dreams, Fiction, literature, notes, prose, Uncategorized, writing

campfire tales

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Three friends sat at a campfire in the dark beneath trees thrashing in the mountain wind. It was a cold night and had been a cold day during the search for the missing woman. Groups camping nearby had already doused their fires and retreated into tents for the night. The three friends by the fire took turns telling stories, huddled under blankets, with one friend recounting a tale from her youth in which she believed a ghost occupied her basement.

She said: I can’t express the doom I felt, the darkness inside my chest every time I went down there.

The second friend told a story about a small boat that set sail from her childhood town in Virginia and was never seen again. A storm had arrived just before the boat departed, and the vessel had likely been swallowed up.

She said: A handful of times through the years, and only at night, when the bay was particularly foggy, people have claimed to see the boat cutting through the water just off the shore, as if it were searching for land, searching for home, for a place to dock.

The third friend, the male in the group, spoke of an encounter that happened to him years earlier. He’d been repeatedly visited by a spirit as a child, he said.

He said: It wore a dark cloak and it was tall. Its face was always hidden in its hood. He — I don’t know why I assigned it a male identity — he would suddenly appear by my bedroom window and just stand there watching me. I was terrified in place, unable to move.

The man seated near the fire readjusted his body in the chair. He reached down for a thermos on the ground and hefted it to his mouth. Wind gusted at them, through them. The fire tossed orange ribbons and splashes of light into the air.

He said: The figure appeared at my window less frequently as I grew into adolescence. My life became more like a normal boy’s. I moved away from my childhood home and enrolled in college. Eventually I pushed those early experiences so far into the depths of my memory that I forgot about them entirely. I forgot about the figure and the terror he caused. I forgot about the nightmares, the fear of being alone in my bedroom at night.

He continued: Then on my 40th birthday, just a few months ago, I woke in the night to use the toilet and grab a snack. My feet were cold on the wood floor. I remember feeling something strange in the air of the kitchen, like an inaudible hum or threads of invisible waves pulling tight around me. It reminded me of when I was a kid, the feeling I’d have just before the cloaked figure appeared by my window. All the hairs on my body stuck out like needles from my skin. There in the half-light of the kitchen I made out the shadowy figure that had often visited me in youth. It was just as tall, just as terrifying. I acknowledged it and closed the refrigerator door, surprised to see the faint but identifiable features of a human face deep in the hood.

He continued: I wasn’t scared like I’d been as a child. I was only curious or interested as I stepped toward the figure and peered into its face. It did not move as I approached. I looked past him to the window and out to the snowy expanse of my backyard. I was close enough to smell him (he smelled like the whisper of a tree) and to feel the odd vibration emanating from him. When at last I leaned in to peer closer at the face in the hood, I realized it was a woman’s face. The room was too dark and her features too gray and indistinct, but I could tell it was a woman. Then it began to communicate with me, it spoke without words, without sound, her ideas transmitted directly to me from her mind.

The man stopped talking to wrap the blanket tighter around himself. Both women watched him with their eyes wide. One woman took a long drink from her thermos while the other bent forward to toss another log onto the fire.

Friend Two asked: What did the figure say to you?

She told me she was a witch, he said. And that she was probably two hundred years old, but she didn’t know exactly how old because she stopped counting long ago.

Friend One asked: Do you know what she wanted from you?

The man stared into the fire. Its light reflected on his face.

He said: She told me that her face would be the last I’d see in this life.

The three of them listened quietly to the wind rushing through the trees. They watched the fire dance before them, hypnotized by the heat, the flashing light, the unpredictable movement. They each thought of the missing woman and how they’d spent the day combing the mountain for her. Not one of them would speak about it, but they all thought the missing woman was already dead, that they’d likely stumble into her carcass rather than hear her crying out for help or see her waving from a distended rock. Each of them hoped secretly that it wouldn’t be them to find her.

They agreed to extinguish the fire and retire to their tents. The following day would be long and exhaustive. The man had a strange dream in the night in which the cloaked figure from his past returned to him. In the dream he was seated at the fire just as before, except his two friends weren’t there. He was alone. A noise behind him made him turn in his chair to behold the cloaked figure standing tall and facing the light of the fire. She reached an arm up to remove her hood and reveal the half-decomposed, worm-eaten head of the missing woman.

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Fiction, literature, notes, prose, Uncategorized, writing

the shrink

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I sat back in the chair opposite the shrink. I didn’t want to look at him anymore. 

How about hypnosis? he asked. 

I averted my eyes and my mind jumped from thought to thought like a frog on a pond. 

