To Reach The Green Light At The End Of The Pier
Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Eleanor opens her fortune cookie. You know the routine. Break the cookie in two while still inside the plastic, then gently pull out one half of the cookie before reading the fortune, eat that half of the cookie, read the fortune, then eat the second half of the cookie to complete the deal. Good fortune or bad fortune, once you break the cookie, you make the commitment. There's no turning back. It's like a contract.
Eleanor's fortune for this, the final day of 2008, is: "Others take notice of your radiance. Share your happiness." Lucky numbers 8, 20, 22, 42, 45, 48
I want to start a new place, Eleanor tells her Biographer. Not a new world, she clarifies. Not a new home either. A place -- where anybody is welcome, but nobody's allowed unless they know why.
Eleanor's Biographer writes none of this down. He's already drinking some of the cheap (inexpensive) Champagne he's saved for later. Later can be now. Later can be any time from this moment forward. He is thinking this, almost as an apology or an excuse, but he doesn't say a word of it to Eleanor.
A new place, is what he says, quietly, after a couple of sips. This is the California Champagne. The fake "American Champagne." The label looks elegant. "Cook's Grand Reserve." Each bottle of Grand Reserve has a nip of brandy to give it that delicate aftertaste. Check out the website for yourself. It used to say so right on the bottle, couple of years back. The brandy part. Now Cook's keeps it off the label. Eleanor's Biographer finds this curious, but it doesn't really matter.
A new place, he repeats. Tell me about this new place.
Oh, don't worry, she says. It wouldn't mean the end of The Little Room or The Spirit House or anything I already have, she continues in a quick rush of words.
It would be a kind of -- silence, she says.
Silence, her Biographer says. (An echo, and not a question, not a statement -- just the word, back at her, but softly, like a word floating on a feather.)
This is why anybody can visit, Eleanor says. Because if there's silence, nobody is going to bother anybody else. Nobody is going to say anything rude. Nobody is going to break anyone's heart. Nobody is going to speak about regrets, or make promises they can't keep. No one will need to justify anything.
So -- when will you go to your new place? her Biographer asks.
Soon, she says. When it's ready. When it's finished.
Someone is building this place for you?
Not exactly, Eleanor says. It sort of -- it kind of builds itself. You think about it first, and you think long and hard about it -- for a really long time, and then, after a while, it's finished building itself, and you can go. You know when it's time. And then after that, you can go whenever you want.
What about the other people -- are these friends of yours?
If you mean, are these made-up characters like me, maybe some of them are, she says, but it's open to anybody who knows why.
Her Biographer puts down his glass. It's nearly empty anyway. He looks at Eleanor, the kind of look he gives her when he knows that she's saying something terribly important and yet, he doesn't quite understand how to interpret it, let alone put this down on paper, into her story.
He looks at her, and he says, Knows why -- what does why mean?
Eleanor has folded her fortune in half. Are you sharing in my happiness, she says? Do you notice my radiance? This is a paint-by-numbers fortune. It's so paint-by-numbers that it's funny, don't you think?
Eleanor opens the fortune to read it once more. She looks up. She looks with a vacancy. Not a vacant stare -- that would be different, entirely different. No, this is a look of vacancy.
Do you think if people had to be quiet all of the time, when they weren't quiet, they would listen more? she says.
Do you think that if silence was mandatory, but you didn't care because it was all you wanted -- the peace and quiet, you know -- do you think that people -- that people would -- would maybe -- find something -- that's it -- find something? In their heads or their hearts or somewhere.
I want you to make me clean, Eleanor says. I want you to wash everything out of me. I want to start a new place, so that when people or made-up characters -- anybody who means anything to anybody else, even just to themselves -- go there -- when they go there, to this new place, when I go to this new place, I can listen without being afraid. And I don't have to worry about talking either. I don't have to be anything except quiet, completely quiet -- silent.
You know, Eleanor says to her Biographer, once people find out about my new place, there's not going to be enough room for everybody. We're going to have to build more new places, until there are new places as far as the eye can see. And then maybe it will be like a new world, maybe.
Eleanor smiles. I am happy. I am radiant. This is the perfect fortune, she says. Sometimes paint-by-numbers is okay, I guess. As long as you know why.
She looks again to her Biographer and says, What do you think?
Friday, December 26, 2008
eleanor, third person, lower case love
the tear was halfway down her face before she noticed it. she did not expect to be weeping. with her right hand she touched the moisture, and then began to swat at it, as she would a swat fly or a mosquito. she did not let up either. when the swat turned into a slap she began to feel better, or at least feel something, you know? there were no more tears. she was slapping dry skin before she noticed it. the dry skin, that is. she was numb before she could feel anything at all, and then, when she was numb, she looked up. she looked at everyone watching her, that is. she was a one-person show. this was her stage. it was a lower case stage. everyone was tall, standing up tall, that is, and at least five feet away from her, but close enough, that is, that she could pick out their faces in the crowd. don't you see me here? don't you want to help me? don't you want to put your arms around me and hold me and make sure I don't start weeping again? aren't you afraid that I might hurt myself? she closed her eyes and closed them hard. they -- everyone watching, that is -- applauded. so she felt loved, as much as she felt distance, as much as she could understand what numbness is, and how careful you must be with it, that is, being numb that is, how careful you must be, how very very careful you must be, you know? you might prick yourself, accidentally of course, and draw blood, and never know that you're bleeding. you might do that. you might even think that it's the right thing to do, after the fact, after it's over, that is. you are just one more small person leading one more extraordinary life. lower case love is the best kind of love, in times like these.
