. . . (2) or Discipline

12 May

I walk. I walk everywhere. I walk toward it. Most people walk away from it. Run, even. I don’t mind. I walk toward it. I hope to meet it halfway. Remove the surprise. It. It could be anything or anyone. It could be the milkman, although there are no more milkmen. I had a picture from Life magazine once, of a milkman delivering his bottles among the ruins of London, during the war. He had slicked back hair and it was parted. The picture was fantastic. He had a look of concentration on his face, as he stepped around piles of rocks and rubble. To deliver the daily milk. To whomever was still living among the ruins. In London. Nineteen forty-something.


It could be the little girl with the red balloon. For Hemingway it was Compton in a tweed jacket, piloting that little plane above the Kilimanjaro. For Kolatkar it was Jejuri. I don’t mind. I walk. Not because of the doctor. I don’t care too much for what the doctor says. I don’t pay much attention to my statistics. Heart rate. Cholesterol levels, good and bad. Blood pressure. Blood sugar. My wife was alive before the doctor, and after she was dead. So I don’t place too much in what he says. He opened her up on the table for a quadruple bypass. And that was her end.

I walk. My son bought me a pedometer. It records paces. Steps. It records them by detecting the motion of the hips. I walk. Sometimes I get on the Metro, so I can then walk. It seems strange, taking public transportation so you can walk. Sometimes I go to his town to make sure he’s all right. He lives a 45-minute train ride away. I walk the streets around his apartment. I don’t know why. It makes me feel good. Like I am his caretaker. I can protect him. I have a Walkman. I love Vangelis. Vangelis and Jon Anderson. I love Giorgio Moroder as well. I have to tell you. Walking toward death is liberating. I cannot tell you. But I have to tell you. Walking toward death is liberating.

Here comes my son now.


14 Responses to “. . . (2) or Discipline”

  1. Cliff Burns 12/05/2008 at 6:37 PM #

    Niiiiice bit, monsieur.

    Really like the tag line and the image of the milkman making his route, even though it was in ruins.

    You can capture the essence of a character or episode in a few brief lines. That’s a gift, mon, and it rids your work of exposition, the bane of many, many writers (beginners and vets).

    Well done…

  2. Slyboots 12/05/2008 at 7:30 PM #

    Cool way of capturing his voice. I am digging the change in perspective. And how it fits together.

  3. Erin O'Brien 13/05/2008 at 5:14 PM #

    Goddamn. That was fine.

    I don’t know whether this is part of a bigger piece or not, but it doesn’t matter. This works very well as a stand-alone piece of flash.

    Why don’t I have a book full of this on the inside and your name on the outside sitting upon my shelf?

    You are really talented. Now stop playing with yourself here in the comment section and go write some more.

  4. (S)wine 13/05/2008 at 5:26 PM #

    Thanks Sly and Cliff and Erin.
    Erin, this is the 3rd part to the previous two posts; just from the dad’s (strange) point of view (the tag is “Alzheimer’s”). There’s a page on this site called “Author’s Notes” which sort of explains some things about the pieces and sometimes includes backstories. But I usually try to write each segment/post as a stand-alone piece; even if it’s connected to previous posts, or an ongoing part of something longer.

    Working on that book thing. Circumventing “big publishers” as this stuff will not get picked up, since it doesn’t sell really.

    P.S. thanks for the photo!

  5. Sierra 14/05/2008 at 12:44 AM #

    1. You posted this link to a NYT article on writing. And were a bit of a little twit about it, so I thought I’d see if you could deliver.

    2. Your writing has no distinct voice. It’s the stuff aspiring authors write when they are too enthralled with their own work. Really just more of the same pseudo-intellectual boilerplate that gets shipped from every other writer’s group, MFA workshop and aspiring intellectual out there.

    2. We get TONS of it submitted and it gets trashed without reading beyond that first two or three lines. As witty or intellectual or brilliant as you may think you are – this work is nearly identical (language/style/theme/etc) to hundreds of others and therefore has no literary merit beyond yourself. It’s not that “big publishers” can’t sell this stuff because it’s too “intellectual” etc. We won’t publish something that isn’t exceptionally well done and original in it’s concept or voice. Again, the slush piles are FULL of similar work. If you want to read more of it, just drop off a recycling contract to our office manager placing a no-cost bid to remove our slush pile.

