“Dalliance” – Poetry – by Kevin Morris

In this world where nothing really exists, I kiss your cold, dead
lips. Meaningless dalliance in this land of the dead, no words spoken,
there is nothing
to be said. Emotions stifled, frozen in ice, held in death’s stone grip.


Kevin Morris is the author of multiple short stories and novels. He began to write seriously in mid 2012. All of his writing takes place in my spare room surrounded by books. Being blind he uses a standard laptop with Jaws (software which converts text into speech and braille allowing me to access my computer’s screen). 

 

“Document 141″ – Poetry/Haiku – by Thomas Wexler

.1

He is my old friend.
If he says he is hurting
we go out for drinks.

.2

I have a hangover
after last night’s punishment.
I go back to sleep.

.3

I wake up slowly
and look up at the ceiling.
The room is too hot.

.4

When I think of you
I remember the good times
and forget the bad.

.5

I can’t stay away
from you, it’s hard to focus
on the simple things.

.6

It’s always raining
and you are always wet.
I am your puddle.

.7

I am your puzzle.
We are getting in the car.
We are not going far.

.8

This might be the place
you can find another you.
Have a pleasant stay.

.9

I wish you wouldn’t cry.
Screaming’s so much easier
When things fall apart.

.10

Listen to the rain.
It tells us not to worry,
green things are growing.

.11

Stay inside today.
There is trouble in the streets.
It’s not safe out there.

.12

It’s easy to hide
In the darkness keeping us
From each other’s hearts.


Thomas Wexler is a direct support professional in New Haven, CT, where he provides digital therapies including blogging, photography, and computer arts to the homeless, mentally ill, and addicted.  He is proud that Calamities Press follows his blog, First Time Records.  He has published articles and reviews in YaleGlobal Online, Short, Fast, and Deadly, and The New Haven Independent.  Since most of his work is academic, scholarly and critical, he looks to poetry as a creative outlet.

“Drifter” – Slippy Realism – by William Petersen

I like to float. I drift. It’s what I do. I float along, searching for you. The world around me swirls and flows, and I drift along. I know you are out there, drifting too. There is no light, no dark, only us. You are my purpose, my one and only goal, and I am very patient. A nudge from another pushes me off course, but a quick series of contractions is all I need to correct my path. I am guided by nothing more than the internal need to find you.

I feel the warmth from above, penetrating deep into my world, caressing me every so slightly with a soft, radiant heat. The warmth translates to more energy for me, a much needed boost to my current, lethargic state. I have to get out in front of the pack, if I’m to find you before the others. I can sense you. I detect the presence of your passing all over my body, and it spurs me on incessantly. You are close.

I like to float, and I like to play our game: a drawn out version of cat and mouse, relying purely on chance. Our meeting must be destiny. How else can we explain the insurmountable odds against the two of us crossing paths in such a large expanse of world? We are connected by a larger web, one which cannot be seen or sensed, though it is there just the same. We are intertwined, you and I, yet we have never met. Your existence calls to me. You are burned into the very fabric of my being, and I’ve searched for you since the day I was born.

I let my arms drape low in anticipation. I know that I’m too early, but I cannot resist the overwhelming commands shouting at me from within. They are undeniable. My contractions quicken as I revel in the fact that traces of your scent are wafting in to me from every direction, though the concentrated stream of chemical signatures is what I follow. My body realizes that this is just another obstacle to overcome, a ruse to be avoided, if the real prize is to be had. I don’t have to think about it, my body moves in response to the information flowing in from outside, and the internal commands written into my genes.

The competition is fierce, as the tell-tale turbulence of combat washes pressure waves all around and over me, confirming the conflicts erupting within the group. I speed my pace to flee the melee, my needs and instincts relentlessly driving me on. Stopping to fight will only put you further ahead of me, and I can tell that you are very close now.

Something touches one of my arms, then begins shaking and writhing violently, so much so that I am in fear of losing the appendage. I act fast, flexing my arms and contracting my body as fast and as hard as I can. I twist, writhe and spin my body in a circular motion, all the while the thrashing from below continues. I know it’s you down there, I can tell. Each thrash of your body, every desperate breath and the vibration of your elevated heart rate are written into my genes. My body responds in turn to each of your actions, following a script laid out billions of years in the past.

I flex again, extending even more tendrils of hollow tubing, tipped with harpoons, into your soft body. The poison flows freely, and I can feel you slowing. I can feel your heartbeat decreasing in the number of beats, as well as the strength of those beats. Your breathing is shallow and labored. It won’t be long now.

You resist and fight valiantly, but it is all for naught. We are destined to be together, you and I. The more you move and try to escape, the more you tangle yourself in to the web of death that is my collection of arms. Your flailing fades to sporadic spasms, as the last of your efforts are slowly and inevitably expended. I slowly begin to retract my arms, pulling you in closer to me, where we will have our final embrace.

