Schrödinger’s everything

Odin stops at a cash machine to see if his new card works with his old PIN. It does. He gets fresh lottery tickets at the tobacco shop and it costs nearly nothing because one of the previous ones won minimal amounts. He decides to get something meaty at the store and on the way there, waiting for a light, existence unfolds for him.

But it’s not so much the world reveals itself to him as he finally understands why he never understands anything.

He can see too many options.

How can you be sure of knowledge if it’s not perfect?

How can you know anything if you don’t know everything.

It goes like this: he is thinking about a story he read that he liked a lot and trying to remember if it told anything or if it showed everything. Because on the one hand, the “show don’t tell” maxim for writing is ideological (and, like any ideology, used to manipulate more than you might suspect although not everyone totally agrees), and on the other he found the story satisfying and on the other he is thinking about writing a story that works even though it tells a lot and is ideological about it.

And he is standing at a light and thinking about telling, like, “we were unhappy because we were poor, or at least I was unhappy” and then he thinks, actually, the only way he ever had a chance to understand anything about people was for them to tell him something because showing — the entire world is always showing you everything, sometimes honestly, sometimes accidentally, sometimes it’s misleading or it lies and you never know which. And Odin never had the feeling that he understood anything, ever, because possible explanations and scenarios spawned in his mind faster than he could evaluate them, fractalling off each other like fever hallucinations you might get peeking in on a grown up party when you’re a sick little kid and supposed to be in your room getting well.

Everything is always Schrödinger’s cat, all the time, for Odin.

How is showing supposed to do you any damned good when so much more can be shown than can be processed or understood with any certainty or confidence, when the meaning of what is shown is so plastic and malleable and speculative, and when, at the same time, showing one thing obscures a dozen more?

It’s not much of an epiphany, but you take what you get.

Odin buys something meaty, but the only crows he sees on the way back to the office are way high up on the weather vane on the steeply part of some big house, or way up in the air, or in the crown of a distant tree.

Luwak epiphany

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Photo by Bruce

I was at the doctor yesterday and she asked me how I was mood-wise cause a medication she prescribed can cause suicidal depression. I had totally forgotten. I thought it was the fog and general greyishness. Overall not so bad, though, I said. Actually, really great, I think now. My kids ate dinner with me and it was fun talking to them. The cats were freaky when I got home because my wife is away on a business trip and they were alone all day. This morning I was carrying one around and she stuck her tail into my coffee and I had to decide whether to make a new cup or just drink it. Making a fresh cup would have taken 30 seconds and I didn’t want to wait that long so I just pretended it was Luwak coffee. Then that, in combination with everything else, triggered an epiphany, which I sort of described in a post at medium.com.

Writing blog posts is a lot of fun. Sometimes I am really happy with what I end up with, despite or because of the randomness and accidentiality of them. I am trying to write a novel right now, yet again, and am trying to figure out how to translate blog-type writing into a novel.

A whole bunch of short chapters, I guess.

 

