Hawking Up Hairballs
Where You Been, Chuck?
Call me lazy. Better though to call it a hiatus, but I haven't been here for a while. I haven't got a real excuse. I just didn't feel like messing with it, and I don't know how consistent I will be in the future, but I got tired of bitching and moaning about the state of the world, of the economy, etc. I think I'll refrain from that in the future, though I've said that before.
I thought I might pass along a couple of writing exercises that I ran across in a book entitled, "Naming The World". This book consists of a series of exercises for the creative writer. These exercises have mainly been contributed by writers and teaches of creative writing in universities.
One thing that struck me as I perused the book was just how different writers can be. There's a tendency to think that the creative process is pretty much the same for everyone. Nothing could be further from the truth. For example, I remember hearing an interview with Richard Powers. He was talking about how he had written his latest novel with speech recognition software. In other words, he had spoken into a microphone, and his software had converted it into type in his word processing program. He felt that it was more natural to compose his novel that way. I believe him, but with this reservation. It's more natural for him, but not necessarily for others.
I could never write like that. I'm too much of a brooder when it comes to writing. I have to put down some ideas, impressions, metaphors, etc. on the page before I even think in terms of phrases, and sentences, not to mention whole paragraphs. Only then do I type it out in my word processor. I do read my work out loud after having composed it, in order to get a sense of the music of my language, but that's at the end of the process. Like I suggested above, it's different strokes and all that.
There were a couple of exercises in "Naming The World" that intrigued me. The first one suggested listing all of the things that a character touched, handled, or used in a story or novel, this by way of coming to a greater understanding of the character. I'll have to try that. I don't know if it will work for me, but I'll see. It makes sense though. We are what we do, and the same goes for fictional characters. Doing means using or handling objects, so the objects that the character interacts with should give me some insights into the character.
The second exercise was a suggestion on how to write the dialog of non-native speakers of English. Take a number of English sentences and translate them into the character's native language using something like Google's translate function. Then, take the resulting sentences, and retranslate them into English. (You have to actually retype the resulting sentences. If you click the button that translates it back, you just get your original copy.) You will find some awkward constructions showing up, and it is just those awkward constructions that non-native speakers will tend to use. I tried a few sentences, and it seemed to work. Unfortunately for the purposes of this exercise, these translation functions keep getting better and better, and those awkward constructions are bound to disappear over time.
Sometimes The Truth
“'We have shot an amazing number of people, but to my knowledge, none has ever proven to be a threat,' said Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who became the senior American and NATO commander in Afghanistan last year. His comments came during a recent videoconference to answer questions from troops in the field about civilian casualties.”
The above comes from an article in the March 27 edition of the NY Times. As some have pointed out, that amounts to a de facto admission of war crimes. Not that anything will ever come of it. In a better country, in better times, the public would be outraged that its military engaged in such practices, but not now, not in the age of the American imperium.
A Nation of Nut Bags?
We're a nation of nut bags. How else to explain numbers like these. A Harris poll taken between March first and eighth came up with this little gem. 14% of those surveyed think that Barack Obama is the Antichrist. That's right, the Antichrist. Now, I have no use for Obama. Like all but a handful of high office holders these days, he's a tool of the oligarchs, but come on. I find it hard to credit that 14% of people even believe in a mythical figure like the Antichrist, and that's the 14% who don't like Obama. I'm sure there are also those who support him who also believe in this boogeyman.
Here's some other numbers from the same poll that are equally mind-boggling. 32% of respondents said Obama is Muslim, 29% said he wants to turn sovereignty over to one world government, and 25% said he wasn't born in the USA and wasn't a citizen. These sorts of things are just plain denials of fact. Maybe we should go ahead and change the name of the country to something like the Disney States of America. We could get Bruce Springsteen to sing, “Born in the DSA” and replace the bald eagle as national symbol with Mickey Mouse.
As Chris Hedges points out in his excellent book Empire of Illusion, we Americans are the most deluded people on the planet. Given the power of modern media, particularly television, we're probably the most deluded people ever. Quite a distinction, that.
Speaking of Chris Hedges, he feels that we're a people who are yearning for fascism. Here's a link to an article where he talks about it. I'd say it's a must-read.
