Friday, September 17, 2010

A Little Ghost Rock

Hey, all. How about a taste of the novel? Here's the first couple of pages. This is, of course, copyright 2010, Sean Craven, etc. As if I had to say.

Lemme know if it works. I'm feeling the fear. Yes, this is a bit pathetic, but right now that's where I'm at. I have worked so hard on this that it's lost all meaning and I have no judgment and I want to get it the hell off my plate. So I can write my sleazy unicorn princess novel.

Gracious Lifestyles of the Golden West
Ghost Rock

San Costas was a California paradise, bikini-clad and fragrant with coconut oil, and it made my ass tired. Coming back from the afternoon run to the post office, downtown was packed. I took little steps through the crowd, white plastic bin held in front of me. It was filled with mail addressed to Sharpe’s, the department store where I worked as a janitor. It was hot late autumn, the sky full of sun, so a lot of people were tourists, here for the boardwalk and the surfing. Others were students from the university. Everyone was pretty. I felt like a slum on legs.

As I crossed the street, I heard a young woman’s voice – voices? – raised in song. It caught me, made me feel short of breath. It was one voice singing two notes, or two voices harmonizing with inhuman perfection. The voice grew louder, the air thick and too clear, as though I was embedded in glass. I couldn’t see who was singing; traffic blocked my vision. I stepped up onto the curb and set the basket down. My hands shook so badly I might have dropped it.

I stared down at the mail in the bin as every sound but the voice grew distant, dug my thumbs into the hollows between jaw and ears, felt an itch burn and vanish as something inside shifted with an intimate gurgle, drained down the back of my throat, made me cough.

Once I got back to work, I went to Deirdre’s office to tell her what had happened. “It was intense. Total vertigo. I thought I was gonna pitch over into traffic.” We were in the shadowy narrow end of the display department in the basement at Sharpe’s. I leaned against a pillar made out of concrete and redwood gone black with age. Deirdre’s drafting lamp lit up a row of decorated coffee cans that held hundreds of felt-tip pens. “You know how it is when you’re on a long drive and you’ve been doing a slow rise and all of a sudden your ears pop?”

“And you realize you haven’t heard anything clearly for miles.” Deirdre snapped her nicotine gum. She didn’t smoke at work. Dressed in a pair of black-and-white check clamdiggers and a vintage Star Wars T-shirt, she was neither thick nor thin. Her build was a reminder that regular girl was a damned good idea. With her pale skin and freckles she looked as though she’d been carved out of vanilla ice cream and sprinkled with cinnamon. We’d been friends for three years, shared a house for more than a year, and it still killed me to look at her.

I pushed off the pillar. “Exactly. My ears are still real freaky. I swear, I feel like I’ve never heard anything before in my life.” I grabbed my hands behind my back and stretched until my shoulders cut loose with a pair of nice gristly pops. I could hear the meatiness, the flow from muscle to tendon to bone. It was a new sense, sight and touch at once. “It’s like there’s some sound under everything else, and I keep listening for it. It’s gonna drive me nuts.”

“Matt, why didn’t you go and see who was singing?”

“I wanted to, but when I checked the clock on the bank I was twenty minutes late. I’ll go look for her after work. Speaking of which.” I lifted the lid of Deirdre’s garbage can. A multicolored wad of construction paper gave off fumes from Spray-Mount. I sealed the lid carefully. “’fore I take off, what’s up with Lulu?”

Deirdre spun in her chair. “I haven’t heard anything since she told James she was in Berkeley. She should be here by now.” She dropped her voice, put a sexy huskiness in her tone. “You’ll like her. She’s cute.”

Whenever she told me about a new woman in our circle of acquaintance, Deirdre always said, ‘She’s cute,’ in that eager tone, cheering me on, letting me know she had faith in me, that it was time to give a hundred and ten per cent. So as not to let down the team. I just wish I knew what the fuck she expected me to do. “I’m looking forward to meeting her.”

“Thanks for being cool with her staying.”

“It’s your and James’s house,” I said. If Lulu was as cute as Deirdre said, this was going to be fucking torture. She’d be sleeping in the living room, sharing my bathroom… “Y’all can do what you want.”

“You pay rent, you get a say.” Deirdre stopped fidgeting. “Matt, I really am worried about her. I can’t get her cell. And she gets into some flakey stuff sometimes. Jesus, you should have seen her last boyfriend.”

