Monday, November 30, 2009

My Narrative Mind

I have an interview with Joanna Howard up at my interview column for The Faster Times, Writers on Writing. We talk about her new collection, On the Winding Stair, story openings, and how to get from one sentence to the next.

More interviews @ Writers on Writing:
I Am Not a Camera: Gary Lutz
A Ribbon of Language: Blake Butler
What People Do When No One is Watching: Rachel Sherman
Justify Every Sentence: Laura van den Berg
Most Violence Is Intimate: Ben Tanzer
I'm Not Trying to Trick the Reader: Brian Evenson
Where Commas Ordinarily Go: Robert Lopez

#229 Samantha Peltz: Future Diplomat

Samantha Peltz was born in 1991 in Chicago, Illinois. She was the first grandchild for both sides of the family, so everything she did was amazing. When she was 3, she gave an eloquent speech about her Poppy at his 70th birthday, which really was amazing. Samantha was quite verbal as a little girl (and still is). When she was in first and second grade, she had a pink t-shirt that she wore every day. Luckily, she had two of these t-shirts so she could wear one while the other one was being washed. Samantha has always been comforted by clutter and the carpet in her bedroom is often completely covered by all the things on the floor. Samantha has always loved learning things and is an awesome student. She analyzes almost everything and asks a lot of questions. From an early age, Samantha could look at things from several different angles, which makes her good at winning arguments, and may lead to her becoming the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court some day. When Samantha was in 5th grade, she really wanted to be in the Chicago Children’s Choir. Singing makes her happy. She auditioned, but didn’t make it, so she practiced the whole next year and made it in 6th grade. Samantha keeps trying until she gets what she wants. With the Chicago Children’s Choir, she has made great friends and traveled to Japan and the Czech Republic, which opened up the world for Samantha. Since then, she has also traveled to Spain, Italy, India, and throughout the U.S. In many of these places, she lived with local families. Samantha has always been eager to meet people. She is fun and funny. The younger kids that she has taught in religious school and at an arts camp really like her. Samantha is the one in the group who gets everybody to do something crazy. For instance, this past year, history class focused on historic court cases and she role-played some of the people in period costume with great theatricality. Samantha's travels have created some of her great interest in world affairs and human rights. She is an intern at Human Rights Watch and is the head of her S.T.A.N.D. chapter, a student group raising awareness about Darfur. She is also the captain of the Model U.N. team at her school. Right now, Samantha is a senior in high school and working on her college applications. She hasn’t decided on a major yet, but she’s thinking about a career as a lawyer or a diplomat (or both).

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

It Will Be Monumental

Tuesday, December 1, there will be a short from I WILL SMASH YOU, the segment concerning the awesome Adam Robinson, It Will Be Monumental, at the CineCity Film Festival in Brighton, England, along with shorts by Stewart Copeland and others--curated by the great Mar Belle, host of Directors Notes, a fantastic podcast for independent filmmaking, which interviewed Luca and me about I WILL SMASH YOU and 60 WRITERS/60 PLACES.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

#78 Timothy Gager: The Greater Things

Timothy Gager was born in 1961in rural Long Island. He had a mostly sheltered childhood and didn’t leave the house much, though he can recite television schedules from his childhood (really, ask him). He had his first crush on a girl when they were in fifth grade. They were playing together when the neighbor’s dog ran up to them, started humping the girl, and then ejaculated on her. That was the end of their brief, traumatic relationship and Timothy didn’t have another girlfriend until college. That was when he started playing in punk bands, the most popular of which was The Maytags (listed on Billboard’s charts for a time), and, well, he was the singer, so he had lots of girlfriends. After college, Timothy worked in a Mexican restaurant by day and played up and down the East Coast with The Maytags by night. Eventually, that stopped being fun and Timothy became a social worker, working his way up to his current position as Human Service Coordinator for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. During the band days, one of Timothy’s bandmates hung himself and Timothy started writing in a journal to cope with this loss. It helped and now Timothy’s published three books—Twenty-Six Pack, Short Street, and We Needed a Night Out. Along the way, Timothy also got married, fathered two children, and then divorced. He gets along with his ex-wife better now than when they were married. Timothy isn’t good at relationships, but he’s happy by himself. The other thing that you should know about Timothy is that his spirituality is the result of a near death experience in 1980—when he left his body and had to make a choice: return to his body or continue to the afterlife. If Timothy had continued to the afterlife, then he would have known everything that humans can know. Timothy realized that he wanted to do other things with his life on earth first, but this near death experience gave him insight: a greater knowledge exists and there are even greater things beyond that.

[Update: Timothy Gager's new book of flash and micro fictions, Treating a Sick Animal, is just out.]

