The Short Story that, MANY Years Later Led to Aetherchrist

I started writing around 16, but didn’t really start taking it seriously until I was between 22-24. At that point I started taking ideas seriously, but the craft of writing was lost on me. I found scripts easier to write, which gave me a handle on plot structure and characterization, but prose . . . I struggled with that for a long time. Probably until 2014 or so.

The reason I’m prefiguring what I’m about to share with the above context is because the story below is from-if I had to guess-around 2004 or so. It’s one of the last stories from that time period I kept my hands on for all of these years. Looking back, it has very little to do with Aetherchrist. It isn’t good enough to publish anywhere else. But it does have some interesting similarities thematically with Aetherchrist, the most notable of which is the idea that different forms of communication can lead to a veritable godhood.

If nothing else, the story is evidence that the themes we often explore are cyclical in nature. They recur in a concentric capacity, growing more developed as we grow older. I’m actually seeing some elements of the book I’m working on now encapsulated herein as well now.

It’s kind of frightening to see-in retrospect-how far we come . . . and how little we have moved simultaneously.

In any event, here’s “Analog Kid,” inspired by Philip K. Dick’s interviews regarding the novel he was writing when he died and Rush, obviously:

Analog Kid

By Kirk Jones

On a grant from Burlington University, Vermont we studied energy composition.  My partner, Jim Cavaneres, concerned himself with the frequencies of natural energies.  He disappeared about a week ago, and as I compile his notes I realize the month we shared in research was more fruitful than I could have imagined.

Our first goal was to distinguish between the energy derived from fields, forests and bodies of water without the aid of his senses.  We would begin by blindfolding Mr. Cavaneres and driving through the mountainous regions south of Burlington.  He would write when he thought he felt a nuance in energy.  I would note the time, take a photograph of the terrain and we would compare notes upon returning to University.

The results were never astounding, but Jim was fairly adept at determining his surroundings based on something other than sight.  Even when the results were less than satisfactory, when I was blindfolded for example, I always had the prospect of PhD and 25 cents a mile to keep me moving forward.

There were three roadways we followed, with a variable travel through town.  The travel through town was meant to disorient Mr. Cavaneres, so he couldn’t skew the results by timing our travel.  It was the driver’s responsibility to randomly select a roadway.  This too helped disorient Mr. Cavaneres.

Atop my favorite there was a cracked foundation.  When I was a child my mother and I passed the foundation every day on the way to elementary.  I can barely remember the house: dilapidated, crutched against a tree, still falling through to the ground below.  Now the wood has been swept away, and the lawn is riddled with long grass in the summer.  The trees are starting to stretch—their branches like fingers groping the clusters of light: small businesses and houses in the distance—into the panorama of mountains.  But you can still see the old emergency analog radio tower on the opposite mountain.

About six years ago the world made a transition from Analog to digital radio.  Analog became an emergency frequency.  Digital allowed more channels, thousands more.  Their slogan: “A channel for everyone.”

Each house was equipped with an analog receiver that remained on at all times in the event of catastrophe, primarily natural.  While global warming counters a looming ice age, natural disasters have taken such a toll on the world that no nation can afford the luxury of war.  To cope with the harsh weather conditions, a twelve story analog tower was built atop Irish Hill.

It’s illegal to own an analog receiver now, save those installed in our houses.  I installed an old AM/FM unit in my car.  I’ve managed to conceal it well, and we’re only required to pay a small fine if caught.  Sometimes you can tune in the occasional pirate radio station, CB conversations, voices, almost always incommunicable.  You catch words, glimpses of expression, but somewhere between the signal and the receiver things became muddled.

Still it was nice to think, as Jim once said, that these small phrases between analog static were the only connections left, that somewhere out there someone else was uttering these words, and someone else, somewhere was listening.

Most digital channels today are run by machine.  Newscasters work from home unless called to the field.  They report in a small cubicle-like office, attach it to a digital information package, send it to the channel operator, and the content is downloaded, displayed before us.  There is little human interaction involved.  There’s someone who owns the machine, someone who works for the machine, and someone who works on the machine.  I doubt any are knowledgeable of the others on anything save a functional level.

It was nearly two weeks into research when I finally decided to take an alternative route, introducing us to the old foundation.  What initially drew my eye wasn’t the foundation, but the opening in the stretch of mountains directly between myself and the analog tower.

“You can take the blindfold off,” I said.

“Done already?” he asked.

“Yeah, we’ve reached the peak.”

Jim took off his blindfolds, looked into the distance, noted the analog tower.  “Couldn’t resist could you?”

