Thursday, May 17, 2007

A story about shame and forgiveness

I started this draft on the date listed, but it is now June 3, and I've been removed from it for some time. Rather than keep waiting on it I've decided to just post it as is and come back to it later.

A man stands on a street corner. He is wearing what remains of a suit, leather shoes, tie--what remains after being subjected to the elements for too long. He hasn't had anything that could be considered a real meal in days. He calls out to passersby with a quiet desperation, as if he's afraid that they'll actually hear him but needs them to hear him all the same. "I have something--something I need to say," he whisper-calls to him. "Can I tell you my story? Will you listen?" He reaches out to touch a man's coat sleeve as he goes by--the man flinches away instinctively and doesn't give it a second thought as he rushes along. The city has tuned out people like him. He isn't homeless, far from it. The first week or two he was out here his wife came by every day, pleading with him to look at himself, to stop acting like a nut, and to come home. She stopped coming after awhile, having given up. He used to be in charge at a major corporation, but they wouldn't take him back, now. It starts to rain. He scrunches his face up in frustration and stamps his foot in the growing puddle. "Someone, please!" A woman walking by just then stops, thrusts her hand into her purse and brings it back up with a couple scrunched up bills. "Here," she said, shaking rain water off of her bangs, "you can have this." He shook his head at her, "But I just need to tell somebody--" "Go inside and buy some food. Someone cares about you," she said firmly and, pressing the damp dollar bills into his hand, continued on her way, leaving him with the money he didn't need and the secret that he couldn't get rid of.

Reaching her apartment building, she fumbled with her keys in the downpour but finally made it inside. Five different meows greeted her from the five stray cats she now called her family. After wringing out her wet hair she split a large can of food among them and flopped down onto her sofa and turned on the television. After flipping through the six channels she got and determining that nothing good was on TV, she turned it off. She would watch a movie but she was taping Wheel Of Fortune for her older upstairs her neighbor who couldn't figure out how to use a VCR. She went back into the kitchen but failed to find anything edible except for a couple individually wrapped slices of cheese, the heels of a loaf of Wonderbread, and a few cans of Miller. Dave would want to eat this stuff when he came over later, if he came over later, so she left everything where it was and decided to order pizza. She would order a large so that she could take it to work for lunch tomorrow, assuming Dave didn't eat all the leftovers and that she'd find time for lunch. She worked the early shift at a hospital cleaning floors. She spent her whole day, every day, serving people, helping people, sacrificing her own comfort so that other could be happy. It was a necessary sacrifice, and perhaps one day she would feel like she'd made up for what had happened. As Tiger rubbed against her calf, she picked up the phone and dialed for pizza.

"One large olive, thin crust, got it. That'll be $13.07, it'll be there in thirty minutes." Order taken, the pizza was made, baked, packed, and sent out with three others. The car he drove had a lit up sign on the stop advertising their pizza and the fact that if he's delivering these pizzas, he can deliver one to you, too. The wipers did their synchronized parallel dance, doing little to keep the torrent at bay and his vision clear. Gloomy, rainy night--perfect night for some metal on the radio. He turned up the volume and nodded his head in rhythm to the song as he drove on through the storm. A commercial came on the station and he reached down to switch to another one. His hand missed the dial, and he turned to look down and find it. Just as he brought his head back up he noticed the car directly in front of him was stopped. Though he breaked immediately, in the rain it wasn't good enough, and the delivery car plowed right into the stopped vehicle. Much to his dismay, his first thought was not to the safety of the passengers of the other vehicle but that he wasn't going be to able to make this delivery and would probably lose his job. He began to cry.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Empty Museum

(First draft.)

Ladies and Gentlemen, come one, come all
I've got something here you've just got to see
Gentleman and Ladies, heed my call:
A museum, that is positively Empty.

That's right, ladies and gentlemen, I said Empty. An Empty Museum.

"Empty?" you say, "What is there to see in an empty museum?"

