Archive for ‘writing’

2016/02/04

Story straight

My personal websites, davidchess dot com and all, which are hosted somewhere in like England by friends-of-friends who stopped billing me in maybe 2010, seem to be down currently; but I have located a local copy, and have been looking nostalgically through it at random. Here is a piece of microfiction from March 2008 that I had entirely forgotten…

“So you know what you’re going to say?”

Chervais looked down at the squat form, sitting behind the piled shapes that served for a desk, sucking at a damp cigar.

“I was thinking I could just tell the truth.”

There was an explosion from somewhere outside, and the gondola rocked sickeningly for a moment. Chervais imagined the view outside, the gondola suspended like a parasite from the vast flock of harnessed geese, the bulbous airplanes that flew by now and then in slow irrational dogfights, the oddly glowing ground over which they passed, trees in the shape of nightmare reaching toward the starless sky.

The other grabbed at the desk automatically, and looked up.

“First, no one would believe you,” he stubbed the cigar on some component of the desk, which grudgingly caught fire, “and second, it’s not allowed.”

“I don’t think you have any way to enforce that.”

The big bloodshot eye rolled in its socket. “That’s a dangerous thing to assume.”

Chervais sighed and looked down at his hand, colorless and insubstantial. “All right,” he said, “first I became aware of myself floating upward, then I turned and saw my body lying on the bed.”

The other just nodded, the eye staring.

“Then there was this intense light, and I found myself moving toward it –”

“The calmness,” the other cut in.

“Right, right, there was this great feeling of calm, and I was moving up this tunnel toward the light, and there was this ethereal music and a great feeling of,” he made a sound, involuntarily, with his mouth, “of love, and a gentle voice, telling me I had to return.”

The squat cyclops grunted. “Ya still got some work to do on attitude, but I like that ‘ethereal’. Keep it up.”

Somewhere outside there was another explosion, as a cargo helicopter full of cheese plummeted from the sky.

2014/12/01

Not sure if that counts…

2014 NaNoWriMo winnerI declared victory on National Novel Generating Month 2014 tonight, it being the end of November; I only got around to a few of the features I’d thought about, but hey, it meets the requirements! I think.

On a whim I also entered it as a National Novel Writing Month novel, although I’m not entirely certain that it counts. Here is the summary page of all my NaNoWriMo novels (I had to enter all but last year’s incomplete attempt from scratch; carrying over data is hard!).

So here is my official Wri/GenMo 2014 novel “Gazanduwo U“, for some reason on Google Drive (I should make it a txt file on davidchess.com as usual, but that requires remembering how), and (more importantly) the very awful source code. Which takes all the mystery (if any) out of it, but there you are.

2014/11/16

Where with white clouds for my pillow, I sleep

A long time ago, and I just remembered it recently for some reason, when I used the Opera browser for awhile, there was this lovely odd thing.

For some reason (and I’m sure that I did it somehow by accident, but I never did figure out how) whenever I had the focus on a text input box (or something like that), it would offer me a default value to fill in, and that default value was:

Where with white clouds for my pillow, I sleep.

And that made me smile every time I saw it.

I kept it as an enigma at the time, and never looked up the phrase, or the part of the Opera documentation that would have told me how it got there.

I still haven’t done the latter :) but it turns out that the phrase is from Cold Mountain. No, not the film, or even the novel; the poems of Han Shan.

I’ve been wanting to go to that Eastern cliff,
To the present–for innumerable years.

So yesterday I came and climbed up through the vines,
But halfway there, I was hampered by mist and wind.

The path was narrow–with my clothes it was hard to advance;
The moss was sticky–my shoes could not go on.

So I stay at the base of this red cinnamon tree,
Where with white clouds for my pillow, I sleep.

I will attempt to resist talking about what it might be “about”. :)

That particular text seems to be poem number 295, in a translation copyright 1990 by one Robert G. Henricks; I found it today on Google Books.

It looks like we know nothing of Han Shan besides what is in the poems; in fact “Han Shan” is likely not his name at all, apparently it is just the words “Cold Mountain”.