I reached under the seat, groped for the radio dial.  When I finally found it I pulled it out from under the seat, switched it on: negative feedback and static.  I twisted the dial: voices, barely audible, foreign.

“Temporal encryption,” Jim remarked.

“What?”

“The fluttering sound of the voice, like you’re still turning the dial.  Someone sends a message.  The message jumps from analog channel to analog channel, and the receiver jumps from channel to channel in the same sequence.  That’s how they encrypt the message. That’s one form anyway.”

“You study analog?”

“Codes,” he replied.  “Communication’s filled with them.  Analog’s a code, then they encrypt the code with another form of code.  My colleagues talk a lot about developing new ones, but what you’ll find is that information becomes obscured through layers of codification.”  He looked at the receiver.  “Mind if I try?”

I handed it to him, the reception clearing slightly, the volume increasing steadily as his hands approached.  He tinkered with the dial.  Through a thick popcorn-like crackle we heard, “4,300, no emergency broadcast.”

“Wow,” I said.  “That’s the most coherent thing I’ve heard on Analog since I was

twelve!”

He just smiled.

On the way back to the University I rationalized the event.  Aluminum foil and the human touch were known to augment analog reception in television antennae.  It’s likely one person could have better reception than another, Jim as opposed to myself.

The University research center was packed.  Last year they had taken down the cubicles, replacing them with long tables.  It’s as if the function of the cubicle had made the transition from physical frame to social code.  The students researched inches from one another, headphones like sound-absorbing panels, paperwork like horseblinds.  Nobody communicated, save lab partners.

“What do you listen to?” I whispered before we slid our headphones on.

“Nothing special,” he said, continuing to slip the plugs into his ears.

“Can I listen?”

He shrugged, handed me the MP3 player.  “I guess.”

The music was unlike anything I had ever heard.  Everything contemporary was dreary and dark.  This was uplifting, without vocals.  I had never heard music without vocals, but suddenly it occurred to me that vocals hinder one’s imagination when daydreaming and listening to music.  The imagery becomes clearer without lyrical guidance.

“What is it?” I asked.

“Bach,” he said.  I’ll download it to yours sometime if you want.”

“That’d be great.  I’ve never heard anything like that before.”

“My parents used to listen to it.  I bet if you ask your parents they’d know about him too, unless they’re one of those couples who is in denial about their past.”

“No, they have no guilt about doing what wasn’t wrong at the time.  My father was a musician actually.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, classical guitar.”

“He must have been heart broken when they put the sanctions on public performance.”

“He was allotted some time at first.”

“He must have been good.”

“He was, but competition got better.  He assembles computer chips now.  Supervises a line actually.”

“Things have changed so much,” he said.  “With so few people, everyone’s allocated.  For the first time there aren’t enough people to fill all the necessary positions.  We’re lucky to be scientists.”

“We’re lucky to be alive.  Sometimes I think we should be working to find a way to keep others alive.”

“We better start by finishing up,” Jim said.  “I’m beat.”

The results, as usual, were not profound, but satisfactory to the degree that could be expected.  Jim was best at determining sources of water.  He grew up near a lake, says the feeling is unmistakable.  There are times where I can’t believe we’re being funded to do this.  There are no instruments, no data save that compiled by us and our predecessor, Dr. William Steinberg.

The core of our research was based upon Dr. William Steinberg’s thesis of multiple intelligences.  In addition to the traditional intelligence quotient, Steinberg argued, there was emotional intelligence and sensitivity to energy, or ethereal intelligence.  As the individual with a high intelligence quotient is able to learn faster, the individual with a higher energy to mass ratio is able to decode higher gradations of energy.  Jim’s energy to mass ratio, based upon our findings, was relatively high.

If we’re successful they want to add some equipment that tests Jim’s physiology as he derives energy from nature.  Actually, they want to determine if he is deriving energy from nature, or if the phenomenon is purely imagined.  Spending $250,000 to find out whether something exists or not seems a little excessive, but since it’s filling my gas tank and my stomach I won’t complain.

“4,300,” Jim said. “Wonder what it meant.”

“Don’t know, but apparently we’re not supposed to know about it.  No emergency broadcast.”

“They just don’t want to cause a panic.”

“I wonder why they weren’t encrypting the message?”

“We should go back tomorrow.”

“We could get caught.”

“It’s just a fine.”

“You paying?” I asked.

“Half.”

“Alright, I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“File these on your way out,” Jim said, handing me our paperwork.

