Looking through photos today and found this one of a typewriter. How oddly striking? Enjoy.
How characters relate to spaces and places in fiction is an incredibly intriguing topic for me. I find myself drawn to works that have characters who find deeper meaning from the spaces or places they inhabit with their actions manifested by some connection to the place or space. Some examples are K. and the impenetrable castle in Franz Kafka’s The Castle, the shy Eleanor Vance and the wickedly haunted house in Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, and let’s not forget the whimsical yet frightening world of Wonderland that Lewis Carroll’s Alice must endure.
I often find great inspiration by looking at photos, both my own and others. They help me to remember places I have been or invoke imagination. Images are very relevant to me as a writer. I shall secretly divulge my desire of creating a literary journal that would feature short/flash fiction or vignettes inspired by photos that in someway document “place and/or space.” Writers would cook up what ever they wanted based on the image. I once was involved in an anthology where writers were given carte blanche to write a piece inspired by anything at a private museum’s collection. Also, after recently translating the script of a short film for whose actual film I wasn’t able to view till after I translated it, I relied on photos and other artwork I found on the internet. Half of the script was mostly concerned with the surroundings of the narrator, whether it be in the wild or back in civilization.
So, in lieu of my imaginary literary journal, I present a photo that I can’t stop looking at and the original flash fiction it inspired.
Some would have thought it was the end of the day by how tired Martin looked. His eyes were set back and sunken in folds of skin that were cracked from the cold air that blew in from the large roll-up door that was left open during the day. When he had started working at the factory, his skin was tight and unblemished. The factory walls still looked the same, though, ever since his first day there. They were painted an industrial white that conjured feelings of both cleanliness and insanity. Once while waiting for his paycheck, Martin sat on a folding chair that was placed off to the side. He turned and looked at the walls and saw for the first time the cracks that ran up to the ceiling, the smudges of dirt that had been left by other men waiting for the same thing. Martin put his thumb to the wall and swiped it across. He had left nothing behind. Martin turned his face toward the wall and smelled. Again, nothing.
The walls didn’t smell of the factory. How could this be? He smelled it on himself, on his clothes, and on the other men who walked up and down the main floor watching as machines crunched and whirled. Martin washed his clothes, scrubbing them across a board, listening to the repetitive metallic rhythm of each stroke. The sounds reminded him of the factory’s noises and how they were never supposed to change. If there ever was a change, this meant trouble.
At the beginning of the day, Martin was already tired. The day before, he had heard a different noise on the line. Everyone came to a halt and ran to one side of the main floor. Martin stood there without moving. He looked up to the fluorescent lights that were hanging high above and squinted. Finally, he moved to the far wall away from everyone else and leaned against it. Martin didn’t look toward the wall. Instead, he rested his shoulders back and kicked up one foot to hold his balance. He didn’t think of the dirt at the bottom of his boot that, no doubt, smeared across the imperfect white.
The Weekly Photo Challenge this week is Abandoned. The creator shows a photo from Berlin that is excellent and writes: “I’ve always loved wandering inside and taking photographs of abandoned buildings. Ruins are fascinating: in these physical spaces, the past, present, and future are one, and time becomes fuzzy.”
I am currently working on a piece of writing that deals a lot with abandoned places, especially ones that are right in front of us, but somehow are forgotten or overlooked, hiding secrets and history. I once wrote a post titled, “Cities That Inspire Us For all Sorts of Reasons,” which included two photos relevant to this topic. Below are my photos of the block around the corner from where I stayed during my last bout in the former GDR city of Leipzig, Germany. I come back to these photos of the abandoned schoolhouse often and have even written a story about it.
Places, spaces, and how we relate to them in fiction and writing is a top fascination of mine. I thank you for indulging me and if you want to see some more excellent abandoned photos, look at the Doublewhirler photo-blog, where they have captured some haunting images of the graffitied bobsled run from the 1984 Sarajevo Winter Olympics.
