Working Within response

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Working Within response

Post by Tom on Thu Jul 02, 2015 2:58 pm

(This gave me an idea for a story.  It's long I'm afraid and perhaps not quite in line with the original intent of the theme.  Enjoy anyway Smile

The View from Above

Take an everyday, man-made object, the simpler the better, and focus your thoughts completely and single-mindedly upon it and nothing else.  If this is maintained regularly, even for only five minutes a day, the effects will be far-reaching and profound.
He'd always been a thinker.  His mother had reminded him of it constantly: “My little philosopher, my deep little man,” she called him.  When she died he thought about it a lot.  Why it happened.  What would have been different if it hadn't.  What he could have done to have stopped it.  He didn't understand any better.  His father wouldn't talk about it, help it to make sense, so he kept thinking, looking for the pattern, the reasons.  It became a habit.  People could sense it around him, like an odour that you're not sure is pleasant or not.  To some it came across as clear: “You really think about things thoroughly, you don't take anything for granted.”  To others it was just hard: “You can't analyse everything, lighten up a little!”  He couldn't see how they found a difference.  Thinking is what we do, what makes us human.  I think therefore I am.
For him the theory was sound: refine your thinking by applying it methodically to a single, repetitive task.  Hone it like the edge of a blade.  Exercise it like a muscle.  Sharpen your thinking like any other tool.  The simplicity of the approach was what sold him more than anything else.  It didn't matter so much what you were thinking about, rather how you were thinking.  Thinking as technique, as an art, but in the martial sense: a samurai practising cut after thrust against the empty wind until intention separates completely from expectation and the blade moves freely, unhindered by desire.  Pure thinking, unlimited by thoughts.
He chose a pencil to begin with, a cheap Faber-Castell, black, 2B.  His girlfriend came in as he was sat on the couch, staring at it.
“What are you doing?”
“Staring at this pencil.”
She raised her eyebrows.  “Okay.”
He kept staring but it was harder to concentrate now with her sat beside him.  He could feel her thigh pressed against his and her breathing sounded raspy.  Annoying.  When she turned on the TV he flipped the pencil around his fingers a few times and bit into his lip.
When she got up the next morning he was already awake, sitting on the floor with the pencil in his hand.  She made coffee and ate breakfast and he was still sat there when she left for work.

“Can you speak to Mike.  He's being weird.”
“He's always a bit weird.”
“Yeah, more than usual.”
“What am I gonna say to him?”
“Come on Neil, you're his best friend.  You know him better than I do and you can talk to him about this kind of stuff.”  Her voice was getting tight.
“OK, calm down.  What's he been doing?”
“He just sits there staring at this bloody pencil, like he's in a trance or something.  If I even try to talk to him he gets all pissed off.  He says he's working, developing his thinking, like if he stares at this pencil long enough he's going to learn some great thing.  I really don't know what he's on about.”
“Yeah, but you remember what he was like last year, with the sudoku, and the chess problems before that?  He gets obsessed with things.”
“I know, but that I could understand.  This is just weird.”
He could hear the strain in her voice, underneath the anger.  “Don't worry Sam, I'm going to pull in there after work and I'll find out what's going on.  It's probably nothing more than normal mad Mike.”
“Thanks Neil, I appreciate it.”  She hung up.  Mike finished work at five and lived around the corner from the office.  It was easy for Neil to get off the bus on his way home, but he didn't do it that much any more.  Being around Mike was often stimulating, but always exhausting.