Monday, November 23, 2009

#42 The Possibilities of E


E grew up in a creative family in Teaneck, NJ, and had a good childhood, except at school where she was picked on for being the smart kid. Being the smart kid, she planned to attend Harvard University and then become a heart surgeon, but after working as an EMT in high school she decided that making art was her only option. Her parents were disappointed in this decision and told E that they wouldn’t consider her a quitter if she dropped out of art school at MICA and studied pre-med at Hopkins instead. She continued with her printmaking studies at MICA, but found the medium limiting and switched to oil paint. Around this same time, E contracted HPV and developed cervical cancer. She underwent a series of painful surgeries and treatments. The most painful aspect of this, however, was when her mother told her that it was her fault. Their close relationship changed after that, but E is healthy again, and the difficult experience made her more responsible, more independent, and more self-sufficient. E recently switched from oil paint to acrylic paint and has mostly stopped using paintbrushes in favor of paint scrapers, which, of course, are usually used to remove paint. E’s new paintings exhibit her personal alphabet of abstract symbols that are full of implication. The possibilities for these new paintings—and the new E who creates them—are limitless.

[Update: After graduating, E’s three jobs weren’t enough to live on so she moved back home with her parents where she worked as a receptionist in a warehouse, which she hated, especially since she is paranoid about talking to people on the telephone. She also had an internship at a Chelsea gallery where she tried to be such a phenomenal archives intern that they would have to hire her. She was, but they didn’t. E felt like a failure. Months later, she found a job as a studio manager at a textile design studio and it’s inspiring and she loves it. A few months later, E’s parents put the family house up for sale and separated. E wishes that her parents had done this when she was younger, when everybody else’s parents were doing it, and she had some friends to relate to it. Also, last April, after an 11-year struggle with Alzheimer’s E’s grandfather died, which is still difficult to talk about or think about even though she knew it was going to happen. E’s grandmother donated his brain to Alzheimer’s research, which is a small comfort. In July, E moved to an apartment in the Bronx, which she loves. And she wishes that Nik were in NYC; it’s lonely without him. ]

Friday, November 20, 2009

Tonight: I WILL SMASH YOU @ 14 Karat Cabaret

There's a rave review of I WILL SMASH YOU in the City Paper. Bret McCabe says some really nice things, including this: "What's disarming about the entire process is not the clever, collateral entertainment damage that comes from staged violence; what emerges from these brief snippets are miniature personality portraits of human beings." There's a screening tonight in Baltimore (click on the flyer for details).

If you're interested in setting up a screening of I WILL SMASH YOU in your city, leave a comment or email me and I'll send you a DVD.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

#228 Nick Kane Collaborates with Everybody

Nick Kane was born in 1983, the oldest of 6 kids. His mom struggled with eating and prescription meds. His dad was abusive. His mom often ran away from home (and so did Nick). To manage, Nick would often go break dancing. He was never home if he could help it. As a kid, Nick loved magic because you can create your own reality with magic. At 12, Nick’s parents divorced. All the kids got put in separate foster homes, which was terrible. Nick didn’t know his brothers and sisters for much of his childhood. In high school, Nick explored many religions and eventually found his faith as an open-minded Christian. He ran an underground dance club and made a public access TV show with dance, improv, and stunts. Nick was also politically active, held office in student government, and started a massage club. In college, Nick studied dance and film. Eventually, he became a dance addict—giving dance lessons during the day and going out dancing nearly every night. When Nick is in motion, everything fits and he connects with people on a spiritual level. In 2002, Nick was carjacked, kidnapped, robbed, and almost murdered. The kidnapper took him to a secret crack house where they thought he was a narc and tried to kill him. Eventually, Nick escaped. That same year, Nick started an arts-based church (ABC) that worshipped god with art. For years, he lived in and ran a coffee shop his friend owned (it had open mics, karaoke, and live bands). Nick was kicked out when he refused to fire an employee unjustly. Then he did fine art photography, had shows, did photos for local papers, and shot weddings. After that, Nick started a non-profit called SAFE (Starving Artist Food and Employment) that brought food to artists and found them work teaching or doing their art. Nick lost his virginity when he was date raped by a girl he knew. In 2004, Nick got his dream job—working the teleprompter and floor directing for NBC. Unfortunately, NBC fired him 2 days from being union. Nick was devastated. After that, Nick was recruited (for surveillance photography) and trained to be a tactical crowd control riot officer, but he ended up using his guard card to work security at Taco Bell. In 2006, Nick moved out to LA with only $300. He lived with a friend (#210 Erik Larson) for 2 months and then lived in his car for a year. Nick took showers at Venice Beach and worked for free as a PA and grip to gain film set experience. Nick loved this life until he got sick and there was nobody to take care of him. He went back home to heal before coming back to LA, where he thought he had a paid post-production job set up. The job didn’t happen so Nick just kept showing up until they hired him. Nick found a place to live, organized his housemates into an intentional community, and taught free weekly dance lessons to the public. Nick has never loved money. In 2009, he got really poor, so he signed up to be a human test subject for NASA, but did not pass the tests. Nick still works as a grip in the movie business (he loves light). He’s really proud of the music video he directed. Besides film crew gigs, Nick does background acting, sells popsicles on the beach, teaches kids after school, does street performances, and makes appearances as a clown to earn money. Nick dresses up as a ninja to make youtube videos and he collaborates with other artists any way he can.