I love the thought of the unknown hermit-poet’s words coming down through the long years, and somehow ending up embedded in my Web browser.

2014/05/11

Blurbs and Synopses

Tully

When her live-in boyfriend loses his job and starts drinking, Tulia dreads becoming like the battered women in the shelter where she works. Then one night while he is out on the town, a seriously injured woman appears in her apartment, calling herself Tully, which was Tulia’s childhood nickname. She talks incoherently about the Peace Corps, which Tulia almost joined years ago, before losing consciousness. Dealing with the riddle of this other self will set Tulia’s life, and Tully’s, on end.

booksSounds of the Tide

In a series of brief summer meetings over a dozen years, a young man and an older woman invent their own kind of love on a rocky New England beach.

Snack Bar Only

A man whose life is at loose ends takes an introspective cross-country tour of golf-course restaurants, in a covered pickup truck.

The King of Storyville

A fictionalized account of the red-light district of New Orleans in the early XXth Century, loosely centered around the career of jazzman Joe Oliver.

Levels

In a world sharply divided into the wealthy few and the desperate many, a brother and sister from the wrong side of the tracks stumble on a secret that could re-make everything, if they can stay alive long enough to reveal it.

Two Loaves of Bread

Lucia and Maria are children together, baking bread in the community ovens. As they grow up they also grow apart, until decades later they encounter each other on opposite sides of a heated political battle, and the past and present collide.

Whisper through the Flames

With the U.S. and China on a brink of an apocalyptic war, enigmatic messages apparently sent from the future may hold the only hope of survival.

VOZ

The surreal tale of the collapse of a major corporation, as those around it descend into chaos and strange magic.

Usually Night

A collection of poems about humanity’s efforts, national and international, to travel to space and back; illustrated, with accompanying notes from the authors.

2014/02/09

Who Else

Who else
On this train,
I wonder,
Is also awake?

Who else is looking
Beyond the obvious
With inner eyes,
Searching for souls.

There should be a token,
A badge or a pin,
That we could wear,
We awake ones.

Do not fear me,
It would say,
And I will not
Fear you.

We can let our eyes
Meet, and smile
We can talk
Like old friends

In this sea of unknowing
We can be together
For a moment
In safety.

Maybe, if we had these pins,
For our lapels
We would find
Everyone wearing one

And finally
We would meet

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2014/01/31

But it’s not that simple

On Twitter I follow a few rational-seeming right-wing types, to try to avoid the echo-chamber effect, and yesterday one of them posted about the big kerfuffle where MSNBC implied that the Right Wing might not like interracial marriage, saying how offensive it was and all.

I replied, as one does, saying that, um well, isn’t disliking interracial marriage sort of a Right Wing thing, after all? One of the other people in the thread gasped at how horribly offensive I was being, and we went back and forth a little with me trying to suggest that certain attitudes about race really are, as a matter of historical fact, associated with certain political factions, and they (from my point of view) ducked and weaved a little and then got quiet. I was really impressed, though, with how thoroughly the person seemed to live in a world where interracial marriage (and maybe even same-sex marriage) weren’t a right-left issue at all, and right wing racism was just an offensive myth.

In trying to decide whether to follow this person also, I looked at their earlier “tweets” (and ultimately decided not to follow them), one of which was something that reminded me strongly of the kind of thing that I might have posted like 25 years ago myself, if posting was something people did then, back when I still identified as Libertarian.

And since I seem to be never getting around to that Grand Unified Why I Am Not A Libertarian Anymore posting, I thought I’d at least post about this.

The “tweet” in question was an image, one of those “image that is basically just text” images that social media so loves. It said:

The Rich Man, the Poor Man, and the Politician
A Tale of Income Inequality

There is a rich man and a poor man.
The rich man makes $1000 a day.
The poor man makes $10 a day.
The difference in their income is $1000 – $10 = $990 a day.

