Admonition

IMG_0060Don’t go there.

Don’t start thinking about the last pass you made through the new release section of ___________ (fill in the blank with your favourite box store).

Shelves of books by the likes of Tess Gerritsen, Harlan Coben, James Patterson.

Tepid mysteries and formulaic thrillers. No music to the prose, no originality, nothing to recommend them except their elementary school reading level. Forgettable and digestible; like fast food, only not nearly as good for you.

Comparisons are inevitable but you can’t start placing the intelligent, literate work you do alongside such mindless pap. That way lies madness. It will only inspire a blind, incoherent fury toward the “average reader”, which, these days, appears to be a euphemism for “hideously in-bred moron with the reasoning capacity of a plasmodial slimeworm” (see? it’s started already!).

A couple hundred thousand books published every year, God knows how many cable channels, the internet, social networking, “sexting”…it’s pretty hard for anyone to get noticed these days, at least for the right reasons. Behave badly, on the other hand, and the whole world seems to lap it up. Check out the latest wardrobe malfunction or celebrity meltdown; share it, like it, plug another quarter into some asshole’s ad revenue stream.

After all, it’s essential to keep up with the latest trends, highlighted by hashtags like #Kardashianweightgain or #femaleViagra. Absorbing the world in 140-character bites, possessing the attention span of a Jack Russell terrier.

Let’s face it, you’re not the kind of author who appeals to that sort. No media stroking or flame wars for you, right? You’d rather folks discover your work on their own, rather than hawking it about like an old style newspaper vendor. Or a whore. You’d like to believe there are still smart readers out there, looking for original, daring fiction. Looking for you.

But you’re fifty years old now, heading into the autumn of your life. You’ve got ten solid books to your credit, given everything you’ve got to Literature…and part of you is starting to seriously wonder about those discerning, thoughtful readers. If they really exist, why aren’t more of them finding you and singing your praises? Spreading the word. Providing for your retirement.

Maybe they don’t exist. Deep breath. Maybe the internet and connectivity has rewired brains to the extent that light entertainment and diversions are all people can handle these days. Dark, depressing visions like yours are out—bring on the mind candy! It explains the proliferation of rom-coms and the continued existence of “talents” like E.L. James, Jennifer Anniston and James Cameron.

Suddenly, it’s become clear to me. It’s the day after the zombie apocalypse.

Humanity lost.

Cripes, what a depressing post.

I warned you not to go there, didn’t I? And I’ll bet it’ll take a lot more than a Marx Brothers flick or a few old Looney Tunes cartoons to shake you out of it this time…

Fall flower

Quote of the day: Charles Eisenstein

“Only by interposing ideological and systemic blinders between ourselves and the victims of industrial civilization can we bear to carry on. Few of us would personally rob a hungry three-year-old of his last crust or abduct his mother at gunpoint to work in a textile factory, but simply through our consumption habits and our participation in the economy, we do the equivalent every day.”

-Charles Eisenstein, The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible

Enchanted days

fenceThis post is long overdue—hey, what can I tell you, it’s been crazy around here. Like a zoo without keepers.

That nasty bout of sciatica (see: previous posts) threw off my summer schedule and I’ve been playing catch-up ever since. Summertime (for whatever reason) is the season when I usually bear down; most of the major projects I’ve undertaken in the past decade were initiated from June-August. Who can figure these things? You’d think I’d be more creative and productive during our infamously long Canadian winters but that just isn’t the case. When the days heat up, so do I.

We’ve managed a fair amount of traveling, as you can tell from the accompanying pictures.

A trip to the sand hills (west side of the province, stretching from Leader, almost down to Swift Current) and we just got back from a few days at Waskesiu Lake (Prince Albert National Park) , hanging out with some people very dear to our hearts. Two very different ecosystems—we’re blessed with a variety of them in this big, tall province of ours and Sherron and I are determined to visit as many as we can. I’d really like to get a good look at the huge sand dunes on the south side of Lake Athabasca but that’s way up in the boonies, inaccessible to those whose wallets are on the thin side. I’m drawn to desert climes—there has to be a reason why three of the world’s major religions have their origins in the dry, pitiless environs of the Middle East. Something about a wasteland, something to do with privation, life/existence whittled down to the bare minimum.

