I was thinking this morning about things that I miss from when I was younger – and swimming is one of them. When I lived in Panama I used to swim across open water (in Lake Gatun) – sometimes a mile a day. Now, it all seems like a dream.
I remember the early days of the internet – there was such excitement and feelings that the possibilities were endless – especially at work. Those slowly died (were murdered, actually) and the digital world became the oppressive monster we all know today. What a shame.
“Every balcony is a poem, a chant — a muscle! But whoever lives with that extra blueprint luxury of a balcony lives on the wrong side of a cross-section, on the busy, narrative-addled side of something like an ant-farm window, a brazen architectural arrangement selling cheap peeks into the naked sideshows of the quotidian — even the grisly. Step right up! Behold! A ten story wall of solid twitching muscle!”
—-Director Guy Maddin in Paste Magazine on his short film Accidence
After watching and enjoying The Forbidden Room I was working through the selection of Guy Maddin films streaming on The Criterion Channel. And I now have a new favorite movie.
It’s a nine minute short called Accidence. It is an obvious homage to Hitchcock’s Rear Window. The entire film is a continuous take (zoomed in and out with a bit of panning) of the side of an apartment block – thirty units in all. There is a view of the balconies, some windows into the apartment interiors, and a glimpse of things moving up and down the stairs.
Ok, so it’s only nine minutes long… but you can’t watch it only once. On first viewing it is a confused ant-like cacophony of people on and off of their balconies. But as you watch it again and again, patterns emerge and a story is created. It is a story of doppelgangers, violence, families, boredom and drama. And a fuzzy white dog.
Who is the murderer? Who is the victim? Are they the same person?
I have watched it maybe forty times and will watch it many more. I still see new things. Watch the balloon for example. There is a red ghost that appears against the brick a couple of times – I think I figured out who that is.
I just respect audiences to understand that that’s what goes on in movies. I just try to make movies that respect the intelligence of the audience. Respect that they understand that the narrator is always unreliable and respect that they understand that the medium can do whatever it wants.
The last few days I’ve been perusing the depths of the streaming service from The Criterion Collection – more specifically, looking at the films that are going away at the end of July.
I have discovered a director that I had never known before – a Canadian named Guy Maddin. He makes very unusual and unique films – many of which are done in a style that looks a lot (at first glance, at least) like something made in the early part of the twentieth century – high contrast, black and white or oversaturated color, little dialog with occasional title cards…. such as that. Very odd and crazy stuff.
One film that I watched and really, really liked was The Forbidden Room. After a brief introduction from Marv, who talks about how to take a bath – the plot begins on a doomed submarine carrying a cargo of unstable explosives. There is a knock on a hatch and a woodsman is revealed – drenched in fresh water – and neither he nor the crew can figure out how or why he is there. And then things get really weird.
The structure of the movie is like a series of Russian nesting dolls. Stories inside of stories inside of stories. It is surprisingly consistent about working its way back out again.
There is even a song “The Final Derriere” from a favorite band of mine from decades ago, Sparks.
I was able to look beyond the weirdness and had a good time watching it. In the trailer above, Sight and Sound magazine said, “Has more ideas in ten minutes than most filmmakers have in their entire oeuvres.” And that is what I liked – the interesting concepts, themes, and characters come from the screen like bullets from a machine gun.
Guy Maddin has some other work on the channel that go back into the ether in a few days. Have to get crackin’.
“Why do people have to be this lonely? What’s the point of it all? Millions of people in this world, all of them yearning, looking to others to satisfy them, yet isolating themselves. Why? Was the earth put here just to nourish human loneliness?” ― Haruki Murakami, Sputnik Sweetheart
It started on May 5 and ended a week ago – I read all of 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami. The book is roughly a thousand pages long and I read it in conjunction with my Difficult Read Book Club. We used to meet every week at the Wild Detectives Book Store in Bishop Arts. Since Covid put the kebash on all of that we have met on Zoom for the last two books, Brothers Karamazov and 1Q84.
It’s really a great way to read a long/difficult book. There is a weekly goal of a certain number of pages so the herculean task is split into manageable chunks. There is a group of like minded folk to bounce questions off of and keep you interested. Plus, it’s a lot of fun.
Was the book good?
Yes, it was very good – I enjoyed it immensely. I is for everyone?
