Gonzo: Apocalypse That One Time

The first in a possibly ongoing series of very short, very hastily written fictions. Writing prompts by Schmutzie, typing by me.

Int. Day - The Vatican, or The Parthenon, or the Ruins of the Colosseum, you know how it is when you’re not paying attention and the universe folds in on itself like black crepe in the palm of an exasperated god. Oh wow, are you high? No you’re an international spy in an exotic locale, and you’ve been foolish enough to get stuck with your pants half-off as the world is ending. That’ll teach you to ignore your espionage duties for the sake of a quickie, but then, what else are you going to do at the end of the world?

You know, you say, the Colosseum isn’t the name of this building, it’s just a description, no one knows what it was originally called.

Mmmm mmm, says your friend.

Maybe we should check out the Vatican next, you think, but oops The Vatican is gone with all its befrocked criminals, and now so is Ireland, and Peru, and all the whales cruising along the Orinoco, and then the land is pulled from the water and the water tied into a glittering knot and the core of the planet squeezed down into a bright pinpoint.

That’s a-spicy meatball, your friend says, and it’s good, isn’t it, that we can all make jokes, even in dire circumstances. 

What I saw on sunday

I spend every waking moment of my life seeing things. Sometimes I take a picture.

Two men watch the US Open golf championship at a hotel bar.

Truck at the corner of Cornwall St and Victoria Ave.

Clouds above Victoria Park.

Clouds above Victoria Park.

My ULTIMATE real world REVIEW of the FUJIFILM FUJINON 23mm f2

Trust me. After you read this review you will never need to look at another review of this lens, any Fujifilm product, any other camera or camera accessory, anything at all that interprets light or does anything else, or anything that doesn’t do anything but just exists. Also things that don’t exist.

So. The other day I was heading across the parking lot by my office and I stopped to take a photo of the sky. Clouds and light and moisture were conspiring to create a crazy cascading effect, so I dug out my camera and took a few frames.

cascading sky.jpg

Through the viewfinder I spotted two men working their way towards me (you can see them in the bottom left of the photo). I could tell, with that strange subterranean sense we have that recognizes tiny cues, that they had noticed me taking photos and were probably going to say something about it. I had no idea what that something would be, but I didn’t want to find out. I picked up my bag and tripod* and headed off at a sort of random angle away from them.

Of course, it didn’t matter. One of them started calling after me.

“Hey buddy,” said the one with the crutch. “Do you take photos?”

“I do,” I said. I’m always amazed at the frequency of this question from people who, after watching me take photos, want to know if I take photos.

“What were you taking a photo of?”

At this point the two had caught up to me. One of them carried a translucent garbage bag of cans. He looked bored and slightly irritated that his friend had started talking. The older one with the crutch was peering at me and coming to a decision about what he saw.

“I was taking a photo of the sky.”

“What’s wrong with the sky?” the one with the bag of cans said.

“Nothing at all,” I said. “I liked the light coming from behind the clouds. It looks like it’s spilling over in parts.”

The one with the cans took in the sky. “Yeah, looks like rain maybe.”**

The older one leaned forward. “You know what would make a really good photo?”

“No, what?”

“If you spread your cheeks and farted hard enough that you blew a hole in those clouds. You could get a good picture of that.”

“That,” I said, “would be quite the fart.”

None of which would have happened if I hadn’t taken a picture using a camera lens. Which in this case was the 23mm f2. Best lens ever, obviously.

*I forgot to mention this was also an ULTIMATE real-world REVIEW of BAG and TRIPOD.

**Their ultimate real world review of me would probably be “What an asshole.”

how to have a happy Monday

Note: this is not an instructional guide on how to kidnap/sleep with/possess the body of any of the members of British pop group Happy Mondays. There’s plenty of advice out there on how to sleep with people (although maybe not specifically Happy Mondays members and sessional musicians), and probably even handy guides on abduction and possession. Although why would you do both? Anyway, if you find yourself attracted to any member of British pop group Happy Mondays and wish to consummate that attraction, the best thing to do is take them out for a meal, compliment them sincerely on 2007’s Unkle Dysfunctional, and ask nicely for what you want. Will you need charts or graphs? Probably. The modern world is very complicated and it’s important to demonstrate ROI on these kinds of activities. Okay, good luck! On with the subject at hand, which has nothing to do with Happy Mondays.

