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{Sunday, February 29, 2004}

A Void

He stood in this place, this place of non-places and wondered at the things that once were but were now not. This was a reality made of discarded ideas; pictures hastily scrawled onto paper and as hastily discarded and forgotten. Childish doodles erased from chalkboards at the end of the school year and lost to the passing of years in a haze of eraser dust. Songs that never made the cut; inventions deemed too impractical; ideas born of a child’s fancy and overwritten by the prepackaged, least common denominator programming of network television.

But grander things too. Here the Earth was flat as many once thought it was, held aloft in the heavens on the back of a great turtle with all of the celestial bodies in orbit there of. Celestial bodies, at times anyhow, drifting about with clock-like precision in great glass spheres of divine design. Dark continents brimming with primordial mysteries and mythical beasts long since erased from the minds of men by the efforts of such men as Sir Richard Burton, Charles Darwin the Illustrated London Times.

All of these things and more, often in conflict with one another creating a cacophony of paradox ever changing, ever impractical and bewildering. This was a void of the void; a place where old ideas go not to die but to live on forever.

(Inspired by the Chalk Zone)

by Shawn 2:21 PM

{Saturday, February 28, 2004}

A quiet day you can't
A feeling like you're paranoid.

by MisterNihil 10:19 AM

{Friday, February 27, 2004}

Dr. Taylor eyed the DNR order attached to the patient's sheet. "In the case of untimely death," he read, "do not resuscitate. Refer immediately to ZombieTech." He eyed the nurse on call. "What's ZombieTech?"

She stifled a laugh. "You're new here, aren't you, doctor?"

"I started on Monday. You still haven't answered my question."

"We refer DNRs to them," the nurse said. "It's standard procedure."

"What are you saying? You send them the patient's records?"

"And the body if they request it, yes."

Taylor eyed the nurse. It was the late shift at the hospital, and he was low-man on the totem pole. She had to be pulling his leg.

"You send them the bodies? What do they do with them?"

"It's a technical process," said the nurse. "Dr. Wilkins assured us it was perfectly safe. And the patients are dead."

"What kind of technical process?"

"Reanimation of dead tissue. Or something to that effect."

"You're saying you send bodies to some company that thinks they can turn them into zombies?"

"You say that like it's so unusual. It's just standard procedure."

by Fred 4:00 PM

Is thinking about mortality morbid? Oh, well, literally, I guess it is. But we, as living things, are defined by our mortality. Something that does not die does not live--at least, not on our terms. The rainbow is beautiful because it is rare. The flower is beautiful because it is fleeting. Life is beautiful because it is ephemeral.

I know I will die--sometimes I have gripping, compelling, overriding visions about how, and I could do without those, but I am a mortal creature--and I like to plan. I want paperwork to be neat and filed and accessible. I like living wills. My father thinks--well, I don't know what he thinks, but he acts like he thinks that I'm sizing up my inheritance when I ask about this. I find that bullshit offensive, but in my calmer moments, I know that his reaction is driven by his resistance to his mortality. Strong people channel fear into anger, because we derive power from anger, and only weakness comes from fear.

DNR orders are strange in my mind. I know people who've been resusitated when they shouldn't have, with a strong enough heart to live on a machine indefinitely, but no brain left, and no hope of ever being a person again. They process food into waste and life savings into hospital bills. I want none of that, not for me nor mine.

But what about the in-between times--when there are glimpses of Grandpa every now and again, and you get him for a few minutes here and there, just long enough to see the person trapped inside the shell--or when there is hope for a recovery? How much hope is required?

We gamble--whether in Vegas, or with breaking the law, or with daring adventures--not based on the odds of winning or losing, but on what could be lost and what could be gained. How about hypothetical eye surgery--where you will probably gain a 20% improvement in sight, but 2% of the patients lose their sight entirely? 2% is a really small chance, but as long as it's more than 0%, I'm not interested. Too much to lose.

Isn't it the same with human life? Don't tell me the odds for a recovery; tell me if there's even a possibility. I don't want to resusitate a vegetable, but when there's a chance of saving his life, I'll make the wrong decision every time.

by Sharon 11:50 AM

Forgive me if this is a bit morbid, but it's something I've been thinking about lately. What are your thoughts?
living wills and DNR orders

by Faith 11:12 AM

{Thursday, February 26, 2004}

It's tough to write a story of ten years in ten minutes. In 2014, I will be 37 years old. I honestly don't want to be shopping my resume around anymore by that point. I'd like to put some of the confusion and uncertainty about where to live and where to work that I've been feeling the past years to rest. I know I'll probably only be trading it in for a different brand of confusion and uncertainty, but in ten years' time, I'm really hoping I'll have a job I like. I'm desperately hoping my resume won't say anything under work experience like "University Park, PA, 2001 - present."

I'm trying to be a writer. It's harder than it looks. But I think everybody here knows that. I think most anyone who thinks writing is as easy as it looks hasn't looked too hard at any writers and certainly hasn't tried writing for themselves. I'm spending more time at it than I used to. I haven't written as much as I'd like to, but I've written. Since the start of the new year, I've got one short story, a newspaper article, and about five newsletter issues under my belt. And I'm trying to write here. Honestly, I am.

I wanted to write a story about a time traveler who applies for a job with experience from 2014 -- "I see you worked for Microsoft's lunar division..." -- but, like I said, it's tough to write in ten minutes' time.

by Fred 4:19 PM

Jon made a typo, and it got me to thinking:
What will your résumé say in 2014?

by Sharon 9:47 AM

{Wednesday, February 25, 2004}

He wakes up and sees a door in the floor. It wasn't there when he went to sleep. He gets out of bed. The wooden floor is cold beneath his feet. It shouldn't be, he tells himself. The floor was carpeted when he went to sleep last night. The walls were not that angry yellow, the door was in the far wall and not in the floor, and the lamp on his bedside table was most definitely not a duck. "Quack!" it says, and he stares at it for a moment. No, he tells himself, that was definitely a lamp when I went to bed. His landlord doesn't let tenants keep pets, much less mallards. Something strange is definitely going on. After all, where was the ceiling? His apartment definitely had a ceiling. He was on the third of five floors. Above him should be Mrs. Mushnek, but all he can see are dark clouds, an open sky, and -- a purple sun? He blinks, looks again, realizes no, not a purple sun. Two purple suns. Those weren't there when he went to sleep.

He thinks maybe he is still dreaming. That would explain the door, the walls, the duck, the sky. It might also explain the clothes he finds himself wearing: bunny slippers, tuxedo beneath a terrycloth robe, a gray fedora atop his head. He snatches it off, stares at it. He does not own a fedora. He does not own bunny slippers or a terrycloth robe. He has only ever rented a tuxedo. He would not wear them to bed. Why is he wearing them?

He looks around the room for some sign of the familiar -- and the terrible thing is, he finds signs. There are elements in the room that he recognizes: photographs hung on the now yellow walls, the alarm clock sitting next to the duck, the clothes tossed in a pile in the corner. Yet, for each of these, there is the unfamiliar, the absurd: a duck that should be a lamp, a stuffed crocodile that should not be there at all. He pinches himself, but, if he is dreaming, he does not wake up.

He walks over to the door. It's the right door, the one that used to lead from his bedroom into the hallway. It's just that now it's in the floor. He is not sure if he should open it, but he cannot think what else he can do. Opening the door reveals a ladder and, even more surprisingly, his kitchen, which he remembered being across the apartment, certainly not beneath his bedroom. Whatever. He climbs and finds himself now in the kitchen, which except for the ladder leading into its roof seems remarkably unchanged. No ducks, no crocodiles, no purple suns. There is, however, a large Post-It note affixed to the refrigerator. He might not have noticed it were it not such a hideous green. He stares at it for a moment, trying to make sense of it, but nothing much makes any sense anymore.

It says: "Joe. Sorry about the mess. Think maybe I broke fabric of reality. Yes, again. Will try to fix when I get home from work. Please feed duck if you get a chance. And don't stay cooped up in the house all day. Get moving! Your brother, Frank."