No. It is a very odd book, with an unusual structure. It is amazingly politically incorrect. It makes no sense in a lot of places. No spoilers, but the ending definitely does not tie up all the loose ends.
Here’s a guy that really didn’t like it:
He is looking for a conventional narrative (evidence for this are all the books on the shelf behind him). 1Q84, like I said, is not a conventional narrative. It exists in its own world.
Here’s one of the many, many folks that liked the novel:
I like his take – and I like the drink he made.
Our Difficult Reads Book Club will have a party soon at the Wild Detectives to celebrate in person reading 1Q84 and Brothers Karamazov – which we read earlier. At the party we will find out what our next book will be – it will be a shorter work so we can finish before Christmas. I’m excited, can’t wait.
“Think of the fierce energy concentrated in an acorn! You bury it in the ground, and it explodes into an oak!”
― George Bernard Shaw
From my blog (I called it an “Online Journal” then), The Daily Epiphany, Sunday July 27, 1997 – Exactly twenty four years ago.
Pissing in the Street
My house is a set of two rectangular blocks. One for the main residence and another, set at right angles, for the garage. Simple, cheap, boring. The only break in the monotony is one corner of the house is missing; a space carved away for the front door. This space also is a cube; a square negative room. We put a little bench there, I’m growing English Ivy up the brick wall side and around the edges on the ground. Crape Myrtles line the west side, bushes line the front. I have been letting the plants grow, trimming them when necessary but mostly letting them find their own way; painting in with green. The Crape Myrtles are now big enough to develop the smooth, curvy bark that is so attractive. I am trying to create a little restful garden spot here; a connection with the outside world.
Late Saturday night I sat out there on the bench to do some writing. I had put in an outlet for Christmas lights, it powered up my laptop so I didn’t have to worry about batteries. It was after midnight and surprisingly warm and muggy. I was sweating through my T-shirt but it was still nice to get out into some more or less fresh air. I expected some peace and quiet out there.
The entire neighborhood is a fractal expansion of my rectangular house. Rectangular lot; rectangular block; rectangular subdivision. It is set on a bias. Parallel to the closest Interstate. All laid out for the maximum profit for the long-bankrupt developer; subject to the sacred call of the auto. The suburb was literally thrown together, get ’em built, get out. Now it is a boring, sleepy village within a city. Full of families (who would live here if they didn’t have kids?). Lawns mowed, identically edged, trees, shrubs, cars, trucks, boats, RV’s.
I expected silence out there. The walls of the house are a powerful barrier; more mental than physical. Within the cocoon, the illusion of suburban life is complete; kitchen (fridge and microwave), couch, TV, (computer) the stops on the limited journey of an illusion of life. The background A/C hum supplies the white noise that destroys any vibrations leaking in from the real world. Simply walking through the door and sitting outside the walls is subversive, against the tenets of American Suburb Family Law.
I expected silence out there. There was a rumble in the distance. The isosceles triangle of Interstate Highways that mark out the area where we live provide a clamor of rubber on concrete, creaking steel, squealing tires, booming horns, the hiss of eighteen wheel compressed air leaving brake cylinders. The call of a race of steel giants racing along; my presence unknown and unimportant; life itself rushing along the asphalt, going to God knows where.
Against this rhythm in the distance the symphony of my neighborhood was completed by the melody and accompaniment of local sounds. Someone was having a hell of a fight. I couldn’t tell where it came from; it sounded like the house directly across, but that house was dark; sound does travel on a calm, warm night. The sounds of battle might be coming from a long way off. Male voices, female voices, maybe six or so in all. Screaming, cussing (I couldn’t pick out individual words, but somehow the shouted obscenities could be identified for what they were), the sound of tinkling glass. This went on for ten or fifteen minutes; then the sound of squealing tires and it ended.
I expected silence out there. A house across my street has some teenage daughters, there are always guys in cars hanging out there at night; like alley cats or dogs in heat. A pickup truck roared down the road and screeched to a halt in front of their house. As the truck rumbled the horn honked on and on. Then it sped off, returning in a couple minutes with another car. The honking resumed. I couldn’t see much, I was screened by the bushes, but I could tell by the sounds that a bunch of people were out milling around. Nobody paid any attention to me as I typed; I’m not sure if they saw me or not but I’m sure that if they looked I was visible, my face lit by the screen on the laptop.
