Building the Body List

The first serialization of Body in the Pond reached a modest circle of friends and colleagues. The number of recipients tripled in round two, and the readership became international. I don’t—or didn’t—know many of the second-round readers. Now friends and colleagues of theirs have signed on. Traffic to this site from China has become regular, if modest.

I work on the list for round three with intention. I still aim to conduct this very old-school performance art for and with an international audience, but I am also building a list of teachers in private schools. For obvious reason.

This has led to a study of the public faces those schools present on their websites. What do they tell us?

First, they have public safety plans in place for the Era of Covid. As private schools are the environment of the well-to-do, they have the resources to protect their privileged charges. I don’t use privileged pejoratively. It is a fact of their status. One always hopes that the privileged will use their status in service to a greater good.

Second, girls dominate the webpages. Girls learning, achieving, striving, leading. Except for the schools that are exclusively male—a very small subset—they want you to send them your girls so that they can prepare them to lead the world.

Third, most of the faculty are women, even at boys’ schools.

Fourth, very few present a vision for turning boys into men. There is scant old-school talk about building character in boys.

Fifth, young people of diverse ethnicities, hues, and dress appear in all photographs. One doesn’t know if the pictures present the daily lived experience at the schools or the schools’ desire to appear virtuous. But the intent is clear: a diverse population is a good population.

Sixth, they all have lovely campuses of old brick buildings and sweeping lawns. The physical vision remains very old-school English.

What does this tell us about the state of the world? That here in the West, at least, the women will soon lead. What a relief. That we don’t quite know what to do with boys anymore. That privilege is alive and well and will take care of itself and that it seeks to enlarge its gene pool. That they should begin raising sheep to keep those wide lawns beautiful without resort to fossil fuels.

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Nostalgia

You seem buried. Under what?

Heat. Inertia. The shrinking of the social world. The loss of contact. The weight of distance.

But you were never a social being, were you?

Nor was I a hermit. We’re all on the spectrum, as they say.

Didn’t you once crave solitude?

And I shall crave it again. But I miss what I once dismissed, or took in small doses. I held the social world at bay. It threatened to invade.

But, as Cavafy warned, you don’t know what to do now that the barbarians are no longer at the gates, do you?

You’re quite good at disguising statements as questions. And interjecting the great poet of nostalgia to keep me off guard. But yes, now that the social world has disappeared, I miss it. I always wanted it to be there, in the next room. I liked hearing the sounds of other people’s conversations. The tinkling of glasses. The scraping of chairs being pulled back from tables. A guitar. I could visit when I needed, and the possibility sustained me more often than the visits themselves.

What will save you?

Autumn, perhaps, when loss feels like a gift rather than a burden.

You have mentioned the belief in the season before. Are you starting to repeat yourself?

A thirty man never stops needing water.

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A Bit of New

New words from In the Ground, on their page.

List for the third serialization of Body in the Pond is being forged. Thank you dear reader from France for joining in advance.

Anyone – sign on to the third round via email at unfetteredlit-at-gmail.com.

Thank you dear visitors for the site traffic from China. Bit of a mystery. Always like a mystery.

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Angst Report 200830

What news from the front?

We are wretched with heat, disease, and discord. We cast rage and blame from our trenches and shout our withered slogans. We discharge our weapons and show our teeth.

And then?

Again.

How long will this last?

As long as we can maintain. All are righteous. None will stand down while the other stands.

Yet none can stand forever, can they?

We refuse, deny, and defy. We have become the struggle. We always have. We always will. The struggle lives forever.

But you will not. Are you exhausted?

Beyond.

And can there be no turn, no shift, no change that moves your foot from the rutted path?

. . . You’re drifting . . . Hello?

Maybe autumn. Wars have paused so that the armies may harvest.

You are not a farmer. What will you harvest?

Maybe memory. By the window, in the cool air, and rain on the glass. There is music.

Memory of what?

It’s there beyond my fingertips, receding quickly down the wrong end of a telescope. Maybe we aren’t meant to know what we almost know and always turn from, to spite ourselves.

But you feel it nearer as the season turns?

The heat relents. Something calls. The air feels clearer. I smell the scent of fallen apples. I cannot turn myself. The earth must turn me.

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Covid Diary 200823

8 am: Walk the dogs. I notice that a tree down the block has started to drop leaves. For good boys and good girls, there may be an autumn this year. I try to be good. The dogs can’t make it to Joe van Gogh. It’s too hot and they’re too old. I miss my cappuccino.

9 am: There was something I was supposed to do yesterday. I try to remember it.

10 am: Some little critter has been building a nest in the basement. Well, maybe not a nest. It’s been building a pile of dirt, no straw or scraps of wall insulation or socks that disappeared behind the dryer. Just dirt. It must be building a nest somewhere else and driving the fill dirt over here. I should clean it up. Having made my decision I go upstairs to check my email.

11 am: Microsoft solitaire informs me that “Quitting or restarting this game counts as a loss in your statistics.” I have solitaire statistics? Cool. I check my stats—50%. Is that good or bad? I’m now determined to get to 60!

12 noon: I remember what I was supposed to do. Check the critter mess. I’m way ahead of myself.

1 pm: I get to work, editing a report on dam failure. Don’t tell the people downstream, but I just can’t get enthusiastic about it.

