Thursday, September 29, 2016

Once Upon a Midnight Dreary.


I wrote a new story! Well, it is more a “story”. I have been tinkering with it this week. Below is my first draft. It is nothing special, but it is something I wrote! And despite the multitude of photos I’ve posted the last few months, this is after all a writing blog.


It is kind of dark, but that is just where it went; I promise my spirits are pretty good right now.

As you read it, imagine that you are turning the pages of a book and that each gallery is on its own page.
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The Impossible Museum.


The Impossible Museum
By James Bezerra


Gallery 1 contains the hat check, the coat check, the weapons check, and the mandatory blood donation center.

Galleries 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 contain variously incorrect maps of the museum.

Gallery 13 contains a complete, fully-functional scale model of the universe.

Gallery 28 contains anti-Semitism.

Gallery 33 Contains Edgar Allen Poe, who sits on a white wooden chair inside of a sound-proof and bullet-proof clear lexan box. He is very much alive and can see you. His situation has never been explained to him.

Gallery 42 Contains a vibrantly alive cancer cell. Surely it is not hubris to exhibit such a thing.

Gallery 68 contains approximately a chest-high quantity of warm, liquid, fresh human blood. Rubber waders are complimentary, but limited in supply.

Gallery 79 contains two cancer cells.

Gallery 87 contains all of your existential fear: the quiet, bottomless disappointments of your life. The stuff of your midnight anxiety. That you have wasted your brief time on the planet. That you have lived your best moments, none of which were even remarkable. That you will die and never be thought of again. That your loved ones find your tiresome. That you will fail at everything.

Gallery 96 contains four cancer cells.

Gallery 121 contains more that thirty-seven million panes of window glass removed from murder scenes.

Gallery 158 contains a conveyor belt delivering an endless supply of Schrodeinger Boxes for visitors to open. Dead cats may be left in the ever-growing pile or retained as souvenirs. Live cats are to be left to scrounge off the pile.

Gallery 186 contains sixteen cancer cells.

Gallery 202 contains the bullet that actually killed JFK.

Gallery 235 contains professional black & white headshots of the people your lovers have thought about while having sex with you.

Gallery 296 contains seventy-three million swatches of carpet removed from rooms where suicides have occurred.

Gallery 331 contains a large, fully-functional scale model of the left ventricle of your mother’s heart.

Gallery 444 contains a sealed cube on a borrowed, plastic green patio table, which contains approximately 4,000 baby panda eyeballs.

Gallery 501 contains 256 cancer cells.

Gallery 505 contains a perfect replica of Edgar Allan Poe’s white chair and nothing else but an oppressive sense of foreboding. This gallery has no exit.

Gallery 616 contains 65,536 cancer cells.

Gallery 738 contains over 300 million individual strands of human hair left behind on the pillows of abandoned lovers.

Gallery 819 contains Yoko Ono.

Gallery 916 contains a 6-inch bench vise, a zinc nail, a hammer, a bullet, and a sloth.
Gallery 1004 contains a green-winged teal duck and a rhesus monkey that has been electro-shock conditioned to want to ride the duck. The monkey has not been trained to ride the duck.
Gallery 1228 contains a single, possibly decaying atom, a vial of sarin gas, and a docent with a Geiger counter who will break open the vial should the atom decay during your visit.

Gallery 2034 is a lightless, soundless, airless, floorless, and wall-less black cube with no apparent entrances, exits, hope, or time.

Gallery 3891 contains 700 speakers playing an endless audio loop of every I-Love-You ever uttered by your current lover to someone else.

Gallery 4000 contains 4,294,967,296 cancer cells.

Gallery 4408 contains a more than adequate amount of burn victim pornography.

Gallery 5562 contains a tall, aging pile of nosebleed tissues of cocaine-addicted former Presidents of the United States, and also Bolivia.

Gallery 6119 contains the souls of masturbation sperm never allowed to grow, age, live, love, exist, thrive, cry, fear, cure, laugh, or die.

Gallery 7288 contains used, faulty mountaineering gear.

Gallery 8138 contains 18,446,744,073,709,551,616 cancer cells.

Gallery 9787 contains the revelation that most clothing is donated to secondhand stores following the death of a loved one.

Gallery 10216 contains live feeds of child molestations from around the world. The gallery has been upgraded to now feature sound.

Gallery 11896 contains the end of a tunnel and a switch.

Gallery 20256 contains an innumerable quantity of cancer cells.

Gallery 30000 contains a small amount of hope.

Gallery 30001 contains a blinding white light.

Gallery 30002 contains nothing but cancer cells.

Gallery 30003 contains the museum gift shop and the single, non-functioning parking validation machine.


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Sensory Map.


The other day my writing workshop met for the first time. The workshop is the core of a writing program like the one I am in. But since it was the first day, there was not much to actually do.

