Monday, June 30, 2014

Friday, June 27, 2014

Writing as a Gay Man

I've been thinking about writing and the following words--wishes, fears, knowledge, background, experiences and desires--and how they relate to me as a writer who is also a gay male.  Other than occasionally writing gay male characters, I'm not sure how I write as a gay man.  I write women characters, too, and I'm pretty sure that doesn't make me a female writer.

(Pause for gay super-hero madness...)

I stand before my secret Phallic Shrine, which is guarded by a band of taut satyrs, and which I go to to renew my Gay Writer's Pen.  In the pink glow of the shrine, I hold my pen up to the Mystic Gay Phallus and recite:  "By Brightest Day / By Darkest Night / My Gay Body / Brings Great Insight / Let All Who Worship / Writing Trite / Beware My Power / Gay Writer's Might!"  When writing wrongs, those whom I have rescued exclaim, "Ooh! Look at that pen!  You must be... Gay Writer!"  

(Meanwhile, back at the essay...)

My personal gay male story is probably not as a unique an experience as it sometimes feels to me.... I officially came out in 1995, when I was thirty-one (hooray for me, I got to go through awkward dating rituals fifteen years after high school).  As a result the gay narratives of the Baby Boomer Generation feel like they're for characters in an old play, and the gay narrative of Gen Y seems like it's come from some inappropriate party-tunes radio show.

Trying a different tack, I wonder if I can approach being a writer who is gay by asking how I read as a gay man.  Man, that sounds like a Gay Agenda Joke waiting to happen.  

Um, it would be nice to read about gay characters who don't die in car crashes as soon (or just before) they discover their same-sex desire, or who don't die so we can see how the other gay character is sad and noble.  It would be nice to have gay characters who are more than just gay, or who spend time outside of a gay ghetto.  I want my gay characters to be more than "magic gay guys" who exist only to give another (usually straight) character advice and who's sole source of wisdom is that they're gay (Queer Eye, I'm looking at you).  I'd like more stories that are not about coming out, pride, or reminiscences about post-stonewall/pre-AIDS New York City.  And just because there's a gay guy in a story isn't going to automatically make me like it; it has to be a good story.

There... that's enough queer literary theory for today...   

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Dreams, Russ, and Personal Voice

This morning I woke up with a dream.  I only remember the tail end of it -- something about Mark and me walking in Northfield/Astoria along old closed storefronts... 

In the dream, I awoke in our bedroom.  There was classical music playing from KWAX on the radio.  And on the floor of the bedroom, still glowing from last night, was the iron teapot with a tea light in it.  

I'm not sure how I was able to see light through the tea pot, which was pleasantly warm to the touch.  Good thing I didn't start I fire, I thought.  Mark was still asleep so I took it out of the room.  

And then the dream turned into a gardening dream... I was weeding early in the morning.  We had a (not existent in real life) plot in front of the house.  I was using a plastic claw or rake to uproot weeds and snag out dead leaves from around the roots of a small ?maple? and ?flowers?.  I had a brief conversation with with a dream amalgam neighbor, probably about weeding.

I woke up for real with the image of a warm glowing teapot and gardening.

I read more Joanna Russ this week, and her other works aren't speaking to me as strongly as her Kirk/Spock papers.  I was hoping to click with her Lovecraft essay, but I didn't, perhaps because the alien voice interests me more than horror induced by depression caused by the realization that chthonic forces will return the self to the void.  

The work of Russ that I have read is mostly from from 1985, and a lot of it is (surprise!) feminist theory.  The conversation about feminism has changed from thinking about a specific end goal  to thinking about a process or journey, and essentialist notions of discrete genders and orientations have become continuums.  And, although she reports about trying to get a gay male perspective on Kirk/Spock, it feels like she wasn't able to talk to many gay men.

On the plus side, Russ's papers have reminded me that stories have a latent content (heart or symbolic meaning) as well as a manifest one (rockets and dragons).

Russ's image of Kirk and Spock as divine male-male lovers spoke to me very strongly, and while Russ claims her story is written by a woman speaking to other women about egalitarian vulnerability in romantic relationships, her symbolic imagery speaks to this gay man.

