The Art of Being Alone- a novella (2nd installment)

2028238Inspired by the writing of Richard Brautigan, The Art of Being Alone is a novella that strangely fits very well with this time in the world. I began it over a year ago and through this website and installments, I hope to force my hand in finishing it. I will be sharing 5 or so pages of it, each week. The first installment can be found here. I hope you enjoy it.–

6- The Quiet

When you read and/or watch stories about people living alone, they… do things.

They maybe sing little songs. They talk to themselves about important matters. They might even have friends (maybe just in their corrupted minds) or memories that give us glimpses into their psyche.

I wonder if that is a sign of human weakness. The fact that we need “something.”

We just can’t be alone as people, even in a story. I wonder if we feel too much and that is why the isolation and the silence becomes overbearing. It makes us look inside and we don’t want that! Heaven forbid! We want bangs, flashes, shouting, sex! A person can’t simply “be” in a tale.

For me, I am simply being. I am this and nothing else. I will prove it.

I get up when I get up. I have no sense of time here, but I can say that when the sun begins to spread across the ground and I feel it coming through the plastic glass of my dome and reach my feet, I rise. I stretch one part of my body and then the next. Somewhere I can hear the electronic buzzing of the mechanics that make my home a reality. I couldn’t tell you how the things work, I have no need to know. I simply asked for it and people completed the needed task. Transaction complete.

I then walk in my weighted slippers to the dispenser which takes the food that is grown in the greenhouses and makes it into designated dishes. I eat whatever I want and then I sit, write in this journal and look at the regolith.

There is no noise, no talking, no music, no wind. Just silence.

It is glorious and that is all I need in my story. Continue reading

The Art of Being Alone- a novella (1st installment)

2028238Inspired by the writing of Richard Brautigan, The Art of Being Alone is a novella that strangely fits very well with this time in the world. I began it over a year ago and through this website and installments, I hope to force my hand in finishing it. I will be sharing 5 or so pages of it, each week. I hope you enjoy it.–

THE ART OF BEING ALONE

“I’m nobody! Who are you? Are you- Nobody- too?” – Emily Dickinson

“I care for myself. The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself.” ― Charlotte Brontë

“Everyone is a moon, and has a dark side which he never shows to anybody.” ― Mark Twain

1- What I Need You to Understand

I want you first to realize I am not here out of hate. I came here because I was done with humanity.

It wasn’t a sudden decision to leave Earth. I had been up for days watching screens (in front of me, at my fingers, on my wrist) and I began to wonder why am I still dealing with this shit. (By the way, that is the only time I am going to swear in this journal. My grandmother told me a long time ago that swear words were the vocabulary for those with not enough education to find other options. I am not sure that is true, but when I lived on Earth there was a lot of swearing.)

I also didn’t come here to hurt anyone. Yet, I know a lot of people were hurt by my decisions. When I was on Earth they called me one of the 5%s because we had everything. I couldn’t argue with that because it was true. I could buy anything, own anything, even sleep with anyone. Everything had a price and I could pay it. And I did… And I did again and again…

But I had reached a moment and…

I should talk about my grandfather first.

Grandpa Jones.

It begins with him. It all begins with him. He was the reason I was a 5%. Even as a child I could tell he was fighting for something, but I had no idea what. He would sit at his desk on the phone or pace on the phone and shout. He always shouted,

When I was young I had no idea what he was shouting about, but it worked. Our houses (for I lived with them, they had bought me from my parents by then) kept getting bigger and bigger until they stopped. Pools, servants (grandpa would call them slaves and barely paid them but they were still happy to take the money), land, pets. Everything.

When my grandfather finally reached 5% he found me in the pool taking swimming lessons from my swim coach (it was his job to teach me, he had won an Olympic medal once. I asked to see it, but he said he had to sell it for food a long time ago). I saw his shoes first on the water edge. I swam to the shoes, I was 9 so I had to hang onto the edge of the pool.

He was looking down at me with an expression I had never seen before. It was a smile. “Son (that is what he called me), I did it.” His smile got bigger. “I finally did it.”

It was then that he jerked, twitched and fell face down in the water next to me.

He died right there.

2- The Surface

You get used to the lack of things here. I don’t mean items and products (I have had enough of those). I mean things like oxygen and gravity. For example, I have become very good at bouncing.

There is no beauty here. The rocks everywhere are not beautiful. They are just rocks. It is a very rocky surface.

I remember the old photos of Earth taken from the moon surface, the Earth looked beautiful then. Now it is gray and sometimes red in spots from the burning lands, the areas too hot for anything.

