Huxley’s Novel Where Nothing Happens…

This post is about Crome Yellow by Aldous Huxley. I just ran across a short Youtube video, where the reviewer’s main idea was to say that ‘characters talk a lot’, but ‘nothing really happens’ in the novel…

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I happened to have Crome Yellow in my home library since I was a teenager. The book was not a translation into Russian: it was an original, unabridged edition, a rare thing for the books, published in the Soviet Union. Now, I even think that the Soviet-time censors allowed it to be published because they also saw Crome Yellow as a book where ‘nothing really happens’. A perfect book for a censor, no doubt.   aldous6

It rested untouched in my room, on the English books shelf, for years. Published in 1979 by the USSR’s “Progress” publishing house, it was smaller than  traditional books, but a bit larger than classical Penguin books, so my mother left it standing right behind the glass of the shelf, showing me its whole cover, while a few dozens of original Penguin editions (once brought by Dad from a conference trip to America) were obediently lining along the shelf behind it.

Every morning, a sun beam creeped into the room to count little penguins on the book spines (I deliberately kept the curtains wide open to let the sunbeam in). I would wake up and lie quietly for a while, listening to birds chirping right outside and watching that beam. It would creep along the shelf and light up little images of penguins one by one, until it reached the bright yellow cover of Crome Yellow, and then the whole shelf would start glowing with tender, yellowish light. When the beam reached leter ‘R’, it was time for me to get up and go to school.

I did not try reading the books from that shelf until I was 16 or so. They were written in real American and British English, not the English that I was taught in the Soviet-time high school, so they were too difficult for me to read. When I finally turned my eyes toward that shelf, I was a senior high school student, preparing to enter a university department of English language and philology, and I was looking for every possible opportunity to learn the ‘real’ English language, which the natve speakers used.

Crome Yellow was the handiest book to reach, so I took it from the shelf first. Having struggled through the first dozen of pages, I realized that I could read it– with dictionary, of course, and very slowly, but I understood the language in general. Then, with every next page, I got used to Huxley’s style, and reading became easier. I think I did not understand some of the idioms, but I sensed sarcasm and the witty style of a young, intelligent and a bit maximalistic narrator from the very beginning. Thanks to Crome Yellow, for the first time in my life, I felt proud of myself: I could read original English classics!

At that time, I had no idea about other books written by Huxley, neither I knew who he was or when exactly he lived; I could not even tell whether he was British or American, but reading Crome Yellow opened the whole new world of literature-in-English for me. It was largely due to this book that I finally decided to pursue the idea of obtaining a university diploma in English language and literature.

Now, when I am familiar with most of Aldous Huxley’s books, I realized that I never happened to re-read Crome Yellow since university. I downloaded it for reading this morning, and from the very first lines I am in love with this book again!

How could that reviewer not see the wonderful work of mind going on right behind the words of the characters? How can anybody say that ‘nothing really happens’ in the book, when what happens every second is the work of sharp, witty, observational mind, which provokes the reader to think together with the narrator? To me, the excellence of the novel is exactly in its atypical plot structure: the simplicity of the plot was developed deliberately in order to picture the life of people, who ‘talk a lot’ and would like to accomplish a lot, but their intentions seldom go farther than just talking, so ‘nothing really happens’ in their lives.

Today, three decades after I was a teenager, that yellow cover still faces the window in my parents’ apartment, and the long shelf of Penguin books still makes a neat line behind it. Every time I visit my parents’ home, I am tempted to enter that room in the morning hours to see how the sun beam travels along the shelf, showing me little penguins on the book spines and creeping to reach yellow cover with big white letters: Crome Yellow. When it does, I remember the words from the book:

“All that happens means something; nothing you do is ever insignificant.”
― Aldous Huxley, Crome Yellow

Aldous3It was a significant thing for me to watch that sun beam creep over Crome Yellow cover every morning: it helped me choose my directions in life. I am thankful to Huxley for this, because he could convince me so gently! Nothing really happened, but I came to the most important, life altering decision. Isn’t it what distinguishes a real classic from a scribbler?

* * *

These are my favorite lines from the book. Enjoy (or read the whole book, I am sure you will love it):

“He had been making an unsuccessful effort to write something about nothing in particular”

“Things somehow seem more real and vivid when one can apply somebody else’s ready-made phrase about them.”

“He took nobody by surprise; there was nobody to take.”

“As for women, I am perpetually assuring myself that they’re the broad highway to divinity”.

Dostoevsky’s drawings

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Fyodor Dostoevsky never discussed his drawings with anybody. Neither he left any notes describing his attempts to picture his characters or scenes from his stories. He must have believed that writing was a very intimate business, so the only person who was allowed to keep Dostoevsky’s diaries, notebooks and sketchbooks, was his wife, Anna. It was largely due to her effort that many of Dostoevsky’s sketches and drawings were preserved in very good condition and can be studied by researchers today.

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Interestingly, Dostoevsky never produced anything else but the three types of drawings:
1. Portraits of people, which were made with great attention to detail and, as a rule, they were images of his new characters, which he crafted while working on every new book;

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2. Architectural forms, mainly of Gothic style buildings, which Dostoevsky – an architect by diploma – also drew with amazing care for detail; and
3. Exercises in calligraphy, which, very probably, helped him concentrate when he was planning his novel plots, because these ‘exercises’ appear quite often among his notes, made at the beginning stages of work with every big manuscript.

