Thursday, November 19, 2009

“Oblivion Cycle: A Spider’s Nightmare” Re-imagined

The writing exercise I chose for this week was to take a completed story and rewrite it, intensifying the conflict, exaggerating the tension—even to the point of absurdity. Well, I chose a story that was already pretty exaggerated, but I managed to exaggerate it even more, and I cleaned up the prose a little in the process and made a slightly different setup (by adding specific sections to the story).

But first…

NOTE FOR THE READER (STILL APPLIES TO THIS REVISED VERSION): James Joyce ends his novel Finnegan’s Wake with a sentence that concludes only by going back to the very first page and re-reading the first line. When I first learned about this oddity, I found it to be an ingenious literary device and immediately tried to think of a story that could end/begin in this way. With “Oblivion Cycle: A Spider’s Nightmare,” I think I’ve captured, in miniature, the basic “never-ending” structure that Joyce used. I really like this story, overall. I like the cyclical nature of the story itself, as well as the disorientation and short memory span of the spider, living in its own mini hell—hence the word “oblivion” in the title. Following are my suggestions for reading this flash fiction, cyclical horror story. Start with whichever paragraph you like, even if it’s not the first one, and read the story from there; then read it again, starting at the next paragraph and reading from there; and then read it one final time, starting from the last remaining paragraph and reading from there. It may be necessary to wait a few minutes in between rereadings. I think it’s interesting to see how well the story holds up in each “version.” I like to read it from beginning to end, then from middle to beginning, so to speak, and finally from end to middle. Without further ado, the story, which I will now call

Oblivion Cycle: A Spider’s Nightmare Re-imagined

Part 1 then part 3 then part 2

So, with her ghastly device engaged, she tortured him, maimed him, brutalized him. The tiny, black, defenseless spider twisted and writhed on the tabletop, screaming in agony until he had used up all the air at his disposal. The drinking glass with which the girl had covered him made both breathing and escape impossible. His high-strung screams echoed off the walls of the glass, and his ears rang, and then bled. He stopped screaming and tried to draw in a breath but couldn’t.

Part 2 then part 1 then part 3

The spider was suffocating, mouth cracked and dry. How long had she been at this? He couldn’t remember; he couldn’t tell. How long before she just killed him? Would she? Or would he have to live in complete agony for the rest of time, constantly pushed to the very brink of death only to be cruelly revived a moment later? While he pondered this, a distinct feeling of déjà vu overwhelmed his mind; it was as though he had had these thoughts a thousand times before, never arriving at a coherent conclusion. Suddenly, the drinking glass that was his prison rose high into the air, and he gasped, his lungs ablaze with a fire that grew more intense with each new breath.

Part 3 then part 2 then part 1

As soon as the spider had reclaimed his breath and his bearings, he charged off, away from the drinking glass and the girl, trying to escape certain death; but he was no match for her, in all her gargantuan, human glory. As quickly and easily as if she had done it a thousand times, she put the glass over him. His millions of legs darted toward the glass, again and again, as he tried desperately to run right through it, to no avail—and the air quickly evaporated into oblivion.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

My condolences

As some of you may already know our program director Kendra Kopelke has had a death in her family. I don't presume know about her loss or even what to say to help her in this time of mourning. I just wanted to let every know, and to join me in offering her our condolences. I don't know what to say about grief. In my family we have wakes. We get together with warm food and heavy hearts and talk about the person who has left us. We share stories about them with the younger generation. In hopes that those stories in some part help to carry on the memory of our love one's. We remember things they did that made us laugh, that made us cry, and that made us proud. Sometimes we are angry that they left, we yell and curse, then cry and wonder if they miss us as much as we miss them. In the end we come together in a strange celebration of their life. We raise a pint glass to their memory, and grieve together. But that's just me. How do you grieve?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

"Knot-Tangle" Re-imagined

Almost two years ago, I wrote a short short story called “Knot-Tangle,” and at the time, I felt like it was flash/micro fiction. A writing exercise just proved me wrong. The exercise asked me to cut half of the words in a previously written story. I chose to revisit “Knot-Tangle” and was pleasantly surprised by the resulting piece of real flash/micro fiction. The original (second) draft of the story, the one I published in the Writer’s Block at Wabash College, was 734 words, and this new version is exactly half that: 367 words. So, without further ado,

Knot-Tangle Re-imagined

It glowed in the hazy moonlight: a knot, a beautiful tangle of brunette hair, wrapped around the headboard of my bed. Through overly moist eyes, I worked to untie it. The mass was thick, but I worked incessantly because she deserved her freedom.

“What’s her name?” Naomi said.

“Does it matter?”


“Ja—her name is Julie.”

