Question, but do not Question

the child etches “whys” into forsaken dust
heels cracked, swollen, the bluntness of shale
nowhere to be found, a necessary venture
untouched, but coarser as scorned wives scream
when batteries melt, and cigarettes curl
and water in the fountain will tempt
the most sensible of traveling birds
that harbor terrors on which newscasters feed
and face masks adore, eyes and brows
do shrivel in the face of deified plague
vague, calculated prospects
and suspects exiled as the arbitrary talk

*Cat No. 14 of the 500 Cats Project

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An Unpredictable Spring Awakening

Contentment’s pastoral peace
Runs through the veins of leaves that mother
Appeasing myself, as I lay
Soaking up the quiet, and thinking
About what The Economist plans to post
On its front page, a month from now

I rest, beneath a buried scorn
For the weather forecast that lied
Because if it were really 44 degrees
I could be indoors
Reading an Economist stained with Earl Grey

But why the displeasure
It has no space
To brood and preach
As children race on cardboard skateboards
Without their coats
And freed of boots

*Cat No. 13 of the 500 Cats Project

Resigned

Within the rosewood alcove,
I could sit and sing
Among a spray of roses,
Stilled in summer’s crimes

Beyond the door and on this porch,
I shall dwell on tragedy
Parodies shake in their rotten core
Cooked with a spice, salt, and thyme

*Cat No. 12 of the 500 Cats Project

Go away.

she thinks I am cute
but for her, I cannot say the same
I crouch and retreat
in disinterested anticipation
for church will soon let out.

children, soccer moms, terriers
and rattles, dolls of the squishiest plush
I like these
the latter, not the former
because it’s too cloudy for all that noise.

she steps closer, that frequency
“Hey cutie!” “Hey loser.”
I know you’ve told your friends
you’re off to read at the library
though it’s only me you care to study.

*Cat No. 11 of the 500 Cats Project

Serendipity, Altruism, and Sociopathy – The Beauty in “This is a Book”


Serendipity is often defined as a happening of chance, purveyor of help, good fortune, smiles. Serendipitous phenomena may beckon joy in times of despair, alleviate need in the midst of hardship, and quite possibly, restore faith in humanity. Quinn Farstride, town eccentric, arrives when most needed. No one knows how he pays his bills, keeps up with school, nor buys a home. Not a geographic coordinate can ever be determined for where he presently roams. Apparently, Quinn is a miracle worker. But is he altruistic?

In A Narcissist Writes Letters, to Himself, E.I. Wong has posted a draft of a mesmerizing novella. Transferred onto MS Word, single-spaced, the text comes out to 70 pages, feasibly read in two to three hours. But it is to be read again, firstly for its depth in themes to involve human relationships and the psychological, and secondly for the intricacy Wong’s writing imbues in character development and ambiguity. Is Q.F. a narcissist? Schizoid, a sociopath? A disorganized schizophrenic, as he initially proclaims? Soundness of mind aside, I wondered, “Did he really donate his kidney, blood, and marrow out of sheer kindness, or were they tickets to immortality? If they are simply tickets, should I be disappointed? Should I be mad?”

Dr. James Thatcher, professor of anthropology, writes a letter to his daughter, Melanie. Dr. Thatcher is a man who hates to lie, and on his deathbed, writes a letter to Melanie relaying a secret kept for eight years. As his son Todd faces renal failure, a gaunt ghost from Melanie’s childhood makes a university visit. Awkward, yet forceful, Quinn Farstride insists that he donates his kidney, already wielding test results that determine a plausible compatibility. Otherwise, little brother Arthur would donate, but doing so would jeopardize his journey in competitive football.

Quinn tells Dr. Thatcher he is losing his mind, and by donating, aims to preserve a functional aspect of his personhood before descending into madness. The mannerisms, speech, and uncanny knowledge of family affairs are all too unnerving. Predictably, Quinn fades, undetectable and absent to thank. After the donation, Dr. Thatcher ventures to find Quinn, speaking with his wife, consulting with mental health specialists, and finally, speaking with a Dr. Paysinger, the administrator at the hospital where Todd received treatment. Her disclosures captivate and intrigue, providing a detailed sketch of the vanishing oddball.

Emily, Dr. Paysinger’s daughter, has always been strange. In retrospect, Quinn’s mentorship only cultivated her peculiarities. Emily is sickly, needing blood transfusions to the extent that reserves have been drained at the hospital. Of course, Quinn has just the right type O negative blood to be a donor. Like the case of the Thatchers, Quinn coerces Dr. Paysinger into allowing him to repeatedly give blood to her daughter. Despite his frailty, donations continue, until the time of her transplant. The prospect of Quinn not needing to visit proves so distressing that ultimately, he vanishes from Emily’s life. At this point, erasure is a trend, a trademark end of Quinn’s interpersonal relationships.

