Pushing Pebbles, Sweating Time

The Fire Is So Delightful

The romance of our bedroom fireplace is sometimes compromised by the fact that we exclusively burn waste paper in it.

There is not so much homely crackling as serpentine hissing. Wax runs off the crumpled labels for granola bars, an additive in the purple ink of some cartoon character turning the flames briefly green. Things fizzle and flare as the fire infects one kind of packaging from the writhing, glowing remains of another.

It is the pre-folded hexagon of life.

I wiggle my toes in the heat, the bedroom lifted out of darkness as the French side of a pizza box lights up from corner to corner, steam hissing out of the strings of dried cheese. The dazzle reveals an empty tube of spicy pepperoni sticks, and I take a moment to fondly remember eating them.

Pizza box spent, the fireplace becomes darker again. Crawling lines of orange filigree outline heaps of refuse. The embers whisper, gossip and groan. I know it will only be a moment before something new ignites within one of them, and indeed there is only the briefest warning before a drinking box explodes, releasing a bloom of white ash and sprinkles of hot grape juice. I jump, but my wife does not wake up.

The fire burns lower.

As we go through consumer goods throughout the days it is my responsibility to detrash the items and sort the refuse -- organic offerings for Madame Trash Heap, plastics, glass and metal for recycling, cardboard and paper for heat. I fold and stuff the burnable bits into dense bricks -- a Cheerios box packed tight with confidential files slated for destruction, for instance, or a crayon box infused solidly with crumpled gum wrappers and non-tax deductible receipts...

The last embers fade and the bedroom becomes colder. I hunker beneath the covers, and swear that tomorrow I will eat more food so that our fire can last longer.


There is always somebody staying at the schoolhouse.

A friend is sleeping on the pullout couch. He sleeps only fitfully because his marriage is wrecked. His wife is losing a battle against booze.

His mother-in-law fought a similar battle twenty-five years ago, and is convinced she won. She is elephantine and surly, jealous and hysterical, reactionary and vitriolic. "I haven't had a drink in decades!" she croons proudly, her face etched with a permanent frown. "I'm all better now."

She is dead set against any insights into her daughter's issues which penetrate any deeper than a genetic propensity for a strange relationship with alcohol. The causes are not manifold, deep-seated or pervasive. Therapy is only required insofar as it will help her not drink. It has nothing to do with her childhood. It is an issue utterly separate from her panic attacks or Ativan addiction. Her threats to messily undo herself are also an unrelated province of her emotional life, and likely speak more to some sort of unreasonableness on her husband's part than any more serious problem.

My theory: she is jealous of the possibility of her daughter making a fuller recovery than she herself had been capable of.

Quoth the "Recovered" Alcoholic: "My daughter's alcoholism and related insanely destructive basis are entirely the fault of her husband, because he's unemployed and it causes her stress."

Right. My friend has been unemployed for three months (all shared expenses paid for in cash by him before leaving his old job, a new job secured this week), and his wife's had a head-spinning substance abuse problem for her whole life.

"He hasn't supported her through her tough times!"

My friend looks like a zombie. He's been trying to track down his wife who had been missing for the better part of a week, loose on a freewheeling, pill-popping maniacal bender, patiently sifting through screaming telephone messages about suicide and imaginary daemons. "Please," he says, "just come home. Nobody's mad at you. Just come home and everything will be okay."

"Okay," she promises. But she doesn't.

Today she's supposed to check in to the in-patient programme at CAMH. My friend is being stalked via voicemail by his mother-in-law who believes my friend can be motivated to do her bidding by threatening to file bogus charges with the police alleging abuse. She knows this is wrong, but believes that any action is justified when the ends are laudable enough. My friend must deal with the situation as she instructs, or spend the night in jail. Her contributions are uniformly not constructive. The mother-in-law cannot do anything but give voice to the anxiety and horror she feels, to cast spite in any direction regardless of the consequences, to strike out blindly and repeatedly, utterly unconcerned by the collateral damage of her tantrums. Something terrible is going on, and she is making it worse.