Second note: this will not help you with your crappy Monday.

Good morning. Is it Monday already? Have you, like me, waited all weekend - nay, the entire week - for Monday, mashing your eyelids shut at each dark dusktime with the hope that time itself would loose from its guy-wire and swing madly into the start of next week? Is this the Monday you were waiting for, the one that would give you a respite from rest, bring you a brimming inbox and a spume of unexpected tasks? Look how the weekend has complicated all that you believed to be certain, turning innocent messages into exciting crises. Observe how every plan laid in place last week has spontaneously scattered and caught fire and gained sentience and how bright burning self-aware plans are hunting you for sport. Remember that suggestion you jokingly made to Nat from the Digital Solutions team about creating an intranet from scratch? Well, the CEO heard about it and now it’s a project and you’re team leader, so it’s time to pick up that Six Sigma book you’ve been ignoring for two years now. Meanwhile, the person who randomly goes through the fridge in the break room and throws out your lunch has thrown out your lunch, even though it’s only 9:15. But don’t worry, you won’t discover your missing food until 1:30, when you’re done sorting out that newsletter that was supposed to go out on Friday but chose instead to pull the new CMS over its head and nap. Best to call in sick and read articles about Tik Tok on your phone.

Update: Happy Mondays are so much worse than I remember.

On how to write stuff

Here’s a thing: I haven’t really written a thing in, oh, I don’t know how long. I scribble in notebooks every day, but almost none of it is coherent or particularly intentional beyond a sentence or two. Mostly I’m in it for the beauty of the line (it’s the line of beauty!), for the variation of an italic nib as an ascender reaches its peak and swooshes down again. That’s a bit of aesthetics, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But writing something? Actual honest-to-dod writing, with sensible paragraphs linked together to form a nourishing narrative or develop an argument? Not so much.

I’ve had times like this before. Much of my twenties, for example. After a blinding burst of writing from May of 1988 to somewhere in the early ‘90s, my muse got up from her chaise longue and said “Forsooth but I am fucking off for the duration” and left, florid vocabulary in tow. And again, in March of 2003, my writing bone recalcified (?) after I started a blog as an outlet for my dull day job. That period of creativity lasted a solid twelve years or so.

Lately though? I won’t, can’t, you can’t make me, create. Unless I’m pressed. More like squeezed, nigh obliterated, Juiceroed into paste. It took me a year to write a thirty-minute radio script. It takes me months now to finish a 500-word piece on fried chicken. I have more drafts than the Winchester mansion (which I assume is very drafty on account of its many windows and unreliable building practices). It’s not just recreational writing either: for work, for anything else, I can barely form a sentence that doesn’t immediately get deleted. Articles are hell. Emails are torture. Slack messages are a kick to the groin. You get the idea.

The most infuriating thing? I’m good at it. I know I’m good at it. Everybody else knows it. Aidan, they say without prompting, you’re good at this. Some even offer to pay me actual money to do it. When I revisit my drafts I think Hmm, this one could use a little work but the sentences are as solid as anything else I’ve seen lately. But then the anxiety rises through my fingers and I close the document. What fun. The urge to close this piece, unsaved, never to be seen again, is so strong that I can feel it pushing at me, a thousand tiny hands pushing me away from my words. Screw you, tiny weird hands. I’m pushing back.

Hey, that would be a great line to end this piece. Near perfect. But I’m also pushing back against perfection here, because perfection is a monster that’s nothing but a million mouths set on hairy legs running after me and saying things like “Why isn’t everything you write a stealth villanelle?” and “Why haven’t you written a villanelle you fucking loser?” and “Why are you annoyed your tweets aren’t getting more traction and why are you wasting your time on twitter?” and so on.

Okay then, here are a few things I can do to get my writing thing happening. No guarantees, because there’s no telling when I might look at the screen and be overtaken by depressive nausea at the thought of making words with a keyboard:

1.       Write with intention. Don’t just start typing or writing with nothing in mind. I know there’s a school of thought that encourages that kind of writing as an equivalent of psychic muscle stretching, but that really doesn’t work for me. That kind of writing immediately locks into a tightening spiral that chokes me out after a paragraph. After more than 40 years of trying this out, I know it’s not for me. Write with a goal, a scenario, a constraint in mind. See what happens.

