Christopher Bunn's Blog
April 18, 2019
March 1, 2019
I’m fascinated by the failure of Senator Ben Sasse’s S.130 bill last monday, February 25. The bill failed, 53-44, as it needed 60 votes to pass. For all intents and purposes, the bill was about outlawing infanticide. I’m having difficulty grappling with the various permutations and possibilities that the vote portends. And, in that light, I wrote a short story to examine two different possible subtexts within the cauldron that is Washington DC.
I understand that writers are advised not to be political, as this might alienate readers. However, to be honest, I’m not particularly concerned about alienating people as opposed to simply approaching life with open eyes. There’s much more to life than selling books. At any rate, these days everything seems to be politicized, so what’s the point in tiptoeing through the minefield?
As expected, the bill outlawing infanticide failed in the Senate.
Senators Smith and Jones walked back to their offices after the vote. The corridor behind them, past the security guards, was crowded with media scrabbling at the metal barriers and barking questions. The two senators ignored them.
Smith was from the northwest, Jones from the northeast. They were not friends, but they chose to be friendly due to the common goals of their party.
“Closer than I would have liked,” said Smith, frowning slightly. It was her first term as a senator. She was a tall, slender woman dressed in a dark pantsuit. Her blonde hair was tied back in a severe bun.
“It won’t be as close next time,” said Jones. He was much older than her, shorter, pear-shaped and dressed in a well-cut charcoal grey suit. His forehead shone with sweat and he dabbed it lightly with a handkerchief. “And that’s a fact.”
She nodded coldly at him, uncertain as to his confidence, but respectful of his longer years in office.
They parted ways and went to their respective offices. The mood in both of their suites was jubilant–applause, smiles, some cheering. Both senators doled out handshakes where appropriate. Both senators went to their private offices. Their inner sanctums where they could relax in silence.
Both of them shut and locked their doors.
The private offices of Senators Smith and Jones were remarkably alike. They both had a window, a comfortable couch, several chairs for visitors, a closet, and a large desk. Smith’s desk was made out of dark mahogany. Jones’ was of black walnut.
Oddly enough, both of them had the exact same painting on the wall, though they did not know this. If either of them had discovered the similarity, I imagine they would have been first surprised, and then irritated, because they both secretly regarded themselves as highly individual people.
Jones tossed his jacket on the couch and then dragged a chair in front of the painting. He frequently did this when he needed to think or clear his mind. He found the painting to have a focusing effect on his thoughts. He sat down and stared up at the painting.
The canvas was all black. At first glance, it looked like pure, solid black. Just a big black rectangle. But, if you stared at it long enough, you could start to see the brush strokes, different thicknesses of paint, the movement and energy in the painting. You would start to see the artistry in it, the sheer genius, the living soul of the thing. Lately, Jones was convinced that he could see more in the darkness of the painting. That, somehow, in the brushstrokes and layers of black, he could see a hallway stretching deep into the painting. A long black hallway of black walls, black ceiling, black floor, and black shadows. And, at the end of the hallway, deeper and far away, a black figure sat on a black chair.
The figure was looking at him. He was sure of it.
Jones stared up at the painting.
“We did it, master,” he said softly. “The bill failed.”
He blinked, and the figure seemed closer.
“Just as you said it would.”
Jones mopped his forehead with his handkerchief. He felt strangely dizzy. All of a sudden, he had the sensation that he was looking down at the painting. That it was somehow below him, that the room had turned ninety degrees on an invisible axis, and that he was about to topple off his chair and fall into the painting. Tumble down that long dark hallway toward the man sitting on the chair. The man waiting for him.
That’s when he heard a sound coming from deep within the painting. A rasping sound. A hoarse, chuckling laugh.
In her office, Smith did not drag a chair in front of her painting. She merely stood in front of it, her arms crossed on her chest. She stared at the painting. Its simplicity and elegance pleased her. Black. All black. No details, no shapes, no meaning. Just black.
