The Struggle

Antique pen and inkwellWriting is a struggle. It is a struggle of fighting and letting go, of allowing yourself to fail and not failing. It is a struggle of faith, that what was lost may be found, and that what is known may be forgotten. It is the struggle of man against time, for things cannot be written forever, and yet the worlds we make are as eternal as the one we inhabit. It is a struggle of your soul, and another soul.

And when you find that you know your creations more intimately than your lover, your imaginings more completely then your child, and when you realize you don’t know the damndest thing about who you are, you will know you have made something worthwhile.

And all that you wrote without those struggles was nothing to write at all. Its purpose was only warmth, as the flame takes it from you.

Advertisements

Flowers of Evil

Nederlands: Public domain: Portrait de Jeanne ...

Nederlands: Public domain: Portrait de Jeanne Duval par Charles Baudelaire, 1850 Jeanne Duval licence : Publiek domein author: Charles Baudelaire (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Always be a poet, even in prose.” – Charles Baudelaire

He was young and wealthy. Only 21 and the inheritor of large fortune, the young man lived in opulence on the Isle St. Louis in France. He was ready to find his place in the world and become a proud member of the elite. And then he met a women.

Her name was Jeanne. He was also young, but not nearly so naive. She’d just arrived from Haiti and had started work as a cabaret girl. In a smoke filled club at the seedy end of the Champs Elysees, she sang a song, risque in nature. In the audience sat young Charles. He was smitten with her.

She was nothing like the kind of woman he was supposed to fall in love with. She was not of a landed family, she did not care for equestrian sports. She possibly did not know the proper order of eating utensils on a table setting. But no matter, she was ravishing. The next day, Charles sat in his carriage and watched the delivery boy give her a bouquet of red roses. This was their beginning.

His friends were horrified. Many pleaded with him for reason, no doubt, but he could find nothing better to invest his fortune in than her happiness. He was prepared to give her anything she could ever want, as any love-struck man would do. And so he began to frequent that dark part of the city where brothels and opium dens lined streets filled with scoundrels and harlots.

He stood out like the proverbial sore thumb – a well-dressed and well-heeled man cavorting with patrons of back-street bars. Instead of trying to elevate his dear love’s state, he preferred to meet her down at her own.

His poetry, already sentimentally dark, began to turn like a decaying flower into something much more striking. And like a flower withers and dies, his poetry remained in its decay, its beauty magnified. His were hymns sang to sorrow and death. He once said, “I can barely conceive of a beauty in which there is no melancholy.” That melancholy, that realization that beauty has a darker nature, helped him to pen Les Fleurs du Mal, widely known as one of the greatest works of poetry ever written.

And of Jeanne? She was his constant companion, his ravenous, biting muse. Illiterate though she was, she would sit and listen as he read his poetry for her, then yawn and raise a foot for him to kiss. He would often position her in the sunlight and draw every curve of her body, his pencil practicing in place of his hands. Below one of his most intricate sketchings of her, he wrote the following inscription, “Quaerens quem devouret.” It translates as: “Seeking whom to devour.”

Jeanne introduced him to opium. They tore their lives down together. They fought. She spent his money with abandon. And yet, he needed her. When his money was gone, she sold every last thing he owned. She began having affairs with his friends, and even sold herself on the street. But Charles couldn’t get out of her spell.

At last she left him, a broken, drug afflicted man. He lived out his life in the shadow of her absence. He even paid her expenses as she lay sick and dying. He never got that first taste of bitter, anguishing, delusional love out of his heart.

Some say she introduced Baudelaire to the animistic and pagan religions of her native Haiti. There are rumors that she was some kind of enchantress, casting a spell on the good looking man in the back row, damning him to a life in her hold. But in the end, whether enchanted by spells or by beauty, the addiction is the same, is it not?

”The man who, from the beginning of his life, has been bathed at length in the soft atmosphere of a woman, in the smell of her hands, of her bosom, of her knees, of her hair, of her supple and floating clothes, … has contracted from this contact a tender skin and a distinct accent, a kind of androgyny without which the harshest and most masculine genius remains, as far as perfection in art is concerned, an incomplete being.”

Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867), French poet, critic. Artificial Paradise, An Opium-eater, VII. Childhood Sorrows (1860). On men who have been raised by women.

The Flavor of Life

meat and knifeThe man was born into the palm of luxury – literally.  It’s said he once could fit into the palm of his father’s hand. Born prematurely, he suffered through acute illness and complications just to live. But no one could ever say he didn’t appreciate the flavor of life.

Youth brought him the status that rich parents always bring. He was smart and sociable, but a little odd.  Perhaps his early birth had caused obstacles that would haunt him for life, his parents wondered. But to their amazement, he was a studious young man, compensating for any setbacks he might have suffered with an uncanny intellect and social affability, even if he had few friends. Their proudest moment was when their son was accepted to a PhD program in France. That year, Issei traveled from his home in Japan, to study literature at the Sorbonne.

Four years of study had made him a favorite of the faculty, and earned him respect among his student acquaintances. One student in particular made his heart flutter. What a beautiful name for such a beautiful face – Renee. Issei asked her if she’d like to have dinner with him. It was a huge risk, one he knew he had no right to take, for whatever benefits money and intelligence had brought him, it’s wasn’t enough to deserve her company. She was beautiful. He still considered himself a weak, ugly, inadequate little man.

But she’d said yes!

Renee arrived at his home that evening for some wine, a good meal, and an evening of poetry translation. The talk was mechanical if not pleasant, and soon Issei had convinced her to do what she most feared to do for him – recite her translations of German poetry. She was timid, blushed, but finally began to speak. Her voice was beautiful, built on many layers of femininity and grace, and her voice continued to echo in his house for a few seconds after he’d shot her in the neck with a rifle.

Issei’s dream for her wasn’t to bed her down, or make her his wife. He wanted to eat her.

Taking a few hours to first have sex with his dead victim, and perhaps build up an appetite, he decided he would begin with her buttocks and thighs. They proved terribly difficult to cut away from the bone, so he left to buy a sharper butcher knife. He was surprised at the way raw human fat looked, and more surprised at the taste. He feasted on Renee for two days until, satiated, he took what remained of her to a local river, to dump her in.  But he was weak, and not good at these things. Someone spotted him.

He was arrested by the French police and they quickly began their investigation. How could a man devour another human in just two days, they wondered? There was hardly anything left on the woman’s bones. They found their answer in his refrigerator. He’d packed her up nicely in the finest cuts, and stored her away.

His wealthy father was devastated, but determined neither he nor his son would lose face.  He hired the best defense attorneys to defend his son, but they never made it to trial. Issei was held for two years before the authorities finally declared him insane, and sent him to a mental institution.

It was in that institution that Issei really began to become the man he’d always dreamed of being. He was visited by an author from his home country who interviewed him about his account of what had happened. When the story was published, in an odd way that sick stories often do, he became an instant celebrity.

The French authorities didn’t care for the attention, or the scrutiny of their legal system. They ordered Issei be extradited back to Japan.  When he arrived, Japanese police immediately took him to Matsuzawa hospital, where the attending psychologists found him sane, determining that his cannibalism was the result of sexual perversion, not some underlying mental illness.

It seemed Issei would be finally tried for his crime. However, the requests by Japanese court official to obtain the original documents from the French were denied, the French citing that the case had already been dropped in France, and therefore, the documents were secret and could not be released. Having nothing with which to prosecute Issei, he was discharged from the hospital, a free man.

Issei became a guest lecturer and commentator, and for a time wrote the most poignant restaurant reviews for a well-known magazine. He even tried his hand as a movie actor. He now lives a quiet life, sometimes starring in documentaries, sometimes earning welfare benefits, and providing constant inspiration for copycat killers and horror writers across the globe.

Read more about Issei Sagawa here.

Brainwashed

Symbol of the major religions of the world: Ju...

The other day while doing research for a novel, I stumbled upon a webpage concerning the Illuminati and the conspiracy of world banking. As I read through I found several of my assumptions and beliefs challenged, some quite strongly. I began to feel as if I was being “brainwashed.” But then I thought, “What is brainwashing, really?”