2.       Turn the computer on to write. Turn the computer off when not writing. See what else can get done in that crazy unthinkable time when the computer isn’t on and constantly feeding you with stimuli.

3.       In the same vein, read fewer online articles. Read more books. So much of my reading these days consists of skimming websites for articles that it feels more like a dopamine reward system than a genuinely enriching or enjoyable experience.

4.       Do not worry what the internet will think of your writing. Not the literal internet, or even literal people on the literal internet, but the internet’s phantom voice, a condemnatory chorus that has slowly formed into a metaphorical person who takes everything you say literally and argues against it in bad faith. That metaphorical person is an asshole.

5.       I hate lists of four things. So here’s a fifth thing for no reason, which is my final resolution: write without reason. Intention, yes. Reason, no.

Okay, that’s it. Away I go to publish this thing.

Number 12: Jar: An Apostrophe

Stevens, Wallace, rearranged

In Tennessee, like nothing else,
Of neither bird nor bush you gave.
Bare and grey you were.
Dominion, you took everywhere.

Of a port in air, and tall,
And round upon the ground you were.
No longer wild, sprawled around,
The wilderness rose up to you:

A hill, surrounded by wilderness
Made slovenly by you.
Upon that hill you were round.
In Tennessee I placed you.

I’m taking part in National Blog Posting Month, which means I’m posting on this blog every day throughout November. You can follow along and see who else is posting this month by following these hashtags on Twitter: #NetPositiveBlog and #NaBloPoMo

Number 11: Apostrophe to a Jar

A rearrangement of Wallace Stevens

Like nothing else in Tennessee,
You did not give of bird or bush.
You were grey and bare.
You took dominion everywhere.

Tall, and of a port in air,
You were round upon the ground.
No longer wild, the wilderness
Rose up to you and sprawled around.

You made the slovenly wilderness
Surround that hill.
Round you were upon a hill.
I placed you there in Tennessee.

I’m taking part in National Blog Posting Month, which means I’m posting on this blog every day throughout November. You can follow along and see who else is posting this month by following these hashtags on Twitter: #NetPositiveBlog and #NaBloPoMo

Number Six: Run

Once upon a time I thought that owning a decent camera would open the floodgates to a world of glamour and riches.

And you know what? I was right, if you substitute “glamour” and “riches” with “getting lots of requests to do volunteer photography” and “getting lots of requests to do volunteer photography”. But here’s a secret: professional photographers may be in the game to make money, but first and foremost they love photography. Also, the prosthetic eye of the camera is the only way for them to have an authentic relationship with the world. Hah hah, we’re broken! But we will show up to shoot at your event.

For example: I volunteered at the 2018 CIBC Run for the Cure this year.

There were dogs in cute costumes.

There were people in pink. So much pink that I had trouble controlling the skin tones in some of my photos.

Darth Maul showed up for some reason. Obviously breast cancer is bad for his criminal empire on Dathomir, so he came to Earth to run for the cure. Or maybe he has a heart to go with his horns.

But the best part of the day came when I stationed myself at the finish line and caught people as they passed through a phalanx of high-fivers and well-wishers. Friends, partners, families and survivors all grinning and hugging as they slapped hands, a wheel of joy being spun and spun again.

Technical notes for the curious: I shot these images on my Fujifilm X-T3, using a mix of lenses. Crowd and group shots were taken with either the 35mm f2 or the 16mm f1.4. Photos of people at the finish line were all taken with my 56mm f1.2 lens, generally at apertures between f1.2 and 2.0. Most of these are jpegs shot in Fujifilm’s Classic Chrome profile and edited slightly in Lightroom, mostly to lift the shadows a bit (Classic Chrome crushes shadows a bit more than I like). This was my first outing with the X-T3 and I was really pleased with the autofocus and image quality. Keeping the camera in high performance mode with continuous focus and burst shooting delivers great results but sucks up batteries like tapioca balls through bubble tea. I probably got about 500-600 shots per battery, which is not bad for a mirrorless camera, but if you’re a DSLR user you’re in for a surprise.

I’m taking part in National Blog Posting Month, which means I’m posting on this blog every day throughout November. You can follow along and see who else is posting this month by following these hashtags on Twitter: #NetPositiveBlog and #NaBloPoMo.

Number Four: Ink

The following image will tell you I’m into ink:

That’s too much, man.