Silence, and then: “Oh, Julie! Don’t stop!” She arched her perfect back as best she could with her hair trapped, a prisoner of vigorous lovemaking. Her skin was smooth, damp with twinkly sweat.

“Stop it!” A tear fell from my chin and soaked her hair.

“Don’t tell me to stop. You should have stopped. What happened to love?”

Something died. Darkness poured in through a funnel, and I wanted her to hurt me. Somehow. Just hit me, I thought. “I do love you. I just—missed you, while I was away.”

“When you miss someone, you call them,” she said. “You don’t go out and fuck the first thing you see.”

I frowned. “I’m…sorry.”

Her face was empty, eyes gray and wet. “You cheated!” Tears leaked onto her pillow in two spots, forming a broken heart.

I couldn’t tell her what had really happened, that there was more to it than a bit of hot sex. That, paradoxically, my spontaneous encounter meant more to me than any lovemaking with Naomi ever did. It was something I’d always craved but never had the guts to try—because I loved Naomi.

“For Pete’s sake, cut it!”

Hesitantly, I reached into the end table drawer and pulled out a pair of scissors. “Are you sure?” I said, looking at her beautiful hair.

“Cut the damn thing off!”

At that, I sobbed uncontrollably, and my tears connected with hers on the pillow. Just a blob. It mocked us, me. I held the scissors up, and the brunette strands flowed into the metallic grip of the scissors. I hesitated again.

“I can’t do it.”

She grabbed the scissors and started cutting. The knot—the tangle—turned into a million dark hairs, in slow motion, and fell between bed and wall. She dressed, and then left. My tears kept coming, exploding, like supernovas in deep space.

NOTE FOR THE READER: In this story, I was intentionally mysterious and vague/ambiguous about a few things (not to a fault, though, I hope). This wasn’t the initial plan, but I had an epiphany soon after starting the story: I could make it sexually ambiguous, which would be very interesting, at least to me. As you read the story the first time, you likely read it as Naomi and her cheating boyfriend. I invite you to read it again but more deeply: Try to see it as Naomi and her cheating girlfriend, then again, perhaps most interestingly/shockingly, as Naomi and her closeted bi/gay boyfriend. I think all of those scenarios work well, but maybe that is my writer’s bias talking. In any case, this was a difficult story to write because of the logistics, the purposeful ambiguity. It’s actually quite a challenge to be unclear or vague on purpose!

Blackbird, Section VI

When I did my last section of Wallace Stevens' "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird," for last week's journal assignment in Creativity, I came up with something kind of interesting, so I thought I'd post it here. This is an extension (in different points of view) of a slightly varied form of

Section VI

"Icicles filled the long window with barbaric glass. The shadow of the blackbird crossed [the window], to and fro. The mood traced in the shadow an indecipherable cause."

Icicles filled me, top to bottom, with their barbaric glassiness. The blackbird crossed me, to and fro. And its shadow lent an air of suspicion. What was the bird about to do? What were her plans? "Careful, bird," I said. "For I am littered with barbaric glass!" The bird crossed again, as if she couldn't hear a thing.

As the blackbird crossed the window, to and fro, she pondered on the cold, barbaric glass shield that protected it. A moment's pain and coldness, and she could be safe inside, to enjoy the warmth of the house. But what if the glass did not break? Would she survive? She shivered. Would she survive if she didn't try? That was the indecipherable question. She paced again, to and fro, and when a cold blast of air took her breath away and pushed her away from the window, she raised her wings and flew straight into the glass.

excerpt: "No Soup for You"

I love the day date... No wine, no shower...
Depending on your definition of date, me and Emma had one date. It was about two months into my contract and we went out to lunch together. It was a simple walk to the sandwich shop and we sat at one of the circular tables in the corner.
She talked about her love for news and how she really loved working for CNN and I could tell this was her career. I pretended to care about the midterm elections, not so much in terms of politics, but for the excitement of real change in Washington. In truth, I cared more about the Oscar vote than the congressional midterms. But in the moment, seeing her face light up as she asked me about the New Jersey seventh, I found myself fairly engaged.
As for the date aspect, nothing went well. I offered to pay, she didn’t accept. She walked faster than I, so I didn’t open the doors. And at no time did I feel like she saw me as anything more than a work friend. And more than anything else that was what was frustrating. I wouldn’t go out to lunch with her if I wasn’t interested. I don’t need any more friends. And I don’t think she saw the lunch date as anything more than friendship. That’s how different our minds were.
I thought about kissing her, but there was never that conversational pause where I could slip one past the goalie. Instead we talked about the upcoming elections and then a little football. But nothing that seemed substantial, nothing that felt like a couple. So while it was nice to have a one-on-one date that didn’t feel like a date. It was terrible to have a date that wasn’t a date.