The Decameron Stories – Day Three

In the year 1348, while the Black Death went scything through Italy, ten young people took refuge in the countryside outside of Florence. To pass the time while they waited for the Reaper to be on his way, they told each other a series of stories.

On the third day of story-telling they elected Neifile as their queen of tales. She wanted to hear stories about people who attained the objects they desired, but only by virtue of their own efforts. There followed many windings and turnings, searchings and yearnings, until ten worthy objects were wrestled from the flux by even worthier hands.

Then, as on the previous two days, they all looked up from Boccaccio’s dusty pages and waited to hear the tale that I would tell.

“We enjoyed your first story and your second story very much,” Neifile said to me. “In fact, we spent much of last night discussing the themes they have in common – themes that are not at all unfamiliar to us. Money, sex, friendship, betrayal, the whims of fortune. Perhaps we don’t know what a Ford Fusion is, not precisely, but it doesn’t sound much different than a horse. We have been saying how strange and wonderful it is, that even across the chasm of seven hundred years we understand you so easily! We hope the understanding is mutual. (Did you like Filostrato’s story about the axeman, who pretended to be deaf and dumb so he could infiltrate the convent and enjoy the company of the nuns? That one was my favorite.) At any rate we beg you once more to speak freely and in keeping with your own times. Shock us and ravish us! Black Death or Covid, we are in the same predicament. The centuries cannot stand against us.”

I thanked Neifile for her kind words, and after warning them all that I couldn’t hope to rival Filostrato’s story about the nuns, I gave them another swill from the dregs of 2020.

Day Three

the tale of Dick Long Harding

There was in recent years a certain man from Minnesota, whom we might as well call Dick Long Harding, for he developed in his middle age a rare and raging affliction.  It was a condition that delighted both he and his girlfriend for the first several hours during which it occurred; but after a whole day of it she was sore in every hole and he was dangling at the edge of a heart attack.  They decided together, breathlessly, in an apartment that was completely destroyed, that he should consult a doctor about his sudden insatiability.

Continue reading “The Decameron Stories – Day Three”

An Over-Analysis of Some Guy’s Proto-Revolutionary Speech

I try to keep my own opinions as far away from myself as possible – not to hide from them but in order to laugh at them – yet like everyone else I get caught up from time to time. I got caught up a few days ago by some guy who delivered a speech outside Michigan’s State Capitol, because I found it strange that I more or less agree with him. I think it’s worthwhile to briefly examine our points of agreement – and our points of contention. Somewhere in that space there might be a hint of the politics to come.

Continue reading “An Over-Analysis of Some Guy’s Proto-Revolutionary Speech”

The Decameron Stories – Day Two

In the year 1348, while the Black Death went scything through Italy, ten young people took refuge in the countryside outside of Florence. To pass the days as they waited for the Reaper to be on his way, they told each other stories.

On the second day of story-telling they elected Filomena their queen. She demanded from each of them a tale of misfortune, which must end unexpectedly with happiness. So one by one they went stumbling through hazards and sorrows, until ten happy endings left them breathless under the setting sun.

Then, as on the first day, they all looked up from Boccaccio’s dusty pages and waited to hear what I would say.

“We enjoyed your first story very much,” said Filomena, “and we appreciate that you told it according to our fourteenth century customs. But we beg you to speak more freely and in keeping with your own times. Shock us if you must. We won’t hold the centuries against you.”

So I told them a tale from my own time, inventing at will as I went along.

Day Two

the tale of the Ford

Once upon a time there was a

2013 Ford Fusion

tuxedo black with beige interior

front wheel drive

 some kind of engine

 automatic transmission

 120,000 miles

The lady wanted seven thousand for it, but Josh had talked her all the way down to five.  On condition that he paid cash today. 

Continue reading “The Decameron Stories – Day Two”

The Decameron Stories – Day One

In the year 1348 as the Black Death went scything through Italy, ten young people took refuge in the countryside outside of Florence. To pass the time as they waited for Death to be on his way, they told each other stories.

On the first day of story-telling they elected Pampinea their queen. She demanded from each of them a story about anything at all, because it was her wish that the teller had freedom for a tongue. So one by one they ventured into topics of their choosing, until ten tales were told and the day was nearly spent.

Then, very much to my surprise, they all looked up from Boccaccio’s dusty pages and patiently waited for me.

Day One

the tale of the bean counter

Not so very long ago there was a bean counter in the land of New York who had a beautiful wife through whom he sired two incredible children.  They all lived in a great big house which they filled with many wonderful things.  Moderate success and moderate happiness came easily to them, and it seemed to their neighbors that they must be the most fortunate family on earth.

