Areas of Fog #31: Smoke and Mildness

AREAS OF FOG #31 by Will Dowd

Smoke and Mildness

This blog is late—like the weather.

Parking Lot

It’s the pointy end of September, when gazebos should be cages for wet leaves and black shrouds should billow ominously over swimming pools. Instead, we’re having an Indian summer.

The expression “Indian summer” was most likely coined by early New England settlers, for whom an unexpected flush of autumnal warmth carried the threat of a late-season assault by Native Americans.

As the casual appropriation of Native American culture has recently captured the fickle attention of the national media, I can’t help but wonder if “Indian summer” is due for rebranding.

(I grew up in a town with a Native American mascot, where my own historical consciousness was helped along by occasionally stepping barefoot on arrowheads.)

Wamps Mug

Yet when I looked to other countries for an alternative to “Indian summer,” I found something strange. In Bulgaria they call the phenomena “Gypsy Christmas.” In other European countries they call it “summer of crones,” referring not to the frailness of the season but to the proliferation of flying spiders, whose gossamer threads recall the grey hair of old women suspected of witchcraft, of spinning webs of human destiny, of controlling the weather.

It seems this spell of anomalous heat, this false summer, is associated the world over with mistrusted minorities. A secondary season for second-class citizens.

It makes me think of Hector St. John de Crèvecœur, a French soldier turned New York farmer, whose essays on the American frontier became a minor literary sensation when they were published in Europe in the early 1780s.

Hector St. John de Crèvecœur

He was the first person to use (at least in print) the phrase “Indian summer,” which he defined as “a short Interval of Smoke and Mildness” before the arrival of a “voluminous Coat of snow.”

When the violent chaos of the American Revolution threatened his family and farm, Crèvecœur wrote of his plan to leave behind European trappings and live with the Indians in the “unlimited freedom of the woods.”

It turns out he was just being satirical. Literary. French.

Instead of melting into the wilderness, he tried to return to Paris to secure his eldest son’s inheritance. He wound up in a rat-infested jail in Loyalist New York City. His farm was burned; his wife, Mehitable Tippet, was killed; and he spent the rest of his life trying unsuccessfully to outrun conflagrations—the French Revolution, the Austrian invasion of Bavaria—while being intermittently imprisoned as an American spy.

“I am become a Predestinarian,” he wrote, then crossed out in a draft of one essay. “We little insignificant individuals… our Lott is to be the victims, the sport of Fortune throughout all the winding mazes of the wheel…”

That is the trouble with Indian summer. To face the winter, we have to become fatalists. We have to believe we are caught on the spinning wheel, on the spun web. We have to forget the past. Who needs this bitter and sweet reminder of what might have been?

spider

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Will Dowd Summer

Will Dowd (episode 91episode 104) is a freelance writer based outside Boston. He received an MFA from New York University and an MS from MIT. His writing has appeared in Barrow Street, Post Road, Skeptic Magazine, and NPR.org.

 

In Boozo Veritas # 61: Squirrel Babies of Orlando: Part 2

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In Boozo Veritas # 61 by Teege Braune

Squirrel Babies of Orlando: Part 2

And now the exciting conclusion to Squirrel Babies of Orlando.

Squirels

When I got back to my house, I was met with a critical situation. Jenn had quarantined the babies in a cat carrier, and while two of them were spunky and active, wrestling with each other and climbing up the carrier’s metal gate, the third had grown weaker, was obviously fading. His nose had not stopped bleeding. He sat in the corner of the case shivering slightly and clearly required the kind of medical assistance neither Jenn nor I was qualified to give. Fortunately, in my absence Jenn had formulated a plan. She had spoken to Shirley at Fallin’ Pines Critter Rescue who emphatically agreed to foster them despite the fact that she was already caring for over seventy orphaned squirrels at the same time. Jenn had met Shirley once before in a similar situation and felt confident in the woman’s nurturing abilities.

As we were pulling out of our driveway, Jenn told me that we had to swing by Drunken Monkey before we could begin the long journey to Fort Christmas in the sticks of rural Florida.

“What in the world is at Drunken Monkey that can’t wait until we get back from dropping off the squirrels?” I nearly shouted.

“You’ll find out when you get there,” she said.

