The Lost Day: Part 5 (Finale)

Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4.

*1979*

            The first sound after she appeared in the lecture hall was a clicking door shutting. The harsh light above slammed into the crowd in the hill seats, blinding the leaning wall chalkboard. Keres pounded ahead of her to the cold door, but waited to run until she walked over and opened the exit.

The sun was setting; she breathed in deep and soft at the white pillars in each building, save those of a brass bell tower. The shadows, jagged and random, couldn’t hide Edgar from a restless, bounding Keres.

The grass crunched under Valdís’ feet as she approached. “Edgar, what is wrong.”

“… I’m just not feeling well, ok? Does there always have to be an answer?” Edgar chomped his lip down and leaned a red-eyed head on the flaking wall.

“Yes.” Looking over at his eyes, she added, “It’s the girl, isn’t it.”

Edgar froze, slowed down his train of inhalation, and then began a soft giggle that evolved into a gasping laugh.

“Of course you’d say that,” he enunciated. “That was days ago, and it was nothing special, I just kind of made her feel a bit uncomfortable and she said she wasn’t up for a relationship now. That isn’t important to me. No, it’s about you.” His gaze captured hers. “I’ve been taking notes in my psychology class.”

Her mouth shot open before she could cover it. She closed her eyes.

“Yeah, exercise won’t help, huh? Drinking won’t increase the chances of an attack, is that right? You’re full of shit. Everyone’s full of shit, because I’m just a paper plate to them, for their f-f-f-f-f-fucking bread and butter. And you, Miss Gimmie-The-Magazine-Already, you knew what you were doing.”

Valdís raised a hand to put on Edgar’s trembling shoulders, but stopped herself in time.

“Edgar,” she said, after discarding the marble voice. “Edgar, the important thing was that you understood more about-“

“Shut up,” he snarled. His shaking hands dug out the folded piece of paper, which he brandished at her face. “I’ve got all your inconsistencies, all those lies on here. You don’t know how many layers or which ones or why, and never could keep a personal bible around. So religion is bullshit, but it’s ok for you to spew out whatever generalizations you want! I can’t even be nice to you at the bar without you lying to me. I was dumb for not taking this down earlier, but… no, I’m still dumb. I’m nothing, and it’s all my fault. Go away.”

With his knee shoving Keres out of his course, Edgar set a path past Valdís, to the silhouettes of trees. She approached him. “I-“

Edgar spun with a primal cry and shoved her with both hands.

She didn’t expect the fall. It scraped a patch of skin from her bottom, knocked her head back up. She scanned over her pale self, then to Edgar, who held his hands up with wide eyes before shrieking to the orange clouds.

“…you touched me. That should have killed you.”

“I know!” Edgar screamed. “You can’t do anything right!”

His cry echoed across the hidden rooftops. He covered his mouth, choked back, and then stumbled into a run far from Valdís. Keres followed the never-ending rope back to her, and they both watched the wrenching shape fade away.

*1979*

            She had become one being long ago. Now, she had walked to the dunes before the endless ocean, under frozen airplanes and coated sky. The rope stretched across the bar highway, hundreds of miles long, over a small stream. From her counting, she concluded that Edgar’s panic attack had kept himself awake for almost a day in frozen time.

Valdís sat and pushed her hands on her concaving chest. She attempted a jagged, dull tune as she stared at the crusty waves hanging over the beach. There was no response.

Looking down, she tugged on the rope, stood, and spoke. “Keres, we should apologize.”

*1979*

            “There is no proof of the layered world. Just because I cannot explain Keres’ presence, that doesn’t mean I can justify creating layers and layers I’ve never seen before. Even as far back as decades, I began to doubt my own experience in the forest. Forcing you to convert was- wrong of me, and intentionally allowing more panic attacks through forced rituals was damaging to your life. I apologize for that.”

There were thousands of tree saplings nestled in Edgar’s greasy hair. He stared up at her from the pit.

“I also misled you to that end, and I apologize for that as well.”

Keres began circling around, following his own wagging tail. Valdís noticed the rings under the teen’s eyes, the soft white scratches on his skin. They both sat for a long time.

Edgar stared at her inhuman flesh before looking at her eyes. “You’ve ruined my future.”

“But you can understand,” she spoke. “I can’t just be a roadblock to the worms. I needed to be significant.”