    3. Writing is about communication. Ideas, emotion, plot, whatever. Still about communication. It is possible to do the post-modern thing in an original thoughtful way that connects with the reader on intellectual and emotional levels. You just haven’t done it.

    4. Bottom line. Yeah you have potential. So do millions of others. But your work is too enthralled with itself, too self-satisfied, and too lazy, to really move beyond the pack and get anywhere. You’re settling too early in your development.

    5. Don’t thank the people who have been sucking up to you about your writing – they aren’t helping you at all. It’s very easy to fall victim to overly supportive friends and associates. Very easy to become convinced that your work is perfect and the problems exist with the surrounding world/public. It’s a first class ticket to bitterness, obscurity and mediocrity.

    6. It isn’t enough to write brilliant work. You also have to be a brilliant business person. Want to avoid those evil publishers? You’d better be a business genius then. Professional artists, writers and musicians spend more time on business matters than they ever do creating work. It has never been any different. It’s why professional artists/writers/musicians get tired of people waxing poetic about how easy and wonderful their lives are. Get used to meetings and befriend a lawyer.

    7. Credentials and reputation stem from your demonstrated writing ability, and you need a lot of work. Most importantly, you need to find a critical reader who will ride you unmercifully – until you rise above the surrounding millions of identical voices and develop a unique voice/style.

    8. Publishing and writing is a very very small world. All publishers, even the small and academic houses, talk and intermingle to a surprising extent. Many of us know each other. While we usually publish for different audiences we are all looking for very similar things. Unique, high-quality work, told in a new or refreshing way will ALWAYS find a publisher. Even if we can’t use a piece, if it’s really something special, I’ll recommend it to an associate who I think might be interested in it. If I have to spell it out… That referral will be fully and carefully read, bypassing the slush piles and interns. The small network of publishers/editors will work FOR you if you have outstanding work and aren’t a jerk.

    9. Persistence, and a constant willingness to improve your work combined with an inability to settle for anything but the very best – will see an aspiring writer through any pitfall in existence. It isn’t raw talent that matters – it’s dogged persistence and a willingness to work very very hard for as long as you write.

    10. Keep writing.

  6. zombieswan 14/05/2008 at 2:18 AM #

    Sierra: It is always interesting when a critic doesn’t say who “they” are and hides behind anonymity to be a “bit of a twit” themselves.

    Swine, here, can be “a bit of a twit” sometimes but at least he’s honest. And we know who he is, mostly. And people aren’t sucking up to him. Usually the comments are positive because that’s what this forum asks of us; when it is negative (and I know I’ve posted an ocassional negative comment over the years & gotten flak from other commenters, though thanks from Alex) often we do it off the site.

    What this website is, in some ways, is an online workshopping system. It’s not always perfect, but it isn’t just vanity press stuff.

    My thing is this: comment number 10 is really the most important of all. Keep writing, yes. Don’t let either the overly positive or overly negative voices rule the day.

  7. (S)wine 14/05/2008 at 2:34 AM #

    My comment on the NYT blog consisted of taking a “famous” quote from a writer who cranked out a book on HOW to write (always a farce or a sham, if you ask me), and re-arranging it a bit. Hers was (paraphrasing): imagine a window, look through it, now write what you see. Not really that enlightening a piece of advice, in my opinion. Certainly something I wouldn’t pay for to read in a book or hear at a workshop. So I tweaked mine, just a bit: “imagine a window, put your fist through it. Now write.” That was my comment, or something to that effect; I don’t feel like going back and finding it. Not sure that sounds dim-witted, but hey, that’s me and apparently I’m full of myself.

    Sierra, I don’t thank the people because they say positive things here; I thank them because they take the time to read. Time. Very important. There are readers who come here who have full-time jobs and children to take care of. Time is more precious than oil. So there’s that.

