NaNoWriMo 2017 :: The Beginning

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Okay, people. November’s always been a big month for words in this parish, and 2017 is already shaping up to be the most significant yet in terms of how I do the entire writing gig. I have decided what I’m writing and it is one of the many Works in Progress that has existed on my hard drive for some time. In fact, I even got as far as making a book cover and a lovely Twitter synopsis, both of which will be retooled along with the original narrative. Having read through all that I have to begin with yesterday, to say I’m excited is an understatement.


For me, the biggest single problem that occurs in a NaNo ‘month’ is the conviction of an idea from inception to completion. This time around, I’m tackling a complete plot (with the exception of a hole in the denouement) and updating my writing style, plus adding some vital background and depth along the way. Getting to 50k this year, therefore, is of largely secondary significance to having a working and complete draft on completion. That’s my bigger aim: finally, finish a piece that I feel is one of the strongest narratively that I have ever produced, then set about seeing if I can’t get someone to want to publish it.

So I can devote 100% attention to this task, I’m taking November off from the Book of the Month project and the various stuff that normally takes place. However, there will be content here for the whole 30 days, with a subsidiary project that’s already in the planning stage. If you follow me on social media, I’ll be mentioning it as time goes on, but it is being created in the hope that I can give back to the Community that has helped me to fulfil my own potential as a writer in the last few years.

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In the buildup to November 1st, I’ll be sharing some of the thoughts I’ve had on this process, and there’ll be regular writing updates throughout November itself. If you want a more personalised view on how things are going, here’s a reminder that my personal site exists and that I’m far more likely to swear and challenge your traditional notions of sexuality there than anywhere else.

Book of the Month :: An Introduction to the Challenging

Book of the Month
I’m taking what might be a bit of a risk with the choice for October’s Book of the Month, the subject matter of which is not only difficult but considered by some as genuinely disturbing. I began reading The Comfort of Strangers on its release in 1981: the fact I couldn’t finish it is one of the compelling reasons why the narrative has been returned to and summarily readdressed with a fresh mindset. The best fiction is not necessarily that which entertains or distracts. Having the ability to make a reader think, or to travel outside their comfort zones is perhaps one of the most positive and life-changing qualities the written word possesses. Ian McEwan’s output has achieved this since those early works in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s and continues to do so, even as time has mellowed both man and outlook.

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By Thesupermat – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15327467

McEwan was born in Aldershot in 1948 yet grew up in Asia, Germany and North Africa, wherever his father was stationed as an Army officer. Returning to the UK in his early teens he was educated at Woolverstone Hall School, followed by degrees first at the University of Sussex and subsequently at UEA in Norwich. His first book of short stories was published in 1975. Both The Comfort of Strangers and the novella The Cement Garden written during this early period were quickly adapted into film screenplays. However, the novel that won him the 1987 Whitbread Prize, The Child in Time, has only very recently been adapted for the small screen, taking thirty years to make the transition.

McEwan’s writing career between 1975 and 1987 is known as the Ian Macabre period: subject matters are disturbing and challenging, often ignoring and completely trampling over borders of acceptable behaviour. However, the Whitbread Prize marks a distinct change in tone: moral ambiguity and social challenge remain, but the subject matters become far more palatable. His 1983 screenplay for Channel 4, The Ploughman’s Lunch, is a savage indictment of the media world during the Falklands War and hints of his more political works to come. It was however with works which explored the subtleties and shortcomings of human relationships where McEwan began to excel, continuing to demand much from his readers.

Of these, there are stand out choices: Enduring Love is a brutally honest assessment of how fate can alter existence and how obsession (plus mental illness) will drive individuals to extraordinary actions. Atonement considers how an untruth can drastically alter the entire path of many lives and is probably the best known of McEwan’s work, due in part to the 2007 film adaptation which starred Keira Knightley and James McAvoy. Both these novels, as is the case with all those that both follow and precede, hold an almost distorted lens to the frailties of human beings, and the means by which they rationalise their versions of ‘the world around them’ in order to try and understand existence.

In his later works however has come a far more politically active strand of narrative, including reflections on global warming, the right to die and the blurring of boundaries between artistic integrity and government propaganda. His works continue to be optioned for small screen and movie adaptations: On Chesil Beach and The Children’s Act have both been transferred to the big screen and were shown at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, with the semi-autobiographical novel Sweet Tooth in development from the same company who produced Atonement.

This is a man who is no stranger to controversy in his personal life: married twice, part of a fairly acrimonious divorce including a custody battle, whilst also discovering in 2002 he had a brother given up for adoption during World War Two. He’s also been a very vocal commentator on both global warming and the state of the UK post Brexit-vote: no stranger to courting political controversy over his opinions or indeed the subjects he tackles, this traditional Labour supporter continues to mentally challenge both listener and reader when discussing a wide range of different subjects.

It is quite easy to present a biography of McEwan the man, far harder to sum up the depth of his work, and how it is often a slap to the face of far tamer approaches to controversial subject matters. Violence and sexual deviation are commonplace, yet at the same time, there is an intellectual depth and breadth of assessment which makes these variations utterly acceptable in the contexts of their particular narratives. When one looks at his more cerebral offerings, inevitably one common thread persists: the protagonists’ engagement with their version of the ‘modern’ world, and meaning of existence within it.

