This will never become a book.

2012 June 30 Saturday

fiction sprint – For the Cat

Filed under: writing — kdefg @ 23:29

Marvin slammed the book shut in disgust and tossed it at his feet onto the bed.  It landed between his legs, narrowly missing the cat who was napping there.  She lifted her head and gave him a glare, then settled back down.

“That bad, was it?” asked Shelly, his wife, also in bed next to him reading her own book before it was time to sleep.  She folded the dust jacket flap over the page she had been reading to keep her place.

“I liked it well enough up until the last chapter.  Then it all fell apart.  It didn’t explain what really happened to the characters.”  Marvin opened his mouth to rant some more, but could only get out the word “Ugh.”

“Perhaps it is left as an exercise for the reader,” Shelly suggested, with a sarcastic tone.  “I did warn you that the author is known for that sort of nonsense.”

“I know you did.  I just didn’t believe you. I had to see it for myself.”

“He does have fans who actually like that he does that.  You should visit his website sometime.  The forums are full of lively debates.  People can be quite passionate about their entertainment.”

“Hmmph,” snorted Marvin.  “I’d rather be entertained by my passion.”  He leaned over and kissed Shelly on the back of her neck.  “Care to debate that with me?”  He wiggled his eyebrows and smiled at her.

Shelly smiled back.  “I think I could win that one.”  She set her book on the nightstand next to her and lowered the lamp brightness down two clicks.  Marvin rolled onto his side, disturbing the cat again.  She meowed, jumped down to the floor, and padded out of the room.

Out in the hallway, the cat could still hear the sounds of contentment made by the humans.  She would have to go to her secondary sleeping location to find some quiet.  The hall closet door was usually left ajar for her to crawl inside and settle down on a lower shelf where she had long ago claimed a towel as her bedding.  Tonight the door to the closet was closed, meaning she would have to beg for human intervention.  She stared up at the handle and meowed, loudly.  It usually took several calls to get someone’s attention, so she meowed again, loudly.  She kept her gaze fixed on the handle, so the human would read her thoughts and know exactly what was required of it.

Then an unusual thing happened.  The handle moved, without the appearance of a human.  The latch clicked aside and the door popped open a crack.  The lack of a human presence did not bother the cat in the least.  In fact, it was a lot less bother this way, without their yapping and complaining about doing her bidding.  She tapped at the edge of the door with her paw and it easily swung open.  She only needed a small gap to slither through, enough to access the bottom shelf.  She climbed up and snuggled into the towel she had claimed as hers, and napped.

The door remained open for the night.  Eventually the humans turned off their lights and went to sleep.  The presence in the house drifted down to the kitchen to check on the level of the cat’s water dish.  The humans had forgotten to top it off after dinner, again.  The presence would have to think of a way to remind them, perhaps in their dreams.

 

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2012 June 29 Friday

Strangers on a Plane

Filed under: dreams — kdefg @ 09:02

Who are the people in our dreams?  If sleep was a way for our spirits to travel beyond our plane of existence, then we might be meeting the spirits of other people who have reached the same dimension with us.  All it would take to prove this hypothesis would be to have two separate people report having the same dream at the same time in which each saw the other.  As far as I know, we have no evidence that this has ever occurred.

The more mundane explanation is that our brains are creative machines.  Each night, they invent the setting and populate it with characters from our imagination.  This makes rational sense, but my emotional side feels like it isn’t the whole picture.  How can I be dreaming up these other people effortlessly and unconsciously, when I find it so difficult to do so when awake?

Another explanation is that these other people are not pure inventions, but are different facets of my own personality.  We all play different roles in real life, and present different faces to the world in various situations.  Dreams are a place where we can confront ourselves, or meet aspects of our selves which are kept hidden from the world.  The movie Inception tapped into this idea by saying that the client populated the shared dream with his subconscious, creating a cast of “movie extras” for crowd scenes and supporting characters.

