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.

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.”

 

Happy Day of the Risen Dead!

I give you…

The zombie egg! A tentative recipe

This take on a deviled egg consists of a Thousand Year Egg, or Century Egg:


Remove the yolks and add Japanese Kewpie mayonnaise, miso paste, lemongrass, minced Thai chilis, fish sauce, herbs, smoked paprika and whatever else you like to the tune of bitter, herbal notes.

Then spoon the modified yolk back into the white, and serve in half a plastic Easter egg. The relatives to whom you serve this delightful zombie egg will either never return…or will demonstrate their quality.

If they can eat it, keep them around. They’re worth the trouble.

By the way, it is delicious. Very complicated taste. Freshly shelled, they smell strongly of ammonia, but you can soak or cook them to remove this. I found it dissipated very quickly. The finished product is very spicy, slightly bitter, creamy, a trifle sour, and has the scent of a brand new cheap shoe. Lovely!

Otherkin-d Of Like A Platypus

“Wait, what?”

“I am told it is a state of being that identifies as a mythological creature.”

He frowns at me, which usually means that he is giving a tremendous amount of thought to what I have said, but is displeased with that. “So…like….if I feel like a dragon….I can be a dragon?”

I shrug and put away the mixing bowls. “I suppose so. I really have no idea how it works, and not being a human, and actually being something upon which many such creatures are based….my perspective is a bit different.”

Rebecca takes off the cartoon animal hat that the child has put on her head and smoothes her hair. “I know about this! I read about it on Tumblr. But yeah, it’s gotta be weird for you, I bet. Like…yo…you say you’re a vampire…but like….”

“Please let’s not devolve into vampire jokes.”

He is still frowning, but she waves her hands as she swallows the last of her drink. “No! No! I mean, that’s just one myth but there’s others! Like…goblins and whatnot.”

I let out a sigh and turn back to the sink to finish the rest of the washing. “For once, I wish that someone would find a happier myth to compare to me.”

She snorts. “You eat people.”

“So do ants,” he is quick to defend.

“Well you get what I’m saying, right?”

I make a face that she cannot see. “Yes, I have advised some of them, to whom I have spoken at some length, that they are in fact identifying as something based on me. It does not appear to matter. I have enough trouble carving out my identity from this uncaring world without adding Tumblr to it, and yet…that is the experiment.”

In my periphery, his frown evolved into a narrow eyed stare. “I have a question.”

“You always do.”

“Does that mean I can identify as you?”

I turn to look at him. He is giving me his mischievous tilt of the mouth that he knows melts the hearts of the females he manages to impress with his masculinity. I roll my eyes heavenward.

“If ever there was a human…”

“He makes a great point though! I mean…okay…” she spreads her hands across the kitchen island as if laying out a small stage peopled by fleas. “So like….you know, because you’ve been alive, that those things aren’t real, or like, you’d have seen them if they were or whatever…so like, I mean…you know that all those people are just owning your mythology.”

“I don’t even own my mythology. Humans wrote it. You deal with the blasted shit!” I toss down the sponge.

“Well what I mean is…they’re not really “other” are they? They’re just….your-kin.”

I suppose, in a way, I can see why a human would not wish to be human. I may despair of killing and eating you, but that is because I like you. I would not wish to be one of you. That seems a lamentable fate. For some time now, I have seen otherkin and all such identifiers as merely an extension of feeling unwelcome in one’s reality, or uncomfortable being a meat sack with an expiration date. Perhaps it is more than that. Perhaps it is an extension of the thing that began the experiment in the first place.

An aside, if you will.

I mean no disrespect. Not even a little. Those of you who identify as “otherkin” may carry on however it pleases you to do so, so long as none of you dragons begin demanding virgin sacrifices. I care not. What concerns me is the obvious conundrum and how it feeds into my argument with your species- to whit:

You are obviously human. I have a nose, excellent hearing, exceptional senses. I can tell that if I stabbed just here, you would cease to be…whatever you claim to be. I therefore cannot comprehend how there is any point of contention in saying that this “otherkin nature” is wholly and utterly in the mind. And please read me carefully when I say, I ascribe it no value judgement. I did not say such would be a “diseased mind”. In point of fact, I think the sum total of humanity has a diseased mind.

