A Short Story For Ludmila L. #shortstory

 

Friday afternoon.

Still clothed in that respected well-salaried professional living in the capital of a newly Europeanized Europe, in a newly awakened life of fruits of my labour and nights luscious with heavy food and ripe women whose eyes told their own thousand and one post-Soviet nights stories but whose wombs betrayed a desire to marry me, enslave me and not let me leave, I left.

Because, ever since I left, I couldn’t stop leaving.

 

Saturday morning.

I awoke a different man. Fragrant, rugged, in an old army caravan, in a field of wildflowers, at the edge of a garden colony near a railway spur abandoned by post-revolution fraud, I awoke a different man, with an untamed gypsy woman by my side.

I smelled her unwashed sex on my fingers sleeping next to me in that old caravan in that field of wildflowers at the edge of that garden colony about an hour from the capital of that newly unified Europe. I lay there and thought about my ordered closet of fine suits and pressed white shirts, my days of corporate culture philosophies and nights of art and soulful consumerism.

I thought about my Mondays and my Tuesdays, my Wednesdays and my Thursdays, and then I thought about my Friday and the train ride to that small provincial station in the middle of nowhere where I got off and sold my suit for the price of a chewing gum to an unwashed gypsy kid by the station. (He thanked me “Mister” and looked for a way to rip me off some more.)

I deeply inhaled her scent, felt her warmth and returned to the now. She was curled up against me like a cat and her bare neck glistened brown. My clothes and skin smelled of smoke and of the acrid ground on which we danced yesterday, late into the night.

I looked at my body and it was dirty and smudged with ash and coals. I smiled. It felt good to be close to the earth, close to my roots. I spent entire childhoods outdoors, by myself, in vast, empty forests, under lush deciduous canopies swaying in makeshift summer storms, near forgotten, slow-moving rivers or in old, abandoned cars and fields, searching for something…

…such that half-gypsy that many many years ago kissed my eyelids with her shy smile and became my first love, my first unrequited yearning.

And, ever since I left, I’ve been searching for something.

The caravan door opened onto a field dense with morning sunshine. A gentle breeze stroked the heads and stalks of tall grasses around and brought the scent of a coming fragrant day in. Her sister came in and curled up between the woman and I.

I heard the sound of laughter and children playing amidst the silence and tall grasses. I could not remember how I got there, nor could I remember the night before, for I had the distinct feeling that last night was not there or might not have even happened.

But, I smelled the scent of her unwashed sex on my fingers.

The gentle morning breeze played with the tall grasses and I watched their play through the opened door, from the cool darkness within. I did not want the woman lying next to me to be too much of a woman, because this story was mine, and it told me that she’d better be a young girl, like that Romanian half-gypsy at that Austrian gasthaus I called home for a few uncertain refugee months, and it told me that she’d be better turned away from me, so that I would not see her face, and it told me that she’d better not wake up, as not to disturb the already fragile moment of my happiness and tranquility.

Thus, I lay with my back to the wall of the caravan and stared at the woman sleeping next to me, right next to me—as close as I would ever be to a woman—and watched her dark hair touch the pillow and sometimes stroke the face of her sister and watched the rising sun hovering above the tall grasses swaying in the breeze, conning through the door, caressing her hair once more, illuminating her serene face.

The moment remained precisely like that for a long time, unchanging. I thought to himself that the sun should have moved further up the sky by now, because time also moved further ahead. I looked at the hands of my watch and they, too, had stopped. I wanted to ask a question, but I couldn’t hear my voice. I opened my mouth and spoke, but I made no sound. This time, unlike that time on the steppe, there was no other voice instead of mine.

So, I stopped. It was no use. Everything seemed so perfect.

Everything seemed so perfect (lifeless) that I did not want to disturb it. Like the sixteen-hour otherworldly contact experience that lasted only a worldly second or the intensely beautiful Solaris arrays of hallucinations that seemed so utterly perfect, but so hopelessly static, I did not want to disturb it.