It dawned on me that this must be the surprise to which she had eluded earlier, and as eager as I was to deliver the squirrels unto salvation, I could see that there would be no reasoning with Jenn who was unwavering in her insistence. As Drunken Monkey is only a block from our house, simply indulging her, and getting the chore over with seemed a safer plan than arguing the point. Nevertheless, I had become single-minded and frantic in my mission to rescue the babies, so I was barely considering the possibilities that this surprise might entail.

“Are you coming in?” I asked Jenn as I idled the van in a parking space.

“No, I’ll stay here with the babies,” she said.

“What in the hell am I supposed to do when I go inside? Ask them for my surprise at the counter?” I asked growing frustrated.

“Uh, sure. They know you,” was her cryptic answer.

I flung open the door to my favorite coffee shop and ran straight into the last person I expected to see.

Clasping my shoulders, my dear friend Adam looked me in the eye and said, “I hear there are some baby squirrels that need saving. I’m here to help.”

All this time, unbeknownst to me, Adam was some kind of super hero, and he had flown across the globe from Australia in a moment’s notice for the salvation of three baby squirrels. With this titan among men joining our ragtag expedition, I knew that we could not possibly fail.

“Thank God you’re here!” I said. “Come on, let’s go.”

Adam

Adam.

Back in the van Jenn and Adam were laughing and asking me if I was surprised to see him.

I answered that of course I was, but the truth is I thought I must be dreaming and accepted the entirety of the bizarre situation with the resignation of the lucid dreamer whose dim awareness of reality quickly subverts the delightful illusions until they are conquered by consciousness, washed out completely, and so lost forever. I waited for wakefulness to take Adam, the baby squirrels, and perhaps even Jenn from me as I opened my eyes to discover who knew what other life, but then it occurred to me that I would probably not dream Laura Branigan’s “Gloria” onto the radio, and with that acknowledgment, I returned from my brief and unsettling revelry, my delusion of a delusion, and faced the wonderful knowledge that I was rescuing baby squirrels with not only my fiancé and love of my life, but also a long lost friend who only moments ago I did not know when I would see again. As we drove and joked and reminisced about old times, it was with a shrill heart shattering shriek that the poor, injured baby squirrel reminded us of our mission and purpose lest we forget the lives for which we had taken responsibility.

Fallin’ Pines Critter Rescue lies a clearing dotted by palms and trees laden with Spanish moss. Nothing about its appearance suggest that it exists anywhere near a major metropolis. The simple house sits beside a fenced in garden carved by a winding path, adorned by ponds and flowers, home to many abandoned animals including geese, rabbits, sugar gliders, and even a wallaby. This mini Wonderland is shepherded by Shirley, sometimes affectionately referred to as Squirrely Shirley, and her canine assistant who exhibited a gentleness with the babies that is uncharacteristic of her species. Shirley gathered the tiny squirrels in her cupped palms and held them up at eye level.

“Oh they’re going to be fine,” she said beaming.

We tried to point out the injured baby, to make sure he received extra and immediate care, but as I watched the three of them crawling up and down Shirley’s sweater, nibbling on loose threads, I realized I couldn’t tell him apart from his brother. As though Shirley exhibited a mystical healing touch, the little squirrel was completely revitalized. His nose had finally stopped bleeding and no one would have guessed that only moments ago he was crying out in agony.

“He just needed somebody to love on him… Yowww!!!” She screamed when one of the babies had bitten her ear. At the sound of her yell, the squirrel scurried inside Shirley’s hair.

“That happens,” she said regaining composure. “They’ll try to nurse on anything. Sometimes they come in and their poor, little penises are pink and red because they think they’re nipples.”

We all nodded at this observation pondering its implications.

“Well, I better take these guys inside and get them something to eat.”

Declining our offer of a donation, Shirley turned and walked away. Beside her large auburn ponytail, jutting from her hairline, hung a tiny gray ponytail.

Back in the car Jenn admitted that she hand’t named the squirrels because she would have been too heartbroken if they hadn’t survived the drive to Celebration. We drove back to town as the sun began to set on Orlando, planning our next move. Although Adam was only going to be around for the weekend, and I had to work much of it, we decided to make the most of the time we had. All three of us were ravenous from our adventure, and thought it appropriate to celebrate its success with dinner and libations, so headed to Fuji Sushi, a former staple for us back when Adam still lived in Orlando. We ate green mussels and an unreasonable amount of rolls including one called Aqua Bear, which we ordered simply because it reminded us of the tardigrade, a minuscule creature that can, oddly enough, survive in the vacuum of space, an animal so bizarre its very nature is a testament to the surreality of nature, the dreamy euphoria that is life.

