I’ve finally finished Vellum and Ink by Hal Duncan, both books comprise his epic series, The Book of All Hours. I want to take back what I said about Vellum in my pre-review, I totally didn’t see what Duncan was really trying to do, I didn’t see the brilliance. If you think of Vellum and Ink as typical novels, with a plot that goes and then and then and then until a resolution, you’ll miss the point, and you’ll be astonishingly angry from page one on.
The series is very complex, but the basic framework is this: There’s this Book written in the language of creation, the Cant, the language of Gods, Angels, Demons, and any number of Unkin (human beings whose eyes are open a little too wide).
It’s said that the God of Gods asked His Scribe to write a Book that contains the entire story of humanity, The Book of All Hours, not just past to present to future, but rather, countless possible permutations of each. None of it is fiction, everything happens somewhere, somewhen. The Book’s pages are alive, the skin of Angels, the Cant inscribed in Angels’ blood as ink. Yet, otherwise, it looks like any old tome to be carried in some scholar’s satchel. In the Cant, one word equals a thousand written in the languages of humanity. One line, akin to a thousand pages. One page, akin to a thousand books. The Cant is perfection, purity of expression. When the war in Heaven breaks out, the Book, the master edition, is given to humanity by those Angels who take no sides, who don’t want the Book re-written for one side’s gain. The Book is guarded for countless ages, until it vanishes into obscurity. At least, that’s one story of the Book. Remember, time, reality itself, isn’t a straight line.
Vellum is a book of permutations. Duncan tells the story of Inanna, the Goddess of Earth, her descent into the Underworld and ultimate escape by giving her lover, Damuzi, to take her place. He tells the story of Phreedom and her brother, Thomas, two kids, two Unkin, trying to escape being drafted into the War in Heaven. Like Inanna, Phreedom confronts the Queen of Hell, like Damuzi, Thomas doesn’t escape his fate. The stories are different, but not. Duncan writes the Book’s possibles in noir, fantasy, sci-fi, epic poem, dystopian action-adventure erotica, the depth is astonishing.
Ink is a continuation of Vellum, but more focused. Tales of how people tried to change the Book to avoid something awful, only to bring about something worse. Angels trying to finish the war. Those who seek the book, and a way out of reality.
I really don’t want to give anything away, Vellum and Ink are best read fresh. At the end, the connections are there, the overall story exists, but until you get there, it’s best to enjoy each section as its own entity.2 comments
So, I recently read The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell, it’s about the folks who colonized New England in the 1630s. They were a bunch of well-meaning, but often destructive, ultra-religious book nerds. Their book of choice, the Bible. They were mostly Puritans. You work hard, go to church, read your Bible, you go to Heaven, that’s the gist of Puritanism. Some, however, were Calvinists. Calvinists make Puritans look like a bunch of happy-go-lucky, easy going, fey spirits.
Calvinists believed that before you’re even concieved, before your soul even enters your tiny new body, God has already decided whether you’re going to Heaven or to Hell. There’s no finding Jesus and getting saved, death-bed repentance doesn’t mean anything, God had it all figured out and He wouldn’t change His mind. So, why be good and study your Bible more rigorously than any Puritan, why be flawlessly pious if God has possibly already written you in His Going to Hell book? Well, they believed that people who “seemed” like good people, read the Bible, went to church fervently, raised kids to be pious, those people had souls that displayed all the signs of goodness and were PROBABLY scheduled for Heaven. Folks who were lazy, who couldn’t quote the Bible chapter and verse, who stole firewood during a hard winter, they behaved so because they got a Hell-bound soul. So, you ended up with a bunch of uneasy, sometimes terrified religious zealots desperately trying to “look” good.
One woman in town was particularly terrified. She was depressed a lot, didn’t like raising lots of kids, or practically living at church. She didn’t feel “good,” but tried really hard to conform. She was so scared of the not knowing which soul she was given. She couldn’t sleep, was nervous all the time. She asked the church for help, guidance, but the Calvinist Church wasn’t exactly a loving church. She didn’t find any help at church, or anywhere else. She probably suffered from mental illness, probably needed therapy and loving support from family and friends, but in the 1630s, mental illness wasn’t mental illness, it was that you had the Devil in you. You were evil. She felt evil, but wasn’t certain. She wanted to be certain, she wanted to know whether or not she was damned, just so she could finally sleep at night. To that end, she took her youngest child, a baby, and she threw it down a well. That settled things for her, she finally knew what kind of soul God gave her and that she was absolutely, without a single doubt, damned. She actually felt a bizarre peace.
