Saturday, March 22, 2008

Flash in Human Scale

Flash fiction: extreme brevity?

I have a few close friends who have ADD. They are good readers, perceptive of their world, and fairly intelligent. They simply cannot pay attention to any specific focus for very long. What strikes me most about conversations with them is that though they literally cannot stay on any one topic, and their attention span seems to vary in duration for no discernible reason, my impression of their reality, if seen from my sloggy connected perspective, is a stroboscopic display of unrelated flashes of consciousness.

It is possible to have an extended conversation with them as long as one is willing and able to jump to a multiple number of unrelated topics then return to the background thread. Seems to me this provides a jump point for thoughts about a novel of aggregate flash. Many short segments, like postage stamps all intimate in their own contained frame of reference. Like with pudding stone, many pebbles conglomerate to make one stone.

Sometimes it is possible to capture the attention of flitters and they stay with the flow longer. Sometimes it is like you hit a wall where the conversation abruptly will not go any farther on that topic. This can be a sudden stop. The stop can be disconcerting, and often it looks as if the ADD participant is in actual pain if you do not jump with them swiftly. Quite often, for them in their reading experience an extended 'plot' is extraneous as they won't last that long to follow it. Or, the plot is well integrated to the writing and sustains the focus. How?

Though the disconnect between one topic of conversation and another seems just that, a disconnect, if one is inclined to try to see patterns in chaos then it comes to a constant wonder as to what relationships there are to the disparate topics. The refreshment is that in the conversation new constructions occur over and over. For the ADD afflicted individual their pleasure is to have someone that is willing to try to have a conversation with them on their terms. I also have friends who are functional schizophrenic. I like to talk with them too.

As what I bring up in conversation here applies to flash fiction, and the idea of flash as an end in itself, or as an extension to other modes of text, or as a direction of literature in general I think along the following lines:

For any individual, with ADD or not, as the volume of information increases that an individual is confronted with, as media pushes for the attention, there tends to be a survival mechanism that kicks in that even for the most fluent of any of us we begin to either reject information (we stop listening), or we push to absorb more information, and in many respects we take on behavior to process reception of information in a manner that is not ADD (rather than a neuro-biological issue it is one of defense against environment overload), but very much mimics ADD. This information afflicted individual, I presume, is the hard core audience for flash fiction.

I combine this with the number of people who complain to me that they do not want to get two page e-mails. Or that blog entries are best kept to extreme brevity. Flash is possibly connected with the restrictions of keeping an e-mail to a length that fits on one screen without need to scroll?

I am reading About Writing, Samuel R. Delany, and at one point he states that the functionally literate population is more than 50 times the size it was in 1814. That is really not all that long ago particularly if one reflects on the exploding star that was reported in the news yesterday... the furthest away visible object to the human eye. I told my wife I would jump up and go look before I fade out. I digress. An exploding star is a flash, no? If we can see it unaided then that distance of measure must be within human scale.

Regardless, if we consider the number of humans who are able to read English (not even to venture into the multiplicity of wonderful languages available to us or to discern the American sect from UK variants) it seems clear that the psychological make-up of readers would become more and more diverse. In this it seems to me that regardless of means of publication or media of distribution that there will be a dedicated readership for flash fiction.

As to if anyone can sustain a living wage out of that as a writer, or not, is yet to be seen.

Friday, March 14, 2008

The Sex Talk - New York

In regard to the recent spate of sexual peccadilloes of Eliot Spitzer there was an article buried in the NY Times where parents were interviewed on how they were caught having to explain Spitzer to their children. So in another context came up the question as to how do you deliver the sex talk to your children, and/or how did we get the talk ourselves from a parental unit?

I was like ten when my stepfather took me aside in the kitchen and asked me if I ever felt funny down there.

I thought about it and said, yeah, when I slide down the wild grape vines in the woods.

See, wild grapevines can grow quite sturdy and we had a lot of them and pretended like Tarzan to climb on them then slide down. I imagine now as I am older that Tarzan probably had a woody most of the time from his vine interactions and that it was not always about Jane or fun with chimpanzees. Regardless, I had no clue what my stepfather was talking about.

So he went on to tell me about a carrot and a vase. The carrot goes in the vase. The carrot comes out of the vase. I have trouble eating carrots without remembering this talk. I suspect that is why at our house we tend to stick with baby carrots for snacks so that I don’t feel quite as challenged in that department, you know.