I expected silence out there. I heard a noise, liquid, running. Someone was pissing in the street. It was a lot; I know that kind of a piss, beer piss. Looking out through the leaves all I could see was a bare stomach and chest; young, slim, bejeaned; illuminated bright red from the filtered brakelights of the still idling pickup. The cacophany didn’t lessen with the urinating. I couldn’t tell how many voices were mingled in a melange of obscenities, lies, boasts, teasings, the usual testosterone late night drunken summernight pickup revelry.
The little impromptu party continued. It sure didn’t sound like fun, or sexy, or youthful. It was almost tired, frustrated, even mean. There was some stupid shoving, the house door slammed twice, tinkling of broken glass on the sidewalk, and the vehicles roared away. They circled the block twice and were gone.
I finished my typing and found that Candy had woken up and discovered the front door unlocked. I rooted around in the ivy for a half hour until I found the hiding place for the extra key. I didn’t want to ring the bell, It would wake the kids and scare my wife.
Candy says that all kids hang out like those folks were, it’s harmless. She’s right, of course, twenty-odd years ago I spent more than one night hanging out near some cute-young-thing’s house, drinking beer and boasting. They must be out there a lot; it’s not unusual to find beer cans or brown broken glass in our yard, the Mazda has an extra dent where someone bounced a quart bottle off the hood, a couple times there’s been tire tracks in our yard.
Maybe I’m being an old fuddy-duddy but I’m not entirely at ease with those kids out there, only a few feet and some sheetrock and siding away from my sleeping sons. Or maybe I’m jealous, wishing my days of hanging out weren’t receding so far into the past, that my stomach doesn’t look like the one on the guy pissing in the street.
“When the elevator doors open there is only one other person inside it, a homeless man with electric blue sunglasses and six plastic grocery bags filled with rags. “Close the doors, dammit,” he yells as soon as we step inside. “Can’t you see I’m blind?”
From the back, the homeless man shoves between us, his bounty rustling in his arms. “Stop yelling,” he shouts. though we stand in utter silence. “Can’t you tell that I’m deaf?”
― Jodi Picoult, My Sister’s Keeper
“Well, are you ready to call it a night?”
“Do you want to go to an after hours bar or something?”
“I’ve never been to where you live. Can we go to your place?”
“I still live with my parents, you know that. Their apartment is tiny, I sleep on a futon in my mother’s sewing room. I’ve never been to where you live either. You live alone. We have to go there.”
“But my apartment is… really small.”
“Is it clean?”
“Of course. But…”
“It’s big enough then.”
I had always wanted to live in the center of the city… on the island itself. I was tired of feeling like an outsider, a tourist. But rents were so high and I never had and will never have any money. For a year I rode that interminable train ride, rocking elbow to elbow with the other strap-hangers. I would look through the rental listings, hoping, hoping. Finally….
Walking to meet my new prospective landlord past the block after block of tents filling the sidewalk, most a bilious purple-orange color. The government has spent untold millions on buying thousands of tents to “solve” the homeless problem and distributed them – surprised when they were snapped up and the population living on the streets blossomed even more. I looked at the rows of nylon and filth and wondered if I could do that. I have camped a lot over my life but never on a sidewalk beneath the glass canyons of downtown. A lot of valuable parking was taken up by bathroom trailers provided by the city that had necessities and showers, but still….
The address on the listing was a huge hulking brick building. It looked like an ancient factory, divided up into a filing cabinet of tiny living spaces. There were very few windows and only one door. I was repelled at first, but realized that a place at this affordable price was not going to be in a new shiny glass tower with a grid of balconies repeating up into the sky. This was my dream, but it was going to be modified by the real world.
“You are right,” the rental agent said, “this used to be a factory. I have no idea what they made here, but whatever it was, it was huge, as you will see.”
We walked through a maze of sheetrock walls, obviously thrown up to divide some massive assembly room into a warren of rented cubicles. We arrived at a wall that was taken up by a giant steel vertical door with a peeling number “1” stenciled onto it. Of to one side was a single simple round button with an upward facing arrow. The rental agent pushed this. There was a heavy shuddering and a low loud metallic groan. After a minute of this the door slowly raised up, revealing a shallow space delineated off by a translucent plastic divider. In the middle was an ordinary door, with a peephole. It was labeled 1-12 A.
“Well this is it,” the rental agent said. She took out a key and unlocked the door.