But why does Quinn act, think, and commit to the feats that he does? Because he’s weird. This is a gross oversimplification. The goal of the narrator, and perhaps of readers, is to determine motives. What drove Quinn to give his blood, his time, his knowledge to an ever precocious young girl, and donate his kidney to the brother of a childhood friend with whom interactions were scarce? Quinn professes his love for Melanie. We know he hasn’t gotten over her, as his wife is a redheaded replica. Why does Dr. Thatcher take all this time to rediscover a strange bird who has already shown he can’t be found? Hell, Quinn doesn’t even want a “Thank you.” His ultimate request reads:

“I would like my last sane act to be a noble one. I would like myself, as I can perceive now, to be immortalized in this deed, so that in the future, when I am lost, I have a definite idea of the man I truly am; the man who I will try to uphold against my own illness.”

While Quinn’s desire is understandable, is it altruistic? He wants to preserve a sense of self. Of course that’s self-serving. But it doesn’t detract from the magic of his deeds, his resilience to the wear and tear of medical giving, the ability to self-sustain in the face of meager supply. Quinn is pretty weird. And impressive. He teaches martial arts to a young girl as a hands-on lesson in physics. A creative guy, though exasperating.

An exchange with Emily Paysinger gives Thatcher greater closure. The severance her mother describes was not permanent, for Emily visits Quinn after the kidney donation. Again, he disappears, despite the operation leaving him debilitated. Several lines shook me. Emily remarks,

“It wasn’t until I went to visit him in recovery that I realized that he had been…grooming me for some sort of purpose.”

Eventually, Emily receives a seven-paged letter from Quinn. More text that eerily resonates:

“He called me his ‘little catalyst for change.’ He wrote that I was to finish the ‘projects’ that he no longer could, and wrote me a list of instructions on how to complete each ‘equation.’ Quinn called the list a sort of training manual for what I was supposed to do and become.”

Bluntly, I admit that I thought to myself, “What a frickin’ narcissist!” Did Quinn write these equations, the framework for all these projects? What if he didn’t? And what kind of change was Quinn hoping to actualize?

Another of Quinn’s rarely explicit desires, and thoughts:

“‘It is my wish that you become a paragon of goodness. I see within you that potential to become something greater than the caliber of individuals that fill our world. You, my little angel, can be a creator and perpetuator of goodness and light…This is not a charge, or a demand I set upon you, but an acknowledgement from one friend to another, of the perfection I know you are capable of, and a design, a path, a way to that unified state.'”

Quinn seems to express a disappointment in the people around him. So does Melanie. In the beginning of Dr. Thatcher’s letter, he recalls her commenting, “‘Love isn’t real.'” But the letter aims to dispel this notion.

A dysfunction in personality seems to be a recurring topic of interest concerning Quinn’s character. I found him too deliberate and composed to legitimately suffer from the complexities of disorganized schizophrenia. He is written as a man who thinks, deliberates, inculcates. He reveals himself to be former thief, a rebel scornful of contemporary conventions, traveling yuppies, the ignorant layperson, organized religion. He is the quiet child in the corner of one of your college classes, never speaking his mind, though his facial expressions and mannerisms reveal all you need to know that something’s amiss. Something is brewing that chills, potentially harms without conscience. You’ve met “The Sociopath Next Door.”

And while it is dictated that sociopaths cannot feel, and indeed lack a moral framework, I refuse to think his interactions with Emily were purely self-serving. He taught her things of utility, and the end results of his doings, and her completion of the “projects” were good. Beneficial. Improved the lives of many. This seems too descriptive of utilitarianism. While the popular philosophy embraces maximization of good for all involved, altruism stipulates that good is spread to all except the actor, or “creator and perpetuator of goodness.”

Does Quinn benefit from any of his doings? It’s a topic for solid debate. Melanie, the love of his life, gives him the confidence to adopt a new perspective and disown his former ways. Emily, his adoring student, absorbs all the wisdom he wishes to teach, continuing his grand projects. But even if the projects perpetuate good, it seems that Quinn prefers not to be thanked, or even acknowledged. While the benefits he gleans are up for questioning, we know that he is gone. Regardless, miracles are made, within the story and craftsmanship alike.

The Divorce and Doom of Simon Pastor – A Book Review

“You know me, man. I love my wife…”

I’ve heard this enough from many a man. Not to say I doubt each expression of this sentiment. Some men do undoubtedly love their wives. No marriage is protected by a void of conflict, not every pregnancy is received with glee, and not every marriage that necessarily ends dissolves in the friendly quiet. For Simon and Kerri Pastor, this especially holds true.

Simon is that goodnatured fellow we remember at college parties who never touched a drop and blushed at proposals to be his wingman. At the outset, we groaned. Ridiculed him. Speculated on his sanity. But on a serious note, we respected his virtues, admitting we could never be as principled. But is he really?