“I can get wanting to be a dragon and like…living like a dragon, or like how you think a dragon would live if it lived in a human body, but…I don’t know,” Rebecca mutters. “But I mean…like aren’t they sort of sucking up that fiction? Trying to be you? Trying to be a monster? Like…aren’t they trying to absorb the things that frighten humanity?”

“I doubt any of them would say they ever chose to be what they are. They often regard it with the same deference as a sexual identity.”

He shakes his head. “But they’re human. By definition anything that makes a human feel inhuman is a personality disorder.” I give him “the look”. This happens when he says things that are unqualified with facts or makes assumptions about me. He usually finds it alluring in some way. At the moment, he is still frowning, however, and shakes it off. “And how exactly does a unicorn live if it were in a human body, huh?”

“I suppose…however it is that they choose to live.” I sip my coffee and cut a fresh piece of pie.

“So, I could claim to identify as you, live however I chose, and that would be how you would live if you were in a human body?”

I am undone. There is very little I can say. The fact is, if I was suddenly transposed with a human, I imagine I would live a life very similar to his- well, with copious apologetic donations to various Human Rights organizations.

“But what do they think about people just making up a mythological being?” She lifts a finger. “Like what if I invented my own creature?”

“That would be ‘fiction-kin’. Apparently the qualification of a mythological creature is something made up by a long dead human and written about by other dead humans. If a modern human makes it up, it is just fiction.”

“But they’re all just fiction!” She shouts in exasperation.

“Yes.”

“So then its all one thing!”

“And it’s all nuts.”

I cannot help but chuckle helplessly into my mug. I spend several hours every day attempting to fathom half of the things I see on television or the internet. The arguments over memes, the needless pigeonholing of politics along the lines of personal experiences that have little to do with the sum total benefit for humanity, the dissections of certain cannons – such that there is now a phrase “head cannon”- which to me sounds like a method of suicide. You bicker over which invisible sky entity said what to which dead person in which book written by an imprisoned fortune teller in a dead language that only six people on the planet can translate. You kill each other over the stupidest of things, and while you think it has gotten better, I would argue it has gotten worse. This is what happens when the collective mind of humanity has difficulty metabolizing all the fiction it sucks down its gullet and attempts to reconcile that to the outside world. 

I would argue that if one were to consider the whole of humanity as cells in a brain and contextualize all trends as single amorphous thoughts, you would see that this is how a mind grows up…and into a disorder. First you believed everything that seemed the least bit feasible, you then underwent education, you ignored those programmed ideas, but then returned to them to simultaneously protect, idealize, romanticize, or remake them until they no longer have discord with your concept of the universe. But you are still learning, and as undeniable fact presents itself, those dreams and wishes of what magic might be are pushed even deeper into your psyche…until it becomes a secret identity, a lens through which you view existence, a modifier of all fact before it even reaches your brain.

I stand before you unamused, yet filled with dark humor, as one who has always been a mote on the currents of your frenetic clash with all that is quantifiable. I snicker because no doubt, I will one day have to contend with someone actually assuming they are me, and not simply a cousin of mine.

My two friends see this as one inexplicable quirk of their species, a subset of human they will immediately classify as “other” and then ostracize. One portion of the mind being shut off by the other. They do not realize that they do the same thing, even in daily life. Every time Chef assumes my feelings to bear even a slight resemblance to his romantic urges. Every time she talks to the child about Santa Claus. Any time any of them, even ironically, use the word “God”. It is happening all around you, and you defend it with the vicious paranoia of a mind with a complex.

Meanwhile I, saying this to you, shall be either lauded or shunned by degrees, as is the custom. And I am familiar with the process in a way that still remains irksome despite the years.

“I’m gonna just make up an animal,” he says to my silent but obvious musings. “Because it’s all myth.”