Continue reading “The Decameron Stories – Day One”

Ode to Viking Jesus

O Viking Jesus – 
warrior of wild faith –  
     man of times! who storms the Capitol
     storm of men! whose flag is also mine
I vow to you my silent vote, 
my many clicks and shares,
whereupon your ship may sail
     forever 
                         nowhere. 

Storming the Capitol

I confess my political opinion:

These Trump fanatics who stormed the Capitol must be punished in accordance with our laws because their silly insurrection failed, but it’s not a tragedy that the Capitol itself was stormed.  In fact it ought to be stormed – frequently, and by all stripes. 

To put it another way:    

Democracy isn’t dead because of the dopes who crashed the Capitol; democracy is dead because of the ghouls who rightfully inhabit it.

Continue reading “Ode to Viking Jesus”

Books of 2020

Last year I got myself into the habit of writing down the names of books as I finished them, because I was curious to know how much (or how little) I actually read in a given year. I was completely satisfied with the answer, which I posted somewhere around here, but the habit stuck with me and I have another index card filled up with book titles. So I figured I’d take another snapshot of my psyche and fire it into the aether:

Year of the Manuscript: Sons of the Scythe

I cheated a little bit this year. The plinth under that statue is a book I wrote rather than read. After four years of toil, Sons of the Scythe (Volume One) is finally a functioning manuscript. It took me much longer than I anticipated to complete it – and the tale itself is only half told – but in the end I did in fact complete it. I don’t care what else 2020 was; for me it will only ever be the year in which I printed the first volume of Sons of the Scythe.

If you’re curious what such a manuscript might look like:

I was tempted to carry those pictures out to the hundredth slide, but I think I would have been the only one in on the joke. I’m sure I’ll be posting more about Sons of the Scythe in the future – hopefully to inform the aether that I’ve been published – but in the meantime here’s the upshot.

  • 188,000 words
  • alternate history/ literary fiction
  • set in an alternate version of Imperial Russia – in a land called Scythia
  • based loosely (very loosely) on the Romanov dynasty
  • a long cold book about death
  • an absurd epic

I haven’t decided whether or not to post any excerpts from it, or whether to make it available in part or in its entirety as downloadable content . . . I only know for certain that I won’t be self-publishing through Amazon again. I have nothing against Amazon or self-publishing, but I put too much blood into this particular book to watch it sink into that abyss. If I continue to utterly fail with traditional publishing, maybe I’ll host it here and sell it myself. I have no idea. Right now I’m just happy to have birthed the fucking thing.

As for the Books I Didn’t Write

Manufacturing Consent was by far the most important and impactful book I read this year. I sort of “knew” what I would find in there – an indictment of mass media as a willing tool of governments and corporations – but it’s nevertheless devastating to see the case laid out so clearly, viciously, and irrevocably. It’s one of those books that changes more than your opinion, but it actually alters the way you construct that opinion. It sharpened my bullshit machete – that’s a better way to put it.

Left Hand of Darkness and Kafka’s Complete Stories were the books I enjoyed the most. The former is a sci-fi adventure through an otherworldly communist dystopia; the latter is Kafka. Of Kafka’s stories I recommend The Penal Colony, The Hunger Artist, The Burrow, and The Metamorphosis.

Don Quixote and Lord of the Rings – the books I read again. Old favorites to get through quarantine.

Varieties of Religious Experience wins the Worst-Book-of-the-Year Award. I appreciate that it’s author, William James, was breaking new ground – namely, he was proposing to study religion scientifically, as a psychological and anthropological phenomenon – but this stuff is as dry as the paper it’s written on. It’s a book I really want to like but can’t. I suspect it was brilliant in its day and has aged poorly.

Quotes to Carry into 2021

In every venture the bold man comes off best, / even the wanderer, bound from distant shores.

Suspicious we are, we men who walk the earth.

I’d rather die at sea, with one deep gulp of death, / than die by inches on this desolate island here!

Homer – The Odyssey

Of all that is written I love only what a man has written with his blood.

The tragic artist is no pessimist: he is precisely the one who says Yes to everything questionable, even to the terrible – he is Dionysian.

What was formerly just sick is today indecent – it is indecent to be a Christian today. And here begins my nausea.

Nietzsche – from Zarathustra, Twilight of the Idols, and Antichrist

The lunatic’s visions of horror are all drawn from the material of daily fact. Our civilization is founded on the shambles, and every individual existence goes out in a lonely spasm of helpless agony.

William James – Varieties of Religious Experience

Compromise and common sense are habits of mind, and cannot be established in a written constitution.

Men are born ignorant, not stupid; they are made stupid by education.

