Storytelling

Mocked by empty lines, this is my retort.

Many months have passed since I’ve written a word. They’ve built up in my cranium till it began to crack. I puke them into my hands and dab them with my fingers onto the keyboard, making them manifest. And thus the word become world.

Nothing’s worse than being a wounded writer. An ambivalent author, wanting to pour out pain but not wanting to feel it again, as they must if they are to spell it out. It hurts, pressing against the skull, seeking definition, seeking release. It’ll drive you insane if you let it. But wanting to be a writer is insane to begin with. Not writing just makes it worse.

Vaughnceil is asleep as I punch letters onto the laptop screen. She’s been imploring me to write for a while. I’ve written notes from dreams, possible plots for stories, interesting images to translate into scenes. I’ve looked them over many times, seeking meaning, a continuity, or at least the appearance of one. Nothing comes together. Nothing speaks to me.

All the while, the empty lines smirk at me. A blank screen. A blank face.

My ankle throbs again, a new, different pain from what I’ve felt for the past two years. I was once The Walker, a traveler and seeker. I wandered across the country, learning much, finding two loves, losing one to mutual insecurities, then moved here and lost the other to miscommunication and dishonesty. And the next day found another Walker, who was seeking me. She and I circled around each other for years, living in the same cities, visiting the same events and venues at the same times but never meeting. We even missed each other at a concert, just two days before we finally met at a coffee shop.

She sleeps in the bedroom as I type thoughts randomly in the living room, feeling my damaged foot aching, pondering the end of my walking.

The wanderlust is still there in my heart, but tamed. I can’t blame my ankle for this. When Vaughnceil and I met each other, I knew that part of my journey was over. This is a new journey now, and unlike before, I’m not alone. The pace is slower, which perturbs me. Not just because of my ankle, but because of Vaughnceil’s disease. It reminds me we are dying, and that there’s still much to do and many places to go.

And here I sit, feeling fear and pouring pain into these words, because I believe in words and their power, their power to transform, to awaken and shape the world, our world, Vaughnceil’s and mine, into whatever we please.

Where does the pain come from? Not the physical pain, which may be the result of physical journeys, but the hurt from my head and heart? I’ve always felt vaguely like an impostor as an artist. Now I must admit, based on the failed relationships I’ve been in, especially my marriage, 25 years that yielded three beautiful children, that I feel like an impostor there too. I feel like I’m pretending to be a good man and a good partner, not because I’m cheating or being physically abusive. I feel like I could and should be better to Vaughnceil. I should be kinder. More loving. More honest. My heart and mind should be more open to her. It’s silly, I know. When I think about it (and that, maybe, is the problem – that I’m thinking too much about it), I know that I’m doing my absolute best for her, within the best of my ability.

Writing this, looking at these words I’ve written, shows that what I should do, need to do, if I want to improve things, is to be more myself. As I encourage her to fulfill herself, I should be doing the same for me. “But it won’t pay the bills,” my fear whispers to me. “You’ll isolate yourself, like you did with your ex-wife. You’ll probably fail. No one wants to read what you write, or listen to the sounds you make, or look at the images you compose.”

I’ve failed already. I have a binder of rejection slips for stories. I have several albums of sounds and songs and a book of short stories that haven’t sold for several years now. I almost failed film school, passing by a razor’s edge with the help of friends. I’ve started a creative endeavor that ended in theft and betrayal by someone I thought I could trust. I’ve made images with paint, pencil, camera, and mousepad that people would chuckle at dismissively and forget about after. And I’ve made little money from all this, even lost money on some. I’ve failed plenty. What do I have to be afraid of there?

I’ve also sold stories, even had one picked as one of the best of the year. A couple of my albums had gotten good reviews. I did pass film class, by making the movie I wanted to make and fulfilling my vision. And while I sit here, spelling out my fears and hopes, my failures and triumphs, I sit here alone with Vaughnceil in the bedroom asleep, remembering her telling me to do what I have to do to get my real work done, that it’s OK to isolate myself as long as I keep creating, as long as I keep telling my stories in whatever medium I wish to use.

