Monday, July 27, 2020

Week in Seven Words #519

This covers the week of 12/29/19 - 1/4/20.

Eight candles glowing. Rivulets of colorful wax.

She doesn't stop at fixing the grammatical mistakes. She also thinks of ways to make the text more readable by improving the flow from one sentence to the next. I'm proud of her.

He worries about his work – projects canceled, certain positions trimmed. He wonders if a mass layoff is coming.

Upset but unsurprised to hear people downplaying or attempting to justify yet another violent anti-Semitic attack.

I've never tried jackfruit before, but I order jackfruit tacos, and they're delicious. I think one difficulty people have when trying vegetarian or vegan dishes is that they compare the meat substitute to meat. If you don't do that – if you just accept the dish as it is, tasty in its own way – it's much more satisfying.

One of the good things about this free dance class is that many different people have shown up to try it, including people who are self-conscious about moving too much in front of others. By the halfway point, everyone is flowing around, looking relaxed.

It isn't long into my visit when I feel a silent pressure mounting against me. I'm being pushed out the door, without an unkind word or physical force. Just a look or two, a pause, a pursed mouth, and I know not to overstay my welcome.

Friday, July 24, 2020

Week in Seven Words #518

This covers the week of 12/22/19 - 12/28/19.

Her dollhouse, I discover, has musical features. So that I won't forget about these features, she replays them repeatedly.

In the car, I'm a little nauseous from lack of sleep and a breakfast of a single square of chocolate, which seems to hop around like a checker piece in my stomach. What helps is a walk through the parking lot in the mostly fresh air.

I'm struck most by a sculpture inspired by Abraham and Isaac, the near sacrifice of the son by the father. The father figure looks tense and determined but nonetheless reluctant, holding back at the sight of his adult son kneeling with throat bared. The son is prepared, appears not to resist at all, but his fists are clenched.

One museum guard allows me to keep my small backpack on me, as long as I wear it in front, like an artificial potbelly. Another guard tries to get me to return to the coat check with it, but I clutch my potbelly protectively and defend it from removal.

Scuffed-up stairs and tired-looking stoops are showered with tinsel and potted shrubs.

A deer among fallen branches by an empty swimming pool.

An elegant bridge and brittle ice, bare trees and dark, cold water.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Week in Seven Words #517

This covers the week of 12/15/19 - 12/21/19.

He's vibrating with tension as he waits to hear the news: Appendicitis or not? Surgery scheduled when?

Her middle school experiences include kids making up lies about other kids to broadcast on group texts and social media. Fights manufactured from false accusations are a regular form of entertainment for many. No one is completely safe from being targeted.

They descend an icy stairwell with balloons in cold blue bunches trailing them.

Throughout the group conversation, he hints that his sex life is active, that he's successful, and that he's unbothered by anything. He isn't weak. Never weak. Beneath his performance runs an undercurrent of anger and bitterness.

I try an indie RPG (role-playing game) for the first time. It's a game where you and the other players make up a storyline on the fly, based on improvisation and with structure provided by a set of rules. This game is set in a film noir universe. Without fully knowing what I'm doing, I make up a detective character and spend much of the time interrogating other characters and staging a clumsy break-in that gets me arrested. I like the collaborative aspect of the world-building and story-telling.

I know what they'll say: They're busy. It's an excuse I won't argue with, because I'm uncomfortable about making myself an inconvenience. I just wish I wasn't in the category of potential inconvenience.

Arguing with someone about English grammar is not how I want to spend the next 20 minutes, but here we are.

Two Short Story Recs: Themes of Arrogance and Complacency

Title: Sandkings
Author: George R.R. Martin
Where I Read It: The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories

Simon Kress likes to collect exotic pets from different planets. At one point, he purchases insectile creatures known as sandkings. They come in four colonies – orange, red, black, and white – with each colony sharing a hive mind. The colonies can interact in various ways, including waging war, and they're capable of forming images of their owner (as if their owner is a god hovering over their world).