Their flat was on the second floor of a red-brick terrace.  The sound of a child screaming came from downstairs, followed by raised voices, arguing, shouting.  He had to ring three times before Mike opened the front door, not in his work clothes, pencil in hand.
“So that's the pencil is it?”
“You what?”
Neil sat down on the couch while Mike put on the kettle.  His computer was open on the coffee table, showing a Wikipedia page about graphite.
“You didn't go to work today then.”
“No I called in sick.”  No books out, no Playstation, no dishes on the table.
“What have you been doing?”
“Just working here.  Researching and stuff.”
He came in with the tea and set it down on the table, glancing at the screen like he wanted to keep reading.  His hair was all sticking up at the back and his looked dazed, kept blinking as he chewed on his bottom lip.  “What's up anyway?”
“Oh nothing much.  Working.  I spoke to Sam this morning and she reckons you're obsessed with something, staring at that pencil all day.”
Mike stopped biting his lip, letting it curl up into a smile that didn't look very happy.  “I'm just practising.”
“Practising what?”
“It's a thought development exercise, a way to train your thinking.”
“How does it work?”
He blinked and pushed his hair back, scratched his head.  “Well, I just chose a pencil, but you can use anything really.  I start by looking at it physically, examining the basic shapes, lines, colours, all the little imperfections in the wood and differences in the grain where it's been glued together.  Once you start looking you can see a lot.  There's this fine texture under the paint where the wood wasn't perfectly smooth.  The dents in the ferrule are not all the same depth and not uniform, quite random actually.  The rubber has all these slightly different colours, and that's even before you start touching it, or smelling it.”  He was getting excited, his hands moving in emphasis, smile genuine now, growing wider.
“Yeah but what's the point?”
“Well that's just the beginning.  I can look at all the component parts separately: where the graphite comes from and how it's mixed with clay to create all the different grades of hardness.  The actual mining process is incredible.  I've been watching videos of how they wash the china clay right out of the walls of the clay-pits and purify it, dry it out into these big round cakes.  The wood mostly comes from one kind of tree, traditionally anyway, nowadays there's a lot of crappy pencils around.”  He actually grimaced.  “Incense Cedar wood, that's what gives it the smell.  The cores are fired and then put into grooves in blocks of wood, two sides glued together.  A machine cuts them up then shapes the hexagonal cross section.  Painted, ferrules added, rubbers, pinched in to hold them on.”  His gaze had drifted across the room, blank, seeing the entire process.
“Yeah, interesting,” a laugh, “but why?”  Neil genuinely wanted to know.  They were best friends for a reason and usually liked the same kind of thing.  He could see the passion, the intensity of his friend's focus and felt a bit jealous, left out.
“Right.  Well I've only just started really, but I'm getting some idea.  Now, like I said, I can go through the physical qualities, using physical senses, recreate the manufacture process from raw materials to finished product, distribution etcetera.  I know about the history and can follow this through in my head: the first discovery of graphite in the Lake District; Conte's and Hardtmuth's mixing techniques; Dixon's machines, as well as what pushed these discoveries on – the Napoleanic wars, loss of Red Cedar as a resource.  The connections reach right out.”
Neil was getting lost, but his friend hadn't noticed.  He was far away again, blank eyes seeing another world.  No coming back now.
“Not only that, think about the effect of the pencil on history.  How could Darwin have made field notes on the Beagle trip without one?  One of the first evolutionary tree drawings is there in his notebook.  Edison? Hemingway?  Picasso?  This is a tool that helped move some of the greatest minds in modern history out into the world.”  He was on the edge of his seat now, had turned around to look at Neil directly, who pulled away like he'd been hit in the face with a spotlight.
“I can picture all the kinds of pencils, all the colours, the different cross-sections, brands and logos, carpenters' pencils, drawing pencils, charcoal pencils, carbon pencils, colour pencils, grease pencils, mechanical pencils, those weird stacking ones… shit I forgot the name.”  He lurched forward towards the computer.
“OK, whoa, stop, calm down man, damnit.”  Neil actually put his hand on his shoulder and pushed him back down onto the couch.  “Chill out for a minute.”  He was starting to get a headache and closed his eyes, took a sip of tea, opened them and breathed out.  Mike looked a bit worried so he put his cup down and smiled, shook his head:
“I get it, you know a fucking lot about pencils.”  Mike shrugged, relaxed.  “But you still haven't answered my question – what the hell for?”
This made Mike frown a little bit.  He didn't look confused, more like he was trying to put his thoughts into words.  “When I go through all this, think through it in detail, it feels like something happens.  It's hard to describe.  It's kind of like this idea of the pencil stretches out and fills up the world, connects to everything.  There's this clarity, almost a kind of powerful stability, like I'm standing in the middle, holding everything up around me.  It's like the idea of the pencil in me is a point and everything else is there at the periphery, held in its place.  The deeper I go the clearer it becomes.”
Neil squinted a fraction, set his lips.  “But it's just a pencil.”
For the first time, Mike looked disappointed.  “The pencil isn't the point.  The pencil's nothing.  Like I said anything will do.  It's the technique that's important, that's what I'm practising.”
Neil felt a bit embarrassed, but he wasn't sure why.  He had a sour taste in his mouth and concentrated on finishing his tea.  “It does sound cool, maybe a bit extreme.  Just watch out for Sam though, don't go overboard.  She's really good for you and you know it.  Don't piss her off.”
When Samantha got back later he was watching Youtube videos of the Cumberland Pencil Musuem.  He turned it off and made her a cup of tea.
Her nose and cheeks were red from the walk home.  “Did you speak to your dad yet?”
“About what?”
“Come on, you know what.  The money for the deposit, so we can get out of this shithole.”
“My dad won't lend me any money.  I told you already.”  He took a sip from his cup, eyes fixed on the TV.
“You don't know that for sure.  You haven't even asked him.”
“I don't have to ask him.  He doesn't think I try hard enough already, not to his standards anyway, and giving me money would be like him doing it for me.”
She raised her eyebrows.  “It's just a loan.”
“Same thing.”
“So we're just going to stay here with that fucking noise all day?”
He shrugged.
“You could just ask.”
“What's the point of asking when you already know the answer?”


