Monday, October 16, 2006
When I was young and a Mormon, I thought a lot about the phenomenon of temptation and resistance. A friend, another Mormon, told me a parable about a Buddhist monk. He is walking along a path in the woods with his pupil beside him when they come upon a stream. At the stream, a beautiful woman is standing. "I'm afraid I will slip and fall," she said. "Can you carry me across the stream?" Without hesitation, the older monk picked her up in his arms and carried her across the stream.
When they were alone again, the pupil, who was a little concerned, asked: "Why did you do that, master? Didn’t you vow never to touch a woman?"
"I did, Grasshopper," said the monk (I don’t think he actually said "Grasshopper"), "but I knew if I didn’t do it, I would be thinking about it for the rest of my days – in my mind, touching her over and over again. this way, I touched her, I know how it felt, I got it over with, and I can go on."
This is the story I thought of as I sat in bed after another terrible night. So I got up[, pulled on some pants, and in the early morning hours I stumbled down the stairs and into the kitchen, determined to make that package of cookies mine.
But when I got there, it was gone.
Sunday, October 15, 2006
No, I can’t do that. I have to stay away from that package. I forced myself to go back to bed, and was tortured by nightmares all night long.
Saturday, October 14, 2006
Well, I lost again. I put ten sloty on Bob Dylan winning the Nobel prize for Literature, and instead it went to some guy named Pahmuk. Who knew?
Last night we all got together – those of us remaining in the house – and decided that we would defy fate and do what true literary-minded souls would do in this situation, which is bet on who would win the Nobel Prize for Literature. We were all there except for one – the elusive, mysterious Laryssa. We discussed the ins and outs of the situation over a bottle of vodka. Then we all threw 10 sloty into the pot and wrote down our bets:
Mirek – (first Updike, then Androkovich, then…) DeLillo
Danuta – Roth
Ambrosi – Kapuszinsky
Kobus – Pynchon
Erica – Pahmuk
Eric – Dylan
But when I went down to the breakfast room this morning, only about an hour before the announcement, a new name had been added to the list:
Laryssa – Pahmuk.
The elusive, mysterious Laryssa had been watching us, somehow, all this time.
When Erica saw the new name, she realized that she would either have to split the pot with Laryssa or change her bet. So she changed hers:
Erica – Updike.
We're going to have to find out a little bit more about this Laryssa person.
Friday, October 13, 2006
Thursday, October 12, 2006
Mimi le Duck, the new musical by my very own Big Sister Diana, is going onstage tonight in New York City just off broadway at the New World Stages. It's the story of a Mormon housewife (we ex-Mormons certainly are a traumatized lot, aren't we?) in Idaho who breaks out of her life, travels to Paris and wants to... do everything different. There, she meets Eatha Kitt (yes, Eartha Kitt really is in the show).
If you're in New York, run out and buy a ticket. Watch for reviews tomorrow. Keep your fingers crossed tonight. Wish her luck. Visit her Mimi le Duck website (click here). Visit her Mimi le Duck blog (click here), which is updated to the last minute and will be the first source of new on how the premiere went.
Good luck, Diana! All you ex-Mormon (and still-Mormon) brothers and sisters are cheering for you.
Wednesday, October 11, 2006
It is addressed to Katja, but Katja is gone. I don’t think she's ever coming back. I'm no longer sure she was ever here. That can only mean the package is meant for someone else. Someone who is smart enough to figure it out. I am beginning to think maybe the package is meant for me.
But still, something holds me back. This Katja person… maybe she does exist. Maybe she will return. But how can I know before the cookies go stale?
I remember when the US marched into Afghanistan, a friend of mine was practically white as a ghost: "This could mean atomic war!" he said. It was a puzzling statement. Where was the Taliban going to get atomic weapons? Not to mention allies. The fear is triggered automatically in Germans. Maybe it comes from living for decades with nuclear warheads on their territory pointed at nuclear warheads in East German territory (they're still here, by the way). Or maybe they're just so disappointed that all the dire predictions about the end of the world that the German 68-generation made during the Cold War didn't come materialize, they're hoping the end will come some other way so at least one of their many well-articulated fears will be vindicated.
