truth for a change


   And this blog is the result of a plea bargain of sorts with the powers that be in the afterlife. You see I couldn’t stand it another minute in the beatific glow and hum of the Great Beyond. There were more spirits swirling around than you could shake a stick at. Believe me I tried. I tried to chase off the angelic revelers to find some solitude to contemplate just a little inner gloom but it was to no avail. Heaven knows how I made it to heaven but apparently they’re letting almost everyone in these days. It’s like Woodstock but instead of mud there are angel feathers littering up the joint and everyone takes the rainbow acid which you get by opening your mouth in the presence of God himself and it never produces a bad trip. La-de-duh.

  I hated it.

  So I found an escape route. Through a complicated corporate web which I can’t get into here there are deals that link heaven with certain corporate bodies on earth. (Yes, accountants have supplanted writers as the creative forces of the 21st century.)  Within this network of tax-sheltering schemes, there is a link between the Pearly Gates and Penguin Books. Basically, I get a couple hours of solitude everyday to write whatever I want. I can attempt to dig into the depths of the rock bottom of my soul and break shovel-blade after shovel-blade, day after day. For my part I also have to produce something everyday on this blog. Penguin gets exclusive rights to everything that I produce and this blog is intended to promote that first book which is coming out next spring. The book, a collection of fragments of stories that fail miserably, is entitled, “Burn this Book.”  Some of the stories on this blog are featured on it.

   It’s one way to make an afterlife living.

   Enjoy…

 

 

Setting the Record Straight: a Correspondence between an Uncle and a Nephew on the Topic of a Kafka Submission for Mcsweeney’s Internet Tendency

 

Email #1:  Rejection 

 

From: Web Submissions <websubmissions@mcsweeneys.net>

Date: June 5, 2008 4:16:06 AM PDT (CA)

To: Kevin SPENST <k.spenst@shaw.ca>

Subject: Re: If Kafka Wrote Stock Market Reports

 

Hi, Kevin –

 

While I think this is how Kafka would indeed write stock reports, I’m going to pass. We ran a Kafka-themed piece a short while ago and are not ready to return to him just yet.

 

Best,

Chris 

 

 

 

 Email #2: Uncle to Nephew 

 

Josh,

 

  They are so coy in their rejection letters.

 

Uncle Kevin

 

 

Begin forwarded message:

From: Web Submissions <websubmissions@mcsweeneys.net>

Date: June 5, 2008 4:16:06 AM PDT (CA)

To: Kevin SPENST <k.spenst@shaw.ca>

Subject: Re: If Kafka Wrote Stock Market Reports

 

Hi, Kevin –

 

While I think this is how Kafka would indeed write stock reports, I’m going to pass. We ran a Kafka-themed piece a short while ago and are not ready to return to him just yet.

 

Best,

Chris 

 

Email #3: Nephew to Uncle

 

 

Well he does have a point.  It’s not called “McKafka’s”.

 

 

~J

 

Email #3: Uncle to Nephew

 

kakfa suffered his entire 41 years of life on this miserable earth and mcsweeny’s can’t celebrate that by having two kafka pieces in one season?

 

Email #4: Nephew to Uncle

 

Kafka was a crybaby…

 

Email #5: Uncle to Nephew

correction, Kafka is a thinking man’s crybaby

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   My name is Henry Lee and I live in North Vancouver. I’ve been writing a short-short story everyday for the past five months on this blog in order to explore issues of ethnicity within fiction. For those of you new to the site I always introduce a story with a different identity. The point of this has been to explore different cultural points of view. I’ve been intentionally appropriating different voices within the color spectrum of race to tease out the commonalities and differences that exist within people of different cultural  backgrounds. 

   I hope you enjoy today’s short-short story…

 

An Almost Korean-Canada

 

   I think I’m turning Korean. I make short, sucking sounds to express disappointment, I can’t go more than two weeks without eating Korean food and I wonder how much Han I have. Can a white guy have Han? I play dumb and ask students to tell me about Han. “Han can’t be explained,” they say. “Is it having to endure suffering while not being able to do a single thing to stop the source of your agony?” I ask and sometimes they light up and surprise takes over but other times they insist that’s not an adequate definition. It can’t be explained, they say.

   I started teaching ESL in Burnaby twelve years ago at a private school that had just opened in Metrotown, right next to a dentist who provided anesthesia through hypnosis. (So they advertised on the door.) I knew the owner/direction of the school from university where we’d taken some third year philosophy classes together. “It’s really easy,” he explained to me in his office while playing on-line chess, one of his addictions at the time. “Just get them talking.” My first two students were from Korea, Sanae and Sue. The first week was interesting enough; I looked at photos of Sue’s 5,000-dollar traditional Korean guitar. No 7,000 dollars. No, that was Won. No, that was Canadian. I learned the confusions of converting sums for students. The simultaneous juggling of numbers and language. I waited patiently while Sanae yawned. 

   Over the following weeks, the class grew to include a nine-year-old Korean, a 60-year-old Japanese man, five other Koreans and one Japanese woman named Midori. There was barely enough room for all their yawns. It was not easy. My boss continued playing online chess, often several games at once.