We talked a lot about the way the workshop will work and about feedback and revision and blah blah blah, a bunch of other writerly stuff you don’t care about. We also did a writing exercise using a “sensory map” and while I do not generally like writing exercises, this one was okay.

A “sensory map” sounds way more fancy than it is. Just imagine that you have a piece of paper and you divide it up into sections for each of your senses (sight, touch, taste, etc.) and you focus on writing something for each of those senses. The idea being that we make automatic, subconscious writing choices about which senses we use and often forget about the others. You know how Hemingway wrote a lot about how things taste, but how I always forget to? A sensory map helps a writer work though some of that. Usually the map is aimed at a particular prompt. Our prompt the other day was “fireworks”.

This particular map had the sense of ‘Touch’ broken down into subcategories: skin, nerves, internal organs, limbs, fingers. That was kind of interesting because I had never seen one like that before.

Below is the exercise I ended up producing. I don’t think it is particularly good or anything, but is a thing which exists now, but didn’t a week ago.

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On Fireworks.


It’s the boom of the fireworks that make them both violent and fascinating. The sound that frightens our children and our dogs. The intense and invisible wave blooming out that shakes windows, that sets off car alarms. It is the unseeable forces that we actually fear.

It is the concussion and vibration that actually kills gunshot victims; the rippling shockwave inside the body.

It’s why we watch fireworks from far below or far away. Why we watch them and pretend not to notice the feel of our fingers brushing. Accidently. The first time or two. Faces turned up from a dark crows occasionally dappled with acrid greens and reds and blues. And our pinkies hook wordlessly together down where no one can see.

It is the sky we watch explode, because it is only the invisible things we fear.

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Dispatches from My Life Now.


I have been in Portland less than two weeks. It feels like I am at summer camp. It does not feel like I live here. I think it is possible though that one day it might feel that way. I never really felt like I lived in LA even though I lived in and around it for almost ten years.


The abstract notion of living in Portland has been very exciting. Not because of the Portlandia, hipster, Brooklyn-of-the-West stuff, but because I’d learned about the way the city had consciously planned itself. I learned about the “urban growth boundary” instituted to minimize sprawl, I’d read a little about their zoning which emphasizes mixed use development, I’d read that their zoning generally requires that on urban and commercial streets there be windows at street level in order to avoid the creation of lonely, unpleasant urban canyons. Detached housing is required to have a smaller setback from the sidewalk, which means that your very livings space is closer to the people moving around in the city, making life part of the city, not isolated from it. Homes do not have the wide, useless front lawns I’m accustomed to in California. Here, in the 1970s, they actually removed a freeway to create the Waterfront Park that runs along the western bank of the Willamette River. Can you believe that?! They REMOVED a freeway! They must have known that dirty truth of civil engineering: that additional freeways added to urban areas tend to create more congestion, not alleviate existing congestion.  


I used to bitch and moan a lot about what a poorly planned and un-livable place greater Los Angeles is. Portland seems to have done all the things I said LA needed to do. I’m not trying to create an LA vs PDX binary here - after all, the population of Portland is about 600,000 and the population of the LA metro is about 157 gazillion, so the comparison would not be a terrible fair one - I am just telling you what I’m experiencing on the ground.


Speaking of which, because I have not had much to do these past two weeks, I have been doing a lot of exploring on foot. I have always liked to engage with a place at the ground level. Here are some some things I have discovered lately:


POLITICS. That Pacific Northwest libertarianism I’d heard of is very much real, though I imagine that anyone possessing it would object to the label “libertarian” because this also seems to be such a liberal place. More than once I have heard the distinction made between “Bernie Democrats” and “Hillary Democrats”, as though that is as the length of the political spectrum here. I heard a local politician described as “too conservative for Portland” because he is “more of a Hillary.” I’ve seen college students with “Big Government Sucks” buttons while walking around the beautiful campus of this (rather expensive) state institution. I can’t get my finger on the pulse of this yet. They are repelled by Trump-ish nativism nationally, but deeply angered by the influx of other Americans into their own city. A city which is in many ways a victim of its own success. It is precisely because of the heavy handedness of their municipal government that this city is as beautiful, livable, and appealing as it is, which is why people want to live here. I understand them though. At a party the other night I met three separate people who were evicted from their apartments in 2013. Apparently that was a very bad year to be poor in Portland because the influx of out-of-state people and money drove landlords to develop some new strategies. The big old houses out in the neighborhoods of Portland that had long since been sliced up as rental spaces were suddenly worth more (again) as single family homes and the resulting sell-off was essentially incentivised by the fact that the city had no rent control and no mechanisms to ensure that landlords were behaving fairly and ethical, because no such laws had ever really been needed before. Anyway, I am still trying to figure all that out.


PEOPLE. Despite the politics of it all, people really are very nice here. It isn’t a hug-convention on the bus or anything, but people are polite, personable, and seemingly genuine. Even friends-of-friends I have never met have been amazingly generous with their time and information. I’m humbled by it. I have been the recipient of more generosity in my first two weeks here than in my first two months in LA.