The Divorce and Doom of Simon Pastor is a story we’ve all encountered, with varying attitudes, perspectives, and capacities to relate. I am twenty-four years old, have only had two serious boyfriends, and I’m not quite eager to get married. I don’t know what that’s like, and frankly, I’ve enclosed myself while friends plan families, budget with duty, and purchase modest lots in a growing Suburbia. Truthfully, I was somewhat turned off to the plot of Simon Pastor, but thought of books I enjoyed that heavily featured couples in conflict. Anna Karenina, The Time Traveler’s Wife, The Great Gatsby, and others. Reading another work with drama in relationships couldn’t be as nauseating as it is everyday. In this case, it scraped at my heart.

Pete Deakon, blogger of The Captain’s Log, has a writing style I’ve yet to get accustomed to. He writes well, though at times robotically. The first several chapters were a bit difficult to get through. I found the sentences too attentive to grammar and structure, and hoped to gather a stronger sense of the story’s tone. Accounts of Simon’s college days, the early enchantment of Kerri, and the birth of baby Emily struck me as stoic. But when I got to page 53, interest was sparked, and emotions swelled. I was caught in the eye of a livid typhoon, but didn’t mind so much. It was thrilling.

Now, page 53 contains a quote that I’m sure reminds a handful of people about a certain someone. Your friend, ex-boyfriend, boss, father. A figure of trust and piety who engages in the deplorable. Deakon writes,

“Simon liked putting on airs that he was a good husband. As any secure person knows, however, a braggart is that way because of insecurity and doubt. The truth was that Simon wanted to stay [at work] more than anyone. But he knew that in staying the beans would be spilled. He couldn’t hardly have a conversation with a friend without complaining about his marriage. Kerri this, Kerri that. Among close friends, a little venting now and again was acceptable, he thought. But the happy hour scene would prove fatal to his carefully crafted image of being happily married, so he raced home.”

The land mines planted by Simon and Kerri are only iconic of the toxins experts say kill fifty percent of American marriages. Infidelity, financial issues, sexual dysfunction, and discord in parenting are nothing new, or shocking. But Deakon demonstrates that it’s not about what you say, but how you say it. Skilled in written dialogue, the author lays out the rest of the story in a way that not only lets us know Simon and adopt him as our own, but look closer at the processes behind a relationship’s end.

It is indisputably evident that Simon is unfulfilled in his marriage. But in compliance with social norms, the perceptions of those he performs for, and the teachings of Jesus from a childhood that wasn’t so clean of hypocritical modeling (Simon’s father ran off to have babies with another woman. Simon cheated on a pregnant Kerri with a stripper), Simon is determined to stay. But as we may have seen before, in someone we know or know of, the persistent often unravel, descending into monstrosities they never wanted to be. And the reality is that most of us won’t intervene. We’ll watch, gape, give the guy advice that’s either ambivalently meaningless or something simplistic. “That’s not right,” is all Simon’s friend can say as he vents about Kerri’s tactics in passive aggression.

Counseling, compromises, and a collaborative end. The couple takes these measures to miserably fail. Indeed, it was as if Simon was planning to fail. I can see someone commenting on the relative one-sidedness of the story, that it’s told from a man’s perspective, brash, unfeeling, a beer mug brimming with misogyny. I admit, I was angered, unsympathetic to Simon’s difficulties as he talked about the things women do to disrespect men, although they may not be aware of this. Well, thanks, Simon. It’s helpful to know that in my failed relationships, I could not have known any better. But this is where I felt challenged as a reader. This is a story about an imperfect man, with a pristine facade that has trailed him since youth. Aren’t we all imperfect? I was harsh on Simon at times, and though we never see him lay a hand on Kerri, I definitely wanted to slap him something fierce.

But I remember the concept of trauma. How it strikes without warning, how the aftereffects vary, but damn nonetheless. It isn’t something you plan for, and personally, I cannot say you recover with grace. There’s a concoction of shock, disappointment, rage, vengeance. And of course, a bitterness that scalds most with the patience to put up with you for more than an hour. In The Divorce and Doom of Simon Pastor, we’re reminded of this, the ugliness of trauma, its ability to trap and ensnare resolutely. In trauma, Simon trips, falters, and stagnates to a degree that makes for intriguing study, but sad witnessing. Ultimately, you feel bad, whether mournful, insulted, dejected, and more. Deakon makes you feel. Prompts a response that lingers. In doing this with Simon Pastor, he has penned a success.

Miss Ottava Rima

shortly morning came to ever daring Patch
while babies mewed in circles, purely in cult.
skipping ‘cross blackened roads, tugging on my sash
apron brims with paper, food for the adult.
I rummage through my bag, reading of the clash
eggs now cracked on solid ground, meat for insult.
Patch looks over shoulders, asking who will creep –
Dandelion summers, when all oversleep

*Cat No. 10 of the 500 Cats Project