In my dreams this week, I have encountered people in an elevator, a restaurant, a horse stable, and on public transportation.  They were an assortment of male and female, young and old, beautiful and ugly, and a few were even famous.  At no time did I recognize myself in any of them.  For that matter, I did not recognize any of the locations, either.  The transportation could have been a bus (with no windows) or an airplane (with no tray tables) or a passenger train; for the sake of the dream/story, it was a non-specific detail.  The other locations were places I have never been to in real life; they could exist in our world, or they could be in a parallel universe.

A few of these dreams also had an element of time travel in them.  I was talking with people for whom my present was their future, and I had to be discreet about what I said to them.  When I found someone else who was also from my time period, we could discuss the implications of being in the past.  At least those conversations make sense to me, in terms of being inside my own head and talking with myself.

There may never be a way to prove exactly what is going on inside our dreams or what the mechanisms are that generate them.  That doesn’t make it any less fun to travel there.

 

 

2012 June 26 Tuesday

Trapped by Existence

Filed under: reality — kdefg @ 20:55

It has been part of my routine this year to walk to the library, once a week, and sit in their café and read a book while I drink a coffee.  I pick a book from their shelves, sometimes a new release or something from their displays of featured themes.  Today I wandered past some fiction and pulled a book I had read more than thirty years ago.  It’s one of those classics that I have in storage at home, because I have no room to display books now, but I keep them with the delusion that I will want to reread them one day.

I flipped through the chapters, finding bits that I had forgotten, remembering how it felt to be immersed in a fictional world, enjoying the skill of the author.  I was reading to pass the time, with no intention of thinking too much while I ate my pastry.  Then a line stood out on the page before my eyes, and I paused to really think about it.

“You don’t have a soul, Doctor. You are a soul. You have a body, temporarily.” — from A Canticle for Leibowitz (1959) by Walter M. Miller, Jr.

I exist in this body; I am not my body.  In this sense, the body is the container for the soul.  The Bible makes the analogy that the body is a temple in which the spirit resides.  But the walls of these temples keep us isolated from one another, rather than joined on a spiritual plane.

I went looking on the Internet for similar philosophies, and came across this page which imagines the soul as existing in an extended fourth dimension.  Our bodies are then projections into this 3-D world of the senses, like the shadow of a sphere is merely a circle when projected onto a wall.  We all come from a higher plane of existence, but must interact with this world by experiencing it only at the points of intersection.

Back in high school, I thought a lot about the fourth dimension.  I read about an imaginary object called a tesseract or hypercube, and was inspired by the book Flatland.  I also read about vectors and how time can be treated as another dimension.  I wrote two different papers on this theme for English class, one presenting the geometric theory and the other about Einstein’s space-time theory.  The teacher admitted not fully understanding either one, but pointed out the fact that they contradicted each other; both papers got good grades for the research and writing.

I wasn’t really thinking about questions of consciousness back in those early days.  My thought experiments were about how we would experience an extra dimension with our senses, using our three-dimensional bodies.  Decades later, I now imagine having an out-of-body experience and looking down on this reality from a new perspective.  Then I wonder whether all intelligent creatures could have this same special existence beyond their brains, or whether humans are measurably different in our self-awareness.

Whatever you call it — Soul, Spirit, Mind, or Consciousness — it is fundamentally a form of energy beyond the Body.  Some days I feel like I almost understand some great mystery of our existence.  Then I finish my coffee and remember that I have bills to pay and question everything.  I walk back home and feed the cat, and I look into her eyes and feel her looking back at me.  The cat is trapped inside her head as I am in mine, but we have made a connection across that extra dimension.

 

2012 June 25 Monday

Distractions

Filed under: life — kdefg @ 08:13

Hello.  My name is Kay, and I am a puzzleholic.

It’s been 2 days since my last confession, er, post.  I spent most of that time on this puzzle site methodically solving puzzle after puzzle.  I think I have made it through around fifty so far, and I cannot stop myself. I am a completionist that way.  With over 700 available puzzles on that site alone, this could very well absorb the rest of my summer.

