Post Card

trumpet

Saturday night, Manny and I went to the Met’s exhibit of Michelangelo’s drawings. Many of the drawings, paintings and even the few sculptures were studies by the Master’s students and imitators. The picture above (in fact, a photo of a post card I bought) Michelangelo drew.

The plaque explained that an angel, also known as a genius–a usage I’m familiar with, although I didn’t know it harked to the Renaissance–is blowing a trumpet into the man’s head. The angel/genius inspires the man with a blast note to the head. I’ve slightly emphasized the trumpet because to me it looks like a weapon for a blow dart to the naked artist’s brain.

Instead of hearing a trumpet when I saw the drawing, I thought of Bob Marley singing “Trenchtown Rock,” specifically the lyric that includes “hit me with music…brutalize me…”

Crowds filled the space, Two women seemed unaware that assistants had created much of the art. Or that other pieces were intended in homage. Much awed murmuring regarding “the folds of fabric.”

We hadn’t visited the Met in many months, because the new Whitney is walking distance–a nice long walk. Michelangelo’s drawings didn’t move me as much as I expected. But these days, Leonardo da Vinci is my hero. I keep sending my novel, The Vitruvian Man, to people and places to no avail. Meanwhile, I’m rewriting the sequel, The Vitruvian Woman.

Leonardo didn’t care very much if people read what he wrote, according to Walter Isaacson’s biography. He kept intending to order his notebooks and studies for publication, but some intriguing new puzzle always seized him the minute he proved a theory through drawing, observation, and experiment.

He loved learning for its own sake. Being illegitimate and homosexual, he enjoyed being a “misfit.” It freed him from having to meet common social expectations. Mostly unschooled, he sought knowledge relentlessly, and rarely accepted received wisdom without applying his own tests.

But because his discoveries were unpublished, many, if not most, had to be rediscovered hundreds of years later. Isaacson posits his famous “mirror-writing” was not a code, but a method to keep from smearing ink, and one other left-handed writers used.

The one and only trait Leonardo and I have in common is left-handedness. Unlikely to take up mirror-writing, I smear stuff everywhere.

 

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Departure

departure copy

Last summer, I decided to stop writing this serial fiction.Don’t know if anyone’s looked at it, but I planned to end it when Jasper leaves with Sung to make the movie, Readiness IS All. That’s not the end of the story, but it might have felt more finished to a reader than departing from James Bond and the Girls of Woodstock at episode 79. (previous post)

Last year life threw me into a grief-stricken tailspin. And this summer a few sorry events kept me from writing serial fiction for two months. My recent small sadnesses may have increased my capacity to realize more of last year’s everlasting loss. But either way, after this latest break, I’m convinced that persisting with another serial installment makes no sense. Naturally, I often doubt my ideas and abilities, but this time I don’t doubt I’m right.

I had hopes for this story when I started it here. And yet I knew well enough that James Bond and the Girls of Woodstock is way too long and wide-ranging, with too many characters, for me to write it as serial fiction. Also, it quickly became obvious to me that any coherency achieved by alternating between Brooke and Jasper’s point of view was a poor trade-off for a slower pace than I wanted.

Serial fiction should be fast and plot-driven. The episodes should consist of five hundred words, at most. (Try as I might—countless rewrites—the episodes here average nearer to a thousand words.) But I admit to using serial fiction as early drafts for novels or short stories. It keeps me writing and I truly do everything I can to make it readable and fun. Nevertheless, what’s here is an unfinished experiment. I loved writing it and discovered many little techniques that were new to me. It’s unlikely, however, I’ll ever reimagine and rewrite James Bond and the Girls of Woodstock. Also, any fiction I write from now on, will occur offline. At most, I might post a quote with a photo.

Simultaneously with my serial fiction, I was constantly rewriting my novel, The Vitruvian Man. The title comes from Leonardo da Vinci’s famous drawing of a man positioned within a circle and a square. (See the version above.) Every time I had to face another rewrite, I despaired of doing the impossible. Such as, writing a novel that would draw readers into it, unaware; and keep them there with prose so delightful they would never ever realize they were—reading. But once I got into the story (which, I’m afraid, does call upon a reader’s time), it exhilarated me—even more than before. In the middle, I soared. Upon finishing another rewrite, however, I felt exhausted and heartbroken.

Finally, I believe—and more significantly, my husband believes—The Vitruvian Man has reached its peak. When it’s published, mu blog and/or site will undergo radical changes. The serial fiction and excerpts from Diary of a Heretic will disappear. No doubt these things will take years. Anything I try to accomplish takes forever.

