Sunday, January 31, 2010

Random Notes on J.D. Salinger

There’s a lot to say, and a lot being said, on the recent death of author J.D. Salinger. I don’t have much to say other than same random thoughts, as I’ve always seen Catcher in the Rye as middling and didn’t really get what the fuss was about. A professor I had in undergrad said you had to read the book as a teenager first to get it; I didn’t read it until my 20s and he was right. But I can appreciate the influence the work has had since its publication and that it stands as one of the great works of American literature. As a writer, I would feel almost neglectful not making mention of Salinger in his death.

***

I like Joshua Ferris’s brief article appearing at the New Yorker site, here . He raises a good point: what books after Catcher have been, as Ferris puts it, “as galvanizing, controversial, wildly popular, and accomplished”? He mentions some reasonable titles that are close but don’t hit the mark. I’d maybe throw in Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie, but I don’t think it’s required reading or even widely read. I’m not sure anything is close, though, really.

***

Salinger is probably the epitome of that cultural phenomenon of author as recluse, coming before even Thomas Pynchon. James Earl Jones played a version of him in the film Field of Dreams (his name changed, and based on details of Salinger’s life, a more palatable person). Probably every movie that’s had the writer as hermit can thank Salinger for its portrayal.

***


There has been some indication that Salinger left behind numerous unpublished works. Who knows what is there and if it’s anything but the sort of unfinished miscellanea that often surface after an author’s death. Hopefully, though, if there are any insane orders to destroy these works, someone plays Max Brod to Salinger’s Kafka and ignores them. I understand the writer’s need for privacy and for someone to have their last wishes fulfilled, but when you’ve reached the level of a J.D. Salinger, the world should not be denied seeing whatever writings are left.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Yellowfin Tuna Honored as Nominee for the 3rd Annual Micro Award

My story "Yellowfin Tuna" has been honored as 1 of 8 nominees for the 3rd Annual Micro Award!  Congrats to the winner and the other 7 nominees.  In this case, it is truly great just to have been nominated and be in the company of other great writers!

"Yellowfin Tuna originally appeared in the Fall 2009 issue of JMWW.  The story can be found here

Friday, January 29, 2010

13: Super 16

This story is part of the Griffin filmmaker series (untitled so far) but is out of order. The first 3 stories are The ThirstRaging Life,  and Negative.  This story is part 13, taking place 16 years after the third story. I’m envisioning this series having 25 stories total. So, why the jump from 3 to 13? Well, I hit a creative stumbling block writing story 4, so I decided to hit fast forward to rejuvenate myself.

Static
It was the time when weird phone calls began. Griffin answered the phone; on the other end, a static crunch, and an antique sounding multi-level click. Somehow, he told his assistant, whoever’s calling is making it sound like they’re using some sort of phone technology from 50 years ago. Like they’re calling me from the past. Do they say anything, the assistant asked. No, he said. This person calls, stays on for about five seconds, and hangs up. In his studio he lit a cigarette. An on-again, off-again relationship that was once again in motion. Sunlight the color of faded newspaper filtered through the window. A puff of smoke drifted away, went from circle to rounded triangle to nothing. He stared at the phone on his desk, waited for it to do something.

Film School
Griffin’s thirteenth film, Super 16, was shot, as its name suggests, using 16 mm film. The goal, Griffin indicated, was to create the grainy view of indie filmmaking similar to his early short films. The locations move from desert to city to traveling carnival. The hero flees—from mistakes he’s made, from his father’s homicidal ancestry that’s made him a pariah. Griffin spent weeks upon weeks tracking down appropriate cameras, all of them vintage, and stores of film. Members of his crew sighed, blustered, shook their heads. All this technology and here we are. He gave lectures on film perforation, aspect ratio, and camera aperture. During a break, Griffin overheard someone mumble, I hadn’t realized I’d signed up for film school again. Film school, Griffin whispered, then chuckled.

Juvenile Crime
One afternoon Richard was brought home by a police officer. The lobby buzzer, a stern male voice, distorted, way too close to the intercom. He and his friends were rooting through dumpsters behind an electronics store. While the officer was there, Richard kept his eyes frozen downward. Griffin listened to the officer. The boy gets a warning this time; I leave it to you, sir, to discipline him; I don’t want to see him again. Silence after the officer left, then, Dad, I’m sorry, we were just looking for old stuff. They junk old and broken music players. Amplifiers, speakers, even turntables. It’s trash to them, Dad, why should they care. Griffin nodded his head, placed his right hand on the boy’s shoulder, knew it was wrong to sympathize with his plight.