In all this I feel a grave danger, the danger of what might be called cosmic impiety. The concept of “truth” as something dependent upon facts largely outside of human control has been one of the way in which philosophy hitherto has inculcated the necessary element of humility. When this check upon pride is removed, a further step is taken on the road towards a certain kind of madness . . .

Bertrand Russell – History of Western Philosophy

I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or grandchildren’s time . . . when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide almost without noticing back into superstition and darkness.

Carl Sagan – The Demon-Haunted World

“How little you know about it! . . . Why, I have yet to tear my garments, scatter my armor about, and bang my head against these rocks – and other similar things that will amaze you.”

Cervantes – Don Quixote

And a Resolution

I hereby resolve to post more than two posts this year.

America is Dead / Long Live America

America is dead – I see clearly that the country of my birth does not exist.  In 1984 I was pulled shrugging into a flophouse of myth and propaganda – and now, after thirty-six years of confusion, I shall go quietly out of it.  And no I won’t sign your petition on my way out.  Ink is too cheap – and I only write in blood if it’s ironic.

Long live America – Lighten up, ya silly goose – it’s time to get out the vote!  And this time is different than last time because now it’s really happening and we really mean it.  We were just pretending before – didntcha know that?  All the things that never change are going to change, all the bills that are never written are going to pass.  The debts and injustices will remain, but they’ll become meaningful again!  But only if you vote!  It’s your vote that pollinates the flower of democracy!

America is dead – Then I vote to end democracy.

Long live America – You can’t vote for that!  You have to vote for one of the parties!  Doesn’t that sound like fun?  Here’s a pamphlet that describes their positions about things, and here’s another one about why their entrenched dichotomy is sufficient, completely relevant and totally profound.  Oh, and here’s another one about how dissidence is really a Russian word that means outside agitator.  You better choose carefully – there’s guns and babies on the ballot!

America is dead – Guns, babies, queers, jobs, taxes, races, drugs, cops, masks . . .  None of this matters to me and I will no longer participate.  No one asked me if I wanted to be a part of it in the first place.

Long live America – Of course you want to be a part of it.  We don’t need to ask you that.  Everyone loves freedom, ya doofy dude.  You’re just gonna hafta buck up and accept the fact that you’re a lucky guy because you were born in the land of the free and the home of the brave.  A lucky guy with a lucky vote!

America is dead – It isn’t freedom if you can’t decline it.

Long live America – Well I guess they say freedom has a price, so ya got me there Aristotle.  But just because something has a price doesn’t mean it’s not worth anything.  So if ya can’t buck up you’re still gonna hafta pay up, bucko.

America is dead – There will be no more paying up.  I reject capitalism, I reject corporatism, I reject consumerism, I reject commercialism – and I won’t mention the coincidence of c-words, because the only others I know are corruption and conspiracy and cunt.  I don’t mean to be controversial.  I don’t even have a rational counterargument to put up against the gains of materialism.  I can only tell you that I reject the American currency like so much fetid vomit.  It stinks in here – I just want to take my hat and go.

Long live America – Well I know another c-word – and whaddaya know it’s communism.  Why don’t we sit down together and watch this Hollywood movie about how the commies are evil?  Or we could watch the news and they’ll tell us about the latest commie plot.  Or you if you’d rather be alone here’s a book about famous commies.  Spoiler alert – they’re all Joseph Stalin.

America is dead – Or I could take my hat and go.

Long live America – Oh grow up – since bucking up and paying up don’t seem to be in your wheelhouse.  You’re just a toddler running away from home.

America is dead – I was a toddler when I discovered that commercials lie.  I was a teenager when I understood that consumers are in the thrall of producers.  In my twenties I realized the Orwellian nature of the corporate hellscape.  And yesterday I woke up and said to myself – Money is not my god.  So much for growing up.

Long live America – So you’re young at heart.  That’s not un-American yet.  But if ya can’t buck up or pay up or grow up, then you’re gonna hafta knuckle up.  Ya know, get real tough inside and so all the B S down at the job factory doesn’t hurt your tummy so much.  Or if you’re feeling even younger we can ship you off to the desert for some wartime shenanigans!  You can put in an absentee ballot – those are loads of fun.

America is dead – Fuck war.

Long live America – Now just because there’s a bit of murder going around doesn’t mean we should swear about it.

America is dead – I know that war is a racket.  They tax labor to facilitate a war on the drugs that laborers love.  They tax labor to facilitate a war on terror – but the laborers are unafraid.  And they tax labor in order to subsidize the incorporated raping of the earth.  They’ve got us paying through the nose for our own gradual genocide.

