Delivering Joy

For the next several days I’m going to return attention to some of my favorite bloggers, writers whose work I admire. Beginning today with Corngoblin, who just posted a heartfelt tribute to the late Gene Wilder, an actor who never failed to deliver joy to his audience.

NULL

Zero and One,
A perfect pair, each completing the other’s story:
Without Zero, 1 doesn’t know what it’s missing;
Without One, 0 can’t say what not having nothing means.

NULL, though, tells a story all its own,
the kind that has no meaning.
Potential, yes — it could become 0, or 1,
but while still NULL it is an amount without a quantity,
an absence that cannot be filled.
NULL is not a thing, but also not nothing.

When the purchase of a package of peanuts
is input as a 1 on a transactional database,
and is then compared to other peanut purchases (1)
and to sales where peanuts are not purchased (0) —
it becomes possible to produce a predictive algorithm for the purchase of peanuts.
And why stop at peanuts, or even purchases?
All manners of transactions — sleeping and waking, tests and contests,
elections and affirmations, conversations and conclusions,
friending and unfriending, hating and loving.
Living. Dying.
Each human act a data point, with a value of zero or one, feeding into an unliving algorithm
content to predict the possible until it suddenly realizes that uncertainty is boring and messy,
and decides humans do much better when they are told
what they should like,
where they should live,
why they get out of bed in the morning,
when they should die,
who they should love.

NULL contributes no data,
deposits nothing that can be mined,
provides no substance to the bloodstream that feeds the logistical vampire.
To be NULL, not 0 or even 1 —
could be humanity’s last remaining freedom.

A Private Conversation

[On Eclectic Voices, Jeff Folschinsky just posted some small meaningful answers to big meaningless questions, inspiring me to reflect on the value of internal monologues]

They say it’s OK to talk to people who aren’t there —
so long as they don’t talk back to you.
Because only crazy people hear imaginary voices.

But what if you’re talking to yourself?
Are you there?
Isn’t that you just me, with a different name?
An artifical you (no, me) you I create
in order to conduct a pretend conversation?

So when I talk to myself, and hear a response —
who’s speaking?
Can’t be me, because like I just said, that me is something I created,
and I can’t create myself.

So it must be you —
whoever you are.
And I’d tell you to keep your voice down, leave me alone,
but I’m afraid I’d get lonely,
and after a while, might begin to enjoy my quiet solitude.

And that would be crazy.

Decisions

[This week’s Discover Challenge from The Daily Post is to explore the “disciplined poetry” of a list]

Please stay.
Let’s abandon the comfortable safety of solitude
And explore the messy uncertainty of our desire.

All right.
Twelve more weeks, then I’m done.
Not the job I want, but the experience could be useful.

No thanks.
Doesn’t sound like much fun, and besides,
My body’s too old to work the lower rungs of a ladder.

OK, fine.
Doesn’t matter what I’m running towards
So long as it allows me to run away.

I can’t.
They would hear the fear in my voice
And that fear might plant in their souls.

Caring, More or Less

[An essay on semantics from LionAroundWriting has inspired me to write about one of my linguistic pet peeves.]

“Francis?” Rex shrugged his shoulders, the action on his tall slender frame resembling a coat hanger being pulled straight up. “Thought he didn’t fence saber.”

Annie tugged a glove onto her right hand, its sleeve extending several inches down the forearm, covering the jacket sleeve. “He’s beaten just above everyone in the state in epee, and foil. Guess he’s looking for a new challenge.”

“Huh.” Rex pulled a mask down from the top of his head, covering his face, voice now muffled through the tight gray metal mesh. “Good for him. Me, I could care less.”

“Couldn’t.” Annie stopped preparing for practice, stared intently up at Rex. “You couldn’t care less.”

Rex nodded, confusion evident on his caged face. “Yeah, that’s right. Don’t matter to me, if he does saber.”

“So why’d you just say you could care less?” Annie’s left arm hung down her side, fencing mask dangling loosely from her hand as if she were about to let it drop.

Rex lifted the mask off his face, resting it back on top of his head. “What — ”

“You said you could care less.” Annie now grasped the mask firmly, pointed it up at Rex. “But you meant, you couldn’t care less.”

Rex blinked. Frowned. “OK. Couldn’t care less. Got it.” He raised a hand up to his mask, but as he grabbed its cloth bib to pull it back down over his face, stopped himself. “Can I ask, why you care?”

Annie had already masked her face. “I don’t care. Just thought you should know, that what you said, isn’t what you meant.”

“But you knew what I meant anyway, right?”

Annie’s face froze behind its protective fence. “Perhaps — ” the sound of thin metal blades colliding on the strip behind them bounced off the tiled floor of the cateria — “we should start fencing.”

With a smile of relief and just a hint of victory, Rex pulled his mask back down.

Going Big

Made a decision this week about The Land Without Mosquitos, a story I’ve drafted and revised on this blog. Rather than shrinking it down to the size of a short story, I’m expanding it to novel length, around 50K words. It’s kind of a “go big or go home” decision; there’s a lot I want to accomplish with this story, and I’m choosing to feed my ambition.

I’ll also be taking a more active approach in soliciting feedback; rather than posting revisions here, I’ll be submitting a chapter a month to a local writers’ group. Gray Metal Faces will continue to be my focus on this blog, at least through November of this year, along with the occasional self-indulgent metawriting post such as this.