Reminds me of Old Oak.

I am baffled and enraged by adult human beings who comport themselves like infants when the chips are down. I find it difficult to master the urge not to cut them down where they stand -- blights are they are to the community, their own lives, and the lives of their loved ones. These people lack the ability to step back far enough to catch a glimpse of rationality. They lack the perspective to understand the effects of their own behavior on others, and on the situation. They are utterly careless and indifferent, once something deep inside them is threatened. All else fades.

Imagine it: a grown woman facilitates her daughter's destructive addictions because excusing them is easier than confronting her own daemons, buried these twenty-five years. She watches the lives of two people get shattered, smug that her point of vulnerability is cloaked. She thinks she's a hero, but she's a monster.

People so damaged should be sterilized at puberty. Let Jesus sort out who deserves forgiveness.

I feel sick, sick, sick down to my soul.

Sent Mail (0 unread)

Our village is small. The old schoolhouse we live in is right next-door to the General Store, the Bait Shop and the Hairdressers -- our thriving downtown core. I balance a box of packages on my shoulder and frown as an old man hurries into the store so he won't have to hold the door open for me. Nice.

"More books?" asks the pretty Korean girl behind the post office counter, looking up from the comp copy of Simon of Space I gave her yesterday.


I put the packages down on the counter and we begin sorting them. "Is this pile all for Australia?"

"There's one for Singapore in there, too."

Addresses are copied out onto customs forms, packages stamped, tallied, stacked behind the counter. "It's a pretty good book," she tells me. "It's funny."

"That's nice of you to say."

"You know V. at the hairdressers? She's a writer, too. Just finished her third book." She giggles. "I guess there are a lot of talented people around here. Well, some, anyway."

I consider the tired-looking woman loitering in front of the hairdressers with a smoke hanging out of her mouth. "Um," I agree. I wonder what her books are about. Romance? Finance? Pseudo-science? Lap dogs? Barbicide?

She's a sweet girl. She undercharges me on the single-book packages, because she knows I'm already being reamed by the shipping costs. It will take $8 to send the book anywhere in the continental United States, which is only a minor tragedy as I charged the Americans $7 each. Books bound for Britain and Oceania have a sharper sting, but I'm prepared to swallow it. It's my mistake, after all. Seller beware.

Four percent of the readers who requested signed editions cancelled their orders when they found out how much it would cost. I am not disappointed. Four percent is not a bad. What did stick in my craw a bit were the two individuals who sent me back rather terse e-mails, suggesting that $7 for shipping was highway robbery and that no non-hardcover publication could ever be worth $18.

You know what that is? Wal-Martism.

These people reason that if a global supercorporation can ship products for $2 and sell 400-page books for $8, anyone who cannot match these efficiencies of scale is a bandit.

And who is to say they're wrong? The market says they're right. The economy as it is accessible through front page headlines unswervingly supports any consensus reached via consumption. If there's somebody out there offering widgets for $1 a pop, widgets are worth $1 a pop. How or why they can afford to make such an offer is not terribly relevant to my neighbours.

(Everybody shops at The Home Depot now, except for the guy who owned the hardware store they bought out. He sits at home and drinks.)

I raise this as a point of interest. I never expected to get rich off self-publishing. But I find it curious the few who would chastise me. The enemy of self-publishing is not the traditional publishing industry -- it's consumers who have learned too well to valuate wares on the basis of opportunism alone.

Like I said, four percent is pretty low. I'm not complaining. Some of them just had funny reasons for justifying their cancellations, is all.

One guy had a fine reason. He wrote, "If I spend that much money my wife will kick my ass." I told him not to worry about it. He could always catch the second edition at Barnes & Noble, doubtlessly cheaper.

(It is true that information wants to be free, but then again so do I. Fuck you, information! Why should you get all the breaks?)

