The words, see them run!

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Day to day I have to make all sorts of choices about what is good and important and fun, and then I have to live with the forfeiture of all the other options those choices foreclose. And I’m starting to see how as time gains momentum my choices will narrow and their foreclosures multiply exponentially until I arrive at some point on some branch of all life’s sumptuous branching complexity at which I am finally locked in and stuck on one path and time speeds me through stages of stasis and atrophy and decay until I go down for the third time, all struggle for naught, drowned by time. It is dreadful. But since it’s my own choices that’ll lock me in, it seems unavoidable—if I want to be any kind of grownup, I have to make choices and regret foreclosures and try to live with them.

David Foster Wallace, “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again”

Writing > Translation > Quotation, a slide down the slope of manifest creative impotence. But what choice do I have faced with a perfect reflection of myself in another’s words?

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Januariad 2014 Favorites

As tradition dictates, I have chosen three favorite stories from each of my fellow Januariad 2014 sufferers participants.  Here they are, in no particular order:

Jack Rusher

Marde and Arbiwale

The Januaryist

Porter’s Notebook

Mollycule Theory

Januariad Barnacle

Filed under januariad meta-januariad

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An Intellectual Slave Owner’s Dilemma

In a benighted place, in a benighted time:

—Hello, little boy.

Hello, little boy!

—I am a fireman.

—What? Yeah, sure, okay, that’s great. What’s your name?

—It’s a big truck. Monkey drive a fire truck. It goes wheeeee-ooooh.

—Jesus! I said, what’s your name?

—You’re a monkey!

—No, I am your owner. And you are my slave. You’re gonna be working for me, understand?

—Funny monkey.

—You are turning three years old. That means you’re going to develop psychologically to where you comprehend cause and effect.


—Exactly! See? You’re asking all these “why” questions because you’re beginning to establish logical connections between antecedents and consequents. That means you’ll be able to start performing simple tasks, so we can put you to work.


—What do you mean, why? So you’re not just sitting around consuming my resources. I’m a slave owner, not your benefactor.


—Because this is what I do. I own slaves.


—I gotta make a living somehow. Some people practice law; some people make watches; some people write books. I own people as property.


—Well, I suppose I just fell into it. I wanted to be an opera singer; a baritone. People said I had what it took to make it. But it’s such a thankless occupation. Here, listen to this: Là ci darem la mano

—I wanna go potty.

—What? Hell, just hold it in. I’ll let you go in a second. I just need you to understand that you’ll be put to work in a week.


—Didn’t you hear anything I’ve said? Because you’re my slave, that’s why.


—You were just born this way.


—Oh, Jeez, I don’t know. Societal convention. Some people are born with lower status than others. Don’t ask me why; I could never understand the underlying logic myself. It’s just the way it is.


—Shh… Kid, you gotta be careful. Questioning the established social order is asking for trouble. I’m pretty liberal as slave owners go, but I gotta warn you: this won’t lead to any good.


—Because there are powerful interests with much at stake. They won’t be happy if the order gets upset. You just can’t get around them.


—Hmm. Are you implying that one can get around them? Perhaps not challenge them head on; perhaps change little things, the things we have the power to change. Clean up your own house instead of pitching at the whole edifice of questionable practices. Il faut cultiver notre jardin.

—Are you a fireman?

—I’m a slave owner. But I see your point. Do I have to be a slave owner? Do you have to be my slave? These are the things I can change. I may have been lulled into complacency by my success at exploiting people. Is it time to make a change? Should I start with you? … What’s this smell?

—I go potty!

—Jesus, Mary and Joseph! Hey, somebody… Nanny? Caretaker? Please take this child. He needs assistance. Thank you, little boy, this was a very informative conversation. I’ve got some thinking to do. Nanny?!

—Funny monkey!

Filed under why dammit why?

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Someday my son, who is about to turn three, will be grown. He will find this website. (Perhaps he will click on a bookmark that survived several generations of family computers, preserved by faithful backup utilities; perhaps he will google something that he heard from me and stumble across it; perhaps my very memories will be indexed and searchable at that point). He will find this site; he might even read it. Afterwards, he’ll come to me with questions.

"Did you really write all that, papa?"

Yes. Some of it I probably shouldn’t have, but it’s too late now.

"Was it hard?"

It was a pain in the ass. But I did it, on and off, for ten years, ever since a Saturday brunch in long-gone cafe on the Lower East Side in December 2003, where myself, and J. and P. egged each other on to the point of an actual resolution. One story per day for a whole month. Of all the stupid things to try…

"Why did you do it?"

Just for the hell of it, initially. Because it was a dare, and I was young and had free time on my hands. Because I imagined a reader, a bright-eyed pretty girl somewhere in the digital ether, engrossed in my words, smiling. Don’t tell your mother.

"Did it turn out okay?"