The other day, after some encouragement, Vaughnceil stood before a room of strangers and told her story of the past few years, of her discovery of her cancer, of what she had done and had learned, of what and who she loves. I realize now that she is a better storyteller than me, at least vocally. While I’m proficient in the written word, she is skilled in spoken words when telling her story. It is a story of making your path, after following somebody else’s. It is the same story as mine. Our stories had led us to each other, bonded us together.

So what now? What happens next?

We keep telling our stories. They merge and intertwine, dive and rise, apart and together, always close. We create our moments, with sounds, with images, with words, and always, with love.

I wrap up this story, as imperfectly told as it may be, but perfect enough for me, and will join her in our bed, kissing her neck and telling her I love her. A perfect end to the day, and the story, our story, is to be continued.

Tune in tomorrow….

Copyright © March 23, 2019 by Dionisio “Don” Traverso Jr.

Dedicated to my love, Vaughnceil Shepherd.

Advertisements

R. I. P. Harlan Ellison

He was my inspiration, the reason I write and I feel like I do about the world and humanity, the reason I both love and hate my fellow beings, the reason I hope and believe we all can do better.

I feel like a piece of my soul has died.

I met him once at 1996’s Chicago Comic-Con. I had taken my son Dio with me. He was 9 years old at the time. Harlan saw us sitting in the audience, waiting for the Q&A he was going to have with Peter David, and asked me if I was sure I wanted Dio to be there, as the language was going to be a little rough. I was so nervous that I told him, trying to be funny, that Dio had heard worse at home. I then realized how stupid that sounded. And he was right. His first answer had a story about how he lost his penis. He was hilarious, and Dio was captivated by his tales. Afterword, we got in line to have him sign some books. I said more stupid fanboy shit to him, but he mostly talked to Dio. He was so kind and friendly to him, gentle in a way that belied his reputation as this ball of rage. I’ve never forgotten that.

I can’t stop crying.

The Story So Far

My friend Darlene succumbed to cancer and passed away. I knew her for a short time during the two years that I lived in Austin Texas. She was my best friend’s wife, and the angriest woman on the planet. When I first saw her, it was on a CapMetro bus. I couldn’t take my eyes off her face. It was pure anger, a look that seemed to display that everyone on that bus would be eviscerated if so provoked. Later, when I got to know her, I saw the anger firsthand, but also a sweetness and enthusiasm for Doctor Who and all things geeky. She was nice to me, maybe because she saw the same rage in my eyes, and recognized a kindred demon.

I came back to the Midwest. Friends became lovers became antagonists became lessons became memories. Then strangers became friends became lovers. Life’s funny that way. When you think you’re good with yourself, life throws you a pop quiz, a test to see if you’re really OK with who you are, and if you would fight for yourself or distort yourself to please someone else’s expectations. I had distorted myself for years, losing myself in the process. I had just found myself again, unearthed aspects of me that were long buried, something I still work on today. I may retreat, but I never surrender. I keep moving forward.

Love is a beautiful, fragile thing. Be gentle with it, and nurture it every day. Spread it around as much as you can, but don’t expect everyone to treat it as gently as you do. Don’t despair about that. Keep spreading and nurturing.

And when someone crushes it and throws it in your face, do not engage with them. Walk away. Don’t even let them become ghosts, only memories and lessons learned. Ghosts haunt when you give them the power to. Walk away, and wish them well. Don’t let it devolve into angry words and actions. Don’t hold on to it if it does. It’s too easy to do.

Anger is an energy. Use it to build something better in your life. Otherwise it consumes you. I believe it consumed Darlene. Burned her up from the inside. Made her lash out at the ones she loved. Let anger go or use it to build something good. When you mix love into it, whatever you build becomes stronger.

Now let us return to the story….

My Definition Of Family

Once and for all, here is my definition of family:

Family is comprised of those people you love above all else, and who reciprocate that love.

Blood means nothing in this. Blood relatives who abuse you are not family.

I’ve been tolerant of some of the latter, because I believe in redemption, and because, admittedly, I’ve been conditioned by abuse to accept them, out of a sense of powerlessness. I’ve given second, third, tenth, fiftieth chances to blood relatives that have used that to tear my soul apart once more. The closest ones have brought me close to killing myself out of despair.

