Archive for the ‘The Way People Behave’ Category

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Dear Erik,

How’s that novel coming along? Forget what I said last time. This’ll be your masterpiece, so you should probably make it perfect. I mean, if you’re only going to publish one novel, it should be the BEST novel, right? But I’ll bet if you end up with the Pulitzer you’ll wanna try your luck on a few more. One thing I wonder about. Will yesterday’s Pulitzers speak to tomorrow’s readers? It’s hard to tell. I don’t read Pulitzer recipients. I read terrible stuff, Erik. It’s starting to psyche me wrongly.

Right now, it’s Halloween in Canada. This Halloween is dark. Dokdo compound is a mold-infested cement dungeon when it’s like this. Whatever. I don’t complain.

IM000322Anyway. I’m not writing to you about my physical discomfort. There’s something that is messing with me and I just needed to tell someone. It’s a story about a particular Kazakh civilian, no one notable, except that he possessed a peculiar piece of information that a Russian convoy waiting in Hungary had an interest in obtaining.

The problem for the passengers of the humble convoy on its way back to base was how difficult a time they had extracting the information. They’d set up shop in old Budapest Compound, you know the one. Two interrogators had committed suicide. One had his nose bitten clean off. Another, his neck gouged. The rest were tight-lipped about what had been said to them by the Kazakh, save that they would rather not return to his cell.

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IM000241“Which one is Snitski?”

A guard doing his best not to betray his anxiety nominated himself as the convoy’s spokesperson by answering the Swede. “Snitski, Sir? We don’t have a Snitski.”

The Swede flashed a grin to make your eyes bleed. “I think you do. He is 180, twenty-four years, dark, lasts forty-five minutes to an hour and is waiting when I take bed in half an hour.”

The guard’s eyes widened. “Oh, that Snitski.” A raised hand sent four guards off to prepare as the Swede sat and drank alone before the fireplace. She finished meat and lit a pipe. The Swede was perched, satiated, and mesmerized in thought.

information

This is the first principle the Swede wrote in her leather extraction log before each profile. The purpose of civilization: to lower the threshold of resistance an enemy of the state has to revealing information. The more civilized the civilian, the more likely he is to betray any secret. To civilize is to weaken the individual for the benefit of the state.

This Kazakh and his atavism would be hard to reach. Some former districts, stans and their surrounding territories, now loosed from the Soviet empire’s control, had no true civilians left. Even old Persia was to be part of New Rome’s economic plan. What went wrong?

“Now I need a Litovich!”

The guard began, “We have no…” and exhaled quickly, letting his shoulders fall. “Litovich, Sir?”

“You must be he. I need to know from you what the men say about the Kazakh and further on the information in the dossier. The cypher is as well as useless, the message no more informative decrypted.”

The guard cowered into his words. “It seemed as clear?”

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“As it sounds, Sir. A ghost in words.”

“And Rus Prima wants it why?”

“A weapon, Sir.”

“But WHAT is it?”

“That’s what we’re trying to find out, Sir.”

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Evening descended further as muffled conversation emanated from the corridor by the antechamber. At first pleading could be heard. Eventually, it was desperation. This information was not easily parted with.

All information can be extracted.

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“On second thought, Litovich,” she began. The guard opened his eyes widely and held his breath. The Swede cleared her throat. “I’m weary from the day. Please keep these safe.” The guard pulled on the folder but the Swede kept a grip. He stopped pulling but kept his hold. “Litovich.”

“Sir?”

“I review them 7 AM over thick black coffee and rye toast with pig meat. Eggs are nice also, but I’m sensitive to your conditions.”

“Sir.” The guard nodded and pulled lightly at the chocolate brown. The Swede did not relent. She just looked into his eyes. He took a quivering breath.

She grinned, “Thank you for your help, Litovich,” and gently let go.

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“Snitski, out!”

The clump hastened to make a diaper of the white bed sheet it was shrouded in.

“Tell Litovich it’s 7 AM.”

“But it’s…” The Swede drew her lips together the same way she had last night when her entertainment said he couldn’t do a headstand. After a start, “…it’s 7 AM.”

“Why tell me? Tell Litovich!”

The diapered man hurry-scurried out the door. Soon breakfast came with the wafting smells of well-fried pork and fresh butter for rye bread.

The Swede finished scanning the reports as she pulled shells from boiled eggs. As she ate each part of each egg she pawed the Kazakh’s portfolio: a picture of him smiling with two children, a harsh typewritten profile, details, widower, children deceased, formerly a mechanic, now a derelict.

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The Swede shook her head as she concluded her re-briefing and finished her egg. “Useless,” she barked. “Superstition, conjecture, fairytales, melodrama.”

She rose to her feet, gave a scratch and let out a satisfied belch. She threw on a comfortable suit and rejoined the men. “Litovich! How far down does this compound reach?”

“It is one of former NPA headquarters so… pretty damn far, Sir.”

“Litovich.”

“Sir?”

“Mind the expletives. This isn’t a naval bar, it’s a military installation. We respect decorum.”

“Sir.”

“Take me there.”

