DP: Trick or Treat!

The candy bowl.

The path to the doorway of this bloghouse is not spooky. A far cry from the suggestive decrepitude of popular Halloween, this house is scary.

The gravel path is replaced with a walkway of fractured glass and it glints invitingly at the pioneer before the wrought iron gate. On either side of the path, dark weeds knot together in vaguely noose-like bows, especially thick and tight over the several isolated mounds, rising from the lawn like the remnants of a serpent’s particularly large lunch. An ancient oak dominates the left corner of the front yard, one heavy branch weighing on the eaves of the house while others push back on the wooden, leaning fence. Most of the veranda is hidden in thick shadow underneath the tree, and from time to time parts of the shadow seem to ripple, as if with activity.

With the shape of the iron bar still frozen to his hand, the brave, young adventurer swings wide the heavy gate, skips over the naked glass and jumps onto the first wooden step. It shifts, and almost falling onto the cheerfully sparkling edges behind, he instead lunges forward, knocking his head quite hard on the door, and sinks his finger into the exposed wiring of a long-re-appropriated doorbell.

The door is opened by a lank, forgettable woman dressed in black and brown strokes, who peers through dark, rheumy eyes, “Come in, have a cup of tea. Let me tell you where you’re going wrong…”

You’re not going to like trying to trick me.

DP: First!

The first day I break from a new habit is the day when the clamour of my old habits overcomes my fascination with novelty.

You may have noticed that I experienced this recently, my one follower, so let me explain it like this: there comes a time in the life of every new habit, when the newness of that habit fades and it starts to become a part of the everyday. Once that habit becomes completely everyday, it is truly a habit – much like how one might consider a Buddhist who has reached nirvana a true Buddhist, whereas other Buddhists, who have not reached nirvana, are merely occasionally religious.

For example, at this time of night, when I used to be sleeping, or watching some kind of mindless crap, or otherwise chilling, I choose instead to switch on to WordPress, read the Daily Prompt, and then engage my mind in some kind of creative activity. I am completely unaccustomed to maintaining this level of alertness this far into the night but I manage, at first, enticed by the unfamiliar sensation of achieving by writing.

Day after day passes – and sometimes a few weeks go by – and we continue to work on a piece of writing every night after work, or after a whole day of writing. The mental clamouring for sleep, for brain death by disuse grows louder: Too long has it been since we’ve run straight into bed after a gruelling day of being nice to neurotic office workers! Too long has it been since we’ve diffused our brain power with episode after episode of television events! – and so, one dark day, when work has been a little too rough on the sensibilities, when the day has felt a little too long for even daylight savings to cover, when the daily prompt is a little too boring, or a little too hard, when an overdue book just needs to get read (*cough*Millennium People*cough*), when we really must get to class tomorrow morning, we decide to skip a Daily Prompt for the first time.

It is a tragic act, to break a streak. It’s the disproof of perfection in our lives and it’s the invitation of failure into our new venture. Although failure is the beginning of all solutions, it is always hoped, before our first failure, that we will make no missteps in this new enterprise. That, for once, we will have no need of failure.

After we miss that first Daily Prompt, missing another is hardly as big a defeat as breaking that streak of completed Daily Prompts. That next one seems stupid as well, the one after that – damn, it’s a hard one; I really need to get to bed – and following that – I’m going to make my comeback with this one? Please.

Eventually, we realise that we are giving ourselves a whole bunch of excuses. We remember that that original feeling of achievement did not come from a thoroughly interesting prompt or a perfectly worded response; it came from practising writing and knowing that we had responded to the prompt with as much of our angle as we could fit in. We dither a little, shrinking from the significance of the first post after a hiatus, and if the benefits of having a certain habit outweigh those of not having it, we dither our way back into the routine and, on our first day back, we reaffirm how good it feels to do this.

