May 2008



   When I was a boy, I had a teacher named Mr. Zuckermann whose calling in life was to correct the wrong-headed ambitions of his students. At the age of eight or nine I had one hankering for the future: I wanted to write. Mr. Zuckermann took it upon himself to help me amend my dreams. He listed a litany of miserable vices that accompanied the lives of most writers and he emphasized how they were the lucky ones. He slammed his large hand on the black board and asked me if that’s really what I wanted. 

    “I want to write,” I said in an epicenter of silence that had to be the most defining moment of my life. Mr. Zuckermann, stunned by my tenacity, gave up on me and turned back to the topic of the American Revolution. I don’t remember what got us so far off topic but that was the pedagogy practiced by Mr. Zuckerman. From 1776 to the current dreams in the hearts of his students. Who knows what dreams he himself had given up to grow into such a proselytizer of pessimism.

    I’ve carried this ambition throughout my life but as I have had it in various forms and at various ages I’ve necessarily developed a superfluity of writing goals. I have inside me the eight-year or nine-year old writer who wants to doodle simple playground stories into existence along with a host of other previous selves who want to tell their story. 

   It’s no surprise then that I’ve taken on a coterie of identities.  I’ve written some genre fiction under the name of August Van Zorn http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Chabon and more recently over the past five months I’ve been writing a short-short story everyday on this blog under a revolved door of different guises. 

   Because inside I still hear that voice, standing up to everyday: I want to write.

   Here’s today’s play on fiction….

 


 

If Kafka Wrote Stock Market Blurbs

 

    Dell lifts up stocks from pitch-black abyss of toothless grimace

NEW YORK – US stocks are holding up after stronger-than-expected earnings from Dell, but gains are limited as weaker consumer spending weighs like an obese but smiling corpse of a neglected Father upon shares. Dell holds the heavy body of this Father, asking whose? 

 

      Tadpole staggers like a drunken horse trampling people in a bar to second-half pretax loss

BRUSSELS – Software product developer Tadpole Technology staggers like a drunken horse trampling people in a bar to a second-half pretax loss from a profit last year due to increased investment in training. Investors are hiding under the table trying to drink the dividends per share from previous years, pretending the horse is of no relation to them. Market opportunities remain strong.

 

                  Efes Breweries Q2 pretax empty heart incapable of receiving love UPDATE

PARIS- Efes Breweries International lamented a wider first-quarter pretax loss due to increased expenses which piled up higher and higher like a pile of sullied laundry destined not for the wash but the flames and said it expects the cost pressures to be apparent in the gross profit line throughout 2008, a line that – with the help of rusty clothes-pins – will receive the brittle and charred remains of the burnt cloths and the wind is forecast to blow them apart. Investors, however, remain confident. 

 

Mixed day for chemicals firms like sun followed by rain followed by drenched child being stabbed in the arm

LONDON – Shares in chemical firms plummeted after manufacturers jointly announced they expect financial performance for the full year to be below market expectations. Like a children’s game of tag played with knives the groups’ gross margins also decreased in number. Dramatically and clumsily. The first two months of the financial year have begun well with record revenues in March.

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   My name is Finn Harvor and I’m a writer and artist, living in South Korea.  The past five months of writing on this blog has been an experiment in layering meta-fiction around a ball of simple and bizarre narratives.

  I hope you’ve enjoyed them.

 


 

Getting the Witch to Cough it up

 

   Joey Kim pushed his yellow bicycle along the stone walkway in front of the small house. The newspaper rack on the handlebars caught the ledge of a window and tore off a splinter of wood. Joey stopped, shook his black bangs from his eyes and looked around. The shack of a house was in ruins already and a heavy curtain was drawn inside. It wouldn’t be noticed, he told himself.  He continued pushing his bike faster but the front door still receded in the distance. It was a small house. Why was it taking so long?

   When he did finally reach the front door he was exhausted and rested his weight onto the U-shaped handlebars of his banana-seated bike. He stretched one arm out to knock on the door but it creaked open and out of reach. 

   “Hello?” His voice seemed to echo within the darkness of the house. “I deliver the paper. I’m here to get money for the paper. The newspaper.”

    Joey was new to the job. At ten, he was still new to the world but it was collecting money for his paper route that had proved to put him at a constant loss for words. He’d spent the evening stuttering and stammering out various requests for money.