Which leads me to questions about my own direction.  Do I need to write gay speculative fiction?  I think the world does not need Yet Another Coming Out Story.  Do I need to write male speculative fiction -- or, better question:  how do I write male speculative fiction as a gay man writing in (as "Women Destroy Sci-Fi" reminds me) a male-dominated speculative fiction market?   

Do I write a story about future men-without-penises, or male AIs, or a fantasy country called Tiresias, where the inhabitants may switch genders?  Oh dear, I think I'm being pulled into writing what Russ called "a dreadful Amazon Utopia" story.

I think the answer is "just write what you're interested in."  Like gardens and glowing, warm teapots.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

More on Russ, Kirk and Spock

Whew. I'm back from the special collections room and another round of Joanna Russ essays.  This time I looked at rough, first, and second drafts of "Ravings of a K/S Addict," written thirty years ago, about, I think,1982 or 1984.

Russ is exuberant at her discovery of Kirk/Spock slash fiction.  After listing about eight attributes of Spock's which are also the attributes of non-traditional women in a male-centered and dominated culture, Russ hails slash fiction it as an exiting new structure enabling women to tell stories in women's language about women's ways of loving and romance.

Russ's essay drafts have energized me.  She breaks down the elements of romance fiction in order to show how they work in slash fiction written by women for women.  She makes astute observations about the differences between male and female writers.  Every other page examines a foundation of fiction's voice, construction, or social impact.  I keep asking myself how each page can be applied to my own writing voice.  It's exhausting.

Near the end of "Ravings", Russ writes that Kirk/Spock slash fiction allows women writers to not have to write on the slant (Emily Dickinson) or against male literature (Charlotte Bronte, Virginia Woolf).  She writes that slash fiction has gotten away from the the process of writing fiction being an "unpleasant awareness of being different or marginal."  And later that Kirk/Spock slash is a Rosetta Stone because "[the authors of it] make their art from the same wishes, fears, knowledge, background experiences and desires as their audience.

The difficulty I have with "Ravings" is the essentialism in it.  For her, Kirk/Spock slash is romance and adventure fiction exploring the notion, what do romantic relationships look like in a universe where one gender is not undervalued nor exploited?  This necessitates a linkage of lists of gender traits which can feel a little quaint, as one woman asked me, "Spock is the woman? Do people still think [in gender binary] like that?"

What's interesting to me is her confession that, as a non-traditional girl who was smart, she could identify as the half-human, half-alien Spock, who was part of both worlds and belonged in neither.  This is exactly the same reason he appealed to me, a non-traditional boy who was smart.  I guess the language of women (and gay men) in the seventies early eighties was the language of alienation.  

I'm not sure that's still as true in 2014.  Back in the 80's, there was a lot of emphasis on "women's ways of knowing," or on exploring gay men as "anandros" (Harry Hay's term for "not-men") or gay men's "lunar masculinity."  My sense is that in the 70's and 80's the identity politics of gender and orientation equality was more about describing what a perfect society would look and feel like, whereas in 2014, there's more of an emphasis on the journey to and the dialog about equality.  Also, this was before e-mail was commonly used; web pages wouldn't exist for about fifteen more years:  the Internet in the United States was a collection of DARPAnet and other fledgling networks.  People were much more isolated from communities, and Kirk/Spock slash fiction was one way to share in a community.  (Russ reports that her phone conversations with another woman about literary theory, women's voices and slash fiction resulted in astronomical phone bills.)

While oppression based on gender, orientation, and perceived gender still exists in the forms outright harassment, and  of wage and marriage inequalities, it seems like mainstream American has assimilated the more palatable aspects of "non-traditional women" and the homosexual community (e.g. "Will and Grace," "Queer Eye," Ellen DeGeneres).  And it seems like LGBTTQ identity has become less about an either/or matrix of qualities and more a continuous space along the axes of social gender, biological gender, and orientation, with a person's expressions a fuzzy cloud instead of a discrete point.  Additionally, the internet has provided virtual community for far-flung folks (there's an essay, "How the Internet Dissolves Perceptions of Regional Difference, or 'Yes, We're All Individuals. / I'm not!'")