I dropped our research into our professor’s post office box and walked the rest of the way home.  Teenagers loitered in small groups, dispersed throughout main street. Skateboarders worked amateur tricks into their repertoire as the girls they tried to impress worried about their mood-change makeup: everyone performing for everyone else, unaware that nobody’s watching because they’re too caught up in their own performance as well.

The apartment was freezing as usual.  I turned up the heat, tucked myself into the blankets and set the alarm for 9:00 a.m. As the traffic died down the dark, looming rumble of the small industrial center lulled me to sleep.

2

The alarm went off at 9:00.  Jim was already knocking at the door.  “Ready?”

“I’m not even out of bed yet,” I said.  “Hang on.”

“I’ll be in the car.”

“It’s locked,” I said, approaching the door.  “Here’s the keys.”

I got dressed as quickly as possible and locked up.  Jim was tweaking the AM/FM dial when I started the car.  I pulled it away from him, returned it to its rightful position under the seat.

“This is a public place!”

“It’s not that big of a deal.”

“You want to be the one they make an example of?”

“I was thinking,” Jim said.  “You’re probably right about doing our research.  Maybe we should make a quick run and then hit the foundation.”

We drove the analog route, the route with the analog tower.  We were finished in an hour, stopping just before the top of the mountain.

“You can take your blindfolds off now,” I said.

He took them off.  “Let’s try to AM/FM here,” he said.

“There’s some kind of distortion to prevent reception.  I’ve tried it before.”

“How many times?”

“Just once, the feedback is really loud.”

“One more time.”

I pulled the dial out from under the seat and turned the machine on: nothing.

Jim reached for the dial: barely audible voices transition to music, back to voices.

“It’s a pirate station!” he said, excited.  He slowly turned the dial.  Starting at the lowest frequency on FM, moving towards the highest, Jim followed the signal.  We could hear an entire song on Analog.

“Like the encryption I told you about yesterday.  Only they want it to be accessible.  The code has to be easy enough to figure out, but complex enough to rule out the casual listener.  You have to know what to look for.”

I was amazed.  Since the death of analog as a popular medium I had studied it with what I thought to be great passion.  Then along came Jim, theoretician of code, who somehow knew more about analog than I did.  Sheltered as I was, it was easy to imagine that I was the only one enveloped in the world of analog.  The pirate stations and voices were validations of the converse: people, most people, were highly interested in analog.  First came the prospect of hope, that I was not alone.  Then came the realization that I was not fulfilling a unique purpose in the social landscape, that I was, in essence, everyone else.

“You ever wonder why we’re doing this?” I asked.

“Not really,” he said.  “I can understand that most people won’t be interested, and that it might have no valid application upon our final conclusions.”

“Doesn’t that worry you?”

“No,” he remarked dryly.  “I don’t care.”  He paused as I took in his response, then he continued, “even during wartime the most successful codifiers knew the greatest encryption was apathy, to make people think a message is unimportant.  As a society we’ve achieved that level of encryption naturally.”

“But quite the opposite is the case today.  Everyone’s trying to emphasize their importance.”

“Love for the self: apathy towards others, same thing.  If anyone could read the code they’d see nobody’s watching anybody.  We’re as free as one can possibly be.”

He was right.  We check our electronic mail, write our blogs, toil over our website, our perpetually edited self-representation.  We work the self and present the self for the self.  Inside everyone’s personal reality, everything else, everyone else, is merely functional.   Responses are interpreted as validations of the self rather than words and thoughts from another human being.

The people we do care about we often find too busy to respond.  So we have created intimations of two-way communication: e-mail addresses allowing our signals to pass through technological frames, i.e. they are “recieved” yet are not received by the eyes of an intended recipient.  Signal: no response.  The e-mail address, the lacking mailer daemon message validates the reception of our signal, but is anyone listening?  Perhaps just sending the signal, just intimating the two-way paradigm is enough to keep us sane.  Countless times Jim and I have discussed how we’d receive no response and continue for months, even years, writing someone occasionally, always trying to prompt conversation once more.

“Then why are we doing this?” I asked.

“Because it’s important to us.  And maybe someday, someone, somewhere will listen.”  Pause.  “You want to go to the foundation?” he asked.  “I don’t know if it’s necessarily better reception, but it’s definitely a different reception.”

I put the car in gear and we crossed town to the neighboring pathway.  A short time later we arrived at the foundation.  Again, the same message was relayed: “4,300, no emergency broadcast.”  That was all.

“Let me try something,” Jim said, stepping out of the car.  He reached in through the window.  “Can I see that for a second.”

