faith

Emulation Is Not Plagiarism

Emulation is not plagiarism. Those who cannot understand this suffer from an overt fear of being something other than absolutely their own invention. You’ll usually find these sort of people calling themselves a true artist. These people, hell-bent on achieving something other than the mainstream, will go to the most ridiculous lengths to assert their otherness. And what is the great irony in all this striving to be original? They end up being like everyone else.

clone

I believe anyone, myself included, who enters the creative world in whatever medium will find this dilemma facing them: to improve my abilities I must learn from others, but how then, do I retain my own sense of style? My first piece of advice, paradoxical as it may sound, is to disregard the question entirely.

What! Why? They screamed inwardly. Well I’ll tell you. Calm down. You’re always getting worked up over silly things. Once upon a time I had a great conversation with a friend about how we can truly be something and the answer was simple: do it. The person who writes for no other reason than to write is the archetypal writer. The person who makes movies for no other reason than the love of crafting them is the archetypal director. If you have engaged with an activity completely, you will have done so without any thought as to how that activity relates to your ego or reputation. And it is here my friends, that true creativity lies.

sand

Now for those who throw up their hands and say, “Well I’m just not like that. I think about this sort of thing sleeping or awake.” I do have something for you to consider. Return please to the point I made initially about over-correction. The kind of person who would rather bang on trash cans and slap fish together for percussion than sound like a god-cursed mainstream musician. This person has failed to recognize an inescapable scientific fact: art is a continuum. I say scientific because we can use a musical scale as an example.

If you play the C scale on a piano inevitably you return to the root note. Sure you’re an octave higher but all the notes are the same and the will repeat again. All scales are like this. All art is like this. The beauty is that even though you’re ostensibly trapped in this continuum, you are always free to choose how you move within it. The C scale may have the same notes no matter where you go, up or down, but the order in which you play those notes is up to you.

Seeing-The-Music-635x476

I’ll use making Youtube movies to further this example. We all use the same figurative notes in the Youtube scale. These notes are the things we use to make videos: our language, cameras, editing software, and so on. Notice, like the scale, we are all trapped in the continuum again. We can use different editing software to make videos, but we all must use one form or another. In just the same way everyone has their own camera, be that a modest cell-phone or a great and mighty DSLR, but again, we are all restricted to choosing a device which can record images. We must adhere to the same creative principles, but just as with the C scale, we are not trapped by them. On a scale I couldn’t even count the number of variations you can produce, especially given timing and rhythm. Creating videos is no different. The potential for variation is infinite.

Another detail drawn from recognizing that art is a continuum, is that it is also a cycle. What was once unpopular, will become popular again. Art-forms of whatever kind, given time out of the spotlight, gain popularity for that reason. Sitting on the periphery of our awareness they begin to gleam again with the sparkle of something unappreciated. Drawn back into the center they cannot stay there forever. What once made them cool, our fascination with the unknown, dissipates with familiarity. Like a lover that excites us no longer, we discard it for the next, lesser known, promise of excitement. So be aware. Everything artistic and otherwise moves through this cycle and to cling to one form in the hope that it will never fade is ridiculous. Let your art change and evolve. You’ll be more successful for it.

By understanding that nearly all art exists in a continuum and is cyclical, we should cease to care when something we create at some point overlaps with someone else’s work. It’s going to happen. Worry instead about, do I enjoy this? Am I only making art to not be like anyone else? Because if indeed you are, you are a cloned copy of so many others. You will become a self-obsessed bore, willing to sacrifice the pure enjoyment of creation for the fleeting pleasure of replying when people confusedly inquire about your work, “You haven’t heard about my all-coconut rock-band? Not surprised, you’re so mainstream.”

coconuts

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Creative Process

I was thinking about the creative process today. I’m always cautious of throwing around buzz words like this because, like I like to say, “something said often enough without feeling, loses any amount it once had”. For that reason if I am going to use a popular phrase for inspiration, I really want to know why. After a bit of thought I’ve decided to keep this one around the shop. My reason for doing so lies in the second word of the phrase: process.

I think creatively we make the mistake of thinking that before starting, all the ideas should be laid out, planned, organized. There’s room for that way of creating something. Certainly it’s the only way some people are willing to go ahead with an idea. But for some of us who attempt this route, and I think that’s a large demographic, it’s paralyzing. That word process which I believe is the heart of creativity, can’t get of the ground with all the red-tape (bureaucracy) of planning, surrounding it. I say forget the planning and go straight to process and by doing so you will have far greater success.

dead-end

To make the point I’ll talk about how I write outlines for stories. First it starts with staring at a blank page. Then a period of time where I bemoan why I suck at writing (this period usually feels longer than it actually is). Then, the first stupid idea that enters my head I jot down on the page , quick, as though it were the voice of god. This leaping off point usually occurs within fifteen minutes. From there, I notice a distinct ramping up of ideas and possible directions for the outline. Some thirty minutes later I’m usually shocked at what is coming out the end of whatever pen or pencil I am using: the ideas are strong and flowing freely. The ideas that are flowing so freely are a direct result of the utter garbage that preceded them. In this way we see that it is process which leads us to success. And the errors just as important as the final result.