Video of Nick dancing.
Behind the scenes of a music video Nick directed.
Nick doing his ninja thing.
Nick appears briefly in a green suit on Community, Season 1, Episode 4, toward the end, around 20 minutes.
Photo credits: Andre Andreev

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Where Commas Ordinarily Go

I have an interview with Robert Lopez up at my interview column for The Faster Times, Writers on Writing. We talk about his new novel, Kamby Bolongo Mean River, writing with constraints, the revision process, and commas.

More interviews @ Writers on Writing:
I Am Not a Camera: Gary Lutz
A Ribbon of Language: Blake Butler
What People Do When No One is Watching: Rachel Sherman
Justify Every Sentence: Laura van den Berg
Most Violence Is Intimate: Ben Tanzer
I'm Not Trying to Trick the Reader: Brian Evenson

Rave Review of I WILL SMASH YOU

There's a rave review of I WILL SMASH YOU in the City Paper. Bret McCabe says some really nice things, including this: "What's disarming about the entire process is not the clever, collateral entertainment damage that comes from staged violence; what emerges from these brief snippets are miniature personality portraits of human beings." And this: "Kimball and Dipierro have put together a collection of money shots that make you care about who's coming and why." And this: "It's the reasons why that stay with you when all that's left is rubble."

There's a screening of I WILL SMASH YOU in Baltimore on Friday, November 20th @ 14 Karat Cabaret. It's part of a Shattered Wig night and a Critic's pick.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

I WILL SMASH YOU @ 14 Karat Cabaret

Friday, November 20th @ 14 Karat Cabaret--It's a Shattered Wig evening.

There will be readings by the great Blaster Al Ackerman and the incomparable Ingrid Burrington. Then there will be a full screening of I WILL SMASH YOU. And after that, there will be a smashing performance by the band known as Sweatpants.



[Click the flyer to make it bigger.]

Friday, November 13, 2009

#94: Tim Hall: Bohemian Rat + Yuppie Queen = Bohemian Prince

Tim Hall has born into a family of English majors and has always loved reading. Besides this, though, his home life was often difficult. His father was a neglectful alcoholic and his mother hated his father. The family was repeatedly evicted from houses. When Tim was 10 years old, his parents divorced and he read The Hobbit—both of which led to Tim creating his own world. He began writing fantasy novels and serialized them for his classmates, though he sometimes got into trouble with his teachers for doing this. Tim continued writing and saw his father sporadically after the divorce. Through junior high, it became more difficult to keep the real world at bay. Tim’s mother often used him as a little soldier in the war against his dad. He developed ADD and couldn’t concentrate enough to write anymore. London Calling came out and he became a punk rocker. Tim often fought with his father and then his father died. Tim was still in high school and his last words to his father were, Fuck you. Tim doesn’t feel badly about this. It seems fitting. Tim went to college and dropped out. He drank a lot and played in hard rock bands. This was most of Tim’s 20’s. Then Tim realized the bad effects that alcohol had had on his family and he quit drinking. He quit music and quit a bad relationship and he returned to writing--founding Typism, co-founding Blacksmiths For Literary Progress, writing the novel Half Empty, and writing the story collection Triumph Of The Won't. These good changes in his life led a friend to set him up on a blind date with the woman who became his wife. Tim was stunned by her when he first saw her and has been living under her dazzling beauty and genuine kindness ever since. He was the bohemian rat and she was the yuppie queen and their little boy George is now the bohemian prince.

[Update #1: Tim’s home life is happy, but he’s worried about the economic disaster, especially since he was homeless as a teenager and is frightened about losing his home. Also, he recently had an inspiration and rearranged all our furniture on the first floor according to our values. The living room, which used to contain the TV, couch, rug, etc. is now filled with guitars, amp, iPod, cameras, and his son's play table in the corners, and the middle of the living room is now a dance floor. Now it’s called the values room and it's changed life for the better. Now Tim feels like he can face anything.]

[Update #2: Tim published a heuristic essay on the epidemiology of control called How America Died, which is based around a concept Tim created, the living book.]

Tim Hall

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Dear Everybody @ Creative Alliance; I Will Smash You @ Shattered Wig; It Will Be Monumental @ CineCity

Tomorrow, Friday, November 13th, Dear Everybody (the short film that I made with Luca Dipierro) is going to be part of an evening of short films at Creative Alliance MovieMakers (CAmm), which also includes Travis Mays' adaption of Poe’s Tell Tale Heart, Ryan Thomas' premiere of The Debt Collector, and other shorts. Q & A follows. Doors 7pm. Show 8pm. $10.