“Ooh! I feel like I might be a sloth-bear.”

“Those are two real animals,” I point out.

He grins, “Yeah, don’t you know at least one of them has to be old-fake and not new-fake? Like a platypus and a unicorn.”

I think on my several unicorn-loving acquaintances and wonder what they will think of this progression.

“What would you call it?” 

She chews her lip. “A Plunicorn?”

“I am almost certain that already exists,” I say.

They exchange a look of disbelief. Oh ye of little education, how inaccurate and uninformed is your self-image? But I suppose if one cell could conceive of the other cells accurately, it might decide to never deal with those assholes again, and completely shut down the body.

“No way!” They exclaim at once.

I take out my phone and search. Within seconds I have hundreds of references to people who have used “plunicorn” as their name on any number of sites. I hold it out to them. 

He is unimpressed. “Well, shit…a plunicorn could be a fucking unicorn from Pluto. Let’s call it a platycorn!”

Wry expression in place, I call up the search and show him the first thing to pop on screen.

His mouth falls open.

“If you can imagine it, then someone else has, and the felicity of information transit means they have already given it to someone who can draw, and that someone has sent it to 7 billion people. And now there are probably thousands of humans who identify as this stupid poisonous Narwhal. You underestimate your own insanity.”

Jaws dangling, they fall into their cups and leave me in peace.

Much later, when the children are unconscious, and he is twined around me beside the fire pit, his chin resting on my shoulder, he begins to whisper a mea culpa in my ear on behalf of his entire species throughout time.

I shush him.

“No, I’m gonna say it, because I think you need to hear it. I get it, I think. I get what you’re feeling when you hear shit like that. To you it feels like your identity is being stolen, even while other people tell you that you either cannot exist or that if you did you’d be hated. That’s a rejection on every possible level while they turn you into all their good and bad jokes all at once.”

There is nothing to be said. That is precisely the way it has felt, and while I have tried to be objective and view it from the outside, it sometimes still stings.

“But you’re missing something.”

“And what is that?”

“We are different species. You’re seeing us the way you see us, not the way we are. It’s the exact same thing we’re doing to you. Your entire theory is based on your perspective, and I’m not saying you’re wrong. I’m just saying that you haven’t considered that maybe we actually just think this way. That we tackle all the shit we hate about reality in the same way every time. Maybe it isn’t a mental illness soaking into all we do. Maybe it’s a process that gets applied to everything even a little bit similar. There’s more of us than there are of you, but that doesn’t make our way better or even logical.”

I stare at him and feel myself grow cold in his arms as I reframe all I have been thinking for the last few centuries from this new vantage. 

If he is correct, that would mean that humanity would take the inexplicable forces of nature, turn them into fictions, absorb and insert themselves into the myth and then rework it and mash it until the gods were tiny friends about their size who sometimes can be killed. If he is correct, certain men will comb derelict houses looking for traces of a spirits until their entire fortune is decimated, meanwhile broadcasting their conjecture into millions of homes so that the human mill can churn and churn until mortality has been transformed into something that can be borne. If he is right, monsters will amplify and warp us to suit their worst parts, then make the rejection or absorption of us into their newest self-awareness exercise, until somewhere, some child reads my journal, and decides that through a curious twist of an imperfect grasp of science, he is me.

“That is a very inefficient and ineffective system,” I breathe.

“No shit. In case you hadn’t noticed, we aren’t exactly the epitome of evolution.”

“It is amusing to hear you tell yourself that you are.”

“Well, it’s just the same thing, isn’t it? Maybe it’s the first thing. The first fiction we ever ate.”

Indeed. When man decided he was obviously smarter than his neighbors, he must have spent centuries trying to feel less alone. Perhaps that is the heart and all the other machinations weave around that delicate organ, protecting it from the onslaught of chaos. You need to be special. Otherwise…you are an accident, and the universe is a fickle thing. It is a beautiful, glorious, bizarre, life-giving and toxic thing.

Kind of like a platypus…if you crossed it with a unicorn.