The world painted in The Comfort of Strangers is less to do with the city in which is it set and far more to do with the issues and desires of the characters: even in a novel such as Atonement where the Second World War becomes an important player in proceedings, it never overshadows the very human responses and actions of McEwan’s players. In fact, one almost feels that the backgrounds to his work are of secondary importance. However, the backdrops painted are a perfect combination of bigger picture and precise detail: drawing a reader in before shocking them with what they are told.

McEwan is not an easy read, or often a comfortable watch. That makes for searing, engaging narratives and important points presented. As readers, stories are often the places to which we escape in difficult times, yet when presented with concepts that cannot be easily rationalised, this can make for uncomfortable sensations. It has taken me three decades to return to an author whose ideas I’m now far more willing to embrace and explore: that long not because of him, of course, but me. Being willing to accept the challenging is often nothing to do with the subject matter presented, and everything about the mentality of your readership.

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It is typical for us as human beings to only cope with so much in daily life: when reality presents events which are difficult to understand, immersing oneself in novels with challenging subject matters may not seem like relaxation at all. However, when you are the one dictating how such content is consumed, there are obvious benefits. It allows an opportunity to take back a notion of control, to dispassionately use a fictional narrative as a ‘what if’ situation for individual thoughts and feelings. Most importantly, as the story being read is not real, there’s the ability to treat it as such and not become overwhelmed by circumstance.

Books are not always presented as escapist entertainment, as is the case with all forms of media for the same purpose. The best experiences are often those that leave us uncomfortable, questioning the reasoning behind their production. As modern society becomes more and more indignant over the content of media, often without ever having consumed it for themselves, to begin with anything that challenges traditional comfort zones and forces a reader out of them is never going to be a bad thing.

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It is up to us as readers to learn how to take contentious subject matters and consume them in a way which not only is comfortable but allows us to attack the narratives on our own terms. For that, there are tools that can be utilised, the ability to become more objective and less judgemental, and to look inside ourselves to understand why such things are possible. A blind acceptance of the World in our own image is not only dangerous, but ultimately selfish behaviour, and yet this is what happens with frightening regularity. This is played out in McEwan’s narratives too, often with fatal consequences for the characters involved.

The truth, of course, is that there is a World of diversity and horror that most of us choose to ignore, often for the sake of our own sanity. McEwan’s work flowers in the places between, where reality overlaps with fiction: worlds we recognise and that have definite ties to our own existence, but yet are often alien and frightening. He forces the reader to think of an ‘alternate’ version of reality where people act as us, but often seem like a version of humanity that makes no sense. It is this abstraction from realism that can allow the reader the means to step back and grasp the bigger themes at play, and how they relate to them… or indeed not.

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It has taken over three decades for me to find the means to connect with McEwan’s style and presentation, and I’m returning with caution to narratives that were abandoned in the past with fresh, more inquiring eyes. His body of work is impressive, substantive and ultimately very satisfying, and if you enjoy The Comfort of Strangers it is simply a stepping stone into a far more complex world of novels and adaptations. I urge you to join me on this journey, and to expand your mind to the places just beyond the reach of your vision.

What can be seen there can be both surprising and significant.

October’s Book of the Month

If you’re new here, please take a moment
to read our Mission Statement

This Month's Content

October’s featured text is ‘The Comfort of Strangers’
by Iain McEwan
You can buy it here.

Each month, the Internet of Words presents a selection of content: fiction, essays, poetry and non-fiction, inspired and directly influenced by our Book of the Month.

To learn more about what you can expect, please read this.



Available This Month:

4th October

An Introduction to the Challenging: Ian McEwan’s career began with difficult, often disturbing narratives that would challenge a reader’s belief in the goodness and sanctity of modern society. That edge still remains, but with age has taken on a deeper significance: we explore his body of work and how the subject matter of his novels never fails to cause some measure of controversy…

11th October

Traversing the Fringes: Our Book of the Month is one of the first stories McEwan wrote in what has become commonly known as his Macabre Phase. How much is a reader prepared to accept in a narrative before the subject matter becomes simply too difficult to stomach?

18th October

From Page to Screen: McEwan’s work has been widely dramatised both on TV and Film, most recently by the BBC who took on what many thought was the unadaptable A Child in Time. We examine the work spawned from this writer’s output and look at the difficulties of adapting challenging narratives to produce compelling viewing.

25th October

Seed: (Short Story) In my head, you and I are lovers… Sometimes, what is the truth and what are lies becomes impossible to adequately divide.


Patreon Only Content

This month’s exclusive Patreon content will consist of poetry based on the breadth of McEwan’s work, including Atonement, Enduring Love, The Ploughman’s Lunch and A Child in Time.

Pledges for the site begin at only $2, which grants you full access to all exclusive material.

Click here to become a Patreon

What’s my Name Again?

Origins

I have been working REALLY hard the last couple of months, and there are days when I will be honest, things just happen on autopilot. Last week’s National Poetry Day endeavour was not what I expected it to be: part of me felt a fair amount of disappointment. I didn’t get a single retweet for my work, and I felt the exposure gained wasn’t worth the effort expended. Then, on Friday morning, something odd happened. I was driving back from dropping the youngest from School and, sat waiting at a set of traffic lights saw a girl in her 20’s in an outfit that, at a casual glance, beggared belief.

