The Manticore

I’ve got a new story up at a great flash fiction magazine called Every Day Fiction at www.everydayfiction.com/the-manticore-by-arthur-lorenz/.

This one came out of a writing exercise proposed by Jon E. Greene about an annoying reporter that pesters mythical creatures until they get fed up and kill him.

The reporter, Badger McCormick, was created by everyone in that group:  Matt Nelson, Eric Del Carlo, Timothy Kay, Doug Nerad, and, of course, the legendary Jon E. Greene.

We picked names of imaginary creatures out of a hat.  I got “gypsy” and flashed back to my L.A. days where I knew a number of gypsies, and, try as I might, I just couldn’t imagine my friends as imaginary, so I picked through what was left and found the manticore.

One day, Eric walked into the group and told us he had just sold his Badger story to Every Day Fiction, which was about a week after I had submitted mine to the same magazine without knowing it.

When I got feedback from EDF, they liked the story, had notes, but there was something familiar about this Badger McCormick character, as if they had heard of him somewhere before.  They were good sports about it when I explained what had happened.

At any rate, the story is really about my nostalgia for progressive rock, which I used to love, and then hated, and then appreciated as an artifact from the lost civilization of my youth.

I hope you like it.


Yippee!

I’ve got another story published!  It’s in “Silver Blade Magazine” and can be found at www.silverblade.net/content/?p=1351.  My story is called “I Love Death” and it’s a little like my relationship with my wife, but with more fear, trembling, and pillow fort building.

Here’s what happened.  The wife was on a committee that amends California legislation and there was a particular statute that no one wanted to deal with.  She was a little late getting on a conference call, so she got stuck with it.  This piece of law had to do with the disposition of bodily remains, as in, who gets the body after someone dies.

People joked that my wife had become a sort of Wednesday Adams, and she pretty much embraced that.

My paranoid imagination started churning and the story wrote itself (It did not rewrite itself.  That was a lot of work).

***

It has been a long time since I’ve blogged.  Here’s what’s going on with me:

I have a two week vacation coming up and I can’t wait.  As usual, work ramps up the closer I get to leaving.  I don’t know if this happens to other people, but during the final week before I go, urgent meetings appear out of the mist that I must attend, and extensive issues that only I can solve that can’t wait, and trainings that are vital that I must attend and and…well, you get the picture.  This time I’ve got actual tickets and family responsibilities that I cannot wriggle out of (I mean, I can, but I would expire from guilt), so, but, anyway, this week is going to be intense.

Holy snap.  I’ve written 60,000 words of a novel.  Now I must make something coherent out of it and hopefully gain another 20,000 words.  Also, it must be (ha!) good.  Oh, and, it has to be compelling, and entertaining, and actually interesting to other people.  Gulp.

Since I’ve last blogged, Ray Bradbury died.  R is for Ray.  When I was a kid, his stories made me feel less alone.  The angst hidden in them mirrored my own.

I admit, though, I got a little upset when I read “R is for Rocket.”  I wanted it to be a full novel and only realized it was a collection of stories at the end of what I thought was the first chapter.  I think I’m still waiting to read the rest of that book, which doesn’t exist.  I mean, some day, when I’m good enough, I could write it, but it won’t carry that weird ‘60’s modernist optimism about space travel (and, frankly, Mr. Bradbury’s lyricism).

But, speaking of ‘60’s modernist optimistic space travel, man, when I was a kid we were on our way to the moon.  It seemed that after we got there, we’d visit Mars and Venus, maybe about a week later, and then on to the stars.

That didn’t happen.

On the other hand,

maybe Gil Scott-Heron had a point.

Oh.  There’s one other thing I wanted to say about Ray Bradbury:

One night, some years ago, I found myself at the American Film Institute, and Ray was the guest speaker.  He was amazing.  He talked about following your heart and originality and how everything else would follow after that.  He was so inspiring that my friends and I thought we could actually do anything that we believed in.

 And we did.

***

I’m not usually a big fan of KPop, but, this is, well, the best video in the world, at least it was way back in the middle of July.


A Tale of Two Cheeses

Over the holidays I purchased two cheeses–a Stilton and a Camembert.  They were quite tasty but time passed and they both sat forgotten in the fridge as a variety of meats and vegetables were consumed from around them.  Several weeks went by and, at last, having eaten everything else, we caught sight of them and decided to indulge ourselves last night.

And indeed we did.