D1 His drawings, as well as writing sketches are usually scattered all over the page, which shows how thoroughly he used to put together little pieces of ideas, scattered thoughts and observations to develop every scene, description, or dialog.

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This is how great books were (and are) put together: huge work of mind; mindblowing concentration of thought, amazing work of imagination.

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Love… as Dostoevsky saw it.

Love. Is it a gift given to us from above, or a skill which can be developed by learning? I have been trying to figure this out, and of course, I am not the first one to ask this question. A great thinker of the 19-th century, Fyodor Dostoevsky, kept trying to answer this question during his whole life. Some of his thoughts on the topic can be found in his immortal novels. I spent this morning turning pages of my Soviet-time edition of Dostoevsky, published in 1958.

D001Let me start with a line from The Brothers Karamazov, one of the most acclaimed of Dostoevsky’s novels: 

“What is hell? I maintain that it is the suffering of being unable to love.”
― Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov (1880)

Wow. Scary, isn’t it?

In the 19-th century the phrase ‘being unable to love’ sounded even worse than it sounds now: it meant that Creator himself had decided to deprive some particular people of the gift, and thus, they were in some way inferior, or sinful, or just ‘spotted’ and destinied to suffer endlessly.

Today, it is still common to hear that love is a gift given to us from above, but we tend to take it lightly, because — well — science tells us not to worry. “Love is a result of chemical reactions,” it says, “if your body has hormones — and, of course, every body has some,” it says, “then you have nothing to worry about: relax, you are capable of feeling love.”

Modern science looks at it with pragmatism, typical of the 21-st century. The notion ‘gift’ is defined by modern dictionaries as a natural ability or talent, and so, some people feel gifted for love, while others claim that love is a skill (interpreted by dictionaries as ‘the ability to do something well; expertise’), which can be acquired by training. Very convenient, don’t you think? 😉

When 150 years ago Dostoevsky wrote that–

“To love someone means to see them as God intended them.”
― Fyodor Dostoyevsky

every reader would nod his head in agreement on reading this, a contemporary reader might shrug doubdfully or even express disagreement. Unlike our great-great-grandparents, we, modern people, prefer to believe that being in love is an exciting adventure, which may (and should) happen to anybody, it may involve lots of emotional experience, and– well, there is no need to worry: nobody dies of love anymore. Love is fun! Why even try to understand how God intended your partner, when you

In his latest stories, ever-gloomy Dostoevsky writes–

“To love is to suffer and there can be no love otherwise.”
― Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Notes from Underground

Love IS a skill, agrees the great genius, because it can be developed. Moreover, it develops with suffering, it takes you time and suffering to learn the skill of love. In Dostoevsky’s latest story, The Dream of a Ridiculous Man, his character says:

“I want to suffer so that I may love.”
― Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Dream of a Ridiculous Man

If Dostoevsky’s characters finally managed to master the skill of love, they would realize the change that happened to them:

“They were renewed by love; the heart of each held infinite sources of life for the heart of the other.”
― Fyodor Dostoyevsky

but still, there was lots of suffering:

“But to fall in love does not mean to love. One can fall in love and still hate.”
― Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

and more suffering:

“Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams.”
― Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

What a gloomy, dark, sad, derogatory approach! After this, I am not surprised that our high-school students are reluctant to read Dostoevsky.

Still, a genius is always a genuis. Even hundreds years later, his words remain meaningful. Moreover, they sound like a call for action, and no one of us could put it together as precisely as Dostoevsky did:

“Love a man, even in his sin, for that love is a likeness of the divine love, and is the summit of love on earth.”
― Fyodor Dostoyevsky

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P.S. This is a photo of a page from Dostoevsky’s book of notes. One of these days, I am going to put together a little post about his drawings and calligraphy practice. It seems he loved drawing while planning his scenes.

Fidelity Hormone (A Short Story)

Dear Reader, here is my little present for you: a humorous, yet contemplative short story of what might happen if people went completely crazy, destroyed their world in a war, and had to be saved by… dogs! Enjoy! 

Any feedback (in comments below or via the contact page) is very appreciated!

I.

In my defense, the moon was full

and I was left unsupervised.”

A popular saying

Hey, Donnie!”

Just look at him! No reaction!

Donald!”

You see? He didn’t even move a muscle!

Mr. Trump!”

Silence. Well, all right, then. You win…

Mr. President, will you please, look at me?”

There. He finally turned his head.

Mr. President, your breakfast is ready. Your Big Mac Meal is on the table, you are welcome.”

There, he is coming. Great. Oh, what a relief. I was afraid he would refuse his food at all until Rex is back, and five days of diet is quite a long time for a human guy, don’t you think?

Good boy. Here’s your juice. We’ve got the best orange juice here…”

Just look at his displeased face! He scowls as if he swallowed a fly. Ah, never mind. Most importantly, he started eating, which means all is well.

Eat, good boy, eat. Want more? No problem… Cheese? Ham? You are welcome. There. Good boy… Hey, Vladimir Vladimirovich, why don’t you join Donald, eh? Oh, no, wait! Not that way, you can’t remove that partition, all right? You two will have to remain separated. I don’t want another fight here, you see? I had enough yesterday… Hey, come on, guys, talk to each other! All dogs get along sooner or later, and you people should learn to be friendly, too! You guys are going to stay in this house together till the end of the week… so, please, stop being cranky, okay? Why don’t you play a game or something?”