Fast Forward

 I’ve been writing The Vitruvian Man on and off for six years, mostly in private. (The Vitruvian Woman, the sequel, I’ve posted twice as a serial.) The Vitruvian Man’s second to last rewrite, which I expected to consist mostly of proofreading, something unique developed between the two main characters. Perhaps subconsciously, I was always writing toward a relationship that enlightened them equally, despite their differences in age and privilege. But I was unaware of it until “proofreading.” Suddenly, their natural, delicate rapport struck me as an ephemeral ideal. I ended the story there, leaving the consequences of their relationship for the sequel. But in the year since, I’ve decided it doesn’t make sense to omit the price Walter will pay. So I’ve written a new scene to open the novel. I’m posting it here because even if nobody reads it, his punishment can exist in prose. 

jpeg, prison, added barbed wire fence texture

August 2014

On the plane, I tried to tell Amanda what I had already said as well as what we had agreed not to say. But before I spoke a syllable, she draped an arm around my neck and reached over with her other hand to press her index finger against my lips. Later, driving north on I-95, I said, “You’re worth—” and she slapped my leg while putting a finger to her own lips. We had agreed not to talk. She had told me it was perfect. Making any comment now would only detract from that. Also, she refused to listen to or participate in any way with “Goodbye.” Because it wouldn’t change anything.

Too soon, we were there. I stopped the car in front of the village library. Amanda opened her door and I rested my hand momentarily on her shoulder. She scarcely nodded, straightened her spine, and slid out of the car. As the Accord idled downhill on the steep street, she gently closed the passenger door. And without a word, without glancing back, Amanda skipped up the library’s concrete steps. The huge, heavy wooden door opened to a narrow strip of darkness into which she disappeared.

Resolute then, I drove a few feet farther, coming even with the police station’s Main Street entrance. Turning right onto Ferris Court, I parked on the street dappled by leafy shadows and checked the flight printouts and hotel receipts in my backpack. Quickly, I stepped onto the sidewalk and opened the police station’s side door.

Chief Carl Peterson was standing, arms crossed over his chest, just outside his small office. “Go home, Walter. Me and your wife, the middle-school’s social worker, and the principal agree. We’re in complete agreement.”

“I’ve committed a serious crime.”

“As far as I and everyone who lives in this village are concerned, you have not.”

“In New York, second degree kidnapping is a class B felony. I knew that when I abducted thirteen-year-old Amanda Jonette for thirty-one hours.”

“I have no doubt,” the chief of police said, “she was delighted to be wherever you went.”

“May I sit down?”

“Go home, Walter.”

“Not before I write a full confession.”

“You know, part of my job is preventing suicide.”

I shook my head. It was important to own up to my guilt. We exchanged our polar points of view until Carl lost patience and went home.

Alone in the police station, I sat at his desk and carefully described my crime in a notebook I had bought at the Orlando airport. The chief’s stapler was in his top drawer and I used it to attach the printed evidence to the cover. While I was perusing my semi-legible handwriting, Detective Jim Buckley came in. He knocked on the doorframe, the office door being open. “Hey, Walter. Where’s the Chief?”

“Not here.” I stood up and handed him the notebook. Buckley refused it. He didn’t even open it, but perhaps noticed the stapled receipts. If he refused to respond, I told him he must put me in a squad car and drive me to the county facility. Buckley protested, but seeing that I was determined, did it anyway.

At the jail in Valhalla, the sheriff and guards treated me like any thirty-two-year-old man who had kidnapped a thirteen-year-old girl. Wearing an orange jumpsuit, I spent the night hand-cuffed to a bar running across the ceiling. But I’m tall enough so that my feet in regulation white socks remained flat on the ground.

The next morning, my wife, Sterling, arrived screaming at me and at the authorities, who mostly ignored her. When she stopped yelling and wept, I asked her to ring my former boss at the Bank of America, because I was supposed to meet him for lunch tomorrow.

Hearing this, she began keening.

“Sterling, please. You’ve helped a lot but I’m counting on you to see me through this.”

Furious, she managed far better than I expected. She met with Glen Engle twice and convinced him to get involved.

Following a cursory investigation by the FBI, the magistrate broke with standard procedure and allowed character testimonies. These took nearly three months, but saved me from going on trial. And not being tried by a jury, my attorney said, was critical. “Because the more you tell them there was no sexual misconduct, the worse it can get. Like if you say, don’t even think about it, the more they’re gonna think about it. Basic human nature.”

Lucky me, getting away with thought crimes. Nevertheless, a class B felony in New York means five years mandatory. So last week, I began my incarceration at the Federal Correctional Institution in Otisville.

Slap Happy

An Excerpt from my still unpublished novel, The Vitruvian Man

composite, Disney's Space Mountain, faint overlay of Donald Duck

[Flash forward, this comes from the second chapter to the end.] 

