Saturday, January 31, 2009

Twenty-Five Things

Rules: Once you've been tagged, you are supposed to write a note (on your wall, go to "Notes" in the top row of tabs) with 25 random things, facts, habits, or goals about you. At the end, choose 25 people to be tagged. You have to tag the person who tagged you. If I tagged you, it's because I want to know more about you! (or b/c I want to see what you come up with)

A Likable, Active Character in an interesting setting.

John was "Corvallis Nice," which was similar to but different from "Japanese Polite."  Corvallis, at least the Corvallis he grew up in, was a place where you didn't come out and say 'no.'  You didn't talk about cancer, diabetes, out-of-wedlock pregnancy, or being gay, either -- unless you unpacked a toolkit of euphemisms first.  Unlike Japan, Corvallis had no hilarious books by Dave Barry explaining how the Japanese communication style was inspired by politeness.  And although it must not be true, in John's childhood memories, everyone was white.  Corvallis children had to learn social conventions by osmosis, and he suspected that "Corvallis Nice" was an outgrowth of a syndrome he'd labeled in his high school days as "Corvallis Smug."

He studied his husband, Mark, who was "New York Loud."  If pressed, John would say, "New York Direct."  On a trip to visit Mark's family, John retreated from the raucous game of Trivial Pursuit and made his way to the television room in the back.  The TV was off, the lights were low, and he found the spouses of Mark's family sipping tea and exchanging quiet conversation.  A light went off in his head; "They've all married 'Corvallis Nice' people."  
"Awh!" Mark said sometime later, "you're all instigators."

"Oh look!" John pointed out an illustration in a childhood book to Mark.  "There's Miss Kitty in the Riverbend parade; I always sort of admired Miss Kitty."  
"John," Mark said, "You're supposed to identify with John Mouse, who rides a wind-up toy car.  
"Well, yeah; I kind of did that, too."  
"You can't fool me; you really wanted her crown and to ride on a float in a white dress."

John sat back for a moment and wondered about his childhood.  If, at age eleven, he couldn't consciously desire Captain Kirk's sweaty, shirtless body, would becoming like Mr. Spock enable him to sublimate inarticulate, forbidden desires?  Naw, pretending to be a Vulcan insulated him from the emotional barbs of his middle-school peers.  Besides, being able to Mind Meld and do the Vulcan Nerve Pinch was pretty darn cool.  Not to mention the techno-toys.

John wrote.  In high school English class he wove the week's vocabulary words into a chapter for a semester-long serial.  He wrote a spoof of Dante's Inferno.  He wrote lots of bad poetry.  His senior year,  he started keeping a journal, and continued the process into college.  Those things ought to be pretty funny by now.  In college he wrote a spoof essay on Antigone, and a spoof of the Song of Roland.  And he discovered e-mail.  Somehow, the medium of e-mail swallowed his writing output, channeling it into missives  sent to friends and relatives.  Sort of like a message cast out onto an electronic sea.  
They call it "blogging" now.
Professional writers warn about the seductive nature of e-mail and blogs.

But this is supposed to be a narrative.  This is supposed to be writing.  There's a hopefully likable character (John) in an interesting setting (oh, wait!).  
Eugene was the Hippy and Tie-dye capitol of the world.  On good days, John said, "Eugene is the kind of place where artists live because folks with part-time jobs can afford to live here."  On bad days, John repeated a joke he heard once, "Q: Why did the Hippy move to Eugene? A: Because he heard there wasn't any work."
On good days, he liked the cool grey overcast and the romantic fog.  On bad days, he lamented that the Metropolitan Museum of Art was three thousand miles away and had to make do with surfing to the Museum's web site.  
Sometimes he wondered what "New York Nice" or "Corvallis Loud" would be like.

A precipitating event creates a problem which threatens something the character loves and which the character tries to solve with common sense and only makes things worse.

John entered Reed College with the intention of entering the 3-2 physics/engineering program.
At Reed, he read Sherry Turkel's book, "The Second Self."  In it, a young girl, typing on a word processor, wrote, "The computer allows me to erase my mistakes.  It helps me be perfect."
Sherry Turkel spoke twenty years later at the University of Oregon.  "Cell phones," she said, "have tethered us to our community.  A young person today experiences something and then posts an instant message about it.  Growing up has changed focus from the question 'what do I feel about something?' to 'what do my peers feel about something?'."  
John graduated Reed with a BA in Psychology.  He stayed an extra year working for Reed's Academic Computing Department.