We are drifters, you and I, and now we have found each other. Of all the seemingly random paths the two of us could have taken, fate has made our paths to converge. It must be destiny. As you lay still, though not completely lifeless in my arms, I continue to reel you in. It’s almost over. The anticipation of your arrival is nearly overwhelming. Something touches another arm and starts to writhe. It’s you again, isn’t it? I can feel you all around me now.

I will eat well today.


William Petersen is a Missouri native and life-long resident. William has been writing fiction for five years and non-fiction for over 10. Two of his flash-fiction stories just took runner-up spots in the WeBook monthly flash-fiction challenge, and another of his flash-fiction stories is scheduled for publication sometime next month, to be included in an anthology by Noodle Doodle Publications.
His short horror story “Wish Witch,” will be published later this year in an anthology of re-told myths, legends and fairy tales entitled “Twice Upon A Time” and will be published by The Bearded Scribe Press. William is an avid writer of flash-fiction, short stories and full-length works in the genres of Urban Fantasy, Science Fiction, Surrealism and Horror.

Cocktail Hour – “Dirty Martini & Trio of Goat Cheese” – by Prairiewood Farms

martinigoatcheese

Dirty Martini

2 1/2 ounces Gin

1/2 ounce Dry Vermouth

1/2 ounce olive juice

Olives for garnish

Pour into a mixing glass filled with ice, stir and then strained into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with olives.

Trio of Goat Cheese

Slice 3 rounds of your favorite goat cheese. Place on a serving plate. Top the first round with fresh herb “Lemon Thyme.” Leave the second round natural. Top the third round with purchased “honey roasted pecan” pieces. Enjoy with your favorite crackers.

Summer ending, Fall beginning, and busy days. Enjoy Calamities Press with a dirty Martini and Trio of Goat Cheese offered by Prairiewood Farms. 

Fiction/Fantasy – “The Useful Life Clockworks Company” – Part 14 – by H. A. Busse

Inside the clockworks, people hustled between the series of lifts, some ran upward to the various floors the workers needed. Jack hurried to Receptionist Mary Kirkland’s desk and plopped the books down in front of her. Glancing around, Jack noted that the décor did not seem quite as magnificent as he’d thought from his first visit. Some of the wallpaper was peeling and the carpet stained. Parts still had shine, but ultimately the clockworks headquarters had interior flaws. His eyes landed on Mary, she wore an ostentatious purple feathered gown, sewn into the bust were white sparkling jewels. Those had to cost quite a lot. Not everyone had access to gems, feathers, and precious metals. “I found your books Receptionist.” He knew his voice sounded cold.

Mary met his stare, her eyes narrowed. “Thank you Detective.” She pulled a large satchel from under her desk and opened it. “What do I owe you?”

The books were difficult to track down, disrupting his investigation. The librarian charged Jack rosemary and forty pieces of heavy gear etched gold. “One hundred heavy golds and three small cut rubies, not chips mind you. Plus, Receptionist, I demand the interviews promised me for the investigation into the cause of Head Engineer Septimus Leavitt’s death.” Jack placed his hands on the books as if to remove them.

“Wait, I have the gold and the rubies.” Mary selected each piece carefully, likely to her favor, but Jack did not care. He pocketed each piece into his own pouches and inside his damp jacket pockets. “As far as the interviews, I cannot force the engineers and deliverers to assist you.”

“Perhaps you can answer something. What are engineers doing assigning uses to people? Why are there peace officers?” Using every inch of his height and disheveled appearance Jack tried to intimidate.

Mary smiled, batting her lashes and leaned towards Jack showing off cleavage. He ignored it. Since Verity was at risk, admiration of a lovely woman, even the receptionist seemed disgusting. Though he did smile, letting her feel she’d caught his attention.

“New graduates were not assigned uses. The engineers thought to help some of them, so that they can avoid expulsion.” Mary shuffled the papers on her desk and picked up a pen. “May I take a message for someone on your behalf?”

“No, two more questions. If they were trying to help citizens remain in the city by assigning uses, why are the peace officers throwing out so many people? Why have the engineers not replaced Septimus Leavitt?”

The receptionist craned her neck, eyes darting around. She whispered, “That is the question is it not?” She laid her hands on the books brushing against Jack. He jerked back. “Thank you for detecting these. Might I suggest looking into the personal operations of the late Head Engineer Septimus Leavitt? Certainly, a number of engineers and delivers may wish to avoid your inquiries; however the written word is evident.” Mary turned away from Jack and resumed her labors.

Leaving the clockworks, Jack wove his way over to North Interior Station. The lead balls discovered by Pathologist and Coroner Daisy Smith may have caused Septimus Leavitt’s death, but how? With what device? The man had not worked the machine so much as directed those who did work the clockworks. Likely, it was not a clockworks component at all. What of the many items in the head engineer’s office? None contained lead balls. He had sketched every item in the plain view of three escorts. If something was in the room at the time of Septimus’s death, it was gone now.

