Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Meek Shall Has Teh Urfs

Whoa. That was a lotta comments all of a sudden. I didn't think that would be the post to energize my readership, but the signs are clear. I thought I was a pop culture specialist--but of course the pop culture I like isn't actually "popular." And now it seems the people have spoken, and they're saying make with the Highbrow, you pretentious fool! It's what you do!

Commenter Adm points to the LOLCat Bible, which will of course make you laugh if you're a student of this kind of Intertubes Esoterica, and if you aren't will make you back away in baffled horror like John McCain stumbling into a midnight Rocky Horror screening. E.g. Matthew 7:1, which I trust we're familiar with:

1 "If u juj u wil be jujded. So don't.2 Bcz u will be jujded teh saem az u jujded teh othr d00d.

Well, okay then. But I read around the texts, and of course the LOLCat Bible is a community translation project--if one person had done this on their own, it would be enormously disturbing. But of course that means that the quality and tone are all over the place. [Just like in the REAL Bible d00d!!!111 OMG!] I thought Psalm 137 was a bit disappointing. (By the rivers of Babylon we sat down and wept, etc.) It's even more overused than "Teh Second Coming," but it's been a deeply affecting poem for twenty-five centuries or so--you expect it to deliver the goods. And "Kthx fer teh fluids of Babylon we were all like, n0000000001!11!! when we faut back bout Zion?" OK, maybe.

But this is linguistically complicated. LOLspeak (I CAN HAS CHEESEBURGER?) isn't exactly the same as Message Board-speak which isn't quite the same as Gamer/ Hacker slang (pwnd!!11) which is not quite the same TextmessageSpeak, though obviously they're all closely related. And I'm not fluent in any of them, really. (Hell, when I have to send text messages I use commas and quotation marks and stuff because it hurts my brain not to.) But I guess you could look at this "Bible" as a noble attempt at some kind of Grand Synthesis of Post-Literate Digital Prose Styles.

I can sympathize. After all, I'm a Synthesizer by calling. I know approximately two facts about approximately every subject ever. I guess maybe I'm supposed to explain everybody to everybody else. Sigh.

Monday, October 27, 2008

It's like I'm Vexed to Nightmare, or something...

Hey, I love Paul Krugman. I was super happy for him at his Big Moment--apparently he's really good at his old day job, too, that of professional economawhatsitronicologonomics. But of course the big prize is only obliquely related to the reasons that he's a contemporary hero, and to how he's made the past decade livable. He was overly fond of Senator Clinton, and he's kind of a cocky son of a bitch, but he's ours. And he's warmed up to the Big Guy by now.

That said: Dr. Krugman--Paul--this sort of thing must stop.
Economic data rarely inspire poetic thoughts. But as I was contemplating the latest set of numbers, I realized that I had William Butler Yeats running through my head: “Turning and turning in the widening gyre / The falcon cannot hear the falconer; / Things fall apart; the center cannot hold.”

I'm going to right now declare a Mandatory Global Moratorium on the use of "The Second Coming" in any discussion of Current Events. Yes! Of course I've done it. We've all done it! It's so easy, and it always feels horrifyingly appropriate! But that's why it's a cliché! You think oh just this once, it won't hurt anyone; anyone can see that the tragedy is that THE BEST LACK ALL CONVICTION! How true that is! And things falling apart? Hell, that happens to me ALL THE TIME.

Really, anybody who's used that "worst are full of passionate intensity" bit in the past decade--and you know you have!--has to remind themself that they probably don't agree with old W.B., or he wouldn't agree with them, about who exactly the "worst" are. But that's not even the point! We've done him the courtesy of overlooking that whole Unfortunate Politics thing because of the whole Genius thing, and rightly so. But for the sake of decency, we also have to stop beating this creepy poem into the rhetorical ground.