What about it? I asked. 

The shrink was an older man but not old, bald up top with a neatly trimmed beard dyed brown. His eyes wandered from my face to the tablet in his lap and back to me again. I thought of paradise and tried to picture the idea in my mind. 

Have you ever thought of hypnosis to treat some of your … symptoms? 

His eyes were gray like his hair would have been or as his beard should have been. But one could hardly see the color of his eyes through the squinty coin slots they’d become, or perhaps always were, since his childhood in the rich neighborhoods of Manhattan or Massachusetts, back when the other kids made fun of him for his briefcase — for simply carrying it with him at all times merited their ridicule, but adding insult to injury, as they say, was the appearance of the briefcase — brown mixed with green or what the kids called puke-green, the worst of all possible colors. Making matters worse yet, the briefcase was several decades old, and thus, beat up and disastrously out of style. 

I’m not sure about hypnosis, sir, I said. 

Thoughts cascaded down the vined walls of my mind. The shrink’s hands were small and weak — just as one would expect. I’d have challenged him to an arm-wrestling match but I tweaked my wrist earlier that day at baseball practice. 

I don’t believe in … histrionics, I said, proud of myself for using the word in a sentence. 

The shrink paused with an expression of consternation.

I don’t think that’s the proper use of the term, he said.  

He sat back in his chair, uncrossed, then re-crossed his legs. He leaned forward again, toward me. 

He said: Hypnosis is highly effective on younger people. 

His lips were small and pink and his mouth barely opened when he spoke. 

He said: Adolescents are highly susceptible to the power of suggestion. 

I was tired of looking at him. The window behind him opened to the vast, sun-swept city.

There’s nothing to be afraid of, he said. 

I’ve been hypnotized before, I said proudly, shifting my weight in the seat.

He leaned back. His clothes were bland and ugly and probably cost a lot of money. 

Is that so? he asked. 

I looked out the window. My friends were out there somewhere, running around aimlessly, breaking things, looking for girls. They were like me in that they did not know the world was theirs. 

Yes, I said. My mother had me hypnotized because she thought I was lying about some money that went missing. 

I realized I’d been wringing my hands, playing with them. The shrink stared at them as I spoke. 

Did you take the money? he asked. 

He looked at my face to gauge my reaction. His face was white, pale, bloodless. 

No, I said. 

He wrote on the tablet with a stylus. 

I had been seeing this girl, Elaine. She was short and dark-haired with big, brown eyes. We kissed once and I reached up to touch her chest but she pushed my hands down. I thought maybe I loved her but I didn’t know for sure. I didn’t tell the shrink any of this.

What do you want to do when you grow up? he asked. 

Elaine’s mother was also a shrink. I questioned the character of those who chose to listen to other people’s problems for a living. I didn’t tell the shrink that I hadn’t given my future much thought. I’d probably play baseball or run my dad’s print shop when he retired. I’d marry Elaine and she’d write plays and we’d have a baby or two.

I’ll probably fly airplanes, I said, without knowing why I said it.

He leaned toward the small table between us and hefted a cup of steaming tea. He sipped it. 

I didn’t know you were into aviation, he said, smacking his lips together and leaning back in the seat. 

He wrote on his tablet. His socks had brown diamond patterns and his shoes looked new, like today was the first he’d worn them. He seemed smaller after drinking the tea, as if it had shrunk him.

Why are you smiling? he asked. 

I looked down to the animal-hair carpet and out the window to the city. When I looked back at him he appeared even smaller, like a large adult child. He was shrinking rapidly, deflating, losing volume, as Mr. Potter would say.

Nothing, I said, trying and failing to hide my amusement. Nothing.

That’s okay, he said. You don’t have to tell me. 

The office was small but the shrink’s desk at the window was large. The wood was reddish-brown and looked heavy. 

He cleared his throat and continued to shrink, to biologically regress. His feet no longer touched the ground; they dangled and swung over the animal carpet. His tablet was now the size of his torso. I stifled a laugh. His face reddened.

Okay, now, he said raising his little hand with the oversized stylus.

His voice was higher in pitch, like a child’s, or as if he’d swallowed a balloon of helium. One giant shoe fell off a foot to the animal carpet. Then I laughed — I couldn’t hold it.

All right, that’s enough, he giggled, his voice that of a delighted toddler. The giggling rose to a crescendo of gut-laughter, uncontrollable and tiny.

I lost it, falling onto the animal carpet, laughing, laughing.

