Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The Mechanical Man of Meyer Library

Why are there surveillance cameras in the 24 hour Meyer study room? And why are there so many Asian people in the said Meyer room? Not American people of distant Asian ancestry, but people distinctly from the place. Numerous cultures of that continent are represented in this study room, in proportions not representative of the university's overall makeup. It's true, it is! If you find offense in this, you are clearly choosing the wrong things to be offended about.

It’s an absurd room--- the intentional grouping of wood slats on the walls, bleak rectangles of soulless balsa lines, look like the result of misread blueprints. The tables are a random, incohesive assortment of misused surplus, the hand-me-downs of better furnished buildings. And that damn red light tickertape display mounted high on the wall--- so high that it acquires a sort of divinity when you gaze upwards at it. WELCOME--- TO THE--- **24 HOUR**--- STUDY ROOM

I suppose it is to remind people who have passed out, and have reawakened in confused dazes, where they are and what they are meant to be doing.

It is here that I see the Mechanical Man. I know a man who is a robot. Secretly, a robot. Others have agreed with my assertion, perhaps only to placate me, but I am quite confident about it.

He moves like a robot--- it’s very hard to accurately describe. Not particularly like the robot dance, you see, which is based on an outdated robot model, but in a still preprogrammed, predictable way. He walks with an unfortunate bounce, hands in his pockets, face forward and stern. It’s the bounce that gives away his roboticism, the consistency of it. No mortal man is so amazingly unfailing in his placement of foot and rhythm of step. Only a purely mechanical man can do that, with his gears and motors and gyroscopes measuring and calculating the length of each gait.

He even stretches his arms like a robot. He sets down his mechanical pencil--- of all writing instruments! aha! he finds its mechanical nature soothing---- he sets down his pencil and fully extends his arms--- slowly, as the gears ratchet into place--- and in perfectly mirrored unison, reaches and pulls at invisible targets. I do not know if it is only to further embellish his image of humanity or if his synthetic mecha-tendons require stretching. Either way, he does not fool me.

He speaks like a robot. I used to work alongside the machine man, you see, and that is how I know these things. His voice is quite comparable to Stephen Hawking’s; I suspect it relies on the same, but more advanced, inner workings. The technology is impressive--- most people really don’t notice that they’re conversing with a robot, despites his un-emotive, halting way of speaking. I believe it’s a system based primarily on pronouncing syllables instead of whole words; he occasionally stresses the wrong ones, you see, but what he can do is still quite a feat of engineering.

I bare no ill will towards the mechanized man, but I am suspicious of his purpose and his origins. Where has he come from and why is he here? Perhaps he is from another planet. Robots are better suited for the dangerous, long space journeys; his super intelligent creators knew this and sent him to be an undergraduate, to study our technologies and social dances. They’ve tried before but underestimated the acuteness of our perceptive abilities. The prototypes have ridiculous silver skin and kazoo voice boxes, and can be seen atop milk crates along the waterfront of the city, dancing for nickels, and gorging themselves upon the precious metal coins at night.

I will continue to watch the mechanical man as best I can, waiting for the opportunity to expose his true nature. I think if he is forced to do something that requires thought beyond the logical realm, like writing a poem, his inner gyros and processors will overheat, resulting in a quiet end or a surprising bang, depending on the volatility of his mysterious power source. In due time.

Monday, March 19, 2007


P1050232a, originally uploaded by mr.skeleton.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Problems of Young Writers

This is not the venue for this sort of thing, but no matter. It is a brief essay directed towards young writers, with problems.

I have seemingly been critical of my peers in the past, saying that their writing has often failed to impress or compel me, and that they bring a great amount of seriousness to it, not in content, but in attitude, that they cannot yet justify. I’ve had a deal of trouble articulating what it is that I take issue with and will try to write out, which I suppose is distantly ironic. What validity or significance does my opinion have? Only what you choose to give it.

The simplest problem with a young writer is that they have no sense of what is good and what is bad art, in a very general artistic sense; general by necessity of the trade. Writing workshops are based on this premise, that no one really knows what they’re doing and that good fiction can only emerge once a group of peers read it and critique it. This is a process done at all levels of creative writing, at all institutions with such a program. The highest levels of the department will tell you how necessary it is, and how writing is inherently a social, communal activity. I can disagree with them easily because I am a self-important, opinionated jerk, or something to that effect.

The amendment to their claim towards cooperative writing needs only be that the communal nature of it is essential to new, young writers who don’t have much to build on, and who are trying to understand how the form works, but not to the experienced writer who wants to go beyond what that process offers. The process of understanding can take years, decades, depending on dedication and other more uncontrollable, intrinsic factors. That’s part of why workshops are considered necessary at all levels; the process can be so long that it is not clear when the workshops are no longer needed. Understand that a writer is never finished learning from his work and from the work of others, and that the workshops are training-wheels, essential for only as long as the individual feels they are, and are eventually a limitation.