Sometimes he really hates his brother.

by Fred 4:02 PM

Last night, I was a werewolf.

I run, with my mate, across a vast field. Sometimes I lope on four legs; sometimes I stride on two. My muscles move; I am strong; I am tireless; I am fast.

At the far side of the field is a gray shack, with corrugated metal sides and gray, weathered planks. We enter, and there is much danger. I sense it. I scent it. I drop astride a chair at the kitchen table, backwards, with brown panelling to my back and the chair protecting my chest.

The shack is full of people. A girl I know has been coming here, not for music lessons, but to carry out an affair. She is here; she knows she has been caught. A man--to the right--has a gun. It is black and catches the light when he pulls it out. The smell of the metal pricks the back of my tongue. There are too many people here. I watch, wary.

I assess my assets. I have no ranged attack. I am defenseless until someone comes within reach. My protection is limiting; I am backed into a corner. I watch the gun. I feel my claws and my fur. I will the man to come closer. Soft, pink thing, come closer. Closer.

by Sharon 1:04 PM

We rolled at 10AM on a Wednesday. The sky was gray but visibility was unlimited. The clouds stand at a distance and create a dome over the city. O.Henry nicknamed this town the Violet Crown because of those clouds and the unreal things sunlight does when it hits them. Tonight that will be a distraction. Now we've got nothing but purpose.
I made the first move, around and across the block, and was followed immediately by <NAMEDELETED>. We snuck around the building to the open door that I'd cracked the night before. Security there is really loose so we exploit it. I ran up the back stairs and <NAMEDELETED> walked right through the lobby and onto the elevator. I thought that was a risky gambit in planning, but she said it would allay suspicion if it worked. It did.
On the fourth floor, we found the spigot and set up shop: equipment in a neat pile in a corner, the Box right where we left it when we sneaked in a week ago, the panel in the wall was undisturbed and the Package was still inside. I set to filling the balloons while <NAMEDELETED> put each one into its die-cut foam impression in the suitcase. There, I changed into my suit and <NAMEDELETED> and I sat and listened for the motorcade to come around the corner. They didn't suspect a thing. We walked back down the main stairs and then across the third floor; there, we took the elevator to the roof and picked the lock. <NAMEDELETED> ran to the west and I ran to the East side of the roof, and we watched for the motorcade. From here, we'd practiced the Hit a thousand times. <NAMEDELETED>'s accuracy was deadly. When the car stopped, and the President got out, she already had the balloon in her hand.
He was still gladhanding when the first one hit, and the second was on its way before the pop found its languid way back up to the roof. It's a lot of trouble, throwing water balloons at the Leader of the Free World, and you don't get many chances. We had to take ours.

The above is a work purely of fiction. Please don't arrest me.

by MisterNihil 10:20 AM

C'mon you people!
Get Moving!
Write something!

by MisterNihil 10:07 AM

{Tuesday, February 24, 2004}

"I wake up in bed, looking at the ceiling tiles. My eyes have been open longer than I've been awake, but I've just become conscious. I have vague dreams of bright lighs and strange faces looking down on me in a huge, metal room. The sun is streaming in the window. I reach to the side table and pick up the glass of water that I keep there, which I drink all in one go as I am very thirsty. My throat is raw and I gulp the water. I reach then for my sunglasses to block out the light. I put them on, and-"
"You can't. You are too scared, and have to pull the glasses off of your face."
"Hmm... I look at the glasses, puzzled. I stand up and walk away from them, nudging them with my toe as I walk over to the sink. I fill my glass with water-"
"Sorry Dave, um, I'm, um... I activate my phobia?"
"Yeah Pete, sure, but you're supposed to make it narrative, like Sam did.
"Sorry Dave."
"It's OK. I drop my glass and step back. I look at the shards and turn off the tap. I put my finger into the sink and hold a drop of water on my finger. I watch it drop into the sink, and then turn to walk to the kitchen. There, I take two eggs from the carton and take out the bacon and orange juice. I crack the eggs and fry them with strips of bacon, and pour my orange juice into a glass. I put the unused bacon and orange juice away and stand and watch the food cook. As I stand there, I attempt to clear the cobwebs from my brain by rubbing my face and head. Then I watch the bacon cook. It spits hot grease onto my cheek, so I wipe my face with a towel. Then I walk over to the sink and wet the towel-"
"Um, but you, um, drop the towel, and, um, back away from the sink. You, like, gibber crazily and stuff."
"That was good."
"I creep closer, and twist the spigot to off, confronting my sudden phobia of running water, which is probably closely related to my fear of, I don't know? Blindness?"
"Yeah, um, that was mine."
"Sorry Dave. You weren't afraid of blindness."
"So, do I, um, still get to play?"
"No, Pete, I guessed your one."
"I walk to the window, and stare into the sun for a moment. Then, my eyes burning, I close the blinds and shut off the light."
"Yeah, you got it. You're too afraid."
"OK, I put a flashlight in my pocket so I never have to be afraid of the dark again."
"That was, um, cool. Next, let's, um, play GURPS."

by MisterNihil 2:24 PM


by MisterNihil 2:04 PM

{Monday, February 23, 2004}

They called her Barbra the Barbarian
She had the strength of forty men
She tracked the mystic Marion
To the witch's hidden lair and then
In caverns subterranean
She caught her unaware, and when
The witch, she turned, Barb did her in,
As quiet as a librarian
(Or a bookish seminarian)
Which seems a bit contrary and
Unusual for a barbarian,
So often loud and very grand
(It's very rare for them to stand
So quiet over carrion
Like the corpse of mystic Marion)
But Barbra did; she tarried and
Said a prayer for slain Marion
And told the corpse, "I'm sorry, hon.
It's just who I am: barbarian."

by Fred 11:59 PM

I wasn’t really raised by barbarians but I think it is fair to say that I was taught to read by them. Not bad for a people often thought to be illiterate. In fact they pretty much set the tone for my life by introducing me to fantasy, creativity and escapism in general.

Ok, what the hell am I talking about you may, or quite likely may not, ask? The earliest books I can remember reading were the Robert E. Howard Conan stories edited into novel form in the late 60’s/ealy 70’s by L. Sprague DeCamp and Lin Carter. What makes me think of this today is that over the weekend I was looking at one of my Frazetta books and remembering the impact his work had on me at a very early age. His book covers made me want to read those books. They made me want to immerse myself in the world in which this grim-faced barbarian lived. They made me want to imagine and create. I don’t know if it’s fair to say they made me want to be an artist as I was probably only 5 or 6 and really had no concept of art at that point. That would come several years later when I started reading comic books. But what the paintings and the stories did do was to introduce me to the world of imagination and fantasy. I’m sure like other kids I pretended, I played games and I played games of make believe but this was different. These were other worlds and other times; these were beyond the realm of cowboys and Indians, pirates and faerie tales. In a fairly remote and solitary farm life in the Midwest these stories, these paintings were a gateway into a world I had never imagined might exist. By that I don’t mean the Hyborian age but rather the world of the fantastic.

As a curious side note, many years later, I learned that Howard grew up in a small, remote town in rural Texas. I’ve wondered about his influences and what wheels turned inside of him that lead to being credited with the invention of a genre: sword and sorcery. I should think there was little to draw on for inspiration there and then and yet, he managed to draw forth some fascinating worlds from the dust of Texas.

by Shawn 9:34 PM


by Shawn 9:20 AM

{Friday, February 20, 2004}

"You're the only one who understands me."

"What do you mean by that?"

"Nothing. That's what I'm trying to tell you. It didn't mean anything."

"What didn't?"

"She didn't. She meant nothing to me. It was just a one-time fling, a dumb mistake. We were young and foolish. You have to understand."

"Who is she?"

"Exactly. She's no one. She meant nothing to me. Not like you. You're my everything."

"What are you talking about? I just asked if you wanted paper or plastic."