“Sir.”
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Funny place for a Russian convoy to keep a Kazakh, don’t you think, Erik? You were in that one, weren’t you? You know how deep it goes. Oil wells in Texas are shallower. Fracking doesn’t go as deep. Gotta keep hidden, right? I just wonder why we don’t have elevators.
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“He is tortured now, Litovich?”

“Protocol is persuasion level only.”

“I know protocol. This is why I’m confused. Report states detention detail is five days for smuggling with interrogation at standard comfort, persuasion only. Release to embassy with report on our officers injured and concessions for reparation. So, why is he screaming?”

“Verbengeist, Sir.”

“Enough verbengeist! I want real answers!”

“I guess… I don’t know. You should see for yourself.

“Wait.” The Swede stopped right before the door to the room where the Kazakh’s bestial howling was a deafening, cacophonous gale.

“Sir?”

“How long have I been here?”

“Eight hours, Sir.”

“In that eight hours, Litovich, how many times have I told YOU you SHOULD do something?
“Oh, for our former glory. Please wait outside, all of you.”
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The Swede stood silently until the men, lifted by the dread noise, shuffled up the stairs grey and blunt like flung tools from an otherwise useful set of wrenches.
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There the prisoner flailed away, screeching nervously between gasps. The Swede shrugged her shoulders and entered briskly. The prisoner stopped screeching as she passed his line of sight.

The Kazakh broke the silence with a muted croak of a voice. “Thynally, thomeone who lookth thomewhat wathonal. It theemth a mithtik hath been made… AAAAAHHHHHHHRRRGGGHHHHHH!!!!”

The Swede blinked inquisitively. The Kazakh burst into spasms, rocked back and forth, and screamed his voice raw. The Swede’s face did not change as she stood, peering at the restrained ape. “How would you like me to loosen those ties?”

“RRRRRRRRAAAAAARRRRRRRGGGGGHHHHH… No, ma’am, thank you fo the denereth otho…BWAAAAAAAHHHHHRRRRGGGGGHHH… but I highly doubt that’th a… GAAAAHHHHHHHHH… wythe idea.”

“I could easily restrain you.”

“I don’t doubt hit… GGGGGRRRRRAAAAAAAAA… a womim of your builb… UGGGGGGGGGHHHH… but thomething tellth me… YAAAAAAARGHHHHHHH… he woul want to figh ta tha death.”

“You know what? This thing drives me nuts. Let me help you.” The Swede pulled out the mouth restraint. The Kazach’s eyes widened.

“NNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO….” His mouth clamped shut on his tongue like a bear trap on a careless hunter. He smiled and squealed with glee, regret, satisfaction and remorse. The Swede had to move to the left to avoid the blood spray.

Soon the Kazakh was banging his hand against the arm of the chair violently. He balled up a fist and scribbled furiously in the air.

“A pen?”

He nooded and shook, refused and accepted. He leapt a bit. The chair came crashing to the floor, the Kazakh nose-first. The Swede calmly rose to her feet, walked to the other room and returned with stationery. She kicked the chair back to its original position and pulled up a desk. After a few broken pens, there was at least SOME result, though nothing very coherent.
kazach1kazach2

The Swede read through the scribbles twice. She looked at the Kazakh tied to the chair and blinked twice quickly.

“So, the convoy picked up a crazy Kazakh. Great.
“Superstition. Fairytales.
“Oh, for our former glory.”

She walked out of the room, her voice echoing through the hallway. “Don’t worry, you’ll be out in a few hours. I’ll tell them to sew you back up.”

“YYYYYYYAAAAAAHHHHHH!!!”

“Well, if you want to thank me, send me a card.”

The Kazakh just sat in the room, listening to the Swede’s footsteps becoming gradually softer as she ascended the stairs. He ingested blood, which he felt becoming dry as soon as it made contact with the back of his throat. He thought about angling himself so he could choke to death on his own blood. Then he realized something and thought better of it.
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Another footfall. The pavement here is spongy. Nice on the feet, but still I pant like a maniac. I’ve decided to retrieve my bike from the bus station, which is a half-hour run away. I missed the bus from Jeonju, a small city near the west coast of Hanguk, the country that is temporarily my home. I stayed out late last night and had to cab home, so my bike is at the bus station. I started running, and thought I might run the whole way. I have ten minutes in on this run. Where’s the breaking point?

What’s the breaking point? That’s when my body relaxes. My stride is longer and my breathing is less desperate. That’s when my primate self dies and I am one with my breath. That’s something we have in common. Breath. One of the only things.

The people around me must be confused to see a six-foot-tall foreigner wearing five dollar clothes. In Korea you can get almost anything for five dollars. Graphic print T adorned with yellow skeletons and white text, CREEPY dance!, five dollars. Camo print canvas sweats, five dollars. Black and red runners, five dollars. Black UV guard sleeves, Gangnam style socks and grey zebra-print hankie tied around my neck, collectively five dollars. Ear buds in my ears blaring Amanda Palmer’s Theatre is Evil and drowning out my thoughts and the noises the world makes, five dollars. Amanda Palmer’s Theatre is Evil, free. But you can pay five dollars for that too if you want.

