Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Games people play

They were not children of the occupation, a few years too young, both of them, to have witnessed the peoples' revolt, no dicatorships, just the semi-placid days of an economic upswing, boom times. They were not children of faculty, but in close proximity to the University, relatives and nannies would bring them all kinds of books, outdated economic treatises, cosmological manifestos, self-help mythologies, the idea being that any text no matter what the material would be good for beginning readers. Noli was five years older than Janet, their mother's childhood home on Delmonte Avenue, in recent years become a bustling commercial strip. Their father, only Noli really remembered, died from intestinal cancer in his early forties. Janet claims that she remembered papa, but most likely it is from the copious photo albums, since Janet wasn't even three when he passed away.
Janet was 4 and her older sister 9 when one summer they invented this game: who of the people around them, friends, neighbors, relatives was capable of murder. Most likely the game was inspired by the plethora of criminal investigation shows that pandered to the growing middle class, sordid tales of the demi-monde.

Friday, November 10, 2006


[[Four main characters, separated by time and geography, compose an inadvertent dialogue over the course of a novel. (I) The actuarial, as inspired by Wallace Stevens. (II) The housewife with the personality-typology scheme (III) The mathematician also a housewife, an army wife with three sons (IV) The portrait of the postmodern artist as a young fool. Klein bottle. Ouroboros. Cosmos. Entropy. ]

1. Glad tidings.
2. Ships adrift under capricious constellations, angry stars, azimuth circle rippped asunder
3. Calculable tides and unforeseeable storms
4. Ships run aground.
5. Safe ships, sleeping, berthed but still rocking from residual waves crashing past the breakwalls.
6. Back and fill, the Boatswain drunken, the Coxswain fevered and delirious.

Good morning, Mr Cantwell. This is the voice he hears every morning, like caffeine it shakes the last holdings of sleep, a sandy, persistent trail leading back to his bed. The voice that also buoys him at day's end, Good evening, Mr Cantwell. Just enough to keep his head above the choppy waves that fight him back on the five-thirty train. She's been his secretary for some fifteen years now and it was years ago that he ceased to see her as a woman with verifiable hair color, decidedly limp auburn hair, thin lips on a curt mouth, maybe a slight underbite, now just a daily indiscernible fixture, her image irretreivable in his minds eye, but funny that her voice still puts him in immediate working mode, like a morning alarm. Good Morning, Ms. Patterson.
[[God this is too fucken hard. I need a story. I got the character sketches sort of, but they don't want to do anything. How easy to go the route of A day in the life, the poetic and dramatic in the pedestrian and banal, think Cunningham's The Hours, maybe throw in some piquant flashbacks—he was always a very unemotional father, that scene where Jenny or Judith was eight years old and trying to fly a kite, nary a wind, and her father tells her it's all about force of will, gumption translating into drag, and something about Bernouli's principal—heard a phrase on the radio that sounds so good but not what sure it means: blue-eyed humanism, they were describing the piercing limpid stare of one J. Robert Oppenheimer. So what's the story, morning glory. For Steven Cantwell it's really just a character sketch, a slowly realized gap between his feelingful humanist imaginings—actuarial work being so dehumanizing—and his coldness to the people around him, his family and friends, and then the icing on the cake. his brand of humanism turns out to be rather elitist, not to mention racist, hates the jazz age, hates an excess of passion. His story will culminate in some kind of epiphany on the way home, he forgets to buy birthday present for daughter as requested by his wife. Cantwell's story will lead in to a story which will seem to be about his daughter, a housewife, but it's about someone entirely different. She is inventing a parlor game a prototype for a personality typology system, a la meyer's briggs, loosely based on Jungian personality archetypes, she starts imagining real people for these archetypes and these figure into her poly-perverse sexual fantasies, it will slowly be realized that she has always had misanthropic tendancies, making it apt that she would want to pull people apart and put them in boxes. Recently married. Just shy of thirty. Her husband a foil to her misanthropy, is the anti- Jackson Pollock, really nice guy but paints really bad kitsch. He tells her that maybe her typology system could be a good way to work through interpersonal barriers, a way for people to relate to each other, and she scoffs at this, if people knew each other's numbers they'd be even bigger assholes to each other. She first became interested in personality typology because the artist's community they live in is full of astrologers, so she thought what's more real than the stars, people and their quirks, their personalities, their own foibles tripping up their own lives. She used to be a humanist until she landed in this artist's commune, full of obscurantists, delusional egomaniacs. Her husband is too nice to speak ill of his comrades. She becomes obsessed with categorizing any person she meets or observes. One day she meets a new resident that she can't quite place—doesn't quite fit into her personality type scheme or maybe she can't quite read her, a woman also somewhat of a misanthrope. It seems like they could become very intimate. She tells her all about her theory. They end up running away together, both missing urban life, but end up getting ditched by her out in the middle of nowhere.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006