Idea

If we only ever accept a brilliant starting point for an idea, I don’t think we’ll have that many. Hardly any of us wake up brilliant, we usually need a warm up, or coffee at the very least. On the other hand, if we treat our ideas indiscriminately and allow them to exist freely, good or bad, we enter that golden space of inspiration far quicker.

prisoner-atlas

I’d wager that if you asked most people who create which they prefer more, presenting their creation, or creating it, nine times out of ten you’d hear, “creating it!” blurted out quickly, without much thought, or planning… see what I did there? I believe the reason for an artist’s appreciation of process should be obvious. It is because that is when they are closest to an enlightened moment: when they had a good idea. And that idea is usually found somewhere in the middle of when they started thinking about what to make. The afterglow of course is lovely. We bask in the warmth of awesomeness and do enjoy observing it afterwards. But the glow is fleeting and a shadow of the original fiery passion we felt at the idea’s inception.

setting

And this ladies and gentlemen is why I’ve chosen to keep the old phrase, creative process, around. At any time we can pull it off the shelf and be reminded of what creating is all about. It reminds us that while all creations are fleeting, creating is not. And an eternity spent contemplating perfection is worthless, when compared with a million mistakes made honestly, in pursuit of pure art.

I Think Too Goddamn Much!

Allan

I have a problem. And considering the way I acted when I was younger, I find it’s strange that it’s the one that plagues me most as I’ve gotten older. When I was young I’d do something shit stupid and my dad would ask me about the repercussions of what I’d done. I would start to answer, “Well, I didn’t think-.” He would cut me off. “Exactly! You didn’t think.” Herein lay my youthful problem: action without forethought.

Now a few days have gone by. I’m roughly thirty and perhaps because of my obsessive worry about not thinking enough when I was younger, I am now cursed with the exact reverse. I think to goddamn much! No action is done without weighing first all the multitude of outcomes. Any moral act is beaten to death with a stick long after it should be put to rest. I wanted to buy a car recently on a modest budget and only realized around consulting in great depth with the fifth or sixth person that I was treating the whole thing like marriage proposal. It’s a special kind of hell. My spontaneous self left strangled and beaten to a pulp.

A strong desire to believe that we can change has shaped a great deal of my recent life. I’ve sought out wise people for advice and found them in our history either in books or lectures. My favourite is Allan Watts. He’s the 1970’s guru (although he would hate to be called that) who popularized Eastern philosophy in the west. I like him so much because of the academics I could find, he speaks directly at the topic as opposed to around it. I say this because I’ve found books on neuroplasticity touch on the subject but don’t really get into the meat of it. Not to say you shouldn’t read these either they’re amazing for their own reasons.

Anyways. Why is Allan Watts such a good resource for the topic? I’ve found his strength is two-fold. You have on the one hand his great research background on Eastern philosophy that gives him something to talk about. On the other, and surprisingly the most potent, he talks! His lectures can be found all over Youtube.

Listening to him, as much as I found what he has to say was incredibly enriching in terms of its educational value, it was the timbre and sonorous quality of his voice as he spoke that provided me with the most peace. One of the primary virtues he espouses when trying to escape our obsession with control and over-thinking is that we would simply experience the here and now more. Something modern therapeutic meditation might call “mindfulness”. There is a big problem with it though. If your goal is to become lost in a moment of immediate experience you’ll quickly defeat yourself by “thinking” far far to much about getting lost in the moment. A sort of cyclical disaster.

Explosion

Watts warns about this and says if your intention is to calm and clear the mind do not go about doing so by demanding of your inner thoughts that they should leave. He says this has the same effect as trying to calm disturbed water with a flat-iron (an expression I love dearly). Instead he suggests observing your thoughts. Allow them to enter your mind and become aware of them. In this way you allow all the conflicting repressed garbage demanding your attention to take its turn and then clear. I’ve heard others describe it as watching cars pass on the road. Each car is a thought and you observe them as they come. This accommodating non combative method, I’ve found, truly does yield results.

And that is why I discovered it was less the content of Allan’s speeches that mattered to me and more his tone. This is because it was his extremely enjoyable tone, which after I observed the points he made, made me forget I was observing them at all. I forgot because I enjoyed the experience of his voice so much, to think about what he was saying. Hallelujah. I defeated the cycle not because I had learned so much about what exactly I should bend my will to accomplish. I simply enjoyed so much what I was doing, I forgot to think about it.

And that is what I have learned about how to calm my mind and do at least something to absolve this most assiduous cancer of over-thinking. Do something I love. Do anything that I become so involved in I forget who I am, what I care about, what I (imagine) matters. In doing so I am free. I actually have a bit of a chuckle to myself when I think how often I have hated the idea of someone being a couch potato and mindlessly watching television. I understand now the need for such an escape. Constant reflection is as unhealthy as no reflection at all. We need to disconnect. We must. Living in this world with its infinite information to consider is something which can poison an overactive mind.

So this is my advice to you reader. You who by some fascinating twist of the universe’s superpositions made it to my writing and took the time and gave it the honour of your attention. Minus all the mumbo-jumbo about meditation and mindfulness, if you find yourself in a similar situation to myself: where even feeding the cat becomes the greatest existential moral dilemma of your life. Let go and find something you simply enjoy, something you really really enjoy. You will forget the illusion of (I). You will become more what you truly are: an experience.

Til Death Do Us Part: How Modern Marriage Has Failed

sitting_te

Marriage, the word is a demonstration of our language’s ability to evoke and provoke some of the strongest emotions possible. These range from the worshipful to cynical. It is simultaneously sought after and hated, not uncommonly by the same person. Is it broken? Was it ever right? I’ve been thinking about these questions a lot lately. I find myself at that time in my life (early thirties) where those inevitable questions start to arise, as though I perceive a door slowly closing. It’s my conclusion, after a good deal of thought, that I’ve been fooled, we’ve all been bamboozled, tricked, whatever you want to call it, into thinking that the oft referred to (holy) institution of marriage is something we should care and obsess over.