This week’s photo challenge topic is “treasures.” The questions asked are: What do you treasure? What’s most important to you? What I noticed from other participants is that they are taking a less literal approach than the original challenge creator.
The above photo is of the castle in Karlštejn (located in Central Bohemia), which was originally built “as a place for safekeeping of the royal treasures, especially Charles’s collection of holy relics and the coronation jewels of the Roman Empire.”¹ It towers over the small village of Karlštejn and you can’t help but notice its presence when you disembark from the train platform.
I find myself scrolling though my snapshots now and again, thinking back to my day trip a couple of years back. The castle was recommended to me as a sight to see and then I also found out that it was the castle–Das Schloß. [insert: oh good grief…here she goes again…]. This is the basis of Kafka’s castle–the strongbox that land surveyor K. just can’t penetrate. He’s spends the novel trying to gain access to the castle so he can speak with the mysterious government official known as Klamm.
Like K., I never made it inside the actual castle, but walking around it and the open air interior was still perfect. Unlike K., my inability to gain access to the rooms was due to my lack of entry payment.² The really exceptional moment is when you are standing at the top and can see the whole village below. These photos and memories are what I treasure. Below is a view walking from the train station.³
I’ve never participated in the Weekly Photo Challenge before and because of last week’s post–Bookishly Me–I felt motivated for two reasons. 1) No one has ever seen my face in this here land and 2) my undying love for Kafka and Prague. My reflection off the case surrounding a model from a film version of Franz Kafka’s short story, “In the Penal Colony.” The film never came to fruition and the model finds its home at the Franz Kafka Museum in the Lesser Quarter of the city.
I suggest going to this museum. It reminds me of a weird visual art exhibition if curated by David Lynch. Kafka’s writing is already absurd, horrifying, and kafkaesque. To whomever curates this museum–bravo. It can be so uncanny that there is even a warning sign to children at the cashier’s desk and I saw a crying girl brought out by her mother. This museum is so odd, that there is a water statue out front of two men peeing toward each other.
I have a few photos that count as “selfies” that might have been more interesting, but, alas, they showed too much of my face and for the time being, I would rather be obscured by a clay model of a man being tortured.
post script While typing this post, I accidentally typed Frank Kafka instead of Franz. I imagine Frank Kafka lives above a laundromat in Queens and enjoys Indian roti take-out. One day, someone will create a Lynchian curated museum to him, as well.
It’s a lazy Sunday for most (unless you’re a certain quarterback or two) and before you start guzzling beer and dipping chips into various dips, here is a fun little quiz from Buzzfeed meant to predict the career you should actually have. Based on my love of Indiana Jones, travelling, and National Geographic, I thought I would be assigned ‘professional adventurer.’ Although, I’m unsure if this actually was an option. What did you get? Were you surprised?
I planned a book review and everything for today, but it’s just not happening. So, in honor of yesterday’s post about images and visual art, I’m putting up a few of my own photos for enjoyment, criticism, and ignoring. If you are in the mood for other blog photo cruising, may I suggest: Doublewhirler, Helen McClory @Schietree, photo of the day @National Geographic, and Stuck in Customs. If you have any tips on other blogs of the photog variety, please leave them in the comments section.
This week, London-based Wellcome Images released more than 100,000 digital images for free. The historical images range from photographs, etchings, sketches and more, and are in super high quality. I dare you to stop yourself from looking through the centuries-old medical and science illustrations depicting all of the horrible maladies that befall the human anatomy.
This is good news for bloggers, researchers, and lovers of all things interesting and old. I recommend you take a stroll through. You can search through Wellcome Images collection with the added ability of saving favorites to your ‘lightbox.’ Also, I’ve included a few other selections of sources for images in the public domain that you can use to spruce up your blog or gaze at longingly.
With only a couple of days left in Berlin, a friend and I turned the corner from the Sonnenallee in the Turkish populated neighborhood of Neukölln in search of late-night grub. It was here, while we were chatting away, that a man walked out from behind a car, stood next to us, and shot another man behind us several times in the chest (along with parked cars and building walls). My friend did not see the shooter clearly, but I did because I was turned to her and I watched as the handgun lined up with the height of her head.