This past year, I’ve been learning and relearning myself and what drives me, what wakes me up, what puts me down. I’ve made choices to not let people, who are not blood relatives, abuse and take advantage of me. Some were new acquaintances, some longtime friends with whom I was stuck in a self-abusive spiral. By cutting ties to them, I broke the pattern and found my strength, or more correctly, realized my strength, because without that I wouldn’t be alive today. I chose to endure suffering no more.

Problem was, as a blood relative chose to point out to me in a most abusive way, I had not done that with those who call themselves my family because of shared bloodlines. These are people who have done more damage to me than anyone I’ve known that is not related to me, sexually, physically, and emotionally. Some of them suffered the same abuse at the same time as me, and later became abusers themselves. Then their children become abusers. And the disease gets handed down, stays alive, refines itself into worse and more insidious maltreatment as the generations pass.

But with abusers come victims. It could be argued, rightfully so in most cases, that abusers are victims, but for this I’m talking about those who feel powerless, whose power is taken away by the abusers but who don’t respond by becoming abusers themselves. Those who end up in life fighting battles they don’t believe they’ll win, because they’re not good enough, because they’re not strong enough, because the one they’re fighting is the one they love, and surely the one they love will change after this time, or the next, or…eventually. Then the one they love will become the parent they need, the sibling, the cousin, the aunt/uncle.

It’s a hard lesson, but I’ve learned to stop holding out for this from my relatives, and to stop taking the abuse from those still dishing it out. I’m cutting contact with them, both on Facebook as well as in the meatspace called real life. It means breaking ties with some here who have done me no wrong, but who are connected to those who have. I regret that, but I’ve learned in the past year that everyone has regrets, and that I have the strength to carry them. I also regret that it took me this long to see how self-abusive, in various ways, my relationship to these relatives has been, and how I’ve been condoning their actions because I believed they would change, and they could be redeemed. For that, I apologize to those they are abusing now, or have abused in the past. I’m sorry it took this long for me to realize it.

My family are my children and the people whom I love and who love me. The latter group right now are mostly not related by blood, and that’s fine. I like to think I’ve chosen wisely, and hope to honor them all by being the best person I can be, the truest me. I can only do this by honoring myself first.

Flashback Friday: Black Sheets Of Rain (originally published in Midnight Zoo v2, #2, 1994.

(Author’s note: This was written as a response to a challenge by another writer friend, who gave me the elements of exercise, a church mass, and the phrase “the two that are wounded” to make a story out of. I did, then sent it to a fantasy/horror publication named Midnight Zoo. They published it, and I had a new setting to play with. I’ve been playing with it ever since, refining a novel and occasionally writing a short story – such “The Dream Hacker”, which was recently published in Cheapjack Pulp. I even tried a comic series some years back, but the company folded before it came to fruition. Here is the first story, the first flirting with total chaos magic. Enjoy!)

She can still see the glowing street, the path to their temple, through the heavy black rain. The dark wet veil obscures the buildings and street lamps of Psykopolis. The scar under her blouse is on fire, but it doesn’t stop her. The glowing trail entrances her, leads her to the holders of the knife. Somehow she will take it from them. The pain will end. And they will pay.

The pain surges, slices through her torso. She drops to her knees. They must be doing Exercises. She must push past the pain. She tries to Focus, to diminish it. The rain increases in response to her pain, trying to wash it away, obscuring the shimmering trail. Her fingers scrape down old crumbling bricks, dust falling with her to the black asphalt pool beneath, where she glimpses the face she saw earlier, when the trail appeared, the face of a young boy….

***
Dallion runs down the hall, looking at each door in turn, but uncertain which to open. He wants to scream, but that will alert the priests. He must escape. He must protect himself.

Cardinal Hazeltan will be looking for him now. Time is running out. Tears flood Dallion’s eyes again. He wants to stop, to let the priests find him. He wants to die.

How could he do this to me? Dallion thinks. Why couldn’t I ‘ve been a scarecrow? He remembers when Cardinal Hazeltan found him behind a dance club downtown named called The Biopathy Bureau, picking through the garbage cans for food scraps. His mother had completely succumbed to the willies after Dad left, and it was only a matter of time before she vanished too, screaming into the night, trying to hide from subliminal monsters reaching for her from the psychetecture of the surrounding buildings. Hazeltan’s voice was gentle, as was his smile. “Kavea protect you, my son,” he said to Dallion. “Come along. One meal for a few minutes of your time, my son.” He has been so good to me, Dallion thinks, pausing in front of the locked library door, the knot in his throat twisting tighter. All the Exercises. He was just using me. Who are ‘the two that are wounded’?

