Category Archives: Work in Progress
There are fragments of stories that have been obsessed over and perfected, and then there are works in progress; fragments that still need to be polished but are nevertheless begging to be shared anyway….
Looking for something else entirely, I went down the rabbit hole of my external hard drive, which had been a labyrinthine dumping ground of folders and files and enough potential writing and design projects to keep me busy for years if I had the time to organize it all into something manageable and accessible.
While fishing around, I came across this Photoshop sketch that I’d worked up off a photo or Google maps shot three or four years ago in a similar onslaught of nostalgia.
I’d wanted to put together maybe a dozen or so sketches like this to breakup a story I was trying to figure out. I had a short story that I was working off of and wanted to make it into something else, something longer.
I had come up with this idea after reading Edouard Levé’s novel, “Suicide”. It was his last book, as shortly after turning in the completed manuscript to his editor, Levé took his own life. The novel is interesting as it’s narrated to the main character, essentially turning the reader into the victim of the title suicide. It’s haunting and puzzling, infectious and entirely successful in calling into question what it means to exist.
I didn’t suddenly want to write every book I had in my head in this style forever now, but there are two ideas that have followed me around for several years that lend themselves to the style. Oddly enough, both deal with death, just as Levé’s work did, although in my case, one is a violent death at another’s hand, and the other is a tragic accidental one.
I wonder what about this writing style, this voice, that lends itself to tragic subject material? The ability to so easily accuse and question within the unfolding of the narrative? The way in which it immediately makes the reader a character, and can borrow their own prejudices and experiences, their fears and doubts, without needing to put those words on the page? Both ideas are a collection of photographs and written scenes, but are barely more then bones and bullet points, and a few odd fragments. I’m not sure how the stories will work out yet, or whether they will at all. For now, at least for this story, this is all I have.
The smoke billowing from the base of the rocket looked normal enough, but the purple flames added an unsettling, unearthly glow. That’s an astronaut joke. Unearthly glow. Get it?
Well, it isn’t my fault you don’t have a sense of humor. If anyone shouldn’t be laughing it’s me. And just for the record, the flames from the rocket’s ignition were purple due the high amounts of chlorrasiride in the atmosphere, which was also the reason for our three hundred pound EMARU Z-Suits. That trademarked string of garbage, by the way, stands for extravehicular mobility and reconnaissance unit, in case you weren’t paying attention during the mission briefing. Although, you got me as to what the hell the Z stands for since I nodded off during that part of the briefing. We just called them zuits anyway, so it couldn’t have been that important.
Those zuits may have allowed us to stretch our legs without our insides instantly liquefying and pouring out of us (I’ve mentioned the chlorrasiride-rich atmosphere, haven’t I?) from our most southern bodily orifice, thank you very much to this planet’s gravity that was nearly double what Earth’s used to be. But these zuits were also the reason Terry and I didn’t even try to make a run for it when we saw that purple smoke start to kick out from the prelaunch.
It had taken us just under an hour to walk to the primary target area. From prelaunch to full ignition and liftoff, we wouldn’t have made it a quarter of the distance between, even back on Earth at a full run without all this shit weighing us down. But in a zuit with a full load of oxygen and all our diagnostic gear? Fuck all, man. We didn’t stand a chance of doing anything but wasting our breath, and that was something we were suddenly very short on.
All we could do was stare off at the horizon, hailing nothing but static on the ship to shore. There we were, the only two people on this planet that I thought knew how to fly the Lamplighter—hell, I thought we were the only two people on this planet, period—watching their ride blast off to who the hell knows where.
Terry reached up to shield his eyes from the nearer of the two suns that AMC-IV circled around. He could have just flipped his visor down, I don’t know why he always had to be so dramatic about these things.
“Steve, isn’t that our ride?” he asked.
An abandoned travelogue, a short story, a new appreciation for Hemingway?
When I was in college I came up with the idea for a book that I would call “Emasculating Hemingway”, in which I would travel the world and seek out the places and experiences Ernest Hemingway wrote about throughout all of his short stories and novels. Tying it all together would be the struggle for the average man, like myself, who had never been particularly big or strong or athletic, who had never felt “manly” to learn it firsthand from the epitome of manliness.
It was brilliant, I thought. I’d get to see the world, to read everything Hemingway had ever written, I’d write a book myself—one that tied together life, literature, travel and finding one’s purpose, one’s place. Brilliant.
But it never got much past what I thought was an eye-catching title and a few bullet points. Years later, working at Barnes & Noble, I joined a book group with some other booksellers. We read On the Road. I wasn’t impressed. I found it tiresome. It’s not my type of book. Sometime later I read the Sun Also Rises, and perhaps it was having read Jack Kerouac so soon before, but I hated it. I felt the same way about it as I had On the Road. It was the same story, thirty years before. Only there was no story. Nothing happened. There was no point. And I know, that is the point, but I just didn’t like it. I’m allowed to. Just because it’s a classic, doesn’t make it good, and it certainly doesn’t mean it will appeal to everyone. Hemingway is brilliant and I will always emulate his writing style (imitate poorly) and I will read a handful of his short stories a few times a year (Hills Like White Elephants, the End of Something among others), but I just did not like that book.
Then just the other night, a line popped into my head and having my computer nearby I wrote it down and then kept going with wherever the hell it was going to take me. I wrote a couple paragraphs, got stuck, and it being late, I fell asleep while trying to figure out where this story was going next. The next morning, I woke up and had no idea what I’d written about, but remember that I had been very excited at the time.
“The bulls were running, or so they had been told.”
Maybe not a particularly good opening line, but this is a work in progress. That’s the fourth or fifth take on that idea, and I’m sure it will change another dozen times as I work through what this story is really about.
The important thing is that I wrote it and with it came the café, and the others sitting around the table, the drinking, the girl… and it brought back the idea of feeling emasculated by the persona of manliness that Hemingway left us. I’m pretty certain at this point in my life that I will never write that travel book, but that doesn’t mean these characters aren’t writing their own version of it. They are at this café because they believe they should be, but they have no idea why or for what.
Ultimately, that was the idea behind Emasculating Hemingway, that we have to be the giant of man who drinks Scotch and smokes cigars, who builds things and goes fishing, who plays football on Thanksgiving while the women cook, because we’re men and that’s what we do!—but we don’t know why we have to be that kind of man, and we don’t know how to be, and more importantly, more terrifyingly important, is that it crushes us because we never will be that man. We’re emasculated and cut down by an idea that no one really lives up to.
That’s who these characters are, and perhaps who each one of us allows ourselves to become: men who cannot live up to an impossible ideal, and instead put on a show to pretend we have. This story is about how the false journey we set ourselves on in trying to live up to a dead man’s fictional standard—trying to live up to any man’s standards rather than our own—prevents us from living our lives honestly and leaves us missing out on the moments we deserve to experience for ourselves.
Maybe I’m writing that book after all, now as a short work of fiction instead. We’ll see. I’ll let you know how it turns out…