Jack approached the ticket booth. “One ticket for South Interior Station,” he set down three silver pennies. It was time to search Septimus Leavitt’s flat. The engineer had lived in Blue Blossom Towers, an elegant and luxurious building for the most useful in Propitious. The building had what light conductors called, golden prismatic lighting. It gave off a warm shine that made the metallic structure shimmer even in the current stormy conditions. Jack could see people moving around within their personal flats.

He entered the building, passing peace officers in their garish pink and brown one-piece suits. They gave him a close one over and nodded. “That is not the man,” one of the officers said loud enough for Jack to hear.

Another one, a woman, responded, “No, he certainly does not have tufts of grey hair and piercing blue eyes.”

The first officer laughed, “He is not old.”

“True,” The officers moved out of hearing range.

Jack found it hard to breathe. He sucked in air. They wanted to collect someone for expulsion from Interior. People working for the Interior rarely lost their use. People trained to work there, even Lowton denizens expecting a chance, trained.

Television Review – “Versus Round 16: Laugh the Pain Away (Rick and Morty vs Bojack Horseman)” – by Nick Housewright

Versus Round 16 Cover Image

Rick and Morty VERSUS Bojack Horseman

The Fight: I often wonder about shows and movies that went through multiple forms before reaching the screen. Did writers have to completely change the tone of their stories, or even the genre in order to talk about the issues that they wanted to address? Two animated shows -Adult Swim’s Rick and Morty and Netflix’s Bojack Horseman- make me think about this. Both shows are zany comedies with off the wall antics and bizarre situations, but both shows also hide serious character studies of deeply broken characters. Rick and Morty at least seems like it was fully formed, but I can’t help but wonder if either show started as a serious character drama and ended up being work-shopped into the bizarre animated hodgepodge we are left with. Really though, which one is funnier, smarter, and better at getting at the emotional truths at its story’s core?

What are the shows about? Creators Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland have said that Rick and Morty is ostensibly based off of the Back to the Future movies, and how odd it was that Marty McFly’s best friend was an ancient inventor. Taking this concept to the extreme, the show follows teenage Morty and his adventures with his alcoholic grandfather who comes to live with his daughter (Morty’s mother) and sets up a lab in their garage.

Creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg’s Bojack Horseman is somewhat less zany, in that the premise finds a washed up sitcom star from the 90’s (the titular Horseman) attempting to create a memoir with the help of a ghost writer. The bizarre twist here is that Bojack is actually a horse, and many other characters are animals as well, from his best friend/rival Mr. Peanutbutter (another washed up former star) to his agent/girlfriend Princess Carolyn.

So, what are the shows really about? The most saccharine reading of Rick and Morty would be that it is about Rick’s attempts to protect and be there for his family. In general the show seems to be about family in general (with several episodes focusing on the fragile state of Morty’s parent’s marriage) and how it can cope with the good and the bad. Actually Dan Harmon’s other works suggests that he really believes in this sort of mawkishness, but he hides it beneath layers of cynical humor, movie references and… well, insanity.

Bojack Horseman seems even more emotionally charged than Rick and Morty. While the puns and dumb humor continue throughout, the show becomes darker as it goes until it is revealed as a brutal character study of Bojack. His life choices and decisions are scrutinized as he tries to come to grips with whether or not he has had a successful or fulfilling life, or if he ruined his chances at true happiness with greed and short-sightedness.

Acting in Rick and Morty: This is a little weirder than usual, since the acting is through voice performances alone. In this regard though, Rick and Morty has a clear ringer in the form of co-creator Justin Roiland. A voice actor himself, Roiland voices both title characters with such distinct cadences and mannerisms that it is impossible to tell it is the same man without looking at the credits. Morty comes off as nasally and cowardly, while Rick is fast-talking, perpetually drunk, and usually angry. Sarah Chalke and Chris Parnell as Morty’s parents Jerry and Beth come off as merely fine. Parnell himself perhaps is the most recognizable “voice”, though he at least plays slightly against type as the hapless and overlooked father. Morty’s sister, Summer (voiced by Spencer Grammer), is equally forgettable, so it is fortunate that the main characters (and Roiland’s performance) occupies 80% of the screen time.

Acting in Bojack Horseman: Bojack Horseman continues the trend of casting all celebrities (or at least recognizable actors) as its characters. However, this is one case where I think this actually works out quite well. Even if the show is blatantly trading on his acting persona, Will Arnett is great in the title role, as is Allison Brie as his ghost writer Diane. The real standouts though are Amy Sedaris’s Princess Carolyn and Paul F. Tompkins Mr. Peanutbutter. It’s also a hoot to see (hear) a lineup of ridiculous guest stars, from Patton Oswalt to Stanley Tucci –with my favorite being Keith Olbermann as a whale reporter for MSNBSea.

