The Allegory of My Avocado

Today I found an avocado hiding at the bottom of my fruit basket. (Yes, I have a legit fruit basket sitting on my kitchen table. It’s a wiry-chrome thing with one of those hooks to hang bananas. Very practical.) Anyway, hiding there under the tomatoes and grapefruit and the bruised apples sat one perfectly dark, banged up avocado I’d forgotten about since last week’s groceries.

And as I put away this week’s groceries, I told myself that I was going to eat that avocado for lunch. By itself. No chips. No tortillas. I was going to cut it up, shake a little Tajin over the top (Have you heard about our lord and savior, Tajin?), and then I was going to put that avocado in my mouth. All of it.

And I thought, Goddamn. Life’s not so bad after all.  

But then, when I hacked the avocado open, all excited for the loveliness of sitting alone and eating a small avocado in one sitting, I noticed a strange, smoky smell. Then, I saw more than a few brown spots. Overripe. Of course I couldn’t hope to accidentally stumble across an avocado and have it be perfectly ripe. I hadn’t won the freakin’ lottery or something. The perfectly ripe avocado is a rare and elusive treasure, and as such, there’s little chance that perfection could have been reached with a piece of produce hiding for a week in my hot apartment.

Still, I had made an assessment of Life’s quality based on this thing, so I decided to eat it anyway. I shucked the buttery fruit flesh out of its leathery skin, scraped away the brown spots (and the weird smoky-smelling dark green spots), put that thing on the plate with a little Tajin (cue Angelic Choir) and I ate that avocado. I put it in my mouth.

After eating half of it, I began to realize it was a little rotten, actually. I can’t say it really tasted the way I expected an avocado to taste.

Anyway, I eventually caved and finished up lunch with some chips and salsa (marveling at how hot salsa doesn’t even make a dent on my palate anymore since I started a heavy Sriracha regimen. I think I’m actually a spicy food person, now.) And the whole time, I’m wondering Is life so bad after all? Is it still good? Will I get the rotten avocado runs tonight? Will a sea of chaos swallow up everything I love, or will I be just fine?

I can’t say I know the answer. All I can say is this: during tumultuous times, we would all do well to remember that the word avocado may mean “testicle” in Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs, but that does not necessarily mean that guacamole stands for “testicle sauce.”

I think we’ll all rest better tonight knowing that (except those of us with food poisoning, of course.)

Today in Twitter Studies: Free Followers From Beyond the Grave

This morning, I found I had two new people following me on Twitter. The first was “Avgusta Easterfield” who insisted (via his profile description) that I could gain 10,000 followers easily–for only the price of $59.

Then, I had “Kip Mask,” yelling at me that there is an opportunity to “Get more TWITTER Followers. YOUTUBE VIEWS. INSTAGRAM. FACEBOOK LIKES. and get many BONUS!!”

Many bonus.

I have about fifteen of these types of followers at the moment, who of course follow me only to gain my attention to shill their wares. When I fail to bite, they unfollow me quietly, slinking back into the shadows whence they came.

In most cases.

I’d estimate a good ten of these fifteen follower-seller accounts have forgotten to unfollow me. Perhaps they’ve gone defunct, or the ghouls who ran them have drifted off to suck the money-blood out of some other unsuspecting internet victim. Most of these accounts have been following me for, oh, at least two or three months, and some of them can even be found waaaaaaaaaay down my follower list, in the dusty annals of history (almost a year ago).

It’s as if they have died, but yet, continue to live via the Internet.

It is as if they are undead. *cue thunderclap*

I’m thinking, if this keeps up, every six months I should gain ten solid, stable Twitter undead entities who remain permanently as my followers thanks to neglectful advertising. I should have the 10,000 free followers promised to me in, oh, 500 years or so. (I’ll be like a powerful necromancer! A Techno-Necro-mancer!) And these undead marketer accounts may be more permanent than those lovely, living folks who I must continually impress with my wit, kindness, and good taste in order to keep them interested in talking to me. What a deal!