The rich man builds a factory.
Now the rich man makes $2000 a day.
He gives the poor man a job at the factory.
Now the poor man makes $100 a day.
The difference in their income is $2000 – $100 = $1900 a day.

A politician decides the “income gap” has grown too large.
He taxes the rich man $1000 a day, gives it to the poor man.
The rich man can no longer afford to run the factory.
He closes the factory. The poor man loses his job.

Everything is as it was before.
And the politician takes credit for “closing the income gap”.

This is a cute Just So story, very typical of, maybe even a little more complex than, the average Libertarian Just So story.

But, like all of them, it leaves out so much that it ends up pretty much completely irrelevant to reality.

These people really need to read “The Jungle” or something.

But short of that, here’s a slightly more realistic version of the story.

The Rich Man, the Poor Man, and the Politician
A Tale of Inequality

There is a rich man and a poor man.
The rich man makes $1000 a day.
The poor man makes $10 a day.
The difference in their income is $1000 – $10 = $990 a day.

The rich man builds a factory.
Now the rich man makes $20,000 a day.
He gives the poor man a job at the factory.
Now the poor man makes $100 a day.
The difference in their income is $20000 – $100 = $19900 a day.

The rich man’s factory pollutes the air that the poor man breathes.
The products the factory produces are poorly-made.
The poor man’s working conditions are dangerous and unhealthy.
The health insurance the poor man buys from the rich man’s insurance company
will drop him on a technicality if he gets sick.
Once he’s too old to work, he will have nothing.
Taking into account actual quality of life and not just money,
The difference in their income is $20,000 – $5 = 19,995 a day.

A politician decides there is too much “inequality”.
He taxes the rich man $8,000 a day, and the government uses that:
To enforce laws on clean air, product safety, and working conditions.
Not to mention Obamacare. :)
To provide the poor man with Social Security.
And to prevent unfair labor practices.
The poor man joins the union and his pay rises to $200 a day.
The rich man can still afford to run the factory;
after all he’s still making $11,800 a day.
Taking into account actual quality of life and not just money,
The difference in their income is $11,800 – $200 = 11,600 a day.

Which is still quite a lot, but
the politician can take some credit for “reducing inequality”.
And things are generally fairer and cleaner.

Sadly that second one won’t really fit on a Twitter placard…

2014/01/30

Four webcomics

So here, randomly, are four webcomics that I’ve become more or less addicted to.

(Or maybe not so much randomly, as so I don’t forget myself!)

These are all of the “have a wonderful time binge-reading all the existing ones for hours when you first discover them, and be suddenly distraught when you get to the latest ones and the Next button stops working, and you have to wait a day or a week for the next one waaaahh” kind.

So you can do that. :)

Questionable Content: I wouldn’t really expect to like this so much, as it’s mostly just squishy relationship stuff among a bunch of vaguely artsy vaguely techie young persons in some urban setting, with just a bit of SF thrown in here and there (there’s a whole “we have working AI” subplot that showed up more earlier on and not so much lately). But I do! I guess I like the people, and they are fun to hang around. (The art has evolved amazingly since the beginning.) Updated weekdays, I think.

Sinfest: Very cool metaphorical or surreal or fantasy or something strips, but with realistic and sympathetic characters (some of them demons, robots, God, the Devil, Buddha, the artist, his pets, etc). Interesting development of characters and themes over time. Updated I dunno several times a week?

Oglaf: haha woot! Funny sick twisted sexy usually-pornographic comics about anything and everything, often in a medieval-fantasy sort of setting. Some recurring characters and themes and plots, but also just craziness. And porn. Not for the easily offended. :) Updated like Sundays or something.

Cura Te Ipsum: a great and wonderfully-drawn SF novel of a comic, about a guy who goes around with a bunch of alternate-universe versions of himself, including some female ones, some that are kids, a few that want to kill them all (himself last), and so on. A bit of the feel of Gerrold’s classic, but with more mystery and character development and a gory antagonist and so on; doesn’t feel at all derivative. Also it’s a comic! (And there’s an active fanbase that comments extensively on each page, and either praises or whines about the frequent use of Latin, Dr. Who references, and so on; but I haven’t read all that many of the comments, because the story is the important thing.) Just got to the “oh no I’m caught up!” stage on this one last weekend, and am still in withdrawl. Updated Monday Wednesday Friday, which is not often enough wahhh!

