My Life Story: A Prequel (or Orphic Distraction)

I wrote this a while back and recently reworked it – new clay, new vision. You won’t get the orphic reference until the end, but I insist the entire piece is merely a riff on inverted reflections of lyrical cubism in a variegated temporal dysphoria as seen through orange glass during a supernova hurricane of the soul.

Head of Orpheus on the Water or the Mystic - Odilon Redon - 1880

Dead.

I am…

punched in the back of the head on the track during off-season. I’m thirteen and running in a white t-shirt and light grey warm-ups and tears are streaming down my face. A cadre of ne’er-do-wells defends me from the attacks of the hillbilly fuck whose daddy beats him, but I disdainfully brush away their pity, and I run until my asthma attacks me and I collapse on the track. I can see my house just across the street and think to go home is even worse. And I am …

death on five horses. Blades descend. I live in tents and roaches crawl over my skin. The rats eat my pet spurns. I suffer and love the pain and I start to lean. I start to lean towards the hillbilly death machine. I intersect myself with returning soldiers, newly integrated into society with tales of atrocities. I politely decline a continuous stream of meth, but my resolve begins to break down. I catch my hand extending, but then a little boy tells me how he “stabbed an Iraqi in the face and couldn’t stop, and then raped the corpse because someone from that village killed a guy I was in basic with” and he pulls from the bottle of vodka, and i see blood flow back down the bottle neck. And I am …

a greaser – candy cigarettes under a tight hanes. A girl who will be a broken woman hangs on my shoulder for pictures that will be black and white and faded. Behind the shades I am eight years old and raucously addicted to the unending pursuit of being a god damned supergenius. And I am …

not yet me, but I am close. I am thirty-five years old and reading comics again. I am in love with the infinite, and I find the infinite in a single person that I now share my life with. I am embracing the television shows I should have enjoyed twenty years ago when instead I was watching garbage. I can see all that I had the potential to be, and all that society doesn’t want me to be. And she loves me and supports me, and thinks I’m amazing, even when I’m not. I quit smoking and drinking so much, and I do it for her to show her that I don’t need those things anymore because I have her. And I am …

no one in a sea of teenage angst – a face in a wall of brighter faces. At fourteen, I endure duct tape turbans and become intimate with the bottom of trash cans. I imagine the word “spurn” as a physical entity, an urchin-like creature used by the opposite sex to constantly remind me of who I am not worthy to consider myself a possible suitor for. I start to enjoy the spurn creature and let it feed off of me. And I am …

still eight years old, burdened with cheap glasses my parents cannot afford. The lens are heavy, a result of reading too much at a young age. The glasses wear me down until I’m groveling at the feet of humans desperately in need of someone to feel superior over. And my popularity wanes, and the candy cigarettes were eaten long ago, and later I’ll want that broken woman. And I am …

an adult by some standards. Eighteen, but not free to do as I please. I operate on a pinball table of things to do – ramps to climb even though I don’t have the momentum, bumpers to rattle my senses, and I’m paddled, and paddled, and paddled, and paddled, by the patterns of everyone else but me. The glasses are gone, but the scene is blurrier than before. Jesus is there for me, and so is vodka. And I am …

back in the real world at twenty-five. My friends are building families, smoking pot in the small yards of their cookie cutter houses, bragging about their Rangers tickets, and reciting the internet meme of the day to weed out the has-beens. They’ve lived the life and are quick to act shocked when they ask what I do these days and I say “I want to write forever”. I start a new collection of spurns. My phone becomes my glasses. I try to make friendly with the natives and it turns into the track again, and I’ve got an Apple logo-shaped bruise on my head. The message of the day is “this is what you could have had before it was too late” and it suddenly comes back to me that I used to have potential but these people beat it out of me to keep me below them. And I am …