Still -- Wishes, Fears, Knowledge, Experiences, and Desires -- sounds like like a useful lens for crafting stories to me.  (Looks over list again...) And I'm pretty sure this is a tarot card spread, too.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Dream: Authors at Arcosanti

Last June 10th, I had a dream:

I had the Arcosanti dream again. A usual, the canyon below Arcosanti was filled with a lake, in a way similar to Crater Lake.  This time it was different because I had come with Mark and various Reed College friends (at least I think Chris C and Darunee W were there).   We were trying to find a space for us to sleep in a bunkhouse, which was a very large wooden room with beds, couches, cabinets, and balconies.  Most of the places had been taken, so our sleeping spaces were scattered within the place.

I went into the Craft 3 Building (a four story tall concrete cube).

Everyone was writing a book.  S. W. was writing one on her experiences dealing with the some white collar crime family she had married into.  T. T. (who bore a suspicious resemblance to Grant Imahara)  was writing a book on architecture and cooking.  He had a terrible idea for his book jacket design, and I remember writing something down on a tablecloth in blue marker (along the ideas that "the image and the title of the book had to work well with the contents").

At least I wasn't stuck trying to figure out how to get back home.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Using Character Emotion to Hide Plot Devices

In honor of Mary Stewart, I re-read "The Crystal Cave."  I'm currently somewhere in the middle of "The Hollow Hills."

Mary Stewart uses deus ex machina at the end of "The Crystal Cave" well.  If you look at the Geoffrey of Mallory version of the Arthur stories, they're pretty messed up, but Stewart manages to salvage the events around Arthur's conception:  With the aid of Merlin, Uther and Igraine are able to conceive Arthur at the expense of Goloris because... God wills it.  It's not an extra-marital cuckolding on the slimmest of technicalities, and Stewart writes Uther's wrath at Merlin over the arbitrariness of the matter so convincingly, that she pulls the reader's attention away from God pulling everyone's strings.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Joanna Russ Kirk & Spock Slash Fiction

I managed to get to the Joanna Russ archives.  I looked through the holdings and saw holdings on HP Lovecraft, something called "Sword and the Poppy" and something called "Kirk / Spock."  I figured I'd start with Kirk and Spock.

The reading room is a wonderfully tall room, with corner molding of pyramids and disks, and old rectangular vases placed on darkly stained bookshelves.  The long wooden tables have foam book stands for holding old books open without straining their spines.  After a short wait, a librarian brought me some boxes and I found the folder I wanted.

I half-expected black and white photos of William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy in Star Fleet garb, or maybe a typed essay of some sort.  What instead came out of folder 13 was a loose collection of yellow legal-sized papers with a longhand draft of a Star Trek story on it.  The line edits and crossed out text gave insight to how she would introduce or develop ideas.

As I read, a very drunk Dr. McCoy walks in on a kinky (OMG!) domination scene (OMG!) between Kirk and Spock (OMG!), who, after four years of working together, have become lovers.  You could have knocked me over with a feather.  The story follows Dr. McCoy's dealing with being the fifth wheel.  The Yesterday's Tomorrow's Homophobia was odd coming from McCoy, especially given the rest of the crew's acceptance.

One particular sex scene (OMG!) near the story's end struck me, as Russ wanted to make a connection with Spock as Pan and Kirk as a Golden Grain God.  Again, the cross-outs in the manuscript were instructive about how she wanted to introduce the idea.  

Russ managed to cast two gay male lovers as pagan gods, had managed to do it without it feeling like one of them was the Goddess in drag or a queer retelling of Lot's Daughters, or an artificial queer gloss over a heterersexual construction.  I'm guessing that it was written after Ursula Le Guin's "Left Hand of Darkness," which would date it no earlier than 1970, but it could be as late as 1980.  [Edit--it appears that Russ was introduced to K/S fiction between "Wrath of Khan" and "The Search for Spock", or 1982-1984.]  Queer Pagan God-lovers were  barely visible in 1985, and I can't imagine someone imagining them in the seventies.  But Russ did.  [Edit--Russ mentions some gay K/S fiction, or at least a story where Kirk and Spock are gay, but it's a tiny minority.]