"I know. And you assumed plastic. You know me so well."

"Everybody takes plastic. Look, you see that guy over there who just checked out? He took plastic."

"You're -- you're not leaving me for him, are you?"

"You know, I really don't understand you at all."

by Fred 11:59 PM

Our Big __(expletive)__ problem

We never got along, really. Or, I guess, I never understood her well enough to know if we got along. Actually, it depended on how you filled in the blanks. She never said anything unambiguous. We met for lunch at a cafe, the last time I saw her.

"Oh, _(boy's name)_! I'm so _(emotion)_. I heard about your recent _(event)_, and I know how _(another emotion)_ you must be. It's always _(adjective)_ when a _(noun)_ _(present tense verb)_. "

I never got her name. Every time I asked, she'd just say _(Girl's Name)_. I called her "Girls" for short. It could never have worked. Even though she was the only one who could _(something sweet)_, I had to break it off.
We were MadLib in love, but it came crashing down around our ears like a _(noun)_

Expletive __________________
Boy's Name ________________
Emotion ___________________
Event _____________________
Another Emotion_____________
Present Tense Verb Ending in "s" or "es"________________
Something Sweet____________

by MisterNihil 10:27 AM

You're the only one who ________

by Fred 6:55 AM

{Thursday, February 19, 2004}

We introduced them slowly into society, hoping that no one would notice our plans. First they were small, sorta like a credit card, and you could just leave them in your desk drawer for when they were needed. One website here, another one there ... it was all very straight-forward and legitimate.

Then! For your convenience, of course, came the keychain versions. Take them home with you! Get that little bit of extra work done tonight -- securely, of course -- and rest easy.

The plan almost backfired, here. With millions of workers suddenly realizing that working from home was not only possible, but more productive, there was a revolution. Over many late-night meetings, we worked to suppress the rebellion until we finally realized that it could actually work in our favor.

"That's right, folks! Work from anywhere, any time, just by thinking the right commands! Our new RSA helmets guarantee complete security; since you no longer need a monitor, you're even safe from van Eck phreaking! Try it today."

That's right, folks. You are totally secure, and totally ours...

by Faith 11:32 PM

I can feel them there, on the fringes of my mind, probing, groping, looking for me, the real me, cold and impersonal. If not for the helmet they’d have had me ten seconds into the compound but I’m running black and they can’t get a grip on the brainwaves so as to pull me in. I’m blowin’ false signals all over the place, basically telepathic chaff to keep them guessing.

Those alien fucks think they can sit behind their curtain of psych security and pull our strings and we’re just gonna roll over and whimper. But not any more; we were able to piece together a temporal phase aligner from some stolen tech and pattern cloaker helmet and now, now all I need to do is wind my way through this freakin’ mystical rat hole of a base of theirs and BAM, one pocket nuke right where it hurts. I know I’m getting’ close, I can feel it. I can feel their icy fingers closing in, drawing the net in closer. They know what’s going on but they need to find me to stop me.

There, this is the spot; this is where I blow the living hell out of the self-appointed overlords. Now all I need to do is take off the helmet and invite them to my little party.

by Shawn 9:20 PM

Well I know I feel hopelessly techno-illiterate. I have no idea what an RSA Secure Authentication is, much less why one might need helmet in the pursuit of it. A quick Google or two gave me this, along with a lot of other not particularly helpful pages. I was no closer to an answer, but I realized that, hey, I have an RSA SecurID. Maybe I'm not quite as out-of-the-loop as I thought.

Of course, it actually went dead maybe a year and a half ago, and I never had to use it before that. It's just been sitting in my desk drawer since probably the month I started this job. In theory, I was supposed to use it in order to use the Integrated Business Information Systems, or IBIS, here at the University. But I never had the time or inclination to take the training, no one insisted -- they seemed somewhat surprised when I first brought it up -- and most everything for which I'd use IBIS is done by someone else. So the SecurID sat in my desk, and one day the numbers on its display stopped updating and the display itself went dead. I haven't brought it up again.

I don't know that I'm really missing out on anything. Except for, y'know, maybe that helmet.

by Fred 3:29 PM

RSA Secure Authentication Helmet

by Faith 2:54 AM

{Wednesday, February 18, 2004}

A gigantic black presence towers over me and I am startled from my rest. His monstrous appendages pin my blanket at strategic locations, ensuring that I am held immobile -- a prisoner in my own bed.

A psychological tactic I am sure: at first he simply stands and regards me, allowing the full knowledge of my hopeless situation to seep into my consciousness and my (by now) fully awake mind. Struggling is no use; he is too strong to be overcome. My fate is surely sealed, and I must resign myself to the call of pre-determination.

I inhale slowly, showing my captor no sign of fear. "Yes. You win. I'll take you for a walk."

Puppy kisses cover my face as I sigh, toss back the covers, and begin another day.

by Faith 1:20 PM

von William Jorgmunsohn

Thro pain'd, abus'd, he ris his hid
tae winwar' boun' he almost deid,
Thas wan thet widder twest et twine
tre'a thew en skeen unwine;
He tho water'd half en deeth
nae thar hernfeseere's'teeth
dar tae nae he list a' heed
thet'd under rath a raged deed;
thar nae a man ner beest ken pain
til he deneid'a joos' a baen.

Lo, tha beestie, lo ta men!
List ye' to yon hern'see ken!
"Wan nae thie huhn e' nae ther houn',
mak'th a trimbl e' nae a soun'
List! yon come wulf e' deid'ly meen,
tae snatch yon heilig Kafi Baen!"

by MisterNihil 10:55 AM

I'm not strictly what you'd call a morning person. I'm not sure I've ever met anyone who is.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not a sleep 'til noon person either. Left to my own devices -- on a weekend, say -- I'll usually sleep until no later than nine or ten, depending of course on how late I stayed up the night before. (I don't have the most exciting social life, and I guess I'm starting to get old, so late nights are less and less of an issue. If it's a choice between staying up until the wee hours doing nothing much and getting an extra hour in bed, the wee hours are going to lose nine times out of ten.) It's just when you add an alarm clock into the mix, a set time by which I absolutely have to be up, that I start to have problems.

I'm sure there's a time when the electronic screech of my clock didn't make my skin crawl, but it's been a good while. I can't even hear it in a television commercial or movie without cringing a little, wanting to hit mute, or wanting to toss something at the screen. I get physically uncomfortable when I hear that sound -- which is odd, since I rarely seem to hear it in the mornings. My brain seems to work on some kind of weird auto-pilot then, using my hands to shut off the alarm at the exact minute (or just before) it goes off, while the rest of my body is still waking up. In fact, the only time I hear my alarm in the morning is when I wake up well before it goes off and forget to reset it. Then I'll race back to my bedroom and shut it off, desperate to stop that awful sound.

But, again, left on my own, I won't sleep very late. On a weekend, I can very comfortably get the same amount of sleep I'd get on a weeknight. It's only when there's an alarm and a job waiting for me that six to eight hours doesn't seem like enough.

For awhile (by which I mean maybe a week, a week and a half), I was getting up around 6 am, using the time to read and enjoy a light breakfast. (I almost never eat breakfast otherwise -- I haven't today -- and usually just sail right into lunch, despite the hunger at around 10 or 11.) One morning last week, I got up at a quarter to 5 for some reason. That was a little too early, all things considered, but overall I like being up in the early morning. I like using the time to read, or listen to NPR, or have something to eat. I was up around 6 am when they cancelled classes and closed my office because of snow two weeks ago. By early afternoon, I'd been food shopping, seen a movie in a brand-new theater, and read maybe 100-200 pages. It wasn't much, but it felt like a productive day. My worst weekends are those in which I feel like I haven't done anything. By getting up early, I felt like I had a plan of action. I felt like I was accomplishing something.