So let's just leave it here. The center cannot hold. Fine. Let's all agree to find another way to point that out. No more blood-dimmed tides! No more mere anarchy loosed upon the world! And for the sake of all that is holy, no more slouching of any kind by anybody towards anywhere! There's a book on my shelf called Slouching Toward Fargo, for the love of god! About minor-league baseball! And of course one-time Supreme Court nominee (and present-day batshit crazy Mitt Romney fan) Robert Bork really did in all seriousness put out a book called Slouching Towards Gomorrah. (For somebody worried about the Decline of the West, that's a spectacularly incoherent mash-up of two different pseudo-Biblical tropes that have long since outlived their usefulness.)

(The same goes for any unironic citing of Polonius's advice to his children. Never do what that guy tells you! Go ahead, kids, be a borrower. It's fun!)

[Footnote: while typing this, I for one brief moment had the title of the poem written as "Teh Second Coming," which should provoke giggles in other online children like myself. That's the perfect shorthand for this kind of Media Yeats Abuse! Yeats r00l1z!!!!11 Ezra Pound is teh suck!]

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Usual Apology, and A Weird Tale

A quick, guilty return to posting. Same excuses as ever. Lazy, dysfunctional, blah blah, you know the drill.

Anyway, here's a little story I wrote. Hadn't written any fiction since my schoolboy days--i.e. a year ago--and wasn't really sure I still could. But I was happily forced. Friend of a friend was running a Halloween themed art show, and I was told to come up with something seasonally appropriate, so they could maybe have some kind of "spooky" reading. Well, the show seemed to be a success, but the "reading" part apparently fell by the wayside--too loud and too many people, anyway. But I'd dashed off this little thing, just in case. And because it was just a lark, an exercise in creepy surrealism for its own sake, it was easy and fun to write instead of stressful and sickening. This might be the key to something. It still sounds like me, after all. (Aimless youth! Mournful guys making wisecracks!) No reason it couldn't become a "real" story of some kind, eventually.

I'd been reading H.P. Lovecraft at work, and I realized I could just inject that freaked-out paranoid aesthetic into my usual Mournful Inarticulate People world. And I could make it happen at Maumee Bay State Park. So I did.

The Yellow Island

The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.

(From "The Call of Cthulhu")

We were on the boardwalk at the edge of the lake and it was getting rapidly darker, when L told me the one about the island. L said a great many things that didn't make much sense to me, but I always believed her. I had to. Once she told me that there were gas stations all around the city that didn't sell gas—if you were lucky enough to stumble upon one, what came out of the pumps would be silver and opaque and give off a wild rich odor that you wouldn't recognize, and something would happen to your car that would be hard to put your finger on. It would just run better, somehow, or just feel more like it was yours. She said it had happened to her college roommate, but that she didn't have the girl's phone number any more.

She said you shouldn't let the silver stuff touch your skin. I pointed out that you shouldn't get regular gas all over your skin, either, but she just looked at me with something like pity. She knew things, things that it took a great deal out of you to know, and all I could do was point out the flaws in her peculiar little arguments. She never stopped telling me her stories, though.

Once she told me that her cousin was a werewolf—not the kind you're thinking of, she said, but wouldn't explain what kind she meant. She told me she knew a guy who'd gotten cancer because he used the wrong light bulbs. She told me her father was so nervous sometimes that you could see through him. Literally, she said. He shivers and you can see through the spaces between his atoms. Not much; you couldn't watch TV through him, or anything. But you can make out the color of the wall behind him.

And that day by the lake she told me about the yellow island. The wind was rattling the tall grass, and you couldn't see the lake at all until you were right on top of it. We all lived only a few miles from the lake, L pointed out, but we never saw it—it was hidden behind factories and weeds and ragged useless woods. Things could go on there that nobody knew about—and sure enough, things did.

We were at the end of the boardwalk, where you can climb a few feet up a few wooden stairs to a little platform, where suddenly there the lake is, like you just remembered something important. You can't see a whole lot, really. You can see lights on the shore to the west, getting dimmer as they get further to the north. You can't see the far side at all.

