Art or Truth

“You’ve been staring at a blank screen and tapping the keys for like fifteen minutes.”

I ignore him. Partly because I make a habit of it and partly because I never succeed. So really, the habit is that I try to ignore him and fail utterly. It’s a failure about which, I am of two minds.

“Are you going to write or just sit there?”

I growl. He turns a page. The reading glasses click as he sets them aside. “You can’t possibly have run out of things to say.”

“My life is ridiculously syncopated.”

“You definitely move to a different beat.”

“Shut up.”

“Write.”

Another growl escapes me. “I cannot.”

“Why? Shit, write this down. Write a whole conversation down about how you aren’t writing anything and your incredibly sexy boy-toy is picking on you to write.”

I spare him a long look with slowly rolled eyes. “No one wants to hear about you, you egomaniacal imbecile.”

His brows tick upward smugly. “That’s bullshit. Chicks dig the Chef.”

“I’m writing that down, you asshole.”

He looks away. “At least you’ll be writing.”

Minutes click by in the sound of my claws dragging over the ridges of the keyboard. The glowing screen annoys me, so pure and white and hateful. I turn down the brightness and continue to tap.

“God damn it, Simon! Just fucking write about yesterday.”

“That’s boring. No one wants to hear about my day.”

“Yes, they do.”

“Why? That’s absurd. No one wants to know what shirt I wore, or that i went to the pharmacy. No one cares about that.”

He finally tires of pretending to read and throws the book at me. it bounces off my shoulder and flaps at me in an air rather like a child sticking out its tongue. How dare it be so full of words, so fat and verbose? I’m of a mind to rip out pages.

“You’re an idiot. Of course they want to know what you’re doing. They want to know what you ate, what you wore, who you talked to, and I bet there are some motherfuckers on there who want to know how often you go to the bathroom. I bet you a million dollars that there are people on there who want to know what your ass looks like naked.”

“You don’t have a million dollars.”

“I do now, bitch.”

“I will not honor that wager, sir. I did not consent.”

He gets up and wraps his arms around my neck, staring at the blank screen. “You really are stuck. Normally I have to throw things at you to get you to stop writing. What’s wrong? Your sense of humor is also anemic. You need some refreshment?”

“No. And I’m not going to write about that either, because no one cares about that.”

“Yes, they do.”

“Will you shut up?”

He does. I lean my face against his arm and continue to sink into my feelings. A profound sense of discomfort has taken me in the last several weeks. I can neither enjoy writing, nor fall into it as I once did. Conversations had on social media and with people of the publishing world have made me feel a distinct malaise. It is sharp and wedges itself right below my heart, where a bullet left a charming reminder of its visit. That something can be so precise and so consistent, and yet so utterly nameless is beyond me. If it did have a name, it would sound like my claws ticking, ticking, ticking over the keys aimlessly.

“What’s wrong with you?” he mumbles finally.

“I don’t know.”

“Explain it.”

This sets me upon a long pilgrimage, as my thoughts tumble over the whole of Europe, the Americas, and pile up into the future. I am silent so long, the screen shuts off. I close my eyes and absorb some of his ambient warmth.

“I like what I’m learning. I enjoy knowing what men think of me in a controlled way even though I know all of it is skewed.”

“But you don’t like it?”

“I don’t understand it.”

“Why you’re doing it?”

“That, I know.”

The sound of his deep breath is like a wind howling through a cavern. “What don’t you understand?”

“Why people want to know these things. I comprehend that learning about another lifestyle, or history, or culture is fascinating, but if that becomes entertainment, is it then not actually learning? Am I teaching people about me or am I distracting them from themselves?”

“Ah, the dangers of fiction,” he chuckles.

“It isn’t fiction.”

“So, then…it seems like you’re saying that you’ve learned reality is as dangerous as fiction.”

“That statement makes no sense. It’s like saying ‘this beverage contains no artificial flavorings’. All flavors are natural. They exist, don’t they? Anything that exists is real and natural. It doesn’t mean it’s healthy, but it’s certainly natural. Fiction comes from reality, a reality that really has never been all that hospitable, so how can we expect that the two will be any different from one another?”

“You know what I mean.” For a moment, his embrace is cruelly firm. “Are you more creeped out that they want to know every detail of your reality, or that they treat your reality as entertainment? Or is it something else?”

If I am honest, it is a little bit of both. With that mingled dissatisfaction that I feel incredibly self-conscious about this work. I cannot discuss it. In a sick way, the revelation of my actual life, which should have provided me with a perfect mask against detection, now makes me more fearful, because so many of you want to soak in it as much as you want to soak in my tub.

I don’t want a cult of the ego. I don’t want to fatten myself on that.

I am the author. I am the one meant to have words for this feeling, so that I can explain it to you. I feel I fail at it constantly, and yet people continue to fraudulently laud me and ply me with compliments that also serve to make me frightfully uncomfortable.

If there is art in how truth is told, does that diminish the quality of the truth? If art is presentation, then it is also deception. If deception, then the telling of fact, no matter how poetically done, is embellished beyond value. Truth is beauty, a poet once said. Beauty. Not Art. Truth and Art are not the same.

If I manage to confine the ephemeral on the page, then have I not killed it and pinned it to the world like a butterfly in a museum? Was it true because I captured it, or was it proven false because it ceased to live?

These are things that haunt my mind, as I move through my conversations with you, gentle readers. As I fret over technology, or bemoan my appetite, or discuss politics, or slang, or what have you…I am always thinking, “No matter what I do, it is a lie.”

Being told that I am good with words, that I have talent for writing…it fills me with a kind of shame. I’d rather be called dry, bland, thoroughly lacking in charisma, just so that the point is made, that monsters are people too. If one is exceptional at arguing against exceptionalism…well, that is intensely hypocritical.

I maintain I have no talent for it, but even as I argue that, I know that I have just made a word selection that is designed to specifically evoke something in the reader, and to me this feels utterly dishonest. I try to assuage that by squeezing the life out of the notion that there is much context that cannot be given without evocative language. I allow the work to be edited, so that readers will not find it dull, and will therefore read it, which makes me feel like a slimy corporate sales person, slapping a new label on packages of cancer so that humans will be pleased enough to kill themselves with it.

