Friday, February 25

chasing dragons

When I was fourteen or so, back in the days of Mom’s heroics, I fell into a fairly profound depression that lasted for about six years. As amazing as her actions to keep us roofed and clothed and fed were, as super-human as her efforts to care for our schizophrenic borders were, the effort took its toll too. There were large rents in the fabric of our lives, and I slipped through a few of them.

Mom never knew how bad it was at the time. We’ve talked about it since, cried and accepted and forgiven each other for the missteps and gaps. That’s all there was to do.

There’s no such thing as a normal life anyway. TV is just theatre. I’ve never met anyone that had a “normal” childhood.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m thankful for what we had. It could have been worse. I was cared for and provided for, and I learned autonomy early. I was perhaps neglected in some ways, trusted by default to find my way, but never abused. I always knew I was loved.

But I had a serious mind, and it led me to dark places, and Mom had her own demons to struggle with. I survived it. Barely, I realized later, looking back. There were close calls. But I survived. We both did.

After the accident, when my marriage was falling apart, there was another depression. This time I was able to get help and it was shorter, but the return to depression had been unsettling. Profoundly unsettling. Walking over your own grave unsettling.

Looking back on the last couple months, and especially weeks, I realize now that I was starting to feel a fear, in the back of my head where I couldn’t quite reach it, that I was sliding down the rabbit hole again. That I was falling into pits too deep for me to extricate myself from. That I was slipping away and that all the work I thought I’d done had obviously not been as complete as I’d thought. (And, of course, it isn’t complete, never is, but that’s okay and a different thing all together anyway.) With words all dried up, even the desire to write absent, I was getting very worried that something was seriously wrong.

I wasn’t ready to admit it to myself or anyone else. My friends were worried, I could tell. But I just curled in. It’s what I usually do; try to fix it myself for as long as I can. It generally works, even if it’s not a perfect system. Knowing that support is ready and waiting is usually enough. I still have all those ingrained habits of (perhaps unhealthy) autonomy though. It’s what I do.

But it wasn’t a slip into depression this last few weeks. It was just the mother of all colds, or maybe an inconvenient string of them. I woke up Wednesday and felt human for the first time in a while, then felt better yesterday, and today I’m feeling practically normal.

And I’m breathing heavy sighs of relief.

From here, coming out the other side, I can see that my malaise wasn’t a descent into darkness. The fear was unfounded. But it was there. That’s worth taking note of. I’m taking notes. There’s (always) still work to do.

But there’s good news in this too. When I was telling myself and everyone else that it was just a cold, I was right. While I may have a fear of some of the dark places I’ve lived in, I’m not the person that fell into those pits anymore. Who I was doesn’t define who I am.

And I think I feel pretty damned good about that.


P.S. I finished the full reading and notes for the manuscript draft today. The last revisions before beta reading start on Monday.

Tuesday, February 15

dead calm

Inspiration is a fickle bitch.

I wrote two pages of drivel about why I haven’t posted this last week and deleted it. You’re welcome.

Here’s the simple truth – I got nothin’ right now. The doldrums I mentioned last week? Still here, still with me. I’d rather leave dead air than fill it for the sake of filling it.

I could manufacture something about Egypt, but smarter people than me have said smarter things than I could, and more insightful people have already said the right stuff about what it’s really about. I’m fucking excited about it though – Tunisia and Egypt are the most amazing things to happen to democracy since the ‘60s. I hope desperately that neither regional groups, nor the military, nor the West, hijack or even try to hijack what is happening there.

I could do some extended navel-gazing like the crap I deleted, but it wouldn’t be as honest as it should be, has to be, for what I need to be gazing at. It would just be a post for the sake of posting. Other than once or twice, fairly early on when stuff like stats and a schedule were things I thought might be important, I’ve tried not to post for the sake of posting. That’s not fair to me or you. That’s not what this is about.

So I’ll just shut up now and keep my head down, nurse my (six week old and counting) cold, and try to figure my shit out. When it’s honest, I’ll post it.

Love ya. Thanks for your patience. 

Monday, February 7

smoke and mirrors

I had a strange week last week, full of flatness and a decided lack of inspiration. It wasn’t writer’s block (whatever that is) – you have to be trying to move forward to encounter a blockage. Instead, I was vaguely unhappy about having no desire to move forward. It was like being in fog, or thick smoke. Like I couldn't see farther than my hand, so it was most prudent to stand still.