Thursday, December 25, 2008
Eleanor remarks: "Sometimes I am thinking that the only place I can go not to be alone is a place where there is nothing but NOTHING around me. Like total aloneness. I could be a nomad, a traveler, a gypsy. But I would never have to feel alone again. Ever."
She takes a step between the shadows, reveals herself like a frame from a silent movie.
She mouths a few words.
The card on the screen would read: "Eleanor makes three wishes." The card on the screen has nothing to do with what she has just said -- or rather, mouthed.
She steps again, between the shadows. Frame by frame, she exposes herself. Frame by frame she feels -- what do you feel, Eleanor?
"I feel in control," Eleanor says.
The card on the screen would read:
"Eleanor makes her first wish."
The card on the screen gets it wrong every time.
"This is what I can hear, where I live. Almost all day, at least from 6 in the morning until perhaps 11 or 12 in the evening, I hear the planes flying overhead, one right after the other. Then, when the planes finally stop flying for the day, that's when I can hear the trains -- it's either very late or very early, depending on what you consider your day as, and whether or not you consider yourself getting ready for sleep or just waking up. Inside The Spirit House, inside The Little Room, there's no need for sleep -- we're all made-up characters, you have to remember, in this story or in the next story or the one after that -- so it's never really early, and it's never really late. The time is always now. The time is always -- this very moment, and that for me, is everything I need to know."
-- Eleanor Spain
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
Eleanor has decided to adopt the Seven Principles of the Samurai, as we head toward the final 70 or so postings on this scroll.
1. Honesty & Justice
2. Polite Courtesy
3. Heroic Courage
4. Honor ("You cannot hide from yourself.")
6. Complete Sincerity ("Speaking and doing are the same action.")
7. Duty & Loyalty ("To those he is responsible for, he remains fiercely true.")
Eleanor tells her Biographer: "Our duty is to my story -- to our story."
"It has become our story, yes," her Biographer remarks.
"Then this should not be a problem," Eleanor says. "This is the new beginning. This is the beginning that matters. This is the only beginning that matters, and that it comes so near the end, that makes little difference at all."
And so we begin Act Three, the final part of this journey.
Monday, December 22, 2008
Eleanor insists that because we have written so much recently about spoons, we must move on to other tableware. So, in honor of cups, she has uncovered this insightful commentary.
"We are cups, constantly and quietly being filled. The trick is, knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out."
-- Ray Bradbury
Sunday, December 21, 2008
Saturday, December 20, 2008
BACKGROUND: The story, (and novel excerpt) "Spoons," below, was originally published on this scroll on May 27, 2008. Since that time, we've been introduced to a terrific new song by Shelley Short, entitled "A Canoe." (Thank You to our good friend Rebecca Knaur for sharing this with us.) "A Canoe" and "Spoons" seem to be kindred spirits, in different genres. Listen to the song first, or read the story first, doesn't matter which -- Eleanor says she hopes you enjoy both. -- Geoff
a novel by Geoff Schutt
("Spoons" was originally published in The Wastelands Review 1993, in a slightly different version.)
You can find your friends in inanimate objects, like spoons, for example. For example, you tell a spoon a story and it keeps it quiet. For example, you tell a spoon anything you want and it will be patient with you and it will never change because a spoon is a spoon.
There are friendship spoons. You give one to your best friend, and your best friend gives you one back. The spoon isn’t inanimate anymore because it holds your deepest, truest friendship, the kind of friendship you would do anything for. Sometimes you might even think you love your friend more than your parents, because who really understands you? Who can you really talk to? Who can you tell your secrets to, and not be afraid your secrets will be stolen and shared with the whole wide world?
You can tell a spoon anything. A spoon doesn’t get angry with you. A spoon doesn’t grow up and move away. A spoon is always a spoon. It will never let you down.
See, the party food was meant for fingers. The guests were drinking. They would not care for spoons when they got drunk.
Eleanor knew the type of person who would come to a party given by the Spains - you must mention Nina Spain first, because party-going was always her idea, and Jay Spain was just Eleanor's father, Nina's husband. You would never call Nina Jay's wife and get away with it, not around Nina at least. Eleanor listened in to enough telephone calls to know how her mother felt, hearing Nina Spain screaming at somebody trying to sell her something as the wife of Mr. Jay Spain.
Eleanor had to concentrate to keep this going. She collected the spoons from the silverware drawer. She took the sterling silver spoons from the china cabinet and went through the picnic supplies (which were a wedding gift, her father told her) for the plastic spoons.
There were dishes soaking, but after several hours, the water was cold and the soapy bubbles had disappeared. A dirty ring orbited the sink. A pan extended above the water like an iceberg. A cup floated on its side. Eleanor reached into the water for the spoons she might have missed.
Her parents didn't use the little spoons. They used the big spoons for stirring things they cooked in pans on the stove. They used the soup spoons for soup and the medium-sized spoons for eating ice cream, except sometimes her father used a big spoon for ice cream.