I also cannot resist Sudoku.  When I see a grid, I must grab a pencil.  I’ve actually taken a newspaper out of a public trash can because I could see the puzzle section had not been touched.  Before I go to bed each night, I grab a book of number puzzles.  I find that the litany of digits (one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, night) clears my head and resets my brain waves, making it easier to fall asleep.

Did you know that Sudoku was invented in my lifetime?  Same thing for the Nonogram, another name for that “picture logic” puzzle I linked to above, also known as Picross.  For that matter, so was the Rubik’s Cube.  I’ve lived in a golden age of logic puzzles since I left college.

I even got in trouble at one of my earliest jobs for working on a crossword puzzle at my desk.  I claimed it was a way to clear my head, but really it was an escape from a project which required creative thinking.  I much prefer working with existing data, finding flaws and fixing them, rather than creating something from scratch.  I’m a problem-solver, not an innovator.  In my early career, this was an asset, allowing me to excel at debugging software code, until I had fixed everything there was to fix.  Then the boss assigned me to write a new program, and my mind froze.

People ask me why I don’t create my own puzzles.  I’ve tried, believe me, but the skills required to generate a crossword puzzle grid are not really the same as those used to solve one.  People who solve a lot of puzzles are very picky about the quality.  Even I can spot the flaws in amateur grids, but I don’t know how to improve them.

Writing a novel puts me in the same limbo.  My mind simply does not generate new story ideas.  I would love to be an editor, proof-reading someone else’s work, giving other authors feedback.  I just haven’t found my way into that line of work.

In the meantime, my skill set for debugging software dwindles as the coding languages have changed over the years.  I look for work like data entry or inventory, tasks which still require the attention to detail and accuracy that is a part of who I am, but will not challenge me to invent new ideas.  And I continue to solve puzzles.  Perhaps someone will invent another new puzzle form in my lifetime, in time to distract me in my next job.

 

2012 June 22 Friday

Of Habits and Broken Glass

Filed under: writing — kdefg @ 08:15

May was such an easy month.  May 1st, May Day, followed by thirty days of a daily writing habit.  Thirty posts and then a day off as a reward.  I told myself that it would be easy to track my progress through June, as the day of the month would correspond with the number of posts.  June 1st, followed by a week of writing, and then it happened.  I missed a night.  June 7 should have been my 37th post, but I had a headache and fell asleep on the sofa, and woke up on the 8th a day behind.

Another week of posts made it look like I was back on track, but it was getting harder to find time to myself.  With summer came the end of school for one household member and the end of a job for another, and the end of privacy.  Its my own illusion, I know, thinking that I cannot write when someone might walk past my computer and see my personal project.  I haven’t shared this with them, because we share so much of each other’s lives already in this tiny house.  I tried to write in the odd moments during the day but rarely got into the flow.  It was just an excuse, but it was easy to blame circumstances for my own lack of motivation.

Seven posts had followed that one break, and then my brain went blank.  I struggled to think of things to write about.  I let my internal editor reject ideas and prevent me from simply letting words flow.  I was now three days behind on my stated goal of 500 words per day every day.  Another day, another filler post, and then another lapse, and then I was six days behind.  It got easier to say, “Oh well, what’s another day at this point?”  And then I realized that I underestimated the power of routine and habit.

Waiting for a spare moment to open up, or waiting for a wonderful idea to pop up out of nowhere, either way was giving control of this project to the whims of the universe.  I was treating this as an experiment but not giving it priority.  In May it was part of my routine, but when that routine around me changed I didn’t change with it.  I did find ways to pass the time on the computer by playing games and reading, but my experiment died for lack of attention.

A school teacher once pointed out to me how easy it is to let things fall apart by simple lack of maintenance.  Her example was a building in a poor section of the city which looked fine at first, but then one day a window was broken.  Everyone knew that it needed to be fixed, but no one ever made it a priority.  People grew accustomed to the sight, and it became easy just to live with it.  When a second window was broken, people accepted it as part of how things looked.  Eventually the building fell into complete disrepair, and it would take a massive effort to start cleaning it up now.  The teacher said that her household used this analogy when someone left a dirty dish on the kitchen counter, saying, “It’s the first broken window.”  This reminded her family to make it a habit to leave the kitchen as clean as when they found it, knowing that the small effort has its rewards.