I skipped the "Alternate Universe Naked Slaveboy Kirk in Chains on Barbarian Vulcan" story and went on to read the draft of the essay, "Women's Pornography and Star Trek." 

Apparently, in the early 1970's there were a number of 'zines devoted to stories written by women, for women, featuring Kirk and Spock as lovers.  They followed a standard romance formula--restraint & reticence, trauma induced holding, crisis, responsibility-shunting circumstance, and a lot of sex--which I recognized in Russ's story draft.  

Russ preferred to call all stories with sex in them pornography, in order to stay out of the "it's not pornography, it's erotica" debate--hence her essay's title.

I was blown away because, apparently, her short story was pornography by a woman for women.  The reading room closed before I could finish Russ's essay, but her reasoning went something like Kirk = Macho Man, Spock = Alien "Not-Man," therefore Spock = Figurative Woman; and therefore, Kirk and Spock's relationship can easily fit--if not more nobly fit--into the framework of a women's traditional romance story.

I'm not sure I agree.  Judging from my reactions as I read the hot throbbing parts, her story worked fairly well as gay porn for me (partially because I took on a Spock persona to survive elementary and middle school, and partially because William Shatner pushed my prepubescent buttons every time he lost his shirt).  But maybe this is one of those manifest content / latent content things, and maybe there's more in the twenty or so pages of Russ's essay that I didn't get to.

I'm sure there must have been some gay male Kirk/Spock slash fiction from the early 1970's, but the only thing I can think of is a passing comment between two characters who had such great sex that think they must have been Vulcans in a mind-meld.  And on additional reflection, gay  smut from the 1970's follows a different formula:  desire, discovery of mutual desire, entrance into a permissive space, slow disrobing, hot throbbing bits, post-coital kiss & summary.  Eighties and nineties, it gets more about safe-sex, caring, and pride.   

So the questions raised are, 1) Are Russ and the authors of 1970's Kirk/Spock slash fiction co-opting depictions of male-male sex to reinforce heteronormative notions of male and female roles in romance?  2) If an author says, "This writing is for women," does that preclude its consumption and enjoyment by a male audience?  3) Is pornography inherently the literature of gender and orientation essentialism?  And, 4) What about Batman and Robin?

Friday, June 20, 2014

More Thoughts on Mentors

Q:  What would a mentor give you that a critique group or writing classes do not?

A:  A lightsaber and some cool Jedi moves.  And validation:   You are a Jedi; you are ready to win the tournament; you are on the right path; you are working with the Tao.  Also, I could do a be-sequined back-to-back glam-rendition of "Wind Beneath My Wings" and "You Raise Me Up".  

Seriously though, a mentor is historically a guide who prods, helps, and initiates so that the world is put into order.  the original Mentor was the Goddess Athena disguised as an old man so she could jump-start the youth Telemachus out of the house to go and find his father, Odysseus, and thus prepare the court at Ithaca for Odysseus' return.  

One difficulty with a critique group is that it can be a fragmented mirror reflecting one's work, or a torn map of the landscape of art, craft, and marketing.   Part of the difficulty with a writing class is they can focus on a particular technique, but without strategies for applying the technique.  I should add that neither a critique group, a class, nor a mentor is a silver bullet that will magically fix one's writing or turn it into a giant pile of cash.

When I imagine a mentor, I imagine Merlin pointing out a rock and saying, "Why don't you try that sword, over there?"  

When I imagine a mentor, I imagine an Oxford don holding an informal symposium in his apartments, with tea and crumpets, and four or five other students discussing things like voice, image, plot and symbolic meaning.  

I imagine someone saying, "I see you're experimenting with lyrical voice, you might want to read so-and-so."  Or someone saying, "[Insert some inscrutable author] is exploring such-and-such, and they're bringing readers along by using [some inscrutable technique that's infuriatingly inscrutable]."  

Or, "I'd like you to meet so-and-so, who is working on something similar to you."  Or "I'm trying to do X-Y-Z; how would you do it?"  Or, "Try this market."

I get frustrated with the whole mentor idea because, one of the roles of a mentor is initiator, and there are certain groups I cannot be initiated into because of [insert personal quality or circumstances beyond my ability to change].