Friday, November 20th, there will be a screening of I Will Smash You, part of a Shattered Wig evening at the 14K Cabaret that also includes Blaster Al Ackerman, Ingrid Burrington, and Sweatpants.







And Tuesday, December 1, there will be a short from I Will Smash You, the segment concerning the awesome Adam Robinson, It Will Be Monumental, at the CineCity Film Festival in Brighton, England, along with shorts by Stewart Copeland and others.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Peter Schwartz Writes Your Life Story (on a postcard): #227 D.E. Oprava

David Edward Oprava was born in New York City on Easter Sunday 1973 for which his mother still has not forgiven him. He grew up in a two-bed apartment on the upper West Side a few blocks from Central Park and to this day still remembers the smell of dog crap and sand from the playground. He practically lived in the Museum of Natural History, standing under the nose of the great Blue Whale for ages, quietly peeing himself for fear of its immensity. At five, he saw a ghost but told nobody. At seven, the family moved to a 200-acre farm in rural Pennsylvania where he was the odd kid out and received the usual taunts and teases that go with that. An only child, he spent a lot of time in the woods. There was no trash collection out there; trash dumps were simply scattered across the property. The family also had a 20-acre swamp with horse skeletons at the bottom, which David also enjoyed. What he didn't enjoy was how his history teacher used to make little girls sit on his lap during class. So he asked his parents if he could go to boarding school and at age twelve they relented and off he went. In college, he studied politics, fascinated by the idea of analyzing how and why people control other people. He specialized in demagoguery and his first degree was in international studies, received from the School for International Training in Vermont, a former Peace Corps training school and hippie hide-away. He visited the war in Bosnia as part of his studies and it scared the hell out of him, but the experience fueled his desire to earn a Masters in politics with a thesis written on the demagogic causes of that war in relation to the racism and fascism of the Second World War. This led him to a series of teaching jobs at both the university and secondary levels. For 15 years, he taught in one place or another in almost any subject area: politics, history, international relations, German, environmental studies, English, etc. In 2004, he stopped teaching after being fired from one too many jobs. In 2005, his wife Kate gave birth to their son, Ziven. David isn't exactly sure what happened next, but something in him broke. He knew then that he needed an outlet, a way to face the wild demons he had been chasing across the globe through ten different states and four different countries in less than thirty years. What he found was writing. He wrote a novel in eight months that he considered dreadful, but the important thing was that he was now writing for real. Soon after, he rediscovered his lust for poetry and has been writing non-stop for the past three years. His new book American Means has just been released through American Mettle Books. It goes straight to the heart of modern America: its guts, bones and woes exposed through poetry. David runs his own press Grievous Jones Press Ltd., whose mission is to publish talented writers with something important to say whom he feels the mainstream will never touch. David is proud of his many published books, his children, meeting Allen Ginsberg in a café in Prague, having taught many amazing students and learned from them in his years as a teacher/professor, and having lived exactly the way he wanted for many years, living for experience and nothing but experience.

David E. Oprava’s website
David’s book, American Means
Grievous Jones Press

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

I'm Not Trying to Trick the Reader

I have an interview with Brian Evenson up at my interview column for The Faster Times, Writers on Writing. We talk about Fugue State, irresolvable narrative, the ending of The Open Curtain, and form as it relates to the novel, the novella, and the story collection.

More interviews @ Writers on Writing:
I Am Not a Camera: Gary Lutz
A Ribbon of Language: Blake Butler
What People Do When No One is Watching: Rachel Sherman
Justify Every Sentence: Laura van den Berg
Most Violence Is Intimate: Ben Tanzer

Monday, November 9, 2009

DEAR EVERYBODY: The Innermost Feelings of Real Feeling

There is a really nice Chinese review of DEAR EVERYBODY at Bardon (scroll down), which says, in part, that "Dear Everybody ... touches the heart of hearts ... snowflake-like letters ... exquisite ... the innermost feelings of real feeling."

