identity

Subject: M30s-A537860 (Bradford H. Willoughby)

a flash-fiction piece

Kuta Beach, Bali, Indonesia; 16:34; 05/13/2023.

The second traverse of the Amazon Monitoring and Accumulating Surveillance System, AMASS, confirms its targets efficiently. Like subject #M30s-A537860, known to its human associates as “Brad”. It will only be a matter of time before this identity is assessed by the data hub at HQ. But for the moment it’s safe, providing Brad doesn’t remove his shades: the satellite has been equipped with the latest long-distance iris recognition software.

Nevertheless, within nanoseconds it has harvested plenty. The beer he drinks, not craft but a popular Italian brand, brewed in Belgium on license, from a recipe obtained in a food lab in Latvia. His cigarettes are American, filter tipped, medium quality and inexpensive; and he doesn’t inhale too deeply. His clothes, hat and sandals are a combination of chain store chic and designer label styles, though the majority of the latter are cheap copies. His wristwatch is, surprisingly, vintage Omega and the shades he hasn’t yet removed are Ray-Bans. He has chosen to read Stephen King, a lesser novel; his reading glasses have a diopter of +1.5 and were purchased over-the-counter.

Now the satellite has passed and the data banked and a micro-assessment made as to the subject’s potential: does #M30s-A537860 warrant a third pass; is identity validation cost effective at this point? For the time being, Brad is safe, or at least his credit account is. There are more viable targets on hand, and the satellite, having gathered and assessed, moves ever on…

(247 words)


written for Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie photo challenge prompt #265

Advertisements

Is it okay to be in love with your protagonist?

The idea occurred to me while walking the dogs this morning. Actually, no sooner was this idea given oxygen when it latched itself onto an old idea that all our protagonists are, in essence, autobiographical, just different versions of us. Combined, this asks, how much writing a central character is an act of narcissism?

I’ve just begun reading Montalbano’s First Case, a book of short stories by Andreas Camilleri, a kind of prequel to the Montalbano novels of which he has written many. It’s apparent that Camilleri emphasises Montalbano’s good character: his virtues, his compassion, his good judgement, his wisdom – even when his man goes against the grain, bends the rules and breaks the law, there is an apology and virtuous reasoning. I’d say he is in love with him. But whether Montalbano is secretly Camilleri, I have no way of telling.

Of course, there’s the other idea that our characters are our fictional children, or even that they are our Adams and Eves to which we play God. We simply love our children, whatever they may do.

Gender

a flash-fiction piece

Felicity and Ben make the perfect couple. When they set up home, Felicity brought the tools. She’d followed her father and took a plumber’s apprenticeship. Over time, working alongside other trades, she’d picked up skills like carpentry, bricklaying, rendering and plastering. She rarely shied away from dirty work; she was strong. She was persuaded to try out for the women’s rugby team, which she enjoyed.

They’d met in the library where Ben worked: some pipes needed replacing. He’d brought in brownies he’d baked for the other librarians and offered her one. She accepted; it was love at first sight.

(99 words)


written for the Carrot Ranch Literary Community Flash Fiction Challenge, 18 April – “Gender”

In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about Gender. It can be fixed or fluid. Explore the topic on your own terms and open your mind to possibilities and understanding. Go where the prompt leads!

The Scarecrow’s Reasoning

“That proves you are unusual,” returned the Scarecrow; “and I am convinced that the only people worthy of consideration in this world are the unusual ones. For the common folks are like the leaves of a tree, and live and die unnoticed.” 
― L. Frank Baum, The Land of Oz


Who doesn’t notice the leaves of a tree?!

Leaves are an identifier, the best, probably. We tell a type of tree from the look of its leaves more than anything else about it. But greater than this is their reminder of the seasons and, come Autumn, who isn’t impressed by the leaves show of colour?

For me, it’s a marvellous thing to see the leaves in their true colours, the golds, the ochres, the russets, the coppers and even the purples. The green was a mask they all hid beneath, for good reason. It’s the effect of chlorophyll: the green substance they produce which allows them to convert abundant sunlight into growth.

This is how a carelessly chosen simile casts doubt on the writer’s ability. Are they not writing within the scope of their knowledge? Write only what you know, is the advice often given; the first lesson. Of course, the Scarecrow is in want of a brain, so I’ll let him off this once.


If we only ever consider the unusual, then the unusual will become the usual, and the hitherto usual will then become the unusual. And so things would go around and around in an ever decreasing circle.