PARKS. There are parks everywhere! And I have not even explored very far beyond the South West quadrant of the city. They take their public spaces seriously up here. There are big parks, small parks, urban parks, nature parks, you name it, they got it. Every day I walk down to the Pioneer Courthouse Square and every day there is something happening there. A farmers market, a protest, a band, there is always something. And people just sit around, they simply spend time in the public realm and it really is as community-building as it sounds.


WATER. Often those parks have water in them. This place loves its fountains. I can think of five parks within easy walking distance of my apartment that have water features for children to dance and play in. It must be lovely here in the depth of summer. Jumping water and dancing water and waterfalls and wading pools. The drought-stricken Californian in me is still freaking out about it.


HOMELESS. Okay, real talk here for a minute. There are a lot of homeless people here. Now I will admit, this is the most urban that I have ever lived and there is always a degree of homelessness that goes along with living in the core of a city. But I have been to other places. I have been to Downtown LA and I have been to Manhattan and Denver and I spent the last few months in Ventura (which has a large homeless population), but somehow it does seem like the homeless population of Portland is by percentage larger than it should be given the population of the city. I will say that some of the homeless population here seems to be shockingly young and able-bodied and is likely tied to the general influx of people into the PDX area. That, coupled with the housing problems I described above, likely has a lot to do with that nativist sentiment I also described above. To its credit, the city seems to be aware of the homeless problem, but does not seem sure of how to deal with it.
MASS TRANSIT. I am a lover of mass transit and down in the city center where I am there are no less than THREE SEPARATE forms of mass transit. And that is not even counting the orange city bicycles you can rent all over Downtown. I can be standing IN THE AIRPORT in less than an hour because the light rails runs straight into the airport. I have been to each quadrant of the city in the last two weeks and it was always cheap and easy to get where I was going. I have sold my car, so confident am I in the mass transit here.


MALLS. So far I have not encountered a traditional shopping mall. I’m sure that they exist somewhere, but I have not found one yet. The local Target occupies the second and third stories of a building Downtown. I found a fantastic street out at Burnside and 23rd that is like a deconstructed shopping mall. It is as if developers (hampered by the city zoning requirements) took a small town main street and filled it with the stores from a mall, but without evicting any of the small business that existed there. So the effect is a street of six or seven blocks that has an Urban Outfitter next door to a local coffee shop, next to a Lush, next to a pub. The result is charming (and tourist-friendly) and contributes to that ongoing theme of public spaces.


TRASH. I am so confused by the trash situation. Here is what I can gather so far: recycling must be divided between “glass and jars” and “paper, metal, plastic, bottles, and tubs”. That is not that confusing on its own, but my building only has places for the recycling. I am still trying to find my dumpster. ALSO, my apartment came with a composting bucket. It is a plastic tub with a lid and a handle. It looks like a small cooler. This is for anything organic or tainted by the organic, so coffee grounds, egg shells, corn husks, or what have you. No idea what I do with the bucket once it is full.


DRINKING. There are bars and breweries and pubs everywhere. If one were so inclined one could drink all day every day until they simply died. I can walk either north or south and have a beer in my hand in less than two blocks. It seems to just be like that here.  


BUILDINGS. Remember how a couple years ago there was that article (was it in The Atlantic?) about how the Pacific Northwest is due for a big earthquake? Do you remember how freaked out people were? Being from California I was all like, “What’s the big deal?” Well now that I have gotten the chance to look at Portland, I see what the concern is: in the case of an earthquake, this place is fucked. Everything here is built out of brick or nice old flaky wood. I would like to imagine that the fancy newer buildings that have sprouted up along the river have some earthquake resilience built into them, but I suspect that unless the state or city requires them, why would a developer spend the extra money? The pretty, old, tree-lined neighborhoods I’ve seen on the east side of the river are just going to collapse like Lincoln Log huts. The narrow one-way streets of the city center would become impassably choked in the event ruble spills out into them. Walking around the city I have seen brick and stone foundations cracked with a century of freeze-and-thaw cycles. Even the poured concrete foundations I have looked at seem insubstantial, but I am not a civil engineer. I’m just a guy who likes to worry. OH! Let us not forget that since they have “weather” up here, most houses and buildings apparently have heating oil tanks in their basements. So that surely won’t cause a problem when the big one hits.

BUILDINGS (Part II). My apartment does not have a shower. It has a tub. Only a tub. The building is so old that the bathroom was not built for a shower. The walls are just regular plaster walls. Hypothetically if I somehow installed a shower head (which I am explicitly barred from doing), the walls would quickly start to peel and wilt. This means that I am taking a lot of baths and since I always liked to shower in the mornings, it means that I am sometimes taking a morning bath. Like I’m fucking Henry VIII or something. It feels weird and wrong. I’m not sure that I will ever get used to that.

I think that is all I have to tell you for now ...

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