I've also been toying with the idea of joining a local gym. Visiting it in the early morning before 7 would be convenient and a nice way to start my day. I could stand to lose some weight, and it might give me the incentive to start getting up early again. It's mainly the cost that's been keeping me away. The early hours are okay, though. I'm not strictly a morning person, but it's mostly that alarm that ruins it for me, rather than the hour.

by Fred 9:22 AM

I honestly said to myself this morning, "Okay, Sherbie, if you get up, you can have a mocha when you get to work." So, I'm posting my topic for the day, and then I'm getting my tail down to the coffee shop. Wouldn't want my barrista to get lonely. She's so good to me...

by Sharon 8:19 AM

What motivates you in the morning?

by Sharon 8:18 AM

{Tuesday, February 17, 2004}

I had just moved to New York City, and after the chaos of the previous few months things were starting to come together. Done with temping, I had my first "real" job working for a law firm in the World Trade Center. I had finally figured out the "alternate side" parking dance: on Mondays and Tuesdays I had to get out the door about fifteen minutes earlier to move my car out of the way of the street cleaning vehicles and find a spot that would be legal for the day.

The parking dance has very intricate steps, particularly in my neighborhood. Most of my neighbors were retired folks with time on their hands, so they could afford to devote an entire morning to the process. Patiently sitting in their cars, often with breakfast and a newspaper, they would wait for the street sweepers to swing onto our street. When it rounded the corner onto our block, they simply started their engines and drove quickly around the block. By the time they were back, the street sweeper was gone and they would pull back into their original parking spot, shut down the car, and duck back into their home.

In the few blocks around my apartment, the scheduled cleaning window was from 8:30 - 10:00 A.M. -- much too late in the day for an employed soul to hover a parking place. For those of us who had an hour's commute to get into Manhattan by 9:00, the competition for the very few un-guarded spots was fierce. If you overslept, or were running late, it was almost guaranteed that you would spend half an hour circling for a spot, swearing at the clock, and threatening to bash in the fenders of that nasty person who just took your spot. (After all, you saw it first, right? No fair that their light turned green before yours.) Mostly, on those mornings, it would have been better to gracefully accept fate and take the ticket, but such is not the spirit of New York.

Just the previous day, my IT department had been subjected to a lecture about "being on time for work," and as both the newest and youngest employee I was very eager to please. On this fine morning, however, I was one of the unlucky on whom the Parking Gods had frowned.

I spent thirty minutes circling the blocks, looking for just one little space where my car could rest legally until the afternoon. Paused at a red light, I spotted my goal. The crosswalk switched to "Don't Walk," and I shifted into first gear.

And then, somewhere between first gear and second gear, between Ovington and 72nd, in the middle of 6th Avenue... I lost my clutch.

Actually, I learned later that it was just the clutch cable. But it was enough to push me over the edge: essentially parked in the middle of a busy intersection at parking-rush hour, oblivous to the angry shouts and honks about me, I put my head down on the wheel and cried.

Epilogue: The nice people at AAA came and moved my car, not only out of the intersection but to a garage where it found new life in a new clutch cable -- and a whole day's worth of free parking! The boss, being a long-time New York City resident himself, readily forgave my tardiness.

by Faith 5:16 PM

"Inflatable ninja? I think you're losing touch with reality."

"Maybe I'm losing clutch with reality."

"Either way, there's not much of reality involved. What were you thinking?"

"I really wasn't, to tell the truth. It was just word association. If I'd had anything specific in mind, I'd have written something. I don't even know what I'm writing now."

"Well that much is obvious."

"But I talk a lot about writing just being a process of putting one word in front of another. About how one should write even when -- especially when -- the writing doesn't come easy. So I feel guilty when I don't write something. It's just ten minutes out of some fourteen thousand each day. I feel like I ought to put my money where my mouth is, you know?"

"How should I know? I'm not even real. I'm just a character. I'm like what that character in Anil's Ghost says: 'I'm just a detail from the subplot, right?'"

"I really liked that line."

"Well that's obvious. You're the one who made me say it. You're pretending to have a conversation with someone who doesn't exist."

"I told you, losing clutch."

"I'm just a character. But, then, so are you. By writing yourself into the story, you don't make the story more real, you make yourself more fictional."

"I'm not sure that makes any sense."

"Well you've only had ten minutes to figure it out. It's bound to be a little rough around the edges."

by Fred 4:00 PM

Losing Ones Clutch

by MisterNihil 10:57 AM

{Monday, February 16, 2004}

Inflatable Ninja? Is that a euphemism for something such as laws against spam or file sharing. Of course, it sounds like some peculiar sex toy you’d order from a catalog and would show up at your door 6-8 weeks later in a plain, brown paper package. Or maybe a punk band. Hey cool, a Google search came up with 29 results none of which look to be sites that would get filtered out by my security filters.

Then again I can easily see inflatable ninjas in an episode of Power Rangers or the 1960’s Batman series. They can be quite dangerous, are cheap and easy to deploy but are easily destroyed. Hmmm, maybe I can work them into my game somehow.

by Shawn 3:17 PM

Shadow on the sand--
I stopped, looked up, scanned the sky.
A hawk wheels and glides.

by Sharon 1:56 PM

inflatable ninja

by Fred 12:30 PM

{Sunday, February 15, 2004}

"A well-regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State,the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed."

The reason I chose this topic today wasn’t JUST that I’m a non-romantic putz but rather that we watched Bowling for Columbine last night and so the whole subject of our constitutional right to blow the holy hell out of each other was on my mind. So, anywho…

It occurs to me that, as a gun owner and former member of the NRA I am probably the least devout member of the choir to whom I’m preaching. Really I don’t know as though I want to get into the topic of gun control (which I support) as I do the topic of the Second Amendment and the reason it was put into place. A reason I might add that is typically overlooked, lost on or denied by the most of it’s greatest proponents. In brief: the amendment allowing for a well-regulated militia was written because our founding fathers didn’t trust the very idea of an all-powerful government. They knew that power corrupts and that the only insurance against an out of control ruling cast that would steal away the rights of the people was a good, healthy, well-regulated, dangerous as hell population.

Now of course, there are your militia nut balls, Nazi wannabe and KKK that feel the government should be overthrown, but, them aside, my experience has been that most mainstream proponents of the Second Amendment feel that it’s a necessary tool against crime. It was written in what, the 1790’s I think, there was no crime to speak of. It was written to protect us from our leaders. Every state in the union at the time opposed a standing army in peace times and saw it as one of, if not THE, greatest threat to peace and security.

I dunno, I seem to recall having a point to this little diatribe when it first came to mind, and yet, not so much now. Ya know, there’s nothing in the First Amendment that guarantees the right to keep and bear bullets.

by Shawn 2:59 PM

{Saturday, February 14, 2004}

Jonas insisted he had the right to bear arms. The surgeons and the zoologist, however, weren't so sure.

"Last we checked, the bear was still using them," said Dr. Cadaver. "You know, for hunting and foraging and that sort of thing."

The others nodded. "Dr. Cadaver is right, son," said the zoologist.

"It's Ca-day-ver, but thank you," the woman said. "Wouldn't you like something simple, like a badger or a coatimundi? We have plenty of those."

"No," said Jonas. "I want bear arms. Big, hairy, grizzly bear arms. Your advertisement said I could choose any animal I wanted."

"An ocelot?" suggested the doctor.

"No! I want bear arms. I want you to cut off my arms and stick the bear ones in their place or I'm taking my money elsewhere."

"Please, be reasonable..."

"I am being reasonable. What's the use of having this kind of surgical technology if you're not going to use it? You gave my friend William an elephant tusk only last month!"

"Now that was a special case," said the zoologist.

"Yes," said Cadaver. "The elephant had died. Of natural causes. We tend to get complaints when we use live animals."

"And there just aren't any dead bears on the premises," the zoologist said.

"We're expecting a bear order next Thursday, if you'd like to wait.

Jonas paused. "Grizzlies?" he asked.

"Well...no," said Cadaver. "Koalas mostly."

"Those are actually marsupials," the zoologist pointed out.