The Health Care Bill
So, the health care bill has passed, and I suppose there are those of a liberal persuasion who are celebrating. Just what they are celebrating, I can't say. It's in the executive suites of the insurance industry that the champagne corks are really popping. They pretty much got everything they wanted in the bill.
This health care bill represents a massive transfer of wealth from the besieged middle class to the insurance companies. Here's what I mean. For a family making $66,000 a year, annual premiums will amount to more than $8,000 a year. In addition, they will be responsible for over $5800 in out of pocket expenses a year before the benefits kick in. Some coverage that is. It means that there will be people who won't be able to afford to use their health insurance because of those out of pocket expenses.
Some might say that this is a first step. Apparently, the likes of Paul Krugman believes that, but I see no evidence of it. If anything, experience teaches us otherwise. Take the prescription drug insurance for those on Medicare. As one who is availing himself of it, I have to say that it is wholly inadequate. It saves you some money on prescriptions, but not much. At the time it was being discussed in Congress, organizations that claimed to advocate for older citizens, organizations like AARP, supported the bill. When criticized, they said that they were getting behind it because it was a first step. I won't be holding my breath until that second step comes. The same goes for this health care bill. It's the one we're stuck with for at least a generation.
There are a few sops for the public in the bill, but the benefits that come from them are illusory. For example, insurance companies will be prohibited from dropping individuals when they become sick. However, the bill does not empower any regulatory body to enforce this provision of the bill. What then is to stop the insurance companies from ignoring it?
The fact is that, to quote the site that I'm linking to below, “This bill is almost identical to the plan written by AHIP, the insurance company trade association, in 2009.” So, with President Obama and his changes, it seems that the more things change, the more they stay the same. The wealthy and powerful continue to wage their class war against the rest of us, and more and more wealth is still being transferred upward.
Here's a link to myths about the health care bill. http://www.scribd.com/doc/28632876/Fire-Dog-Lake-Health-Care-Bill-Myths
The other day, I watched the movie Factotum on the Independent Film Channel. It's based upon the Charles Bukowski novel by the same name. It wasn't much of a movie. The protagonist, Henry Chinaski, bounces from one shitty job to the next. He never keeps any of them for long. He gets fired from each and every one of them, either because he gets fed up and tells the boss to fuck off, or because he goes on a drunken binge and starts missing work. The story's a grim one, and the movie's failure to fully commit to that view of the world is one of its big weaknesses.
Matt Dillon plays Chinaski, and he tries his best. It's obvious that he's done his research. He's got the same way of speaking that Bukowski had, and the same way of holding himself, but that's not enough. In Bukowski's books, the Chinaski character is so down and out that he is beyond despair, and he just doesn't care anymore. Dillon fails to communicate that, probably because it's not something he's ever been familiar with. Then there's the casting problem. Dillon is too much of a pretty boy. Like Bukowski himself, Chinaski is ugly. They should have chosen an actor with more of a downtrodden manner.
As for Bukowski himself, I would argue that he was the last of the Beats. He's of a different generation from guys like Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, but the literary project is the same. Not only that, I would also maintain that Bukowski's work represents the deadend of Beat romanticism. What happens if you devote yourself completely to writing, refuse to compromise, and hang with it no matter what? If you're lucky, and you have to be damned lucky, you'll have some success and find a way to earn a living on your writing. If you aren't lucky, you'll end up like Chinaski, leading a skid row sort of life as you bounce from one soul-sucking job to the other. Bukowski saw this too, and embraced it, though he was one of the fortunate ones in the end. In the closing scene, Chinaski talks about how you have to give yourself over to writing, and keep on with it no matter what, even if you end up on the streets, sleeping on park benches. That's a hard road to walk but Bukowski was a man who was prepared to walk it. That's what separates him from his imitators.
No requests for my manuscript as a result of that first chapter. What kind of conclusion should I draw from that? Not much of one really, since few people read this blog, and I know that to be a fact because hits are monitored by Sitemeter.
It doesn't help that I go for long stretches of time without posting. If you want to build up a readership on these things, you pretty much have to post every day. However, this time I have a good excuse. I've been making pretty good progress on my new novel whose working title is “Getting What You Need”, and I'm pretty well written out for the day after putting in time on the novel.