To her, the painting represented the totality of what life meant. Nothing. Life meant nothing. Life had originated due to chance, however many trillions of years ago. The cosmos had blundered along on its way until conscious life had crawled out of the random collisions of stardust. Even that event was meaningless. It was only dust and time and the slow, crippled hand of blind chance.
They both meant the same thing. Nothing.
Though, for some reason, death seemed to make more sense than life. Perhaps it was because death was a return to the original state. The ancient beginning of the universe. It was where the universe yearned to return. The lifeless cold and infinite darkness before the stars ignited.
Maybe that’s why the painting resonated so much with her.
She stared at it, entranced.
Her eyes suddenly widened. She took a deep breath. But then she shook her head, a faint sneer curling her lip.
For a brief moment, she thought she had heard a sound coming from the painting. A hoarse, chuckling laugh.
But that was ridiculous.
It was just a painting.
December 21, 2018
The view from my office window in winter is representational of the mildness of California. We are mild in all things except sanity. If you need to enjoy an extreme position or if you simply need to thaw out your frozen extremities due to living in the Dakotas, etc., then California is the state for you.
I’ve been trying to leave for decades, but I’m afraid this place is like a magnet to the recycled iron filings of my soul.
December 6, 2018
The tower of Babel was the world’s first public works project. Mentioned in the 11th chapter of Genesis, I’m a little surprised the builders didn’t float a bond first to fund it. A little percentage added onto your property tax over the next forty years. Evil as they were, mankind’s evil hadn’t progressed that far yet.
I’ve been wondering about the tower of Babel lately, wondering how many other times in history that impulse rose to gain the heights in order to grasp at God’s power (whether there was any belief in deity or not). I suppose any great work, if devoid of the proper humility one should have and subject to an acknowledgement of God, contains an inherent Babelian quality.
Everything from personal endeavors to nation-building or the like (the EU, with all of its oddities, springs to mind).
In some ways, the internet kind of reminds me of the tower of Babel. It isn’t strictly architectural in the traditional sense, but it does bear some resemblance in terms of size, as well as its potential for both hubris and evil. The internet is something like a massive, shared brain stretching around the planet. A dreadfully and imperfectly shared brain, of course, or a collection of millions of brains messily and partially glommed together into a paranoid and schizophrenic communal cyborg. A pool of bacteria, swarming and crawling around and over each other, sharing, stealing, whispering, fighting, reproducing, influencing each other, leaving bits of thought and graffiti in different places, even while the pool itself becomes more and more homogenous with each passing day.
This is Babel. For in it is a pride of being caused by the enlargement of self. I think, I am, I shall be, because I am part of the pool and, therefore, more than my self. The pack. I am subsumed by the communal id, whether I realize it, or want it, or not. And, subsequently, the homogenous mess can only devolve into grasping for more than each individual part could ever grasp for on its own.
The sum of the parts, brick by brick, bacteria by bacteria, mind by mind, becomes larger and higher, reaching up through the atmosphere.
Towers tend to fall, though. That’s the second law of thermodynamics at work, which is equally happy to work on both a material and spiritual level. Height comes before a fall. Pride comes before a fall.
These days, I’m fascinated by the devolution of the so-called lords of free speech on the internet: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube and the like. The genesis of the internet, years, ago, was generally heralded in the context of the first amendment. Unregulated, unfettered, the neon speed lanes of the information superhighway would be built, one by zero by one by zero, in honor and defense of free speech. And how long did that last? Any tower of Babel worth its salt, I’m afraid, needs a foundation welded from iron, and the recent clamping down on free speech reflects the brutally honest truth of those iron foundations.
August 29, 2018
Tony Stark would be no match for Sauron.
My eldest has recently become interested in the Marvel movies. So, under no great duress, I’ve been watching some of them with him. I’ve seen most of them before, but it is a pleasure to watch them again, chiefly due to seeing how he enjoys them.