I sensed an uneasiness growing within me, but I chose to disregard it. It was so beautiful, the moment, that I began to feel uneasy. The laughter had long died down, the breeze was long not there, the air was thick. Time had stopped, the woman’s scent was fading away.

A panic gradually began to grow within me, at first whirling slowly within my chest, then becoming more rapid and rapid and hectic and chaotic: faster faster stronger louder higher deeper deeper higher then BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! three times a loud bright flash exploded in front of my head, blinded and deafened me.

Then complete silence.

I woke up late next to the gypsy woman. Her scent was still on me. Her beautiful dark hair straddled the pillow, which was no more that a pile of unwashed clothes. Children’s laughter streamed in from the outside.

I could move now, so I got up. I still could not see into the woman’s face, no matter how hard I tried. No matter what my perspective, she was perpetually with her back to me. So mysterious, so invulnerable to deception.

I left the caravan. In the tall grass next to it was an old bicycle that could have easily been post-war. It still worked, so I got on and headed into the direction that the bicycle took me in. For a good while, I pedalled lightly along a flat Class Three road full of potholes and patches of asphalt. I savoured the morning and then turned onto a dirt road that headed past a field of wheat and into a dense forest that hid the Morava river. I continued until the road stopped and I was by the river.

On the bank of the river, deep within the forest, eager to dissolve with time, I watched the slow-moving river flow by. Then, suddenly, Kalashnikov showers of heavy border patrol fire rained down on me and I began to run like an animal hunted, through bushes, past trees, and I heard shouting and shots ringing in my head. Bushes, branches, tree trunks and dead wood of this fluvial forest scraped me and blood began to stream down my face, legs and forearms. I was so close to the river that I smelted it and bullets grazed the hair of my scalp. I heard some Russian, but I couldn’t read Cyrillic so I didn’t understand what it said.

My invented socialist past flashed before my eyes, my red scout bandana choked me and my gleaming pionier pin poked my breast and I bled, drop by drop, so I jumped into the muddy brown river full of austrobohemian silt, dove under and swam across to the West.

On the other side, the roar in my head relented. I never looked back, not even once. I sprinted in the direction of a forest, away from the border. Then, with the river far behind me, I slowed down. I walked stealthily, almost unseen, through the forest and when the forest ended, I stepped out on a parched, long-ago-plowed field and walked in the now-higher sun.

I walked until I could not walk any longer and curled up on the brown, parched soil and slept.

When I woke up, the sun was quite high and I was completely dry. I could not remember how I got there, but the field looked familiar and I remembered that a village lay just a little further. I headed towards it and, just before entering it, I brushed the dirt off of myself. I reached into my pocket and took out a plastic pouch with my passport and my money and took out a few Euros.

I entered the only grocery store in the village and the grocer greeted me with a familiar smile:

“Not as wet as usual, today, are we…”

I smiled back at him. I bought some bread, sausages, tomatoes, green peppers and a bottle of beer and headed back in the direction of the river. At the edge of a wheat field that was just beginning to turn golden, I sat down, ate my lunch, drank my beer. I then lay down and drifted off to sleep again.

I slept for a good while and had psychedelic dreams of belly dancers and bedouins whirling to hypnotic sounds drifting through hypnotic darkness of early Arabian nights somewhere on outskirts of nomadic desert towns or villages full of hypnotic percussion, hypnotic trumpets, hypnotic cellulite undulating ornately in front of glowing fires, hypnotizing bedouin skirts rising and falling in a myriad of movements and speeds, the dancers blurring across night skies deep in primal twirling trances, until a rustling in the grass near me awoke me.

I pulled out my hunting knife. Its steel blade gleamed in the hot sun and stroked my face. A young doe sleeping in the tall grass beside me stirred. It saw me and ran away, so I decided to get up and head towards the river again. Once at its banks, I swam across, found my bicycle and headed back, first along the dirt road, then …………… .

I returned to the old caravan, but found no one there. I was hungry, but had nothing to eat. From farther away, I smelled a fire burning in the twilight, perhaps even music or singing. I was tired, so I went into the caravan and slept, dressed the way I was the entire day.

