My Whole Expanse I Cannot See…

I formulate infinity stored deep inside of me…

At least she knew

July 19th, 2011 | Category: Life

So, I recently read The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell, it’s about the folks who colonized New England in the 1630s. They were a bunch of well-meaning, but often destructive, ultra-religious book nerds. Their book of choice, the Bible. They were mostly Puritans. You work hard, go to church, read your Bible, you go to Heaven, that’s the gist of Puritanism. Some, however, were Calvinists. Calvinists make Puritans look like a bunch of happy-go-lucky, easy going, fey spirits.

Calvinists believed that before you’re even concieved, before your soul even enters your tiny new body, God has already decided whether you’re going to Heaven or to Hell. There’s no finding Jesus and getting saved, death-bed repentance doesn’t mean anything, God had it all figured out and He wouldn’t change His mind. So, why be good and study your Bible more rigorously than any Puritan, why be flawlessly pious if God has possibly already written you in His Going to Hell book? Well, they believed that people who “seemed” like good people, read the Bible, went to church fervently, raised kids to be pious, those people had souls that displayed all the signs of goodness and were PROBABLY scheduled for Heaven. Folks who were lazy, who couldn’t quote the Bible chapter and verse, who stole firewood during a hard winter, they behaved so because they got a Hell-bound soul. So, you ended up with a bunch of uneasy, sometimes terrified religious zealots desperately trying to “look” good.

One woman in town was particularly terrified. She was depressed a lot, didn’t like raising lots of kids, or practically living at church. She didn’t feel “good,” but tried really hard to conform. She was so scared of the not knowing which soul she was given. She couldn’t sleep, was nervous all the time. She asked the church for help, guidance, but the Calvinist Church wasn’t exactly a loving church. She didn’t find any help at church, or anywhere else. She probably suffered from mental illness, probably needed therapy and loving support from family and friends, but in the 1630s, mental illness wasn’t mental illness, it was that you had the Devil in you. You were evil. She felt evil, but wasn’t certain. She wanted to be certain, she wanted to know whether or not she was damned, just so she could finally sleep at night. To that end, she took her youngest child, a baby, and she threw it down a well. That settled things for her, she finally knew what kind of soul God gave her and that she was absolutely, without a single doubt, damned. She actually felt a bizarre peace.

I don’t want to throw any babies down any wells, I actually love babies. Whenever I see a baby out and about, I always end up transfixed, I watch their little hands, their little eyes, searching, learning. I always think about how that baby could grow up to cure cancer, or write some spectacular novel, or hit liquor and heroin really hard and be dead by thirty, or whatever. Babies are possibility, they’re the essence of potential. Not being a Calvinist, I also see that baby’s soul as perfectly clean, I don’t believe in that born sinful stuff, Jesus got screwed over so babies don’t have to worry about that. I always look at some baby and think about how they’re not all fucked up yet, unlike me they’re completely perfect. So, yeah, no killing babies to figure out what kind of soul God gave me.

Still, I’d like some certainty about some things. Where am I going after I die? I say that first, but it’s actually pretty low on my Worry List. I just don’t want to die, I want to avoid the dying. I died once, it didn’t stick, I don’t want to go again. Sometimes I get really dark and want to go vertically open my wrists, but that’s more about not wanting to feel sad than actually wanting to die. It’s also different when dying is this circumstance that’s forced on you. If you’re accidentally drowning in pineapple juice (that’s what killed me) or the hose on your vent breaks while you’re trying to buy a four hundred dollar Tumi bag, the absolute last thing you want to do is die. You beg God not to let you go, you beg to be with one certain person one more time. You’re all, “I’ll be good, really, I promise.” At least, this is how I am.

I worry about the when and how of my dying, mostly the when. I’d really like to know the when, then I could quit worrying about whether or not I have enough time to make up for the bad things I’ve done, enough time to have what I want. and feel happy. I worry I’m going to go out like Kurt and Elliott, sad and fucked up. I don’t want my story to end that way, the way it is right now.

That’s what I worry about most, running out of time, I’m constantly aware of time. I feel time, like it’s something tangible, rushing over my skin. I feel this constant sense of urgency, especially now, because I know I’m not where I want to be, and I know I’m one breath closer to to not breathing with every breath I take. I wonder if I have enough time to find my way to someplace bright. I’d like to know because living with the mindset that every day could be my last day is actually really exhausting.

