The View From the Margins

astrojpeg.jpgI’m a Space Age guy, wired up wrong for the IT revolution that’s in the process of transforming our world into the inside of a video game. Me, I’m still stuck with Neil Armstrong on the Moon while the rest of modern civilization rushes toward The Great Singularity.

The Singularity is like the Rapture, dig, you get taken up, leave your earthly body behind and, like, evolve into a higher state. The difference is, with the Rapture you have to earn your way into heaven…the Singularity doesn’t discriminate. As long as your credit is good and you can afford the technology, you can spend the rest of eternity fucking Marilyn Monroe senseless in the honeymoon suite of the Hilton. Virtuality allows for limitless possibilities and is capable of reproducing any era, any conceivable reality. The interface between humankind and machines. The beginning of the end or the end of the beginning?

Stay tuned

Our family has finally joined the 21st century—yup, we now have a home internet connection, a computer on-line 24 hours a day. I’ve ducked and bobbed and weaved and tried my damnedest to avoid this day. So now we’ve got a window on the world, a valuable resource, an educational aid, a tool like no other in the history of the world—my question: when I turn the fucking thing on, what’s looking back at me?

But Sherron needs to get on-line because she’s doing her Master’s and the boys can use it for their homework assignments and research projects. And with all the weird, esoteric shit I put in my tales I can benefit greatly from access to the all-knowing, all-seeing Google.

Then again, it also means I can now spend hours fucking around on favourite sites like Senses of Cinema and Book Forum…or checking to see if there are any cheap plastic model kits for sale on eBay (don’t ask)…or “tag surfing”, looking for kindred spirits out there in cyberspace, posting comments on sites of interest, only looking up when I hear the boys’ bus stopping in front of our house after school…

What next? Cable TV? Stuck in front of the Space channel when I should be bending my brain on new fiction? Right now we have two channels and don’t feel we’re really missing anything. We, my family and I, aren’t the hippest people around. Not into brand names, fashions, trends. Big readers. About the only program we follow with any regularity is the new “Dr. Who” series. We’re completely out to lunch when it comes to what’s hot and what’s not.

Confession: I have no idea what’s on the bestseller list.

I can’t tell you one of the top-selling music CD’s or singles.

I don’t remember the last recent movie I watched. “300”? God, no wonder I haven’t seen anything since. The last new release I can remember liking is “Lord of War”. The opening title sequence of that movie is…stunning.

And these are not the least of my crimes:

I’ve never seen a single entire episode of “Lost”, “Amazing Race”, “Friends” or “The Sopranos”.

Have watched less than a nanosecond of “American/Canadian Idol”.

Reality TV? What the fuck are you talking about? It’s TV, dummy. None of it is real.

To those people who arrange their schedules around a beloved TV program or camp out overnight in front of their local theatre to be first in line to see the latest, greatest sequel of a sequel of a remake, let me ask you one simple question:

WHERE THE FUCK DO YOU FIND THE TIME?

timejpeg.jpgThere’s a line in a very under-rated little movie called “Those Lips, Those Eyes”. Frank Langella’s character is an aging actor, clearly talented but stuck in a shitty little touring company, playing to rubes. At one point he complains bitterly of his lot, shouting: “Time’s winged chariot is flying up my ass!”.

That’s the way I feel. I’m killing myself on this writing gig, going at it seven days a week, 6-10 hours a day, keeping up a murderous pace for months on end…and meanwhile looking over my shoulder, a la Satchell Paige, wondering what’s gaining on me.

You have to understand, the men in my family are prone to shortened life spans. And it isn’t the usual suspects—heart disease, cancer—that hand them St. Peter’s calling card. Oh, no. Details are hard to nail down; secrets are tightly kept in my family. It’s like an iron curtain descends. When you ask about what happened to Uncle So-and-So, dead at thirty-two, or cousin Fred, felled in his early forties, you receive unsatisfactory, even curt replies. “Lockjaw” or, just as likely, “Lepers got him.”.

And that’s it. No amount of questioning will pry loose anything more significant or helpful than that. “Some things are better left unsaid.”

It’s likely some old, half-forgotten scandal, a small nugget of shame but people act as if the government is involved.

Now, I happen to be a particularly morbid individual and so I look at this dismal track record (Burns male = early death) and I begin to consider my own circumstances. I’m forty-three, soon to be forty-four. What grim fate awaits me?reaperjpeg.jpg

Will it be (reluctantly, through tightly pressed lips): “Furnace explosion”? “Spontaneous combustion”? “Gangrene”? The suspense is starting to get to me.

It’s too bad. I think I’d like to live to a ripe, old age. Work right to the bitter end. Celine finished the last draft of Rigadoon, told his wife he’d completed the book and died that evening. That’s the way I’d like to go…but it’s unlikely I’ll be that fortunate.