Stereoscope
Griffin came home from filming one day, saw Helena sitting on the couch wearing his antique pocket stereoscope. She looked up, her face like that of a Terry Gilliam film scientist. This is fascinating, she said, holding up the stack of cards with side-by-side images. Various city skylines in black and white, the series of long-gone carousels, human male and female anatomical sketches revealing muscles, nervous system, internal organs. This one, she said, holding a card in the air, is just creepy. He sat next to Helena, put on the stereoscope and looked at the images until they became one. It was the card of a dead guy in a coffin, dressed in top hat and tails, hands clasped together and pennies on his eyes, his face dusty and lips broken and riddled with lines. This is how we all end, he remembered thinking the first time he saw it. Helena’s hand touched his arm. He looked up, his eyes blurry for two seconds until regaining focus.

Prank Call
Griffin jumped out of bed, sleep interrupted by a ringing phone, and stumbled to the living room. He picked up the phone—crackling, what he thought was someone inhaling, then the phone clicking in silence. He bit his lower lip, gently placed the phone on its cradle. He dreamt he was in western ghost town, hot air laden with crunchy dust, and walked into an abandoned saloon that had a billiards table. In the living room, he turned, saw his son Richard sitting on the couch in the dark, which made him jump. Why does someone call like that, Richard asked. Griffin, his heart racing, sat down on the couch. He heard a floorboard creak, knew Helena was behind them, sleepy, head leaning against the wall.

Vintage Underwear
The common thread of Super 16 reviews was that the film was a throwback to earlier Griffin, reflecting the art house sensibility of The Thirst and Raging Life, with the expert cinematographic hand of Negative, and a contrast to more recent fast-paced bombs-and-guns fare such as Black Thursday and Jokerman. In an interview, he said that, yes, with this film, he intended to get back to basics, live in the past to rediscover the old fun. He joked he told everyone to think old thoughts, put on your vintage underwear, and tell tales by candlelight to your friends and family. You’re smoking again, someone pointed out. Yes, he said, inspecting a lit cigarette at arm’s length. It’s all part of the experience.

Family History
About six months after Super 16’s release, Helena went to the doctor because of pelvic pain. I’m worried, she told Griffin the night before, I have a grandmother and an aunt who… It’ll be fine, he told her, rubbing her shoulders from behind, though she sat slumped in her chair. Let me cheer us up, Griffin said, disappearing into a closet. Here, let’s film home movies! He held up a Arriflex 16SR camera, leftover artifact from Super 16, its bulky body like car parts, the front a square abyss. She laughed, put her hands up. This is Helena, he said, the woman I love, mother of my son, still lovely after all these years, and she needs to lighten up. Say something for posterity, he said, holding the camera insistent. She lowered her hands, looked straight into the camera holding back laughter, said, turn the damn thing off. Which he did. The next day he was at home while she was gone. Writing but not really. He looked at the phone. Ring, why don’t you? Then it did.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Unbearable Burden of Being It

Michael Solender of the excellent Not From Here, Are You? blog has bestowed upon me a Circle of Friends Award, which means, yes, I'm "it."  So, now I get to pass it along to five bloggers.  I think this is how the Grammy Awards are handed out.



Anyway, I've decided to send it along to a nice wide range of excellent writers you may or may not heard of. Go check them out!  Add them to your favorites if you haven't already.


