To Explore Strange New Worlds, To Seek Out New Life and New Civilizations

A friend caught a picture of me in the wild this weekend.

My spirit cave is a bookstore.
Or the library from Beauty and the Beast.

Walking into a bookstore is like turning off the outside world and getting caught in a current heading off into unknown territory. I’ll drift from shelf to shelf, trailing my hands along the spines, head tilted as I study the titles, getting lost in a procession of words and ideas. And if I can get physically lost, if the aisles are warrenlike and impossible to navigate, both because direction ceases to make sense and the walkways are littered with an effusion of books, I’ll just be all the happier.

I think it has something to do with the tradition of books, and book-collecting, and reading. We like to imagine scholars amidst veritable mountains of books, covering all available surfaces and transitioning from mere reading material to necessary furniture. Not to mention it just becomes a reality – if you like books, they’re going to be crammed into every available shelf space, as well as stacked on your floor, and lining your desk. If you’re me, you’ll also have them stuffed into the space between your mattress and bed frame for quick-draw late-night excursions. But the idea of having enough books to dominate all space, to have enough books to last a lifetime – this is Shangri-la. So the idea of a warren of books is not only a lit-nerd’s tizzy-inducing physical manifestation of a metaphor, but a trait that identifies a bookstore’s place in a long tradition of bibliophilia. It legitimizes a store, identifies its owners as true believers. (Bonus – it’s harder to extricate me from said warren.) 

Which is maybe why big box corporate bookstores feel like they’re missing something. There are plenty who espouse the community and superior selection and personality of independent bookstores, but since I don’t really go to events or chat up the staff, that never really made sense to me. How those things might be better for society at large doesn’t necessarily affect my personal experience of a bookstore. But I still like little indie shops crammed with books over big box stores. Big boxes are too easy to navigate, there’s no exploration involved.

When I got into a bookstore, 9 times out of 10, I’m setting out on a uncharted expedition, without a destination to reach or an objective to accomplish. There’s no immediate goals, no requirements to satisfy. Sometimes I walk away disappointed, but sometimes I emerge triumphant, ultimately elated at my finds. But usually, I gamble on something with a neat cover and maybe a few vague memories of something someone said to me about an author, and bank on discovery.

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A Piñata at a Birthday Party in a Mental Hospital

A writer’s brain is full of little gifts, like a piñata at a birthday party. It’s also full of demons, like a piñata at a birthday party in a mental hospital.

McSweeney’s is a veritable treasure trove of better/funnier writing than I can do and almost-productive procrastination (reading about writing is like the same thing as writing, right?)

Every time aspiring writers ask published writers how to get published, they repeat pretty much the same things, which are so simple, that they obviously can’t be true.

Read the full piece about these rules by Colin Nissan at McSweeney’s:
The Ultimate Guide To Writing Better Than You Normally Do

Meeting at the Crossroads

I found a prompt somewhere about making Faustian deals and meeting the crossroads demon. For someone who’s been catching up on Mike Carey’s Lucifer, and who regularly binges on Supernatural, this is a pretty irresistible prompt.

But the things is when you think about the crossroads, divorced from the mythology of making deals with the devil, it’s still a very metaphorically potent image. Think Frost and The Road Not Taken. It makes that image of the crossroads demon even more interesting, suggesting that someone who’s called up demons for some insidious designs had a variety of choices and chose maybe the stupidest one – do I go left or right or back, no I know I’ll go straight down.

So I got onto this idea, not quite in that direct path, but eventually, of what is the absolute stupidest thing you could make a deal with the devil for.

Incidentally, I was recently reading a book about a guy who mistakenly summons a demon and ends up causing a demonic strike and thereby wins a free wish from the devil. And with that, he chooses to become a superhero – as a part-time gig. This is not a stupid thing to wish for, in fact, I think it’s pretty awesome, and it was not a bad read – The Damned Busters, by Matthew Hughes. But this is entirely beside the point.