Suggestions for other worthwhile webcomics welcome in the comments, which we do have a comments section for down there ya know!

:)

2013/09/23

Truths

(Found in a drawer I was cleaning out; from context, I’m guessing written in around 1985.)

1. In 1836, a book called Society Life was published in London.
2. Somewhere, the doctor is or is not examining a patient.
3. We live in very uncertain times.

I am at a cocktail party. The cocktails are quite good, if heavy on the lemon. The wives are clustered around the piano, singing tunes that they think they remember from younger days; perhaps some of them do. In the kitchen there is a woman without any clothes, being casually examined by most of the single men, and not a few of the husbands. She smiles engagingly.

I ask Camille, whose watch (an expensive foreign brand) is always accurate, what time it is.

“Ten forty-two,” she says.

1. Salt
2. The signs of the zodiac are twelve: The Dasher, the Dancer, the Prancer, the Fox, Kafka, the Swan, the Lion. But I am rambling.
3. In times of uncertainty, truth will be seen to come from far places, at great expense (at least one week’s pay for the average citizen).

My ship sails at midnight. I do not know the time; Camille is nowhere to be seen. I wander in the fog. There may be a dock nearby, because of the foghorns. I associate foghorns with illness, because of something I think happened to me as a youth. I fear I will miss my ship; if only I could remember the name, the dock, the time, Camille’s address.

I grope in the fog for truth, and grasp a scrap of newspaper blowing in the wind. I decide it will do.

(I suspect I’d been reading alot of Barthelme…)

2013/07/23

Verbum

Maybe it wouldn’t have been so bad if we hadn’t been each other’s First Contacts. Virgin civilizations, groping each other in the dark.

“Damn it, damn it, damn it,” the smaller of the two men moaned, his head down in his arms on the broken table, as the sounds coming in through the half-boarded-up window swelled louder.

“If they wanted to destroy us, why didn’t they just send a missle, an asteroid, a fucking army?”

The taller man took another drink from the bottle in his hand, staring without seeing at the window.

“We started it, you know.”

“Bastards, bastards.”

“We nearly destroyed them.”

“Should have.”

“It was the linguists,” his voice was rough and slow, detached, almost toneless, “that went out in the first starship. We taught the Tanatha suicide.”

“Bastards.” The sounds outside moved away a bit, grew softer.

“Their language was utterly alien. No reflexive forms, strange verb tenses. Eventually they learned enough of it to try to ask them questions, eventually they asked them what their word was for ‘suicide’. They didn’t have one.”

“Bullshit.”

“They didn’t. They had no reflexive forms, and ‘to be’ and ‘to kill’ were such utterly incompatible concepts that they had been literally unable to imagine killing the person that you are. Until we asked the question, and kept asking it until they understood.”

He took another long drink, a deep breath, and shuddered. The man at the table raised his head just long enough to wipe his eyes.

“It nearly destroyed their civilization. They didn’t have the millennia of evolved defense mechanisms that we did, the cultural institutions that discourage killing yourself, the structures to deal with it.

“They experimented.

“They died.

“Their cultures crumbled.”

“Not fucking far enough they didn’t,” the smaller man muttered, and lay his head down again with a thud.

“They fell so fast. Our linguists came back on the last starship they sent out, along with what was left of their Tanatha colleagues. Half the crew died on the way, but they got here.”

“Bastards.”

“And their linguists, the ones that stayed alive, learned our language in return, and one day they knew enough to ask, to ask what was our word for –”

“No, no, no, no, no,” the man slumped over the table moaned monotonously, as another explosion bloomed outside and a chorus of voices raised in an ululating scream, full of fear and an incomprehensible ecstacy.