Notes on “Millennium People” by J. G. Ballard (2)

Chapter 9 “The Upholstered Apocalypse”

Already, Ballard has poked fun at the idea of a middle-class need for revolution, but he is half-serious, intending his narrative to be the beginnings of a 21st Century revamping the outfit of “revolution”. I wonder what Ballard thinks now of the traditional, bloody revolutions happening in the Middle East. The book was first published in 2003; was all of the developed world so self-absorbed at the turn of the century? Could there possibly be a revolution against comfort and mild prestige while there are still developing worlds in abject poverty and terrorists lurking in the Middle East? 9/11 had occurred two years ago, London had had its share of burning wreckage in the streets – it couldn’t have been detached from the fear of ‘envious’ violence from foreigners less fortunate. I suppose though, that that is the crux of the matter – the middle-class are detached: “These people want to change the world, use violence if they need to, but they’ve never had the central heating turned off in their lives.” (p 67, Chapter 9 “The Upholstered Apocalypse”); “with their naive talk of overturning an entire century… they had torn down a travel poster in a shopping mall”. The implication is that they have a general urge to change the world, which they believe looks like a moment in the sun, chanting along with a large group of their fellow victims (p 51-):

Kay Churchill – “She was telling off a luckless hospital receptionist, raising her voice to a fishwife shriek as she described my chest injuries and likely brain damage. All the while, she was watching herself admiringly in the coat-stand mirror.”; “I noticed the deeply bitten nails, and the strong nose she had picked since childhood.” she openly wore her insecurities like a collection of favourite costume jewellery”;

Dexter, the imposter? – “the very picture of  fashionable Chelsea vicar”; but the scar was a little too fresh, and I suspected that he kept it deliberately inflamed…one of his canines was missing, a gap he made no attempt to hide, as if advertising…”; “he fingered the scar on his forehead, trying to rub it away and at the same time make it more prominent, an oblique caution to himself”; “his affection [for Joan Chang, girlfriend] was clear, but somehow lacked confidence, part of a larger failure of nerve.”; “I should have remembered who I was trying to be.”;

Joan Chang – “smiling slyly. ‘He doesn’t like the Adler Institute. In fact, he said everyone there should be hanged.”; “‘I always tell the truth.’ She beamed winsomely. ‘It’s a new way of lying.'”

Sally – “immersed in her own perpetual recovery, an had no wish to share her monopoly of doubt and discomfort… my bruises [from the cat show demo] were self-inflicted, far removed from the meaningless injuries that presided over her life like an insoluble mystery.”; “huddled happily over a pillow. ‘He was fined. A hundred pounds. Yes, I’m married to a criminal.”

And David’s own sob story of a motherless childhood.

“As always, a perverse calculus refreshed and redefined the world.”

  • Mathematical calculus is finding the instantaneous rate of change at a certain point i.e. the study of change – a perverse calculus is calculus configured oppositely; so, the change in Sally from chair-bound to mobile was somehow contrary – I’ve really no idea.
  • perverse: willfully determined/disposed to go counter to what is expected or desired; contrary; wayward or cantakerous; persistently or obstinately wrong; turned away from/rejecting what is right/good/proper i.e. wicked/corrupt.

Chapter 10 “Appointment with a Revolution”

Vera Blackburn – “Her apartment was sparsely furnished… A chromium-framed photograph hung above the mantlepiece, a blow-up of herself in full Helmut Newton mode, all emotion eliminated from her face… a shrine to a desperate narcissism.”

I’m starting to recognise a writing style emerge from the way the dust sits and the exhaust hangs in the wake of Ballard’s tour of the middle-class. Borrowing the dialogue of the characters, the novel is showcasing the symptoms of middle-class’ grievances against the current societal order: immortal mortgages, children needing education from the most competitively priced schools, and the threat of the dispersal of the middle-class under the stress of the first two. Written with words thick in meaning for those initiated to the problems of the middle-class, the narrative is relatively hard-going for me but I’m enjoying the insight. A particularly intense boredom, a need to place faith in a time when it’s intellectually disreputable – perhaps I am behind the times, but I identify with these conundrums, and although I may not be drinking pink gin and have Axminster wall-to-wall in central heating, my problems are easily first-world.

It’s an interesting book – you should read it!

Notes on “Millennium People” by J. G. Ballard (1)

– “We have to set people free from all this culture and education. Richard says they’re just ways of trapping the middle class and making them docile.” – “So it’s a war of liberation?” – p 61, Chapter 8 “The Sleepwalkers”.

– “I remembered Kay hinting that he had lost his faith, but this was almost an obligation in the contemporary priesthood.” – p 62, Chapter 8 “The Sleepwalkers”.

  • Naturally, as to communicate/to be in touch wth i.e. to empathise with his congregation, a priest must lose his faith in God to the scientific revolution, demonstrating that he is first a reasonable, logical human. He must have lost his faith to be able to show his congregation the way thence to reconciling with God and reconciling themselves to the ostensibly antagonistic relationship between religion and science.