I drifted to sleep and slept heavily.

The next morning, I awoke earlier. The young gypsy woman was sleeping next to me, facing away. Her scent mingled with my own. Without looking at her face, I got up and left. I began walking in a certain direction through the tall grasses, then along the old, abandoned railway tracks.

I was dirty. I smelled. My clothes were dirty, but they felt good, like the earth clutching me and taking me back. I walked for a long while along the tracks, then along a dirt road that I did not yet know. Along the way, I ate wild cherries, blackberries and strawberries. Passing a field of corn, I hid inside, in between the rows, and savoured a raw cob.

Inside, close to the earth, I felt good. So, I slept. It’s all I knew how to do.

When I got up again, I started to walk along the dirt road, past weekend cottages and hobby gardens, until the sound of trains passing got closer and closer. I followed it until I found the tracks and followed the tracks until I found a station. There I waited for a slow train to come.

The train came and I got on. Once inside, I relaxed and slept some more. The conductor woke me up at the terminus. I woke up and I didn’t know where I was, but saw tracks, platforms and light boards and realized where I was.

I got off and caught a tram home.

Sunday night.

 

 

* This short story is part of the Early Writing, Newfolk Tales and Allegories collection.
It was first published in
The Capilano Review.

The Man, The Woman, and The Hornet #shortstory

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One warm night, not too long after the sun had set, a man and a woman came home from a long walk along streets that intersected at perfect right angles. They came in, sat down at the table, drank water from coloured plastic cups and looked into each other’s eyes.

The night was warm and quiet and the room still fragrant from the afternoon sun. Outside, not a leaf rustled, not a sound was alive.

Suddenly, a hornet that got into the room while they were out stirred and its baritone buzz broke the silence. Its sound was primal, menacing and it drilled itself into every crack and corner of the apartment, echoing in the quiet of the night.

A profound, irrational fear took hold of the man and his heart started to beat fast. The sound reminded him of his childhood at the fringe of a forest and the lyricism of summer days here and there clipped by that same dry, baritone buzz. It entered his psyche and awoke age-old, irrational fears that gripped his subconscious since he was born. He ran off into the bedroom and the woman followed.

From the womb of the bedroom, they waited for the hornet to stop. When it did, the man opened the door slightly and cocked his ear to listen.

Nothing.

“The hornet must be resting,” he thought to himself and entered the living room cautiously.

His throat pulsed and his heart drummed the beat of a primitive fear. He walked around cautiously, listening for the insect.

“At any moment, it could start again and attack,” he thought to himself.

Shivers ran up his spine. He dreaded the hornet and found it intrusive. It was the only thing that ever interrupted the idyll of his childhood summer days and he dreaded it. He dreaded it now even more than then and he began to despise it.

He turned all the lights off, except of the one above the dining room table, and returned into the safety of the bedroom. There, together, they listened and waited.

Nothing.

The woman opened the door a little and, less fearful than the man, left the room. The man, paralyzed by his fear, grew angrier and angrier by the minute at the insect that awakened this irrational dread in him and made him feel helpless like a child and humiliated him in front of the woman he loved. He was angry and, at the same time, he cowered and felt fragile; he hated the hornet and himself for it.

He listened to the heavy silence and the Stockholm syndrome growing in him. He began to silently befriend his enemy and the fear it stirred in him.

Then, suddenly, the hornet awoke and they froze and listened to it, fascinated and scared.

The light in the dining room attracted the hornet and it was all that it could see. Exhausted, it flew towards the light, circled it a few times, danced to its otherworldly glow and then, unable to resist any more, it dove into its redemptive AC phase. The glass cover of the chandelier trapped the hornet inside and the hot light bulb seared it. It buzzed and convulsed frantically and then stopped.

The man listened to it from afar. He heard its frantic buzzing, heard its struggle and its pain, then its silence. It fascinated and scared him.

