Monthly Archives: March 2012

devices and devisers

   “The most important thing [about fiction] is that it assures the reader that things need not be as they are now. In other words, the most important thing is hope.” Gene Wolfe

Yesterday, I went to the first Fuller Award ceremony at the Sanfilippo estate. I’m not typically one for awards ceremonies, but this was being presented to Gene Wolfe, whom I adore, by a friend whom I have not seen in some months, and it was being held at this venue. This place is very nearly indescribable. It’s a paean to clever mechanical devices, primarily musical devices, but also kinetoscopes, novelty games (mechanical baseball, horse racing, antique casino games, and boxing) and “services” (vibrating machines for your health, fortune telling machines, grip-strength evaluators, etc.).

It was entrancing and alarming. I wish I had thought to bring a digital camera other than my phone, because I pretty much wiped out the battery in the first 45 minutes there.

I posted photos here.

It was very gratifying to hear Gary Wolfe and Neil talk extensively about just how damned good Gene is, and how important he is to these writers who have maybe enjoyed more celebrity with their work. Gene wrote out everything he planned to say when it came time for him to speak, and I don’t know if he’d actually written down his little asides and wisecracks, but I still think he’s one of the most charming talkers. I said this back in 2002, but it’s still true. I have such a crush on him. I wish I hadn’t been so timid a decade ago, when I had a better opportunity to talk to him more in depth. He is one of the writers who has made me a better reader, and I will always be grateful to him for it. I’m going to read him out on the balcony this afternoon.


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devils speak of the ways in which she’ll manifest

As a teenager, for a time I found no song more viscerally powerful than this one; its sort of hungry admission of the absence of faith resonated in me, as did the tortured grasping for something clean to take its place, and by taking it, become unclean. That feeling of desolation and the thirst for the destruction of the vestiges of a prescribed morality flourish in adolescence, of course, as the wish to be safe, to be protected and cherished, more rooted in childhood, hides self-consciously (but only for a while, while we test the boundaries of our appetites). Now I can open up this time piece and examine the works, understand more clearly its manipulations and fascination. But what it comes down to is this: this song, at that time, was the very epitome of fucking.

Nine Inch Nails: Closer (Uncensored) (1994) from Nine Inch Nails on Vimeo.

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Balcony Season

On days like this, when the air is warm/cool and the sky is molting its winter grey into fresh skin and blue, I love my balcony the most. Wancy and I spent worlds of hours on it, writing (him) and reading (me) and talking (us) until we could plot the points of universal interference on our own internal graphs enough to know that no algorithm existed to explain our whys. Every point an outlier.

Alone, the balcony is the get-it-together place, the tamp-down-these-thinkings place, the fire escape for times of quickening and rarely but also forest fires. Stories burn well on the balcony and are contained in perpetuity. It’s such a good place.

Today I went out and got coffee, and on the way home thought this is what I’ll do, I’ll start balcony season. I have neglected books to read, and there is the sun and air and warmth again. And because today is so beautiful, some e.e. cummings:

be unto love as rain is unto colour; create
me gradually(or as these emerging now
hills invent the air)
breathe simply my each how
my trembling where my still uninvisible when. wait

if i am not heart,because at least i beat
–always think i am gone like a sun which must go
sometimes,to make an earth gladly seem firm for you:
remember(as those pearls more than surround this throat)

i wear your dearest fears beyond their ceaselessness

(nor has a syllable of the heart’s eager dim
enormous language loss or gain from blame or praise)
but many a thought shall die which was not born of dream
while wings welcome the year and trees dance(and i guess

though wish and world go down,one poem yet shall swim)

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They are a yesterday come from the past.

My maternal Grandparents’ home in Colorado is this lumbering estate in my head, but I imagine that’s mostly because I haven’t been there since I was very young. When I think of it, I remember it being in the crook of a mountain, with woods all around where we used to hunt for toads and make videos of adventure stories with our cousins. There was a large wood porch around the second storey of the house, overlooking the woods and the mountains, from which I’d always get splinters. I remember Grandfather’s library, mostly histories and volumes on various wars, his German Shepherds (which responded to commands only in German), Grandmother’s Siamese cats (which responded to no commands whatsoever), the sink where we gutted and cleaned the fish we caught, and the music box. Mostly I remember the music box.

It was on the ground floor, in a room I always thought of as the “ballroom,” although it wasn’t a ballroom and the only reason I thought of it that way was because of the music that the music box played. The music box is as tall as I was, or taller–a free-standing, larger piece of furniture that looks like an armoire or something, with a crank on the outside. Its body opens to dividing wooden slots in which are stored vinyl-record-sized metal disks with small rectangular holes in them. The top of the box opens like a record player’s top, and you lift a brass arm to set the disk into place, and then lower the arm and wind it up. I spent entire vacations, it felt like, examining the metal disks, picking out songs, winding up the device inside the box, and listening to music.

The songs were mostly popular songs from the late 19th/early 20th century, or classical works, but no matter which disks you played, all the music sounded like movements in one metallic symphony.

I thought of it this morning, because I am going here a week from today. I don’t know how much of the place I’ll get to see, but I hope to be able to explore the Music Room, with its various musical devices.

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five years

In that book I just finished, there’s this line: “Happiness has no history.” It’s not entirely true, but it’s very close. I think happiness has no time. When you’re happy, it’s eternity and over too fast, both, together.

I am always surprised by love. It always comes so unexpectedly, carelessly, and always with an air of arrogance. Like you’d never deny it admission.