Tardigrade

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teegenteege Teege Braune (episode 72episode 75episode 77episode 90episode 102) is a writer of literary fiction, horror, essays, and poetry. Recently he has discovered the joys of drinking responsibly. He may or may not be a werewolf.

 

Shakespearing #15: The Merchant of Venice

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Shakespearing #15 by David Foley

The Merchant of Venice

Antonio is sad. Shakespeare begins The Merchant of Venice in psychological media res. The merchant’s first line is a response to his friends: “In sooth, I know not why I am so sad./It wearies me, you say it wearies you[.]” “Your mind is tossing on the ocean,” Solanio says, making the first connection between the psychological world of the play and the merchant fleets on whose voyages the plot depends. Salerio goes him one better, producing a dreamlike image of a ship wrecking on

dangerous rocks

Which touching but my gentle vessel’s side

Would scatter all her spices on the stream,

Enrobe the roaring waters with my silks[.]

The puzzle of The Merchant of Venice is how a play so marred by anti-Semitism can be, like that dreamlike image, so mysteriously thrilling. My first answer to this question, when I was in high school, was that Shakespeare started out to write the usual caricature of the evil Jew but his human vision got the better of him, and so Shylock emerges as an unsettling combination of the vicious and the sympathetic. I was quite proud of this answer, though I’ve since learned it’s a commonplace. Still, it’s not a bad answer. For all his villainy, Shylock affects us as intensely human. Richard III’s villainy we take on faith; it’s an abstract of ambition and ruthlessness. Shylock’s twisted hate is rooted in particulars and achieves at times a harrowing human grandeur.

A better answer is that The Merchant of Venice is built on the tensions that Shylock raises. The world of The Merchant of Venice is anxiously inclusive, portraying a society whose mobility is both energizing and scary, like that beautiful shipwreck. A servant changes masters, a Jew becomes a Christian, a woman becomes a man. And Shylock is not the only character who refuses to come into focus as good or bad. Is Bassanio a love-struck wooer or a money-driven spendthrift? Both, it seems. I’ve read that an Elizabethan audience would have felt simple satisfaction when Jessica robs her father. Possibly, but they’d have to blank over some disturbing details. It’s a typical Shakespearean touch that Jessica uses her dead mother’s ring to buy a monkey, and the anguished hyperbole with which Shylock responds—“I would not have given it for a wilderness of monkeys”—skyrockets her betrayal into lyric flight. The thrill of The Merchant of Venice is that it puts us in a constant state of irresolution, not knowing what to think or feel, inhabitants, like Shakespeare, of a world in flux.

When we do think, we think about the bargains made for human flesh, whether it’s Shylock’s bond, Launcelot’s dilemma, or the fairy tale test that Portia’s father has assigned her suitors. Portia and Antonio are sympathetic poles of the play’s moral world. With Portia, old imprisoning forms fall away. She may submit herself to Bassanio as “an unlesson’d girl, unschool’d, unpractic’d,” but dressed like a man, she shows herself wiser than all the men combined.

Antonio, her partner in humanism, is rudderlessly adrift, bewildered that spitting on a Jew is no longer so unassailable an assertion of moral authority. The play seems wistful for such lost certainties, but Shylock relentlessly exposes their hypocrisy. Even at the height of his villainy, he gives a pointed discourse on Venetian slavery, the ultimate merchandising of human flesh.

Maybe Merchant thrills us because it places us where we always are: in a world that’s both falling away and coming into being, a world in which, to paraphrase Antonio in his opening speech, “[we] have much ado to know [ourselves].”

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David Foley

David Foley is a playwright and fiction writer living in Brooklyn. His plays include Cressida Among the Greeks, Paradise, Nance O’Neil, The Murders at ArgosA Hole in the Fence, and Sad Hotel, among others. His novel The Traveler’s Companion is available on Amazon. He teaches at New York University.

Episode 119: A Craft Discussion About Douglas Glover, with Vanessa Blakeslee!

Episode 119 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

In this week’s episode, I talk about Douglas Glover’s Attack of the Copula Spiders with Vanessa Blakeslee,

Vanessa Blakeslee

plus Sam Slaughter writes about how Denis Johnson’s Jesus’ Son changed his life.