    An elderly woman appeared at the door. Her eyebrows were midway up her forehead as if fleeing from her face and her long black hair also rushed back in shock from her shriveled head. Her nose pointed straight at Joey.

   “Money? I don’t have money. I don’t donate money for charities. Get money somewhere else for your legless orphans.”

   “No I’m the newspaper boy… carrier. I’m deliver… I deliver the Vancouver Sun.”

    She looked him up and down with eyes that narrowed into green slits.

   “Here’s your paper,” Joey said and reached into the delivery bag resting in the rack. The old woman at the door stared at him even harder as he held out Friday’s paper.  She mumbled something as she went back inside the darkness of her home. The door remained open.

   With a jerk of his head, Joey shook his black bangs from his eyes. He looked around and noticed how far the stone sidewalk snaked around the house. He wanted to go home to eat. He could imagine his mom in the kitchen putting kim chi in a bowl. 

   “Didn’t I pay you yesterday?”

    “You paid me a month ago.”

    “Oh yes. Oh yes. Time flies when you’re having fun,” she said and laughed a toothless grin. “I mean flies have fun when your time’s expired.”

   Joey nodded blank understanding.

   “I mean when you’re dead the flies come out to play around your corpse.”

    Joey breathed in deep.

   “That’s a joke. A joke. A play on words.”

    “I’m here to pick up your monthly payment,” Joey said.

   “Alright here’s your money,” the old woman shouted and held out a ten-dollar bill. Joey felt a jolt when he took the bill from her. He hated collecting. 

    On the front page of the paper students in Korea were clashing with riot police. Somewhere in the scene was one of Joey’s older cousins. Almost everyday his parents talked about life back in Korea. Most of the time Joey tuned them out. All he knew was that things were tough all over.

 

   How did I get my start in such a unique field?  Well, I’ve always been interested in pieces of things and where they come from. At a very impressionable age, I devoured OWL magazines, a Canadian science magazine for kids. At the back of every issue was a fascinating guessing game. There were twenty some odd squares that had extreme close-ups of everyday items like the center of a daisy or the middle of the eye of a toad. I used to spend hours trying to figure out what the entire object was from that close up. In grade five, when our teacher Miss Mabbs asked me what I wanted to be, I said, “A Fragment Specialist.”

   Believe it or not, there are fragments of things everywhere. To be sure, it’s an interdisciplinary study and in university I had to take maths, sciences, languages and other humanity classes. I even had to take an accounting class to qualify for my Masters in Fragmentology.

   So for the past five months I’ve been writing fragments of bigger stories in order to hone my literary side. These stories have also been introduced by somebody different everyday in order to create a series of layers that are also somewhat fragmented. This is part of my doctorate in Fragmentology.

   A big portion of my doctorate is focusing on parts of mannequins that are sometimes found in surprising places. 

  Because fragments

 

 

 

The Heart is a Cross-Eyed Hunter

 

    I’m disappointed in you. So disappointed. When I first laid eyes on you in the display window of Sears I thought it was love at first sight. My heart told me so. My heart beat out a Morse code message of warning love, warning love, warning love. A distress signal that was answered by my feet that swiveled a 180 and I went back into the store to get as close to you as possible.

   You were so calm and collected, standing there in a 99-dollar pair of beige slacks and 69-dollar long sleeved shirt. I said hello and you just stared straight ahead to where I had been standing out on the sidewalk, as if you missed me, missed what I was in my innocence before I saw you. In the silence I came to my senses. You’ve always had a way with silence, using it like a weapon. At that moment I realized I needed some excuse to be waltzing into your life so I asked you where the perfume section was and then you played dumb. You flirted with me in the most innocent of ways. Oh how could I not fall head over heels ?! I asked you what time you got off work. Do you remember? By way of response you looked out the window as if you wanted freedom at that very second. Yes, we all dream of freedom from the daily grind. I told you all about my job and then I retreated to my desperate question of a date. I know I was forward but you drove me to it.  I threw out some suggestions and then when I asked, “Do you have any problems with Milestone’s ?” you had no complaints. 