Let’s dig into this where I enjoy it most: its history. Marriage has not always been interpreted through its current incarnation. Now what do I mean by that exactly? Well most obviously would be this idea of marriage for eternal love. This modern consideration is an incredibly recent advent. Marriage in the not so distant past was carried out pragmatically: for family interests. The mewling protests of those involved, should there be any, were silenced quickly as selfish prattle that had better shut the hell up, or risk the wrath of their elders, and when I think about it, rightly so. Life and survival are difficult enough in an old world without youth bemoaning that they don’t get to love the person they are with. We’d have been far better off if marriage were actually referred to for what it was at its inception: duty.

But we are a forward thinking species. How dare the wisdom of the old be inflicted on the young. Better we let them decide who they should marry, and then divorce shortly after. This has led us to marriage’s current state. The mass majority of marriages end, it’s indefensible to suggest otherwise. Growing up my parents were in the absolute minority that they remained together through my youth. Their staying together was the exception not the rule.

Which leads me to my next point: the language of modern marriage in its aftermath. Having moved away from the more ancient form of marriage, we have landed ourselves in an existential hell. We’ve exchanged the mild grumbling of a couple learning to be with each other for the impossible ideal of eternal love. We even hold this lofty standard so high above our heads that if a marriage were to fail in this context we have no shortage of cruel descriptors for it: broken home and failed marriage leap to mind. We describe something so obviously natural—the falling out of love of those together for an extended period of time—as something abhorrent, hateful, and shameful. This I believe is madness.

Life in the last hundred years has changed so rapidly when compared to the previous it has left our older social constructs outdated and staggered, barely able to bear the weight of keeping up. I think fondly on my father’s joking description of the problem, “When they said till death do us part, that’s what it used to mean!” This albeit dark humour summarizes what I am trying to say. A progressive step was needed to reinvent the dated survival-style of marriage, but caught up in our solipsist view of the world we failed to see that we’d set out for ourselves an impossible standard. Couples rejoiced at the idea of marriage for eternal love, but soon found the reality was not quite what they imagined. It never is.

Now I’m not suggesting a return to the old style. We do live in a time when choosing who we wish to partner with is a luxury we can more or less afford. What I am suggesting is that we face a more difficult reality: we live long enough to have deep meaningful relationships with multiple people, and should allow ourselves to do so.

I’ll anticipate the soft soul’s argument who will cry, “What about the children? You blind fool,” and say this: we can, and already do, leave behind marriages with children yet to grow. All I’m suggesting is if we do so, let’s do away with all the weight of this crazy guilt. Good parents exist, lots of them, who are not in “wedlock,” another great term I enjoy. As long-lived human beings whose lifespans are continually stretching we must throw off the shackles that the ideal of eternal love has bound us in. We need a new love renaissance, one that correctly acknowledges both our strengths and weaknesses: Yes we can love, yes we fall out of love, there is no one single love of your life, there are many.

I cannot help but relate this to a series of books written by one of my favourite authors ‘Peter F. Hamilton.’ In his wild sci-fi imaginings he’s created a world wherein people can potentially live forever. Not only that, he considers the profound social repercussions of this world. The obvious question that comes about from eternal life is: do I eternally marry? He would suggest no. Instead, people spend as much time as they want with each other. Some raise children, some don’t. The norm of the citizens that inhabit his world is to marry many over the hundreds of years that they are alive. This to me seems natural.

And before those dissenters start screeching at the computer screen, allow me to clarify what I mean by natural. Natural is the world we have grown up in. I’ll borrow from ‘Aubrey de Grey’ to clarify what I mean. When people object to his suggestion—that we should be able to live forever—and say it is unnatural to have such long life-spans, he immediately counters with a very sound argument. When you say natural, whose natural do you mean? If you had grown up in the colonial era a natural life-span was far less than it is now. Eighty to a hundred is the natural life-span if you were born in recent memory. To cement what I am saying vicariously through Aubrey’s point: “natural” changes depending on where you are looking at it from. In effect, it is always changing given your perspective. And that is now what we need for marriage and the way we pursue it. A new perspective.

The Right Time and Place: Hope for the Social-Media Marketer

social-networking

As I am oft to do, I found myself thinking about if my social media presence is really worth the amount of effort that I put into it. Does all this networking really amount to anything? Or, am I just spinning my wheels? There is always that sinking feeling that no matter how many people I network with, that I am forever resigned to be a small fish in a huge pond, and my work as an Author will never see a positive result from it. I’ve never given into this way of thinking, but admittedly, it’s something that has plagued me. Until recently.

As I am also oft to do, I was watching some interesting videos on Youtube. The video in this case was a speech given by one of my favourite intellects of our time: Ray Kurzweil. If you don’t know him, which is very unlikely, I’ll fill in the gap for you.

Ray is a futurist, famous for writing his incredibly successful book ‘The Singularity is Near’ wherein Ray discusses how very shortly, within the next three decades, humankind will undergo a rapid change as a result of its developing technology. He is also a famed inventor, responsible for creating the first keyboard capable of orchestral quality sound recreation. My friend, an audio engineer by trade, actually uses one of these keyboards, so I can attest to its amazing sound. In Kurzweil’s book he predicts some incredible things. Some of which are so far-reaching in their implications one might seriously consider discounting the man as a nut-job. The problem with Kurzweil is this: he is not some nut-job. His hugely successful career is a testament to that fact. The man is considered such an amazing mental power Google has seen fit in recent years to hire him as director of engineering. There is no denying, the man is on the cutting edge of what is possible in the coming future.

