“The Failed Novel” – Chapter 1

Over the past week I have been working on my second attempt at a novel. I wrote my first nearly two years ago, and I kept the manuscript totally hidden while I wrote. Since then, it has sat untouched in a drawer at home, begging for my attention. Alas, my attention is here. I decided it might be fun to post the first chapter of this project, working title The Failed Novel (self-prophecy, perhaps?). I have written roughly 15,000 words so far, and my discipline has been waning. My hope is that sharing will help to fuel my creative ambition. This chapter may or may not make it to the final book (I think it will, though) and/or it may be altered or come at a different point. But, as it stands, this is the first chapter of my second longer work of fiction. I hope you enjoy.

It was half past four, in the deep night of early morning, when Loraine woke into total stillness and knew that she was going to die. Not that she was dying, presently speaking, but that her death was inescapable, and in that sense, always occurring; death was pushing against her life, and life pushed back in futility. Eventually this struggle would end, and Loraine would no longer exist. After months of disturbing her daily life, striking at the most inconvenient moments, bringing her to the brink of catatonic despair, this perturbation had finally settled as a fixed, but nonetheless discomfiting reality in her psyche, and she accepted it. At this point, a second thought sidled up to the first, and she knew undoubtedly that it would have to be by her own hand; she was going to kill herself.

Her body was still asleep. Nothing in the room moved except her inaudible, waking eyes. She stared up into a sheet of total darkness. It was actually her bedspread. She threw the down comforter off her head, and the light from the streetlamp outside her window pierced her eyes; her pupils contracted in disagreement, a tight sting. She massaged her eyeballs gently behind their lids, blinked rapidly, and looked once more out the window, wincing at the light. She was going to kill herself. She felt a bead of sweat drip from behind her ear, and she pulled her hair up above her head, tying it off into a rustled nest. She stood and walked to the window. She was going to kill herself. She spun a handle at the base of the window, and the glass rose outward into the night. Warm air spilled in at her thighs, naked below the hem of an oversized t-shirt printed with the silhouettes of two blue bodies, runners with shadows of pink, sprinting for a finish-line under the words, “Park County 5K.” She felt sweat run down the side of her spine. She was going to kill herself.

She had to. It was the only way. It wasn’t that she wanted to die, necessarily. Of course, she did—to an extent. Without trying to explain the positively inexplicable, let’s just reduce it to this: Loraine was sick, and she had finally come to that most final point of realization, that the only cure was death. How? Pills. Razor. Gun. She looked at the window—defenestration.

In the alleyway just below her apartment, cats were picking through the cans that had been set out the night before in preparation for trash day. The air from outside smelled like ass, so she shut the window. It wasn’t helping much anyways; her room remained the obstinate oven it always was. She took off the shirt she was wearing and fell, naked, onto the bed. The top of the comforter was cool against her moist back. In the corner of the room stood a small fan with a heavy and tired head that tilted just slightly toward the floor, like a reprimanded child. She watched it sitting there, and considered getting up from the bed again to go turn it on, and then she remembered it was broken, and she wondered why she hadn’t thrown it out the window to the cats—defenestration. Lorraine let her head fall to the side, her neck was tight from her ear to her shoulder, she had slept on it weird maybe, and now her levator scapula was cramping.

Words in latin, recitations like breath; she had been studying diligently for the GRE all summer. She was “fucking sick” of New York, “The whole scene was pretentious and predictable.” Grad school was her ticket out. A steady doctoral fellowship in a Fine Arts program with a mild teaching schedule. She pressed the tips of her fingers deep into the tissue of her neck, and pulled down into her shoulder. The rest of her body had fallen back to sleep. Her feet lay dead over the edge of the bed, and every now and then she would involuntarily flick and crack her right big-toe.

She was a bio major in college. She had done well in high school, one of the artsy type kids, but with a steady head on her shoulders. She could paint and draw because her mother could paint and draw. She read big thick books as a high school senior. Though her mother was something of an artist, at least corporately speaking—she designed logos for an off-brand peanut butter company and a local air-conditioning supply store—nobody in her family was very bookish, except her older and only brother. Her dad was a mechanic, turned adult learner, turned engineer. He spent most afternoons in the yard or the garage, or on the sofa watching television. Generously, she often chose to remember him in the former state, tinkering with an old engine in an oil-stained, grey, collared shirt.