Perhaps you’re not insane. Perhaps you’re just not as rational as some of us. I wonder what you would do, if I ever actually began to believe in the costume I wear, if one day, I simply looked in the mirror and said “I identify as human.” Perhaps I already have done, by assuming you think anything like me, or are even capable of it. Perhaps we will never understand each other, and perhaps that means we should both take off our costumes and “be ourselves” instead of trying to define what that self is in relation to perceived societal norms. Perhaps we should all confront reality for what it is, and fight that in a more direct fashion.

But then again, platycorns are apparently quite adorable, and who wants to deal with reality? Let’s continue to invent spells and imagine fairies, instead of examine all the stupefying reality that actually does exist. Fairies are easier, because I can make them think and feel whatever I want, while I cannot explain gravity or make you see my opinion as valid.

Forgive the sarcasm. It comes from years of annoyance. Please don’t be tempted to think that my examination of you in any way dims my appreciation of you as a species. It does not. I suppose I shall simply have to accept that you are this way. You have brilliance in you and perhaps your fictionalization of the entirety of existence is simply that which makes you creative.

If you want to make up a person’s that suits you, well, whatever. I suppose we all do every time we step out the door. 

But, as someone said recently, it is easy to pretend to be an asshole and then excuse your bad behavior by saying “Well, I guess I’m an asshole.” Don’t identify as an asshole. That is a terrible fiction to tell one’s self. 

Go with the platycorn.

Teatime

This is a post which was deleted from Creature’s Cookbook 2: Monster’s Mise En Place. In chronological order, it should be first. Merely one of the many things that had to be trimmed to reign me in to a sensible word count.

“Which one of you did this?”

They exchange a look. I cannot tell which one of them is more contrite. I would say the larger of the two, but his tail is capable of sagging, and that does skew the perception somewhat. The other hangs his shaggy head and fans his gaze over my feet, up my legs, a battering at my face, but then fluttering to the concrete.

I narrow my eyes.

“Which one of you is responsible?”

Tongues appear. Then both back away from me in a sense of certain destruction as I tap my toe dusted in one-of-a-kind 19th century porcelain. Tiny, hand-painted Romanesque figures are stopped in their last dance around the maypole, ribbons fluttering in the dead breeze. The carefully procured set still in its box was the product of several decades of searching; worth a down payment on a house, or a brand new car, it lies in porous little shards.

“I will eat you,” I seethe.

Both of them cower. Back to the bar I chase them, until the dog hides in the kitchen and the monster climbs the barstools. His coloring book is open and his half-chewed crayons are scattered. In the poorly shaded image, I see the truth — young girls dancing in a circle, holding hands, their hair done up in ribbons. Several weeks ago I caught him looking in that box; and now he has done it again to disastrous effect. Just so that he could color it properly.

I count. When this fails, I divide. Giving up that for rage, I proceed immediately to factoring a polynomial. My x’s and y’s in a row, I lick my fangs and take deep breaths. Insurance. There was insurance on it. I can make a claim. I can photograph it. I can contact the adjustor immediately and make a claim. As I do this, the two assailants chew — the larger at his paws, the smaller at his crayons.

The evidence is emailed, and the adjustor contacted. I squat beside the pieces and shift them with my claws. Such a gorgeous set of six cups and saucers, pot, sugar dish, and creamer. Every tiny hair and feature captured with the precision of a laser, and here it lies, having gone the way of all flesh.

A tragedy.

Some poor soul, sat at this thing with a brush in his hand. He wetted it with his own tongue, he peered into a magnifying glass. Some day, perhaps, he went blind from the staring by gas lamp. Perhaps this set, the trifle of some corseted trophy wife, sat on display in a drawing room. They survived wars, transatlantic voyages, fires! My kinsman, shattered on the floor.

Fred sniffs. “Fix.”

“It can’t be fixed, Fred. You can’t glue this back together and make it whole. It was beautiful because it had survived for so long. It doesn’t mean anything anymore.”