The man waited a few moments before he left the room. He looked around and listened. The longer the silence grew, the more confident, if not heroic, the man became, as if he had just conquered a mythic beast with his bare hands. His ego swelled and he grew arrogant. He hissed at the hornet through his teeth, though cautiously, as he thought that it still might be alive and could thus hear him and get angry at him, and he cursed the fear that suffocated him for eight minutes as it slowly abated. He walked cautiously towards the table and the light lit above it.

As he came closer to the light, he saw the insect’s outline in the light cover. A surge of adrenaline filled his veins. He vanquished the intruder and won back his home. He felt triumphant and a great weight fell of his chest. He could breathe again and felt more at ease, even joyful. To make sure the hornet was dead, he took a chair, got up on the table, carefully raised himself to the light and slowly peered over the rim and into the light cover.

When he caught sight of its microcosm, he grew thoughtful. Inside the light cover, underneath two glowing, hypnotic globes of electric warmth and light, lay little flies, moths and bugs, desiccated and motionless, in a soft carpet of thick dust. And then, at the far end, completely by itself, he caught a sight of the hornet.

He stared at it for a while and an intense sadness came over him. The hornet was dead; it seemed so small, so tranquil, curled up like a sleeping child. It seemed so fragile and so lonely, like a child, like the man himself.

He stared at it and the other little flies, moths and bugs for a while more and let himself linger in the intense sadness that was taking a hold of him. Then, he sat down on the sofa, by himself and in the dark, and let the intense sadness engulf him completely as he mourned the death of the hornet, the death of a part of himself.

And that was the end of the story; there was no more.

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* This short story forms is of the Early Writing, Newfolk Tales and Allegories collection.

Highway House On a Chicken Leg, or Routine #shortstory

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Once upon a time, in the middle of a four-lane highway that connected two vast royal cities, on a green belt that separated opposing streams of traffic, stood a little house on a chicken leg and, inside, lived a man and a woman.

The man and the woman were not very different from each other. They both liked to sleep deeply and dream of their long long befores of old continents and defunct ideologies, and they both spent most of their days eating, reminiscing, and making love. Sometimes, the woman would say a few words and the man would feverishly start to write a story.

Much like this one.

And so they spent their days in peace, without haste, unlike the cars outside. They wrote stories, ate, and made love. Sometimes, they ate, made love, and then wrote stories. At other times, they just ate silently, looking at each other from opposing sides of their kitchen table over the ceaseless hum of the cars that streaked by them through rain-soaked mornings, afternoons and nights.

The noise never ceased and it became a part of them, like breathing and thinking. It even entered their sleep and slowly eroded their memory of the outside.

The man and the woman never left their house. They hadn’t left the house since they had gotten there, and it had never crossed their mind to leave, because they did not know what leaving was—neither their mother, their father nor them had left ever since they brought them there as children.

So, they stayed.

At first it was out of fear, then from a lack of desire, then out of ignorance and then, finally, out of bliss. But, unlike the other two, those of the original sin, they had the wisdom of sixty collective lives behind them, and yet knew nothing of them. They were pregnant with meaning, and yet knew nothing of it.

Their routine was stirred once a year, though.

Once a year—but only once a year—a visitor would bring the scent of the outside to their home and grace their presence: Anton Chekhov, who always came on the rainiest of days of each year.

The woman remembered him like this:

“He was always very wet and skinny and wore a black hat and a long raincoat. On his long beard, there’d always be beads of water, and, upon entering, his glasses would always fog up, so it took him a while to reorient himself and figure out who the man and who the woman was.

“His expression was always scare, but his presence profound. His nose was so big that he exhaled the whole world into our home. His eyes were as sad as if he held the sorrow of the whole world in them. His mouth was quirky, as if he had just told a joke, but did not laugh at it himself. He had long fingers on big hands—they were so big that his suits needed to be custom-made by a tailor who knew to make the sleeves stretch to accommodate him.

“In his suitcase, he carried his pet white rabbit and, at the side of the suitcase, he made little holes to let the air in. The rabbit reminded him of the passage of time: rabbits were fast yet patient.”