Eleanor counted her spoons.
Somewhere out there are spoons that will tell you stories instead of you always telling them. There are spoons for everything. There are Paul Revere's Ride spoons and Apostle spoons and World Series spoons.
Eleanor's mother and father owned seventy-eight bastard spoons.
She imagined herself as a spoon licked dry because her good stuff inside had run out.
She watched a lot of TV, when her parents weren't looking, late at night, when they thought she was asleep. There was one show on for three days straight. She committed it to memory. It was so much a part of her, that the fake talk show host and the fake guests, who were all trying to sell some intestinal cleansing miracle drink, began talking to Eleanor.
She began to ask them questions back. She was so tired, but she had to know the answers. Except, she hated the baby talk they tried to use on her.
"Why do you stare at me?" she said.
"We like you, Eleanor."
"Why do you like me?"
"We envy you. Your beautiful face. Your incredible intellect."
"Well," Eleanor said, "I hate you."
"We're sorry, Eleanor."
"Have you been lying to me?" she asked them.
Spoons are different. You can't kill a spoon, can you? Spoons are survivors, not people.
She went into the den and pick up the telephone and dialed a number, just a number off the top of her head. A man answered. He seemed willing to talk to her, to play along with this wrong number.
“Hello, my name is Eleanor,” she said.
“Where do you live, Eleanor?”
“I live in a castle, way up high in the clouds. I'm a forgotten princess.”
“Who forgot you, Eleanor?”
“A nasty green dragon brought me here. I sat on its wings. I toasted marshmallows over its fiery breath.”
She hung up the phone.
There was assertiveness training on TV. When people at work get you down because they don't listen to you, because you're maybe a little shy, or a lot shy, the end result doesn't change, but you can change. You can meet the challenge straight on.
That morning, Eleanor's mother rehearsed her party stories for her father. Nina Spain made Jay Spain practice his party stories, too. Everything was going to be just like those parties in The Great Gatsby, Nina Spain said. Which made Jay Spain give her a funny glance. Robert Redford was so gorgeous in that film, Nina said, and so Jay smiled. You will always need pictures and movement to go along with the words, won't you? he said sarcastically.
Eleanor was sitting at the breakfast table too, feeling ignored. She watched one parent and then watched the other. They were so alike and so different. It was like their worlds were the same worlds but they each had to be the king. And since they couldn't be king in the other's world, they went back to their own world, which was exactly the same, except for the fact it was all theirs to do with as they pleased.
Eleanor crawled along the floor as if there were a fire and this was the only safe place to be. Then she went outside.
They were living in an apartment then. The Spains had reserved the recreation room for the party, though of course it had already spilled back over into their apartment. Nina had hired decorators. She paid people to tend bar and to serve the party food you had to eat with your fingers, or at most, with a toothpick. There was more preparation for this party than for most wedding receptions. That's what Jay Spain said. But in order for his world not to contradict Nina's world, he had to be like a neutral kingdom, like Switzerland. Be part of it but don't get involved.
Eleanor watched the guests stroll into the party. This is what they did, too, how they moved: strolled. Arm in arm. Very elegant. Everybody's a show-off, Eleanor thought. Everybody needs to be the best. Tell the best stories, the funniest jokes, wear the prettiest dress, talk about the brightest children (but children should be talked about and not seen).
Eleanor smiled because she had her seventy-eight bastard spoons in a paper sack under her arm. The spoons were heavy but she was strong.
She kept track of which cars the party guests drove. She wrote down the license numbers of the neighbors' cars. She had nothing against the neighbors. She didn't even know the neighbors.
She didn't know the party guests either, but the party guests knew her parents, so it was the same difference. The party guests and her parents. They were part of the same crowd.
Eleanor opened the gas tank of the first party guest car and slid in one of the spoons. It was a sugar spoon and went all the way down. She heard a splash when it hit the gasoline.
In four gas tanks, the spoons disappeared completely. In two gas tanks, the spoons wouldn't go in entirely because of their shape, so Eleanor left them half in and half out. She placed the gas tank covers on the pavement, underneath the cars.
When she finished, she began stabbing spoons into the grass next to the parking lot. She filled up a glass jar with gasoline siphoned from one of the tanks. She'd seen it done in a movie. It was easy enough to do. She was surprised by how easy it was to siphon somebody's gas. If people knew how easy it was, and how many gas tanks don't have those locks on the covers, they'd never have to buy their gas again.
She had collected her baby pictures earlier, before the party started, and now she was spreading these out on the grass in between her spoons. It was like a weird game of croquet.
The TV people were back, watching her. They were saying, Who's that on the grass? There's some girl on the grass! (Why didn't they recognize her? Eleanor wondered.)
She was a giant compared to her baby pictures. Eleanor could hear them talking among themselves. What a princess, they said. She must be one lucky girl, they said. She must be very rich and she must have many brothers and sisters, all as beautiful as she is.
Wrong! Eleanor wanted to scream. Wrong!
Her mother disowned her. She's not my little girl, her mother said.
Next she saw her father. Her father said, Those aren't real baby pictures, can't you tell? These are pictures cut from a magazine.
Her mother said, Who could have done this to our grass?
