Monthly Archives: April 2013

Disconnect/Reject

My novel, Crytal From The Hills, is looking for a place to live. Give it a home, readers. Or give it an agent, or this blog a directory. Otherwise, it might become a rejected story of rejection, about a guy named Chris Leavitt who’s left home, looking for a place to stay in the aftermath of an accident, a disappearance, a trauma, and a mystery–the novel’s pitch. Irony? Actually no–it might be apt, this quiet response, this absence of yours. You see, this is a tale of disconnection/rejection; disconnects and rejects; relationships with the absent highlighted by absent relationships with the present. Longings: dream about longings, why don’t you. I thought about all this when I started this thing three years ago. That’s planning, I say. That’s contrivance, some might think. Anyway, I sought feedback. Really. I made calls, wrote e-mails, did what you’re supposed to do–I connected, and asked what others thought. But phone calls get dropped, and e-mails sometimes land in junk. Sorry, says the world: we didn’t get that.

Here’s another passage from CFTH:

“So, what are you gonna do after you check your phone.” Chris thought for a moment that she was mocking him, referring to his phone task like it was his major chore of the morning. Jill flung her purse on her bed—the only major piece of furniture in the unit—and stepped over to a desk to check messages on her land line. Almost simultaneously she pulled out her IPhone and began checking its messages; multitasking, like she was showing how it was done. To her left was a several square foot space she’d created against a wall. She gestured towards it, indicating several of Chris’ belongings. Chris had already moved in, it seemed like; he’d colonized her space with his motley collection of goods, things he’d once thought he couldn’t live without: a backpack made of hemp; a Nick Drake CD sticking out the top. Inside, there were several smaller items, such as another Ziploc bag, filled with Percocets. There was an IPhone that had been “blown up” several times, such that its memory was now full. Taking up the most space was an oft-malfunctioning laptop and a seeming trail of electronic dependency: wires, cords, stray flash drives. Somewhere in the backpack were a toothbrush, a bottle of arnica gel, and a thin squib of a soap-bar. His clothes, which included two shirts, a spare pair of jeans and one extra pair of socks, were strewn in a pile, looked aged and stiff. Chris appeared to be aiming for a staleness wherein some items would soon be able to stand by themselves, encrusted with dirt, dust, the curled up lint that hovers above tufts of carpet.
It all came back to him now, the minutes he and Weed had spent here the night of the accident. Chris and Jill had one argument that night amid the flurry of plans and excitement. To her he’d seemed manic—spun, in all likelihood, despite his subsequent denials. Weed stood in the background, grinning, watching them bicker, and staring at Jill especially. Greasy strands of hair stuck out from beneath his baseball cap. They actually looked like weeds, thought Jill, catching sight of him. Chris had a poster of James Dean which he’d plucked from a tube that he wanted to place next to the bed. Jill vetoed the plan, said it didn’t go with anything. Chris stared in protest at the sparsely decorated walls of her apartment, and appealed vainly for “logic” on the matter. Jill was having none of it, either the poster, or the premise. Logic? She’d swat that notion away easily enough. But the real issue, the underlying divide, was something else. She didn’t want him to feel at home.

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In broad daylight

The darkness of the city: in broad daylight. Jill Evans, Chris Leavitt’s nominal girlfriend in Crystal From The Hills, schools him earlier in the story, about his arrogance and naivite. It’s naive to wander the streets of West Oakland, patronizing the locals, imagining he is free and safe. She envies him. Women, I think, envy (and thus are irritated by) carefree young men who take for granted their advantages. And so, the next passage, a pre-climactic wake-up call for the similarly traumatized Jill, is foreshadowed, like all of the events of the story. It’s just a matter of what gets noticed really. For all Jill’s faux streetwise warnings, not to mention Chris’ obsession with Shadows, who used to follow him only at night, it is Jill who is caught off guard, thinking she is immune.