“Well, that was back in Chicago, right?” Lulu and Deirdre had met when Deirdre studied sculpture at the Chicago Art Institute. Lulu was a composer and electronic musician from Tennessee. Given this information, my mind constructed a composite of Wendy Carlos and Dolly Parton, a brilliant artist with a sweet nature and a figure ripe enough to be a little silly. She made an excellent imaginary potential girlfriend. “Listen, you can’t do anything but wait. She said she’s coming.”

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

10 Recent Abject Self-Realizations

1. This is probably the most internet thing I've ever done. The combination of the list format with public humiliation is pretty much what the appeal of this medium comes down to.

2. I am not entirely conscious of my behavior. "You're chewing on your mucus. Cut it out, It's disgusting," my sister said recently, and she was right. And I had no idea I was doing it. Probably a lifelong habit. For all I know, every so often I get down on the floor, take off a shoe and sock, and lick the sole of my foot. Maybe I do something worse. I don't know whether or not I want to know.

3. I do have a whole suite of behaviors that involve stretching and cracking joints that I do out of nervousness and in order to ease physical discomfort. But when I described them in writing, I realized that they were also dominance displays.

4. And in considering this, I realized that I couldn't think of any comparable sexual displays that I make. Those displays are no doubt occurring, and as I'm a person large and loud, they are no doubt noticeable. If I were to speculate -- and I guess that's what I'm doing -- I'd predict that there were persistent low-key submissive sexual signals punctuated by the occasional chest-beating, incidents that must have the effect of a noteworthy public crepitation. If you know me, tell me about this shit. Or don't. I'm dying of shame right now, and I'm alone in a room. I'm realizing that I probably do flirt, and I probably do it with the grace of a three-legged bison in a tutu. God only knows how I'd react if I actually knew about this stuff.

5. So far as putting my work out into the world goes, I am almost entirely passive. Every single public appearance of my stuff is the result of having someone ask me if they could use my work, or someone bullying me into making a submission to a third party. I thought the one exception was my appearance at the University of Bristol's DinoBase, but actually I sent stuff to them because I followed the blog of someone involved, and I regarded them as a pal, so when they asked for work, I had a vague feeling of having been asked personally.

The upside of this is that after I publicly stated that I was going to let the editors come to me? One of the editors who came just won the Hugo for editing. So it does work. For me. Sometimes and sort-of. But honestly, I'd do well to be more active in promoting my work.

6. I am an intellectual snob. I really do have an instinctive gut feeling that anyone who does not inspect their own tendencies toward flawed thought is a form of livestock. When I was bummed out by the fact that all of my fucking friends were crazy, I realized that I only associate with smart, funny, creative people, period. That's how it is. Normal people are animals. Usually they're nice animals, and I have more regard for animals than most people do, but still. That's kind of odious.

7. Speaking of odious. There are things that I've done while insane or intoxicated that have been hurtful or destructive, and that I take a certain obscure pride in. "That's how it is -- he's an instrument of mayhem." I work hard toward minimizing the chance of these incidents occurring, but the fact that I have to makes me feel like a tough guy on some level. This is both destructive and stupid. This is the kind of crap that leads a person to behave like Hemingway or Hunter Thompson. Fuck that shit.

8. Here's a juicy one. The passivity I mentioned above? It's pervasive in my life. A reluctance to take what I want. It comes from a period in my childhood when I was strongly influenced by The Great Brain books by John D. Fitzgerald. These concern a young con-man. Their message is that the lead character's ability to get the best of those around him alienates him from those he loves.

Of course, my response was to try out the con-man for a couple of years. What I found was that it wasn't cleverness that got you money -- it was a relentless thirst, combined with a willingness to do anything regardless of the effects on those around you. After grifting from my friends and family, I found myself -- get this -- alienated from those I loved.

So I flipped into the self-abnegating wretch you see now, one who feels guilty for accepting the crumbs you deign place before him. This has informed my life as completely as any other factor. I need to get the fuck over it.

10. I'm never gonna be at ease. Ever. There will always be nervousness, edginess, and a faint pervasive sadness. I just plain need a certain amount of discomfort in my existence and if life will not provide it, self-destructiveness and discontent will suffice. My resting state is uncomfortable.

I'm not saying that these kinds of things are the essence of my existence. But they are significant. And when you've got bad dogs, you want to keep an eye on them.

