scoop loses his way

Scoop had lost all passion for reporting the kind of news that his employer, the venerable Jonestown Gazette, saw fit to print. Over time, his supervisor, an aging aardvark named Burt, had grown increasingly vexed at the nature of the stories he was turning in. Take this one, for example:

______________________________________

Plastic Milk Crate Castle Still Stands

(Jonestown, USA) – Since January, an overgrown empty lot in blighted South Jonestown has been the site of a castle constructed from plastic milk crates. Someone took great pains to build this castle, but to what end. As a shelter, it is inadequate. As an art object, it is of marginal appeal. Attempts by this reporter to find the architect of this mysterious structure by canvassing the neighborhood have failed. Many residents were in fact unaware of the castle’s existence. Others refused to even open their doors to answer a few simple questions. Why, the nerve of those [REDACTED]

_______________________________________

Burt appeared at Scoop’s desk gripping a printout of the story in his hoof-like claw, disgust plastered across his long, drooping face. He took a deep breath.

“Scoop, you know I can’t print this. I don’t even know what to call it, ah, but it’s certainly not news.”

Scoop shrugged. He no longer cared what was considered “news” and what wasn’t. The classification seemed largely arbitrary to him.

“Well, do you have anything to say?” Burt asked.

Scoop was a solitudinarian (an actual word), which sometimes made it difficult to understand what people wanted from him. As a last resort, he kept a splendid array of exit strategies honed and ready to deploy at a moment’s notice.

“Burt, you’ve figured me out. I can’t do this anymore. I quit.”

Burt stared at the slumped shadow that used to be his all-star newshound.

“What are you going to do, Scoop? You’re a total mess.”

“Thanks for the ego boost, boss. I guess I’ll figure things out once I walk out that door.”

As Scoop cleaned out his desk, he mulled over his loss of interest in investigative reporting.  At one time, he had routinely worked three or more stories concurrently, chasing leads all day and sleeping only a few hours each night. But then one day, it all disappeared. His curiosity withered to dust with no advance warning. All that remained was a ring of distance between himself and everyone and everything around him.

Scoop picked up his small box of belongings and walked toward the door. The next day anything could happen or nothing could happen. He could spend the day lying on his side, staring out the window as the winter wind whistled its secrets to those willing to listen. Or he could look for a new job. Neither option held much appeal.

Burt waved at him as he passed by the old newsman’s office. Scoop nodded back. Burt was not a bad guy, he thought. Just not the type to understand the sort of crisis Scoop felt burning within him.

The door shut behind him for the last time as he exited onto the street, where people moved from place to place like chess pieces, slow and deliberate, braced against the early winter’s cold. This particular section of town reflected the burgeoning trend of an immediate post-Halloween retail transition to the commercial smorgasbord known as Christmas.

“Whatever happened to Thanksgiving,” Scoop muttered. He had to admit, though, that the twinkling lights in every window held a certain appeal. Yes, indeed, an extra few weeks of festive lighting might just help smooth off the sharpest edges of his seasonal depression.

He tossed his box of stuff into the bed of his truck and climbed in the cab. Cranking the heat up, he tuned in the old-time bluegrass station on the radio and sat for a few minutes, staring out the windshield at the chess pieces moving about the board.

I never liked chess, he thought.

Sample questions for discussion

  1. What will happen to Scoop?
  2. Will he find another job?
  3. Will he change his name?
  4. Will he ever learn to love chess?
  5. Is he going to disappear just like the ghost did?
  6. Does anyone care? [I'm on the fence myself-ed.]
  7. Why is an aardvark working at a newspaper?
  8. Do aardvarks live in burrows or what?
  9. Why does this story end so abruptly?
  10. Does this question serve only to make an even 10?