I'm having so much fun.

One Of Us...One Of Us

If everything goes according to the story arc I've been busy building, I will be working a full-time job in the new year. (It is not a sure-thing, but a likely-thing.) I have mixed feelings about this victory.

Whatever will I wear?

Also, I have no long-term means of transport to and from this possible-job and it is not accessible by public transit. Kicking my pregnant wife out of bed on winter mornings to drive me in may be funny for a while, but I can't see it really being sustainable once the second kid hatches. Stranding my wife and children without the use of a car all day is not an option. There are no car-pools I can join. And as I understand it, teleportation technology remains in its infancy.

There is some issue with the soul crushing terror of having my time even more compromised than it is now. I'm trying to process this imminent fact in as positive a way as I can. I will have to macgyver ways to write in every nook and crack. I will have to bring my laptop with me when I move my bowels, so as not to waste valuable moments when my attention belongs to me. There is bound to be some turmoil at home as we struggle to find new routines amid employment and a newborn. God help us if there's colic.

And, like I said, I'll be needing a few new pairs of slacks.

If I Had A Million Dollars

I'd pay off the mortgage; establish funds to cover all property taxes; convert the schoolhouse to a wind/solar power hybrid and get off the grid; buy a bar for my wife; hire a nanny; hire a maid; hire a secretary; have an electric car driven by an electric chauffeur; give each of my siblings $10,000; give each of my parents $100,000; call up anybody who's ever been snooty to me or my family and invite them to snarf my oubliette; quietly arrange the culling of at least two destructive human beings; get a decent stereo system, fill it with music, and then sit down at my crappy old desk and write a dozen novels in a row.


Sith Snoopy said...

I don't know what the weather is like, but maybe a vehicle solution is to get a scooter or a motorcycle.
Then your wife can use the car, and you can ride to work.

Sorry about the insanity going on for your friend and his wife and mother-in-law. Yuck.

And I for one do not feel like I paid too much for your book. If I'd known about your shipping costs, I would have requested that you charge me more!

Hang in there, Sweetie. Your literary career is taking off. :)

Hope you and your wife and children are doing well. :) Congrats on the upcoming addition to your family. :)

-NinjaVANISH said...

Cheeseburger Brown, whatever you do, don't stop writing. I know people probably slam that down your craw a dozen times a day, but if you can charm a Yank like myself, who has never met nor heard of you, into continually checking in on your blog and most of your fiction like a hungry lit-addict coming back for more, then you've gotta have something going. But that's just one more person's opinion. Now, if you'll excuse me, I must go to McWalmart and purchase some Nike shoes whilst listening to my I-Pod playing the new hit rap song "Going to Rape You, Bitchez." See ya.

Sith Snoopy said...

What he said. :)

Re-reading Simon on dead tree.

Have given a dead tree copy to a friend.

Another friend about to receive one as well. :)

Your fame is spreading...

Jay said...

Wow, there's just so much here I hardly know what to comment on now, but that was an interesting read, and I'd like to read more.

Teddy said...

Heya there, been a while since i read your blog. you write incredibly well. i like the million dollars thing. as far as your friend's mother-in-law goes, my dad (as all dads do) had a number of sayings, my favorite of which was "everybody was put here to teach me something, and most are here to teach me patience". people like that happen, and it is unfortunate, but if you smile and nod they'll eventually burn out. good luck with the new job, hope you get transportation. lord only knows i'd like some. jetpack, personal teleportation device, heck, even a gas powered scooter.

being as how i already read SoS online, i'm going to wait a while for my memory to start kicking details before i cover-to-cover it again. it's still fun to flip through, though. nostalgia and suchwhatnot. keep writing, though, it's what you're good at.


word veri for old time's sake: ocuiby. pronounced OH-kwib-bee. new word, means that sort of happy-go-lucky, trusting like a little child kind of person. "he really reads people quickly, very ocuiby."