For a while, John worked at the Carleton College Computer Center.  He joined a text-only bulletin board group, called "The Fillard Stories."  Authors, mostly Carleton undergraduates, took turns writing chapters in the narrative.  The stories were meta-fiction; most of the characters were avatars of the authors.
Carleton was in Northfield.  "Northfield Nice" made "Corvallis Nice" look like "New York Direct."
When he first moved to Northfield, the most common questions asked of him were, "Are you married?" and "Are you a student?"  
John wound up with three avatars in the Fillard stories.  They did things John couldn't -- like fly.
Eventually, two of the avatars merged into one and then became a machine.

For some time, John wrote fantasy weddings.  There were at least six.  One was a Hippy wedding in a field; another was a Goth Wedding (before there were Goths); still another was performed entirely in the dark, with everyone wearing dark clothes and glow-sticks (before there were raves).
"Here," said John, rustling around a pile of papers and files.  "I've got the weddings here."
"Weddings?" asked Mark.
"Yeah, I wrote a bunch out.  People liked them; they thought the were romantic or funny.  I thought they could help us plan ours."  He shifted through a stack of old poetry.  
"Um, John," said Mark, "Doesn't it strike you as a little odd that you were writing these things and you weren't even dating anyone?"
John moved to Arcosanti.  
He fell into the habit of asking the moon for a lover.  Starting in May, when the full moon sailed over the Sonoran mesas, he'd slink out of his apartment and make his way to the pool.  The white rails surrounding the concrete deck gleamed; shadows softened the basalt cliff on the pool's north side.  Furtively, he slipped off his clothes and dove into the still reflection of the moon.  Public nudity was technically Against The (unwritten) Rules and he didn't want to be caught.
Ripples from his passage painted lightning-like patterns on the bottom of the pool.  Seen through the water's surface, the moon was a white light behind a silver fishnet of wavelets.  He breached, whipping his hair and water out of his face.  
"Hey moon," John whispered, "send me a lover."  
Mark broke into the narrative again.  "Did it work?"
John grimaced and looked at the ceiling.  "Uh, not really."
"And you tried that for how long?" Mark asked.
John changed the subject.

The concrete structures disappeared from John's rear-view mirror as he drove away from Arcosanti.  It was instructive living in someone else's vision, but his internet access there was spotty.  Decades later, he still dreamed he was in the prototype arcology of Italian architect, Paolo Soleri; in the dreams, his flight from Arizona was leaving soon, but the airport was a very long and very rocky road away.

John put on his crown and typed into the computer:  "Mirror, mirror, on the wall..."  It occurred to him that the mirror might be one of those psychology mirrors like the ones they had at Reed College.  He brought his eyes closer to the screen as if to catch the motion from any shadowy figures on the other side.
But the screen only showed a shadowy figure when it was turned off:  himself.
The bed creaked and covers rustled.  "What are you doing?" asked Mark.  "Go to sleep."

Second Try:  The character tries to fix this worse situation and digs her or himself in deeper.

Mark looked over John's shoulder as John pulled back his hair and gazed in the mirror.
"Trust me," said Mark.  "I have four sisters, and every night before the prom they were crying because their hair was ugly.  You don't want to be worrying about your hair when you get your award."  
John released his hair and it cascaded past his shoulders.  "Are you sure?"
"How many Bad Hair Days have you had lately?" Mark asked.
John sighed.  The electric shears waited in the bathroom.

John's stomach growled during the writers' seminar.  He been writing under a tight deadline and had neglected to eat anything other than breakfast, almonds, crackers, and carefully timed Pepsi all day.  He thought dinner would be right after the deadline, but it (dinner) had been moved back to make room for a marketing seminar.
"It's very important to have a presence on the web," said the presenter.  "You need a web page of some sort and you need to develop a fan base.  In order to do that, you have to update your web pages regularly to keep your fans coming back."
John's first professional sale was "Mask Glass Magic," an urban fantasy set in Eugene, Oregon.