Back to the stupidity thing –
I don’t think a character who was actually stupid would be any fun. More than anything, you’d just feel bad for him, because if they’d be gifted with a few more brain cells, they might’ve wanted something else. So for it to be any fun, the wisher would have to be just particular about the way things work out in their life. For example, the type of character that fervently believed that the discrepancy between box, pl. boxes and ox, pl. oxen, was one of the greatest travesties in the history of humanity.

But then also to take into consideration – how would the rest of the world change? It would be infinitely more exciting if a small, seemingly insignificant wish – like I wish all milk was blue – suddenly changed everything about our world [This may be how that world in a galaxy far, far away sprung into existence, first blue milk, then LIGHTSABERS.]

I mean what if zippers never existed?

Or if small talk bore the penalty of death?

Or if springs didn’t exist?

Drifting into currents of that thought inevitably lead to the conclusion that someone could have made a spectacularly idiotic wish like that, and inadvertently caused all the major issues in the world, only we have no idea, because we never knew the true value of a dinglybop that never existed in our timeline.

Alas, for the dinglybop!

 

Getting the Grit Out

… there’s a part of me that is tired of this world in which people are so conflicted with each other. Superhero comics and movies have implied the bad points of reality in a tough and satirical way. Messages like ‘Heroes don’t save anything.’

But I wanted to say ‘No, it’s heroic if everyone combines their strength and works together” through aesthetics in response to these old messages. That sort of thing may not be enough for today’s world, at least not in America. For some reason or another unity itself is treated somewhat like a joke. I think that’s the sort of thing everyone’s looking for.

-Joss Whedon

The Avengers recently opened in Japan, and in a interview with Gizmodo, when asked about how the Avengers existing in our world with the current social climate and concerns, he gave the above reply. Basically, let’s get over that whole dark, gritty thing.

Here’s the thing, I love the dark gritty take as much as the next person, but when it comes right down to it, I’m the type of person that loves romanticism, and loves things that are passionately, and unabashedly vibrant and emotional and fantastic. I believe in the triumph of intellect and romance over brute force and cynicism. Which makes total sense, because to be a geek is to essentially love something passionately and unabashedly. So even though I occasionally enjoy something that takes a “new” attitude that’s slightly darker and slightly edgier, I will never take as much pure unadulterated joy in the dark, gritty as I do in something that celebrates its romantic origins.

More on this later…

Prompt & Response – Speechless

Today’s prompt is Speechless.

The idea is to write about someone who has been rehearsing this speech over and over and over again in their head, trying to ingrain the perfect words for the the perfect moment in their head.

But when that moment arrives,for some reason, they don’t say a word.

I thought about this on my way home today (I had forgotten why I like walking places, and how much I enjoy it…. ) and came up with a few different ideas. I will probably eventually pick one and write, or maybe I’ll even write them all. But for now, while they percolate, here’s what sprang to mind (and stuck – sometimes they bounce back into the void because they’re terrible ideas and deserve to die sad lonely deaths) when I thought of being Speechless.

  1. A love affair between a photograph and war widow
    I had thought a bit more of a plot line up for this, but when I summarized it just now into that pithy description, it opened up a bit, and now I think that I was maybe pigeon-holing into something when it could be much better… But the main idea is that unbreakable wall that exists in that situation. No matter how much either of them may have to say to each other.
  2. A speech that keeps being shaken clear, like a scribble on an Etch-a-Sketch
    While the prompt was percolating in my mind, a song came on my iPod, and one of the lyrics said something about a shaken glass ball, maybe like a snow globe. So I got this image of someone composing this speech, either out of admiration or admonition to say to this faceless presence that keeps ‘shaking’ the speech into oblivion… the idea kind of reminds me of a short story Neil Gaiman wrote for the Matrix.
  3. A robot who’s in love with another robot, but can’t say it, because he only speaks in beeps and whistles.
    In case you’re wondering, the afflicted robot looks kinda like a trash can and is in love with a robot that has a distinctly golden hue.