You can't see the yellow island, but L assured me it was there, just out of sight.

"How exactly is it yellow?" I asked, and she just looked at me. It wasn't the look of pity this time, and I knew that I believed every word she told me and that I always would. She was just looking, and her eyes were a sharper and harder green than I remembered.

"It is," she said. "Just yellow. Like some kid's drawing of the sun. Like crayon. You wouldn't know what you were looking at."

"Sounds just adorable," I said. "What a cute little island. I guess I'd like to see that."

"You wouldn't," she said. "You wouldn't like it if you did." I didn't laugh because I couldn't laugh while I looked at her.

"How do you know?" I said.

"I've seen it," she said. "Two summers ago. You didn't know me then. I went out after work with all these people from the bar I was working at. I didn't know anybody that well."

"What bar?" I asked.

"It's not there anymore," she said, simply. "But the owner's kid like to hang out with all of us deadbeats who worked there, sometimes—real asshole, but he had a lot of money to throw around, and he wanted to be cool. And this time he had brought this friend who nobody knew, some other rich kid, but this friend had a boat, and we all went out on the lake at night. Everybody drank a lot. People were telling stories about all the sick shit they and their friends had done—you know, stuff they'd stolen from their neighbors and what drugs you'd never heard of that their older brother could get. You know. I remember this one girl—Emily, I think was her name—she kind of freaked out, but I don't remember why.

"No, I do remember," she said, suddenly, interrupting herself. "It was that guy, the friend of the non-friend, the boat guy. He kept saying weird shit. But he was saying it to me, is what's funny, not to that Emily chick. He kinda fixated on me, and I was letting him. Not because I like him, but because I didn't care. But you know how some guys have to, like, point out constellations and stars and shit when they're out at night with a girl?"

"I do that," I said.

"I know," she said. "But it was like he got stuck. He kept pointing over my head, and saying Algol, like it was the only name he could remember. I still remember it, and I don't know anything about stars. Algol, he kept saying. You know that, right? Algol. The eye of the Gorgon. The winking demon. Winking. You know that, right? And I didn't do anything, but Emily started crying and throwing up over the side of the boat, and then I guess the subject got changed. I guess maybe we were all doing something else for a while, playing some stupid word-association game, or drinking game, or something.

"Then it was getting light," she said, "and I don't remember who noticed it first, but it seemed like really suddenly we could all see the yellow island, maybe a quarter mile away. Hard to tell distance on the water, you know? But the island, you could tell it wasn't supposed to be there, like that. Nothing's really that color, you know? It was just flat and empty, and I couldn't tell how big it was or what it was made of. It didn't look like, you know, dirt. It was—not shiny exactly, but it was reflecting too much light. It was too yellow. It was like all the yellow things that anybody ever lost were getting together in one place, they'd been piling up on the bottom of the lake for years and now they were above the surface. And it was familiar. I thought, oh, right, that. I've heard about that, even though I never had. Nobody knew what to say about it. I could tell we were all scared, sort of, but nobody said anything. The weird guy just turned the motor back on and pointed the boat back toward the city. Everybody was pretty drunk, and the sun really hurt my eyes. We all stumbled off and nobody talked about the island the next day, or any day after that. I couldn't remember the weird guy's name, and he never showed up again, and when I asked the owner's kid about him a couple months later—we were both drunk again, at some stupid party—he acted like he didn't know who I was talking about. And at first I thought he was just playing dumb, that he didn't want me knowing his friend for some reason, but then I sort of believed him."

She wasn't looking at me anymore. Just staring out across the lake. It was totally dark by then, and I couldn't see the horizon. There was one light out in the darkness. I know there's a lighthouse out there somewhere, but I've never seen it.

She looked to the east and pointed at the sky, and I followed her perfect small hand with my eyes.

"Algol," she said. "The winking demon." She sighed.

"So now, since then," she said, "I get sick at yellow traffic lights."

"I think I've heard about that," I said.