Give that straw man a brain before his intellect ruins us all.


written for Reena’s Exploration Challenge #78 – “on a paragraph from The Land of Oz, by L. Frank Baum”

I’ve not read The Land of Oz and I didn’t know what this excerpt is really about. I know the scarecrow only from the movie, The Wizard of Oz. In the film, he asks the Wizard for a brain and is given a certificate of diploma. Brilliant! That says a lot about the world we live in.

Are all my protagonists me (white, male, and vaguely English)?

Here’s an interesting essay from Lithub.com, a blog I’m following, about a writer’s difficulty in portraying a non-white character – Egyptian, in this case – without their ethnicity being explicitly relevant to the story.

I suppose the problem has a lot to do with the author being in America, a nation founded on worldwide immigration yet somewhat biased in favour of white, Anglo-Saxon ethnicity.

I googled “Egyptian novels” and, of course, they are many – I didn’t doubt it – and I doubt their readers visualise anything other than Egyptian characters in those stories. However, that doesn’t help an Egyptian author based in Brooklyn.

I’m still a novice at storytelling and I feel my characters usually stem naturally from some version of myself. I seem more than comfortable with this and see it as complying with the old writer’s tenet for writing only about what you know.

But it’s different for me. I’m not a professional, I’m amateur, I dabble. I’m not seeking success, financial reward, or even approval. To hell with tenets, I want to have fun, experiment, to stick my bare wet fingers into the live socket just to see what happens. What do I have to lose?

I was editing a story this morning which could be gender ambiguous. In my mind, however, it was a male, probably white, and English. There was no reason for the subject to be any of these things, so I changed it. Changing the sex filled me with a little anxiety. Cowardly, I substituted a few words so as not to be seen as overly presumptuous about how women thought. In the end, gender ambiguity became gender neutral. For now, that’s the best I can do.

I hope I made her vaguely American rather than vaguely English. As for implicit ethnicity, I have no idea how to do that yet. Maybe this is something left to the reader.

All thoughts welcome!


Waiting for the day that characters don’t default to White (Lithub.com)

Woman – her journey

To paraphrase the old chicken and egg thing, I wonder which came first, the woman or the man. I know, I know, the bible says, and all those other versions about the globe concur, mostly though perhaps not all, but…think about it.

Logically, it seems to me that while a man cannot possibly grow an infant alone, chances are a little better for a woman.

I think, free from politics, religion and all other enforced mumbo-jumbo, men and women could get along just fine. Or at least better than they have with all the historic mumbo-jumbo. I wonder how it would be if there was equality between the sexes. I don’t mean equality of opportunity, careers and wages, or anything modern like that, but physical equality. I’m not sure the men would fare as well; possibly they would be like the bees and ants, subservient and with one purpose, and once that was over the women might bite off their heads and eat them. Despite the randomness of evolution, are males not merely couriers for chromosomes?

I think the males better watch out. And I don’t mean fight back. They are clearly evolving into a weaker version of their sex, psychologically mostly but with the advent of modern technology, clearly physically too. While there is still evidence of chumps about, knuckle dragging ignoramuses, grunting and blowing in your ear ‘ole, these are swimming against the tide. The great emasculation is happening, concurrently with the slow progress of feminism. Thanks to technology – ethics and morality, philosophy and politics have no option but to follow on – the gap is closing. And if we can all keep our cool, that’s good, isn’t it?


written for Reena’s Exploration Challenge Prompt #77 – “Woman – her journey”

A difficult thing for me, a privileged, white, western male, to write about not wanting to cause offence. Sorry if any offence is unwittingly caused.

Rude Talk Now

Sapio-sexual (n). a person who is sexually aroused by, or sexually attracted to, intelligence.

Humanity is so kinky on the fringes, I could easily see living amongst us a subset of folk who get off on pure intelligence. They probably consult each other on The Times Crossword as foreplay. I’m trying myself to be conscious of whether I ever find intelligence arousing, in a sexual context, and I’m afraid I’m not getting the glow.

Sapiosexual is a new word (I always look these words up, even if I’m sure I know the meaning already. Sometimes it surprises me that I don’t, but it’s an education). I also find, from the same search, the word, Pragmasexual, and I feel that may be more my line.

To be honest, when it comes to sexual arousal, I find that sexual potential is all it requires. It’s like when you’re hungry, or just peckish, you’re probably not thinking about Raymond Blanc, Gordon Ramsey, and three michelin star restaurants inside five star hotels; you’re really thinking about Mum’s shepherds pie or Nan’s beef rendang. Of course, the analogy ends there for legal and ethical reasons, but yeah, nothing arouses sexuality more than the thought of sex itself. And for that you don’t need too much intelligence.


written for Reena’s Exploration Challenge #75 – “Sapio-sexual”

Think on: Does any cheese complement a tomato?

