Monday, November 29, 2010

We're putting the band back together, pt. 2

- Adrian started to amass mixers and drum machines and synthesizers in our latter high school days.  I spent all of my money on D&D handbooks and comics, but he spent his on his tools.  He would DJ parties, weddings and school dances.  I think it was our senior year when he and Jeff Lay went in on a minidisc recorder and made their first songs. 

- No!  Memory is faulty -- because first there was a cassette tape called "RockIt Pride," with a blue and yellow cover.  They did a handful of songs, but the one I remember was about Paul Mann, our school's band director. 

- (Alarm clock goes off, whatcugonnado?
Gonna get up, get dressed and get ready for school!
Rollin' down the street, bass kickin' Alpines
People starin' at me 'cause I'm one of a kind!)

- And then the next year, Adrian and Jeff made another set of songs.  One was called "Superman 98," and I liked it, because it was by my friends, and kind of about Superman.  About Jeff as Superman.  And how he started flying through the sky when puberty hit, and how you probably wish you could say that you, too, have fucked Lois Lane.  Jeff was a rapper.  There were a lot of rappers in and around our high school, all white kids who grew up just as close to corn fields as I did, but where their creative outlet was rapping about being badass in one form or another, mine was pretending to have a lightsaber, or be Spider-Man.  Which is to say, maybe, that their fantasy was about them being better versions of themselves -- mine was about being someone else entirely.  I still have the same problem.

- Jeff joined the Marines right out of high school, which left Adrian with a lot of rappers who either weren't very good, or weren't as fun to hang around, or both.  Luckily, I was fun to hang around (I still am!), and thought I wasn't a rapper for real, I was more than willing to pretend to be one.  In a Weird Al kind of way.  That's how the Nati Crew came to be.

- Our first track was Safety Dance 98 -- now lost to seas of time, and/or minidiscs -- and it sampled heartily from the original Safety Dance by Men Without Hats.  We invented characters -- I was Corn Puff Poppa, Adrian was 1-Ton -- and their backstory was that they were derivative, yet successful, rappers from Cincinnati.  I can't speak for Adrian, but for me it was fun to make up rhymes, say them into a microphone, and pretend to be bombastically proud of yourself.  We were 19, and it was play. 

- In this same time period I was enrolled in a lousy first year of college as an English Lit major at the University of Cincinnati, working in the frozen food department at Meijer, trying to have sex with girls, and still playing with GI Joe figures, pretending they were actually Marvel Superhero figures.  I probably put the most effort and thought into the fictions I created via the GI Joes -- I would concoct elaborate plots, act them out as live-action comic books, and keep notes on the adventures, categorized as issues.  It was something I'd been playing by myself since I was 8 or 9, and it was starting to lose its luster -- and had long been something I kept secret and was ashamed of -- but it was one of my favorite creative outlets.  I tried to keep it up as long as I could, but it just grew less and less rewarding.  I started writing actual comic book scripts instead, which was a different kind of fun, but was at least stretching the kind of muscles I wanted to stretch.  But in the meantime, playing at rapping was fun and was something I felt like could be shown off -- not hidden under blankets in my room. 

- Part of showing it off, of course, was pretending it was all a joke.  Which it was -- but only because I didn't think I was good enough to take it seriously.  And I certainly wasn't -- I couldn't delivery phat rhymes* quickly or confidently, but I had a lot of fun trying to do it.  We wrote the raps together, would perform and record them late at night at Adrian's place, and then would play them back and forth for each other and the girls we wanted to make out with.  I cannot possibly fathom why they listened to them and still liked us.  They were grown ups, the songs were dumb, but they liked us anyway.

- My favorite verse from Safety Dance 98 was 1-Ton's ...

1-Ton coming atcha l-l-l-like a train
DJA** gives me the beats and they be pounding in your brain
Now I'm-a break it down so come and feel my pain
Ain't no fairy like that Prince dancing in that Purple Rain
5-Double-Oh what I weigh the girlies scream
Corn Puff Poppa and 1-Ton do the double team
Raking in the bills a millionaire is what I am
I eat you punk jiggas for lunch, so just scram
Jiggas gonna fuck with me you gonna see
That I'm a bigga jigga than you'll ever be
Now all my peeps do the bump when they listen to me
Cause I'm the baddest motherfucker this side of 'Nati

- Do you see some of the many reasons it is embarrassing to speak of such things?  We do not call Prince a fairy, or anyone.  We do not call ourselves jiggas, or anyone.  But we thought Puff Daddy was silly, and we thought our fellow Ohio rappers were silly, but we also had to admit, doing what they do was a lot of fun.  It's not to say that rap is silly in and of itself -- but in the late 90s, and up to today, there were some silly personalities and tropes as a part of rap. 

- (Adrian would stuff his mouth with Cap'n Crunch to sound particularly hefty as 1-Ton, which means while we were mixing, there was already a box of Cap'n Crunch upstairs to snack on.  The cereal of rappers!)

- Every few months we'd do another Nati Crew song, and they got to be funnier and more clever as we went along.  We invented more and more characters, usually played by ourselves, but sometimes by whatever friend was around to join in.  Another track lost to the ages was about the Nati Crew going to Chicago to kidnap Humpty Hump and convincing him to join us, a thematic rip-off of the JAMs' "Whitney Joins the JAMs," and done primarily because Adrian could do a Humpty impression.  Digital Underground isn't even from Chicago, but for some reason, we decided that's where we would have to go to get him.  The only bit of lyrics that survive from that song are pieces of the chorus still floating around my head...

1, 2, 3, now here we go
Listen at the way the Nati Crew flow
If your crew wanna front now that's a no-no
Cause every momma knows we bad mo-fo's

Do-Re-Mi now here we go
"Where you get your clothes?"
We shop at Deveroe's
If your crew wanna front now that's a no-no
Cause every momma knows we bad mo-fos.

- We had discovered tracking and harmonizing so that, even though our songs were still silly and done in a night, they sounded more and more like ... well, they were still jokes.  But they were jokes that were unique to the two of us, and not something anyone with a drum machine might put together.

- I'll leave off again -- the next chapter in the Nati Crew saga involves a few songs that still exist, and as mp3s, even.  If I can sort out how to post them in a blog post, you'll have the opportunity to hear for yourself "Growing Up In 'Nati" and "American Xmas."***


* I call them "phat rhymes," even here, as a defense mechanism.

** Adrian's DJ name at the time

*** Lucky!!

We're putting the band back together.

- Though I have a long history of being in fake bands, I've never been in a band-band.  I mean, except the school band -- I was a saxophone! -- but that was more of a social group, at least for me.  It's how I found my first high school D&D group, how I discovered the hill on Market Street, and how I got to kiss girls in high school (holy smokes -- that's true!).

- However!  My pal Adrian was always musically inclined, and it was together that we discovered the KLF, aka the JAMs, aka the Justified Ancients of MuMu, aka the Timelords -- and later 2K, the K Foundation, Disco 2000, etc.  They were a band with a mythology, and that was something I could get behind.  They were samplers and dance musickers, and though that's not the music of my kid-bones, it was something I could get behind for the sake of fun and late night conversation.