Chekhov didn’t trust anyone except the man and the woman. (He trusted and loved them very much.) Whenever he came, he sat down at the table and, together, they ate and listened to the oscillating hum of the cars outside. They talked lots, but their conversations were always about the same things—they talked about food, stories and love. When finished, Chekhov picked up and left.

Upon Chekhov’s departure, the man and the woman would slip back into the daily hum that drowned out their awareness and soon forgot that Chekhov had ever come. It was as though he never came. The man, on some days, while waiting for Chekhov, watched the cars on the highway go back and forth and wondered what places they went to and came from.

He couldn’t understand their indoctrinated intransigence. Still, despite him, the cars, with all the lonely people inside, went about their way ceaselessly. To pass time, the man stared at them through the rain-streaked window of his house on a chicken leg while the woman stayed in bed and dreamed of days past and childhoods yet to come.

One year, though, Anton did not come, neither on the rainiest of day in the month of November, the rainiest month of the year, nor any other day after. The man and the woman waited for many days, then a few more, but Anton did not come. Then, the days of cold rain moved on and slipped into grey-skied days of first frosts and they knew that Chekhov would definitely not come, and they felt sad.

But, as there is rebirth in every death, the death of their friendship brought about a birth of another one. They burned the stories they wrote that year for Chekhov and out of the flames, like a mythical phoenix, rose Giuseppe Verdi—because love was music and music was love.

(In her jewellery box, the woman kept a long necklace made of white beads that she found many years ago in a rock pool on the wild coast of her adopted western home land. Some days, she would stroll around the house wearing nothing but the bead necklace and the man knew that it was that time of the month when she would join the universe in a cosmic dance of lifecycles, ebbs and flows and deaths and rebirths and her womb and breasts would swell and she would laugh joyously one minute and sulk the next. The man, somewhat perpelexed and dwarfed by this marvel, would leave the house for three days at a time (though he would go only as far as the back porch, where he would curl up in a sleeping bag that he left there a month ago and would sleep above the ceaseless river of cars below) and quietly let her be.

They were precisely at the halfway point between the two vast royal cities, but belonged to none.

Then, Chekhov really stopped coming and that was it, that was the end. There simply wasn’t any more. His seed was growing within her, the house, with the man and the woman in it, disappeared and their story ended.

Much like this one.

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* This short story is part of the Early Writing, Newfolk Tales and Allegories collection.

favourite retweets, week 16-28

I, a fool wallowing in self-deception, get fooled over and over… to like sleeping in a tent with inlaws. #2weeks

In response to “Space Invaders” by Oliver Wang

The following is a response to the article “Space Invaders” by Oliver Wang, an LA Review of Books review of  A Burglar’s Guide to the City, by Geoff Manaugh.

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“For most people, the door isn’t merely the best way to move room to room but the only way. It’s why we lock our doors when we leave our room, lending ourselves the illusion of security. But as Manaugh points out: What if someone simply carves a new door In a wall with a saw or blunt force instrument? Most of us–the door people, if you will–are to him, ‘spatial captives in a world someone else has designed for them […] too scared to think past the tyranny of architecture’s long-held behavioral expectations.”

I would like to counter Manaugh’s romantic argument, paraphrased above, with the following points:

1. Closing a “door created in a wall with a saw or blunt force instrument” would not be really practical on a daily basis (especially if repeated at least twice a day over the course of an extended period of time), because such a door would not really be a “door” per se, and “closing it” would thus be not an act of closing, as much as an act of REPAIRING THE HOLE IN THE WALL.

2. Furthermore, if such a “door” was cut into drywall, it would invariable create a substantial amount of crumbly and/or fine gypsum dust (that would invariably spread throughout your living space) and, thus the act of “closing the door” would invariable be more of an act of REPAIRING THE HOLE IN THE WALL AND THEN CLEANING UP OF THE MESS THAT RESULTED FROM CUTS TO THE WALL AND PEOPLE SPREADING THE RESULTING MESS ALL OVER THE ADJACENT FLOORING.