The UK’s popular, and probably populist, newspaper, The Sun, states, following a poll of its readers, that a fraction above 62% of them would vote Leave if there was a second referendum on Brexit. Quelle surprise, as they may say in Brussels.

Polls are silly and I don’t like them, so much so that I might respond to any in a mischievous and inconsistent way just to subvert them. Am I alone in this? Let’s take a poll….

Seriously, I wondered if any of our other esteemed papers had instigated their own agenda driven readers’ polls. I didn’t find any but stumbled across a YouGov analysis of different paperstypical reader. It was all pretty banal until I read,

“A Daily Mail reader enjoys eating cheese and tomato sandwiches…”

Now I’m not saying reverse logic can apply and that knowing your character traits can point you towards the appropriate newspaper but, really, is there any way I can pick up the Daily Mail knowing this?

In my world, sliced tomatoes have no business between two slices of bread anymore than say a sliced lemon does (by all means try one and let me know). But then with cheese?!

I know, I know, the pairing of Cheese and tomato, have history – but how on Earth did that happen?

As usual, answers on a postcard, please, as we used to say….


YouGov Poll on UK newspaper readerships (via The Guardian) – old news

Looking Back: The Hour Glass

The longer he lived, the more his life took on the metaphor of an hour glass, its sand slipping away, quickening, now greater below than above. Unlike the glass, there’s no way of resetting life.

He saw his moments, those grains, as equal, not one larger than another. The highs and lows, the same now: irrelevant. Somewhere beneath the pile lay his childhood, a happy time only he knew. He imagined that when the last grain had dropped, the family would pack it away amongst his other miscellanies. Until a time when it’s rediscovered and its meaning completely forgotten.

(99 words)


Written for the Carrot Ranch Literary Community Flash Fiction Challenge Prompt.

“In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a character who looks back. It can be a metaphorical reflection or a glance in the rear-view mirror. Who is looking back, and why? Go where the prompt leads.”

An hour glass can be considered in different ways. Someone may see it as a metaphor for life, another may see it objectively, a device to measure an hour by utilising gravity, some may see it as just an anachronistic curiosity.

Similarly it could be said for a fictional story, I suppose. An element of autobiography, an observation of another’s view, a simple play around with a common trope. Perhaps all of these and more.

There isn’t a glass large enough to hold all the grains of our imagination. Still, once it’s gone, it’s gone. Write it all down.

Memory

Identity At The Mercy Of Memory

We link hands. All those different
people who were once me, our hands
joined like a continuum of
memory across one existence.
But I sense we are not all one.
The small boy, distant at the far
end of our line is holding the hand
of someone I can’t quite see.
Whose hand he, in turn, is holding,
I can’t tell, though likely it’s the blond-haired
baby caught in a photograph,
long since extricated and
eliminated from the continuum.
Catching the eyes of a man in
the middle, and the glance says it all:
what have we to communicate?


Writing as a metaphor for the creation of consciousness and memory must also require a metaphorical palimpsest: memories partially erased and over written by revised ones, similar perhaps not the same. Therefore memories become vaguer each time they are opened; each time they are opened, they cannot help being renewed, fiddled with, embellished, altered. In the digital age, they may metaphorically be seen as a “lossy format”, diminishing in quality with each subsequent saving.

Discounting the paradoxes, do you ever imagine being a time traveller seeking out your earlier versions? We might easily recognise our physical appearance with the aid of photographic evidence – without this evidence it might be close to impossible – but how much of the person under the surface would we know, relying only on memory as evidence? I think I would be shocked and disappointed. It would play havoc with the sense of self-identity.

A chain, or a linking of hands, I chose as a metaphor of a person’s life. It assumes it’s linear along with time but I think that is too simple. A memory isn’t linear like a chain, passing information from hand to hand. I imagine it’s more like a scattering chaos of bits and bobs, less like a Shakespeare, more like a Jackson Pollock. But that was probably much harder to write about.


Written for Reena’s Exploration Challenge – Week #61

Prompt:

“In the immensity of consciousness, a light appears — a tiny point which moves rapidly and traces shapes, thoughts, and feelings, like a pen writing on paper. And the ink which leaves a trace is memory. You are that tiny point and by your movement the world is ever re-created.”

(Sri Nisargadatta, I Am That)

image by Fré Sonneveld via Unsplash.com