I shouldn’t edit. I should leave it as boring and plain as I can, but when I attempt to do so, I am overwhelmed with a sense of things undone, the clockwork malfunctioning, the mechanism untimed. If I remove the art, the piece feels like a blank porcelain face. It is something like the reality, but without the color, it is not as lifelike as it could be, and yet that “life” I am giving it is false, because it is a reflection…

Apologies. Philosophical circuitousness is what happens when you are so old you’ve literally contemplated all the probabilities, amusements, and facts of a hundred lifetimes.

All this fills me with discomfort, was the point I was attempting to make.

“I am obnoxious. My life is boring. I am unable to keep pace with them. I feel constantly as if I am blinded by flashing lights. I feel stupid.”

He nuzzles my head. “So?”

“So…they’re still reading it. They shouldn’t be. I never intended for readers to stay with this in the long term. I considered there might be the odd chap here or there who might follow for a pace, but I never reckoned there’d be thousands, or that they’d want more. More. The very word implies some secret subtext to my life that is nonsense.”

“Uh huh. So? You’re a person and people like you. They like to read about your boring ass life, because it gives them words for shit in their boring ass lives. So what? Why does that bother you?”

“Because it’s an experiment.”

“To determine whether or not humanity can accept monsters, not whether or not you’re likable. What? If they like you you can’t be real? If they like your work but don’t believe it’s real…then you’re less you? Why can’t you be a monster who also happens to be a good writer? You’re already a monster with a shit ton of other amazing talents.” He massages my shoulders. “Those talents make things. What’s wrong with using this talent to make something so perfect, that people get a meaningful image of your life, instead of just a perfect one?”

And there it is.

I came here to find out something for my own edification. I determined that there had to be a way to do this with minimal impact. The survey evolved into a kind of therapy session and support group. Now I dispense wisdom as proof of life, rather than historical reference materials, and this fills me with nervousness. I worry that for once, my wisdom will prove inaccurate and unhelpful. I worry that I cannot help all these people that I seem to have promised to protect. I worry that the community has outgrown the experiment, and I have lost control of the data. I lack confidence in my outcomes. I lack confidence in everything. I am, for all my age, anxious at the thought of writing one single word, paralyzed because my readership might enjoy themselves, but also because they might not. If they like me, to me their judgment of the truth is questionable, and yet I still try to please them…please you, because I don’t want any harm to come of my search for knowledge.

I am petrified.

I don’t, however, have any clue as to how to undo it. I can continue to publish the cookbooks that have been written. I can tell stories of the past. I can transcribe my little essays to keep you all healthy and strong. I can do all of that, but can I really keep writing all this prettily made garbage that reads like Sam Pepys rose from his grave and began picking off humans left and right to gain material?

A calendar’s unholy union with an attic haunting — that’s how it reads.

My life will continue on as it has done for some time. the longer I carry on doing this, the longer I prolong this phase. I wonder if this phase overlaps others. I wonder if I can carry on writing a journal for the world through several lifetimes. If I do, it will not be because i want to know what you think. At some point, the experiment will become irrelevant.

What then?

“Shut it down,” he whispers in my ear. “If you have what you were looking for, then shut it down and just enjoy what you’re doing.”

“I haven’t learned everything yet.”

“But it’s going to explode before you can. You know that. I know that. Half your readers know that. Why not just write and entertain the ones who bother, make a killing…” he chuckles in a self-congratulatory way, “and then get on with eternity when you get bored?”

“Half my readers think I’m a forties-something history professor with an inexplicable amount of time on his hands.”

“If you care about that, then you’ve stopped gathering data, Sigh-bear. If you care about that, then you’re actually trying to convince the world to accept you.”

He slips away from me and leaves the room. I tap at the keys.

I am reaching some kind of end. I am coming to some conclusion. He is right. It will explode before that ore of truth can be extracted from all the junk-art. It will turn into me exploring my talent with my life as inspiration, rather than an attempt to quantify the mental state of my audience. It will all turn to a zoological display where readers come to poke at or worship the monster…the author…whatever.

Assuming it wasn’t that already.

Frozen Dessert Tutorial

In discussion with some of my gentle readers, it became clear to me that many of them would like a way to experiment with various frozen treats like ice cream, gelato, Italian Ice, and sorbet. So here, in this tutorial, I will give you hints on how to produce all of the above, in your home, without the aid of an ice cream making machine.

Each recipe will indicate materials and give general information.

Floral Ice Cream, a recipe

Ice cream is, as the name implies, frozen cream. By using condensed milk, we are cutting out a step, but it is the step that requires the equipment, so I don’t think you’ll mind.

This recipe can be used for any edible flower species. There are many! Roses, lavender, fuchsia, orange blossom, hyacinth and so forth. floral ice creams are a lovely addition to tea time, or as a compliment to a fruit tart.

Tools:

  • Hand held or standing mixer (standing mixer is easiest, but not required)
  • large mixing bowls
  • plastic wrap
  • shallow steel pan that fits into the freezer (if using a standing mixer, merely use the metal mixing bowl and freeze it in advance of all use)
  • fine mesh strainer
  • pot

Ingredients:

  • flowers/petals  (about six cups will do to make the syrup, which will last beyond this one application)
  • several cups of sugar
  • 3 1/2 c. water
  • 2 c. Heavy whipping cream
  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk (one of the few cans i can abide)
  • pinch of salt

Instructions:

  1. In the pot, place the flowers and the water. Boil for 15 minutes
  2. Strain the liquid into a bowl and measure
  3. Add an equal amount of sugar to the liquid and return to the pot
  4. Stir until everything is dissolved, and until it comes to a boil.
  5. Remove it from the heat and allow it to cool
  6. Whip the cream until it comes to peaks and then set aside
  7. Combine your condensed milk, salt, and floral syrup and mix well
  8. Fold the mixture into the whipped cream until well incorporated
  9. Scoop into a container and cover. Place this in the freezer. It will be solid within a few hours.