Writing in Rick and Morty: I don’t want to oversell the drama; while the show is often emotional -and the season concludes on a moment of pure pathos- the show is a comedy first, drama second. Fortunately it is often quite funny –hilarious even. Dan Harmon’s passion for pop culture can be felt across the show’s run, with riffs on everything from Stephen King’s novel Needful Things, to the Fantastic Voyage, to The Usual Suspects. While the show is usually able to wrap these homages and parodies around an (eventual) emotional catharsis, it is important to explain that when I say that the show is zany and bizarre, I mean that it is ZANY and BIZARRE. A riff on the Fantastic Voyage means that Morty is sent into an amusement park that Rick built inside a homeless man –and this is one of the more staid episodes. Whether you are up for this kind of frenetic pop-culture heavy humor is up to you, but I found it very appealing.

Writing in Bojack Horseman: I found the overall writing in Bojack a lot stronger in terms of its strong continuity (the show clearly takes advantage of Netflix’s trend of releasing entire seasons in one day) and it’s increasingly serious character study, but it also is never really laugh out loud funny. This is the show that really had me wondering if it started as a serious Hollywood script by creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg, and was slowly morphed into an animated comedy in order to get made. I found the emotions that the shows hits in later episodes to be actually quite devastating, but when the show is trying to do more broadly humorous storylines (which occupy much of the early goings) it’s is nowhere near as compelling.

Production in Rick and Morty: For those who don’t know, Adult Swim is the adult programming block of cartoon network, and virtually all its shows are produced by a TBS division called Williams Street Productions. While many of their early shows featured comically cheap animation, Rick and Morty is a triumph of crisp line art and fluid movement. While the show occasionally features extreme violence and a non-stop barrage of aliens and monsters, everything is always rendered distinctly and in a word: beautifully. The character’s pupils are the most interesting to me, as they are virtually all slightly spiky rather than round black dots, adding an interesting sense of personality to the characters.

Production in Bojack Horseman: While Netflix famously shelled out hundreds of millions for director David Fincher’s House of Cards (a show I will eventually get to), this apparently did not leave them with much of an animation budget. I found the art direction on the show generally nice, and artist Lisa Hanawalt’s character designs are fresh and unique, however the animation itself is mediocre at best. While it’s true that most animated shows are done in flash these days, certain shots from Bojack look like they were animated by teenagers on Newgrounds –in 2006. Many of the environments seem sparsely detailed, and the vast majority of scenes play out as fixed camera angles… like a 90’s sitcom. Some people may think this is clever direction, but I seriously doubt this was an intentional design choice. Even if it was, it does nothing but render many scenes drab and lifeless.

Overall: This is actually a really close call. Really close. Rick and Morty has much better animation, but it is also much more uneven story-wise and doesn’t reach the emotional highs of Bojack Horseman. Bojack though, isn’t really funny even though it is billed as a comedy. With Rick and Morty you are guaranteed a solid laugh or two every episode, whereas I think I laughed out loud once in Bojack’s entire run. Roiland’s voice work in Rick and Morty is also a clear standout, and I was somewhat disingenuous in calling out the celebrity voice work in Bojack, as Rick and Morty also feature many notable guest stars (though I don’t necessarily think they are used as well). The biggest problem is that I also watched Bojack quite recently, whereas I saw Rick and Morty over five months ago.

Winner: Still though, I have to give it to Bojack Horseman. It may not be as instantly quotable, but the dark territory the show ends up in is much more interesting and memorable than anything out of Rick and Morty. I was concerned that I am just favoring the show I had seen most recently, but the lack of a strong continuity in Rick and Morty means that while it may continue to have emotional beats in future seasons, I doubt that it will be able to have the same impact as Bojack. Horseman may not be as instantly amusing, but it is compelling and memorable television; something I’m still thinking about, and looking forward to continuing. For a comedy that’s no small feat.

Next Week: Recently it was announced that TNT is planning to make a show based on the DC comics’ Teen Titans characters in order to attract a younger audience. Regardless of how true these motives are, I have watched TNT shows myself since I was in high school. So next week I will track the evolution of the channel’s former flagship show The Closer, into its replacement Major Crimes.

“Dragonfly Study: 16″ – Sun & Petrichor – by Geneva Lerwick

16

Dragonfly Study: 16. By Geneva Lerwick. This is the 16th photo in a Dragonfly Study taken at Prairiewood Farms in Minnesota. All pictures will be of different dragonflies in their natural environment along the Long Prairie River Valley. This is the 16th picture in a 57 image series from Geneva Lerwick. Click here to see the first Dragonfly picture from this study. 

Apocalyptic/Horror – “The Greenland Diaries” – Day 41 – by Patrick W. Marsh

I’ve come back to the wall. I couldn’t take another night in that wooden cell. I know it’s out there waiting for me to breathe wrong, or to stumble and bump the hollow border. I wonder if it knows how close it is to me. All it would have to do would be to stab into this ridiculous wall and skewer me. It could just leave me back here to die, and Snowy would be under Gerald’s care.