I see I used the phrase “make it a habit” there.  A habit doesn’t make itself.  Making anything takes effort, and maintaining a habit takes an ongoing effort.  The word “habit” is sometimes used for actions that take no thought and no effort, as if habitual actions are easier than consciously doing something.  In that sense, ignoring a broken window is a bad habit.  In my case, ignoring a broken resolution is the easy way out.  Until I reach the stage where I absolutely can’t breath without writing, I cannot rely on habit to reach my goals.  This will be work for a while, and 500 words per day is just the minimal maintenance required.

 

2012 June 18 Monday

Happy Birthday Paul

Filed under: life — kdefg @ 22:17

Today is the birthday of that cute Beatle*, Paul McCartney.  Great Britain bestowed a knighthood on him, so technically he is Sir Paul McCartney, but I’m not British.  Paul turns 70 years old today, and that makes me feel old, too.

*(The spell-check here dislikes the singular.  If the group was called The Beatles, I thought it was proper to refer to an individual member as a Beatle.  Is Mick Jagger not a Rolling Stone?)

A few days ago was also the 25th anniversary of the invention of the file format which gave us animated GIFs.  Somehow that didn’t make me feel old, possibly because I can remember life before the Internet, but I grew up with The Beatles.  At least the Fab Four gave us culture, while the GIF made this archive possible.

Plenty of things have happened in the span of my life so far.  Not all of them make me feel old.  I remember being awakened in the middle of the night by my parents who wanted me to watch the first live television broadcast from the moon.  Historical events like that have no context in my mind, with the way my brain stores memories without a timeline.  I never remember dates, and I always have to do the math to realize just how long ago a specific event occurred.  Years are just abstract numbers to me, and I frequently forget how old I am.

But tell me that child star Hilary Duff is now a mother and I start to feel the passage of time.  It’s the milestones in other people’s lives that remind me to look at my own calendar.

I could turn this into a nostalgia post, but you’ve surely seen those before, filled with tales of old inventions like the dial telephone and 8-track tapes.  I could write about remakes and reboots of old TV shows that I was watching back when they were originals.

But enough dwelling on me and my age. Let’s just celebrate the birthday of a famous guy.  Go find his face as an animated GIF to brighten your day.

 

2012 June 17 Sunday

Where Does the Time Go?

Filed under: writing — kdefg @ 09:01

Carl started to set his mug of tea down on the desk, but first had to uncover the spare mousepad he used as a coaster.  The desk was cluttered with scraps of paper containing half-completed shopping lists and old appointment reminders, scribbled phone numbers and notes to himself from various research projects. There was no system to this mess, other than remembering how old — and thus how deep — any tidbit of information might be.  He nudged a pile of DVDs with the back of his hand just far enough to create a hole in the chaos large enough for his beverage to rest in front of the computer monitor.

He sat down in his sagging office chair, slid the keyboard tray towards his belly, and grabbed the mouse that barely had room to roll on the small ledge.  His computer screen awakened from its power-saver swirl of colors to display the half-written document he had left open to go make a pot of tea.  He had started this project two days ago, but had made little progress beyond a bullet list of points he wanted to include in the final masterpiece.

Carl took a sip of his tea.  He needed cookies.  He got up and went back into the kitchen.  The cupboard was stocked with a variety of snacks he thought of as his “tea biscuits” but were hardly suited to an authentic British tea.  What he really wanted right now was an oatmeal raisin cookie, but he had finished off that bag yesterday.  This lack reminded him to add it to the shopping list, which was somewhere on his desk.

With a fistful of vanilla wafers, he returned to his chair and started to look for a pen. The eraser end of a pencil was sticking out of a crossword puzzle book on the top of a stack of newspapers on the floor.  He set his cookies down on the edge of the keyboard tray and picked up the book, just to see where he had left off with the last puzzle.  He found he could fill in a few more squares.