Uh-huh, these presidents are such a headache! Rex asked me to take care of Donald for him while he is away on a trip to Siberia to pick up the recently rescued people. We take the survivors to our homes – whoever we can find, of course. It’s been a year since the war ended, but we still find humans here and there. Many hide in the woods, especially the Germans, the Indians, and the Russians.

Rex told me, by the way, that he had been to a village in Siberia, where people still know nothing about the war! Can you believe it? They also know nothing about the Great October Dog Revolution, nor about the Four Decrees, nor about the current situation in the world, nothing! Nothing at all!

Rex says they have no electricity there, so there is no press, no phones, no Internet… not even roads, just forest and snow! Well, those people have heard about President Putin, of course, for the guy was at power for nearly twenty years in Russia, and twenty years is longer than a whole dog’s life, you see?

So, I mean, when we find such old-timers somewhere in Siberia, we let them stay where they are, unless they ask to be taken to America, of course, which rarely happens, but we always take their dogs and bring them here for rehabilitation, because these savages keep their dogs on chains, feed them trash, and never let them into the house even in winter! Can you believe it? I say that is slavery!

When I heard this, I told Rex, “You go there, Buddy, do your job. You are doing the right thing. Don’t worry, I will take care of your human guy.”

We call them all “human guys” or just “guys” because calling them “minions” or “wards” would be snobbish, and calling them “males” and “females” sounds a bit…scornful.

Okay, where was I? Ah, yes, Donald… Oh, he is such an upstart…, I mean, he is spoiled! At first, he was spoiled by his family, then by numerous bootlickers, and then – what does not surprise me a bit – he got a depression after the last year’s stress. Poor guy. His wife left him, his children turned their backs to him – all at the same time, as soon as they found out that he was no longer a president. I heard a rumor that his daughter and her man are still hiding somewhere on an island in the Pacific. Yeah. Sad.

So, when the shooting died down, Rex found Donald and brought him to his home. He treated him like a child – gave him pills, played music to him, walked him two times a day – he did everything he could to get Donald back to normal life… and finally spoiled him even more! I’m telling you, this crafty dodger has a perfect nose for kindness and makes use of everyone on his way! To be honest, he makes me sick.

Take VeeVee. He used to rule a country, too, but he does not have such whims. VeeVee is a short name for Vladimir Vladimirovich – I made it up for my own convenience – but when I face him, I always call him by his full name, of course. Courteous treatment is a big thing to him. Well, I don’t mind. You want it by your full name? Okay, no problem. You are welcome.

VeeVee is a quiet little guy – silent, taciturn, even a little mysterious at times. I think it’s because he is lonely. He spends days sitting in his room, looking through the window or playing Battleship with himself. At times, he would go to the bathroom, open the lid, and sit motionless on the toilet looking at the running water for hours… what a strange guy! Hmm. Very strange. Well, between us, I feel sorry for him, too, but I never show it, for I would not want to get him spoiled, like Donald.

Well, all in all, I must admit that people are not an easy type to me. Very tricky creatures, they are.

By the way, I just thought that during this whole year, since the first day of the Great Canine Revolution I had no single day-off! Can you believe this? These human beings are so needy. It is always something, you see? Now they need a shower, then they want to change, a moment later they decide to watch movies, or to read some books, or to go jogging…Phew! With two human guys in my home, I have no time to itch or scratch, to say nothing about having a nap on the living room carpet, or gnawing a bone, or just watching birds behind the kitchen window, you know.

Well, at first I thought it was my personal problem – just bad luck with particular human guys, but other dogs don’t seem totally happy, either. Take Molly, my old friend; she also complains now and then, and her situation is dozens times better – she got the same family which she’d had before the war started. She grew up with her man, who was, by the way, a well-known writer; Stephen King is his name.

Oh, this Stephen-guy is a soft touch, wouldn’t harm a fly, I can sniff it in him, I swear. He is pleasant and neat, smiles a lot and smells really well. Molly loves him, and Stephen adores her, too.

Well, Donald has already mentioned to me, by the way, that he does not approve of Stephen, but I can’t think of a reason why.

When the dogs took power, Molly’s writer guy had a terrible stress. He spent weeks on a couch in his room, sitting alone in disturbing silence. But with time, Molly said, he got better. Since then, he’s been writing about dogs – horror stories and mystery plots, you know – but the problem is, who is going to read it? In a time like this, reading horror is the last thing the human survivors would do.

To be honest, I don’t think it was the Dog Revolution that scared that writer; it was their war, the Big Human War. Whole nations of people died every day! Billions perished! Oh, it gives me chills even to think about those days! Well, if it weren’t for the dogs, people would have destroyed the whole planet, I give you my word for that!

All right, I will give it more thinking some other time, and now I will try to remember how it happened, day after day.

II.

Found a dog: no collar, a bit aggressive,

especially towards cats; doesn’t like baths,

but she was pretty dirty. Took me all night,

but now she’s resting comfy on the bed.

If you recognize her, inbox me.”

A Facebook post of 2017

As I mentioned before, I got VeeVee when the decision was made to take all human survivors to our homes and look after them, each and every one, individually. I remember how Rex came up and looked me straight in the eyes. “Listen, Rocky,” he said, “I know you well, I respect you more than the others, you are an honest and brave Labrador. I can count on you, and I trust you just like I trust my own teeth. Help me out, Buddy, and please, don’t say no…would you agree to take care of the most notorious of all Russians?”