Her brother was a clerk at Blockbuster Video, and he spent the better part of his off days reading in his bedroom— the basement of their parents home; whenever he finished a book, he would toss it her way. There was no logical continuity to it; Tolstoy, Sartre, Dickens, Freud, and, during her last semester, Moby Dick—which motivated her to choose Biology over English. It wasn’t just that she found the novel insufferably dull and boring, which of course, she didn’t. It’s just that a Wikipedia page informed her that Melville hadn’t really gained much recognition for his masterpiece during his lifetime, and she wanted a steady income. So, Biology.

In retrospect this choice was rather arbitrary, she figured. Neither Biology nor English afforded her much in the way of monetary affluence. She could teach or pursue graduate school, and ultimately she would do both, but after four years of cell structure and mitosis, she decided she would rather be a poor artist than a poor scientist. None of this was true, of course. She was an exceptionally intelligent young woman, and, had she recognized it as a viable path, she would’ve become a surgeon at the top of her field, part of an elite team of researchers who would discover what they would name “the base cure,” a treatment that can and does cure any disease by introducing what we might simply call, given its scientifically esoteric nature, “balance” into the digestive tract.

But she decided to move to New York get her MFA in Art History. It was a noble decision, not borne out of personal ambition, but a rather humble desire to live-well and deliberately. “It’s a lifestyle choice,” she told her father, who was less than thrilled about her new trajectory. “It’s about reconsidering those things we automatically assume are essential to the basic American’s lifestyle. Who says you need a mortgage? Kids? 401(k)?”

Now, staring dazed out the cracked window at the ever-present street light that hovered like an impassive moon just at her somnolent eye-line, she wasn’t sure what she had traded it all in for.

Her neck felt better, and she started to doze as she continued to massage the loosening fibers, and as the light outside the window lost to her torpor, images of her inevitable death once more occupied her slumbering mind.

She was walking naked across a mirror of frosted gray water. Every few miles, patches of white sand protruded from the still, glassy surface. It was a desert of crystal ocean. The sky above curved with the earth. She thought maybe she was in the outer atmosphere of the earth’s surface. Land had pushed itself out toward space. The troposphere and stratosphere had dissolved, and she could see shooting stars, ceaseless in the dull white sky. Her feet didn’t sink into the surface, but as she stepped the water rippled. She watched as a circle of water expanded out diametrically, colliding with the small islands of white sand.

Something descended from above her and came to rest, hanging, just behind her head. She could feel it’s presence, the hairs on the back of her neck tickled and twisted, and suddenly she felt like she couldn’t breath.

Her throat was constricting, closing. Her trachea hardened into stone. She tried to take a step forward, but she was stopped. Something had her by the throat. She tried to swallow, but she couldn’t. She reached for her neck and felt the rough body of something coiled around it. She tried to swallow again. It tightened–she didn’t resist. She looked down at her feet. She was hovering now, several feet above the still surface. Blood trickled from her neck and ran down her back and her chest, it ran over her breasts, across her stomach and curled around her thighs. The streams slithered leaving crimson trails until eventually a single bulb of blood gathered at the tip of her toe. It shuddered there for a second, and then it fell and splashed in the surface below.

The red expanded in the clear water, and then slowly and persistently, the glassy surface was transmogrified into a lake of red. Loraine watched as the crimson stretched like poison over the surface of the earth, coagulating in the dust of the white shores. Then with a jolt, Loraine was pulled upward, the sky filled with silent lightning all around her, and as she watched the red blood overtake the last of once crystal waters, she closed her eyes and started to cry. And she was smiling.

Loraine woke again, covered in sweat, her heart racing. She sat up in bed and saw the sun was coming up, illuminating the smoggy grey of the city sky. There was a pounding from the entryway to her apartment. She slipped from her bed and, rubbing her eyes, picked through the scattered piles of clothes on the floor around her until she found a thin, jersey robe and pulled it on. It felt disgusting on her wet skin. She tied in in the front. Someone knocked once more. She reached up and touched the soft, oily skin at the back of her neck, beneath the loose strands of hair that fell from her auburn bun–rope, she thought. And the knocking continued.

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Ripples

Just to feel the ripple,
single, forceful, small
pushing past this abject flesh
floating in the cesspool

Just to feel it, not to know it
To know: without touch, to see
the fading circles stretch
and touch the stranger’s bosom.