I find that I keep dreaming awake of cold and trees and dark and loneliness. I’m being seduced by the ghost of a season. I thought about watching an autumn movie, about making an autumn dinner, of crushing leaves in my fists to imitate the smell of the air in fall, but it’s like keeping a pillowcase of an old lover — enough time passes and it no longer smells like his hair and sweat and skin. Enough time passes and there is only the present.

I fill my heart with music so it will not notice my mind’s embezzlement. I don’t know how to pay back what I’ve taken from my life.

It’s like you lose something that’s enormously valuable to you, so valuable that it’s nearly part of your definition as a person, and you shrug and decide to live without it, and you’re mostly ok with that, but there’s always that gap there where something was. You’re less defined, even if it’s just to yourself. And then one day, you find it, suddenly and excitingly, and you understand that there’s a way to be more defined again, if you just adjust the conditions a little.

I pet the cats when they go by. They’re not cuddly cats. I think it’s probably because they’re not my cats. When you don’t belong to a cat, that cat doesn’t really know you exist. They arch their backs in surprise when you pet them, and give you indifferent looks which may be tinged with exasperation — Pet me, if you must, but quickly. Things to do. My cats aren’t always very cuddly with people either. I don’t blame these cats, of course, but I try to make them stay with me and let me hold them. They protest until I let them go. I miss my cats. But I think it’s fun that these cats’ names are malleable, like silly putty. You pick them up with one name, you put them down with another. You call to them for dinner with different names, you yell at them to stop attacking that bouquet with others. RJ has taken to calling the blonde-orange one “Whatever.” “Whatever got into your water,” he said, and I waited for him to finish the sentence. But he already had.

I don’t wear drama and unhappiness if I can help it. But I’m trying really hard to wear them well until I can get rid of them, like moth-eaten winter coats in unforgivable, out-of-fashion prints. You know what I’m talking about. You’ve got one somewhere, too, you know you do. Don’t lie to me.

Everything is a true thing. Everything we ever loved or believed in, it’s always been true. Do you see?

Always there comes times in life at which you have to grit your teeth and let go of some precious pet hope of yours. Usually this is long after the trend toward hope-entropy is obvious to everyone except yourself. Like a fever breaking, a sudden realization that, “Hey! This isn’t ever going to work, is it?” to which everyone else answers, “Well, no!” When I was younger, a theater director I had called it, “Killing your darlings.” Later, a fiction writing instructor I had said the same thing, and the phrase struck me then too. “Kill your darlings.” Edit out something you have to try too hard to achieve and never quite achieve with it, especially when you so desperately want it to work.

The only part I loved in the Libertine was his side of a dialogue Rochester was having with Lizzie Barry, in which he described himself as a cynic, and said that he goes to the theater because he wants to be moved, and life never succeeds in that. There was just a small moment in it when Depp (flawlessly, as per yoosh, although the performances were not the problem with this film) slips from jaded and corrupt to a strikingly sad hope (it’s amazing how he does that, just a slight alteration of the eyes and lips), and then back again. It felt like when Megs uses her index finger to poke me hard in my sternum (you can’t imagine how much that hurts until it’s been done to you), because I recognized myself in that bit. Obviously I don’t see myself as a complete debauchee — I’m in danger of neither liver failure nor syphilis at this time — but it was the earnestness with which he spoke of the false reality of the theater. I watch films for the same reason. I believe that life is a slow death, that the good are neither rewarded nor punished any more or less than the wicked, that coincidence is just that, that actions have consequences that are nearly never equal, etc. All of it, I understand all of that as truth; I have rarely, if ever, and I can’t think of an ever, known differently. It’s not nearly as dire an outlook as I’m making it sound (in fact, I love being alive, and enjoy almost every day of it these days). It’s just something I believe to be true. But film and stories, I love them, they are — as Depp’s Rochester says — my drug, because in them, everything I hope and and want and wish to be true, can be. They’re a type of salvation, even if it’s a false one, and I cling to it because I want so much to be moved, and real life consistently fails in its every opportunity for that.

I’ve started thinking things are haunted. A penny, a pillow, some string in the top drawer.

Look for your counterpart/ who always walks with you/ and mostly is what you are not. Antonio Machado

I snagged an obvious common thread — it’s that they’re stories about hope, but not just hope as a good thing, but also as a terrible thing. Actually, the theme stains a lot of my favorite books as well. Because hope is both. It’s something that’s dangerous, and something that a person needs to handle well or it can become a tool of self-destruction, but it’s also something important and good and clean. It’s both, and the dichotomy will always seduce me.

I will do something unexpected, and you will follow my lead.

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her elfin blood in madness ran

It is still astonishing to me how stupid I can be about things which ought to be obvious to a normal human being. Sometimes it takes a normal human being to say what is obvious for me to see what I had missed. And having missed, nearly drowned.

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I have a love.

Today at work, a coworker told a dismaying story about my very favorite chef in Chicago, the chef whose food is so wonderful and immediate, it silenced both me and Stefan the first time we ate it, and it has continued since to be my very favorite culinary indulgence. I know that chefs are notorious for being petulant egomaniacs, and this story was no exception to that stereotype, but while she was all, “Rick Bayless killed Bernardo!” I was like, “When love comes so strong, there is no right or wrong!” I wanted to be on her side, I did, I wanted to be horrified by his gauche behavior and dismiss him entirely for playing the Do You Know Who I Am card, which is always a terrible idea because it always backfires, but it isn’t true, not for me, it’s true for her, not for me, I heard her words, and in my head, I know they’re smart, but my heart! Haily, but my heart knows you’re wrong. Your love is your life.

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