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.

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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.

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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”

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.