I handed him the dial and he climbed up onto the roof of the car.  “Hear anything?” he asked.

“Just fuzz.”

“4,682,” the radio announced, “scattered I010000101010.”  The numbers soon transitioned to a modem-like sound.  I turned the radio off, but the sounds continued.  Voices thumbed through the static fabric, tickling my inner ear.

“Now?” he asked.

“I turned the receiver off, but I can still hear something,” I said.

“What’s it sound like?”

“Like a record player without the speaker.  Just a little static, and a very faint signal.”

“Music?” he asked.

“Numbers,” I replied.

He stepped down from the car.  “We’ll try again tomorrow.”

“Sure.”

“Let’s make quick with this paperwork.  I’m sick of sitting inside half the day.”

When we returned to University the research center was almost completely empty.  The main entrance was blocked by a small service desk, and an elderly woman typing maniacally.

“You boys didn’t hear?” she asked.

“We’ve been out all day,” I told her.

“Analog frequency just went off about,” she paused to look at the clock, “half an hour ago.  Life count is final: 4,683 people left on the planet.  They’re dispersed throughout Europe and Africa primarily.  We’re just a small pocket in North America.  The south’s almost entirely lost.  There’s been a lot of discord because many people have sold off their analog emergency receivers for extra income.  If you know anyone who has, you might want to inform them.”

“I don’t understand,” I said.  We knew the population had decreased drastically.

“There are 4,863 of us left on the planet,” she remarked, “3,050 of which are Chinese.  They are mobilizing for an attack on central Europe.  We’re next,” she said.

“I need a ride,” Jim said somewhat urgently.  I wanted to ask him what was wrong, but he was already running for the car.  I met him in the parking lot.

“Come on!” he said as he got in the passenger’s side.  I ran to catch up, got in and pulled away.

“My parents, they don’t have analog anymore,” he said.

“Why not?”

“I just wanted a receiver for myself.  I never thought,” he paused.  “They could be dead.”

I dropped him off and waited in the front yard

“I’ll wave you on if everything’s ok,” he said.

He did not wave me on.

“They’re gone,” he said.  “I have to find them.”  He fumbled through his coat pocket, eventually extracting a pen.  “Can I get your number again, in case I need you later?” he asked.

“Sure.  562-1818.”

“Thanks, see you later.”

That night I received no call.  The following morning I arrived at his house to find no one there.  I circled the block once to see if he had perhaps been beaten or killed, left on the street to fester like so many others.  He was not there either.

Without Jim the research was impossible to conduct.  So I went to the foundation to see if he had found his way there.  Jim was occasionally prone to wandering, especially when he couldn’t clear his mind.  But he was not walking the pathway.  He was not atop the foundation.

I turned on the AM/FM receiver under the seat, and listened as I drove: gentle static, followed by rapid fluctuations in volume.  Out of the corner of my eye I caught a flash of light.  The analog tower was on fire.  No, it was ablaze with electricity.  I watched, entranced by the synchronicity between the flashing lightning and the pops and static stutter on the radio.  I turned the dial, the sounds were synonymous on every station.  This was the emergency broadcast frequency the scientists had been talking about when the tower was first under construction.  Any analog receiver in the world would transmit the message, a universal warning system to prevent global catastrophe.

I arrived not far from the tower an hour later.  The static had thinned, had transitioned into a high-pitched hum.  The closer I got to the tower, the louder the buzz became, until it pooled into reality.  Again, the sounds did not seem to emanate from my receiver, but from the air around me.  Then I saw him, atop the tower, electricity spindling through his body.

“Jim!” I yelled.  He did not respond.  I moved closer, but as I did I was met with a barrage of information: words stacked upon songs, upon sounds, upon static.  Then, as I dropped to my knees the sounds slowly dissipated until only a slow melody remained.  I took my hands from my ears and looked up.  Jim was gone.  I looked to the ground to see if he had fallen.  He had not.

The melody continued as I drove home.  When I arrived my parents were waiting in the front yard.  I got out of the car.

“Do you hear that?” my mother asked.

“Yeah.”

“I haven’t heard that in years,” she said, smiling.

“It’s classical,” I said.

“Yes, Bach.” She replied, nodding.

That night, 4,682 one-man tribes heard the same thing.  Two days later the North American authorities declared Jim Cavaneres missing.  This information was digitally relayed.  Nobody seemed to notice, they were all too busy noting the peculiar familiarity of a melody emitting from within and around themselves; something in the air, almost inaudible, almost indistinguishable from the sounds of city, connecting them to the world surrounding.  Nobody seemed to notice.  But everybody knew.