 

Nutella Gelato, a recipe

Gelato is a custard-based frozen milk. Custard means eggs.

Yet again, the flavor was chosen as a type of universal element (and also, my readers wanted something nutella flavored) But you can do this with almost any topping.

Tools:

  • Much the same as the above

Ingredients:

  • 2 c milk
  • 3/4 cup nutella
  • 5 eggs
  • 1/2 c. sugar

Instructions:

  1. Separate the egg yolks and beat them with the sugar. Set aside.
  2. Using low heat, bring the milk slowly to a boil, but remove just before.
  3. A little at a time, spoon the milk into the yolks while mixing furiously. When you’ve incorporated half the milk, reverse the process and put the egg mixture into the milk a little at a time until it is all thoroughly mixed.
  4. Put this back over heat and stirring occasionally, allow to come to the boil.
  5. Remove from heat as soon as the boil is reached.
  6. Incorporate the nutella
  7. Spoon into the metal freezing container and allow to sit in freezer for two hours
  8. Every 45 minutes to an hour, stir to break up any ice crystals. When you’ve done this a few times, You no longer need to but do allow it to fully freeze, about 8 hours.
  9. When it is finished, I recommend you give it an incredible stirring. Smash the hell out of it. Don’t serve until you have.

 

Lemon Lavender Italian Ice, a recipe

Both “Ice” and “Sorbet” are made up of syrups and fruit juices, the primary difference being that sorbet tends to use more starchy purees, while ice is merely a frozen liquid.

This dessert is ideal for those who cannot enjoy dairy, and works well with acidic ingredients that don’t lend themselves to dairy.

Tools:

  • See above
  • Blender or food processor

Ingredients:

  • 1 c water
  • 1/3 c. sugar
  • 1/2 c. lemon juice
  • Several Tbsp Lavender syrup (see the first recipe to learn to make this yourself)
  • The zest of two lemons

instructions:

  1. Chill your shallow metal pan by storing in the freezer.
  2. Combine the water and sugar in a pot and simmer for about 5 minutes, then remove from the heat.
  3. Add the zest, syrup, and juice and mix thoroughly
  4. Pour this into the metal dish (If using a standing mixer, use the mixing bowl)
  5. Put into freezer
  6. Ever 30 minutes, remove and stir thoroughly (the standing mixer breaks up the crystals until they are much smaller, increasing the smoothness and decreasing the coarse texture)
  7. Do this at least 5 times
  8. After several hours, it should be completely frozen

 

Blueberry Beet Sorbet, a recipe

This is another recipe perfect for your lactose intolerant friends. It is essentially identical to the above recipe, but the Italians prefer to have their “ice” actually a bit course, while sorbet can be creamier. Sorbet is also mostly a puree. It is excellent with banana, avocado, and so forth. When crafting flavors for this type of treat, try combining one “creamy” or denser fruit with a more juicy fruit. For example, banana and orange, or avocado and lime.

Tools:

  • See above
  • Blender or food processor
  • wax paper

Ingredients:

  • 1 c. water
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1/2 c. lemon juice
  • 2 c. blueberries
  • 2 c. beet (peeled and chopped)

Instructions:

  1. Combine water and sugar in the pot and bring to the boil
  2. Remove from heat
  3. Add the blueberries, and juice and run through the blender or food processor.
  4. Run this through the fine mesh strainer
  5. Line the shallow metal dish with wax paper (So you can get the solid block out)
  6. Pour in the juice and allow to freeze
  7. Remove and run through blender, and allow to freeze once again.
  8. Repeat as many times as it takes for you to be happy with the consistency, But it likely won’t take more than two times (We use this technique because we are working with absolutely no fats of any kind, just syrup and ice. We are relying on the starches and sugars in the fruits to bind together. and it is just far easier with a high powered means of breaking up the crystals as they form)

 

All of these recipes are easily altered. The measurements aren’t necessarily precise, and everything is essentially to taste. If you want more toppings, then add more. If you want plain vanilla ice cream, just add vanilla. Or if you want a key lime pie with the crust in, add lime and graham crackers. You want a sweet potato and ginger ice cream? Have at it. The possibilities are actually endless.

 

 

 

Hot Dark Chocolate Raspberry Cocoa, a recipe

Tools:

  • Three pots, two that can comfortably nest.
  • Metal whisk
  • Mesh strainer

Ingredients:

  • 5 oz heavy cream
  • 20 oz whole milk
  • 1/2 c chopped chocolate (for this I prefer dark or extra dark chocolate)
  • 2 lbs Raspberries
  • 4 c. Water
  • 2 c. Sugar

Instructions:

  1. In the lonely pot, place berries and water and boil for about 20 minutes, being careful not to smash or damage the berries. Skim any foam that rises to clarify the syrup.
  2. Strain the liquid to remove the berries, being careful not to smash the now pale berries.
  3. Add the liquid back to the pot and dissolve the sugar, (add a dash of a raspberry liquor or port if you like) heating to a boil.
  4. Reduce the liquid until it is the consistency of maple syrup. 
  5. Store excess in glass container.
  6. To make the chocolate: Fill the larger of the two nested pots with water (only so that the smaller pot may nest comfortably without water splashing up into it) and bring it to a boil.
  7. Set the small pot in with the chocolate, milk, and cream inside. (If you want truly rich cocoa, do use dark chocolate, which has a different fat content.)
  8. Whisk continually until the chocolate is melted and thoroughly incorporated. 

To serve, add the desired amount of syrup to your cocoa. Top with fresh whipped cream, marshmallows, or powder with chocolate. 

Fascinatingly Banal

“You seem very preoccupied.”

I  glance at her. She is always needling me when I am silent, which is both beneficial to me and slightly uncomfortable. I like Victoria. More than I will ever say aloud, though I have no doubt she will read about it since she seems to make it a practice to monitor my web traffic. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, I feel that my thoughts are clearer when we sit at cross purposes, looking at her plain walls and abstractions. I never fret over her mindset, or how I trouble it. I never imagine harm coming to her. Instead, I feel somehow as if I am absorbing her calm.