   One Tuesday night in 1996, at the Fifth Avenue cinemas, a friend leaned into me, “We’re thinking of going to teach English abroad, want to come?”

   “Yes,” I said but after six months of sweating in Taiwan as I made the daily race from a factory where they manufactured cute Mickey Mouse telephones to a manager’s office in an upscale banking district to a day-care in the south, I was exhausted. I couldn’t take the crush of people packing in the heat.

   Back in Vancouver, I moved to Gastown where I applied for a job at a small ESL school. “You live just down the street,” the boss said with wide-open eyes that pushed his bald scalp behind his head. “Can you start on Monday?” At LRS I taught three students at a time for an hour. At six groups everyday I learned how to quickly get them talking. Corrections were made quickly so as not to interrupt the flow. It was the triage of ESL teaching. “Tell us about the Mother Frog story?” “Tell us about a the golden axe story?” “Tell us about the first Korean?” I asked like a child insisting on a favorite bed-time story. Over the eight years that I taught at LRS, I started to really enjoy teaching and when I visited students in Korea and Japan in October of 2001, it felt like remembering a dream.  

    In 2006, LRS went out of business and I’ve taught at two other schools since. A medium sized school of 300 students from all over the world and a much smaller school with under a hundred students. Right now I have a class of ten Koreans. I’m supposed to teach business but some of the students at the level where they confuse lend with borrow. I patiently correct them as I wait to get into a graduate program in creative writing, as I send off another story to a literary journal. I sometimes wonder if I’m being punished for enjoying M*A*S*H too much in my youth, laughing at the goofy Koreans who played the bit-parts. Other days, I think that I’m luckiest almost Korean-Canadian in the world. 

   And I’ve started to stumble over the same mistakes my students make.

   I patiently correct myself.

  Yesterday, after coming home from work I came across this article about unusual bookmarks.  I’ve also found a slice of bacon as well as a nail-polished fingernail clipping, a photo of a nude dwarf cheating at poker and a garter belt with a telephone number on it. The slice of bacon that I found was on page 45 of Michael Ondaatje’s the English Patient. I remember that page as being a particularly tough hurdle and I guess the person reading the book gave up then and there (while eating breakfast). There were grease streaks throughout the earlier pages and I tried to read the book again but I kept imagining Hana feeding the English Patient bacon. It ruined the poetry of the reading experience.

  There isn’t much else to say about myself. My name is Jack and I’m the one behind the past five months of different stories on this site. It’s just something I decided to do a while back. I haven’t really thought too much about it and today seemed like as good a day as any to come out with my real identity.

  And here’s a story for today…


 

Halo Power

 

On an overcast afternoon in September, John saddled his paint-flecked body over the deck railing of his newly purchased house to get at a window. He placed his foot out on the outer border of the terrace that held no greenery and after a weighty fall and thump he was lifting his broken neck up from the grass below, his head inches from the brick border of the empty garden. He crawled to his old house across the cul-de-sac and called his daughter-in-law. When she arrived her two children raced out ahead of her shouts for them to wait, wait, wait and once up the familiar stairs of their grandparent’s place the granddaughter screamed at the sight of her Grandda holding up his head. Three months later, with a halo holding vertebras C3 and C4 in place, John was looking out the window of the old house, thinking of what needed to be done with the new. At the weekend arrival of his son-in-law he walked a lively jig into the kitchen. The top frame of his halo bumped the edge of the open fridge twice as he tried to get at two beers deep in the back. “Today, we’ll celebrate the luck of the Irish, so we will,” he said and his daughter asked her niece about the state that they found Grandda in. The five-year old did a Disney version of Munch’s scream with her head at an angle and her eyes askew. Everyone laughed and John smiled but deep down he was thinking of what paints he’d mix together for the trim around the windows.


 

    And when I’m not touring the world with Iron Maiden, or working on solo material, or flying commercial planes around Europe, or producing television programs for the BBC or fencing, I like to relax and pretend I’m someone else. The past five months of stories on this blog have been a playful effort towards creating a labyrinth of different fictions, falsehoods and identities. The challenge for you the reader is to glean the truth. That I’m Bruce Dickinson can be easy proved by looking into the parallels between the lyrics of Iron Maiden songs and the themes explored in the short-short stories on this blog.

  Here’s today’s story from the point of view of an audience member at an Iron Maiden concert in Vancouver.

 


 

making one little something an everywhere

 

   As we walk through the muddy heavy-metal parking lot my entire body is buzzing with the thrill of seeing Iron Maiden once again. “Grad 88,” one woman screams from the back of a pick up truck. I help Paul finish his tall can of beer on the final stretch down Renfrew and suddenly we’re inside the Pacific Coliseum where I’m amazed at the flora and fauna of hair drooping from head-bangers young and old. Twenty-three years ago, when Paul and I saw Maiden for the first time the Coliseum was packed to the rafters with teenagers in leather jackets. Now we make the steep hike to our seats in section 25, aisle 20, passing out of shape geezers older than us. The concert begins with the sold-out Coliseum shrieking as one beast to the start of Aces High and things are pretty cool but throughout the show Bruce Dickinson says Vancouver too many times. He puts the word everywhere. He’s like a pilot flying around and around a city, announcing the obvious. But the view still seems spectacular, expansive even. During Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner I want to tell Paul something interesting about Coleridge, the poet who wrote the original lyrics to this song 200 years ago. “Water, water everywhere but not a drop to drink,” I catch in the screams near the end and I realize the song is over and I didn’t really hear any of the poetry under the crunch of the guitars. I let out a full bodied scream anyway.