a pair of eyes

One day a pair of eyes went out for a walk. (The eyes are named V. for the sake of this story’s grammatical simplicity, even though it’s unusual for eyes to have a name.) While walking in the city, V. quickly grew tired due to overstimulation. Seeking respite, V. traveled to the country and found a lake. V. jumped in the lake and floated around with delight until a few fishermen arrived and began casting their lines a little too close for comfort. Vexed by this intrusion, V. left the lake and crossed the border into the northern territories. On an uninhabited island off the coast, V. built a tiny shelter with an adjacent pool for rehydration purposes. For several weeks V. enjoyed looking at the trees and the water on all sides of the island. At night, V. climbed a hill at the center of the island to study the constellations and ponder the distant, blinking lights of civilization on the mainland. Over time, though, V. grew tired of all this input with no corresponding output. After returning to the mainland, V. signed up to volunteer at the organ bank. Soon V. was seeing for someone who had never seen before, and everything made more sense.

kafka: ‘in a different realm’

“It is conceivable for a writer to take the pulse of his era and make it come alive in language and images, yet still be out of his depth when it comes to palpable engagement with the world, although this constellation is exceedingly rare. Far more often someone who is truly at home in two worlds is misunderstood as being ‘out of touch’ in the public, social cosmos, which he shapes and endures in combination with others, and in an interior psychic space dominated by feelings, dreams, fantasies, associations, and ideas, which he inhabits alone. Anyone whose experience inside his head offers as vast and constant a stream of impressions as the world outside cannot stay focused on the here and now. But where is he then? In a different realm.

An individual who appears to be out of touch with reality is rarely in the privileged position of being able to open and close the subtle locks between inside and outside at will. The vortex pulling him inside his head is always palpable, but the reality principle demands that he remain perpetually alert; people expect him to limit himself to things that can be communicated. Anyone who starts talking about daydreams on the street, in a store, or at the workplace alienates people, no matter how intense and meaningful those daydreams are. He remains alien because he understands and acknowledges a second world, and for the most part, and to his detriment, he remains just as alien in that interior world for the same reason. He is present, but neither here nor there.

That condition can culminate in insanity, and Kafka justifiably feared winding up insane throughout his life. But it has little to do with the accomplishment society expects of the individual. Someone who is alienated from the world might function perfectly well as a craftsman, attorney, teacher, or politician, or as a vice secretary of an insurance institute, and his struggle to balance himself—poised like a man with one foot off the ground—can easily remain hidden from view, without a trace, as it probably has in thousands upon thousands of brains.”

Reiner Stach, Kafka: The Years of Insight

ghost story

It was a normal day. The ghost floated downtown to conduct some routine haunting. Twenty hours per month was the minimum requirement for its continued membership in the Association for Miscellaneous Paranormal Phenomena (AMPP). Last year the ghost had let its membership lapse. Not purposefully, of course. But the ghost was easily distracted. While most of its colleagues were dedicated to their work and felt no need to pursue activities outside of haunting, this particular ghost drifted through the afterlife without focus.

It’s been said that all spirits are restless, but that’s only what the living say and what do they know. Most spirits, in fact, lead the same type of dull, repetitive lifestyles they led while alive. Many remain in the places where they died and haunt those spots for eternity, regardless of how they felt about them prior to death’s release. This may be an armchair in front of a TV, or a cubicle at the insurance company. The majority of these ghosts are passive and unobtrusivethe living rarely notice their presence. High-profile hauntings are not the norm, despite what the media reports.

The ghost in this story is different. During its early years as a living being, it tried to fit in, adopting the typical modern lifestyle of working at a boring job and participating in banal leisure-time activities. But when all of its friends and acquaintances began to pair off and raise families, its existing sense of alienation grew stronger. It knew too much of the darkness in the world, and felt itself tinged by that darkness. It no longer felt capable of living its current life. So it quit its job and set out on an aimless course in search of the usual things living beings look for on such adventures. It witnessed many wonders and met many kind others. But this adventure did not turn out to be the type of transformative experience known as a Hero’s Journey.