    Publishing IS a small world and I think that’s the problem. Small circles don’t necessarily generate great ideas; people within those tend to close ranks, circle the wagons, only let in an elite few. Almost by default, circle members adopt a conservative philosophy. Think fraternities or sororities. I would never be willing to be part of those. I would never be willing to be part of any “small,” exclusive group. And I am quite leery of the “it’s a small world” mentality. So yes, publishing is a small, closed circle. And it’s getting smaller and smaller. It’s going to be defunct soon; it’s in a heapload of trouble already; it’ll go the way of the big music labels; independent writing is finding its way through different online mediums and soon writers, like musicians, will bypass the entire incestuous industry and just lay the stuff out directly to the reader, sans the packaging and bells and whistles.

    This goes obtusely against your business-model advice. Artists cannot wait to circumvent the business side of your industry. Again, look what’s happened to big music labels. And so, already I know you are not in touch much with how we think. We are tired of the business end. We are going to sell straight to the public, omitting the lecherous industry and its standards. So right there, right off the bat, you’ve pegged it wrong. The LAST thing we want to do is get bogged down in meetings and talk to lawyers. Thanks to new technologies and online forums, that is happening. The “businessman” is better left to deal with his corporation and not meddle in art.

    Imagine buying a new book for a few bucks off a site like this. Even if it completely sucks; you’ve only spent $4 or $5. What’s that, a loaf of bread nowadays. Or imagine getting the book for free, in a .PDF file. Talk about building a base who will later support you, yea? (Check out what Trent Reznor and NIN just did for their fans with their new tracks. And remember Radiohead a few months ago?) In my opinion, American publishers have been putting out garbage for a long time; as a matter of fact, just the opposite of what you profess to look for. There seems to be not much original material–a few crumbs here and there, but overall not much. Publishers the likes of Judith Regan are looking for sensational junk.

    I must say, this is the first time I’ve been accused or called an “intellectual type” and I love it. If you knew what I thought of the intelligentsia or high-brow lit or how I lived day-to-day, you would be having a hearty laugh at your comment.

    Unfortunately, judging by the mere two minutes and forty-five seconds you spent on this site, barely enough time to get through the first short piece, your 10-point to-do list, as well as your professional advice/opinion are rendered somewhat moot. I would tweak and turn around #10 and offer it to you, as well: keep reading. And then formulate an opinion. We, authors, have known for decades why it’s so difficult to be accepted into that elevated pantheon of professional publishing. You don’t read. All of that is about to change very soon. We no longer have to wait months on end to hear from opinionated agents and publishers, out to make profits for the Big House. You guys don’t care for quality; you just know you need to make money for the big boys upstairs, otherwise you lose your jobs. How can you defend your industry’s decision for the aberration that almost was “O.J. How I Would Have Done It?” Not even the audience was willing to accept that. By going straight to the public, we omit having to depend on opinions from business-minded people and just let the readers decide. Go wholesale, basically. Skip the middleman/middlecorporation. It’s coming soon, you’ll see. Already there are free books from good authors available in .PDF formats. You better believe that the fan base will download the free manuscript, then turn around and support the finished product (book form) when it’s released independently. That’s how you build your base. I’m not looking to be rich from writing; I don’t need much–just a good bottle of wine from time to time. I am interested in making a living writing, so I won’t have to get in a car and wait in traffic in order to get to the office.

    I’ll end this huge response with this: thanks for stopping by. You took the time, and I always am grateful for that.

    And just a quick post scriptum: you write: “We get TONS of it (material) submitted and it gets trashed without reading beyond that first two or three lines.”
    My question is, how on earth can you evaluate a hundred-thousand-word manuscript based on two or three lines, albeit bad? There are scores of classic novels whose first few sentences don’t seem to promise what the entire manuscript eventually delivers. Seems like a pretty crappy decision-making process. Again, the reason you will become dinosaurs soon.

  8. Cliff Burns 14/05/2008 at 7:41 AM #

    “We won’t publish something that isn’t exceptionally well done and original in it’s concept or voice.”