He drops from the stool like a Chimpanzee and saunters cautiously to me. With that grace that is ours alone, he plucks pieces up and begins to arrange them on the ground, carefully setting the curved bits and flattened fragments of plate into lines. Occasionally, he lifts several bits and looks them over, then they are replaced in different order. Disconsolate, I watch his work, willing to allow him whatever liberties he likes, now that the beauty has been slain; it might as well be devoured. A living tableau of Death and the Maiden.

As the pastel shapes are spread out, like an unfolding map, I see it. A puzzle — it comes to life, and for a moment, I am stunned out of my grief.

The maypole has multiplied. Three stand in a row, and girls composed of disjointed shards dance in a swirling line around all of them. They do not match perfectly, but the image is clear.

He points at it, and nudges me with a grinning face. “Fix!”

With a sigh, I go to the back and fish out a piece of thin wood. It was to be used as a secondary tool shed, but this is a worthwhile cause, I think. Fetching some goops and glues, I sit beside him on the ground, and we two immortals, with our teeth and our claws, turn this broken pottery — the stuff of civilization — into a pretty mosaic. Grouted and frankly lovely, it sits on the metal table in my shop and dries.

A priceless relic that is utterly worthless.

And Fred climbs back onto his stool and colors his pretty little picture.

What are we, I wonder? Are we destructive in our hearts, or constructive in our thoughts? Do we create, or do we annihilate? Or is there a difference. Dancing round that maypole, praying for spring, dreading winter, but preparing for it. Running from shadows to light torches to beat them back. What are we?

When it has cured, I hang it on the wall in my bedroom, and stare at it. Chef  straddles my hips, dangling his legs on either side of mine, his chin on my shoulder and his face pointed at our dread collage.

“It’s pretty. The colors go really well with the room.”

“I could have re-outfitted the entire Bistro.”

“Fuck me. It was insured, right?”

“Yes, but not at value. And that is not the point.”

“I know. You don’t like seeing things come apart. But you know, clay comes from somewhere. I don’t see you out crying over rocks eroding, or coal mines. Don’t see you out there sighing at the fucking coastline.”

And he is right. I care very little for the earth. I know why this is, in the secret heart of me. I know that I do not care for it because it is all circumstance. It is a pile of pieces that crashed into the ground and stuck, no order, no cleverness. As lovely and remarkable as the accident of organization, through evolution and trial and error, nothing is as gorgeous as that which comes from purpose and intent. Nothing is more stunning than a mind which turns something formless into something so dainty, molds mud into perfection.

“I can’t believe he saw that,” Chef whispers as he pulls his shirt over his head. “I saw that stupid thing a dozen times, and I never noticed that the figures overlapped like that.”

“What?”

He points. “See? She was half there, and half on the cup. And that girl is half saucer, half pot. It’s like the image was a whole one that got cut and sculpted into the set.”

“A tesseract.”

“Huh?”

“A two-dimensional image folded into three dimensions.”

He flops backward and wraps his feet up around me. I set my hands atop them, and tap the soles.

And now I see this broken thing anew. Once it sat in parlors and watered the well-heeled. now it unfolds its mysteries and shows me what civility looks like when it is unbent by monstrous hands.

I find that I like it very much.

“I think…I will call it ‘Teatime’,” I say with cocked head. “I wonder if there’s a market for Monster Art.”

“Have you seen the Chihuly museum? Looks like a Dr. Seuss book. I half expect Who’s to wander out from them. How much do the sell for — those ceiling ones that look like he threw all his practice pieces up in the air and backlit them?”

“They’re organic masterpieces!”

“They look like a neon ocean floor on acid. Like some Disney shit.”

I grimace back at him as he rolls up in the bed like a burrito folding itself. The light from my brilliant red chandelier casts a rosy glow. I shake my head as I listen to him snore.

Tomorrow, if Fred returns, I will have him sign his piece. He knows his letters well enough now.

A similar set, still intact.

You may find Creature’s Cookbook 2: Monster’s Mise En Place on the Tapas app.