- Legend has it Adrian found a cassette tape on the side of a Kentucky road.  It was the single for the KLF's "What Time Is Love?," a 90s dance anthem that demands to see you sweat, takes you on the path of what they call a MuMu, and perhaps most importantly, never stutters when asking you to pass the mic.  It also samples the MC-5's "Kick Out the Jams," and drops code names like King Boy D.  It's still a catchy song, and it came with its own symbol -- a pyramid blaster, being a pyramid with a boombox affixed to it.  It was mysterious, it was on MTV once or twice, and not many people in the US paid it much mind, which made it attractive to Adrian and me.

- What blew our minds -- or at least mine -- was a few years later, in high school, when I followed my conspiracy muse to the Illuminatus! Trilogy, by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson.  I was nerdy enough to be into the idea of global conspiracies, secret symbols, and imposter George Washingtons -- but the book also mentions the Justified Ancients of MuMu, and even claims that the MC-5's "Kick Out the Jams" was a literal in-your-face to a group of rebels that had been ejected from the Illuminati years ago.  Suddenly things like "This is what KLF is about" and "Don't Take 5, Take What You Want," and "Last Train to Trancentral" -- they weren't just funny phrases, they were codes we had a key to.

- (Not that we worried ourselves over whether it was real or not -- it was fun.  And fun always tops real.)

- We had a period of t-shirt making in high school, and Adrian crafted his own KLF tee.  It had the word JAMS on the back, and the pyramid blaster on the front.  He once told me the story of one of his early days at Thriftway, stocking something in the non-grocery aisle, and he was wearing his JAMs shirt under his white button-up work shirt.  But you could still see the logo through his button-up -- our own little way of fighting The Man -- and he was approached by a stranger.  The stranger told him he knew what he was doing, what he was about, and if he knew what was good for him, he would knock it off.  We didn't know WHAT the guy actually meant, but we assumed it was an agent of the Illuminati, taking Adrian to task for displaying his allegiance to agents of chaos.

- (Sure, the Illuminati rule the world -- but the Justified Ancients of MuMu count Tammy Wynette and Whitney Houston as members.  Which club would you rather be a part of?)

- The KLF's not active anymore, at least not that I can tell.  They published a book called The Manual about how to study the pop charts and score a #1 hit single, which they did, with "Doctorin' the Tardis," which sampled the Gary Glitter Rock n' Roll song, Doctor Who, and was a very successful #1 pop song in the UK.  They made a lot of money from it and, so the legend goes, went on to burn all that money as part of another art project called The K Foundation Burn A Million Quid... 

- (I saw an interview with Stephen Colbert once -- I think it was on The View, which is a show that I love -- in which he said that he plays a character on his show called Stephen Colbert, and sometimes the real Stephen agrees with the point of view of the character Stephen, and sometimes not, and he honestly doesn't care when his audience can tell the difference.)

- ... and Bill Drummond has put out a book on his own called 45 that's one of my very favorite examples of someone working out how they think by writing it down.  I wish Bill Drummond had a blog.  He probably does, except it's a secret one.  I hate secret blogs.  I want to know where they all are.

- (Looking up Bill Drummond's Facebook page, I found this:  "In the middle of a tour, Drummond announced he was popping out to get some glue - and never returned."  I assume he returned somewhere, eventually, but who knows?  Maybe he's wandering still, just a man and his glue.)

- I took a detour and found that I haven't even broached the subject of the 'Nati Crew, in which I prove myself a liar and reveal that I was, in fact, once in a band.  But I'll let this one be what it is, and return to the Crew in the near future. 

Saturday, November 27, 2010

long-form alternate reality games

- I met Julie Powell once, briefly, in an alternate universe where I worked in public radio in California.  She said "I like your tie, oh, I like your belt, I like -- everything going on here," and she gestured to me from toe to head.  I took it to mean that I'd gotten lucky when I put my clothes together that morning, but secretly I thought it meant, "if only this person could know MORE, could know ANYTHING, she would love it ALL.  I have gotten my life together!"

- Well.  Julie Powell was very kind, accidentally and in passing that day, and I just, accidentally and passing, watched the movie based on her book Julie & Julia.  It's a neat movie, and it's all about writing!  It's about writing and changing your life by writing.  About a better future, through writing.  And most everyone in it is very charming and very attractive.  Just like life!

- It snowed this morning in Burlington, VT.  Possibly in other parts of Vermont as well, but I can't really speak to that.  It snowed quite heavily, it covered the ground and most things on the ground, and within an hour it had stopped, the sun came up, and the snow had mostly melted.  Now it's snowing again, but in a very polite fashion.  It's very pretty, but I just ... snow, I just don't trust you.  I know that you like me, but I also know that you don't think of me when you do what you do.  But it's not your responsibility to keep me in mind at all times.  So, that's okay.

- Here's what I mean about Julie Powell -- I've never read Julie Powell, aside from flipping through her most recent book (I think), which is Cleaving, which is what she was promoting on the radio about a year ago.  It's about meat and marriage and love affairs, from what I can gather, and I don't think I was ready to read about such things at this time last year, however I might have been encouraged to by the author mentioning my belt buckle.  That's surely the quickest way to make me interested in another person and the work they do -- by giving me the sense that you think I'm interesting. 

- "Oh, I'm interesting?  Then you must be to!  Let's be friends." 

- Even after thinking this, and typing this, and then thinking about it more to see if it's true ... I'm not sure it's especially wrong to go through life like this.  So long as it's not entirely one-sided, yeah?  You reach out to people because you like them, or think you might like them, and you don't need especially good reasons for doing so.  Because you think you might like what they're about -- because you want to know more, because you think you might like them the more you get to know them -- that seems fair.  Maybe a little self-centered, but what's the center if not the self?  Just don't make the center your all.  /advice.

- If I had an iPad I would buy Julie & Julia right NOW.  This is a message to all of you e-reader manufacturers -- it is in your best interest to supply me with your products.  It will only help us both in the long run.  Like when I bought "Islands in the Stream" on iTunes last week.  Everybody wins!  Especially me and Dolly Parton.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Big Bea and the Thunderbirds

- My biggest take away from looking at a scale of the universe and me is that there are Giant Earthworms that are possibly longer than 7 meters.  This knowledge triggers something in my lizard-brain that shouts "kill it with fire."  This is not fair to the giant earthworm, which most likely possesses neither strange sonic sensors nor slobbering mandibles that seek to consume me, and I will try not to move through the rest of my life quietly hoping for its destruction.  It is hard to unlearn a distaste for what seems like the abominable.

- "You're definitely in a strange place.  But here's the sun!"

- Growing up I thought of the Atlantic Ocean as The Ocean and the Pacific Ocean as a large body of water in which certain oceanic things probably occurred, but which were almost certainly less-than when compared to the Atlantic majesty at play off our country's eastern seaboard.  It's swung around to the opposite now -- I've lived near enough to the Pacific for long enough to have been recruited into night swims, been driven off from nighttime bonfires by friendly policemen, and have ridden my bicycle close enough to be sprayed by ocean foam.  The Atlantic has retreated into my personal mythology.  I remember wading into it on childhood vacations, disliking how much sand it deposited into my shorts, and being told that anything deeper than my waist could theoretically hold sharks.  But the Pacific ... not that it was nice to me, or sweet, but I have a better sense of its moods and its shape.  It's an edge of the world, though not an end.  You can go to it, look over, and return to your life. 

- (Holy smokes, Body Talk, pt. 3!)

