Friday, December 30, 2011

The Extension, Part 6

I glanced toward Marge. “Hey, hun, Janie's meeting somebody today... a Mr. Michaelson? Do you know who that is?”

Marge spent another ten seconds buried in her literature before she looked up to answer. “Yeah, that's her PET Mentor. They've just been assigned, and they're having their first meeting tonight.”

“Wow, already? They didn't do that with us until we were 11!”

“Well, he's 12, dear, and yes, they're doing it earlier these days. Kids want to be prepared as early as they can be.”

I set the Tablet down; I had no interest in the day's news, nor in what I was reading at the moment. I got up and started digging through my wardrobe, which was lean, but versatile and effective – Marge and I had put a good deal of time into licensing just the right articles, cultivating a variety of colors and styles, so we always had a range of different outfits. I tried on a pair of stained jeans, and then threw a synthetic t-shirt over my hairy chest; after a few seconds, I realized the jeans looked too artificial with the t-shirt, so I switched out into a more modest pair of khakis. Marge's comment put me in the mood to wear that tweed jacket, and she was right – the hat was a great little accessory at the top of the ensemble.

Marge, perhaps inspired by my perkiness, decided to get herself out of bed as well. She put on a robe, her old standby for lounging around the apartment, and picked up a plate of pastry shells she had made the previous night. I heard her take them downstairs to the common area of the building, where she could have some people try them and give their opinions. She said she liked the social energy down there; I suspected she also liked the occasional bit of attention from passers-by. Left alone, I put on an audite-book called The Dismantling of Private Transit: A Story of Reclamation, and took notes on my Tablet while I listened.

I was still listening when Janie arrived home a little after four. She changed into a more comfortable outfit and picked up her Tablet almost immediately. I switched off my audite at the end of a paragraph.

“Getting started already?”

“Yeah! Come on over. I want to finish my core subjects before dinner.”

“Very enterprising! Are you going to have anything left for your meeting after dinner?”

“No, dad, that's why I'm getting started now. It's not supposed to be a study session or anything... just an introductory meeting.”

I sat down next to her at the table. She was pulling up today's sub-lecture and assignments in differential mathematics. “Well, it sounds exciting,” I said to her as I synced my Tablet up to hers. “So let's get this out of the way, I guess!”

(The RSS for this serial fiction can be found here.)

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Extension, Part 5

I got the confirmation of my time worked the next day. I was fairly sure I wouldn't be called in for at least a few more days, maybe even the rest of the week. My morning was languid and aimless, as I like them to be... I poked through a few books, then finally, around noon, I went to the athletic hub and jogged a few laps.

As I took the HighWalk home, finally fully activated for the day, I thought about my father's stories. He had lived through the final wave of automation and public restructuring... when he was young, you were still expected to work every day, sometimes three or four full hours. Dad found it a nagging obligation to exercise in his free time, and he said he wouldn't have done it if he thought he could stay healthy without making it a habit.

This was one of the many ways our generation gap showed... by the time I'd finished my tracking cycle, the manual labor work week was compressed to only a few hours a week. I had no idea what it was like to have my time usage dictated by an employer; my peers and I had so much free time that were able – indeed, we were forced – to really put some effort into creating a productive structure for ourselves. Balanced, holistic fitness routines flourished as we found three- or four-day-long pockets of spare time to distribute.

Varn, my late father in law, said it was becoming a world of gym rats, which is a sentiment I've never fully understood.

I still missed Varn. He was a nostalgic, romantic old professional-class patriarch, with a house full of small, interesting objects that he'd secured on long-term exclusive licenses. He liked collecting, which is harder than it used to be, with all the strict license-enforcement lately. He mostly got them transferred at refuse markets and deprecation sales. When the old man died, I tried to keep a hold on his stuff... I applied to put posterity locks on thirty-five of his licenses, all the collected curiosities he had accumulated, which was totally excessive. Nobody wanted that many useless licenses lying around.

Maybe I'd go back and read some of Varn's old notes later. He'd become quite a productive memoirist in his last few years.

I got home to find the house very quiet; Marge was sitting in bed, reading on her Tablet, which she was accustomed to doing after lunch. I retrieved my Tablet from the bedside table and sat down on the bed to go through it.

General Interest News Items: 14. High-priority news items: 0.

