August 2018 Update

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Now that the tumult of moving and settling in has come to a sort of end—allowing me to once more work on new writing and acknowledge the publication of new stories (such as “Small Shiny Fish” in Issue 80 of Broken Pencil) and prepare for the release of a new collaborative project with the inimitable Scott Sell—well, it seems as good a time as any to resume my progressive list of things that might very well be influencing me at present.

1. Aunts

Okay, this is a little more involved than just aunts—nor do my actual aunts have anything to do with this (sorry Kris, sorry Janice, although as you’ll momentarily see, not so sorry)—yet in what I’ve witnessed, aunts take the brunt. Because there’s this thing that comes up in a certain kind of literature, often written by men of a certain age, wherein (a slightly-older female relative who now and then is a cousin but I’m just to go ahead and say) an aunt fucks her teenage nephew. [This is discrete from the cousins-in-love scenario central to my novel To Sleep as Animals as in that instance, the sex occurs between consenting adults, thus creating a very different set of problems.] In the instances of overly-attentive aunts (and I am intentionally not citing the books and authors), both the boy and his aunt consider the encounter somehow instructional: it is never portrayed as an episode of incestuous statutory rape so much as a learning experience among loving members of a family.

Needless to say, this is supremely fucked up. But that’s not the thing I’m interested in.

Conjecturally and sometimes evidently, these same male authors would tell the story differently if the genders were reversed, if an uncle or adult cousin, say, took his teenaged relative off into the woods for some intensive learning. The conclusion, then, would appear to be that it’s okay for aunts to fuck their nephews and for nephews to fuck their aunts, although there’s never any sort of argument presented, just the story told without too many complicating questions asked. So what was going on with the men of our parents’ and/or grandparents’ generation? Were aunts in the first half of the last century problematically generous with their affections? Were boys, for whatever reason, fantasizing overboard about their mothers’ sisters? Or is this another example of men and boys doing whatever they please, then later reconstructing the events to convince themselves and anyone who will listen that it’s what all parties involved wanted, no matter how much anyone protests after the fact? Which leads to a bigger question: how early do boys learn the fine art of gas lighting to ensure they never get punished for taking whatever they want?

IMG_20180718_192423_4862. Fishing

This one is not nearly as nuanced as the aunts thing. It’s simply this: fishing has come up in a lot of the stories I’ve drafted in the past six months or more. Which is fine, as there was once a time when I loved to fish, would in fact seek any excuse or opportunity to engage with some water, even if it meant catching and releasing the same fish over and over again, even if it meant catching nothing but leeches and ticks. But it’s been fifteen years since I took the sport seriously, and honestly, I cannot tell you when I last saw fit to cast a hook into a stream. So what all at once has me fixated on brook trout and swift river water? Why is this the useful device I’m returning to again and again to move these stories forward?

3. Lungfish’s “Pray for the Living

That’s all, just the song. It’s really good. And it’s a great example of backing vocals—no matter where in the mix they might lay—in fact being the lead (and if you don’t know what I’m talking about, you should listen to “Gimme Shelter” with a little more attention to the ratios of passion between Mick Jagger and Merry Clayton). But mostly, it’s a great example of a really good song.

4. Carl Sagan’s Contact

I do not read science-fiction nearly as often as I’d like, partly because too much contemporary sci-fi forgets the cause and origins of the genre (it being a means of exploring contemporary social and political concerns by placing them at the safe remove of the future/space/another dimension, not simply as a means of having aliens blow shit up or to trick men into watching “galactic” soap operas), and partly because the majority of what I’ve read fails to exhibit any sort of literary finesse. So of course Carl Sagan would be my ideal sci-fi author: a brilliant scientist, a compassionate humanist, and a genius at communicating complex ideas in a coherent way. The end result is a novel that’s riveting, easily devourable (I took down the 400+ pages in three days), and oddly…plausible. Add to that the sense (though maybe not the fact) of having learned something about radio telemetry, quantum mechanics, and advanced decryption, and you very likely have the perfect science-fiction novel. Also, incredibly, it’s possibly the most convincing argument for the existence of a capital-G God that I might have ever encountered. Make no mistake: the film is great (he and Ann Druyan originally wrote the film treatment before Sagan expanded the idea into a book). But with more nuance and more room to stretch out and explore, the novel is a distinct and distinctly-deeper pleasure.

Okay, enough shallow meditation on space, incest, and fish. As always, thank you for reading and for sharing and for your daily incentive to get up, get moving, keep working, keep trying. If you are a current Patreon subscriber, thank you for keeping the carrot just beyond this homely beast of burden’s reach. If you are not a current Patreon subscriber, please feel free and, in fact, encouraged, to dangle sweet reward just beyond my prehensile lips by becoming a member today. And if your view of the future looks as dire as reason dictates, thus rendering any kind of subscription unfit to warrant consideration, perhaps contemplate making a one-time donation and getting the equivalent rewards (handmade things, small-run booklets, etc.) for one month.

You are the subwoofer to my whomping 808.

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