Lit Bit: The Novel Slog

It always seems that when you have a big project, you always find all those other things to do. I’m back at my novel, and over the past few days, I’ve cleaned out my closet to get rid of box upon box of old clothes, unfinished projects, and unused electronics. I have cleaned my room. I have cleaned my kitchen.

I have only written about 300 words.

I will tell you this, though: instead of feeling like a total loser, I at least feel accomplished. And my writing space is clean.

Embodiment: Lessons in Living without Some Skin

Injuries are strange things. Last week, while climbing a tree, I lost grip and slid down the trunk, my bare feet and pajamad knees and hips taking the brunt of the damage. Since then, I’ve had to rethink my whole body.

I admit, it’s a luxury to able to do it in this fashion, assured that I will heal, and all the damage superficial. Because of the way I gripped the tree on the way down, my knees are scab-encrusted. My hips are shredded. I have bruises on my hands and elbows. The worst of it was the wounds on my toes. I climbed barefoot, and the skin on each of my big toes ripped clean off.

This has made the simple act of walking quite difficult. Bandage-wrapped, I hobbled around for a few days, barely able to put weight on the front part of my feet for the pain. In healing (and in my learning to better wrap the wounds) I’ve gained back some of my mobility.

The real chewable thought here is how much we take for granted in able bodies. With my knees unmovable, stairs became daunting things. Curbs were even painful. We do not live in a world that is friendly to those who have to live in bodies different from the norm, and if one appears “normal” on the surface, people around one tend to be unaccommodating of folk who move to accommodate pain, or an injured limb, or a body that simply doesn’t work the same as others.

While stepping on to the bus, I had to lean heavily on the railing for support, my feet screaming in their boots as I did. A woman in the front seat harangued me: “We ain’t got all day! Hurry up and sit your ass down!” When a child tread on my toe and I yelped in pain, his mother chided me. When I took slow small steps in the mall, the girl on her cell phone started talking to the person on the other end, “Yeah, I’m stuck behind this slow cow. I think she’s retarded or something, she’s walking funny.”

It’s not a friendly world. Beyond that, I’ve gnawed on the notion of how much I’ve had to reconfigure my daily routines: the way I lowered myself onto the toilet to use it, the manner in which I opened the front door, suddenly avoiding catching it on my hip, learning to pivot on my heel instead of on my toe to avoid having the apartment complex’s foot traffic gate shut on me. Even the act of putting on shoes has been a complicated dance of unbending legs and weeping scabs.

As gruesome as it sounds, I am deeply grateful for this experience. It is, as I’ve said, a luxury. It has helped hone an empathy, an awareness of a body’s limitations that I don’t think I could have seen quite this way when I was younger.

Knowing this and chewing these thoughts, I have to say, they are a rather bitter meal.

Lit Bit: Books Graphical

Perusing Hy Bender’s Sandman Companion, I read that Neil Gaiman reacted to being told his works weren’t comic books but graphic novels by stating, “…all of a sudden I felt like someone who’d been informed that she wasn’t actually a hooker; that in fact she was a lady of the evening.” A reclamation of terms. Ugh. I hate that, a kind of cultural gentrification. The Sci Fi channel changing its name to “Sy-Fy.” “Speculative fiction” instead of “science fiction,” to make it sound more literary. The lit canon wars all over again, joy.

But there’s an inherent problem with “comic books.” The term itself just doesn’t sit well. I mean, “comics.” The little pictures don’t go do stand up for you. My grandmother calls them “the funnies.” There’s nothing funny about the subject matter of Maus, though any good story moves through its moments of deep humor to sorrow to hope, to where ever else the tale takes us, the readers. But the point of them isn’t humor. Superhero stories aren’t supposed to be just tales to laugh over. They can be light, full of wish fulfillment, but they aren’t just for laughs.