I've decided to stay away from political posts as such. There's nothing positive that I can think of to say, and other sites do a much better job of making the points that I would like to. On that note, I'm linking to a piece on the Smirking Chimp web site. I really like it, and there's very little in it that I don't agree with.
Buster Bungle's Big Top
I'm posting the first chapter of my novel, “Buster Bungle's Big Top”. Who knows, maybe someone who's an agent or is associated with a publisher will stumble upon it and request the manuscript. Stranger things have happened.
The Hellcat was a big, fire-engine red bike that was built for speed. Neal Bobwhite was bent down over its handlebars pushing it to a hundred miles an hour in the HOV lane of the expressway. He leaned into the left turn ahead and cursed when he blew by the highway patrol car that was parked hard up against the concrete barrier that ran down the middle of the highway. Neal shot on over to the rightmost lane and slowed to the speed limit as he took the first exit. He glanced into the rearview mirror, but the cruiser wasn’t following. They rarely did. The bike was too fast and maneuverable.
He turned onto a four-lane street in a rough neighborhood, but it was a neighborhood that he recognized. He had lived there as a small boy, back before his mother had remarried. The Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise on the first corner had been one of his favorite places to eat, but it was now a rib joint called Daddy D’s. The McDonald’s wasn’t new, but the Checkers was. Another block down, a check-cashing business advertised payday and title loans. It occupied the yellow-brick building where his mother had worked as a receptionist for an insurance agency. Neal could remember the way the women who had worked there had doted on him, stuffing him with cookies, candy, and cake.
Just ahead, a homeless man was sprawled face down on the sidewalk. The way he lay, he seemed broken, as though he had fallen from a great height. Another unkempt man was bent over him. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, then eased a half-empty pint of whiskey from the pocket of the unconscious man’s pants. As Neal rode past, the man held the bottle up in front of him and grinned like he’d hit the Cash 3 in the lottery.
Neal slowed for a light and came to a stop. On the right was a convenience store that Neal had known as a Seven Eleven. It was now called H&H, and it had become the kind of place where the cashier had to work behind bulletproof glass. Neal could recall going there to buy bottles of Coca-Cola and small bags of peanuts back when he was a boy. He’d pour the nuts into the bottle with the Coke. They would float to the top, and he would eat one or two with each sip that he took.
An emaciated, white woman was out in front of the store talking to the young, black men who were in the tricked-out, yellow SUV that was parked there. Her hair was a tangled mass of greasy, blonde curls, and she had on a tattered dress of the sort that might once have been worn in a wedding, though it was now dirty, gray, and ripped. The men in the SUV were having fun with her, teasing and taunting as though she were witless or mad. She reeled away from them, throwing a hand in disgust.
She was so frail and wasted that she looked like she might just collapse to the asphalt and expire, but then she saw Neal staring at her, and she drew herself up into a sober posture while smoothing the dress against her body. The light had changed, but Neal had pulled over to the curb. He didn’t know why, but she had something to say, and he wanted to see what it would be. He lifted the visor of his motorcycle helmet.
“You wanna party?” she asked.
Her eyes were bloodshot and her cheeks sunken. Her skin had a pallid cast, and her breath was so foul that it smelled as though she were rotting from the inside out.
“Here? On my motorcycle?”
She flung a skinny arm toward the intersecting street. “There’s a park up there.”
“I don’t think so, not today.”
She licked her top lip and her eyes lost their focus. She swooned momentarily, then caught herself before falling. “Maybe you can let me hold ten dollars.”
“So you can get something to eat?”
“I need me something to eat,” she said.
She wouldn’t eat. She’d buy dope instead, and Neal wasn’t going to give her a ten for that, but then he looked her over again. Who the hell was he to judge? His parents would have scorned the woman. That right there was reason enough to give her the money. If she used it to buy dope, then so be it. He pulled his wallet from the back pocket of his jeans. He didn’t have a ten, so he took out a twenty. She snatched it from his hand as though she were afraid that he would change his mind about giving it to her.
“Are you sure you don’t want to party?” she asked. “I could give you a BJ.”
“No, just keep the money.”
She nodded, though it seemed more like she’d just let her head fall. When she brought it up again, she raised her arm and pointed it in the direction he was traveling. “Are you going down there?”
