Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Week in Seven Words #366

A fun evening of Code Names, drinks, and food.

They're helping her learn the distinction between cool weird and uncool weird. Cool weird is when you make silly faces with your friends for Instagram, maybe use a filter or app that gives you puppy ears and big glasses. Uncool weird isn't a sanctioned strangeness. Even if it's creative and doesn't harm anyone, it's suspect.

She folds Trident gum wrappers into birds.

The alarm over the door begins to shriek. A worker approaches it with a grimace, then walks away. A minute later, another worker comes along, grimaces and walks away. Another minute goes by, with another grimace.

The word 'problematic' has started to bug me. People often use it in a way that's lazy and full of insinuation. "That book is problematic." Meaning? A vague unease, a condemnation without a coherent argument.

Hearing about war gives him a thrill. It's the swagger of war he likes, the way deep-voiced media figures growl a threat of reprisal.

An empty plaza framed by ads, shrubs, and an office building that looks like a fort.

Week in Seven Words #365

He tips his hat and wishes me a good afternoon. It's sunny out, and he's serene. It really is a good afternoon.

Fingerprints of sunlight on faded brick and joyful murals.

In the gap between brownstones, there's a fenced off dirt plot, studded with rocks. Two cats inhabit it. One sprawls on a bed of sunlight. The other watches me with menacing alertness.

Kids seize each other in headlocks outside the department store in front of the mannequins and pink placards, as they wait for their mom to finish shopping.

In their community, neighbors, friends, and coworkers will show up with trays of food in the days after childbirth.

She sleeps in a warm crescent against my stomach.

With classes cancelled for the day, the campus is silent. A building with a crenellated tower casts a shadow over the grounds.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Seven Short Stories I Should Have Read with Coffee

It was International Coffee Day recently, and though I don't drink much coffee, maybe it could have helped with the short stories here. These are short stories I liked but wasn't sufficiently alert while reading them. (And I took few notes... not that I always take many notes anyway.) They're also tricky in different ways - they might depend on a slippery narrator or express something frustrating and undefined just out of reach.

Title: The 5:22
Author: George Harrar
Where I Read It: Boston Noir 2

"The simple question 'What if?' could lead to so many disturbing places."
Walter Mason, a researcher at MIT, is solitary and sticks closely to routines. His daily commute doesn't stray from its schedule. Then, on one of his train rides, he notices a woman who's wearing a scarf. When the wind blows it aside, he sees she's missing an ear. In the course of the story, the woman disappears from his commute, and one day the conductor who's always there doesn't show up either. The train also misses his usual stop.

The shake up to his routine is unsettling and creates unease. But it could wind up not affecting his life much. Or maybe it will nudge him towards something better. Moments that appear inconsequential can call for courage and have a profound effect, like taking a chance to talk to someone instead of stare at them.

Week in Seven Words #364

A sunlit, sterile store displays several rows of small devices.

During the subway ride, she asks about each stop and what you could see in the local neighborhood. A proprietary feeling for the city comes over me. It doesn't matter if a subway station is grimy and rundown; I look on it with fondness, because it has become my grimy and rundown station.

The furniture from centuries ago looks doll-like, as if the people then were not only smaller but more delicate and fragile.

A high-speed boat skips like a stone across the river.

The baby wears a striped hat. She squirms from time to time in her sleep. Her sleep seems intent, energetic.

They dab, dance, and toss their hair on the videos they make with a lip-syncing app.

It's a quiet ward, which is surprising. The hospital room has a dim evening glow. For the moment, the baby is being weighed and measured in the nursery. A nurse, who strikes me as sincerely caring, quietly speaks to the mother, both about what to expect in the coming hours and about a maternal health issue that needs to be monitored.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Week in Seven Words #363

As evening closes in, the tower of the High Bridge looks like the home of a mage. A light gleams inside it, eerie and suggestive.

Over sweetened almonds, we talk about embittering life events.

A blank, bright field, and at the far end, two kids throwing a frisbee that they never catch.

Long walks through the city are full of interesting shapes. Some buildings look like a wedge of pie, narrowing where two streets split in an acute angle. Metallic semicircles shine from the side of a substation. Buildings march along the river in cubes and rectangular prisms.

There's a free class on Photoshop, which I'm not familiar with, though I figure it may prove useful at some point. I'm the only one who shows up. The instructor looks as awkward as I feel, but we get past that quickly enough, and twenty minutes later I'm pasting a giant baby onto the surface of the moon.

He crouches by the side of a tennis court and buries his face in the dog's neck. It's the happiest moment of his day so far.

The evergreen sapling looks like a glowing gold feather duster in the forest.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Lucy Snowe from Charlotte Bronte's Villette is a fascinating narrator

Lucy Snowe, the narrator for Charlotte Bronte's Villette, starts her story in her godmother's house, where she's visiting. She's a teenager at the time and inhabits the house like a shadow. She says next to nothing about her birth family, which is unusual; all we know is that she's English. She observes other people closely, and she enjoys some quiet pleasures, unnoticed. Soon after this visit, she makes vague reference to events that lead her to fall out of touch with her godmother, and the tragedies and hardships that leave her alone in the world as a young woman. (No details on what exactly happens.) She winds up working in a French school, and her thoughts about her circumstances are realistic and complex.

Part of why I find this narrator fascinating is that she can be frank and blunt. But then she'll turn away suddenly, holding back information and withdrawing from the reader's sight. She is outwardly reserved - many people think her so - while emotions can run rampant in her. She isn't an unreliable narrator in the sense that she has sinister motives or strong delusions, but she's disconcerting. She understands how much she's confessing, and wants to keep some things to herself. Sometimes, she'll introduce a detail or observation that jars the reader out of the complacent belief that they've got the characters fixed in their mind. The reader is kept at an uneasy distance while still being absorbed in the narrative.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Week in Seven Words #362

The clock, striking a late hour, gets shouted down by police sirens.

They bring her out on a blue leash. Immediately, she's on my lap, squirming, sniffing, and sticking her head in my tote bag, where I've tucked away some treats for her.

A toddler stands before a taller doll and interrogates it. The doll, unresponsive, receives a finger to the eye for remaining aloof.

The church has strung together signs on its lawn with slogans that try to demonstrate that it's welcoming (or the preferred word, "inclusive") to anyone who wants to attend. The slogans ring empty, a cut-and-paste job.

Candle wax in multiple colors melts in psychedelic streams and puddles.

The man on the sofa dozes beneath a portrait of an alert military leader.

In the glow of the lamp, a pink bedspread scented with lavender and mint.