– “Look at the world around you, David. What do you see? An endless theme park, with everything turned into entertainment. Science, politics, education – they’re so many fairground rides.” – p 62, Chapter 8 “The Sleepwalkers”.

  • I’m a little confused at this statement. Science, politics, education – fairground rides? Entertainment? Surely not – I mean, these are three major branches of society that hold it together, maintain it and create its future. How could you possibly think that these are mere entertainment? Sure there are magazines for each one, and they could be classified as spectator sports, as not many have the skill to play a role in these branches of society. Elements of education can be compared to a fairground ride, e.g. a languages degree etc. but fundamentally, all three branches are vital to the running of a successful society.

The target of this middle-class revolution is the 20th Century which persevered on to shape this century’s theme park.

– “It lingers on. It shapes everything we do, the way we think. There’s scarcely a good thing you can say for it. Genocidal wars, half the world destitute, the other half sleepwalking through its own brain-death. We bought its trashy dreams and now we can’t wake up. ALl these hypermarkets and gated communities. Once the doors close you can never get out. You know all this, David. It keeps you in corporate clients.” – p 63-64, Chapter 8 “The Sleepwalkers”.

  • The main character suspects that the speaker, Dexter, is an “imposter”; although what kind of imposter he might be is unclear to me, possibly due to ignorance on my part. Help?
  • All the characters presented to us in Millennium People so far have been the middle-class, those living comfortably with their specious luxuries that only do so much to delineate them from the next class down, so that they must supplement the difference by investing in the middle-class culture of theatre and literature and information. Something along those lines.
  • The main character, David, starts out as a spy for the world order as it is. He is the other half of the middle-class, the half protecting the status quo, the half still happy to be a part of the trash-fed society because it functions. The other half he describes as being “detached from reality”, being in touch with reality meaning to be in possession of worldliness, the fashionable – being literate in the current trend – and an unshakeable rationality, and he categorises them as a lost, lonely people over-abundant in faith that they cannot invest, searching for a tangible leader who will stand on their belief in rationalism for his foundation.
  • So, perhaps, what Ballard means by “imposter” is someone detached from reality, who presents themselves as the one to make an observable difference to the world.
  • So basically, this book is about the hopelessly deluded middle-class running around believing that they’re the swing vote between the proletariat and the elite class, and how a secret dissident is slowly brought to their cause?

– “Strong-willed and confident, they shouted down the young manager who tried to address them. Their voices, honed at a hundred school open days and business conferences, drowned the manager’s efforts to make himself heard.
‘What is it?’ I asked Kay, as she edged the car through the throng. ‘It looks serious.’
‘It is serious.’
‘Some paedophile on the prowl?’
‘Parking charges.’ Kay stared sternly at the luckless manager, who had taken refuge behind his glass door. ‘Believe me, the next revolution is going to be about parking.'”

  • Or rather, because the middle-class are faithless, unlike the proletariat, and in need of faith, unlike the elite, they are latching onto any convenient cause, flea-like, to satisfy their need to gather with like and believe in one absolute right. The next revolution will be about parking because it is the most popular and, therefore, has the most power.

Huh. Still largely confused.

Writing Advice; “Good Writing Is Persisting” (short fiction)

An example of simple story with a distinct concept running through it from head to tail. It will be a good reference text for when I first try to write a short story. Note the 3rd person! Whoa – impressive – it’s been a while.

Daily Prompt: Sad But True

Tell us about the harshest, most difficult to hear — but accurate — criticism you’ve ever gotten. Does it still apply?

Peggy was absolutely crushed. Written in a red marker on the title page of her short story as if from the blood of her own heart, “Rubbish, dithering screed unfit for human consumption.” It was handed back to her by Professor Carson with all the force that impelled those words.

She stayed after class to confront him. With red eyes she approached his desk.

“Are you purposely trying to fail me?’ she said timidly.

“What you wrote was sentimental drivel,” Carson said. “Meant to somehow impress me. I’m not impressed by dishonesty. Write with passion and not weepy bleeding gobbledygook. This is stuff written by silly fourteen year old girls who lives in a make-believe world of princes, princesses, toads, and evil step-mothers. You’re trying…

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DP: Sad but True

It was the harshest, most difficult to hear criticism I’d ever gotten.