Once upon a time, I wouldn’t have chastised myself for such a casual condemnation of personal taste. This time, however, I did and when I got home there was a sudden and rather unexpected need to write the moment down: not as a blog post, but as a poem. You can find The Girl Who looked like a Sofa here and that moment has somehow unlocked a part of my brain that used to exclusively thing in terms of prose and nothing else. Now I find myself wanting to willingly write poetry as a supplement to my stream of consciousness written output. This is a new sensation.

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Previously, I’ve been producing output almost to order, mechanically in some cases… and somewhere between this being considered requirement or relaxation, a seed has germinated. I’m beginning to think differently. There’s a need to produce poems not just as words, but in a more visually appealing manner. That’s how the idea for the 31 Days of Haiku Challenge was born, after all.

#ThinkTober 31 Haiku from #inktober Prompts: Day Two. Geometric Love Song.

A post shared by @internetofwords on

Every day, I have determined, will be different. I’ll try my hand at design using pens for some days, find suitable locations to present thematic words on others. I want to build a picture not only of my life but the place I live and things that matter to me. Poetry has become another means of expression as a result. It is also producing surprising subsidiary benefits, mostly in the means by which I express myself normally.

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I want to do more visual work. If this can be successfully combined with words then so much the better. Almost overnight, I have a completely new means by which to express myself.

You can totally guarantee I will make the most of it.

Breathe In

autumn schedule

I’m here on a Friday to celebrate what has been a successful month for this little site. Starting on Monday is the very real possibility of multiple posts a day and a really rather packed schedule all the way until Christmas. Having already pre-warned you about Think-Tober, I went away and made better graphics, and that will begin via Instagram on Sunday. I suspect there’ll be a compilation of seven days worth of posts in this medium at some point across the weekends in October too.

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We’re still behind a bit, but once October’s Book of the Month titles are posted on Monday along with the last of the outstanding acrostics, there’s no excuse to keep up to date. This month will also see an alteration to Patreon tiers in an attempt to attract more interest, plus some subtle changes to the concept’s major remit. I’d planned to reassess every three months, so this part of my plan is still on schedule. Looking ahead, the Book of the Month will be taking a one-month hiatus in November to accommodate my participation in the 2017 NaNoWriMo event.

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I’ve written on and of for NaNo across five years, but only the last two have been serious efforts. This year, the plan is to come up with something I will turn into a potentially saleable novel. That level of completion and professionalism has, as yet, eluded me, but I believe I’m in a decent position this year to make that a reality. To make sure I’m utterly focused, rethought and re-organised Patreon content will launch again December 1st. Everyone who is currently a Patreon will also be getting an exclusive (and personalised) Christmas gift, as a thank you for your continued support.

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Until then, you can expect an increase in the amount of poetry being written, original works appearing and all sorts of other TOP QUALITY GUBBINS.

One Day Like This

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This year, poetry for me became something more than dusty pages and old blokes in church halls. When terror ripped through the lives of people who never asked for a war, killing the truest, most innocent lives, poetry galvanised an entire Community. One bloke stood up and, for a moment, everybody listened to his words and were moved to tears.

Except the smart people know that poetry has never just been for books and schools, it’s for everybody. It is the blood that drives every song on the radio, from manufactured pop to the anthems of a generation. Revolution is everywhere, and in every syllable, even now. When I was young it was Pink Floyd and Bowie sewing the seeds of diversity, swinging at authority. Now there is a new generation of poets, whose words have such strength as to stop even this cynical old woman in her tracks. I defy anyone with a soul to really listen to Tunnel Vision and not think, at least for a second, of the legacy the actions of a few have wrought on our Planet.

The greatest agent of collective human advancement is not free markets, despite what our leaders might have us believe. It is the ability to express ourselves without fear of attack or reprisal, of thinking beyond ourselves and collective greed to something better, nobler than wealth as aspiration. It is the means by which the World exists together, side by side and stronger, living longer, place where nobody is persecuted for being different. Poetry has always given a voice to the darkest recesses of the human condition: that window on our souls is never more needed than now, this moment, every second.

Poetry is freedom, and expression to believe in ourselves.

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It is a persistence of memory, growing old and looking backwards, looking forward with optimism to what yet might be achievable. It groans with angst and moans with pleasure and without it, I realise now, I was less of a writer. This year, I started writing poetry not as a chore, but with tentative ardour, and now my love affair is in full, glorious flow. It gives metaphors chances to illuminate unexpected corners. It has allowed a woman who was afraid of her own voice to once more stand upright, inhale and then speak her words with pride. It has transformed my existence, and there will never be the right couplet to express how grateful that makes me.

Never believe you’re incapable of change. I’m almost 51 and my poetic journey has only just begun: maybe if I’d started earlier… but there is no time for regret anymore. It is time to live each day as it comes and realise that it is us that makes life better not just for ourselves but the people around us. This day has given me the opportunity to share what I think and feel about a concept I hated as a kid, tolerated in my teens and then ignored for decades because I’d forgotten how to listen. Now ears and mind are open again, I can’t get enough of it. Poetry has transformed the course of my writing, and I’m grateful for one day where I can proudly stand up and admit that it will always be a part of my life until I die.

Poetry is worth all the effort. Take the first step into a wider Universe, and you may yet be surprised at what you discover not only about the world, but within yourself.

Book of the Month :: Throw 6 to Start

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As the second sun goes down, Riz wonders if he’s done the right thing.

This is closer to disaster as he’s ever flown, far too late to start wishing the journey had never been undertaken. With Pleasure Planet Pixel in darkness, there is less than a rotation before the Game he’s attending begins, yet Desi is nowhere to be seen. Next time, if this all goes to plan, they’ll not need to take separate transports and can travel as an item.