I’m not sure he would care about her at all. He wasn’t very patient with her when we explored the hospital. He’d practically scream when she’d run off to explore attractive scents. With the constant aroma of rotting food and dried blood, I imagine there are plenty of good smells.

Even in this monster-ridden plant world, a dog seems like too much of an inconvenience for him.

I’ve got a plan for this monster that’s cozied up in my basement. I’ve been saving the radio I found at my parent’s house and it’s batteries for when things get truly hopeless. Besides, Gerald gives me daily updates about the empty static that buzzes on every channel. I’m going to leave the radio on before the drum starts. I’m putting it in the house next to me between the walls and couch. I’ll leave the volume up slightly, just enough for them to be driven crazy by that fizzling noise.

At least I think it’ll drive them crazy—maybe. Their tolerance for craziness must be high, considering what they do.

Gerald and I walked outside the neighborhood today; more hot wind, cloudless sky, and blooming green life everywhere. More broken homes with shattered windows and overturned cars. More ivy covered roads, and dangling trees flushed with leaves.

I’m tired of it.

Nothing moves along the roads. No vehicles, lights, and people bustling about. The sounds of planes are gone. The droll of the highway has vanished. All the emptiness sucks at your stomach, like an ugly thought hidden far away inside you.

The movies and books glorifying the freedom that comes with an apocalypse have never eaten canned food for five weeks. They’ve never buried the body parts of strangers, or taken dog food out of a bloody kitchen cabinet. They never counted how many cotton willow seeds drift in the hot air. Well, that last one was more realistic, so maybe they did.

That monster has to go. I won’t let it haunt me. Everything else does—yes, everything.

“Unconditional Love” – Elitism For All – by Ozgur K. Sahin

On a note related to my last entry, I have often heard this phrase “unconditional love” bandied about whenever people are misbehaving or have watched too many romantic comedies.  We have all heard it uttered, and many of us are guilty of uttering it, but few seem to explore both what it actually means and what expectations it implies.

Of course the term itself implies something universal and boundless, and we think, “How can universal and boundless love fail to be a good, appropriate thing?”  We often sense that there is something valid about the concept of unconditional love.  However, we are all aware of crime and punishment, right and wrong (or in extreme cases, people usually at least believe in “more and less inherently productive”), etc.  So what is really being talked about and how can unconditional love manifest itself in the conditional world?

Many years ago, my favorite author, Ken Wilber, wrote an essay called “The Pre/Trans Fallacy.”  In brief, it describes how (in developmental terms) various capacities or movements develop or unfold in the direction from pre-x, to x, to trans-x.  We all talk about “conventional” approaches to things, but whatever approach we are talking about develops from pre-conventional, to conventional, to trans-conventional (or “post-conventional”).  One example might be to build a house.  At first, maybe we just try slapping some materials together crudely with no systematic approach until they stay up long enough for us to take shelter.  Later we might begin to understand basic principles of construction and follow a systematic set of guidelines.  Still later, perhaps we will develop new systems that, while they incorporate those guidelines, go beyond them either on a case-by-case basis or by integrating them with still larger and more encompassing systems.  I’m sure one can find an abundance of examples like this with construction alone in ancient Roman architecture.

Wilber shows how this concept leads to confusion between “pre” states and “trans” or “post” states, because both of those have a “center of gravity” that is “non” (i.e. “pre-conventional” and “post-conventional” both look alike because they both appear to be “non-conventional”).  He also shows how this can be applied to terms like “verbal” (pre-verbal, verbal, trans-verbal), “modern,” “rational,” “personal,” etc.  He further illustrates the concepts of reductionism and elevationism, where—due to this confusion between pre and trans—”pre” states are mistaken for “trans” states (elevating them) or “trans” states are mistaken for “pre” states (reducing them).  This is the reason, for example, why narcissists often side with post-conventional types, and why people often have similar reactions to both postmodern art and infantile finger-painting (even in the case of the artist).

Similarly, I feel something like this works with “unconditional love.”  I think “pre-conditional” and “trans-conditional” get fused into this one term of “unconditional,” and much reductionism and elevationism ensue.  To put it plainly, pre-conditional love is love at a level that is simply either unaware of conditional factors for love, or is unable to take them into account.  Or it might be deemed as love directed towards such a person or creature.  Little children and pets often exhibit this kind of love, as they are entirely dependent upon their caretakers and usually cognitively incapable of separating need from love or various other conditional factors.  Conversely, the love we feel for them (or towards other mentally incapable individuals like dementia patients and developmentally disabled people) is a love that does not expect them to live up to the behavioral conditions we would normally expect from others.