While “graphic novel” may seem at first like one of those gentrification techniques, to my eye, it’s just calling a spade a spade. A graphic novel collects all the shorts from a long story arc into one place, or publishes one long visual tale in one spot. It’s graphical, even though it may not be novel-length in the “true” sense (novels are a minimum of 50,000 words; sorry kiddies, Heart of Darkness was technically a novella… fact is, though, it’s just plain good, so you can just call it what you want). And in all honesty, “graphic novel” sounds less pretentious than “sequential art.”

In this case… I don’t really see what the problem is. Not only does the term “graphic novel” call it like it is, but it makes room. Room for stories other than superhero fictions and Sunday morning giggles. Room for stories about real people and invented ones. Room for memoirs, space flights, archaeologists, boring day jobs and the struggle to reconcile where we want to be with where we are, days indoors during the rain, and super mutant battles. There’s room in the term for all of it. The term takes the key from its keepers and turns it over into all our hands.

I’ll admit, there are other points to address. “But what about the really short tales?” Yes, the ones that are only a few pages long? Just a couple of strips? A single 28 or 32 page volume? I have a solution for that, too. I borrowed it from film. I just call them “shorts.” Or if you want to stick your pinkie in the air, “graphic shorts.” Which makes me want a pair of comic-print boxers.

Brickberry: We Are All Cyborgs, Now

It used to be a little 8330 Curve. I liked it because it had a keyboard with buttons I could actually press, and because at the time, I was skeptical of smart phones. I was never an early adopter. And really, it was one of the few smartphone options my cell carrier had.

Today, my little Blackberry became a Brickberry. This has been part of the long arc of its slow decline. First, it ceased to receive data. Updating the operating system failed to do anything. Then, it lost the ability to be recognized on my computer as a device, either as a Blackberry or in mass storage mode. Then the camera went. Next, the track ball fell out. It didn’t just fall out, but the rollers disintegrated, leaving me with a tiny ball and no housing in which to place it.

Today, it bricked. I turned it on, and it decided it didn’t want to be on. I turned it on again and checked the charge— full. It promptly shut itself off again. I plugged it in. On again. Yes, yes… and then it blinked off. I went off to work, sans phone.

Work, without a phone, put me in a strange location. I couldn’t time my breaks but to ask others what the hour looked like. I fretted over my roommates, my family being unable to contact me. But the worst of it came when I realized that in trading a closing shift, I had no way to call anyone to ask for a ride home. I had no way to call for help should I get in a cycling accident. Not because there weren’t any phones— no, the store has plenty of those, as does just about every passer-by. I had no phone numbers to call. I no longer know anyone’s phone number by heart.

This shouldn’t be a huge realization. I mean, I always knew that in not having to dial, I had forgotten every phone number I’d ever known. Faced with my inability to even quickly gain this information (long waits between emails and facebook posts in order to reconstruct my list do not make it a very speedy process), I finally felt vulnerable. I had lost my entire list of contacts. Unless I can make that Brickberry work for long enough to transfer the data to a new phone, I’ve lost everything. I can’t even call my parents. They changed their number years ago, and their old one was the last I had remembered rote.

How strange. We truly are cyborgs, then. We allow technology to assume the function of part of our brains— our memory— in order to free ourselves of the constraints of learning by rote. We can then devote that energy to other things, achieve yet greater results… but when a device fails catastrophically (oh my Brickberry), the information, the utility we lose is akin to a serious injury. In fact, that is exactly what occurs: because we have given over part of our minds to the keeping of our tech, because we have turned ourselves into partially electronic creatures, it is very much an injury to our external memories.

As with any wound, it takes time to heal. I will need to repair the gaps in my recall by collecting phone numbers again. I will need to habituate to a new phone. The poems I wrote and stored and failed to transcribe from my new-minted brick are lost forever. But then there is addressing that sense of vulnerability that comes with a major injury: it will take time to heal from feeling so exposed without the power to contact others, being deprived of my very recall. In the manner of my fellow beings, I will become overly cautious about backing up, not trust devices that show even the slightest hint of malfunction. This is adaptive, especially for bespectacled cyborgs like me who store part of their memory on devices off-body.

After all, what do we have if not our minds?