    “It isn’t enough to write brilliant work…”

    Talk about sending mixed messages. The problem as I see it is that editors and agents have no idea what constitutes good writing and no idea what will sell. Yet they try to set themselves up as arbiters of taste, omnipotent creatures of vast intellects when the reality is they’re dingbats with four serviceable neurons.

    As I’ve written elsewhere, thanks to the new technologies authors don’t require editors and agents any more, they have access to potentially millions of readers through sites like Alex’s, without the necessity of paying blind obeisance to morons who have trouble tying their shoes while chewing gum. Recently here in Canada an indie (i.e self-published) author won a prestigious literary prize, defeating folks like Douglas Coupland and Will Ferguson. There are big changes ahead and the gate-keepers of publishing will soon find themselves scrambling to keep up or go the way of print newspapers. You’re obsolete, Sierra, soon to be extinct. Better start practicing flipping burgers because I sense that’s where your REAL talents and acumen lie…

  9. momentofchoice 14/05/2008 at 4:44 PM #

    i can’t imagine any respectable, successful publisher would go on to someone’s blog and publicly bash their work — unsolicited. and if that’s common practice, well then all the more reason to avoid dealing with them. aren’t they too busy trashing the piles of submissions on their desks to surf the net looking for people to bash? either way, you already know about the world of publishers and for this apparent ‘publisher’ to suggest that all publishers know and choose brilliant writing is BS…they choose what they hope will sell. period.(and seem to love sitting high atop their mountains dishing out ridiculous judgments). and you are smart enough to know that you have an audience but it would probably require too much work on the part of the publisher to target that audience and make money off you. you will do just fine on your own. your current audience of 50-150 daily (and growing) loves your work and will gladly make room on their shelves for your book when you publish it yourself.

    hey audience, how do you feel about being called suck-ups?

  10. momentofchoice 14/05/2008 at 4:50 PM #

    p.s. it’s 2008 — is the word “twit” still being used?

  11. Slyboots 14/05/2008 at 8:47 PM #

    Yeah, that was a little harsh. I’m not feeling the love from the above self-proclaimed publishing community rep from the moment. God knows I don’t come online looking for fucking Proust. But I do think that I can certainly be trusted to judge whether or not writing is good, and whether or not I enjoy it. (Hell yes to both in Alex’s case, so saith this suckup). I am an educated adult who can make these choices quite nicely without the assistance of an anonymous snob.

    What I really object to in this case is the pure and unadulterated mean-spiritedness of that posting. Just nasty. And that is not acceptable from a professional in any industry. It’s not productive, and it certainly doesn’t foster a community where you can recruit what you make a living off of, ie. AUTHORS. What it smacks of is someone who has an axe to grind, and probably is on the perimeter of the publishing business, and wants to feel important. This is the kind of thing that really gets under my skin and makes me blather on in a self-righteous haze for far to long…..I need to just breathe, and lay off the coffee.

    But I would warn “Sierra” that the web is a crafty place, and anonymity is a very intangible object- it could be very damaging to a career and reputation to be such a major tool online and then go to the office and have to answer for it in person. That’s all.

  12. zombieswan 14/05/2008 at 9:11 PM #

    After the comments that came later, I felt I needed to clarify that I didn’t mean twit the same way that Sierra meant it. I meant it as someone who messes with people.

    OOh, and let me restate that when I used “twit” I was also thinking of Twitterpated. And flit. And all kinds of words that ryhme with that. And the idea, also, that if “being a bit of a twit” means “twitting” or tweaking or messing with people, yes, that is what goes on around these parts sometimes.

    Alex knows I lurve him. And not in a sucking up way. The way he writes speech and conversation have always been my favorite things, what pulled me in years and years ago and keeps me here, in spite of the time constraints we all have. :)

  13. J.A. 15/05/2008 at 4:43 AM #


    even if I did not completed the required reading, I liked it.

    I agree with (S)wine; Sierra took the time to post a comment; if what he/she is saying is right or wrong is not to matter, what matters is that he/she took the time to write a comment (I can not really say if he/she read the story…).

  14. (S)wine 15/05/2008 at 3:25 PM #

    J.A.: gracias, y bienvenido.

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