failing miserably. I’m twenty and I follow my friends to college, but never enroll. I roll down hills in the nude and collect grass clippings to decorate my collection of spurns. My friends follow the directions, and I follow a plastic table and chairs off a second-story balcony into oblivion. Glass tables break underneath me, I swim in blue curacao and vomit fish and chips into someone’s lovely fern … err, wait … into someone’s face. My fingers are yellowed from the hanging butt, forgotten in between the middle and forefingers. I see many beds, and none are mine. Women ask me to smile, and I tell them to make me. I take what people give me to smoke, to eat, to swallow, to binge on, to devour, to imbibe, to dive into, to hit, to bleed over. I spin in crowds of knife-wielding college kids and we spin to the sound of heroin on guitars, pills played on Wurlitzers, a marijuana fucking hoedown on the frying street. And I wake up with people, and I wake up with guns, and I wake up with mustard mustaches and have to jump out windows to flee authority figures and angry boyfriends. I rip my flesh on chain link fences and cure the wounds by pouring Taddy Porter over them. I sit in apartment rooms for hours waiting for deliveries while wigged out hillbillies trade guns and play xbox on futons. The parties bleed into each other and my friends wean themselves off the vomit spirals, but I keep going. I’m backstage and commanding attention. I ride in a car and fall out the passenger side into traffic and I remember flying naked through a cul-de-sac with a rose in one hand and a flaming fucking dildo in the other. It’s a thousand degrees at festivals and I roll over people and suck my own brains from the parasites that feed off me in the grass, on the blankets we bought in San Antonio. And I wonder where my car is. And Austin beckons and I answer. And I am …

done with this shit. And I leave that place in a boat full of my belongings. I have nearly sunk too low to leave, but I make it. And I am …

holding up the bar. Thirty years old and I find a nice column to lean against and I begin to write. I smoke a pack a day and I love to smoke. I am “that guy”. My bar tab is named “Dude” and its perpetual. I am a regular and regularly beyond those that sit next to me in the dark. I find enemies and nemeses and allies and occasional bodily collisions, and I write everyone down in a little book. I become a writer. I see the chapters written on people’s faces. I see the stories in their wasted lives. Scotch is my friend. I wake up in my car at 4:00am and vomit fish and chips out my window. I am nostalgic. I daydream of running naked through laundromats, and china shops, and Christian bookstores. I am finally me again, but I am alone. And I am …

furious. I destroy a few lives and wreak havoc in the suburbanite warrens of lassitude. I crush them. I am an agent of chaos, operating on the sly, beneath the radar, and I ruin people’s futures with my strategies. The world has become a chessboard and I am undefeated and beyond the skill of anyone I meet. No one sees this in me, no one knows what I have allowed to grow inside. I breach security to write soliloquy on the inner chalkboard of people’s mind with sharpies. And I am …

waking up. I meet regret in my closet in the house that I share with my father. I commit one last crime against the suburbanites to free a caged bird whose song is no longer appealing. I start to realize that I am still not myself. I think I’ve locked myself away, deep down. I have lost that key. I wonder who the fuck I am. And I am …

five years old, or maybe six. I’m learning how to swim. I’m hanging off the end of the high platform over cold water. I’m seeing girls laugh at me. I’m scared. I’m embarrassed and ashamed. And I am …

happy at last. I start to think I’m halfway through my life, but I think instead, “fuck that … my life’s a third of the way over. I can live to be 102.” And I start to plan, but I need the old me, the old me I was supposed to be, to come out again. I can be him now that I’ve found her so close. I can geek out. I can indulge in DS9, and Pete and Pete, and Doctor Who, and Keeping Up Appearances, and Legos, and video games. And I am …

pulling my old self deep from the chasm within. I’ve found the key and rescued him, and cleaned him up, and given him a palette to work with. But he’s moving ahead of me – I’m distracted by couches, and good food, and beer. He’s at the gates and he looks back. And I am …

alive.

Another Day Older

As of today, I’m 35 years old.

Last weekend I spent some quality time with quality people twice my age, or thereabouts, and realized that age just gives you more to talk about.

Let’s just say I’m going to live to be 70 years old. Half of my life is gone. Sure, YOU can think of it that way … but I prefer to think of it THIS way:

The first 18 years of my life were spent doing what my parents allowed me to do. I learned a lot of things, played a lot of video games, and was generally miserable.

The next 10 years after that were spent making terrible decisions, learning that I really didn’t know anything, playing a lot of video games, and I was generally miserable.

The past 7 years have been spent ignoring the rest of the world and defining who I am and what I want – while slowly recovering from all the mistakes I made. Meanwhile, I’ve found the person I want to spend the rest of my life with.

So, let’s say I’ve got 35 more years to go.

The first 35 years seemed like an eternity … and now I know who I am.

Damn, that’s a lot of time to play video games, drink beer, and be happy.

And 70’s just a start … imagine another 35 years after that.

It’s absolutely possible.

It’s Away!

Well, there’s another short story off to meet its fortunes. I’m channeling Asimov – only I’m not nineteen, this isn’t the pulp era, and I’m not a supergenius.

Maybe I should try harder. It just seems to me that I spend entirely too little time writing, and yet I still manage to roll out material that is passable. Story of my life, I guess. Too old to rock ‘n roll, too young to die … wait, that’s not what I was going to say. Damn Jethro Tull on a 6:00am commute. I think what I was going to say is that I realize my potential, but I’m not sufficiently motivated to actively unleash it. Who knows what might happen, right? I could turn into a gigantic ass – or maybe I’m already a gigantic ass and it will just be visible to the rest of the world.