For the most part, they aren’t bad movies. They’re fun. Worthy of popcorn and putting your brain completely on hold for a few hours. Though, I have to say, Marvel has become addicted to a particular sort of end routine. It usually consists of huge things blowing up in the sky while New York or the world is about to end (yet again). This gets old after a while. There are a couple Marvel movies that deviate from this ending, such as the two Ant Mans, Black Panther (a rather dull movie, in my opinion, other than the world-building of Wakanda and Andy Serkis’ character) and Spiderman: Homecoming, but the Avengers movies are the worst offenders.
Big hole in the sky? Check. Weird creatures from other dimension/galaxy showing up? New York City smashed to bits for the umpteenth zillion time? Check. Small country in the Balkans about to get nuked? Check? The first Infinity Wars faithfully followed this tried and true recipe, with the somewhat ritalinizing addition of people vanishing en masse and an open ending (due to the fact that Marvel and Disney are intent on squeezing more nickels from the turnip via the sequels).
Despite, the frivolous amusement of the Marvel movies, they share a collective vacuum, a narrative absence equivalent to a galaxy-killing black hole. The villain. There are no Saurons in the Marvel universe.
The villains, large and small, from Michael Keaton’s conflicted father-businessman in Spiderman: Homecoming, to Josh Brolin’s Thanos in Infinity Wars, are really a bunch of shallow, whining milksops. They behave badly enough, I’m not arguing that. They blow stuff up, murder people, don’t seem to recycle, etc., but they aren’t villains in any profound way. They’re villains because of dreary things like resentment (Adrian Toomes in Spiderman: Homecoming), greed (Darren Cross in Ant Man 1), environmentalism (Thanos in Infinity Wars), resentment (both Loki and Hela in the Thor movies), lust for power (Hydra in various movies).
I’m not saying these motivations make for completely dull villains. They’re decent motivations. In fact, they’re humanizing motivations because all of us as individuals fall prey to these temptations in different ways and in different intensities. And, while I don’t subscribe to environmentalism in any degree that would prompt crime on my part, there are nuts out there who run amok accordingly due to love of trees, small rodents, plankton, etc. However, these motivations, recognizable in their familiarity (as we all have the potential to be wicked in the quietness of our hearts), cannot stir us much beyond our cinematic enjoyment, because of that same dreary familiarity.
Thanos, the most impressive of the Marvel villains, to put it mildly, is not Sauron.
Thanos, despite his dedication to wiping out half of all life in the universe, is a bit of a dud in the villain occupation. There’s not much more to his wickedness than that. There’s no profound depth of evil in him. There’s no articulation in the choices of his character that evil is an absolute thing, a thing of vile corruption completely devoted to destruction of truth, beauty and goodness, a brutal concept that has existed outside the universe from before time began.
Thanos is merely mixed up in his logic about natural resources and how their potential interacts with the purposes and needs of society. He went to the wrong college and took the wrong classes.
Tolkien had a much more profound grasp of villains and evil. He ran deep in his writing, plumbing the depths of what evil and good truly mean, while Marvel seems to find most of their material for villainous behavior on the floor of the psychologist’s office. Or, arguably, at best, ripped off from the dark nihilism of German national socialism. I have to admit, that’s probably been their best villain motivator, and they’ve certainly gone to that well plenty of times.
Hela, the goddess of death in Thor: Ragnarok, had tremendous promise. But she was reduced to a ho-hum motivation from a failed father-daughter relationship. Tolkien would have been wise enough to not use that color. He might’ve dabbled in it for some cosmetic dressing, but he would have scorned it as the dark foundation. He saw the world from an absolutist point of view, that good and evil are realities that exist outside of Man, that evil does not spring from the choices of Man, but that Man chooses evil. Or good, hopefully, from time to time. And this one difference, as opposed to the mindless materialist view of the Marvel universe, creates a great divide between Sauron and the spandex moderns.