Dependent status: Janie is out with friends. Last update: Arnold's creperie, 17th Street.

Message from Janie, recorded 9:28 AM: Be back by 4, daddy. I'll have my homework done before dinner.

Dependent notification: Janie has a new appointment today. 6 PM – Trend Michaelson. Location: Your house.

I glanced toward Marge. “Hey, hun, Janie's meeting somebody today... a Mr. Michaelson? Do you know who that is?”

(The RSS for this serial fiction can be found here.)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Extension, Part 4

I looked at Janie for another second, and then Marge and I drifted off toward the kitchen, as if to check that we had enough food for the three of us. Marge settled in behind our mini-bar and started pawing through the cupboard for some ingredients. I watched her for a second, and then turned to our dining area to see if anything needed cleaning up before we sat down to eat. I noticed a beautiful red velour hat on the table, a sort of squat little thing, with a small feather tucked into the band.

“What a cute little number,” I said, picking up the hat to get a closer look.

“Oh, yes! The pork-pie!”

“The what?” I felt like I had heard the term at some point, but the syllables seemed to dissipate before I could put them together.

“The pork-pie! Do you like it? I found it at a Hattery in the old market today! Licensed it for you, second-hand!”

I picked up the little hat. It fit snugly on my head, of course – CONTRACT would have alerted Marge if she tried to license me a hat that didn't fit me. I turned and looked at myself in the mirrored partition of the Southern wall. The pork-pie was fetching on me, although I didn't fully approve of the way my hair tufted out on the sides.

“Thank you, Margie. Love it.”

“Wonderful! I think it'll be especially nice with your purple tweed jacket. Remember to hang it up when you take it off.”

The evening meandered forward. I joined Janie for the last bit of her homework, and then we sat down together for dinner. This was our peaceful life, here in our little home, out at CONTRACT District KX Extension C.

(The RSS for this serial fiction can be found here.)

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Extension, Part 3

“Sure thing. I'll see you next time we cross paths, Bannon!”

“Good luck on your dates, Bill!”

I took the 5th Street HighWalk to the 28th Avenue UnderWalk, cruised under two blocks of local foot traffic, and came up about a hundred yards from my unit, which was a modified 21st century Stacked Brownstone, situated in a row of the same structures between two office towers. I went up the West Office Tower... it has a rapid-lift, and we have an entrance from one of the interior catwalks. Stepping from the matted beige office interior to the lush, wallpapered hallway of my own building... it was like a gust of warm, perfum'd air, a breath of comfort.

From the hallway to my front door... a retinal scan, a quick bioprint (we were thorough with our home security), and the outside door unlatched and let me into our foyer. I could hear Janie at the end of the hall, tapping away on a Hand Tablet.

I looked into the rear study and regarded Janie for a moment. At 9 years old, she was already beginning to look like an adolescent... her frame gradually lengthening, her red hair falling luxuriously across her shoulders. She was very smart, too... CONTRACT had pushed up her Rigor Curve a point last week, and she was still knocking out her homework 41 seconds ahead of baseline. She still had a few years to go before she entered her secondary track, but Marge and I were already thinking maybe she could be a level-6 or level-7 specialist... not a level-3, like me, stuck as I was with routine maintenance jobs.

As I watched her touch the Tablet, lightly, with intricate caresses, I felt a soft hand on my shoulder. I turned around to find Marge looking at me with a warm, sleepy smile.

“Napping before dinner, darling?” I put my arm around her and pulled her into me. I glanced back at Janie; she hadn't looked up at us.

“You look at her like a little boy in love,” Marge said softly.

“Yeah, well, it's a nice scene to come home to.” I pulled Marge in and gave her a kiss; at this, Janie glanced up for a second, and then went back to her homework. “Did she go into Primary to get the Tablet scanned?” I asked Marge.

“Yes, spent most of the day playing with some friends, then stopped by Primary before she came home. Now diligently doing her homework, before she eats us out of house and home.”

“That's what it takes to grow that fast, I guess.”

“Well, she eats so much, we're practically over allowance for this period.”

“Seriously? Are you being serious about that? We can raise our Appeal next period...”

“No, Bannon, I am not serious. Between you and her and my snacks, our Appeals are big enough for two families.”