- I waver between thinking about craft and thinking "this is simply how I do what I do."  Sometimes I think I have a choice.  I've had this torn out page from Paul Pope's ADAM STRANGE serial that ran in Wednesday Comics sitting around my office for weeks now -- it had hung near our front door in LA -- and today while staying quiet on a conference call I realized it fit perfectly between a calendar and the corner of the room.  I stuck it to the wall with scotch tape and felt a sense of relief, as if I'd suddenly remembered where it belonged.  It's almost always the same way with work.  I'll think about form, move things around, find different ways to say the same thing -- but then sometimes everything just fits.  I feel relieved, and at the same time embarrassed that I hadn't just done it that way from the start.  I try to remember that it only fits that way now from all the time I spent looking at it any number of other ways.

- The page reads "Her RADIANT SMILE -- would she STILL want her BELOVED if she KNEW the TRUTH...? ...if she KNEW that on earth I am nothing but a TIRED OLD MAN...?"

- There's something to all this Doctor Who stuff.  He looks different every few years, but he's always the same kind.  Just popping up a little differently in certain places.

- Lately all I want to listen to are country spirituals, but all iTunes can find are 90s Michael Jackson songs.  Country spirituals, and Body Talk parts one through three.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Writing in Public.

Things of note, as autumn swiftly disappears...

- I will need to rediscover my gloves if I'm to keep biking like this.

- Bells!  And dimly-lit homes as I bike past.

- Patience.  Allow the cushion to settle beneath you.
  • I have always had trouble with this.

- "He wears a purple sash and a black mustache, in a honky tonk down in Mexico."

- I had the thought today that keeping a journal is like an offline blog, and I felt equal parts like I had wrapped my head around something AND that I am stoopid.

- Transformative times.

- "Transformative Times"

- "The Transformative Times"

- Boots, and pants tucked into them.  Candles melting down to the stub.

- Negotiating the perception of you, and how you cannot.
  • I assure you, water circles counterclockwise.
  • Better:  I assure you, cliffs are formed by erosion.

- (I kind of feel like I'm in a boat.  Everything is wood and brass and tilted.  There are trapdoors where you do not expect them, yet railings fold out from them that are sturdy and attractive.  The sort that make you want to step down their stairs.

- "I heard your learned to ride a bicycle story.  You're a really good storyteller."

- A backwards dollar sign.  But then I realize, it looks right if you see it through the front of the jar.  Again -- head wrapped around something.  Again -- stoopid.

- A cruise.  You get on a boat just to ride it around on it.  To take a RIDE on a BIG BOAT.  And sometimes the power goes out on the boat, and people get mad when it's not like a moving high rise building anymore. 
  • But I get that.  I was watching TV on an airplane (!!) and I felt cranky when the picture would be interrupted from time to time.

- On that flight I had my first fun conversation with a strange airplane seat partner.  She was a playwright from the town I'd just moved to, and she kept quizzing me on people and places -- if I knew certain buildings, streets, personalities yet.  There were a few I'd heard of, but mostly I hadn't.  She was very helpful, but also seemed a little mad when I didn't know a thing.
  • I could tell she didn't know what I meant by "New North End," but I couldn't find a way politely communicate that.  I think she thought I was continually misspeaking "Old North End."  When I was explaining the specific geography of my neighborhood ("keep going on North past the school," "the river curls around, and there's kind of a thumb, and I'm on it,"), she just though I was explaining a different neighborhood exceptionally poorly.
  • I had a book with me, some Teen Fiction Sci-Fi, which isn't something I normally read.  I forget my excuse, but I made a point to say that I was reading it because I wanted to explore different titles from a publisher's particular imprint.  She said, "I just assumed you were regressing," and it made me laugh, and I said, "That might be true as well."  The man to my left laughed at that, but I wasn't sure why.  He had almost missed the flight and had started aggressively reading a magazine as soon as he sat down, and didn't stop for the hour-long flight.  He said he'd been late because his boarding pass had the wrong gate printed on it.  Mine did too, but I'd figured it out on my own.  FLIP the page.  FLIP the page.
- I've been writing as the candle burns, and it's nearly done.  It makes me want to stay here all night.  The only way I know to celebrate that feeling is to leave, and therefore keep it intact.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Call to Adventure; Refusal of the Call; Crossing the Threshold.

I miss that MySpace blog function that let you post "What I'm listening to now" after every blog entry.  I'm sure there's a way to do it on blogger (or at the very least, on tumblr), but I'm too out of practice to understand widgets and such.

(What I'm listening to right now:  "Another One Rides the Bus" by "Weird Al" Yankovic.)

If I can talk about the Beatles again (if I could ever stop talking about the Beatles...), I was out in public the other night (!) and the Beatles came up.  We were talking about favorites, which ones we were, which ones were the cool ones, and someone mentioned Ringo.  And I blurted out, "Ringo was a drunk" and wanted to take it back right away.  I don't even know what possessed me.  I hate being that buzzkill -- "it was all done with mirrors" -- and the only rationalization I've been able to come up with in the days since is that I have to remind myself from time to time that the Beatles, in addition to being Beatles, were also dudes.  Not just cartoon characters.  If you play the Beatles Rock Band video game, there's something of a narrative to it, and it ends (I think) with the band playing their rooftop concert.  As if it all just stopped for no particular reason, all smiles and fur coats and friendly bobbies telling the boys turn down their amps.  As if none of them ever did anything of consequence ever again.  And it's just not true.  They led complicated lives (just like real people!) and they wrote other songs and played in other bands.  They made records, got divorced, some of them died.  That's worth remembering too.  Perhaps more elegantly, in the future, than yelling "Ringo was a drunk."  He was also a caveman.  He was also Mr. Conductor.

(Being a Beatle, and then not being a Beatle, has got to be a hard kind of come down.)

(Paul by himself, getting drunk and getting high [getting crunk!], because he doesn't have any friends left.  Once he was writing letters to Prince ("Dear Princely Person.  Hi there!").

Russell Brand is one of the things people like that I resist for no particular reason (except to be contrary, I suppose), but maybe he's one of the things that I eventually give in to too.  He was on Conan last night was utterly charming talking about royalty.  Other things in this category:  Mad Men, Dancing with the Stars, Lady GaGa (though that seems like so long ago...).

I had a vision for a Christmas Party.  Many years ago, when I was in school, the wonderful Michelle Richmond had a White Elephant party for one of her workshops.  I remember not being in her workshop that semester, but I also remember being at the party, and instead of the standard white elephanting, it went down like this:

- You bring a gift.  It goes on a table.  Maybe you draw numbers?  Or maybe you just volunteer, and one at a time, you claim a gift.  I prefer them not to be wrapped, but maybe that makes it more of a "game" and less a "Christmas Party."

- If no one else wants your present, you get to keep it.  Boring!

- If someone else wants your present, they have the chance to steal it from you.  But when they steal it, they have to tell a story.  Then you tell a story.  And then everyone votes on who has the best story, and whoever has the best story gets to keep the present.

- Fun is had, stuff is had, stories are told.  Christmas!

(What I am listening to now:  "We Fight/Love" by Q-Tip.)

Today K picked up all the leaves and bagged them.  Later the neighbor came over and told her that her kids had been planning to collect them today so they could have a bonfire.  I'm not a fire professional, but that seems like a wonderfully bad idea.  She told K "I guess I'll have to tell them we can't do it this year..." 