Introductions finished, let’s get into what exactly the man was talking about in his video that I found inspiring. He was talking about what had made him so successful in his career. Namely what gave him an edge over the competition. To do this he asked a question. He said to the audience in attendance, ‘Why do you think Facebook is so successful?’. He asked smiling, ‘Do you think it’s because Mark Zuckerberg needed to reach an age where his brilliance could be released on the world?’. One could assume from the playful way in which he suggested the idea, that this was most certainly not the case.

He went on to say that although there was no denying the brilliance of those involved with the project for recognizing the opportunity, there were far greater forces at work for its successful carrying out: right place, and right time. Kurzweil assured the audience, and I’m inclined to agree with him, that Zuckerberg and his cohorts were not the first to have this idea: interconnected social systems on the web. The important thing to realize he said, is that even if you had conceived the idea many years before, regardless of how amazing it was, you could not implement it without other technological factors catching up. Kurzweil pointed out that Facebook was impossible in a time when using the Internet meant dial-up modems and crackling interruptions to the connection as we yelled down the hall at loved ones for sabotaging our usage. And like a magician pulling the rabbit from his hat, when Kurzweil said this the audience gave an audible ‘ohhh’, myself included.

The point Kurzweil was making—if you haven’t already guessed—is that success is the result of two equal parts: knowing what technology, creation, or innovation is needed, and realizing when temporally it can be nominally utilized. Now we come to why I found this utterly inspiring. This concept is directly relateable to social-media as a tool for advertising, and whether or not it will grow in both potency and potential. This relates as well to a thought I’ve had recently: no matter the era, we are always living with the illusion that we are living in the future, or at the very least, the cutting edge of what is possible. When in reality, this could not be farther from the truth. We are no less cave-men, by technological standards, than cave-men.

From considering these two ideas: the still massive potential of social-media, and our misunderstanding of technology, I derived the true significance of what Kurzweil was saying: we have only now just reached the tip of what is possible through social-marketing. The evidence perhaps which best demonstrates this fact is the growth and progress of information technology / the Internet and its usage. Certainly it’s easy to lose ourselves, like I do so often, thinking that we’ve pretty much bottomed out. That is to say, how much faster or more interconnected could we become? The answer is simple: a lot.

I did not want to stuff this piece of writing with a bunch of figures, as it is more a philosophical rambling piece, but I’ll toss in a few for their added strength to the argument. I was looking at figures which displayed the Internet’s growth taken from the year 2000 until 2012. The stats were quite a revelation. Africa’s growth usage in the aforementioned time periods was mind-boggling, growing roughly three thousand six hundred per cent. During the same time period globally, the Internet’s usage grew five hundred and sixty-six per cent. The Internet is booming, and in the coming five years will grow yet again at a nearly inconceivable rate due to Moore’s law of exponential progress. You can see its evidence everywhere: phones, computing power, and transmission speeds. With the advent of ‘fifth generation transmission’—in which speeds achieved are thirty times faster than the current LTE—the world is going to change in a way that for lack of a better word could be described as—weird.

So for those of us worried if we’re tapped out in terms of what we stand to gain in free advertising from social-media, fear not. If you have started to throw together a ‘social media mud-hovel’ as I like to describe my current empire, you have not missed the boat. You actually stand perfectly positioned to still reap all the benefits of this rapidly changing era. Put succinctly, you have entered into the arena, at the perfect place and time.

Free

And now it’s time for you to run without this time a starting gun
Is it not how they told you it would be
They were singing songs of innocence before you were free
And Now you know experience a tiger that stalks inside your house
He’s been there a while now tearing up your floors showing you all those hidden doors
It’s like floyd said it’s not what you expected to see
When I looked at the tiger the tiger was me

So I run run run can’t seem to catch up with the sun
And each day I grow older just a little bit colder
But after all I wanted this wanted to be free

Are we all just dreaming of life
I wake and it’s not real
A lonely place just filled with steel
Each face passes by a glimmer of something the same
Will we ever be more than just our names
I have always been looking for that greater plan
But all the time knowing the tiger will eat the lamb

So I run run run can’t seem to catch up with the sun
And each day I grow older just a little bit colder
But after all I wanted this wanted to be free

I can feel my pulse it’s never the same
But somehow in the end comes round again
When does it all stop can you see by the veil
This tiger feels old from eating his tail
His back is broke and his mind is gone
So maybe this time we sing the song.

So we run run run can’t seem to catch up with the sun
And each day we grow older just a little bit colder
But after all we wanted this wanted to be free

Not the First Nor the Last

March Roundup Contest Entry 2015

Prompt: In 250 words or fewer, pick a quote from a published author or book and write about it.

————

“Sometimes you have to do what’s wrong in order to do what’s right.”

Peter F. Hamilton, The Dreaming Void

———————–

“Hey, I’m so glad to see you.” My tone is a manic mix of light-hearted optimism and inconsolable fear.

I grip one hand with the other to stop the shaking. There is nothing I can do about my head. It irritates me endlessly. Whenever I’m stressed, there’s a slight vibration in my neck. I’m sure I’m not the only one who notices it.

She steps through the door and looks at me with hollow eyes. “Let’s sit down,” she says.

“Sure, of course.” I signal to my room. No roommate anymore and no more furniture leaves the place almost empty, just a bed and memories.