   That evening I arrived at Milestone’s dressed to kill, to slaughter, to maim. To chop your heart up into minced meat so that it could be baked in the hearth of my heart and turned into something nourishing and delicious to feed a family of three or four. (I’ve always wanted twins.) Oh, my head still rings with those wedding bells that I heard and I know I’m getting carried away again. Thinking of you makes my heart go aflutter and my imagination takes off like an intoxicated butterfly bumping from image to image in an art gallery. But that’s what I honestly feel. 

   Of course I don’t need to remind you that you never showed up and as the minutes turned to hours I hated you but I still loved you. You know how to play a woman, fill her full of mixed emotions so that she’ll be yours forever. I left Milestone’s alone (although it could have gone otherwise with all the interest my dress was stirring up on the part of the male servers) From Milestone’s I stormed all the way to Sears and there you were still standing as straight as ever in the display window. Working overtime. I can’t believe what a workaholic you are. Your tragic flaw. Your fortress behind which all your emotions are locked away like treasure.

   But I’m so disappointed. I’m so disappointed that you won’t share any of that with me. And I pass you everyday when I get off the bus and my heart breaks again and again at the thought of what could have been.

   The life we could have had.

 

 

 

(for the first part of this story refer to May 27th)

 

    “What are you talking about?”

    “You heard me. Make someone laugh and you live. This is just the way it is. I’m not threatening you with anything. In fact, this is the last you’ll ever see of me.” The woman collapsed into a murder of crows that flew out in scattered directions. Roswell stood up and walked to where she had been standing. Nothing. She had turned entirely into crows. He looked around to see if there were any other witnesses. The one street was busy with commuters zooming home from work and the other street was empty. The square frame of the building under construction was also empty. 

    If the prediction was true, Roswell was in no mood to make people laugh. He sometimes made his students laugh but they were already on buses or trains on their way home.  Were there any amateur comedy nights that he could crash later in the evening? No that would be too challenging. Expectations held up under a spotlight. Not his forte. Roswell climbed the fence of the vacant lot and resumed his route home.

    He waited for the bus on Hastings near Carroll. Not an obvious place for laughs. There were no other commuters waiting for the bus and the only pedestrians passing were in their own worlds of hunger or addiction. One woman doing a junkie-shuffle walked out into traffic while her arms did random stabs into the air as if in a dance choreographed by an epileptic. Cars honked. Roswell studied the scene carefully half-heartedly hoping to find levity in misery. The bus arrived and Roswell felt a stab of guilt as he stepped onto the 135. 

   “Nice day for a shot of heroine,” he said to the driver as he deposited his change.

     “Stand behind the yellow line, please,” the driver said as he drove off from the stop. Sunglasses and a Tilley hat hid the driver from the world. Roswell made a cursory glance of the people around him: sunglasses, headphones, magazines, vacant stares, cell phones. All various walls.

     What if the bus got into an accident and they were stuck in a ditch until midnight? What if it were one of the people on the bus that he had to make laugh? He briefly imagined an impromptu comedy night set up on the bus to pass the time while they waited to be rescued. He saw the 80-year old Chinese man next to him getting up to a makeshift mic set up at the front of the bus. “The funny thing about buses,” he could imagine him saying.  

   Roswell laughed to himself out loud and felt his soul lighten.

   As if a curse had been rescinded.

   Of course, he was someone and making himself laugh was all it took.

    Well I know St. Nicholas hasn’t published since 1941 – the year in which Virginia Woolf filled her pockets and pants and jacket with copies of the magazine that she grew up with and then stepped into the river to drown forever as well as the year that James Joyce slammed a copy of St Nicholas onto the kitchen table, stood up on it and did an Irish jig (a gangly spider-dance version) only to fall off and onto his very last gasp of a good-bye.  I know that much history but I also know the future must be infused with optimism. I’m editing a new St. Nicholas Magazine which will go beyond the death of modernism and turn words into wonder once again for children of all ages. Even 83-year old children will laugh their toothless smiles (smile their toothless laughs?) and happiness will be on the agenda of childhood once again. 

  I’ve been writing this blog where I’ve claimed to be somebody different everyday in order to take stabs at articles that might appear in the new St. Nicholas Magazine for Boys and Girls. I hope to be the new editor. I’m trying to find the old editors and ask them. Action breeds confidence, n’est pas?

  If you have any suggestions of articles you’d like to see please contact me at your latest inconvenience. 