Boudreau Freret

Peggy McFarland

Jim Dempsey

Skycycler

Laura Eno

Monday, January 25, 2010

Counting to One Thousand

This woman sits down next to me, starts telling me things about myself she shouldn’t know. My name, the hospital where I was born, the time I was standing on the beltway shoulder and thought about just walking out. I should’ve been freaked out but wasn’t. She was old, wore too many clothes, and her body creaked. She mentioned my first day of kindergarten, when I stood outside after the bell rang and cried. I said to her, I could already count to one thousand then, remembering my teacher who walked me into class holding my hand. Yes, I know, she said, grasping my hand, her fingers like plastic pens.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Monte Cristo

The day after he kidnapped her, made her the victim her friends always said she’d be, he brought her first meal: a Monte Cristo. He left her tied to a chair in the motel room, ESPN turned on to high volume. He returned, untied her, opened the Styrofoam container. She looked at the sandwich then at him like he was insane. A deep fried sandwich, ham, swiss, turkey, covered in powdered sugar, raspberry preserves on the side, a big order of fries. He shrugged his shoulders. Hungry, she scarfed it down, furiously scraping the cup for every last raspberry drop. It gave her heartburn. It was the best thing she had ever had. She wanted another two days later. They moved from town to town. He bought them for her when he could find them. He stopped tying her up, stopped playing the criminal. After two weeks they were in love.

A year later, after they fudged their way through kidnapping charges, they married. Why a Monte Cristo, she asked once, of all things? It was said to be Princess Diana’s favorite, he said. A meal fit for you, a princess. Had you considered killing me, she asked later. Never, he said. But the criminal was back. Again she was the victim.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Two TSRF works @ Camroc Press Review

Two of my Thinly Sliced Raw Fish pieces, “A Story About Glass” and “The Letters,” are now up at Camroc Press Review. The permanent link for these stories at CPR is here.

These stories originally appeared at my companion blog, Thinly Sliced Raw Fish, a project site where I'm posting 50 works of fiction each under 100 words, with a new post appearing every other day.

"A Story About Glass" originally appeared here.  "The Letters" appeared here.

Thanks to CPR editor Barry Basden for publishing these pieces at his excellent site.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Multiple Sclerosis

When I was a teenager, Annette Funicello scared the crap out of me. It wasn’t the Mickey Mouse Club or those beach movies with Frankie Avalon but seeing her in a wheelchair, crippled by multiple sclerosis. What’s her life, a lingering paralyzed consciousness that ends in death. Contorted arms and legs, sculpted back into fetal position. Then I learn, no one knows how anyone gets it, it just happens. Great. That’s going to happen to me, I told my mom, I’m going to wither away and die young. It’s not going to be you, she said, you’ll be fine. But I didn’t believe her. One day I’d feel tired or lose my balance riding my bike or my throat would feel weird swallowing and I’d say, here it comes. I’d forget about it, see a jar of Skippy and think of Annette Funicello all over again. No college for me, no career or having a family because I’ll be wheelchair bound. You’re being paranoid, mom said. Am I—Lou Gehrig’s disease and muscular dystrophy don’t make me feel this way. It’s a visceral fear, I said, like my mind knows to fear what’s to come. You keep worrying about it, you’ll get it, she said. There’s nothing I can do for you. Her walking away, shutting me up. That’s about when I’d go to my room, read a comic book. Superman, again saving the world from Lex Luthor. I’d glance out the window, see airplane trails slicing up the sky.

Friday, January 15, 2010

3: Negative

1
The first review Griffin read of his third film Negative described the film as turgid, obtuse, a depressing departure from the refreshing if tentative artistic optimism demonstrated in director Griffin’s first two films. It was an early summer morning and Griffin was sitting by the window in his apartment kitchen, the sky outside blue, the sun already bleaching the world, a neat effect that resembled the kind he’d used in the film. Helena, in the bedroom, sound asleep, spent from her morning of sickness, her new daily routine. The film’s lush cinematography of tropic then arctic landscapes, the review continued, is wasted in a whisper-thin wrapping of a story. Ignore these things, he remembered Helena saying even as his heart sank, they’re jealous when they say bad things. He loved her, deeply and significantly he told friends, but he had a moment when he couldn’t remember what her face looked like. His mind scrambled, piecing together image fragments in his head, producing unknown composite faces. A plane flew overhead, rattling the windows, shaking him from guilt. She’s two now, he thought. We’ll soon be three. He folded the newspaper, tossed it to the floor, then lifted himself from the chair, walked into the bedroom and stood by her side, watching her breathe.