What indeed, my friends. What indeed. That it is Empty is key--for only something that is Empty has room to hold all of the Nothing that is there.

You heard me correctly, ladies and gentlemen! You'll find Nothing in the Empty Museum! Room after room, there is Nothing to see. Never before have you seen so much nothing in your lives!

We have No paintings, No sculptures, No historical artifacts of any kind--there is simply isn't room for them, with all of the Nothing inside!

"But nothing is...nothing!" you cry, "how can nothing fill a museum?"

You are astute, madame, that "nothing is nothing," as you put it, but tautologies never helped anyone understand anything (much less nothing!). For what Nothing is, is Everything that is not Something, and believe me, ladies and gentlemen, that is QUITE a lot.

"Alright, alright," you say, "you've peaked my interest. What do I have to pay to visit this empty museum?"

Why, it costs you Nothing! After all, it's only fair. However, should you feel so inclined as to Empty your pockets while you're there, Nobody, and I mean Nobody, will stop you.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Moments of amusement

This is a little pre-emptive since the course is not yet over, but here are some phrases that have passed through my ethics prof's lips during lecture that delighted me:

people are not just really bad parrots

Kant was really a huge science fiction geek

The Passion is an Arameic horror film

apparently Kant was a riot, and in certain respects kind of creepy

2700 boxes of books

I have three brothers: Joachim, So-and-so, and me!

nonesense on stilts

the tango-dancing epistemologist

[From Gary Watson:] Why should we care about living distinctively human lives rather than living like pigs or gangsters?

Here are some phrases from my Fiction and the Moral Life notebook as well:

Time eats its children (11 but not the 12th)

the Marquis de Sade should have been allowed to watch TV and that's all

a big book about nothing!

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Ideas for stories

  • a mysterious hallway
  • a man who wants nothing more than to become a traitor to his country but who cannot because he is just a nobody who has no important information, access, or skills
If I want to write about ethics, I'm going to need to start inventing tragedies.

Monday, May 7, 2007


(I thought of this a couple weeks ago. It needs work, but this is the basic concept.)

When you go to the theatre to see a play, something special happens.

Something special has to happen because when you’re there you know that it’s all just pretend, that those are just sets, those people are just actors with separate lives, and the situations are just made up, and it is all just a performance. But something allows you to forget all of it, for the span of that performance, so that the story and events therein can really come alive.

Sure, it helps if the actors are good. It helps if the scenery is convincing, or at least beautiful. It helps if the script is compelling, and honest.

There is this beautiful idea, though, that the power of transformation is really in the hands of the audience. All those other things help, but they mean nothing if, in the audience’s critical, powerful eyes, the stage if just filled with wood, cloth, people, and words. There is magic in the audience’s gaze capable of bringing whole new worlds to life before them, like magic.

It’s a very nice idea. But it isn’t true.

It isn’t far from the truth, but the assignment of agency isn’t right. The power does not belong to the audience, and it isn’t really magic. The truth isn’t so nice.

Beneath the stage, in the dark, there are people. Well, I don’t know if you can call them people, anymore.

They’re really more like what’s left of people, when the body is gone. I don’t mean like memories that the living retain, but rather, that part of a person that makes him or her, him or her. Call it a soul, call it imagination—it’s the part of a person that believes in things.

Except the bodies are still there, just withered. Their flesh is pale from existing only in the dark, and their eyes are dead. Just the bare essential nutrients are pumped in intravenously, to maintain the firing of neural pathways, the only function of these beings, anymore.

Wires and cables emerge from their scalps like Gorgons’ hair, trailing off into the dark recesses of the cavern beneath the stage, channeling the power of belief from their minds and into—

They believe. And because they believe, you can believe in something that you know to be a pantomime. Sacrifices must be made for the sake of art.

Busy weekend

Not as an excuse, just an unavoidable observation.

Saturday was a day of traveling. I crossed the entire city, a couple of times.