  Today’s story is not for children.

 

Enamored of Idiots

 

     After work, Roswell walked his usually three blocks to the bus. His ears were ringing with the words: idiot, idiot, idiot. His students – ten Koreans in their 20’s – had just learned the word and were using it gratuitously, pronouncing it “I-DE-OAT”. They were studying marketing so Roswell didn’t feel it was his job to correct their pronunciation of that word. He hoped they would get sick of it soon.

     Half a block before the bus-stop Roswell noticed a cairn piled high in the middle of a vacant lot held behind a metal fence. Across the street was the new Woodward’s development that was piling up in perfectly square blocks. Next to this, the cairn seemed like an omen of a memory.  It hadn’t been there in the morning.

    A haggard woman in early old-age approached Roswell and he decided that instead of saying no to a request for change, he’d hot foot it to the bus. The woman, however, was fast.

    “Could you get my wallet? It’s over the fence,” she said and pointed to a black something next to the cairn.

     Roswell gestured to the fence with an upturned hand by way of apology.

     “You’re a climber. You could climb over that fence no problemo.”

      She was right. Roswell loved to climb anything from trees to climbing walls to rock faces. He looked at his shoes and then at the fence. He nodded a yes.

     “Thank-you. Thank-you so much,” she said in a shrill voice. Her lips were held back in a permanent, open grin but her eyes radiated worry. “Everything I have is in there.”

    He climbed the fence and jumped over to the other side with no difficulties. He took a couple steps towards the wallet but when he knelt down he saw that it was nothing but a dead crow. A baby crow. 

    “That’s not my wallet,” the woman yelled and he turned to see her standing right behind him. At what point did this normal commute turn strange, Roswell wondered to himself.

    “But you tried and for that I’m going to reward you with a prediction for your evening. If you make someone laugh today you’ll make them happy if you don’t you’re gonna die.”  

 

               [TO BE CONTINUED TOMORROW]

 


 

      Woke up this morning at six feeling like an uncoiled and stretched out spring. I turned off the alarm radio and lay in bed dispassionately considering my bent out of shape ambitions. I had to get up and write. And answer some questions, like: so why all this phony-baloney about me being Sheila Heti, Richard Linklater and the whole host of known and unknown personalities that I’ve claimed to be on this blog over the past four months? Well today, the truth. I did it because I can. I did it because I (almost always) like to keep my mind busy in the morning. I did it because I’m not only a filmmaker but also a writer and the web was basically begging for this kind of narrative experiment. In tandem with these stories, I’ve been drawing out a maze that connects the paths of all the plots. In a future film I hope to make use of this maze as a backdrop in a kind of poetic theme park. Imagine a family fun center infused with more Walt Whitman than Disney.

   There are some reasons for you to chew on.

   And now today’s feature presentation…

 

Midwives and Goldfish

 

   Ten days past her due date, Anna’s water broke while she was feeding frozen shrimp to Oscar their plate-sized goldfish. She slumped onto the couch and called the midwife who didn’t answer and then Patrick. “How many seconds apart?” he asked but she dropped the phone onto the couch and shouted for him to get the midwife and get home. The neighbor downstairs banged on the floor and yelled some Quebecois profanity about something in the church. 

      Anna breathed in deep like she was 15 and smoking a joint for the first time (Gary’s observation made in the presence of the Francophone midwife who didn’t smile) and then puffed her cheeks out; Oscar stared back in boredom. This went on too long until finally the door opened. Patrick and the midwife. “Call Vancouver,” she instructed. Patrick looked at his watch: they were seven hours away from his father’s 72nd birthday. Or would that be ten? But his father had been born in Montreal so wouldn’t that be the official one? The phone rang once. 

     “Is it a boy or a girl?” came the hello and Patrick filled them in on all the up to the second details as he followed Anna and the midwife to the bedroom. 

     Five hours later, Patrick called back with the good news. “On your birthday,” he announced. “It’s not my birthday yet.” “It is here and you were born here and you’ve always said your heart is in Montreal,” volleyed out his well-thought out argument. “My heart would be frozen if it were in Montreal. That’s sentimental rubbish. We’re happy for you but he has not been born on my birthday.” 

    This disagreement descended into a fight which was briefly louder than the baby’s cries of life. The phone was hung up at one end of the country.