There is also neighborhood stray cat dramarama between our neighbors on one side and our neighbors on the other.  Bloodfeuds have broken out for less than a stolen cat. 

I'm glad we haven't done anything to earn the ire of our neighbors, but then I also get the feeling that we wouldn't necessarily hear about if if we did.  But now both neighbors have told us not to trust the ones on the other side.  So far I have nodded sympathetically to both sides, but with any luck things will escalate and this will turn out like A Fistful of Dollars.

(What I am listening to now:  "Woody Woodpecker" by Dan Deacon.  From an album called Spiderman of the Rings, which is currently my favorite name of a thing.)

My back is appropriately stretched.  It is time for hunting and gathering.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Write Like A Millerhouse, Think Like A West

New shoes make me envision the way my arches bend.  Especially over a bridge.  I pass an older couple taking a picture of the lake and I imagine they will talk about the way my foot bends after I run past.

"You can tell he's running for the right reasons," one will say.  The other nods knowingly, then points at a particularly impressive mountain.

Regular, formalized gatherings of friends.  A standing understanding. 

I try not to sound disapproving when I disagree.  Or maybe more importantly, dismissive.  I am approving.  I am missive.  I'm happy you're here in the first place, and balancing the feel of that with how it covers like a hot quilt to say so.

Anytime I'm not eating I think about nutrients and science and dietary plans.  But when I'm ready to eat, I only want food with a shape that will be pleasing to destroy.  Small crusty pies that deflate when I poke them with a fork.  Chickpea cutlets I imagine frying in the shape of things.  Like rabbits, or presidential silhouettes.  Chickpea Lyndon B. Johnson.  Yum!

Jennifer Grey on the dancing show, when she says "this feels like 7th grade," then whoops and corrects herself, "Maybe 8th grade."  It feels like an important distinction.  What does it mean that I still think so?

Indulgent playlists.  Whenever I make new friends, I pretend we are the Beatles.  I used to always be John, except for in the shower or the car by myself when I'm Paul, but more and more I just want to be Ringo. 

When Ringo signed up to be a tiny conductor on the kid's train show, did he do it for fun?  Was he just ready to get out of the house?  I guess he doesn't have a lot of fatty songwriting checks coming in quarterly.  In one of the Beatles Anthology outttake interviews he talks about working on that project as an excuse to hang out with Paul and George again.  I feel like if Ringo was on Facebook he'd be happy to be friends with me, with anyone, but everyone would be too nervous to ask.  But then again, he sent out that press release a few years ago to say he wasn't going to sign autographs anymore.  No judgment there.  It was nice of him to sign things for this long at all.

I think about Ringo all the time.

I've been writing in my office (in "my 'office'"), but until the new windows are put in, I wrap myself up in a blanket as I sit in the Ikea chair I bought a year ago.  This chair has the highest back of any chair I have ever owned.  For a few days Lola only wanted to go into the office in the morning, so yesterday I opened the door for her while I was on a conference call ("we are the sort of people who have to be on conference calls now, and who forward our itineraries to one another" {I just googled "iteneraries" to figure out how to spell "itineraries"}), and she hopped up on the seat of my chair and wiped her butt on it.  I pressed the mute button on the call and made her get down off of the chair.  She flattened her ears, meow-yelled at me, and ran out of the office.  She hasn't come back.

Instead of saying "look it up in the dictionary" when children ask me how to spell things, I will tell them to sound it out and google it.  Not to be ironic or funny.

Wordpress will show you how many words you have typed as you type them.  When I couldn't find a similar tally on blogger my first thought was how helpful that tally is; my second was how glad I was that the tally wasn't here.  "Oh, that's right.  *That's* what I want."

The shoes we're not wearing are in the kitchen next to the refrigerator, and I can see them from my desk.  Pink flats almost touching at the heel, with toes pointed away from each other.  Blue plaid rain boots perfectly aligned.  The heels of my white shoes that have been on grass in Virginia.  It's so easy to move anywhere you want to go.

I will write things and then stare at the words and try to decide if they are things I really believe. 

(It's so easy to move anywhere you want to go.)

Last night as I was falling asleep I tried to think of different ways to say chemistry problem.

"We're going to have to talk about the periodic table." 

(That's all I came up with.)

I decided to buy a lamp for my desk, but every one I looked at seemed too fancy, or too boring.  But there was one on the shelf called "banker's lamp" and it had a hard, green shade, and it looked like the kind my dad had or has on his desk.  I was quietly pleased and surprised that that was the one that I wanted.  All the time I have thoughts that would have horrified me when I was a kid, but every time it happens it makes me feel good. 

(I deleted the line "Do you think that's how Darth Vader felt?" because I thought it sounded like I was being mean to my dad.)

I like the older Elvis songs where it sounds like he's in his living room, singing old gospel songs, and trying to figure out how he got there.  Not because they're good songs, but because that's my favorite kind of Elvis.  It seems like a dick move that we voted for the Young Elvis stamp.  Like we're still saying, "Thanks Elvis, but you didn't really need to keep happening."  I like Vegas Elvis the best, because he's still working so hard, with no clear call or cause. 

(I don't know how you guys ever end things like this, because it seems like I could writing it forever.  But it's lunchtime, so I'll talk to you later.)

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

It Hatched and It Died -- read it at the Fanzine!

I'm in the midst of a cross-country move these days (L.A. to Burlington, VT), but even as I'm out and about the fine folks at Fanzine have put up a chapter from my novel-in-progress Brand New Berto on their website.  It's accompanied with an illustration from my pal & bearded brother Ben Costa, whose Xeric Award-winning comic you can enjoy at Shi Long Pang.  Or go to your local comic shop and request the first volume, on sale now!

But before you leave your computer -- read It Hatched and It Died.  It's like totally good dudes.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

12. Insanity

Originally posted May 9, 2008.

The last of the re-posts.

And then Laura said, it's as simple as this: girls are crazy and boys are dumb.

(Almost two years later, when I have repeated this for the hundredth time, Ryan will say: that's the basis of like every stand-up routine ever. But I guess it's true.)

And then Adam said: I tend to date girls who can hide their crazy for about six months. And I always think, oh, this is the most normal, stable relationship I've ever had. And then -- bam!

(But it must be mentioned: by all accounts ((and by all I suppose I mean the accounts of my own two eyeballs)), Adam IS in the most stable, capable and loving relationship I've been witness to in modern times. So when he speaks on this, while he may speak from experience, it is also from a safe distance.)

And then Ben said: Well, the thing is, I don't tend to make … good impressions.

(And then he handily beat us all at basketball. He even took the ball home with him.)

11. Memory

Originally posted May 7, 2008

It's the weather that does it -- the sun on the back of my neck -- and the way summertime smells, even in far away California. The days are back to being bright, and it seems like the sky stretches out farther than you can see. Maybe it's the illusion of a cloudless sky over ocean, the first time I've lived next to such a thing, but just because it's an illusion doesn't make it real. What I mean to say is: old feelings are rising.

Not in the way of nostalgia. It's unfair to compare and contrast in situations like this, but it's a thing I can't help. (Or choose not to help, maybe.) Sometimes when I'm feeling clever I say "I like to make brand new mistakes every time," and it's a jokey thing to say, a kind of brag, or something that's meant to impress. But it's also (secretly) a thing that I mean to be true.