Tony Stark would’ve died in Mordor. Sauron would’ve seen to that. All of today’s cheerful choices to defend freedom for the sake of freedom, built on an airy framework of nothing at all (at least, that’s what it’s become these days), would’ve crumbled into ruin on those dark plains. If they’d have even gotten that far.
The foundation stones of Barad-dur go down very far. Far below our everyday villainry. Far below even the best philosophies of our material world. And, as such, the hero who seeks to defeat such an evil must do so with something that is not a comfortable native of the world of men.
Which, again, is why Sauron would’ve easily defeated Ironman.
August 15, 2018
I haven’t been creating much of anything these days due to the business of life. However, I have managed to carve out a little time for writing and recording some music. In years gone by, I recorded quite a few albums: folk albums by myself, as well as with an old friend of mine (those were some of the first I ever did), as well as some projects with a rock band in grad school and during my time working in Chicago.
This new album, recorded by my Inflatable Hippies entity, is a departure for me. It’s strictly instrumental and wanders somewhere into the electronica genre, specifically in the chill-out sub-genre. I’m not entirely certain that’s the right term, but I think it is correct. If it isn’t, then let’s just invent it right now.
I don’t consider myself even worthy to muck out the stables for composers like Bach and Beethoven, but everyone on earth–past, present and future–shares a similar trait with those geniuses, and that is the ability to take what already is, whether that be pieces of wood or stone or vegetables or sounds, and then rearrange those into different structures that, because of that rearrangement, have the potential or possibility of acquiring additional beauty. Or merely additional interest.
So, have at it, with whatever items of the universe you find pleasure in rearranging. With me, these days, I like rearranging sounds. The next thing on my to-be-rearranged list are the ingredients for an eggplant involtini recipe. It looks like it will be amazing. Or merely interesting (hopefully not).
July 23, 2018
The Otterbury Incident. Written by C. Day Lewis. Absolutely superb book for kids who are at the chapter-book reading level. School kids in post-war Britain, tangling with criminal gangs, mischief and mayhem. This one is worth buying.
July 11, 2018
My band, the Inflatable Hippies, has a new album coming out soon. Instrumental, no voices.
I find myself thinking about the musical creative process in a different way these days. If you take a step back and look at the variables–tone, timing, intensity, syncopation, melody, harmony, the voicing peculiarities of different instruments, mood, etc–you quickly realize that the possible outcomes are nearly infinite. All those components can be arranged and rearranged in a breathtaking number of different ways. A number that cannot be fathomed in human terms.
As countless as the grains of sand on all the world’s shores? As countless as the stars of the universe? I’m starting to think so. The problem (if it is a problem) becomes even more dizzying for me because I find my songs. I’m not sure if I create them. Typically, I’ll start by writing a melody on piano, record that, and then layer on some harmonies with different instruments until I have a dense mass of music. And then I’ll carve away pieces, not unlike a stone sculptor at work with a block marble. Finding the figure hidden within, that was always there, before the sculptor was even born.
While this means, in the light of sand and stars, there’ll be no end of songs to be discovered, what if we ever do come to the end of universe? No, the edge of the universe. We come to that end and find a humble door that opens into a place outside the universe. This might mean there are no songs on the other side of the door. No songs, no stars and no lovely beaches curving along the blue expanse of a south sea island bay.
Though, while there might not be any songs past that door, there very well might be things that, while they are not songs in the way we know music, they might be more truly music than we could ever imagine. I can only hope that there’s some echo of that in the Inflatable Hippies.
June 6, 2018
Today is the anniversary of D-Day, seventy-four years ago.
Traditional epic fantasy always revolves around the character of the hero, whether it be Bilbo Baggins, Frodo, Taran, Ged, or even my more humble Jute. But all those heroes, regardless of the truth in them and what the choices they made, exist in the realm of the imagination.