   Minutes later, Anna called back and talked with her mother-in-law who cooed over the phone for her new grand-daughter, Manon.  

  The midwife wasn’t surprised.

   First of all. Secondly, I must apologize for the paltriness of yesterday’s entry. Not only was it brief but it also failed to have much of a point. My excuse is simple: I was in fact hung-over the greater portion of the day and the ambiguous contents of my stomach were swishing around in my head drowning any hope of thought. Almost at the end of my rope with despair, I reminded myself: you’re a professional apologist, do what you do best. So here I am to say I’m sorry.

   I work for a small firm that counsels people in helping them find the appropriate words to compose that much needed apology. My clients have ranged from PR people in large corporations to individuals needing to patch things up with family members. Monday to Friday I take this job very seriously but of course on weekends I tend to celebrate the powers of alcohol just like anyone else. Hence, my broken-headed state yesterday.

  Thirdly, I should explain the purpose of this blog wherein I’ve been writing a short-short story everyday for the past four months prefaced by a different “author.”  The fact of the matter is that these are all different people who I’ve taken on as clients and part of my process of getting to the essentials of their voice is taking on their persona. All part of the plan of professionalism you see. 

  So enjoy today’s short-short story.

 


The Leave it Wherever Club


   It’s a club that should not be. It’s a club that is harmful in its pursuit of strangeness. I mean vivre la difference. Sure that’s fine by me but to a certain point. When that difference crosses the line and becomes something perversely twisted then we must switch our lenses and understand it from a moral perspective. 

  You think I’m exaggerating. 

  My wife used to be a relatively normal person. When I married her she was fine. Oh she was worried about the green wedding invitations not matching the color of her dress or vice versa but I acknowledged her concerns as acceptable excesses. There were dozens of glossy wedding magazines littering the floor of our home at any point leading up to the wedding and other women writing into these magazines with questions about wedding invites having to match the color of the bride’s eyes or the season of the ceremony or some swatch of material draped over someone in the wedding party. Other women had these concerns and so I thought she was normal.

    I thought.

    After our wedding and honeymoon in Philadelphia we settled into our new life. Weekdays were hardworking and weekends were wondrous. We let the sun wake us up on Saturdays and Sundays and we talked in bed about the highlights of the week. One Saturday morning, however, I noticed something odd. We were in the kitchen making our different breakfasts – she’s on an oats-only diet and I’m quite the carnivore – I was frying up some sausage when I noticed how intently she was gazing at the carton of rice milk on the counter. It was as if she were watching a movie. She was enraptured by it. After breakfast she was still eying the carton and when I put it back into the fridge she seemed a little annoyed.

   As if I were breaking our wedding vows or something.

   After that morning I noticed how she was in the habit of leaving lots of things on the bed or kitchen counter or even the floor. I guess she’d always done that but only know did it strike me as strange. I began to wonder if  – when I wasn’t home – she was just staring at these items. 

   One Monday evening I confronted her point-blank.

   “Do you leave things out on purpose?”

   “What makes you say that?” she seemed defensive.

    “Well I just notice that lots of things are left on the counter.”

    “Lots of people are like that.”

    “Do you take pleasure in doing it?” There. I’d said it.

    “No.”

    Yes.

    “What’s so exciting about staring at something you’ve just taken out of the fridge?”

   “Nothing.”

    Everything.

    I saw the truth in the opposite of her answers.

    “Have you always done this?”

    She stared at me.

    “I once wheeled my granny out of the old-folks home and left her outside. It was like freedom. It was a horrible thing to do. I was 16 of something and it was kind of a joke but my parents grounded me for a month. Granny was okay and she forgot about it soon after but I’ve always enjoyed taking things out from their homes and looking at them in another context. It’s my art experience.”

   And then she told me about a club that she belonged to. I thought they were a book club but apparently they met once a week to take things out of the fridge or dresser-drawers and just stare, stare, stare.

    That’s when I tried to convince her to go to church with me. I told her it was something that would salvage her soul. I mean she needs help. It’s strange. Taking things out and staring at them. Maybe it’s harmless on the surface but it’s rotten at the core. It’s twisted and useless behavior that speaks of something deeply misguided in the heart.

   I hope she comes with me on Sunday.

   We’ll see.

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