Photo by Oxley Photography 2014

Photo by Oxley Photography 2014

TEXTS DISCUSSED

Attack of the Copula Spiders

Jesus Son

NOTES

This episode featured music by The Bambi Molesters and Cartlon Melton.

On Tuesday, October 14, come see me and Karen Best, Keith Gouveia, Whitney Hamrick, Brett Pribble, Ryan Rivas, Jared Silvia, and Rebecca Swain Vadnie read at the There Will Be Words Fourth Annual Flash Spooktacular, at 7:00pm – 8:30pm, at The Gallery At Avalon Island. The impeccable host is Jesse Bradley.

On Saturday, October 18th, The Drunken Odyssey returns to live performances with Horror Movie Poetry Night, also at 7 P.M., at the Gallery at Avalon Island.

Horror Movie Poetry Night poster small

On Wednesday, October 29th, Tiffany Razzano brings her roving open mic series, Wordier Than Thou, to Stardust Video and Coffee. I and the fabulous Susan Lilley will be featured readers on that occasion.

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Episode 119 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

The Curator of Schlock #58: Lupin the 3rd (Dead or Alive)

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The Curator of Schlock #58 by Jeff Shuster

Lupin the 3rd: Dead or Alive

Not to be confused with DOA: Dead or Alive

Lupin III DoA Poster

Who is Lupin the 3rd? Is he a villainous criminal mastermind or a heroic kind-hearted thief? The latter of course! He’s not even remotely villainous.  He rescues princesses from evil counts. He steals million dollar diamonds only to give the money away to some poor orphan whose parents were killed by the Nostradamus Sect. These week’s movie, Lupin the 3rd: Dead or Alive, starts out in a nasty prison where the warden will let a few prisoners escape just so the guards can have some target practice. Then the warden lights a cigar that explodes. It turns out the warden was Lupin the 3rd in disguise. He drives the prisoners away in a jeep while Apache helicopters fire missiles at him. That’s just the first five minutes of the movie.

I think it’s fitting that Lupin the 3rd: Dead or Alive came out in 1996. That was the first year I discovered Lupin the 3rd when I bought that VHS copy of The Mystery of Mamo. I do find myself waxing nostalgic when I write about these films. It wouldn’t be long before I started studying film at Manatee Community College, watching such classics as The 400 Blows and Sweet Sweetback’s Baadaasssss Song. It helped that film critics of the 90s such as Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert were very receptive to Japanese animation. A movie’s merit wasn’t judged based on what genre it came from. This made me more open-minded when it came to exploring films outside the mainstream whether they belonged to the French New Wave or those exotic animated features coming from Japan.

Lupin III 1

I was once asked if I thought that Japanese animation was better than American animation. I said no. You can’t really compare the two. The one distinction of note I’ve observed over the years is that Japanese animation tends to focus on detail whereas American animation tends to focus on fluidity of movement. I also feel that more inventive storytelling occurs in Japanese animation simply because they produce far more of it than we do.

Lupin III 2

If we take Lupin the 3rd: Dead or Alive as an example, one might be tempted to write it off as a typical adventure movie. We have Lupin and company visiting the island paradise of Zufu in search of treasure. Unfortunately, a brutal dictator named General Headhunter rules Zufu. He lives up to that name whenever he chops the heads off of useless people or foolish subordinates. General Headhunter had also managed to execute the King of Zufu, but couldn’t disable able the defense mechanism guarding the nation’s treasure.

It’s the defense mechanism that sets this movie apart. The treasure is contained on an island where an aircraft carrier must have shipwrecked. When Lupin and company set foot inside, the computer on board reads them as intruders and employs nanotechnology against them. Knives and axes attached to tentacles form out of the dirt on the floor of the vessel and out of the sand outside. Microscopic robots are making all of this possible, and it will take a computer program to make the dirt inert. And when the dirt is rendered harmless, it’s revealed to be gold dust. I’m used to deadly traps guarding the treasure in adventure movies, but this is the first instance I’ve ever seen of the treasure being the deadly trap.

Lupin III 3

I hope you’ve enjoyed Lupin the 3rd month. Like James Bond, he will return to The Museum of Schlock someday.