#70 Elizabeth Ellen Is the Greatest Thing

Elizabeth Ellen's mother claims that she got pregnant on her honeymoon. She also claims that Elizabeth's alcoholic father beat her and that was why she left him on their honeymoon in Europe without telling him. Elizabeth's mother filed for divorce after returning to the US and because of this Elizabeth has no memory of her father before she was 8 years old, when she started spending part of every summer with him. After that, Elizabeth was rich in the summer (when she stayed with her dad) and poor the rest of the year (when she stayed with her mom). She was an only child, overweight, unsocial. She read a lot. She lived in a different house or apartment nearly every year until she was 18 years old, when went to college and majored in English. That first year, she was put on academic suspension and then things got worse. She tried to go to classes, but had panic attacks and stopped. Her grandmother continued to send her checks for her tuition, though, and she lived off those with her boyfriend for a couple years. A few years later, Elizabeth met her husband at the strip mall where they both worked and they got married a month later, though they didn't tell anybody, in part, because her husband feared that one of his friends would steal her. A year later she got pregnant. The eight-year marriage was incredibly stifling and emotionally stressful on a daily basis, but the divorce was amicable. It was an exhilarating time after that. Elizabeth and her daughter could do whatever they wanted and the simplest things brought them great joy. Around this time, she bought her first computer and began writing seriously for the first time in her life. She had always thought the greatest thing one could be is a writer and now she is the greatest thing. After that, Elizabeth met Aaron Burch online and they dated long-distance for a year before he moved across the country to live with her and her daughter, who is crazy about Aaron too. Elizabeth has a very full, very happy life with Aaron, Andromeda, and Heather (her step-daughter who stays with them some weekends), co-editing Hobart, and writing her own books. She never imagined that she would be this happy.

[Update: Elizabeth Ellen is not as happy now as she was before, but one thing good is that she has a new collection of flash fiction called “Mouthfeel” coming out with Paper Hero Press any day now, in a book called Fox Force Five, which is with four other women.]

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Baltimore Grill

Baltimore Magazine made me their last page--The Baltimore Grill. We talk about rejection, an obvious motto for Baltimore, smashing things, the value of reducing somebody's life to a postcard, and the most generous and attentive reading audience I have ever been around.

[It's not online, but click the scan. It's kind of big enough to read.]

Thursday, November 5, 2009

#226 Greg Santos: A Romantic and a Traditional Gentleman

Greg Santos was born in Montreal, Quebec, Canada in 1981. His birth parents were Cambodian, but he was adopted when he was 4 months old by his Spanish Mom and Portuguese Dad. Greg was an only child and had a happy childhood. His parents gave him so much love and support. The family lived on a cul-de-sac, had bonfires, ate s'mores, played hide-and-seek, and built snow forts. Greg traveled a lot with his parents when he was younger—Scotland, Egypt, Martinique, Spain, Portugal, England, France, Mexico, Italy, Greece—but he doesn’t remember as much about those places as he wishes. Also, Greg owned a pet rock, had Sea Monkeys, and an imaginary flea circus. As a teenager, after watching The X-Files, Greg wanted to be a paranormal investigator in the worst way. Once, Greg saw a UFO (he swears). After that, he started The Bureau for the Investigation of the Unexplained and made his hair look like David Duchovny's. When Greg was 16, his father died. That Halloween, Greg dressed up in white face paint and a black trench coat like The Crow. He went to school that way because he didn't know what else to do. He still misses his dad. Eventually, though, Greg found solace in art, music, poetry, and, especially, theater. The idea that he could be somebody else was comforting. In college, he majored in drama and minored in English. In college, Greg also met Maryn (he was sick at the time and she gave him tea). After that, they dated for 7 years. Greg is a romantic and a traditional gentleman (for instance, he makes an effort to wear shirts with collars). Greg loved acting, but, eventually, he realized that he didn't want to speak somebody else's words. So Greg went back to school for a second degree in creative writing, which is how he caught the poetry bug, which is what took him to The New School for his MFA. Poetry allows Greg to write down thoughts he wouldn’t say out loud and make them into art. Once, he took lessons on how to be a clown and a stuntman. Also, Greg collects wind-up toys, antique books, small erasers that look like things, and nearly anything to do with elephants. Greg knows the professional wrestling isn’t real, but he still watches it, which his wife doesn’t understand. That is, Greg and Maryn are married. She is brilliant and makes him laugh. She is a classical beauty and his best friend. Greg is the poetry editor of pax americana and works for the New Haven Reads Community Book Bank, which provides free books and free after school tutoring. It makes Greg happy that he gets to spread the gospel of poetry—writing, teaching, and editing. He loves his life and his Maryn.


[There’s more Greg Santoa at Greg’s blog, Moondoggy’s Pad, Greg’s website, and Greg’s ebook, Thinking Things Through, which is just out with Pangur Ban Party.]