When we first tasted the Stilton it was sophisticated, pungent, complex, buttery, and powerful.  When we tasted it several weeks later it was nearly identical in texture and in flavor.

The Camembert, on the other hand, with notes both bitter and sweet, texture solid and fluid, had been delicious.  Several weeks later, this cheese had turned into a monster.  It raged through our taste buds and took no prisoners.  It was amazing.

The makers of the Stilton had made a choice to embrace logos, thought, and reason, the stuff of empire, to produce a cheese that would hit a note of power, correctness, and sophistication.

The makers of the Camembert had also made a choice, but a very different one, a choice to embrace mythos, to risk rot and decay, for the possibility of greatness, cheese-wise.

The Stilton, the king of cheeses, is constantly aware of class, society, and one’s place in it.

The Camembert, questionably pasteurized, borders on the rude, is shockingly romantic, and ready to make war at a moment’s notice.

Stilton showed tremendous courage during the blitz.  Camembert displayed amazing fashion sense during times of depravation and war.  Everyone remembers the Stilton musical invasion of the sixties.  Camembert movies make me cry.I like Stilton a great deal, but, in the end, I guess I truly love Camembert.  I know I’ll always be friends with Stilton, but Camembert and I, well, that is a dream of passion.   I think it comes down to this:  The orderly nature of logos may be compelling, but the jouissance of mythos is just simply irresistible.

I mean, if you like cheese.

The New Year:

The beginning of the New Year is often a time of resolutions.  No more chocolate cake, or, I will exercise at least three times a week, or, I will eat vegetables with every meal.  However framed, it always comes off as some unpleasant thing that I must whip my wild nature to do, accept, practice, or merely withstand.  And I succeed.  For a month or two.  And then my resolve erodes and I slip, I binge, and I fall.

In 2012, I’d like to try something different, at least for me.  Instead of resolutions, or vows, or promises, I want to make wishes.

I want to make New Year’s wishes for myself, for the world, and for the passing stranger who might read these words.  These wishes may float away on the breeze, or they may land on fertile soil and bloom, impossibly effortless, into great heartfelt joy.

I wish that work is fulfilling and less stressful.

I wish love tickles us into the waking dream that is our life.

I wish that words and thoughts flow.

I wish that we meet and are glad in the meeting.

I wish that there is enough food and resources for the world.

I wish that we will each catch one perfect moment, and know, in that moment, what it means to be truly alive.

And, of course, the flowing tide of happiness reaches a high water mark in all of our lives.

 

I wish all of these things for you, for me, and for everyone else, and I wish that wishes I could not have even imagined come true for all of us.

All the best,

Arthur J. Lorenz


Angry Turkey Birds

This Thanksgiving I got one of those fancy turkeys.  You know the ones they sell at the fancy meat store–the turkeys that put on airs about who their great-great-grandturkeys were?  Well I got this unusually pompous bird home and I brined it, and I cooked it, and let it rest, and I read to it…but it came out gamey, and leathery, and , well, rather unfortunate.

I now suspect this turkey had been reincarnated from a football.  And not those footballs made from leather, the vinyl kind.  Yes.  Definitely.  The turkey tasted like roasted vinyl.  After we were sure we weren’t chewing a pair of our old moccasins, we carefully covered the remaining carcass in foil, placed it in the fridge, and pretended to plan for leftovers.

That was when the wife had the idea to buy me my birthday present…an ipad.  And I got her one too… for the Holidays.  And we bought them together and, of course, played angry birds while we ignored the angry bird in the fridge.  Boy.  I bet I could get really good at angry birds.

Now it’s several days later, and there is still an angry bird lurking in the fridge.  I’d like to toss it out.  But I feel guilty.  Perhaps I could make some kind of salad out of it.  Yes.  Douse it with some sort of dressing; grind it up so it is indistinguishable from bits of leathery cheese; cover it with hot sauce to numb the tongue.

But that’s not what’s going to happen.  What’s going to happen is thousands of years from now aliens will reconstruct our culture based on the ritual sacrifice of the foil covered angry turkey bird in my fridge.  It’s never going anywhere.

I guess I have a bit of sympathy for it.  I mean, it’s like me on Twitter–it just sort of hangs around the joint, eavesdropping on other peoples conversations.

I suppose I could send it into orbit.

Or I could try to set it free.

Who am I kidding?   I’m just going to ignore it, go back to playing angry birds, and chew old moccasins.