2
The last day of edits, Griffin was in the studio, late at night, alone. An electric crackle, and there went the power. He looked outside and the entire neighborhood was in darkness. A new silence, punctured by dogs barking, the frustrated yelling one-word obscenities, the sliding of windows opening to let in fresh air. He imagined it being intentional, someone preventing him from finishing his film. Then he pondered it being more than that. An act of violence, terror. The soundless moments were waiting to be filled by anything: explosions, gunfire, screams of victims. At his desk his hands touched a pad of paper. The idea: he captured it with words, tore the sheet from the pad. It would be filed with others, undeveloped photos waiting for infusions of color. After ten minutes the power returned, life blasting back to comfortable hum. The scene he was working on, the two lovers stranded in tundra, left to exposure, numbing death. The schemes of whites fresh, blinding. He called Helena. After a handful of rings she answered. He stumbled, said, are you there. She laughed, the line crackling with static.

3
He talked to his actress, said, consider you’re freezing to death, this is the endgame of torrid forbidden love. Her hair frosted with fake snow, skin painted pale with hints of blue, her lips purplish-blue tones hinting at hypothermia. Your lover will stop you from paradoxical undressing, he said, and hold your hands together as if being bound. She was young, talented, never killed on film before. She had lived in Mexico, Louisiana, southern California. Remember, the affair starts in tropical conditions, he said, the pinks and sea foams of some island-like paradise. Everything declines from there. Warmness slips to cold. Colors drained from life. The film wore her down, a chisel re-sculpting her soul. Every day he watched her retreat to her trailer. More a ghost each time. How much of you had been erased? She stepped into his dreams during filming. Luminescent, frozen, lost.

4
About three weeks after filming began, he married Helena. They had planned it four months before, after being together less than one year. She organized the hurried details—the officiant, the church, the reception. He worked on his film—casting, funding, locations. An ice sculpture, he said, would be fitting. So they got two dolphins entwined, locked in embrace and shooting from water. He paid one of his cameramen to film everything in documentary style. Her dress was shimmering blue, a flowing gown that looked like cascading water, her feet obscured, looking as if she were floating on air. At one point, he lifted a glass, toasted her, this woman he’d finally found. Here the cameraman went for a close-up, as Griffin’s words filled the soundtrack. She bit her bottom lip, her face frozen waiting on each word. The woman writing my dreams, he said. My all, my reason. Her eyes blinked more with each phrase, an intensifying beat the cameraman caught in extreme close-up, the moment jarring as her eyes shifted to look straight into the lens.

5
The day before filming began, Griffin was sick in bed. A night of fever, vomiting, sweating. Horrible dreams. One where Helena was nonexistent—he searched for her, walked the streets showing people her photograph, met by shrugs and headshakes. She’s gone, he recalled feeling. At one point the photograph burned in his hand. Her features went black. Her skeleton showed. He dropped the photo. In the distance he thought he saw a flash of red, her turning a corner. He ran across a road of crunching glass and jagged brick. But there was no one. An alley stretched infinite, an effect like mirror on mirror. Later that morning, he was lying in bed, shivering, his vision grainy. Helena was standing by his bed, her figure in silhouette. Are you there, he said, and she grabbed his hand, held onto it, life slowly returning to the world.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Friday, January 8, 2010

2: Raging Life

The thing about the film Raging Life, I told J, is it must be viewed in an actual theater, since it had been banned and was nonexistent in other formats. He raised his eyebrows, tilted his head. I have a friend who can get us the film reel, I said, still intact, hidden in his secret vault beneath an old church. There’s a theater in the district we can use; I can jimmy the lock, there’s a working projector inside and even an old popcorn machine though the smell would be risky.

J had been watching Griffin’s films, saying he’d seen numbers 1, 6, 10, and 20. All good films, though all accessible safe-list works, a list designed for our purity, our safety, our mental well-being. Raging Life, number 2, hardly fit such things. The protagonist, M, his world resembling our current one, is dissatisfied, disenchanted, disillusioned. Ultimately, he’s diseased, dying. He takes action, fights back. Cinematography of lush skies, open fields. He commits acts of rebellion. There are, as the ruling party would describe, acts of danger, acts of contamination.

J drank black coffee at my kitchen table. The morning sun broke through gray, warmed the unheated kitchen. He’s about 20 years younger, his face youthful, unwrinkled. Like me, he’d resisted joining the underground. Instead, he followed my creed of it being better to rebel through films and literature, learning about banned works few have experienced. Not sitting in dank, dripping basements with others dressed in matching uniforms, reciting stale chants, dreaming of open street warfare.