Her father agreed that it was very tragic. Her father said, Why do bad things always happen to good people like us? We're funny and people like us, so why are we so picked on?
She had all of the TV happy endings memorized. And she was going to be the star of this happy ending and her spoons were her friends and their kingdom was the party guests and the fortune, the gold and the jewels, was that she had forgotten to blow up the cars because it really wasn't any of their faults, not the party guests. She was so small, any one of them could have walked right by and not even noticed her.
One of the party guests was leaving early. He unlocked his car. His car had one of the spoons that wouldn't fit all the way in the gas tank. The end of the spoon was a shining star that reflected off the moon as the car weaved down the driveway.
She gathered up the spoons that were left. She pulled them out of the ground one by one, but she left her baby pictures on the grass. Maybe somebody would find her baby pictures, except Eleanor would have to break the news that she wasn't that sweet pretty baby anymore. She'd grown up along the way. Would they want to love her just the same? Or would she be like one of the leftover older girls at the orphanage.
She was inside the apartment. People weren't supposed to be inside the apartment but they were. They were supposed to be in the rec room. This was a party out of control. She had crawled like a commando so no one could see her. She hid under the kitchen table, which was draped with one of those plastic party table covers. She could see the legs of the party guests. The legs were circling the table. It was as if they were fighting a duel. Or dancing a tango without music. Eleanor dared not breathe. She closed her eyes. She could toss on the spoons onto the floor and what would the party guests say?
This is what they would say, Eleanor thought. They would run to her mother and say, You have ghosts or something. The legs would find her and would put her on top of the table. Eleanor was thinking about that old TV show, Love Connection, in reruns on the Game Show Channel. She liked the bad dates best when the guests got nasty and the host, Chuck Woolery, had to change the subject.
Her mother was waving her arms. Don't do this, Eleanor. You don't know what you're doing!
My spoons will protect me, Eleanor said. I watched it on TV, Eleanor said.
And the late-night TV people, if they were there too, they would say, Yes, Eleanor, you are glowing. Your reflection from the spoons is a sight to behold.
She crawled along the wall from the kitchen to the hallway, then to her bedroom. She didn't know why there were all these people inside the apartment anyway, when the rec room was all reserved for their party. People just naturally go where they are not supposed to go.
They will want to go behind every closed door. They will want to peek on her when she is sleeping. She'll sit up quickly and go, Boo!
She was in her own bed now. Where she started from. She had an ashtray on her lap. She struck a match and watched it flicker. Her room lit up like a cave. Just Eleanor and her spoons, spread over her blankets in front of her.
She could smell her mother's perfume.
She heard her father's muffled cough.
But in her cave, even though her matches were all gone, Eleanor felt warm. She'd gone on a mission and returned with hardly a scratch. She was stronger now than when she started. Her parents couldn't keep her from improving herself.
At times like this, Eleanor felt perfect. Her spoons danced for her and told her funny little stories and she could hear her mother and father snoring so loud the walls shook and no one bothered her and her TV show didn't come on for another hour and there was a chocolate cake mix in the cupboard and plenty of fried chicken in the freezer and someday she would take her spoons to Disney World to see Mickey Mouse but for now, she was all her spoons needed.
Friday, December 19, 2008
Eleanor says: There might be people out there who think we are just walking along like we're going fishing or having a picnic or something -- that we're just taking our time and walking toward nowhere in particular, and we pick a place to stop and we start talking and we start thinking about everything we've been through and how our whole life has been a revision, and how trying to figure out when it started might help in making the hurting part stop, because this is really killing us, when we can't keep fighting it, and the pain just rises to the surface and yes -- it may sound like we're talking about nothing in the woods or wherever but what we're talking about is as much life or death as spelling the words out on pieces of paper and folding the pieces up and then dropping them into a hat and giving the hat a little shake and then deciding who's going to choose -- which piece of paper wins, and where to do we go from here, because it's been a long road through all of these many words and pictures and images and whatever, and we try to put on smiles when there aren't any left and we try to pretend that our words mean something to people who don't even care (this does not mean you).
We are trying to say this -- that we are trying to say something, and maybe it's not meant for any ears but our own (can anyone understand that?) but we have to say the first part out loud anyway, where anybody can hear us. That's what makes the rest of it count, you know?
"Bird On The Wire,"
by Leonard Cohen
(on repeat mode)
starring Olive Thomas
Eleanor: Where we started. That's what I'm asking, Do you remember where we started?
Eleanor's Biographer: When you were conceived?
E: Not like that.
E: Where we started? When this all became so important -- to both of us. For both of us.
EB: I don't remember, no.
E: I suppose it doesn't matter much, when -- I mean.
EB: I suppose not.
E: Sometimes, you -- me -- anybody -- I guess we want to know answers to stupid questions that really don't matter.
EB: I didn't say anything about what mattered and what didn't.
E: (Smile.) I guess not.
E: So. Yes.
EB: Are you thinking about how close we got, once?
E: To -- what -- being accepted?
E: Being accepted isn't everything it's made out to be. But I think we both know this much.
