Sunday, February 28, 2010

Parts of Me

There are parts of me scattered everywhere. My feet were found in one Portland, my arms in another. I’m not the victim of some crazed slasher but rather my own undoing, like a tornado blasting a jigsaw puzzle. My thumbs turned up in Shreveport. My teeth, still a full set, thankfully, in Miami. Too many places, too many things, too willing to divide—I couldn’t keep it together.

For years I've felt, I’m falling apart. My heart not in San Francisco but Santa Fe. There’s word of my pancreas in Battle Creek. Hurry, I’m told, it’s about to be preserved in formaldehyde, shelved as a specimen alongside fetal pigs. I stumble across the map, recollecting myself one piece at a time. If you see a part unattached, please, hold onto it. I’m coming. I’ll be there soon.

Friday, February 26, 2010


He kept reaching for zinfandel that wasn’t there. These twilight years, these medicated days. He lived in a state-subsidized box, adorned with square window. When Ellen was alive, together they would sit by the window, watch rain hit the glass. She liked to drink zinfandel too, in their lives before, on weekend spring afternoons.

A glass of zinfandel on the ledge, next to the cold window. On the nightstand, near the TV Guide, pill bottles, pictures of Ellen. But that drink was a phantom. His brain fired that same impulse; it would not go away.

He resisted telling the nurses his condition, fearing their voices changing to high-pitched tones suitable for children. More medications, new diagnoses of mental deterioration. Murray down the hall, a widower for a decade, often had contraband Coors. He’d sneak in, pockets stashed with cans. They’d talk: old baseball games, shared acquaintances, restaurants and cinemas long gone.

Beer wasn’t the same as zinfandel: it brought back memories of lonely nights in smoky bars, years before Ellen. He’d arrive home, collapse in bed, reach for Ellen, who for him didn’t exist yet. Now some mornings he’d wake and feel drunk, even though he was sober.

On the best days, there would be Ellen, sitting at the bed’s edge, smiling, holding a glass of zinfandel.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Last Fish

The 50th and final post of Thinly Sliced Raw Fish is up today, here.  Thanks for reading and following along!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Last Days of TSRF

The Thinly Sliced Raw Fish project is coming to a close. 48 posts already, with just two left. The last will be Tuesday, February 23. For all of those who’ve read any of the posts, thank you!

The site will stay up after the 50th post but I’ll turn comments into moderation mode soon after. I’ve seen too many dormant sites get flooded with garbage comments for discount drugs and other spam nonsense. I’d rather things not go that direction. Moderating will also help me see if anyone is still reading and has anything to say, so please, feel free to chime in there if you tune in late!

What’s next, you might wonder? There will likely be some more “project” type blogs in the future. I’ve got a few ideas and hope to get another off the ground by summer.

Friday, February 19, 2010

14: Gravity's Rainbow

Note: This story is part 14 of the Griffin filmmaker series (untitled so far). It follows Super 16 (part 13).   

A screaming comes across the sky. The words appear in silence on black screen, signaling the film’s start. Fade in, fade out, then a siren. The film does not focus on World War II like the novel but is a retelling set in present times. It’s not supposed to be faithful to the novel, Griffin said in interviews. That would be impossible.


One morning, Cam, one of Griffin’s assistants, walks into his office, says to the director, I’ve been trying to read this book but I don’t get it. Who told you to read it, Griffin said. Please, Cam, don’t try to comprehend it—I don’t want you to comprehend the book. No one understands the book. Just understand the script, my notes, my directions. But I bought copies for the entire crew. So, you’ve single-handedly revived the book and paper industries while sinking that of the doorstops and also risking mass brain cramps.


Griffin kept getting the prank calls, even after multiple phone number changes. He stopped answering the phone. Don’t answer the phone, he told his staff. He’s at home one day. Richard walks in, huffing and puffing, throws down a pile of books and clothes and food items he’d been carrying. Dad, why didn’t you answer the phone. I’ve been trying to call. He looks the boy up and down. Growing, rising to his peak, becoming a man, all of it undeterred by his mother’s death.


The movie drags on, filmmaking as glacial formation. Some cast and crew quit, are replaced, others leave, others go. The budget is metaphysics. Griffin sits at his desk most days until his eyes close, head dropping down to his arms, brain sliding into theta wave. He could go home but doesn’t. The movie premieres and he doesn’t attend. The reviews pour in and he doesn’t read them.


Helena went through chemo and surgery and more chemo and more surgery. Somewhat advanced stage, but beatable, said her doctor. She fought but grew weak, a frail skeleton by the end. He held her bony fingers. Pleads of I don’t want to die disappeared, as she accepted her fate. Stay close to Richard, were her last words. She hung on for awhile in silence. Just looks from her sunken eyes, shaking of her skeletal head, air shapes she drew with her slight fingers.