I took a look at Spiegel Online today, the daily version of Germany's leading (and best) serious weekly news magazine, and was shocked to see the word "war" plastered all over it: "North Korea sees sanctions as declaration of war" (click here). Quite a headline, and I wondered why I hadn’t read it in the American online papers. I searched through New York Times a bit and finally found the story, but with a slightly different headline: "North Korea Warns U.S." (click here).
Not much war in that headline. Was Spiegel imagining things?
I compared the two articles. Indeed, North Korea did say that sanctions would be considered a declaration of war on the part of the US, as both papers report, but the New York Times goes one step further and explains a fact about North Korea diplomacy that some people may not know: "North Korea often issues dire and bellicose statements, and whenever tough sanctions have been proposed has been quick to equate them with an act of war."
That wasn't mentioned in the Spiegel article at all.
Now 82 million Germans are running out bunkering water and toilet paper and thinking: "We were right back in '68!"
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
Danuta's flyswatter of choice.
My flyswatter of choice.
Monday, October 09, 2006
They act like the own the place. They like alight on my computer screen as if to tell me: "We're not afraid of you. Got ahead, do something about it."
They never buzz off in a corner somewhere by themselves. They always have to be where I am. They have a way of buzzing around the fringes of my attention. They alight on my arm somewhere or hand or cheek, lightly, almost lightly enough to ignore, but not quite. Just to alert me to their presence. To whisper to me: "We're here. We're here. We're here."
When it's dark, I try doing the "come into the light" trick. I turn off the lights in the room and open all the windows and wait a while, hoping they will get bored by the dark room and go off to investigate the street lamp outside. And when I close the windows in the dark and turn the lights back on, for a moment I believe it has worked. No buzzing. It feels alone. I sit down to work and I feel that I can enjoy the work at last, but just as I'm ready to concentrate, they're back. Buzzing. Landing. "We're here. We're here. We're here."
Once in a while I am able to kill one. I use a knotted-up white towel. I got one yesterday and was so happy about it that I put its corpse on a tissue paper on my desk. One down, two to go. They always come in pairs. I waited for the second one to land on a vulnerable spot. Soon I'd be free. But after a while, I noticed that there were two of them again. They're like in the Roman army: As if a soldier falls, his spot is filled immediately. But how did it get in? I glanced at the corpse of the dead fly on the tissue on my desk. It was gone.
Saturday, October 07, 2006
Friday, October 06, 2006
Life at the Guesthouse of Villa Decius is getting mysteriouser and mysteriouser. I'm beginning to think I've arrived in a situation that may end up being threatening to my life.
It's slowly becoming clearer and clearer that there is more to the mysterious Laryssa than meets the eye. Every time I try to corner her, panic invades her eyes and she slips past me and behind locked doors, avoiding my questions. The proto-Austro-Feminist-Communist Erica is clearly hiding something in her past. There's a strange nervousness to her laugh when I innocently mention the never-resolved crimes of the elusive group of militant feminist terrorists who called themselves "Maenner her jetzt!" Erica would have been in her twenties when they were active. I believe now she's in some kind of witness protection program.
Then there are the post-Hegelians. When I arrived, there wasn't a single post-Hegelian in sight. Now, they're everywhere. Did you see that comment a few posts back? Crawling out of the woodwork with their freindly, probing ways and vaguely threatening intellectual puzzles. I know jiu jitzu and karate, I have the CIA handbook on my harddisk, but how do you protect yourself from a post-Hegelian?
I haven't seen the Ukrainian novelist since his reading a week ago. The White Russian poet can no longer be seen lounging around the kitchen listening to his own poems on CD. The Polish novelist Mirek has disappeared. When I ask where they are, someone says, "Oh, they're around," but before I can ask for specifics, they change the subject.
One by one, everyone is disappearing. The unnatural quiet in the house is getting eerie. When we talked about it the other night, the Ukrainian novelist Tanja made a crack about Agatha Christie's "Ten Little Indians": One by one, the people on an island begin disappearing. Is that what's happening here in this very house? Since she made that remark, I haven’t seen Tanja.
This morning, as if to belie my fears, Mirek showed up. He smiled unnaturally and said he had been in Warsaw, though I hadn’t asked yet.