The Sun, Occupy, Big Brother, and Everything

I’ve been researching the life cycle of the sun lately and I’ve found out a few interesting things.

The sun is gradually warming.  That means that in about a billion years, it will be so hot that water will no longer exist in a liquid state on earth and life as we know it will come to an end.

Also, when the sun becomes a red giant, in about five billion years, it will expand to a volume so vast, that it will grow far beyond earth’s current orbit.

This is all a seriously long way off, but in the mean time, here are some deliciously disconcerting facts about the sun all lifted from that old unreliable reliable Wikipedia:

The sun’s output has dropped 0.02% at visible wavelengths and 6% at extreme ultraviolet wavelengths.

Over the last two decades, the solar wind speed has dropped by 3%, its temperature by 13%, and its density by 20%

The sun’s magnetic field is at less than half the strength it was twenty-two years ago.

So.  Life is short.  All life is short.  What are you going to do?  What gives life meaning? Is it found on the weekend, say, in a bowl of ice cream?  Is it in a good meal with the ones you love?  Is it in giving a perfect stranger a seat on BART?

Life is full of choices.

Some are nice:

Some are difficult:

boingboing.net/2011/11/20/ucdeyetwitness.html

And some are just down right weird:

gu.com/p/2akd8/tw

Me, I’m just trying to decrease the shadows.  For a handful of people.  Maybe more.


Birthday

It’s my birthday season again.   November 10th, actually.   It is also Neil Gaiman’s birthday.

In case there is some strange astrometric force that shapes our lives based on our birthdate, here is a brief list of my past year experiences, which can serve as a preview of what Neil can expect for this, his 51st year:

1.  Your resources will increase.

2.  The river of ideas continues to flow.

3.  You hear music you hated when you were a kid, and, surprise, surprise, it still sucks.

4.  Wonderful things happen to your family.

5.  Generosity is met with even more generosity.

6.  The person you wake up next to still fills you with a miraculous sense of being alive.

7.  The plumbing still works like a charm.

8.  Although there are certain, ahem, subtle changes in hue, your hairs stay on top of your head where they belong.

9.  You have even more love in your life.

10. And don’t worry, don’t make that emergency call to the doctor, that’s just what happens when you eat beets.

 

On the other hand, if Neil Gaiman’s past experiences are a preview of mine, does that mean I get to <gasp> write a Dr. Who episode?

 


Time Travel Prom

I didn’t want to go to my prom.  At the time, it seemed a celebration of football players, cheerleaders, and people who were popular because of their straight teeth.

But on the eve of the prom itself, I felt a strange overwhelming urge to go.  I didn’t, of course, not having a ticket, or a tux, or a date, or a limo.  So, I stayed home and dreamed prom dreams.

The prom dream was always the same.  Lights faded, music slowed, and my prom date, a woman with dark hair and flashing eyes, danced close to me.  I’d hold her tight and we’d murmur our secret wishes to each other.

I forgot about the prom dream for a long time.  Life went on.  Decades passed.  The world changed and so did I.  Sometimes, the dream would come back, and I’d laugh at my own nostalgia for something that had never happened.

And then, a week ago, I found an envelope pushed under my front door.  It contained an invitation for the year my prom should have been and the words “period semi-formal dress required.”  I thought it was some kind of joke, but stuck it to the refrigerator anyway.

My mind drifted back to that invitation over the next few days.  I teased myself with the thought of going.  No.  I couldn’t.  That’s ridiculous.  Besides, I don’t even have a tux.

On my lunch hour, I found a large formal shop in the Mission that had, of all things, blue polyester tuxedos.  I tried one on and looked appropriately ridiculous, so I rented it.

The night of the event arrived.  I put on my blue tux and drove downtown to the hotel where the event was to take place.  It was an old landmark and had seemed cobwebby and dank.  I had never had a reason to enter it before.

People, like me, milled about inside a large ballroom.  Men and women, some young, some old, all wistful, circulated shyly beneath paper streamer decorations.

I drank a glass of punch, the band played a long lost song, and the room turned in an indigo haze.

Someone grabbed my hand.  It was my date.

We moved across the dance floor.  I held her close and looked down at her dark hair and flashing eyes.  She tipped her head back and asked, “Is this the prom you’ve always wanted?”

“Yes,” I said.  “It’s even more than I could have ever imagined.”

“Do you want to get a hotel room?”