That’s too much, man.

That’s thirty or so strips of chromatography paper with, I am embarrased to say, a fraction of the inks I’ve collected over the last while. I’ve used fountain pens and bottled inks for most of my life, but over the last couple of years my collection of pen and ink has spun up into an escape velocity of ridiculousness (and we’re not even talking about my notebooks, and my ridiculously specific tastes in paper). I find myself writing constantly just to work through the bottles of ink I’ve bought.

I started chromatography as a way to look more carefully and completely at my ink. A drop of water pulls the dyes apart, drags particles across the paper and reveals something of the ink maker’s mind. Occasionally there are surprises.

Here are some of the blues. And I don’t even particularly like blue ink.

ink strips 2.jpg

Number Three: The Sauce and the Soul

There will be no fancy photos today, no exegesis of horror, no thoughts on the collision between genre and style in A Star Is Born (a classic melodrama filmed in the loose handheld style of a documentary? What could Bradley Cooper be up to by cloaking cornball in cinema verite? Whaaat). Just the raw searing truth of the day. The raw seared truth. Take the truth and allow it come to room temperature, then sear it on all sides in a very hot pan. A tasty skin with a cool red centre. Very palatable truth.

No, there’s not even truth. Just pasta sauce, which I made according to a recipe in Samin Nosrat’s Salt Fat Acid Heat. It turned out her recipe for pasta all’amatriciana required me to make pomarola sauce first as a base. I’ve never had to make a sauce as a first step to making sauce. The whole thing took two or three hours (all recipes in my hands seem to take two-three hours) and turned the kitchen into some kind of tomato murder scene. By the end I felt hollowed out and obscurely damaged. Some part of me struggled to understand what had happened. Does a good pasta sauce secretly require part of your soul? Do we store up our treasures not in heaven but in a fiery arrabiata? Is it harder to strain tomatoes through the eye of a needle than it is for a camel to eat a plate of spaghetti?

Speaking of which, I stopped by the butcher the other day and noticed ground camel meat in their fridge. Is that camel meat I asked the cashier, as if she’d say No, it’s hamburger meat and we’re liars. Instead she said Yes it’s camel meat.

What’s it like? I asked. I’ve heard it’s like moose meat, she said.

You know what, camel-meat vending cashier woman, that’s not helpful.

Number Two: The Haunted Camera

Yesterday (or “yees-tah-dye,” as the guy from New Zealand who made out with my girlfriend in high school would say) I was throwing a few tweets back and forth with a film critic about the differences between Argento and Guadagnino’s versions of Suspiria:

suspiria tweet.jpg

I realize that this is not a careful critique so much as a quick take that requires a mountain of qualification. Plenty of horror is made by highly competent fimmakers at the peak of their craft, and a given film’s deficiencies may have as much to do with the conditions of their production (budget, time, studio interference) as anything else. But I think I’m onto something when I say that certain horror seems to possess its makers (people who know the first thing about academic criticism of horror films, tell me what I should be reading and what degree of shame I should feel for not having read it before throwing my thoughts at this blog), producing something that seems somehow out of control, spilling like bright pink blood from the edges of the work.

There’s more to say on this, but I have no time if I want to keep up with this NaBloPoMo business. More tomorrow, from Ballet Mechanique to grindhouse to Carnival of Souls and beyond.

Golden Man

Hot on the heels of the weekend's yellow beer encounter, a man bathed in golden light or possibly made of pure gold, a golden golem inscribed into life by the municipal works department, showed up outside our window last night to clean the bugs from the streetlamp.

Presumably the helmet covers up the animating mark on his forehead.

One more instance of gold this week and I'm going to take it as a sign. Like I'll be hit in the head with a gold brick or something.

Helpful resources:

What are sodium vapor lamps anyway?

What are golems and (unrelated) why did I want to make of my own back in 2005?

Yellow beer

I no longer drink beer (pretty much), so I'm not sure when they added lemon yellow to the beer hue roster. Back when I drank beer by the bucketful, we were satisfied with pale yellow, light gold, reddish amber, toffee brown, burnt caramel and an inky, violet-black stout that tasted of grapefruit and the intolerable weight of history. We didn't go for this liquid sun nonsense.

"How did we get to this point in our collective culture that we're drinking golden beer on a Friday afternoon?"

I miss beer sometimes.