In the hot early afternoon, we’re waiting our turn for Space Mountain. Amanda tugs my hand. She looks very serious and says, sounding very guilty, that she needs to tell me a shameful secret.

“All right.”

“I’ve never ridden a roller coaster—not even one for little kids.” She turns and giggles. “Oh my God, it’s so embarrassing.”

I laugh so hard I crouch. Amanda shoves my shoulders. To balance, because now I’m laughing even more, I drop to one knee. She circles behind me and slaps my back. I pivot around, and see her giggling, hand raised and ready to slap my face. I burst out laughing all over again. Amanda attempts indignation, which causes her too to break into full-throttle laughter. I scoop her bare legs together, drape her over my shoulder, and stand up, dancing side-to-side while she pounds my backside with her fists. We’re both laughing uncontrollably and I can’t keep her still. She’s squirming and clinging and choking back laughter to speak.

“Shut up! Shut up!” she yells, sliding down and around me, her arms around my neck, so she’s riding me piggyback. “Everyone’s staring at us!” she hisses.

Indeed they are. She pulls my hair. “How dare you laugh at me! Shame on you!”

I try to keep her behind me and she tries to twist around as if to free herself, despite her thighs squeezing even tighter around my waist. Finally, I set her on the ground and double over, trying to catch my breath, while still caught in hilarity.

Back on one knee, I touch her head. She shifts so we’re eye to eye. The impulse is simultaneous. We clap a hand over each other’s mouth. This lasts one second before we burst into fresh peals of mirth.

The line to Space Mountain has become a semi-circle around us. Amanda tries to bite my right hand. I raise it above her reach and wave my left index finger in her face.

“Shame on who? Shame on you, little girl! You promised to behave in public! You promised.”

She leaps at me. I fold her over my shoulder again and rise. I spin in a circle, balancing her. She’s giggling so hard I feel her shaking. Donald Duck appears and quack-scolds us until I put her down, his huge webbed feet flapping as he stalks off.

We don’t entirely recover until the steel car we’re strapped in enters the dark, scary mountain. The careening ride twists and turns. We cling to each other and scream.

Eventually, when the car slows and begins coasting to the end, our hearts pound together. We stay in the car until we’re helped out.

Languorous with relief, we wander hand in hand in the bright sunshine, our sunglasses on, our legs loose and rubbery. After a while, we’re strolling toward the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. The line here is especially long but Amanda’s glad we didn’t schedule a time using the Fast Magic option. She’s happy to wait and I’m perfectly content listening to her history of Captain Jack Sparrow. She prepares me for one steep drop and possibly a ghostly sighting of Blue Beard.

Donald Duck quacks past us again and I ask her for a translation.

“Donald Duck wants us to know—” Amanda puffs out a cheek and offers a good but understandable impression. “That’s more like it!”

We climb into a boat and watch robotic pirates drinking from flagons and kicking loose planks around. Amanda snuggles beside me and kisses my cheek.

“Oh no!” She’s noticed a little animatronic dog barking on a shipwreck. I tell her Sterling’s taking care of Samson. “She always had a dog growing up. Getting Samson was her idea.”

Amanda nods and in the dim light. Now that she knows someone’s taking care of Samson—no talking.

She absorbs every amusing detail, every entertaining sight and stunt the same way she experiences every moment in real life. I’m not as successful. The future is bearing down, wielding a deadly bludgeon.

Except—Amanda throws her arms around me while two pirates drag a captured enemy into a transparent cauldron of boiling oil. My anxiety vanishes. Amanda and I are great together. And her touch, whether or not her innocent desires require me to vanquish my sick and dangerous ones, fills me with admiration, love, and hope. What on earth is more magical than that?

by Kathleen Maher

The Vitruvian Man

cropped-tvm3-e1482183701904.jpg

After all that’s happened this year, I’m starting new and have renamed this site “Heretic No More.” A change is coming. We can only hope that 2017 brings many changes, one of which I can’t help but hope is the publication of my novel, “The Vitruvian Man.” which has been ready to go for two or three years now. Perhaps the title sounds foreign, but if you look at the picture it may be familiar. That is Leonardo da Vinci’s The Vitruvian Man. My character, Walter, an ex-Wall Street derivatives banker, has become convinced of Leonardo’s theory that everything we know must be derived from nature. The drawing famously fuses art and science.

Of course, the novel’s not about banking–that just happens to be his profession until he quits. Nor is it about finance, except that money really is not a problem for Walter Hargrove.

When his wife leaves, he’s left living across the street from her seriously neglected best friend. The novel shows the blossoming of an extraordinary relationship between Walter, an introverted 32-year-old math prodigy, and  Amanda, a spirited 13-year-old latchkey girl. Within a school year, she leads him out of his emotional shell and he gives her the love she has craved and deserved all her life.