"Ah, true. There's been rumors we might get a panda sometime in the near future," said Cadaver. "The one we had our eye on apparently has developed something of a cough."

"I don't want panda arms!" shouted Jonas. "I want big, scary, claw-filled bear arms. And if you can't deliver, then I'm leaving!"

He turned towards the door.

"Okay!" shouted Cadaver. "Tell you what I'll do: I'll give you half squid, half marmoset, for half price. How's that sound?"

Jonas thought. "Deal!" he finally shouted. Man, he thought, these people were such pushovers.

by Fred 1:02 PM

Right to keep and bear arms

Or arm bears if you like

by Shawn 10:26 AM

{Friday, February 13, 2004}

an uncommon cold

by Fred 6:02 AM

{Thursday, February 12, 2004}

"This must be Thursday. I could never get the hang of Thursdays." -- Arthur Dent

In theory, it was a time machine. That it didn't work very well was evident, but Jenkins insisted he could hardly be held responsible for that. His other self, the one from twenty-four hours in the past, agreed. The right parts simply were not available. Jenkins had been instructed to make do with what he had, to cut corners if need be. It was hardly surprising that what he'd created was a faulty time machine; that he'd created any kind of temporal apparatus at all was remarkable. True, his machine could not really send you into the past or the future as advertised, and it had the unfortunate habit of dragging the past into the present, but from a purely scientific standpoint what he'd built was nothing short of remarkable. There were simply a few hiccups to overcome.

His earlier self had only just cracked the equations that would run the machine -- one that he himself had yet to build -- when he was scooped up and pulled forcibly into the present. It was quite disorienting for everyone involved. The clocks in the lab refused to work or gave contradictory information; somehow it was simultaneously Wednesday and Thursday. No one had been quite sure what to make of the pheonmenon, but thankfully it had been confined to the lab. Then two hours later the machine hiccupped again and dragged more of the then into the now.

Jenkins was pleased to see that another him had not emerged this second time, but even the first double, he knew, presented something of a problem: paradox. If he had been dragged into the future by the machine, how had he built the blasted thing in the first place? And, if he hadn't built it, how had he been dragged into the future? In all honesty, he had no idea how to answer those questions and was at a loss to explain exactly why the machine did what it did. It wasn't a gate between different times, the past and present; it pulled the past whole, kicking and screaming, into the present. As near as Jenkins could guess, "two hours ago" and "four hours ago" -- the times coinciding with both hiccups -- no longer existed in the lab. Had they working time machine at their disposal, with which to travel backwards two hours or four hours, Jenkins suspected they would find nothing but void. Large clumps had been ripped from the timeline and deposited when they ought not be.

Of course, all of that was conjecture. It didn't explain anything. And his former self was starting to annoy him.

by Fred 3:29 PM


It's Coming
The most E-Lectrifying day of the week.
You can't stop it.
You can't slow it down.
It's practically on you.
Wednesday 2
Is coming
For You

by MisterNihil 10:11 AM

Wednesday 2: Electric Boogaloo - With A Vengeance

European Title: Thursday

by MisterNihil 9:39 AM

{Wednesday, February 11, 2004}

"Zap! Pow!" cried the Cosmic Avenger.

"What does that even mean?" asked Theo, his sidekick.

"What?" asked the Avenger. He paused just long enough to stare blankly at Theo, then threw another punch in the general vicinity of their assailants. "Crash! Bang!" he cried.

"See, there you go again," said Theo. As best he could, he shook his head. He was watching the fight from above, tied to a hook that dangled over a pit of what the Mad Cackler had said was acid. Some sort of mechanism had been set up to lower the hook into the pit. "Why do you always shout that when you hit people?"

"Well..." said the Avenger, "I -- I don't know. It seems like the thing to do, I guess."

"Uh huh," said Theo. "Right." He paused. The acid was visibly closer. "And another thing," he said at last. "Your name. What's up with that?"

"What do you mean?" asked the Avenger. He thrust a leg out at one of the Cackler's goons, then rapped his knuckles against another. "It's a perfectly normal superhero name."

"No it's not," said Theo. "For one thing, 'cosmic' means of, or relating to, the universe, especially as distinct from Earth. I looked it up."


"So we're on Earth. We've never been off Earth. You're not terribly cosmic if you ask me."

"That's not necessarily the case," interrupted one of the goons. He threw a punch which the Avenger easily deflected and returned with another pow! zap! "Cosmic can also mean infinitely or inconceivably extended or vast."

"Does he look inconceivably extended to you?" asked Theo.

"Those tights are a little snug," said another goon, recovering from a blow to the head.

"I'm on the Atkins plan!" shouted the Avenger. "And besides, when did you get so interested in semantics, Theo?"

"What else are you going to do when you spend half your life dangling over pits of acid?"

"Um, actually," said the goons, "since we're, you know, clarifying and everything, that's not really acid. It's Kool-Aid."

They all turned to look at the bubbling liquid.

"Cherry?" asked Theo.

"Yup," said the goon.

"I knew it!"

by Fred 6:40 PM

comic-book Wednesday.

by Sharon 12:09 PM

{Tuesday, February 10, 2004}

The moment it happens -- it being, of course, the house burning to the ground -- and the house being, of course, the one in which Leslie had vowed to live for the rest of her days -- the moment that happens, sometime just after 6 pm, her husband Ted is in the corner store buying milk. Ted doesn't like milk. He isn't lactose intolerant -- that's what Leslie thought at first; why else would somebody not like milk? she wondered -- but he'd said no, he just didn't care for the taste. But Leslie wanted some in her morning coffee -- which was actually her 3 am coffee, since she'd been stuck working the late shift at the hospital that month and still hadn't adjusted, still needed that jolt in the middle of the morning, which was now ironically the middle of the night. She'd phoned Ted at home to check if they had any milk and, if not, could he please go to the corner store and pick up a pint? She'd like a cup of coffee when she got home. Ted, who wasn't doing much of anything besides waiting for a pizza -- neither he nor Leslie were much of a cook, and he'd found a coupon among the bunch taped to the fridge -- so he said sure, he'd run right down and get it. He left a note on the door -- "Gone for milk, back soon" -- which he supposed wasn't really necessary, given the time he'd called for the pizza and the average times it had taken them to deliver in the past. Ted hopped in the car and drove to the corner store -- which wasn't, in all honesty, the corner story, since it wasn't at the corner of their street, but it was only four or five blocks away, and it was on a corner, and so he and Leslie had always just called it the corner store. They both liked the manager, and the selection was always much better than the outside of the store suggested. And so it was in that store -- Eddie's, the sign above the main entrance said -- that Ted first heard the sirens and caught a glimpse of the red lights racing up the street in the direction of their house. But there were a lot of things in the direction of their house, his brain reasoned -- other houses, a church maybe two blocks south, the train station -- and it never occurred to him that their house might actually be on fire. But driving back, it became increasingly clear that that was precisely what was happening. The end of the block was cordoned off by police and fire trucks, and Ted parked alongside the curb of one of their neighbors -- a man neither he nor Leslie knew very well -- knew only, in fact, by his dog's name, Buster -- and asked somebody, "what is it? what's going on? which house is it?" And, of course, it turned out to be their house -- the yellow one Leslie had said was simply perfect, no matter the asking price -- which really had been a bit steep, when he thought about it. The house was awash in flame. He had not been at the corner store more than fifteen or twenty minutes -- there were red lights along the way and then a surprisingly long line for a Sunday evening -- and already the house had gone up like a Roman candle. (Ted could not actually remember ever having seen a Roman candle, much less one gone up in flame, but it was the only metaphor that sprang to mind.) Somehow he managed to reach one of the fire marshalls and tell them this was his home, his house, his mortgage payments going up in smoke. "What happened?" he asked. "How? What? When?" The pizza box, somebody said. Specially designed to keep in the heat. Marvel of technology. Wonder of the modern age. Keeps your pizza toasty and warm no matter how long it sits in the car. Done with wires or electrodes or mirrors or something. Nobody was really sure. "What--?" asked Ted. "How --?" The delivery driver had been early -- the company prided themselves on that, they said -- hadn't he seen that on the bottom of the coupon? -- and because Ted wasn't there, and because the driver was bored, he'd left the pizza box, wrapped in its magic heating container -- a padded and insultated contraption, the name of which nobody seemed able to remember, but which they were quite sure was trademarked -- temporarily on the front steps, and it had spontaneously combusted, gone up in flames, burnt first the door mat and then the door and just kept going. Nothing remained of the pizza, the fire chief told Ted, not even the littlest of anchoives. Ted should probably ask the company to refund his $10.50.

by Fred 3:37 PM

gimme, gimme, gimme heat

by Sharon 9:22 AM

{Monday, February 09, 2004}

The rat screamed in pain and terror as the spear stabbed down through its back; Bill had his lunch: rat on a stick. Not fine dining but times were tough and one did what was necessary to get through another day. Sitting back and admiring the pale green sky of the setting sun he scratched his stomach, farted, and allowed himself a little chortle. The irony was not lost on him.