3. To delve even deeper into the counterargument, if the aforementioned “door” was cut through the wall into a neighbour’s apartment (in a more spatially positive scenario) and happened to terminate in the master bedroom of that neighbour and that neighbour was inclined to “questionable practices” during the hours you tended to use that “door”, then “opening and closing” of that “door” might prove repeatedly socially awkward, for all parties involved.

(If the “door”, however, in a more spatially negative scenario, cut through an exterior-facing wall onto the exterior of the building, and your apartment was located on the 5th floor or higher, the use of such a “door” might well prove highly detrimental to the short- and long-term health of its users.)

4. Thus, invariably, if you (no matter how romantically inclined) are that person-designate in a household of more than one whom your partner “designated” as the lead Handyperson-slash-Cleaner of the household, “closing” such a “door” would rapidly escalate into a labour- and cost-intensive activity you would (bitterly) devote quite a bit of time and money to, on a daily basis.

As such, in my humble opinion, if an actual door is built in such a way that it repeatedly opens and closes both cleanly, securely, and easily, such a door, in my opinion, is the antithesis of architectural slavery–and one that I would prefer to be “too scared to think past”.

@Roman_Korec

favourite retweets, week 16-broadlyundefined

 

…how I finally learnt [sic] to love The Backstory (1/3)

 

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It is by now a trodden (sodden) trope for the creative individual to acknowledge powers greater than their emaciated selves in the creation of their work, be it an inspired novel, film, song… or a wasabi-flavoured mashed potato bust of Slavoj Zizek, replete with a fried onion beard.

The mechanics of human creativity—contrary to marketing campaigns of once-great technology companies that masqueraded as stimulators of creativity—are still quite primitive and mysterious, and inspiration seems to still be a serendipitous idiosyncratic neurological phenomenon that cannot be produced digitally on-demand, and, thus, cannot be mass induced.

Or, perhaps, much of creative inspiration is simply mind-altering-drug/activity-induced, and the myth of deep creativity is just that: a myth… or, more precisely, a “story” fabricated by Marketing.

Thus, when I read quotes of great (dead) white masters referring to “higher powers taking hold of them” and guiding them to create timeless works far beyond their earthly capacities, I am skeptical, because divine intervention has been thoroughly refuted by Western science, we live in a material world, and I am not a material girl.

I am also neither special nor great, by any means.

I was grew up, from an early age, in a quiet suburb of the capital of a small Eastern European Socialist Republic (which no longer exists), at the Western edge of the once-fearsome Iron Curtain (which has since been flattened), on a peripheral street, which still exists, but under a completely different name (so it technically no longer exists), all under the firm but benevolent grip of a totalitarian Communist regime, which also no longer lives on, other than in numerous fake Twitter account reincarnations.

By early 1989, my parents managed to bribe enough bureaucrats to receive a coveted travel permit allowing our family to officially betray our motherland and embark on a leisurely vacation through (imperial) enemy territory, enabling us, by way of an extended sojourn in an immigrant internment resort-camp on the other side of the Iron Curtain, to earn our way to landed residency on the far Western temperate rain forest shores of this vast country.

In the subsequent decade and a half, I worked hard to repay my debts to parents and adopted land by diligently pursuing studies in literature, with the intent of, one day, becoming a fully-functioning fiction citizen-writer, dutifully satirizing the mores and spores of my welcoming adopted home.

(It is really not worth noting that, after the culmination of my literature studies—partly because it was, at the time, the trust fund hipster zeitgeist thing to do—I started to fantasize about a career in European art house film direction. It is also not really worth noting that, to “make this happen”, I took numerous digital film-making courses at a startup film school—one of, at that time, many—which, like the country, street and regime I originated from, went defunct shortly into its existence, and thus no longer exists.)

It is there, nevertheless, at the now-defunct film school, where I managed to get a basic film production education, and met my future frequent collaborator, a. alfons o. III. He was also a student—one of the few—taking classes at the school and he, I learned early on, also harboured “deep Euro art-house” sentiments—like myself—on subjects as varied as film, literature, music, meal preparation, relationships and couples’ mutual massage therapy.