This is the kind of getup I show up in for a going away party for a man named Sky. He and his friends do a writer’s group in Seoul. Seoul is a big city in the northwestern part of Hanguk. The city used to be called Namyang. Hanguk used to be called Korea, hundreds of years ago, in a time when a man named Charles the Great ordered his soldiers to anally skewer and incinerate my Saxon forefathers because they wouldn’t switch allegiance from their barbaric war idol for his equally barbaric war idol. After Korea, this country was called Joseon. Now it is called Hanguk, a country in which there is an apartment party where two writers examine my attire and say odd things about it, including:

Tim: Damn. HE looks like a writer.
Deanne: I think you’re confusing author and character.

Now my chest hurts. The doctors diagnosed me with asthma. The truth is that my lungs just don’t work the way they should. My eccentric grandfather smoked cigarettes in his 1985 Ford Escort station wagon throughout my youth. My car window was often open, as was his. Smoke flew back into my lungs for years. Heartland, a research division funded by Big Oil and Big Tobacco to warn the people of the world that they are being fooled by Big Science, claims second hand smoke isn’t bad for you. Heartland would like to change American public school curricula to reflect their values. Some politicians would like to let them do that.

My chest burns so badly now. My legs ache. I want to stop. Something won’t let me. I’m tired of limitations. Will Smith once said something during his famous alchemist interview that stood out to me. He said that his secret to success was that he gives himself only two options. He will either do what he has set out to do or he will die. There’s no third option.

Tears are streaming down my face. Not sad tears. Determined tears. Tears that scream, DEATH TO LIMITATIONS, MY BURNING CHEST, MY ACHING LEGS. Let them burn. Let them ache. Two options. I run or I die.

My body realizes that I have become psychotic. It gazes in at the movie projector in my brain. It sees me crying at the side of the bed where my cousin lies unconscious after a serious asthma attack. I wasn’t sure if he was going to survive. I didn’t know he was going to grow up to become a successful documentary filmmaker. At that moment all I knew was that I can’t handle the thought of death.

In this moment all I know is that I can’t handle living with limitations on what I can do. All I feel is the burn from the last cigarette I smoked. All I see is my grandfather, smoke pouring out of his white bearded lips, balancing a beer with a Du Maurier in one hand while his elbow steers the wheel and he tries to block out the sound of my grandmother screaming at him to pull over. The demented Santa Claus responds with an ear-shattering HO HO HO!, and becomes a goat. Grandma can’t compete with that. End of discussion.

I see my body collapsing to its knees in the soggy street because my lungs have failed and triggered a severe attack from an unchecked case of COPD, stifling my heartbeat and releasing my consciousness from the burden of possessing a central nervous system. The lights go dim. I cannot express how happy I am to never again have to worry about happiness.

My body is donated to science. The scalpel unzips my chest and a wheeze of foul smelling smoke rises. Doctors swear they see two eyes and a mouth in the likeness of Bastard the Unfriendly Ghost lift with the putrid emanation. The same guy who filmed dead birds on the shoreline filled with bottlecaps and other human garbage finds that there is nothing inside the body of Leif Sturmanis Nordholm but gobs of tar, cigarette butts, kimchi, rice and a key to a heart-shaped locket I once swallowed in a moment of symbolic frenzy but never managed to eject with the rest of my shit.

In accordance to a legally binding final testament, my chest is coated in polymer and my arms are nailed to a crucifix made of AK 47s, which is planted in the ground across the street from the Heartland Institute and set ablaze.

My body, having seen this all playing out on my inner movie screen, realizes that this psycho isn’t kidding. My muscles relax. This is when I become frightened.

My fingers scramble nervously to turn up my mp3 player. I try to drown out my thoughts with Theatre is Evil. But it’s too late. The thoughts come rushing in, as they often do when I am not in pain. That’s what pain is good for. It replaces the part of my brain that thinks about the one thing I don’t want to think about: My story. Everyone has a story. Every story is fucked up.

I don’t write for pity. I write for crazy people. Crazy people are otherwise sane people who have been frightened by fascists into believing the BS statement, all the pieces fit. And if they don’t fit you have to try to make them fit. And if you don’t toil daily to make them fit, or you do and it just isn’t working, it’s your fault. You are rushed to the guillotine in front of the entire world so the fascists can make an example of you, because THAT’S WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU FAIL TO MAKE THE PIECES FIT. That’s fascist humour. This is my humour. I write to make anyone else who is fucked up laugh. Laugh at the opera. Laugh at life. It’s tragically comic. It’s filled with magic and monsters. That’s why I’m a clown. Because everything is tragically hilarious. I learned that from my mom.

My mom was promoted from a sect of diamond land Buddhism to the philosophy of atheism to the enlightened state of self-absorption in which she found a fuckbuddy ten years her junior, a man who spent most of his life training to become a leader of a now-defunct cult in Minnesota. While he went gambling with her credit card, she sat at home emptying cheap bottles of merlot until she could regain the sense that everything was hilarious, which happened in the six minutes that occurred between being hopelessly drunk and passed out cold. Then she’d see the truth, the truth that everything is brutally funny. My stepdad failed to see that. Two abortions of illegitimate children later, one from a boyish photojournalist and the other from one out of six regrettable decisions, things did not seem very funny to my stepdad. Some people just miss the point.