Someone once said the world would end, not with a bang but a whimper. Or maybe it was a whisper, Bill Abernathy wasn’t entirely sure, but it was something like that. As it happened, neither was all together accurate as the world ended, as far as the human race was concerned, with a tremendous fart. Yes, in the final analysis what brought the human race, and most other life on Earth to a grinding halt, was not the expected nuclear suicide of the irrational, hairless monkeys nor the resulting killing winter. It wasn’t the systematic paving over of rainforests and the blind policy of manifest destiny by the republicans that justified clear cutting and drilling the last of the wild lands. It wasn’t overpopulation, a comet, a meteor or even aliens from space. It was a simple biological function on the part of the Earth itself; Gaia ripped a big one!

In the late 20th early 21st century scientists realized that they had overlooked roughly one third of life on the planet. An easy mistake to make considering it was secreted deep beneath the ocean on the seafloor in a black, oxygen-free low-rent district. It turned out that millions of years worth of microbes had built up out of site and out of mind until at last they made themselves known to the world at large when, the corresponding buildup of methane gas was released into the surface world.

A lot of life was wiped out in the global fire storm that burned away much of the Earth’s atmosphere. More died from several tsunamis that raged back and forth across the oceans while others from the methane-rich air but most from the famines and ultimately, massive global warming. It was a fart heard around the world.

Bill Abernathy leaned back and decided to coin his own phrase: Not with a bang but a braapppt.

by Shawn 11:30 AM

A Dark Humor

or, if you prefer
On Webbed Feet

by MisterNihil 10:25 AM

{Friday, February 06, 2004}

Um, by way of explanation I should point out that I'm about to start a Warhammer Fantasy game. *gl-aven*

Vermidius Caen was about to die. In the battle against chaos there were no innocent bystanders and he was simply a soldier, like everyone else. He had lived, and would now die, with the firm belief that in this war such issues as good and evil paled to nothingness against the greater issue of the damnation of Chaos and the salvation of Order. Vermidius Caen was about to become the latest casualty in this war, and he was at peace with this.

The battle had raged for days, three, perhaps four, and the bodies of the fallen numbered in the thousands. Somewhere off in the distance, over a far hill, it carried on even now, but here, where Caen lay in grass blood-soaked and oily from smoke there was a brief respite. The calm before the storm as it were. The forces of Chaos surrounded Caen and the last of his soldiers, down the hill and just out of site. There would be no escaping, no parley and no reinforcements, only the opportunity to die a glorious death against the Great Corruption.

Above him the sky was a comfortable and comforting metallic gray, easy on the eyes and fitting of death. Vermidius Caen was about to die and was, at last, at peace.

by Shawn 3:44 PM

There was old, old navy bean soup in the break room. Not so old, really, but as old as the groundhog, which seems to have decided to hang half-in, half-out of its hole, portending sun punctuated by chill winds until some later date. The soup was wonderful when it was new. By today, almost a week old, wonderful was replaced by only sour. It's not my soup, it's worth saying. Don't look at me, I just work here.
The soup began to bubble around Wednesday. It took on something like a personality yesterday and we named it this morning. I suggested they call it Fritzy, after Joe's first cat, but they named it Stinky. About noon, somebody took the baby powder spray from the designated "little girls' room" and sprayed heavily into the pot. Stinky was angry and started bubbling and the room stank of baby powder and sour soup for almost an hour.
An action team assembled, the owner of the pot was called, and I had to flush stinky down the toilet. Again, it wasn't my soup. I made a pasta dish which was thrown away on Tuesday. It barely got moldy, much less gained sentience and personality. Stinky went quietly down the toilet flushed toward eternity.
The next morning, though, the few Saturday employees who'd be near the office portion of the store came in to find an odorous surprise: Stinky, employing his newfound powers of stickiness and water solubility, had climbed patiently up the drain pipe and back out of the toilet. He sat for a time in the men's room (he'd been flushed down that toilet. The spray was from the other. Pay attention) and then crawled out onto the carpet. He sniffed his way to the break room and worked during the night to dissolve the door. There he found the pot in which he'd first become self aware, left to dry overnight by the owner, and climbed inside, as much as that was possible.
There he sits still, waiting for his owner, his creator. He's spawned twice since then, having discovered the tap and his miscibility combine to make him large enough to divide. The Stinky Population have a few questions about life, the universe, you know, the usual, and they know that Chef, the Creator and Maker will know. A False Chef came unto them on Sunday and tried to convince them that they were descended from the original Navy Bean And Sausage Soup, a Traditional Ground Hog's Day Surprise. They devoured him and his lies. Many among them still believe these falsehoods, but the believers know that the evidence is just planted to test their faith.
Sausage does not think! they reason, and the Stinky Collective thinks! This means that the Stinky Collective could not have once been Navy Bean and Sausage Soup, A Traditional Ground Hog's Day Surprise.
No, the creation myth is thus: In the beginning, there was the sentient been, created by the Chef, soaked for a night in the Waters of Life. This Bean was mixed with the Broth of Goodness and the Salt And Pepper of Wonder, and from this magic mix, the Chef breathed life into Stinky, the First Soup...

by MisterNihil 3:18 PM

A metallic gray

by Shawn 12:33 PM

{Thursday, February 05, 2004}

What had happened, to bring him to this place? He searched his memory, trying to figure out the sequence of events that changed Frank Richardson into Mister Nine. Did Frank ever even exist, or were the images in Nine's brain just fragments from a particularly vivid dream?

When they caught him probing these images, Nine was punished. At first it was just a shift or two on janitorial duty, but as he continued to explore they steadily increased the tax until he correlated the action with the results and slowly learned to partition that part of his mind from their constant watch.

Still, in the privacy of the secret parts of his brain, Nine observed. He categorized the clues that led him to believe Frank had been real. The first memory that aroused Nine's suspicion was that of meeting a new "co-worker;" he had politely asked her name and she had broken down in tears and run from the room. Miss Twenty-Four wasn't seen again for several days, but when she returned she refused to speak to anyone, or even make eye contact.

Determined to find the truth, Nine waited.

by Faith 11:26 PM

I can remember being in my crib, or more specifically, learning how to get out of my crib. I can remember sitting outside of our farmhouse playing with my toys in the dirt, my mother calling me in for dinner. I think there was a storm coming; we were having peas with dinner and to this day I can remember the look of the sky, late in the day and I think there was a storm coming. And I remember the night the wolves came.

It was a full moon as I recall – which seems to make sense – when there was a knock at the door. I was in the living room playing with my toy Daniel Boone, a 12” action figure based on the TV show that was on at the time, and my brother’s Jonny West action (we don’t say doll in a house of boys) figure. I looked up as my father answered the door. I remember there being a group of shadowy figures looming outside on the porch although only three actually came in. They wore long coats and hats and I remember my mother putting a fresh pot of coffee on the stove as they, and my parents sat at the table and spoke in hushed tones.