Long live America – Genocide?!  That’s what Hitlers do!  Well I’ve had just about enough of this outside agitator baloney, mister.  If you can’t buck up, pay up, grow up, or knuckle up, then you’re gonna hafta shut up.

America is dead –

Long live America – Where are you going?

America is dead –

Long live America – You don’t even have your hat.

America is dead –

Long live America – You’re still going to vote, right?

America is dead –

 

How Many Books Does A Real Person Read In One Year?

I always stumble across these reading challenges online – where the participants pretend to read a book every week for a year, or sometimes they go even further and count each unruffled page – and it always makes me wonder how much an honest reader actually reads.  Because no morally decent person counts the words as he reads them, nor does he boast about the number of pages greased up by his fingers, nor does he remember reading half of the books that he’s read.  That leaves us in a bit of a conundrum if we want to know how much a real person reads: the counters are depraved liars and the readers can’t be bothered to count.

That’s why, in 2019, I decided to write down the name of each book as I finished it.  I had no special ambition, no one to impress, no reason to do it beyond mild curiosity.  And this is the unassuming pile of books I ended up with:


001


The answer to the riddle?  23 books.  That’s one book short of two books per month.  A respectably boring answer.  But since I’ve come this far I might as well go just a bit farther.  Let’s see how many pages have my finger grease on them:

  • Something Wicked This Way Comes (Bradbury) – 293
  • Infidel (Ali) – 350
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey (Clarke) – 297
  • The Rationalists (Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz) – 471
  • Mythology (Hamilton) – 336
  • Neuromancer (Gibson) – 271
  • Candide (Voltaire) – 146
  • In Our Time (Hemingway) – 156
  • Le Morte d’Arthur (Malory) – 512
  • Guns, Germs, and Steel (Diamond) – 490
  • The Oresteia (Aeschylus) – 330
  • We Have Always Lived in the Castle (Jackson) – 146
  • The Histories (Herodotus) – 584
  • The Iliad (Homer) – 683
  • Foundation (Asimov) – 296
  • Gulag Archipelago Parts 1 and 2 (Solzhenitsyn) – 660
  • Stalingrad (Beevor) – 493
  • Robot Visions (Asimov) – 482
  • Foundation and Empire (Asimov) – 282
  • Fear and Trembling (Kierkegaard) – 165
  • The Time Machine (Wells) – 118
  • Childhood’s End (Clarke) – 212
  • The Empiricists (Locke, Berkeley, Hume) – 517
  •  = 8,290 pages

As a real person I read 8,290 pages in 2019, which comes out to 22 pages per day.  That sounds about right.  If you figure an average of 400 words per page and an average reading speed of 200 words per minute (both numbers grabbed from a quick google search) you end up reading about a ½ page per minute.  So in 2019 I spent 16,580 minutes, or 276 hours, with my nose in a book.  That’s 11 full days, or about 34 8-hour shifts.  It sounds like a lot, but spread out over the whole year it only amounts to 44 minutes per day – a relatively sane number.

As for the contents of those pages, that involves a more advanced calculus and I don’t really feel like going into it.  Infidel was pretty good, though.


 

People Should Have More Than Zero Talents

“Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil” – that’s my favorite thing in the Bible. The verse is Exodus 23:2 if you want to look it up. I always thought the Commandments would have been better if they included that one, instead of railing on about god and Saturday. But what I really want to talk about is my least favorite thing in the Bible. All the way in the back of the book Mathew says – “Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents. For unto everyone that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.” That’s a mouthful for us in the new century but the meaning is easy: Poor people have holes in their pockets and rich people have funnels in their gullets. Continue reading “People Should Have More Than Zero Talents”

Xenomatra – Part 2 [short story]

Intro to Part 2

Link to Part 1

On the formatting: I hope the screenplay sections are readable.  I realize that they’re formatted a little strangely – I did what I could with the limited tools available.  I still can’t figure out how to indent the first line of a paragraph, so it’s a bit miraculous if I managed to cobble together some legible script writing.

On the epithets: There are some racial slurs in the text.  I don’t use them flippantly or gratuitously.  I’m confident that the character who makes use of them is absolved in the end.

On the story itself: This is either the dumbest or the smartest story I ever wrote.  Part of me wants to write twenty more Xenomatra stories, follow her into adolescence as she grapples with her identity, into adulthood as she thrashes in the moral quicksand of social justice.  The other part of me wants to burn the little bit that I’ve already written.  What I know for sure is that nobody will publish any of it.

Anyway, here’s the second part of Xenomatra – Social Justice Warrior Continue reading “Xenomatra – Part 2 [short story]”