My mom told me once while shaking and sobbing that she had reoccurring dreams in which her mom, dad, family, and everyone she knew was sitting around a table. They were alive, healthy and happy. They were all discussing random things and laughing.

Maybe she was dreaming about love.

I don’t really dream these days. I just have thoughts. I think now about the last time I ran. This was the first time I had run for any serious distance since grade 5 running club. Grade 5 running club was invented by Mr Baron from Liverpool, my homeroom teacher. He used to run beside me. He liked to mumble to himself as he ran. I never understood what he was saying.

I had moved to this rural town called Summerland with my mother and stepdad. According to mythology, Summerland was a place people went after they died. In reality, it was a brief rest stop tossed out on the side of the Okanagan Lake, buried deep in British Columbian Bible belt.

In those days I wore my hair long and had a chain around my neck dangling a pendant my mom gave me from her trip to Hawaii. It was special to me. It was a blue S meant to look like a lightning bolt. My hair and jewelry prompted the kids to use a slanderous word against me that was trending at the time, Queer. They also liked to use the word, Faggot. These words meant nothing to me except for the fact that they flew through the air with granite stones pitched towards my head. It’s hard to explain the feeling of being stoned in the head. It’s a kind of crashing sensation. Like being woken up with cold water. I learned the following things in grade 5:

a) no student, teacher or supervisor was going to help me
b) no child in their right mind would hang out with a kid who gets stoned in the head
c) crying only makes things worse
d) there is always a place to hide

Once my mom got wind of this, she trudged down to meet with Mr Baron from Liverpool. In the PT meeting, the stoic Wordsworth looked up over his small plastic cup of yogurt and calmly explained, “I’m not sure what those kids get up to. He’ll tough it out. Just tell the boy that whatever he’s doing to invite the derision of his classmates, he should stop. I’m afraid that’s all I can say, Mrs. Nordholm?”

“Sturmanis!” screamed my mother as she stormed out. Nordholm was my biological father; I was his bastard.

One thing my mom always said about my biological dad Erik was that he was cold. Don’t be cold like your dad, she always said.

Cold. Two years after I was born he picked up and left to become the Great Canadian Novelist. You’ve probably never heard of him. Not many people have.

Accompanied by his new wife, whom he gave no kids, he put his house on a barge and towed it off to a deserted island in the Georgia Strait. Everything went into his wife’s name and he got off the grid.

This man had icy seawater mingled in with his blood. He loved boats. He had brave notions of opening his own publishing house in a boat. He sunk his life savings, combined with mum’s, into a one-of-a-kind publishing house: a forty foot fishing boat built in ’24 converted into a leaky, moldy houseboat weighted down with an industrial printing press, typesetting machine, bind-faster and wax wands for covers. The floating publishing company was dubbed Orca Sound Press. Their first contract in ’77 was for an ambitious full-colour publication for a fledgling radical environmental protection agency now known as Greenpeace.

Five years and numerous underground poetry anthologies later, the couple discovered that one cannot survive on poetry and love alone, and even those things were finite. In those five years, mum’s first husband was still coming around and Erik was clearly having an affair with a flower child ten years younger than mum, and twenty years younger than him, who took up semi-permanent residence in the publishing boat.

In that leaky, moldy old fishing boat-cum-press, stormy waters brought a new light to Earth. It was December 16, 1982. Erik was fixing a paper jam while mum reclined by the window. I’m not sure what they had planned when the water broke at roughly 4am, but whatever it was, it clearly did not involve a hospital. Mum always told me that Erik had a fear of hospitals. She told me he’d mumble paranoid statements like “they take blood tests there, blood tests!” and conspiratorial sentiments like “why do they need to know about my blood?”

Erik had an impressive knowledge of childbirth it seems. No surgery necessary. A sterilized box cutter severed the umbilical cord as rains ravaged the old boat. The baby didn’t cry, mum told me. It never cried when it was young. It just stared up into mum’s eyes, coldly. It rejected the tit. Erik was prepared with a bottle of soy formula.

“How did you know?” asked mum.
“Just sleep,” Erik quickly replied as he killed the lights and rocked the little one gently.

My eccentric grandfather, a Harvard-educated biochem PhD lauded the fact that the space traveler was born on the same day as his favourite composer. Said composer had been decomposing in Germany now for over two centuries, but you wouldn’t know it to hear Missa Solemnis played as loudly as the stereo would permit to drown out the nightly domestic disturbances in his two-story wooden house built on the edge of the Musquem first nation in Vancouver, BC. Later Little Beethoven would live with the retired couple and learn how to cry. But that wasn’t until after the fateful night the boat sank.

One night two years after the storm dropped off a parcel in a rickety fishing boat, Erik came with mum to her parents’ for what seemed to be a routine dinner. As always, Erik took to repairing a few things on mum’s parents’ shack. Mum and her parents drank too much wine and heatedly debated issues from church to feminism to failed expectations as Erik coolly sat back in his chair and sighed. He finished feeding with the bottle of soy faux-lactate, gently placed the two-year-old in a crib and led mum outside into the driveway.