I don’t want to throw any babies down any wells, I actually love babies. Whenever I see a baby out and about, I always end up transfixed, I watch their little hands, their little eyes, searching, learning. I always think about how that baby could grow up to cure cancer, or write some spectacular novel, or hit liquor and heroin really hard and be dead by thirty, or whatever. Babies are possibility, they’re the essence of potential. Not being a Calvinist, I also see that baby’s soul as perfectly clean, I don’t believe in that born sinful stuff, Jesus got screwed over so babies don’t have to worry about that. I always look at some baby and think about how they’re not all fucked up yet, unlike me they’re completely perfect. So, yeah, no killing babies to figure out what kind of soul God gave me.
Still, I’d like some certainty about some things. Where am I going after I die? I say that first, but it’s actually pretty low on my Worry List. I just don’t want to die, I want to avoid the dying. I died once, it didn’t stick, I don’t want to go again. Sometimes I get really dark and want to go vertically open my wrists, but that’s more about not wanting to feel sad than actually wanting to die. It’s also different when dying is this circumstance that’s forced on you. If you’re accidentally drowning in pineapple juice (that’s what killed me) or the hose on your vent breaks while you’re trying to buy a four hundred dollar Tumi bag, the absolute last thing you want to do is die. You beg God not to let you go, you beg to be with one certain person one more time. You’re all, “I’ll be good, really, I promise.” At least, this is how I am.
I worry about the when and how of my dying, mostly the when. I’d really like to know the when, then I could quit worrying about whether or not I have enough time to make up for the bad things I’ve done, enough time to have what I want. and feel happy. I worry I’m going to go out like Kurt and Elliott, sad and fucked up. I don’t want my story to end that way, the way it is right now.
That’s what I worry about most, running out of time, I’m constantly aware of time. I feel time, like it’s something tangible, rushing over my skin. I feel this constant sense of urgency, especially now, because I know I’m not where I want to be, and I know I’m one breath closer to to not breathing with every breath I take. I wonder if I have enough time to find my way to someplace bright. I’d like to know because living with the mindset that every day could be my last day is actually really exhausting.
I wonder how many of those Tony Robbins, motivational, “Live like there’s no tomorrow” types, I wonder how many of them actually walk that talk. Living like that, really believing the words, it’s not easy to carry. When you want something, you want it like there’s a gun to your head, like, at any second that trigger could get pulled and you won’t ever get to that kiss, that I love you, that waking up somewhere beautiful until you quit waking up. People don’t understand why spending time together is so important to you, because your clock feels so much faster than theirs. For other people there’s always tomorrow for walking under stars or curling up in bed to watch some movie about a talking fox, and to you, both experiences are more important than winning a million dollars. Loss hurts more because you don’t believe that chances are unlimited, in your head, chances are like a pack of used bar matches, you only get so many lights. Sometimes it all get so heavy that you look for ways to stop thinking, to stop wanting, just for a few hours. Liquor bottles and drug needles do that trick, but they’re exactly that, a trick. They just make it so the clock disappears behind a curtain, but just like any magician’s assistant, the clock always comes back.
Once you actually know about these things, once you stop seeing the end of your time as some kind of fiction, well, there’s no not knowing them. A bunch of Nirvana songs end up making perfect sense. Like that Calvinist woman, lack of certainty makes peace hard to find. Such is true in my experience anyhow, but like I said, I’ll never toss a baby down a well for answers to questions that’ll probably come when I don’t answers anymore.5 comments
I started writing about tattoo #53 at like, 7 AM, after a really bad dream. As I got to the sentence about dying, the power went out. Certain alarms didn’t work right, it was scary. I was scared. I used to be just scared of dying, dying and going to Hell. I’m still scared of that, I’ll never not be, but I’ve just become more scared of something else. I’m really much more scared of dying and never seeing this one person ever again. That’s the part I talk to God about, everything else is unimportant. At least, not important enough for prayer.1 comment
To me, the song is about how artists practice their craft in spite of criticism, scrutiny, and the pain one feels from being struck by such weapons. People who are passionate about their craft, whether it’s visual art, or music, or writing, they feel a drive to share what they create, to put it out there for anyone to take in. Sharing such creation opens one up to not only praise, but also harsh words and deep criticism. It can be painful for one to have what they create knocked and dismissed, spoken badly of, but that drive to create and share outweighs any feelings of pain that come from practicing one’s craft with absolute honesty. Creation for the sake of creation, whether anyone likes it or not. Alanis writes songs that make people uncomfortable, some just flat out don’t like her, and that dislike hurts, but she simply can’t not write those songs. She can’t not be herself and create with complete honesty.