I bring all of this up, because as I made a hot lemon yesterday to sooth my dry throat, I thought back to that night over a year ago. It’s a night that I’ve wanted to adapt into a short story for ages. But when I sit down to my computer, nothing beyond the words on the Sonnenallee are typed on the screen. I do not know what the form will take or if I’m not thinking about it from a removed enough place. For weeks following, I thought about how the man twisted around the car and found himself next to us. I did that thing you’re not supposed to do where you ruminate: what if I hadn’t left my gloves at home and we didn’t stop at the corner store so I could buy a pair of cheap ones, what if we went the other direction to get soup instead of making that turn to get pizza, what if that man had fired his shots earlier for the split second the muzzle was directed at us.
But back to hot lemon…it was what I drank immediately following the shooting. The polizei came quite quickly and my friend and I were told to wait in the bar at the corner. We weren’t allowed to order any alcohol. Besides water, all that was left was hot lemon and no one should drink water after something like this. Hot lemon is as close as we were allowed to get to comfort. We both drank them with plenty of honey and that was when I revealed my embarrassment. I had a bicycle with me that I pushed while we walked together. When we saw the shots and ran, I still pushed it until finally I hurled it aside as we looked for a corner to duck into. Also, being used to living in New York City where many films and TV shows are made, more than once I’ve seen warnings of ‘the sound of gunshots heard between 11pm-1am are for the filming of a television scene.’ Before we started running, I kept thinking: “where are the film cameras? where are the signs?”
We spoke to the police at headquarters for hours. I had to lockup the borrowed bicycle on the same side street where the man was shot because it wouldn’t fit in the police car. My friend and I were there for hours; we were given two Mars bars and interviewed separately. I looked at mugshots. Nothing of them matched.
Any time I make a hot lemon, I think back onto this horrorshow. For months, I felt embarrassment and stress any time I squeezed the lemons in to a mug, scooping out stray seeds before adding the hot water. My anxiety shot up into my throat as the memory played on loop.
When it comes to literature and other arts, I am always fascinated by the way characters remember or misremember things. Of course, that man’s face is etched in my memory but it has faded. I’m not quite sure of the color of his clothes anymore but I remember the matte black of his handgun. When interviewed by the police, they told me my friend had said she first became aware that something was wrong was when I yelled oh, shit! I don’t remember this. I’m curious to know if I remembered it at the moment. This oh, shit! hangs alone as if it’s something that is not part of me or as someone else’s memory trying to make room in my own.
More recent literature like Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane or Julian Barnes’ The Sense of an Ending explore traumatizing and complicated events from the perspective of older narrators. Their perceptions and agendas have changed in their present view. Things are more obvious and details have been conflated or understood.
I know I’ve rambled on for far too long, but bear with me. I’m sipping the remaining drops of my hot lemon now as I type and think more about this story that still hasn’t been written. I’ve written short stories about other past travel experiences (both fun and horrible–traversing the Swiss Alps on a Moto Guzzi vs. days after leaving Berlin for London, my only remaining pair of pants caught on fire). This one, however, is far more complicated. When I do try to write something, it comes out cold and police blotter-esque (just the facts, ma’am). Instead of writing, I find myself sitting and remembering the images and feelings on a loop.
I can’t help but think about Ryūnosuke Akutagawa’s short story “In a Grove,” which is divided by testimonies and confessions of the various witnesses and participants of a samurai’s killing. I feel most akin with Akutagawa’s tale and perhaps, I should take a lesson from the structure of his story. There were many people on the Sonnenallee that night. I didn’t see anything that happened behind me, but there were surely people who did and conversely, they did not see the detailed and up-close description of the shooter like I had or where he walked out from behind a car (or was it a van?). Together, we could weave a complex, multi-point of view tale or on our own, each present a compelling, yet unreliable story. As a writer, I can usurp their points of view and craft them into something of my own making, choosing when to punch holes in the plot and when to present a view–whether skewed or reliable–of the focused action.