Five Things I Learned from Lupin the 3rd Dead or Alive

  1. There’s no point in trying to arrest Lupin the 3rd. He’ll break out of jail in three days tops.
  2. Exploding cigars come in handy during car chases.
  3. Evil dictators will only hire you as their secretary after you have a bout of mortal combat with another candidate.
  4. Having a one million dollar bounty on your head sure brings out the bounty hunters.
  5. If your evil boss always kills the messenger, don’t be the one to deliver the message.

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Photo by Leslie Salas.

Photo by Leslie Salas.

Jeffrey Shuster (episode 47episode 102) is an MFA candidate and instructor at the University of Central Florida.

Heroes Never Rust #60: Captain America, and the Moral Dialectic of Straightforward Heroism

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Heroes Never Rust #60 by Sean Ironman

Captain America, and the Moral Dialectic of Straightforward Heroism

In issue two of Captain America: Dead Men Running, Sergeant Vicq and the other four American Soldiers continue to dig their graves. The comic opens on a close-up of Captain America’s shield. “We are dead. We start dying the moment we are born. And everything we do in life we do to forget that the Queen of Spades is waiting for us in the end.” This comic is all about the effect the world has on individuals and the effect an individual has on the world. The focus is on why we do the things that we do. The soldiers, who are still running from the cocaine mafia, come across a convent. One of the nuns won’t let the armed men inside. She tells a story about meeting Captain America when she was younger, how he helped pull a truck in the desert so orphans could be fed. She stands up to the soldiers. The soldiers gun her down.

Dead Men Running 2 cover

One of the soldiers, Sore, beats on Captain America, who is awake but incapacitated due to being drugged last issue. While Sore cracks his knuckles and gets ready, Sergeant Vicq watches. “Why did I think my like was worth killing Captain America?” Vicq, while not the worst of the group, is far from an angel. He doesn’t stop anyone from killing a nun and he doesn’t stop Sore from beating on Captain America. Sore tells Vicq a story of his great grandfather meeting the super soldier during World War II. His great grandfather was in awe of the superhero, but instead of the typical story readers get in superhero comics, the effect the meeting had on Sore’s ancestor wasn’t a good one.

“Probably had wet dreams about him. So he made his son volunteer for Vietnam. Probably still blames him for getting killed there. That’s why my father ran away. Left behind a letter saying he preferred dying a civilian. Left me, too. Great-granddad swore he’d make a super soldier out of me. He beat me every time I failed to live up to Captain America’s example.”

Dead Men Running 2.2

Readers get a lot of comics about Captain America as a symbol of hope—same with Superman. He can give a lot of speeches. It’s interesting here to get the opposite effect of Captain America: his example is demoralizing. Sore, and the rest of the American soldiers, will never be as strong or as fast as a super soldier. Instead of striving to be great, these men get depressed and angry.

Sore takes off Captain America’s mask and asks, “What chance does a guy like me have against pretty boys like you? Tell me, what chance?” He responds that it’s not a question of chance, that it’s a question of choice. Sore can choose not to be scum. Sore takes a swing. Captain America, now recovering from the drugs, knocks him out in one punch.

Dead Men Running 2

Sergeant Vicq spends the issue ruminating on life and death. “Why di I do the things I did? Why do we do the things we do? We are dead. Whatever we achieve, ultimately means nothing.” He’s quite the pessimist. I have my moments too, so I think he’s right. Whatever Vicq does won’t matter. Dying as a bad man or a good one won’t make a difference—He’ll still be dead.

But Captain America is right, too. Don’t be scum.

In this issue, while we get Sore being all mad because his great grandfather beat him because Sore couldn’t live up to the image of Captain America, we also get the nun at the beginning. She met Captain America when she was young and she stood up to the soldiers now because of it. Maybe it’s because I’m a teacher and a writer, but the idea of having an impact on another person so that person will then be better or smarter or whatever you’d like to call it and then go on to affect other people makes sense.

Remember Pay it Forward? That’s why superheroes like Captain America and Superman are so great. Not just that they can beat the crap out of supervillains—they can inspire others.

One of the soldiers, Nystrom, refuses to kill Captain America and one of the nuns. His commanding officer threatens to shoot him if he doesn’t kill the nun and he still refuses. He’s taken into custody along with Captain America. If the other soldiers refused to kill the unarmed nun, if they realized just how bad they had become, maybe they’d make it out okay. But those missiles heading their way on the last page look to prove Sergeant Vicq right. They are dead.