I listened to an interview with Iain Banks (or Iain M Banks). He writes under both names, publishing high-end sci-fi and critically-acclaimed non-genre. He said that he had no clue what writer’s block was and apologized for being flippant about it. I want to identify with that perspective one day. So far, so good, but it’s early. It’s the lack of motivation that gets me sometimes.

So I posted old stuff, a story and a poem. Bloggers love comments, we do, but stories and (especially) poetry don’t encourage them the way current events and navel-gazing does.

A friend and I agreed that commenting on poetry is intimidating. There’s this sort of expectation to “get” what the writer was saying, even when it’s (unavoidably) so ambiguous with poetry. Poetry is meant to be full of the unobvious, sometimes only meant to be pretty, but always brimming over with implied metaphors.

Commenting on poetry is like describing a ship that passes in the fog.

If we’ve been to school, studied poetry (for example), there’s this ingrained reaction to critique according the metrics we were taught – the metrics of criticism. Often, we were told to avoid trying to read it as auto-biography, but there’s always the temptation to do just that – to try to see into the artist’s mind and learn about them. That temptation is naturally stronger when we’re viewing famous works by famous artists, but I think the professors are right no matter what. We should avoid it.

If we get caught up with studying craft too much, or looking for biographical clues, or practicing pseudo-forensic psychiatry, then we miss the beauty of art; the chance to let is wash over us and teach us about ourselves the way a fortune teller reads tea leaves. We need to steep ourselves in art and then, during and much later, read the detritus it washes up onto the sides of the cup.

I agree with the thought that art is a mirror. Of society? Yes, but I think the most prevalent value of art is as a mirror we use to see our selves in.

Even when we just want to make something pretty, with no meaning at all beyond the beauty of creating, if we share it, there’s the mirror. Somebody sees it and they see… what? Something of themselves. Has to happen. We look and see that post, picture, story, poem through our own lens. And we see our selves in our reaction to it. If we’re looking for it. The better the art, often the more profound the reaction. But not always.

Sometimes it’s just serendipitous timing and the mundane provokes violent upheavals. Other times, the most amazing art barely makes a ripple. But there’s always the mirror, telling us about ourselves if we are willing to listen. It’s a mystery. I love that, the use of art to help solve ourselves.

I read this a couple weeks ago and it has stuck with me like a virus.

"It has always seemed strange to me... the things we admire in men, kindness and generosity, openness, honesty, understanding and feeling, are the concomitants of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, egotism and self-interest, are the traits of success. And while men admire the quality of the first they love the produce of the second." ~ John Steinbeck

It’s a blatant societal mirror, but it works on a personal level too. What do we value?

ALSO: If you haven’t already, you should go check out Judy Clement Wall’s Love Project. I think it’s kind of beautiful; a grass rootsy kind of thing that could turn into a tsunami. I hope it does. A love tsunami – it’s a nice thought.

ALSO AGAIN: Annie Syed talks about art and originality in her Still Sundays post this week. She’s always worth reading, but if you’re an artist, it’s especially pertinent.

Saturday, February 5

poetry #5 - ...does it make a sound?

© mdlockhart 2009

charcoal cold, she spreads herself above him
  noble, wanton, she hides, she hides behind
  the petty coats of the azure-breathing forest
tense and groaning, they sway beneath her,
  kaleidoscopic dancers, verdant in the planet's breath

i also sway, lost in the darkening
  in the spider-spinning cacophony of this aging warrior
  he is oblivious, lost in his own fuming worship
arms spread wide and full of shadow lines
  twisted, scar-knurled and full of fate

he is the former opulence
  brittle trailing of the ether's bridal gown
  now yellowed and ashed, he is alone
an anachronism
  hidden in among the lush present

besieged by a green youth, callous, callow
  not imbued with a proper
  respect, but in him there is a refusal
  arthritic and T-boned, his crooked palms raise
eternally to the stinging rain
he shakes and cracks within her dispassionate embrace
  straining towards the deluge, skeletal
  it spills, her showers
like sand between bony fingers
  and rigid, impotent, he rattles and rails

the mistress, un-aged, dances
  rushing between her younger lovers’ groaning limbs
  her laughter and disdain rolling
deeply, booming in the shadow
  through cloud and over root