I do hope to write this story one day and perhaps, next time I try, I won’t stare blankly at my computer screen. From witnessing this bizarre and horrid event, I plan to piece together a story of remembering and misremembering. When I make my next hot lemon–or heiße Zitrone–I will for once think clearly or not…whichever leads me to where I need to go to write the story I want to get down on the page. I wonder if it will be something realist or if it will swim in a surreal space. I’m clamoring to find out.
I never found out what happened to the man who was shot. The newspapers in Berlin were alarmingly quiet save for one short article (my theory is that they don’t often report on immigrants’ concerns in Germany). In English, Sonnenallee translates as the Sun Alley, which seems bright in comparison to the dark night I was there. Also, in 1999 a German film was made called Sonnenallee, which from what I’ve read about it, falls prey to Ostalgie for the former DDR.
The action or practice of plagiarizing; the wrongful appropriation or purloining, and publication as one’s own, of the ideas, or the expression of the ideas (literary, artistic, musical, mechanical, etc.) of another. –Definition of plagiarism in The Oxford English Dictionary
For the past month, there has been a brouhaha over the obvious lifting and plagiarizing of a graphic short story by the artist Daniel Clowes. The story, originally anthologized by Zadie Smith in The Book of Other People, features a film critic and titular character named Justin M. Damiano. The story is fascinating especially for those interested in film/arts critique. Actor-turned-filmmaker Shia LaBeouf adapted Clowes’ story for a short film of his own titled Howard Cantour.com. Both are about an internet film critic who extrapolates on the notion that film critics can make or break a film. Those familiar with Clowes’ original story will be baffled by the verbatim representation in the film, which was not authorized by Clowes and was a shock to both him and his publisher. LaBeouf didn’t seek the rights or acknowledge Clowes and “Justin M. Damiano” at all in the process.
Plagiarism has always been a touchy subject. When it occurs–or even with just a lisping whiff of it–our opinions are usually quite strong, both personally and litigiously. When I was a college student, in my introductory poetry class we were taught about found poetry, which according to poets.org is: found poems take existing texts and refashion them, reorder them, and present them as poems. We were essentially given the green light to steal and when the professor was pressed more on the area of plagiarism to create these word collages, she put on a little grin and her pupils broadened.
I suppose the difference between what Shia LaBeouf did and a room full of nineteen-year-old undergrads did lies with the idea of creating something new out of re-purposing. LaBeouf blatantly stole from Daniel Clowes; he was only inspired by him enough to take his story and photocopy it into a new medium.
In the above image, Marcel Duchamp takes the Mona Lisa and adds a bit of a spin to the sixteenth century canvas. This 1919 work was different from his other readymades, but he still transformed a piece of art into something else, adding a commentary and attitude. We all remember that iconic image of Barack Obama by the artist Shepard Fairey. The Associated Press got all hot and bothered because the original photo that Fairey used was not his own–it was taken by a photographer that was on assignment for the AP. The original photographer claimed he held the copyright and enjoyed Fairey’s transformation of the image. Fairey’s main defense was that his own visual had been completely transformed from the original, making it something wholly different (which falls in the realm of fair use exemption).
But coming back to the original predicament: it is clear-cut that LaBeouf plagiarized Daniel Clowes. He purloined the original graphic short story with intent to pass it as his own creation. He was not influenced, for the dialogue and voice-over is either word-for-word or nearly so. I’m not going to delve into the internet freak show that LaBeouf has crowned himself ringmaster of (that’s what Google is for). It’s a shame though. I find it perplexing that LaBeouf didn’t first acquire the rights because the short film itself is very enjoyable and well-made. Instead of taking a foot forward into a potential interesting career as a film maker, he has sunk into some wonderland madness of his own doing. The film has been removed from many places online, but when you’re done reading Daniel Clowes’ original story you can still watch it on YouTube.