Allergy to book dust…

Bad paper cut

Whatever happens, it’ll have to be sudden, unpredictable and utterly preposterous. After all, I have a family tradition to uphold…

 

* * * *

 

News and Updates

 

This blog has grown rather large and ungainly. There are plans currently afoot to organize it. Nothing will be lost, just a reshuffling of the deck, posts filed under their proper designations, the home page slimmed down. If you can’t find something, drop me a line and let me know.

Had a busy summer, lots of writing, a few stories, many prose poems, everything still pretty much in the first draft stage. Seem to be scribbling constantly but there isn’t any focus, can’t latch on to a project that really engages my faculties. Plenty of candidates, no clear favorites. Some of the projects I have in the bin require enormous amounts of research, time and energy that I don’t possess right now. The failure to find a publisher for So Dark the Night has damaged my confidence and I feel daunted by any project longer than two or three thousand words. I spent three years on a terrific thriller that I can’t get anyone to seriously consider.

zinneajpeg.jpgIt’s…devastating. Hard to absorb, even after all this time.

Right now, So Dark the Night is under consideration at five different (very different) publishing houses, including Ace Science Fiction (New York), who have had the manuscript for over sixteen months. In all, I’ve contacted sixty-four (64) publishers and only a small handful agreed to have a look at it. Many begged off with form letters, saying they no longer considered unsolicited manuscripts. A few didn’t bother replying at all (despite the self-addressed, stamped envelope I enclosed).

Some good news though. Kelley Jo Burke, producer for CBC Radio’s “Gallery” program, bought my short story “Matriarchy”. It should air some time in the new year (I’ll post times and dates when I get the word). It’s a mainstream offering, set immediately after a funeral. I really love the story and it’s perfect for radio. Hope you’ll be able to tune in.

Also, miracle of miracles, someone actually accepted a poem of mine. You’ll find it at the Words on Paper site. Should take you about a second a half to read it. Go ahead, time yourself.

I note that Peter Watts didn’t collect the Hugo Award he so richly deserved for Blindsight. Peter really showed a lot of growth with Blindsight and I especially admired the way he was able to make the transition to the deep space environment (Peter’s an underwater guy, not of them thar physicist-hacks). Better luck next time, Mr. Watts…and there will be a next time, bet on it.

On a personal note, our albino hedgehog Ponyma is ailing. Yeah, I said hedgehog. You just knew wehedgejpeg.jpg wouldn’t have conventional pets, didn’t you? We have two of the buggers, part rodent, part pin cushion. Low-maintenance creatures, I’ll give them that. And they both seem very devoted to my eldest son. Even after two years I still shriek like a high school girl whenever one of the things ventures anywhere near me.

Losing a pet is tough and I think it will hit my son hard. Death rearing its ugly head. He’ll be angry, wanting answers. What kind of God allows wonderful creatures, good friends to die? Tough one. But we’re a family, we’ll get through it. And, who knows? Maybe they’ll manage to convince me to accept another oddball pet into our oddball home.

Does anyone out there know where I can lay my hands on an armadillo? A platypus on the cheap? Call this number…

* * * *

 

I’ve been playing lots of music lately, accompaniment for my aimless scribbling. Faves right now include Interpol (they just released a new album, “Our Love to Admire”), Grandaddy (“Just Like the Fambly Cat”), Aqualung (“Strange and Beautiful” ), Wolfmother, White Stripes (“Icky Thump” and “White Blood Cells” ), Jesus and Mary Chain, Elbow (“Asleep in the Back”), Beck (“The Information”), Ministry (“Rio Grande Blood”), Audioslave (“Revelations”), Eels (“Shootenanny”) and NIN (“Year Zero”).

dylanjpeg.jpgIn terms of my viewing pleasure, I found a site where they archive TV shows and you can tune in for nuttin’. Finally got a chance to see “The Mighty Boosh” after hearing rumblings about it for ages. Great stuff. And “Black Books” is wonderful—Dylan Moran should be declared a national treasure. And then I couldn’t help myself…I watched the very first episode of “Land of the Giants”. For old time’s sake. And reacquainted myself with “Mystery Science Theatre 3000”, a show I’ve always found hilarious.

A friend of mine (hey, Mark!) was good enough to send us a compilation of the Quay Brothers short animated flicks and that was smashing. I’ve also recently developed a passion for the films of Henri-Georges Clouzot. I’ve seen his three most notable efforts, “Le Corbeau” (1943), “Wages of Fear” (1953) and “Diabolique” (1954). I’ll take this guy over Hitchcock any day, folks. Sherron and I also viewed Bergman’s “The Virgin Spring”—very powerful. Not as visually arresting as we would have expected (Sven Nykvist was his cinematographer, after all). The vengeance von Sydow’s character wreaks at the conclusion of the film renders him almost an elemental force. And then the miraculous finale…

An author should plug a few books: I finished Margaret McMillan’s account of Nixon’s 1972 trip to China and didn’t find it nearly as interesting as her previous effort, 1919. And, yes, I made it through the last Harry Potter book. Let me quote from the notes I scrawled afterward:

Give the gal credit—Rowling brings back practically everybody for one final appearance, including the whomping willow and the Chamber of Secrets. Lots of battles and close scrapes—some of the magic of the movies has rubbed off on Ms. Rowling. Animated suits of armour leap off the walls and there are Star Wars type firefights in the skies over England…The conclusion seems to go on forever, another byproduct of a clunky, rather tuneless book. Rowling is determined to get the job done, gritting her teeth and winding things up with a flourish, trying her best to satisfy Harry’s myriad fans and wash her hands of the whole thing.”