As he said this, he gave me a leash, so I raised my eyes and saw Putin: He stood on the other end of the leash, slouchy and thin, sad and quiet, cautiously looking sideways with the eyes full of fear. I guess it wasn’t a usual thing for Putin to stand in the middle of the street with no security guards and no gray suit guys around. I took hold of the leash, and we headed toward my home, as Rex snarled to my back, “Just don’t let him have any alcohol, and make sure he has no access to sharp objects, okay? He has a weakness for fighting, you know.”

So, we started living together in my spacious home in DC. I was heavy-hearted then, too: my master had just died in the war. We’d been really big friends, he and I. We played, we jogged, we walked in the woods… ah, to hell with those memories, that life is over. There is no help howling about the past.

Okay, where was I? Ah, yeah, VeeVee Putin. I will be honest; we’ve had many different moments with him. I am short-tempered – you show me a cat and my hair sticks up, as I jump like a rooster – but VeeVee is not getting younger either, and he has a few quite annoying old habits, you see? It took us some time to get used to each other.

At first, he would run out of his bedroom at night, shouting, “A phone, f*** you, give me a phone! Get me Pyongyang! Now!”

Yeah, it was quite a task to be friendly with him at first. He refused to eat, threw his shoes at me, locked his door from inside, tried to hide or escape a few times, or grew cranky without a visible reason; I think he just could not believe he had lost all his power and wealth. Then, little by little, I tried to convince him that here, in my home, he was safe. I tried to explain that it was not just him, that the entire human species who were lucky to survive were now staying with dogs, so finally he believed me. Or, well, if he did not believe me, at least he accepted the fact in the end.

Rex says he had lots of trouble with Donald, too. The guy keeps demanding to give him his golf clubs, but clubs are a strict taboo here, as are other items that people can use as a tool of aggression or conflict. You want a soft toy, a Frisbee, a ball? No problem! You can have television, paper cards, paints and pencils, or books, but don’t ask for a club, or a bat, or a racket, or a hockey stick, they aren’t allowed. Well, I hope I can get Donald Trump to like playing checkers.

My two human guys are too different, though. It’s a pain in the ass, but…well, I’ve been trying to benefit from the fact. I’ve been watching them do stuff and making recordings with the help of my collar thought-transmitting device. In the current situation we dogs, need to know how the humans adapt to the changing conditions. Just a year ago, human beings were masters of the planet, you see? Man was always the master, while the dog was no more than his faithful companion and friend, and we never resisted that mode. Today, when everything turned upside down, these bipeds seem very unhappy…They are angry and very upset… I can smell it in their bodies and blood.

Today, vaccination of people is our hope. We vaccinate every newborn human child, so I am quite sure we’ll have perfect contact with the new generation soon. However, the vaccine does not work on all grown-ups; this is really strange but true. Well, normally, we can see the effect right away: the vaccinated guys become friendly to dogs, very kind, and their eyes become calm; their anger, aggression and greed disappear. This is how the vaccine has gotten its wonderful name – fidelity hormone. We dogs have a lot of it in our blood, but the human body has a worrisome deficit of it. To be honest, I don’t understand how mankind survived this long with such a lack of the hormone. They should have destroyed this world long ago.

Now, here is a secret. For a few weeks now, I have been in touch with a lab, where dogs, along with people of science, have developed the hormone stimulator for a human body, so we’ve been putting it into human food, in very small doses, of course. In most cases, the results are fabulous, but this stuff does not work on all people; some human bodies are kind of immune to it, and you know what’s interesting? All these immune ones used to be kings, presidents or mafia bosses before the war…well, I mean, they used to show off too much. We are exploring this phenomenon now.

All in all, the fidelity hormone works well and really quickly; after a week of taking it, their hair gets thicker and nails become hard. Well, some humans, especially the elderly ones, welcome the change.

Ah, there! VeeVee is coming down for breakfast. Okay then, I’ll go and ready his cottage cheese. He always has the same food for breakfast, and I’ve been feeding him with fidelity hormone since Monday. So far, I can see no change in his hair and his eyes – there’s nothing but anguish in them, I’m afraid. Well, we’ll see..I’ll continue working on this.

Anyway, you know what? Sometimes I have a feeling that VeeVee…erm…likes me. I really do. Well, really, why not? I heard from someone that Putin has always loved Labradors.

III.

The world is a dangerous place.

You have to be ready to fight.”

Donald Trump

Finally! Yes! It has finally happened! This morning, during a walk in a park, my presidents talked for the very first time! They kept ignoring each other since Sunday, I was already preparing to tell Rex that they never established a contact, when all of a sudden, I look up and I see how VeeVee pushes a paper note under Donald’s elbow!

Oh, that was a relief!

At last, I thought, at last he has found a partner for Battleship game!

They kept exchanging notes and throwing glances at me for a while, but later, at home, they moved their chairs close to the fireplace and sat muttering stories to each other all day. They even burst out laughing a few times, and then chatted excitedly for a while, so by the time of the six o’clock news I got tired and began to lose the thread of their talk. I relaxed on the carpet in front of the screen – just like I had done in the good old times – and before I could realize this, I fell asleep.

I woke up to the smell of cigars and saw my human guys sitting elbow to elbow, the wooden partition now stood in a corner, away from the fireplace, against the wall. As I listened to their relaxed conversation, I remembered my master and felt sad.

