The Fire Is Dead, The Room Is Cold

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I spend a lot of time thinking about video game narrative. So as soon as I found out that I would be writing regularly for the Unstuck blog, I knew that I wanted to interview the person who made A Dark RoomThat person is Michael Townsend, and you can read our conversation here. The interview is spoiler-free, but I still recommend playing through the game before reading the interview. It’s a great game for a wintery day.

I am snowed in today, so I’m going to spend the afternoon reading for Interfictions, which is open for submissions for the next few days. Later, I’ll send out some of my own work. Later still? Well, probably some video games. I’m working my way through Closure right and thinking about light instead of narrative.

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Real People in Fake Monster Costumes

The harder you look, the harder it looks back.

Sometimes I stand in front of words and make wild-eyed faces while visiting friends take my picture.

Sometimes I write words down.

I signed on to be a staff writer for Unstuck’s shiny new blog. My first assignment was “art”, so I wrote about my experience going to Kaiju Big Battel with my apartment’s resident wrestling expert. If giant monster wrestling and narratology are things you like, you may enjoy reading “Real People in Fake Monster Costumes”.

I’ll be writing about a different topic once a month. Non-fiction isn’t something I feel super comfortable with. That’s one of the many reasons this blog tends to languish for months at a time. I do, however, love deadlines. I think this will be a nice way to dragging me away from my comfort zone while getting me to actually write about all those neat things I’ve been meaning to write about.

The Unexpected Thing

Prospect Park

I started running last week. I am still running this week, so hopefully I will be running next week as well.

I am 25. I ran as a kid, but only in the context of games. I hated running for running’s sake. Like a lot of bookish kids, I was asthmatic.

I outgrew my asthma. So when a friend asked me to go running with her last week, I shrugged and put on my sneakers.

It’s weird, having a body that is in some ways more functional than the one I had as a child. I still associate running with the feeling of my lungs being squeezed in an enormous fist. This time, though, my legs moved and kept moving. My lungs took in air and sent oxygen to my blood. Everything worked.

I ran for half a mile before I had to stop. I am not good at running. But as I get older, I find that I am more likely to take on activities that I am not good at.

So, a few months ago I began working my way through Learn Python The Hard Way. I’m interested in the internet of/with things. I’m interested in reading and writing electronic text. It’s about time that I actually start learning how to make the things I want to make. I’m hoping to get a practice project or two up here soon.

I think that writing has made me braver and more stubborn. I know that you have to work at something to get better at it. I am used to the idea that valuable things are often difficult.

Right now I am writing and sending things out. I will let you know if anything finds a home.

In the meantime, I’ll keep working.

Snow Days

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Last week I worked every day at two jobs I like. I got two free small press books as bonuses. One is Vallie Lynn Watson’s A River So Long and the other is Jac Jemc’s My Only Wife. I get an hour a day for lunch. I always bring my lunch, so I use the hour to slowly eat my food, drink some tea, and read. Last week I read Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl and Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle in quick succession. I finished A River So Long over the weekend.

I am in a fallow mode. I keep walking around my neighborhood and looking at things and feeling happy. I am listening to other people talk. I am reading a lot of good books and taking pleasure in the work that I’m doing. I make meals for myself and my friends. I look over slush for the journal and anthology I edit for on the side. I’ve been slowly exercising a knot out of my back. I am applying for free trips. I am not writing. I have a story seed I’m turning over and over in my head. It’s about Antartica and small, enclosed spaces. Soon I will be ready to sit and write it down.

On Saturday it snowed. I woke up to homemade cinnamon rolls made by my roommate. I ate cinnamon rolls and drank coffee. I held the lizard up to the window glass to see the snow, and afterward he went back into his artificial cave and curled the tip of his tail over his nose. I went out and tromped around around in the perfect, powdery snow in Prospect Park for a few hours. We had a snowball fight and built a snowman. We stopped at Bierkraft afterward for a sandwich and a post-snow pint of dark beer. I came home and read journal submissions, then made a cauldron of homemade macaroni and cheese for my friends. Then we watched The Maltese Falcon, which will always and forever remain one of my favorite films of all time.

Yesterday I went into Manhattan to accompany my boyfriend to a vintage video game store. We stopped by Chinatown to celebrate the new year of the snake and were showered with confetti. I watched dragon dancers rear up and down, and afterward I stood in the slushy street and ate a bit of lamb grilled on a stick. I came home, braised beef shanks, roasted broccoli, and simmered polenta.

Paradoxically, I feel like I have more time now that I spend five days a week in an office. When I have a day to myself I want to use it up completely. So I do.

My Winter Journal Hoard

Journal Hoard

Much like a small rodent hoards nuts and seeds for the long winter, I tend to stash away lit journals for a rainy day. My unread journal hoard is starting to outgrow my bedside table, however, and winter is definitely here. I spent the last six years in the mild climes of Oregon and Texas. I left my Brooklyn apartment this afternoon to get groceries and I don’t think I will be leaving my apartment again until the sleet decides to stop doing whatever it is that it thinks it’s doing. Snow does not charm me. It just makes me want to huddle indoors. Good thing I have a bedside table full of lit journals and a cupboard full of tea. Here’s what I’ll be reading this week.