"Give a man a mask and he'll tell you the truth," wrote Oscar Wilde.  These words remind John of the passage in Jane Yolen's collection of essays, "Touch Magic" -- in it, she commented about the power of mask pins in Venetian society.  A Venetian wearing a mask pin on their lapel is effectively incognito, and Yolen marveled at the mask's power to proclaim, "I am not I."  

John read a Twitter post from David Pogue, a technology writer for the New York Times.  David Twittered that he had the hiccups and asked for a cure.  Many fans Twittered back with various cures.  A half hour later, David thanked everyone and confessed that he was demonstrating Twitter in a seminar.  Many accused him of crying wolf.  John couldn't help but think that David had somehow threatened his fans' virtual selves -- the fans saw themselves as caring people, and they had an image of themselves as helping David.  David betrayed their virtual self-images by revealing that he (inadvertently) fooled them.
Or possibly they felt as if they had been cast by Pogue as the glyphed characters enslaved by the bad guys in Vernor Vinge's "A Deepness in the Sky."

John wondered if this was real writing.  He wasn't sure that he could make this piece work commercially; maybe he could make it work in a small literary press.  Writing always seemed to come down to the dichotomy between "art" and "sales."  He reminded himself that this piece was destined for a web page, which probably fell under the category of "marketing."  
John shrugged, and endeavored to make the language as clear as possible without betraying anyone.

Do-or-Die:  Thinking out of the box, the character comes up with a solution and risks death (or at least the destruction of the cherished object) to make things work.

Mark crossed his arms.  "You're not going to write about our sex life, are you?  Because I don't want my saintly mother to have to read about it on the internet."
"Well..." John considered -- and then imagined how icky he'd feel reading intimate things about his own parents.  "Hmmm, can I make stuff up?"

The stars wheeled in the sky and he was falling with them.  
When the philosophers wrote of divine madness and gold they were drunk.
He came home with inspiration burning in front of him and he raced to capture the word that was written in his brain onto the screen.  But he felt the drunkenness floating away from him and it was difficult to see the burning logos.  He had to come across it sideways, like looking at a star with his peripheral vision.  He sacrificed uncounted brain cells for the following:
"I am the wondering at the stories I tell myself.   I am the map I am writing.  I am addiction. I am lost.  I am the sound of myself.  I am the mask that falls off to reveal the smooth surface of another mask.  I am the darkness behind the mirror."
The gold of the evening turned to mud in the morning.

"Everybody thinks they're original," said Mark.

"Would you be interested," asked the salesman from his booth, "in this nano-tech mosaic?"  He held up a foot square matrix of small, white tiles.
John was intrigued.  Usually the Eugene Saturday Market featured tie-dye or blown glass.  "Hey, look Mark."  
"Just stand here," said the salesman, "and, viola!"  The white tiles fractured and pigmented.  John's head and shoulders appeared in the mosaic.   "Each tile is a little nanobot camera.  They take your picture, then talk amongst themselves to make your likeness."
"Cool," said John.  "But can I --"
"And that's not all," said the salesman.  He picked out a tile.  "And it's durable.  The bots can regenerate themselves from the dirt in your home to replace any that get lost."
"Oh," said John.  "I'm having a Bad Hair Day; can I take a new picture?"
"Yes; and if you want to go back, the 'bots will remember the way you used to look."
John turned to Mark.  "What do you think?"
Mark shook his head.  "We already have a lot of stuff in our house.  What are you going to give up in order to have it?"

John erased words from slips of paper and put the papers into a metal box.  He buried the metal box late at night.  No one would ever see those words.

He re-read the instructions and saw that he was supposed to tag twenty-five people.  He wasn't going to do that on the grounds that it was a kind of informational pyramid-scheme.  The people behind the mirror were trying to distract him with his own image to see what he would do and whom he would betray.  

Conclusion:  Someone says, "He's dead, Jim" or "And they lived happily ever after."

Undoubtedly, someone would confuse Life and Art and be miffed or feel left out.  That wasn't his intention, and he offered preemptive apologies.  

At the end of the Symposium, the guests smashed the earthenware urns that had once held the wine and each took a piece as a memento of the night.
"Hey," said Mark.  "What's with all the smashing?  Who's going to clean this up; that's what I want to know."
"But it's Interstitial Art," said John.
"Well, listen, Art-boy; smashing urns doesn't get any stories finished -- so get to work!"

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