2 pm: Why do the writers keep using “assure” for “ensure?” I’m getting excited now.

3 pm: The bread delivery arrives. Yes, we have bread delivered! Now I’m really excited. There’s a Cypriot loaf this week with olives and I am tearing into it as I assure the world that we’re ensuring the safety of dams. The people downstream cheer. I think they sent the bread. We’re all in this together. My empathy statistics rise.

4 pm: After that burst of activity I’m exhausted. I lie down for five minutes.

6:30 pm: What? Dinner’s ready? We walk the dogs first. Dog walks are the bookends of the day. I check to see if autumn has arrived yet.

9 pm: Political convention anyone? I go to check on the critter pile. It’s still there. Good. I have something to look forward to.

10 pm: Write in my Covid FB diary. Last time I wrote was in June. I’m on a tear.

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A Bit of “In the Ground” Is Here

Look up. The first few draft pages of In the Ground are on the site. This is the third volume in the Murder at St. Max series. Give me a year and I will finish.

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A Word about Serialization

“Body in the Pond” has now been serialized twice to readers around the world. They seem to find it a tonic in hard times. It will be serialized again. When? It will start when it begins. If you would like to receive a chapter every Monday in your email box in the next cycle, send your request to unfetteredlit_at_gmail.com. (“_at_” means @ — a common bot defense). There is no charge. Your email address will be used for nothing else. I am just in the mood to let the words run free and see where they go.

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Goodbye

The second serialization of Body in the Pond has been completed. It went around the world, and came back again.

Goodbye (deriv. God be with you). Farewell. So long. Ciao. Chau. Besos y abrazos. See you. Don’t go. Shane. Shane! Go. Go on. Git. Get. Get out. I’m off, like a dirty shirt. Bon voyage. Call me when you get there. Catch you on the rebound. Cheers. Miss you already. Don’t forget me. So this is goodbye? God speed. Until next time. We’ll always have Paris. Write.

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Jo

The first chapter of the completed novel is now on the site. If you arrived here from St. Max, you will be in unfamiliar territory.

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Born under a Bad Sign

What must it be like to be born in dire times?

I can tell you.

In what dire times were you born?

These.

You are then at most six months old, yet you can articulate your existential position?

Yes, of course. The evidence is right in front of you.

Am I to believe you?

It does not matter. I invented you.

Really? Does not the question come before the answer?

Oh, we could have a galloping discussion on that animal. Perhaps the answer invents the question. But, you had a prior question. And then you strayed.

Well, all right: what must it be like to be born in dire times?

All times are dire, somewhere, my friend. The voices, like you, who wonder about dire times as if they are a deviation from the norm have been lucky enough to live in an impossibly narrow sliver of untroubled space and time, a secret garden. The politicos have christened it privilege, but let’s cut the pejorative innuendo and just say you’re incredibly lucky. Life could have gone in another direction. It often does. Stretching endlessly to your left and right outside the walls are troubles, and in those troubles are lived most lives.

Still, there are things we all have in common. We’re all a bit unhappy at first, having been jettisoned from warmth and darkness to the cold and bright. But we adjust. We have a delightful sense of wonder for a while. We want to be held. We want to suckle. We like being swaddled a great deal.

But what about the pandemic? Demonstrations in cities? Racial oppression? The deconstruction of leadership? What is it like being born in these dire times?

As I’m sure you know, I’m just an infant and have no cognizance of those things. Those are adult matters. And when I am an adult I will do all the destructive things that adults are doing now. And all the creative things. But, you know, we lean a little heavily toward the destructive. We’re a troublesome species. I’m sure you’ve noticed.

All very interesting, but did you not understand that I was asking what it was like being born at this existential moment?

Being born—the biological act—involves pretty much the same variations on the same practices at any time.

But what about fear of contagion in the hospital? Fear of human contact—even by family—once home?

I’m just an infant. I think you’re talking about my parents.

Yes, I suppose: so what is it like for them?

I have no idea. Ask me again in about twenty-five years.

But for now, even though we’ve talked about it, you have no fear or doubt or dismay about being born in such turbulence?

Look! Bird bird. Sorry. Well, I’m still young enough that I don’t yet do fear, doubt, and dismay. I suppose I will soon enough. Fear is quite real, I hear. We do have the fight or flight thing. Dismay, doubt, and the like, at least the hand-wringing type, seem to be rather useless, but sadly perhaps unavoidable.

Am I to conclude that you have nothing to offer in this conversation? That you have no solutions, no answers, no insight, no epiphany for the times?

I am a little ball of life. I am, through no effort of my own, of course, miraculous. You want to know what it’s like giving birth and being born in dire times. It’s full of fear and doubt and dismay, and it’s miraculous. As always.

And for those outside the secret garden?

It’s full of fear and doubt and dismay, and it’s miraculous. Ask them. Don’t do that thing where you make up answers for them and feel grand about it.

Hungry now.

You know there’s a risk these days even to imply that you have a thought about our troubled times, don’t you? That trouble may follow the merest hint you’ve stepped outside an impossibly narrow sliver of that thing they call discourse?

Adults. They’re so weird. Full of fear and doubt and dismay and righteousness, with an ever-decreasing measure of the miraculous. Yet never devoid, I think. Never devoid.

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