We both sit and I begin. I am a bursting fountain-head of cliché: “I love you. We can work. I’m begging you. You’re my soul-mate”. I’ve made it harder for her. In the end I hurt her more.

But her words are absolution: “I don’t. No we can’t. I don’t care. You’re not mine.”

Inside, whatever dignity I had is swept away. Grief strips me. I am nothing. Outside, my shell persists. Discontent with leaving any scrap behind, I negotiate my pride: trade reality for one last illusion. When she’s walking to the door, I’m almost optimistic. Maybe there’s a chance. Maybe it’s not over. Maybe when I leaned in for that last kiss before she left, those lips weren’t dead.

I’d Rather Be Nowhere

All The Bright Places Contest Entry 2015

#BrightPlaces

The bright place that has most inspired me in life is paradoxically many yet one: with the people I love.

————

“They’re at it again.”

“Like clockwork eh?”

I tip my beer and smile. “Like clockwork. Come, join me for the show. It’s about to begin.”

Devon is sitting at his desk surrounded by mountains of high-end recording equipment. Taking a drag from his cigarette he ambles over the to the windowsill and takes a seat next to me on its generous ledge. Our view from his luxurious second story downtown apartment in Vancouver grants us a perfect vantage point from which to watch the city’s nighttime animals tear each other apart.

“The brightly coloured fat one looks about ready to pounce.” Smoke trails behind my hand as I gesture at two members of the inebriated nightlife.

“Think he’ll win?” says Devon.

“Only because he’s to drunk to know he’s already lost,” I laugh, pausing to take a swig of my beer. The fight is swift and fierce, and as with most real violence—lacking skill and over quickly. “Damn it.” I stub out my cigarette. “Bright colours in the wild usually indicate danger.”

Devon nods slowly. “So we gonna finish this tonight?”

“Of course.” I jump up. “Where are we?”

“The first verse,” Devon chuckles while taking his seat again and putting on one ear of his studio headphones.

I slap him on the shoulder. “We’re gonna change the world right?”

 

Sprawled on the leather sofa Lloyd steeples his fingers. “And why are they afraid of the rain?”

“It’s acid rain,” I answer quickly.

“And it’s acidic, why?”

“Because we destroyed the Earth’s atmosphere.”

Late day light pours through the slatted blinds of the studio apartment, brightening the opposite wall’s red to a crimson glow. A half eaten loaf of bread, (Lloyd’s baking) sits between us, along with a wisely chosen cheap bottle of red, (Lloyd’s purchasing). I break off a hunk of the fennel encrusted herbaceous loaf before leaning back in my weathered leather computer chair.

“The new society of course doesn’t know that,” I add while munching on the bread.

“I see, and you’re thinking they evolve a religion around this?” Lloyd leans forward to pour out the last four fingers of wine in our two glasses. He gives the empty bottle a rueful look before returning it to the table.

“That’s right, now keep going,” I say with a grin. “With your questions it writes itself.”

 

We both lie silent. A tangle of tired limbs and restive smiles. From the window I can hear the breeze. It blows just so, rustling the leaves and vines on trees nearby. Amidst strands of raven black hair, nestling my nose into the honey brown of Cristina’s exposed neck, I make contented sounds. I can feel her smiling. From upstairs the clatter of cookware and pleasant muffled chatter just barely reaches our ears. We’ll return to the mainland soon. The vacation at my old friend’s home draws to a close. I think of the days and all we have done: wonderful meals enjoyed together by those in attendance, fishing, wake-boarding. Cristina got up her first time out, That’s rare, I think. She rolls over to face me, her foreign dark eyes sparkling.

“Why are you laughing?” she demands playfully in the accented tone I’ve grown to love.

“Because … I’m happy.”

Cristina’s Song

I had thought this world a graceless place
Only ghosts that walked around in empty space
But instead I find, I’ve lost and found my mind,
On the bed of a friend the sound cranked to ten and only you in my eyes

Please won’t you sing to me
In that secret key that you brought from across the sea
It doesn’t need a language
It’s not like we ever did
Bliss comes to you from the bottom the sky looks beautiful from the abyss
My lover, my teacher, my savior
What a world I have seen
To leave you I have found you it’s the same as it’s always been

I would have turned my dreams to dust experience then rust
Oh how I tried to hate you better numbness than the pain
So I went to hell but you followed me all the same
And when I’d made my last denial twisted my heart made you as a rival
Where that empty space it should have been was your love your smile and a place that I could dream

Please won’t you sing to me
In that secret key that you brought from across the sea
It doesn’t need a language
It’s not like we ever did
Bliss comes to you from the bottom the sky looks beautiful from the abyss
My lover, my teacher, my savior
What a world I have seen
To leave you I have found you it’s the same as it’s always been

So thank you friend until we meet again I wait inside this dream
I can feel you there as angels prepare one day that place for you and me
Our time was short and the distance now long but forever I will find you
Just look in this song

Please won’t you sing to me
In that secret key that you brought from across the sea
It doesn’t need a language
It’s not like we ever did
Bliss comes to you from the bottom the sky looks beautiful from the abyss
My lover, my teacher, my savior
What a world I have seen
To leave you I have found you it’s the same as it’s always been

Chapter.4 Hiding in plain Sight

In the first weeks of his new school Daniel developed a routine. He would wake long before anyone in the house. After wishing the farm on his wall a good day, careful not to make any noise, he would rush a barely warm shower and get dressed. Then, tiptoeing lightly down the hall past his parent’s bedroom, he’d descend the old wooden stairs that led to the kitchen and receive there the warmest greeting he’d ever known. Lincoln waited for him each morning, in a bed they’d set up next to their ghoulishly coloured yellow refrigerator. Always awake, standing at attention. When Daniel entered, his tail would begin to wag in a steady beat—thump, thump, thump—hitting the side of the fridge, like a drum-beat summoning soldiers to war. Daniel would then invoke the ritualistic question which preceded all their walks: “Who’s a good boy?” Lincoln’s joyous reaction, wherein he leapt up on his owner nuzzling and licking his face affectionately, predicated the truism, he—most certainly was.