“I don’t understand.”
“Like I said, the factory made huge, giant, heavy, something-or-others. They moved them up or down on this gigantic freight elevator. Other than the stairs, it’s the only way to reach the upper floors in this part of the building. Since it was now being used for pedestrians most of the elevator was wasted space. We built this partition and were able to rent out the area behind it. Come on in, take a look.”
“The walls are metal mesh?”
“The back and side walls, yes. But beyond them are only concrete. There is actually a kind of window in back between every two floors. It lets in a nice light as you go past.”
“Of course it does. All the other residents us it to get up and down. But there is the partition and a locked door.”
“The partition doesn’t look all that opaque.”
“Oh, there’s enough for privacy. And you can make as much noise as you want. You can play music. Folks on an elevator don’t care about that.”
“I see the stove and ‘fridge. But no sink. And no bathroom.”
“On eleven you have access to an old janitor’s closet. A big sink, and we put in a shower and toilet. It’s yours. Your door key fits. Just go up to eleven, get off, down the hall, one left, then a right. I’ll show you.”
“I don’t know if I can live in a place like this. It goes up and down. People at the front all the time. It’s crazy.”
“It’s the only place I can afford.”
“I’ve heard that before.”
Well, it turns out she loved my apartment. She liked the feeling of going up and down so much that, late at night, when the other people were all home asleep she’d go out the front door and push all the buttons. That would keep my place moving for a while. She loved watching the concrete walls slowly shift up and down.
She crawled out of the hatch on top and put plants on the window sills so she could watch those go by. She bought a watering can with a long spout so she could drip water through the mesh into her plants as we moved past them.
The only problem is that she likes to make a lot of noise in bed when she think people are in the elevator up front. She rearranged the lamps so that we sometimes throw obscene shadows on the translucent wall. It bothers me a little but nobody’s complained yet.
As a matter of fact I think she likes this tiny apartment more than me. If we broke up, I’m afraid she would throw me out.
One bad (possibly the second worst) thing about being old is how difficult it is to make friends. Good friends you have had for a long, long time drift away and new ones are hard to come by. Is it impossible?
I recently caught up with Dr. Amy Bucher, the author of Engaged, a compelling guidebook on designing products and services that change people’s lives. She talks about behavioral design, the science of crafting products and services in such a way as to shape or influence human behavior. Here is our conversation.
A new Tarot deck, designed by graphic artist Todd Alcott, drawing inspiration from midcentury pulp illustrations
I use a Tarot deck to help generate fiction writing ideas. I just have an ordinary (cheap) Rider-Waite tarot deck – but I look at more artistic and interesting decks – it could be a rabbit hole – but if I had a little more money I know I’d buy a few.
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub; For in that sleep of death what dreams may come When we have shuffled off this mortal coil, Must give us pause: there’s the respect That makes calamity of so long life;
Gregory had not always been an organized person. He lived most of his life in a haphazard desultory way, never sure of what came next. When his wife told him, “I can’t live like this any more,” left for California with the twins and moved in with the lawyer she had met online, he realized he had to get his shit together.
He went to seminars and read piles of books. He listened to podcasts and hired a personal organizer. He decluttered. He downsized and organized, planned and simplified. Most important of all, he made up routines.
By setting up routines he eliminated personal choice in what he did. It was a way to battle back against his natural tendency to chaos. If he could put reality into a series of carefully thought out and designed checklists he could keep disaster at bay. Gregory decided he wanted life to be smooth and planned – all risk and decision eliminated.
His personal organizer gave him a series of printed forms that fit into a binder which covered every possible aspect of every day. She helped him brainstorm, fill out the checklists, then edit and extend them until every hour of every day was planned out ahead of time and he didn’t have to decide what to do next – it was all in black and white. He discovered that once he had settled on a routine he didn’t have to look at the paper any more. It was seared into his memory and after a few days it ripened into an irreversible habit.
The alarm on Gregory’s phone beeped at six AM and after one and only one tapping of the snooze he hopped out of bed to begin his morning routine. He drank the ice water he had placed in an insulated steel tumbler on his nightstand the night before. He moved to the tatami mat next to his bed and did a short series of stretches with a foam roller. He checked the clothes that he had chosen before he went to bed and laid them out on the bed. Then it was into the bathroom. He pushed the electric shaver around on his face and then flossed. He started the water in the shower to allow it to warm up as he brushed his teeth. Then into the shower.