“So you made me worthless.” Edgar’s fingers balled the dirt and roots into his palm. His eyebrows also began digging. “I formed my own self to fit your world, left my own thoughts behind. I’ve skipped important advice, because who cares about this layer, right? Who will talk to the man with no personality in the real world, with nothing but paintings forgotten after one viewing? Because of you, all I know is how to waste time until my death. There is no future for me.”

“And for me as well. Please, Edgar. You’re my only connection to the world.”

After Edgar shuffled deeper into the shifting, crumbling hole of earth, he tucked his body in. Keres held a rope of sprinkled leaves in his mouth, nudged against Valdís before she reached for the teen. His eyes looked to the visible bell tower.

Death stood up, looking one last time at the only boy she could have talked to, and took sudden, spaced steps away, clenching the rope to her dog. “If you want this.” Looking with hazy eyes to the not-dark-yet horizon, she sat on a ringed stump while Edgar continued to huff out the life of the realm, his breath wavering. After minutes of watching him, she lay back on the scratching wood, closing her eyes and letting the rope slip from her fingers. “It will be your path now.”

The Lost Day: Part 4

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

*1979*

            The next visit in the dorm room was dark. Edgar jumped up, fumbling with his flashlight before shining it at the shape passing by his leg. “What the hell are you doing here?”

“Keres is a guide from the Higher Powers of the Core, to show me-“

“No I mean- never mind!” Edgar shifted to sit on his desk, the purple plus signs on his pajamas shining under the moon. “I guess we’ll have to talk now, because what else can I do!”

Valdís remained at the rattling door.

“I mean, no one knows what I’m going through! And I’m sick of people making fun of that cliché, but it’s true, and them making fun of it only brings me here! Nobody can tell I have panic attacks, because it’s all just peachy-keen to them, isn’t it!”

“How does that make-“

Edgar held his trembling finger out, “It’s been a rough first week, ok? I mean, I’m talking to people at lunch and someone’s talking about the sexism in 50s music and I say I like 50s music, and I think I offended him and here I am! It’s- I should be doing more things, I’m just wasting time here! I don’t even know how to not waste time anymore!”

Valdís stepped across the piercing crumbs to a stack of books on the desk, and picked the first one up.

“Fine, go ahead.” Edgar climbed back up to his bunk. On the desk, above a Monopoly box, lay a scratched-out portrait of a blood-soaked giant. “That’s all I’ll be doing my life. I know the layers fine, I just got to let them catch up to me.”

*1979*

“When I claim someone, it is not that different from our meetings,” Valdís explained, looking through the window to the bent evergreens reaching for the bright green ground. “Time freezes, and other people disappear. When I touch them, they transcend to the next layer.”

The lanky Edgar had an ear to her, yet kept focused on a hanging black hat in front of a ridged, gaudy gameboard. The small room had a vending machine and a couch; it was noon outside.

“Go move the board.”

Edgar turned, but then averted his eyes from her glowing smile.

“You can tell me what happens to it when you return,” she continued.

“I’d rather not.”

“That’s ok. Now tell me what brings you here,” she verbalized.

Edgar swiveled around a wheeled chair, and then settled himself into it. “No, that’s ok. I’ll listen to you.”

“There are some differences between you in this plane and the dead in theirs. The dead are limited to a 44-meter radius from their earthly body, while you don’t seem to have a limit. My only possessions are my dog and myself, whom I have to keep on a tight leash most of the time. I’ve also learned that food can be an effective depressant if you feel anxious, so perhaps a good stream can keep you calm.”

Keres had crawled onto the stack of boxes by a dark window, and began rubbing his belly on them. Edgar’s eyes had closed, and his bottom lip held tight as he stretched his entire body.

*1979*

“I keep thinking about last time we met, when I quit – well, in a sense – that board game when they started to team up against me. I mean, I made the right choice, since there’s no point continuing a game you’re set to lose,” Edgar breathed out quickly, caressing his wide knuckles. “But I still got tired from it, and when I woke up I was back in the room and my mind’s been on that.”

On a grassy bump surrounded by road, a parade of shorts and t-shirts blocked the pathways. A nearby sign read ‘University of California.’ Edgar looked for a moment, with tight jaw and tilted head, at Valdís.

“A common trigger for panic attacks is the fear of other panic attacks,” said Valdís with ease. “You’re actually quite fortunate, to have a place to go to when you’re feeling stressed.”

“Fortunate,” Edgar huffed. “Lucky. Right.” Behind him, a bowtie man with pamphlets held his sleeve collar to his cheek, his feet standing shocked at the walking duo.