They’d lap the block once or twice, depending on Lincoln’s energy level, then return to the house to meet Kate sitting on the steps of their home, usually shaking her head in disbelief.

“You’re crazy,” yawned Kate.

Daniel ceased twirling Lincoln’s leash. A game which left the dog comically walking in a diagonal line at his side. “You know,” he said solemnly, stopping to strike a pose, chest puffed out like a Saturday-morning-hero from the nineties, “they say love is crazy.”

Kate rolled her eyes. “Well then, you’re madly in love.”

“Oh, I am, dear sister,” said Daniel. Pulling back Lincoln’s ears, he planted a kiss on the adoring animal’s head. Kate had a special name for this particular canine expression: bliss in a slipstream. “It’s alright though, I don’t expect you to perfectly understand what it’s like to love a beast.”

“I love you, don’t I?”

“You’re hilarious.” Daniel gave his sister a lop-sided grin. “Just wait a moment. I’ll be back. I’m gonna top off Lincoln’s food bowl before we leave.” Their morning ritual replete, critical banter and all complete, the two set off for school.

Bam!

Daniel jolted upright, hand pressed to his stinging forehead. The students were giggling; everyone turned in his direction. On the verge of sleep when he’d lost consciousness, his face had slid from its precariously balanced position on his palm to smack into his desk. Judging by his teacher’s sigh and head shake of resigned indifference, it might not have been the first time. He glowered round darkly at those who laughed. That was, until a gooey spit ball wetly smacked the side of his head.

“Don’t be so glum, chum. Trouble in paradise?” said Milton, a twice failed older classmate. In the first weeks of Daniel’s arrival Milton had tried unsuccessfully to acquaint himself. He’d mistakenly approached the friendship in a traditional way: too kindly and without expectations. Daniel never trusted those who offered kindness without weighing return on investment. That’s not how kindness worked.

“I’m fine, you dick, just bored.” Daniel peeled the sticky wad of paper off his cheek and flicked it back at his classmate who made a show of dodging the projectile.

Milton jabbed a confident thumb towards himself. “Well, you wouldn’t be bored if you’d hang out with me. If there’s one thing I understand, it’s a good time.”

“Right…” said Daniel cupping his face, this time in both hands. Daniel turned from the moronically beatific smile of Milton, attempting to take something from the lecture. It never did any good. The harder he focused, the more his teachers words became a blur. The more he just felt like going to sleep. He sighed. what’s wrong with me?

Bam!

Daniel’s face smashed against his locker.

“How’d that taste, loser?”

Daniel turned, the warm coppery tang of iron filling his mouth. With one arm he clutched his textbooks. The free hand he pressed against the backside of his weeping lip. Drawing it away slowly, examining the ruby-red that smeared it, he licked his lips. “Delicious,” he laconically answered the three boys standing over him at his locker. His unnerving reply caused their leader to screw his face up in disgust.

“You’re a freak, you know that right?” He shoved Daniel back into the lockers with a loud clang. Other students in the hall hurried past, heads down; hate and cruelty are always hidden in plain sight.

“I do,” came Daniel’s answer, equally terse.

“That’s good.” The leader made a show of nodding around at his compatriots, keeping up the bravado. But, Daniel could tell he’d rattled their hollow confidence.“Just here to remind you, it’s the usual deal.”

Daniel simply nodded. The boys departed giving Daniel a final shove. It sent him sprawling and the books taken from his locker skidding across the floor.

 

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“I don’t get it?” Kate whined. “Why do we always have to take separate paths home?”

“Because, we have separate paths to walk in this life, young one.” Daniel deepened his voice and pretended to pull a cape in front of his body.

“You are a brutal nerd—seriously…” Kate bobbed along next to her brother laughing. “I hate walking home by myself, it’s dangerous; you’re failing to protect me.”

Daniel kept his voice deep and the cape held in front of him as he walked. “You—are an idiot, young one; you do not walk home alone; you walk with Sandy.”

“Stop talking like that!” Kate batted his arm down, destroying the imagined cape. “I do, but I would rather walk with you. Promise me one of these days we will walk together.”

Daniel acquiesced. “Sure, just not today, Okay?

“Okay,” said Kate.

The exit of the school was barely that, just a road that met another road. Its only semi-significant characteristic was a middling sized leafless maple tree. Before the two parted ways under its barren branches, Daniel gave his sister a kiss on the head, hugging her and wishing her well. Watching her leave he took a seat at the base of the tree on a serpentine thick root. One of many that emerged from the earth, like the coils of a sea monster. Resting his back against its ridged trunk, he waved perfunctorily at his sister in the distance as she met with her new friend, Sandy.

The girl wore an intractable smile plastered to her face at all times, like the personae of Greek theater. But her sad eyes belied that smile, and told the truth that lay behind them. Daniel wondered what drew his sister to a person like that—but perhaps not—he knew of nothing more seductive than a lie.