Thursday, December 18, 2008
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Eleanor: We are grouping our days into twos now. One for me, and one for my Biographer. Even though we are together in this. Sometimes you just need to begin walking. That's right, wherever you are right now, put on a good pair of walking shoes, and if it's cold out, dress for the weather, and even if it's the dark of night, you need to just walk. Walk in a straight line at first, so you get as far away as possible. So that your old neighborhood looks nothing like the neighborhood you're in now. You just need to keep walking, even if you're frightened.
See that building over there? We used to have neighbors living in that building, but they walked away. I don't know exactly when, but it's been a while. All of them left, but not at once. First it was just a single person, but then they learned it was better to go in twos, and threes, and then more -- groups of them, just walking as far away as they could get.
My Biographer and I are only two.
We need to keep walking.
After a while, we'll turn this way or that, but it will still be away from here, or wherever here was, because we've grown too comfortable here, and my Biographer has to begin to think for himself again, not like I'm thinking, not every thought in my head, but for himself.
When we find a good place to stop, we'll take a picture, and we'll say, this is it. This is where we are.
And my Biographer will say, Eleanor, I am thinking on my own again. And he will thank me for this, no matter how tired he is.
That's the plan, at least.
We are walking.
We need to remember everything I just said.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
This Side of Paradise's Chief Archivist, Jason Archer, completed his regular back-up of just the text -- the words -- on this one long scroll of a page, and to date, after more than 425 entries, we have 489 pages of manuscript.
"Like a novel on one page!" Eleanor says. True, it's been a journey, and will continue to be so.
(As an addendum, these many pages of manuscript are following the creative "process" in the revision of a novel-in-progress, not writing a brand new one. Of course, what's old can become new in such a process.)
We'll keep going until Post No. 500.
In the meanwhile, from all of us at This Side of Paradise, "Thank You" for reading! -- Geoff
Sunday, December 14, 2008
Eleanor's Revelation: After all of this time, and after all of these years, the truth has finally come to me, about who I am and what I represent and what my purpose is. For now, I can tell you what my purpose is, and if you asked me this even 15 minutes ago I would have laughed in your face. But my purpose is to save my Biographer's life. All this time, I thought this was about my Biographer saving me -- writing my story so that I could live, so that I could be somehow eternal, and also, somehow ... human. But that isn't it at all. So when my Biographer writes words like, 'save us,' he is in fact making a declaration. Not a plea, because he is too proud for that. But a declaration, to save him. For both of us yes, but to save him first. I am still working on how he got to this point, and why his need for me is so great -- so profound, I guess you might say. I need to get inside his head even more. He's still feeling sick from his cold, so this is my chance to uncover the parts of the story that I never knew, and would have never known. He would not have told me himself. Never. I'm sure he would have kept this secret. I have purpose! Now I have to find a way. Or rather, to find out why, and then to find out how, if that makes sense to anyone but me. I know I can save him, and then save me at the same time. I just need his thoughts a little longer. I need to know why I became. Because now that I know that I was never just a notion or a random thought, I also understand that I was and am a reason."
Saturday, December 13, 2008
"It is not down in any map; true places never are."
-- Herman Melville
"I want to go to the truest place I can find, and build a castle there," Eleanor says.
for Eleanor's Journey.
For more of Robyn's amazing work
-- her images and her words,
Eleanor: It's weird to me that my Biographer keeps posting these variations on theme of what I'm saying about my life. And I've been reading all of this -- what I've said, I mean, because these are mostly my words, transcribed to this page -- and half of me seems to want a long life with lots of words and paragraphs, and then another part of me wants to condense myself into one long sentence without paragraphs -- maybe a sentence that lasts hundreds of pages, I don't know. So maybe, I'm thinking now, I should try for a short sentence life of me? I know I'm confounding my Biographer, and on top of that, I must admit this, and this is really weird too, I got a cold from one of the other characters in The Spirit House, which I did not think was possible (getting a cold), and I have somehow passed this on to my Biographer, which I also did not think was possible. Unless, of course, I am becoming more human. Can a made-up character pass on a disease to her Biographer? Could I become somehow toxic to him? I always thought he had most of the control, because he does you know -- so it's not really a thought but a fact, that he can wipe me out with one push of a button on the keyboard. Delete me. (And I would just dare him to do that, because then I would find a way to haunt him through all of his other characters!) (I do not think he would ever delete me.) But now I am wondering about this -- that if I can make him physically sick, in a way this is a good thing, right? Because of my evolution? So now I need to make him some tea to drink and clear his head of my thoughts so he can sleep and dream (maybe I'll sneak in that way, through his dreams), and get well again.
He has a lot of work to do, and so do I.
Thursday, December 11, 2008
"If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything."
-- Mark Twain
There are two chairs on the balcony. Eleanor asks her Biographer to sit in one, as she sits in the other. They are not outside to watch the people. They are outside, on the balcony, to watch one another.
I'm trying to remember my whole life in one sentence, Eleanor says.
It's going to be a mighty long sentence -- or maybe not, she says.
If I just focus on what's really, really important, I can fit all of me into that one sentence, she says.
It's going to be a doozy of a sentence, let me tell you, she says.
Her Biographer has his Moleskine notebook on his lap. He has an extra pen, in case one gives out. He's ready to take it down. He's ready to listen.
But Eleanor knows his thoughts.
You're ready to listen, she says. Are you ready to hear?
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
"If the Sun and Moon should ever doubt, they'd immediately go out."