he strains, zealot rigid
  unbending, spine fused by age and frustration
  no possible supplication
is left to him
  proud, but diminished

he stands as mute witness to
  the absolute constant of mutability
  the virginal truth of change
  the glare of what may be
to a dodgy and skittish present
tall, he prophesies
  a blood-full, onyx sky swollen above
  gyres about him with her younger lovers
slashes him with tears, explodes in ecstasy
  amplified echoes of his angst

desperate, he barks splinters
  against the sky that cuckolds him
  summons his own thunder and,
one last time, without resignation
  bends back to stare into her weeping mien

i hear his cracking sigh, 
  see him kneel and fall
  warmly, the scent of her full and sweet
he crashes to the forest floor
  and returns, returns to the earth

the young dance, oblivious above him, but i see
  as i see her, shuddering as she nods
  a final thunder head bowing to earth
  as with a flourish, a final tear she
mourns into the spreading darkness

© mdlockhart 2007

(Up the mountain in the first months after the inversion started, I found one deciduous tree at over 7000 ft, 600 or 700 feet above any other deciduous. It was dead, but beautiful, held up by the pines around it. The poem isn't about that tree, one I saw fall in a wind storm in Alberta, but it could be. Will be. One day.)

Wednesday, February 2

fiction #2 - closing accounts

(Trying something different today. Egypt has me simultaneously so optimistic, concerned, and confounded that I have nothing to say on the obvious topic du jour, so let's go off the board for $200, Alex.)