That was not a succubus joke.

I’ve gotten lighter on my feet where humor is concerned, and I sometimes feel people assume I am quite funny. In actuality, this is not so. Most humor on my part is “happenstance”.

Pardon me…

“I am.”

“With what?”

I have anticipated this question. It is the one thing I really can anticipate from her. She asks it nearly thrice a session. Probably my doing. If I was more given to vocal expression…well…I suppose therapy wouldn’t be necessary.

“I have been…” I shake my head. I haven’t a good word for it. “Malaise” is as close as I come, but this is habitual. This is the flux of generations. It happens to me several times a decade. “A slump,” I think most would call it. I call it dull and if I am honest, worrisome, because it takes more and more to pull me from it every time it happens — humans and newfound associations notwithstanding.

“Depressed? Like before?”

“Still.” I lean forward and can feel my face working at the difficulty of putting these feelings into words. “When I am beneath it…I am buried, and my head comes out for a breath, but I always sink.”

“Then I haven’t known you when you weren’t ‘under’, as you put it.”

“No.”

“How long have you been under this time?”

I sigh. I know the answer, but it was so long ago in human years, I hesitate to even bring it up lest it shock her into outward spiraling theories and motivational exercises. But really, I should always expect the best from her.

“How many decades, Simon?”

“Now? Ah, me…many. Since the war.”

“Which war?”

I let out a snort. That this must be clarified gives precisely the proper statement. “The war.”

“Are you going to tell me what triggered it?”

“If I have to do that, then we need to have a discussion of history and the merits of the education system in this country.”

She purses her lips. This usually means she believes I am deflecting from answering the question because I feel it will concur emotional vulnerability. She’s half right. I am not answering because I feel annoyed that I must constantly answer this question, that the last of the Great Generation are dying, that I am the only one left who seems to remember how perfectly horrifying it was. I am full of rage at this fact, actually. I am full of absolute condign fury that there are men who have the gall to assert none of it happened.

They want to make oven jokes. My first thoughts are always, “Oh, my sweet juicy child…do not ‘go there’. I have oven jokes for days.”

But that is tasteless, and not in the gustatory way. Instead I ramble on ineffectually in chat rooms and kill the odd asshole. I also gone about other wars, less important wars in the scheme of modern “history”, mass deaths, thousands of men wiped out, whole generations so that this or that king could be in charge.

Would that I could erase the entire idea of “power” from the face of the earth.

Again, pardon me.

She shakes her head. “I can’t fight that war. It’s been won.”

“Has it though?”

“Simon…”

I look away. She is going to ask me what the most immediate problem is. She’s right to do it. It is a sound method, as I never run shy on problems. I swear to you now, gentle reader, if I could silence my thoughts, I wouldn’t know what to do with myself.

Consider this — eating man makes us clever. Not eating men causes stupidity. Eating more men makes us even more clever. What if…after all this time doing this to myself, I am actually manic? Perhaps eating so many people has acted like a kind of stimulant, like methamphetamines.

My mind moves ten directions at once, at full speed. This seldom has a better chance of manifesting itself than when I am in a chat session with some of you. Ten conversations at once, but all lines of thought processing at different speeds. I may be slow to answer a perfectly obvious question, but that is because my recollection has wandered down a road completely thick with brambles. You mention tater tots, and my brain, for whatever it is worth, meanders from tots to processing plants, from that to the potato famine, from there to the Irish, back to the canal and the “malaria” epidemic, and on to the coast of France, and then around again, by degrees, to the plague of London and the pasty I ate while watching a woman dispose of her children in a pile of corpses. As may be obvious, my answers become complicated, clipped, and often require people to ask me what I was getting at. 

It’s called “tangential reasoning” and I am guilty of it in spades. So when you ask me a question and I take a moment to reply…and it makes no sense, and you think to yourself “what the hell…” — this is why.

It’s not just tater tots. It is a mountain. An avalanche. It’s smothering and distracting. It’s impossible to focus and when I do, I focus on the most meaningless of things. Like this shirt. Why the hell did I wear this shirt? I hate this shirt. The fabric is far too thin and the cut is all wrong.

I miss the days before mass produced clothing. I constantly find myself wishing that the tailor who used to have his shop on First was still there, and more importantly, that he had a speed dial function. In those days, there were no clothes but what were made for you by someone with skill. A man had several shirts, one suit, perhaps two. A woman had two or three dresses. Clothes were an investment. 

Now I walk into a Michael Kors and think, my god what is this “handmade” apology of a clothing line? Someone please set those sweat shop workers free and let them use colors! Not everyone looks good in things the shape and shade of cardboard boxes and sailor’s uniforms. And heavens to Betsy, do we really need a label on everything? Who the devil are you, and what is this brass plea for attention? Is it your cheap bid for immortality, Michael?

Look, you see? Where was I?

“Why are we here? What are we talking about today?”

Not my shirt, I assume. “I can’t remember.”

“This keeps happening.”

“I am sorry, but you have a relaxing aspect, and I lose my train of thought. Or rather, I gain fifty of them.”

“We go nowhere.”

A wry smile is my only reply.

“Let’s try something new.” She stands up suddenly, stretching like a gymnast and bending in all directions. With her arms like windmills, she casts out the odd question. “What do you think of first, when Chef smiles at you?”

I tilt my head. What an odd question, indeed. “Blood.”

She doesn’t laugh as I expect her to. Her face tells me she can completely comprehend such a compulsion. “What’s the second thing you think?”

“I’m boring.”

Her movements come to a halt. “Clarify. You see him and think ‘I am boring,’ just like that?”

“Yes. Just like that.”

“Seeing him makes you think about how you’re disappointing him?”

“Yes. No. I…Well, its something like that, I suppose.”

“That was every answer. Stand up,” she beckons. “Come on. Do it.”

I am frowning, but she has a magic to her. The number of times she’s coaxed from me things I had never dared voice is simply remarkable. I cannot deny her yet another chance to make a cowed fool out of me. I take too much pleasure in watching her be brilliant.

I stand. 

She smiles. “Do what I do.”