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Shape of a Box: A Video Review of Dear Everybody

At Shape of a Box, Jessie Carty gives a thoughtful video review to DEAR EVERYBODY in which she says that DEAR EVERYBODY is "a beautiful book, inside and out," among other nice things. Thank you, Jessie.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

#45 The Awesome Adam Robinson: A New and Improved Version

Adam Robinson has lived in a bunch of different cities, but that probably doesn’t matter. His childhood was not notable except for the fact that he often ate lunch in a bathroom stall during his junior year of high school and except for all of the God stuff that he grew up with. He went to a Christian college, but only because his brother, his Irish twin, did. The Christian college was awesome for Adam (though it must be noted that this word often accompanies descriptions of religious experiences) and it was there that he learned that life is really terrible unless everybody forgives each other. Adam continues to be a Christian in spite of the fact that Martin Luther consummated his marriage to Katherine von Bora in front of his friends (or, possibly, because of this fact; it isn’t clear). Said another way, Adam is a dark and sad Christian like St. Paul. Now Adam works as a technology buyer for an asset management company, but that doesn’t really describe him. It isn’t who he is. He is a guitar player for Sweatpants and the publisher of Publishing Genius and a writer of poems and stories and songs, but he cannot be fully understood in these terms either. It is better to think of Adam in terms of the time he jumped out of a speeding boat (that he was driving) and crashed it. The boat didn’t sink and Adam didn’t drown. The boat got stuck in some seaweed and Adam swam back to shore. Adam made a similar jump the time that he left behind his life in Milwaukee and ran away to Baltimore with Stephanie Barber, who is awesome (like Christianity, but in a different way). The experience was panicked and great. Another time, Adam was attacked while waiting for the bus and hit over the head with a bottle, but the attackers escaped with nothing of Adam's and Adam ended up with a bloody story to tell. One thing that should be learned from this: You cannot stop Adam Robinson. Also, it should be noted that the farthest Adam has walked at one time is 28 miles and
the farthest he has ridden a bicycle is 34 miles. He could go farther, though. He will go farther. In fact, there he goes now.

[Update: Adam Robinson's first book, Adam Robison and Other Poems can be pre-ordered here. Plus, there's a little video I shot called Poem Battling Flowers, which is different than any other reading you've ever seen.]

Monday, November 2, 2009

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Shya Scanlon's FORECAST: Chapter 32

FORECAST is being serialized semiweekly across 42 websites. For a full list of participants and links to live chapters, please visit www.shyascanlon.com/forecast. Also, FORECAST found a home at Flatmancrooked and will be released in hardcover in Spring, 2010. (Chapter 31 is at Picture Pack.)


32

I’d always had a soft spot for Handpepper. Though it had been difficult, at times, not to sympathize with his students (who’d always found him terribly boring, fatuous, and irrelevant) there was something unmistakably sincere in his form of oafish pedantry. It was clear that he cared about his students, and despite the fact that I don’t have children, I’d always kept myself abreast of the contemporary arguments proclaiming the decrepitude of our education system, and felt comforted by the observation that, if Handpepper lacked a certain grace in the classroom, he was at least unconditionally devoted to his students, and in this way, at least, ran counter to the seemingly unanimous editorializing, according to which one was hard pressed to find any good reason to attend school whatsoever.

I expect, too, that my small fondness was due in no small part to the fact that I’d never enjoyed such tender attention as a child. Too young to have any experience with school before The End, and yet too old, when the chance arose, to have sought enrollment in one of the facilities erected after people had normalized the social impact of living without power. The schools then were much like what I imagine they must have been like in pioneering days: without consistent or unified curricula, staffed often by undereducated or ill-equipped faculty; the whole process lit by the dim but inarguably stubborn bulb of basic necessity. Those parents who’d held it together through those first, harrowing years, and held out some hope for the future, eventually sent their children off each morning to what they knew was an institution of questionable authority and credential, but which was, nevertheless, undeniably there, was something, and more, was a labor of love.

Handpepper may very well have had his faults (out of politeness, I will avoid discussion of his more irregular habits – those ways in which he conducts himself behind closed doors need not worry us here, I think), but, at least in the days before Zara dropped out, he was there each day, standing before his class, springing back up with a smile to greet students who treated him with entitlement, disrespect, and disinterest. I think it’s fair to say that Handpepper’s dedication—like that of all teachers in those days—was admirable.

And truly, whose heart doesn’t go out to the hapless?

At the point when I was blessed with the fortune of meeting the only teacher I’ve ever had, when he brought me—a barely post-pubescent punk—under his wing and helped me escape northward from the increasingly crisis-ridden streets of Los Angeles, I willingly admit to more than a little haplessness myself. And while I this it’s a bit unfair to make any direct comparison between Handpepper and the Professor, it’s true that they share a certain dogged desire to help those around them. And if this desire would, in Handpepper’s case, sometimes manifest awkwardly or backfire altogether, it would be equally unfair to blame it on him entirely. But the Professor’s projects had always, by comparison, turned out quite the opposite, and so the very idea of blame was never, in my mind, evoked when thinking about him. I wouldn’t say that my feelings for him were blind, per se, but I admit to being both generally defensive and probably a bit myopic when it came to scouting out what may or may not have been faults, inconsistencies, and errors of judgment over the years, say, or in respect to certain ongoing issues of temperament and behavior.

