Monthly Archives: October 2012

Halloween

Halloween

There was a knock on the front door. He awoke from his dreamless sleep, slowly, fumbling around for his glasses. He pressed the side of his phone to see what time it was. 2:30. Rap, rap, rap. There it was, three sharp knocks. He wondered if he should be worried. He shouldn’t, he decided. But just in case, he grabbed the tomahawk his part-Cherokee-crazy-uncle had given him as a Christmas present one year.

He walked down the hallway and parted the curtains to the left of the door. His breath fogged the window making a hazy circle three times the diameter of his mouth. His eyes reflected back to him above the circle of fog.

He could see nothing. With a deep breath he opened the door. “Hello?” he called.

No one was out there. He stepped onto the front stoop. Everything around him was dead and quiet. The lampposts flickered dimly along the street.

Freaking kids, he thought. He closed the door, locked it, and went back to bed.

In the morning he had a hard time remembering what had happened last night. He remembered the knocking, he remembered getting up, but not much else. Halloween was tomorrow, probably some early teenage prankers, he thought.

It was Saturday and so he spent a majority of the day raking leaves, arranging firewood, and spiking his hot apple cider with rum. His street was very quiet he thought. It was still nice, around sixty degrees and sunny, so he figured more people would be out and about today. But he barely heard or saw anyone the whole day. The streets were as empty as the community park in his suburbs.

Around dusk he started a fire in his woodstove and grabbed a book to read on the couch. He’d had about five cups of spiked apple cider and was feeling very warm and groggy. As the sun set outside he fell asleep, head on his chest, book in his lap.

In his dream he heard the knocking, but it was more distant, abstract, from another world. When he awoke the fire had dwindled to nothing more than coals and all the streetlamps shone through a slight layer of fog swirling the street. He put his book down and rose to look out the window. He saw no trick or treaters, no people dressed like cats or zombies. In fact he saw no one. As he turned around to lumber to his bed, he heard the knocking. But it wasn’t at his door, but across the street. He swiveled his head quickly back to the window. At first he saw nothing, then his neighbor across the street opened the door, “Hello?” his neighbor called. “Hello, who’s out there?”

The neighbor stared for a minute before he stepped out onto the front porch. Then, with a determined gesture he dropped the bat he was holding and walked confidently into the street and to the left until he was swallowed by the swirl of the mist and dim lampposts. The neighbor’s door was ajar, gaping like the dark mouth hole of skull.

He had a hard time going back to bed. He could not sleep. He wondered where his neighbor had gone.

When he awoke the next morning to make coffee, it took him a good fifteen minutes before he looked out the window and realized his neighbor’s door was still open. Some leaves had blown from the porch into the first few feet of his neighbor’s entryway.

He thought about calling the police but decided that there was some explanation. In fact, he didn’t know this neighbor or any of his others and so there could be a million explanations as to why a front door would be open. It would be presumptuous to make a scare about some neighbor you barely knew.

His neighbors didn’t know him either. He was not sure if anyone on this block actually knew anyone else. Did any of them know anything more about each other than simply what kind of car they drove?

As he went to bed the next night he had a strange feeling. Halloween was yesterday and he had absolutely no visitors. He wondered if people thought he was crazy, if people avoided his house.

Around one o clock he finally drifted to sleep when he was quickly awoken by three sharp knocks on his door. Rap, rap, rap.

He rose quickly, grabbed the tomahawk and ran to the front door to swing it open. “I’ll catch you tonight!” he thought. As he swung the door open he yelled a muffle “HAWW!” But it was in vain because once again it was quiet and dead. He shifted his eyes around the streetscape.

The cars, the trees, the lampposts, his neighbor’s door still ajar.

And then he caught a glimmer of light. It was from the house to the right of the neighbor with the open door. He saw two eyes looking at him. They were the normal eyes of a middle-aged man like himself curious as his breath fogged the window. And all of a sudden something to the left caught his eye. He couldn’t tell what it was, a dark shape of some kind. But in a swell of confidence that was both indescribable and powerful, he placed the tomahawk on his front porch and walked with a determined strut into the street. He felt the other neighbor’s eyes on his as he did this, he wondered if the neighbor would call the police if something happened. “Probably not,” he decided. I never called.