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Excerpt, Fiction, literature, nietzsche, notes, philosophy, prose, spirituality

A fly in the marketplace

I have become a fly in the marketplace. I buzz and irritate my fellow men and women with newfound toxicity. Capitalism has done this to me — entrapped me in the public domain, away from my cloistered work room and much-valued solitude. Now I fly and buzz with the others, content with my lack of desire and inspiration, poised only to interact in the marketplace, consume, and procreate. I now spread the disease of mediocrity and uniformity as an instrument of the capitalist machine.

From Nietzsche’s Zarathustra:

Flee, my friend, into your solitude! I see you defeated with the noise of the great men and pricked by the strings of the little men.

Forest and rock know well how to be silent with you. Be like the tree again, the wide-branching tree that you love — silently and attentively it hangs out over the sea.

Where solitude ends, there the marketplace begins; and where the marketplace begins, there begins also the noise of the great actors and the buzzing of poisonous flies.

Even the best things in the world are worthless without those who first present them. People call these presenters great men.

The people have little comprehension of greatness, that is to say: creativeness. But they have a taste for all presenters and actors of great things.

The world revolves around the inventors of new values; invisibly it revolves. But around the actors revolve the people and fame; so the world goes.

The actor has spirit but little conscience of the spirit. He always believes in that with which he most powerfully produces belief — produces belief in himself!

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Fiction, literature, notes, prose, Uncategorized, writing

teeth

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Drums rain from the sky. Is it real?

Water flows within, disturbed. 

Only music sets me right. 

Who’s writing? Not me!

The detective carries himself with dignity, poise. He is forty, “a good age,” according to Colombian writer Evelio Rosero. Nothing is real. All the inspiration gone, dried up. I worry about writing more than I write. I worry about time and missed opportunities and money — especially money, always money, and I remember an anecdote about the infamous poverty of Cormac McCarthy, who once couldn’t afford toothpaste. Luckily I can afford to clean my teeth but they clench at the thought of the author of Blood Meridian and Outer Dark penniless, suffering the pain and indignity of decaying teeth. 

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churchill, Excerpt, literature, nonfiction, notes, philosophy, prose, quote, Uncategorized, writing

Churchill on landlords

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Roads are made, streets are made, services are improved, electric light turns night into day, water is brought from reservoirs a hundred miles off in the mountains — all the while the landlord sits still. Every one of those improvements is affected by the labor and cost of other people and the taxpayers. To not one of these improvements does the land monopolist contribute, and yet, by every one of them the value of his land is enhanced. He renders no service to the community, he contributes nothing to the general welfare, he contributes nothing to the process from which his own enrichment is derived…The unearned increment on the land is reaped by the land monopolist in exact proportion, not to the service, but to the disservice done.

— Winston Churchill, 1909

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Excerpt, literature, montaigne, notes, philosophy, prose, Uncategorized, writing

Montaigne on introspection

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If no one reads me,

have I wasted my time, entertaining myself for so many idle hours with such useful and agreeable thoughts? … I have no more made my book than my book has made me — a book consubstantial with its author …

Have I wasted my time by taking stock of myself so continually, so carefully? For those who go over themselves only in their minds and occasionally in speech do not penetrate to essentials in their examination as does a man who makes that his study, his work, and his trade, who binds himself to keep an enduring account, with all his faith, with all his strength.

Indeed, the most delightful pleasures are digested inwardly, avoid leaving any traces, and avoid the sight not only of the public but of any other person.

— Michel de Montaigne

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Excerpt, Fiction, literature, memoir, MuñozMolina, notes, prose, quote, Uncategorized, writing

Muñoz Molina on the novel

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The novel subjects itself to its own limits and at the same time opens itself up to an exploration of depths that are within and without (the writer) and that only (the writer) was meant to discover. You’re writing even when you don’t write. Narrative imagination does not feed on what is invented; It feeds on the past. Every minor or trivial event that one experiences or discovers in the course of an investigation can be valuable or even decisive for the novel, occupying a minimal but precise place within it, like an uneven cobblestone …

… The novel has developed on its own with the unlimited richness of reality and the blank spaces I haven’t been tempted to fill, spaces in the shadows that cannot be illuminated …

…The novel is what I write and also the room where I work. The novel is the fine-point pen that ran out of ink one day when I wrote for five or six hours without stopping and filled an entire notebook. The novel is made with everything I know and everything I don’t know, and with the sensation of groping my way through this story but never finding a precise narrative outline.

— Antonio Muñoz Molina, Like a Fading Shadow. Translated by Camilo A. Ramirez. Published by Editorial Planeta, S.A., 2014. Translation copyright 2017 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York.

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