While I was prostrate with back pain there wasn’t a whole lot I could manage. I either dozed (I was on quite a few pain killers), watched Adult Swim ‘toons (“Rick & Morty” was a favorite distraction) on a borrowed iPad or roughed out storyboards for a couple of film projects I’ve been pondering for at least ten years. If I had to pick one thing to slot in at the top of my “bucket list”, it would be writing and directing a full-length, independently produced movie. Both of my scenarios could be shot on a shoestring here in Saskatchewan and neither would be over 70 minutes long. If an hour and change was good enough for Val Lewton, it’s good enough for me.

I won’t go into detail, but one of them is intended as an homage to German “Expressionist” films of the 1920s and the other is an end-of-the-world saga that’s also a nod to weird, obscure 1970s flix like Jodorowsky’s “El Topo” and Monte Hellman’s “The Shooting”.

In other words, don’t be expecting to see either movie coming to your local Cineplex or Galaxy any time soon. bark

But I felt it was important to at least get them down on paper so once I was able to sit at my desk again, I typed up my notes and concocted two film “treatments” (30 pages each) that summarized the plots and major characters. Done.

Now I find myself in a strange, unfamiliar place, at least as far as I’m concerned:

I have no pending projects, no looming deadlines, self-imposed or otherwise.

My desk is clear.

I can’t recall this happening before. Now what do I do? Aye, that’s the question…and over the coming weeks I’m going to be feeding a lot of ideas and odd notions into the ol’ hopper. Possible stories, short films, visual projects (collages, etc.).  I have no inkling of what I’m going to tackle next, not the slightest clue. That’s exciting. And terrifying. Mostly terrifying. How does a workaholic keep from going absolutely bonkers when he has nothing to engage him? Well, if you’re Sherlock Holmes, you might resort to a seven per cent solution of cocaine. That’s not to my taste but the thought of just sitting around, doodling, allowing my mind to wander holds little appeal either (God knows where it might meander off to). So I think for the time being I’ll be doing what I can to recharge my mental batteries by reading challenging books, watching good movies, feeding my imagination as many words and images as I can. Keeping it occupied, satisfying its insatiable curiosity.

I’m hoping the anxiety I experience as I anticipate the days ahead will fade. It’s important to keep reassuring myself this is not a writing block, this is a fallow period following eighteen months of back-breaking labor on, count ’em, three major projects (including a tribute book I compiled for Sherron in honor of her 50th birthday in June).  No matter what I undertake—a painting, a film, a poem—it will be a creative endeavour, an expression of my spirit. I must have faith that this brief pause is some sort of  object lesson; perhaps it will inspire some humility (wouldn’t that be nice?) or lead to a period of honest, unfiltered reflection. All the masks and pretensions stripped away, a ruthless appraisal of who I am and what I have or haven’t achieved.

If I’m fortunate I’ll come away with a clearer understanding of my purpose, the reason I’m here . ‘Cause Mr. Dylan is right: “It may be the Devil or it may be the Lord/but we all gotta serve somebody”.

Speaking of whom, it’s high time I had a few words with the Boss, got some new marching orders. A whole different job description might be in order.

Just pray I don’t get the sack…

corridor

(Click on images to enlarge)

Fantastic George Monbiot quote

“The denial of climate change, while out of tune with the science, is consistent with—even necessary for—the outlook of almost all the world’s economists. The continuous growth described by modern economics, whether informed by Marx, or Keynes or Hayek, depends on the notion that the planet has an infinite capacity to supply us with wealth and absorb our pollution. In a finite world, this is impossible. Pull the rug out from under the dominant economic theories, and the whole system of thought collapses.

And this, of course, is beyond contemplation. It mocks the dreams of both left and right, of every child and parent and worker. It destroys all notions of progress. If the engine of progress—technology and its amplification of human endeavour—have merely accelerated our rush to the brink, then everything we thought was false. Brought up to believe that it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness, we are now discovering that it is better to curse the darkness than burn your house down.