People used to say 5%ers like my grandfather caused that with their greed. They are probably right. I was never taught to care or feel guilty about things. I just accept things as facts. So, yes, that is probably a fact. I would acknowledge it like that (if I have to). Acknowledging it though doesn’t change anything.

Another fact! They don’t have the resources or capital to fix the ugly earth. It is what it is and I do my best not to look at it when I can.

Another fact! The moon is cold, but the sunlight is warm. I have solar panels for all my needs here- food, heat, energy. So it could be said the sun is killing everyone on earth but saving me here.

I am sure my grandfather would have been happy about that.

3- When you have…

When you have all the money, you simply have to make a decision. It is not like “want”, it is not that overwhelming. It is a simple decision. You point at something in a store and they hand it to you. You don’t have time to feel.

So when I decided to leave the shouting and burning of the world, I simply made a call and then pointed at the Moon.

There were some nods, a bow, and it began.

4- The Filth of Man

When I decided I was done with humankind and ready to leave everything behind, I began to collect Moon facts. It was inspiring to me; I was a person preparing a move to a new land, except this one was farther away.

There was one fact that impacted me a great deal. And it really said to me everything about why I was leaving that destroyed burning planet with its failing mankind.

Did you know that during all of those amazing Apollo missions to the Moon, that the astronauts left their poop there?

See, they couldn’t take the remains with them (they had to consider the weight in the spaceships they were using; at least that is the excuse they used), but there… during the greatest achievement in history, we left 96 bags of filth behind. Think of that next time you imagine Armstrong’s great words. He left his footprint and his poop there.

Let me say that again, 96 bags of trash are scattered over the Moon surface. Astronaut poop, food waste, wrappers. They just left it there, like people littering at a park. And just like awful vacationers, they took pictures, and threw their trash around and left, not bothering to clean up. It is all so awful a concept, it makes me want to vomit.

There are family pictures, golf balls, and even a feather and a hammer around as well.

Again, we litter. We litter in places of beauty, we litter around our own homes, and we liter on the Moon.

When I was selecting the spot for my own lunar home, I demanded that it not be anywhere near the trash and Moon landing spots. Imagine having to deal with those American flags just hanging around in my backyard! Also, every telescope in the world points at those flags a few times a year, the last thing I wanted to be was a show for the people. All those people staring up at me, as I picked up old astronaut poop and raked away the footprints on the lunar regolith. (Of course, I would remove them. This is my home now, not theirs).

Exploring those famous Apollo locations would be like visiting a friend who has big dogs, carefully stepping to avoid a surprise under foot.

Consider how poetic this is (and here is the poet still lingering in my mind coming out again after a deep yawn)- If the world blows up (which will probably happen) and mankind dies away (which will most definitely happen in time), all that will remain to show we were even around are almost 100 bags of filth and flags.

5- The Moon Surface

The proper term for the Moon rocks and dust is “regolith.” It is incredibly inhospitable. It even contains glass that could do major physical damage.

It is as if the Moon is saying, “I don’t want you here. There is nothing here for you.” No air, no water, just a dirt that wants to damage anything you need.

This was all a great concern actually when they were designing my habitat. There were questions about what the lunar regolith would do to my equipment or even me, (If I breathed some in would the glass in it damage my lungs, etc.?).

The decision was made the create an entrance room that cleans the regolith off of my suit. It takes five minutes, but it is thorough. It is like standing in a hot wind for a while, strangely soothing. It reminds me of a time when I was young and my grandfather took me on his boat. (He worked the entire time, of course.) But I was able to lie on the boat and feel the sun rays hitting me.

I got very sunburnt and my tutor (who was supposed to be watching me) was fired. I was never allowed to experience that again, but I remember the feeling. I thought at the time it was like a kiss from the sun, a bit of happiness, but it really was the sun telling me I was unwanted here and was trying to give me pain.

Again, not surprising. Everything on Earth is pain.

Another fact! The astronauts of the Apollo missions brought back quite a bit of regolith. Almost 800 pounds of it, if you can believe it. But while that is a wonderful achievement, they also did not take very good care of it. Most of it had been exposed to air and was really unusable for scientists.

Honestly, they had one thing to do on those trips and they failed at it.

Hello, mankind, hello.

I Want to Tell You a Story … Cassandra on the Island

I want to tell you a story.

Let’s begin like this- I wrote a novel for my thesis when I was working for my Master’s at the University of Southern California and I made the head of the department cry.