Epic ipseity is a problem. And by that I mean infinite selfhood and individuality is a problem, not this blog. I just finished reading Destination:Void by Frank Herbert. What a difficult read, but totally worth my time. You know an author has done well when half of the science is way over your head, but in the end you still know what happened.

I still have three stories out to contests, In Which the Automaton Finds Peace, Pushing Daisy, and Happy Faces. These are all robot stories. IWTAFP is an homage to Asimov. I knew that when I wrote it, but I didn’t realize just how much an homage it was until I started reading The Complete Robot. Pushing Daisy is more my style – its almost funny, but then you realize its really black, like drinking fruit juice and slowly realizing its blood, that half-empty laugh as the taste buds register. Happy Faces was my attempt to introduce some weird technology into the universe and see how humans might misuse it. Happy Faces is actually a sequel to Pushing Daisy, but I’ve never pitched them that way. Both stand on their own – they just fit nicely together.

I still have a third story in mind to round out the Pushing Daisy/Happy Faces series. It’s about psychopaths, pedophiles, and video games – you’ll like it.

And, if you’re curious about the progress on my novel … well, it’s about to ramp up again. You see, I wrote the first third of the novel way back in November of 2011. When I started the second third of the novel the following year, the idea had developed further and much of what had happened in the first third has become obsolete. I have not rewritten that portion of the novel. So, now, as I begin to gather notes for the commencement of the third and final portion of the novel, I find myself with a difficult choice.

Should I go back and rewrite the first two thirds before I attempt to bring the novel to a close? Most assuredly, even as the conclusion forms in my head, I realize that much of the second third of the novel is obsolete … so why would I write a conclusion when the first two thirds are no longer directly feeding into that conclusion? Conundrum much.

I also have some other ideas up my sleeves, plus a few crazy projects. For example, my girlfriend loves for me to tell her the Marvel story as I read it. If you didn’t know, I’m reading the Silver Age of Marvel currently from Fantastic Four #1 onwards. It’s been a difficult ride, but well worth it. I just reached February 1970 and I consider that quite an achievement. Anyway, my girlfriend loves the story, but doesn’t like reading comics. I understand. So, I suggested that I take my notes (I’ve kept a list of every issue released by Marvel since 1961 within the main Earth-616 continuity and summarized the stories) and assemble a new narrative for the Marvel Universe, creating a new parallel universe. I call it Earth-037. Basically it will take the original 616 continuity and duplicate it in the modern era. I know you think its been done or is being done, and I’ll agree, to a point. What I mean is that I’ll be taking the exact flow of events and transplanting them to the modern era in a narrative form. There will be Paste-Pot Pete and The Voice and other one-offs, and all the confusing retconned, rewritten, and completely discontinuous timelines in their bizarrely unintelligible glory just as they really happened as the original stories were released. Copyright infringement you cry? Meh. Nobody’s going to read it but my girlfriend.

I’ve also been motivated to write a series for younger readers, specifically in the science fiction genre. I want to do this for my nieces … but secretly I’m folding it in to my master epic. Clever, eh? And … surprise … it will have a female lead! Vart!?

On Building Better Worlds

I don’t often offer advice or wisdom for aspiring writers, and please don’t think that I consider myself an expert. Consider this just my way of sharing my experiences as an aspiring writer myself.

I try to maintain a rich and diverse roster of books I’ve read or plan to read. I tend to focus on speculative fiction, but I enjoy straight fiction as well. Diversity is important, and I don’t think you can be a really skilled writer without a good foundation as a thoughtful and prolific reader. Fact: there are people that have done what you’re trying to do before you ever thought about thinking about doing it. Those writers and their works are your greatest assets – they encompass the entire gamut of success and failure, from engaging page-turners to yawn-inducing snail rides, and I believe it’s important to be able to immerse yourself in someone’s universe before you attempt to construct a universe of your own.

In light of that, here are some fictional universes that I think are excellent examples of well-constructed realms that go well beyond the story presented:

1. Dune – Herbert’s masterful weaving of this epic tale is set in a equally epic universe. This is how you build a universe. You know that you could never stump Herbert on his own universe. He had every base covered, from dawn of man to the ever-approaching end of all things. The first novel by itself is just an introduction to a theme that the rest of his series builds and builds and builds and builds on.