“Simon says, I don’t play this game.”

“You’re a mimic. So mimic.” She puts her hands above her head, high above, to touch the ceiling, or the light floating on the sterile air, or whatever divinity refuses to make itself known to her. “Come on. Do it.”

I oblige, and feel like an idiot. I am reminded of my first Holy Mass. It was long ago, before I’d even grasped the languages around me. I was hungry then and weary. I had gone to the church because of the pointy thing on top of it. It rang. People went there. They made noises and they bobbed up and down like birds pecking. So I learned to genuflect.

Ha! How’s that? I learned to kneel before I learned to speak. I learned to grovel before I knew to beg. It turns my stomach. It’s philosophically repugnant to me. If Socrates were here, or Descartes, of Voltaire, I’d probably get the back of a hand across my face if they could stop pleasuring themselves long enough to expend the effort. No, never mind, Voltaire would likely not care. 

There I go again.

“You’re boring.” She is looking up. I am looking at her. She ignores me. She carries on with her calisthenics. “But you’re not worried that disappoints him. Clearly he is smiling at you, so he isn’t disappointed.”

“Indeed. May I put down my—”

She waves her arms. all around, swirling and twirling. I shake my head. For my trouble, I receive a nudge of the chin. “What are you really thinking when he smiles at you?”

All this movement, this ridiculous bullshit. I certainly hope this isn’t something she picked up in that university of hers, or else that degree came far too expensively.

“This is annoying.”

“Because you’re not embracing the act.”

“If you’re not careful I will embrace your new chair and you’ll need another one.”

“Simon…you are difficult.”

“Yes! Yes I am. I am absurdly tedious! I am grateful you’ve noticed.”

“You’re not even participating.”

Finally, I have lost my patience. I drop my arms and turn away, teeth clamped down on wordless spitting.

“What do you really think when Chef smiles at you?”

“That I am deceiving him!” I snarl, and before I can topple the sculpture and upend the table, she has taken her seat as if she never moved.

“Go on.”

I commend her for her commitment to driving me out of my own solitude with a torch and pitchfork, but one day it will get her killed if she isn’t careful. I cannot tell her that. It will only please her to know how close she comes to the core of me.

I sit down, ruffled, on the edge, but because of this, duller in my defenses. Stress forces me to compensate, compensation takes calories, calories drive a wedge between me and my consciousness. words become difficult, but feelings more evident. I suppose, to the observant sculptor, I become malleable. 

“There isn’t anything interesting to me. Not one thing. I do perfectly mundane tasks. I eat, I sleep. I watch television. I scroll Tumblr.”

“Are any of these bad?”

I have often contemplated that. I am not sure of the answer. This experiment has broken many boundaries I once had. It has been absolutely trying on me since the books were published. There was a time when reproach from a human meant disaster. For most of my life, one tiny comment was enough to set me calculating just how long I could go without food before this person became the menu item, just how far I had to walk to get away from my own reputation. Then came the time of mayhem, when I stopped caring and men became their own monsters. I hated who I became then. I hated the things I did, but I still did them.This new era, of rampant commentary, it has a numbness to it that conflicts with everything I have learned, and when I receive the odd anonymous ask or sharp message…it doesn’t pain me. 

Pain isn’t the right word.

I don’t care what they think of me, truly I mean that. But in me is a natural instinct to flee or kill, and that is triggered with every hateful retort. When I receive the asks, I have to walk away, think about what century this is. Remember how silly this all seems to them, the perspective of the thing. I have to eat and consider the best way to proceed.

This month…it was that I am boring.

“You are boring…good luck with the experiment,” this person said to me, and while I readily agree that I am, this felt somehow wrong. Why wrong? What do I care if they find me normal, average, exactly what I have always argued that we monsters are? Why would that matter?

Because it echoes my own lies, my own deceptions to those I hold dear. It makes it obvious that I have managed to slip by undetected, into that sacred circle. Don’t look at me. If you do, you will see I have infiltrated and you will hate me for it. You will punish me for it. I will kill you for it.

I am boring, and yet you are smiling at me.

“Come back.”

I press my face into my hands and take a deep breath. Those two words are like a command, a mantra. Now, even when I am alone, and my mind is going in eternal circles, I can say it aloud, and suddenly I am standing there, and I am Simon, in this year, looking at a toaster and knowing that to push the lever down turns the bread brown.

“I am lying to him.”

For the first time, she seems concerned. She has large eyes, and by that, I mean they are disproportionately shaped. I have recently learned that the Sumerians prized that as an attribute. Apparently they mated specifically for that purpose, to have children with large eyes. As I have had it explained to me by my editor, this has the unintended consequence of increasing the size of the frontal lobe, as the visual cortex is the part of the brain most responsible for the personality…

Come back.

“What do you imagine he is going to do, when he finds out you’re lying?”

I am loathe to utter it, because the word itself, once a refuge for me, now summons all manner of chilling, unimaginable horrors.

“Leave.”

“He’s smart.”

“His intellect is immaterial.”

“Is it though? He’s trustworthy too.”

“Again I say—”

“Simon, don’t you think it’s possible that you believe you are deceiving him because you don’t trust him or think him capable of seeing past your exterior? You are treating him as if he isn’t capable.”

“No…I…”

My, but I am an arrogant bastard. Is that really it? Have I, all this time, medicated my own vulnerability by cultivating this unnaturally low opinion of the human I care for most in this world? Have I, through fear, pushed him away? More importantly, have I ever acted on that opinion? Have I made him feel it? Have I made him feel reviled? Have I ever once been cruel to him in a way to which I was oblivious because I was so wrapped in my own…

“Stop.”

My eyes are closed. My body is beginning to ache in that ancient way. Like a skin made of bruises, it causes more recent wounds to itch and older ones to tug. “I’m sorry. I am almost at my limit, Vicky.”

“There’s something I’ve learned about you.”

“Oh? I daresay there’s a lot you’ve learned about me — not all of it spoken.”