I had few interactions with this professor. I like to think he liked me, he personally asked me to take a few advanced courses and met with me now and then to discuss agents and my writing, but we were of different worlds. How else do you explain the meeting of a poet and a novelist? We use the same words, but for a novelist it is about the meaning, where for the poet it is about the music beneath it.

To graduate, I needed people to sign off on my thesis. I had one from a fiction professor (I can’t remember his name now) and the head of the department promised to be the second… and he delayed… and he delayed.

I was working on campus, which was fine for me since I didn’t have to drive anywhere and there was a Carl’s Jr on campus and I was a little addicted to their crispy chicken sandwich (I don’t need to say more about that here). But on this day, instead of waiting in the outrageously long line of students and eating that awesome sandwich, I decided to bother the delaying professor. He was in his office and knew why I was there when I walked in. He didn’t make eye contact with me and promised to start the book that afternoon, shrugging me off.

I had to accept that answer and leave.

That night I received a call after 9 PM. It was him and he was crying. He kept saying the word “beautiful.” He talked to me about the book for over an excited hour, asking about why I did certain things, what they meant. He was figuring out different tricks I did in the writing in between his emotional outbursts.

It is not often a writer gets to speak to a moved reader the second after they finish their book, but I was having that experience here, and it was with someone that surrounds himself with books and writers! This is legit, right?

He wasn’t planning to read the book straight through, he said. He was planning to finish, maybe skim bits. He skims, he said. He skims most books from students, he said… but here he didn’t. And once he started he couldn’t stop.

He told me what he loved, what made him laugh and what made him cry.

He asked if he could share the book with others, and I said that was fine. He said I didn’t have to worry about my thesis, and he couldn’t wait to buy the book in print… and then he was off the line.

Now… let me be clear… I’m not telling you this story about a crying professor to brag. I’m telling you this because it was the first time I truly felt like a novelist. Continue reading

New WKAR Book Review: Kurt Vonnegut’s Novels 1976-1985

Current StateI got to do something really fun today on WKAR’s Current State. Well, fun for me. I got to talk about one of my all time favorite writers!

The Library of America has been re-issuing Kurt Vonnegut’s library and in this installment I am talking about the new Volume 3, Novels 1976-1985.  You can listen to my review here: http://wkar.org/post/book-review-kurt-vonnegut-novels-1976-1985

You can also read my review below.

If you want to pick up this book, you can find it on amazon.com here. If you would be interested in hearing/reading more of my NPR book reviews, you can do so via links on this page.

I hope you enjoy my thoughts on one of the literary legends. Continue reading

Non-Ghost Believer

GhostSome people don’t believe, others do, I’m somewhere in the middle but leaning heavily much more to the “no” side. Not a full-time denier but someone who believes he has reality on his side. And I can roll my eyes and yawn with the best of them.

Yes, I may watch the occasional special on a cable channel (I’m not recording them on my DVR or anything), but I would probably turn the channel after getting the gist of the ghost.

“Beheaded… yada yada… tragic lover. Got it. What else is on?”

Consider: If there were ghosts, the south would be filled to the brim with the ghosts of slaves; Germany would be unlivable because of the ghosts from the Holocaust; and every battle field (from Gettysburg to Iwo Jima) would need barriers to keep us living people out. And it would completely change the funeral home business.

I live in a house where someone died. They died in the same room I sleep in each night! Who knows, I might even sleep on the very spot that he took his fated last breath. Yet… I got nothing.

So why is it I can still be scared or hypnotized by the idea of a ghost? Heck, when I saw Paranormal Activity I was up for days, every bump was enough to wake me up fully.

“This is ridiculous, Scott,” I mumbled to myself again and again. “This is absolutely ridiculous. There is no such thing as ghosts. No such thing… What was that noise?!” Continue reading

New WKAR Book Review: The Circle by Dave Eggers

Current StateToday, I am back on WKAR’s Current State with a review of the new novel by Dave Eggers!

You can listen to my review of The Circle on WKAR’s website here:

http://wkar.org/post/book-review-dave-eggers-circle

If you would rather read my review, you can do so below after the jump.

The Circle by Dave Eggers is available on Amazon (in both hardcover and eBook) via this link or at any local bookstore.  And you can check out any of my past radio appearances and book reviews on this page on my site.

I hope you enjoy my new review! Continue reading

Five Things I Am Into Right Now, October 2013

HalloweenEvery year around this time I always wish I had musical talent. Why? Because Halloween is a surefire money opportunity for a creative songwriter.