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Sean Ironman

Sean Ironman (Episode 102earned his MFA at the University of Central Florida. Currently, he teaches creative nonfiction and digital media at the University of Central Arkansas as a visiting professor. His work can be read in The Writer’s ChronicleRedivider, and Breakers: A Comics Anthology, among others.

 

In Boozo Veritas # 60: Squirrel Babies of Orlando: Part 1

In Boozo Veritas # 60 by Teege Braune

Squirrel Babies of Orlando: Part 1

The day began with bloodshed. A small lizard named Bill who had snuck onto our porch seeking shelter from the storm found himself instead in the deadly maw of a nine pound monster in a tuxedo. Jenn grabbed Eury by the scruff, jostled her, but by the time she released Bill from her jaws, Eury had already inflicted a wound of fatally violent severity. Bill wriggled on his back, and we assumed his demise was imminent. The killer, for her part, exhibited not the slightest shred of remorse as she was incarcerated inside the house, but instead chirped out her frustration at being unable to finish the job and devour her victim completely.

This is the face of a homicidal maniac.

This is the face of a homicidal maniac.

Perhaps sacrificing the poor lizard to this fiend would have been the most humane course, but we were determined that Bill should know some kind of peace at the very end of his short life. Momentarily he regained composure, attempted to flee, but ran only a few inches, impaired as he was by his disembowelment. Ending his suffering by stamping him out seemed far too brutal an act, so Jenn merely scooped him up and laid him gently among some overgrown foliage in our front yard. He lay for a moment, breathing quickly, and then crawled slowly into the shadows presumedly to pass into the next world. One more brave, fallen soldier in the fight against Florida’s pervasive and aggressive mosquito onslaught.

“Are we cowards for not putting him out of his misery?” Jenn asked, and I cited Abbot Zerchi’s arguments against euthanasia in Walter M. Miller Jr.’s A Canticle for Leibowitz by way of a defense

Even the passing of one so meek as Bill had me reflecting on the brevity of life. I’d read that the biggest regret shared by those in their final months was not keeping up with friends, as though a lifetime is a collection of people to miss, a cultivation of those from whom circumstances have kept us for one reason or another. In my case: my family in and around Louisville, Kentucky, my high school buddies spread out around the country, my good friend Nat in Seattle whose birthday was over the weekend, Adam all the way across the world in Australia. A few years ago we were nearly inseparable and yet with that distance between us, two years had gone by since I last saw him. Just recently I had a dream in which I found us together again, only to awake and realize just how long it had been.

I was distracted from my melancholy as the animals in our yard were behaving oddly; bats flitted through the air in broad daylight, and a bluejay who had alighted on the porch railing bounced towards me on his back-bent legs, glaring nefariously. Perhaps it was Bill’s death that had agitated them or maybe we were just unused to the incongruities of nature as we’ve only had any yard at all for a short time, having recently moved out of an apartment building in downtown Winter Park. I was vaguely aware in the back of my mind that Jenn had promised me a surprise earlier that morning, but as my yard was becoming the fabled Area X of Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy, I almost completely forgot about it. Even the broad elephant ear leaves seemed to encroach with an unnerving familiarity. The off-putting atmosphere culminated just as I was about to leave for a work appointment with the discovery of three baby squirrels, each with a bloody nose, scattered around the porch and the yard, climbing up walls and trees with unsure footing and squealing in a pitch that cut right to the heart strings.

I put off my exit as long as possible while Jenn and I watched from inside and waited for the negligent squirrel parents to return and gather up their fallen babies at the same time keeping an eye out for potential predators not excluding the murderer Eury and her accomplice Riley who sat at the window chirping, howling, and begging us to let them outside so that they could dispatch the innocent creatures. The babies teetered precariously along the fronds of a palm tree, and it became clear that they had been abandoned. No parent would return. Utterly helpless, overly trusting, they suffered slim chances in that wild backyard of ours. Intervention would soon be necessary. As I guiltily ran off for my appointment, Jenn and our neighbor Matt set about gathering the babies for safe keeping, but we had no idea what to do with them next. Jenn and I didn’t know how to raise baby squirrels, and furthermore, it became clear that one of them might be seriously injured. I spent my appointment anxious, glancing continually and apologetically at my phone for updates and as soon as it was over raced back home.

unnamed 2Will Jenn and Teege rescue the baby squirrels and deliver them to safety, or will they all die a bloody and agonizing death?! Tune into In Boozo Veritas next week for the exciting conclusion to Squirrel Babies of Orlando!