I'm often surprised, in spite of myself, by the ways that history repeats.

10. Breathe Again

Originally posted March 18, 2008.

Holy shit -- it’s springtime.

And this whole thing is going to happen again, one way or another.

9. Drive

Originally posted March 17, 2008.

The first time I drove from Chicago to San Francisco it took me more than a week. There was a crack in the windshield of our car -- a white Cavalier we called the Coyote -- and we stopped the first night in Iowa City. We left early and of our own accord, but later legend had it we were run out of town. It’s hard to keep straight which parts really happened and which parts were later inventions. I don’t think we really broke anyone’s windows.

Our next stop was Oklahoma City, gray and flat and depressing. There’s a few square blocks in town zoned as a whole other city, and that’s where they keep their porno shops and strip clubs. I wouldn’t go into a strip club in Oklahoma City -- the thought was too depressing -- but that was only putting off what would come later.

We passed through Amarillo, bought cowboy hats and ate regular fries. They don’t make them French in Texas.

We camped outside of Roswell, New Mexico, thinking we’d make up stories about aliens. Instead we were surrounded by (actual) coyotes, found bobcat tracks on the ridge in the morning, were woken up in the night by the headlights of rangers or wandering teens. We saw lights in the sky that got closer then farther, that made patterns like D&D dice. We slept with our boots on, a knives under our pillows, baseball bats in our sleeping bags.

Carlsbad has Caverns and bats that swarm through the sky at sunset. There might have been fistfights and gazes that lasted too long. There were definitely cockroaches in the bathtub.

The Grand Canyon is bigger than even you think it will be. There are no guard rails. Only rock, and then air, and then more rock. My partner waited in the car -- "I’m tired of this hole" -- and I walked the rim for hours. I thought maybe I’d go back someday, with someone who wanted to see it too.

In Las Vegas I saw a magic show. I walked the sidewalks by myself, passed through the casinos because you can’t walk around them, and spent a quarter on the slot machines. I didn’t win, but I gave it a try. I took pictures of myself with my shirt off, enjoying the tan lines on my arms. I may have sent the pictures to someone, thinking they were funny, but they didn’t find them as such. Back in the car in the morning my partner said, "Hookers are the path to a perfect relationship. You call a girl, she comes to your room, she dances for you, she has sex with you, and she leaves." And I thought, I have no idea who I will ask to go to the Grand Canyon with me.

We passed through Death Valley and drove to the sea. Bakersfield had the best radio station we ever heard.

8. Innocence

Originally posted March 13, 2008.

Mama is on the couch in the morning, same as last night. Her belly moves when she breathes, so I know she’s not dead. I can’t remember when she wasn’t wearing that very same sweater. She’s on her back and her side at the same time, if that’s even possible, all twisty and uncomfortable-looking. A blue blanket is half off her and half on.

Maria is on her side and one the floor, curled up like a baby, no blanket at all. There’s carpet on the living room floor, at least.

I don’t say anything, but maybe I sigh against my will. Mama’s eyes pop open like she wasn’t sleeping at all, just lying there awake but not really wanting to be.

"Morning," I say.

Mama waits for a moment, just long enough for me to know that she heard me, and she closes her eyes again.

I walk over to Maria and nudge her ribs with my foot. Her face crinkles and she opens her eyes -- somehow in her squint she looks like her eyes are more closed than they were when she was sleeping -- and she raises her head and looks up at me.

"Quit," she says.

"You should sleep in a bed," I say.

She shakes her head and sets it back down on the floor. "Mama needs me," she says. But she blinks her eyes a few more times, and leaves them open.

"I don’t know what she needs," I say, "but I don’t think it’s us."

Mama’s eyes stay closed, but I seem them flicker under the lids. She hears my words, I know, but I seem to make her know what I’m saying. I’m not being mean. I just want her to want to get up off the couch.

"What else would it be," Maria says.

But that’s kind of the problem. I really don’t know.

7. Heaven

Originally posted March 5, 2008.

I used to think God was a man with a mustache, dressed like Han Solo, who shot a watergun from Heaven when it rained. I asked Ma about it once. I said, "Does God have a gun--"

And she got mad and yelled, no, God does NOT have a gun, don't ever say, don't ever THINK that God has a gun!

Well, that's fine. But then where does the rain come from?

6. Break Away

Originally posted March 3, 2008.

"There comes a time when passion has to take over."

"Yeah, but what if you can't convince them of that?"


5. Seeking Solace

Originally posted March 2nd, 2008.

"It's hard for me to ask people for things."

"I know, but I'm asking you to ask me."


"I'm saying it's important for me to hear it from time to time."

"I know."

"To know that you still feel it, you know?"

"When have I ever acted like I didn't feel it?"

"For -- the last six weeks?"


"I mean --"

"It's fine. It's how you feel."

"So now you're mad at me."

"You -- you change so fast, even in the course of one conversation, it's like --"

"What do you mean?"

"You are ready to walk away, at like any moment. And that's scary."

"I'm not ready to walk away."

"I'm not saying that's what you do, I'm saying that's how you make me feel."

"I'm sorry I've made you feel like that."

"Well don't apologize for it. It's just how I feel."

4. Dark

Originally posted March 1, 2008.

The Golden Bough says the Hungarians used to light a need-fire (and first of all -- dude, they called them "need-fires" … !) at night to keep away vampires and spirits of the dead. It's from this that the belief in sunlight as a source of vampiric destruction comes, but originally it wasn't held true that fire destroyed the vampires. It simply kept them at bay, as with wolves or bears or other wild beasts. It kept the dark away. It pushed back the unknown and held it out past where we could see.

I was sometimes afraid of lights in the dark. On summertime weekends I would stay up late watching cable in the living room, on our big TV that sat on the floor. I would watch with the lights off, usually movies with monsters or sort-of-documentaries about ghosts and UFOs. And when walking down the long hallway to my bedroom, the house completely dark, running not allowed because Dad was asleep and had to get up early for work, even on weekends, I would convince myself of arbitrary rules to keep me safe. If I made the sign of the cross over and over again, for example, no ghosts would appear on my walk to bed.

But one of the frights that stands out for me was after I turned the
TV off in the dark. I pushed the off button and it crackled with static electricity. Then on the dark, powered down screen, a red and blue streak appeared -- like a tiny version of the Northern Lights -- and snaked across the screen. I became convinced, and I don't know why, that it meant a werewolf was nearby. I had a panic in my stomach that would repeat itself for years, a kind of spidey-sense warning me of real danger. I ran down the hallway -- the next day at supper my dad yelled at me for clomping down the hall as he slept -- and bolted the door of my bedroom behind me.

(It had a deadbolt because it was my brother's old room, and he put one on there against my dad's wishes. It is unclear why he never removed it. But the point is: this makes the story particularly lame, because my brother didn't move out of the house until I was 9. Which makes me a little too old to cutely describe how the werewolf detector in our living room once gave me an awful fright.)

3. Light

Originally posted February 25th, 2008.

In the attic, where it takes so long to reach. But you can still see the dust dancing in the sunlight -- the sun is still taller than the windows.

At night, sneaking outside to smoke in the corn. The yard is lit by the moon and the stars. The sky is a dark blue-black and everything around you is clearer than it really should be, but slower too.