The following morning I handed in the last of our research together.  I focused my study on researching analog once more, finding nuances in the frequency, means of deriving information from static-coded conversation.  Never was the reception as good as when Jim was in the car.  But two days ago I received a signal.  In a monotone feedback, a high-pitched squeal resounded: I am analog.  Context: that was the greatest means to encryption.  By sharing with another a bond becomes an encryption, a context through which meaning can be derived from the seemingly meaningless.

Dr. William Steinberg posited that individuals were born with different compositions of energy, thus each individual harbored a unique sensitivity to energy.  Could it be possible?  With thousands, perhaps millions of combinations of energy and genetic traits, that somebody could be born whose energy composition is synonymous with analog?  Or have we evolved the ability through repeated exposure, to interpret analog—Jim being the first—such as a child learns to use its native language?

Advertisements

Nostalgia and the Rules of Ownership

I just finished my collection of 80s pop records. I wasn’t looking for anything epic. I knew of a few bands and wanted as many of their songs as I could get my hands on. The search is complete, and I feel better for having the singles. I have all of the 7” records from “Two People” a band that didn’t last that long and never got to release a full-length album. They got to release quite a few singles, however. They’re best one (arguably one of the best songs of the 80s) is linked below:

The thing is, their last single was rough. I think I still doled out about twenty dollars to get my hands on it, even though the song was on YouTube and I knew it was bad. And even now, as I listen to the song and decide it isn’t worth converting to my iTunes account, I’m still excited that I own some small slice of obscure history.

Why?

Why, even though I have converted the actual songs I like from this band, do I feel the urge to play the records and listen to the vinyl? I think on some level it makes me feel closer to the history, closer to the band.

Somehow this plastic disc was crafted with the hopes and dreams of many people, and the record, the vinyl that never made it far enough to warrant cassette or CD translation, represents a potential energy that never was released. Somehow I’ve convinced myself that I’m capable of releasing this potential energy by spreading word of this band. But I myself will most likely end up being an obscure relic that few know about outside of my small circle of acquaintances and friends. So why do I think I have this power?

I ask the same questions when I collect Nintendo games. When websites like Retro Uprising have virtually every video game that has ever been made available free of charge, why does it matter if I have a CIB copy of Chiller, the most violent game on the NES? Why do I care about shit like this? Obviously someone out there has taken the core data and they have made it available for public consumption, much like folks on YouTube have made songs from the records I collect available. Why do I have the urge to own this shit and make it mine? Why do we have this impulse that shatters the very premise of open-source philosophy?

Why must we own things?

This is a question I still struggle with. For me a large part of the answer boils down to an anxiety that all of the shit will disappear. I’ve seen it happen too many times. My YouTube account features playlists in which half of the songs I have, have been deleted by user or removed by WMG. Netflix is the same way. We donated Dexter Season I to salvation army because it was on Netflix. It is gone now  (I think it has returned since I wrote this), and in many cases Netflix isn’t offering the same selections in live stream, and downloadable content found on iTunes, we’re discovering, isn’t really ours. We’re just paying to borrow or rent the material until we die. So we can’t pass it on or share it legally.

Open source, even material you must buy that is available in cloud and personal format, can be wiped. Kindle is the same way. In 2009 1984 got wiped from a bunch of kindles.

History has taught us to distrust open source, and even material we pay for that is thought to be universally available. It keeps consumer culture rolling in a world where consumer culture should realistically be dead.

For some reason my generation wants iconic representation of the things they own. It has to be tangible for some reason. I think this is the reason the SONY GoPlay failed. It is weird because they actually seemed to realize the importance of tangible products and made cases for their downloadable games. So you could buy the case to add to your collection . . . but it only had a downloadable game code inside.

It struck me as unsettling as well. I don’t want to own something that could potentially be deleted from my internet-connected device.

Strange business for sure. Sure as rain, the PS Vita came out featuring a mini cartridge system once more. SONY went back to square one. The world isn’t ready for exclusively downloadable content.

Companies are trying to make the jump. They are allowing people to buy DVD or Blue Ray and then download a digital version of the film. So we get both for the price of one.

Going back to the nostalgia thing, for some reason we need to own or be able to hold these relics of the past because we fear they will disappear from the internet, much in the same way they did from our childhood.

Truthfully, garage sales, loss, theft, trading, these things create a great anxiety among the consumers, and they are constantly aware of the impermanence of the shit they own. It could disappear at any time, so they must own it and protect it.