But there was something strange about him. Something… changed…
The reason I think that novels don’t surprise me anymore is that they come so evenly measured out, so finely calculated, each sentence carefully weighed, each sentiment simply… correct. And predictable. I pick up some of these books, read three sentences and I want to run into traffic.
In TV, of course, it's different. Growing up in the 70's wasteland of Starsky and Hutch, I never thought I would say this, but the most daring fiction being written today is in TV. The standards for "over the top" fiction have been set by The Shield (shoots his partner in the first episode!), 24 (who was it that once said, "If you show an atom bomb hanging on the wall in the first chapter, it has to come down off the wall before the story is over"?), and in comedy South Park, The Simpsons, Seinfeld and of course The Office.
You can do that in television, you can’t do that in novels.
That's Commandment #3: If I'm going to write a novel, it has to be over-the-top.
Wednesday, October 04, 2006
There was some disagreement. Erica said, "Yes, but fiction depicts what is inside us." She hasn’t heard yet that Freud has fallen into disfavor. (Erica is conflicted on this issue – she is writing the story of her family and is waffling between writing it as fiction and non-fiction. As a novel, she could more easily play with the chronology. I am trying to talk her into making it non-fiction, and I almost had her there when she discovered that I am thinking about writing as novel and now she doesn't believe anything I say anymore. I suspect it doesn't matter whether she writes is an autobiographical novel or a non-fiction memoir, it will be her second bestseller.)
But I ask: Why is it we are so fascinated with what we feel "inside" and are so disinterested in what's really going on in the world? If we're going to discuss the human condition, let's at least try top bring a minimum of objectivity – not to mention research – into it.
There's an old novel dictum that says, "A character (and a human being) is not what he says or feels, he is what he does." The same goes for the human race: We are what we do. If you want to know us, don’t listen to what we've been talking about for the last 2000 years, look at what we've done. If Hitler had ever written down his stream of consciousness, it would probably have made him look really good. No, this "fiction helps us learn who we are inside" stuff I don’t buy. Show me what we are on the outside first.
Needless to say, I was able to convince no one. So I immediately sat down and wrote this stream-of-consciousness blog. That'll show 'em.
Tuesday, October 03, 2006
Then some guy walks into an Amish school room, ties up a dozen teenage girls, puts them against the wall and starts shooting. These girls had probably known very little of evil in their lives – hell, they hadn’t hardly known anything of life. And they stood there and saw it coming. They knew what this guy was going to do as they stood there completely helpless.
What am I supposed to think about that? Is there some theological argument that sounds good even now? Is there something cynical I can say that will make it go away? If any society deserves to be called innocent in some way, it is surely the Amish. The arbitrariness of this suffering, this evil, is so extreme as to make it unbearable. So what am I supposed to say now?
Monday, October 02, 2006
Is the house empty but for me? I sit here alone in my well-lit room, surrounded by books to read and notes to take, in the quietness, and think about how far away I am from the ones I love until a satisfying melancholy comes over me. Strange, because it is satisfying at the same time, like the exhaustiuon after a day of hard but successful work.
Most likely, everyone else is doing the same.
Sunday, October 01, 2006
How the Spirit Explained unto Faustus
The Hierarchy of the Empire of Hell
and Why No Mortal Can Command over its Emperor
Doctor Faustus returned to his living quarters pale as ash and shaking, and sat by the window while the other guests and servants slept and watched the run rise. But when his shaking had subsided and his hands were calm, he locked himself in his study and with chalk drew the circles of power on the floor and once more commanded the spirit to appear. And again the spirit did so, this time unaccompanied by fire and trumpeting, simply stepping into the air beside Faust's circle, dressed again as a gray friar, and softly asked, "What is it you desire of me?"
Of all the astonishing things that happened in the history of Doktor Faust, the most astonishing of all is the bare fact that the Lord God would withdraw his hand so that a demon can speak directly to man to deceive him and lead him down the path to hell, when the opposite is not true: The angels do not appear to us and speak to us directly to tempt us up to heaven. What glorious heavenly purpose is served by this, we mortals cannot know.