To cap it off she was jumped on the way home the following morning. Her mistake had been stopping at a light, obeying the rules of the streets, but not those of the street. Leaning back on her bike, Jill took a brisk swig from her water bottle, only to feel a hard thump against her back wheel. As her bottle tumbled away with water spraying from her mouth, Jill felt a strong tug upon her backpack; the force threatened to drag her along the pavement and for a split second she imagined that somehow she’d been ensnared by a passing vehicle. Feet shuffled around her as the bag was torn away. Her assailant turned to throw Jill’s backpack to a partner, the action resembling that of two basketball players executing a fast break. But with his back turned, the first of the two young men was rendered vulnerable. Without a second thought, Jill lunged at him and began wind-milling her arms, surprising herself with her own intensity. Instinctively, she opened up her right hand, and with a scything motion, slashed through his blocking limbs, scratching his face on the way through. The partner ran and faced her. Seeing him face-to-face scuttled assumptions, and reduced him in years. No more than fifteen, she guessed, regarding the gaunt, angry face of the boy. He reached for his back pocket; no small task given that his pants hung halfway to his knees. From the front, a web of denim hung between his legs, placing him at a disadvantage should a chase ensue.

 

 

It was as if she recognized him—not the boy per se—but the type: meaning, the age, the demeanor, the ephemera, and the race: black. She could hurt this boy, she realized. In her current state, that is—she could do real harm. And then she might treat him. In fact, it seemed to her that she had done, on countless occasions. She’d nursed young men like this. She’d dressed their wounds, their grisly knife and gunshot injuries. She’d replaced their bedpans, brought them food, and seen them wince as she’d replaced their catheters. With a look of sheer rage that masked humiliation, the boy brandished a gleaming firearm and dangled it with a fashionably downward arc towards Jill’s face.

            “OK!” she cried breathlessly, and held up her arms in surrender. The boy’s face shook. Looking around, seeing odd witnesses, he appeared to take stock of this moment, and decide what humiliations—past, present, and anticipated—will merit the ultimate retribution. With a deft turn, he then sprung away and disappeared, showcasing an impressive sprint. Later, she estimated that the entire incident had taken less than a minute of her time.

            Unhurt, Jill gathered herself, assessed her apparently undamaged bicycle, and then resumed her journey back to her apartment, though not before remonstrating in the street to no one in particular.

“Really. In broad daylight!” she exclaimed, feeling angry and bewildered at the community she’d chosen to live amongst and help.

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At a loss for words

Listen. Bad things are happening: accidents, enemy action. Dissociation, which leads to a loss of words…silence. My body shook today from the news. It knew more than I did, whoever I am. In Crystal From The Hills, my non-conformist fiction (No heroes, and no love. Sorry) that is destined to live on the outside of literary establishment, characters are at a loss for words and therefore some part of themselves. Perhaps it’s for the best, this mutedness. Memories are diffuse. Trauma has served to conflate past and present, and secrets keep both peace and status quo. Say anything about what’s really happening then you’ve broken the rules: expect to be fired, ostracized; transferred to that job you don’t want, that trivial life you never bargained for. Phones symbolize what’s happening in CFTH. They’ve stopped working or else they’ve disappeared–gone down with the ship, disappeared. In an emergency authorities can shut down the service apparently. That’s right. They can shut you up. But of course phones are just like people, really: easily replaced, I mean. Observe:

Jill was gone: gone from Chris’ presence, mothballed from his mind. Upon reading Sweet’s message, he immediately began texting his reply; his relaxed fingering suggested a fixated pleasure with such toys; a need that had been starved over the last several days. Yet Chris Leavitt thought of his phones as nemeses. They cut out, dropped calls; went silent for no reason, or else they exhibited letters or numbers he hadn’t pressed. This particular one, which he’d left behind at Jill’s place, was the worst offender. It defied him, gave him the silent treatment, and if he’d get his act together, he’d go down to his carrier’s office at some point and ask for a divorce. Negative thinking: he might actually qualify for an upgrade, he then reasoned. Minutes later he was done, having finished his reply to Sweet. He was done for the moment with his deputy phone’s aggravating, petty resistances, and looked up and about the neighborhood. It seemed for an instant that he was lost; that is, without something to do, without a plan, an identity: he was a cipher, he briefly feared: he still felt dead but for the fact that others spoke to him, which, he supposed, proved otherwise.