“That’s okay, Sweetie,” I said to my wife of ten years.  “Going home with you is enough.  Thank you for doing this.”

She grinned up at me and we swayed together for the rest of the evening.


Halloween Past

Growing up in Connecticut, Halloween was a big deal.

The air was crisp and smelled of burning leaves.  Pumpkins sat on doorsteps with malevolent blocky grins.  Ghosts, ghouls, and witches laughed, and danced, and screamed down the sidewalk.

One could wear the most horrible, terrifying costume imaginable, but often my kid brother, Sean, and I ended up as monsters manufactured by our Mom out of paper bags, crepe paper, and wild red cone noses all attached in such a way that made it impossible to see, hear, or move except, perhaps, for a loose free hand to hold a shopping bag full of tooth rotting goodness.

Inevitably, the costumes would erode until my brother and I were left running around in the dark in our puffy winter coats with sad stray bits of crepe paper still taped to our backs.

There was the list of treats we were not allowed to eat: unwrapped, home-made candies obviously dosed with unspeakable toxins, and healthy looking apples that contained secret razor blades.

There was the list of houses we were not allowed to visit, all of which contained benign hippy looking people that our parents reasoned most likely to provide us with unwrapped, home-made poison candy, and razor bearing apples.

The last night I went trick-or-treating, my friends weren’t having any of it.  I was on my own.  I mean, on my own with Sean, who I was saddled with, as usual.

Toward the end of the night, all the giggling ghosts had drifted off, and we found ourselves lost in a dark neighborhood, alone.  The air was cold and we could see our breath.

We decided that we would make one last haul, like bank robbers going for that final score before retirement, and scanned for a house with a porch light still burning.

A peak roofed mansion rose out of the shadows ahead of us with cobwebs draped across the iron railing out front, candlelight flickering inside, and dark silhouettes of cats staring down at us with phantom green eyes from upstairs windows.

My brother and I looked at each other.  Sean rang the doorbell.  A dark figure moved behind the small window in the front door.

“Trick or treat,” we chorused tunelessly.

The door yawned open and a woman with pale paper white skin, blank eyes, and black lace clothing that buttoned up under her chin and swept down all the way to the floor.

It became colder than the fingers of wind that pushed at our backs; a cold that started inside and spread slowly, inexorably outward.

She stared at us and offered a basket.

Sean reached in and pulled out a perfect Macintosh apple.

I did the same.

“Thank you,” I said, already backing away.

Sean got ahead of me.  I followed him and could feel those staring eyes at my back.

We broke into a run.

“Boy,” I said.  “That was sure something.”

My brother didn’t answer, but kept loping on ahead of me.  He rummaged around in his goody bag while we jogged along.

I heard a crunching sound.  “Sean?”

The crunching continued.

“Sean, what are you eating?”

“Mmmf.”

“Give me that apple.”  I lunged after him.  He tried to get away, but I was too fast for him.  I caught him, spun him around, and pulled out what was in his mouth.

That’s when he started to scream.

The blood was everywhere.

It was kind of, I don’t know, sticky, and smelled like that Japanese artificial watermelon flavor.

“You stole my best candy,” my brother cried.

I suspect, to this day, he’s never really forgiven me.

 

Happy Halloween

 

(I know.  I know.  Probably could use another twist.  Let me know if you think of any.)

 

My friend Gloria is about to have a birthday and one of her famous all-girl dance parties, which my wife is thrilled to attend.  This is what I imagine it will be:


Ah, Writing

Ah, writing.  I love writing.  I also hate it.

Sometimes the words flow like a river.  Sometimes the words come out like pulling teeth.  When I write a draft, I am a genius.  When I read a draft, I am an utter fool.  I suppose I’m being a bit dramatic here, but you get the point.

And that is why I am so terrified, because…

I’m planning a novel.

There.  I’ve said it.

Now I guess I have to do it.

My in-laws were visiting from the East Coast, and we were somewhere near Point Reyes Station at a bed and breakfast.  It was all very nice, really.  Everyone who stayed at the house ate breakfast together, including a fellow from Chicago who complained bitterly about traffic.  My mind wandered while he spoke and a story popped full blown into my head.

I wrote down the story in a fever.  The next day I couldn’t wait to look it over.

Boy, did it suck.

But there was this one little part that was kind of, I don’t know, not so utterly horrible.

And my idea for a novel grew out of that.

And now I’m worrying that thread until it turns into something I can actually write.

Huzzah!