*1979*

            This time, Valdís and Keres materialized in a sloped lecture hall, with many seats invisibly taken and an encompassing “panem et circenses” on the blackboard. She strode to the lumpy teen with a notebook in his hand, with an empty coffee cup at his side, with sweat on his forehead.

“What brings you here today?” she asked.

Edgar tensed upwards, clutched his armrests as sweat pressed against his armpits. “I never had much of a choice,” he said, adding in a little laugh.

Valdís sat like a Greek statue until he continued. “I’m not sure. The lecture was boring me, so I started getting some paper out to practice for art class. And then I get here and I don’t know why.”

She sighed. “What were you thinking before you arrived?”

“It wasn’t important.”

“Really.” She forced her way into the neighboring empty seat.

“Well, these sessions are tiring. Nothing against you, of course.”

“Just go on.” She held her spotless forehead with both hands.

“But it’s just how I feel afterwards, like I’ve hacked away at a dragon made of chewed gum or something. It takes up all my energy.” Edgar stole glances from the side, and then paused. “It’s killing my free time – my time to draw. And I know the Freshman 15 is building up, so I should begin exercising, but I don’t have the energy…”

“There’s no need,” she chimed in. “On the next layer, you’re given a new body. Much like how we discovered our magazines would not move in the real world if we moved it here, little of what’s done in this plane matters. The important mission is to see the layers, find a way to return.”

Edgar shivered, his empty breath slowing. “Do you know what the next layer is like?” A grin broke through his lips for a moment.

“It is enlightenment. Aware of the past life, the civilization there sees the futility of old religions and crusades, lives the path right in front of them.”

“I mean, what did you see there?”

By the time she responded, “I’ve never left this layer,” Edgar was calm, and everything vanished.

*1979*

            Valdís appeared on top of a bar, above hundreds of caps and open sweaters. There were spilled glasses of brown liquid at everyone’s feet, which Keres immediately began to lick. She focused on the thousands of bumper sticker under only neon, each one a cliché. Edgar was sliding past the hovering clothes towards her, his jacket bouncing around.

“Someone took my wallet!”

“What?”

“My wallet! I’ve checked my pockets like a hundred times!” He rubbed his eyelids in dizzy circles.

“Check them again.”

Edgar pulled out a ring of keys and folded sheet of paper, then brought out the white cloth inside his jeans.

“Coat?”

He patted his pocket sides of the white jacket, and then sighed. From his right, he brought out the stuffed leather.

“Well that was dumb,” he muttered, sliding down on the stool. “Goddamn panic attacks.”

Valdís killed three oil tycoons and a babbling vagabond before Edgar stopped drumming his fingers and looked up. “Ok, I’m not calming down, then. Wasn’t having much fun anyway.” He jolted his stool in, “How have you been?”

Valdís, looking down at Edgar’s greasy and unkempt hair, flinched a little. “How am I doing?”

“Yeah, kill anyone good today? Get Ko-meanie, what’s his name, the guy in Iran? Any old geezers that thought you were a funny-looking orderly or something?”

Valdís’ laugh was low and sudden, and Edgar slammed sweaty hands onto the bar when it happened.

“Yes! Took me long enough!” he cheered. “But seriously, how are you?”

“Well, thank you,” she smiled, before lowering herself to the other side of the bar.

“Did I mention that I’m going out with someone?”

“Really?” Valdís exclaimed. “I wish you luck, then.”

“Yeah, yeah.”

They sat in silence for a while, until Valdís added, “So where is she?”

“Oh, somewhere… there, with the cute glasses.” He motioned this with a casual hand.

“You could be pointing to someone you just noticed.”

“Oh, of course you’d say that. You’ve probably met a bunch of smart people, but needed me for books apparently.”

“I haven’t picked one up from you in a while.” Valdís leaned towards him, beamed.

“Well, I’ve done something good, then.” Edgar laughed a little, then cut it off as he twitched his cheeks. “Hang on. Hang – God dammit!”

“What is- “ She cleared her throat, “How are you feeling?”

“I have time stopping powers! Kind of! I know it’s another realm and all, but I still think I could’ve been an action hero somehow! I could’ve made Wolverine look like a poodle!” He clutched the splinter-littered bar. “I really wasted my gifts, didn’t I?”

“I don’t see why you’d want to be an action hero, let alone how you would do it.”

“Oh but there must be something.

“Look, you know that that’s not important. Pull yourself together.”