    I try to remember Paul’s dad picking us up on that snowy night in ’85 and the slow drive back to Surrey but this time around I say good-bye to Paul and walk home alone along Pandora Street. I imagine myself as a 14-year-old walking the streets of East Vancouver after the show, trying to find Paul and his dad. How familiar would the houses have looked?  I try to imagine the present through the past, searching for insight into change but suddenly I’m home. Lisa is in front of the computer recording something with her guitar.  It’s past eleven and I have to get up at five-thirty but my ears are ringing and my body’s still buzzing. “I just started working on a song for our wedding favors,” Lisa says. It takes a second for this to register any meaning, “wedding favors”. Lisa walks into the living room and sits down on the couch with her guitar in her lap and I stretch out on the rug with my head sinking into a large blue throw pillow. A big glass of water rests on my chest.  I look at the wall and think about having to wake up and go to work in a routine that’s now into its second decade. Briefly, the routine feels as small as our living room but then Lisa plays some chords that she’s strung together. “I don’t want to sing yet,” she says but lyrics from the back of my mind are supplied for the moment: “And makes one little room an everywhere.” This line from a poem by John Donne surprises me and I want to tell Lisa that it’s for her but she’s playing and I close my eyes and listen to the chords of her nascent song. My desire for insight into memory and change is fulfilled with gentle waves of bliss.

   With her guitar strumming talent, with her puddle-sized blue eyes, with her house proud nature, with her supernatural love of horses, with her neurotic quirks, with her ardent devotion to family and friends, with her bird-song voice, with her concern for delicate details, with her snoopy nature that wants to unearth all the secrets of a stranger’s heart, with her laughter that giggles up in joy, with her gestures that articulate a deeply felt vision, with her love that I feel to my core, with her buried Irish brogue, with her turns from gentle to fierce.

   She makes one little memory an everywhere.

      Usually, I introduce myself each day with a different identity, saying I’m Osama Bin Laden, Mickey Mouse or James Joyce and welcome to my blog etc. etc. but this morning I logged onto my wordpress account and read this:

 

Warning: We have a concern about some of the content on your blog. Please contact us as soon as possible to resolve the issue and re-enable posting.

 

     I was horrified to see my freedom of speech yanked away from me like that. I sent out a mass email and lots of people came to my support (thank-you). Of course I also emailed WordPress and in the last hour my ability to post has come back to the dashboard. In the first fifteen minutes of the morning I wrote out this short-short story as a narrative experiment. I wasn’t intending on using it but as the rest of my morning was taken up dealing with the wordpress problem, this is all I have for today. 

 

     Here’s what came out of my head:

 

Walking Back

 

     He steps forward. The clouds swirl above like the pompoms of cheerleaders.  He takes another step. The ground is soft and uncertain beneath his massive weight. He keeps his gaze fixed on the distant mountains. Between him and the mountains is nothing but dry, soft ground that might cave in at any step. The wind picks up even more. He stops and takes a couple deep breaths through cavernous nostrils. His whole body wheezes as it lifts up and down. He takes another step but this time the soil gives a little and he sinks a foot under. He stares ahead at the mountains. How did he stray so far from his brothers and sisters? He will make it back and bury these legs beneath himself. These legs that have done nothing but take him away from a place in the horizon. He is a mountain after all.

   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.

     I woke up this morning and read in my inbox an off-kilter request to add to a list of 108 other stories on this blog. In the email I was told that if I didn’t write an introduction along with a story, 10 of my friends would “explode to death.” (Can exploding lead to anything else?) Well I’m not a superstitious person but I of course looked up the site and read through some of the stories which are for the most part ridiculous. Some of the stories are kind of funny but a lot have just been thrown together. Imagine a drunk Salman Rushdie writing an episode of the Family Guy. But what else can you expect from a random group of people? At least it wasn’t a novel written by the internet.

     While I’m not superstitious I do want to ensure the safety of my friends who happen to work in the explosives industry. (Go figure. I mean what would you do?) So here’s a story but I promise not to pass this chain letter to anyone else. It ends here.

    Unless you’d like to add a story.

 

The Little Love Gift

On a cold Wednesday night they met in a flurry of introductions – Amanda, Dawn, Lisa, Kevin – but with her black toque pulled low to her fierce blue eyes she stood out as unique. For her part, ever since he’d stepped in through the large glass door of the small cinema, a warning signal had been flashing at the back of her mind: “I’m never dating him.” One month later they walked out the door of a party together. Five blocks down the street, he stripped the tip of a cherry blossom branch of its petals. She leaned into his cupped hands. Six years later – at last – they were married, telling this story again and again with different parts deleted depending on the listener.