And with this thought he took a few more steps before he was swallowed by the swirl of the fog and the even dimmer lampposts, his door ajar behind him, the black cavern of his house gaping into the night.

Thoughts About Vaginas and Christian Publishing

I’ve been thinking about an article I read in Slate yesterday. The article is about Christian blogger Rachel Held Evan’s new book and how a major Christian publisher decided not to carry it. You can read the article here:

http://www.slate.com/articles/double_x/doublex/2012/10/a_year_of_biblical_womanhood_rachel_held_evans_followed_the_bible_and_wrote.html?fb_action_ids=582468632278&fb_action_types=og.likes&fb_ref=sm_fb_like_chunky&fb_source=aggregation&fb_aggregation_id=288381481237582

Why? Well, she said the word “vagina.” In her new book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood, Evans uses the v word as well as the f word, and by f word I mean feminism. Which, for many traditional Christians can be just as dirty of a word as fuck (sorry, I couldn’t resist).

It got me thinking about all the obvious frustrations—the stranglehold of purity and self-righteousness many Christian publishers and bookstores hold over the Christian writing scene, as well as the ridiculousness of using a word that simply refers to female anatomy. I haven’t read the book so I’m not sure how she used it. Maybe she was talking about her lady parts or maybe she used it in a derogatory way like “Hey little brother, stop being a vagina.”

On the one hand it makes sense. Christian bookstores and publishers do not want to publish books of a lewd or obscene nature, because to them it does not work towards the glory of God. I get it.

But what are we allowed to talk about and still get published? I’m afraid I’m screwed If I ever try to write a book with even the slightest of Christian undertones—oh, wait, I am. I talk about God too much for people not interested in religion to read, and I probably use enough colorful language to scare away fifty percent of the Christian population. To me, the question seems to be why certain writers use certain language and what kind of worldview Christian publishers are interested in promoting.

In the Slate article Evans remarks that “If Christian bookstores stuck to their own ridiculous standards, they wouldn’t be able carry the freaking Bible.”

The Bible talks about sex, rape, murder, and love in a way that is entirely realistic. What many Christian publishers and bookstores seem to want is a slightly altered view of reality where no one struggles with sin (or if they do they describe it in very vague ways) and where if someone stubs their toe they don’t say damn it, they say dang it.

For someone like me, in my writing, I say what some consider a “cussword” every now and then. Not to make a point, or to be “edgy,” or excuse sin, but because that’s literally what I’m thinking. I’m not saying it’s okay, but when I’m frustrated, sometimes I say the f bomb. So, if I’m a writer who’s trying to tell an honest story about who he is and his relationship to God, and who one time got frustrated and said shit, should I cross this word out and say “crap?” Maybe, I think it’s a bit dishonest though, untrue to life.

And really though, if Rachel Held Evans was literally talking about her vagina, what other word was she supposed to use? Any other word I can think of right now that related to vagina is um, well, it just sounds dirty.

Vagina is the only anatomically correct word to use.

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The Master-I Think I Liked This Film?

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Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest film, The Master, is a terrific piece of work. The former writer/director of There Will Be Blood, Boogie Nights, and Punch Drunk Love comes out with another stunning film, though it stuns us into a sort of puzzled stupor. As to what the film is about—whether it’s religion, cults, post World War II society or the relationship between master and confused follower, I have no idea. It hits on all of these themes, but doesn’t single out one for any particular length of time. It bounces around a plethora of ideas ripe for commentary and exposition but apparently isn’t interested in commentary or exposition of any kind. The Master is ephemeral, drawing our attention to certain aspects of the film only to pass over them as quickly as it introduced them. The only trajectory the narrative seems to follow is that of clouds or vapor. I don’t think this is a bad thing, though a few people may deem this to be the case, rather it is a film purposefully vague and opaque, but beautiful nonetheless. Anderson is obviously a filmmaker not interested in following traditional Hollywood formulas and in this years The Master he seems to be producing a movie that is entirely postmodern in nature—it is film for arts sake without any simple meanings attached.