I hold a certain set of core beliefs, and hundreds of what I’ll call causal beliefs. Core beliefs are only changed by brute mental force, but my casual beliefs can be changed with little argument or effort. I believe rice is hard to eat with chopsticks until someone shows me the correct way. America is the most advanced country in everything until China lands a rover on the moon and Europe builds CERN. I can’t stand Lady Gaga until I buy her latest album. But the core beliefs – political preference, religion, patriotism – these I’ll endure conflict and attacks without changing.

You have your own set of beliefs that, quite possibly, are drastically different than mine.

We all cling to our own favorite arguments, slogans and beliefs – “Tax the rich,” “Trickle-down economics,” “Communism,” “9/11 was an inside job,” “There is a war among civilizations,” “Christianity,” “Judaism,” “Islam.”

The question is, why do we believe them?

If you think back on your youth and your upbringing you’ll see that most everything you believe has been implanted in your head by another sentient being. We share the religion of our parents, or lack thereof. We are loyal to the country we are born into or focus on its flaws, depending on our school district. And we understand great and enormous things about our universe, from mitochondria to dark matter, all of it told to us by professors who might, in fact, be making it up. How could you or I prove them wrong

It all resembles a conspiracy. That conspiracy is the battle to define reality being carried out by each and every human being.

Sometimes we encounter a belief so opposed to our own that we decide we cannot co-exist with it. This is called war. Sometimes we dislike a belief so much that we encourage the government to take action against those who hold it. This is called fascism.

But at the very core, when you look at your own beliefs, whether you believe in heaven, hell, nirvana, Mother Earth or black holes, you believe it because someone told you it was true.

There are, most likely, no pure or original beliefs in your head. You’ve been brainwashed. And if you do have an original belief, you’re probably a writer.

The Witch Who Isn’t There

Imperial War Museum

Bethlem Hospital, London (Photo credit: Secret Pilgrim)

I’m almost 2/3rds of the way into my new project, a dark mystery set in Victorian England – both London and St Mary’s Church in Chesham. I wanted to touch many themes, not the least being the puzzle of insanity in an age where such things were attributed to the length of ones nose. It’s the story of a man thought to be mad, his doctor, a kidnapped South American boy, and four dead young girls.

What surprised me most about writing this story was the voice my brain, my energy, my muse, chose to speak in. From the beginning it told me what kind of story this would be. How?

By giving me a poem.

It is a children’s poem, recited as a sort of talisman to ward off evil by those who feared they might be next.  It appears on Page 2 of the novel.

A man with long black hair once came

To fill the clergy’s cup with shame.

He took the girls to ring the bell

And sent them on their way to hell.

Jonny Thatch ate out their eyes,

A Florin each to leave them by.

St. Mary’s calls for those who dare,

Behold the witch who isn’t there.

A Requiem of Dreams

Healthy brain (bottom) versus brain of a donor...

Healthy brain (bottom) versus brain of a donor with Alzheimer’s disease. Notable is the “shrink” that has occurred in Alzheimer’s disease; the brain was decreased in size. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Most of us dream while we sleep. For some, it’s reason to speculate on the possibility of spiritual communication, a type of assisted second sight. Others interpret dreams like tea leaves, hoping to divine the future. Some consider dreaming a process where our brains exercise, while others suppose it’s a cleaning of memories.

For not a few people, dreams can become haunting, troubling, and even terrifying. We’ve all probably witnessed friends, spouses and children twitch and turn, kick and jerk, and occasionally scream out in their sleep. We wonder what they could be seeing, and who – or what – might be visiting them in the night. Perhaps we’ve woken in panic ourselves, screaming as we open our eyes.

Dreams remain a mystery, nightmares the most mysterious. But some think nightmares are no mystery at all.

In research published in 2010 in the Journal of Neurology, nightmares were, in many cases, found to be warning signs. In many ways they are premonitions. The researchers asserted that violent dreams were often a precursor to dementia.

Diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s don’t necessarily sneak up on a person, but can begin decades before the most obvious symptoms appear. The scientists are convinced that violent nightmares are sometimes the beginnings of brain disorders.