His eyebrows tightened as he slowly let loose his fingers. “All right, all right,” he sighed, “I guess I’d have to pick the right animal theme too, lest I upset the 20th layer.”

“22nd layer.”

“Right.” Edgar put his thumb in his pocket, glaring at the smudged, fake-wood floor. “22nd layer.”

To be concluded in Part 5.

Imagining A World Without Emotion

Equilibrium has the status of a brilliant cult film, a status I don’t understand because the movie’s balls-in-deep-fryer levels of stupid. The villain’s plot hinges on the main character, super-cop John Preston, not taking his emotion-suppressing drug in an emotionless dystopia one day, a plan based on an entirely private accident (Preston knocking over his Emote-B-Gone in the bathroom). Emotion doesn’t factor into the war between the dystopia and The Resistance beyond it just being the flag worn by one particular side. And, most damning of all, Equilibrium promises a world without emotions and does not deliver. Give me any scene in this movie, and I can point out pride, suspicion, pain, ambition, or several other emotions felt by characters who are supposed to be taking medicine to quell all feeling (There’s only one scene where this is not the case: bad guy says to Preston “do the thing” and Preston says “ok”). This constant plotsore got to the point where I suspected the big twist of this movie to be that nobody was taking the state-mandated drugs.

Unknown
I have no feelings about this poster.

So why do people like this movie? I have two suspicions. One, it’s fucking awesome. Gun-kata, a martial art based on firing guns and dodging bullets, forms the basis of several amazing actions scenes in this movie. But people keep telling me this is a “thinking man’s movie,” unless they mean a man thinking “This iz teh coolest!” So what else? Maybe the premise appeals to people. Imaginations fire off when they hear ideas like “Imagine a world without x” or “What if everyone was y?” So maybe people like the premise and connect with it well enough that they forget that the idea doesn’t work in this movie. What would a world without emotion actually look like? In other words, how would I write Equilibrium and make it good?

Unknown
I admit it: any criticism I could make on this movie would be diffused by any of its action scenes.

Let’s take the starting point of the film: After WWIII, humanity seeks to prevent future suffering by destroying anger, fear, and other root causes of war (forgetting, of course, that lack of resources and potential gains of living space/superior political positions also cause wars, and that a populace weary of war and protective of their youth helps prevent them). Humanity’s now emotionless. What do they do with their time? Can’t pursue culture, no motivation to earn love or raise a family. Why even eat to feel satisfied? What does the continuation of the human race feel like to them? It feels like nothing, so there’s no motivation to get out of bed. Let’s get even more basic. You’re a dictator, and you tell your people, “Take this drug that suppresses your emotions.” They ask “Why?” you say “I’ll kill you if you don’t,” and they say “That’s bad! I better take the pill!” On Day 2, what will you say to make them take the pill again? What do they care if they get killed? They won’t even judge it as bad. And if you wait until they feel again to force the pill on them, that just opens a huge window for more of them to say “No” each day.

People tend to forget that logic, aside from numerical equations, exists to serve emotions. You do logical things, like eat healthy and avoid bad neighborhoods, because you want to maximize positive feelings and minimize negative ones. People in depression can be emotionless, and look at how productive they are.

Unknown
Ooo! I got it! Equilibrium meets Star Wars! Blaster-kata!

But this is our premise and our imagination; let’s change it so that the drugs suppress ‘bad’ emotions, like anger or hate, the stuff ‘causing’ the wars in the first place. How do you keep an obedient population? At least emotionless people couldn’t be arsed to sodomize kittens or graffiti your Apple-Trademarked cityscapes. Even if those people feel a void instead of a negative emotion, how do you think they’ll feel about the void?

Maybe this whole business is a temporary fix. Perhaps the elite are the only ones allowed to have emotions until humanity enters a post-scarcity era or something. There’s still the risk of Dictator A getting cross with General B and starting a war, but if these elite all agreed to Emote-B-Gone the world to prevent wars, maybe they’re extra-keen to remember everyone’s birthdays. Art and culture is for the top dogs only, and the underclass can’t even get jealous. One thing I liked about Equilibrium was the implication that the opposite of emotion isn’t logic, but faith and conformity. Preston doesn’t have kids because he likes them; he has kids because society demands it. Emotions don’t make us human, they make us individuals. This still doesn’t solve the problem that people without emotions don’t care about leaders enough to follow or even fear them, but that leash will keep us from the dog park of imagination if we don’t loosen it a bit. Emotionlessness isn’t the entirety of the drug, but the symptom of a medicine that makes you totally susceptible to suggestion.