Then there was something about birds and bees. Bees stick their nose in flowers? Birds have their own rules of conduct? I had no clue what he was talking about.

By that time I had read segments of the Marquis de Sade that I found in the drawer next to his side of the bed. I did not understand that either. There was also the stuff that came in the mail in the brown envelopes. That was always curious. But it was not always enlightening as to biological functions.

He told my mother later when she asked how the talk went that I seemed to understand. I've got real good at acting like I know what the hell you are talking about when I don't know diddly. You all may have noticed?

I asked my younger brother (not exactly my parental unit) and he explained the whole thing. In anatomical detail.

So, w/ our recent governor's indiscretion my brother calls me up and asks me how many governors does it take to break up a prostitution ring?

That was the first zinger. Next he wants to know who in the world can afford $4,000 for sex? I imagine if money is no object. If you got it, blow it.

He says he could not get away with spending $400 without his wife figuring it out. I tell, him, make that $40 and I'm willing to advance a loan.

He lives in Texas... I tell him it is not fair Texan upstarts pick on NY governors. His quip, Texans export their morons.

I tell my brother if he ever wants to make it in politics he is going to have to figure out how to pay for sex, no, I mean, pay more for sex.

So then he wants to know was it like $1,200 per minute? His wife told him it was probably more like $2,000 per minute. She drives a hard bargain. As a family we are proud of our thriftiness and can-do-more-with-less attitude.

See, my conversation w/ my brother as to 'what is sex' continues into our post-sex later years.

I don't believe that repression of sexuality, or taboo of the subject, should be handled in such a rigid manner that when there is a revolt or a breaking out that the person feels compelled to go over the hill with it all.

Spitzer would be a whole lot better off as a human if he had been able to come home and say to his wife, "I'm going down to DC and get laid. Is that ok?" As it is -- though he may have had political power it seems he did not have any power over himself.

Willie has issues with himself too.

I do tend to wonder to what extent our cultural perceptions of individuality have to play in our perceptions of how these political folks are seen as individuals with problems, as opposed to units within a social network that is screwed up, as to if it is individual ambition or social structure that leads these folks to come to where they are in the political spectrum and to end up to do what they do sexually.

What did Spitzer's Daddy tell him?

Thursday, March 6, 2008

If God is the Word then Where are the Autographs?

I finished reading a biography of Ann Lee (1736 -1784), Mother of the Shakers yesterday morning while some guy in Starbucks tried to convince my son Doven to be Born Again in Jesus. I had a tall Earl Gray while we waited on a business associate to show up for us to attend a meeting.

An illiterate woman Ann Lee believed that as a woman that she was the 2nd coming of Christ. The premise was that since a woman, Eve, had brought humanity into a life of sin that it made sense to balance things out to bring humanity back into Paradise through the manifestation of God in the likes of a woman. It was at root this millennialist belief that all was to be made good in short order of a return to Paradise that the early Shakers rationalized that as sex is only justified for purpose of procreation and since there was not going to be any more need for an earthly existence there was therefore no need for sex, and thus they were celibate.

Not only that, but they actively separated husbands and wives and children when they were brought into the family of God under Mother Ann. This caused a problem when a husband who did not convert, but his wife did and ran off with the children and refused any connubial bliss to her husband who, in those times, thought pretty much of the wife as property to do with as they desired to be serviced. We need to keep in mind they did not have the Internet and Netflix back then. It was for this denial of service that they encouraged, plus their shaking themselves and dancing, they were very prolific dancers, and throwing themselves on the ground and acting out like crazed epileptics that the locals usually got pissed and did not want to have them around.

Oh, yeah, they were also highly suspicious characters as they were Brits that ran around acting crazy in New England during the American Revolution. This was way before the advent of flag burners.

Doven, unlike with me, has not needed to learn to hide the titles of his books in public. He was reading Christopher Hitchen's book God is Not Great. It lay there face up out on the little table at Starbucks. I had read it previously and said to myself, Doven would like this book. He has an interest in the politics of religious movements.

He kept asking the Born Againer if the Good Book had been writ and meddled with and translated several times over how anyone could trust that it was the actual Word of God? The Born Againer would not let Doven get in a word edgewise he was so intent to bring Joy and the everlasting loss of spiritual thirst into his life. Salvation shoved down the throat? He used the -- as you grow older and witness life you will mature into Christ -- line. Eventually, when the time was right, the Born Againer brought out a really thick book that did not look like any black bound Bible we had ever seen. Frankly, it looked like a medical textbook. It turned out to be a Bible transposed to common English/American language (Ohioan dialect?). An example itself of the sort of muddle Doven had been trying to get across. News FLASH - knowing Jesus in your heart does not replace lost brain cells.