At dawn or dusk, when the red is far off and either leaving you behind or coming to find you.

The sunlight in spring that brings the breeze with it.

The sunlight in winter that eventually reaches you, but keeps its distance.

The sun at your back that makes your shadow a giant, walking ahead of you.

Be aware of the quality of light in your place, bright and easy to see or low-lit and dark.

2. Love

Originally posted February 25, 2008

I remember living in Oakland, in a house that I did not like, pining for a particular girl for another month or so...

Oh, my.

Love, then. Love lately is patience, and asking for patience. Or: hoping for patience. Love is understanding -- or, hoping -- that March will be better, and April better than that. Or at the very least that better is coming.

Love is that smell -- you know that smell -- that even if they're not around, when you smell it you think of them. Okay, of her. It's the sound a text message makes, on somebody else's phone, that all the same reminds you that someone somewhere is thinking of you.

Love is making a mixtape, and the state of continual courtship.

Or understanding that you can get together and talk about, I don't know, the Oscars or comic books or how and why you're quite so nerdy, even though there are plenty of other things to discuss. Important things, or, "important" things. Misunderstandings and arguments and being-hung-up-on. But knowing that you'll get to those things in time. Not that you're ignoring them -- more that you're trusting the process, and that you'll get to them in time.

Or, you won't.

It's trust even in absence. Trust even in mistakes, your own or theirs. It's not quite knowing what they're thinking, but looking forward to finding out -- when the time is right, and not necessarily now. And while I'm thinking about it -- it's looking forward in general. And looking forward, and looking forward, and looking forward.

1. Introduction

Originally posted Febuary 23, 2008

This is all so hideously embarrassing.  I feel like I'm posting some old high school diary ... I wrote this two and a half years ago.

I am 29 years old. Wait -- I am 28 years old. Later I'll be -- wait -- it's 2008, I am always one older than the last digit in the year, so later this year, I'll turn 29. But right now I am 28. Here's a true thing: sometimes when people ask me how old I am I can't quite remember, and I have to work it out by doing the math like that. Sometimes I remember exactly how old I am, but I think it should still count that sometimes I don't, so I take a moment to pretend to remember. I have never told anyone that before.

I do not know how much I weigh. When I was in high school I pretty consistently weighed 130 lbs. I had ribs and no tummy then. Now I'm fleshier with little pooches of skin. I bet I'm like 150. That makes me think of this: also when I was in high school I secretly believed I had surprisingly big biceps. Not ACTUAL big biceps, but bigger than you'd think, at least when I flexed. This is not a thing I really believe anymore. But, further, that makes me think about this: a few years ago my pal Jen K. was making a movie about a guy who, for reasons I don't remember, was sometimes dressed up in a U.S. postal worker outfit, and was sometimes dressed up in a dress. And that guy would encounter himself -- or, the other -- and she needed a stunt double to appear, fuzzy and out of focus. So I played the stunt double, which means I had to play a few scenes in a dress and in makeup and tights. And when I wore the tights I thought: I have surprisingly toned calves. Not ACTUAL toned calves, but more toned than you'd think. I don't really know if that's true either. Probably not.

The things that make me happy these days: biking downhill, noveling, the Office, robots, octopi and squid (from a distance, or in pictures), being ensconced in books, being ensconced in anything, heat, not having to get up early but still having somewhere to go but still not getting home too late, Cap'n Crunch, the sun, the moon, the stars.

Things that do not: Now, really. There's a time to discuss that sort of thing, and a time to dwell on what we love. More things I like: old comics (in color and smell and never-been-done-yet), stone busts of Elvis, tight green tees, maps of the US, thinking about having a car again. I think those last two things represent "the future." Which means, to turn around a thing I once read, I look forward to more than I miss.

I am growing a thesis beard and I'm over the itchy hump. There are meetings and dinners and comics this weekend. And work to be done.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Thoughts to Shape His Thoughts

 I visited Thomas Jefferson's home Monticello twice last summer and I took a tour of the main building once.  Partly the visit sprang from being a burgeoning American history nerd, and partly it came from reading Time Wastes Too Fast, a webcomic/essay by Maria Kalman -- a brief excerpt of which is at left.

Kalman's piece on Monticello wasn't my introduction to Jefferson as a Renaissance Man, thinker, or overall complicated dude -- but it made me wonder about seeing the interior walls of his life.  It's hard to put into words, but I had the feeling I was going to get to peer into the inside of his brain in a way that reading his letters or biographies wouldn't allow.

And it's a fantastic space.  Anyone more versed in architecture could tell you about the dome, the walls, the spatial layout, I'm sure -- what impressed me most was what he put on his walls.

He covered them, for the most part.  With maps, with antlers and other animal parts, with books -- and with his friends.

He had paintings of people he admired -- mostly men, all white -- and as Kalman says up above, with the most important folks on the top.  It reminds me of my friend Adam's novel, which features a protagonist who carries a small library of essential texts -- Thoreau is in there, along with "The Man of Steel" -- as a means of surrounding himself with the ideas that matter to him.  The thoughts he hopes will shape his thoughts.

But there's a visual element to Jefferson's approach that strikes me as better (sorry Adam -- Jefferson wins again!).  But Jefferson had the added benefit of knowing cats like Ben Franklin and George Washington -- he could surround himself with portraits of great thinkers, leaders and writers who were also dudes he knew socially. 

And Ben Franklin's Ben Franklin, but I know some pretty smart/creative/attractive people too.  Which is to say, if any of you are reading this and thinking of Christmas presents (it's early!  there's time!), there is nothing I would love more than a painting of YOU.  Soon I will have brand new walls to decorate!

100 Theme Challenge

In those golden days of 2008 I started a project on my MySpace blog called "100 Themes in 100 Days" -- I'm not sure what led me to the it, but it was a challenge on DeviantArt with a numbered list, and at the time that was just too attractive to pass up.

The DeviantArt idea is to draw a hundred things based on those hundred themes, but you know, you work with what you got, so I started writing on them.  Over three months I made it as a far #12... but hey, grad school was winding down, romance was a-bloomin', and Sarah Palin was right around the corner.  What I mean is, there was a lot going on.

I'd like to take a crack at the 100 themes again, and they're posted down below so I won't lose track of them.  Initially I thought I'd start over from scratch, but there's a certain attraction in just rolling with what I wrote before.  It's all an exercise anyway... so I'll be reposting the previous 12 short pieces in the next day or so, embarrassing as some of them may be two years on...