I’m getting a little scrambled, I think, but it was with these concerns and perhaps much of the muddle that I was at the time in question watching Helen, Blain, and Rocket make their way through the old, iron gate and into a place which I felt certain held some degree of danger in store, and waiting, waiting, waiting for the Professor to return with what I hoped dearly would be information useful in somehow creating a winning strategy for Helen against what seemed were quickly mounting odds. It had been over an hour, and, time obviously being of the essence, I couldn’t help but grow a little frustrated. Just what was taking so long? In my experience, the Professor had access to whatever information he needed, whenever he needed it. Surely, though obscured by some dark mechanism, the information both about the warrant and, of course, the masks, couldn’t elude him for too long. Finally, the discovery that Asseem’s face, of all faces, had been used in the creation of the masks, meant that Helen’s destination was somehow intimately connected to the very thing that was haunting her. I found it almost too overwhelming to consider, frankly, and until the Professor returned, the time I did not spend persuading myself against going with my gut, going in, and forcefully removing Helen from the situation, was spent simply absorbing as much information about the proceedings as possible. Helen had her mask on, which meant that I would have to pay particularly close attention to what she saw, how she reacted, and what might be going on inside her head.

Once inside the park, Blain closed the fence behind them, and made sure it did not look like it had been tampered with.

“It may look neglected,” he said, “but no doubt someone keeps an eye on it.”

Helen nodded, looking around.

“Sure, but with any luck they’ll pretend they didn’t notice, and go get high on the buzz.”

Blain chuckled. “Wouldn’t doubt it,” he said. “And if it was getting high they wanted to do, this would certainly be the place to do it.”

“So you said. A lot of REMO addicts around here, are there?”

They were walking, not slowly, but cautiously. Blain was out in front a couple steps, and seemed to be at his ready. Helen, apart from trying to avoid stepping on Rocket, who was slinking around her legs, visibly shaking, was caught up in examining the dilapidated ticket booth, and the enormous billboard spelling out the rules, regulations, and basic elements of the release each visitor had to sign.

“It seems like such a relic,” she said. “It’s hard to believe it’s only been out of commission for…”

“About two years,” Blain confirmed. “Yep. I think it has something to do with the dampness of the air down here. Things rust, fall apart, rot.”

“It’s like a grave.”

Blain turned around, raised an eyebrow.

“Well that’s cheery,” he said.

“You don’t think it’s spooky down here?”

“No offense, lady, but I’m a criminal.” Blain was struggling to keep it light. “I’ll probably run into someone I know.”

It was Helen’s turn to chuckle. “Right,” she said. “Well, criminal or not, I’m lucky as hell I ran into to you two.”

Blain remained silent, walked, nodded.

Despite the elaborate metal carcasses that punctuated her walk with eerie reminders of the fact that Helen was, in fact, out of her element, she couldn’t help but be reminded of her pre-Brightening days tromping through the overgrown ghost-town that Seattle would become each night, or of braving the I-5 corridor that had split the city in two and provided a safe place for unsafe things. Zara had of course made these places, these paradoxically limitless liminal spaces, her playground, and because it was an exception to the control now maintained over disruption and decay in most parts of Seattle, it gave her a small, but significant sense of nostalgia, of enjoyment, and ultimately, she realized, of relief. They passed by a dilapidated wall about 3 stories high on which was written, in a Flinstones font, “Watch for Falling Rocks!” Sure enough, there were boulders of various sizes strewn about at the base of the wall. There weren’t made of actual stone, but they weren’t soft, either. Helen tried to imagine what type of lesson this “ride” sought to teach, and began to feel even better. What an absurd park, she thought, and smiled to herself. She vaguely wished she’d been able to visit before the place closed its doors, but being here now, imagining what it must have been like, felt a little like walking through a house the morning after an enormous Saturday night party she didn’t attend: the experience was sweet, an empathic festive tug coupled by the sensation of feeling startlingly clear-headed. It was a fantastic party, certainly, but what a relief not to be battling a headache, and being loath to run the errands that had been put off until Sunday.

Helen gave into the sudden urge to bend down and give her frightened four-legged companion a hug that she hoped would set him at ease.

Not wanting expose the poor dog’s weakness, she whispered in his ear. “Rocket, buddy, don’t worry. I have a good feeling about this place.”

Rocket frowned, and eyed her suspiciously.

“Hmm…” he said.

“Well, do what you want,” she said, standing back up. “But I’m here with you.”

Blain looked back.

“What’s that?”

“Nothing,” Helen said. “Just talking to Rocket.”

Blain’s expression lifted a bit, losing the serious lines that marked his vigilance, and he picked up a stick.

“Does he like to fetch?”

“You know, it’s funny, but I have no idea.” She looked down at the dog. “Rocket? Do you like fetch?”