Erik steeled himself and looked directly into mum’s kiln-glazed eyes. “There’s something I should tell you.”
She kept her eyes fixed on the ground. “You fucking think I don’t know?”
“Well, I haven’t been candid.”
“And I’m not stupid. You think I’m stupid.”
“No, not stupid.”
“Then what?”
“I wasn’t going to tell you that. I was going to say… I’m going with her. That’s all.”

Mum couldn’t keep her eyes on the ground, but she couldn’t keep from tearing up, either. She ran towards the porch. She looked down, and there was a vase full of flowers. She quickly grabbed it and rushed her betrayer, but Erik just stood there. He saw her bring the vase up before his eyes to smash it against his head. He slowly, sadly closed his eyes in anticipation. He didn’t flinch. He just sighed as the glass crashed against his crown and opened his eyes again, a minute trickle of blood descending from his scalp. He looked into her eyes again and turned. He paced away calmly as his red-faced lover crumbled into a sobbing heap by the side of the road.

The cradle perched beside the window on the second floor was a spaceship. The spaceman inside saw the whole event. He decided then that Earth was too confusing and from that point on he would do the best he could to follow the prime directive. This mandate would be met with varying degrees of success.

Erik had “accidentally” neglected to activate the water pump keeping the Orca Sound Press afloat. When mum returned to the spot where the floating press should have been, she found nothing but water. Erik had run not only from mum, but from the forty thousand dollars it took to finish the floating press’ payments and pay for the removal of the old fishing boat from the habour. The dream sunk. Mum had nothing left to do but fend for herself while her parents took care of the little spaceman.

Spaceman flew his spacecraft between homes, neither more functional than the other, until he made his own disposable family and finally found the man who had a biological claim to be his father.

It was a cold October when the two met again. Finally frosty Erik had emerged from a cave for a few minutes to let a friend know he was dying of terminal illness. The young spaceman had never really thought to search for this stranger, but now the word had gone out. I suppose, thought Spaceman, I should give him a call.

The men arranged to meet at an Earth colony, a family townhouse on campus at the University of Victoria. It was Hallowe’en night and the spaceman had invited his in-law Earthling family to his home. They didn’t look much like typical Earthlings. They were suited up in bright, garish yellows, blues, pinks and reds.

The in-laws Erik met were clowns—a whole family of them! That night, the musical clown family had been minstrelling to raise money for a good cause, orphans or some such thing. They were loud and laughing, happily playing music and providing all kinds of sensory stimulus that frightened Erik as he tremulously passed through the Earth colony doorway.

Erik’s eyes met with the eyes of the boy who neither recognized him nor regarded him with any sort of familial affection.

The young spaceman was friendly enough. Erik didn’t look like a man who hugged. He looked like some painting of William Wordsworth the spaceman had seen in his literature studies: present and absent at the same time. Stylish and with the world, but visibly offended by any contact with it. Not a man, but a statue.

Despite that Erik was ten years Papa Clown’s senior, he appeared to be ten years his junior, at least. It was not that Papa Clown looked so old, it was just that Erik had a timeless look. Not young, but without age.

The two cold men stood facing each other. One was cold because that’s the way he was born. The other was cold because floating out in space is chilly. Around them a carnival of colour, music and laughter lava was engulfing the Halloween house. You could tell the cold man was beginning to burn. Not even the site of baby Luna could touch his heart. He refused to hold her. “I’m alright,” he said, deflecting.

Erik, after a few mild comments to the joyous clowns and answers to mildly probing questions, chiseled through the mortar between the bricks in the wall of silence between him and his estranged son. “Maybe we could take a walk?”

“Of course,” stammered Spaceman. He could have said something else, but nothing else would have been appropriate for the occasion.

Spaceman whispered into his wife’s ear. She glanced quickly at Erik and nodded. She knew this would be coming.

They left the brightly lit, brightly spirited townhouse just as manic magma spewed out in the form of a coordinated dance routine starring Papa Clown and Brother Clown. Mama Clown had donned her concertina and was squeezing out a pyroclastic flow of musical tephra. Sister Clown followed with her fiddle of fiery fury just as the two cold men escaped into the cool night air.

Erik was visibly irritated by the short humans in unsensibly thick Hallowe’en makeup or vision-barring masks, all with truckloads of accumulated colourful plastic wrappers encasing small chunks of cornsyrup composite. Huff, he sputtered. “Sometimes I don’t want to leave the island. Why today of all days?”

Why today? Now it plays in head as I run to the bus station. Play by play. Moment by moment. Theatre is Evil has finished. It’s just Spaceman and him now, and I have a  front-row seat.

Spaceman doesn’t look at Erik. “Thought you’d like to meet my new family.”

Now they come to the edge of the parking lot to a forest trail called Mystic Vale. The trail leads down to a beach called Cadboro Bay. The man called Erik takes a seat on a bundle of sticks called a bench and the young adult who I call Spaceman does likewise on a fungi-covered stump. Spaceman is silent while he thinks about the study conducted the previous year that concluded that human DNA is not significantly different from that of mushrooms.

Erik cuts through Spaceman’s empty gaze. “I looked you up in the phonebook. In 2005, they misspelled your name.”
“Oh.”
“But in all other years they spell it right.”
“Hmm.”

What else would Spaceman say? I feel honoured that you can find my name in a phonebook?