I'm semi-pro writer who writes lyrically, mythologically, queerly, deistically, sensually, imaginatively, romantically, and visually.  I would love to have William Blake be my mentor, except that there's two problems:

The first problem is, as much as I enjoy reading essays and literary critique, when I imagine a mentor, I imagine someone I can have a conversation with.  It's hard to have a conversation with William Blake.

The second problem is that inherent in the paradigm of the mentor is the role of the mentee as The Chosen One.  I don't want a mentor so I can feel like a chosen one.  I don't want to be a chosen one.  

As much as I want my writing to live forever in letters of fire and to be the bane of English Graduates everywhere, I'm satisfied when the images in my head get into the reader's head.  It would be nice and would save time if I had a guide for those instances when it feels like I'm lost in the woods at night and babbling to myself.  

However, no mentor has materialized, so in the meantime it's up to me to prod myself into action, to track authors I admire and try to follow their path, and to initiate myself into my own voice.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Writing, Dreaming, and Faking

Tuesday night I had a dream where I tearfully confessed to a high school acquaintance, "I'm a fake," just before I woke up.  She was sort of disguised as Deanna Troi, but it was obviously S.V., whom I haven't seen since 1983.  The only reason I can think of for dreaming about her was that I'd been reminded about being associate treasurer of my high school student body the previous evening.

Based on the assault of rejection notes I got that day, I'm going to assume that it was my writing--and not my whole life--that my dream-self was traumatized by.

There are some days when I look at the stories that I'm shopping around, and I feel like I'm doing something wrong:  I haven't connected with my voice, or I haven't connected my voice to the right markets.  Or I'm in the wrong narrative tradition, except that narrative is too old fashioned.  It very much feels like "smart kid goes to college and suddenly things aren't so easy anymore."

There are some days when I wish I had a writing mentor.  And some days I get angry at the whole mentoring fairy-tale because it seems like it's arbitrarily for other people who are older, smarter, younger, queerer, etc.  So I have have to mentor myself.  Which is less than ideal, because it means that I have conversations with myself in the dark that start out, "an interesting character is confronted with a problem and responds by...blogging."

And on that note, time to get back to work.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Writing in the Morning

Lately, I've managed to kick myself out of bed and write in the mornings before heading off to The Day Jobbe.  It helps that the cat wakes up at 4:30 and starts to do the feline version of "Early Morning Singing Song."  (No, I usually get up a little bit later.)

On the up side, I'm writing.  The mornings have been pleasant enough that I've been able to creep outside with a cup of tea and a comforter and write in the backyard.  Writing outside reduces the chance of me waking anyone, and if the family wakes up early, I'm not in their way on the kitchen table.  Getting in and out of the patio chair and wrapping or unwrapping myself out of the comforter tends to keep me sitting and typing.

On the not-quite-so up side (aside from my tea getting colder more quickly), I may need to switch to composing in long hand to improve my writing's connectivity and to catch stupid errors engendered by a an iPad's screen and auto-correct.  Now that I've noticed the disjointed element creeping into what I write, I'll be on the lookout for it; getting up a little earlier so I have a longer period to write would help, too.  

Now, if I could do something about those mornings when I really feel the cold in my hands and feet (pause to imagine writing in a hot tub).  

Saturday, June 07, 2014

DREAM: Blade of the Pink Skull

I think this is what I get for reading "The Crystal Cave" before falling asleep.

I was a warrior in a fantasy setting.  I may have been an Elf, but in any case I was the "strange foreigner" who fought well, and who the others thought was on their side, and probably was, but there was a hint of mistrust in all of our dealings.

We fighters were practicing before the Queen, who watched us from her throne.   She was a classic pulp fantasy Amazon Queen:  She wore golden breast cups, a golden tiara/headband that came to a single point over her forehead (and which kept her long, straight dark hair out of her face) , knee-high boots, and a long gold lamé cape.   (I've just realized writing this that she was a gilt version of Linda Carter from Wonder Woman.)   A shadowy, grey-haired adviser hovered behind the shade of her blocky throne.  The room was dark, lit by flame (torches? lamps?), which made curtains hanging waves of shadow and flickering yellow light.