[These four paragraphs took me two days to get written.  It’s what a friend of mine called “hesitation marks”, the kind of stall tactic that looks like writing but is actually a way to avoid really writing anything.  I had a kernel of an idea — in which Carl discovers a microscopic lifeform living on the crumbs inside his keyboard, literally eating away moments of time and altering his world — but I found excuses for not working on it.  Instead, I skipped ahead to a stinger ending, just to be done with it.]

Carl finished his tea, finished his cookies, finished the crossword puzzle, but never finished the document he was working on.

[I considered adding something ironic about the subject of his document being about time-management or a list of resolutions.  I decided it wasn’t necessary.]

Meanwhile, in a laboratory on a world across the universe from Carl’s house, a technician turned out the lights and locked the console where he worked.  He had accomplished a lot in one day, and was going home early for tea.

 

2012 June 14 Thursday

I Changes

Filed under: synchronicity — kdefg @ 22:29

Today was World Blood Donor Day, but I’m sure the World Health Organization would be happy if they got more than one day out of the year to spread the word about the need for more blood donors.  I had seen something on the local news about a critical shortage, and then I got an email from the Red Cross about scheduling an appointment.  I had not given blood in a few years, and took this as a nudge from the universe to step up.  It was quick, it was painless, and I didn’t even need an appointment.  (Your mileage may vary, as they say.)  I got some yummy cookies too, so I want to thank Keebler for providing snacks.

Going into the experience, I was expecting to come out the other side with a wonderful little nugget to write tonight.  I even figured I could give it a snappy title like “Blood Draw” (to echo my earlier “Gun Draw” entry), but it was all so uneventful that I’m reduced to rambling about cookies.  Maybe I’ll let it simmer in the back of my mind for a while longer and get a future fiction sprint out of it.

The real problem is that I have too much else on my mind this week.  I’ve been looking at my financial situation and wondering in which direction to take my next career move.  I’ve tried to assess my skills and interests, but they do not really align well with the job search tools I’ve been using.  Perhaps I should be seeking the advice of a guidance counselor. Instead, I am asking the I Ching for insights.  To hedge my bets, I’m comparing three different online oracles.  If this stuff is valid, I should get similar results, right?

To be fair to the method, I asked the exact same question of all three.  One displayed coins to throw for my reading, so where I was given a choice on another site I also chose coins (rather than yarrow sticks).  My question surrounds the choice I face between two different kinds of work, and I phrased it in a general and symbolic way.

The first oracle gave me the hexagram for ENTHUSIASM.  While this does not immediately tell me which kind of job I should be applying for, it does suggest that I should choose the path for which I have the most passion.  One path is familiar territory for me, while the other is something I think I would be good at but have never tried.  Would I be more enthusiastic for a new opportunity, or would I be fraught with fear of failure?  For this reading, the imagery was of thunder and chanting, and told me to use instinct over intellect.  It gave me no “changing lines” to project an outcome for either choice.

The second oracle gave me a different hexagram and two different answers, because this time I did throw lines of change.  In the present, it told me, my advantage is in remaining patient and solitary, waiting for the situation to evolve.  In the future, it said, change will bring both fear and smiles.  Again the imagery mentioned thunder, and told me not to be startled by it.  Bottom line: change is good.

The last oracle probably sensed that I was testing the universe, and so it gave me CONFLICT.  The language on the third website was harder for me to parse.  I could make the case that it was telling me that a little caution at first is fine, but too much hesitation will be a hindrance.  This could also be encouraging me to accept a new path without resistance, if it is resistance which is stopping me now.

I went ahead and answered three different job ads this week.  It’s probably too soon to expect a response.  It’s making me woozy just thinking about the possibilities.  I must remember to breathe.  After all, I’m down one pint of red blood cells now.

 

 

 

2012 June 13 Wednesday

Wormholes

Filed under: dreams — kdefg @ 23:20

It is fun to imagine that our dreams are a window into an alternate reality, one with real substance.  Perhaps we are tapping into knowledge of a hidden dimension or remotely viewing a parallel existence.  We see wonderous and terrible visions while we sleep, but also mundane things.  And sometimes dreams are just too bizarre to be coming simply from our own imagination.  At least that’s one theory.

