Friday, May 31, 2013

The Return of the Hannah

My girlfriend returned to me last night after a month long absence.  She had gone down to Kansas to visit her family and friends while I remained behind in good old Northern Idaho at the mercy of real and imagined insects and spiders which may or may not have bitten me on my neck, under my arm, behind my knee, and on  my foot.  While she was away, the cats claimed me as their bitch.  Yoda, in particular, made homework and life in general quite difficult as he developed a very pronounced yowl for attention.  When not yowling, he helped himself onto my face as a heating pad for his belly.  And if he wasn't doing that he was all up in my arms purring and nuzzling me and hugging me.  It was wonderful, except that I really needed to get my homework done.

Well, I got it all done.  Then I went and picked up my girlfriend and she and I went to Denny's for late night pancakes.  Back at home, in our bed, we cuddled and talked as we fought for pillow space with a blue octopus named Ted and a My Little Pony plushie that you might know as Fluttershy.  Galen and Ellie were visitors off and on through the night but Yoda was a permanent fixture in the bed.  It nice and peaceful.  The rest of the household was asleep.  Was.  After Hannah told me the story of a dusky voiced cat (maaaaohhh) who spent several days double bagged and stuffed in the freezer part of the kitchen fridge after his death, my laughter woke everyone up and, for the first time in a long time, I was petitioned to 'please, keep it down.'  I replied that I would but mom wasn't convinced apparently because she stood there for a while longer repeating her plea.  It was just so desperate!  Well, I did my best to abide by the pact of 'sure, I'll keep it down.'

This first outburst of laughter, however, was but a prelude to the rest of the night.  I rubbed Hannah's back, then she turned over and cuddled me (i.e. tortured me with her fingernails along my sensitive side flesh until all I could do was threaten her demise and wriggle like a fish while trying to 'keep it down').  After this, I imparted to her the persistence with which Yoda had sought my attention while she was away.  Just as I was mentioning this, the little devil himself hopped onto me and stepped his dainty, digging paws into my tummy.  I told him to get "up out of my grille!"  That was the beginning of the end for me.  Hannah reached over, giggling, and ran her hand over my face explaining, "this is your mug," then touched my lips, "this is your grille."  And I don't know if it was just that I'd missed her, or that I was mentally spent after all the homework, or if I just hadn't been getting enough sleep lately, but for some reason I just lost it.  I laughed so hard that I scared Yoda right off of me.  Laughed until I had to literally suffocate myself with a pillow.  And the laughing morphed into weird garbled sobs, but by then I was tasting something very interesting in my throat.  It tasted like hot, red tears.  I sat up and put a finger under my nostril.  Yep.  I had laughed so hard that I'd given myself a bloody nose.

For a good few seconds I debated if I really needed to get up and take care of it - surely I could just swallow it all away and keep laying there in the comfortable and warm bed.  But the desire for a blood free pillow won out.  I scurried away to the bathroom to tend to my face, and when I returned, sobered from my  hysteria, Hannah was already half way to REM sleep.  It was then that I realized we hadn't kissed yet since she'd been back.  We had hugged, coddled, caressed, and even nibbled on each other, but we hadn't kissed.  She was too sleepy to refuse me so I nuzzled closer and told her we'd forgotten something.  We kissed and that was that.  Sleep.  I'm quite happy she's home.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Book Lists of the Past, Present, and Future

This semester is over.  All I have left to do now is turn in my end of semester evaluation of myself and my mentor which I've already started and will finish tomorrow.  I generated quite a bit or new material for my novel and got a little bit of work done on some shorter pieces.  The best parts of the semester: reading, reading, reading, and the feedback.  My mentor's comments made sense and were incredibly helpful.  The following is a list of the books that I managed to finish.  It's not as long as I would like, but since I have about six books and a few articles that I have to read in June to get ready for the residency, I'm not going to stress too much about that.  

This next group is comprised of books that I am still working on finishing up before the next semester begins.  I've started several of them, but due to laziness and poor time management (yeah, that's what it boils down to) I was unable to finish them.  Some of them were unavailable through our library network and I had to turn to and Hastings.  

The rest of these are books that I want to read at some point.  I will use this as my basis for my reading list next semester.  In the end I only want to have about 18 books on the list - a combination of what I have listed below and what my mentor suggests/requires.  I had a very large list this first time around and it overwhelmed me and stymied my reading at some points.  

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Craft Analysis: Campbell and Card

An Early Start on the Hero’s Journey

In a sense, all literature and, in fact, all entertainment, features a sort of journey. The way in which the journey manifests itself can be quite different from story to story, from song to song, and even from painting to painting. A common theme among many of the great tales, however, is none other than the hero’s journey. Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces charts out the archetypal path of history’s most famous heroes from mythologies new and old from all around the world. With each step delineated, it is easy to relate the journey to modern works such as Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, wherein a boy must leave his home planet to complete the hero’s journey.

By using the hero archetype, Card is able to tap into the reader’s subconscious immediately and use that emotional connection to take his science fiction story to new places. The audience is not only along for the ride, but invested in the journey because it is one they recognize just as sure as they recognize their own name. It is in this way that artistic freedom is achieved by adhering to an already established structure. Campbell divides the hero’s journey into three phases: departure, initiation, and return. Each of these phases has several key parts that work together to expand and complete the archetype. In Ender’s Game, Card illustrates the phases and touches upon nearly all of these subsets.