 

The film begins with Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) a World War II Vet who exits the war as a boozer with some sort of nervous disorder and perhaps slightly unhealthy obsession with sex. He bounces around from job to job, getting in fights and making a particularly potent alcoholic drinks from ingredients like paint thinner. We are never sure what drives Freddie to drink so much or whether he does have actual mental problems (though we find out that his dad died from drinking and his mom is in the insane asylum) thus it becomes hard to classify what Freddie actually is. Is he simply a wandering and confused man with some World War II PTSD? Or does he have some significant mental problems warranting the diagnosis of insanity? Or some combination of both? Anderson never answers this question and seems ambivalent to do so.

 

One night Freddie Quell meets Lancaster Dodd (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) onboard Dodd’s ship after drunkenly hopping on board. He comes to find out Dodd is a writer, physicist, theoretical philosopher, but above all as Dodd says, “A man.” Dodd is the leader of a group called the Cause, which is part scientology, part new age self-help psychology. Dodd takes Quell under his wing and much of the film focuses on the relationship between the two. At first it appears that Quell needs Dodd as a sort of spiritual mentor and leader to help straighten out his life, but it becomes equally apparent that Dodd needs people like Quell to give meaning to his cause. Quell is an erratic drunk while Dodd plays opposite the pendulum as a confident spiritual director. The other confusing thing is that we are never quite sure whether Dodd himself believes the spiritual gibberish he is spewing or whether Quell believes it. At first it appears so, but after Quell leaves the group and we experience Dodd having an outburst at one of his followers for wanting to learn more, we are not quite sure who believes anything.

 

Though the film alludes to scientology and cultish behavior, Anderson seems indifferent to either debunking or proving any sort of religious or cultish behavior. There are some wonderful moments that show how cults function—the charismatic leadership of Dodd, Quells desire to belong to the group, and the certain amount of manipulation and guilt tripping for not giving enough to the group—but as soon as we think this is a film about a cult, it becomes a film not about cults at all.

 

Interesting note: There is a lot of nudity and I’m not sure what that’s about either.

 

Another interesting thing: there is no concrete setting. The time is Post World War II, but the members of the cause bounce around from city to city never staying in one place. There are mentions of New York and London, but it is another way in which Anderson seems to take out the ground beneath our feet. For as dark and morally muddled as There Will Be Blood was, there was a concrete setting and a concrete conflict between the two main characters that grounded us into the film. The Master ends as elusive as it begins.

 

The directing, writing, camera work, and acting top any other film of the year, yet the film is undoubtedly the most inaccessible of the year. Either Anderson’s film is supposed to be vague and indecipherable, or he one of those people who knows what it means and likes to laugh as we all try and write reviews about it.

 

So, don’t see the film as a fun date night, rather you are going to have to approach it like some novel by Albert Camus.

 

An Open Letter To Whoever Controls the Traffic Lights in Salt Lake City

 

 

Dear Whoever is in Control of the Traffic Lights in Salt Lake City,

 

I would like to write to you today commending your superb system of traffic lights. Not only do lights turn red for no reason, they also stay red long enough for me to finish reading The Brothers Karamazov. I’m sure this seemingly random system of lights annoys many people, but I say bravo! You are a pioneer in helping people all across the downtown metropolitan area stop and smell the roses. Quite literally, they have enough time at a stoplight to waltz out of their car to the nearest rose bush, take a good couple wafts, and stroll back to their vehicle in an unhurried manner.

 

Sure, it takes fifteen minutes to go ten blocks, but you have at least five stoplights in those ten blocks where you can see the sights, breathe that polluted Kennecott air, and finish your Cuban cigar.  

 

Yes, I’m sure people call and complain about the light on South Temple between 200 West and West Temple, the one at the TRAX stop that will turn red and flash a walk sign, though the TRAX station itself is more deserted than that apocalyptic wasteland in that movie The Road, but I say, stop complaining people! Think of how much time you have to finish that novel you’ve been kicking around in your head.

 By the time you go through this stoplight on South Temple, the light on either West Temple or 200 West will have most definitely turned red so you have enough time on this block to take a five minute nap. Thank you Salt Lake City for keeping the lights red long enough for us to take naps!

 

I also very much appreciate the lack of sensors on traffic lights when it is late at night (although, to be fair there seems to be a complete lack of sensors on your traffic lights in general, oblivious to the time of day). What a fabulous time to roll down the windows and soak up the night air.