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Nothing nice about being nice

Not a very humanistic attitude, is it? I think the Kleiniens would agree with the sentiment, though I surely don’t mean sentiment. Anyway, my novel avoids positivism, almost religiously. In my other book, the one about rehab, I touch on this a bit more, with a bit less surrealism. In that one I’m writing about countertransference: the weight of problems, the past, and the need to deny.

12 examples of being nice, from Crystal From The Hills. (purchase link):

*“Of course, I’m just trying to be nice. Jeez, you don’t have to be like that.”

*thinking his moodiness would fit in nicely: if dispirited, he’d blend

*“Hey, what’s up?” Chris spoke out in a friendly voice.

“Leave me alone,” she curtly replied, and then quickly stepped past him like he was a piece of dog shit in the middle of the sidewalk.
“Nice talkin’ to ya,” Chris said laughingly

*A mop and an ammonia bottle appeared to have been thrown in a corner instead of carefully placed. On top of a towel dispenser, flanking a sink below a two foot square mirror was a book someone had left behind. Nice, thought Chris: reading that didn’t outlast a bowel movement

* He pushed his lower lip across his teeth and looked into Chris, as though the exchange were setting the stage for an opportune critique.Chris laughed heartily. Well done, he thought. Nice. “Alright, I get it. What did you have in mind?”

* There were some nice men along the way: men who were dealt with ruthlessly; men who were sometimes sent scurrying from her dorm rooms with their jeans still climbing past their knees

* A nice man: that’s what she wanted, ultimately. She actually thought she’d met a nice young man recently, someone who was genuinely like a boy. His name was Chris Leavitt. The problem was the girls. Other girls thought Chris was nice, also.

* She sort of accepted that his libidinal overdrive had been a function of his stimulant use, thus overriding the “nice” aspects of his character

* “You have a problem with my place, or my neighborhood?” They’d actually talked about this once before and her answers hadn’t satisfied Chris. He took note of her then explanations: the piece about student debt plus an unwillingness to accept her mother and step-father’s financial support made sense in the context of those supposedly difficult relationships, but it still implied a preference for living elsewhere.

“It’s my what’s-a-nice-girl-like-you-doing-in-a-place-like-this question, I guess.”

“A place like what?”

* She looked over at the bed and saw Chris roll over to her side and flop his arm onto her pillow. There it is, she thought, catching the unintended action that was a replay of the beating she’d received roughly three hours earlier. That’s what she got for being nice

* “Nice earrings,” said one. His Aunt Jenny, a woman raised on the East Coast, once said that Californians lacked irony. She was wrong. At least, if sarcasm is a subset of irony, then Californians, Chris found, were full of it.

* “I thought we might spend some time expressing how nice it is to see each other,” Chris supplied cheekily. He was fidgeting, having difficulty getting situated. His chair was a somewhat disjointed piece of furniture; misplaced, with a distorted iron bar that had gotten literally bent out of shape. As soon as he leaned back, Chris felt the hard protrusion of the un-cushioned upright section. It had a deliberate feel about it, like it was Aunt Jenny’s torture chair.

“Nice to see you?’ she echoed querulously. “Let me tell you, young man: there is nothing nice about ‘nice’. I’ve been concerned about you.”