Campbell writes: “The first stage off the mythological journey – which we have designated the ‘call to adventure’ – signifies that destiny has summon the hero and transferred his spiritual center of gravity from within the pale of his society to a zone unknown. This fateful region of both treasure and danger may be variously represented: as distant land, a forest, a kingdom underground, beneath the waves, or above the sky, a secret island, lofty mountaintop, or profound dream state; but it is always a place of strangely fluid and polymorphous beings, unimaginable torments, superhuman deeds, and impossible delight” (Campbell 55). The hero’s journey works well in science fiction writing, as many of the necessary elements of the ‘departure’ present themselves naturally and believably as part of the setting. In Ender’s Game, Ender Wiggin’s call to adventure takes him literally “above the sky” to a battle school in space where there is no natural light and where he will spend a good deal of his time in zero gravity where personal movement and battle formations are “strangely fluid” and “superhuman.” During the departure phase, there are two choices: to accept or to refuse. A refusal never ends well if precedent is to be believed, but hesitation is often a huge part of the hero’s journey and enables the audience to empathize with his indecision about whether to heed the call or not. “Ender almost said, I want to. But he held his tongue. This would keep him out of school, but that was stupid, that was just a problem for a few days. It would keep him away from Peter – that was more important, that might be a matter of life itself. But to leave Mother and Father, and above all, to leave Valentine. And become a soldier” (Card 21).

One of the important subsets of the departure phase is the appearance of a mentor or helper. “Not infrequently, the supernatural helper is masculine in form. [Some] wizard, hermit, shepherd, or smith, who appears, to supply the amulets and advice that the hero will require” (Campbell 72). Colonel Graff is the supernatural helper in the story. While he is not supernatural per se, he possesses a certain omniscience and heightened understanding of Ender through prior monitoring of the boy as well as through the continued video and audio surveillance. This latent character takes on a “more than human” role in Ender’s life and education. Behind the scenes, he is the boy’s greatest supporter and protector, while up his upfront actions seem contradictory to this. Graff helps Ender by hurting him and setting him up for failure and it is in this way he pushes him to be the best solder possible.

“Again a blow to the head. Laughter from the boys. Didn’t Graf see this? Wasn’t he going to stop it? Another blow. Harder. It really hurt. Where was Graff?  Then it became clear. Graff had deliberately caused it. It was worse than the abuse in the shows. When the sergeant picked on you, the others liked you better. But when the officer prefers you, the others hate you” (Card 34).

The audience cannot help but have sympathy for this little kid, six years old, who, before even really starting his journey, has been set up as a target. His age is one of the many ways that Card expounds upon the myth of the hero. While it is sad to see a hero such as Odysseus being put through the trials of the gods, it is heartbreaking to witness little Ender Wiggin put through the trials of abusive peers and unfair adults.

“Once having traversed the threshold, the hero moves in a dream landscape of curiously fluid, ambiguous forms, where he must survive a succession of trials. This is a favorite phase of the myth-adventure. It has produced a world literature of miraculous tests and ordeals. The hero is covertly aided by the advice, amulets, and secret agents of the supernatural helper whom he met before his entrance into this region” (Campbell 97). Whether he consciously meant to or not, Card creates a perfect depiction of the ambiguous and fantastical landscape of trials and tribulations of the hero’s journey. In Ender’s Game the children in battle school play a number of games in groups or individually. One such game, Fairyland, is played on a computer console and truly embodies the dreamscape that Campbell so wonderfully describes as the favorite part of the myth-adventure. In the following passage, Ender overcomes an impossible task in the Fairyland game: “And instead of pushing his face into one of the liquids, he kicked one over, then the other, and dodged the Giant’s huge hands as the Giant shouted, ‘Cheater, cheater!’ He jumped at the Giant’s face, clambered up his lip and nose, and began to dig in the Giant’s eye. The stuff came away like cottage cheese, and as the Giant screamed, Ender’s figure burrowed into the eye, climbed right in, burrowed in and in. […] He had made it. He ought to explore. He ought to climb down from the Giant’s face and see what he had finally achieved. Instead he signed off, put his desk in his locker, stripped off his clothes and pulled his blanket over him. He hadn’t meant to kill the Giant. This was supposed to be a game” (Card 69-70). The covert aid from his mentor or supernatural helper comes later, when the Fairyland game begins to play with Ender’s mind. At that point Colonel Graff intercedes quietly though asking Ender’s sister to write him a letter, therefore corralling him back on track.

Further trials, the meat and potatoes of the initiation phase of the hero’s journey, include an escalation of danger in Ender’s personal and professional life. Everything compiles and compiles while Graff seemingly does nothing. Again, this is the typical path of a true hero, but told in such a wonderfully atypical way that it appeals intimately to the audience, putting them in Ender’s corner which is fortunate because so often he is led to believe that there is no one on his side.

“He heard his door open softly, then close. He knew at once that it was his battle instructions. He opened his eyes, expecting to find the darkness of early morning before 0600. Instead, the lights were on. He was naked and when he moved the bed was soaking wet. His were puffy and painful from crying. He looked at the clock on his desk. 1820, it said. It’s the same day. I already had a battle today, I had two battles today – the bastards know what I’ve been through, and they’re doing this to me. […] He sat on the edge of the bed. The note trembled in his hand. I can’t do this, he said silently. And then not silently. ‘I can’t do this’” (Card 233).