I looked at Janie for another second, and then Marge and I drifted off toward the kitchen, as if to check that we had enough food for the three of us. Marge settled in behind our mini-bar and started pawing through the cupboard for some ingredients. I watched her for a second, and then turned to our dining area to see if anything needed cleaning up before we sat down to eat. I noticed a beautiful red velour hat on the table, a sort of squat little thing, with a small feather tucked into the band.

(The RSS for this serial fiction can be found here.)

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Extension, Part 2

That would probably take about an hour. After that, I would spend another hour filing reports: where was the data surge? Where was there extra noise in the data? Which transistor had come loose? Was everything else up to code? And then it would assign me a general clean-up... another half hour. Then I could go home. Pretty routine. I've had much worse assignments.

I stopped to talk to Bill again on the way out.

“How's everything on your end, Bill? They keeping you here much?”

“Nah, a few hours a week. Probably not much more time on the clock then you, honestly. Gonna spend this week rewiring my synth setup, and then got a couple dates later in the week. Nice-looking ladies, set up for me by CONTRACT's personal connections service.”

“Oh ho ho! THAT must be why she's lagging! Bill's love life's gonna take down the local extension!”

“You're too much, Bannon. Just a couple girls from around town, and one older lady from B-extension. Then going up to the Adirondacks next week, just to get out of town for a while.”

“The Adirondacks? What's up there?”

“Oh, I've got an uncle up there... old Uncle Harvey. He's got a little cabin... lives like a monk. Has the fewest licenses of anybody I've ever known.”

“Just the essentials, eh?”

“Well, he's a bit of an eccentric, ol' Harvey. When he was a really young man, living up in Canada, there were still seditious sects, trying to stay completely unregistered. So even now, he's a little weird about CONTRACT and licenses.”

“Well, maybe you'll bring back some stories from old Uncle Harvey, huh?”

“Damn right I will! So Janie and Margie are doing okay, huh? How about you?”

“Oh, fine. I'm following along with Janie in her lessons. Western Imperial History, differential math... stuff I almost forgot about since my own Primary years. Glad she's letting me study with her a little.”

“Oh, that's great, Bannon. She's a good kid.”

“Yeah, I know. And Marge is making the last few adjustments to her recipe. It's a lot of review, a lot of testing and calibration. The kind of stuff I wasn't so good at in Primary.”

“So she's planning to file it with Maker's Registry?”

“Yeah, pretty soon! I'll keep you up to date on it. But hey, I better get home. They're probably antsy for me to be done the work.”

“Sure thing. I'll see you next time we cross paths, Bannon!”

“Good luck on your dates, Bill!”

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Extension, Part 1

I got to the C-Extension Local Server Junction a little before two PM. They'd been expecting me for a few hours – I wasn't exactly Johnny on the Spot, but I was within my five-hour assignment window, so no problem. Bill the security guy was watching the first access chamber. I nodded to him as I walked by.

“Hey, Bill.”

“Hey, Bannon! Been a while since I've seen you around...”

“Yup. No news is good news, right?”

There was a subliminal flicker as the retinal scanner above the door checked my print. My audite said, Bannon Froyd. Expected on code 3727 maintenance call. Confirm.

“Yes,” I sub-vocalized.

Confirmation accepted. Proceed to access point. I slowed down a little, still talking to Bill.

“Everything good with Janie and Marge?” he asked jovially, apparently excited to have someone to talk to.

“Yeah, great. Gonna get this taken care of. I'll see you on the way out, Bill.”

The door to the router ring opened for me with a swish, and I crossed to the server chamber. Again, there was the flick of a retinal scan... this time, I didn't even slow down. The pressure-locked door popped, opened, and closed as soon as I cleared it. The warmed-over lights inside the server room were already on.

This was going to be a quick job, I figured. The secure gates in my district – doors, locks, exchangers, access points – had started lagging by three or four seconds, and it was pissing people off, and they were complaining to C-Junction KX. They were used to cruising right through doors, letting the scanners run ID's and transactions without even pausing. The three-second delay was totally throwing off their rhythm.

So earlier today I got the debug order... go to the central extension for the district, clear out the cache, make sure all the transistors are locked in right, and double-check the data buffers to see where there's a bottleneck. C-extension does most of that stuff itself – if it can't keep up, it generally means there's a big surge in data, plus some kind of shaky connector. That's the only thing the system can't do very well by itself... make the recursive hardware adjustments to keep up with self-maintenance.