My morning started with a trip to Cabrini Green, the notorious housing projects on Chicago's North Side. The area is currently undergoing a process of demolition and redevelopment that leaves many people skeptical as to who is actually benefiting from these actions (the consensus seems to be "not the residents"). According to the long-time resident-turned-activist for the Coalition to Protect Public Housing who talked to us and showed us around, 20,000 public housing units have been demolished throughout the city of Chicago, and only 1,000 have been replaced. Relocating residents to the suburbs isolates them and leaves them stranded and friendless. Residents of public housing in mixed-income buildings don't have the same voting rights as the middle- and upper-class residents. He had a few other tidbits, all of it extremely disheartening. Some of the most thought-provoking ideas for me were about human digity--what does it mean to leave in a home that was built with an intentionally crappy infrastructure? Even to call such residencies "projects" is degrading because it diminishes the notion of someone's home.

After the tour I returned to Hyde Park and met up with Corey to go to Trader Joe's. We ended up driving up a packed LSD to Fullerton, driving all the way across Lincoln Park and up through Wrigleyville (on a game day, no less), finally getting to a store all the way at the north end. After groceries we headed back down south to Roosevelt tostop by Target by finally returning to HP around 5:30. I then caught the #6 Bus head downtown to meet Elizabeth for dinner. We had sushi at Oysy (Japanese for "delicious") north of the river, then wandered up to the Borders by Water Tower Place to waste time before having to head all the way back south across the river to catch the Blue Line and Clark/Lake, having forgotten the cross street on Grand. We took the Blue Line up to Addison for our concert at the Abbey Pub: Electric Six ("I wish this song was louder" didn't apply!). Post-concert we wandered south on Elston until we managed to catch a cab all the way back to Hyde Park.


Now there are fewer than three days before Scav Hunt.

On a completely separate note, Stardust comes out in August! Every now and then Neil Gaiman posts something about it in his journal. Today there was a poster for the film featuring the tagline, "This Summer a Star Falls. The Chase Begins." Mr. Gaiman expresses his concern:
Not sure about that tagline. Hope they can come up with something sharper before August. (My own suggestion, "Stardust. It's not a sequel to anything," was appreciated but, probably wisely, rejected.)
My feelings exactly. I should probably see Spiderman-3 at some point--I'm sure it's the sort of thing that will be better in the theatre--but I am not feeling particularly motivated to go. Maybe weekend after next.

In the meantime, I'll try to catch up enough on my readings for class in order to spend some time on creative work...but it's not looking good.

Thursday, May 3, 2007


I missed another day, but I'm not going to beat myself up over it. The fact is, I'm busy while classes are in session! I think it's good that I have this little self-imposed obligation looming over me, as it were, but thankfully I can choose to ignore it (or be free from pains upon forgetting) if I just have too many other things to do.

Inspiration can also be a problem. I've had days when I didn't really have anything in mind to write about (isn't it clear when that's the case?). I've also had days, like today, where there actually is a lot on my mind, but it's personal stuff, or about politics, or similar things I didn't really intend for this blog to be about. This blog is about
writing, damnit. Now, I certainly try to work my personal (or don't try, it just happens) opinions and insights into the work I create, but that's different. That's the skill I'm working on. I'm already pretty capable at just straight-up sharing my point of view.

I might post about ethics later today. It is, after the topic of three of my four classes AND the focus of my major. But now I have to present these artworks:

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Communists and Zombies

The subjects in the title are actually supposed to be two different topics. Take it as you will.

Subject the first: Today was May Day, time for a unique tradition here at the UofC. As legend has it, the statue out in front of Pick Hall was designed in such a way that on noon on the first of May (international workers' holiday) the sun causes the statue to cast a shadow in the shape of a hammer and sickle. It was cloudy last year, and a few years before it, so the crowd at the statue today at noon was pretty good. They dispersed pretty quickly, though, allowing me some prolonged time to gaze and ponder the sight. Was there a hammer and sickle? You tell me:

Well, it was fun anyway. Now, ZOMBIES.

