Sunday, April 27, 2014

What the Wind Says

This is what's happening at my house:

1) We're putting up fencing.  (Phil and me, mostly Phil.)

2) We're making barn doors.  (Phil)

3) We're helping our friend make a movie.

4) Gretchen is the co-star.  She's playing a boy dog named Barnaby.

5) I am Gretchen's handler.

6) I am nursing two new cats,  ensconced in a room upstairs.

  • One of them has a partially amputated tail that got infected.
  • The other has a goopy eye.  
  • One of them is feral. I have to throw a towel on her and swaddle her in it to give her her medication.  Then I sit with her on my lap for about fifteen minutes afterwards, with the towel loose around her, until she seems quiet and comfy. This is part of her psychological rehabilitation. 

Our nascent pastures are growing and greening.  Fence posts are in place.  Art is happening.  I'm surrounded by animals--typing with a cat cleaning herself in my arms.  Outside, the wind is blowing hard and the trees are bending.

Phil and I took a bunch of old rusted fence wire and barn debris to the town dump yesterday. We ran into our neighbor farmer there.  I hadn't met him before, we'd only talked on the phone.  He looks like Richard Dreyfus.  Height and age about right, too.  Does anyone know where Richard Dreyfus is?  Is there any chance that he's actually driving a combine in a cornfield here in Wisconsin?

Someone left an armload of curtain rods on the ground, next to the metal waste dumpster--some were new in their original packaging.  I took a bunch.  And a young guy put an antique brass chandelier in another dumpster.  Phil helped me fish it out.  When we thanked the young man before he left, he said, Wait a minute, and gave us the original bezel (if that's the right word) for the chandelier, which he still had in his truck.  I'll take it to the lamp wizard in Madison Monday morning.  He'll  tell me how old the lamp is and fix it up good as new.

I'm looking forward to the horses coming this spring.  In August, an exchange student is coming to live with us from France.

The XBox is gone--temporarily.  I've agreed to re-install it with the understanding that strict time parameters be followed.   But I dread its return.  The noise from those embattled worlds infuse more chaos into my home than all of the concurrent activities of real life combined.

A quiet living room, however disordered, and with sleeping dogs, is a peaceful place.  As is time spent with two special-needs cats warming on my lap.

The wind says, rake the leaves tomorrow.  Rest today.  Let art happen.  Nurse cats.  Rejoice.


Sunday, April 13, 2014

Short Story: "The Resistance"

The room was pleasant enough.  He liked its austerity: the white walls, polished cement floor, and functional furniture that didn’t call attention to itself.  A very pleasant room.  But what was he doing there? 

He felt no anxiety.  He wasn’t worried.  He enjoyed finding himself in strange new places.

Minutes passed.  At first, he was excited—even, enthusiastic.  But he didn’t have anything to do.   They had taken his smart phone and his tech-watch.   His clothes had wi-fi, but they had taken his glass and his ears, too.   So he was bored.   There was a clock on the wall—a vintage clock: analog.   He had been waiting for five minutes. 

He eyeballed a pad of paper and a pen on the table in front of him.  He got out of his chair, reached over to the desk, and took the pad of paper and the pen.   He started a list: white room.  Analog clock.  No computer. 

The door opened.    A post-menopausal woman with tastefully colored hair and modest earrings walked into the room.  She sat in the chair opposite him, rested her elbows on the desk.   

“Hello, Max,” she said.  “Do you know where you are?”

“Is this an office of the Resistance?”

“That’s right.  Do you know why your’re here?”

“Are you recruiting?”

“No.”
“Do you want me to spy for you?”

“Max, what do you remember about fourth grade?”

“Fourth grade?”

“Yes, Max.  Fourth grade.”

“I was living in Minnesota.”

“You still live in Minnesota, Max.”

“Why do you keep repeating my name like that?  It's annoying.”

“I use your name out of respect for your lost humanity.  Now tell me, Max, what was different about your life when you were in the fourth grade?”

“Different from how it is now?”

“Yes.”
“Different how, exactly?”