From where I sat I could just see their backs sitting about the table but I decided to risk a better look at the strangers and walked, as casually as a curious 4 year old can, to the bathroom. I can remember seeing pointed, furry ears poking out from up-turned lapels and wide brimmed hats. I remember my dad looking up at me, raising an eyebrow and giving me an ever so slight comforting smile. My dad didn’t smile that much so when he did it was genuine. Then I remember the largest of the three visitors - the one I decided, for whatever reason, was the leader – turning slightly towards me and also smiling. I remember pointed teeth, smooth fur and wise eyes. I knew he wasn’t human but it was 1967, I was 4 years old. I’d never seen a monster movie and, while admittedly peculiar, nothing about the scene struck me as frightening.

I remember some time later, weeks, months maybe, I began my training. Once a month two men and a woman would show up, speak to my folks and lead me off to a cabin in the woods where I lived and learned for days, weeks sometimes before returning home. I can’t remember what they taught me or how long this went on but I do remember them telling me that a time would come when I would.

And so today, whenever Margaret berates me for eating with my hands or peeing I the back yard and asks, “What the hell, were you raised by wolves?”

by Shawn 3:16 PM

The first thing I remember is the smell. It hung thick and cloying at the back of your throat, a smell you could taste, a smell that reminded you that smells comprise small particles of what you're smelling and this was something you'd rather not ingest. Metallic. Chalky. Rusty.

After that, I tried moving my limbs. Everything was numb beyond feeling. I could feel the nerves in my feet forming a bright core trapped inside a thick dead thing. I couldn't walk; I couldn't stand. I knew if I tried, the floor would pitch me onto my face. I wanted to brush away the spider webs covering my eyes, but I smacked my useless hands into my face. They were clotted rags on the ends of unweildy sticks. Everything was asleep.

Then I tried to listen, while I waited for my limbs to come back to life and dreaded the inevitable agony. I listened to the walls. I listened to the dirt. I could hear my blood in my ears. I could hear the worms chewing under the floor. I could hear the earth grinding on its axis.

And then I licked my lips, with a tongue centuries dry. When I tasted the dried blood of a forgotten love, I knew, with certainty, that I was finally awake.

by Sharon 2:20 PM

"What's the first thing you remember?"

by Fred 6:06 AM

{Wednesday, February 04, 2004}

[Posted on behalf of Shawn]

In looking at the map I realize that while I’ve been to a great many states, few can I say I’ve really seen. That is to say, I’ve passed through, I’ve laid over, I’ve stopped in. Business, vacation, relocating from state one to state two, a straight line with as few stops between as possible.

Don’t get me wrong, I have fond memories of some travels: When we moved from PA to Oregon Margaret and I camped all across the country, played with prairie dogs in South Dakota, fought a band of raccoon thugs for our marshmallows and hot dogs in Yellow Stone – we lost, by the way– and visited the Crazy Horse monument, a wonder that to this day inspires me. We went to New England a couple of years ago and there are images there that stick with me as well.

Obviously those states I’ve lived in I’ve a great many memories of but otherwise I’m struck less by those memories I do have than those that I don’t. Now granted, most travel is a matter of interstates, airports, gas stations and motels. It’s not the stuff of tourist brochures even in those places such as Indiana or Arkansas that must, in all fairness, pad their tourist brochures. But overall I find myself looking down from the plane window and am reminded of a Talking Heads song that too reflects on what life must be like down there in those forgettable little towns and farm land. I’m paraphrasing. It’s late, I haven’t eaten since lunch and my 10 minutes are nearly up, so, I’m paraphrasing.

The point I sat down to make, such as it is, is simply that so much of my travel through various states has shown me so little of substance concerning the people living there. They have homes, families, jobs, dreams and ambitions. They are as real as you and me, their towns are as important as mine, and yet, I’ve no memory of them. One diner, one gas station, one fast food restaurant, a town square, a cross roads, a sign giving the name and population but they all blend together into a single amalgamation as if from the Twilight Zone.

And I am from one of these places: Denmark, Ohio, population maybe 100 if it’s even still around. We had a general store (which was also the gas station) a church and a town hall. I do still have memories of this place as I grew up there, but to a traveler passing through, should they find it necessary to stop, would take away nothing other than a slight addition to their collection of generic, nameless towns.

by Sharon 11:59 PM


Start in Pennsylvania:
A cry, a shout, a childhood.
Oh, how we traveled:
Forth and back,
Lulled in the rhythm
Of windshield wipers and street lights
Making the backseat a secret fortress
For the Indian squaw who rode her horse
Along the New England highways
In ultimate freedom and speed.
To Boston, to Maine, to Canada:
Roadtrips and station wagons,
To North Carolina,
And family in Deleware and Florida.
And Planes:
Right to left,
With brief hops in a vague, forgettable middle.
Until finally:
A pilgrimage,
A new life,
A new family
(And a sister-in-law to see graduate in Iowa).
Everything else
Is very far away.
Four hours in any direction is still
(And twelve hours in some directions.)
But still:
Planes again,
To the wet and wooly and green spaces,
Tucked in the upper left,
That hide friends too dear
To ever be
Too far to see.

by Sharon 6:40 PM


Wow. Almost looks like my map colors are inverted; I hadn't realized until doing this just how many states I have seen. With 42 under my belt, seems like I really ought to visit the other eight.

Some states, of course, are boring work stories -- Missouri, for one example. Other hits are products of two cross-country treks: one to Arizona from Pennsylvania, and one to Oregon from New York. I've done the trip from Pennsylvania to Florida more times than I can count. It was no random chance that I picked Oregon to call my new home; it is one of the most beautiful states I have ever visited.

Even omitting the truly mundane, there are hundreds of anecdotes in so many trips. I saw John Goodman filling up his tank at a gas station in Louisiana last year, somewhere in the wilds between New Orleans and Jackson, Mississippi. His wife nagged him repeatedly to get back into the car before anyone recognized him, which of course drew more attention than his presence had. I flew my boss & a co-worker to Rhode Island for a company sailing expedition; my boss loved it but my co-worker flipped out when he accidentally bumped the airplane's controls with his knee. As a child, the gigantic windmills in Texas scared me; they were so huge that I thought for sure they'd come flying off of their posts and decapitate me. The winds on Mt. Washington in New Hampshire were so cold, even in August, that my mother and I bought sweatshirts in their store just to walk the 100 feet back to our car.

I have passed holidays in Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut, Tennesee, West Virginia, Texas, and Oregon. (I would personally be inclined to count the world's largest fly-in as a holiday, too, in which case you might add Wisconsin to that list.) I have a stigma against some states because my only experience of them is the drudgery of driving through: Georgia, South Dakota, Montana, Kansas. I would like to spend more time in those places, visit the famous Wall Drug, see the badlands, learn more of the area than one can see zipping along the highway. I've also always wanted to visit Four Corners Monument, where the four states of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona come together.

Comparing the number of states I have visited to my age, I seem to have added around three new states to my roster every two years. I'd better get moving, then, on the other eight!

by Faith 6:17 PM


And She Ran

The map is green. It says: You've been only to the threatened states. They spell a word. You stand back a few feet and squint, they all spell a word. Looking at them, they all spell her name.
Her name: --
She'll answer to "dash," but her given name was "hyphendash emdash punct," the capricious child not of hippies, no, but worse!
You've chased her across six states and they scream DANGER DANGER DANGER! and you've eaten at a thousand Waffle Houses and a thousand Burger Kings and McDonaldses and Dairy Queens until the sight of a dash, the sight of punctuation, of compound words, of merry-go-rounds and johnny-come-latelys make you shudder and taste grease.
Still she runs. Still she escapes. The love of your life, the hyphen in your hyphenate, making a bee-line for where?New Jersey? Idaho? Oregon? Japan?
Grimly, you step again on the accelerator and the slow chase renews.

by MisterNihil 5:54 PM


That map seems incomplete somehow. Or maybe too complete in places. I'm not entirely sure about Louisiana. Until ten minutes ago, though, I wasn't entirely sure about Tennessee. Then I remembered that I'd been to Dollywood and Nashville, which are both very much within the state. I remember I fell asleep at the Grand Ole Opry -- or rather I remember my parents telling me that's what I did. We were in the front row, apparently on camera. I don't know what channels carried the Grand Ole Opry fifteen, twenty years ago (much less if any still do today), but if there's a tape of that night's performance somewhere, apparently I'm on it, sleeping away. I don't remember the music.