2. Asimov’s universe – It started with the Foundation Series, but eventually Asimov tied all his stories together. I think he proves that even when you set out to write a completely different range of stories from one attempt to the next, you unconsciously always are writing in the same universe of YOUR consciousness.

3. Vonnegut’s universe – Vonnegut didn’t so much create an epic entangled universe as continue to allow characters and events to bleed over into other stories. Example: Kilgore Trout. Sometimes that is all it takes to give your reader a sense of infinity behind the curtain – a sense of continuity beyond the scene. A reader feels that they are privy to a snippet of action in a bigger untold tale, but the unspoken universe behind that blink of an eye is what makes them stick around for another novel or two, or three, or twenty.

4. Xanth – Quirky, unrealistic, snarky, and fucking hilarious. Piers Anthony makes fantasy like Douglas Adams makes sci-fi. Anthony makes you feel like the world of Xanth is bustling on without you while you’re not reading it. I think that’s something to shoot for in an epic tale: perpetuity. Just like a good RPG in the video game realm, depth comes from the story beyond the main character(s) – otherwise, its just a puppet show.

5. Lord of the Rings – The prime example of world-building. Tolkien did everything short of forging his universe into reality, and he did it like a historian writing a text book. From creation to the present, Tolkien made you feel like there really was a time before men ruled the surface of this world, and in it were elves, dwarves, orcs, and evil. Middle Earth is the template by which all high fantasy has followed.

Now, you can’t expect to read the entirety of these voluminous worlds while you’re trying to write your own, but at least two books from each universe gives you a good course of world-building to start from. Now on to my advice:

1. Infinity isn’t big enough.

You can’t write anything too big, only too small. You may introduce your main character at any point in the total narrative, but you better at least have some idea of the genesis and termination of your universe. If you don’t know where you’re going and where you’ve been, then you create time boundaries that flatten the epic. Heck, make your universe perpetual – it doesn’t end, it begins again. Nothing does not exist. Focus on your story, but drop hints at the size of the universe when you can.

2. Your physics have to work.

Especially in the science fiction genre, but equally as important in fantasy, your world has to have a schematic that makes sense. If you’re going to go epic, you have to think epic. I don’t care if magic in your universe is derived from the feces of large galaxy-wading hippos that feed on the detritus of dying star systems, if it doesn’t stand up to scrutiny against the rest of your universe, it doesn’t fly. What I mean is that even if you’re never going to let your main, or any character in your story, interact directly with a force that permeates the entire existence of life in your created universe, you at least need to flesh out enough of the science for characters to debate its existence or at least spark the inner debate in the reader. One of the best ways to do that is to create the religion to spar against the science, or vice versa. You’ve got Gods? Then create a philosophy that attempts to disprove their existence. You’ve got infinite creative/destructive synergy? Make a deity of infinity for opposition. Just a mention will get the job done … but the more epic you go across centuries and realms, you’d better make sure you know the source of galactic hippo feces and how much it takes to conjure up a flame.

3. Everything dies … maybe.

Duncan Idaho died – several times – but his story stretches across the Dune universe. Immortality only really works if you have a believable mechanism (that typically and ironically probably involves death) that perpetuates the continued survival of that immortal. Invincibility is weak. “How come that guy didn’t die when that species harnessed the infinite power of universal destruction against him?” “He’s invincible.” Weak. At least give us a line about how the universe itself is entangled with the soul of Mr. Invincible so that any action against him is merely a derivative and manipulation of the forces that perpetuate his existence. One day, your hero has to die. You may never write his death, but you have to give the impression that while this day is won, tomorrow may carry with it an evil beyond the one vanquished, and in that tomorrow, your hero may not exist. It defeats the hero-always-wins ending – which is a bit thin. Fine, make your scruffy scoundrel of an antihero-cum-“chosen one” save the princess and defeat the ancient evil behind the dark machinations of a galaxy-spanning empire … but give us that after-credits scene where the hand comes up out of the rubble and makes a fist, or where that one dude’s eyes open again after you’re pretty sure the giant sword with the magical essence of a star pierced his black heart and shadowy soul and vanquished him eternally. Happy endings are for Golden Books, and tragic endings are for lazy, unimaginative sadists. Question marks rule.

