Monthly Archives: September 2014

My Own Personal Slush Pile

It is far better to create content of questionable value
than it is to absorb content, even excellent content.
– From the notional publication,
“The Provisional Proverbs of Vin Reilly”

When I first started going out on the World Wide Web, sitting in front of my Packard Bell PC clone in the evening, I would start clicking link upon link, getting lost on the Internet. I felt like I was running myself ragged going from one article to another, one photo to another, one graphic to another until I just had to go to bed. It was exhausting, and I realized that I had been using my time and energy to experience the work of other people, many of whom were no more professional in what they were doing than I was. I wasn’t cured of spending time in this fairly ludicrous way, but I did start to resist. This was when I started to put some ideas into my journal, ideas for stories and articles – much better than the god-awful boring accounts of my daily life and irritations. And now, I might need to use some of these ideas in order to take up the 30-day writing challenge. I have given myself a daily writing deadline. As editor and publisher, it is now my job to sift through the slush pile, the slush pile of story ideas that idiot writer I employ keeps submitting, all to ensure that I have something to post. Here are three from my slush pile, with working titles.

Pearls before Swine – a man claims that he has been abducted by aliens. He says that they had cured him of some inoperable cancer or other deadly disease, shows his medical records to prove both assertions, writes a book, goes on talk shows, only to be disbelieved and mocked as a fool.
Considering that the passage from Matthew says … “neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.” I think it would have to be a tragedy.

Queens of Denial – science fiction story of alien beings who believe they are angels who do not eat, fight, or reproduce. They are adamant that this is the case, and it has become the chief tenet of their religion. It is only after humans make first contact and show them video of what they do not remember they do in the middle of the night that this becomes a problem. Just like in Pearls before Swine, they refuse to believe this and things get very hot for our intrepid heroes.

Iceman – you remember the Iceman, the frozen, mummified ancient shaman, whose clothes and accoutrements taught us things about early man that we had never thought about. I had this idea of the story behind the shaman’s death in the mountains – that he was going there knowing that he was pursued, because, as their spiritual leader, he was sacrificing his life to save his people. But reality completely trumped this imaginative story. It turns out he did not just wander away and freeze to death – he really was murdered.

The very few stories I ever completed were closer to essays or poems than they were to short stories – no character development, just setting out a situation and writing stuff that would make one think about that situation. But I have to say, I did enjoy coming up with these ideas!

We Will Walk in Fields of Gold

But I swear, in the days still left, we will walk in fields of gold

Love songs, love poetry and love itself are full of promises. And promises are made to be broken, as they say. And no promises are better-made to be broken than those of love. When they are made, although they might be and might always remain truly meaningful and heart-felt, they usually have a problem with them. They are completely impossible in the real, earthly world.

“I will love you forever” is the most common sentiment. As someone once said, “forever is a really, really long time” – only it isn’t, because forever has no end of any sort. Taken literally, the person promising will not only live far beyond the natural length of their human lives, they will outlive the sun, the galaxy, the universe itself, perhaps. That is a promise that cannot be kept. (Although the question of whether forever is dependent upon the existence of time has not been authoritatively answered. If the Universe comes to an end, maybe one could say that the promise had been fully kept.)

The promise made in my sonnet is not only impossible, but it is, even worse, unlikely. To sum up the poem, I at some point in my existence have been transformed into a being of godlike powers, able to violate the lightspeed speed limit, a being for whom even the vacuum and radiation of deep space holds no terror, who experiences the harmony and beauty of creation and feels the very life force of all living things. Even in such a condition just about as far from the human condition as I can get, I will still want to share every aspect of that life, beloved, with you.

Looking back, I realize that if I could change anything in my past, no matter how trivial, it would be impossible to predict the effects of such changes, and would likely change every aspect of my past. I would’ve had different wants and experiences, different friends, different enemies, different love interests – I have no idea if I would even recognize myself. If there is so little I can say about the effects such relatively trivial things, how much less could I possibly say about such a large thing?

But I don’t think immortality needs romance, anyway. Romance is linked to our perishable nature, and lies in knowing that life is short, and joy can be fleeting, and then making these joyful, ridiculous, impossible promises anyway.

We Turn to Stone

The city streets are empty now
(The lights don’t shine no more)
And so the songs are way down low
(Turning, turning, turning)
A sound that flows into my mind
(The echoes of the daylight)
Of everything that is alive
(In my blue world)

I turn to stone
When you are gone
I turn to stone
Turn to stone
When you comin’ home
I can’t go on
– Jeff Lynne

One beautiful, sunny autumn afternoon, I was in a car, drowsy as I rode past a pretty little cemetery at a bend in the road. The grass was well-kept, lush, and very green, and the trees were beginning their melancholy transition to the reds and golds of fall. It was heartbreakingly beautiful. As we turned the corner, as if in a dream, I visualized myself not material and turning with the car, but continuing, ethereal, on a straight line, passing effortlessly through windshield, fence and trees and coming to a gentle stop on the face of one of the headstones. It startled me into wakefulness, this visualization.

When I was born, I was surrounded (like other fortunate people) with friends and relatives all interested in my welfare, eager to see me grow and grow up. This was the beginning, when I was first embedded in the network of family, friends, and acquaintances, all alive, as the song says, in “my blue world”. Who are you, and how do you fit into this network? That question can only answered by the memories that people have of interacting with you, what they do for you and what you do for them. Imagine this living meshwork, built of all the connections you have with people – the more connections, the more important any node is to the network. It’s built like the living brain. You know that when a person has a stroke, the lack of blood supply kills off brain cells. A person who survives such an event has to re-learn doing things that were wiped out in the stroke. Getting the job done requires the brain discover a different route to do it,. This network of people, in which you are one node, works very much like that.