How do these elite members get the underclass to take the drug? A constant need to reapply the drug causes the problems in Equilibrium in the first place. So let’s make Emote-B-Gone airborne, perhaps by using the machine from Batman Begins. With every toxin-laced breath, the population stays docile and susceptible to command. Some people resist by carrying oxygen tanks and masks wherever they go, just like there’s a Resistance in the film. The villains are out in a space station, far from the poisonous atmosphere, giving orders via Skype and broadcasting propaganda so their workforce remembers to continue building everything-proof shields and puppy dispensers and other utopian inventions (funny enough, Equilibrium broadcasts propaganda everywhere too, but only because it assumes it’s audience is too stupid to remember that this society is bad unless they tell us every other scene).

images
DOES THIS LOOK FAMILIAR!?!? DO YOU GET IT!?!?

To see what happens next, let’s consider the message the film wanted to convey: “Emotion trumps lack of emotion.” Or, in other words, “It’s wrong to take people’s emotions away.” Morality is based on feeling. One of the elites (we’ll call her Mary) decides that their class’s actions are wrong, having men and women (the scarce amount of women that exist in Equilibrium anyways) live entire lives in servitude without joy or euphoria, their breathing “just a clock…ticking.” So she needs to kill the elite, and maybe the best way to do this is to get super-samurai-gun-cops The Clerics to kill the leaders. She utilizes a secure, private channel to contact the Clerics, the order John Preston belongs to, and brings them up to the space station. The leaders give the Clerics air tanks (or sci-fi nostril implants that do the same thing, if you don’t want oxygen tanks to get in the way of action set pieces) filled with Emote-B-Gone before they’re allowed onboard. Mary gives the rest of the elite a bullshit excuse for bringing the Clerics to the space station, an excuse that the leaders don’t believe. So, in the middle of a private Cleric/Mary meeting, just as Mary takes the nosegear off of Preston, the dictator of this world sends in a broadcast ordering the Clerics to kill Mary. Mary grabs Preston and dives just in time into a trapdoor that leads to a bulletproof bunker. Now safe, she explains to Preston that that new sensation in him is emotion, and that’s why he needs to eradicate the rest of the elite and, by extension, his fellow Clerics. The movie becomes a string of action sequences in pursuit of this goal. At first, it appears Mary’s fatal flaw was her decision to emotionify Preston: with pesky feelings like respect for life and physical pain in the way, Preston’s less effective as a fighter. But the feelings of immense pressure and fear boost Preston’s creativity to the point where he can outwit his fellow Clerics and even the decadent elite. This comes with a price: each death weighs on Preston’s conscious more and more, to the point where he goes from sad to depressed to suicidal with grief due to his newfound respect for life and his role as the grim reaper. Preston wins, of course, and finds a way to detoxify the atmosphere of Earth. But he’s so grief-wracked and disgusted with himself (and with Mary, who he now views as a hypocrite and a monster) that the only way Mary can save herself and Preston is to attach his Emote-B-Gone nosegear to him without his consent. She saves his life by becoming the dystopian elite she swore to destroy.

From here, I’m not sure how to go on- this ending raises a lot of heavy questions, perhaps best answered by the audience and not the film. Still a better Equilibrium movie than the one you got, don’t you think?

The Lost Day: Part 3

Part 1 can be found here, Part 2 can be found here.

*1977*

            “So you really are Death, huh?” asked Edgar with a smirk, his shining shoes tapping down the purple-tiled school floor.

Both of them looked ahead at the battered doorway. Gum stuck to folded papers littering the path. “Most likely. I was called that many times, but it wasn’t until I discovered some text naming me Thanatos that I understood. I prefer Valdís, however.”

“Valdís. Ok. So, how many times have I ‘died’, then?” Edgar chuckled as he wiped away some drying sweat from his acne and stared into the fluorescent line on the ceiling.

“You haven’t. You have had 387 panic attacks, however.”

Valdís opened The Complete Greek Mythology Encyclopedia she held in front of her, and squinted at the large profile of Elvis drawn over the edifices of text. “How am I supposed to read this now?” she snarled.

Edgar held out his hand, head still forward. “I’m sorry. I should’ve been more considerate.”

“It’s all right.” She slid it into his hand while facing him. Ahead, the dog had been wrestling the drinking fountain’s handle. “It’s nice to have it around. It’s a good habit of yours.”