Like a lot of stories, that one sounds better without specifics, when the details are left to the imagination. "Remember the time I fell asleep at the Grand Ole Opry?" sounds vaguely intriguing until you realize that yes, that's really all that happened. A long day, a headache -- I remember we hunted down some aspirin before the show -- and I got bored and fell asleep. If I'm on camera (and my parents seemed to think I was), it was only for a moment. I wasn't singled out; they didn't zoom in, wake me up, invite me up on stage. But you see, that's the kind of story that one wants to hear. Those are the sort of details the imagination fills in. Most life stories are cute and anecdotal -- friends and families like them or pretend to -- but they're usually not terribly interesting to anyone else without a little embellishment, a little showmanship. What fun is fact without a little fiction?

Another example: my night of three chocolate beers, an Ibsen play, and a magic show. Sure, it sounds like maybe there's a story there. You wonder, how do those elements fit together? What did he do with the beers? What happened at the magic show? You fill in details that reality simply cannot match. I could maybe match them, even beat them, but the reality of it falls pretty short. The chocolate beer was okay (Sam Adams, if I remember correctly), but I wasn't wildly drunk. That I went alone to a campus production of an Henrik Ibsen play (Hedda Gabler) should give you some sense of my sobriety. The play wasn't very good. I don't know a lot about Ibsen, but I got the sense it wasn't supposed to be played for laughs, or that the laughs were even intentional. After the show, I wandered towards the middle of campus and caught the tail-end of a magic show in the student union building.

And that's it. It's not a story. It's just a couple of things. They're details without detail. They can't possibly match the story that, however briefly, unfolded in your head. They need embellishment: Still reeling from one chocolate beer too many, he found himself onstage in the middle of Henrik Ibsen play. Now surprisingly pantless and not knowing his lines, he grinned foolishly while the other actors fumed backstage. "And to think that here are you a married man, George!" repeated the young woman playing Miss Tesman -- to which, for some reason, he responded by trying to pull a rabbit from her hat, a process made all the more difficult by the fact that Miss Tesman was not wearing a hat. The evening dragged on in much the same fashion. None of the actors or crew could get him to leave. The actress playing Hedda refused to leave her dressing room until he stopped offering to saw a lady in half. What was left of the audience booed. It was an unmitigated failure.

See -- embellishment. It's maybe not a great story, but it's more interesting than the original. It's much the same way that telling you I visited Tennessee and fell asleep there isn't terribly interesting, but tweaking it with maybe just a little bit of fiction can make it so.

by Fred 9:36 AM

This one has instructions.
  1. Go to World66 and create a map of either states or countries you have visited.
  2. Paste the code they provide here, so that the map appears in the blog.
  3. Tell us a story about that map.

by Sharon 7:37 AM

{Tuesday, February 03, 2004}

My highest form of artistic expression is cleaning. I dare you. Laugh at me.

I find a passive sort of passion in music, art, reading, sculpture. Much to my chagrin, I've painfully learned that I lack useful talent in any of the traditional art forms. Sure, I doodle, I paint stuff, I make up songs to sing in the shower. But there is little to be shared outside my private universe in these.

But cleaning! Such a useful outlet for an obsessive-compulsive personality. Ever visit an acquaintance's house and notice the hasty vacuum marks in their carpet? I may not do it often enough, but once vacuumed my carpet has no lines. Swipe, lift, re-position, swipe again -- all in the same direction. Visiting my mom's house, what better gift can I provide than a sink that sparkles after I've used it? A have a friend who is passionate about photography but cannot make a straight line to save her life. My best gift to her, then, is to mount her photos for her.

There is elegance in a well-designed categorization system. A home for every thing, and a purpose in every placement.

The compulsion is there, but the execution is seriously flawed. Those of you who have seen my home may now openly scoff. Obsessive, yes. Artistic, hardly.

by Faith 6:17 PM

My immediate response, and therefore the one I'm going with, is the written word. I don't know when I first decided I wanted to be a writer, but, looking back, I don't think there's a time when I seriously considered wanting to be anything else. I've often had difficulty expressing that desire, of course. As a kid, "writer" never seemed like something that people actually did, like a real job. Certainly, I was aware that such people existed, but it wasn't like one ever saw them. I seem to recall having favorite stories more than favorite authors. The words were important, but that the construction of them was something for which you could get paid? It was, I think, just too abstract. Books were such a part of my life that they just were. You could point to other professions, but pointing to a book and saying, "this is what I want to do," wasn't something that occurred to me for quite some time.

There was no defining moment when that changed for me. I still hemmed and hawed over the question of "so, what do you want to be when you grow up?" By the time I got to college and actually started studying writing, I was well aware that this was something one could do. I was at least dimly aware that it was a process. But I also worried that the pronouncement "I want to be a writer" would be met by rolled eyes or shaken heads or sighs of "You know, you really can't make a living doing that." Which isn't entirely unfair, since the vast majority of writers can't make a living on words alone.

But anyway, the reason I started writing this -- aside from wanting to write something so it isn't so lonely in here -- is that I think I've reached a point -- or I'd like to think I've reached a point -- where I'm no longer content to want to be a writer. On those rare occasions when people ask, "So, what do you do?", I don't want to hem and haw and end up with "...but what I'd really like to do is write." I'm not worried about making a living from it -- I know I probably won't -- but I don't want what I make my living from now to be my livelihood.

I'm tired of thinking in the abstract. I'm tired of thinking, "if only I could find the right job". I'm tired of telling myself I'd like to be a writer. I am a writer.

Last month, I started writing an hour every day, maybe four or five times a week. It's not a lot, but it's more than I'm used to. I set a schedule and I keep to it. I wrote a short story last month. I'm not sure it's any good -- and I know it's rough around the edges -- but for someone who quite honestly hasn't written anything that long since college workshops, it's a big deal. It's a big deal for me anyway. I'm working on another. I'm sticking to a schedule. I don't worry about inspiration. I just write. Some of it's good; a lot of it's bad. (What I've written here should be ample proof of that.)

So, short story long, the written word is favorite form of artistic expression because I'm a writer. 'nuf said.

by Fred 6:00 PM

At heart, I'm a writer. I enjoy writing; I study writing; I practice writing.

Of late, I don't write so much. This is disappointing.

When it comes to expressing myself, I turn to poetry most often. I haven't written a proper story, start to finish, in years. I still try to keep my hand in with essays and articles. (I'm working up a new section of the Invisible City site, "The Newsstand." Ben, I've got ideas that involve you.) Mostly, though, my recent writing has been emails and design specs.

I find artistic satisfaction in developing software. There is a mark of myself on the code that I write. It is distinctly my own. I think that outsiders probably regard the idea of artistic software like that of artistic mathematics, but actually, I find great beauty in elegant mathematics, too.

The two forms of expression on which I gaze wistfully from the outside are music and drawing. I execute music like I execute calligraphy: I have a technical proficiency which I can apply reliably. (Repeatable processes? Like CMM Level 2...) And drawing is simply frustrating, because I cannot make my hands reproduce what I visualize, despite applying the same skill in calligraphy. I expect it's a matter of training and practice, but I'd rather invest the time in coding and writing.

by Sharon 4:32 PM

What is your favorite form of artistic expression, and why?

by Faith 10:27 AM

{Monday, February 02, 2004}

Sharon should feel free to change this, but:
birthday cake

by Fred 1:00 PM


<blockquote class="topic">your topic</blockquote>