When the spirit of evil had appeared, Faust laid before him Three Laws of Demonics, which, said Faust, could never he transgressed for any reason. They were as follows:
First, that the demon will always serve and obey him in all that Faust might request, ask or even expect, at any time in his life and at any place and instantly without hesitation, up to the time of Faust's death.
Second, that the demon will keep back no information that Faustus might require, but that he might provide that information instantly and at the moment needed.
Third, that the demon will say nothing untruthful or lead Faust astray in any matter of truth in any of their dealings.
"You must be proud for yourself for devising such rules that you believe will protect you," said the gray friar. "But I must immediately reject them and refuse to accept any such laws in any form."
Faust was taken aback and asked for the reason, which the demon supplied: "I do not have the proper authority to make any such accommodation, but must instead obtain it from my Lord who rules over me. Sweet Faust," spoke the demon, "to fulfill this desire of yours is neither within my will nor within my authority, but can be fulfilled only by the Hellish God himself."
Faustus replied: "How am I to understand you? I summoned the devil – are you not he?"
The spirit answered: "No."
"Explain to me why this is not so."
"I will now reveal unto you a thing which few other mortal souls know, Sweet Faust," whispered the demon. "Among us hellish spawn there rules a strict government with laws and authorities and lawgivers. Our sovereign is Lucifer, who rules over a court of higher demons like unto your dukes and landgraves and abbots and bishops. And each of these have their own sinecures where they also give laws unto their vassals – Hellish knights and demonic barons – who in turn have vassals of their own – squires, monks and peasants – and of these, I am but one. But above all is our Hellish God who rules over us just as your kings and emperors on Earth and who must take advice from his subjects but whose voice is the final law at all times."
"Tell me now, O Demon," said Faust, "Are our kingdoms on earth like unto yours in hell because we learned these ways from the likes of you?"
"But Sweet Faust, you underestimate the imagination and creativity of your own mortal kind. Indeed, you forget that your kind has been blessed with the divine spark and are surely in a position to create such a kingdom on your own. The truth is, Sweet Faust, that it was your kind that created this hierarchy; my Hellish God only saw that it was efficient and powerful, especially for doing evil, and therefore instituted exactly the same hierarchy in Hell."
"Then what must I do to command over your Hellish Lord, for it is he I wish to do my bidding," said Faust in all his horrifying arrogance.
"But Sweet Faust," said the demon, laughing softly, "No man with all his dark arts nor any amount of power, yea, not with a thousand times more power than you possess, can ever command the Highest Emperor of Hell. The most a mortal can do is ask that a spirit be sent, and if he who asks is pleasing to the barons, dukes, abbots and bishops of Hell and especially to our most High Lord, then a mere knight or monk or peasant among demons is sent, as I have been."
"Are you then authorized to reveal to me anything at all that I desire?"
"There are many things I can reveal unto you, and many more things that I cannot, but that should not worry you, O Man, for if you are anything like all your mortal brethren, you will not possess the imagination necessary to think up most of those questions that are forbidden. But let me tell you two things which are chief among these things that you will never know: The first being knowledge of the true fundament of our dwelling place; the second being what does truly occur after the death to the damned human being – to learn that, Sweet Faust, you must be damned and experience it for yourself."
Reminded of damnation and the terms of a pact with the devil, Doktor Faustus became alarmed once more and cursed the demon and swore he would have nothing more to do with the Kingdom of Hell, and said: "I will not be damned for thy sake, oh peasant among spirits."
The demon answered: "Wilt though not? But thou art surely damned already, Sweet Faust, for thine is an insolent heart, and no matter how long thou wouldst struggle with thyself, thou wilt surely call upon me again and willingly embrace thine own damnation."
Then Doctor Faustus cursed and said: "The devil take thee! Return to Hell, oh wicked Spirit, and never return to torment me again! Be gone!"
And so the gray friar now withdrew just as quietly and simply as had come, but even in that moment, Doktor Faustus knew he would conjure the spirit once more, that very night, at vespers.
To be continued…
....as witnessed by this photo taken of the nerds hanging around Ye Olde Lord of the Rings Shoppe in the top floor of the Galeria Kazimierz.