That tool-shed beam,
the hidden sun escaping in,
sit beside and see
and you will know the sun is there.

Spinning sphere and tilted line
will shift the incandescence
and once it falls into your eyes
know not, but know the feeling.

These ripple notes,
That awe-full light
Propel me into wonder
Of Holy Ghosts,
our awful plight
And how they’re torn asunder.

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Desktop

Steam Ceases,
wisps retire into the morning cup.

Time increases,
We plead, “be not corrupt.”

Time, be not corrupt.
Steal not these hours away.

Take not what we have lent,
exonerate the often moments spent

On full, invisible arrays
of liquid crystal lit displays

Those Microscopic,
vital powers

Demanding hours,
Demanding ours.

Coffee rings, untraced
by weary fingers, lie

Beside each useless gaze
of fretful eyes.

That drop away the day
like so much coffee spilled,

drop by drop, upon
the leveled hill

of desktop papers,
child-white, of pine,

inviting effervescence,
to the Bored, Supine.

They glow.
They glow, they fade

Unruffled by the day
they brown with each new drip,

That spills, untroubled
across each porcelain lip.

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The Suffering of Not Suffering

Screenshot 2016-07-30 12.15.57.png

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Sonnets: “W/R/T” & “Reams”

writers-block

 

W/R/T Mr. Wallace 

You poured yourself into the dead white page.
Black letters stain the manufactured leaves.
Your mind was wrought, you human heart enraged
By pens that sought to filter through a sieve
Of intellect and cynical relief
The “sap” that holds the fragments in their place –
What’s left of joy and hope and pain and grief
Within our automated, caffeinated race.
The water stings our eyes, and yet we see
The sphere that swells within the solipsist
The hungry ego begging to be free –
A place in which we all seem to exist.
But your pen has dropped to rest on the concrete,
Out of your grip, below your swinging feet.

Reams

We can ride the road where we belong.
Gravel spits under molten spheres along
The shrouded, deadened land where nothing grows
Say the impulse to explore the sodden rows
Of towers ancient, biblical they climb
With tranquil wisdom, gently dripping: sublime.

And to sing their songs is trite and overgrown,
A rosebush o’erlooked outside a model home
And they fall; they’re churned, smashed, and turned
To something useful, of monetary concern.
Ring, Smash, Crash. Again, “Have a nice day.”
I consume, the coins jingle, and I am on my way.

And I drag my dry, dead prey along
To pen one more trite, eulogizing song.

 

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The Winds of Leave

Mountain Wind II

The winds of leave are calling me,
to walk away from here,
To enter in, a blowing leaf,
to enter in with fear,
And fear is not a frightful word,
when we give it to the wind,
For the wind it speaks a perfect word,
to bring us home again.

So haste the day to heed the call,
for it comes from deep within
And swirls its voice around us all,
as a shrill, unyielding wind.
Remember last, the storms that passed,
as you step into the flow,
For soon the bell tolls for us all,
when there is no choice to go.

And so then fear becomes our cloak,
and the wind becomes our guide,
And tarry not from fear’s great yoke,
nor from the howling cry.
The storm it treads just overhead,
shedding darkness like a wall,
Still, shut your eyes, seek not the light,
but hear the winds great call.

Although the dark will leave its mark,
stay tuned to hallowed sound,
and hold to fear, for in the dark,
in fear, can trust be found.

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The Beginning of Love


Demonstrators gather to protest a controversial religious freedom bill in Indianapolis

“The beginning of love is the will to let those we love be perfectly themselves, the resolution not to twist them to fit our own image. If in loving them we do not love what they are, but only their potential likeness to ourselves, then we do not love them: we only love the reflection of ourselves we find in them”

-Thomas Merton (No Man is An Island)

With all of the controversy over the new “religious freedom” law in Indiana, this quote grabbed me with its profound relevance. Just those first words, “The beginning of love…” There is so much debate within the Christian church on how to “deal” with the homosexual community “in love.” There are many thoughtful, well-meaning Christians who think, by openly and aggressively rejecting the homosexual culture, they love the people who are “plagued” by what they perceive as the homosexual sin. Therefore, when they candidly condemn homosexuality as wrong, they do not see themselves as being intolerant or unloving, but rather in mere disagreement with a lifestyle choice, in the same way that one might believe that going out drinking or playing dominoes is wrong. This is largely problematic for a number of reasons, but for the time being I want to stick with Merton’s idea – with love.