I fought with a kind of thin, light sword and dagger.  I think I wore padded leather as armor.  My opponent was much larger and wore chain.  When I was in the right frame of mind, I could move much faster than everyone else, so I was able to dance around and touch him multiple times with the tip of my sword.

Then, somewhere else in the dankly dark of the fantasy world, a pink skulled hulk awoke.  One moment the dream perspective focused on his sleeping/dead face, the next his eyes snapped open and he lumbered from his resting place.  I'm not sure if it was Frankenstein's Monster, Death, or a fantasy version of the space ghost which haunted an airport in a 1969 Scooby-Doo cartoon (although, now that I think more on it, he was sleeping upright, like a Borg).  He set off for the court of our Queen.

Meanwhile, I was facing off another opponent.  The tourney marshal was telling us to get ready.  I held my sword out and pointed down, and began the mental discipline which would make me one with my sword and lightning fast.  My opponent saw the look on my face and accused me of using magic to win the match.  A brief discussion of the rules followed, and the Queen determined mental focus or state of mind was not a magic spell.

We got wind of Pink Skull's approach.   He actually hadn't done anything bad, yet, and there was a sense that we might be able to parlay with him.  I stepped away from the combat circle and looked down the halls, which had dream-transformed into a kind of junky dark alley.  I held my sword ready and called out for Pink Skull (I used a different, suitably impressive fantasy name in the dream) to show himself.

I could see the yellow glow of his approach, and then he was on us.    He didn't kill my opponent, but instead of practice touches, he sliced him.  I got sliced, too.  When I intervened on my opponents behalf, Pink Skull sliced me hard--it hurt a lot.  Then he sliced the backs of my hands, slowly and one at a time.  Which also hurt a lot.

And then I woke up, and my hands were sore in real life.  I wish I could blame the weather for the way they ache, but I think it's supposed to be a clear sky today (cloudy tomorrow).  Maybe they got too cold.  Maybe I should call this dream, "Gawain and the Arthritis Knight."

Friday, June 06, 2014

On The Muse

I don't know if I believe in a Muse or if I believe in putting in the time and sometimes your practice pays off and what you're trying to say slips out ore easily.  You have to put in the time and hope the Muse shows up.

Sometimes I don't believe in a Muse, but I rather believe in "Having Something to Say."  I sometimes wish I had more to say, or that what I had to say wasn't so trite.

I can see how personifying my Muse could be useful in a magical, ritual way, because then I could use the Art of Changing Consciousness at Will and invoke the Muse consciously when I sit down to write.  And it would be fun to build little pocket shrines to my Muse out of old pill tins.

I like the distinction Elizabeth Gilbert makes between "being a genius" and "having a genius."

I think it's dangerous to confine one's Muse to a single gender or age.  If you had asked me in 1995, I would have said my he was a 40-something, French archaeologist/sociologist (or sometimes Marcus Cole).  If you'd asked me in 1990, she was a two dimensional cartoon hippy woman.  If you had asked me in 1985, I would have said my Muse was a speed-boat driving, femme fatale spy in a swimsuit (probably an extra from a Duran-Duran music video).  These days, I think my Muse is a giant mug of tea.  I guess as I get older, essentialist ways of thinking about sources of inspiration are less useful.

But sometimes, when the writing is numinous, I believe in a Muse.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Tuesday Night Dreams

Tuesday night was a rough night for sleeping, and I woke up multiple times in the night.

The first dream was pure id wish fulfillment (OMG!).

In the second dream, I was trying to get home.  Home was a dream-splice of the current house, but it was located at "The Motel Six", the house I lived in Portland when I was going to Reed.  The dream was set in a kind of video-game world, and I was watching myself in a kind of Minecraft/Second Life way.  Mark was in the dream, and I think we were simultaneously in-world and watching at the same computer.  The world was glitchy, though, and every few minutes I'd walk across a buggy area, the system would lag, and then the screen would jump, my avatar would be hanging in black while the landscape flickered out and I'd end up re-mapped to a new section of the world.  I remember climbing up the hill from Reed along Knight street or something and then getting booted over to an underground stone cathedral.  When I tried to fly out of the cave, I hit another glitch-portal and wound up someplace new.