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teegenteege Teege Braune (episode 72episode 75episode 77episode 90episode 102) is a writer of literary fiction, horror, essays, and poetry. Recently he has discovered the joys of drinking responsibly. He may or may not be a werewolf.

Areas of Fog #30: Shadowplay

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Areas of Fog #30 by Will Dowd

Shadowplay

When I began this weather blog, I made a solemn promise to myself that no matter what happened (meteorologically or biographically), I would never under any circumstances use the word dapple—and so far, I’ve been as good as my word.

But now that the light of mid-September has leaked from its carton, I’m beginning to feel the strain.

image

For example, I want to describe the scene in front of me.

I’m sitting on a bench. Under a tree. Facing water. I sometimes come here on Sunday mornings to eat a blueberry bagel and think about my life while the pond throws stones at me.

Have you ever encountered a bench made of ink that wasn’t sun-*****ed?

It’s not that I find the word too effete. The poet Gerard Manley Hopkins used it (“Glory be to God for dappled things—”) and just look at his middle name.

Gerard Manley Hopkins

 

It’s just that I drew a line in the sun-*****ed sand and I won’t cross it.

What’s a writing style if not a refusal to use certain words, even under the duress of deadlines or seasonal demands?

The clouds are casting patterns of calico shadow over the surface of the parking lot.

The light coming off the water is cool and yellow, as if spilled from an open refrigerator.

There’s a swan trailing bolts of light like an electric eel.

My left arm is sleeved in a shiftless tattoo.

In the end, all we have are our scruples. And our thesaurus.

 _______

Will Dowd Summer

Will Dowd (episode 91episode 104) is a freelance writer based outside Boston. He received an MFA from New York University and an MS from MIT. His writing has appeared in Barrow Street, Post Road, Skeptic Magazine, and NPR.org.

 

Episode 118: Holly Thompson!

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Episode 118 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

In this week’s episode, I interview The verse novelist Holly Thompson,

Holly Thompson

Plus Laryssa Wirstiuk writes about how Jonathan Saffron Foer’s Eating Animals changed her life.

Laryssa Wirstiuk

TEXTS DISCUSSED

The Language Inside

Eating Animals

NOTES

Check out Functionally Literate Radio, which on the latest episode features my essay, “I Heart Smokey and the Bandit.”

From the Facebook page of Bob Lamb (episode 40), in regard to his informal “Worst First Sentence of a Bad Novel Contest”:

Okay, final verdict is in. First place–John King, although one of the judges worried that it was so funny that it could be used as the first sentence of a comic masterpiece rather than a bad novel. Yet, its originality, the sudden twists and turns of inspired lunacy, and the supermarket imagery cleverly woven into a surreal scene so impressed the judges that it really was no contest. Second place went to Steve Edwards–his economy, precision, and repetition of really bad metaphors obviously made his entry a powerful one, and the final metaphor of the peach pit as a tiny wooden brain had a certain je ne sais quois that evoked a peal of delightful revulsion. Third place went to Bob Lamb–although an unoriginal mockery of standard noir detective fiction a la Hammett, the judges felt that it’s his goddamned contest and he ought to get some sort of a prize, especially given his fragile psyche and penchant for violence. The judges also awarded a distinguished parody prize to Eric Link for his brilliant satire of Hemingway writing a zombie novel. Although not technically a bad first sentence of a bad novel, and even though the judges could see this turning into a great parody of Hemingway and zombie fiction, they felt it was more appropriate for the old “Bad Hemingway” contest that used to run annually. Another entry, by Elizabeth Stuckey-French, was simply way too interesting and good to fit a bad first sentence contest. This often occurs when a real writer tries to write a bad sentence–their talent turns it into a sentence with potential. The judges found themselves wanting to read more, which is always a sign that your first sentence is not truly bad. The gutless wonder award goes to Mike Cocchiarale, who caused Bob Lamb to write concluding sentences to his bad novel, and then did not even participate. The judges felt that although Mr. Cocchiarale is an avid sports fan from Cleveland, and thus hopelessly trapped in a world of pain and confusion, he should have at least tried and failed, not unlike his beloved Browns. Lou Hickman and Tim Reynolds have been disqualified for cheating, and have received a five-year ban from participating in the contest. A warrant has been issued for the arrest of Kip Robisch, for his disruptive actions on this thread, and we expect to have him in custody shortly. We are working with law enforcement and immigration to have him deported.