-- William Blake
At 11:37 a.m. (Eastern Time) this Friday, Dec. 12, 2008, we will experience the final Full Moon of calendar year 2008. This December moon is also known as the "Full Cold Moon," according to The Farmers' Almanac.
Eleanor, as many of this page's readers know, gets especially excited around the time of the Full Moon. ("Moondust!" Eleanor exclaims.)
In recognition of the December Full Moon, This Side of Paradise is pleased to welcome our latest guest artist -- one of the best poets currently working online or off, and who certainly deserves wider recognition. barbara k. mackenzie has become a friend both of Eleanor (nicknamed "E" by barbara), and of Eleanor's Biographer (who has no nickname as far as we know).
barbara k. mackenzie was raised in the Midwest and now resides in a small farming community in Northern California along the Pacific Flyway. She says that "she loves life and learning and uses writing as means of self expression."
barbara has two wonderful sites filled with poetry and images. One is designed for adults (Soul Intention), and the other is brand new, working with poetry for children (A Children's Garden). barbara is a magical writer, with a keen eye to the senses and emotions, and This Side of Paradise takes great honor in posting "Luna."
Enjoy the words, and please do live and breathe the experience (the poem here, and above us, this week's moon) -- Geoff
The full moon fell through her bedroom window
She took the unconventional arrival as a sign of a personal gift
The moons rounded face mirrored the roundness of her own face,
its glow like that of her own heart light
The first night she held the moon to her ear and listened
to the waves she created during high tide
“My moon” she said, “my moon.”
She coddled her moon in her arms like a baby,
rocking her back and forth singing a soft lullaby
Sleeping with her moon at night close to her side
covering her roundness; only its crescent exposed
She ran her fingertips gently across her face and her soft light
“My moon,” she said, “my moon.”
One day they came walking through the bedroom door
They said the world is asking for her moon back;
to return home
That without the moon the world
and everyone would soon perish
“My moon,” she cried, “my moon.”
She hid the moon under her bed out of fear
No light could be seen, not from the moon, not from her face
Only she knew where the moon was hidden
After much anguish she pulled the moon out from her confinement
and held her close whispering to her
“My moon,” she said, “my moon.”
Soon she gave the moon to the ones who came
through her bedroom door
Who then gave the moon back to the world who was in such need
They returned to her asking why she gave up her moon
“Moon cry,” she said, “moon cry.”
The worlds balance renewed itself, harmony revisited
The tides flowed in and out, the winds blew, hearts beat to the moons rhythm
The animals remembered the cycles of days and of life
“Good Moon,” she said, “good moon.”
Every night she would run to her bedroom window
She would pull back the curtains to allow the moons rays to filter through
She ran her fingertips across the glass
tracing the round outline of the moons face
“My moon,” she said, “my moon.”
copyright 2008 by bkmackenzie and posted with permission by the author.
Below: Nearly Full Moon, illuminated and distorted by parking lot lights, 2008.
Photo -- Geoff Schutt
Our gratitude to http://www.wordle.net/ and This Side of Paradise's Archivist and Busker-in-Chief, Jason Archer -- a selection of 150 random words from this page highlighting the two most significant for us -- "Eleanor" and "Biographer" -- and placing them in a word cloud.
Today, this is all we need to see, to remind ourselves -- the rest will follow as we reassemble the words, and find proper places for each of them.
Monday, December 8, 2008
"He who dares not offend cannot be honest."
-- Thomas Paine
Eleanor says: "Now we don't mean to offend anyone, at least I don't, and I don't think my Biographer does either, but if it happens along the way, you know we're being honest above all else -- from those places that DO hurt sometimes as well as those places that are filled with good stuff, and that no offense is ever meant to be 'mean' in the least, (though my Biographer tells me that I am both 'wicked and sweet,' he says, 'wicked' being in the eye of the beholder, which would be his eye-s, and not wicked in the dictionary sense necessarily) -- but merely as a kind of rebellion, for me I suppose, growing up, growing into some kind of my Biographer's reality, and growing into my own reality, you know?"
Sunday, December 7, 2008
INTRODUCTION: Eleanor has written a story of her own -- about her story, which her Biographer has faithfully transcribed, not changing a word.
Recommended Listening: Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds, "The Weeping Song" -- also any version of "Tomorrow Never Knows."
Recommended Reading: The Quarterly No. 25, Edited by Gordon Lish (Random House/Vintage Books, 1993)
Recommended Beverage: Strong, black coffee or a Red Bull, or a shot of Evan Williams whiskey, or all three (but in moderation)
Recommended Food: Strawberry frosted doughnut or cotton candy
Recommended Incense: Nag Champa
"The Short, (Generally) Happy Life of Eleanor."
by Eleanor Spain
There was this girl named Eleanor who wasn't really a girl at all but a notion inside a writer's head. That's how she started. Not as a complete thought, but a notion. This was 18 years ago.
Early on, Eleanor decided that this writer was good enough to put her story to the page, and so began the first draft of many drafts of her biography. The writer became her official, authorized Biographer, and that's how she thought of him.