Sometimes I fall asleep with the television on, and whatever dreams take place during that time are ones I choose to discount.  The images in those dreams are likely caused by the flickering of light on my eyelids, and the sounds I dream are probably the whispers from late-night infomercials.  My brain wants to make sense of the sensory input from the room, filling my mind with random nonsense.  I want my dreams to contain messages of wisdom from across the great void of space-time, but my cable provider does not have a channel for that.

When I have a compelling dream, I like to share it.  I’ve subjected my family to tales of UFO invasions and our sun going supernova, but those kinds of dramatic dreams are rare for me.  I’ve dreamt about looking for a new house, or driving around in our car, but I only bother to tell my family when they appear as characters in those kinds of dreams.

Of course I keep other dreams to myself.  Some are embarrassing (but perfectly normal, they say) and some are just boring.  I dream I’m in church or in a theater, but nothing much happens.  If these are also windows into another reality, then it’s pretty realistic to think that their world is just as mundane as our own sometimes.

Then there are the dreams that make no obvious sense, built with bizarre images and without logic.  I write them down when I can, when I have words to describe what I’ve seen or felt.  I don’t know whether to look for meaning in their symbolism, or accept that they have no purpose.  I am not comfortable with either option.

Last night, I dreamt about worms.  Specifically, I was donating worms to a scientist for research.  He cut the worms out of my belly.  They were not doing me any harm, and the extraction did not hurt me.  It was all rather ordinary, in that manner of dream logic.  I will describe the scene in great detail in my written dream journal, not here, and will eventually forget about it.  Whatever meaning or message was encoded there has missed its mark.

Tonight, I hope to travel across space and time, but perhaps via less-literal wormholes.

 

2012 June 12 Tuesday

A Ray of Light

Filed under: writing — kdefg @ 23:05

With the recent death of Ray Bradbury, I learned a few things about him which I never knew before.  One was that he never learned how to drive a car.  The other was that he made a point of writing 1,000 words every day.

My daughter does not yet have a driver’s license, and does not seem at all interested in learning how to drive.  She is twenty years old now, and the only time the subject comes up is when she needs a government-issued photo ID.  She is used to living on a college campus where everything is within walking distance, and when she comes back home she always has someone to drive her where she needs to be.  Either her friends do not nag her about it, or peer pressure has no effect, but she shows no sign of feeling inadequate about her lack of driving ability.  She will learn when she needs to learn, and she will not be ashamed of having no need to learn yet.  The lack of a driver’s license is more of an inconvenience for her at times when she doesn’t carry her passport as proof of identification.  This is also not a reason for her to learn how to drive, but rather a motivation to apply for a government-issued ID card.  As someone who pays enough in automotive insurance premiums as it is, I am all in favor of that solution.

I myself try to walk rather than drive to many locations in our neighborhood.  I like to think it is to save on gas or to make a statement just on principle, but really I just need the exercise.  Today’s walk took me to the library.  I was there to fetch some books for someone else, but in doing so I came across “The Illustrated Man” by Ray Bradbury.  I know I read this one several times before, back when I was a kid, back before the Internet took up so much of my reading (and writing) hours.  I might very well own this book, no longer sitting visible on my few bookshelves, a paperback stored in a box somewhere.  It is easier to pick up a copy from the library and carry it in my purse for three weeks, to have it handy to read in short bursts but not worry about keeping the cover in perfect condition.

Wikipedia tells me that Ray Bradbury wrote 27 novels, but I remember him more for his short stories.  I can picture myself reading them in school, after school, over the summer, sitting in a tree, and on camping trips.  I never thought about the writer himself or what kind of work it was to publish stories.  My father was of the opinion that writers and artists were only hobbyists, and that real work involved going into an office and sitting at a desk. The more I read now about writers, the more I see just how much work they really to put into their craft.

I wonder what my father would have thought about the discipline that writers require of themselves.  I wonder if I am ready to turn my writing from a hobby into a discipline.

 

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