They turned right to the dust-colored stairs of crowded backpacks, Edgar talking their way down. “So this guy I’ve looked up, Duchamp,” he began, pronouncing the name ‘Da-champ,’ “Really like what I’ve discovered about him, like his paintings. It’s cool that he upset some people, cause it really is that fun. Did you know, without you I could’ve become one of those religious snobs I now tease. I should draw more to mess with them. Although maybe I shouldn’t, I’ve been talking about you a lot, and – well, I’m making a name for myself in that way. I’m worth noting now. So thank you.”

Valdís smiled at Edgar’s shrug, and opened the next door to a shining green cafeteria.

“So when did it begin?”

“Hmm?” No one had walked out of the square stairwell yet.

“Everyone’s asking me where I came up with this ‘idea’ and I don’t know what to say.” The teen threw his head back up, rebalanced himself on the frozen bathroom door. “I mean, I can draw from here better than explain.”

“It’s all right.” Valdís tugged on the rope, which began to curl back into her skin as Keres bounded down the landing. The dog snuggled against her feet. “It is difficult to describe, yet whom but I can? I believe in Roman Gaul… no, before that. In my foolishness, I spent centuries attempting to breach your world, to not send any more souls to death. Anything to relieve the millenniums of tedium. Keres is no company, and with his appetite, he eventually breaks free from me to devour the deceased. I cannot wish that on anyone. The forests of Gaul – if they were even those – once gave me the chance to experiment, for Keres’ prey was faster than he. I let him go so I could ponder.

“I had run out of ways to try and escape my duty. Those who did not fear and hate me gave me no useful advice. When the last medicine man’s ritual proved useless, I became aware that life may be without purpose. That thought suffocated all of its kind.

“I’ve forgotten why this attempted escape to your world brought me to dig a rock deep into my skin. But the stone shattered on me, and opened up all its colors inside. I broke other rocks to compare: only this one had thin rings after another, each of different material, each one breathing.

“The prey returned, and he was no man. Red and giant, with quills mounting on his back, howling in a tongue that even I do not know. One titan hand grasped my head, perhaps signaling the death of the being. That was the first time when I was not attending deaths that I could be conscious. There I saw it: all of the new history, the slipping ooze whirlpool of all existences.

“The Higher Powers had realized their mistake in letting me work aimlessly: now, they bestowed their secrets, so that those free from life could believe and become.” As she ended her tale, she held a hand to where a human would have a left breast. Edgar still pressed his back against the wall after setting his encyclopedia down, the bright sunlight from windows away now crawling into the wide-green foyer ahead. “One day, in a future even you may not see, I will thank them.”

*1978*

            Shooting out a huff, Edgar planted his face on his folded arms, instigating his little desk to lean. “Goddammit, this is the twelfth time you’ve asked ‘how does that make you feel’. And that makes me feel just peachy.” He looked up as Keres brushed up against his leg, “I’m only joking.”

“Then I shall try something new later.” Valdís held up the psychology encyclopedia in front of the teacher with a ruffled shirt and dead hair.

“Yeah, yeah, that’s fine.”

She sat down and parted the book down the middle, and almost made it down the page before Edgar interrupted.

“Hey, how many people are you killing right now?” At her glare, he shirked away, still on his stiff seat. “If you don’t mind me asking.”

Valdís closed her eyes, her fish lips puffing out in small rhythms. The sunlight slipped off of the arched shirts of the schoolboys.

“There’s a man in a study with no feet and parchment skin, who’s waiting for my touch while I comb through his book collection. I may have landed on a soldier in a dry battlefield. There, a young woman with no hair I see. Each time I try to explain the layers, she snaps back with ‘I don’t need your preaching, weirdo, I’ve been living a great life, and I’d be just fine chillin’ with worms!’” Valdís’ voice echoed with the imitation. “And before I can get to explaining the 23rd layer to her, she is shouting about The Man and is rambling nonsense about ‘the good spirit in everyone living forever!’ and she and Keres won’t be quiet and I’ve touched her.” With her eyes opened, her voice deepened. “There is now only the good man.”

The teen returned to his Western Civilization book once she finished, his big right ear still leaning towards her.

“The fifth layer requires a new ritual for you, one that matters: once a year, beginning at adulthood, you must slap a preacher.”

*1979*

            “So the 23rd layer’s Knowledge,” Edgar asked, his long fingers tapping at the spirals of cabinet wood in his new dormitory.