The Inquisitor

Down, down, down.
Down they went, down the narrow spiral starecase, spelled that way because it was hewn from living eyes staring at them as they went, two guards in front, then the prisoner, then a bunch more guards in back since if a prisoner gets away and tries to escape they generally head back the way they came cause what could be down a freaky starecase? You don’t want to know.
The sounds of the city faded quickly and were replaced by water dripping, distant screams, whips cracking, like that.
Sort of like the beginning of a guided meditation, only way scarier.
The prisoner didn’t remember much after that. They tied him up and started torturing him, that much he knew, but after that things grew fuzzy cause he did what any intelligent person would do, he passed out immediately. One twist of a thumbscrew and that was it, over and out.
He regained consciousness. Someone had tossed a bucket of water in his face. He heard the sounds of boots on the stone floor, hewn from the living rock.
“He’s one tough customer, I’ll grant him that, your Lordship,” said a guard to the boots.
The prisoner spat water, pfff!
The prisoner’s name was Mark.
“No information at all?” said the boots.
The guard shook his head. “Nothing. Thumbscrews, rack, Iron Maiden. Quiet as a judge.”
“Which Iron Maiden?”
“2 Minutes to Midnight.”
“We’ll have to up the ante,” said the boots.
It was easy for Mark not to reveal anything. He was passed out and didn’t have a clue what they wanted anyway, or he would have told them, but they weren’t interested in his explanations.
“The Inquisitor will loosen his tongue,” said the boots, who then left the room amidst the chuckles of the guards (evil chuckles).
Mark didn’t have long to wait and worry about what the fellow had meant. The Inquisitor must have been waiting right outside the door, cause there he was, quiet on his feet, cheerful. A small man, but wearing black. Black boots, black cape, black hood.
“Okay let’s get started,” said the Inquisitor.
“Okay,” said Mark.
“Get-rich-quick ideas. Those have driven stronger men mad than you. Think up three get-rich-quick ideas. Now. On the spot.” He waved a red-hot poker in Mark’s face.
“Artisinal honey, e-books that you actually buy, mobile phones that protect your privacy, manly baby equipment bags for fathers, reasonably-priced wet plate cameras, software that comes on a DVD and installs itself and doesn’t require a month of back-and-forth with customer service to register.”
“He’s good,” said a guard.
“Silence!” said the Inquisitor, who was losing his temper, because normally thinking up three get-rich-quick ideas on the spot like that drove prisoners mad.
“NANOWRIMO is coming up,” said the Inquisitor. “Give me a plot that won’t make you sick after a month. Right now.”
“I, uh,” stammered Mark.
“Now we’re cooking with fire,” said the Inquisitor to a guard. “See? Everyone has a weakness.”
“What sort of book?” said Mark.
“Any sort,” said the Inquisitor, because what was harder than coming up with an idea when you had total freedom?
“That’s a tough one,” admitted Mark. “Do you ever wonder, when things are slow, down, down here, what book the world really needs?”
“What?” said the Inquisitor.
“I mean, life is finite. We can only read so much, all of us. Different people need different books, naturally, but for you, from your point of view, what is the book that is lacking when you go into a bookstore and leave unfulfilled, even if you leave with an armload of Staff Picks?”
“You mean, like, genre?”
“I mean everything. The exact book. I can see mine. Hardbound, ornate cover, of medium size and thickness. Containing all I need. A book smarter than me so I feel uplifted, yet not so clever as to be irritating. Frightening and reassuring in turns, a book that purifies both by example and by fire, so to speak, annealing the reader, and which leaves one back in love with language, thought, perception and humanity. You know what I mean?”
“No, actually,” said the Inquisitor, but he was starting to wonder, although he hadn’t read many books lately. He was so busy! But he had read a lot as a kid.
“Maybe someone can fly,” said the Inquisitor. “Maybe. But it seems realistic.”
“A book like a secret life. A book that reconciles us with our secret lives, the secret lives we all lead but cannot express or share, as much as we may try. A book that rewards us for them!” said Mark.
“Perhaps with dragons,” said the Inquisitor. “Or at least dragon eggs. Or even dinosaur eggs.”
The Inquisitor stared at Mark. Mark looked at him. The guards watched the two of them. The eyes of the starecase beheld the whole group.
“Perhaps with a whale. Perhaps a library or a linguist. Perhaps crows cawing in the fog in a forest the color of autumn. Perhaps a man hiding in a fisherman’s hut on the bank of a river, under a large willow. Perhaps a couple kneeling at the edge of a deep hole in the woods, freshly dug, with another man standing behind them with a Saturday Night Special in a gloved hand. Perhaps a child. Perhaps someone standing in a field in winter, watching their breath and the long grass, turned white with ice crystals in the night.”
“Perhaps,” said the Inquisitor.