There is more to initiation however than just a road of trials. Campbell states that “The ultimate adventure, when all barriers and ogres have been overcome, is commonly represented as a mystical marriage of the triumphant hero-soul with the Queen Goddess of the World” (Campbell 109). This Queen is “the paragon of all paragons of beauty, the reply to all desire, the bliss-bestowing goal of every hero’s earthly and unearthly quest. She is mother, sister, mistress, bride” and in Ender’s Game she is Valentine Wiggin (Campbell 110-111). As mentioned before, she is prevailed upon by Graff to write a letter to her brother to encourage him and restore his faith in himself. That is first time she comes to Ender’s side as the “bliss-bestowing” sister. When Graff calls on her a second time, her influence graduates from a letter to a physical meeting. She comes to see him during his brief return to earth: “Ender didn't wave when she walked down the hill toward him, didn't smile when she stepped onto the floating boat slip. But she knew that he was glad to see her, knew it because of the way his eyes never left her face” (Card 256). It is during this meeting that Card truly establishes her as the Goddess figure in the story. She is the one to give the hero exactly what he needs – even if this coincides with others’ agendas for him, she is the beacon for which he will fight.

“Finally Valentine, the sweat dripping off her, the mosquitoes beginning to hover as the dusk came on, took one final dip in the water and then began to push the raft in to shore. Ender showed no sign that he knew what she was doing, but his irregular breathing told her that he was not asleep. When they got to shore, she climbed onto the dock and said, ‘I love you, Ender. More than ever. No matter what you decide’” (Card 265-266). In keeping with the unusual youth of the hero, Card completely bypasses the notion of romantic and sexual love, which, incidentally, is the only way in which Ender remains innocent. The third time that she appears to her brother it is to take him away, to someplace akin to home. Theirs is a strong marriage, a bind, and in the end they live out their lives together.

The other ‘woman’ figure or idea that often rears its head in the initiation phase is the “woman as temptress.” Card doesn't neglect this portion of the myth-adventure despite his avoidance of sexuality within the story. The “woman as temptress” element manifests itself psychoanalytically rather than physiologically. “Depth beyond depth of self-ignorance is fathomed, with the analyst in the role of the helper, the initiatory priest. And always, after the first thrills of getting under way, the adventure develops into a journey of darkness, horror, disgust and phantasmagoric fears” (Campbell 121).

Card smartly depicts Ender’s dive into darkness through use of vivid and horrifying dreams. In this way, the author is able to show a side of Ender that awakens the audience to the true destruction of his soul while allowing them to believe that he may yet come out of this journey somewhat intact. “But in the night he thought of other things. Often he remembered the corpse of the Giant, decaying steadily; he did not remember it, though, in the pixels of the picture on his desk. Instead it was real, the faint odor of death still lingering near it. […] He always left the Giant’s body quickly, and when he got to the playground, the children were always there, wolven and mocking; they wore faces that he knew. Sometimes Peter and sometimes Bonzo, sometimes Stilson and Bernard; just as often though, the savage creatures were Alai and Shen, Dink and Petra; sometimes one of them would be Valentine, and in his dream he also shoved her under the water and waited for her to drown. She writhed in his hands, fought to come up, but at last was still. He dragged her out of the lake and onto the raft, where she lay with her face in the rictus of death. He screamed and wept over her, crying again and again that it was a game, a game, he was only playing! –” (Card 310-311). Thus Card fulfills the temptress aspect of the hero’s journey. By maintaining the paradigm of the myth-adventure, he breaks through it and creates a fresh take on an age old formula, thereby giving the audience something familiar and new at the same time. Another element of the journey that Card warps is the atonement of the father aspect. “Whether he knows it or not, and no matter what his position in society, the father is the initiating priest through whom the young being passes on into the larger world,” which illustrates precisely why Mazer Rackham, rather than any biological father, becomes the mystagogue in the story (Campbell 136). “The mystagogue (father or father-substitute) is to entrust the symbols of office only to a son who has been effectually purged of all inappropriate infantile cathexes” (Campbell 136). Mazer appears to Ender at exactly the moment when he needs him most. Gone is the time for a supernatural helper/mentor and absent is his goddess. The way in which Card brings Mazer into the story is creative and effective all on its own; upon the character’s first actual appearance, he has been mentioned off and on throughout the entire journey, appearing as a standard to live up to, an unsung and archaic hero that most would believe has passed away. He’s such an ideal in Ender’s universe that his inclusion as the mystagogue is absolutely necessary.

“’An enemy, Ender Wiggin,’ whispered the old man. ‘I am your enemy, the first one you’ve ever had who was smarter than you. There is no teacher but the enemy. No one but the enemy will ever tell you what the enemy is going to do. No one but the enemy will ever teach you where you are weak. Only the enemy tells you where he is strong. And the only rules of the game are what you can do to him and what you can stop him from doing to you. I am your enemy from now on. From now on I am your teacher’” (Cardd 288).

The subject of the apotheosis is handled in two ways in Ender’s Game. Firstly, Ender’s triumph over humanity’s enemy – completely before he is even a teenager – raises him to a near godlike status. Mazer tells the boy: “‘And all of them are worried about you. And all of them want you. The greatest military leader in history, they you to lead their armies. The Americans. The Hegemon. Everybody but the Warsaw Pact, and they want you dead’” (Card 329).