This may itself be an exercise in speculation, but many doctors and researchers have associated dreams with medical conditions.

If this research holds true, some of us are carrying a little future insanity around inside.

Part 9 – The End

English: Stephen Road - Beacon Road

English: Stephen Road – Beacon Road (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Berta knew it was because of the letter.

She’d gotten the call at her office no more than an hour after Franklin had left for school. She recognized the panic, and allowed it to rush through her like a wildfire. She couldn’t stop it if she’d wanted to.

It wasn’t unexpected. Franklin had been breaking down for a year now. But the letter… they hadn’t expected the letter.

The steering wheel was hot when she got in the car. It wasn’t even noon and the heat was blistering. She sat there for a long moment and wondered what she would ever do with her life now.

She remembered the night when Stephen had attacked him. She’d rushed to the hospital knowing that this had been her fault. She didn’t know why she’d done it, why she’d lied to Stephen. Was she that petty, that insecure that she feared her husband helping a young, lost girl?

Yes, she knew she was. But she had never wanted this.

Stephen had been hiding in his car when Franklin and Crystal got in. They hadn’t even noticed him until they’d left the parking lot. Franklin had heard a voice from the back seat: “Drive.”

They’d driven down to the river where they’d parked. Stephen had a hold of Crystal’s hair as they drove, the knife pressed into her throat. Stephen told Franklin to get out of the car.

Stephen locked the doors. Franklin watched as he pulled Crystal by the hair over her seat and into the back, with him. She pushed away, cowering with her knees up to her chest.

Stephen looked at Franklin through the glass.

He said he was going to rape her, and Franklin would have to watch. He was going to reclaim what was his.

They say that the memories of war remain real in the mind of the soldier. Those distant dreams become present nightmares. Often Franklin would wake up in the night and hide behind the door, like he was waiting for someone to burst through from the other side. Once she had found him in the bathtub, naked and dry, crying and pulling at his eyes. But those were all just little steps on the way to madness.

Stephen tore at her clothes and pushed himself between his legs. Franklin was frozen, but just for a moment. And then the war came back to him. Not the bullets or the fear, only the rage. He smashed the window with his fists and grabbed Stephen. One hand in his hair, one hand clutching his jacket. And he pulled the boy from the car, through the window, across the shattered glass, tearing his face and neck until the blood covered him and ran down Franklin’s wrists.

Stephen lay dying. Crystal was silent, dreaming in her shock and unable to move. Franklin looked down at what he’d done, this life that was now in his hands. And he’d told her, told Berta, that’s when everything changed.

He held the artery shut. It felt like he was choking the boy, but he stopped the blood. He’d done it for a friend in Afghanistan, a friend he’d saved who died on the transport to the field medic when the truck he was in ran over an IED. Franklin didn’t see Stephen, he saw Manny. And there, in the park, just the two of them in the dark, Franklin saved Stephen’s life.

Berta met them at the hospital. It was chaos.

There were doctors, police, a whirlwind of commotion. She found him, standing in the corner of the room checking his pockets again and again. In the scuffle, Franklin had lost the ring he wore on his little finger. A boy lay dying, his student hysterical, parents of two children asking, no, demanding an explanation, threats of lawsuits, screams, all Franklin could do was look frantically around for his lost ring.

That was a year ago. Stephen had suffered mild brain damage from the concussion and extensive loss of blood. He would never play football again. He was also charged with attempted rape.

Crystal became withdrawn. She never went to visit Franklin again. She stopped attending rehearsal, and eventually dropped out of school.

Franklin was on the mend – both physically and psychologically – when Stephen committed suicide. Franklin quit going to his therapy group. He would brood about things he should have done, recite all the mistakes he had ever made. Berta had endured it, but she didn’t know why. Perhaps seeing him with another man’s blood on his hands made her realize that he was strong. A man who could protect her. Maybe she felt proud of it. She didn’t quite know.

And then the letter arrived. It was there on the table when she’d gotten home last night. A dirty, thick envelop with a dozen stamps from faraway places. It was addressed to him, but only his first name was written.

She’d asked him about it, and he said he knew it was there. He didn’t want to open it for some reason. He was angry all night.