The thing was, he said years later when he decided to open up, I needed to get back into film making, and this was what was there. It wasn’t ready but I was a wreck and didn’t care. Really, it’s unfilmable. I was at a point where I didn’t want to make sense.


They’d spent time and effort CG’ing Grigori Octopus only to cut it. There the octopus was watching films. There it was being conditioned to attack on cue. It doesn’t work, he said. It’s laughable, stupid to see on film. So, the procedure, surgical removal, erasing all traces. For days after, the cast wore black armbands with an octopus likeness. Someone left Griffin a plate of octopus sushi. A few years ago, he thought, I could’ve laughed.


The actor playing Slothrop and the actress playing Katje have a real-life tryst during filming. They’re making out offset between shots, and once, both were missing for about 20 minutes, holding up filming a scene, eventually returning with mussed up hair, shirttails out of pants, begging to be too obvious. What actress Katje didn’t know is that actor Slothrop went through women like changing socks. For him, there were no boomerangs; he followed a straight line, leaving the previous woman in dust. So, he’d moved on, to Margherita. But Katje hadn’t. There were still romantic scenes to film. Katje would break in tears. Slothrop would be stone faced. Margherita would be perpetually applying makeup, seated legs uncrossed. We’ll do this over and over, Griffin said, we’ll do it until it’s right.


Three months before Helena died, Griffin said to her, don’t die on me. Please. You can’t die on me. He looked her in the face. She was becoming less and less but still she had definition, her face had not succumbed fully to the death mask of cancer. Whereas months before, when she said she will fight, she’s not going to die, now she said things like, you’ll keep on after me, you still have your whole life ahead of you. He thought but didn’t say to her, it’s all downhill after you. I’ll be in free fall. I’ll never be the same. His hair once dark and full now turned gray, falling out. Strong bones like Roman arches now victims of decay, reduction. A liver once living in peace now caught in open warfare. And damn those cigarettes, now back to one pack a day.


Somewhere a phone rings. It’s picked up. Static. Crackling. No one there. Another one. Nothing. The frequency building. One day at 10:14 p.m., the city phone grid was overwhelmed by a barrage of simultaneous prank phone calls. All over town, phones ringing, hellos, then nothing back, hanging up. The system crashed, was offline for an hour. Griffin heard about this, said, yeah, they’ve been doing it to me for years. A reporter on tv asks, what kind of mischief is this. The police commissioner says, we will find the culprits. Then the calls stopped.


The film ends with a missile bearing down on a major city. The point of view becomes the eyes of the missile, the shot becoming increasingly shaky, the sounds of velocity and movement moving from searing to white noise hiss. The missile breaks through clouds. It’s set to unleash hell. There’s silence and fade to black. Words appear on the screen. Now everybody—

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A Particular Sunset, Backwards

Here’s an experiment I thought I would try: try reversing the sentence order in some of my works and see what happens (make the last sentence first, next to last second, etc.). I tried this with a few and it seemed to work best with “A Particular Sunset,” originally published as part of my Thinly Sliced Raw Fish project here.

Here’s the new “backwards” story:

The three of us in the hospital room and it’s more like sunrise, tired eyes and delirious smiles. Outside, snow and rain, white pellets tinkling against the window. The world a blur, sleeping an hour at a time. I remember her wrapped in pink blanket. Beautiful, certainly, but I didn’t understand. The sky orange and red, the day’s blue washing away. You described it as like a baby being born.

In case you didn’t feel like clicking the link, here’s the original:

You described it as like a baby being born. The sky orange and red, the day’s blue washing away. Beautiful, certainly, but I didn’t understand. I remember her wrapped in pink blanket. The world a blur, sleeping an hour at a time. Outside, snow and rain, white pellets tinkling against the window. The three of us in the hospital room and it’s more like sunrise, tired eyes and delirious smiles.

I think I still like the original better, though I don’t think the reverse version is that far off.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Blackened Catfish

I ordered the blackened catfish as they ripped the neon cactus and Stetson from the wall. Background sounds of crashing glass, chopping wood. A bulldozer’s rumble as my meal arrived, sawdust snowing down. Excellent as ever, I told the hardhatted waiter, one hand a forkful of fish, black beans and rice, the other a dark beer. Too bad you’re closing—where will I go for southwestern dining?

A wrecking ball shattered the wall, swung overhead. I looked around at the memories. The bar, devoid of liquor bottles and stools, where I held court with friends on weekends. One table where I proposed but was denied; another that hosted two first dates—both covered in debris. The front steps, now just broken bricks, where I tripped the first time in.

I ate slowly, savoring this last meal, as the ceiling became a cloudless sky. Brick and wood pieces drizzled down. Finishing the last bites, I asked about dessert. You’ve been a solid patron over the years, the waiter said, but now we must depart.

So I paid and left, as the last pieces rained down, the crew outside looking at me as if I were a funeral mourner. Progress, a man in hardhat said as I walked by. Hardly, I mumbled. The crumbled structure burped a cloud of dust. I watched, the beer and catfish tastes buzzing in my mouth, soon to fade away.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Christian Bell, Poet?