Whenever I write about depression, or suicide, or sex, or derision toward God, fictionally or otherwise, it is likely to upset someone (especially people close to me). Honesty in writing, particularly when it comes to personal subjects, isn’t always welcome, but this is what I do and I can’t not do it. No matter how much I hate any personal fallout the things I write can cause, this is my craft and I can’t not practice it.
Really, I have something deep inside me, something that pushes me to do things no matter what. I can’t not do things like, tell a woman how completely I love her, even though she might not love me back, or look into her eyes and tell her how much I want to kiss her, to take off all her clothes for the first time. I can’t not travel and experience things, even though something could go astonishingly wrong with the machines, and hoses, and tubes that keep me breathing. I almost died going to a movie last December, but I can’t not go, and do, and be. I do things because I can’t not.2 comments
Yesterday I got my ninth and most ambitious tattoo. It’s the most ambitious because unlike the other eight, I cannot really hide it. The others are on my arms and legs, two on my torso, all easily hidden by clothes. This new one, this one I cannot easily hide. It’s on the top of my right hand, a big red poppy.
I got it for a few reasons, I’ve definitely wanted it for awhile. The main idea being, I really like opiates, I used to like them far too much. I completely understand why people pick them up and never put them down. In many ways they’re beautiful, they help you feel absolutely fucking perfect no matter how astonishingly bad reality gets. I don’t care what anybody says, sometimes you need that feeling of safety, that peace. When the entire world goes dark, a little light helps. Back when I was really sick and really terrified, really alone, when everything I ever feared happened all at once, opiates were like a nice warm blanket, a kiss from Sara, a hug from God. I don’t at all regret or apologize for taking that comfort. Try living that nightmare and tell me I did the wrong thing. However, after some time, you have to stop hiding and face the darkness. Eventually, that thing that is so beautiful will hurt you.
This tattoo, a tattoo I cannot easily hide, is beautiful, but after not too long it definitely hurt me.5 comments
Well, it was a little harrowing, but we are up and running under WordPress 2.6! I’m really glad I backed up my old install because I screwed something up on my first two upgrade attempts. Had I lost this blog, I’d have walked off my roof, which would actually have been the most amazing suicide of all time…
The Father: Wait. What happened?
Jesus: Yeah, no shit, he walked off his roof.
The Father: Wait… What?
Jesus: He. walked. off. his. roof.
The Father: You’re shitting me.
Jesus: No, Father, I’m not shitting you. He definitely walked, off his roof.
The Father: Really?
Jesus: Sigh…2 comments
So, it’s been kind of an odd experience being social post-trache. Honestly, at the beginning the entire prospect of making new friends and keeping old ones seemed really difficult. At 27, I was pretty used to talking. I always used to be fairly socially self-conscious, internally far more than outwardly. I’d run everything by my little internal censor thirty times, then he’d run it by a committee of nuns, then if everything passed I’d say it. I also had this problem with my jaw getting tight, which definitely made me feel awkward sometimes. Still, I was talking, which seemed better than not talking. However, when life goes really insane, you either adapt or break. I’m adapting more than breaking. Though, I’ve broken enough too.
Well, Tuesday, I decided I’d go meet an old high school friend for drinks at Starbucks, we started talking again through the magic of Facebook. Lately I’m oddly compelled to catch up with people I knew back then, though it’s a little hard to explain why. Like I said, I was pretty reserved back then, and I had a great deal of social and general anxiety that kept me from doing a lot. Today, however, I’m not afraid anything that used to scare me, I’m sure as Hell not afraid to talk to people. I suppose almost dying a bunch of times, a little drug addiction, some hard drinking and a lot of brilliant sex changes a fellow’s perspective. I guess I want people to know I’m not that quiet kid who got lots of A’s, but didn’t really talk to people. At any rate, I invited Priscilla for coffee, which ended up being steamed chocolate soy and tea.