Tomorrow, I will go to our lab and get a new collar, they just got this new model with a built-in translator that can easily recognize all human accents and translate them into the dog mind. It’s the most recent toy, designed by a few Japanese science guys, whom we recently rescued and brought to DC from a bombed ocean island. They’re good guys – smart and industrious, faithful like dogs and very hard-working. I would not blink an eye to sacrifice my dog life for people like them. No kidding, I mean it.

Well, I’ve been trying to answer the question: What would have become of the Earth if we dogs were the kings of the world and the humans were our bipedal assistants and friends? Would we dogs have invented as many weapons and ways of destruction as men?

Dogs don’t murder each other, we never did. Well, of course, we have fights, I myself would tear a rival’s ear in a fight for a good female, but killing? No! What for?

Unlike us, human guys kill for fun. I saw this during their terrible war. Brr, I don’t want to remember their tricky, insidious ploys with the only purpose to grab extra power or wealth! Their armies, the wars, the political games, all that stuff with those shortened, mewing cat-names like “NA-TO” or “U-N-O”… brr, no. No way. Dogs never would have done any stuff of that kind.

Well, we have a few weirdos here, too, of course. Take Princess, my neighbor, who lives in the house across the street. She had a fight with her human guy last week, we could hear her barking all around the block! So, she grows offended at him for some reason, and what does she do? She squeals, she barks, she makes a terrible scene, and then, when she still cannot get what she wants, she finds no better solution than to pee in his shoe! Can you believe this? Ridiculous, isn’t it? And after all this, she calls herself Princess! Arghh. Stupid bitch.

Okay, where was I? Ah, yes, the Dog Revolution. As soon as it happened, we made The Four Laws in the first place:

1. The renunciation of all weapons;

2. Elimination of inequality between man and other species;

3. Cancellation of money and money relations; and

4. Division of territories with felines.

Well, the last one only concerns us, dogs, of course. But the three others are all about people. We needed to pass them in order to stop the war between people – I mean, between those few who survived. We needed to stop them from being aggressive and greedy and cranky and from showing off.

Animals died during the war as well, but the people were so busy killing each other that they kind of forgot about us for a while. I think this was the only reason why animals were not slaughtered. So, when the shooting calmed down because there were not enough living humans to do it, we dogs were the first to come out from our shelters and begin to restore what could be restored. That was when we decided to vaccinate the survivors with fidelity hormone. The idea was prompted by a very wise man, a professor from China. It was luck that he was not killed in the war. He had studied the hormone before the war… it occurred to him that the hormone can cure human stress – oxytocin is its name – and helps strengthen social ties and increases trust levels; it is secreted in the brain during emotional contact, or when you look into someone’s eyes, or if you lick their face with affection, or when you look into their eyes with love.

Now, I can’t even explain how this whole change on our lives happened…it just rolled down that way, like a ball. All in all, the survivors began to inject themselves with the hormone, and the dogs started giving them home, love and food. Then, somehow it sorted itself out; people do all the stuff that our paws are unable to do, but other than that, we share every moment of life with humans, and no one calls themselves bosses, or masters, or rulers, or kings.

I really like this new order, I do. But, to be honest, I would agree to return to the old one, if my master could somehow be put back to life and if people agreed not to fight anymore. Every dog needs an owner, you see, like every fish needs water or every bird needs air.

We have a skeptic in our science lab, a human who thinks that unselfish friendship between the dog and the man is a myth. He believes that in every mammal community, sooner or later appears a leader, who shows their power and begins to suppress the rest.

This utopian friendship cannot last long,” he said. “The humans who started the war and survived in it, will certainly start a new war, so do not relax. You want peace? Prepare for war.”

To be honest, I never trusted that guy; he is a vegan and is friends with a cat. Well, I barked at him and showed my teeth, so he frowned and shut up right away.

IV.

Man is the most vicious of all animals, and

life is a series of battles ending in victory or defeat.”

Donald Trump

I just thought that Rex brought Donald to me with a reason. He could take him to anyone else, but he wanted to give me a chance to study these two unique human species together, so I do.

Let us look at my VeeVee first. He wakes up very late, around midday, has his breakfast (we both have a weakness for cottage cheese), then, at coffee, he calls for his ministers; we have two Russian survivors, who used to be ministers in his government. My friends Al and Red, the black poodles, bring them in daily, at 1:30 p.m., but VeeVee makes them wait outside while he studies the latest news (He still can’t forget his presidency habits).

VeeVee never uses computers or gadgets, does not trust television, either. I have never seen him touch a newspaper. He prefers to learn the news from newspapers cuttings, which we always prepare for him in a red leather-bound folder.

After reading the news, he swims in our pool and spends some time in a gym, then he takes contrast baths and finally puts on his suit for the office. Poor ministers wait all this time in the lobby, and Putin loves spying on them through security cameras. When he finally gets bored of keeping the ministers behind his door, he meets them– without a shadow of interest on his face.

He always has his dinner alone and always demands preliminary testing; he still seems to be afraid about being poisoned! Well, these are typical signs of a lonely, depressed human guy – an introvert living in fear of betrayal, whose only partialities are sports and absolute power.

There’s an interesting thing: VeeVee seems to like dogs, but he is certainly disgusted with people.

Now, let us take Donald. My impression of him is totally different. First, he sleeps very little and always quite restlessly. He gets up before dawn and, as soon as he turns up from his bedroom, starts babbling that only the lazy ones like sleeping late. Then he grabs his smartphone and never lets it go till midday; it’s his Twitter account, to which he is always logged in. It’s amazing, he still believes he has 22 million followers on Twitter! Ha! Today, one can hardly count two thousand people all over the Earth!