I guess you can tell I wasn’t impressed.

darkjpeg.jpgBut I was impressed by Gerard J. DeGroot’s myth-busting take on the “real” story behind the events leading up to that great day in July, 1969, Dark Side of the Moon. I’ve been an astronaut buff for years but some of this stuff was news to me. Humankind’s greatest feat was achieved with the aid of Nazi war criminals (whitewashed for public consumption), the space race only an expensive diversion for successive adminstrations who couldn’t solve thornier issues like civil rights and poverty.

In my dreams, I’m the first man on Mars. I place my right foot on the dry, rust-coloured soil, making sure to leave a deep impression, an imprint easily visible to the folks at home. Settling my full weight on an alien land. Pausing, clearing my throat. “I claim this world in the name of the people of the planet Earth…and the corporate sponsors of this mission, which include WalMart, Sony, Compaq…”

Within five years there will be gigantic billboards on Olympus Mons.

The human stain, spreading ever outward…

marsjpeg.jpg

 

 

10 comments

  1. Neil

    Hang in there Cliff, it’s a long slog but sooner or later the dice will roll in your favour.

    The Boosh and Moran rock, you have good taste in comedy.

  2. Gilding

    It must be an artist’s trait. And aren’t our families wonderful for helping to perpetuate the paranoid beliefs of our ultimate demise with cloak and dagger responses. My best-friend has had a perpetual fear (absolute Belief) that he will day before his 31st brithday. Why, you ask? Because his name is Josh. Yes, that’s the reason. He has never met a person named Josh who was older than 30 therefore it must be that all named Josh die before age 31. He did accidentally dial a wrong number one time some years back and happenstance that the person who answered was named Josh. Which of course led to a conversation of my bestfriend’s theory. The accidentally called Josh agreed quite jovially that he too had never met a Josh older than 30 though his theory was that perhaps it was due to a recent surge in popularity of the name as names seem to go in seasons like any other fad. A few week later Best friend Josh called accidental Josh once more only to find that the number had been disconnected permanently. That only cemented Josh’s belief that his theory is correct. We’ll find out soon enough though. Next June will be his 30th birthday .^_~. My husband and I simply let him brood over his “certain demise” but his aunt…Oohhhh, she never lets up. She’s been planning his “Black Birthday” for 10 years now, Grimm reaper included on the guest list and all.

  3. caren80

    Hi. I came back and read a couple of your stories. Both of them made me think, and were a bit uneasy – result (I’m a fussy b*stard)! Loved the poem. Keep going..

  4. joely black

    Thanks for the advice. I’m actually 8 chapters from the end of my eleventh book, with another 28 in the works, so I’m already one step ahead there.

  5. amuirin

    I liked how you said, “So now we’ve got a window on the world, a valuable resource, an educational aid, a tool like no other in the history of the world—my question: when I turn the fucking thing on, what’s looking back at me?”

    couldn’t agree with you more. The convenience of the technological age comes with a price. IT’s weird to see movies of an earlier era and note the lack of cellphones and computers. When I see that older world I go ‘ahh’… that lack of intrusion is almost unthinkable now. And what is looking in? What sort of information about me is going out as I do my websurfind and email?

    Well crafted post. Always glad to see your writing.

  6. Matt Langdon

    Thanks for your comment on my blog. I second the recommendation of Black Books – it’s hard to find good comedy in America though when you’re Australian.

  7. rettstatt

    Great post. I get the same feeling when turning on my computer, and the relationship between humans and machines is part of what I’m writing about these days. I feel compelled to watch television as well these days, keeping up on the stories that are being consumed in all media, but the problem is time. And also that I’d much rather just read all the time.

    Will the Singularity be televised?

    Hang in there with So Dark the Night. Good luck with the hunt.

  8. OmbudsBen

    Noted your comment on submissions and typical publisher replies.

    I once had a ms. returned with someone else’s query letter. Didn’t have the sense anyone had looked at it/them, they’d just hired someone minimum wage to stuff and return envlopes–and someone with minimal skills, at that.

    Next time I undergo a submissions push (which, for me, involves overcoming significant inertia), I’m thinking of going primarily online.

    Have you tried that?

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