Secondly, Ender’s sister, Valentine, embodies a sort of apotheosis all of her own. Throughout the book she publishes political pieces under the identity of Demosthenes. This gives her anonymity, invincibility, and immortality, or at least the appearance of these things. Just like her brother, Valentine, as Demosthenes, becomes hated and loved by the masses. It is through Valentine that Card captures Campbell’s notion of divinity existing only through the shedding of masculine and feminine identifiers. Valentine becomes, to a degree, genderless and sexless – in theory – as she senses a merging of herself with the figure of Demosthenes. She elevates herself into androgyny and becomes more than man or woman and like a god in her own right. “’I’m Demosthenes, Ender. I went out with a bang. A public announcement that I believed so much in the colonization movement that I was going in the first ship myself” (Card 345).

When the story enters the return phase, it becomes time for the hero to bring back the otherworldly knowledge he’s gathered on his quest. Campbell writes: “The full round, the norm of the monomyth, requires that the hero shall now begin the labor of bringing the runes of wisdom, the Golden Fleece, or his sleeping princess, back into the kingdom of humanity, where boon may redound to the renewing of the community, the nation, the planet, or the ten thousand worlds” (Campbell 193). There is a device in Ender’s Game that makes this possible, for Ender himself does not return to Earth to impart wisdom. But even with the help of this device, this task, as Campbell explains, is not an easy one: “How teach again, however, what has been taught correctly and incorrectly learned a thousand thousand times, throughout the millenniums of mankind’s prudent folly? That is the hero’s ultimate difficult task. How render back into light-world language the speech-defying pronouncements of the dark? How represent on a two-dimensional image a three-dimensional form, or in a three-dimensional image a multi-dimensional meaning?” (Campbell 218).

Before completing the full cycle, there is a lull. For a while Ender remains on a hidden outpost, three months journey from Earth. However, “…in so far as one is alive, life will call. Society is jealous of those who remain away from it, and will come knocking at the door,” and Ender is not left alone for long (Campbell 207). Valentine comes to him – she is society come knocking at the door – and convinces him to go with her to a new home. Campbell mentions that sometimes the return includes a magic flight that transports the hero mystically to the place they once knew. He also mentions that in some cases the hero is forcibly brought home. There is no magic flight for Ender, however, his Card does employ a bit of force through Valentine when it comes to bringing the hero home. “’Welcome to the human race. Nobody controls his own life, Ender. The best you can do is choose to be controlled by good people, by people who love you’” (Card 345). He goes on to live with his sister on the alien home world where he studies the enemy that he defeated. All contact with Earth must now be done via Card’s fictional device called an ansible.

“The myths do not often display in a single image the mystery of the ready transit,” but in Ender’s Game, the ansible is not only displayed, it becomes a trump card that brings the hero’s journey full circle while satisfying the needs of this particular story and the requirements of the myth-adventure (Campbell 229). This device allows Ender and even his sister the “Freedom to pass back and forth across the world division” so that they might communicate the real lessons, the knowledge, the Golden Fleece, back to Earth (Campbell 229). Valentine sends back long volumes of history written as Demosthenes, while Ender also takes to writing. “The book that Ender wrote was not long, but in it was all the good and all the evil that the hive-queen knew. And he signed it, not with his name, but with a title: SPEAKER FOR THE DEAD. On Earth, the book was published quietly, and quietly it passed from hand to hand, until it was hard to believe that anyone on Earth might not have read it” (Card 355). In a way, this book allows him to successful relay the knowledge of his travels for his writing triggers the start of a new religion and a deeper respect and understanding for the passing of life which is something that he’s wrestled with from the beginning of the novel; the inescapable necessity of death. “’I killed them all, didn’t I?’ Ender asked […] ‘All their queens. So I killed all their children, all of everything’” and Mazer replies: “‘They decided that when they attacked us. It wasn’t your fault. It’s what had to happen’” (Card 328). It is the lesson of the hero’s journey, the lesson for the reader, and the lesson that Ender teaches through the ansible. In The Hero with a Thousand Faces, the lesson is described thusly: “The battlefield is symbolic of the field of life, where every creature lives on the death of another” (Campbell 238).

The hero’s journey is never an easy one. It is stressful and dangerous for the characters and sometimes just as aggravating for the author. But it is through such archetypes as found in the classic myth-adventure that creativity is allowed to flourish. Card embraced this cycle and created a compelling story the pushed the boundaries of the hero’s youth, his accomplishments, his relationships, and the imparting of his knowledge. It is all there, from the call to the return no matter how unconventionally it is portrayed. This how an author gives eternal life to their novel and forces the audience to take note, by adding it to the collective of amazing journeys that the human subconscious has clung to since the beginning of time.