“You know what I'm going to say to you Mike.”
But he didn't really know.  He was trying to maintain eye contact but kept getting distracted by the glasses.  Progressive lenses, either polycarbonate or Trivex – squash player? - rimless, titanium temples and bridge, but probably an alloy or maybe even beryllium, his skin looked acidic enough to warrant it.
“This is the third morning you've come in late, this week.  You've taken more sick days than anyone else in the office, all within a month.  You've got bags under your eyes and you look exhausted all the time.  What's going on?  Are you sick?”
“Not really sick, I've just been a bit under the weather lately.  Lots on my mind.”
“OK Mike, I want to be honest with you.  You've done some incredible work lately.  That thing with the Jensons account, that was genius.  I still don't know how you saw that.  The truth is, you seem to do about half as much work as everyone else, but you're twice as productive.  Whatever you're doing, it's working.  But, at the same time, there are rules, there's a professional relationship that you've got to try and maintain here.”
“I realise that sir.  To be honest, it's not been a great time.  My girlfriend left me and I'm still trying to find a new place to live.”
Management training protocols whirred and slotted into place.  “I'm sorry to hear that, really am, and I understand how that's going to be making you feel down and unfocused.  I really want you here as part of this team and I want to help make sure that can happen.  But you also have to start to help yourself.  Making sure you're here on time in the morning is the first step, not just for me, for you too.  Focusing on the small things will help you gain control over other parts of your life as well, then you can start moving past this.”  Mike was trying to see where the different areas of focus started and ended on the lens, could just make it out if the light hit it right.
He thanked the boss earnestly and shook hands but had forgotten the conversation before he walked out of the door.