In the third dream, I was in my house, I think.  Only it was an apartment, and it might have been in New York.  It was the room in the southwest corner of our house.  The walls were covered with corrugated cardboard from floor to ceiling, which was slowly pulling away and revealing the real, bright yellow walls underneath.  (It took me a few hours of waking time to recall how many of Remedios Varo's paintings have rooms like this... Energía cósmica and Armonía seem to be closest to what I dreamed, only the room in my dream was much lighter and cleaner.)

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Dream: Temple Penance

Monday, June 2, 2014

I hoped I'd have a magical dream about Jay Lake -- something where Jay would appear and say something crass but meaningful, and I'd wake up with an "ah-ha!" moment -- but I had this odd dream instead.

In the dream I was dressed in a long flowing robe or a caftan.  Mostly I didn't notice the robe in the dream, but when I did there was a kind of awkwardness about it, possibly a restriction (probably prompted by being wrapped up in sheets or something).  We were visitors to a foreign country vaguely middle eastern.  The day was bright and arid.

A bunch of us were going into a non-Christian temple.  It was stone on the outside, very long, and you entered it from underneath (it was spanning a gully between two hills, and it sat on stone piers which defined a kind of entry courtyard  -- thinking about it more, the building was almost like a covered stone bridge or pictures you sometimes see of Noah's Ark).  It was darker inside.  In some ways the dream temple was like the old Church of the Good Samaritan dream setting in that there seemed to be a bunch of people there and it was sometimes difficult to get to where you wanted.

I was doing penance for someone else, I think; or else I was part of some sort of cultural education demonstration (maybe we were doing an alternate "stations of the cross" presentation).   I went to the front of the temple, not in the sanctuary, but near the front of where the congregation was standing.

I had to kneel in front of a kind of wooden brace or brackets set into the floor.   I hiked up the caftan a bit so my bare knees were on the floor. I had to place my knees just so on the wooden floor (paradoxically, I'm recalling the short blue carpeting at Good Samaritan) and fit my feet into the brackets.  This took some time as there was a requirement that I be lined up precisely.

The folks I'd come with and the congregation were silent, but there were a ton of eyes on me as the bottoms of my feet were whipped.  It sort of hurt an abstract dream-way.  I'm assuming that a (Assyrian?) priest whipped my feet, but I was facing forward and couldn't see who it was.  In dream-vision, I saw the straps of the whip passing over the soles of my feet.  (For the record: no, I do not have a fetish for having my feet whipped or caned.)

In the end, the bottoms of my feet were red and swollen.  I got up, winced as my feet touched the ground, and hobbled out of temple.   If there were any words or conversation, I've forgotten them.

I limped back downstairs and outside, which was still bright and sunny, into a courtyard garden, and then woke up.  My feet hurt in real life, which I assume is from a change in the weather combined with crouching while I stained a deck over the weekend (No, I don't think the cat was chewing on me at the time.)

Monday, June 02, 2014

Jackpot of Lost Items

I guess this is amusing more than anything.  I figured that I could use it as a prompt for a conspiracy theory story....

Me:  I put in a request for several items (see list below) that have hovered around for a long time, in three cases for over 18 months.  It seems like the items are stuck in limbo somewhere in the system.  What can I do to jump-start this process?


Library:  Hello John,

Let me answer each request by title.

The Penguin Handbook of Ancient Religions was ordered in May 2011 and the supplier canceled the order in August of 2011. The book is out of print and no longer available from the publisher.

The Official Blender 2.3 guide was published in 2005, is not available from our supplier, and we rarely keep software books that are over 5 years old. It may have been weeded from the collection and someone forgot to take it out of the catalog. (Blender for Dummies, 2009, is here if you want to look at a different book about it.)

The Ghost particle, a Nova movie from 2006 is no longer available.

The state of the art has been missing since early 2012. It is now a collector's item and new copies start at $97! We won’t be replacing it. (the University of Oregon Knight library has a copy at PR6052.A485 S83 1991. You can use your EPL card to check it out from them.)

You seem to have hit the jackpot of hold requests on items we no longer have. All of these items should have been removed from the catalog a long time ago. We are sorry you have been inconvenienced and are grateful that you let us know about these titles. Each of these will be deleted from the catalog and your holds will now show up as canceled.