Conditional love is what we all know as a general range of feelings based on behaviors, trust, expectation and consistency of experience.  We love those who are good to us, demonstrate trustworthiness, and who can be relied upon.  And there is the reciprocal expectation that behaving well and treating others earns us the right to a certain amount of positive regard—as much as negative behavior warrants negative regard and retribution.  This is the standard crime and punishment, virtue and reward sort of love.

Trans-conditional love, if I may attempt to describe it, is a love that incorporates conditions and conditional love (as a tool of expression), but is not defined by it.  It is a love for the foundational nature of a person (or other object).  It is, if you will, a love for the driving force or spirit of a person rather than the personal manifestations of that drive.  Or we can also say it is the love given from this spirit within a person, as a gift to the innate nature of others.  Perhaps a person has a deep affinity for detail, attention, and learning, and we can love that, or those qualities make a person better able to love—but those qualities also make for successful serial killers.  They are virtues, but they can still manifest conditionally in bad ways.  This is one potential view of trans-conditional love, but we all know people who we feel we can “see” the positive nature of, even when they act in a completely reprehensible fashion.  We also sometimes contact this part of ourselves that sees things in a positive and even fun light, loving everything it sees, but these experiences are mere confusing glimpses for most of us.

The obvious point is that, because both pre-conditional and trans-conditional love appear basically unconditional, most of us confuse them an awful lot, and end up acting in very conflicted and unfortunate ways.  On the reductionistic side, it is common for deep nature, virtue, and strength of spirit to be mistaken for infantile grandiosity, innocence, and naiveté.  In elevationist terms, the world is full of people who have taken some unconscious association with their parents from early childhood, projected it onto someone who resembles those parents, and believing they have “finally found their soul mate,” before plunging into a repetition of the same dysfunctional dating pattern they employed the last 15 times.

Without understanding this fallacy, or really thinking much at all about what “unconditional love” even means, we’re doomed to create our own monsters.  Most people think “unconditional love” means “love me for who I am, no matter what.”  It is what the pre-conditional do, and it is what the pre-conditional deserve.  It is what the trans-conditional do, and it is what the trans-conditional deserve.  But it has little to do with the conditional spaces in which we spend so much time.  We cannot apply “unconditional love” to conditional reality in blanket fashion with any more success than we can apply our hands to a nail to drive it into a plank without something resembling a hammer.  All of these kinds of love exist, and all of these levels within us exist, and we must use the right tools for the right jobs.

If you see the good nature in someone, and you feel like it is held hostage by that same person’s conditionally dysfunctional boorish abuser persona, and trotted out by that persona every time it wants something, of course you love their nature unconditionally.  And of course you should conditionally turn and walk away.  The only alternative is to negotiate with people who take their own better natures hostage, or to simply act as though everything they do is tolerable because you love them.  No, unconditional love is for the unconditional parts of them (pre and trans), and it is from the unconditional parts of us (pre and trans), whether it be animalistic sexual chemistry or spiritual affinity.

Our conditional selves are what enable us to act appropriately in the conditional world we inhabit.  I may unconditionally love my rabid dog, but its rabid condition will compel me to have it put down.  It is conditional love that allows us to be kind to the disabled, and to be punitive with the negligent.  It is what we use to hold people accountable not only to social graces, but to their own higher natures.  If I am a good butler to my inner master, should I have unguarded and trusting dealings with the duplicitous and rebellious servant of the friend I love?  On the contrary, my love for my friend merely increases my anger at anyone acting against him—including his own conditional vehicle of self.  And do we really want people to function any other way?

So when you look for those and ask for those who will give you unconditional love, what are you really seeking?  Do you want others to give you the love they would give to a toddler because the expectation that you act like an adult is too great?  Do you want others to see your inner beauty and weigh that heaviest among all aspects of you so that your image is immune to the effects of your self-neglect?  And when you offer this love to others, physical, spiritual, or absolute, and paint it over all of conditional, social reality, are you really proud of this boon you bestow?  Or are you rather painting a smiley face over the whole realm of cause and effect that is the very playground of human manifestation?

Music Review – “The Contortionist: Language” – In Prog We Trust – by Nick Vukelich

contortionistcover

The Contortionist – Language Review

The Contortionist are one of those bands where the music fits the name perfectly. Progressive metal that bends and intertwines with ethereal vocals and just drenched in atmosphere. I have enjoyed The Contortionist since I was introduced to their debut album Exoplanet, and since then, have found myself loving each subsequent release more than the last. Intrinsic was a very cool step forward, leaving behind the more blatant deathcore tropes in favor of sculpting an album that flows from beginning to end, and now with Language they have refined the style of Intrinsic into one of the real masterpieces of the year.