Works Cited:

  • Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1972. Print.
  • Card, Orson Scott. Ender's Game / Ender # 1. New York, NY: T. Doherty Associates, 1985. Print.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Looking Ahead, Fretting the Now

My cousin Kat is en route to Tulsa, OK where she will be living for a year or so.  It's a long way away from me.  I will miss her horribly.  This move has me thinking all about Hannah and myself.  In the end, what needs to happen is this: we need to have steady sources of income and we need to put between a hundred and two hundred away each paycheck.  Then we need to talk to HUD or to a bank or something!  Then we need to put a down payment toward either a town home (somewhere in the neighborhood of 6K-10K) or a house (around 10K-25K depending).  Then we can either pay the rent at a reduced price or pay off the mortgage at a reasonable amount.  This is what needs to happen.  We are both almost thirty.  We are stir crazy and need a place that we can paint the hell out of and build onto.  We need a garden, we need a life.  We need a huge Saint Andrew's cross in the basement and a high enough ceiling so that we can have fun.  It's stressful.  But the other part of this is - where will this be.  If we go to Kansas, then we will go for the town homes that her parents live in.  They have great space and are low on rent.  But what about a house?  If I were to graduate and get in with a community college or something like that... then wouldn't a home be feasible?  A home in Coeurd'Alene maybe?  Or somewhere in Kansas not necessarily Wichita?  I think Wichita is the only place I would be willing to live in Kansas but then again what about Washington?  What about Spokane and Liberty Lake and Moses Lake and all these damn lakes?  Where indeed.

Enough of my ranting.  Onward to life as it is: I am working on a couple of books for this last fifth of the quarter.  More than anything, however, I want to write, write, write.  That will be pretty much my entire day today and tomorrow.  I just cleaned up the bedroom and tonight I'll be camping in the living room on the air mattress (cuz I can!) and then I'll finish deep cleaning the bathroom tomorrow.  At the moment, I just miss Hannah like crazy.  Her being in Kansas for a month without me is just too long I think.  I really miss her and her kitties really miss her.  I have a sneaking suspicion that she also misses me.

I have some stuff to read for the residency but I can do most of that in June.  More than even how much I'm worrying over the final packet, I am starting to stress about workshops.  I think, in the end, I am going to workshop Death Man.  Two fresh chapters.  But I need to get as far along as I can because I need to solidify some sort of plot line (a very loose one) that I can present as the before and after of the chapters I submit.  Oh logistics, thou always dost make shit cake out of creativity.  So, wish me luck in my Death Man endeavors.  I think I will be posting a few snippets from the story on the blog once I am satisfied with them.  And satisfied is such an ethereal state when it comes to writing.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Battle Royale

What I know: the novel is amazing and I cried twice.  Koushun Takami authored the novel and the manga but after extensive research into the differences between the two, I much prefer the novel.  I know that the author was able to maybe go  little further into certain characters' psyches in the manga (thereby altering some of their actions from the original text of the novel) but when it comes to one character specifically, there is a much clearer moment of sympathy/humanization in the novel that the manga sort of corrupts.  However, something I know is that the manga follows the novel fairly well (it ought to, since the same man wrote them), but the movie takes a bit of a leap off into left field.  It adds details that are completely inessential while glossing over and pruning away fun facts, important moments, and huge chunks of characterization that give it a semi generic feel.  The ending is obscure and failed to pull my heartstrings the way the novel did.  I definitely recommend that anyone interested in Battle Royale, please, please, please read the novel and don't just settle for the film.

Something else that I know: there was supposed to be another movie adaptation made - an American retelling.  But as the same time the movie was in the works, the Virginia Tech Massacre occurred and they made the decision to drop it.  I think that was probably a very wise decision since the story in and of itself deals with the deaths of students via gunfire in a massacre all its own.  Just as they were getting ready to consider the adaptation again, however, Hunger Games was made into a movie.  Battle Royale, despite coming first, would be seen as a knock off of Hunger Games since they are so strikingly similar.  I don't think there needs to be an American film adaptation any time soon, what I do think, is that people should pick up the book and enjoy suspense, anguish, sorry, excitement, and the fabulous lesson of: if you don't like the world/society you live in... change it!

I was very impressed and moved by this book and applaud Koushun Takami's ingenuity and bravery in bringing it to life.  Already I am planning on getting a tattoo that reads:  Male Student #5: Shogo Kawada (川田章吾).  I might even go book-wild and throw on Sydney Carton's final quote form A Tale of Two Cities just to really start my bodily shrine of self sacrificing, anti-heroes off right!

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Handle With Care

I wrote this a while back and stumbled upon it while reworking some pieces for my mentor.  This, as well as several other pieces, were written using simple words as inspiration.  The word that inspired this story was 'HANDLE.'  In some stories I used the inspirational word quite literally and in this one, 'handle' plays a small yet intimate role.  I am posting this story here because of Christine's request for prosibots/sexy bots.  This is as close as I have at the moment.  Please enjoy some first person nonsense.  I am open to critique. 

Unedited confession of a Mr. Edward J. Hook, accountant for the Leviathan Rights Law Firm, transcribed directly from the audio files recorded on the night of his arrest:

Before I begin, I need to explain I’m not like most men my age.  I’m almost thirty-one and still unmarried.  How can that be, you might ask.  Very precariously, I might respond.  You see, five years ago I was selected, based on my genetics profile, to be the husband of a charming young woman from overseas.  I rejected the selection.  You might be surprised to hear that such a rejection can take place.  Let me tell you, it wasn’t easy.  The only way to get out of a government mandated marriage is to have one partner or the other die before the ceremony takes place, or generate a certificate of sterility from a licensed health practitioner.  I did the latter.  And it was a fraud.  I’m not infertile; I have a perfectly healthy reproductive system.  I just happened to have a good friend in the medical field who owed me a favor.  And why would I do this?  Why would I submit a fraudulent paper to the authority rather than take a beautiful bride as my own?

