Monthly Archives: December 2010

Jonathan Swift, In Which Gulliver is a Prophet

In Lagado: “We next went to the school of languages, where three professors sat in consultation upon improving that of their own country.

The first project was to shorten discourse by cutting polysyllables into one, and leaving out verbs and participles, because in reality all things imaginable are but nouns.

The other project was a scheme for entirely abolishing all words whatsoever; and this was urged as a great advantage in point of health as well as brevity.  For it is plain that every word we speak is in some degree a diminution of our lungs by corrosion, and consequently contributes to the shortening of our lives.  An expedient was therefore offered, that since words are only names for things, it would be more convenient for all men to carry about them such things as were necessary to express the particular business they are to discourse on.”

And how did Gulliver aka Swift know that more than two-hundred years later, I would be packing useless words on my back, hauling them about with me to unpack here and there for conversation pieces–or stories.  My back aches with words, or the lack of them.  It’s time to unpack.  The New Year calls for it.

I will therefore unpack my words for a few days, live up the New Year with my beautiful family–drink wine and listen to accordions.  I will make no plans or promises, except I will pray and give my load of bagged words over to God.

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A Bit of Noir Fun: Pick Your Detective, Sam Spade or Fitzwilliam Darcy

Sam Spade, according to his creator, Mr. Hammett: “Spade has no original. He is a dream man in the sense that he is what most of the private detectives I worked with would like to have been and in their cockier moments thought they approached. For your private detective does not — or did not ten years ago when he was my colleague — want to be an erudite solver of riddles in the Sherlock Holmes manner; he wants to be a hard and shifty fellow, able to take care of himself in any situation, able to get the best of anybody he comes in contact with, whether criminal, innocent by-stander or client.”[1]

Spade gets the job done and, even though his morality is a little dubious, he does the right thing in the end. Sadly, you will never really know what he’s thinking, why he does what he does.  His mind is a closed book.

Spade’s Beat: 1920s San Francisco  

Fitzwilliam Darcy, according to me: Darcy is also an original.  Haughty, aloof, and far too serious, he is “able to get the best of anybody he comes in contact with.”  Except Elizabeth.  He is a dream man: capable and rich.  He is ever watchful, always working behind the scenes.  He gets the job done and wants no credit for his work.  Demure heroines misunderstand his intentions.  Silly girls are slack-jawed in their awe of him.

Darcy’s morality is impeccable–but he is proud, and that is his stumbling spot.  He is willing to be humble in the end, and, happily, he reveals his thoughts in letters.  His mind becomes an open book.

Darcy’s Beat: Romantic era England, the village of Longburn

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A Bit of Noir Fun: Pick Your Detective, Sam Spade or Fitzwilliam Darcy

Sam Spade, according to his creator, Mr. Hammett: “Spade has no original. He is a dream man in the sense that he is what most of the private detectives I worked with would like to have been and in their cockier moments thought they approached. For your private detective does not — or did not ten years ago when he was my colleague — want to be an erudite solver of riddles in the Sherlock Holmes manner; he wants to be a hard and shifty fellow, able to take care of himself in any situation, able to get the best of anybody he comes in contact with, whether criminal, innocent by-stander or client.”[1]

Spade gets the job done and, even though his morality is a little dubious, he does the right thing in the end. Sadly, you will never really know what he’s thinking, why he does what he does.  His mind is a closed book.

Spade’s Beat: 1920s San Francisco  

Fitzwilliam Darcy, according to me: Darcy is also an original.  Haughty, aloof, and far too serious, he is “able to get the best of anybody he comes in contact with.”  Except Elizabeth.  He is a dream man: capable and rich.  He is ever watchful, always working behind the scenes.  He gets the job done and wants no credit for his work.  Demure heroines misunderstand his intentions.  Silly girls are slack-jawed in their awe of him.

Darcy’s morality is impeccable–but he is proud, and that is his stumbling spot.  He is willing to be humble in the end, and, happily, he reveals his thoughts in letters.  His mind becomes an open book.

Darcy’s Beat: Romantic era England, the village of Longburn

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The Magic of Writing, the Magic of Life!

 Is this:

Awake! for Morning in the Bowl of Night
Has flung the Stone that puts the Stars to Flight:
And Lo! the Hunter of the East has caught
The Sultan’s Turret in a Noose of Light.

And this:

Come, fill the Cup, and in the Fire of Spring
The Winter Garment of Repentance fling:
The Bird of Time has but a little way
To fly–and Lo! the Bird is on the Wing.

And this:

Perplext no more with Human or Divine,
To-morrow’s tangle to the winds resign,
And lose your fingers in the tresses of
The Cypress-slender Minister of Wine.

I’ve always loved the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, those verses written by the astronomer-poet of eleventh-century Persia, and translated by Edward Fitzgerald in the nineteenth century.  I know little about the original writer of these magical verses, but I know of Fitzgerald and his numerous translations of the poem.  Fitzgerald was a writer and a re-writer.  I have most all of his versions in one volume; the first two quatrains above are from the first translation and the third quatrain is from the fifth.

