Monday, May 22, 2017

Wikiphotomicro Day 4 - "Ipseity"

Eric Stoltz is our blueprint, those of us with the red locks. Us gingers. It's so strange that such a handsome man would have made his career leap forward portraying a terribly deformed character. But maybe I wouldn't like Eric if we met. It could be that he'd suggest having Chinese takeout for dinner and I would be devastated because I can't stand Chinese food. Rice makes me think of maggots. It's possible, I guess, that Eric and I wouldn't be pals. Having the same color hair doesn't automatically ensure a friendship or bond. It's a good start, but that's about it. And maybe if I did like Eric what if he was just in a bad place in his life the day we decided to have a nice, inviting Mexican meal. Here I am eating my pollo loco talking and talking about really interesting topics and Eric is across from me rubbing his hands through his perfect red mess of hair and shaking his head slowly back and forth. Mumbling to himself, even. How could a solid friendship be born from such a place of depression or anxiety or whatever it might be that could at any time be ailing Eric? But this man is our blueprint so if he is worrying himself we should be worrying ourselves. We follow that lead. We worry about the obvious concerns first, the boring stuff, and then move on to the more specific issues such as how often we should feed our dog and how often we should scold our dog for using the bathroom on the new carpet. There is enough time to worry about washing dishes and washing clothes and how best to answer hypothetical interview questions during junket prep. We can divide the worrying among us. You take the clothes, I take the dishes, and Eric, of course, takes the junket prep. It's all very simple really. But it takes something out of us. Not in a tearing away kind of taking but a slow and methodical kind of taking, the kind that happens when your identity is mixed up with a hundred million other people. It beats us down until what was once vigor becomes a scar, something deformed and crawling with maggots and all the other details we thought about when first we began from loneliness. 

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Wikiphotomicro Day 3 - "Some Kind of Royalty"

We are rich. This means a great deal to a great many people. Perhaps all the people. It means we get everything that is good first and only feel bad last. It means we don't have to do what we don't want to do ever. It means strawberries and milk and Saturday morning cartoons, Pac-Man with cereal, playing pool and listening to Prince sing "Raspberry Beret" while chewing green apple bubble gum. It means we are some kind of royalty. It means a hard death to all the memories we hate and holding on to all the memories we love. It means watching The Outsiders twice a day for two months and losing who our identity and becoming Johnny so we can be tough and make it through the horror. It means so much and it is this way all down through history as far back as you can imagine and as far forward as you will ever want to see. This is what being rich means.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Wikiphotomicro Day 2 - "How to Frame a Truck"

I asked my father-in-law how to change the frame on a truck. Disassemble things one at a time.My tired eyes; my hair; my pot belly; my missing teeth. I'm not exactly a military-grade Hummer. Take me apart and put me back together one thing at a time and the frame won't matter anymore because frames are for holding things together. The universe was born from one violent moment, not a series of puzzle pieces without real names. My father-in-law asked what I was talking about. Disassemble things one at a time, I said.

Photo by Elkhair Arif

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Wikiphotomicro Day 1 - "Coming Clean"

At first I did what all of them did - got enough sleep, had four squares a day, studied maneuvers, stayed around the bars too late after training, called home. The routine tasks. Daily repetition. But in time the act of existing for others slowly grew tedious. The pretext fractured under stress, from weariness. It cracked open and slipped away, piece by piece, and was gone. Ambushed and cornered in my real skin, I called the airstrip and claimed sickness. Immediately after I hung up, the phone rang. It would be Ruth. And I didn't have my Ruth voice or my Ruth beliefs, or my Ruth anything. The phone went quiet for seven seconds and then started ringing again. At some point I would tell her the same story. I was sick. It wasn't a lie, because few things could be more sickening than losing the ability to hide inside your body, to distract with your voice, to forfeit countless layers of carefully maintained skin. It was the ultimate sickness. Nothing else in the world could be more like the truth.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Wikiphotomicro III - Prose Poems

UPDATE: As you can see in the comments, I'll be doing this for 30 days. I'll do the best I can. 

In 2010 I started something I call the Wikiphotomicro Project. The long and short of it is that I go to Wikipedia and hit the random button until it provides a page with an accompanying photograph. In 2010, and again in 2011, I then wrote a short short story using each photograph as a prompt. This time, though, instead of a short short story it'll be prose poems. One for each day. I did this once a day for a certain number of days. The first year I went for 33 days straight; the second year it was considerably shorter at only 12 days.