He says that the beginning, the very first step in loving someone is to will them to be themselves. That is to say, when you encounter a friend or a family member, you may not like how they “choose” to live their lives and shape their identity, but it is your will that they have the freedom and opportunity to be individuals, to be people who, while subject to change, are who they are in that precise moment in time – that is, to will them to live. I am reminded of Kierkegaard’s idea of “neighbor” which he proposes in his theological/philosophical book, Works of Love. Kierkegaard poses the idea that we must see each and every person we encounter as a neighbor before anything else, for at the very core of every person, beneath all the well-manufactured identities, we are the same – we are human beings. For Kierkegaard all human beings are our neighbors, and thus we must learn to love them beyond their external ideologies and attributes, to love them for who they are as a human, as our neighbor.

When we resolve, as Merton puts it, to “twist them to fit our own image” before we are able to love them, then we fail to love them as humans – as neighbors. Rather, we are choosing to love our own identity and ideologies. This is a tragic idolatry. It reveals a neurotic obsession with our beliefs and our own identity which causes us to treat other people like dolls to dress up in our favorite ideological outfits, so they we can look on as pleased puppet-masters. Ironically, This fetishist desire for homogeny is grounded in our insecurity with our own beliefs and identities.

In his book, The Slavery of Death, Richard Beck makes some critical observations about our obsession with ideological identity. He writes that we seek out systems of belief and practice in order to alleviate the anxiety which stems from confronting the reality of our mortality. We do not like the idea of dying, and thus if we can attach ourselves to something BIGGER, something we can imagine as objective and immortal, we can psychologically escape our fear of death. But, for our ideology to, “give us a sense of security and permanence in the face of death, we need to experience it as absolute, unassailable, true, eternal, transcendent, and ultimate.” That is to say, we need to operate under the impression that our chosen system, ideology, nation, etc. will last forever – that it is undying. This gives us a sense of meaning, purpose, certainty, and even immortality. Unfortunately for us, we cannot uphold this delusion very long because the reality is, there are numerous other ways of living and thinking. In our diverse world, everyone attaches themselves to a different idea, religion, system, etc. in order to gain their significance and sense of ultimacy, and this inevitably shakes the foundation of our own sense of security. “The existence of other ways of life, other values, and other paths by which to pursue significance threatens to relativizes our culture’s unique values.” In other words, the existence of other ways of thinking terrorizes the confidence and certainty we desperately need in order to maintain our delusion that our system is immortal and objective. When we are confronted with a person (or persons) whose way of life, beliefs, or nationalism is contradictory to our own, “his or her mere existence is a menace to us.” And, “Rather than endure existential discomfort, its easier to double down on our worldview and to see those different from us as malevolent agents.” This results on a nature of hostility, wherein our primary desire is not to love others, but to assail them and their way of life until they either die, or transform into our likeness.

Basically it comes down to this, in order for us to truly love someone, we have to be willing to subject ourselves to the psychological trauma of existential anxiety. We have to sacrifice the systems which give us a false sense of security, and which produce hostility. We must face the reality that what we have always believed to be true, might be wrong or flawed, that the way we understand things is finite and limited, and further, that one day we will die and so will all the things which we find comfort in, be it a corporation, legacy, nation, religion, or philosophy.

Hence, the beginning of love is to will the other person to be herself. This will force us to confront the differences and contradictions that their life poses to our own. But when we can accept that, and even will that for them (not just look past it) then we endure what is existentially (emotionally, intellectually, psychologically) uncomfortable for the sake of loving and existing with another human being—with a neighbor. This is exactly the example that we see in Christ, for “God shows his love for us in that while were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). Christ chose to be with us and to love us even before we repented; he chose to die for us, to forgive us while we were still immensely different from him in nature – and he still does. God is sovereign. The confusing diversity of this world therefore, somehow, mysteriously falls within his will. And Christ, full of love, mercy, and grace, died that we may learn to love one-another with the patience, humility, and sacrifice he displayed on the Cross.

This alone is true religious freedom – freedom from slavery to fear, which causes us to neurotically serve ideologies; freedom to embrace our mortality and insecurity, and to choose love in the midst of human anxiety; freedom to explore the complexities of existence, to wrestle with God all the while knowing that by grace Christ has saved us. “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5:1).

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