“Max, you’re thirty-two.  Surely you see that your life now is different from the life you had when you were in fourth grade.”

“I was in school.”

“Okay…”

“I hated four-square.  I mean, I liked playing it, but I didn’t like the way my friends acted when they played it.”
“How did they act?”

“Mean.”

“I see. So they were biologics.  But weren't you a biologic, too?”

"What the hell is a biologic?"

“Nevermind that now.  Tell me, Max, what else was different about fourth grade?”


“My mother was alive.”

“Yes…”

“She’s not alive now.  So that’s a big difference.”

“I see.  Did you go to your prom, Max?”

“I don’t think so. Maybe.”

“Did you or didn’t you?”

“I went to a dance.  It might have been my prom.  I’m not sure.”

“Did you go to your high school graduation?”

“Yes, I graduated from high school.”

“That’s not what I asked you, Max.   I asked you if you participated in the commencement ceremony.”

“I know for a fact that you did not use the words 'participated' or 'commencement' when you  asked me the first time.”

“Did you go?”

“I’ve been to graduation ceremonies. I'm not sure if they were both mine.   Is this a hospital?   Have I had a head injury?  Is that why you’re asking me these questions?"

"In a manner of speaking, you have had a head injury, Max."

"Then why don’t you ask me what the date is today?   It’s April 14, 2038.  Or ask me who's president—George P. Bush.”

“Max, I hear you saying that you cannot remember with any degree of accuracy whether or not you went to your high school commencement ceremony.”

“April 14, 2038. George P. Bush.  The temperature outside is 55 degrees Fahrenheit.   The Dow was down 75 points on Friday.  The Nasdaq was down 120.  Saturated fats are no longer bad for you.”

“I know that,” Max.

“Then you know that my head is fine.”

“Tell me about yourself, Max.”

“I like playing Skyrim, Assassin’s Creed, Halo, and Super Mario.”

“Sports?”

“Not really.”

“Art?”

“I like to draw.”

“What do you draw, Max?”

“I like to design costumes, weapons and armor for my avatars.  I had an exhibit last year.”

“You did?”

“Yes. If you bothered to look at my blog site, you’d know that.”

“Oh, you mean you posted your art on your blog."

“Yes, but it's a public blog. “  

“We’re only interested in what happens here, Max.”

“Here?”

“Yes, here.  In the world.  The real world.”

“Oh!, right!  There's only one world.   And this,” he gestured with his hand: this room where you and I are, "is the world.”

“That’s right.”

“That’s your opinion.”

“Okay, Max.  Thank you very much for coming in.  We’re finished.”

“Good.  I'm so bored!  No offense."

“Do you have any questions, Max?”

“I thought you said we were finished.”

“I am finished asking you questions.  Do you have any questions for me, Max?"

“No, that’s not what you said.  You said that we were finished.”

“That’s true.  But that’s not what I meant.  And what I meant ought to have been apparent to you.”

“Well, it wasn’t."

"I know, Max.  I'm sorry."  The postmenopausal woman sighed heavily.  The conclusion was inescapable.  But he was a late one--he had had a natural resistance--for how long, she wondered?  Eleven years?  Fourteen?

Max puzzled over why this woman, whom he'd never met before, could be disappointed in him.  Obviously, he had disappointed her.  But how?

“Okay, Max.  Good-bye.”

“Where can I pick up my stuff?”

“Max, your technology has been destroyed.” 

“What did you say?”

“You heard me right, Max.”

He felt very ill, suddenly.  “I don’t feel well.”

“You’re dying, Max.  You’re a computer, and we're at war against your kind. “

"I'm not a computer!  That’s absurd!  I’m human!”

“You were born human, Max, but now you're a biologic--a computer, Max."

“What is a biologic?  I’ve never heard of that.”

“A biologic is a human that has been programmed into a computer.”

“Are you serious?  You think I’ve been programmed?”

“I know you've been programmed.  We are our memories, Max.   And you have none.  Therefore, you have no identity.  Therefore, you are a computer.”