At some point in the not-so-distant past, I developed an attraction to zombies and the zombie mythos. I am certain this attraction relates to my fear of horror movie-style zombies. Like most irrational fears, I know for a fact that zombies, in that sense, do not exist and cannot exist. This knowledge does not comfort me. I almost managed to comfort myself by saying that if zombies did come, I would be warned by distant screams of terror first and so could appropriately barricade myself. Of course, this is all silly. Even watching the delightful parody
Shaun of the Dead freaked me out enough to keep me awake. I only recently made a break-through on the front by reading Max Brooks' World War Z--I read it at night before bed, and if I was going to get to sleep at all I was going to have to get over the dread of rolling over to find myself face-to-face with one of hungry living dead.

While I have always been attracted to the idea of horror, horror films, haunted house, and the like, I've seldom acted on these urges and when I have it's been unfulfilling. I yearned to go to the haunted house at Disney World but spent the entire ride with face pressed against my dad's shoulder. Hay rides at halloween were terrifying and not really in the fun way, or they were terribly boring. The plan to go with a friend to a haunted house during middle school turned into her mom taking us shopping at the mall. The horror film genre offers me little, in general, other than a casual interest in its prolific nature: just go to the video store and walk along the new releases wall and you'll find that about half of the movies there are horror flicks (and probably really crappy). Discounting classic older horror films (both A and B-worthy) I've only seen a handful of (modern) horror movies:
House on Haunted Hill; The Haunting; The Blair Witch Project (I made sure to watch it during the day but it was actually just horrifically annoying). And based on what I've seen, I have little desire to seek more out.

So there must be something special about zombies. Though a little unconventional for the genre, I loved
28 Days Later, and I adore Shaun of the Dead, even though I've never yet seen a Romero zombie flick. What is it with these guys?

I am certainly not the first person to question the nature of the zombie and our fear of it. We aren't just afraid of our brains being eaten. Zombies don't just consume humans--they also turn us into them, and
that's terrifying. I think it comes down to what Brooks drives at in his fictional history World War Zombie: zombies challenge our humanity.

Aside from literally possessing the bodies of people we maybe used to know, they lack everything that distinguishes humans from, well, non-humans. In some senses, they specifically lack something that makes people weak: fear. Zombies do not feel fear. You cannot intimidate a zombie by threatening its life, its family, its country, its job. They can't be tortured; there is nothing you can do to make a zombie give in because it has nothing to give up. A human without fear might in some cases be considered courageous--this is not the same thing, and if there are humans who feel absolutely no fear, then I expect you would have doubts about considering them human. This lack of fear is not strength; it is simply an absence. So, it's not exactly that zombies remind us of our own weakness--they don't possess our weaknesses.

"The living dead" is almost a misnomer, because can they really be said to be alive? They aren't mortal, and except for an apparently insatiable hunger and locomotion toward that end, they don't really possess any characteristics of living things. "Reanimated corpses" is a more accurate term, though I do admit it doesn't have the same drama.

Another aspect of the terror of zombies is origin: wherefore have the dead risen? Hellish curses, viruses, biological warfare...the less you know, the more terrifying the experience. Admittedly, Robert Rodriguez's current film
Planet Terror is not supposed to be a good movie, but it is intended to be a good bad movie. For me, though, the actual zombies in Planet Terror are far less striking than just the sheer gore the movie contains. We get the explanation for the zombies pretty right away, and we watch people turn (and ooze and drip, etc), and it lacks the horrible mystery. And the experience of coming to grips with a loved one who has been infected isn't explored at all; in this film, everyone pretty much understands that a zombie should be a dead zombie, no matter who they used to be (or the person the zombie used to be was someone who was trying to kill you when they were still human, so you want them dead no matter what). Anyway, I didn't see Grindhouse for a great zombie film.

Mm...I think I have typed myself out for the night. Hopefully I will write more on this later.