That would probably take about an hour. After that, I would spend another hour filing reports: where was the data surge? Where was there extra noise in the data? Which transistor had come loose? Was everything else up to code? And then it would assign me a general clean-up... another half hour. Then I could go home. Pretty routine. I've had much worse assignments.

This story will probably continue, at least for a while. RSS for this story can be found here.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Hypoglycemic Thoughts: 19 Nov. 2011

I drag my wife to bed at 6 PM, thinking we can just take a nap, get up around 9, and have a fun late night.

While in bed, I have a dream: me and a bunch of celebrities are in the middle of an empty street, and we're kind of bored, so we decide to spend a little while playing some game that's very easy from moment to moment, but has no real end condition, even when somebody loses... we just trade places and keep going. A very small, easy game of "Moose," maybe (identified on Theme Party Queen as "Skunk the Moose").

Somewhere, deep down, I sense the mortal danger inherent in this situation, but I just go with it anyway.

When I wake up, I look at the clock, and it says 3 AM. I think, Ugh. This idea, which seemed wonderful, arrived at the worst possible outcome: I've slept long enough that I'm completely awake, too awake to go back to sleep, but it's late enough that there's nothing interesting to do instead of sleep. So I'm extremely awake, at the most boring possible time.

In my dream, I was locked into infinite banality. I woke into an identical world. Maybe this is hell.

But then I realize it's not 3 AM -- it's actually only 9 PM after all! I would never have slept until 3 AM. And the solution to the dream was simple: get bored of the celebrities, stop playing the game, wake up to the real world.

So in reality, every mortal conundrum arrives at the best possible solution, and thus simply vanishes on its own! Maybe this is heaven!

According to my diabetic apparatus, when I woke up, my blood sugar was running around the 50-60 level. So this all sounded very profound to me in my hypoglycemia, but may sound very banal (there's that word again) to anyone operating on a fully-functional brain.

I don't know if I'll get around to recording any more of these low blood sugar thoughts, but if I do, they'll be labeled "hypoglycemia." The RSS feed for that tag is here: Hypoglycemia on Bad Fancies.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Bad Fancies: a more extensive self-assessment

First, a question-meditation-disclosure... an over-extended about-the-author crowd-sourced attempt to talk myself through living an authentic, impractical life. It reads a little too much like a LiveJournal entry for my taste. Oh well. It is what it is.

I tried writing stories for a while, and for a while, I felt like it was my calling: write shorts. Get published. Write a novel. Get published. Be a writer. Realize life goals. Keep "being a designer" as a back-up plan.

Then I tried that writing thing for a while, and I started getting my rejection letters, and at some point, my interest foundered. Did I just give up? Yeah, that's one way of putting it. I couldn't sustain my love for writing and storytelling long enough to convince literary magazine editors to publish any of my stories. I know, I know -- it takes enormous commitment. Kurt Vonnegut and J. K. Rowling had tons of rejections before they got an acceptance letter. Maybe I just wasn't cut out for it (sad face).

Or another way to put it: I just wasn't single-minded enough to wait for my break. While doing this writing, I started an MA in Media Studies... a corollary degree following from my design and philosophy undergrad degrees... and I ended up taking an interest in visual arts. So for a while, I got obsessed with that... filmmaking, visual essays, experimental shorts... and that's been my preoccupation for the past few years, and I stopped doing much dedicated writing of stories.

During that time, the writing I DID do was my blogging, attempting to understand and analyze popular media in order to structure my own consumption. That's been a secondary pursuit, occasionally becoming primary for a month or two, but it's also been one of my most consistent endeavors, probably because I've always intuited the danger of being a passive consumer, and the value in being an active, engaged participant in the media landscape.

But creative writing always finds its way back into my life. I started writing my own screenplays for shorts, and even some early drafts of features. The fact is, as far as process goes, each medium does something different for me. In the visual arts, I have more elements to work with, and I have more room to experiment with pure sensory input. My final products come out more vibrant, because there are so many angles to work from: the illustrative, the photographic, the narrative, the aural, the musical, the rhythmic.

Creative writing, on the other hand, is much more interior, more focused; it's a more demanding process, less playful, because there needs to be such a structure to a story, such a sense of growth and unfolding, such a play of exposition and description and expectation.