“Is that my pencil sharpener?”
Mike dragged himself back, felt like he'd woken up from a dream.  “Sorry?”
“Is that my pencil sharpener?  In your hand?  Right there?”
“Oh, right.  Yeah sorry, I was just looking at it.  I've never seen one like that.”
Nobody used pencil sharpeners any more.  Nobody used pencils any more for that matter.  Mike had studied sharpeners, owned a box full, various models that could be bought on the high street.  Most of them had similar designs, used similar materials, the blades all standard sizes, pretty much interchangeable -– fascinating details of course but, even to him, a bit boring on the whole.  This one was wooden, possibly hand-carved into the shape of a rabbit, nasty (toxic?) paint job, asymmetrical ears.  The actual blade was rusty and had no stamp.  There were still scratches where the edge had been ground down.
“My boyfriend brought it back from India.  It's a whistle too.”  She blew it now and the whole floor turned around to look, even the boss from inside his small office, tilting his head down so he could access his long-distance vision.  She scrunched up her shoulders and gave Mike a sarcastic 'Oops' look, sauntering back to her desk, bright red cardigan vociferously assaulting the unwritten black and dark blue dress code of the room.
He lasted another two weeks on the job before he stopped coming in altogether.  By that point he hardly noticed the change.


From this bench he could look through the gates of the park to the intersection and traffic lights outside.  For the first week he had concentrated on bicycles.  He found it helpful to work here, on location, trying to capture enough information from a fleeting glimpse of a passing bike that he could then use to build the thought sequence in his mind.  At first it was very challenging, but after a couple of days he had a good catalogue of the main brands in his head.  This, combined with his research on gear systems and frame materials meant he had a good chance of recreating the entire existential reality of any particular bicycle after a two second glance.
He was still sleeping on the couch at Neil's place and he'd  developed a regular rhythm for his day: morning spent on the internet, researching; afternoons at the park, weather permitting, train station if not; evenings in a café, writing notes, planning work for the next day.  He didn't like to get back to the flat before ten or eleven, usually Neil was already in bed.  This saved making conversation.  Neil didn't really like to talk about the work and Mike knew he wanted him out of there.  Deflecting the unsubtle hints was tedious and unproductive.  Mike would happily be gone if he had the choice.   Money was not the problem.  Now it was a matter of ten minutes in the morning to shift his stock portfolio around in line with the patterns he saw emerging.  This was a machine, like all the others he'd studied and a well-understood cause would always have an equally clear effect.  Of course, he hadn't yet penetrated it so deeply that he knew what was going to happen, but the general shifts were obvious and he had enough insight to respond effectively.  Money was easy.  Searching the classifieds for flat listings and being interested enough to actually choose somewhere, never mind phoning people and arranging a visit was so far beyond his ability that he would have found it easier to walk through a wall.
A bicycle had stopped in front of him.  Automatically he began to move through the sequence, slowed down by the scratches in the paint and stickers plastered all over the frame, irregular and overlapping.  Stickers were easy to think though, identical manufacture process, mostly using the same Chinese machines.  The designs were more or less irrelevant to him – geometrical patterns and chemical variations in the ink.
“So what happened to you?”