So. While VeeVee likes sports, Donald spends most of his time twitting and watching television programs; he loves Fox News and never misses a Bill O’Reilly show (I got him tons of recordings). Rex says he also behaved strangely in the past, like asking to get him a limo in the middle of the night and rushing to one of his constructions to check the works. Thankfully, nothing of the kind happened since Donald turned up in my house.

Well, putting it briefly, Donald is a very ambitious and intractable guy. I don’t trust him an inch. He is openly disgusted with dogs, because he is afraid of germs and infection, and he seems to treat people scornfully, while he himself adores to be praised.

And yet today is a good day, because with all the differences of characters my presidents made friends. To mark the occasion, they summoned all human guys who happened to be around: the two Russian ministers, a gardener, VeeVee’s doctor, and Donald’s hairdresser, and – you won’t believe it! – requested to have a big dinner together! They could have invited the writer-neighbor Stephen, but I think he would not have come anyway: they are really different people, but anyway, I was so happy to see them together that I allowed them to have some alcohol with their dinner.

Donald refused his vodka at once, but I saw how Putin poured some Stolichnaya right in his cola glass when he was not watching. After having their food, they relaxed and leaned back in their chairs; Donald’s eyes became watery and somewhat mild, then he put his arm around the doctor’s shoulder and started whispering vividly, with excitement. The doctor was smiling with pleasure.

Oh, I loved it! It looked like the hormone was beginning to work in them, too.

There. VeeVee called me up and reached for my head to stroke it – oh, that was a wonderful moment! Nothing of the kind had ever happened before!

This made me relax; I stretched on the floor, belly up, and let VeeVee stroke me just like my master had done long ago. O-oh, I’d been longing for that since the war!

As I lay on the floor with my eyes shut and my body completely relaxed, VeeVee kept scratching my belly and chest. My thinking slowed down. Through the haze of blissful oblivion, I could hear slow chat of my human guys: they were watching a movie with a shooting and chase, just like my master had done every night.

I guess my fidelity hormone level soared up due to gentle, sedative treatment. I remember thinking that happiness is quite easy to reach; you just need to relax and enjoy the hormones’ rotation within your body. Every human, I thought, could be lovable, kind, and tender – even presidents, even kings…

Why the hell don’t they do it? I thought. Then I covered my nose with a paw and dosed off for a while.

V.

Monsters are real, and ghosts are real too.

They live inside us, and sometimes, they win.”

Stephen King

I woke up to a prick on my leg and saw VeeVee standing above me. His eyes were not caring or calm anymore. I sensed danger. Something was wrong.

A disturbing, sickening smell made me sneeze. I dashed forward, but my muscles were viscous and soft, no effort could make them tense, so I lay like a log, unable even to show my teeth.

VeeVee’s doctor came up. He examined my eyes and said, “It is working. Let’s go.”

Everything came to motion at once. VeeVee crashed an old chair against the wall, and they each grabbed a leg, then some glasses fell on the floor, someone’s foot on fragments of glass and I heard lots of violent swearing, and above that came Donald’s powerful voice: “Arm yourselves! Grab the chair legs, bottles, stones…aim between their eyes! You hear me?”

For the very first time I heard VeeVee’s laughter; it rocked right above me, and through it, he yelled, “Set vodka on fire! Hey, you two!” He grabbed the Russian ministers by their sleeves. “Out! Into the street! Stop the dog patrol on the corner!”

I could hear barking from the outside. Something swished through behind the window, and right away, the air exploded with a harsh, plaintive howl.

In the house across the street, Princess’s frightened voice squeaked, gasped and stopped, swept by a heavy blow. Someone fired a few shots; they were followed by swearing and a blast right behind my window. A thick column of black smoke darted into the room; nauseating, sour smell of burning filled my nose and my ears flooded with a frightening roar of fire, which I know from detective movies.

Hundreds of howling voices – anxious, frantic – started coming from all sides, and my misted mind built the words:

It’s a coup! These bastards betrayed us!”

Oh, those biped creatures! They have no peace in their minds…no matter how kind you are to them, they need fighting and domination…

The howling and shooting came closer and louder.

You, stupid fool,” I scolded myself, swallowing bitter tears of shame, “stupid, naive, brainless dolt! Idiot! Blockhead! How could you trust these crafty villains? You see what you’ve done?”

I gathered my body, breathed in, tensed, straightened out…

VI.

Everything will probably never be OK.

But we have to try for it.”
V
ladimir Putin

and woke up.

Master! My dear Master – alive and well – was patting me on the shoulder.

Hey, Rocky, wake up! Time for a walk.”

I shook my head to drop the terrible dream off my mind.

The window was closed. Behind it, two pigeons sat on the window sill. My nose caught smells of vanilla pie, watermelon and soap. A Stephen King’s book spreading the odor of very fresh printer’s ink appeared on the low coffee table.

Master bent down and patted my back. “Rocky, what’s up? The movie is over. Let’s go!”

I jumped up, licked his hand and dashed forward, past him, to the door.

On the way, I looked back for a moment. The screen on the wall was mumbling the news:

President Trump’s visit to China…

…Russian leader’s statement on the military threat…

arms race escalation

…threat of war to the world…

Thank God, I thought, everything goes as usual.