closing accounts

Joseph left the office at 3:47 PM in order to make a short trip to the bank. He needed to do a quick bit of business before the bank closed so that he could leave for his vacation that night after work. The business wouldn’t take long, he knew, and he could then return to finish his final day as executive assistant to Mr. J. D. Camstan, CEO and Director of Camstan and Sons Payroll Accounting Solutions, Inc. He had worked without holiday or even one sick day for just more than thirteen years, always foregoing the urgings of Mr. Camstan to take a well deserved break from his ceaseless acts of duty and loyalty. He knew, after all, that Mr. Camstan, and by association the company, would fall apart without him.
And so he walked the three blocks north to his branch of the bank that he had patronized for those same thirteen years, the First Continental Bank, whistling as he walked and, some would later say, almost skipping down the cobble-stoned sidewalk that graced this corner of the financial district.
Joseph waved to the flower vendor at the corner who always set out her assortment of fresh blooms at precisely eleven o’clock every morning and stayed faithfully, in rain or shine, until precisely six-thirty o’clock in order to allow every employee on the street the opportunity to take fresh flowers home. He appreciated her diligence and commitment, and bought a fresh bouquet every Friday under the guise of needing it for his Friday date. Each week she would smile as they exchanged pleasantries, and wink at him when he made his goodbyes so that he would not be late. On this day they politely nodded to one another and did not talk.
He stopped briefly at the tobacconist’s to buy a newspaper and, perhaps on a sudden whim, an expensive cigar to enjoy in the first class lounge at the airport. With the tobacconist, Joseph spoke for two minutes on such inane subjects as the weather and the scores from the hockey playoff game the previous evening.
The waitress at the café he frequented for lunch most Wednesdays also received a hearty greeting and polite wave as he passed her cleaning tables on the patio. For a long moment she didn’t seem to recognize him, but then a light went on and she thought she placed his unremarkable face and returned the wave. He did not notice that there remained a faint look of puzzlement on her face.
His ebullient steps brought him, finally, to the doors of the First Continental Bank where the guard was already waiting at the entrance to begin the lock down procedures at 4:00 PM. The guard did not seem to note his arrival or even be paying attention at all, glancing as he was over his shoulder back into the bank lobby. Joseph thought he heard the guard making a soft cat-whistle as he passed.
Once inside the bank, he entered the queue just behind a younger fellow, also dressed in a suit, gray, and carrying an aluminum attaché case, and they made their way quickly to the kiosk positioned conveniently along the path of the queue. As he did so, Joseph enjoyed the soft click of his new shoes on the marble floor and the crisp sensation of the conditioned air after the humid spring day outside. He stopped to complete his transfer slip as the young man carried on to a window.
He took a slip from the kiosk and completed it, first writing his account number, then filling in the name and transfer number of the Grand Cayman Bank account he was transferring to. Very carefully, he wrote the sum of the transfer on the slip, both in precise script – One million, seven hundred and twenty-four thousand, nine hundred and seventy-nine, and forty two centsand then in practiced numerals - $1,724,979.42then, after taking a breath to steady his nerves, wrote his nameJoseph Merriman perfectly but impersonally on the signatory line. Joseph checked his watch: 4:57 PM. The timing was crucial and perfect. For good luck he patted his airline ticket and passport through the light summer wool of his suit jacket and turned to find an available teller.
It was at that moment that something strange happened, something that had never happened to Joseph Merriman in all of the thirteen years of his tenure at Camstan and Sons, and had never happened during one of his bi-weekly visits to First Continental. That had, in fact, never occurred in his adult life. Perhaps it was his exceptional good mood and the palpable happiness he exuded. Or perhaps it was the air of confidence he carried, something certainly unique to him on this day; the aura of someone whose ship had finally come in. Whatever the case, on this singular May day, as he looked up from his transfer slip and turned, Joseph Merriman caught the eye of a pretty young woman.
Moreover, he seemed to hold her gaze for several seconds without her looking quickly away; He made eye contact.
She was about the same height as Joseph, average for a woman, but had a slim and muscular build. Large, pert breasts showed prominently beneath a blue sweater that matched her eyes, accentuated by a golden aura of cascading hair. He could not help but peripherally notice black slacks, of some synthetic and clingy fabric, that graced and highlighted every curve and muscles of her hips and legs, nor, as she turned slightly, could he help but recognize how out of proportion her breasts were to her otherwise trim and lithe body. The guard’s whistle suddenly made sense. He also deduced instantly that they must be implants. This made his penis begin to swell.
Joseph was flushed. He knew that he was not an attractive man, having fared poorly in the genetic lottery as far as aesthetics were concerned. Now in his late-thirties, he had suffered the indignity of a receding hairline while still a freshman at college, a full retreat before graduation, and complete follicular abandonment by the time he was twenty-six. His frame was particularly thin and short and seemed insufficient to support the growing expanse of soft flesh around his beltline - and only around his beltline - that refused to be diminished by failed diet or the minimal amount of exercise that he could fit into his very busy life. His cheap suits were subsequently insufficient to mask any of his flaccid frame’s inadequacies as he made his bald way from place to place. All of this to say that Joseph was more than a little surprised to be the object of this lovely young woman’s subtle but unmistakably coy smile.
Such is the affect of an unprecedented event that for what seemed a long moment Joseph simply froze, without any concept of an appropriate response to such a shock. The glow of hubris began to burn brightly within his substantial brain. Finally, he thought, I have so obviously arrived at a station and place appropriate to my intellect where my appearance is overshadowed by the gravitas of my person and good fortune! And, he made the logical leap, this young flower is only the first of many who will recognize this new stature with only a glance. I will finally enjoy the fruits of a life denied me by circumstance and the vagaries of phenotypical genetics, and I will be admired as I ought. With some discomfort born of performing an act for the first time, Joseph returned her smile.