That word has a comforting ring.

‘Oh, you weren’t lying, you did miss us: we are truly touched!’

Their hand on his arm sends every hair erect, frisson of desire inevitable and inescapable. Turning, they are still in the complimentary spacesuit, not bothering to change after arrival. Iridescent pearl skin shimmers: brilliant light from the nebula above, ethereal beauty that transcends this solar system plus thousands of others. His devil stands, head slightly tipped, reading every thought without care or permission. In their imagination they’re already entwined in the luxury hotel bed, his fears being sucked from a tired and tense body: the Earthman begins to relax.

Riz knows this last year of stress was worth every moment: the prize is already in sight.

‘You were the one who said our lives were getting predictable, so we did consider making you wait, but thanks to the Slingshot mechanical failure that will be the last transport of the day. We could have taken layover until the morning, but there’s too much to do.’

‘I’m sorry we fought at the Terminal. I… sometimes it’s easy to forget how much you can hear in my head.’

‘You have nothing to worry about, Lover Boy. The day somebody else attracts that primate brain, then we’re the one in trouble. Until then, it’s our job to make sure that your pleasure centres are never left wanting. We are VERY good at that task, and intend to only improve over time.’

They kiss him, mouth tart, alcohol and need both all too obvious. The relationship’s odd-fitting, even now: sometimes motivation gets misplaced in a sea of pheromones and sloth. However, his liberation is close: hatched over the NeuralNet, virtual chat room for those with debts that conventional employment would never pay off. The human who loved being fucked by everybody but eventually was screwed by his own naivety, and the Centuran androgyne with a flair for the overly theatric.

If it all worked out tomorrow, both of them would finally be free.


‘Do you believe in fate?’

They’ve woken tangled together but instead of pre-dawn intercourse it is discussion. Desi will know he has nerves that need to be assuaged: they wrap both mind and body around him, cocoon of reassurance, allowing Riz to awaken far better than would happen with stimulants. The question is taking time for them to process, and only now does he grasp why –

‘You don’t know what I’m talking about, do you?’

‘Oh, we grasp the human concept, don’t worry. We have an equivalent, we were just trying to work out a visual metaphor to explain.’

Centuran culture is not about words: as a race of telepaths, verbal language is largely redundant. Instead comprehension is based around imagery, often complex fractal patterns that have evolved directly from the very stuff of the Universe itself. The image Desi places in Riz’s brain however is very human: they’re at the last casino visited, win at which removed all but 5% of their joint financial debt. He stands and throws two dice, but then catches both before they hit the table.

Fate is the development of events outside a person’s control, regarded as predetermined by a supernatural power. You throw the dice, and it is fate that decides the numbers. For us, fate is that which cannot be affected by our own minds. We can control the dice in flight and precisely dictate the number that falls, but are unable to truly influence the person throwing.

Their voice in his mind is musical, soothing cadences that make their kiss far more potent than any given by his own kind. That’s what attracted him to Desi, he could indulge an almost constant need for stimulation with a being who had evolved simply for that purpose. Their race didn’t procreate in the same messy fashion as bipedal humans, so there was no need to concern himself with the physical and once that had happened… sensation stopped just being about release, biological offering.

Orgasm takes place in a different way: no body cavities, contraception irrelevant. His body and brain are warped, sensation shuddering from fingertips to follicles. The most intense and beautiful experience that Riz has ever felt, on demand, and which never gets old. There’s a small part of his brain that knows they should be at the Game venue, working out the best place for him to sit so they can still covertly communicate, but today he just lets them engulf his primal brain completely.

The sensation is so great, he passes out with the pleasure.


The water is incredibly cold: Riz is immediately awake.

It takes a second to realise an ice bucket was upended over him, he’s naked and tied to a chair, and that Desi is being restrained by a couple of Law Enforcement automatons. Only two things could have caused this sudden downturn in circumstance: random attack or deliberate action. Causality is a subject Riz knows a lot about: studying Freakonomics at NYSU for four years, working at Church built for the worship of Saints Levitt and Dubner. There wasn’t an outcome that couldn’t be tied to another if you were smart enough to play the algorithms…

This Game was one of many that the WolfIsi Group had manipulated for the last decade, without fail. By coming here, he’d guaranteed that his loan company would notice, and do what always happened in situations where they thought a client was about to escape control. As contract was signed not in blood but DNA, his body remained their property until such times as all existing monetary debts were paid in full: before then they could invoke repossession of that material at any time. He had anticipated them striking at the venue, but as they haven’t, that’s not a problem.

He’d also like to be more clothed for this, but no matter.

The WI officer’s uniform is starched to within an inch of rigidity, yet looks like it could disintegrate at any moment, straining across her huge, genetically-enhanced biceps. The woman’s face regards him not with pity but in a way that could almost be respect: the rules of this engagement might yet be about to change. Maybe they’re not here because of potential collateral loss; perhaps someone finally saw through this deception.

‘Mr Monteverdi, I must say it has been some years since we had a client come this close to completing their payments on time. You are to be congratulated on your industry.’

‘Thank you, I took it upon myself as a personal challenge to pay off this loan on time and to the penny.’

‘Which you will do by simply winning a round of the Game tomorrow, which my superiors feel sure you’ll be more than capable of achieving. That however would mean we’re unable to maintain you as collateral, and under the circumstances this will cause us an issue, especially with the amount of money you seem capable of regularly providing.’