The despair passes. Where can he hide? Where won’t they look? They’ve probably checked his room, then the Chapel…. The Chapel! He can hide there for a while. Maybe he will figure a way to sneak past the sentinels. Cardinal Hazeltan’s voice booms down the hall.

“Dallion! Dallion!”

Oh sweet Kavea, Dallion thinks, watching the shadow of his mentor stretch out before him from around the corner.

***
She sees him cowering in the hall, a young man with dark hair and the white robes of a Kavean neophyte. His aura is bright gold and powerful. Hazeltan, the bastard, steps around the corner. “There you are, Dallion,” he says, and the boy’s aura turns blue with fear. “Praise Kavea. Brother Sylvester and I decided you should try again, only not in the Chapel. In the Holy of Holies. Come.”

She wrenches herself to consciousness, pushes her body up off the street, cursing herself. She used to be the most powerful water witch in Fugue Fields, one of many people whose intense psychic abilities were triggered by the psychetecture of the neighborhood, a deliberate experiment of Psykopolis’ chief builder and architect. She networked her power with other Adepts three or four years ago (she can no longer remember through the haze of pain) and brought rain during the drought. Now a rain shower follows her, a subconscious uncontrolled response to her pain, always falling, never washing the pain away. She used to be a healer. People depended on her to care for their children and parents. Now she can’t even heal herself.

The road before her is bright blue and electric with fright. She drinks from it greedily, building a little strength but not enough. It tastes bitter with fear. That boy. He’s the key. But they’re taking him to the Holy of Holies. Hazeltan must know something, but not enough to outright kill the boy. The boy must’ve been the crux of the Exercises before.

They’re going to do a Cleansing. They will use the knife. She won’t be able to withstand the pain.

Neither will the boy.

She staggers forward, running down the wavering blue path, trying to Focus past the pain on the boy. He must know what to do in the Holy of Holies, before Hazeltan maims him.

***
Kavea, with her eight razor-fingered arms and four cow-eyed bald head, stands in the center of the dimly lit room. Brother Sylvester twists the dimmer control knob. Dallion winces at the sudden brightness, then widens his eyes at the hooked and bladed instruments covering the wall. A trough of water surrounds the statue of the goddess. Hazeltan’s face beams at the sight of it, shaped to his exact specifications. Two priests bring in the Well of Pain, a cauldron of weapons stained with the blood of the Church’s enemies. Another brings in the coals.

“Well, Dallion. Are you ready for the Cleansing? I assure you this is the only way, my son.”

Dallion looks at the kindly old face, then at the statue. Hazeltan was so friendly during their first talk. They walked through the Temple after Dallion was fed, an old office building with several conference rooms. “I was once lost like you,” Hazeltan said. “I wandered the streets so filled with pain I could not see my fellow men and women. Then She came in a vision.” They entered the Chapel and Dallion saw the statue, a slightly paler replica of the one he looks at now. “She asked me to worship Her, to love Her,” Hazeltan continued. “She embraced me and sliced off my skin and released the pain in my soul. I was renewed. She accepted me, as She accepts all lost wounded souls. With Kavea, you are never alone.” Dallion took a bite from the apple in his hand, thought about the many weeks he had spent alone in the streets of Psykopolis, his only companions the hypnogogic demons at the edges of his vision, demons he no longer feared because they never did or say anything. “Will you stay and allow me to teach you to commune with Kavea?” Hazeltan asked and he said yes. He joined the other neophytes and started Exercises. It felt great. He was not alone. He was loved. He was accepted. It was all a lie.

Dallion glances at the Well of Pain. One blade takes his attention, a large curved knife. The two priests lift the Well to set it on the hot coals. Without reason, Dallion shouts, “Wait!”

A hint of impatience flickers across Hazeltan’s face. “What is it, my son?”

Stall, a voice in his head whispers. But he doesn’t know how. “It’s OK to be afraid, my son,” Hazeltan continues, oozing with false concern, “but I promise it’s for the best. You’ll see, my son.” He smiles.