She smiles knowingly. “All this stuff you’re doing, jumping into the deep end with humans…as unsettling as it is for you, I think you knew…maybe instantly, what it will give you. I mean how you benefit from it. You knew all at once. You have taken hold of it and you are strangling the meaning from it.”

“I tend to strangle things, it is true.”

She remains appropriately stoic. It is unfair that I am laughed at for deep revelations and given a stern reproof when I am flexing my sense of humor. But so be it. Monsters aren’t allowed to be amusing. Fair enough. You invented the languages, spoken humor is your domain, I suppose.

This vexes me, however. Some day I will invent something and exclude you from it just to “be a dick”.

“Everything you’ve ever told me about your past leads me to believe that this hobby of collecting, sorting, stockpiling is a new thing. You were nomadic before. You couldn’t collect because you couldn’t carry it. All of a sudden here you are, pulling things close and worrying yourself silly over them.”

“Silly is a strong term.”

“Tell me you didn’t just nearly eat me because you worried you had actually hurt him so that you wouldn’t have to feel vulnerable with him.”

“Point taken.”

She lays her head back against the chair and gazes upward. As per her usual custom, she has shed her shoes and sits balled up. I know our sessions are not relaxing for her, but she gives the impression of finding them thusly. But as I think this, I wonder if it is something she does intentionally, to demonstrate that she is at ease with me even when she is not, as a means of manipulating me into a sense of camaraderie.

“I’m sorry.”

Her gaze flicks to me. “Why?”

“I’m doing it again.”

“You can hear my heartbeat. I am absolutely calm.”

“Yes.”

“So am I deceiving you, oh great deceiver?”

I cannot help but laugh. Here we are, two professional liars, using skill to break down defenses, using knowledge to have an effect. She is far too intelligent for her own good. Some day I am going to have to eat someone for her. Again.

“I want to hear more about this. Why do you believe you are deceiving him? Is it because he finds you interesting when you are actually boring?”

“Precisely.”

“Uh huh. He’s not allowed to find you interesting? He’s not allowed to be more boring than you?”

“He isn’t boring. Quite the opposite.”

“Oh, I don’t know. All he does is cook and drink and hang around you. I think that’s completely boring.”

“Do you?”

“No. I am making a point. That in the same way you don’t find him boring, he doesn’t find you boring.”

Her skill is magnificent. If my face wasn’t already set in a grim line it takes far too much energy to craft, I’d be smirking at her. “He may do as he pleases.”

“But he’s stupid if that’s what he does.”

“Stop putting words in my mouth.”

“Stop making it so easy. You’re ordinary, completely mundane. So what, you eat people? Whatever! There are plenty of people who eat pistachios and no one thinks they’re odd.”

I cross my arms and roll my eyes.

“The monster thing is about as interesting as having one leg longer than the other.”

“Yes!” She is mocking me for a purpose, but what I cannot tell, unless this is to goad me into yet another spontaneous utterance. “I don’t change! I just sit here like a sloth. A large, blood sucking, man eating sloth who happens to have better hygiene. Did you know they cultivate a moss in their fur? Someone told me it was a fungus, but I looked it up again, and it is a moss. And now there is an entire population of them dunking themselves in latrines! No one knows why…Apologies.”

She is pinching her lips again in that unflattering smile, and her huge eyes are glittering from between drawn lids. “Simon.”

“Victoria.”

“I know you appreciate a good humbling.”

“Like I do a good flossing.”

“Well, I’m not going to give you one.”

“That isn’t fair.”

“Why do you maintain this belief you are unchanging?”

Incredulity, on my face has a rather stupefying look to it. As if all of a sudden someone has crushed my skull with an anvil. Most people actually find it rather unsettling, because as I have made abundantly clear, I am not human, and my features revert when I am not paying attention to them. The mouth falls open, the soft tissue around the eyes…the feelers reach out for…Let’s stop before I go off again on a tangent. 

So it is that often when mankind is at it’s most remarkably idiotic, with heights of nonsense that shame Nature, I am made far more obvious. Ironic isn’t it? That as a monster, I am more obvious when I am perplexed at how fucking stupid you are as a species…is mockery. It has to be a defense mechanism. Natural Selection made sure that when you were at your least intelligent, you absolutely could not fail to notice us. Probably why the old myths are so preposterous.

I trust you’ve seen Monty Python and the Holy Grail? Let me put you in mind of that “She’s a witch” skit in the middle of it. If that happened, the witch would be instantly forgotten, because there I would be, at the time quite ignorant of physics or facetiousness, shaking my head in slack jawed offense to common sense.

And the witch would be safe to hex another day.

I know this because I lived through the time that was referencing, and frankly, if I’d been less worried about dying myself, I would probably have had many a conversation that began with, “Can we dispense with this ‘if she drowns, she goes to God in innocence rubbish, since killing an innocent creature would make you all murderers in the eyes of God?’.

Ah…yes. I’ve done it again. 

Anyway…I look at her with this face. She ignores it. The silence fattens itself on our unspoken thoughts and makes jolly love to our mutual understandings until the air is peopled with little dancing retorts.

“Could it be because you look at yourself every day?”

“If I didn’t someone would notice.”

She says my name in a warning. “Tell me about coal. How amazing is coal?”

I blink at her, but then I’m off, thinking about coal fires and how much easier they were to maintain. Wood cost a bloody fortune by the time the area around London had lost all its ancient forest. Coal fires would blacken the insides of the train tunnels, so that an engineer would end up covered in dust, till only his eyes peeped out. I remember how tedious it was to get off the wallpaper. Two or three deaths per annum. Ah, and then gas! What a lovely discovery that was. Lanterns were such wonderful things. Far superior to candles. My god, the wax! Everywhere! And not the lovely beeswax you envision, or the perfect white tapers of today. The whole town smelled like a livestock farm had been pushed into a live volcano, and the stuff caused all manner of fires to burn beyond control. But then the lightbulb, preceded by my nemesis, electricity. But even that had it’s finer moments.