In the narrative arts, I feel like my personal experience -- my well-plotted life as an upper-middle-class liberal arts nerd from a well-adjusted suburban family -- has gotten in the way of me ever being a particularly interesting artist. All my stories are about people who come from similar white-bread majority American circumstances, and the more I read and watch, the more I feel like the VAST majority of cultural production over the last quarter of a century has come from the same place. All my territory has been explored to death. How much more can you say about the existential nature of suburbia and academia?

Even so, I'm finding myself writing again. Specifically, I'm in the middle of three screenplays (with very different structures and themes, mind you), and I've started two more traditional written works. One of them also feels like a screenplay waiting to be developed, but I'm writing it as a novel, because I have a sense that I'll write the action and the interior life of the characters more naturally that way (hey, it worked for Clive Barker with The Hell-Bound Heart and Hellraiser).

The problem is, I no longer think of myself as a writer who simply hasn't been discovered. I'm caught between written and visual arts, and between the sensory and the narrative modes. So I don't really know if I can give these two stories the commitment and attention they need to come to completion, which includes a ton of planning, a ton of revision, and a ton of day-to-day writing. Instead, I have two stories stuck in limbo between the conceptual stage and the execution stage, both not knowing what format they should ultimately inhabit.

So I've considered making this blog -- my second blog, after Benefit of the Doubt -- my holding place for such half-formed ideas that are in danger of simply disappearing from my consciousness. In this, I'm partly inspired by my friend Evan's blog, called Epileptic Fits of Blogging, where he posts very interesting stuff, and sometimes drops his fragments of creative and critical writing that might have otherwise disappeared into hard-drive purgatory.

On the plus side, this blog would allow these narratives to see the light of day, at least for a second, even if they never grow the legs to become fully developed. It would give people a chance to see them, if anybody in the whole universe turns out to be interested. On the minus side, it would just add another forum to my unmanageable list -- two Flickr accounts, one blog, one Vimeo account -- and in that way, it kind of feels like an exercise in narcissism. Another minus to this idea: of all my little vanity forums, it seems like this will actually be the LEAST interesting, because it will be full of random, disconnected artifacts, with no thread of a single story, theme, or medium to bind it together.

Part of me -- the business-minded, "self-branding" part -- would like to fight against this gradual entropy of my various creative endeavors. How does one find a "creative voice" in writing supplanted by filmmaking abetted by photography, alongside criticism, leading back to writing again? But honestly, I don't think I should bother with the business plan for now. I need to stop thinking about it and just go ahead and do whatever's calling me at that moment.

Thus, Bad Fancies comes to be: a permanent holding place for this kind of fragmentary writing, in case it becomes indispensable to my creative process. Also, I'll welcome more advice, if anyone wants to give me any. You've got my situation laid out before you. Now back to trying to make things.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

An Introduction to the Bad Fancies

Once upon a time, this body held an aspiring literary storyteller, desperate for all those things that Creative Writers yearn for: to be published, to find new forms of the written word, to be incisive and persuasive and poetic and articulate across all landscapes of language and idea. It lasted for a few years -- right up until I got distracted from it, of course, which is how things tend to go for the spiritually restless.

But in all my subsequent output, there's still a little storyteller, trying to express something... every critique, every design, every photograph, every video is touched by the hand of that fabulist, who's still trying to process the world into a bunch of narrative arcs.

This blog is going to be the voice of that little storyteller. Whenever that narrative voice needs an outlet, it's going to use Bad Fancies to express itself. The result will be a universal accompaniment, a continuous side-project of fragments and half-fulfilled big ideas, probably full of unfinished stories and undeveloped essays. There will probably be enough autobiographical material mixed in to make you, the reader, a little uncomfortable, because who wants to be the audience to a constant stream of badly-edited disclosure?

Once, when I thought that my life's work would be literary, I would aggressively cull ideas from that little narrative voice, that storytelling homunculus in my brain. I would pare down and temper his suggestions mercilessly, only allowing the most promising to rise up into actual products. Things have changed since then... whereas I once demanded the world of that little voice, I now value every note of his diminishing song. This blog is a place for that stuff to go, lest it all disappear into the black hole of inhibition and omission.

As a side-note, you can see a breakdown of all my work at Miksimum.
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