[[[[[[He is almost sixty. Married half his life. What is the half-life of a marriage. His daughter has been married and out of state for the last three years. Moved south, the husband an artist. A painter, a pauper, his daughter lost to Bohemia, maybe?Steven Cantwell is an actuarial. He is an obsessive maker of lists, not a poet, a listmaker. He of the boundless reserves of empathy is so removed emotionally from his immediate family, his only daughter, his wife. This is apparently common with people of boundless empathy, they have no patience for those closest to them, hence the ease of crusading for people in far away lands. Ideals work better as big pictures, rather than toiling through the barbarous details. Like a beautiful dream, a grand design, that becomes too familiar, mired in minor imperfections, the slip-start of everyday, it becomes grotesque. But then his life has become a dream, or if not a dream an endless, unthinking ritual, numbers. It is through his lists that he feels, that he ponders that he touches. His most meaningful relationship an old college friend, a poet and professor, he lunches with every month. He and his wife have lives in parallel, parallel only in space. He is emotionally estranged from his daughter, married and on another state. At what point did he slip away? Who slipped away? Is it a mutual slipping away. Love becomes a ritual, what's a thirtiest anniversary? Did she mention renewing vows. Things become unmoored. Things run adrift, if you don't watch them. Is modern life like a slow psychosis? You become so adept at the motions of a life, the work, the shallow, hollow commitments of family, and you stop living a meaningful life, hunger and apathy, delusion and fulfillment, these things walk hand in hand. Childhood memories of his daughter show how he was distant even then, when she was supposedly daddy's little girl. And with his wife those halcyon days of courting and love, a proper love, even in the throes of young passion, was this empty itself. his empathy lies these days with the subjects of his work, people in the face of fate, the tides of chance and injury. Maybe he cast a spell, put them in a bubble, timeless and unalterable, the heart tires. Love is holding the fragile glass heart beyond the railings above the dark abyss, this is where love thrives. All the safest houses, the fastest, surest cars.]

Tuesday, October 10, 2006


[The poet. What is his name. It doesn’t matter (alias TBA/TBD), this is obviously based on a real poet, thinly veiled, just short of plagiarism. His work will be published posthumously. Which then begs the question, why write. Who was his audience. Himself. Very briefly he was a writer for his college paper. His widow finds his vast collection of poems, years after his death when she is clearing out his actuarial files. Possible to be the hermit, the wisened sage in the cave, the philosopher fool in the middle of a metropolis. Cities are inhabited by nothing but poets. The poetics we live and sustain ourselves by. Yes, absolutely. The senses and the emotions dampened. Incurring damage, a low level kind of shell shock. He is an actuarial/insurance man. It’s taken him 40 plus years to reach this level of optimally comfortable complacency. Every facet of his life a comfortable routine, devoting his waking thoughts to the themes of his poems. All surface things. The phenomenal, phenomonist. The reality beyond human perception. Beyond suffering and happiness. The steps of his day. His mind is already at the office, before he even steps beyond the front awning of his apartment. The perpetual to-do-list. The three must-do items for the day and the endless list of back burner projects. Overcast, did the radio say rain or did Martha mention the chance of rain. What happened to Summer? Two weeks in Los Angeles visiting Martha’s sister in San Francisco. He would’ve rather stayed home, writing and reading. He should probably turn back and grab and umbrella, but his mind is already at the office. Down the block and the left on eighth avenue and into the fray of the morning legions, put on his blinders and find his caravan to the station. It’s all auto-pilot from here, although he still imagines getting distracted, by who knows what an errant updraft buoying a skirt or some theater bill, and before he knows it he’s tripped on the pavement and is trampled to death by the capitalist hordes. He thinks, curl up into a tight ball like he learned from summers on the farm, protect your head from the hooves. Where did summer go and now autumn and nothing but gray seamless skies to match the granite spires and the pale gum-stippled ground. Need to find Sarah a present. When’s her birthday again? October 23? No, that’s Martha’s June 23? He should ask Martha and write it down in his moleskin.
What is it at the office that makes him write a poem that is a memento mori as an ode to joy.