“I knew your professor.”
“Which one?”
“Cullen.”

Cullen. Another Wordsworth. He who taught the little tricks. He who wrote the play about Sam Wong. He who deposited references to Horace and Hermes into his report writing classes. He who guided his students to find and do what they really wanted to do. He who knew the secrets of the universe and told us simply, “what are you going to do, write poetry?” He who appeared in several places on campus within minutes as though there were ten of him on hand. Little tricks Cullen. He who died suddenly from cancer, leaving behind two daughters who he’d raised alone. Erik knew Cullen.

Spaceman still wasn’t comfortable with death. “I liked him,” was all he could say.
Erik breathed deeply. “Fran just went a few years ago, didn’t she?”

Fran. The spaceman was sleeping in a 1992 Ford Escort station wagon, his home at the University of Victoria, when the news of his grandmother’s death rang on a cellphone lying underneath the car’s brake pedal at five AM. He preferred not to think about it.

He had a weird thought, a little like a grotesque dream, when he was young. When the space shuttle came to transport him from his grandparents’ house in Vancouver to his parents’ house in Summerland, he saw his grandmother dead, but most of her body was like a cooked chicken, her bed a metal tray and left out on the counter, white creamy fat encasing her limp, birdbone corpse. It was an image that just wouldn’t fade.

“What do you want to tell me? We need to get back.”
“I knew your teacher.”
Spaceman closed his eyes to keep them from rolling. “Which one?”
“Baron.”

From Liverpool. Erik sure got around for a man on a deserted island.

“I don’t get it. You’ve been stalking me, but it never occurred to you to make contact until now? Why would you bother?”
“You invited me.”

Good point.

“But I am here for a reason.”

I pull the ear buds out and focus on the cold man’s information for the spaceman.

“Cullen and Baron and I knew each other well.”

How had I forgotten about this?

“Baron gave you a book. Cullen tested your understanding. Now I am making it clear.”

Book, what book?
Yes, of course! The Red Book. An old tale set in a modern landscape. An elderly man invites the scorn of his neighbours with his reclusive behaviour and unkempt appearance.

A boy of ten wanders into his shed one day. What does he find there, but a man who is attempting to change lead into gold. The boy learns everything about the process.

A grand explosion ends the life of the elderly man. But the boy is left both with the knowledge of how to transmute the metal, but the understanding that should he attempt it, he might become a fleshy wall painting.

After Faggot!, after granite, after the PT meeting, the spaceman was given more torment by being singled out to sit in the hallway and read of alchemy while the rest of the class was hypnotized into Aslan’s kingdom via the cunning of CS Lewis.

Why, Mr Baron, was I excluded?

The fit old Wordsworth turned to the ten-year old spaceman as they ran on the dusty road in Summerland. His mumbling increased in volume, and finally I could hear his raving, and I realized it was meant for me, even if Spaceman disregarded it.

“Your peers understand the “collective” part of collective responsibility. But no, they haven’t gone much further. Religion has for the most part, been an attempt to civilize people who would otherwise behave as primates.”
“But they aren’t primates.”
“That, my boy, is EXACTLY what they are. You can tell because even religion is not enough. It never has been the primates take it over and use it to enact the selfsame poopthrowing they are most familiar with.”
“Then why bother?”
“Because at least it gives them a chance. If they were atheist, they would have something closer to the truth, but they would need to have the memories of several lifetimes to truly get it. So we wrap symbolic truth into a format that they can accept and we hope for the best.”
“So, I’m not worth civilizing?”
“No, you’re not. You wouldn’t take to it. That’s why I am offering you this. Do yourself a favour and take it.”
“Take what?”
“The symbol itself.”

What is the symbol?

Erik turned to the spaceman perched on fungus and made direct eye contact. “It is THE SYMBOL. It is from the teachings to the people of the black land. It is telepathic mind space connection held together with stars. Stick to curves, avoid the angles. Construct the ARC. Attraction plus repulsion equals circulation. This is the secret of all social and physical reality. You are now free to go anywhere in the known and unknown universe. You can now meet my kind. But you will need a guide. She will make herself known by the light of the moon…”

Erik went grey for a moment. Had scales for a moment. Flicked a tongue in the twinkle of an eye and sent me back, back to a land halfway across the world called Hanguk.

I put my hand on my bicycle seat. That run really took it out of me. Thinking about my story really took it out of me. I’m glad I’m done. Now I can once again forget about that other world, the world that has no more presence than a strange dream. Completely fictitious. And tragically hilarious.

Off the top of my head, I can think of two kinds of artist. One is an artist, and the other is a capitalist. Both of these artists have their merits, but they are divided by perspective and worldview.

What differentiates the artist from the capitalist is that she draws inspiration and motivation from something I call “love” but that word has so many meanings, doesn’t it? I only register one. See below.

The capitalist, on the other hand, is primarily motivated by money or material goods, affluence, and privilege. One might even say that to the capitalist, these material gains ARE love.

As Thoth the Atlantean once wrote, nothing there is below thee but a different operation of the law. The law is love. We’ve known that for millennia. No matter how much money the artist has, abstract numbers and dollar signs float around in the ether devoid of meaning until they feed the hungry, develop a project, or are manifested in something real, which is a product of love. That is the only use for the acquisition of money.