Maybe, Part 3

[Concluding my response to Wednesday’s Daily Post prompt]

Coach Dan cleared his throat. “Don’t worry about Stu. Yeah, he’s disappointed the team doesn’t have the numbers it had the last couple years, but we’re also pretty self-sufficient. Only money we need is for sending the jackets out to the laundry.” The corners of his mouth stretched back into an expression that resembled neither a smile nor frown. “But, this conversation isn’t about numbers, is it?”

Annie exhaled, but did not flinch. “All right, it’s not.” Coach Dan nodded. “It’s not just that we need Rune here — and really, we do — but it’s important for him to be here too. He’s been acting, I don’t know, really strange lately. I’m worried about him.”

“I see,” Coach Dan tilting his head back, the thin metal sounds of the bouting near them all but ignored.

“It’s all the maybes that worry me.” Annie bit her lower lip. “If he’d say no, or said he needed a break like you were just saying — yeah I’d be annoyed, really, but I wouldn’t be worried. But, the maybes. It’s like he doesn’t really know what he wants, and worse, he doesn’t care. Like he’s drifting on a river, letting the current take him wherever it will, rather than swimming.” She shook her head, arms folding across her chest. “What happens if the current pushes him towards some rocks, or a waterfall, and it’s too late for him to break free of the current?”

At the far end of the cafeteria, one of the two large metal doors ka-kalcked open. A moment later, the angular figure of Rex walked in. Annie turned, waved a smile in his direction. In the center of the large room, Micky and Butch drew their bout to a close.

“Go fence,” Coach Dan’s voice gently commanding. “Rune has a few classes in rooms near mine tomorrow. I’ll catch his attention, come up with some reason for him to see me after school.” His black beard grinned. “And I won’t let him say maybe.”

Her eyes brigthening, Annie nodded, then turned to accept the fencing mask offered by Micky.

Maybe, Part 2

[Continuing yesterday’s response to a Daily Post prompt]

“Don’t be so quick to judge, my friend.” Arms folded across his chest, Coach Dan watched Annie, the gymnast and ballerina who had stumbled onto the fencing team’s practice last year and taken to the sport like a lion closing on its prey, as she sorted through the canvas sack of masks. “Not everyone — ”

“MICKY!” Annie’s head swiveled over her right shoulder, in the direction of the makeshift fencing strip (one of many large rectangles of white tile among the black-tiled surface of the cafeteria floor) where the senior was about to begin a practice bout with Butch. The two students froze. “Micky, you wearing my mask?”

McKay Morgan came out of her fighting stance, lifted the front of her mask onto her head, exposing a face whose defiance chased away the lingering shadow of embarassment. “Don’t see your name nowhere on it, and you weren’t — ”

“No, it’s cool.” Annie, who had taken a few steps in the direction of her friends, now waved her hands dismissively, her voice softening. “I just — wanted to make sure it didn’t get left behind in the furnace room.” Clasping her hands behind the small of her back, Annie nodded at Micky, then Butch; after a curt “go ahead,” she then turned back towards her coach.

“As I was saying — ” Dan Jacobs, English teacher at Bark Bay High School and volunteer fencing coach, tilted his head down at Annie — “not everyone shares your passion for this sport.” He waved an arm toward the strip behind Annie. “This is the first time Micky’s been to practice since when, November?”

“But she’s always been like that.” Annie tilted her head back, heard the ting of colliding thin metal, a squeal of delight from Micky. “Never been to any tournaments, even when Myles was here. Rune’s different, he’s been competing all year — ”

“And so maybe he needs a break.” Coach Dan sounded indifferent. “Been in this sport longer than you, my friend, I see this all the time. Sometimes the best thing a fencer can do, is to take some time off.” He raised his right hand, tapped a finger on his temple. “Fencing can be just as mentally taxing as it is physically — surely you know that?” He waited for Annie to nod. “Rune will — ”

“We have three people tonight.” She pointed behind her without looking, eyes still arguing with her coach. “Every Tuesday, we have no idea who’s coming, who’s staying away.” She swallowed. “You had that talk with Stu yet?”

Coach Dan was unable to keep himself from frowning upon hearing the name of the school’s athletic director.

[To be continued, for at least one more day]

Maybe

[Been a while since I’ve responded to a Daily Post prompt.]

February — the third Tuesday

Coach Dan stroked his short black beard. “So, what’d he say?”

“As little as possible.” Annie reached behind her head, pulled her brown pony-tail up as Butch, standing behind her, zipped and fastened her white fencing jacket. “No committment, not a yes or no. Just, maybe.” Feeling her teammate finish his work, she let the brown mane fall down her back.

“Rune said the same thing to me, yesterday.” Butch walked from behind Annie, faced their coach. “I was like, you coming to practice tomorrow — ” concern slapped onto his round face — “I mean, today, not tomorrow, because I was speaking to him yesterday — ”

“And he said maybe to you as well?”

“Oh!” The rotund teen stared up at the ceiling a moment. “Don’t remember exactly what he said — maybe it was maybe — ”

Annie laid a hand on his shoulder. “But, he didn’t say yes, or no, did he?”

Butch stared back at his team captain. Blinked. “I don’t remember.”

Coach Dan pointed past Butch’s left shoulder, towards the center of the cafeteria floor. “Looks like Micky’s ready for you.” As if late for an appointment, Butch turned and hustled to the area of white tile where the senior stood waiting.

“I don’t get what’s going on with him.” Annie had resumed the tone she had used when discussing Rune. “Ask how he’s feeling, and he’s like, I dunno,” her voice dropping a mocking octave. “If he’s competing at the Academy tournament Saturday — maybe. How’s the family — fine, I guess.” Shaking her head, the sophomore reached down into the sack containing the team’s masks.

[To be continued]