Her hair was down, lighter than before.  The red cardigan had gone with the winter, replaced by a silk blouse, hand-dyed and purple.  It wasn't a chemical dye, he knew all the hues pretty well now.  This could be blackberry, probably soaked with an alum mordant, not for long enough though – the colour was weaker on her shoulders where it was exposed to more sunlight.
“Did you get another job?”
He blinked a few times.  Trying to break out of the overlapping cycles of thoughts that were running  under their own momentum.  “I work here now.”
“Here?  Doing what?”
He tried to think of an appropriate response, didn't have the necessary parameters.  “Developing my thinking.”
It threw her off guard for the briefest instant.  “Sounds good.  I need to do some of that.  My boyfriend's always telling me how much of a butterfly I am.”  She held him pinned with her gaze, eyes challenging.  “I don't mind though, I like butterflies.  I like the way they never get bogged down, moving from one flower to the next, tasting them all, looking for beautiful things but not getting fixated when they find them.  That sounds alright to me, no?”
She was looking at him like she expected an answer.  He couldn't say anything and just blinked a few times.
“So how do you do this thinking thing?”
He described the process to her.  She wrinkled her brow in concentration, trying to follow his monotone, nodding here and there, trying to keep eye contact while he stared through her, listened to him struggling with forming sentences, out of practise.  She lay her bicycle on the grass beside the bench and sat down.
“OK, I think I get it.  So if I practise this like you said, every day, what will it do for me?”
“Well, you'll start to understand things more clearly.  You can see patterns in things, how they connect together and you start to get a sense for how one part will affect another.”  Pause.  “It's hard to explain.”
She was thinking seriously about it though.  “I imagine it's like when you look down from a high building - like the Eiffel Tower.  Have you ever been?”  He shook his head.  “I went for a weekend last winter, Paris, it was bloody freezing but so beautiful.  You don't have to do anything really.  Just walking around is enough, the buildings, the sound of people talking, the boats on the river.”  She smiled at his blank expression.  “Anyway, you stand up there and you can see it all laid out: how the roads connect to each other and where the cars are going, how you can get from this park up to the museum so easily, where you spent two hours lost yesterday trying to find the way.  It's as if you can  see all the parts of the city at once, hold them all in your head and it makes you feel like you know where everything is and you could go anywhere if you wanted to.”
The analogy made sense to him and he smiled, looked directly in her eyes.  He felt warmer suddenly, closer.  Being understood was unusual for him.  It felt very different to understanding.  “That's kind of what it's like.  Everything is right there, clear and laid out and I'm above, holding the connections, joined to every part.”  He leaned in towards her.
She wasn't really listening.  “Of course up there you can't see anyone's face or smell the bread from the bakery or hear that scratching sound of the metro as it comes into the station.  Everything that makes the city the city is gone and there's only the shell left.”
She shook her head and turned back to look at him.  “Anyway, I think I'll give it a try.  It sounds interesting and I need any help I can get to keep my head screwed on.”  Big smile.  “I'll see you soon.  Thanks!”
He lifted his hand to wave and watched her move down the path towards the gates, a clicking coming from her badly adjusted dérailleur.  A cloud had moved over to block the sun.  He watched the traffic light turn red and focused on the first car that had stopped.  Nissan Micra Visia, 2013 model, 1,198 cc, 3 cylinder, 78 hp, 915 kg, length 3780 mm, width 1675 mm, height …  A butterfly landed on his shoulder and broke his stream of thoughts.  He brushed it away, feeling suddenly irritable.