In the old days, he would luxuriate under the hot water, leaning against the tile as the warmth poured over him, enjoying the feel of the droplets against his skin. Thoughts of the day before, the day coming up, and strange random memories from far in his past would joust in his mind for a few split seconds of attention. His wife would get angry because he would waste so much time in the shower and use up all the hot water. Not any more. He washed himself quickly and efficiently, using a minimum of time and cleaning products.
Stepping out, he dried himself with a clean towel hung on a hook. Then he used a small hand towel kept by the mirror to clear a spot in the fogged glass so he could groom his hair with the comb kept in the holder right at hand. A stick of deodorant came out of a handy drawer – it was the only item in there – and he was done in the bathroom
He stepped naked back into his bedroom and sat in a chair he had placed next to the spot where he had laid out his outfit for the day. He had only one task left before he could get dressed and head out for the day.
Next to the chair was a small, sturdy table with a lacquered wooden box and a kitchen timer. The box had a combination lock built in and he moved the numbers to the proper setting. He twisted the timer to seven minutes and opened the heavy lid of the wooden box. Gregory lifted a Glock 19 9mm pistol out of the box, slid a full magazine into the gun, then pulled back on the slide – charging a shell into the firing chamber. He thumbed the safety so that the gun was ready to fire.
Gregory reversed the gun, stuck his thumb into the trigger guard, and then slid the barrel into his mouth. He closed his eyes and sat there, still, listening to the ticking of the kitchen timer. He felt the steel of the barrel between his teeth and ran his tongue around the opening at the end. He tasted the oily residue on the Glock and smelled the slight smoky odor left over from the last time he took the gun to the range. He breathed in through his nose and out through his wedged-open mouth, feeling his breath pass between his lips and the body of the gun.
His mind went to the decision he had to make, the one he made each day. Hamlet had said it best, “To be or not to be, that is the question.” Two columns appeared in his mind – the endless stream of checklists to navigate or the dark splotch of blood against his bedroom wall. The “strings and arrows,” or “that sleep of death.” Sitting there, clean and naked, with the Glock in his mouth, he could think clearly and dispassionately as he summed up the columns in his mind. Some days the decision was a close one.
But today, the timer gave off its little “ding,” and Gregory removed the Glock from his mouth. He turned the safety, removed the magazine, cleared the round and pushed it back into the cartridge. It wasn’t Saturday, so he didn’t clean the gun but simply wiped the saliva off with a cloth and replaced the gun, magazine, and cloth back in the wooden case, closed the lid, and randomized the numbers. Gregory put on the clothes that he had set out and walked through the door into another day.
“The very instant I saw you, did My heart fly to your service; there resides To make me slave to it.
― William Shakespeare
From my old journal, The Daily Epiphany, Tuesday, July 17, 2001 (exactly twenty years ago):
Stuff dreams are made on
I had a long couple days at work so I thought I’d reward myself with an evening of free Shakespeare. Candy was able to make arrangements to help her get all the kids to all the places they needed to go. So I was free to take off.
I stopped by the grocery store and bought a salad from the salad bar (make it yourself, 2.99 a pound, little black plastic bowl with clear lid, plastic silverware that I slipped into my pocket instead of the bowl – to save weight) some yogurt, a Mistic Zotics (Mozambique Marula Fruit), and finally – a bottle of Sobe (pink Lizard Fuel – Strawberry and Banana).
The preplay festivities had the clown-players embarrassing as many folks in the crowd as possible. The high point was when three of them were juggling and a member of the audience walked up, pulled three hackysacks from his pockets and joined in.
Tonight is the Tempest and it starts in a half hour or so. I’m full of food and drowsy now so I think I’ll stretch out on my Barney Blanket and nod off for awhile.
The play begins.
This production has the most important features for a successful Tempest – nasty-lookin’ babes and skimpy outfits.
I like how they do the storm – the chorus whips a green parachute into violent waves while the actors stand up in holes through the fabric.
You can probably count on your fingers the number of times you’ve completed 8 hours of work in an 8-hour workday. Whether it’s endless meetings, constant emails, or coworkers popping in for a “quick chat,” your productivity rarely makes it through the day.
The problem is that when you design your to-do list for an 8-hour workday but end up with just 1-2 hours of productive time, you’re going to be in trouble.