The capitalist, on the other hand, finds the idea of love quite perplexing. What is love? How can I quantify it? How can I spend or trade it? Moreover, how can I own it? Money is much easier to handle. I can check my account and see how much of it I have. I can’t do that with love, can I?

So, the capitalist learns a trade, say, painting, guitar playing or singing. He studies the status quo and learns from it. He attempts to fashion a high-quality product for mass consumption. He checks his account and watches the numbers in his ledger get bigger. He becomes happy when he has been compensated well for his hard work.

The artist called capitalist has become unhappy in decades of late. People now get media for free. Many artists are distributing their music for free. No longer can the capitalist simply learn a trade, promote his excellence, and be compensated duly. Now he needs to learn about love, something that he has been putting off for entirely too long. He finds the idea of spontaneously playing a free show in the park with no planning repugnant. There are municipal bylaws! There is no profit to be made! Somebody needs to alert the vendors! Someone needs to promote the tour! NO! YOU CAN’T JUST DO THIS! IT IS TOO ERRATIC! I DON’T UNDERSTAND IT!

Painting ze yin und yangNO, he cries, I WILL NOT JUST HELP PEOPLE REALIZE THEIR DREAMS AND LET THEM HELP ME! I NEED TO KEEP TRACK! I NEED TO ACCOUNT FOR INFLATION, GET A PROMOTION, GET A RAISE, AND RETIRE IN TAHITI! ACCOUNTS AND BALANCES, PEOPLE! YOU CANNOT PAY THE BILLS WITH LOVE! YOU PEOPLE ARE GODDAMNED CRAZY!

Meanwhile, the artist does what she always has done. She walks the land, giving and receiving love. Oh, yes, and there were times when we were burned for it. And it could happen again. Nothing inspires more fear than the thought that what one has worked hard for could fall apart.

Siva-sakti, you told us this is what love really is… the acceptance that what we have worked so hard for could crumble at any moment. That is the truth of creation, destruction and rebirth. Please help us all to see this.

Image

Surely, men made of plastic can’t be hurt. from http://i01.i.aliimg.com

She must have been walking for hours when she passed Davies and saw that the Hastings Inc warehouse was clearing out. Among the discards was a brilliant model, a mannequin. The blinding white man stared lifelessly out through Greek god eyes. She waited silently behind sunglasses, hiding behind a pillar until the workers left. Quitting time came and she snuck past the wire fence. She snatched the body and quickly hailed a cab. There she sat beside the six-foot android, not paying attention to the taxi driver’s askance glances. I’m an artist, she said with her eyes before ascending the hill to her apartment building, the plastic man tucked securely under her arm.

He could not freely stand, so she leaned him upright in the corner. She started to think of what kind of art project she could do with him. Over the next few weeks, his forward-staring plastic body inspired all sorts of thoughts. She poured these thoughts into her writing, photography and dance. Angel wings, she thought. Black angel wings and tattoos. Tribal. Yessss…

One day she saw that he was starting to fall over. She rushed over and blocked him from falling. His body twisted into her grasp, and she realized how wrong it seemed that she was pressing his white body against the wall, her lips so close to pushing against his. She jerked back suddenly and let him fall back into the wall. No. Dear god no.

That’s when she saw it. There before her eyes was a tiny chip between his lips. She picked at it. The paint came off easily enough. She revealed his real color. He was actually a beautiful dark olive color under layers of white paint. She ran to her kitchen and grabbed a knife. Bit by bit she picked away until she had uncovered his entire face. She chipped paint all the way down his neck, over his chest and torso, past his hips and down his legs. He was mostly flesh now, except for a stripe of white on each inner thigh.

She had worked so hard to get the paint off, but these two strips just weren’t coming clean. She picked and pulled. They were fused into his flesh. She got worked up. It was the kind of frenzy that had pushed everyone out of her life and left her alone with her art all these years. Her obsessive fury did not stop until she had dug her knife deep into the flesh of his thigh. Breathing heavily now, she collapsed on the floor. What have I done?

This was a mistake. She never should have gotten involved. Now she had invested herself into something that would never reach its completion. Furthermore, she had dug deeply into the plastic man a scar that could never heal. She considered just leaving him on the street and abandoning this foolish pursuit. She decided instead to dissolve her stresses in an aimless walk.

She descended her stairs and walked out into the cool air. Soon, she happened upon a stationery store. She walked in, unsure of why. She looked at oil pastels, which she could afford with her last four dollars. Then she saw something else: a nice little kit of whittling tools. She bought the kit and ran her purchase back up to her apartment.

There was the Greek god, staring blankly into the wall. She dropped to her knees and scraped away the paint stripes from his thighs. She looked at the deep scar. She knew that there was nothing she could do. The scar would always be there. She decided then that he would be there to remind her of the consequences of acting with haste. She clothed him in vermilion and midnight blue. She painted on his tattoos and never tried to fix his scar. She gave him dark wings, and when the work was complete, she smiled, and a tear crept down her face. She turned out her dim light.

Goodnight, sweet god.