I remember the exact day and time that my home began electrification. It wasn’t a glorious light up as you perhaps imagine, gentle reader. 1886. Alternating current wasn’t dominant. Tiny fits and starts of power serviced by neighborhood companies, but my was it amazing! As each patch came to life, I could hear it. It sizzled in my mind. Suddenly, I could see with my eyes shut, hear the world in a current that hummed in strange thrumming pulses…

“How long did it take, to go from wood to electricity?” she asks casually.

Sometimes it amazes me how astute she is. Then I remember that I have aided her task marvelously by writing this bloody journal and feel I am remiss to afford her an accolade. Less genius, more observation. But then again, to collate all that into an accurate picture of me is invaluable. I require her assistance to see myself from the outside.

“Two hundred years or thereabouts.”

“All that change…in only two hundred years.”

At a loss for words, I am transfixed by the corner of her mouth. She is smiling at my expense. Let her. She has earned it.

“Perhaps you only think you’re boring because you see yourself in the mirror every day. To you the changes are long, drawn out, incremental, thousand fold if there’s one. But to everyone looking at you, you are an amazement of sheer willingness to change.”

Is that the secret? Is it deception, or do humans actually find me interesting? Many of the gentle readers who contact me say they like my stories — some of them that this is the chief reason they speak to me. They appreciate hearing the history. They like the “realness” I bring. Perhaps they also enjoy that the creature talking about the time he saw a man flung through the air into the side of a fortress, is doing so from a smart phone that is so stupid it thinks that I can’t spell “Caliphate.”

No, Siri…go hang yourself, I am not going to talk about you.

“You don’t hold back,” she continues, sensing I am about to drift and summoning me with ease. “Humans don’t like to change. We don’t like to feel insecure. We can’t thrive when truly alone as you have, being so different from us and your own species. You do all these things without even thinking about it…and to you, it’s boring, because to you it’s just how things are done. Moment by moment, year by year, decade by decade. You just learn. And not only that, you turn around and tell others about it. Suddenly there is a real person talking. You don’t find that amazing, because you are that person, and this life, as long as it is, is perfectly ordinary to you.”

I am tracing the long line of my existence with a mental straight edge — point a, to b, to z to the nth power. But it isn’t a line. That is a myth I craft for myself by standing so far away I cannot see all the wriggles to it, the bloodshed at each pitch and rise. I lie to myself. I go day by day. I struggle with forever, on a daily basis, but should it ever be looked at daily, if it takes so long to come about?

Increments mean nothing to Time. It is as indifferent to them as I am to blood spatter. All those tiny droplets painting a final moment, tracking a person’s life back to the time of their parents’ parents, their mother’s womanly ancestor, backward, as far as you care to go, forward to that end, as large as you care to look, and as tiny as a pinprick.

None of that means anything.

Time is a billion endings, unfolding endlessly.

Why do I measure myself in days when I am moving on a far different scale? Why am I chaining myself to you and your records?

He smiles at me because I am new though I am old, and that is something he cannot imagine. And here I am, hating that he smiles at me, because I am old and tired and fighting a stupid touch screen.

It’s preposterous.

“Humans refine what they have. They seldom turn their life upside down because they get bored. They seldom decide to change anything. I know. Ten times a day I coach people into embracing change, not fearing change, welcoming change, seeing change for what it actually is. Humans are not built to progress. They’re built to survive.”

“I thought that’s what I was doing,” I murmur.

“Surviving? Adapting, you mean?”

“Yes. I was surviving by blending in.”

Sometimes when she looks at me, I have the strangest impression that to her, I am childlike in many ways. I don’t mind it, because she never condescends. I approve of it the way I approve of the Spawn when they share their profound wisdom with me.

“You weren’t adapting. You were being exceptional. It’s the humans who were being disappointing.”

“I’m not exceptional.”

“No. You’re quite possibly the most boring patient I have ever had. Except that you’re so fucking good at it, it boggles me.”

It shakes me as it escapes, this low laugh that often bothers average men. It does nothing to her.

“Look at the baby boomers. how many of them can use a computer, let alone a smart phone? Not many. They’re not boring. They’re intractably rigid. That’s not the same thing. No matter the century, you somehow manage to be flexible enough to stay boring.”

“Quite the achievement.”

“Almost lovable.” She licks her lips, and that is the end of our time. “You know…if a person is into that sort of thing.”

I bow my head and let out a long sound of appeasement. Chef calls it the “purr”, but truthfully it is more like a growl of mingled understanding and acceptance of things I cannot ever undo. It is a begrudging compliment to her talents. “Next session, Young Lady, I’d like to tangle with the unrelenting burden mankind has placed on my shoulders to always be fascinatingly banal—”

“Get out of my office.”

“I haven’t damaged anything yet.”

“I’ll get over it.”

 

Time Waits for One Man

I have been thinking a great deal about the human concept of time. How warped it is, both to the microcosm of one individual and to the macrocosm of the species.

When a human undertakes a difficult and critical task – like a revolution or exploration, to some degree they are contemplating the entire length of earth’s timeline. They are positioning themselves and their task on an immense continuum of cause-and-effect. They’re seeing a larger picture, as it were.

But then in a few short years, most of the species – which did in fact benefit from that perspective – condenses the timeline back to their own era, their own sphere.

What I mean to suggest this, that one man can consider the world, while ALL men consider only themselves. I suppose to some degree this isn’t universal. Large scale building projects, wars and so forth, could be argued as many men coming together in an image of the future, but also such decisions usually come down to one man. One Pharaoh who wants a tomb. One emperor who fancies and arch. One leader who wants a war.

And yes, we can talk about the tremendous complexity of decisions and survival landscapes and so forth, but I don’t really care about that. The confusion of the universe has a tendency to average out unless a man gets involved.

Back when we were building the Transcontinental, there weren’t that many of us. A few thousand workers total. We would set up advance crews that would go out and speculate, appraise the land to determine the route that the road should take. Usually the path of least resistance. Across the Midwest, the great plains, the land was remarkably flat and even. The advance crews determined that the levelers would have very little to do! It would be easy, this massive construction. That was…until they disappeared. Inspectors and levlers, sometimes even the telegraph line workers would find these advance crews slaughtered, 10 or 20 at a time. The crews shrank in size. The work became a hazard. But not for long. The chief engineer of the UP was a former General, one Grenville M. Dodge.