Seems well worth the wait to save $59 bucks.

Favorite reads: The Book of Fantasy, edited by Jorge Luis Borges

80477When I got this book in the mail a few weeks ago, I was immediately in love with it; there was a cigarette burn on the front cover, the pages were severely yellowed and delicate, and the book pocket on the last page read “Boston Public Library.” Not to mention, the little sticker on the spine that designated the book as “sci fi” was exactly the same as the library stickers I came across during summers at the Manhattan, Kansas, public library. (You suppose libraries standardize those labels?) So, really, I when I opened this book for the first time, I felt like I was going home.

The stories, however, took me to far stranger places.

The authors collected in this work were refreshingly not the usual suspects in the English cannon. Originally published as Antología de la literatura fantástica in 1940, Borges and his pals selected works of the fantastic that appeared between the late 19th and early 20th centuries. There were stories from some familiar names, of course–Joyce and Kafka, Lewis Carroll, Edith Wharton, Bradbury, Wilde–but a majority of authors were Argentinian, Nordic, French, or Chinese. A surprisingly large amount of stories were taken from Chinese folktales, interestingly, and they were fun (and short) for the most part. Borges can’t be given credit for collecting a truly international representation, of course–there’s a marked lack of writers from African or Central American countries of origin–but still, it’s nice to come across “classic” works that are both speculative and different.

Now, it’s true that many stories in the collection were so overwritten and badly paced they put me to sleep–Wharton and Wilde, I’m looking at you guys–but overall most of them were entertaining. Tolstoy’s “The Three Hermits” was an interesting humorous departure, and Borges’ own story he included (because of course) was a fun, snarky Gulliver’s Travels-style piece of meta-fiction.

My favorite story by was a piece by Argentinian writer Julio Cortazar called “House Taken Over,” which was (as you might suspect) about a big manor house being taken over by mysterious forces. I am a total sucker for gothicism, and the horror of the tale was so subtle and sinister. I loved it so much I’ll be checking out more of Cortazar’s work later.

But the best–the very, supermost, supreme best–thing about reading The Book of Fantasy was, on the page hosting Carroll’s story “The Red King’s Dream,” I found a legit clump of old cigarette ash.

For some, perhaps, this would be gross, but for me, I was instantly transported to a shadowy corner of the Boston Public Library, circa 1962, where I imagined some beatnik punk type slumped over a reading table, probably with those classic green-shade reading lamps, tapping her Pall Mall over a glass ashtray while reading strange tales. Too cool. I love it when my reading becomes an all-around immersive experience, and this old book certainly delivered.

My favorite things: Real-life doodles

I used to have sleeping problems. For a short time there, these sleeping problems got pretty severe, and if I hadn’t mandated a policy of Serious Wind-Down every evening before going to bed, these problems might have escalated (and I might have gone insane).

One of the things I discovered whilst vegging out in my Serious Wind-Down sessions is Real-Life Doodles. Created by an artist who goes by SooperDavid, these gifs add an element of adorable abandon to video clips. They are, I think, the reflection of a pure soul:

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Everything SooperDavid creates is kinda resonant, actually, and it’s not a problem flipping through his gifs for hours at a time. While he didn’t create my all-time favorite “I, for one, welcome our robot overlords,” I think he certainly deserves accolades for creating some transcendent works of art that helps one, if only for a moment, build a little trust back up with the universe.

Real-Life Doodles are widely available to enjoy via Reddit and Instagram. No purchase necessary, thank gawd.

 

 

Literature as Somatic Metanarrative, or why I like pictures on the internet.

I often return to my Norton Anthology of Theory & Criticism for relaxing Sunday reading. (Ha! Just kidding. I often pick it up and try to read something “substantive” when I need to balance out the three or four hours I spent trolling Buzzfeed quizes and reddit r/funny .gifs the night before.) Anyway, one quote on theory that haunts me is from Terry Eagleton, from his discussion on the rise of English as an academic field. In illustrating why middle and lower classes in Britain began to study English literature, he states:

If the masses are not thrown a few novels, they may react by throwing up a few barricades.