Simon becomes bored with them quickly. Rather than leave them to interact and flourish with minimal interference, he agitates them by withholding food and watching them fight over scraps. Then he begins to pit them against other types of creatures. He receives warnings that his behavior will end in disaster, and it does – after he horrifyingly drags down others with him, then meets a horrifying end himself, with the evidence of his cruelty staring back at him.

Even if, like me, you never got into George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series, you should still check out "Sandkings." It's a chilling story.

Title: The Tip-Top Club
Author: Garrison Keillor
Where I Read It: American Short Stories Since 1945

Bud Swenson is a radio personality whose show, "The Tip-Top Club," has attracted many devoted fans. From the early 1950s to Swenson's retirement in the late 1960s, his fans have been tuning in for special interest stories, gardening advice, mild congenial remarks, and overall positive feelings.

Over the course of his time on the show, Swenson speaks less and becomes merely a vessel for his audience. He seems to fade away, his personality gently but determinedly rubbed out. The audience members calling in dictate the content. What they want is camaraderie and no controversy. Swenson's personal views and character aren't important as long as he gives way to them.

However, once Swenson retires, his replacement makes waves by actually having opinions and wanting to discuss books, political issues, and other cultures. He may be open and friendly, but he's met with tremendous hostility by Swenson's fans. It isn't Swenson they miss, but a platform for themselves to showcase their own comments on the topics they prefer to discuss. How they react to this new host – with a nastiness that may seem surprising coming from people who pride themselves on being nice – reminds me of different internet subcultures. "The Tip-Top Club" has attracted the best people who naturally know what's best to put on air, and they get really angry when you don't allow them to control the content.

Monday, July 13, 2020

Week in Seven Words #516

This covers the week of 12/8/19 - 12/14/19.

The holiday market is a dense, sweet-smelling mass of pine and cider. Clustered booths of ornaments, jewelry, scarves, and glossy desserts are overrun by curious and restless shoppers.

She questions my safety to a ridiculous extent. Sometimes I wonder how much of what she voices is concern versus a vague impulse to undermine my sense of competence.

It's so cold outside, our fingers are burning with it, as if ice is being rubbed all over them. The metal seats pour more cold into our butts and backs. We huddle into ourselves and share a small bag of lime ranch potato chips.

The bookstore where I donate a bunch of DVDs has a friendly, barn-like feeling. You're expecting authors to roost in the rafters, dropping pages of their latest drafts.

The subway doors slam against my arms, punishing me for my unwillingness to wait for the next train.

The second bookstore looks like the backdrop to an upscale magazine photoshoot. It's stylish, with lots of dark wood and gleaming hardcover books, but it feels inert and uninviting. You could easily imagine a few models in overpriced clothing posing next to the pristine cookbooks. An area devoted to books on wine is close to the children's section. There are no kids around.

He's tired, so his thoughts spiral inwards. His eyes glance off the rows of trumpeting angels, the massive tree in the background, and the crowds holding up their phones to capture the scene.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Week in Seven Words #515

This covers the week of 12/1/19 - 12/7/19.

For one kid in the group, algebraic equations can't be fully trusted. The variables are weird and nebulous. Arithmetic is more familiar ground; one can walk on it sure-footed.

Slogans, self-promotion, and meandering intros leave much less time for substance.

When asked, she says she doesn't like any books, movies, or shows. Just the Internet, here and there, like funny little things she sees on Snapchat.

Trash bins are scattered liberally around the park. The trash itself is scattered liberally around the bins.

Somehow it's still in business, but I'm not complaining: A tiny movie theater that shows interesting but unpopular documentaries to an audience of three or four people.

We arrive at the supermarket as it's closing. Left outside, we stare through the glass at the last few shoppers while the freezing wind batters us.