Anger swells in Dallion’s chest, spills out his mouth. “No, I’m not your ‘son’. I’m a ‘little bastard’, remember? When you were talking to Brother Sylvester? When you decided to torture me?!”

***
That’s it, kid. Keep them off balance, she thinks as she gazes across the street at the factory building. A couple of guards try to look like they are just hanging out in front, but she recognizes them. They witnessed her wounding. They taunted her while she was sliced. Thunder cracks, sounding her anger. It will be a pleasure to kill them.

She should have taken this puny little cult of low-level pain freak psychics seriously when they first appeared in Fugue Fields. Cults come and go overnight in Psykopolis, but this one has lasted longer than most. Something about Hazeltan’s sick vision of salvation appealed to certain sadistic types. Then these crazies tried to recruit Adepts into their diseased power games. They have just enough knowledge and ability to be able to camouflage their thoughts and their cumulative power protects them from any defense the Adepts could raise against them. She, like most Adepts, wouldn’t join. Hazeltan cut her, stomach to breastbone, then used the weapon, the knife, to torture her, to sap her power and, most importantly, her Focus. Her blood on the knife is the Children of Kavea’s link to her wound, as many other weapons are linked to other Adepts she knew, debilitating them with unbearable pain. When the Kaveans do Cleansings, she can feel her wound ablaze with the heat of the coals and the pain of the poor soul being tortured with the knife. Tears fill her eyes. There have been so many victims….

She has been looking for their hidden temple for a long time. The people who knew where it was wouldn’t tell her, afraid the Kaveans would maim them too. She had almost given up when the trail appeared. She has been following it for weeks, the trail vanishing when Exercises ceased. Then she would wait where she was, in the eternal downpour, until they started up again. The closer she got, the clearer she could see the face in her mind, the face of Dallion.

She dare not attack the guards now. She has to wait. She needs better Focus. It is now up to the boy to make the next step.

***
“What are you talking about, boy?”

“I heard you talking in your quarters. I’m not a scarecrow. I can prophesy. I trance during Exercises and talk about the downfall of the Church by the – ‘the two that are wounded’.”

Hazeltan’s face is no longer kindly. “How do you know that, child? Have you been holding out on me?”

“I heard you tell Brother Sylvester. You said I had a – a psychic block that prevented me from remembering what I say or do during Exercises. You used that to get more information from me. But it didn’t work. I keep repeating the same thing. ‘The children of Kavea will be buried in black sheets of rain by the two that are wounded’.”

“We will never be buried,” grumbles Sylvester.

“You’re going to torture me till I’m almost dead,” Dallion continues. “That will break through the block. Then I’ll tell you more before I die.”

“You may not die, child,” Hazeltan says, smiling. “You might become one of our maimed outcasts.”

“What good will knowing this do you, boy?” Sylvester asks, taking a length of razor wire from the wall.

Dallion leaps toward the Well, tips it. The blades, pipes, and hooks spill on the floor. He grabs the curved knife, rolls away before the priest can pour the coals on him. He throws the blade into the trough of water. Pain rips his back. Dallion turns as Sylvester whips him across the arm with the razor wire.

***
The knife is now clean. The rain has stopped.

She has Focus. Control.

The trail is now bright red. She takes a deep draft of Dallion’s pain. She gasps. Damnit, they’re tearing him apart! She manipulates the power trail into two streams, one leading to the boy.

The guards recognize her as she walks toward them in the rain. Their lungs fill with phlegm and they drown.

The others die more quickly, in spurting pools of blood.

***
A roar fills the building. The floor shakes, cracks open under the statue of Kavea. The goddess bursts into pieces. In its place floats a woman with long dark hair. An angel, Dallion thinks, sprawled on the ground covered with cuts.

“It’s been a long time, you bastard!” she says and waves her hand up to the ceiling. Thunder roars.

Then Dallion sees the water leap from the trough, hitting Hazeltan like a crystal column. He is pounded back to the wall, his scream cut off with a gag. When the water clears, Dallion sees the curved blade sticking out of Hazeltan’s chest, pinning him to the wall.

Sylvester rushes her. Her finger jabs toward him. The wire wraps around his face. He screams as the blood geysers from the gashes. The priests crumple, clutching their chests, bleeding from every orifice

Dallion feels himself floating, floating into a starless night, a warm humid night, surrounded by thunder and black sheets of rain….