See, across this country, from kids to adults, people have Halloween parties, but there is no real Halloween music to play. Oh, there is “Thriller” by Michael Jackson and the awful “Monster Mash,” but what is there after that? Dance remixes of famous horror movie themes?… That’s not good enough!

And that is when an enterprising music genius steps in.

You make a CD that is family friendly, has some fun danceable tracks (maybe comes with its own dance move), add enough references to Halloween memories to stir a heartfelt response (think any classic Christmas song, most are built around memories) and you will be cashing a big check once a year for decades to come.

Sadly, I don’t have music talent and the extent of my songwriting skills only brings up corny titles like “I Want My Mummy” and “Do the Frankenstein Shuffle.” That is just embarrassing. It is even more embarrassing because I am literary enough to know Frankenstein is the doctor not the monster.

Sigh.

Here are the five things I am into this month… Continue reading

My Favorite Literary Oddities

What a weird pictureOn June 11, my new book MAXIMILIAN STANDFORTH AND THE CASE OF THE DANGEROUS DARE will be released via amazon.com in eBook and print. Currently, there is a book giveaway going on for the book on Good Reads which you can enter here.

To help prepare for the release of this odd and playful book, I thought it would be fun to write on some of the influences for the novel.  This week I discuss three writers who gave me the courage to attempt the mad surprises that come in this new novel.

There should be a warning that is given to every future English Major. It should be in bold lettering with a dark-foreboding red hue.

WARNING: This major will impact how you read and enjoy books forever.

We all scamper and leap into becoming English majors because of a love of books, imagining afternoons in classes playfully discussing our new favorite classics. The ultimate book club! Surrounded by like-minded, educated readers debating and then debating some more the next day. All that is missing is the secret handshakes, but a big part of that dream is true… What is glaringly missing in the scenario though is the in-depth analysis that comes along for the ride.

When you are an English major you are taught to deconstruct a book down to its essence, find new ways to interpret a work (maybe related to the author’s biography or the history of the time, etc.); whatever the case, when you are done with a book, it is never the book it once was to you at the start. Over time, this kind of investigation will become part of your reading makeup.

You’ve seen too much! The wizard cannot go back behind the curtain, you know it is a silly old man now! Every book is a future study, even when you don’t mean to do it. And soon you may even begin to forget what it was like to simply open a book and enjoy the tale. Continue reading

Writing About Genius: Discussing Authors on a Blog

I tolerate Garrison Keillor, but I am not sure how much I like him.

While I am impressed that he can write a two-hour show each week (and that is an accomplishment, make no mistake), I never found his fiction to be very good– comforting, yes; good, no. When planning for a trip to Italy with my wife, I picked up a bunch of his novels for all of the driving from tourist site to tourist site.  Well, on day two of the trip, I gave his books to another traveler, and picked up some new books at a bus stop… Yeah, that says everything right there.

So why do I bring up Mr. Keillor? Frankly, I don’t think he helps the image of English majors and readers on his show. English majors (and I will include librarians with us since they get attacked as well) in his opinion seem to always live a life of illusion, false grandeur.  Making us almost something to be pitied or laughed at… and they laugh every week.

Yes, English majors really don’t serve much of a purpose in the economy, no business manager has ever demanded an HR department to hire a new English major. When it comes to the American dream of moving up ladders and finding success, English majors are on the outskirts; because, honestly, our dreams are different. Continue reading

Missing My Vonnegut Moment

Listen:

There is a piece of family mythology that I might have made up.

My grandmother was friends with Kurt Vonnegut’s first wife’s college roommate. I know that is not much, but here me out; there is a chance that my favorite writer (the genius behind Slaughterhouse-Five and others works of literary greatness) might have been aware of my family.

Why is this important? Well, in 1999, Kurt Vonnegut released a book of his uncollected short stories (Bagombo Snuff Box). Many of these stories were uncollected for a good reason; being the product of a struggling writer just looking for a sale in the booming short story market of the 1950s. Yet, there is one story in it of particular importance to me.

It is called “The Runaways” and it stars a family named the Southards.

Now, I know there are other Southards out there in the world. Heck, I’ve even found other writers out there with the same name as me (first and last), but with that slight connection, who is to say he might not have remembered meeting my grandmother by chance at that dorm room before a date (and my grandmother was quite the looker then) or had seen her referenced in a letter? Whatever the case, before anyone else does, I am staking my claim:

The great Kurt Vonnegut was inspired to use the name Southard in that story because of my grandmother.

There I typed it, and because it is the internet (and there are no falsehoods on the internet) and Vonnegut is no longer around to argue about it, it must be true.

So it goes. Continue reading