In context, this statement refers to the political environment of 19th century Britain, where a snooty and aloof noble class sought to build “culture” and “spirit” for the bestial throngs of poor people who had to work for a living. This treats literature as ideology (which I think it is), and in the 19th century, fancy-pants English speakers wanted to indoctrinate the workers into a more Hellenistic mindset, give them the values of classical Western Civ so they could be more easily controlled through their adherence to virtues. The workers were, of course, disinterested in the ramblings of Plato (the jerk), so collectively, state-established schools started to turn to English literature to instill the proper values—e.g., the long-suffering courage of King Arthur and the chivalrous knight as models by which to base acceptable behavior. The idea is if everyone tries real hard to be brave and honest and keep it in their pants, society runs more smoothly. A culture’s stories gives us the way that culture wants its participants to act, essentially.

While I’m on board with this, I think this particular quote from Eagleton has additional meaning when taken a modern day context. Literature—and the metanarratives of all our text and non-text based media—creates ideology and idealism. Here, I’m playing with the word a bit, in the vein of Plato (the jerk)’s ideal forms. Our novels and media still give us models of acceptable humanness established by hegemonic forces, but they also give us an ideal of our own lives that provides relief from the (let’s face it) usual stress and oppressive demands our culture places on us. They show us how we’re supposed to be and how we want to be.

The Twighlight series is a prime example of this, in that the main character is so sparsely described that whatever reader is accessing the text can easily put themselves in the character’s place, thus becoming the special center of attention for a time. (The Oatmeal did a piece on this, so we can be sure we are functioning at the height of our cultural criticism abilities here. …If you think I’m kidding, I’m actually kinda not.) Bella does not have to pay taxes; she does not have to hunt for a well-paying job with benefits that isn’t there; she does not have special needs children or a spouse who doesn’t come home at night. (Wait…maybe she has those last two.)

Anyway, I feel kinda gross when I think about our media and literature as a soma for the masses to keep us complacent and behaving nicely the way the hegemony wants us to behave. (Because sometimes it’s actually about encouraging conflict under the guise of maintaining order, isn’t it, Captain America, hmmm?) But, the alternative is that we constantly face our lives and our world head-on without any mental vacations, or moments when we can trick ourselves into believing we’re our own idealized form, and nobody got time for that. When I read, I read primarily for escapist motivations; to be constantly mired in the sort of literature that is intended to “disturb the comforted” (as Banksy says, brilliantly) would be super exhausting. Perhaps bread and circuses is simply how culture survives the ages and how we survive our lives.

But to delve deeper into such a topic would require much intense study and quiet contemplation, and my Sunday morning contemplation time is about up. Remi’s singing at the top of his lungs, the local news is blaring, and I’ve got an important Buzzfeed quiz to catch up on (Is This a Baby Arm or Bread?). Then there’s laundry and cleaning and some .gifs that need attending to. Weekends are a hectic time.

Support Amazing Specfic for $1 month

Short fiction is always a kind of red-headed stepchild of the publishing industry. Anthologies aren’t picked up by mass market publishing houses because they’re low on the marketable totem pole, print magazines are dying a laborious death, and online magazines don’t get the kudos they so often deserve. Advertisers seem constantly obsessed with novels, never-ending serial franchises with 100,000s of words crammed between the highly polished covers–bizarrely resisting a trend in the modern internet-soaked human brain for short attention spans. I’ve never really understood it.

While I may have a short attention span, that’s not necessarily why I love reading short fiction in magazines and anthologies. I subscribe to a kind of Poe-ian tradition in that the best reading, to my mind, is absorbed in one sitting and constructed artfully to create a unified mood that completely takes over the headspace of the reader for a short period of time. I think short stories accomplish an immersive experience way better than longer works because the limitations of the form naturally lend towards more vivid imagery, heavier atmosphere, and a delicious ambiguity of plot that amplifies the flavor much in the way a splash of lemon brightens up a slice of avocado. (Side note: I’ve recently become obsessed with Tajin classico seasoning, so much of my metaphorical thinking is flavored with lime.)