The man was militaristic and vicious. And very very clever.

At first he posted guards with the advance teams, but that didn’t help when the men were outnumbered. He didn’t bother with discussion. He knew that the road was cutting straight through the Bison migratory path. The natives were just tracking their main food source. They were simply trying to live. And he knew that, but to him, it was a savage lifestyle. To him it was something not worth having. These people had no value, except as pawns.

Dodge got as far as asking who the enemy hated most. The Pawnee? Ah well, lets hire some of them. And so he went to that dwindling people, also trying to eke out an existence in their changing home, and bargained with their young men. Once the road was built, they could have free passage. Once it was built, they’d have a lovely little nest egg, and their people would be spared. Then he gave the railmen a simple command.

Shoot every bison.

I will never forget the sight. The train clicking through the tall grass at speeds I’d never moved before, nothing around us but the sea of nature. Great crowds of seething humps and snorting noses – majestic, enormous creatures that had eyes that were so soft…and the glee, the vengeful, hateful glee and greed on the faces around me as every one of them took aim and fired. Every herd we crossed. Every animal on the tracks. Hundreds. All left to rot on the ground.

It is the only time I have ever witnessed such large scale extinction efforts. And it astounded me. I will venture to say it was thoroughly traumatic. I had been pursuing these amazing tasks, the canal, the rails, and so on…as some kind of achievement! This was meant to be a new world that would perhaps look on me with a kinder eye. This was meant to be a new time, that forgot the old ways. But forgetting is costly.
Every week or so, we would park the train – a kind of rolling work barracks – at the end of the line. We’d make our little camp. Usually the men clumped together and lit fires. Sometimes Towns of canvas tents and lean-to’s would spring up around us with signs offering the customary revels human men enjoy. Sometimes there was a lag, which meant for quieter evenings. I always offered to be on guard. I preferred it, because it gave me the chance to move backward along the track, sometimes for miles, and take what I could from the carcasses. 

So many animals dead, and no way to tell the men who depended upon them to come and fetch what was left, to preserve it, to do it justice or the customary honors. Just a cloud of decomposition and flies.

One man and the few he convinced. One man, with one command, almost annihilated a species, and crushed the Sioux and Cheyenne into a remnant. One man could have done the opposite if he’d cared to. One man could have been flexible.

Impactful things are always done in smaller scale. Significant things (for good or ill) always begin with one man. One man sees a larger time scale, places his own actions in the continuum of humanity’s lifespan. One man seeks greatness. Dodge and the men who hired him, envisioned a land of industry and wealth. He saw a future that…well…largely came to be, because he acted on his vision.

Large groups move in tiny steps. To the tune of three miles of track a day, or five advance scouts, or ten years of marching, or fifty years of law suits, or a hundred years of tyranny.

I find this depressing, even though it can also make for positive results. One slave taking over a Confederate ship, rescuing his fellows, running a blockade in the dead of night, fighting for his freedom…becoming a senator. Even though that happens…it does not happen as often, because it requires that one man to fight the world. Dodge only had to kill. Robert Smalls had to live.

Time dilates for good, and for the good of all; human time opens its mouth and swallows righteousness. The Good Of All takes the longest. The villainy of one man is the easiest thing, the swiftest thing. Takes barely the breath to utter one sentence.

“Shoot them all.”

 

The Century of War and Wandering

Recent events have put me in mind of my early years in the New World. You know I arrived here in 1729, assuming of course that you have read my Simon’s Snacks entry called “The Weaver Estate”. You know that I lived for a time as a woman, that I married myself to obtain my own property (it is a bit confusing and had to do with keeping the wealth in the “family”) You also can guess that I then killed the devil I wed in a small church ceremony and then assumed his identity, in order to effectively manage my estates. But there is a large gap here, sown with all manner of vagaries by this humble creature. And while you may have been paying attention, and heard my brief story about being confused for a Wendigo, my little aside about fighting in the Revolution, you don’t really know anything about me until we come to the railroad.

That is a gap of one hundred years and there is a reason for this.

This was a rather bloody and introspective portion of my existence thus far. Long spans were spent dwelling in caves, wandering the wilds, flirting with destruction, and coming to a decision about the entity I chose to be. They were the days when I began experimenting, when I began to fear less, when I finally tired of war, and decided never to fight again. So that century was a bit of a coming of age. It is filled with many detailed and subtle nuances, tiny stories that are not fit for Snacks, but rather more like an assortment of amuse-bouche.

And so I have resolved to tel them as such. Those who “spend time” with me regularly, of whom you may be one, know that I often go on at length in “chats”. This  makes me uneasy, on the one hand because I dislike dominating the discussion, and on the other because, while I may be felicitous with written speech, I am still unaccustomed to the nuances of conversation. I am learning from talking to you — and rather quickly too — but I am still vexed by uncertainty, and so would prefer to record them here. This will also provide any gentle readers who do not chat with me to peruse the details and check them against their knowledge of history.

I will call this series of entries the “Tales of War and Wandering” and will both sort them that way by tags, and title them as such – Similar to how the Monstrous Myths cycle (I apologize for their hiatus, but my folklorist is off being a responsible adult) and the FAQ cycle. I will also tag them with “history”. I shall endeavor to fill these in with some regularity.

For reference, this cycle will range from the dates 1745 to about 1855, and will include information on the Seven Years War (also called the French-Indian War), the Erie Canal, my time in Ohio, the Revolution, the War of 1812, the beginnings of the railroad, and all that lies in between.

If you have questions, I encourage you to ask them in the comments, as many readers may also have the same inquires – it benefiting everyone to reply to all simultaneously.

I do thank you kindly for participating.

Free Keys

Gentle Readers, 

I am pleased to announce a Tapas Give-Away to commemorate something which even I, in all my long life, never expected. It has been one year since the release of my first book and  this humble experiment of ours has thrived! Tapas and I wish to celebrate, so please join us in commemorating this achievement! Whether you are an original or a new subject, I do hope you’ll find these tales monstrously entertaining.

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