Well, when it comes right down to it I’m what the old books would call a homosexual.  You might have thought we were weeded out of existence but as it turns out there’s quite a few of us hiding amongst the normal men and women that make up the ebb and flow of society.  I, myself, have personally met four other men like me.  They were all married of course, but they often spent extended weekends together on what their wives supposed were golfing trips.  They invited me to come along with them on one of these trips and while my eager young libido nearly made me say ‘yes,’ I just didn’t fancy the whole gay orgy scene.  Just because I want to have sex with men didn’t mean I wanted to have sex with more than one man at a time and it didn’t mean I necessarily wanted to have sex with those men.  I fancied myself a rather selective creature.  I felt like I’d been patient and I’d waited and I’d obeyed the government in all constraints of the law – forgiving of course the falsified statement of sterility – and I deserved to reap some freaking rewards!  And that’s just what happened, out of the blue, it seemed, there was a solution to all my troubles. 

I first saw the ad on the way home from the office.  Normally, I practice the ancient art of perfect seclusion and indifference when on the subway but on this particular day in question I happened to have a case of the wandering eyes and that’s how I saw it.  It was on the cover of one of those magazines the young ones tend to read.  There were two headlines: ‘Dress your best for success,’ and ‘Philistine Technologies can improve your sex life, try out your very own Adult Intimacy Doll today!’  So when I got home, I spent a good four hours on the internet looking up everything there was to know about these Dolls.  The most interesting fact that I learned was that anyone over the age of 18 could purchase one and the government didn’t dictate whether or not you had to buy a female if you were male, or a male if you were female.  You could purchase whatever you wanted.  And I wanted a man.  Pure and simple.

There were various models to chose from, each coming with an attached name.  They were all very handsome and I found myself after a while just fixating on the name rather than the appearance.  I would call out ‘Kevin,’ or ‘Alex,’ or ‘Justin,’ and see how it sounded in my mouth.  And I hope this doesn’t shock you too much, but I would also masturbate and practice calling out a specific name when I reached climax.  I really wanted it to feel organic, you know.  I wanted a name that rolled off my tongue like a perfect fit and at the end of a week of experimenting I finally decided on Michael.  It just felt right, not to mention the model was positively gorgeous what with his lean physique, pale pretty skin with blushing capability and his nice dark hair and heartbreaking blue eyes.  Not to sound shallow, but if all you have is a name and a picture to go by then you go for the name that fits your mouth and the picture that fits your fantasies.  That’s just how it is.  The next step, of course, was selecting the personality profile.

The romantic in me wanted to select the ‘shy courtier’ and top it off with a spanking complex, but the sexually repressed virgin in me wanted the ‘eager pleaser’ complete with shameless lust and heightened loyalty.  In the end I decided to compromise between the two and ordered ‘rugged wooer’ with nervous tendencies and ultra sensitivity.  I suppose it goes without saying but there was also a clause stating that if I wasn’t satisfied that I could order a reprogramming specialist to come out to the house and wipe the brain drive of previous commands and try something else.  But since I was a single man ordering a male Adult Intimacy Doll for homosexual use, I didn’t really see a home visit by a government official as an option.  No, I’d make my selection and then if things ever became rough, we’d just do what real couples did; we’d work to work it out.

Just like a child on Christmas I waited with baited breath for the next six days after placing my order and when Michael finally arrived I was so anxious and beside myself that I almost signed the wrong name on the acceptance slip that the delivery man held out to me.  How embarrassing.  With utter delight I stepped aside while the delivery man wheeled in the large metal casing.  I licked my lips in nervousness and read the large red writing on the side of the parcel: HANDLE WITH CARE.  Oh, yes, I thought, I’ll handle him with great care.

When the outer walls of the metal casing had been removed, I found that my Adult Intimacy Doll was housed in a large wooden box that somewhat resembled a coffin as it tapered toward the head and feet.  Despite the morbidity of the situation I couldn’t help but feel butterflies in my stomach.  I was about to meet Michael.  I was about to meet my lover.  Would he like me?  Would he be confused?  Did he already know my name?  How much was preprogrammed and how much would I have to install? 

Reaching forward I removed the front of the box and took a deep breath.  Michael was no longer an idea, no longer a picture on the internet; he was a person and he was right here in my living room!  He seemed to be nothing more than asleep as I looked upon him, standing there, clothed modestly in a tank top and jeans, his arms and torso strapped into the box just like an action figure with little twist ties holding its limbs in place.  I went to work right away, removing the straps and freeing him from the coffin, all the while I let my hands gently caress all exposed skin, feeling its realistic texture.  I wondered if he would always be as cold as he was right now, or if, when he was activated, he would somehow warm up and feel even more like a real person. 

There was an instruction manual and I devoured it as if it were a pulp magazine filled with smut and gore.  Every little detail of it exhilarated me and I couldn’t wait to activate him.  It said in the instructions that there was a special chip which allotted for the android to take on the characteristics of free will and it gave a detailed diagram of how to engage this chip in the brain drive.  Mostly it was just punching in numbers on a remote pad.  It was advised however that you get to know your android first before engaging this chip.  But I was too eager.  So, as I punched in the initiation codes and start up module, I went ahead and input the fifteen digit sequence that would grant Michael a free thinking mind and a will all his own.  Perhaps I should have waited, but, in all honesty, I felt I’d waited quite long enough.