I grabbed the leash and happily poked my nose into master’s leg. The door opened, sweet freshness of the evening filled my lungs.

I should not sleep under that screen anymore, I thought to myself. Tomorrow, I’ll try a new place, away from the noise, under the floor lamp.

A Dog's View

Building Tension in a Story

Suspense Wilde quote

In her recent article Plot Devices that Work, Myra Fiacco suggests two winning techniques that help create anticipation in a story: ‘the clock’ (which is really popular among authors) and the so-called ‘the other shoe’, or “the point in a story when one or more of your characters has a moment of realization, revealing the missing piece of a puzzle that ties the story together.”

Making these two techniques work in a story is not so easy; it certainly takes working on every scene again and again after the first draft has been finished. I am not surprised that writing every novel takes brilliant authors like Donna Tartt nearly a decade; I am sure such authors rewrite their works hundreds of times before they can feel satisfied… So, what are other writing techniques to create and keep tension in a novel?

I have been thinking about these:

The increasing feeling of time pressure. If my character has a goal that must be reached really soon, plus some circumstances will keep breaking in and making the charcter hurry even more, then the reader will probably be more satisfied by the pace of the story.

The tension should come from all sides. If the pressure us high, plus more and more troubling signs of impending danger are revealed to the main character, this may also help a lot. But in this case, the author should not forget about balancing tension with the other elements of the plot. Too many elements of tension in a story may turn the book into a real rollercoaster for the reader.

I like it when the protagonist is a thinking preson, who keeps asking questions and trying to find answers to them. The questions should arise from internal and external conflicts of the story, and it is very important to reveal every answer for the reader before you write ‘the end’ phrase.

The chrescendo technique is a method of keeping the reader interested by gradually increasing emotional tention in the story, and it says: avoid too many sudden jerks in the plot. As a reader, I don’t care for the plots where every plot point comes a real catastrophy: this makes me emotionally tired of the book.

Well, I am sure there are more ‘tricks’ to develop tension in a story; here are just a few articles I read recently on the topic. I hope they might help you answer your questions just like they helped me:

How to Build Tension to Heighten the Stakes by Jessica Page Morrell;

Seven Tension Building Tips for Writing Action Scenes by Joan C. Curtis

How to Create Dramatic Content by Sean D’Souza

Here is some infographics from nownovel.com blog:

Infographic-how-to-create-tension-in-stories

 

 

 

Companions in Misfortune

birth-1

(micro-fiction, one minute read)

Jim was thoughtful and silent all evening. He left his laptop unpacked in the hall, missed his favorite program on television, never changed into his favorite home suit, and — what was the most upsetting, of course — did not even come up to the fridge!

Smokey watched him with growing concern. Two times he approached Jim’s leg, rubbed against it and meowed, then he tried to climb up on Jim’s lap, but his friend remained  unresponsive.

Then he spoke on the phone.

Having finished the talk, Jim sat down on the couch and buried his face in his hands.

“She just gave birth to a triplet,” he said though his fingers to no one in particular.

Smokey came up and sat near Jim. He wanted to help. He wished he could share his point, but all he could do was rub his head against Jim’s elbow and pur, which meant:

“Come on, pal, don’t panic. I’ve been there. Some day you’ll give them away!”

birth-2

 

On The Immaculate Conception

(micro-fiction, one minute read)

The reason of your daughter’s sickness is simple,” said the doctor and threw a short glance at the older of the two women sitting in front of him. “Your daughter is pregnant.”

There was a moment of silence.

But how is it possible?!” The mother exclaimed. “My daughter has never been with a man! Darling,” she turned to her girl, “have you ever…?”

No, Mother,” the girl protested, “I never did anything of the kind! I never even kissed anybody!”

The doctor stood up and slowly walked to the window. There, he stopped without saying a word and froze facing the morning sun.

The two women also sat in silence for a while, looking at the doctor’s back, fidgeting impatiently in their chairs. Finally, the mother broke the silence:

Erm.., Doctor! What are you doing there at the window?”

I am waiting,” the doctor replied. “You see, in a case like yours, we should be seeing a bright star rising in the East and three wise men descending from the hill…

On Immaculate Conception

On Structuring Public Speeches

sav_angel

(micro fiction, one minute read)

When the world was new, Savior Angel shared universal wisdom with people.

Whatever happens,” he said, “do not forget the ultimate rule of life: while young, share energy; in the age of maturity, share beauty; when old and gray share wisdom, and always– are you listening? Always share–”

Alas! People were not listening. They were too busy exploring their awesome new world.

Years flew by. Time ran away so quickly that people had no chance to enjoy it. One after another, they grew old and died, until only one woman remained alive. She was weak. Apparently, she was dying, too. Savior Angel came down to share some wisdom with her.

You, people, could survive,” he said, “if you had listened to my words about sharing love. You should have shared love. All of you. At all times.”

But the woman died before he finished talking.