Rocket’s tail began to wag a little, but he remained at her side.

In response to Rocket’s tail, Blain wagged the stick a little, trying to build the animal’s enthusiasm. “I should have brought someone for him to play with,” he said. “Wanna fetch, boy? Wanna fetch?” Blain began to jump back and forth, and dodge. He knew what he was doing, and it started to work: Rocket’s tail was now in full wag, and he’d left Helen’s side a bit. He looked back over his shoulder at Helen, who nodded, encouraging him.

“Go on, Rocket. That’s right. See? Let’s have a little fun!”

The dog turned back to Blain and his body followed the man’s, darting this way and that, crouching down and then taking small leaps forward, until Blain finally tossed the stick back in the way they’d come, where there was more open area, where Rocket would be familiar with the terrain. Helen noticed this last bit in particular, and as Rocket shot off after the projectile, considered the fact that Blain had obviously paid attention to the dog’s hesitancy, and was going out of his way to create an atmosphere of comfort and trust.

As if reading her mind, Blain stepped closer to Helen and, as Rocket was off scouting for the little stick, said, “No dog owner’s gonna be comfortable until their dog is.”

“Thanks, Blain, but really, I’m…”

“Plus there’s I love dogs.”

“Right, well, I think it’s great.” She paused. “And I know this isn’t the most controlled environment, but neither was the environment I grew up in.”

“You and me both, babe.”

Rocket came bounding back, and dropped the slimy stick at Blain’s feet.

“Alright boy, one more and then we’ve gotta get this show on the road.”

Rocket zigged and zagged, shot off again, this time to the side.

Helen scanned the park. Its large swath of underground terrain was cluttered with various shapes, both natural and unnatural, but it seemed basically broad and flat. She didn’t see any high fences or obstructive rides.

“So we just walk straight across?” she asked.

“Well, across, yes,” Blain said. He followed her gaze. “But first we need to go down.” He leaned close and pointed out ahead at what looked like the top few buckets of a dismantled Ferris Wheel, the arch climbing up out of the ground and diving back down into it.

“See that arch?”

“That’s what I was talking about back by the gate!”

“That’s the top of a Ferris Wheel.”

“That’s what I thought it was! That’s why I thought maybe all the rides might have been taken apart like that one.”

Rocket came bounding back, dropped the stick again, and sat, staring up at them, tongue wagging out of his mouth.

“You don’t get it,” Blain said. “That’s the top the ride, yeah, but nothing’s been dismantled.”

Her eyes widened. It dawned on Helen that there was much more to this park than she’d understood, and she left Rocket with Blain to jog up to a low brick wall a hundred yards ahead. She passed food stalls and game booths and realized that the few rides here on this level must be introductory, intermediate, for the weak of heart or non-committal. The real rides were below. As she drew closer the depression in the earth became more obvious, and when she reached the edge her suspicion was confirmed. The vast park revealed itself in all its enormity, a giant crater cradling all the rides Blain had spoken of, and a few more he hadn’t. The Cyclone Chamber butted up against The Quaker, which in turn stood dangerously close to Lighting Strikes! The Drought House was just a little farther off, cropping up, of course, right next to, simply, Plague. She scanned the big, deep hole, and saw that most, if not all, natural disasters were accounted for, along with some she wouldn’t have thought of, having, she expected, something to do with the extremely unstable and unpredictable nature of current weather systems. “The Vacuum” seemed a little far-fetched, for instance, but then Helen wasn’t sure if this indicated a disaster involving the absence of air, or winds that suck instead of blow.

Helen estimated that she was the equivalent ten stories above the bottom of the massive pit. She was close enough to make out a fair amount of detail, and read the big signs out front of the rides and other structures of the complex, but also far enough away that shadows and blind spots prevailed, ultimately, over her ability to truly master the vision. Movement in the corners of her eyes sent them springing back and forth within the maze of edu-musement, but she was unable to actually spot the source of movement, or convince herself entirely that there was any source at all. It was both enthralling and vaguely hypnotic. Helen swayed, gently, until Rocket rubbed against her leg, and she looked back to see Blain not far behind.

“Oh dear,” the dog said. “Let me guess. We’re going down there.”

Helen had to admit that it only added to the mysteriousness of the direction their adventure had taken, but she was optimistic. “Well, it’s a little strange, I admit. But Blain’s taking care of us, isn’t he? He wouldn’t lead us into danger.”

Rocket considered this.

“I suppose so,” he said. “Plus, he throws a mean stick.”

Blain caught up with them then, and joined them in taking in the view.

“It’s something, ain’t it.”

The sky moved above them, or what passed for sky passed for movement, and they stood beneath its blinking birds and surveyed the strange, shadowy board game before them before Blain said with a smile, “Shall we descend?”

And they did.

Chapter 33 is at Unpacking My Library.