“Yeah, I guess so.”
“No, no, no,” she said, throwing her head from side to side. “You don’t wanna do that. That’s where the devil cats are.” She leaned closer, her foul exhalations making Neal breathe through his mouth. “You should hear them at night. They’ll steal your soul away.”
“Steal my soul, huh?”
“And they won’t give it back.”
With that she was gone, waving wildly to someone in a car that was behind him. Neal dropped his visor and engaged the transmission. The light had changed, so he let a few cars pass, then shot out into traffic in front of a semi that was downshifting to grind up the rise ahead. Neal topped the slope and descended into to what had once been a hollow, and a dark one at that, judging by the stand of pines that still shadowed the land on the right. To the left a circus had been set up between a supermarket and a strip mall. The mall was unfamiliar, but Neal remembered the supermarket as a Winn-Dixie, though it now bore the name of ValuCheck. A row of paper signs in its display windows advertised collard greens, pork chops, corn on the cob, and ground beef.
Neal slowed to read the sign that hung from the motor home that was parked out in front of the circus, but the semi behind him was building up speed as it came downhill, and the driver let him have it with his horn. Neal popped the throttle and the Hellcat jumped ahead, shooting across the oncoming traffic and into the strip mall.
Neal parked, and got off of his bike. The circus was a shabby affair. There was a one-pole tent with a short vestibule extending out from the entrance. Its broad, red-and-white stripes had weathered to ugly shades of pink and gray. The battered motor home from which the sign hung apparently served as the ticket office. On the far side of the lot were a ferris wheel and a merry-go-round. Both had seen better days. A couple of the wheel’s spokes were bent, and overall it looked so rickety that it might well collapse the next time it was started up. The merry-go-round was tilted to one side, and the whole thing just seemed to sag, as though it had succumbed to gravity and would never move again.
Only now that he had stopped did Neal realize just how brutally hot it really was. He took off his helmet and shook his head. Beads of sweat flew from his brush cut. He ran a hand over the top of his head, then put the helmet down on the seat of the bike. His pulse was pounding at his temples, and he needed a cold drink, but first he wanted to see that sign, so he walked on over for a look.
“Buster Bungle’s Big Top” ran along the top of the sign in black, block letters. In a smaller cursive below was another line, “Featuring Selena Sable and Her Cats”. This Selena had been rendered beneath in a top hat, tails, fishnet stockings, and knee-high boots. Her hands were in the air in the manner of a choir leader conducting her singers. Three black cats in a row were leaping over her outstretched arms. The technique was crude, like some cartoonist’s version of Egyptian hieroglyphs. Selena’s legs were too long, her arms too short, and the features of her face distorted. The cats had been portrayed in primitive and abstract fashion, like stylized Sumerian lions on a stone wall.
Devil cats, huh? They were probably toothless relics that were too old for a real circus, and that Selena was undoubtedly some old hag who was just hanging onto a performing career as best she could. Neal turned from the sign and cursed himself for a fool. It was time to get home, and into the pool.
He paused to stare up into the sky, where the sun was beating down on him like a hammer on red-hot metal. Maybe he hadn’t been drinking enough fluids. It could have been a bug or a virus. Whatever it was, the pulse was still pounding in his temples, and he suddenly felt lightheaded as he walked back to his bike. He was telling himself that he needed to stop for that cold drink when, all of a sudden, a loud boom came from out of the sky. He jerked and went all to jelly inside. His arms and legs shook like the limbs of a tree in a gale. He sank to his knees and then, as his head began to spin, went down on all fours.
The next thing he knew, he was staring down at the red clay beneath him. There was vomitus on the ground between his hands. He grimaced at the sight of it, and spit as he tried to expel the taste of it from his mouth. What the fuck had that been all about? He rose up onto his knees and took a deep breath, then climbed back up onto shaky feet. Shielding his eyes with his hand, he peered up into the sky again. He saw a few puffy, white clouds, but nothing that could have caused a lightning strike. His eyes went back to the circus. He brushed the red clay dust from the knees of his jeans, then peered into the sky one last time. He was no epileptic, so it had to have been lightning. He’d heard of it striking from a clear, blue sky. Though he was still unsteady, he walked briskly back to his bike.