In the early days, there wasn't a novel, but a series of short stories. Most of those stories are long since gone. They've been rewritten or lost. One day, her Biographer sent an early Eleanor story to The New Yorker, and he received a long, typewritten reply. It was a rejection, but not a form letter, and not of Eleanor, either. The letter said (basically) that Eleanor's story was good, that her Biographer's writing was good, but the story was derivative, whatever that means. It's all subjective, right? Every story has already been told in some version, anyway.
The New Yorker editor who sent the letter asked to see more of Eleanor's story, so for several weeks, her Biographer wrote episode after episode, and each one of these was also sent back, but with nice typewritten notes. Another editor at The Atlantic Monthly said pretty much the same thing, and sent back his variation of the same nice typewritten notes. But for the longest time, nothing was published.
Eventually though, one of Eleanor's stories ("Spoons") was published in The Wastelands Review. Another short-short story was published by Gordon Lish in The Quarterly, from Vintage Books/Random House. This was pretty cool, because Eleanor and her Biographer could go to the bookstore and buy a copy of the book. That story was about Eleanor's father (not her Biographer, but her real father) as a child. None of the characters had names in the story. There was a boy, and a mother and a father. They talked about secrets, and the sun and the moon, and the universe. They also spent a long time talking about milk for such a short-short story. It was kind of weird. The story was originally called "Milk," in fact, but Gordon Lish decided he liked the title "Hygiene" better, for whatever reason. Who was to argue with Gordon Lish, because at the time, he was like God almost. He was Raymond Carver's editor for so long, by gosh. Eleanor's Biographer felt an obligation to listen. (But Eleanor still preferred the original title, "Milk.")
After a while, Eleanor's Biographer stopped sending out excerpts of her life, and instead, just wrote and wrote and wrote. There were so many versions of Eleanor's story that neither she nor her Biographer could think straight.
Up until this happened, Eleanor's Biographer was in control. But then, one day, Eleanor decided that she was old enough to think for herself. And that's where we are today. Eleanor tells her story, but not in chronological order. The excerpts are written like you would shoot a movie, except this is a book and not a movie, and a movie would have a shooting script anyway, so the entire story would be there. (Eleanor's entire story wasn't and isn't entirely there, so it was and is difficult.)
Along the way, an agent looked at Eleanor from a slush pile of plenty of other novels and decided that Eleanor's Biographer had some good words in him, and signed him up. But he kept writing new and different versions of the biography, and so far, this agent has been extraordinarily patient. She believes in the words as much as Eleanor does, and as much as Eleanor's Biographer does.
Some things -- some stories, well, they just take time to tell, you know? To unfold. Lots of people would have given up after 18 years, and it's true that there were times when Eleanor's Biographer worked on other novels and other stories. A few of those stories were published, but the novels are still unpublished. Eleanor was proud of her Biographer for being so productive, but she was also upset and even angry when her story was put aside in favor of somebody else's. (Whenever that happened, Eleanor had to go back inside The Spirit House, with all of her Biographer's other characters, also waiting for homes.)
For the past few months, and a lot of this process and progress has been documented on this scroll of a page, Eleanor's Biographer has finally begun to understand how the story should be written.
Eleanor thinks she is a patient person, too. She has all the time in the world, really, being a made-up character, right?
Sometimes, her Biographer jokes about being hit and killed by a bus, because he walks a lot, and jaywalks too. (Isn't that against the law? Somebody should make a citizen's arrest. I mean, come on. Jaywalking at his age?) Anyhow, this pisses off Eleanor to no small degree, and she could punch her Biographer in the nose, if she wasn't such a pacifist.
Now, the short and (generally) happy life of Eleanor is only as good as the brain cells in her Biographer's head. So maybe Eleanor isn't so patient anymore after all. Her Biographer is getting older, after all. Even though Eleanor is in charge now, who is to say he won't abandon her again? This worries her as much as the getting hit by a bus worries her.
Eleanor does worry quite a lot. Or maybe it's her Biographer doing the worrying.
You see, after 18 years of being part of each other, the two of them -- Eleanor and her Biographer -- have become very close. It's almost like Eleanor has two fathers. One is on the page and the other is her Biographer.
And -- all of this started with a notion, so that just shows you what can happen when you have a notion. Facts are facts, and one of these is this. You need to follow your notions. You can't ever give up on your notions, if they lead you somewhere good. Eleanor feels she is in a good place now. Sure, sometimes she has a good scream, but doesn't everybody? And sometimes, she cries. When she is crying, an amazing thing is happening. Her Biographer is crying too. The same thing with smiles and laughter.
Have you ever listened to that record by Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds called "The Weeping Song?" You can find it on YouTube, or one of those music places, or on Nick Cave's album that's titled "The Good Son."
A lot of Eleanor's recent life is like that song, and you might think this doesn't sound so happy after all, with all of the weeping going on, but it generally is happy. The song is like a circle, see. Eleanor and her Biographer -- "we" -- "we" are back at the beginning. We have a middle and an end. Things are still all out of order and Eleanor keeps thinking of new aspects of her life that she feels need to be addressed, but that's part of having your biography written. You don't think it all at once, or remember every small detail at once. Somehow, you can complete the circle, though, if you work at it long enough.