As a result of our deeper philosophical connection, borne out of frequent technical classroom discussions, he gifted me, one day, out of the blue, with videotaped footage of a revolutionary event he and his colleagues attempted to organize and stage shortly prior to his start of film school, and the kernel of a future work was sown. The footage was to comprise a sort of a pre-thesis, “Making of…” featurette the group planned to use for investor relations purposes but, the event having failed, he never found any use for and chose to gift me with the master copy of the raw footage (partly sewage), in bulk, as part of “the healing process”.

Inspired by this object trouvé gift, I spliced together, using nothing but his amateur footage, a gross docufictional narrative—the backbone of a future feature-length film—that told the kernel of the story of their attempt at staging the revolutionary event.

Once I edited the footage into a coherent narrative, I reverse-engineered the featurette into a feature-length screenplay and, in the process, incorporated the family members’ histories, as well as humanized the revolutionaries’ speaking parts. It was only natural, because the original footage contained, in parts, awkward semi-staged dialogues and, in other parts, extended sections of characters simply staring into the camera, hypnotized by the magnetic vortex of its lens.

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…how I finally learnt [sic] love The Backstory (2/3)

 

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The final phase of this perverse, labour-intensive “de-adaptation” saw me graft a pre-production ready screenplay into a virgin Word document and elaborate the script into a full-length intelligent Euroflavour CanLit fiction novel.

The writing process took about a year and, during this time—or, more precisely, towards the culmination of that year—a curious phenomenon had started to unfold. Imperceptibly at first, in the course of creating a fictional parallel retro socialist kitsch utopia universe within the novel, the borders of that fictional universe had slowly, gradually, started to shift authorward. Then, slowly and gradually, its fringes began to eat away at the fringes of my reality—and at the fourth wall providing me with protection from my work—until, one tumultuous, rain-soaked night, not too long after sending a finished manuscript off to a publisher as part of an unsolicited query, the marginal cracks in that fictional otherworld grew so wide that the roots of the historical and sociopolitical subtexts of the novel slithered out from the mentioned fourth wall cracks, grabbed at my ankles, tangled my feet, and forcefully pulled me into its parallel universe.

(As an aside, I hereby vouch that no drugs, alcohol or illicit substances—other than Canadian West Coast transcendental watercolour meditation and intensive journalling—were involved in the making of this episode.)

That night, the above-mentioned roots grabbed hold of me, dragged me across the permeable border separating my reality from fictional reality, and I lost mastery of my work. At that point, I unbecame the master of my fictional universe and became subject to the forces of its historical and sociopolical subtexts—specifically the trajectories of cultural production in totalitarian regimes of the old Soviet Bloc, whose stories have gripped my subconscious ever since my childhood.

Now, the “modes of cultural production in totalitarian regimes” I refer to is actually a reference to the overt ideological censorship of public creative and/or intellectual expression—be it essays, articles, theatre, literature, music… or, simply, expressing your mind openly at a local pub—encountered specifically in former Czechoslovakia following the “thaw” of the 1960s, the subsequent “restoration of order” by the Warsaw Pact in 1968, and the resulting twenty years of severe clampdown on the freedom of expression of views and opinions contrary to the official one.

Thus, to greatly oversimplify, the “modes of cultural production” became a story of either: a. producing watered-down, well-funded “mainstream” content that dryly communicated official “socialist” propaganda; b. telling constrained but highly inventive socialist realist stories that cleverly—usually through highly inventive satire—communicated “unofficial” views to an audience plugged in to its subtle subtexts; or, c. doggedly creating not-so-subtle “disruptive” content that, for the most part, did not make it past the censorship committees and often resulted in the creator being socially and professionally ostracized.

Or, so I read, since I was too young to experience any of these firsthand.