Imagine you have an uncle, Ernest. You love to hear his stories of life on the road with, let’s say, the Los Angeles Dodgers, so many years ago. But one day your uncle dies. His node, you might say, goes dark and drops out of the network. He is buried, and the place marked with a headstone bearing his name, in a pretty little cemetery at the bend of a road. Because of the wealth of memories you have of him, in some ways, Ernest is still alive to you. It would make you happy if you could somehow here these stories again. Ernest’s many connections in the network still exist, and this gives you an opportunity. So you go to your dad, Nestor, and he tells you the stories as his brother told them to him. You have rerouted the connection.

Many people in his network will visit the cemetery and look at the stone, but they won’t see the stone, not really. They will remember Ernest as he was when he was alive with them. But life, and death, march on. Over time, more and more memories of Ernest are blotted out as more and more nodes of this network go dark. One day, you or someone like you, will be the last. When that happens, the way people have always gone, the stone with his name on it will be the only thing left of uncle Ernest on this earth, and of interest only to historians and eventually, archaeologists. He has turned to stone. That then, is the bad news.

But, there is good news hiding in there. You remember Ernest – he was wonderful, he was amazing, he had stories to tell, and people loved him. Thing to remember here is this: you, too, are wonderful, you, too, are amazing, and you have stories to tell, and people who love you. And remember, there is still that ancient hope, that the loss of connections in the darkening of nodes is just an appearance. The living connections will still exist, and the network will patiently wait for your node to light up in its new location. But you will have to wait, hopefully for a long time, before you know for sure. But in this world as we know it, at least we can know this: in the same way that you will always remember your uncle, for as long as they live, your people will remember you,

Shofar, So Good

You have, no doubt, seen endless television sitcom parodies of Dickens’ a Christmas Carol, where main characters get to learn something important about their own lives, and all the other actors on the show get to play other characters in the story. This is the only time I’ve ever seen such a parody that depended on Jewish ideas of sin and atonement.

(Please click on this link to enjoy an edited version of the show, before or after further reading!)

“Shofar, So Good”, is the name of an episode of Northern Exposure, which follows the character Dr. Joel Fleishman, who is helping pay off his student loan by working for the federal government as a doctor in some remote place. The place is Cecily, Alaska, a friendly,  if eccentric, town–small enough that a wild moose often walks down Main Street in the morning.

On the one hand, Dr. Fleishman is self-absorbed, unsympathetic, and has no tolerance for stupidity, either cultural or personal, and is not shy about letting people know exactly what he thinks about their stupidity; on the other hand, deep down, he really is a decent sort who knows that maybe, he ought to be nicer to people. He knows he is also possibly the only Jewish person in thousands of square kilometers.

In the episode mentioned, the Jewish high holy days are coming, and Joel answered his friend Ed’s questions about what that means. He tells him that during the high holy days, Jewish people are supposed to examine their lives and repent of their sins. On the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, the gates of prayer and repentance, that were opened in heaven on Rosh Hashanah, close.

In the dream, or vision, Dr. Fleishman’s guide to his life is in the person of Rabbi Schulman, his old rabbi, who serves as the ghosts of Yom Kippur past, present, and future. When the rabbi asks him if he is as repentant as he ought to be, and then shows him that he isn’t, Joel begins to get the idea. As he stands by a significant grave, he sees in front of him the gates of prayer closing. In a panic, he tries to make it through the gate before it closes, but fails. Broken hearted, he desperately rattles the bars of the gate hoping that it will open for him. This is when he wakes up, and realizes it is still the Day of Atonement, that the gate has not yet closed. Properly repentant, and possibly happier than he had ever been on the show, Joel sits at the top of a wilderness hill and watches the sun set on Yom Kippur, praying and preparing to eat an orange to break his fast.

This episode is unique on American television. I never saw anything like it before I saw in 1995, and I have never seen anything like it afterward. The explanation of the high holy days given was probably the most detailed ever for us non-Jews in the television audience, introducing it to people who may have been ignorant of there being any imagery associated with these holidays at all. The writers of this show had the daring to intimately portray a Jewish character as a person not only “just like everyone else”, but as “NOT just like everyone else”. I consider it a meaningful and masterful episode.

10,000 Suns Shining on an Alien Sea

Geoff Hoff, one of the writers of the comic novel Weeping Willow: Welcome to River Bend“*, challenged me, as a follower of his blog, to take the “blog something every day for a month” challenge.

This poem started as a response to seeing a digital graphic I saw somewhere on the Web, and it was a very short, cryptic poem for my spouse. Several months later I expanded it into a longer cryptic poem. Even though she liked it (both times), I always felt it needed something else. This thought has been whispering in my mind for 13 years now: “Turn it into it into a 14-line sonnet.” I started in earnest a month ago, and it began to take a shape that I liked.

Ten thousand suns shine on an alien sea,
bright flowers blooming in its darkened sky,
to which, redeemed from human frailty,
as fast as thought, I find I now can fly.

The waters, lapping round my feet, give birth
anew to all the pulsing dance Life gives;
through flowing water, air, and solid earth
I feel the breath and life of all that lives.

Somehow I sense, or see, or understand
this harmony that has no empty place;
the universe seems all at my command,
and yet within my soul one darkened space:

till you, too, stand in wonder on this shore,
my heart will wait, though it wait evermore.

*Which you should definitely read.