***
Dallion opens his eyes. The woman with the long dark hair caresses his forehead. “You will be fine,” she says. “My name is Thera. I want to thank you.”

He sits up. They are in the middle of a muddy lot. It seems familiar…. “For what?” he finally asks.

“You led me here. And your power helped me to defeat them.”

“My…my power?”

“I tapped into you. I also channeled your powers to help me heal you. You have tremendous energy. With the proper training, you could be a Master Adept. If you wish to learn.”

Dallion looks around again. By Kav- I mean…this is where the Temple used to be!

Thera smiles. “This must all be very confusing to you. Give yourself time to think about it.” She hands him a piece of paper. “Here’s the address of some friends of mine. Tell them I sent you. They’ll look after you until you’re ready to leave.” She stands. “I must go now. I have much to catch up on.” She walks away.

Dallion calls after her, “Wait! Where do I go to learn?”

Thera turns, says, “People tell me I’m a good teacher.”

He gets up and walks with her toward Fugue Fields, the spires of Psykopolis’ towers shining in the sun like a celebration.

#

Copyright © 1992 by Don Traverso – All rights reserved. Originally published in Midnight Zoo v2, #2, 1994.

Old Poetry, Old Anger

I opened a box that I had packed three years ago, looking for things to throw away, since I’m moving again in a week. What I found was old manuscripts of work both published and unpublished, and many pieces of things unfinished.

It was weird, revisiting these bits of my past. Weirder was finding things I’d written when I was a teenager. If I am a ball of rage now, I’m much more refined than I was back then. I found the original draft of “The Day I Learned The Word ‘Spick'” which I had rewritten from scratch for this blog over a year ago. entitled “How I Learned The Word ‘Spick.'” It was less a recounting of the incident, and more of a raging rant against the teacher who had called me a spick. I still like the part where I recalled her halitosis, and when I called her a “syphilitic waste of human flesh.”

Then there are the poems. I found two, one about my growing away from the Catholic Church, and the other about the misinterpretation of Friedrich Nietzsche’s philosophy, that brought a smile to my face for being so terrible, yet so full of energy and rage. They were both written in 1979 (cool kids never had the time), and here they are:

A PIOUS PRAYER

The harlot sits on her throne,
A queen, yet a servant
Proclaiming herself pure
But her heart is cancerous
Rotting away
While she seduces her followers
The task
Is not easy anymore.

Her lovers
Blindly follow her whim
Never swaying while
They push others into her grasp
Chained to Sundays
Of reciting empty words
Satisfying her wishes
Her toys to make with
Or break with.

Bitch
You held me in your grasp
For too long
Your red-hot branding iron
Heated in hell
Has not blinded me
Whore
Keep your tricks
Your supplicants
Dressed in black
Away from me
Go to hell
I reject your
Seductive words
I’ll find the Kingdom by myself!

TO FRIEDRICH

Tears fall
From ethereal eyes
That have seen the tool of his labors
Destroyed
And its fruit
Twisted and perverted
And sees millions and millions
Of “Ultimate Men”
Born everyday.
God is dead.
This is a job for The Superman.

Carry One, Start Another

I walked into the restaurant, ordered my food at the counter, then went to sit at a corner table. On the way there, I passed another table with a stunningly beautiful woman, sitting with her feet up on the opposite seat. I smiled, nodded to her, and continued to my table, which was three down from hers.

Some more customers came in. One was a man with glasses and a t-shirt saying “This is your new Office suit.” He noticed her too, and after ordering his food, sat down across from her. It was clear he wanted to get her attention. He started talking to her, but she didn’t look up. When his food arrived, he didn’t let the server hand him napkins. He had to get them himself, along with any offered condiments. He got up to go to the bathroom, and that’s when I noticed it. He didn’t stop talking. He was talking, almost animatedly, to himself.

When he returned, he continued to try to get the woman’s attention, but there was no break in the flow of his words. He was carrying one conversation while trying to start another. To her credit, the woman didn’t budge or show any nervousness. Eventually, the man finished his sandwich and left. Ten minutes later, the woman stood, got more soda from the dispenser, and walked out.