His sister and Sandy soon disappeared out of sight around the corner of the block. Daniel took that as his cue to stand up. He brushed off the dust and debris of the ground and grabbed his backpack. He’d lain it next to the tree. Throwing it over his shoulder he took from his pocket his Swiss army knife. When sitting next to the tree he’d noticed inscriptions carved into its trunk. Like any prophet of the school, he wanted to forge his own. Between the timeless wisdom of “Claires a slut!!!”—incorrectly punctuated he noted—and, “Brandon and Josh forever”, he added, “Daniel was here”, an epitaph worthy of a king. Finishing his work he blew on it, removing any last clinging wood-chips. A stubborn sliver of bark resisted his breath and disrupted the proper reading of “here”. To correct the offending chunk of wood, he dug in and leaned hard on the blade. It cut loose with a twang, but the sudden release of pressure popped the blade out of his hand. It fell bouncing down the tree trunk coming to land in the dirt with a plop. He bent over to pick it up; doing so brought his eyes level with an inscription unseen from any other angle: “What matter where if I be still the same”. He read it multiple times. Deep, he decided. Whoever said that had their shit figured out. Standing up to stretch, he pressed his knuckles into the small of his back. He groaned, enjoying the release of pressure. It was time to go.

Except for the main street entrance, the playground was waiting for him penned in on all sides by low-cost cement-grey residential towers. No one was playing on its grounds when Daniel arrived: no one ever was. The small area hosted several physical distractions: a rusting jungle gym for kids to climb and practice breaking limbs on; a set of drooping spring-loaded sea-animals with their paint flaking off for night-time drunks to ride, bend and wear out; and the feature Daniel most enjoyed using, a three-seater swing set. Whistling to himself Daniel took a seat on the middle swing and set his bag on the ground. He built up an arc pumping his legs. As he gained height, with each pass of the parabola’s bottom, he’d kick up a spray of bark mulch on his way to the sky. At the top, he’d smile.

As the three boys entered the park he slowed the swing to a stop by digging in his heels. Thommy Humphreys was an angry-faced, straight-haired, pear-shaped boy. His waist— grotesquely ballooning at such an early age—foreshadowed opponents to come; opponents he could not beat with fists.

Loping along at Thommy’s heels came Dean Beakman. A gangly, tall, back-woods boy with straw blond hair, moved from a place named after an animal’s body part to the city; Dean exemplified willful ignorance. He was fond of telling childhood stories, wherein inter-species relations passed for rites-of-passage. Born with a tin of chew in his cradle, Dean had developed a mild celebrity around the school for his digestive tract’s capabilities. His esophagus and bowels, inured by years of use, allowed the boy to munch on the acrid cud without spitting. Instead, he swallowed the acidic juice, like bitter medicine.

Rounding out the wayward trio was one of the school’s rich elite. Chris Branch, a neurotic tick ridden boy who, in another time, might have been referred to as “prosperously plump”. Not so fat as his companion, he lacked the certainty of a cardiac ward in his future. But soft easy living had molded the boy in its image: fragile and temperamental. All three boys belonged to a different social strata, and formed an uncommon alliance; anger, with its power to bind those of like-mind in common-cause, had brought them together. Surrounded by all three, sitting still on his swing. Daniel found himself the object of their inimical attention.

“Why do you always come here?” Thommy asked. He breathed heavily while gazing round the empty play-ground. “Looking for kids to fondle?”

“Ya disappointed, D? No kiddies today?” chirped Branch, snickering. He wore a glossy red chromatic t-shirt with the word “What” emblazoned across its front. Looking from Daniel and back to Thommy he itched at the exposed skin of his arms while shifting his weight nervously from foot to foot. Beakman on the opposite flank of Thommy stood silent and expressionless as a cow, the only audible impression of his presence, the constant grinding of teeth as he worked away at the protrusion of tobacco held in his cheek.

Daniel kicked his legs, causing the swing to sway slightly. “Maybe I enjoy irony?” he spoke to the blurred ground rushing under his feet. Wasting words on people who wished him harm was exhausting. Digging pointed toes into the mulch he stopped the rocking of the swing. Hopping off his seat he then picked up his bag and slung it over his shoulder. He kept a level eye on all the boys aside from Beakman who stood taller than himself. Taking his back-pack from his shoulders he held it in front of his chest with both hands and looked at it quizzically. The odd gesture drew everyone’s attention to its matte black shape. “You know, I never thought this brand was ever any good, but my sister kept insisting, it’s the best. Costs three times more than the no-name version that looks similar—did you know that?” Daniel looked round at the trio, holding out the bag.

Thommy’s brow furrowed. “The hell are you on about?”

“No really, it is,” said Daniel, holding out the bag with a salesman’s can-you-believe-it expression and tone, “and you know the dumbest thing?”

Branch’s eyes shifted from Daniel to Thommy and back. “Seriously the fuck are you on about? We don’t give a shit about-”

Daniel interrupted, “The dumbest thing is, I’m such a huge nerd, I checked up on the manufacturer, and would you believe—it’s actually the same bag? Here look.” Daniel lobbed the bag at Branch. Instinctively the boy raised his hands to catch the thrown object. With his hands up and his guard down, Daniel kicked, hard as he could, into the boy’s unprotected groin, sending his nuts—Daniel hoped—somewhere up near the back of his throat. The boy went down making a sound akin to a pinched balloon releasing air. Shaken by their fallen comrade’s demise the two standing boys looked at his curled form. Daniel just shook his head. “I know… It’s ridiculous…”

The sudden ferocity of Daniel’s attack had momentarily pacified his assailants, but once the initial shock had worn off, rage replaced complacency, and they pounced.