1. Introduction
2. Love
3. Light
4. Dark
5. Seeking Solace
6. Break Away
7. Heaven
8. Innocence
9. Drive
10. Breathe Again
11. Memory
12. Insanity
13. Misfortune
14. Smile
15. Silence
16. Questioning
17. Blood
18. Rainbow
19. Gray
20. Fortitude
21. Vacation
22. Mother Nature
23. Cat
24. No Time
25. Trouble Lurking
26. Tears
27. Foreign
28. Sorrow
29. Happiness
30. Under the Rain
31. Flowers
32. Night
33. Expectaions
34. Stars
35. Hold My Hand
36. Precious Treasure
37. Eyes
38. Abandoned
39. Dreams
40. Rated
41. Teamwork
42. Standing Still
43. Dying
44. Two Roads
45. Illusion
46. Family
47. Creation
48. Childhood
49. Stripes
50. Breaking the Rules
51. Sport
52. Deep in Thought
53. Keeping a Secret
54. Tower
55. Waiting
56. Danger Ahead
57. Sacrifice
58. Kick in the Head
59. No Way Out
60. Rejection
61. Fairy Tale
62. Magic
63. Do Not Disturb
64. Multitasking
65. Horror
66. Traps
67. Playing the Melody
68. Hero
69. Annoyance
70. 67%
71. Obsession
72. Mischief Managed
73. I Can't
74. Are You Challenging Me?
75. Mirror
76. Broken Pieces
77. Test
78. Drink
79. Starvation
80. Words
81. Pen and Paper
82. Can You Hear Me?
83. Heal
84. Out Cold
85. Spiral
86. Seeing Red
87. Food
88. Pain
89. Through the Fire
90. Triangle
91. Drowning
92. All That I Have
93. Give Up
94. Last Hope
95. Advertisement
96. In the Storm
97. Safety First
98. Puzzle
99. Solitude
100. Relaxation

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Creative Life

Scott Pilgrim!  It was the movie of the weekend.  The only thing keeping it from movie of the year were two outrageously better movies, released earlier this year*.  That's not the narrative playing out in the box office tallies this weekend, but, you know...

... whatcha gonna do?  It'll find the kids on cable.

But what's been resonating with me most is something I read in an LA Times article running down the soundtrack song by song.  Emily Haines of Metric talks about their song "Black Sheep," performed in the movie by Envy Adams's band The Clash at Demonhead, and says it was a song they'd recorded for a prior album, but had rejected for sounding ... well, too much like Metric, I guess:

Aspects of the song, the electro aspects of the band, and the abstract lyrical visualizations, are extreme examples of certain aspects of us ... These are late-night conversations the band has had. Everyone has commentary on what you’re doing, and everyone has interpretations. But we are also looking at it. It’s not like we’re blindly going, ‘Oh, what’s this?’ We’re aware of what we have been, and what we want to be.

Producer Nigel Godrich concurred:  "It’s a very common criticism when you’re making records. You say, ‘Well, this sounds like somebody trying to be us."

But my introduction to Metric was through the Scott Pilgrim movie, and as of right now it's my favorite damn song on the record.  I've listened to some other Metric songs in the days since seeing the picture, and "Black Sheep" remains my favorite -- pretty much because it sounds the most Metric-like of Metric's songs.  It reminds me of what Paul McCartney has said about "Yesterday" -- that he had the melody in his head for quite some time, but initially wrote it off because it seemed too good.  I'd go a bit further and say it's the most McCartney-ish of Paul McCartney songs -- and his first reaction was not to trust it.

A lot of people react that way to things they make that are good -- McCartney didn't trust "Yesterday" because he thought it was so good, someone else must have written it first, and he was simply remembering.  Haines and Metric didn't trust "Black Sheep" because they thought it sounded so much like their band, that it must be bad.  When I was very early in writing my (still-in-progress) novel Brand New Berto, I was having a lot of fun writing about Berto and Papa on a road trip.  They leave in Papa's truck to go to a wake for a relative Berto's never met -- but Papa decides to blow it off, and instead they spend the day together in Houston.  And I was in the shower one morning, and I was wondering what the hell I was writing about anyway, and I thought Well hey -- what if I kill off Papa?  And Berto's alone in a strange city?

(Erm -- spoiler alert there.  It's okay, it happens in chapter one.)

Berto didn't really get his chance to explore the city alone, because that idea spun the entire novel off into what it's actually about -- Berto loses a dad and encounters several different father figures/mentors over the course of the book.  But my first reaction to that idea was, Naw, you can't kill Papa.  Papa's great!  But what was actually scary was the prospect of finding my story -- or, more directly, finding what it was I wanted to talk about, and write about, and explore, for the next several years of my life.  That's daunting, when you put that kind of thing into specific terms.  Somewhere in, what, 1965?, Paul McCartney writes "Yesterday" and realizes -- Oh shit, this is the kind of songwriter I am.  This is what I'm going to be singing about for the rest of my life -- and, I dunno, maybe Metric had that moment when they heard themselves making "Black Sheep." 

It's like hearing your voice on an answering machine**.  You're suddenly face to face with yourself, from a step outside of yourself.

All of which is just to say -- Metric buried "Black Sheep" under a rock, until the Scott Pilgrim folks called around looking for a song to stand in for The Clash at Demonhead.  Metric gave it to them, and Nigel Goodrich said it was perfect because, "It’s not Metric. It’s a shadow of Metric."

Only that's a lesson our man Pilgrim learned when he faced Nega-Scott -- the shadow's you.  You can't turn away from it, you can only take it out to brunch. 

(and I realize that Michael Cera is getting on everyone's nerves, but srsly d00dz -- the movie is unique and a hell of a lot of fun.  The closest thing I've seen that compares is Kung Fu Hustle.)

*Winter's Bone and Inception, in that order.

**There used to be answering machines!

The Bloggering

Let's get back to it.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

True Neutral!

I Am A: True Neutral Halfling Sorcerer (4th Level)

Ability Scores:







True Neutral A true neutral character does what seems to be a good idea. He doesn't feel strongly one way or the other when it comes to good vs. evil or law vs. chaos. Most true neutral characters exhibit a lack of conviction or bias rather than a commitment to neutrality. Such a character thinks of good as better than evil after all, he would rather have good neighbors and rulers than evil ones. Still, he's not personally committed to upholding good in any abstract or universal way. Some true neutral characters, on the other hand, commit themselves philosophically to neutrality. They see good, evil, law, and chaos as prejudices and dangerous extremes. They advocate the middle way of neutrality as the best, most balanced road in the long run. True neutral is the best alignment you can be because it means you act naturally, without prejudice or compulsion. However, true neutral can be a dangerous alignment because it represents apathy, indifference, and a lack of conviction.

Halflings are clever, capable and resourceful survivors. They are notoriously curious and show a daring that many larger people can't match. They can be lured by wealth but tend to spend rather than hoard. They prefer practical clothing and would rather wear a comfortable shirt than jewelry. Halflings stand about 3 feet tall and commonly live to see 150.

Sorcerers are arcane spellcasters who manipulate magic energy with imagination and talent rather than studious discipline. They have no books, no mentors, no theories just raw power that they direct at will. Sorcerers know fewer spells than wizards do and acquire them more slowly, but they can cast individual spells more often and have no need to prepare their incantations ahead of time. Also unlike wizards, sorcerers cannot specialize in a school of magic. Since sorcerers gain their powers without undergoing the years of rigorous study that wizards go through, they have more time to learn fighting skills and are proficient with simple weapons. Charisma is very important for sorcerers; the higher their value in this ability, the higher the spell level they can cast.

Find out What Kind of Dungeons and Dragons Character Would You Be?, courtesy of Easydamus (e-mail)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

An Exercise in World Building: New Phoenix


A frontier planet on the edge of inhabited space, New Phoenix was founded in (xxxx) by missionaries from (planetname) to escape the religious persecution they faced at home. While some missionaries remained behind, they quickly became a marginalized and repressed political afterthought -- the Pilgrims of New Phoenix, as they came to be known, were left to chart their people’s course in the galaxy.