The next time he saw her she brought food.  She lay a blanket on the grass and unloaded: French stick, lemon and coriander houmous, olives, and a bottle of olive oil.  “Come on, let's eat.” She tore off a hunk of bread and drizzled on oil, before dunking it in houmous.  He sat down awkwardly, not used to sitting on the floor, picked up an olive and turned it around in his fingers.  “Don't play with your food!” she said, poking him with the end of the loaf.
“So I did what you said – I've been practising every morning.”  He looked up in interest, popped the olive in his mouth.  “How did it go?”
“Well, I tried with a pencil first, like you told me, but it was really boring, no offence.  I couldn't get into it at all.”  She paused for a moment, scanning his face for disappointment, continued.  “But I've got this bonsai tree that my dad gave to me for my birthday.  It's a little fig tree, not very old or anything, beautiful though.  I've always loved them, ever since I was little.  My dad had loads and would spend Sunday afternoon taking care of them, trimming the branches and wrapping wire around to train them.  He's given me a few but they don't seem to last long around me.  I get busy and things slip my mind and by the time I notice the leaves are turning brown.  It's terrible really and I feel so bad when I have to tell him.  Anyway, I got the tree down and started thinking about that instead and it was so much better.  I could imagine the original fig growing on a tree somewhere and then the seed sprouting into a little shoot, that getting bigger and the leaves growing darker and branches thickening up until it became like it is now.  It felt kind of magical, like one of those time lapse videos when it looks like a creeper is reaching out and feeling the air all around it before grabbing onto something and wrapping itself around it.  Really nice.”  She took another bite of bread, houmous smearing onto her top lip, and carried on talking: “That was just the beginning though.  I started thinking about the person who first grew this tree and how they felt when they cut the roots and the top off.  Did they feel bad?  Was this just a factory worker standing there all day long hacking at these little baby trees or was it some old guy who's spent his life growing bonsai and thinks of these baby ones as little children that he's taking care of, teaching?  And then what about these Japanese bonsai masters who work with trees a hundred years older than they are, that have been in their families for generations?  Can you imagine what that must be like, taking care of something that your great-grandfather planted?  Like a living sculpture that you can't just look at but you have to consciously shape, pushing it forward to some ideal, capturing its perfect essence over time.  That made me think of haiku, my dad reading me one by Basho, about a perfect evening: the temple bells die out, the fragrant blossoms remain.  And I thought of my dad, why he loves his trees so much, what they must mean to him, why he puts in all that time and effort.”
She drifted to a close, pulling at a piece of grass, rubbing it between her fingers to feel how the ridges caught in only one direction.  He stared at her, breathing shallowly, not understanding, unhappy..
She turned to him and smiled, light catching her eyes and reflecting like the flash of the sun on a lake, before she lay down and looked up at the sky. “It's a really beautiful exercise.  I could do it all day.  Just float away and see what I discover.”  
He didn't want to say anything, but his silence felt uncomfortable.  “I don't think you've quite got the right idea though.”
“Oh no?  Why not?”
“The point is to control your thinking and make it go where you want it to go, not just to let it wander from one thing to another.  That's not productive, it can't get you anywhere.  It's not really thinking even, more like daydreaming.”
She sat up.  “So you think it's better to limit yourself to one fixed idea and not explore something new, even if you feel you want to?”
“Any new idea is an extension of an old idea and you need to connect it in a logical way or else it doesn't make any sense.  Following how you feel is the worst thing you can do.  Feelings don't tell us about the world, they only tell us about ourselves.  That isn't truth, it's … it's distraction.”
“Distraction?  Are you serious?  If you don't feel anything about the world around you then what's even the point of being here?  If you can't enjoy the feel of the sun shining on your face, or the colour of the leaves and the way they move in the breeze… shit, if you really don't feel anything about me even talking to you, sitting next to you, then why are you here?  Why not just stay at home, or find a cave somewhere?  You can think just as well in a cardboard box.”
“Exactly.”  But he felt a bit stupid saying it.
“Exactly, right.  Did you ever think that maybe truth is just knowing how we feel about something?”  
He went back to the bench and she folded up the blanket, moving slowly, her breathing steady, not looking at him for a minute.  The mood didn't last though and she gave him a big smile once she was sitting on her bicycle.  “OK, see you.  Don't think too much!”
He tried to smile back but she was already gone.
The green man was blinking at the intersection and she sped up to make the crossing before the lights changed.  Her head turned as she went through the gate, glancing at a bush on the left hand side covered in yellow butterflies.  The signal turned red as she left the curb.  Mike could see a white van approaching from the right, indicator on to turn at the junction.  Mercedes Sprinter, 2.1 litre turbo-diesel, impossible to know the laden weight but estimating an average load of 1000kg, stopping distance at 30 mph would be about 15 metres.  He jerked to his feet.  Breath tore down his throat, shuddering into his lungs where it was held locked, his chest constricting simultaneously and wrenching back his shoulders like he was a dog on a lead.  He heard the sound of disc brakes beginning to screech and tyres skidding on the road and he was inside the hydraulic system, feeling the pressure increase to maximum compressibility, glycol-ether increasing in temperature, force amplification in line with Pascal's law exerting increased effort against the brake disc.  He became the tread lugs, deforming against the road surface, burning under the kinetic friction of the slide.  A thump, a crunch of twisting steel.  The energy transferral from van to bicycle, interrupted by gravity, friction, inertia, folding the tubular frame, snapping cables and ripping holes in the wall of the tyres was an unstoppable wave, an earthquake, a hurricane.  It was a dance of forces, like the orbits of planets or the pull of the tides on the shore.  Its effects spiralled out in unending complexities, unmeasurable deformations and material shifts under pressure, unfathomable calculations sprang at him, scattering over his inner vision like the stars of the milky way and the perfectly predictable chaos held him in its arms, protecting him, not letting him return to where gravity had prevailed, motion had stopped and silence had suddenly descended.