To start, and to stall a little, I wasn’t sad when I heard this criticism. It felt more like the ground had been pulled from beneath my feet and the last breath that I had taken – an unsuspectingly normal volume – was all that was keeping my body buoyant above a boiling mass of nothing. I was shocked to that extent and terrified that much more – how could I ever recover certainty in my life after he had uncovered that for me? I’ve always liked a challenge though, so a part of me was glad that it had happened; that I’d had the chance to see the nothingness before I escaped it – what if I didn’t escape it? A deep deception like mine would be hard to throw off.

It was my English tutor, at the time, when I was the tender age of seventeen, who told me that I was a morbidly self-indulgent, clueless child, who had never had a work ethic separate from her fear. Every word that he delivered, I immediately recognised as true – the cadence of the words just right, their after-image dispersed into a faint noise through the air, adding authenticity to the memories before my eyes as, with time rushing past my ears, his words pulled me along the damning sequence.

Fuck. I was shy, I always admitted to myself, and I excused myself from volunteering answers, solutions, help when I wasn’t directly asked for it. I indulged my shyness and allowed myself all kinds of childish behaviour under its justification. I didn’t know a thing about the world because I had excused myself from interacting with others with a “shy note”. I didn’t know a thing about the world because I had only ever done my homework so that my mum wouldn’t get mad. I never did more than my homework because she wouldn’t mind if I didn’t. For the past seventeen years, I had been a slave to fear, and now I came out of it as independent as a newborn and with a habit of self-indulgence. The future looked bright.

I can’t remember what happened afterwards, so, no, it wasn’t my scene of peripeteia. The class went on, and for the next couple of days, I went around in a grim sort of daze, thinking over his accusations and tallying up the guilty count. After that though, I began burying my weaknesses – they were simply too hard to throw off. All of a sudden, I had to dispose of all of my defences and start confronting all of the things that I had spent seventeen – or thirteen, if you insist that I had an innocent childhood – years avoiding? I had to do this as a sort of self-motivated torture? Sorry, the fear-motivated child has to motivate herself into whole sets of fearful circumstances? Sorry, how, how do you propose that we do this? …

And so, the criticism was buried then. Does it still apply today? What is the difference between being self-indulgence and “following your dreams” and “doing what you like”? Do you have to be working towards a goal and not running away from what you find unpalatable? How does one figure out what they like without trial-and-error anyway? I would say that I am still quite a bit self-indulgent but I try to avoid it now when the consequences will be morbid. Each to their own path, I guess, I suppose disciprine worked for my tutor, and I hope some judicious self-indulgence will work for me. Ah, great.

I’m definitely still clueless but I’ve learned to live with that; it’s just my current stage. I am going to level up.

Happily enough, I think my work ethic has improved. I work an engaging waitressing gig at a local cafe and even though I receive a svelte and sexy pay packet, I don’t give it up for a similar one from Centrelink. And, I’m writing this blog! This is a lot of effort purely for my own enjoyment, self-discovery and training.

So I’m on the mend! Probably. Hm. For some reason, I have no desire to ask that old English tutor of mine.

Stan: Disciprine

Quote

Stan: Dad, Dad, Stop!
Randy: [turns around, dropping an empty bottle] I’m sorry, son! I’m off the wagon!
Stan: Dad, you don’t have to do this! You have the power. You haven’t drank since seeing the statue.
Randy: But the statue wasn’t a miracle!
Stan: Yeah. The statue wasn’t a miracle, Dad. So that means you did it. That means you didn’t have a drink for five days all on your own.
Randy: You’re right, Stan. If God didn’t make me stop drinking then… I did. Maybe… Maybe I can force myself to never drink again. [throws off all his drinks, and they shatter on the pavement.]
Stan: No!
Randy: No??
Stan: Dad, you like to drink. So have a drink once in a while. Have two. If you devote your whole life to completely avoiding something you like, then that thing still controls your life and, ‘n you’ve never learned any discipline at all.
Randy: But, maybe… I’m just the kind of person who needs to have it all or nothing.
Stan: Naw. All or nothing is easy. But learning to drink a little bit, responsibly, that’sa disciprine. Disciprine… come from within. [Randy looks at Stan for a moment, then walks up to his side and kneels next to him.]
Randy: How did I manage to raise such a smart kid?
Stan: I’ve had a great teacher.
Randy: Thanks son.
Stan: No, not you, my karate teacher. He’s really smart.
Randy: Oh. Well, tell you what: let’s leave the car here, walk home, and watch the game. Like to have another beer or two.

http://www.spscriptorium.com/Season9/E914script.htm

– S9 Ep14, South Park Scriptorium