The production on Language is almost a 7th band member, each part is layered so perfectly, and there is just so much depth to these songs. New vocalist Mike Lessard (of Last Chance to Reason) adds so much to this album that I can’t adequately put into words how important his contribution is, not that the music is in any way substandard, Lessard’s vocals are just so many steps above what the previous vocalist was doing. Usually when a band replaces half of its members the general sound changes, sometimes drastically, but that is not the case here. This is an album so precisely crafted that you need to hear all the subtlety underneath everything, and the production leaves nothing to be desired. Jamie King is a production wizard, he really knows exactly what to do with a group like this to make everything shine, and a good portion of bands I really enjoy end up working with him. It’s always a pleasant announcement when a group names him as the producer, at least you know you’ll be getting an album that sounds amazing.

The flow of this album is engineered really, really well. From the beginning to the end songs just go one into the next, there are some tracks that clearly stop before the next starts, and the end of the album feeds right into the beginning. I listened to it 3 times in a row today simply because I was back into the intro song before I realized it had started over. It’s also a testament to the quality that it can be listened to so many times in a row and not lose that magic. The repeating lyrical themes also help to tie the whole album together, the ebb and flow that Lessard talks about is represented well in the flow of the music. The balance of heavy, polyrhythmic riffs and beautiful soundscapes has been refined so well that they avoid sounding like the throngs of “djent” bands that try the same approach.

The musicianship at display in this album is truly something to be admired. The Contortionist has always excelled at composing technically complex riffs and seamlessly moving from those to more atmospheric parts, but the originality found in Language is something to be applauded. Lots of bands use down tuned 7 string guitars, most of said groups also just plug along on the lowest open notes available, but the chord progressions and prog riffing of Robby Baca and Cameron Maynard utilize the entire fret board. The addition of Jordan Eberhardt (formerly of Scale the Summit) on bass adds another level of skill that brings out the progressive elements of this band. Keyboards have always moved from the forefront to the background on previous Contortionist albums, but since they brought in a dedicated keyboard player their role has been more solidified. The mix of the 5 musicians is truly special and the compositions created are truly great, one of my favorite moments is during the track Primordial Sound, the band builds and builds, and just when you think it’s going to get heavy they throw you for a loop and arpeggiate some really nice sounding chords. Its moves like this that make me just ecstatic.

I am a huge fan of Last Chance to Reason and Mike Lessard’s vocals are a big part of why they are so great. He has such a unique voice, the layers of harmonies he does are something seldom scene in most modern bands, and he clearly knows a great deal about intervals and how to utilize them in a way that vocals are more of their own instrument. His vocal lines all throughout Language are spectacular. I would list some of my favorite moments but there are just too many to list. Most singers that use both harsh and clean vocals usually sacrifice the quality of one for the other, such is not the case here, I have seen him perform live and the cleans are exactly what you hear on the record. He has easily found his way onto my list of favorite vocalists.

Language is a highly impressive third album and one that deserves your money, but more than your money, they also deserve your attention. There is something for everyone here, from brutal grooves to epic, highly melodic, choruses. I cannot sing the praises of this album or this band enough. Fans of Exoplanet may find themselves disappointed upon the first listen, however like I said in my previous review, fans of a band known for being so open to experimenting with song structures need to be more open to these new experiences. You may think you want the same record over and over but the growth of a band is important and will only serve to put out more excellent music. Get yourself a copy of Language and settle in for a ride, this is easily one of my albums of the year.

Production: 5/5

Flow: 5/5

Musicianship: 5/5

Vocals: 5/5

Label: E1 Music

 

“Childhood” – Family Haunts – by PMF Johnson

Roots burrowed into the gristle and scree
of broken construction sites where I caught
bullheads at water’s edge with a minnow-weighted line
while crouching suppliant to the immediate god
of excitement; later I whirled the hapless suckers
on a string for my mother to admire as
my childhood grew into a many-limbed memory
tangled dangerously with the guy wires
of little crimes, missed admissions of guilt,
bursts of jealousy and competitiveness,
draped with gossamer recollections of tall
pro ballplayers at our corner drug store,
remote myths whisked off TV and made
momentarily real; butterfly-busy meadows helped me
reconcile winning at church bingo to the despair
of the kerchief-coiffed women, my reward being
only a bike-basket full of cleaning products;
all before the gangly extrusions of first adulthood
brought the loneliness of not talking to girls,
clinging to hide-and-seek in my early teens,
and hoping for some royal moment when these roots
might give way and I could billow off
in satisfaction with the night.