Neil went with him to the funeral.  Her mum was crying and her dad was trying to support her but didn't look too steady himself.  Mike thought of a bonsai tree.  He wondered what would happen if you just took off all the wires, planted it outside and let it grow.  Would it still be a bonsai tree?  Maybe, maybe not.  He realised that he didn't really care either way.
He walked forward to lay his flowers on the coffin.  He'd asked Neil to stop at the 24-hour garage on the way over.  He didn't know what kind of flowers these were.  He didn't know much about flowers at all.  He'd chosen these because they were red.  He put them down on top of the others.  A church bell had been ringing and it stopped and the sound faded away.  He felt his eyes growing wet and the colours of the flowers blurred and mixed together.  He closed his eyes, but he could still smell their fragrance.


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Tom
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Re: Working Within response

Post by Jane Berg on Thu Jul 30, 2015 5:55 pm

Goodness, this is really something! But first I have to apologize for being absent for so long. I won't make too many excuses other than the fact that I was working during the Grahamstown festival about 15 hour days for two weeks, but I have had time since it ended I've just been all over the show, finally getting back into my routine on campus now.

Anyway, I really am fascinated by this piece for so many reasons. Did you write it recently? I don't think you should change a thing. It is so well, ha, thought through and I think it is not just technically superb but has a lot of depth.

The writing is really evocative, it mixes description with action so well because for instance there is always the danger I feel when writing in a detailed way that you will lose the readers attention and I would have advised trimming those sections slightly if that was the case but in fact it is the quite the opposite. I felt totally transfixed by his observations and you can really sense the allure of the kind of meditative state Mike goes into. You have a really great way of getting us absorbed into the character's point of view, I noticed this with the story 'Inspiration'. And I think that's so important especially for a short story, because there is so little time to work with. Its sort of realism used to its best effect when it can make you suspend disbelief in the rather unconventional perspective of the focaliser. And you make his perspective seem pretty appealing. I'm trying to remember which writer this reminds me of, maybe its Neil Gaiman but then I'm not sure, its been a while since I've read any prose really.

I think it uses the short story structure really well too, it skips out sections where it should skip through and brings new things in. I was a little uncertain about the accident at the end, but then I actually like it. Its nice when something additional happens to make you feel that this is a real ending - and I like the flowers, the sense of limitation and mortality - although it could work just as well to have the girl ride away and leave him to his own devices.

I'm not sure if its intentional but I think there is a lot to be drawn from the gender aspect, its throwing up those ideas of the omniscient male gaze in a extravagant and comical way. If I thought the story was taking that too seriously then I would be a little uncomfortable but I don't get that impression. I also like the fact that he uses the internet, Wikipedia and youtube, are a nice touch. Its topical because the kind of DIY, edutainment, instant factual verification environment of the digital age is, well, more fraught than people realize. For instance, its hard to have a conversation with friends these days without someone having to look something up or win a bet by googling something. What was I meaning to say, oh yes, Mike reminds me of the character Septimus in Woolf's Mrs Dalloway, I've probably mentioned it before as its my favorite book, Septimus goes mad from shell shock, but it wasn't the irrationality so much as how she mentions, he was the type of man who had got his whole education from public libraries. Which I think was a social commentary on her part but I think the similarity is that he destabilizes I would say even before he goes to war and rather like Mike it is because of this overindulgence of intellect and isolation.
Oh the story also reminds me of Paul Auster's, City of Glass where a detective pursuing this sort of anti-case goes mad. I only bring it up because I really think this piece is equal in skill and persuasion but also the theme of how rationality leads to irrationality if it sort of goes beyond the bounds sanctioned by society. And so what are these things really?
Ha, sorry to wax lyrical. But I really am over the moon. I love the story. I only feel a little jealous and I am not sure what I am going to submit for this theme. I've been toying with ideas but I'm not sure. Its interesting in that I think I am actually going to try and write some prose. I always feel I only have time for poetry but them maybe I'm losing out on working on that side of life. Anyway. I'll post soon. Sorry to have not given you a proper response yet on your Atlantis piece, I am going to look at that again just now.
Anyway, hope you have a lovely day!