In workshops, if you do not know, a work in-progress is given to the other writers to read and critique; they make recommendations on how to strengthen the story. This experience is necessary to the young writer because you learn from the stories that don’t work and the ones that do and it’s really quite pleasant. Once you get into it, after a few years, you must learn which advice is good and which advice is bad, and if you don’t learn when to ignore advice, your piece will lose its sense of authorship. Or I suppose you’ll lose your sense of authorship over your piece. Ignoring the wrong advice is essential, and I’ve personally found at the undergraduate level, where writing for many is an occasional, cathartic hobby, that the creative judgment of my peers cannot always be trusted. I will expound on this in a moment.

There’s a fairly specific form of the short story that we are taught to obey, in dealing with orienting the reader’s expectations and guiding them to a specific, surprising peak, at which point they are made to sigh. But it is only an abstract necessity rather than a needed, practical form, and often workshop can force a story into a methodic form, superficially pleasing and pleasing the ‘graders’ of the story. (I certainly don’t mean to downplay the instructors; they are usually very talented, but talent cannot be taught). It is like baking cookies, and holding the notion that all good cookies are circular. Your squiggly-shaped cookie can work just as well, and can perhaps work better if the crevices allow for more chocolate chips, but for practical reasons you are taught that circular cookies are the ‘correct’ cookies. This is not the first time I’ve thought of writing in terms of cookies and professors have never really embraced this mode of discourse.

Occasionally I have seen some very talented people understand that the structure only needs to function on an implicit level, and write some darn good stories. Unfortunately I cannot articulate what the ‘form’ or structure that I’m purporting is advocated in workshops really is, not because we have a code of silence, but because it cannot be generalized and discussed outside the context of each individual story, unless you get into a Hollywood-esque discussion of plot points. The form is useful for inexperienced writers but becomes limiting later on.

Consider Hemingway’s Hills Like White Elephants, which is essentially devoid of plot and so potent in all other inarticulatable things. It fits nowhere into the realm of story-telling that I’ve been taught. I’m no good with the mechanics of it but know that story to be something that succeeds greatly and could not come from a workshop. If it was workshopped, people would make all the wrong recommendations and ruin it, if the writer didn’t know to ignore it, because you cannot just trust the creative of judgment of people willy nilly. I think later on when you’ve invested much of your energy into your writing, and you still like to workshop, like so many published writers do, it might be to elucidate what the weak points of the piece are, to yourself. But because of the nature of our undergraduate workshops, in which we, the inexperienced, make recommendations in order to get credit for the class and to fill the space of a page, the critiques are done haphazardly and excessively. In the Hemingway story, young workshoppers would read it and ask, who are these people? What is their contextual situation? Where are they coming from and where are they going and why are they the way they are? What matters is answered in the story with precise ambiguity and what doesn’t matter is left for you to fill in. I’m half joking, as the story would probably be appreciated for what it is, but I thought I would mention a famous story so as to have an air of class.

Another problem with the young writer’s indecisiveness or ignorance of what is good or bad art, in the context of short stories, is that they do not know whether their own writing is of any sharable quality. This splits the young writers into two groups, not including those who simply don’t care about this sort of thing: those who assume their writing to be of worldly importance, containing profound truths, because no one tells them otherwise, and those who assume nothing of their own writing. The worldly group enjoys sharing their writing and often travels in flocks, and does public readings and that sort of thing, regardless of the quality of what is written. The second, more reserved group shares their writing only when they feel they’ve hit a good note, when the quality might be there. They are both perfectly good groups of people, you understand; the first group just doesn’t know better. A bit of self-advertisement is necessary no matter how humble you are, because a writer has no reason to keep going without readers. It’s a difficult paradox; you need long bouts of solitude to write, and yet afterwards, you desire the largest audience you can acquire for your work.

Trying to produce some good writing can be close to a full-time job, which means that college is a rather unfortunate time to try to make a lasting arrangement of words. You rarely have the opportunity to write because there are too many other deadlines to be concerned with. Of course outside of school, there’s virtually no way, financially, to pursue it as more than an after-hours hobby. I suppose you just have to manage work and play quite well, or consider prison, which would allow for the necessary time and solitude. But then I’ve read some limp manuscripts from incarcerated men as well.

I suspect an additional common flaw among young writers is our ignorance of past writing. This can be considered a flaw of the creative writing focus of this specific university. While reading published material occurs in the workshops, it isn’t much, and it’s usually contemporary stuff. There is a single class in the major devoted to reading short stories. Outside of that, there is no time for most young college student writers to read classic stories, and so we are often, in terms of past writing, blind mice with pens, monkeys with typewriters working at an invisible something. Some people do read a fair amount of modern writers, but using the contemporaries as the sole ingredient in the foundation is the same as walking through a modern art museum and then saying you know the history of art. It depends on what you want to do next, but there’s a bit more to it and it’s best to understand the past before moving on to something new.

In simpler, sparser words, if you are a young writer, read as much as you can and write as much as you can, and only share a bit of it.

If you choose to scoff at the thought I give to these sorts of things, then this essay does not concern you; if you wish to know about me and my own writing, well, I’ve not much to yet share with you, but I’ve some free time coming up.

Sunday, March 11, 2007


P1050223a, originally uploaded by mr.skeleton.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Saturday, March 03, 2007


pano_a, originally uploaded by mr.skeleton.


the end of something.