Our apologies and thanks.

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Requiescat in pace, Jay Lake

Sunday, June 1, Jay Lake died.  It wasn't unexpected, as he had entered hospice care earlier after a long bout with cancer.  Like many, I hoped there would be a remission.  Or a magical DNA cure from NIH.  Or at least mutant powers.

Jay was born six months before I was.  He joined the Wordos about a year before I did.  For a while we were part of the triumvir running Wordos.  I have a curious mix of sadness that he's gone, anxiety about my own mortality, and a grab-bag wash of reactions while examining the parallels and diversions in our two lives.

I remember once in 2004 Jay came to the Wordos dressed as Zeppelin Man.  Think Superman meets Steampunk as an extra at a Cher show:  he wore purple tights and green undies and a purple cape.  He had some kind of aviator's cap with goggles.  He encouraged the Wordos to submit manuscripts to an anthology he was co-editing, "All Star Zeppelin Adventure Stories".

Three months later, as the Wordos went around the table reporting manuscript rejections, and the inevitable ones from Zeppelin Stories came around, Jay would follow-up each announcement with "The bastards." Jay was like that.

Another time at Wordos, I'd submitted a manuscript for critique which had an idea in it that Jay wanted to use.   He asked me if it would be OK, I said yes, and the next day he sent me a 4000 word manuscript.   I was impressed with his professional courtesy, the speed with which he'd written something, and the writing.

Much later in 2011, after Jay had stopped coming to the Wordos table, I'd planned a train trip to Portland and told folks that I'd be at Old Towne Pizza.  It turned into a pleasant Jay-Fest as he was the only person to show up.  We talked about his cancer and his relationship with death.

The last time I saw Jay was at OryCon.  He was wearing a knitted cap and rode an electric scooter.  It was brief and I was struck with the sense that I must not wear him out.

We traded a few brief e-mails in the interim between then and now.

Today has been difficult.  I needed to stay away from Facebook because I was compulsively scanning it for memorials about Jay.  The virtual funeral on Facebook was draining, and I felt lucky to run into some Wordos later in the day so we could physically hug.

When I think about Jay's death, I think about a sculpture in the MET, "Death Staying the Hand of the Artist."  Except, if it were about Jay, the artist would be wearing a Hawaiian shirt, he'd be carving a goat (with baroque excess) instead of a sphinx, and death would be a clown wielding a very phallic-looking bicycle horn.

Requiescat in pace.
May you continue to inspire.

Oh The Horror

I read an article about horror and how it's necessary.  The main thrust was that there are some pretty horrible truths out there, children have to navigate these truths somehow, and horror is their compass and map.  I didn't exactly agree with the article, because I think focusing on horror elevates it unnecessarily, and I want to read and write stories that focus on wonder.  At least the article made a distinction between being frightened by a movie, book, or story (which is a good thing) and being terrorized by it (which is not).

I don't feel drawn to horror because I can't unsee it easily -- at least as far as movies are concerned.   It's like the cave of my mind is painted with glow paint, and the horror hand-shadows there create a glowing anti-image of terror that stays for a long time.  Horror, with the exception of Scooby-Doo, almost always delivers me to long-lasting terror.  It's not an initiatory ordeal for me; I don't walk out of a scary movie and think, "Oh My God, I feel such a sense of community with my fellow movie goers who survived that movie," I think, "Why the hell did I just pay money for that excruciating memory that will be impossible to un-remember?"  (And now every squicky thing I've ever seen before I could glance away is coming back to superimpose itself over my vision.)

Maybe I'm simplifying the article too much, or focusing only on film.  Perhaps I'm seeing the genre "horror" and going straight for zombies and the Alien franchise (nope, haven't seen them) and throwing out things I've enjoyed like Edward Gorey, or Neil Gaiman's "Coraline."  Maybe if I mentally substitute "creepy and odd" for "horror," the article would resonate more for me.

Oddly, I've written some stories that people think have horror elements.  All I can say is that I didn't set out to write horror (OK, except for that one micro-fiction anthology).  Thinking about that micro-horror piece some more, I suppose that I write horror when I look at wonder through a cynical lens.  

Maybe one person's wonder is another person's horror.