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Re: Working Within response

Post by Tom on Thu Jul 30, 2015 9:54 pm

Thanks for the feedback Jane, I really appreciate it. I've been writing a lot lately and sometimes it feels like I'm wandering around in the darkness, not sure of where I'm going. Your response gives me a lot of encouragement.
I wasn't sure about the amount of detail and I'm sure some people would find it a bit over the top, but it's good to know an 'intelligent' reader can enjoy a bit of obsessive indulgence Smile
I worry about the technical aspects, how the writing sounds to someone else. This is difficult to get distance from in my own work and so having other people read at this stage is helpful. This prose exploration is still quite new for me and like anything, the longer you spend with it the more you start to realise the complexities and hidden pitfalls.
I still haven't read City of Glass. It's been sitting on my Kindle for a while now. And I have to confess I've never even considered Mrs Dalloway, but will definitely make time for it if it's your favourite book!

Thanks again for the thoughts and reflections, they are well appreciated.
Tom

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Re: Working Within response

Post by Jane Berg on Fri Jul 31, 2015 4:21 pm

Yes I know the feeling, as much as it is satisfying just to write for the hell of it, it is nice to have an audience from time to time. Ya, I mean I guess at the end of the day anything can be trimmed down and made the better for it. But I really felt that the whole thing was a good length for a short story and the overall effect is what counts. Because you also have to get people emotionally involved and when things are too short it can keep people at a distance.
I'm not sure you will enjoy Dalloway that much, but definitely go for the Auster I think that will be right up your alley, its very bizarre. What I like best about it is that this crime fiction writer who is the protagonist says he has never even been inside the inside of a police station, but then, neither have most of his readers, he gets all his research from other detective novels and writes based those. Its all very post-modern and weird.Its a whole trilogy but I think its only the second book that I've read. I'd love to read the other two but time time time.
I know if I organised my life better, got up early, and made time I could do it. But if I have any extra to spare I use it to write my journal. I find if I don't keep a journal I'm a real mental and emotional mess, but I'm only starting that again after years and years and its so hard to get into the habit.
What I have been doing is listening to podcasts, because I can do that while I edit pics, there is a really nice BBC channel called Essay which is writing related. Going to post some of my favorites here. There is a series on Yeats which is very good. One by John Banville, who is one of my favorite authors as well, he writes a book inspired by Guy Burgess which is really good.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b05xqf1h
but I am conflicted about this podcast because it goes into Yeats' politics which I was sad to discover were so conservative. I find it a bit distressing that by favorite writers Yeats and Tolkien were such elitists.
And so this one by Fiona Shaw is lovely because it focuses on his work mainly: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b05xq6b0

And then there are some essays called Why I Write which I think are really inspiring:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b05w81fd
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b05w81fd
I can't remember which ones I like best but those are quite good.

On another note you should send this story somewhere, a friend of mine just shared this online magazine which pays to publish quite well, not sure what you think about it but I might try send something there. I haven't really looked closely at the copyright rules though:
https://sub-q.com/about/submissions/

Anyway, got to go Smile speak soon Smile
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