Anyway, while perusing through the March 2016 stories from Lakeside Circus, one of my favorite places for immersive short fiction (and happily, a place one of my stories has found a home at), I found they were registered at Patreon, a crowd sourcing platform that provides monthly reoccurring  support for creators. I love this idea, not only because of the snobby academic associations of classic patronage, a means by which most of those canonical works in the English language were created, but because I can set up support for things I love without having to think too hard about it.

I’ve been a subscriber to Duotrope at $5 dollars a month for a couple of years now and, even though I don’t use their database all that much, I believe in the work it’s doing for writers and publishers. I also have been a big fan of Lakeside Circus since their inception, as they give a home to really high quality, literary short speculative fiction. I don’t submit short stories very often, mostly now because I’m concerned about working with publishers I’m proud to be seen in public with, and I am super thrilled to be associated with them at all. Now, I can help them with their mission with less than the cost of a cup of coffee per week! And, at that rate, I can support other magazines I love to read.

Already, I’ve committed support for Lakeside Circus, Clarkesworld and Apex Magazine, all publications that produce really high quality short fiction. I’m a subscriber to Shimmer magazine, too, another place for  beautifully written spec fic, and if they were registered to Patreon, I’d sign up to support them, too. One of my other favorites, The Dark magazine, also promises they’re signing up with Patreon, and when that happens, I’ll add them to my list. And, even though my family does not have a lot of spare cash, this grand gesture that I can be proud of costs about the same amount as a couple of Starbucks coffees a month. Total win.

And yes, there is the implied message to all this that you–yes, YOU fair reader–should do the same for the stuff you love. Do it! There’s a lot of people out there who could stand to contribute to the communities they’re a part of, and there’s a lot of lonely little dollars that can lend towards making art that people can enjoy. I, for one, am going to enjoy a cup of French press coffee at home and a lot of beautiful short stories.

 

The H Word via Nightmare Magazine

Came across this article by Orrin Grey at Nightmare magazine and found it to be really spot on. While the general thesis is on the emotional requirements of the genre, Grey’s take on the appeal of horror is particularly worth noting:

The precise difficulty that accompanies any attempt to pin horror down, to fence it in, is also exactly why horror works so well, and part of why we love it. Horror thrives at the edges of every other genre, in the places on the map marked “here be dragons.” It’s why Gremlins is not only in the same genre as Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but even contains a nod to it. Horror means different things to different people, and each one brings to it their own interests and obsessions, their own foibles and fascinations. For some, it’s simply a matter of what aims to scare you, and how well it succeeds, while for others, it’s more a set of touchstones and traditions, something that we can use as shorthand to help fire our imaginations, and fear doesn’t even really enter into the equation.

What I’m reading: the Weird

Weird fiction is a genre that’s potentially going through a golden age of sorts, with lots of stories out there to thrill and disturb. More and more writers who may have once been classified as horror or magic realism are producing stories and novels that are dark, subtly suggestive, occasionally visceral, and always beautifully written. Weird fiction encapsulates what I love about horror (the gloom and the dust, and the unflinching examination of things that make us uncomfortable), written in elevated, literary prose that puts more emphasis on the human experience and existential terror. And I’m lucky to be awash in the stuff lately–I’ve so much to read I can hardly keep up with it.

I’ve just finished The Year’s Best Weird Fiction, Vol. 2, a collection of highly lyrical stories of the strange, which I can say I enjoyed nearly all. The previous volume of the Year’s Best Weird was heavy in that Laird Barron type of cosmic horror, which is super fun, but I’m thrilled to see this volume exploring the more magic realism sides of the genre, softer and stranger at the same time. The narrative of many of the stories broaches on experimental, which works for a lot of readers like myself who want to see the world turned on its side in their fiction. The most memorable stories were, for me, Nathan Ballingrud’s “The Atlas of Hell” and K.M. Ferebee’s “The Earth and Everything Under,” but that’s not to say virtually all the stories in this volume I loved.

