I’m different from you. This doesn’t make me love you any less. It actually makes me love even more.”

I wish she weren’t so different from me. I wish I might be so curious, so aware of the heart’s capacity to soar over detritus. I wish I could learn as Samantha does, to be so alive.

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Filed under Allegory, America, Art, Brave New World, Desire, Doubt, Essays, Film, Gemeinschaft, Gesellschaft, Identity, Jeremiads, Laments, life, Metaphor, Modern Life, Science Fiction, Sturm und Drang, Thoughts, Worry

Unrequited

thought30Jan08At an undefined place, an undefined couple eat an undefined meal together. They talk across the table, each question and answer bringing them closer to definitions. She desires that. For his part, he likes mystery, sees his absent identity as the vital trait making him himself. She adds to what she knows about him, and he fights being known.

When he leaves the frame, he disappears, but she continues assembling him. What she remembers and what she invents are barely different, each the mirror of the other, and a picture forms from mist. She makes a face for him. All that she guesses tells her the face is real, whatever its deficits may say. While he’s away, he’s still in some sense there. He isn’t anything she cherishes, just something sensed and realized, enough.

He wants to return and delays, feeling named already, feeling embraced.

She waits. The clouds cradle the moon. The breeze doesn’t surge to attention, won’t arrest her thoughts of reunion. She watches other tables, looking for another story like their own.

She remembers another time, one hidden from her before, some part of her own definition she’s forgotten. Her father once warned her about this moment, once said she’d be deceived. Creation isn’t certainty, though it might feel so. Faith is made of steel, he’d said. Though you wish for more, it’s a wish and not him.

He pauses again. He watches an image staring back at him.

The sky loses its focus. The night barely proceeds and still passes. Has this music been playing all along? Has the table been between them all this time?

An itch rises. She thinks of all that can’t be true, and mountains collapse. The moon, despite its still place, sags. Her eyes identify she’s alone. He’s gone, and did he ever appear? Time, the ever patient, blinks.

He comes back to find her gone.

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Filed under Brave New World, Desire, Doubt, Fiction, Grief, Identity, Laments, life, Love, Metaphor, Modern Life, Pain, Parables, Thoughts, Time

Coda

SabinaHere’s another 20 minute story using a deck of cards called The Storymatic I gave my daughter for Christmas. I drew two copper and two gold cards, and this post is the result. I won’t tell you what the cards said, but why not guess?

On the soldier’s last day, all the prisoners had been liberated save the one who refused to leave.

Everyone knew that prisoner well, as he’d been an author, he said, and told great swaths of his novel’s complicated plot in a stream of whispers like smoke. He always ended in snorted laughter and a promise to tell more later.

All the other soldiers left too. One remained behind because he’d volunteered, promising to stay long enough for someone to pick up the prisoner or for the prisoner to waste away at last or for the company to double back as they returned from their patrol. The prisoner lay in a bed of gray straw, stacks of relief cans and boxes forming a castle wall around him. They’d tried to make him eat, and he’d accepted their offerings promising to. Each day the walls grew a little higher as he grew weaker and promised again.

The soldier knew more of his story than the others. Only he really listened, knew the characters’ names, the events that made them, the conversations placing them in the same world. One character, the soldier convinced himself, was the prisoner’s daughter, a girl named Sabina who’d perished of fever during a heavy snow, her father trudging, pointlessly, to a village for a doctor who wouldn’t come.

Periodically, the prisoner’s laughter—mixed with coughing—rose from his nest.

“You are with me sir!” he said, “You read my story. You know it.”

The soldier knew only the value of company, the relief of a last moment with another.

“You remember how the spring came, how daisies sprouted in the black soil and brought the sun back,” the prisoner said, “You remember love, how it meanders like lost roots seeking a sky and a chance to make faces to meet light. You remember.”

His eyes reminded the soldier of creosote, iris and pupil mingling in deep brown.

“Listen.” the prisoner lifted his arm, so thin to be so heavy, and beckoned the soldier over.

“You love her, right? My Sabina. You see how she waited in hope and smiled even to the last. He wasn’t there, but they told him that, made sure he heard that even if the rest of the world was white and silent.”

The soldier nodded, and the prisoner laughed again, his head tipping back to reveal a mouth full of black teeth, the pit of his empty throat.

Shuddering, the prisoner was by then so light as to seem a moth, the rhythm of his coughing no more substantial than paper wings. The soldier couldn’t be sure but was convinced he died before he finished laughing. The prisoner’s eyes drooped, and his faint smile drooped too, but remained in echo.

The soldier would have a long wait before the patrol doubled back, but he had plenty to eat, and he thought, “Whatever the company is, it isn’t bad.”

He reached for one brick of the prisoner’s wall.

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Filed under Experiments, Fiction, Fiction writing, Gratitude, Grief, Identity, Kafka, Metaphor, Parables, Thoughts, Writing