Back in the mid 1990s, before the Internet and when I was still fairly new to this writing thing, I wrote poetry in addition to fiction. I sort of fashioned myself as a multi-format writer, who would dabble in poetry and fiction and ultimately expand into screenwriting (for that big payday) and playwriting and perhaps even the occasional nonfiction piece. At the time it made sense, seeing as I had not disciplined myself long-term in any of the formats and being in my early 20s I was still young and the world was wide open.

In those early days, I was able to publish some poetry in my college’s literary publication, which, obviously, was a big lift to my early writing efforts and gave me some confidence that my writing was worth something. I had been sending around poems and fiction to various publishing outlets, racking up the rejections, and for awhile, the college mag was the only credit I had. I continued writing poetry and fiction until the late 1990s (screenwriting and playwriting never materialized, though I tend to irregularly write something nonfiction, like this blog post). At some point, fiction overtook poetry, likely assisted by a predominantly fiction writing group I was in at the time, enrolling in a graduate writing program, and finding quality fiction publications on the Internet. By the turn of the century, I was done writing poetry. For me, now, it’s all about fiction.

Now, most of the poems from back then look fairly embarrassing (as does a lot of the fiction, frankly). I doubt that any of them will appear on this site. Of course, the world is still wide open even in my late 30s; if I really wanted to, I could start writing poems again, or I could turn to screenwriting or playwriting or even become an essayist. While these are all fine pursuits, none of them has me wondering, what if? I can safely keep these things tucked in my past or leave them as things I didn’t pursue and be fine with that. If I abandoned fiction, I know I would be awake at night wondering just what the heck I was doing. Fiction, whether I’m any good at it or not, is what I feel I should be writing. I don’t have any misgivings about whether or not I’m doing the right thing.

In many ways, I think the poet version of me merged with the fiction writer (flash fiction is a good blending of the two) and now I’m just one writer, hopefully improved, hopefully continually improving.

Friday, February 5, 2010

4: Sodium Pentothal

This story is the 4th part of the Griffin filmmaker series, with the first 3 stories being The Thirst, Raging Life, and Negative.  For now, the order is restored.

Seventy nine days before Griffin’s fourth film, Sodium Pentothal, was released, the director’s son Richard was born. In a brief written statement, Griffin described the birth as exhilarating, a true miracle beyond description, as if there were the arc of a permanent, perfect rainbow standing in my vision. My beautiful wife Helena, an angel if there ever was one, is understandably exhausted but fine and recovering well from the procedure.

This statement was issued as a press release and distributed to the relevant media outlets; it was retracted and re-released to correct two misspelled words and the date of Richard’s birth.


In a private journal not made public until eleven years after his death, Griffin wrote about his son’s birth. He described himself in those weeks that followed as tired with his sense of time and place being altered from the new baby, lack of sleep, and caring for his wife. I wake up in the middle of the night, he wrote, baby crying for a feeding, and in that initial moment, can’t be sure if I’m in my apartment, the hospital, or some unfamiliar location.

The film I’m working on, he continued, is about the truth, pursuing it by force in contemporary society and how we twist ourselves to conform what we see as truth, ultimately leading to its perversion. But in moments with my child, my family, there is truth, pure and unforced. A profound delirium, this is, this new life, this miniature person. Easily, he wrote, I could float away and disappear.

In the initial release of Griffin’s journals, there were several mistakes. Sodium Pentothal was initially listed as his fifth film. In alternating places, the year in the birth entries was off by one year. The word “Pentothal” was misspelled as “Pentathal” in five instances. In later pressings, these mistakes were rectified. In the original journals, Griffin made various spelling and grammatical errors, as he wrote by hand and did not edit his entries. Before initial publication, the journal entries were edited, cleaning up such errors.


In moments not written about, Griffin would be holding his infant son as they rocked in a chair, their forms illuminated by the faint red glow of a caterpillar nightlight. Helena would wake and stand outside her son’s room and watch father clutching son in a still rocker. Her abdomen itching, her Caesarean scar pink and raised, the topography of motherhood.

The scene she witnessed was a replay of hazy moments from the hospital, the baby a symptom of physics, appearing in different arms every time she woke. She watched this scene, smiling as tired eyes weighed down, and felt a brief rush, thought that maybe she could do it all again.

In later years, Helena would revise her memory. She’d remember the red light as being brighter, illuminating the room more, and the caterpillar being more realistic than cartoonish. The child would be smaller, resting higher up on his father’s chest. Though she loved her son, she’d have no recollection of wanting to birth another but instead would wonder how she made it through with Richard, how she smiled when her brain and muscles were fatigued, how she said she felt happy when she wanted to run away, disappear.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Winding Down

My Thinly Sliced Raw Fish project is winding down. Today marks the 40th post. Only 10 more left! 

Read here. Less than 100 words.