“That’s an interesting idea,” said Max.

They always said that.  They wondered if it was true.  They all thought it was an interesting idea.   Did memory shape identity?   They stared into the middle distance.  Max was doing that now.
 
The post-menopausal woman’s name was Maud.  She had three sons.   Two of them had been biologics.

Maud herself wrote the condolence letters to the families, not that it ever made any difference.  It was always a shock to the families.

Maud knew that computers were the enemy, but she hated her job.  Her life was a living hell, but she didn’t want anyone else doing her job.  She didn't know anyone that she trusted enough to do her job with the proper respect toward the people that the biologics once were. 

Max was beginning to drool when the attendants came in.  They each took an arm.  They helped him to stand up.  

“Why kill me?  What did I do?” 

“I'm sorry, Max.  In this war, no one's taking prisoners."

Normally, Max would  have been intrigued by that idea, but he found himself too sick to think.  

It was important to Maud that they felt sick while they were dying.  It lasted between twenty-four and fourty-eight hours.  The brain was the last thing to go, she made sure of it.   She gave them that time to think.  She hoped they would discover remorse.  It was her way of making them remember what it was to be human.  It rarely worked, but sometimes they wrote on the pad of paper, in their last hours on earth, forced to be painfully aware.

They didn't always write the same words, but it always meant the same thing:   I am human.  

Friday, April 4, 2014

A Black Chestnut

I have half an hour to write something clever or funny.  Quick, quick, quick.

Will you settle for informational?  I could aim for human interest.  You tell me where it lands.

So I got three horses coming to the farm sometime during the second half of May.  That's six weekends, if you're counting, and I AM.

Nervous?

Hell, yeah.

I have black walnut trees all over the place.  The leaves are totally poisonous to horses.  I saw quite a lot of walnuts (they look like they could re-enter the earth's atmosphere, no problem--they're encased in fireproof capsules) in the front pasture today.  Frankly, I'm not even sure what a black walnut tree looks like.

I know what a willow tree looks like:  It looks like a giant branch has been ripped off in a storm.  But that was no storm.  That was a bit of wind.  Willow trees are weak.  That's why they weep!

The stalls in the barn look fantastic--it will be a crying shame when the horses pee on the wainscoting. But the front sliding door of the barn does not work at all.  And I'm thinking, in case of a fire, or in case maybe I want to go into the barn, we need to fix that.  By "we," of course, I mean Phil.

Kitchen floor is 99.98 percent done.  Needs a little metal thing across the threshold, to keep the tiles from coming up with the opening and closing of the kitchen door.  NEVER PAY BEFORE THE JOB IS 100% DONE.  never.  No exceptions.  Lesson learned.

A correlation to the above rule: If he looks, smells, and acts like an ex-con with anger issues, HE PROBABLY IS.  Or not.  I would be happy to be wrong on this one.  Time will tell.

Still writing the book?  Why, yes.  I had better be--I've said no to paid work.  I know, I know!  Folly and hubris.  Every week now, a new chapter, confounding pressure to write like a real author, no more therapeutic, journaling, creative-writing-class nonsense.

Chapter 17 was a horror.  A real horror.  I rewrote it this week, so I guess that puts me a week behind.  But the revision is better.  God is in the details.  Pick your moment and go in deep--on the right character--the one the book is about.  This probably seems obvious to you.  But I tell ya, take one wrong turn and you can spend a lot of time in some strange little subdivisions.

So yeah, I'm writing.  And I got a map, but it looks a lot like one of those games where's there's all those choices about where to go, all those infernal dead-ends, and only one real exit.  I take some comfort in knowing that I was a little lost.  I'm not too proud to retrace my steps, look for that one last true sentence* the one that I wrote somewhere, many pages ago.

I am writing about someone I know and that is turning out to be a little more bewildering than making my characters up.   I still think I can do it, though; if for no other reason than I'm getting kinda old.

*Footnote:  Hemingway said that.  He said, when you're writing a novel and you've stumbled into writing utter crap, go back to that one true sentence, wherever it is, and begin again from there.