I am the mad story-stealer! I was given this tale by a coworker who began taking English classes last year. Since then, she has really taken to the English language through much discipline and practice. I was quite amazed to hear her tell this story. I’ll admit to adding some details, but the story structure is completely hers, and she told it completely in English 🙂

Min-hu was a retailer of children’s books back then. He led a quiet, simple life. He loved having conversations about interesting things with the people who came into his shop. He spoke a little English, but not much.

Greta was a teacher of English from Germany who loved to learn languages and explore new cultures. She had spent her life traveling, a life which had brought her here to Min-hu’s bookstore in a quiet little South Korean town in Jeollabukdo.

Greta began to speak with Min-hu this fateful day, partly in Korean and partly in English. Min-hu was happy to speak to this warm, kind foreigner who had a great love for her new home of Korea and children’s books. She was teaching kindergarten in those days and had come to select the right picture book for her students.

She spoke with the gentleman behind the counter. A conversation began to emerge about the season, the cold and snow, and how in Germany it is a custom to invite friends to one’s house to warm up with a hot beverage. Greta told Min-hu that she would love it if he came over to her home, as a friend, and enjoy some tea and snacks. Min-hu was delighted to accept the invitation from the stranger. He looked forward to having some practice speaking English and possibly making a new friend.

Greta went home and prepared the ingredients for tea and snacks. She wondered what Min-hu would think of the Christmas decorations she had put all around her apartment. At the agreed-upon time of 7:30 pm, Min-hu rang Greta’s doorbell. When Greta opened the door, Min-hu was overwhelmed by what he experienced.

In the air, he could smell baking ingredients like cinnamon, clove, and vanilla. The entire apartment was lit in rich amber light, and beautified with red, gold and green decorations. Awestruck, he slowly entered the apartment where there was a small tree on a table wrapped in lights in front of small fragrant pine cones sitting around to decorate the space. On each surface, a red votive sat and burned away. In bowls, there were piles of mandarin oranges, nuts and soft sweet bread. Candies sat in smaller bowls with mint candy sticks, and three large red socks adorned the window. There were lights around the windows, each with a distinct colour: one red, one green and one blue.

Greta served tea. The amazed bookseller wasn’t really sure what to say. This woman he had just met had gone to so much trouble for this evening. She loves me, he thought.

After the pleasant conversation and tea with snacks, Min-hu went home, unable to think properly. Here, this beautiful stranger had worked so hard to tell him she was interested in having a relationship with him, but he didn’t say anything in response. What she must be feeling now– hurt, rejected, unappealing– why, that would be terrible. He quite enjoyed her company, but he never expected foreign women to be so direct!

He had to show her somehow that he reciprocated her feelings. What does a man buy for a woman to show that he feels affection for her? He thought of it. Of course. Lingerie.

The next day he went and purchased some lingerie and wrapped it neatly in a package. He called Greta and told her he would love to meet again. She agreed. He went to her home the following Wednesday evening, and as before, it had been decorated and filled with sweets. He gave her the present and she thought to herself, “Oh, what a nicely wrapped present. He must celebrate Christmas the same way we do in the West.”

There was a little confusion on both sides. Min-hu hadn’t understood why Greta’s apartment looked, smelled and felt so warm and inviting. Greta didn’t think it strange to receive a present so close to the holiday. All this confusion would be unraveled with the pulling of the ribbon from the neatly wrapped, brightly coloured package. Once Greta opened the gift, she drank in the sight of the adult apparel. It was obvious how Min-hu felt, and she instantly realized how Min-hu must have been confused. “No matter,” she thought.

“I think you were confused, Min-hu. During the holiday time, it is common for Westerners to decorate their homes, bake, and put out goodies. But don’t be embarrassed. I want to teach you about another custom you might not know about. Do you see that little bundle of leaves above us?”

Greta pointed up to the beam above them where a little mistletoe was wrapped with yarn, hanging from a small nail. She explained the tradition, and then demonstrated it.

You know, Greta and Min-hu are married these days, and they still love to find out new things about each other’s culture, and other cultures around the world.

There was once a man of age who loved to play chess. He played every day and would play with anyone who challenged him. Many did not like playing with him, however, because of his unusual style.

by ~AllisonStanley http://www.deviantart.com

His style was to defend without attacking for many rounds. This is called the long game, but it only works if your opponent is also playing the long game. If your opponent is on the offensive, you need to strategize an attack lest you lose too many pieces to defend your territory.

The problem was that everyone knew he wouldn’t take the offensive. He would always play the long game, and always lose.

An opponent asked him once, “Why do you always play the long game when you know that you will always lose? You’ve played enough times to know that you need to take the offensive to win.”

He replied, “The reason I’ve been playing all these years is not to win. It is to find someone else who likes to play the long game.”

the way people behave

Posted: January 2, 2012 in The Way People Behave

“The way people behave…”

…is an exclusive series I am writing in this blog. It is significant to me because my teacher told me many moons ago to watch people if I should want to write.

Prior to learning this little trick, my sources for writing were not people, but stories. I was trying to illustrate certain parts of Korean mythology and scenes from the Old Testament. Without considering humanity, the way people behave, my writing was flat and heady. I am trying desperately now to depict scenes of how people act in social situations and the result has been interesting but slow work. I feel like I am trying to see with a new set of eyes.