NANO Fiction Mars

I’ve moved three times in the last six months, so my contributor’s copy of NANO Fiction 6.1 only just reached me. This is the first time I’ve seen my fiction in print outside of college art and lit mags. I’m a feckless youth who cut my writing teeth in undergraduate workshops, and it’s always wonderful to get positive feedback from people who’ve never met me and aren’t socially required to be nice and encouraging. NANO has given this story a lot of support, including making it one of their weekly features. Thanks, NANites.

I got a copy of PEN’s journal when I visited their offices recently, and I’m looking forward to reading some great fiction, essays, and interviews this week.

I’ve been carting my copy of Hobart #13 around for a while, saving it for a special occasion. As Hobart #14 has been out since December, I think it’s time to finally crack it open so that I can order the next issue.

I also received my editor’s copy of Unstuck #2, and I am very excited to curl up with this weighty collection of short fiction and read a journal I’m proud to have helped produced.

What journals are you reading right now?

Alternate Histories

The Cold War, and particularly the space race, is a period of history I think about quite a bit. So, when I was visiting my grandmother last month in D.C., I made it a priority to get myself to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum and see some of their space race artifacts. I had fun.

Here is a Soviet space suit from the moon landing that wasn’t.

Soviet Space Suit

Here are me and my friend T. showing how to properly pose as a space explorer.

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The Air and Space Museum is kind of weird. Its collection of artifacts is stunning, but the presentation is often tonally strange. It’s a patriotic endeavor, funded by the government with the help of large contributions from American air and space companies. There are a lot of sly digs at the Soviet space program. Sputnik may have been the first satellite in space, say the placards, but the Discovery was far superior in design.

I kind of wanted to go through the museum with a fine-toothed comb and a Wikipedia search bar open. The museum didn’t lie, exactly, but it certainly glossed over some pretty critical, if unsavory, elements of the American space program.

One of which is the import of Nazi rocket scientists to the United States after the end of WW II.

The fact that the U.S. poached Nazi scientists to work on American projects is by no means a secret. It was common knowledge even in the 60s. The character of Dr. Strangelove, for instance, is one long joke about Americanized Nazi scientists.

A comic I have been enjoying lately is  The Manhattan Projects,  a mad science fictional take on the Cold War. I have my particular nerdy nitpicks about the series, but overall I think it’s great. The Manhattan Projects is an alternate history that includes aliens, robots, and transdimensional Toji gates powered by death Buddhists.

Wernher von Braun appears in the series with a robot arm.

von Braun w/ robot arm

Wernher von Braun appears frequently in the Air and Space Museum. There is no mention of his Nazi origins, or Operation Paperclip. In fact, it’s never even mentioned that he was originally from Germany. Wernher von Braun suddenly appears in the post-war pictures, with no mention of his origins. For anyone with a basic knowledge of space race history, it’s a pretty glaring omission.

In  The Manhattan Projects, von Braun’s Nazi origins are gleefully examined. Nazi scientists are a staple of the sort of pulp adventure stories the series draws from, and The Manhattan Projects portrays von Braun as a ruthless pragmatist whose primary loyalty is to science.

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I think history is important. American history, in particular, often gets distorted through a patriotic lens. It’s especially telling, however, when an enthusiastically absurd comic book is willing to address elements of history that a national museum is not. The Air and Space Museum tells its own alternate history, one in which Soviet engineering is always inferior, the American moon landing was predestined, and Wernher von Braun coalesces from the ether after World War II and helpfully takes us into space.

Safe and Dry

Sandy tore threw here like, well, a hurricane.

My Brooklyn neighborhood was lucky. Our lights flickered ominously a few times, but we never lost power. We stayed up half the night watching low quality horror movies, drinking cooking scotch, and listening to the wind whip by. When it was over, my roommates and I went out to look around.

The Gowanus canal was high up on its banks, but no longer overflowing. We walked through the streets and listened to the hum of people pumping polluted water out of their basements. Closer to my apartment, there was no flooding. A few old trees had come down in the wind. There is no place for a tree to fall around here without hitting something. In this case, they tore up asphalt and crushed cars.

Prospect Park is still closed, but I’ve heard that it will take months to repair the damage caused by the storm.

The subways are just starting to run again. By next week, hopefully, we’ll be able to move around freely. This week, though, has been a kind of hyper-local carnival. The Slope is mostly undamaged, but nobody can get to work. Everyone is feeling lucky. The bars are doing brisk business.

This weekend, though, I’ll probably be sticking close to home. I’ll be making soup, editing stories, and gratefully patting the solid brick walls of the building I live in.