But here's one of the fun things about this: I don't choose how many days Wikiphotomicro lasts. You do, the readers of this blog. So how about it? How many days for the comeback tour, Wikiphotomicro III? I'll go with the first comment given for the this post making a suggestion.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

I Saw Absolutely Nothing When I Died but Carl Jung Did

I have a bad heart. A really crappy, beat up, scarred, and weak heart. It's flat out not any good and even up and quit entirely on me three years ago. That year, on Father's Day, I had a massive heart attack. Flatlined. Was paddled back to life, and had a heart procedure for a stent placement in my right coronary artery all within a matter of hours. According to the medical staff working the emergency room that day, if I hadn't lived so close (a ten minute drive) to the hospital I would have absolutely died before getting there.

For the past two months I've been having chest pains. There's nothing more terrifying than trying to sit still and prepare for death. Because here's what you need to know: there is no preparing for death, and there is nothing more terrifying than being right at the edge of it. If anybody tells you differently, they simply haven't experienced near-death.

On the way to the hospital three years ago, I was convinced I was having a heat stroke. It was a particularly hot day that day and I was cutting grass when I started losing my breath and couldn't get it back. My mouth started to draw and my fingers started to curl up. And all this time I still couldn't catch my breath. I heaved hard and long, the way you do after running at a full clip for as long as you can, but could never catch my breath. It was a deeply black shade of horror.

I was, in fact, having a massive heart attack while on the table in the ER. A nurse who had been wiring me up and holding me still while other nurses and assistants cut my jeans from me said, "Mr. Compton you're having a heart attack." I thought she was made of plastic. I thought she had fallen from a cartoon somewhere or was an extra on Cheers who had slipped through the barely stitched together fabric of the universe and landed in the hospital just to mess with me. Everything after that is unclear except the moment I flatlined. I had my head held up looking around the room when I started feeling it get really heavy, sort of like it was filled with wet sand. About one second later, I felt the back of my head hit the bed and everything went black.

Since everyone asks me what happened during the roughly 20 seconds I was dead, I'm going to give you the visual answer:

Yep. Not one thing. Nada. A big whole bag of zero.

Back in the world of the living, I thought I had passed out, even saying as much when all the shocking me with paddles actually kicked my heart back to life. "I passed out," I said, and even giggled a little, embarrassed. I don't remember anything after that, really. I left the hospital and my days of worry began.

Yes, the worry started after the heart attack. Before the heart attack I never thought about death. Death was, as everyone knows before suffering near-death, only an abstract notion. Something that would happen when you've got gray hair or no hair or wearing diapers in a nursing home somewhere. But post-attack a small pang of pressure anywhere near the area of my chest where my heart is sends me into total lock down mode. I have to start the process in my mind of accepting the insane fact that I am about to leave the world I have always known. Forever. And I have no idea what, if anything, is on the other side. All I've seen of that place was blackness, a dreamless sleep, nothingness times infinity. All of which means nothing, really. Nothing one way or the other.

Fear of death has spawned religions since time immemorial. Living each minute having to be prepared for my final breath gives me a certain amount of envy for people who can take comfort in some idea of where they go when they die and what will happen at that time. Envy isn't too strong of a word. But if the religious beliefs you had instilled in your youth somehow gets tilted or even shattered, getting back to that place of pure belief again is impossible.

Carl Jung once broke his foot and then subsequently, and somewhat strangely, had a heart attack. Jung wrote that while he was hanging at the edge of death he saw the earth from a thousand miles above somewhere in space. Of course at the time he was experiencing deliriums and visions while attending medical professionals gave him oxygen and administered camphor injections. So mostly unreliable, probably. And it's Jung, who was a genius who gave us analytical psychology but was crazy as a cracked out bedbug.

Thing is, Jung's descriptions of the earth viewed from space were stunningly accurate. That wouldn't mean much except his heart attack and vision happened in 1944, roughly two decades before people would travel to space. Do with that what you will.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Two Short Stories @ Connotation Press

I want to thank Jonathan Cardew up front for being great in dealing with me on getting a couple stories in shape for Connotation Press's May 2017 issue. He's been doing a remarkable job there at CP as fiction editor and I'm sure we'll see more great work in the coming months.

That said, I have two stories - "Oldbones" and "Persistence" - published at CP this month. The entire issue offers a lot of solid work so cruise around and give it a read.