Uh-huh. Now, I need a new world and new people– again!” Sighed the angel. “I guess, I should open my speech with the words about love; this will at least induce them to reproduce!”

baby-feet-with-angel-wings-b-1

A Jonah of Portugal: A Few Lines About Camoens

Jonah (in the Bible) is a Hebrew minor prophet. He was called by God to preach in Nineveh, but disobeyed and attempted to escape by sea; in a storm he was thrown overboard as a bringer of bad luck and swallowed by a great fish, only to be saved and finally succeed in his mission

Luís Vaz de Camões (or de Camoens) (c. 1524 – June 10 1580) is the greatest national poet of Portugal. He is best remembered for his epic work Os Lusíadas (The Lusiads), the influence of which is so profound that even today, Portuguese is often called the “language of Camões”. He is also well known as the man whose life was marked with numerous troubles, which seemed to accompany him like seagulls that follow a boat.

camoesMany details concerning the life of the poet remain unknown. The historians learned many facts about his young life from his poems: Camoens was lucky to obtain a good education by having access to exclusive literature of that time, including classical Greek, Roman and Latin works. He used to read a lot in Latin and Italian, and wrote poetry in Spanish.

Now, comes the interesting part: having studied a massive amount of books, Camoens — an incurable romantic and idealist — fell in love with Catherine of Ataíde, lady-in-waiting to the Queen, and also Princess Maria, sister of John III of Portugal. Like many other immature and brave romantics-in-love, the young man had a sharp tongue and, as a sequence, could not find common language with authorities, which resulted in his exile from Lisbon in 1548. Camoens traveled to Ribatejo where he stayed in the company of friends who sheltered and fed him for about six months.

In the fall of 1549, he enlisted in the overseas militia and traveled to Ceuta. During a battle with the Moors, he lost the sight in his right eye. In 1551, a changed man, Camoens eventually returned to Lisbon, living a bohemian lifestyle.

Not for long, though. In 1552, during the religious festival of Corpus Christi, in the Largo do Rossio, he injured a member of the Royal Stables and was imprisoned. His mother pleaded for his release, visiting royal ministers and the Borges family for a pardon. Released, Camoens was ordered to pay 4,000 réis and serve three years in the militia in the Orient.

He departed in 1553 for Goa on board the São Bento, the ship arrived to Goa six months later, and Camoens was immediately imprisoned for debt. He used to call Goa “a stepmother to all honest men”.

At that point in his life, Camoens was made to believe that adventure is the real man’s second name. During his first obligatory service, he took part in a battle along the Malabar Coast. The battle was followed by skirmishes along the trading routes between Egypt and India. The fleet eventually returned to Goa by November 1554. During his time ashore, he continued his writing publicly, as well as writing correspondence for the uneducated men of the fleet.

Camoens

Luís de Camões

Foge-me pouco a pouco a curta vida
(se por caso é verdade que inda vivo);
vai-se-me o breve tempo d’ante os olhos;
choro pelo passado e quando falo,
se me passam os dias passo e passo,
vai-se-me, enfim, a idade e fica a pena.

Little by little it ebbs, this life,
if by any chance I am still alive;
my brief time passes before my eyes.
I mourn the past in whatever I say;
as each day passes, step by step
my youth deserts me—what persists is pain.

At the end of his obligatory service, he was given the position of chief warrant officer in Macau. He was charged with managing the properties of missing and deceased soldiers in the Orient. During this time he worked on his epic poem Os Lusíadas (“The Lusiads”) in a grotto.

CamoensGrotto

Camoens Grotto, Macao

Uh-huh. Once a Jonah always a Jonah! Camoens was accused of misappropriations and had to travel to Goa and respond to the accusations of the tribunal. During his return journey, near the Mekong River along the Cambodian coast, he was shipwrecked, saving his manuscript but losing his Chinese lover, Dinamene. His shipwreck survival in the Mekong Delta was enhanced by the legendary detail that he succeeded in swimming ashore while holding aloft the manuscript of his still-unfinished epic.

In 1570 Camoens finally made it back to Lisbon, where two years later he published Os Lusíadas, for which he was considered one of the most prominent Iberian poets at the time. In recompense for this poem or perhaps for services in the Far East, he was granted a small royal pension (15000 réis) by the young and ill-fated King Sebastian (ruled 1557–1578).

In 1578 he heard of the appalling defeat of the Battle of Alcácer Quibir, where King Sebastian was killed and the Portuguese army destroyed. The Castilian troops were approaching Lisbon when Camoens wrote to the Captain General of Lamego:

“All will see that so dear to me was my country that I was content to die not only in it but with it”.

Camões died in Lisbon in 1580, at the age of 56. The day of his death, 10 June OS, is Portugal’s national day. He is buried near Vasco da Gama in the Jerónimos Monastery in the parish of Belém in Lisbon.

camoens2

Fifty Weeks Pregnant

pregnant

(micro fiction, one minute read)

My roommate Lena was so busy dating our group leader last year that she missed almost all of her math classes. The night before the final exam she went to bed without even opening her coursebook.

In the morning, I had to leave early, so I only met Lena in the examination room. What I saw left me speechless: she looked pale, she was sweating and panting, and from under her loose summer dress protruded a huge, round stomach!

The teacher was throwing sympathetic looks at his pregnant student.

Would you like to go first?” He suggested. “You certainly want to leave this room as soon as possible.”

Yes, thank you,” Lena agreed.

All right, then. I have only one task for you,” said the teacher. “Solve it, and you are free to go. Here is the task. How many weeks pregnant is the woman, whose boyfriend came to me exactly six months ago to tell that his twenty-six week pregnant girlfriend was not feeling well and would not attend the fall semester test?”

Caitlin M. Smith

Bringing Words to Life

The Story Bodyguard

Bullet Proof Your Story

The Wickeds

Wicked Good Mysteries

Dear Liza

Adventures in Portland