I wonder how many of those Tony Robbins, motivational, “Live like there’s no tomorrow” types, I wonder how many of them actually walk that talk. Living like that, really believing the words, it’s not easy to carry. When you want something, you want it like there’s a gun to your head, like, at any second that trigger could get pulled and you won’t ever get to that kiss, that I love you, that waking up somewhere beautiful until you quit waking up. People don’t understand why spending time together is so important to you, because your clock feels so much faster than theirs. For other people there’s always tomorrow for walking under stars or curling up in bed to watch some movie about a talking fox, and to you, both experiences are more important than winning a million dollars. Loss hurts more because you don’t believe that chances are unlimited, in your head, chances are like a pack of used bar matches, you only get so many lights. Sometimes it all get so heavy that you look for ways to stop thinking, to stop wanting, just for a few hours. Liquor bottles and drug needles do that trick, but they’re exactly that, a trick. They just make it so the clock disappears behind a curtain, but just like any magician’s assistant, the clock always comes back.

Once you actually know about these things, once you stop seeing the end of your time as some kind of fiction, well, there’s no not knowing them. A bunch of Nirvana songs end up making perfect sense.  Like that Calvinist woman, lack of certainty makes peace hard to find. Such is true in my experience anyhow, but like I said, I’ll never toss a baby down a well for answers to questions that’ll probably come when I don’t answers anymore.



May 05th, 2010 | Category: Opinions

I’ll be honest, I’ve never read any genuinely great zombie fiction. There are plenty of fun zombie movies, but books about zombies, they’re not particularly compelling. I’ve never picked up a “zombie page turner,” that is, until I picked up Boneshaker by Cherie Priest.

Boneshaker takes place in an alt-history Seattle during the 1870s gold rush. Russia puts out a call for inventors, they’re looking for a drill capable of breaking through the deepest layers of Alaskan ice in search of gold. Enter Leviticus Blue and his Boneshaker, the most powerful drill ever created, and soon enough, the most infamous drill ever created. During the Boneshaker’s first test run, something goes horribly wrong, the drill takes off, supposedly a malfunction, buildings collapse in its wake. The Boneshaker also just so happens to cruise by the Financial District, emptying every bank vault in Seattle. Blue turns up missing, possibly a thief, possibly killed by his own greed. Before an investigation can be mounted, a strange yellowish fog begins to seep from the city’s gashes. This fog is lethal upon inhalation, but after death the victim awakens, mindless, violent, and hungry for the taste of human flesh. These walking dead are dubbed, “Rotters,” and they quickly decimate the city. A massive wall is constructed around Seattle, but with the rest of America embroiled in civil-war, this raveged city is left to the Rotters trapped within.

Sixteen years later, Briar Wilkes, Blue’s widow, struggles to raise their teenage son in the world outside the wall. Briar doesn’t dare go by her married name, it isn’t particularly popular, given the wall, and the Rotters, and the death. Briar would just as soon let the past go, but her son, well, he can’t. Zeke wants to clear the family name. His mother’s silence of the past drives Zeke toward something drastic, a crazy journey under the wall in search of proof that the fall of Seattle was just an unfortunate accident. Realizing her son’s misguided plan, Briar does what any loving mother would do, she aims to find her son and bring him home.

Boneshaker falls under the genre of Steampunk, with a zombie twist. There are flying-machines, massive air filtration systems, deadly weapons, all powered by steam. None of the technology should exist, yet it’s entirely believable. The novel is truly a page turner, I absolutely couldn’t put it down. Priest’s pacing is pitch-perfect, switching perspectives between Briar and Zeke. Boneshaker often reminded me of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Inside the Seattle wall, death is always a palpable possibility. Clean air, water, food, ammunition, they’re all vital, and they’re all astonishingly scarce. I was constantly worried for Briar and Zeke, always hoping that their gas mask filters wouldn’t clog before safety could be found, always scared Briar might not have enough bullets to match with the Rotters. I just wanted to get to the next page to make sure everyone was okay. Boneshaker is fraught with a very satisfying sensation of tension and release. The tension exists not just from violence and zombies, but from the fact that Priest manages to create characters that are very real and relatable. We care about Briar and Zeke because they’re just a normal family trapped in an absolutely bizarre and dangerous situation. The book is compelling because it’s ultimately about the push and pull relationships between parent and child, mother and son. It’s about parental protection versus a child’s desire for independence, and finding balance between the two. We all can relate to that on some level.

Boneshaker is definitely a must for any Steampunk fan, but Priest’s spectacular use of story-telling and wonderful prose makes it worthwhile for a wide range of fiction readers.