Once returned from its fruitless quest, the being gave away all its possessions and went into the woods, where it lived a solitary existence. Its only companions were the birds and other creatures of the forests. The being was as content as it could be (which only registered as marginal on the contentment scale), and spent its days roaming far and wide, searching, always searching for what cannot be found in the outer world. On certain rare days it felt at peace, like there might be something beyond the numb state it knew as normal. But the feeling was so fleeting it could not even be chased. When the being grew old and could no longer roam without effort, it left its body behind and continued on as a spirit, which brings us back to what started out as a normal day.

The ghost was having some fun with the revolving door at its former place of employment when something unsettling happened. One of the office drones looked right at the ghost. Now, the ghost was accustomed to living beings looking through it, but it felt very certain that this being was looking at it, recognizing it as something visible to the living. The drone’s face paled as it exited the revolving door and shuffled across the lobby, peering back over its shoulder at the exact spot where the ghost was floating.

This revelation rattled the ghost. Here it was floating around causing all manner of mischief, feeling liberated in its presumed invisibility, when in fact there was a real possibility that some or all of the living could observe its antics. It had spent much of its corporeal existence making itself as small as possible in order not to be noticed. Now it seemed that what it thought it had achieved in the afterlife was yet another lie.

Dismayed, the ghost floated through the wall and out into the street. It cruised around downtown without interest. It stopped in at the venerable Ghoul Club, but found only the regulars lounging around smoking their pipes and retelling their same old haunting tales. How boring, the ghost thought, how utterly mundane it is to be a ghost. Why, it’s no better than living was! The only good part of being a spirit has been that no one could see me, it thought. But now even that turns out to be a sham!

So the ghost paid a visit to its local union representative.

‘Hey Lou,’ it said. ‘I don’t want to be a ghost anymore.’

Lou balked at this. ‘You what now?’

‘I’m done. I want out of this game.’

‘But, it’s unheard of,’ Lou lamented. ‘You can’t just quit being a ghost!’

‘Don’t care. It’s not working for me. I think people can see me and it’s a real drag. How do I get out of it?’

‘Are you sure you’re not imagining things? I’ve never heard of people seeing ghosts.’

‘I’m sure. Today some guy looked right at me and turned white while I was haunting him.’

Lou opened a drawer in his desk and rustled through it. He pulled out a form and pushed it across the desk.

‘Here, fill this out.’

‘That’s it?’

‘Yep. And you gotta turn in your Ghoul Club card.’

The ghost filled out the form and gave Lou his card.

‘Well, Lou, I guess I won’t see you again. Thanks for helping me out.’

Lou shrugged. ‘Your loss, buddy. What are you gonna do now? Do you even have a plan?’

‘No, Lou, I don’t. But I reckon I’ll figure something out.’

Lou stamped the form and the ghost disappeared.

THE END

george trakl’s snowy descent

Fascinating critical essay on Austrian poet Georg Trakl and the influence of cocaine and other intoxicants on his work.

(via Public Domain Review)

early morning people

The city can seem cold and unfeeling. Thus, the temptation arises to shoehorn the masses into roles limited to acrimony or apathy, simply based on random anecdotal experiences.

Early morning is the best time to mitigate this wrong perception. Early morning people are different. They spontaneously greet each other and show consideration. Kind words are exchanged and eyes, for once, are not averted.

After 9 AM there begins a slow shift for the worse. The late risers trickle to the streets, leaking poison into the day’s veins. By noon, one might as well return to bed and wait for the next morning in order to continue bending this perception back into the right shape.

k. and the creative process

[Please forgive the momentary fixation on F.K. again. I often return to him for comfort, especially when I can't write. Reiner Stach has done K. devotees a remarkable service with his meticulous biographical research and synthesis. I have fallen into this book like I haven't fallen into a book in a long time. And to think, there is one more published volume yet to read! Not to mention the early years that Stach still hopes to cover, should he ever gain access to Brod's vault.]