And here was my winning entry:

When the were-pigs, gibbering in their porcine poetry and slapping the ground with their by-now clawed hooves, overran the supermarket, heaving their fleshy forms over the aisles of Cel-Ray sodas and bread and chick-peas, Clem knew that he better put down his inventory forms and drag the crossbow out of the safe again, but an icy sliver of revulsion, fear, and longing penetrated his spine, and he stood in front of the office window, watching the sounder below careen over the black and white tiles, demolishing the glass doors of the frozen food aisles, before their leader jumped onto the conveyor belt of check out line #7, and stared directly at him with wolf-like eyes, as if the giant porker was preparing to speak.

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Episode 118 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

Shakespearing #14: A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Shakespearing #14 by David Foley

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

13 Midsummer Nights Dream

An actor friend tells me A Midsummer Night’s Dream is his favorite Shakespeare. That makes sense. The play is a kind of ur-text for the imaginative possibilities of theatre. In it, Shakespeare pushes forward the discoveries he was making about new ways of activating theatrical space.

Its first scenes set up three worlds: the Athenian court, the rude mechanicals, and the fairies. That done, the worlds can begin to collide, most satisfyingly in Act III, Scene ii, when the confusion among the lovers is at its height. But if collision were all, we’d be back at Comedy of Errors. It’s the interleaving of the worlds that feels new. Much of the play takes place in a single space, and the fluid use of that space is pushed to a new level. It’s really this fluidity that those first three scenes set in motion. While Titania sleeps, Lysander and Hermia enter. While the lovers sleep, Titania and Bottom enter. Not only does this create an interestingly unresolvable thematic reinforcement—who’s dreaming whom?—it builds a multi-dimensional theatrical space. I could say this is surprisingly modern, except that Shakespeare is not intuiting a later theatrical world; he’s inventing it. To paraphrase T.S. Eliot, “He is what we know.” And when I say “we,” I mean theatre folk.

And lest you miss the point that Midsummer is in some way about the imaginative joys of theatre, we have the rude mechanicals. Yes, of course, anyone can find them funny, but maybe you need to have been involved in the making of theatre to appreciate their special comic horror, or to be moved by Theseus’s clemency towards them: “For never anything can be amiss/When simpleness and duty tender it.” “Love, therefore, and tongue-tied simplicity,” he later calls it, reminding us that any act of making, however inept, is an act of love.

Maybe theatre, like the play, is a dream of love. Love in the play is of course a dream of madness. You could chalk up Shakespeare’s continual reversion to this theme as an Elizabethan trope, but he returns to it so repeatedly, from so many angles, and with such human particularity that it begins to seem like a personal obsession. The Pyramus and Thisbe stuff gleefully trashes the tragic ending of his great love story, while the play itself sets the swiftness of Romeo and Juliet’s passion in the light of satire. As Bottom says, “Reason and love keep little company together nowadays.” Except they do. People are always reasoning about love, as Hermia and Lysander do in their “course of true love” dialogue, and as Demetrius does when he finds his affections suddenly changed: “The will of man is by his reason sway’d,/And reason says you are the worthier maid.” The result is that reason itself is called into question. Reason, like, love is subject to the chops and changes of the imagination.

Why is all this charming and not cynical? To say that Shakespeare’s human tenderness enfolds the madness begs the question. Of what does that human tenderness consist? Theseus provides the clue: “the poet’s pen… gives to airy nothing a local habitation and a name.” This sounds like not just a principle of art but a rule for living: to give our imaginings “a local habitation,” to anchor them in what Blake called the “minute particular.” Puck, the airiest creature in the play, is also master of the minute particular, whether it’s the “gossip’s bowl” or the “wretch that lies in woe” of his final scene. Shakespeare’s moonlit imaginative dream paradoxically anchors us in the real.

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David Foley

David Foley is a playwright and fiction writer living in Brooklyn. His plays include Cressida Among the Greeks, Paradise, Nance O’Neil, The Murders at ArgosA Hole in the Fence, and Sad Hotel, among others. His novel The Traveler’s Companion is available on Amazon. He teaches at New York University.

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