Friday, October 06, 2006


[Scrap that last post. That sucked. Here: a preliminary sketch]

The part of the downtown-bound train route where at 57th the tracks suddenly descended, dropping from the third floor tenements down through a set of concrete embankments squared off like some midtown sarcophagus, submerging into the dank rat warrens beneath the asphalt and elemental sod, it always made him think of tunneling to hell, not that hell was part of his belief system. It was just a fanciful vision, a recurring dream on the morning commute. A life long empiricist, he cherished the intransubstantiability of ashes and dirt, the machinations of good and evil rendered indistinguishable in the universal ploy of chaos and entropy. The world will end in ice, Mr. Frost, a slow irreversible heat death through the ages. Autumn always made him morose, or maybe not morose but thematically dower, or maybe it was the public sentiment of the era, wartime and it’s psychic ravages on the home front.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006


I know nothing. Or rather, what little I know is not very useful to me or I would imagine anyone else. Sometimes I marvel at how little I know (see figure I). I am the fool waxing fatalistic. As you can infer from the first figure, I know nothing of love, but I do know a little bit about hate and desire. I should say that there should be a separate subset outside of what I know and all I will ever know, a subset of all the things I don't know that I don't know, but this is sounding more and more like that Donald Rumsfeld quote about intelligence reports on terrorist sleeper cells. I don't claim to know nothing as some kind of political stance, a throwback to the xenophobic politics of the 1850s, the grand old know-nothing party, although it wouldn't be out of place in today's anti-immigrant climate.
Yes, this could be fertile territory for political satire, but I'm not clever enough to pul lit off. This is just a way to lower expectations, a fitting way to start the inescapable start, to begin the same tired beguine in this seedy ballroom.
Yes, the schemata asserts the fact that I know nothing, but then again amassing all we know as a species, every fecund seed of an idea, the human race knows very little in light of the inestimable cosmos.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006


[I would start writing, but the man sitting next to me here at the communal table reserved for laptops at Hot Java is processing rather loudly over the phone. In addition he punctuates his statements by hitting the table with his hand or tapping out a drum roll with his coffee cup. I can't place his accent, some kind of latin american, a lot of slurring, lilting phrases like that hackneyed caricature of an exasperated maitre'd, he's probably gay and foreign. He looks European, ruddy skin, hairy forearms, a ludicrous cow lick perched at the back of his crown like Dennis the Menace, wire frame glasses. I remember the Frenchman once telling me he could spot europeans by the way they wore tight really short shorts wedged up their buttcracks. The latin american's friend on the phone has had some kind of falling out with a girlfriend. He's urging his his friend to write her a letter. He's been talking on the phone for the last 15 minutes, tinkering on his laptop the whole time, responding every now and again, mostly absent-mindedly. "The only thing, Ray, is we can never underplay other people's feelings..." Another friend has just showed up at the cafe, a cute petite latina woman, with an equally cute short haircut—she doesn't look European—he waves at her and then rolls his eyes, motioning his hand in tight exuberant circles, the transnational gesture of blah, blah, blah, but what can he do with a friend in emotional crisis. So I would be writing now, but am too distracted. The Latin-Ameriican has finally ended his phone conversation and is now chatting with his girlfriend about some potential trick—yes, he's definitely gay and a bottom to boot. I would be writing now—not that I have a clear idea of a novel, a few vague ideas I've been tossing around in my head the last month or so. What else do I have going for me now that I've watched my cache of last season's tv shows. I need something more to show for all this unstructured, unbillable time. I need to remember to bring earphones]