Keres had climbed on top of the second bunk bed in the drab, crammed room. His master sat on a plastic grey chair, feet carefully above the brown carpet’s sparkling crumbs.

“The 23rd layer is Animalis. All humans have an innate connection to the other worlds. 23 can be seen in connection with animals everywhere. Where do you think Keres comes from?”

The learning teen held in a giggle, then spoke soft. “’Valdís, I think I left my keys at home.’” He then put on a deeper voice with controlled enunciation, “’Well, it must be in the 22nd layer, the Layer of Forgettable Dunces.’”

“The 22nd layer is the Layer of Questions.”

Edgar threw his hands up and grinned at the embassy of worlds. “No layers for jokes, I take it.”

“None.” She closed her eyes as Keres hopped down to Edgar’s side. Once the lash-less eyes opened, she stated, “When we started, I was also attending to seven other deceased. Now I am down to four. Time to talk about what brings you here.”

“So Keres is a natural-born killer, huh?”

She glanced at the furry creature, whose head was in the teen’s sweatpants lap. The endless rope had coiled around the desk, under the bunk bed, and all the way to her pocket. “Yes, he can be aggressive towards the dead. There are many aspects different between my usual work and here. But you need to talk now.”

The number of dead she was attending to elsewhere halved again by the time Edgar opened his lips. “I can’t think of any triggers. Well… I guess it was in a conversation with him.” He gestured to the tank top and jeans floating next to Valdís, “He’s my roommate, he’s pretty cool. I mentioned something about I was being stressed by all my problems and he said, ‘You’re a rich white kid, what problems do you have?” So we laughed and I know he was joking because he’s nice, but I’m still on it. Thinking of clever comebacks.” He took some deep breaths. “But it’s the same problem with drawing, where I don’t think I have anything interesting to draw because I haven’t- I can’t tell them too much about this world. Not anymore. I couldn’t take it.”

Valdís nodded slowly at this. “I understand it’s difficult. If you must, you can use your art to explain it to them.”

He patted Keres a couple of times. “My best stuff comes from here, and even that can’t compare anymore.”

To be continued in Part 4.

Don’t Call Me Crazy

Yes, immediately after I talk about how motivation’s a weak reason to write, I present a poem created out of instant impetus. I read this article and, well, had some complex thoughts that soon boiled down to plain anger and derision. I took my previous writing plans for the night and shoved them aside onto the mental tracks of the runaway train the germ for this poem became. So yeah, discipline rules and motivation drools, but I don’t discourage drive when it comes to you- you might get fun stuff like this! It led to a healthy discussion with my roommate at any rate.

Unknown

Don’t Call Me Crazy

by Nick Edinger

Help the Mentally Ill and don’t use the word “Crazy.”

Be a helpful ally.

Your ex isn’t “crazy”- she’s just a bit peeved.

It leaves schizophrenics and their like quite bereaved

when what they’ve been called all their lives gets perceived

with stupidity, no dignity, and some bad guys.

Help the Mentally Ill and don’t use the word “Crazy.”

I know you can do it; go ahead and amaze me!

**

Help the Mentally Ill and avoid saying “Insane.”

The shitlords are clever.

We told them “crazy” will now be off limits

and they called their leaders “insane” within minutes.

It’s for the same reasons this word we prohibit:

that word’s mean when it’s seen with afflicted whomevers.

Help the Mentally Ill and avoid saying “Insane.”

Keep the downtrodden from every single type of pain.

**

Help the Mentally Ill and don’t use the word “Stupid.”

It’s not cool anymore.

So you heard “insane” and “crazy’s” not in vogue

and you called Kim Il Sung “stupid” like a little rogue.

Well you’ll find I’m not stopping, I’m still at the prologue

on this quest where we best the privileged folk we abhor.

Help the Mentally Ill and don’t use the word “Stupid.”

And no, you motherfuckers still can’t say “retarded.”

**

Let me make this real simple for egregious cumsluts

who keep hurting our friends.

You may not say “mad,” not even in anger,

nor “weird,” “fool,” “silly,” “nuts,” “wacky,” “daft,” “bent,” “strange,” nor

“deranged,” “demented,” “delirious,” nor a “danger,”

nor anything that’s your hating and insulting trend.

Let me make this real simple for egregious cumsluts:

When you think of them, keep your mouth quiet. Mute. Mum. Shut.