Riz had read the old case files on Fully Paid Loans until he could recite them from memory: in three hundred years, only a handful of clients had escaped death by invoking the clause he would now be forced to use. It would all hinge on the Officer not grasping the significance of Desi, something that now needed to be confirmed…

On cue, comes invasion of his mind: their hands cover his eyes, slim fingers caress earlobes. No-one else is aware of the Centauran’s real identity.

‘Under agreement terms I invoke the Double or Nothing clause in my contract. Details of intention to do so are posted in three public forums plus via time-delayed message on SocalTwetwerks.’

The Officer blinks at Riz, clear confusion etched on hardening features, before headset implant prompts understanding. Robot spiders will be crawling the Solar Internet, confirming that the naked bloke in the chair just completely changed the game. He’s forced WolfIsi to allow him a chance to become debt free with one random action, at the discretion of the Officer. They have fifteen Earth minutes to decide what it will be: in the previous cases coin tosses (which were believed to be weighted to the company’s favour) had decided the outcome, but since all forms of physical currencies became redundant at the end of the century and his contract hadn’t been updated to reflect this due to clerical oversight…

Desi is a mask: beautifully smooth skin, pert yet full, heavy breasts that defied gravity, surgically added slit at her groin to make sure no-one ever checked the DNA details too carefully. It was amazing the number of people who didn’t: she just looked like a human with a skin job. That’s what the desk clerk had her registered as, which might yet be useful, depending on the intelligence of the Officer. According to the Citizens Advice Worldnet, races with a human equivalent IQ of 70 or lower made the best Enforcement teams, being able to understand instructions yet not argue with contentious interpretation…

Riz is confident: all bases are covered, regardless of what happens next. He’s about to gamble the loan he took for gender reassignment to completion, and win.

‘They said you might do this. My boss read your file really well. Thanks to you, there’ll be a new amendment to the standard proposal in the New Year. You should be proud you found a loophole that we’re now going to close.’

Respect turns inevitably to condescension: the Officer pulls from her pocket a small recording unit. If it’s on record, they have to play fair. WolfIsi Legal will now be well aware that if they try and bury him, this part of the Universe will know about the fatality very fast, thanks to many and various messages sent to a lot of very important and high profile media outlets.

Riz made sure nothing was left to chance.

‘Thanks to Clause 27b/6 in your contract, we have the right to substitute an alternative form of random action for the Double or Nothing gamble.’

Riz loved games from an early age: in a world where everybody could work out the odds, he’d taken gambling a stage further. That’s why Desi had been sought out, means by which to take probability and bend it to his own ends. The biggest trick was to lose and make it look as if it wasn’t cheating, by warping the Universe itself to his ends.

‘You have to predict the number on these two dice. That’s our offer. I’m waiting.’

Large, long table by the Hotel room door is picked up, almost dropped in front of Riz’s restrained torso. He has fifteen minutes to accept this offer or lose the Double or Nothing get-out completely. In his head, possibilities land: dice will be remotely controlled by one of the Law Enforcement units, so they fall exactly as dictated. The units will have been picked so they cannot be hacked or interfered with. Just like coins before, belief is that any final result completely controlled by the Company is intractable.

Desi is smiling in his head. Not a small and quet but loud and brilliant, promise of so much once this debt is finally paid. They love the simian, unconditionally, because no other human mind they have encountered was so good at predicting all the outcomes, and playing to win.

‘Six. You’re going to roll a six.’

As the dice are thrown from the giant woman’s hand, Riz decides he quite likes being tied to chairs.


Once Upon a Time :: Haiku and Micropoetry

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Okay, so I have a confession to make: when this was published via Twitter, I forgot the last part of the micropoetry. It has now been replaced and is back in its rightful space. I’ve been following the compelling World War 2 as it happens Twitter feed and this was the direct inspiration for these pieces.

I hope you find these stimulating as well as enjoyable.


Once Upon a Time… Haiku Edition

A lifetime ago,
The World stood at War: now, we
Learn from these events.

Europe divided:
Tyrants annexing countries,
Destroyed existence.

The human cost, of
A few’s desire for power:
Destruction shatters.

Decades later, comes
Chance to reflect: grasping why
These things came to pass.

Never forget: those
Years of suffering; landmarks,
Inhumanity.


Once Upon a Time… Micropoetry Edition

History dictates
Heroes and villains:
Resistance rising,
Great battles defined.

Decades have passed, yet
The stories remain.
Eerie, similar;
Mirroring present.

With time to reflect:
We must not repeat
Ancestors mistakes,
Altered the future.

Eventually
Contemplation, can
Fundamentally
Change long-term outlooks.

It is up to us,
Next generation
To alter the course
Improvement for all.


Book of the Month :: Why Numbers are Scary, and Other Stories.

Book of the Month

Freakonomics is, undoubtedly, a brilliant book of essays which almost effortlessly uses causality to knit together seemingly disparate truths. However, for me at times it was a hard set of scenarios to grasp. The problem is not the details, but numbers. Economics, as is the case with so many branches of the sciences, relies on a strong mathematical base: understanding how figures interact and create the foundations of this and other scientific disciplines is pretty much essential. I have always struggled with maths, for as long as memory exists: words are natural, almost fluid but the same has never been true with calculations or equations.