In the morning when she came down for coffee he was already dressed. He looked nice, like he’d really paid attention to his grooming and attire. He hadn’t look that nice in so long. He gave her a kiss on the cheek, grabbed his briefcase and headed out.

She saw the letter on the table. It had been opened.

She drove out of the parking lot and headed home. There was no need to go to the hospital. She knew he was dead, even if the officer on the phone had only said she needed to hurry. She would go home and see what was left of her life, see if there was anything there or in this world left for her.

The letter had said someone he used to know in Afghanistan, a girl, had been killed.

She knew Franklin was dead, and she knew why.

Because he couldn’t save anybody.

It Ends Tomorrow

I’ve decided. This story which is now eight parts will end tomorrow. I do not know what will happen, I do not know how long it will be. But it will end.

I wonder how many of you have similar writing experiences. I know the old argument between plotters and pansters, but I’m looking for something a little different. No matter how well you plot the story will always take twists and turns you’re not expecting. By the same token, no matter how much you “wing it” eventually the outline of the story, plot turns, and maybe even the ending will appear before you arrive there.

What I’d like to know is if you’ve ever experienced a story write itself. Have you ever written anything with no destination, no forethought, and no idea where it would go?

I’m going to see if this all works tomorrow sometime. It will either wrap itself up nicely, or be a glorious disaster.

Part 8

afghan-girl-beautiful-eyes 3He didn’t know how he’d become her refuge. Perhaps he was the only one she could confide in. Whatever the reason, it had become dangerous.

Franklin had listened to Crystal, how she wanted so much for herself, but had become afraid of the boy who told her he loved her. She’d made the mistake of being more than his friend, and now there was no way out. That was how Crystal described her relationship with Stephen. A mistake. Mistakes were something Franklin understood.

Crystal had found him one night after rehearsal, buried in work that he didn’t enjoy. Technology Applications was an important sounding name for what he’d learned in computer science class no so long ago. Was he really that old? Sometimes he thought the best years of his life were wasted on a battlefield. And the kids he spent his days with couldn’t possibly understand a man who had sacrificed so much and gained so little for it. But Crystal listened, and he thought maybe she was different.

It was dangerous, opening up to her. But as she shared her fears with him, he began to tell her stories. About the man he’d wanted to be, and the man he’d actually become. And when she found him that night, he was thinking about her again, the girl in Kunar, the girl who he’d killed.

Crystal had asked him why he was crying. He didn’t see her come in, she just appeared at his desk, her eyes frightened. He told her that he was sorry for what he’d done. She’d sat and listened to him talk about it – God, he couldn’t even tell Berta. His company was sent to Asmar, a small village north of Asadabad, where they’d patrolled in the day and took fire in the night. They’d been ambushed, and he somehow became separated from his platoon, lost in the mountains. He saw a light down in a pass, and headed there, not knowing if he was walking to rescue or to his death. He was delirious, thirsty, and lost. He woken up in the stables, a frightened girl staring at him with a bucket of chicken feed in her hands, the seeds spilling onto the ground.

Her family had taken him in. They called it Pashtunwali, an honor system that protected strangers, even if they were your enemy. The Army had negotiated his release, but by that time he’d fallen in love with the girl. She came to him at night, and although they’d never spoken, she’d brought him food and milk, and had smiled at him.

He’d showed Crystal the ring she’d given him, just a small plastic thing that would only fit on the second knuckle of his little finger. Crystal listened to the story, and when Franklin began to cry, really cry, she’d held him. And then something unexpected happened. She took his face in her hands and kissed him. He didn’t know what to do. He told her that he appreciated her being there for him, but God, what had he done? That was the night that Crystal told him Stephen had said he was going to kill her.

And now, here she was again.

She said that there were fourteen missed calls on her phone, all from Stephen, and all within the last two hours while she and Franklin had been at rehearsal. Franklin gathered his things and asked if she was walking home. It was late, maybe 8 o’clock. Too late to walk home, given the circumstances. He said he’d take her home, just his once, and they left the school and walked to the parking lot, toward Franklin’s car where Stephen hid in the back seat with his knife.