More than okay. I have learned that I could write faster, better. I have learned that I could write. And I have met some cool people along the way.

"Why did you stop?"

I wouldn’t know what to think in response to that one. Perhaps a slight pang of regret will go through me. Perhaps I’ll be indifferent. After all, the roof of the condo is leaking, and my retirement account has taken a hit in the bear market, and my cholesterol is high…

Perhaps later that day, I will sneak away to a quiet place, pick up a pen and a piece of paper, and sit, and stare at the white space with the same dread that paralyzed me always. Except, that is, in those hateful, wonderful months that left no room for it.

In the meantime, my son will log into a parent rating site and maybe, just maybe, upvote me for this.

We end this tale by writing Fin
The subtlest ending known to man


Filed under januariad fin

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Dean woke up one day to discover that half his face was gone.

He seemed older and fatter, too: his hair salt-and-pepper in color instead of its usual brown, his stomach jutting out in a soft paunch. But nothing compared to the horror of his face. The left eye was missing, its empty socket grown over with a burl of creased scar tissue. The left cheek was sunken in and unnaturally smooth. A scar ringed it—the boundary of a skin transplant, he knew, although the source of this knowledge escaped him.

"What the fuck?" Dean said, shaking his head at his own reflection and then, covering the devastation with his hand, he screamed at the top of his lungs: "WHAT THE FUCK?!"

Read more …

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Reality (part 2, final)

« part 1

"All right, Chip. You have two minutes; explain yourself, and this better be good."

"The company was foundering," Clarence says hurriedly. "They’d gone through five CEO’s in three years. The board knew that they were in a death spiral. The only thing that could have saved them was the right person at the helm, but there was no one available who was up to the task."

"Go on," I say.

"So they made the right person up instead. Or some scientists and psychologists somewhere made you up; you were designed to be the perfect CEO. They needed somebody ruthless, somebody with ice in his veins, with perfect recall and superior strategic thinking, somebody who would show no weakness, give no quarter. Someone who could fire sixty thousand people in the morning and then go play a game of golf without compunction in the afternoon."

"You flatter me, Chip."

"Now is not the time to be glib. You have turned this company around, yes. You are also probably the most hated person in the country, if not the world, at the moment."

"I am the CEO of this planet’s largest corporation," I say. "The company I steer is worth more than several dozen smallish countries put together—if you can call them countries. I can replace presidents in Africa with a word; I can have laws passed on a whim that will affect the future of generations to come. Let me be emphatic, Chip: I… make… reality. And you’re gonna tell me I’m the illusion? What does that make the rest of this sorry world?”

Read more …

Filed under januariad do you love dick? reversals

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Reality (part 1)

The clock says seven thirty a.m. I sit in my office on the eighty seventh floor and survey the stalagmitic outgrowths of Manhattan’s real estate below. My eyes are half-closed; my head is empty. Even without checking my pulse, I know that my heart rate hovers around 60 beats per minute. When the clock shows eight-oh-five, I shall exit the office, take the executive elevator two floors down and walk into a waiting board meeting. There, I shall name Justin Monroe our next COO.

The door behind me opens. I call out without turning around, even before the person has the chance to say anything: “Come in, Chip.”

"There’s no sneaking up on you, is there?" says Clarence Delahunt III, the company’s general counsel.

"Have a seat, Chip," I say placidly. "And get straight to the point."

Read more …

Filed under januariad do you love dick?

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A comet appears in the sky, piercing, luminous, and humanity sinks into stock-taking and introspection punctuated with skull-bashing and looting. The end of the world is nigh. Some kill, others repent. Some find religion, others renounce it. Governments try to maintain order but it is slipping, slipping, slipped away and gone, coat tails flapping in the winds of change, mix me a metaphor, buy me a cheap beer. A writer sits down to fix on paper the future where it all turns out all right, ends up being a joke, or a dream, or a hacker collective finally having plugged into the software of the universe just fucking around and standing ready to avert the shining hurtling death with a couple of keystrokes at the last moment. He does not get the chance to finish.

Filed under januariad

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The Human Key (part 2, final)

« part 1

When Li came to, the chamber was lit again. Several torches burned in bronze holders set around him. He tried to raise his head, tried to sit up, but his body would not obey. His hands and feet were bound by hemp rope, the kind the workers used to haul stone blocks away from the excavation site.

"Extract of hemlock," a voice came from beyond the circle of torchlight. Out of the shadows, the Baron stepped into the light. His face was impassive. "A diluted solution: too much of it would stop your breathing, and that simply won’t do. This way, you are merely weakened; the ropes will hold you in place but you won’t put up much of a struggle even once I take them off."

Li made a sound like a cow lowing. His eyes rotated from side to side.

"Why do this, you ask?" The Baron leaned in close to Li’s face. "An excellent question."

With his right hand, he pulled up Li’s shirt. A large birthmark in the shape of a septagram was visible on the Chinaman’s stomach.