In fact, I have nightmares sometimes over the basic inability to cope with mental arithmetic. If there is homework that involves the discipline, I’ll politely remind either son or daughter that dad’s the better person to ask. ‘In mathematics, something must be invested before anything is gained,’ writes David Berlinski in his book ‘One, Two Three’, a study of the basics of mathematical principle: ‘what is gained is never quite so palpable as what has been invested.’ Once I realised that my mind was the problem and not complexity of equations, it began a train of thought that seemed worth sharing.

When asking the question ‘Why am I terrible at maths?’ there were a lot of possible solutions, including the possibility that I might suffer from dyscalculia, which is a form of dyslexia. It is considered a specific developmental disorder, with an estimate that up to 6% of the population could suffer from some form of number ‘blindness.’ This ties in with the inability to read musical notation (despite having been taught to) and my total inability to remember people’s names, which has caused me issues for decades.

However, over time, and with practice, mathematical competence has improved. What normally tends to happen, and this was most definitely the case whenever Levitt and Dubner used numbers to make a point, I’d simply switch off and skip the sections which asked for specific concentration. This had become the way I dealt with other issues too, even when sitting and listening to mathematical discussions. Was it really my brain at fault? In the spirit of using causality to look beyond the obvious, I sought answers from my past. When did the issues with maths truly begin, and could a mental disorder be the cause?

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In the early 1960’s Sir James Pitman (grandson of Sir Isaac Pitman, inventor of a shorthand system) created the Initial Teaching Alphabet (or ITA for short) which was meant to help children learn to read. It meant that, as a child, I was taught two alphabets for basic comprehension and not one: for instance, I will when tired still spell like as liek (with that middle vowel sound part of the ITA ‘phonics’ system, as you can see on the end of the third line of the picture above.) This same confusion remains after decades: I’d not linked this with possible mathematical shortcomings until very recently.

Enter RadioLab, ‘where sound illuminates ideas, and the boundaries blur between science, philosophy, and human experience.’ This WNYC podcast is much beloved by my husband, and I’ve begun to become a fan myself over time. In this case, Season 6 Episode 5 [Numbers] was the causal link required to jump from one point in a personal chronology to another. In the segment ‘Innate Numbers’ comes explanation and understanding that, as children, we have no concept of numbers whatsoever, and the strict linear progression from 1-10 has to be quite vigorously reinforced before cognition occurs.

radiolab

Suddenly, I appear to have discovered a causal connection that not only makes sense, but that feels innately correct. However, thoughts are not facts, and if I want to know the real truth over whether my struggles with ITA as a child really have contributed to a disconnect with maths in subsequent decades, there are other possibilities to consider. I won’t win prizes for mental arithmetic speed any time soon: however from these initial issues, a fear and general lack of interest in mathematics no longer exists.

As I push myself into learning more about my own body, challenging how problems are dealt with, comes a deeper awareness of how reaction to stimulus occurs, using the mental tools I wield with most comfort. It is why, I suspect, poetry rhyming feels far more comfortable than the dissonance of imagery and metaphor: those things work better as prose, and poems are more fluid and natural when flowing almost as music. Then, looking at how my mind now reacts to music, there is no longer simply the enjoyment of lyrics or melody, but a rediscovery of how numbers dictate rhythm.

In this regard, mathematics is the most natural thing in the world: chord progressions and key changes are inherently built into my make-up: at 10 I was a fairly prodigious recorder player, and it was suggested I might take up the clarinet or oboe as a way not only to help with asthma, but to develop the ability… yet issues reading music effectively scuppered the dream. The bigger problem however wasn’t a technical glitch in processes, but a deeper set issue, which only now is being actively addressed.

My biggest single issue with an inability to grasp mathematics is fear.

For a very long time, exercise was the same. Intimidated by others, there was no desire to make an effort, coupled with the belief I simply wasn’t good enough. That changed when knees began to hurt not because of exertion, but simply lack of use. An exercise regime then began with thirty minutes of walking a day, and would extend after taking daughter to school, just around the corner. As the walks got longer I used maths to measure progress, thanks to the Fitbit tracker on my wrist.

That journey now means my own body weight can be lifted, that stamina and strength have been built where none existed before. I’ve lost six inches around my waist, yet weight has remained pretty much static in the last ten months. Here’s another mathematical conundrum: counting calories since the start of the year, I am undoubtedly fitter and slimmer than was the case when this began, yet the numbers say I should be thinner. If I’m being accurate with the reporting of calorie intake, who is to blame?

Well, that’s simple. All those cups of tea have a calorific content. Each snack that wasn’t recorded eventually adds up. Food dropped on the floor and then eaten does not have no calorific value, despite what your brain might try and argue as otherwise. I might be able to fool myself, but the truth remains constant and intractable. Mathematics relies on everybody playing by a very specific set of unmalleable rules. You cannot be creative and hope nobody notices. Even high profile politicians can’t do that and expect to escape scot free.

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Understanding yourself is an exercise in causality. What Freakonomics has done for me is open the door into a world I knew existed, but was too afraid to explore in detail. The final piece in that puzzle has been a course in Mindfulness that was begun (and abandoned) earlier in the year, but restarted a few weeks ago. Thanks to meditation there is now an ability to quieten my mind sufficiently to eliminate everything except coping with the moment. This has busted that door to my mind off its hinges, forcing the reassessment of a ton of stuff that has tumbled out.