Writers never change, do they?  They’re never satisfied, even after creating a masterpiece.  Personally, I prefer the first translation for most of the quatrains.  Keep in mind that first translation does not mean first draft.  It was the first to go to press–that’s all.  Then the author published another version and another and another . . . You get the idea.

If you’re a writer, and you’ve created magic, be satisfied with it.  Please.  Drink your wine and enjoy your success because, as the poet says, The Bird of Time has but a little way / To fly–and Lo! the Bird is on the Wing.  And to be honest, I admire and even envy you, because I haven’t yet captured the magic.  That wine has yet to fill my cup.  That’s all right–I’ll settle for my house red right now and think on the Wine-Bearer who provides for me. 

This Christmas, may you feel the wonder of life, may you walk hand in hand with the Wine-Bearer.

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New Mexico Noir: Voice of the Dead

I was assaulted the following morning by my mom’s paintings and my new partner.  I wasn’t technically assaulted by Anthony, unless I considered his barking at me over the morning coffee as physically harmful to my ears.  And the paintings—they assaulted me with sadness.

After Anthony finished ranting about how the coffee I’d made tasted like road tar, he drenched his bedroom carpet with it while madly searching through his boxes for missing files.  To be accurate, I searched through the boxes, and he wielded the box cutter, slashing at the packing tape with ferocity.  When the search yielded nothing but Anthony’s personal items, he stalked outside and slammed the door.
 
I refilled my coffee cup and washed up the breakfast dishes.  I made a to-do list that didn’t include cleaning the new mess in his room: call lab, study paintings, mail letter to my parents, listen to messages on their answering machine, study paintings again . . .

Outside, it was another hot, sky-blue day.  From the kitchen window, I could see Anthony in the bare front yard, pacing back and forth with his phone glued to his ear.  He bit his nails while he paced.  He spit on the ground and pulled the cap from his head and slammed it back on.  Clearly, he was agitated.

Heat and agitation were unpleasant bedfellows, as Anthony and I both knew, because he’d turned off the cooler the night before.  The muggy air that blew from the cooler now reeked of burning rubber, which meant Anthony needed to repair it.

I looked at my list.  I couldn’t call the lab—Anthony was monopolizing the phone.  Paintings—what else could I see in them that I hadn’t already seen?  My mom’s paintings were bold and clean, rather than intricate.  Secrets didn’t hide themselves well in her perfect layering that allowed for luminescent color.  Even the ruby butterfly, almost photographic in its beauty, shone from within, as though light emanated from inside the board.  And to describe the butterfly’s coloring as ruby was a stretch.  Her wings were pink.

I skipped to the third duty on my list and pulled on my running shoes. I would now make a second attempt to mail my parents one pathetic plea for help.  Since it was still morning for another few minutes, and therefore not the hottest part of the day, I managed to jog most of the way to the nearest postal box.  When I returned, Anthony no longer paced the yard.  His truck was gone and, I assumed, his phone with it.

I cursed him, and then repented of my sin.  Cursing my neighbor could not be construed as loving.  Besides that, all caring aside, I had myself to consider.  My life was too enmeshed with his to desire him ill-fate. For example, his home was now mine as well.

“Bless you, Anthony,” I said, and marked a check beside my one accomplishment.  I nearly added make lunch to my list when I saw Angelica’s sedan pull in the drive.  She stepped out, dressed in her waitress black and white and carrying a take-out bag. I opened the door for her.

“Lunch delivery!  You wouldn’t believe how many people I had to call to find this address.”

“And you don’t know how much I needed this,” I told her, my eyes tearing up.

“Yes I do.  Are you living here?  Your brother said you weren’t at his place.”

I found melamine plates in the cupboard and set the table with them and a few pieces of mismatched silverware.  “It’s only temporary.”

“I know.”  She unpacked the lunch boxes, opened them, and scooped out Manuela’s smothered burritos with beans and rice on the side.

I loved Angelica.  I loved her for not arguing with me about the wisdom of living with my boss. And that was not to mention lunch.  “When do you have to be at work?”

She looked at her watch.  “In an hour.  I have to work the dinner shift tonight.”

“Will you listen to my parents’ answering machine with me before you go?  I’ve been putting it off because it scares me.”

“Why do you have . . .?  Should I even ask?”

“Probably not.”

She nodded, and we fell to eating.  Because of her time constraint, I ate my entire plate of food in five minutes. Angelica ate half of hers so the other half wouldn’t end up on her thighs, and then she followed me into the living room.

I held my breath as I placed the machine in the middle of the desk. I unwound the cord and plugged it in. When I breathed again, I smelled the chile from our lunch, and it gave me comfort.

“They could be meaningless,” I said.

“Or not.  Press play, Ella.”

The first was dead space—as well as the second and the third.  The fourth was a woman called Carlina begging money for the police fund.  On the fifth, sixth and seventh, I finally noticed a pattern.  My parents had run away months ago, yet they had only nine messages, all of which were recorded within the last week or so.  The eighth crackled with dead space. I was ready to stop the ninth in the midst of nothingness, until I heard a faint voice.  It sounded like Victor’s.

I rewound it and played it again to catch the exact time and date.  If the machine’s clock was accurate, Victor had recorded his message within hours of his death.  And all I could hear of it was Tell Ella.  Tell me what?

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