And, so, the backstory unfolded, ever faithful to “trajectories of cultural production in totalitarian regimes of the old Soviet Bloc”, and I, now an actor in my fictional universe, thus acted as such:

Apparently, my submission to the publisher was intercepted by an anonymous informant, who secretly forwarded a copy of the work to the security intelligence bureau who, upon loosely misreading the satirical elements of the novel (specifically the dialogues between the Son and the Father, and the Son and the Second Friend) out of context, inferred that my novel was a “threat to the sociocultural integrity of the regime” and, thus, put into motion “an action” against me. This is where I, now a dedicated sleeper with a direct connection to the author, was summoned and given the task of destroying the author’s work while he was out (on Monday night) doing beginner hot yoga classes at a local yoga “college”.

As such, on that fateful night, I, as the summoned sleeper-actor, channeled the repressive aggression of the central authorities of the regime and destroyed and/or erased all of the media related to the work in question that the author stored in his sparsely-furnished apartment: manuscripts, notes, mini DVD tapes, DVDs, and all digital flies, including photographs and background research documents—anything related to the work that, if seen by the public, would infect its fragile psyche and stir unrest within its emaciated hearts.

Once I had completed the gruesome task, the roots of the fictional universe let go of me and I, exhausted and disoriented, tumbled out of the fictional universe and collapsed into deep, restorative sleep.

Such was the mastery of the secret sleeper-agent that I came to realize the magnitude of the “action” perpetrated against me only gradually. Once, over the span of a few weeks, I fully grasped the extent the “official intervention”, the loss (of my work), like the loss of a loved one, was profound…

…so profound that I ceased to create for three years: the regime had succeeded in neutralizing me. (The human soul, however, is resilient and not easily crushed. In fact, adversity is the fairy godmother of invention.)

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…how I finally learnt [sic] to love The Backstory (3/3)

 

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During my subsequent three-year sabbatical, the novel—at that point nothing more than a vague memory of something that once might have happened—slowly started to heave its energetic imprint within my heart and started to signal that it, too, wanted to be resurrected. I tried to suppress these feelings, but they acquired a strength and conviction of their own, and I thus began to search, in vain, I thought, for signs of remnants of life of the original narrative.

With a strange sort of epiphany guiding me, I was able to—with the aid of basic data-recovery software—find old digital fragments of the original screenplay and then—in my wife’s secret drawers—find a copy of a late draft of the novel, containing the first ten chapters of the work.

From that point on, I embarked on a reconstruction of the novel. The reconstruction, along with fragments of other works destroyed by the authorities, took about a year to complete and was a painful, restorative process. I tried, initially, to heal my sorrows by daydreaming frequently—quite callously—of re-branding the preceding episode as a “contemporary artistic approach to the sociocultural narrative [that took] the finished literary work on a site-specific, body-performance-art tangent” and gain notoriety in the art world. Fortunately, professional self-restraint reigned stronger than vanity, and I did not. I simply continued re-writing i Are the Kanatan, because I felt it wanted people to read it.

In retrospect, I now realize that this destructive-creative “episode”—although now a handy-dandy marketing backstory—was something altogether greater, and quite organic. It was actually an explosive physical manifestation of stories-trajectories I half-heard as a child, growing up under the Communist regime, that used to emanate from private conversations of people close to me… stories that collected, condensed, and fermented somewhere in a murky depth of a culturally-specific part of my subconscious and later, dislodged initially by English-language synopses of once-censored Soviet Bloc New Wave films I discovered at the local Cinémathèque, were released through a deep-dredging creative process into the one-time novel.

I, it seems, living in my new home in the Canadian far West, far removed in time and space from the Eastern European realities I grew up in, was stirred (jarred!) by the lingering spirit of the old regime’s effects on my heart, mind and bones—almost twenty-five years after the “Fall of the Wall”, long after I thought I had forgotten it and “moved on” to a more carefree Western life.

Such is the power of our stories—steeped deeply in collective histories and our interpretations of them—for it seems that they do not get neatly swept away by velvety revolutions, seductive ideologies winning or, for that matter, us running away from them as far as we can (afford to). Their effects linger within us, often forgotten, waiting, sometimes for the most inopportune moments, to emerge and inspire our creativity, or even reality.

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