So what are the seeming “rules of ownership” in our society?

  1. Ownership must be private. We must be able to own it outside of the world around us.
  2. Ownership must guarantee some degree of permanence, at least permanence within our control.
  3. The nostalgia product owned must not only grant license to the owner. It must reflect the product as it was originally experienced by the owner.

What are some of the other tenets of ownership we seem to have in our society, particularly associated with nostalgia-inspired purchases?

Aetherchrist

Small Press Reviews

Screen Shot 2018-05-09 at 2.05.21 PMAs he waits for the gunshot that will kill him to sound in the final paragraph of Don DeLillo’s Cosmopolis, protagonist Eric Packer catches a glimpse of his own death in the crystal screen of his smartwatch. It’s a haunting way to end a novel, but also a frustrating one. How, after all, did Eric’s watch both predict and display his untimely demise?

Fortunately for anyone still wondering about that passage fifteen years later, Aetherchrist, the latest novel from Kirk Jones, starts at least nominally and more than likely coincidentally where Cosmopolis left off. This time around, though, the protagonist who catches a glimpse of his own death on a tiny screen is not a billionaire asset manager but a down-on-his luck knife salesman named Rey.

Unlike Eric Packer, however, Rey sees his impending doom on an old analog television set rather than a digital screen. More to…

View original post 311 more words

Self-Publishing Platforms are Good for us, and for our Industry

Since I finished college (again) in December, I have had some time to do what I’ve always wanted to do: take inventory of my old ideas–old stories, old books, old ideas, etc.–and decide what to do with them as I move forward.

I’d already written about prioritizing writing ideas and growing realistic about what we can feasibly accomplish over the course of a single life (it boiled down to an age-old insight: we simply don’t have the time to do it all, but I suppose we all have to figure this out on our own, within the context of our personal existence). My solution back then was just to delete the content and never think about it again.

Shitty story: delete it.

Shitty script: delete it or it’ll slide back onto your plate every few years and you’ll find yourself tinkering with it, even though it isn’t going to help propel your career in any capacity. It is really just vanity editing at this point.

But since then I’ve had some time to experiment with other methods by which one can get something off their plate without deleting it altogether.

I experimented with incorporating several ideas into a single story, salvaging what I could and deleting what wasn’t needed. Of course you run the risk of writing something shitty, almost episodic, if you do a terrible job at this. It is a delicate and time-consuming process.

But there were a few books I wrote back between 2004 and 2009 that really couldn’t be incorporated into my current work. A few really shabby YA books that really just represented me learning the craft at the most fundamental level.

So I decided to self-publish them under a pseudonym.

Then I went through the Create Space process.

Then I decided to just create a proof copy and order it for myself.

That’s where I left it.

It took about six hours to format the interior and design a little cover suitable for my own purposes. Nobody who sees it on my shelf knows it is mine.

It has provided me with a sense of closure, and for that I am forever grateful to self-publishing platforms like Create Space.

I’ll take this conversation one step further:

I’m thankful for platforms for Create Space not only because they have provided me with closure, but because they have given impatient authors an avenue by which they can publish their work without inundating the inboxes of prospective publishers.

Sure, there are millions of books out there that lack the integrity and quality of a book “genuinely” judged and published by a reputable press, but I still wonder why small and large press authors alike decry this trend, claiming that it is watering down the market.

Stop pissing and moaning because your shark book isn’t selling (don’t let that statement delude you into believing I’m referring specifically to you. Every author worth their weight in salt has written a shark or zombie book at this point, right?). If your book isn’t selling. It’s isn’t this dude’s fault:

And you can’t blame any of the other books featured here:

https://www.digitiser2000.com/main-page/14-jaw-droppingly-terrible-self-published-books

The books of terrible authors pass into obscurity rather quickly, and they aren’t inhibiting sales half as much as we think. Collectively, they’re hitting the big publishers a bit, but as individual authors, they are a drop in the bucket.

I’m sorry, but the tear-infused banter of authors is way more pathetic than the cover art above. Take a look at this shit:

https://goodereader.com/blog/e-book-news/we-live-in-a-literary-world-of-terrible-self-published-authors

Then take a look at this, quoted from the link above:

“Chuck Wendig mentioned in a recent blog post ‘The sheer number of releases is an issue all its own. It becomes increasingly hard to stand out merely by publishing a book in either form. It’s like trying to get a droplet of water to stand out in an entire goddamn ocean.'”