The blows fell and Daniel reflected on what had brought him here. It was strange how violence could—at times—make perfect sense. He didn’t blame them.

He’d fought Thommy but the boy had knocked him down and his excessive weight kept him pinned to the ground. This allowed Beakman to beat away at his unprotected face. Without needing to look, he could tell the mounting damage was something he wouldn’t be able to hide from his sister—this time. Another fist connected with the crown of his skull and it rebounded off the ground behind his head. Pain blossomed behind his eyes and he saw stars: flashes of light. With his vision blurring, he fully expected a final concussive impact. Daniel kept open his swollen eyes and waited for the final strike. He wanted to see the end coming. Wished for it to release him from misery, into black nothingness. But Dean paused, fist raised, his face overcome with an idea.

“I think our boy looks thirsty.” Humphreys grunted in acknowledgment from atop Daniel. “I think he needs a drink.”

“You’re sick!” spat Daniel. New fear sobered his mind and he thrashed and flailed under his heavier opponent’s rolls of flesh, but Thommy was immovable. He achieved nothing.

“Pinch his nose, Thommy,” Beakman commanded in his woodsy drawl. Humphrey’s fat fingers stinking of onions clamped Daniel’s nose. Beakman started making sounds at the back of his throat like a clogged sink draining the last of its water. “Hold him still,” said Beakman, through a mouth half of equal parts spit and chew juice.

The last burst of resistance had drained what little energy Daniel had left. Accepting the situation’s futility, he chose to lie still as possible extending how long he could hold his breath, but the urge to breathe became overwhelming. A fire soon burned in his lungs, desperate for air. Anticipating Daniel’s breaking point, a leering Beakman positioned over Daniel’s head drew one final disgusting pull of air through his nostrils.

“I got your drink ready, D, say-”

He never did finish his sentence. Daniel was just able to register in his vision’s periphery the swinging fist. It slammed hard into Beakman’s temple. The blow connected so fiercely Beakman’s head cranked to the side and the boy dropped unconscious. The light in his eyes extinguished. His head landed next to Daniel face down. No longer in control of his jaw the vile liquid intended for Daniel began to pool around his face, draining slowly from his mouth like an oil spill, soaking the mulch he’d passed out in and leaking into his blond hair. Thommy who’d until this point focused solely on keeping Daniel pinned, looked up.

“What the fu-” He was the second to not finish his sentence. The boot connected flat with his face. Daniel could hear the wet snapping of cartilage and breaking bone, watched as the boy’s nose exploded, felt the spray of blood sting his eyes. Thommy went tumbling backwards off him, clutching his ruined face. “Here little pig pig piggy pig, come ere boy.” Daniel identified the taunting voice of his savior. Milton. Stepping over Daniel he leapt on Thommy, who’d fallen on his back. Descending into a crouched position with a foot on either side of his victim, Milton grabbed a fistful of Thommy’s shirt, using it to pull the disoriented boy off the ground. He began swinging. Thommy feebly attempted to block the onslaught with an arm but Milton easily passed the guard and punched through it, again… and again… and again…

Daniel watched from propped elbows in disbelief as the older boy turned the other’s face into a horror show. Watching the carnage Daniel’s stomach churned. In no version of his desired revenge was there ever this level of ultra violence.

“Pu… Pu… Please,” a battered Thommy pleaded through blood and spittle. Milton’s face, which had remained chillingly impassive during the course of the beating, split into a wide toothy grin.

“You’ll have to speak up—what was that?” Milton took the boy’s stained shirt in both hands and pulled him upright. Cocking his head to the left he brought Thommy’s lips in line with his ear. “Again please, did you need something?” In a heart-beat Milton had transformed: remorseless reaper became attentive angel. Allowed enough time to catch his ragged intermittent breath, Thommy wept.

“We didn’t know,” he began to sob, “We’re-”

Milton savagely backhanded the boy, cutting him off. He then drew their faces closer still—nearly touching—and screamed.

Cringing, Daniel slammed his hands over his ears. The loss he felt when Milton cried out was terrible, like dreams, still-born. Overwhelmed, Thommy’s eyes bugged in their sockets and rolled back; he went limp. Holding the boy for a moment, no longer screaming, Milton then let the dead-weight slip from his fingers. The body hit the ground with a loud thwump.

The sound managed to pierce a paralyzing fog that had rendered Daniel’s brain a mute observer. He sharply inhaled, having forgotten to breathe somewhere amidst the madness. With his hands flopping from his ears to his sides, on his knees he took in the playground around him: Beakman face down, black tar oozing around him. Branch curled in a ball moaning, grasping his genitals. And Thommy, looking like several stacked bags of flour laid out on his back, blood running freely from his broken nose and ruined features.

“Need a hand? You look like hell.”

“Huh… what…?” Dazed, Daniel looked at the outstretched hand in front of him.

“Your face man, those bastards really laid a whooping on you before I showed up.”

“I… Yes, thank you.” Daniel touched a hand to his face and pulled it away fast. It hurt, badly. He took the bloodied slick hand of Milton and stood up. He felt strange, light-headed, grateful, horrified. A wave of nausea tossed his stomach and he pressed both hands to his knees. Hunched over he closed his eyes to stop the spinning. He did not wish to join the others on the ground. Speaking sideways he asked, “Why did you help me?”

Milton cracked another famous grin and smacked Daniel on his hunched over back. “Well, I’m just your guardian angel, buddy.”

Daniel raised his head, looked into Milton’s radiant smile—and threw up.