"Remember when I hired you, my dear Li? Do you remember the advertisement you have replied to, the one in the Nanking Times, all those years ago? It was unusual, wasn’t it, a man looking for a servant with some very particular physical characteristics? But I found you!” The Baron’s face contorted into a grimace. He leaned in closer still and breathed with demented intensity into Li’s face: “I couldn’t tell anybody; for so, so long I couldn’t utter a word about my plans to a living soul. There are seven keys, just like the vertices of this septagram, one on each of the Earth’s continents. You are the Key of Asia. It took decades before I could track one of you down!”

Li writhed on the ground and moaned again. The Baron laughed. “You want to know what it is you open? That’s understandable.  I would be curious, too.”

He waved in the direction of the niche in the inner wall. “That’s the keyhole. The legend promises unearthly powers to the one who enters—and, by Jove, I shall be that one! My companions… those bloody imbeciles! They really thought I’d let them be present at the opening.”

The Baron circled to Li’s head, bent down and grabbed him under the armpits. Slowly, he dragged his servant to the wall and laid him in front of the keyhole niche. Two flicks of the knife—and the restraints that bound Li’s limbs fell to the floor.

"I wish I could say this wouldn’t hurt," the Baron said. "Unfortunately, it is my understanding that the opening will extinguish the key. Not my fault, really; I’m not the one who put this door in. Any last words, my friend?"

Li’s breathing, already labored because of the poison, became fast and erratic. He let out a stifled scream.

"I didn’t think so." The Baron chuckled, pleased with his joke. "And now, my dear Li, if you don’t mind—"

Grunting with effort, he lifted the Chinaman off the ground and propped him against his own body, ready to shove the helpless servant into the niche. At the last moment, Li shifted his balance to the left, pivoted around the Baron and used his master’s weight to propel him forward.

Baron von Riesenschnautzer went into the niche back first. He growled in surprise and anger and tried to come out. The rock held him fast, as if by glue. A low, ominous hum rose in the air; it seemed to originate somewhere in the depths of the pyramid and reach the surface by traveling through the walls.

"What is this?" the Baron hissed. A new expression distorted his face, that of impotent fury.

Li picked up the knife from the ground. The pyramid was shaking perceptibly. Dust began to scatter from crevices overhead; the fire of the torches flickered wildly. Wordlessly he approached his master. The Baron closed his eyes in anticipation of the deadly stab.

The Chinaman cut open the Baron’s shirt. A septagram birthmark bloomed like a brand on the captive man’s stomach.

"You knew?!" The Baron’s voice was hoarse with horror.

Li leaned in close to his ear and said: “You did not find me. I found you!”

The howl of the Key of Europe was buried in the rumble of the waking elemental force. A vertical crack appeared in the wall. It started at the ceiling and ran into the floor in a straight line along the Baron’s spine.

"No," he screamed, eyes coming out of their sockets. "Please, Li, no! Help me!"

The separating halves of the great gate tore his body in two.

Filed under januariad reversals

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The Human Key (part 1)

After months of digging, they were finally close to their goal. The outer chamber of the pharaoh’s tomb was unsealed yesterday. They lost three workers to elaborate traps still deadly after millennia. “The ancients knew what they were doing,” Baron von Riesenschnautzer remarked dryly, observing the final convulsions of one of the unfortunates before him. “That’s more than I can say for this lot. Hey, you there! Stop gawking and get back to work!”

With the traps disabled, they could approach the inner wall. It was built of massive, unusually smooth stone blocks covered floor-to-ceiling with hieroglyphic inscriptions and pictures of battles, sacrifices and lovemaking. In the wall’s dead center, a human-shaped niche was carved out at the floor level. It was unknown what methods the ancient masters had used: modern tools simply bounced off the wall without so much as chipping it. There was no visible door. Whatever lay beyond the wall must have been very valuable—or so the members of the expedition hoped. Even the most level-headed of them were dreaming feverishly of gold and precious stones piled in heaps around the sarcophagus of an ancient mummy. Tomorrow at first light, they would see if a little dynamite could make dreams came true.

Li, the Baron’s mute manservant, was awakened in the middle of the night by a hand on his shoulder. He sat up and beheld the Baron’s face in the wavering light of a torch. “Come with me,” his master said curtly. Li obeyed, as was his custom, without a word.

Outside, pre-dawn desert air was freezing. They did not have to walk far: Baron von Riesenschnautzer headed straight for the gaping hole in the side of the pyramid, never bothering to look back to see if Li would follow. There was no need.

The dark opening swallowed the Baron’s shape. His torch must have gone out that same moment, for he disappeared whole and without a trace into blackness. Li hesitated. He strained his eyes trying to see in front of him, then entered the pyramid slowly, careful not to trip.

A blow to the head laid him flat on the stone floor.

part 2 »

Filed under januariad