War in our world often uncovers heroes, willing or not. If you could use some remembrance of a not-so-distant time past, peopled by such heroes, please take a few moments and read this account of Omaha Beach on D-Day.
April 29, 2018
Most people have heard of Alfie Evans. I realize that most two-year-olds are not well known. Sadly, Alfie is. Or was. The circumstances of his death point to the worst in human nature. And, while one way to make sense of the senselessness of the manner of his passing is to analyze its politics and the grimmer consequences of socialism, I found myself considering a slightly wider context.
Which I could only make clearer sense of in a poem. A rough, unmetered, unrhymed thing, because life has no meter or rhyme on occasion.
Witness (to the Short Life of Alfie Evans, aged almost Two)
Not many saw him finally die.
In a nearby office, several of his murderers updated their spreadsheet and discussed income and expense.
His parents’ sorrow was sharper than a surgeon’s lancet.
The agony was enough to momentarily cut the veil between what is and truly is.
Light shone through the rent, so bright that it could not be seen by human eyes.
In that radiance stood a vast crowd without number, a cloud of witnesses gathered to watch and listen. They engraved those things upon their memories so that when the final court is convened they might take the stand and speak of what they saw.
Stern sea captains, faces weathered by sun and wind and salt, gazed with unblinking eyes that had once seen the furthest shores of the world, the strange lands and distant archipelagos that were hard won for king and country. Here, Hudson in quiet conference with Raleigh muttered, “Ice took me and my men, but never would I have dreamed it for a future such as this.”
And others there looked on the scene, at the little, silent bed, lords and ladies, kings and queens, bishops, footmen and scullery maids. There, Henry V with ghostly archers by his side, every hand still callused from bow and string, their king unconsciously reaching for his absent sword. “For what country, Hal,” said one such soldier in disbelief, bold and equal in death, “did we spend our lives?”
Churchill glared from beneath his lowered brow, for once silent and unable to find a fitting word, beside him, Thomas Becket and Alfred the Great, dismay on their faces.
Wellington, Nelson, Allenby and a vast cadre of officers, stood watching, their postures rigid with outrage. A voice spoke clear and clipped from their midst, though it could have been any of them, “A thousand thousand bloody deaths and countless even more, by sword, axe and rusty pike, by bolt, arrow and cannonball, by bomb and bullet and poison gas–all for this misery.”
And there, alongside these nobles, just as honored despite their lowly rank, a vast host of the common dead, those who fell in battle in distant foreign lands, who fell under the shadow of death far from their homes on the fields of Europe, in India and Africa and on long forgotten islands or under the tossing waves of the oceans the world around, they all stood staring aghast.
A group of writers, professors and chimney sweeps conversed with Queen Elizabeth in a drift of ethereal smoke curling from Tolkien’s pipe. “Did I not say life’s but an accursed walking shadow?” said Shakespeare. Chesterton sadly shook his head in response, “Yes, but this matter, Bill, shall be heard once again at time’s end, and our words shall be full of truer sound and truer fury, more than we were ever able to write.”
“To think I cleaned chimneys in good content,” said the sweep sadly. “In good content, sir, for I was an Englishman!”
“We are no longer,” said the Queen.
Beyond them, even more, the figures of bakers and butchers, tailors, innkeepers, peasant farmers and farmer lords, matrons and midwives, shopkeepers, miners and fishermen, bankers and barristers, children all of a nation long loved, each figure etched with light, each of them gazed on that scene with wiser eyes than the most august judge to ever sit in bewigged glory upon the bench in London’s courts.
The voices of all this great crowd rose, finally, joined in clarity of sight, murmuring and mingling and rushing, like the sound of many waters hurrying down to a single sea, a single thought, a single truth.
“Witness,” they said. “We witness.”
And then the rent between what is and what truly is closed to leave the dimmed and normal sight of an empty bed, an empty room and a softly closing door.