9. Since I've gotten crazier and better at my art, I've turned into kind of a flake. I used to be the antiflake, and now I am totally flakey. For instance, when I looked at this after I posted it, I found out that I'd skipped number nine.

Bad dogs!


The Missus: Are you having a psychotic episode?

The Oaf: No, I'm feeling a little guilty about falling off the wagon yesterday, so I was in an introspective mood. I didn't think it would bother you.

The Missus: You're ripping yourself to shit. Of course it bothers me.

The Oaf: I'm not ripping on myself. I have problems, and I need to keep an eye on them. Would you rather I had the problems and never thought about them?

The Missus: (Face goes blank, lost in thought, gaze directed past shoulder at middle distance.) Maaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaybe.

So that's it, folks. I'm following her advice and forgetting the whole thing. You may expect awkward gallantries and drunken hijinx to recommence beginning now.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

5 Pretentionist Statements

I'm posting this in honor of Stegosaurus Week at Dinosaur Tracking. Here's Day One, here's Day Two.

Rob Pierce, my partner in culture-crime, recently sent me an email that touched on a number of creative issues that have been occupying my mind recently. I suggested that he post it on his blog and I respond; he agreed.

And I spent the next few days scratching my head, trying to figure out how to make the unified statement that seemed to be lurking in the underbrush. That statement has yet to emerge, so I'm going to give you a point-by-point response. In reverse. Because every day is backwards day.

Note that these are responses. Not replies or rebuttals. I agree with what Rob says, but he made me think of other things. Where I come from, we call that a conversation.


1. One of many lessons I've learned from scriptwriting is that writing is an intermediary. A conduit. There is the experience, imagined or remembered, that is the writer's. There is an experience stimulated by the writing, and that is the audience's. The writing itself is the means by which the one experience stimulates the other, and while the beauty of words is a worthy goal in itself, I prefer to make it subservient to function.

Without purpose and function, there can be no strength.

2. The medium always affects the nature of the st0ry you tell. For me the main issues are A) what information is given to the reader as direct sensory input, and what is evoked, and B) is it or is it not a time-binding medium?

Movies and music both give direct sensory input as their primary expression, and movies subsume music. And both are time-bound -- they force you to experience them at a determined pace, over a determined length of time.

Prose is my preferred form, because it maximizes evocation and minimizes time binding. A skilled prose reader and writer working in conjunction create an experience that involves all the sensual and intellectual capacities in a way that no other form can approach. In execution it is the most limited of art forms; in experience, the least. It offers far and away the widest set of limits of any form.

That said, it's all good. As I mention above, the limitations offered by other forms can be brought to writing to good effect. I mean, I say I want a playing field with as few limits as possible, but art thrives on limits.

3. I think this is an excellent example of the difference between story and plot. The story is the same; it's the way it's told that makes the difference. Now I feel like checking all the Kaspar Hauser variants out.

4. The social elements of the arts are always of interest -- especially since just about everyone I care to spend time with is creatively active one way or another. (I'll be honest. I like and respect everyone I deal with on a regular basis, but I really only want to spend time with intelligent, funny, creative people. Bottom line. That's why I have so much trouble with mental illness in my social circle, but that's another story.)

For me, music is specifically social. I play music as a way of spending time with people. And the visual arts are solitary. I can do them in a classroom or a public space, but when I'm doing them, I'm on my own. Although my recent sketching sessions have been pretty conversational.

But here's where our experiences diverge. When I started writing, it was in English class in high school. Then Creative Writing in college. The same in junior college. Then scriptwriting, where I worked with anywhere from two to eight people at any given time. Then to writing groups, where I was asked to participate in magazines. Then writer's workshops.

I mean, I spend a hell of a lot of time sitting in my room writing or drawing. Do you see me talking about all the social activities drawing has gotten me involved in? Tell you something. I've done some damned good drawings trying to get away from people.

Writing is an essentially social activity for me. And I think that part of whatever it is I got is that I include the reader in that social circle -- 0r, rather, I write as if I'm writing to someone I know.

5. Got to say, as a bassist, the idea that the bass is an instrument that reacts seems a bit off. My experience is that the bass forms a skeleton. The bassist ain't always going to be the one who decides what the bass line is, but once that's set? Everyone else follows the bass and drums.

And I know that somewhere in there is a fine, fine crystal of Pretentionist thought. But now? I cannot find. And so I go forth, weltering in my own hyper-aesthetesized intellectualism.