Seriously? It’s hard to compete with the very covers and descriptions readers and publishers mock and ironically purchase?

What an insult to your readers, to assume that they can’t distinguish between amateur writing and “professional” writing, i.e. writing that has had thousands sunk into it for promotion.

I can tell the difference . . . and I’m getting to the point where mainstream tropes are so cliche that I prefer the amateur work to what’s being shit onto the NYT Bestseller list, ironically or not.

Bottom line: self-publishing has saved editors and publishers hours of time. Yes, there’s still a lot of shit to sort through, but self-publishing has allowed a great deal of delusional authors with no patience the ability to push their tripe out there sans the fear of rejection.

I think this is a beautiful thing.

I also think the beauty of disaster is such a wonderful testament to the true nature of the human condition, that I find myself buying one absolutely terrifying self-published book for every five small press books I buy.

And man, I am never disappointed by what I read when my expectations are set so low. Look at this beautiful disaster. It’s gorgeous!

Nostalgia and Poverty

I’ll cut right to the chase. Here are a few of the ways poverty influences nostalgia, or did when I was a kid, anyway:

1. Your family doesn’t have the money to make renovations on your house, so you grow up with paneling, flooring, furniture, and siding that pre-dates you by one to two decades. You end up feeling nostalgic when you watch Brady Bunch or I Love Lucy because that shit was cutting edge back then, and you lived in the second-hand 50s or 70s.

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

I still get misty thinking about the paneling in the living room of my childhood home. (photo from carlaaston.com)

coleco

(image from atariage.com)

2. Your family can’t afford the latest technology, so you grow up playing ColecoVision while your friends play NES, and you play NES when they’re playing Sega Genesis. You’re always a generation behind on new technology. As a result: Now that you’re an adult and the internet has sort of leveled the playing field, nostalgically speaking, you find yourself identifying with folks who are 10 years your senior or more.

 

3. There’s a possibility that the house you lived in as a child, the house in which most of your memories were forged, has been condemned or is gone completely. The concept of “forever home” is unknown to you.

old house

At least this house is still standing. That’s a start. (Image from Pinterest)

4. The town you lived in might be a veritable ghost town. The factories or mines your families worked on may have long since been shut down, leaving your home town empty, or close to it. Where I grew up, we lost J&L Steel, Newtown Falls Paper Mill, and OWD (a plastic factory). The place cleaned out between 1995-2005. Those remaining are retired, or work hours away, or are on welfare. Not surprisingly, most of these areas are characterized by opiate epidemics.

5. Instead of reminiscing about what you did have, you will spend a lot of time thinking about what you didn’t have, and assuming that the longing you feel can be satiated by acquiring the items you felt you lacked as a child.

Maybe this isn’t exclusive to the poor, but I find nostalgia to be a double-edged sword. For a few years, I spent time trying to re-acquire what I had as a child that I sold at garage sales to buy newer toys, and trying to acquire the toys I had longed for as a child.

The Takeaway

The takeaway–at least in my opinion–is that nostalgia is a much more difficult emotion to navigate for the poor. It is longing for things that can’t easily be re-attained, for things that never were and can never be attained, and realization that even the things you long for are merely fragmented delusions that stem from the naïveté of youth.

 

Nostalgia and the Permanence of Death

Hailesboro Cemetery

Photo by Ann Cady, derived from https://www.findagrave.com/cemetery/154214/hailesboro-cemetery

This weekend I had a chance to drive through the small town where I spent most of my weekends as a kid: Hailesboro, NY. My grandmother lived there, as did one of my close friends.

Hailesboro is a working poor to working class town peppered with a few middle class houses that look like mansions compared to their surroundings. I’d like to say that nothing has changed, but it has.

Everything looks so small there. Not metaphorically. Not in the “I’ve outgrown this town through life experience” capacity. Literally, the block seems smaller. The railroad overpass seems low enough to jump up and touch from the road. The houses all look small. My grandmother’s house-front porch windows now covered with plywood-seems tiny. The willow tree we used to climb is gone. The cliff my  . . . I don’t even know what his relation to me is technically. His mother was my grandfather’s sister. Anyway, he tried to get me to jump off a cliff near the road. The rock has eroded, and the 15-20 foot drop he assured me would be fine to jump from actually seems like a pretty safe jump by today’s standards.

There was an old racetrack behind the graveyard we used to frequent as kids. Nobody drove on it by the time it became our haunt. It was just a paved track that kids walked around. Every summer my friend would drag a lawn mower up there and clear out a spot for us to camp.