Here are a couple of passages related to K.’s creative process…

“He knew that his best, most profound writing sometimes came from a heightened consciousness of depression. However, complete inertia and indifference lurked no more than a breath away.” (p. 151)

“If we were to observe the ebb and flow of Kafka’s literary productivity from a great height, we would see a wave pattern: an initial phase of intensive, highly productive work that comes on suddenly and lasts several hours a day, followed by a gradual decline in his powers of imagination, lasting for weeks, and then finally, in spite of his desperate attempts to fight it, a standstill and feelings of despair for months on end. We do not know why he had to go through this cycle several times, and we will not know until we have a categorical paradigm of artistic creativity. Kafka himself never uncovered the logic behind the igniting and extinguishing of his art; he was always too deeply enmeshed in the effort of tapping whatever reservoir was accessible to him at the moment.” (p. 175)

Reiner Stach, Kafka: The Decisive Years (English translation © 2005; original German edition © 2002)

a profound wakefulness

Kafka: The Decisive Years“Kafka missed nothing, forgot nothing. There is little evidence of the absentmindedness and boredom he always complained about; on the contrary, his incessant presence of mind is almost painful to witness, because it renders him unapproachable. Someone must stay awake, but this wakefulness deprived him of a sense of home and alienated him from the world and from people, in a mundane and sometimes comical sense. Nabokov’s novel The Real Life of Sebastian Knight, which highlights the impossibility of writing an adequate biography, expresses the suffering associated with profound wakefulness from the point of view of someone experiencing it:

[...] in my case all the shutters and lids and doors of the mind would be open at once at all times of the day. Most brains have their Sundays, mine was even refused a half-holiday. That state of constant wakefulness was extremely painful not only in itself, but in its direct results. Every ordinary act which, as a matter of course, I had to perform, took on such a complicated appearance, provoked such a multitude of associative ideas in my mind, and these associations were so tricky and obscure, so utterly useless for practical application, that I would either shirk the business at hand or else make a mess of it out of sheer nervousness.

This statement applies to Kafka word for word. It is astonishing how little he ‘made a mess of’ in spite of everything: wherever his life took him, he stood the test, as a pupil, student, and official. But nothing came easily to him; every decision, even the most trivial, had to be wrenched from that stream of associations. He once wrote, ‘Everything sets me thinking’. Everything set him writing. But first he had to translate life.”

Reiner Stach, Kafka: The Decisive Years

field report 6

Large ships fill the harbor today. One of them is strange. It is an enormous military catamaran that, frankly, looks quite menacing. People stand around gaping at it. What is it, they whisper to each other. No one seems to know. Phones snap photos. (Later research concludes this is the Navy’s newest ‘joint high-speed vessel’). Now the Blue Angels fly overhead. Everyone looks up. Police officers fumble with their smart phones as they strive for a good shot. Cigar-smoking man arrives on the scene and bikes in a confused circle, looking up and around as if there is no place for him to smoke his cigar. Meanwhile, a bicycle cop has used his handcuffs to lock his bike to a handrail while he goes in to purchase a burrito. A uniformed man leads a German Shepherd sniffing for explosives in the foliage outside the seafood restaurant. Tourists are consuming record amounts of seafood. The restaurants are beside themselves with joy. It is a grand celebration. The largest fireworks display since 1814 is planned for the weekend. Twenty minutes long and choreographed to patriotic music, the fireworks will launch from a three-mile long stretch of barges. How many birds will die. It is, after all, the middle of fall migration and most songbirds travel at night. (Note: several years ago in Arkansas thousands of roosting red-winged blackbirds died from shock and disorientation following a fireworks display.) Never mind that! Look at the pretty colors, listen to the explosions (freedom is loud), and feel your chest swell with pride.

life’s splendor forever lies in wait

“Life’s splendor forever lies in wait about each one of us in all its fullness, but veiled from view, deep down, invisible, far off. It is there, though, not hostile, not reluctant, not deaf. If you summon it by the right word, by its right name, it will come.”

- Franz Kafka

(thanks to kafkaesque-world for summoning Kafka’s splendor)

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