 

I’m sure the way in which lights alternate from green to red, never remaining on green for a continuous amount of time, also frustrates a majority of the citizenry, but I extol your use of traffic lights in this great city and offer up to you great accolades for the ways in which you keep us guessing! Who knows why a city’s traffic lights are set up so? What a great mystery you have invited us into! This enigmatic system of lights can only be the result of a truly genius traffic controller with a fetish for slow sightseeing trips or else the work of a mentally handicapped adult from somewhere in Iowa. If the latter is the case I commend you again for your hiring of the disabled. Salt Lake City, you become more and more like Wal-mart everyday. Bravo!

 

Don’t let anyone tell you you’re not doing a great job. Your traffic light system is truly one of the new Seven Freaking Wonders of the World.

 

A Truly Grateful Citizen,

Sincerely,

 

Levi Rogers

Why Movies Suck (Or, Why Specific Narrative Structures of the Classic Hollywood Style and/or the Idea of Story, Capital S, Have Captured, Misled, and Abandoned Us, Vis-à-Vis Their Inherent Yet Unconscious Effect On Our Lives).

This fall, in the opening minutes of The Mindy Project, Mindy Kaling’s character (also named Mindy) explains how she, “grew up watching romantic comedies in my living room while doing homework.” She continues to say that, “In High School Tom Hanks was my first boyfriend.”

So begins the pilot of the show and sets us up for a presumable, yet funny, series of encounters of Mindy trying to find a love and life that is not what she expected or thought it would be. In many ways it is the epitome of a generations lament for the way in which their lives do not match the movies they grew up on.

It is very popular these days to talk about the idea of story—with a capital S, and its effect and relation to our lives. As an English Major I can appreciate the idea of story. However, there can be a considerable discrepancy between the stories we watch and hear and the stories our lives are actually made up of.

In Donald Miller’s latest book (yeah, you’re right, it’s been out awhile), A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, Miller questions the trajectory of his life when some friends want to turn his life into a movie. Miller realizes that his life is not very interesting and therefore wants to spice things up and create a better story for his life. So he decides to climb mountains and bike across the country, and whitewater raft, and so on. So he does all these things and he writes a book about it and encourages you to create a better story for your life.

I am not implying that it is a bad thing to want to leave behind a great legacy or tell a great story with your life, merely that it is unfair to assume the your life needs to resemble a movie. Movies are in fact, unrealistic, two-hour compressions of life. By movies I mean typical Hollywood stories with narrative arcs that include rising action, climax, and resolution, within which most stories stay. The formula is there for a reason—all I’m saying is that life often times does not resolve, and often times it is not epic or grandiose. I used to think that this was a bad thing, when my life was not caught up in some dangerous romance or high-speed car chase, but now I realize life is rarely, if ever, like this. Sure there are moments, but case in point even someone like James Bond is pooping for an extended period of time we never see on camera and sleeping for even longer.

When I was in eighth grade I read a book called Wild At Heart. In this book the author told me I was the William Wallace of my own life. I thought this was very exciting news because I had always loved Scottish accents and kilts. However, soon I realized that my life resembled little to nothing to that of Wallace’s. Mostly, I was in high school trying to pass physics and sexually frustrated.
What often happens is that these stories and movies masquerade as honest representations of life, when in fact they are not. In reality, the most honest T.V. shows are shows like Seinfeld and Louie, shows that do not necessarily evolve or end but simply are. Certain independent films, which are more interested with saying something about life itself than providing a specific resolution, also seem to narrate a more realistic experience of life.

Undoubtedly, with most stories you will need some sort of narrative structure so that your story will not become like some gargled John Cage composition, however, to assume that your life can and should follow a certain narrative structure wherein you hike Machu Picchu and marry someone like Tom Hanks? That to me, seems misleading.

His Favorite Part of the Day Was the End

His favorite part of the day was the end.  When he could pour himself a drink and listen to sad music. “Sad bastard music,” is what his friend Dave called it.

 

The trees make a fast sort of rustle, like fast moving fingers on the pretty side of the piano. The air conditioning: hums like twenty first century noise shadow.

 

His head light and his fingers losing grip, he looks for excuses to go to bed, he finds none in modern day America. Working less hours is obviously out.

 

The breeze on the sides of chimney spires

 

His two-week unshaven jaw, his two button unbuttoned flannel, he can never seem to get it right. The moon is a bow on the back of a black dress.

 

He wants to take it off

unveil the nudity of the universe.