Our economists are exposed by climatologists as utopian fantasists, the leaders of a millenarian cult as mad as, and more dangerous than, any religious fundamentalism. But their theories govern our lives, so those who insist that physics and biology still apply are ridiculed by a global consensus founded on wishful thinking.”

George Monbiot, from his book Bring on the Apocalypse: Essays on Self-Destruction

Screen Shot 2015-07-20 at 4.09.43 PM

New short fiction–chilling summer reading

stain

I. The First Crime Scene

The suspect toes the ground resentfully, tight-lipped, shrugging in response to the Magistrate’s queries. Evincing probity and incomprehension, but also giving the impression of barely concealed insolence.

The man is a pitiful liar.

Again the Magistrate demands that the creature divulge the circumstances of his crime and reveal the location of the body. Corpus delicti. Yet despite Supreme Jurist’s obvious frustration and rising anger, the guilty party continues to fend off his remonstrations with hostile silence.

Obstinate brute!

And then, miracle of miracles, the accused mutters something, a curt, sly rejoinder, sotto voce, practically inaudible.

“REPEAT THAT!”

The wretched beast actually raises his eyes, no longer cowed and obeisant, meeting the Magistrate’s gaze directly. “I said, ‘am I my brother’s keeper?’”

The Magistrate is stunned. Everything abruptly freezes, a complete cessation of sound, movement extending across twelve dimensions and countless timelines; the equivalent of a collective, celestial gasp.

Oblivious to the dismay he’d wrought, Cain is washing his hands in a nearby stream, immersing them in the pure, clear water.

Frowning at the stubbornness of the stain.

II. The Last Crime Scene

ARU-2466/TLS-13 spots a glint of white at the base of the escarpment, near a recent slide or rock fall, descends to fifty feet, hovering.

It looks like…could it be…

Remains.

There are mandatory protocols to follow, the ARU unit knows this. Any evidence of the Ancestors must be recorded and transmitted, the site left undisturbed. After all, this is sacred ground.

But the drone lingers, awed by the scale of its discovery, observing at once that the skeleton, though well-preserved, shows indications of massive trauma. The legs shattered, spine and skull split and sundered. An accidental fall from the precipice above?

A series of rapid, almost instantaneous calculations. Answer: unlikely.

Like many of its counterparts, ARU-2466/TLS-13 is aware of the legends surrounding the End Days. The Ancestors, once a great species, reduced by war, famine, disease and deprivation. Squabbling over increasingly scarce resources, raiding and killing until they were all but extinct.

Could this be one of the last survivors? Isolated, forsaken, appalled by the poisonous wasteland its kind had made of the planet?

Remorseful, perhaps, capable of one final act of contrition, a form of ritual self-slaughter.

The evidence is persuasive but hardly definitive.

ARU-2466/TLS-13 drops a beacon, dipping its wings respectfully as it makes one final pass.

Others will investigate the site, draw their own conclusions.

The drone returns to its regular search pattern, a virtual grid superimposed over a bleak, exhausted terrain.

Continuing an eternal, seemingly fruitless search for signs of life.

End

© Copyright, 2015 Cliff Burns (All Rights Reserved)

New poem

Milky Way

They stopped counting at four hundred billion.
Just threw in the towel.
Resorted to a shorthand of equations, accompanied
by hair-pulling and other frantic gesticulations.

That’s a lot of stars, of suns–
but still only one, single galaxy,
not an especially distinguished
galaxy at that.

Kind of humbling, isn’t it?
To realize from a cosmic perspective we’re
the equivalent of country bumpkins, living
wayyyy out in the boonies.

And so can any god suffice?
Persuade us of a divine flame
burning invisibly within us, shining
like one of those stars?

Or have you murdered faith,
Galileo, by measuring the glory of
Creation with your heretical gaze,
recanting except in your heart?

 

© Copyright, 2015 Cliff Burns (All Rights Reserved)

Quote of the day

“I’ve got this personal feeling things are not supposed to be happening to people all of the time. At least I’m not designed for it. There should be more open spaces between events. That’s my clear thought for today.” (Jim Harrison, from his novella The Seven-Ounce Man)