There were others like us, I’d told him, sneaking into old libraries and catacombs to find artistic gold. The everyday whisperers, the nondescript noncomformists. We don’t use phones, computers or the mail; they’ve been compromised.

Let’s do it, he said, sipping his coffee. I nodded, stood, looked to the street through my window. Military in black sporting face-shielded helmets—walking casually, rifles slung over shoulders. I remember a time, I began speaking, but trailed off, as I often did.

As we walked, the day becoming brighter, the air stiff with cold, I told J, 2 is a good place to start. I recommended 5, 11, and 23, definitely listed, though I don’t know if copies exist. As for those I hadn’t watched, I’d heard about 25, his last, purportedly shot entirely by surveillance cameras, and 4, but neither’s listed either way. Remember, talk in numbers, I said, because you don’t know who’s listening. We walked, silent, heads down approaching face-shielded soldiers, clouds and buildings reflecting in their mirrored shields, their heads swiveling as we passed. Don’t look at them, I’d told J before, don’t be entranced by the reflections in their faces.

What more do you know about Griffin, he asked. Resisting the urge to grab his shoulders, shake him silly, I said, let’s not speak names, there are ears. We walked past a high-rise apartment building. I could feel eyes peeking through blinds, those who exist as nothing, the fearful who give tyranny its power.

He had one son who died young at age 23, I said. His wife died fairly young also, not even 50 (much like my own life—my wife died young, and I lived many years alone after, though I never had children). He gained notoriety when film 11 inspired a terrorist group that, mimicking film events, attacked annually on October 14. After that, he went into seclusion, shunning festivals, screenings, interviews.

There were more details, but I didn’t want to reveal everything too soon. There were other stories I wanted to tell. The rumors of mass killings. My three-week imprisonment. Why I don’t look into the mirror. The way the world once was.

We reached my contact’s place. We walked inside the entryway door. Inside were four mailboxes and buzzers, the area smelling of cat urine. The concrete, chipped and cracked, had black paint covering graffiti, the marks of the disorganized discontent. A tempting form of violence, easy release. There were days I wanted to throw stones, hurl fire until they killed me. I rang the buzzer four times, the agreed-upon secret code. He descended the steps, blanket covering his shoulders, said, we meet in the church’s back alley doorway at four, and turned around, climbed the stairs, a faint creak then door shutting.

Walking back, J said, so, what happens after I see film 2? How does it change my world, this air I breathe? What does it all add up to?

I’m not sure what you’re asking, I said, even as I felt dread, that now my friend was not who I wanted him to be. That he was soon to break off, go his own way, pursue his reality as he saw fit. A militant in a basement. The afraid who only peek through drawn curtains.

Okay, where is freedom in our world? What chance is there of changing things?

I had no answers. I said, I remember when, but trailed off. At the end of Raging Life, M is captured, thrown into a dark prison where he eventually dies from his ailments. Disheartening, sure, but, in a montage of silent acts of sedition, his tale is spread person to person. By folded note, by whisper, by cryptic texts in invisible ink. What these efforts become, though, is never revealed.

I didn’t tell J the world was a lonely place where most light had been extinguished. I hoped he’d stay for another six hours so we could sit in that movie theater, palace of bygone years, and watch the film, even if it’s our last. The wide screen before us, as we sat in darkness, moving images revealing a world reborn in color. When I was imprisoned, I sat in pitch black, stared at the wall, waited for movies that never came. During that time, I realized that the world now was more prison than art. With J’s company, I could pretend the world was again full of light, colorful vistas of life.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Fata Morgana 3

The Fay has lived many lives, from times of long dead languages to the present. Sent to a convent as a child. Cast out of brother Arthur’s court. Plotted against Guinevere, his not-so-faithful queen, seduced Lancelot, her not-so-pure knight. After Arthur’s death, she resided with sirens, lured na├»ve sailors to their doom, made grand castles float in the air. Now she looks into mirrors wondering, who is this being, what’s her story these days. She ignores a ringing phone. She walks onto a city street. The people—cuckolds and marks, adulterers and charlatans. The possibilities. The world remains the same.