So, I start off by making a few spectacular decisions. I pick the busiest Starbucks in the area at 5 PM, a time during which it’s guaranteed to rain torrentially. We pull into the parking lot and on cue, the sky promptly opens up and rain begins to fall. Flashes of lightning result in instant and astonishingly loud claps of thunder. It’s probably like what Noah saw right before things went really wrong. So, my assistant, Sarah (with an H), and I get fairly damp hoofing it inside. Since I haven’t seen Priscilla in over half a decade, I decide to go all out and bring along my travel computer and my switch in order to converse via the wonders of technology. The thing is, I don’t actually take my computer out much socially. It’s a lot to carry, I can’t move around and use it, and if my hand isn’t warm enough I can’t use my switch, which makes the computer useless anyway. Taking a computer and feeling the need to take a computer everywhere is a struggle for me. I find that if who I’m with is willing to talk via the alphabet, I have a much more relaxed time. It’s nice to be able to take a break from typing, from being tethered to so much technology. It’s nice to just go somewhere and not worry about having to use my switch, not having to worry about my hand being too cold to type anything. Really, I don’t like the idea that without a computer I’m completely fucked, it’s unsettling having to totally rely on technology just to have a conversation or to say that I can’t breathe. Going out and having a good time, feeling safe without a computer is truly freeing. I learned that from my Sara. We can go anywhere, have spectacular conversations and not be tied to technology. Still, using the alphabet is different for everyone. Some people still can’t get used to it, the potential slowness, the initial awkwardness. Intellectually, I understand it, but it’s discouraging sometimes. I can’t talk to my brother when we go out, he still can’t get used to my third language. Thus, my plan was to sit outside, away from the air conditioning, to chat digitally with Priscilla.
Of course, with the torrential downpour, we’re inside. It’s ice-cold because of a state law that demands all Florida buildings to be hyper air-conditioned from April to October and we’re relegated to one tiny table because nobody wants to sit in the rain, but nobody wants to go home either. Also, I’m rather damp, making my hand extra cold. The computer is useless. Now, some months ago, I would have been pretty mortified. I’d have assumed that Priscilla would be bored and hate me. I’d have wished I’d stayed home. Fortunately, that me died, probably after the last trache change. Seriously, sitting there in the freezing cold Starbucks, the lights flickering after cracks of lightning, all I’m thinking is, “Holy Christ, this is going to be fun to write.”
Priscilla arrives and Sarah explains that my hand is really cold, so I can’t use the computer, but we can still talk using the alphabet. Unlike many, Priscilla catches on quickly. She takes over of my fancy pen, and my little notebook, we don’t have to translate through Sarah. I should explain, talking with the alphabet involves a person saying each letter of the alphabet and me signaling with my eyebrows when to stop at a particular letter. Then, each letter gets written down in a notebook. I have a ridiculously decadent forty-five dollar pen, because if I have to do something so absurd, I should have a really nice pen. It ends up, at least from my perspective, being a really nice evening. I want to tell her, “it’s Diving Bell, the Interactive Experience!” But I don’t. It’s a lot of letters and I’m not certain she’s even seen The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. It’s a joke I let slip. Interestingly, we end up meeting a woman who saw me on TAL and was quite “inspired” by me, convinced that I’d be really excited about “accessible playgrounds,” and a professor from my stint in design school. He was absolutely certain I’d done a spectacular project on jazz in the roaring 20s and I totally said I remembered, but the closest I’ve ever come to the roaring 20s is dressing as a zombie flapper for Halloween. Still, it’s much easier to let him remember my project.
I had a good time, I’m pretty sure Priscilla had some fun, and I definitely got something to write.6 comments
So, it’s been an odd week, capped off by the death of one of my more important external hard drives. Granted, it’s a drive that potentially had me Hell-bound, but I miss it just the same. One might wonder how a hard drive could hold sway over my immortal soul. Well, back when I was in the hospital, becoming what I became, I was talking to God a lot. He’s not much of a conversationalist, but He’s the easiest to talk to when one can’t talk. So, I was quite desperate not to die and I figured God was a good way to prevent it.
I’m not religious, but I’m also not one who only believes in God sometimes. No, I believe in God all the time. I believe that God is constantly watching and looking for reasons to take me downtown to Chinatown. Our relationship is a little dysfunctional. On the one hand, I totally believe that He has watched out for me on many occasions. I mean, my heart stopped last year, by rights it shouldn’t be beating right now, but it is. The odds were incredibly against me, but here I am. I chalk that up to God. Yet, at the same time, I totally believe that I do things to earn His wrath and wrath I get. For some reason, He always seems to make sure I ultimately end up okay. No, I don’t blame God for every single problem I ever had, but I don’t cross him off the list of usual suspects either.
Anyway, back to the hospital and the hard drive. During one of my talks with God, grasping at straws, I told Him I’d never rip another DVD I didn’t own or download any kind of entertainment I could legally buy. I got rid of everything I had at the time. God was Martin Blank with a gun to my face and I was the guy in bed saying, “whatever it is I’m doing that you don’t like, I’ll stop doing it.” I just didn’t want God to pull that trigger. Well, of course, a year and a half and hundreds of torrent files later, I had over 200 GB worth of movies and tv shows completely contradicting every promise I made. I lost all of it Thursday night. Hopefully, I won’t end up going to Hell.No comments