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Everything we love vanishes

A quote from W.B Yeats. In The Silent Past and the Invisible Present, Paul Renn writes about the traumatized, the pathological mourning of those whose ambivalent yearning for and anger with attachment figures becomes dissociated; split off and embedded into personality. Through Renn’s case examples, the reader learns that those with attachment difficulties, personality problems, are beset with distorted representations of self and others, and that time is lost; meaning, past and present become conflated experiences: the past denied, but acted out in the present. In Crystal From The Hills, protagonist Chris Leavitt (nicknamed Crystal) is an itinerant trauma victim, suffering from (among other things) post-acute withdrawal resulting from (you guessed it!) methamphetamine use. He is unconsciously playing out a conflicted identification with absent caregivers: a distant, self-absorbed father, and a protective yet similarly detached and secretive mother. The backstory has yielded his character and thus the first two-thirds of the novel, his “acting out”. Chris tries to be “nice” in life, but as often as not his attempts are disengenuous, especially when dealing with authority. His mentor, Aunt Jenny, advises, “there’s nothing nice about being nice”, articulating the demand that he be real. And he has acted out upon anger: Chris’ problems at work–his “suspension” for insubordination–reveals his impulses, his sporadic rebellion against authority figures and systems. More sinisterly, his present-day drama contains a mystery: the disappearance of his friend, the malevolently reptilian Weed. Chris is noticeably evasive. If attentive, the reader must consider some dark possibilities as the mystery unfolds: is Chris psychotic? a killer? a rapist, even? Meanwhile, ambivalence thwarts Chris’ other ambitions: sleep disturbed, his dreams are interrupted, and his perceptions are marred by visions, his so-called “shadows”. His ideas, such as his strange and somewhat silly diaper invention (an indicator that his dreams entail regression) are tentatively delivered, but easily withdrawn or dismissed with self effacing humor. Back in the day, he once tried to be an actor, and still does affect the odd scene here and there (incongruous quotes from film or literature), but surely the best actors must first be grounded in reality, and reality, through no fault of his own, actually, has also been elusive.

Above all, Chris has failed at love, just as his father had. That is, Chris has tried to sustain love and relationships, but the truth is that parents, friends, women, have all left. And so the story begins upon a two-fold leaving: the disappearance of his doppelganger, Weed, followed by Chris’ disappearance into the anonymous milieu of Oakland.

 

 

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You Tube video about Graeme’s psychological fiction

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Killing Time

So here’s a little intellectual stuff: in his theoretical model, Dr. James Masterson alerted patients and colleagues to a three part cycle known as the self in disorder triad: attempts at self-activation, which include any and all attempts at real self expression, the pursuit of goals, lead to anxiety, an indicator of an underlying abandonment depression, which is in turn soothed by a defensive life strategy; a series of habitual behaviors, thinking patterns, which help avoid distress. Much of this is ego-syntonic–meaning, supported by the patient, who thinks of these behaviors as normal and natural, as well as the individual’s support network. This is especially true of trauma victims, whose self-defeating and sometimes self-destructive behaviors and thinking patterns are supported both internally and externally, leading to unhealthy collusions, stagnations that serve no one’s growth, but instead everyone’s survival. Time. Time stands still for the chronically traumatized. Past and present become conflated; the past is in the now. In Crystal From the Hills (purchase link), these alliances between selves and others have given space, but killed time. I wasted no time writing CFTH. I spent three years crafting its intricate mystery, its ambitiously deep subtext. There were good times along the way, room for a few laughs in between thought-provoking passages. The characters aren’t as quirky or funny as some–can’t rival HBO just yet for dark and hip inspiration. But hey, mine is a good book…really. Observe the following passage:

*These ruminations were killing time. Chris checked his enemy, the digital clock, registering the passing of four o’clock—his time, everyone’s time, he thought democratically—in his peripheral view. Soon Jill will be back and he’d feel a vague urge to justify himself, report upon the achievements of the day. They were few. There was something, actually; something he’d been talking about, albeit obscurely, for weeks: that revolution, as he’d cheekily put it earlier. Actually, he’d been thinking about it for years, but only recently had he admitted others to the conversation he’d been having with himself. He’d even said, “I’ve got business to do” to someone, perhaps Sweet. He’d told Jill about it, somewhat, though as he recalled, the conversation hardly generated edge of seat anticipation on her part. If it went further, she’d start interrogating as to whether this idea—which was really a joke that had grown into something else—had any legs. When she gets back she’ll ask what he’s been doing. She might seize upon the topic while she’s going through the room checks. He was procrastinating, now, thinking he had more time. In the morning, first thing, the day ahead seems long and promising; it stretches out with everlasting opportunity. Thing is time passes; opportunity passes, and procrastination kills time. It just plain kills it.

See…

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