The track has just about been overtaken by shrubs and grass now. Two generations and it went from a race track to a walkway to an empty field with a few patches of pavement, reminding me that what once was can never be again.

Nostalgia is the longest-lasting unrequited love, matched in its frequency and longevity only by our denial of the fact that the past is unobtainable.

The neighboring graveyard hasn’t changed much. More headstones line the dirt roads than before. The trees have grown considerably, leaving only narrow paths for vehicles. The old dead rest closest to the road, with the new dead housed in the back.

We used to walk through that graveyard at night with a little battery-operated boom box when I was in my early teens. Between us, we knew one man laid to rest there. We didn’t know him personally, but our parents grew up with him, so we remembered when he died.

The headstone was kind of our own small-town Stand by Me. We’d visit his grave every time we walked.

So of course I had to go back and say hi this weekend.

Out of all the things in that town, his gravestone was the one thing I remember that hadn’t really changed.

His name was John Shrewsberry.

He died in 1988, when I was 7.

He died when he was 31. He was younger than I am now.

Another handful of years, and he’ll have been gone longer than he was alive.

There’s something really disconcerting about all of these facts, about this unknown figure whose name was only ever attached to a headstone for me. This man has been gone since I have known of him. His stone: a monolithic signifier of death that will live on after I die. Some day his stone will have been here longer than I was alive.

This stone will outlive me.

But the meaning of that stone will have changed.

There’s something comforting about knowing that it will still be there, however. Even after ancestors forget about the plot. (It occurs to me now that I don’t know where my great grandparents are buried).

I hope that as we move forward as a species, we will abandon the practice of physical memorials on such a grand scale. I am ready to be reduced to ash. This body is a vessel. I love it, but once whatever animates me decides the vessel’s time is up, there’s no need to try to preserve what remains physically. That: embalming, placing one in a casket, that is a testament to the futility of trying to outlast death.

Stones seem so much more appropriate if you need a signifier of the permanence of death.

I’m ending this with a call to action. Whether burial is a continued practice for generations or graveyards become graveyards for a dead cultural practice, adopt a stranger’s stone. Even if you can only come back once a decade, stop by, dust it off, think about the life lived between those two dates etched thereupon. Take solace in the fact the only stable constant in life is the cyclical nature of the human condition and that maybe someone will someday curate whatever monument exists to signify your life, whether that be physical or digital.

Selling the Primal to the Conscious Mind

Just sort of thinking out loud tonight, and why not share it on the blog?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how we sell our primitive impulses to the conscious mind. How we justify sexual desires, petty jealousies–all that kind of stuff–so that we can sleep comfortably at night while remaining animals for the most part.

The artwork that initially got me thinking about this was Cannibal Holocaust. The film features all of these violent acts, but of course these primal, violent acts against other humans are justified by the one-second observation at the end: “I wonder who the real cannibals are”

The violence throughout the film is encapsulated by a “message.” The violence is the conduit through which the message’s relevance and poignancy is conveyed.

Or is it?

Does the means justify the ends?

I see this also with Marquise de Sade’s work. Inherent within his work–or perhaps more accurately, the critics and analysts of his work–is this attempt to intellectualize sexual violence.

garbage

The same with Salo: 120 Days of Sodom, Pasolini’s adaptation of de Sade’s most notorious work. While some critics dismiss the film as unnaturally crude, others laud the film for the juxtaposition between beautiful panoramic footage of naturalist landscapes and the violent scenes that are cradled gently by the aesthetic of the environment surrounding the torture compound.

The contrast is certainly unsettling, but it is difficult to engage the film without acknowledging both its artistic merits and its violent detriments.

The same can be said for A Serbian Film. Sure, it features some of the most grotesque scenes in modern film, but by god, the aesthetic . . . the artistic merit of the film . . . the depth with which this political allegory is explored . . .

https://www.theguardian.com/film/filmblog/2010/dec/13/a-serbian-film-allegorical-political

What a joke.

It all just seems so superficial, the way that we try to sell our primal urges to the conscious mind.

I look at Harlequin romances, the way that infidelity is wrapped in a shroud of true love and unrequited passions.

Or the way murder and abuse is justified in countless narratives.

The way violence is used as a conduit through which violence can be justified.

The way evil is justified by the greater evils committed by victims.

It’s all just mankind trying to sell the animal within to itself, desperately trying to justify our primal urges as intellectual explorations of the depth of humanity and depravity.

There’s really no need though. There’s one 21st-century meme that encapsulates the phenomenon perfectly:

we are all scum