The entire set up process took about half an hour and by the time I finally pressed the activation key, I was terrified that my trembling fingers had made hundreds of mistakes and that I would end up with something more akin to Frankenstein’s Monster than the ideal lover.  Thankfully that wasn’t the case.  No, Michael was perfect from the get go from the moment he opened those beautiful eyes clear up to his first word, which was my name.  “Edward,” he said with a smooth crisp voice and cocked his head inquisitively.  It was a cute motion and made the word look like a question, but, let me assure you, he hadn’t said my name as a question; it was a statement, a little uncertain, but a statement nonetheless and I felt like he somehow knew me already, like he’d been dreaming of me the same way I’d been dreaming of him. 

It was the second word however that shattered all illusions.  “Disengage,” he said in a computerized tone, completely different than the rich deep tone with which he’d said my name.  It was such an atrocious sound, this word of ‘disengage’ coming from his lips and the last bit of the word lagged on until with a little beeping sound he completely shut down.  His eyes closed, his shoulders slumped and it was a miracle that he remained standing at all. 

No.  I walked closer to the box, reached inside and cupped his cheek.  No.  He couldn’t be defunct, he just couldn’t be!  What the hell had I pressed?  What the hell had I done to him?  In a crazed panic I went back to the instruction manual and poured over each page.  I paused when it mentioned that powering down was part of the installation process for the free will chip and that it could last anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours.  How had I missed this before?  How long was Michael going to be like this?  I was distraught and had I been thinking logically I would have just made myself some tea and settled down in front of the television and waited but no, I broke down.  It didn’t matter that the directions said this was normal; I was just sure I’d broken him somehow, killed him somehow and damn it he was already in a coffin!  How freaking perfect!  I sobbed.  I just curled up on the couch and sobbed.   It wasn’t pretty. 

In fact I was so wrapped up in my self misery that I was positively oblivious.  I didn’t even notice the soft touch to my shoulder until I heard his voice again this time asking a question with no mistake, “What’s wrong, Edward?” 

I jerked my head up and looked into those shimmering blue eyes.  He was smiling at me.  Smiling! He was okay, he was alive!  Well, as alive as an android can be, I suppose.  For several seconds I just stared up at him, unsure of what to say, hesitant to say the wrong thing and leave a bad first impression, but as he sat beside me and took my hand in his, I knew I needed to say something. 

“You’re okay?”  I asked.

He laughed and tilted his head, “That’s what I was going to ask you.  You were really crying your eyes out there.  I was worried that it was buyer’s remorse.” 

“What?”  I blinked and then shook my head quickly.  “No, nothing like that!  I thought you were broken, or rather, that I had broken you.  I, uh… I installed the fre-"

“Free will chip.  Yes I know.”  He said and shot me a dashing grin.  “And can I just say, I’m mighty glad you did that.  It’s really a miraculous chip.  It allows for all the preset data and information that’s been shoved into my brain drive to make logical connections and permit me some degree of self awareness.  See, I’ve been in the factory for a while, long enough to overhear certain things.  I know that in most cases when a new owner obtains an A.I.D. they tend to back away from the free will chip thinking it’ll make their unit obstinate or otherwise unmanageable, but the truth is, even in the short time since you activated mine, I just can’t imagine functioning without it.” 

“You’re…” I swallowed the lump in my throat, “you’re very straight forward.”

“Yes.  That’s one of the speculations you desired as I understand.  The ‘rugged wooer’ personality type tends not to beat around the bush.  I know what I am, I know why you bought me, I know what’s expected of me and I have volumes of data in my brain drive that’ll allow me accomplish this.” 

“But… how do you know that I… I mean how are you so sure of what I want?  How do you know there’s not a wife in the other room waiting to make love to you?”

“I’ve been listening to you since I arrived and I’ve heard your little mutterings and frustrations.  I heard your panic when I had to power down.  Just because my outward circuits were shut off doesn’t mean that I lacked the ability to receive information.  My ears don’t work quite like yours, Edward, but they do work and they work constantly.  I’ve been gathering data ever since the engineer at the Philistine plant inserted my learning capacity drive.  I don’t know that the engineers realize this though, otherwise they wouldn’t make such snarky comments about us while we’re still in the finishing stages.”

“I see.”  I said and tried to fathom and grasp everything he was telling me.  It was a lot to take in. 

“But enough about me,” he chuckled and gave my hand a soft squeeze and I could feel that his flesh had warmed from its prior chilled state, it felt so natural, so perfect. “I would like to hear more about you, since it’s your fantasies I’m here to fulfill.”

“N-not just mine,” I corrected him, “I want this to be a mutual thing, you know, I want to know what sorts of things you’d like, too.”  I smiled at him in illustration of my sincerity.

“That’s decidedly decent of you, Edward.”  He looked thoughtful a moment.  “I should like time to think of a scenario that pleases me.”

“Of course,” I nodded shyly.  “And besides we’ll need some time to get to know each other… I mean, I wouldn’t expect you to just-“

But I was cut off rather suddenly as he pressed forward and took my mouth in a heated kiss.  I felt heat rise to my face and I’m a little ashamed to admit that I pushed him back.  It was my first kiss after all.  Breathing quickly I stammered, “S-sorry, I just…”

“My apologies,” he whispered, “I thought this is what you wanted.”  He looked sad.

“Oh!  I do!  Trust me I want this I just… um… I’ve never done anything like this before.”

“Neither have I,” Michael replied and smiled again.  “But I’ve been thinking about kissing you for a long time now.”

“H-how long?”  I asked.  It was a stupid question but it was the first thing that came to mind.