The BAD RECIPE Contest, And Their Prize

Several days ago, I became very bored. This is not surprising, as you might imagine, gentle reader. Social media has presented me with many things to occupy me in these moments, and it all came down to a conversation about horrifying recipes. You know them. I am certain that all of you have your own story about the casserole your aunt brings to the Thanksgiving feast with the tuna in it, or the fruitcake made with skittles. Perhaps your father is simply inexcusably bereft of culinary skill. Ramen is usually involved. Tinned tomatoes. You take my meaning.

In any event, it got me to thinking, that some of these appalling crimes really do deserve recognition for sheer audacity alone, and so, I began a friendly contest on Tumblr. In the future, I will perhaps hold more of these, and this trial run will provide the framework, but for now, I can tell you that there were many revolting entries. The winning dish?

Grandma’s “You are so ungrateful” lasagna:

@youcantseebutimmakingaface – “Lasagna noodles, cans of tomato paste, 5 lbs Italian sausage, 3 pork chops, ground beef with no fat content, FUCKING. RAISINS, 1 pinch each salt and pepper… flavorless white cheese…Burn ground beef into kitty litter like granules, inexplicably mix with raisins…Make sauce…Boil sausage, pork chops, tomato paste, and salt and pepper until flavorless and slightly burnt. Layer noodles, cheese, meat/raisin hell, using approximately a shot glass of sauce…Bake until burnt. Use…to make a firepit or decorative patio”

I found this recipe utterly irredeemable, and so of course, it must be redeemed. This, however, involved some heated debate, and resulted in a secondary competition between myself and Chef, who staunchly opposed my notions of turning the dish from an entree to a dessert.

And so, as promised, I give you my recipe, and in a secondary post, his. Make them for yourself and be the judge. Which has won? No one at this end could truly decide.


Vietnamese-inspired Cheese Course, a recipe (Or raisin lasagna done with pinache, if you prefer)

Tools:

  • Small casserole dish, about 4” square
  • Sieve
  • Food Processor
  • several pots
  • skillet

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 lb ground pork (Make certain to get an even balance of fat)
  • 1 package ricotta cheese
  • 1 package of soft goat cheese
  • 1 small egg
  • 1 small package of mascarpone cheese
  • 1 c. raisins
  • 1/2 c. currants
  • 3 sugar dates (pitted)
  • 1 package of small cherry tomatoes (Please perform the “sniff test” and choose one with the best tomato sweetness)
  • port wine
  • balsamic vinegar
  • several large lasagna noodles (Mine were hand made, but you may purchase dried pasta, as we are going to fry them anyway)
  • olive oil
  • brown sugar
  • mint (for garnish)
  • sliced almonds

Instructions

  1. Preheat your oven to about 350
  2. Boil your tiny tomatoes, until their skins begin to split, then blanch with cold water, and gently shrug them out of their red coats.
  3. Place in a food processor with raisins, dates, currants, about 1 cup of port, several tablespoons of balsamic. Pulse until nicely blended. Pour back into the pot and boil
  4. You must achieve a thick, tangy, but sweet flavor profile, and so please add or diminish as you like. Once your sauce has cooked off all the alcohol, and is about the texture of tomato paste, run it through the sieve, by pressing it through with a spoon.
  5. Return to the put and continue to add wine, vinegar, or whatever you would like. When you believe it has achieved the proper taste, you should set about 1/3 of it aside, and then continue to reduce the other 2/3, stirring constantly, until you have created a dark syrup. Set this aside
  6. Start your noodles boiling.
  7. Brown your pork, very lightly seasoning with salt. Set aside.
  8. Once the noodles are finished, drain. Sprinkle them liberally with brown sugar. Add some oil to the pork fat in the skillet and fry the noodles lightly, until they begin to brown a little, or fold up at the edges. Lay these aside to cool.
  9. Throw your meat and the thinner sauce into the food processor, and turn into a paste
  10. Mix about 1/2 the ricotta with 1/2 the goat cheese. (You would ideally wish to have a somewhat gamey flavor.) Whisk the egg and then beat into this mixture.
  11. It is time to assemble your “lasagna”. Carefully oil the inside of the dish. put a spoonful of your stronger sauce at the bottom and work this around into a thin layer. Line the bottom with one of your fried noodles. Spread a generous layer of your goat cheese mixture until the noodle is covered. do the same with the meat mixture, and another spoonful of your stronger reduction. Repeat as many times as fills your dish or uses up your ingredients, making sure to finish with noodles.
  12. Cover in foil and bake for as long as it takes the thing to boil for about ten minutes (We are merely cooking the egg, so do not overcook your dessert simply for a little raw egg. It is a cheesecake, not a brick.) Let us say 45 minutes?
  13. Allow to cool, and then upend on a plate. It should pop free, but if not, run a knife around the sides.
  14. Cover with the sliced almonds, pipe fresh mascarpone on top as you would whipped cream, and drizzle with your stronger reduction.