Nonfiction/Memoir – Faceplant 28 – “My Real Sixth Grade Birthday” – by Jacob Steinbauer

Now I remember. My brother, Josh, had an Apple II GS. We played vintage video games like Karateka, Load Runner, and Conan: Hall of Volta. Later these were upgraded to puzzle-type games, including Uninvited, Shadowgate, and Déjà Vu II. Even later, or maybe somewhere in between, these were “upgraded” to Leisure Suit Larry and the Land of the Lounge Lizards, some strip poker game, and a cartoon stick drawing two-screen animation game called Sex Toons. Or if that’s not the game’s actual name, that was handwritten on the five inch floppy disk in tiny letters at the bottom of the label to hide it from a quick flip through the box of floppy disks. Ah, good times. I think the most fun I had was answering the age test quiz at the beginning of Leisure Suit Larry, which asked questions like Who is Bonzo? and What would you do if you were stranded on a deserted island with Bo Derek? Based on the “correct” answers, I guess they assumed the players were all boys into rock ‘n roll. I felt like I was learning adult stuff, was positioning myself for intelligent, adult conversations, perhaps ones with people like Jeff, the college sophomore I met at the Green Day show. Still, if you got more than one question wrong, the program aborted leaving you to restart and try again. Which we did dozens of times.

This cache of adolescent digital entertainment was quite new in sixth grade, and probably not coincidental in my discovery of special feelings that same year.

As I mentioned in a previous post, my grandparents traveled to Spain for a month-long visit, and we essentially moved into their house to take care of their dog. The computer came with us as Josh was a senior in high school by then, and not as interested (as me) in video games or video game cement-block renderings of 8-bit women.

I now find it appalling that I could have mixed this birthday up with previous ones, with King Ralph. I have a trophy—now on my bookshelf—to remind me of this birthday. Yes, a golden (plastic) swimmer poised to dive, underneath which is a plaque that reads: We don’t deserve to be Jacob’s friend. Thank you, Chris. One of the few presents from that era that I still have let alone remember receiving. Everyone should be given a trophy by their friends at some point during middle school.

I invited my friends over. The show-and-tell transformers and kittens of years past had mutated into semi-pornographic (there was no actual nudity in Leisure Suit Larry) computer games, leaving the lot of us both delighted and disgusted. Then bored. Outside the rubber and fart jokes, Leisure Suit Larry does not include a brilliant enough storyline to keep seven 12-year-olds engaged longer than fifteen minutes. We moved downstairs to the kitchen/entry room to play poker. A man’s game, one of skill that, apparently, could result in nude graphical representations of women if you played your cards right. We had no currency to bet, nor were chips available to us. What did we have? The persistence and creativity of 12-year-olds. And milk bones. Yes, milk bones for the dog. Colored red, green, and brown, perhaps designating different doggie flavors, we assigned values to them and let the games begin. I distinctly remember losing early on. My friends, ones like Chris, grabbed more milk bones from the bone box to keep me, the birthday boy, included. It wouldn’t have mattered. Either way, I was the one who ended up with the trophy. Happy birthday.

“Dragonfly Study: 15″ – Sun & Petrichor – by Geneva Lerwick

15

Dragonfly Study: 15. By Geneva Lerwick. This is the 15th photo in a Dragonfly Study taken at Prairiewood Farms in Minnesota. All pictures will be of different dragonflies in their natural environment along the Long Prairie River Valley. This is the 15th picture in a 57 image series from Geneva Lerwick. Click here to see the first Dragonfly picture from this study. 

Apocalyptic/Horror – “The Greenland Diaries” – Day 40 – by Patrick W. Marsh

It’s hard to believe that an empty piece of foundation behind some paper thin 70’s decor would be more comfortable than a closet. Well, it was, in fact my little basement hiding spot was much cozier than this small wooden cell I slept in last night. The heavy heat was ridiculous inside the closet. Snowy panted nearly the entire night. I went through a couple bottles of water. My eyelids were even sweating. I don’t think that’s ever happened to me before.

Despite the heat, I still heard it come inside my house last night. The moment the drum started thudding, there was a scratching sound outside the house, and then the floor creaked and shuttered. There was a hollow running sound down the stairs. It ran hard enough for the house to shake from where I was hiding.

I haven’t felt vibrations like that for a while–another reason to like my original hiding spot.

I didn’t sleep inside my closet. The whole experiment was for nothing. The whole idea that these things are inside my house waiting for me to make one misstep sickens me. Actually, sicken is sort of a passive word. A more accurate and aggressive word would be insanity.

I’m going to have to do something about it. I’m going to have to get them to leave.

Gerald and I talked about exploring more houses outside of our neighborhood. We’d need to explore the neighborhood more before breaking into any of them. The shooting outside of Rainbow Foods traumatized us, and now we’re going to be extra careful before expanding our territory. I’m worried about it. We’ve got enough food for at least a few months, but if there are other survivors will they compete over food too? I’d assume yes, considering what happened a few weeks ago with the sniper.

I’m writing this entry outside this evening. The sweet and damp air keeps curling the yellow pages. 40 days of this botanical hell. I’m starting to feel edgy, like I need to start plotting a way to get back at them. I want to travel, maybe get up to our farm in Long Prairie, but I’m too scared of being caught in the open again.

I feel like such a coward.

At least everyone during that counterattack tried to kill the monsters; they tried to take back what’s ours. Granted, none of those people are probably still animated. The monsters are though; yes, they’re very alive. They’re too real.