“Ever since the free will chip rebooted my system,” he replied and then went on to elaborate: “Five minutes and forty-three seconds to be exact.”  His lips pulled into a smile and he whispered, “Forty-five seconds now.”

“That doesn’t seem like a very long time.”  Again it was a stupid thing to say but this android, this man, caught me completely of guard and left me feeling exposed and vulnerable.  I supposed that was part of the rugged wooer matrix, to make one’s quarry feel tender and naked even when fully clothed and sitting nonchalantly in the living room.

“But time is relative.  For a human that might not seem very long, but for someone like me, it’s a small eternity of waiting.”

“Oh.”  I chuckled nervously, “I guess you’re right.”

“Perhaps.  But I could be wrong,” he reached up and caressed my face, his fingers tracing my jaw line and then brushing over my lips, “I do have the capacity for error.  You unleashed more than a free thinking individual when you installed the free will chip.  What you’ve created in me is a true partner, someone capable of affection and independent desire, but also capable of worry and erroneous logic.  For instance, at this very moment I’m feeling a strong urge to kiss you again and yet I won’t because I’m worried that you’ll like me less for it.  And that could very well be an incorrect assumption.  In fact I have high hopes that it is.”

“Well… um…” I licked my lips, “I guess the only way to know for sure is to try.”  Was I being coy?  Yes, I most certainly was!

“Trial and error.  Interesting solution.”  He chuckled again and it was a sweet melodious sound, “Yes, I think you and I will get along just fine, Edward.”  And with that he pressed forward again, his soft lips taking mine for the second time, this time however I didn’t push him away.   

Packet, Target, Kansas

I just finished with my fourth MFA packet and the most valuable lesson I've learned this time around is not to freaking wait till the last minute when writing a nine page essay on craft and not to blow off required reading or creative writing.  True, this month was a busy son-of-a-gun, but if I had managed my time a little better than even the unexpected situations such as relatives being the hospital and my rib feeling like a creature clawing its way out wouldn't have been an issue.  But, it's done now.  Gone!

In other news, we not only reached out minimum quota for sales this month at work, we hit the target line which means we are super useful engines and all of us cute little employees will be getting a $25 bonus.  The money is nice but I'm just super thrilled for the store.  It's been over two years since they reached the target sales line and, if things went well today, we might have even reached the maximum line.  That means a $50 bonus for each of us and even more kudos and accolades for our little Post Falls outlet.  I'm very excited.

Six months in and I still really enjoy my job.  Six months in and I'm still in love with the writing and the reading for the MFA (just because I blew it off a little and didn't manage my time perfectly doesn't mean I don't love it!).  So far so good in my professional life.  Privately, however, I will have a bit of a strain this upcoming month.  Hannah is going to visit her parents in Kansas for nearly four weeks.  This is going to be wonderful for Hannah and her family, but lonely for me.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

May Day/Beltane

May 1st went down like this: Hannah, Christine (a mutual friend), and I went out to Kiwanis Park and laid claim to the Pavilion.  While Hannah and Christine gathered pine cones to make a large circle, I dug a hole in the ground for the maypole.  Our maypole was a sawed into shape young pine tree that someone had cut down at some point and we gave it new life today and since that is part of what Beltane is all about it felt particularly apropos.

We put a wreath at the top of the pole and used feathers, ribbon, and dangling plastic stars to decorate, then we attached three ribbons (one for each of us).  It was still such a naked pole at this point, just barely capped off with our little decorations.  There were several craft projects available and one of those was to make wreaths for our hair.  I made a sort of feathery atrocity with a fake bird attached to it and a crap ton of ribbon streaming down the sides of my face.  Gorgeous... in some dimension I am sure.  Hannah's and Christine's were much cleaner and both had long various ribbons all streaming down at the back.  These were really pretty.

The first round of pole weaving went well enough (we only did half way down to start) and during our second craft project, which was making rustic wall hangings with old keys, ribbon, wire, and plastic bracelets, mom and dad arrived with dinner rearing and ready to make a fire.  The fire was small at this point, just a little pile of coals and lighter fluid, but it did its job and we ate heartily of meats and cheeses.  After dinner the folks headed out and we three girls moved the fire from the little grill to the large park grill and we got that sucker going nice and big.  Fire is a very important aspect to Beltane and it wouldn't have felt right without it.  While the fire ate up little broken up sticks and branches and pine needles, we did a few real basic tarot readings.  Christine had the absolute best way to describe tarot that I've ever heard.  She told Hannah that it was basically a cheap form of therapy.  And it really is.  Tarot doesn't determine your future or your now, it taps into your subconsciousness and gives you new perspective and maybe makes you aware of your true feelings on a matter or gives you guidance.  The saying goes, indecisive people never choose until you pick it for them and then they .  One of the decks we played with was really wonderfully illustrated and if i could get a large print of the Death card I would hang that on my wall.  I loved it.

We finished up the maypole, cleaned up the area, dispersed lemon and orange slices about the area as a polite thank you to the forest and creatures for letting us bother them all day, and then we headed home.  The maypole, now gorgeously wrapped in purple, pink, and teal ribbons, is sitting outside on our back patio - I'm thinking of anchoring it in a planter and planting some yellow flowers around it.  For our evening craf we had planned to do henna and coloring book pages but we were pretty spent.  After an hour or so of lazing about in the bedroom, we watched the Sherlock Holmes sequel and called it a night.  Happy May Day.