Garnish with hefty amounts of mint. Serve in small cubes, and ideally, pair it with a tawny port. I do believe you will no be disappointed.

Potato, Leek, and “Ham” Soup

This is a favorite for dark and stormy nights, but I find that it can also be served cold or lukewarm, especially if run through a blender. As is always true of my recipes, the protein must be substituted. I have used thinly sliced muscle deep to the spine that I braised in wine, but I will give instructions for pork. This makes a large pot, so do expect to feed a group.


Tools:

  • Large soup pot
  • Frying pan
  • Good chef’s knife

Ingredients:

  • 3 good sized leeks
  • 4 good sized potatoes, that will fit in an open hand with spread fingers
  • green onions
  • garlic
  • fresh parsley
  • chives
  • 2 medium yellow onions
  • butter
  • milk
  • heavy cream
  • white wine (You may drink some as you cook, as you will only need about 2 cups worth)
  • Vegetable stock (You may use a stock concentrate, cubed or jellied, or you may use a liquid stock. The only important thing is to gain about 8 cups of yield, or about 2000 ml)
  • bacon
  • 1 pork loin steak (A pork chop will also do, but trim off all the fat and gristle)
  • green beans and peas (Optional)
  • Kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper
  • Crème fraîche (or sour cream)

Instructions:

  1. Chop the leeks by simply slicing across them and separating the rings. Chop the yellow and green onion. Mince the garlic.
  2. Cube the potatoes (and prepare your beans and peas) but set them aside
  3. Put a few tablespoons of butter in the bottom of your soup pot. When melted add in the three types of onion and the garlic. Sweat these in the pot for several minutes. You can estimate the doneness by the yellow onion and how translucent it becomes.
  4. Pour in the stock and wine and let come to the boil
  5. Add in the potatoes (beans and peas)
  6. While the soup simmers happily, put a little butter in your pan and fry your bacon, then remove to let cool. Add the pork steak to the pan and cook until medium rare (don’t worry, it will continue to cook in the soup). Set this aside to rest.
  7. While the meat is resting, deglaze the pan with a little bit of wine, working it around the pan to free up all the tasty pork bits. Let it boil off all the alcohol (You can check this by sniffing the fumes). Then pour this into the soup. (This will also aid you in cleaning your pan, and should really be done any time you cook meat. It not only loosens all fat deposits, it also gives you a delicious base for gravy.)
  8. After the pork has rested, slice it thinly and then chop. Chop the bacon too. Add the meat and all its juices to the soup pot.
  9. When the potatoes have finished cooking, add in a couple cups of milk and some cream (To taste). Keep the heat low, or the proteins will muck up and give you a skin on top. A little salt and pepper should do. It should now begin to taste like soup, but do continue to cook for as long as you like, stirring regularly. The longer it cooks, the more it will reduce, and the softer the veggies will get.
  10. While it is cooking, mince up your parsley and chives.

To serve, put in a bowl, spoon in some crème fraîche , and garnish with chives and parsley. (My chives suffered in the sun this year, and I ran out, and so you will see from my photo, that I have instead substituted green onion). Add a freshly baked loaf of bread and a tangy white wine, and you cannot go wrong.