On writing

He stood on the deck of his dirigible, long coat tossed by the storm, and calmly flicked a sliver from his leathery palm with a Bowie knife while fires raged on the ground far below.

“Stories are like killer robots,” he said. “Never really finished, but at some point you just have to unleash them on the world.”

He walked towards the captain’s lounge. The rhythm of his peg leg on the deck sounded like a heart in love.

Apocryphal fables: The man and the tortoise

Man: [Waters flowers, gives tortoise fresh water] Hi, little turtle. Tortoise.

Tortoise: You’re a little close to my rock, you’re making me nervous.

Man: Sorry. [Steps away from rock]

Tortoise: Hey, nice shoes!

Man: I… carry on, don’t let me distract you.

Tortoise: You have any more of that lettuce? For once I finish here? What’s up, you look down in the dumps.

Man: No, nah. I’m fine. I have time on my hands, is all. Just not infinite time, so I’m forced to prioritize my goof-off agenda, which re-stresses me.

Tortoise: Have you vaccuumed?

Man: Yep.

Tortoise: Mopped?

Man: Just finished.

Tortoise: Made the bed?

Man: Eh, yeah, sure I made the bed.

Tortoise: Decided what to cook on Sunday and done the shopping?

Man: I’ll do that tomorrow.

Tortoise: [Nods]

Man: I mean, should I play the cello, fire up the theremin, try to compose something, record something, write something?

Tortoise: Have you weeded the vegetable garden?

Man: I did that last week.

Tortoise: It grows back, you know. Mowed?

Man: I’m putting that off until tomorrow, in the hopes that it rains and gives me an excuse not to.

Tortoise: Respect.  [Stares at man]

Man: What?

Tortoise: Did you really make the bed?

Man: Mostly.

Tortoise: If I were you, I would write an erotic novel entitled Transit of Venus.

Man: I think that’s been done.

Tortoise: Can’t copyright titles, dude.

Man: Plus, aren’t you supposed to write what you know?

Tortoise: I would totally write it, but I’m busy.

Man: Maybe I will try to come up with a name for the musical genre in which I compose. Unfortunately creepcore is taken.

Tortoise: Crashcreep?

Man: Hrm. Nice.

Tortoise: Don’t mention it.

Dz, dz, dz

A story of mine (“Immune”, a zombie love story) was just published online as a podcast at Words with JAM. What is especially awesome IMO is the musical piece that accompanies it.

Nanowrimo

So November is upon us.

I drove into Vienna on All Saints to pick up my kid’s harp case from someone’s apartment and maybe I was depressed or tired, but the world seemed so gray and dead, this timeless cold, dusty deadness you get in Vienna on November afternoons.

I’m having a hell of a time shaking that feeling.

On the plus side, more than 20 books are bound and Gamma and I are taking a train trip out of town this coming weekend to visit some friends.

It’s snowing in Vienna this morning. It took longer than normal to get to work this morning because everyone on the freeway was seeing snow for the first time, apparently.

Yes. And good, old Nanowrimo. Can you hear the keyboards clicking the world over? Smell those pink Red Bull burps?

And who’s this guy, spinning his wheels here?

Me.

I haven’t written a word yet this month.

I haven’t a plot, nor a character nor an idea.

I’m chilling, because a month is way more than I need to write 50,000 words.

I’ve got books to bind, I’ve got cello to practice, I’ve got a yoga class to go to.

So much to do, and here I am spinning my wheels until they smoke.

The joke’s on you, though, because: I’m a dragster. I’m just spinning the wheels to get better traction when I take off.

I lied about not having an idea. I’m actually thinking about writing an opera this time. Involving fish or something. Seriously. How many romance novels are written in Nanowrimo every year, and how many operas? I was driving, and this opera said, Write me, Mig.

So there’s that. Plus, if it ends up shorter than 50,000 words, you can always say, Operas are supposed to be shorter.

Operas, seriously. Brilliant.