**

Help everyone out and don’t call them “Mentally Ill.”

What’s so ill about them?

They don’t need medicine, laws, or therapy,

all they need is no mention from friend to buddy

that’s spoken with smiles- but we know that just can’t be.

What’s that? Tone? It’s for phones, right? I don’t care, still condemned.

Help everyone out and don’t call them “Mentally Ill.”

What’s ‘Hy-per-bolly?” It doesn’t sound like it’s goodwill.

**

What do you mean you’re not satisfied with what we do?

We simplified the goal.

‘Stead of teaching depression’s more than “boo hoo,”

or saying schizophrenics won’t blow up your school

or ask for humanity for the ones that must drool,

we popped the zit, now can quit and ignore growing moles.

What do you mean you’re not satisfied with what we do?

We won- we got people to stop talking about you.

**

I hid you under the bed, and things improved greatly.

Why’d it take everyone years

To do what I did to impress my Facebook

friends and both the anxious people that I know? Look,

I know suicide rates haven’t changed, and our crooks

still need help.. so I’ll yelp about alphabetic fears.

I hid you under the bed, and things improved greatly.

Before you speak, just know… you shouldn’t call me crazy.

Motivation vs. Commitment

Come take a look at my proudest shame.

Screen Shot 2015-10-03 at 2.18.52 PM
Focus on the orange text, ignore the zeros.

Long time readers will identify this Excel spreadsheet as my writing log, where I mark how many daily pages I write. And yes, your eyes did not choose the alternative to ‘treat’ on Halloween; I did crank out thirty pages in one day. Well, more like 22 pages followed by four hours of typing and editing. I had a story deadline, I outlined what was going to happen in this story a week ago, and by god did I finish that story just in time. And I was behind on my semester goals anyways, so this was a great way to catch up!

You do realize, I hope, that I am more wrong than Donald Trump whacking a Mexican with a piñata stick.

Oh good-idea-at-the-time, how do I best shape you into a brick for the construction of a road to writing hell? Let’s start with a look at the rest of the log.

Screen Shot 2015-10-03 at 2.19.35 PM
Ok, now you can look at the zeros.

That ‘5’ remains an outlier- I procrastinated an essay as well that week. My weekly goal is 21 pages- the week after the week when my hand started cramping at the 15-page point, I only wrote 8. A little more than a page per day, if I ever spun this tale to an agent.

But that’s all ok if the story turned out all right, yes? Yeah, you could see where this was going even if you just took a black sharpie to your eyes. Oh, my workshop class gave positive criticisms of my story- its ideas, its characters, its atmosphere. In short, things I planned out at a reasonable rate way in advance. The writing- done all in one day with the exception of the first page- was confusing, spiced with bad metaphors and lackluster details. Almost as if it was written in 18 hours.

You know where I’m going- blah blah blah blah fuck motivation git gud. But here’s what swinging from my brain like a chimp- should you, if motivation comes to your door, snog it like it’s a long-lost wife? Survey of one says no on the onset. There’s a consistent pattern with my writing: whenever I write over my daily goal, I find it more difficult to write more for the next few days. But saying, “write only when your discipline commands you to,” is like telling a refugee on rations to not pig out when she finds a roasted pig. I’m writing this very post in the burst that follows exercise- in fact, I’ve doubled my daily goal again today and hear no reason to stop until the play I’m attending later begins. Sure, I might not write as much tomorrow, but I might break an arm tomorrow and not write as much anyways. It’s an easy choice to create a hard choice later.

sM00I9Q
Fuck motivation, git gud.

I suppose if I had to choose between two treacherous options, like a man at a voting booth at closing time, I’d stick with disciplined writing over motivation-based writing, much as my gut protests. But that requires an intense cultivation of inspiration. Here’s something I’ve done for this. I switched out my old writing binder for a new one last week, and wanted a cover for it. So I’ve inserted a blank piece of paper in front of the binder. Nowadays, when friends can plug their noses and wade through the stench of chips and sweat to come visit me, I have them sign the writing binder with words to compel me to write. My friend Rai put it best:

“23 words. Just write 23 words. My dead grandma can write 23 words, but you will do it better.”

And, due to these encouragements, days that would go by without a written word got at least a page from me this week. Will it last? Of course not. That’s why, in a month or so, I’ll find a new reminder that pushes me into a dark void of ideas with a pen for a flashlight and roller skates on my feet. If you’re going to motivate yourself to do anything, motivate yourself to keep a commitment.