Doven tried to bring up the discrepancies in the Book of Job. That was way over the Born Againer’s head. My response, if I had been affronted, would be to the extent that I had been born once and did not see any reason to blaspheme with a repeat of what promise I already had got. I mean, does God really want us to keep asking over and over? Or, I could have told him about the cosmologic premise that we are all actually a wet fart of God. God was tired, sat on the couch, blloooop, and there we are with nothing much to do in our little snug Eden of polyester stuffing but complain bitterly over the global warming.

My cell phone rang, our associate had arrived and we ran out into the rain on the sidewalk to escape the fervid grips of the Starbuck’s preacher.

On the subway up from Penn Station to the meeting I had to put up with another preacherly type who proclaimed for all of us assembled and captivated that he had found God through crack. I was not quite sure how to tell him that we all don’t need such dramatic issues to bring us to a state of contentment with our inner lives. Nor did I want to get on to share with him any of my personal torments lest by the time I got finished to share testimony with him he be of a mind to consign me to the care of his Satan side. For a small instant I felt like to shout out and shake and wave my hands and dance with my legs thrown up high on the train and scream, “Praise Jesus! Praise Jesus!” Then I thought that possibly these professionals know their bounds in public and that my amateur theatrics of ecstatic rapture may be misinterpreted by authority. Or I could fall down and get hurt.

The one thing I have learned is that if I suggest to Doven he read a book it won't happen. That is ok fine by me so I recommend and loan books to his wife and she does read them --- and she tells him about what is said in the books. He reads his own books, just not ones that I recommend. It has to do somewhat with his being raised in a house with too many books in it. The vicarious distance that he places between a book and me and me and a book and him is sort of how I deal with the neighbors with my wife (don't get any funny ideas here) who gets to know everyone then tells me stories about them. I come to feel that I know people that I have never met. So I was happy when I saw that Doven’s wife had bought the Hitchen’s for him without my involvement whatsoever. So it was cool for him to tell me about the book yesterday morning after the Born Again event. It is perfectly ok for him to tell me what I should read, that works. I did not tell him at first that I had already read Hitchen’s book. When I did, when we were back out onto the sidewalk and clear of the proselytizer, he thought he should stop telling me. In sort of the theory that one should not repeat the plot of a movie while they were in the midst of viewing it. I told him the truth that I can't remember the finer points of the book and it will give us something to talk about.

What we had been talking about previous to attempts at our conversion was to make a bumper sticker that would say, "Jesus is My Ass Clown." It will go right next to my NRA is Freedom's Front Line or the one that says, "Got Crabs?" It was brought to my attention that I might start to hear threats from above like "Got a vagina?" (I assume to the tune if Inda godda vagina sung by Madonna?)

The black helicopters usually say other things to me than that. But I would not put it past them that I suddenly hear, "Bend over and pray!"

The chances of my getting a bumper sticker like that are fairly slim as usually there is some sort of mysterious intervention that gets in the way of fulfillment... blasphemus interuptus?

The way I see it the insane preacher that chewed me out for someone else having writ FUCK in the dust on the window of my first car must have not been in very good contact with the upstairs otherwise he would have known that I had not done it. Up to then I really liked the old guy and I wanted to grow up to be just like him.

One of the books Doven reads without my encouragement is the King James Bible. His mother reads that too. I have read a whole lot of it over the years, but I so much more enjoy what they both tell me about it.

One time I was in jail and I had five Bibles. Whenever the preacher showed up all the other inmates would send him to go talk to me because obviously I was read in these weighty matters. I actually read Crime and Punishment and the Tibetan Book of the Dead while I was there, but my cell mates could not relate to that phenomenon at all. They did like when I faked up to tell their fortunes with the Tarot cards. Everyone was going to be out of jail very shortly and their girl friends and wives, both would see the Light and stop cheating on them.

When I got home yesterday I found my mother had sent me an envelope in the mail. In it was a cartoon clipped out of a newspaper. A father and son are sitting in a room with shelves of books. The line, “When I’m gone, son, I’d like you to take all these books back to the library.”