Only by putting all the pieces of a puzzle together will one be able to understand the picture presented. For me, mathematics was always boring, pointless and ultimately something little cared for. After reading Freakonomics, there’s no instant desire to go solve complex equations, but I did make myself go back and read anything again I glossed over due to complexity. There’s now an enthusiasm to grasp the stuff that doesn’t make sense on the first read, rather than walking away and this is most definitely a step in the right direction.

When I began the Internet of Words project, this was one of the overriding objectives: make people think. What is now apparent is that it wasn’t just a desire that could benefit other people: this is becoming a deeply personal journey into past, present and future. By challenging our shortcomings, there can often come revelations about the reasons why individuals think and act as they do. It is often the most difficult task to do so, because of the fear of so many things: rejection, disappointment and unhappiness. Except, sometimes by embracing these feelings, comes a deeper understanding of what matters most.

Mathematics no longer scares me, and its comprehension is a shortcoming I’ll work to improve upon. Like everything else, it forms a complex and unique part of what is my whole. Understanding that is never likely to happen overnight, and becomes as much a part of life as clothing choices and dinner contents. However, if there’s never the desire to think past the basic life decisions made, true development as a person is a long way off. In this regard I am more than grateful to Messrs Levitt and Dubner, for helping me take a step into a far more interesting and challenging Universe.

Write Off :: The Day before You Came

Write off (3)

Occasionally, you come across something that you don’t remember writing. That is the case with this week’s piece, sitting in a folder that had a bunch of house correspondence in it. It was produced for a writing challenge on Livejournal, and if the save date on the file is correct, produced in May 2004. What makes this a bigger surprise, I’ll be honest, is the genre it was written for.

Buffy-titlecard

I’m a HUGE Buffy fan. I don’t make a song and dance about it, but it was a massively influential part of my life. Ironically, I never felt a huge affinity to the female characters in the show, but was more drawn to the men, especially the character I chose to do this fiction prompt for. I wasn’t attracted to him either: he was me, more or less. I couldn’t identify with any of the major protagonists, except him.

This is Daniel Osbourne (Oz) Fic. It happens before Season Two of Buffy begins. I’d never written Buffy fanfic ever, so decide how I did for yourself.

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It’s very much rated R for adult stuff too. I warned you.



The Day before You Came

Oh yes, I’m sure my life was well within its usual frame
The day before you came



the sky goes on forever

Oz turned seventeen in the slow, kohl-rimmed blink of her eyes: ancient in the moment of transition, bones brittle and painful in skin that now crawls with heat and dust. Her mouth is sucking the life from him, teeth on skin drawing blood as she slurps all too slowly across his stomach, destination crotch. Part of his brain, the smallest synapse, needs to prevent the inevitable: too late, boy, the flesh has won, desire is king… thankyewverymuch. He prays for strength, rain, time to stand still, but it’s the briefest of battles. The pills have slowed his world to a crawl; worm speed, worm food her food, kith and kin with the dirt and the fire ants. A thousand miles away the festival shows no signs of abating, the hurricane of noise and sweat building slowly towards optimum destruction. He needs to escape but he’s trapped here all night. The van was traded for a handful of chemical promises, the band’s gift to him on this night of evolution: something special to mark the transition. He wanted to just play and leave yet something stopped his passage. Someone. She smelt of smoke and mirrors, UFO’s and conspiracies. Flame red hair, eyes sharper than diamond… reminding him of a girl he wants to know, but doesn’t know how to ask. That’s for another time.

it should be cold not close to boiling i’m going to combust

The band bought him to Rachel, Nevada and now LuLu is showing him what girls who spend their puberty in the shadow of Area 51 know about secrets: smeared liberally with silver body paint and wearing only a g-string, she whispered in his ear she’d not hurt him, just give him what he wanted. Before he could protest she took him to a tent where her friends giggled and preened, replacing the dull brown polish on his nails for silver and gold, marking his forehead with an iridescent red star. In turn each one filled his mouth with champagne, then sucked the remnants dry, passing pills from tongue to tongue as they did so. Next he danced with them all: myriad fingers moving seamlessly from ass to crotch to zipper to balls, girl-women all-too-trained in the art of instant and painful arousal. Surrounded by the Sisters of the Conspiracy he became a child of the desert, at one with the night before the world got too fast: kaleidoscopic colours, audio overload quicker than either brain or body could cope with. Maybe he should have asked someone what he was taking, or maybe he shouldn’t have drunk anything first. Food sometime today would have helped, but he’s too lost for sense and good advice, too busy losing the battle with the substances. He’s past gone and coming back on the return stub.

LuLu weaves delicate snail-trails of saliva up and down his naked chest: teasing his expectancy, silver paint mixing with adrenaline and pheromone desire. As her mouth finally, blissfully wraps around his cock it’s the catalyst to his chemical reaction: mind and body separate in a burst of light and sound. He’s outside himself looking down on them both, amused that he can fly and get blown simultaneously. Great place to be spaced out: if he drifts too high will they send the Stealth fighters to intercept? Maybe he’ll just disappear in a puff of denial instead…

little green men yeah right big silver women mmmmmmmmmmm

Sunnydale has broadened his horizons: he used to be the ultimate skeptic, now he’s not so sure. There’s something in the air out here, not like the East Coast where he came from. They’re crazy, insane, affected… scared. He never got the fear, not until they passed the City Limits sign. Then it was obvious, that it had been there, traveling with his family: ingrained in him. He just never knew what it was.