One of the politicians on stage says, "We're all glad about the city's minimum wage laws." From the audience, a woman who owns a small business raises her hand and begins to express some kind of doubt or disagreement. The politicians swiftly talk over her, to get the town hall event back on track, they say. Because even during the Q&A, they need to maintain a tight, controlled environment that allows for only certain kinds of questions or opinions to surface.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Week in Seven Words #514

This covers the week of 11/24/19 - 11/30/19.

Gossip, bickering, utensils rustling, the scrape of chairs, the shuffle of sore feet.

He's happy that I've finally agreed to let him buy me a TV to replace the outdated (but still functioning) cube I've been using so far.

I sign up for some health insurance, avoiding a pushy salesperson and opting for website enrollment. Not really happy with different aspects of the coverage, but it seems the best of a sorry bunch.

Currently, his favorite stuffed animals are fish. He lines them up on the carpet, while his older brother asks if it's normal for a kid to have so many stuffed fish. (Responding with a pun, carp-e diem, probably isn't acceptable.)

Bogged down with a cold, she receives orders to quarantine herself at one end of the table.

I loosen the manacles of emotional manipulation and set out to do as I planned.

Even late in the evening, the bookstore is full of people who have wedged themselves onto windowsills and into narrow aisles to read.

Book Rec: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

Betrayal is one of the themes in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark. Set in Edinburgh during the 1930s, the novel centers on a bold, unusual schoolteacher (Miss Brodie) and a small group of girls she takes under her wing. From about the time they're 10 to when they leave school at 17, they're called the "Brodie set," as if they're part of an exclusive club.

Miss Brodie's mission is ostensibly to give the girls a much broader education than they'd receive through the school's ordinary curriculum. But over time it seems that she's trying to mold them to her own liking or fix them in place with her own labels or judgments. I think that's one of the betrayals in the book – when students begin to seem less like students and more like acolytes, or like attendants in the court of a queen. To what extent can Miss Brodie fix their path in life, given her influence over them?

And how empty is her own life, that she needs such a degree of influence over her students? In what ways has she betrayed herself?

At different points in the book, the narrative flashes forward to show the girls as adults. It's revealed that one of them betrays Miss Brodie to the headmistress of the school by revealing the teacher's fascist sympathies. Miss Brodie's admiration of fascism seems like it's based on puffed-up fantasies (also, it's interesting how the nonconformity of Miss Brodie, who refuses to be like other teachers, co-exists with her fondness for the Blackshirts and with her own desire to mold her students and their paths in life).

When the student informs on her, to what extent is it an act of betrayal? You're left to wonder at all of the motives at play. If Miss Brodie violated the trust and responsibility of her position as teacher, informing on her may be seen as a necessary act, even if her misdeeds have less to do with her misguided admiration of Mussolini and more to do with how she attempts to influence the girls. The student in question may also have been trying to gain some control over Miss Brodie; she may have been struggling with the profound influence Miss Brodie has had on her life. It may be that the student Miss Brodie influences most – the one who becomes most psychologically enmeshed with the errant teacher – is also the one who turns on her.

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Week in Seven Words #513

This covers the week of 11/17/19 - 11/23/19.

Three cops in the lobby of a small health clinic, boredom heavy in their eyes and the droop of their faces.

His passion is helping people grapple with a clunky, overburdened, often unfair system. While his suggestions for health insurance don't suit my circumstances at the moment, I'm sure other people find what they need through his assistance.

After sharing some useful information about dinosaurs and shark attacks, she builds box-like structures out of colorful magnetic tiles. I show her how a well-placed triangle can help keep them upright.

Enjoying good company in a dim, crowded restaurant while trying to keep a swarm of anxieties penned up in the back of my mind.

Looking through current health insurance options isn't doing much for my well-being.

Two cross-town bus rides, a doctor's visit, a bookstore stop, and lunch at a restaurant that serves excellent carrot and ginger soup. Liquid sunshine on store windows and gentle blue skies.

He really wants to win the game, you can tell. He takes on a tone of faux friendliness, begins to insist to everyone in the group that none of this is important. His mouth flattens into a quivering line. After he loses again, he pushes away from the table to buy a beer.