Led by Simone Montreaux, the Pilgrims were initially funded by (a corporation on Planet Y), and were intended to be but the first wave of a massive colonization effort on New Phoenix. The Pilgrims’ craft, the Reconnoiter, was a subluminal long-voyage craft built and launched before the people of (Planet Y) had access to FTL communications. By the time the Reconnoiter landed on New Phoenix and established a surface communications disk, however, they were able to receive FTL transmissions that had been broadcast from Planet Y since their departure. They discovered (pieced together?) that a number of catastrophes had befallen their homeworld since their craft’s launch, and that not only would no further colonists be sent to New Phoenix, but the remaining human population on Planet Y had been reduced to a non-spacefaring, pre-industrial age civilization. Messages they sent back to Planet Y went unanswered and, in fact, unreceived.

Initially colonization on New Phoenix itself went according to plan. Reconnoiter landed on the surface of the planet and was deconstructed to form the basis for Reconnoiter City, the colony’s first outpost and capital. (There was some initial debate upon learning the fate of Planet Y’s people concerning returning home, or perhaps simply not grounding Reconnoiter and attempting to establish the colony another way, thereby giving them a possible route off-planet if it was deemed necessary, but ultimately they decided to follow the colonization plan and commit to the grounding.) The planet’s surface was harsh and desert-like, requiring terraforming techniques in order to be made truly ideal for farming; while initial and rudimentary terraforming equipment was shipped on the Reconnoiter, the intent was to ship a separate terraforming vessel, one that would remain permanently in orbit, in a second wave of ships that was never launched. Thus, the Pilgrims were forced to make due with cloud seeding aircraft and high yield, low moisture crops that, though viable on New Phoenix’s surface, were not intended to do more than help establish the initial colony.

Starvation and sickness was a problem in the colony’s early years…..

Initially established as an oligarchy, with decisions made by a council appointed by Simone Montreaux, Reconnoiter City had descended into a fascist regime with a singular head by the end of Montreaux’s life. Her controversial death (assassination? Unexpected suicide?) led to a brief but far-reaching outbreak of violence before control of the city was seized by Walker Percy, the head of the ((Pilgrims’ Military Organization)). By this time the Pilgrims had spread beyond Reconnoiter City, with most of the population living on secluded farms, but with six other permanent settlements that, though they did not rival Reconnoiter City in terms of size, were nonetheless major centers of trade and religious worship. Walker Percy’s rule effectively ended at Reconnoiter City’s walls, and the other cities were left to develop, thrive or fall on their own accord.

Several generations passed before the ruins of a previous sapient civilization was found on the surface of New Phoenix. Ruins carved into the rock proved to be burial tombs by and large, but some evidence of trade centers and roads were also found, sometimes in the same places as where the Pilgrims had settled and established regular routes of transportation. That their existence had not been noted before was curious, but not altogether surprising. There had been no evidence of, or reason to suspect, that New Phoenix had ever been the home of another intelligent species.

Carvings in the tombs showed what appeared to be a reptilian race of two-legged humanoids who wore jewellery and headwear, but otherwise no evidence of clothing. Empty containers slightly smaller than human-size were discovered in some of the tombs, but they were otherwise empty of remains. The reasons for this were never discovered or ascertained by the Pilgrims.

Despite the occasional outbreak of violence between cities, the terrain of New Phoenix and the difficulty of day to day life even outside of warfare prevented any long-term campaigns of war. Nonetheless, within a hundred generations the Pilgrims civilization had dwindled below sustainable levels. Small pockets of humanity may remain to this day, most likely descended from Pilgrims that eventually moved below ground, but it is expected that New Phoenix will be completely devoid of human life within another four generations.


-After arrival of the Pilgrims and the establishment of Reconnoiter City, during the rule of Simone Montreaux. Gradually becomes a totalitarian, religion-based rule. Other settlements appear over time, usually founded by leaders who have fallen out of favor with Montreaux.

Wild Years
-After Montreaux’s death, during the generations of New Phoenix’s slow fall. Many settlements of varying size and sustainability. The ruins of the previous civilization are discovered. Possible interaction with megainsects (unintelligent) that live beneath the surface.

-After the collapse of the Pilgrims’ civilization. Remaining humans live below ground, are often insane or small multi-family units. They may even be unaware of any other human survivors on the planet, or even of the planet’s own history. Reconnoiter City itself is practically reclaimed by the harsh wilderness at this point.

-desert planet

-giant monsters, underground

-scattered settlements -- none above ground?

-ruins of such exist, however.

-giant star, two other planets: one outer gas giant, one inner small hot rocky world.

-crosses gas giant’s orbit? Allowing transfer of large gas-dragon-type creatures?

-ruins of a prior civilization found? Just before a catastrophe of some sort?

-religion of the Pilgrims -- Mormon based?

((but moreso was the existence of unknown and unexpected ultrafauna that lived beneath the planet’s surface. Massive insect-like creatures that existed in tunnels and mountainsides, the creatures would spend several years -- sometimes several generations -- in a kind of hibernation, only to awaken without warning, destroying crops and sometimes attacking and destroying entire settlements. Poisons were sometimes effective in killing the creatures, or furthering their hibernation, but physical weapons proved unable to pierce their thick exoskeletons.))

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Poe Toaster stays home, drinks entire bottle of cognac

Edgar Allen Poe -- American author, poet, drunkard and creep. Little known fact? He is dead.

Correction: people in Baltimore know that Poe is dead, because because when they're not busy dealing drugs, wiretapping people who are dealing drugs, being murdered in prison by associates of their crime-lord uncle, or bemoaning the state of the police department they work for while getting drunk down by the railroad tracks, the citizenry of Baltimore, Maryland are gathering en masse around both of Edgar Allen Poe's graves*.

And once a year for the past 60 years, on January 19th, a mysterious stranger has placed three roses and half a bottle of cognac on Poe's grave to commemorate the author's birthday. He's never been caught in the act, despite dozens (literally! dozens!) of Poe-Toaster-Watchers who gather there every year to catch a glimpse of the anonymous Poe Toaster.

Only this year, the Poe Toaster Didn't Toast. Thirty-six devotees (literally! dozens!) gathered outside of the church cemetery in downtown Baltimore to catch a glimpse of the never-before-seen Toaster, but at 5:30am Jeff Jerome, the Poe House and Museum curator, broke the news that the Toaster, who had always arrived and departed in the dead of night for the previous sixty years, had not arrived. Perhaps, like Santa Claus, Zeus, and Jesus, if you do not believe in him, he ceases to exist?

In previous years the Toaster left notes along with the roses and cognac, including one in 1993 that read "the torch will be passed." In 1999 a note implied that the original Toaster had died, and the tradition had been passed on to a son.

The Baltimore Sun quoted Jerome as saying "I was very annoyed" that the Toaster didn't show up as tradition dictated. The Sun failed to quote Edgar Allen Poe's ghost as saying, "There is really no need for such a classy and touching annual tradition, as I am a dude who married my thirteen year old cousin, and then died choking on my own vomit in the street."

*That's right, Edgar Allen Poe has two graves in one graveyard. The next time you complain about having only one grave, ask yourself: "when's the last time *I* concocted a hoax about the first air balloon to fly across Atlantic Ocean, called it 'Mr. Monck Mason's Flying Machine!!!' and had it published as news in a major New York City newspaper?" The answer is, unless you are Edgar Allen, you have never done this.