4. Language!!!

You’ve got your creation story, your apocalypse, your pantheon, your hero, your ultimate evil, your epic quest. Great. So how come the Raxacoricofallapatorians speak like they grew up on a Yorkshire farm and the greedy merchant species at the other end of the galaxy talks like they’re doing a bad Jackie Chan impression? I get it. Not every one can invent a complete language for every race and only write their dialogue in their native tongue, but you have to at least suspend disbelief in the reader by writing in situations where language can become a barrier or obstacle, even if they’re just suggested and there’s never an issue. Again, just a mention works, but a clever way of explaining away the differences, or just presenting language differently in your dialogue goes a long way. Good examples: Chewbacca never even got subtitles. The TARDIS has a translation field or something around it so that every alien sounds British. Little yellow fish can be put in your ear that translate everything into your language. That being said, it doesn’t have to be Greek to the reader. It’s difficult to write a story without dialogue – I know I’ve tried. So at some point you’re going to have to consider, “Why does this race speak like they do?” Even if your entire realm speaks Common, though the individual races speak their own tongue to each other, you should introduce colloquialisms and regional dialects that give variation to dialogue even when its common. It’s simpler than you think. “That’s a donkey.” “No it’s not, you ass. It’s a fhumple”

5. No one likes a know-it-all … unless you’re the know-it-all.

Most likely, you’re going to tell your story in third-person and as an omniscient observer. While I’ve read good epic fiction in first person, I’ve rarely seen it done well. It’s a presentation style best left to psychological thrillers and unreliable narration leading to a big twist ending by that guy that got beat up and became a writer. It’s a great style, just not ideal for a twelve novel series. When the story involves more than just two or three people, there has to be a separation of action. Readers want to know what that villain is doing while the Galactic Federation is hunting for him. They want to know what that lonely spacefarer is thinking as he gets pulled into a black hole and has no one to talk to about the experience except his co-pilot. You are the creator, and your reader knows that. Don’t shy away from cutting away to the Fortress of Solitude where Superman (or Doc Savage anyone?!) ponders his existence in silence. We, as humans, speak to ourselves in our heads all the time – your writing should reflect those soliloquies when it furthers the story. At the same time, I’d steer away from characters that are omniscient. Outside of gods, who don’t always have to know everything, making a character with perfect prescience ruins the journey you want to lead your reader into. “Man, somebody totally just broke into the palace, stole the power gem, murdered the overlord, and escaped without leaving a single clue behind!” “It’s the Sandman! And he’s on Mars! I can feel it!” Eh. How do you know its the Sandman? The writer just told you. You have to have mystery. You have to challenge the reader, make them think down false paths, make them follow bad leads. Give them enough crumbs to leap to conclusions – it adds a new dimension to the story, and one you don’t even have to write. While you’re continuing the narrative, your reader is rolling an idea of who the culprit is around in their head. That’s depth you don’t even have to write, you just have to know how to spark it. HOWEVER, you still have to make the reader feel that you know absolutely everything that happened during the raid on Castle Betel, even if you never explain it. Your reader has to have confidence that you know where your story has gone, is and is going. They have to tread paths that seem like they’re blazing them, but at the same time they need to feel that you know where that path leads even if it doesn’t exist yet in the narrative itself.

Sounds like a lot to tackle. Well, of course it is. You’re a writer – not a advertising exec. You’re not outputting a four-color logo that will last two years before its revamped in favor of a more minimalistic design to depict maturity against the pastels of your competitor. You’re creating universes – freakin’ universes here, man. Do it with feeling, with gusto, with charisma, with evil intent. Even a thousand-word flash piece needs that field of stars behind it to give it depth and create the illusion of temporal and spatial progress.

You are your universe. Your readers are just visiting.

Ten Suggestions for Aspiring Humanists

These are not mine. They are words of Richard Dawkins – who I neither worship nor recommend. However, for those of us who, at times, struggle to define our view of the world in opposition to more widespread and established tenets of labeled philosophies, here are 10 “suggestions” for being a human in an endless universe of greater and less than symbols with no sign of a reliable 003D:

  1. Do not do to others what you would not want them to do to you.
  2. In all things, strive to cause no harm.
  3. Treat your fellow human beings, your fellow living things, and the world in general with love, honesty, faithfulness and respect.
  4. Do not overlook evil or shrink from administering justice, but always be ready to forgive wrongdoing freely admitted and honestly regretted.
  5. Live life with a sense of joy and wonder.
  6. Always seek to be learning something new.
  7. Test all things; always check your ideas against the facts, and be ready to discard even a cherished belief if it does not conform to them.
  8. Never seek to censor or cut yourself off from dissent; always respect the right of others to disagree with you.
  9. Form independent opinions on the basis of your own reason and experience; do not allow yourself to be led blindly by others.
  10. Question everything.

I don’t claim to be an atheist, or humanist, or acknowledge the existence or truth of any -ism ( excepting Botulism ; / ).

I am me, and you are not.