(This is an old piece of microfiction (untitled at the time, and I’m not sure “Verbum” is the right title, really), that had the honor of being reposted on Language Log once, that I’m reposting because I may want to conveniently refer to it in a posting about a book I’m reading, once I’ve finished reading it. And also because it’d be fun to gather and post some of my old microfictions. And also I should write more of them!)

2013/05/25

Owch

Here is another new poem! Even though it is no longer NaPoWriMo!

Owch

Bright sunshine and cool air,
Full belly.
One misstep on the curb
And that punch in the face
From the grill of a parked car
Is a gentle reminder
Of perfection.

It wasn’t actually the grill, since these shiny modern cars don’t actually have grills, but it was that general area of the car.

A rare picture of me with (even rarer) bodily injuries! (I was going to post a thumbnail of it here, but owch.)

This was on the way home, where, just to add to the airline excitement, my original plane was canceled and replaced with another one at 6:05am the next day, so I got to spend an unexpected extra night in a (different) hotel, and had plenty of time on the way there to slip in a parking lot after a nice lunch and bash my face against things!

That flight was then, at like 11pm the night before when I was already asleep, rescheduled to 8:10am instead.

I fell asleep immediately upon getting home when I finally did. :)

Adventures everywhere!

2013/05/01

NaPoWriMo 30

Ambush

A stone
A smell
Light through a window
A half-heard phrase
One line of a poem
opening some long-neglected vista in memory

We are so often surprised by bliss.

What could be sweeter?

2013/04/29

NaPoWriMo 29

Dactyls are Dharma, too

Here in the midst of the ten thousand thingummies
Hearing the voices of ten million throats,
Feeling compassion for those who have aching knees,
Those who build bridges and those who dig moats.

Sitting in zazen and counting the in-and-out
One and a one and a one and a one,
Mind somehow caught in this insistent rhythm, I
Tick like a clock sitting here in the sun.

Dharma is silent but Dharma is noises and
Dharma is stillness but Dharma is speed,
Why should I think that the circling second-hand
Isn’t precisely the sound that we need?

 

(More dactlys)

2013/04/29

NaPoWriMo 28 (only one day late…)

Triolet in three that she wrote while waiting for rescue

Oxygen is low,
Power running out.
Turning down the flow,
Oxygen is low.
They’re coming, sure but slow,
I have no breath for doubt;
Oxygen is low,
Power running out.

2013/04/27

NaPoWriMo 26 (late again!)

However long
The days have been,
We fit together
Click
Like puzzle pieces.

Like a song
Skin on skin,
Cotton and leather.
The clock ticks.
Peace.

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2013/04/26

NaPoWriMo 25

Sennenith

The yonderboy
coming stob afetch the wain
tonnies a corith of sleag,
and follerein sloy,
cafitches in the tully-sain.
Borringen pleag.

2013/04/25

NaPoWriMo 24

Sometimes just three lines
would be too many.

2013/04/23

NaPoWriMo 23

Riddle

My first is the ocean,
My second’s a train,
My third is in paean,
My fourth is in pain,
My last is the ending
of both near and far,
My whole is the air,
between us and that star.

2013/04/22

NaPoWriMo 22

Morning

The sunlight
coming in the window
makes a perfect edge
on the tiles

2013/04/21

NaPoWriMo 21

Lisa Marie Drops 50 Pounds!

Lisa Marie drops 50 pounds!
Right on her toe!
“Owch,” says Lisa Marie!

Do you think that hurt?
I bet it did!

Have you ever dropped anything on your toe?
Did it hurt?

Did someone do something to help you feel better?
What could you do, to help Lisa Marie feel better?

What do you think Lisa Marie should do now?

What do you think you should do now?

2013/04/20

NaPoWriMo 20

One is an apple,
Two is a bone,
Three is a riddle
When nobody’s home.

Four is the center,
Five is the edge,
Six is for beetles,
Under the hedge.

Seven is supple,
Eight is a light,
Nine is for daybreak,
But ten is for night.