Again with the discomfort of a man performing a task he was not used to, still sharing the lusciously surprising gaze with the woman, Joseph made to turn to a teller while adjusting the small tent in the front of his pants, and at that exact moment time changed subtly and permanently for Joseph Merriman.
There was a shriek behind him and, with a poignant clarity, Joseph saw the beautiful woman actually notice him for the first time. The change in the direction of her glance was minuscule but unmistakable. He instinctively began to turn towards the sound behind him, eyes still fixated on the woman, and so saw her face transform as she saw him staring at her and smiling. Her visage fleeted through distaste, then amusement, then slid effortlessly past him and into a fierce grin. Then she was moving, but it was a blur to Joseph because he was turning, his head spinning faster than his body to find the young man that was ahead of him in line standing behind him. The man in the suit, his back now to the teller, his right hand lifted in the air, the hand full of gun.
The young man, composed in spite of the teller’s scream, projected into the hollow acoustics of the bank, “Everybody down”, in a slow motion drawl.
As his gaze fixed on the gun, Joseph’s mind played a small and acrobatic trick, reviewing immediately the young woman’s transforming visage. With familiar understanding, it became his face’s turn to fleetly stir through a mixing bowl of emotional expressions: There was a hint of disappointment which quickly blended into a practiced expression of self-chastisement – Stupid, Joseph, how could you have thought... – then a good pinch of surprise – Is that a gun? – and finally a full cup of fear.
Joseph’s body was still turning towards the shriek (and subsequently the gunman) while at the same time his mind made every effort to suddenly flee in the opposite direction. As his mind and body began an argument that both were bound to lose, a blur - formerly the young woman recognizing Joseph’s impending greatness, now another in a long line of cruel muses - moved between him and the exit, pointing – She has one too…!  - her own gun, past Joseph and towards the door. Towards the guard, Joseph surmised without actually thinking it.
The mounting number of completely unbelievable realizations finally undid Joseph and, his body turning one way and his mind the other, his hopes tossed in the air and tent deflating, his now confused foot firmly met the heavy base of the stanchion supporting the velvet ropes of the queue. The momentum of his confounded body was too much for his fleeing mind to control and, defying logic, Joseph unrepentantly found himself launched forward into the air.
Naturally, his mind, disconnected as it was, recognized the absurdity of the action immediately and started to push a single syllable of abject denial past his vocal chords and lips:
“Nnnnnnnnn…!” he began.
He thought then of the transaction slip that was fluttering in the corner of his eye, now bereft of tether as his hands opened and pushed forward to break his fall; of the clean digits, all nine of them, complete with commas and a period; of the untraceable twelve years of embezzlement that they represented; of the small, cozy villa above a cliff on the coast of Belize; of the rum and cigars that were to be held by the very hands now flying up in front of him in less than a day; of the impending loss of his virginity.
This was what he was thinking as first one hand then the other firmly closed over first one then the other of the buxom young woman’s surgically enhanced breasts. For the second time, their eyes met. Joseph saw shock in hers, the pupils contracting and showing off, he couldn’t help but notice, the sweetest tiny gold flecks in the irises. He registered a revelatory feeling as his hands pressed into the firmness of the breasts, the small hardness of her nipples pressing through the soft fabric of bra and sweater into his palms.
“..ooooooo…!”, he continued.
He thought – So this is what a false breast feels like… what a breast feels like. His mind rushed through the endless litany of artificial breasts he planned on relishing in Belize. He thought about how much more enjoyable it would be when he didn’t have to rush or use them to break his fall. And he thought about what one might actually taste like, the firm nipple between his flaccid, pouting lips, as he felt and heard simultaneously a sharp punch in his back and a fierce explosion by his ear.
“…oooooogglglglglllllhhaaaa…” he completed.
In the ringing blindness he realized that he had stopped falling. Each hand was still placed over each breast, but the two of them, he and the woman, laid together on the floor now. In the woman’s eyes, only inches from his own, there was a dazed look, as if she was in shock due to his clumsiness. Then he noticed the warm wetness spreading between them. He deduced that it must be blood, her blood, and that the dazed look must mean that she was actually dead. Perhaps the guard had saved them all.
Joseph felt he should get up and say his thanks, perhaps even manage to complete his transaction. Certainly, lying on the floor with this buxom thief fondling her dead breasts was unseemly in the extreme.
As respectfully as he could he slid his hands from her breasts to the floor and, suddenly too tired to move, laid his head upon the same sweater-covered softness.
Behind him, from the direction of the tellers’ wickets, he heard, “I think the fucker is dead.”
Just above him, “The girl too. Did she shoot him?”
Another voice, the guard’s perhaps, “Yeah, she shot when the chubby guy jumped her. I saw it. She missed him and got her boyfriend. Blind luck.”
And the first voice, “And the fucker shot the fat guy that was jumping his girlfriend?”
“Must have been…”
“Is the little guy dead?”
“No, he’s breathing sort of…” There was a pressure on his back then, soft and distant, in the midst of a heat more intense than he had ever felt before. “He’s gurgling pretty bad though. Fuck, look at all this blood. I can’t stop it.”
The teller’s voice, “He was so brave, just screaming “no” like that and jumping her.”
“Brave? Stupid fuck could have got us all killed.”
And close to his ear, “Hold on, buddy. Help’s on the way.”
And in a whisper above him, “He’s not gonna make it.”
Joseph Merriman felt a cooling breeze wash over his hot brow, chilling him, and thought, “Am I here already? Ah, Belize…” and closed his eyes.