If this were a movie, we would be shooting the Second Act right now. The First Act and the Third Act are finished. It's the darned Second Act that's taking the time. We know the destination and we know how we started out, but the in-between, well -- what the heck is this about? Shouldn't we have already lived the journey? (On this scroll, we have talked about how it feels to be inside the "in-between," and that can be both good and creepy at the same time. You can find it all, on this page, if you go searching hard enough.)
Okay, so right this moment, It is the middle of the night as this story about the story is being told, in somewhat unconventional fashion. But this is a good hour of the day for telling and writing. But Eleanor knows that she can't just tell her story. She has to keep living it. One day soon, the biography will be finished. This is kind of scary to think about. What happens then? Is Eleanor stuck in time. Eighteen years old, but never any older? Get real, why don't you!
Eleanor wants sequels, even before the first volume is finished. Eleanor is going to make her Biographer sign a contract. The contract will basically say that neither one of them will ever, ever give up on each other. They will always believe. (Eleanor will be sure to include a provision in the contract about not jaywalking in front of buses, don't you worry about that!)
And what happens next? Well, a person -- a made-up character -- never really knows. Like that song, "Tomorrow Never Knows." So, for now, Eleanor and her Biographer are thinking present tense.
Present tense is the best tense, Eleanor is convinced.
If there is any moral to this story, this story about the story of Eleanor, it is this:
"If you're in present tense, you can live forever."
And that is crazy good thinking, isn't it?
Saturday, December 6, 2008
Friday, December 5, 2008
- "Great is the art of beginning, but greater is the art of ending."
- -- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
We find ourselves in the middle somewhere, and Eleanor swears to me that she can see all the way to the end, but she won't tell what's there. It's a game, I'm thinking, and I need to play along, to get from here to there.
"It is not a game," Eleanor says. "You foolish Biographer! We've played enough games."
We are reading the new issue of Atlanta Creative Loafing (Dec. 3, 2008). There is a cover story on the hip-hop artist Jax, who recently died -- still a young man -- while on stage, while performing his art.
Jax, born Christopher Charles Thurston, once remarked to his mother, "... When I'm suffering it makes me rhyme better."
Thursday, December 4, 2008
Eleanor's fortune for today reads: "Do not be too timid and squeamish about your actions. All life is an experiment."
The date, December 4, does not escape us. Including today, 28 days left in calendar year 2008. Yes, in The Little Room, we often times find ourselves in an incremental state. Earlier this calendar year, we went through a similar period of what we termed "Creative Rehab." This did not mean that our words were blocked. And we were still inspired by the everyday small and big as we usually were. We still looked with childlike wonder to the sky, shielding our eyes in daylight, and opening them even wider at night. But what we discovered was happening ... was this: the words were coming out wrong.
In the wrong order.
Paragraphs overwritten or making no sense at all.
Structure was gone.
Forget about story.
Eleanor at times became invisible, and this was most frightening of all. She was beginning to disappear, even as she was vocal as ever, loud and pushy, soft and tender -- the sweet and the wicked.
We are addicted to the words. We are addicted to the words as much as we would/could be to any drug, or anything else that is possible/plausible cause for abuse.
Without the words, the right words, the words in the proper here and now and up and down and sideways and vertical and horizontal -- well, it was crazy, and we felt more than a bit crazy, and we felt life was obscenely surreal.
Listen up, because surreal by itself is fascinating and good and feels like you have 20 fingers instead of 10, and can leap buildings and dig a hole to China. It's a Dali painting come to life in the most magical of ways. It's listening to a Tom Waits' song and trying to get underneath the layers, the layers like multi-colored blankets, or the sweetest sweets, and yet -- YET: you sometimes want it raw.
You may think this a contradiction, but listen up. Take away what "seems" raw or surreal, and you find truth. Or honesty. Whatever you want to call it.
Authenticity. The ability to connect. We need to connect.
And here we are.
We need the edge back. We need these 28 days. Desperately. So, one by one, we will once again, as we did earlier in 2008 (just scroll down for that experience), document the time and the process, and add stories and narrative ... and the rest, along the way.
There are things that Eleanor and I are learning about each other every day. But it's a mad rush of things, so we need to slow the stimuli, slow time as it were, and grab hold of what's going to make it happen, and toss away what's not.
For example -- Eleanor wants to be a drummer, she says. In a band. I don't know what this means. (yet)
Eleanor wants the spotlight, she says. Okay, I can understand this more than the drummer part.
Eleanor says she wants to take the words and make them into a boom-tap-beat-roar-exclamation-whisper-sing until your vocal cords explode (... and then sigh into a dream). Oh man, just hearing her say those words is beautiful -- forget about the actual experience waiting to happen!
We are ready. "All life is an experiment." So this is Day One. Or the end of Day One. The Night of Day One. The realization. We've got our Mojo, no problem with that (and more on this later) (2008 Version 3.0 in fact).
It's -- simply put -- again -- the edge. And without falling off. Without coming up for air except when absolutely necessary. Without losing the heart and hope that feeds everything we put down on the page -- even when it hurts like hell, and sometimes it sure does hurt like hell when you're digging so deep inside.
As Eleanor would say, and in fact, has said: "Stick around. The next ride is about to begin. Do you want the front car, or the back? You don't want to be in the middle. That's playing it safe, you know? You're not going to play it safe, are you?"
We know that we cannot play it safe.
We don't have that kind of time.