I’m also tearing through the Feb 2016 issue of The Dark that, like earlier issues, is so far a fantastic read. The stories the editors usually select for the magazine seem to lean toward dark fantasy and traditional horror, but such highly literary versions of those genres that I think the publication fits well with fans of the weird. Stories like Amber van Dyk’s “And the Woods are Silent” represent what I love about this publication–rich with imagery and feeling, both beautiful and macabre. Not to mention, signing up for the newsletter nets a reader a bunch of their back issues, which is fantastic, so I’ll be enjoying those for some time.

Finally, I’ve been a reader of The Weird Fiction Review online for awhile, as it is a great place to discover and rediscover writers of the weird. Recently they’ve began a novel serialization of Richard A. Kirk’s “The Lost Machine”, which I actually can’t wait to read the end of. This is an exciting development for me, as I thought I’d entirely lost my patience for novels–apparently all I needed was to break one up into pieces. It helps that Kirk’s story is really strange, full of images that grab the reader and refuse to explain the dark forces toiling behind them. The world that slowly knits together in this story is wild, with a flavor of post-apocalypse, gloomy, and quietly dangerous, and I’ll be sitting at the edge of my seat for the next installment to come out.

 

What I’m Reading from the Vegas Valley Book Festival

To be fair, Levi and I went to the Vegas Valley Book Festival yesterday knowing I was going to spend too much money. And I did–I got a pile of books, many of which were super cheap (the Scholastic tent had everything on sale half off!) and some of which were a little pricey. (Imagine my heartbreak when I buy $10 novels from emerging writers at a table, only to find out their books are priced on Amazon at $8. Shame on you, emerging authors. You’re supposed to be expanding your audience, not fleecing them.) Anyway, when we got back home, we sat around and read a good chunk out everything we’d bought and had a great time doing it. Here are a few of my favorite buys from Las Vegas locals:

I found a few spectacular stories in a copy of Witness magazine, edited by Maile Chapman at UNLV. I never got the chance to work with Professor Chapman, but I read her book, and it is chock full of gorgeous neo-gothic imagery and spooky undertones. The copy of Witness I picked up was the “ghosts” issue, which of course was not as supernatural as I’d like, but I knew that going in. Still, these stories give me what I want when I read lit: rich imagery and atmosphere, intricate sentence structure, implications about what it means to be alive.

Also in terms of lit, I picked up a print copy of Helen: A Literary Magazine, and found it to be as full of great art and photography as it was full of fiction. I’d been excited about them for awhile, as from their pdf issues they appeared to be a local magazine with great visual design, high production values, and vivid prose and poetry. I emphasize this because (full disclosure) I got an acceptance from them a while ago that made me super tickled pink. It is a production I am really honored to be apart of, and being able to read a print copy as opposed to the pdf copies I already have makes the reading experience more palpable.

Finally, Levi and I also picked up a collection of short comics from local authors, published by Pop! Goes the Icon boutique publishing house. These comics were written and illustrated by people with boots on the ground here in Vegas, or at least on the ground on Fremont street, which is where all the cool kids hang out. (Admittedly, I’ve been thinking more and more about setting up the family in a place downtown–it’s just so rough-around-the-edges charming!–and that’s when I realize I am a filthy hipster just like the rest of them.) Anyway, the comics could be construed as similar to the environment that lent to their creation; rough-around-the-edges and charming.

Next year, I’m going to plan on spending a bit more time hanging out at the book festival, as I wasn’t able to actually attend any of the talks, which was irksome. But still, it was an awesome time, and I met a bunch of awesome people. And now I’ve got a heap of awesome stuff to read.