Something clicks, a light goes on. His body is beginning to buck, semen shooting into her open mouth, pouring across his stomach, a huge tide of unstoppable reflex. He feels nothing, the drugs have blocked all signals to his brain: forced to watch the moment pass whilst simultaneously trying to work out how he gets his consciousness to fuse back with his body, Oz can’t understand why he doesn’t care. This is a big deal, remember? You should be there, in there… Seed runs away, scattered to the ground where it begins to grow, pale silver tendrils wrapping themselves around his legs, restricting his movements. He needs to stop her, hold her, tell her how grateful he is but there’s a rrrip of foil and something strange on his cock and her words in his ear we need to be safe, right? He tries to reach down, to stroke her hair and kiss her neck but the ground gives way as he feels her muscles around him and in him and

ohmygodit’shappeninghavetogetbacknowaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhh

It’s over before it’s begun, the second spurt as she digs her nails into his arms, drawing blood as she screams into the night, drowned by a sudden throbbing bass rumble as the sound system overloads, plunging the entire desert into darkness. He’s no idea how long he’s been conscious, when he passed out or whether he dreamed the whole thing in the first place… then he feels the sudden burning feeling in his throat and the nausea is too sudden and violent to ignore. LuLu is stroking his head and asking if he wants to chuck any more… He’s lying next to a tent, inside which the lead singer of the headline band has one girl on his face and another around his dick, moaning expletives as the pair drag their painted nails across his body. He’s moshing, surrounded by hundreds of rabid drunken bodies, slick with sweat and caked in dust and silver paint…

“Oz?”

Consciousness is sudden, painful to every sense that still functions, ears complaining at the familiar scrape of metal on rubber as his van’s side door is pulled open. Outside it’s too warm to be the desert at night, the vague smells of vegetation and civilisation at the end of a long and hot Summer. He’s back in Sunnydale. Somewhere between Friday and right now he lost a whole weekend in a haze of stop-motion images: he knows what happened, just not the how and the why. Gotta stop doing this or you’re gonna explode. He feels like he could sleep for a week, but ten hours will have to do… there are too many questions but not enough words as someone lifts him, puts his arm over their shoulder, drops him on his bed, drives away in his vehicle.

It can wait until the morning.



Oz wakes up.

The sun is far too bright through the cherry wood blinds, smells of the desert clashing with familiarity, seeping through his semi-conscious defences. He aches in places he wants to forget, but the pain in his soul is too insistent to ignore. Emotionally he’s dead, having killed his own hopes thanks to too little independence and too much stupidity: that is enough to wake him, to force a body abused by the world to demand attention. He only just makes it to the bathroom before he vomits: it’s close. After the first retch there’s nothing but bile and pain, yet it keeps coming, spasm after spasm: the brutality a reminder of the perils of his situation. Finally, blissfully, he looks up and focuses on the clock: 8.45am. Downstairs there is movement, his family well awake. No way to avoid this, just take it head on.

It takes an hour in the shower and bathroom to return his physical state to something approaching normal, and he’s grateful for the acetone he finds in the bathroom cabinet. He’s all out himself, and he remembers all to clearly what happened the last time he went downstairs after a weekend away with the remains of his own efforts on his nails. Rebellion in this family has to happen, sure, just a step at a time. Right now, he’s doing it with clothes. The only souvenir of the weekend that’s not covered in either semen or vomit seems a good place to continue the resistance: that shirt the guys stole for him when he refused to enter the brothel, late on the Saturday night. Everyone grabbed some kind of a souvenir, that was the deal. Instead of sampling the women for himself Oz sat in the van, playing his acoustic, making a note to himself that when he gained manhood, it would be with someone special.

Yeah, and that promise lasted all of a day. Maybe it’s time to stop just doing this stuff and start thinking about the why. Maybe it’s time to get serious and find some new guys to hang out with on the weekends… Jesus, he sounds so old, and he is, a whole year gone, lost in the dust. Can’t ever get it back, remember?

Time to make a change.

Oz clears away the detritus of his weekend, wrapping his clothes and stashing them in his guitar case, to wait for the moment he can clean them without his mom seeing the stains. Then he opens all the windows, letting the Sunnydale air wash through his room, blowing the last of the cobwebs away while he braves downstairs and does something about the ache in his stomach. He arrives in the kitchen just as his mother is clearing away the breakfast things: his bowl and plate remain, Mom prepared to extend serving for his benefit. They never talk; it’s enough just to be there every morning, to keep up the pretence of routine. The smell of cooking batter should make him ill, instead there is a level of familiarity that soothes his senses, settles his stomach. He hasn’t eaten for over a day, it’s time to take the plunge and see what happens. After the sixth mouthful of pancake he knows things are returning to normal.

This next year at school will be different: he’s gonna work hard, do well, and work out how to make something of his life. Plus, he’s gonna find some new friends, special people who won’t get him stoned, then leave him in a pile of his own excretions in the middle of the desert.

Or who will steal his van when he’s unconscious.

”Sweetie, did you hear me?”

Mom is talking to him, and he’s not listening.

“Sorry, say that again?”

‘You haven’t forgotten, have you? You promised to babysit Jordy for Aunt Maureen tonight… you haven’t got anything planned?”

Jesus, after what’s just happened he could do with some monotony, plus Jordy’s too hyperactive to allow him to think for too long. That’s no bad thing. Yeah, babysitting will be cool.

What’s the worst that could happen?