The International Writers Magazine:
FIRST CHAPTERS - work in progress
A Rock and Randomness
Chapter One: Chance, Reason and Timing
is not fair. Most would settle for it not being outright malicious'.
The other day I was in a bookstore, thumbing through another book
on how to get rich quickly and was struck by the notion the real
impetus to foist these scams upon people was not only ripping people
off, but to assuage people luck or randomness
isnt as pervasive as we all know it in our lives. This is
one of the pillars of religious nonsense, but the urge to deny or
diminish randomness cuts across modern life.
Think of the myriad
things that occur in a single day - how many could be different if one
small aspect were changed? Were I feeling under the weather the day
I write this I may not have written this tale at all. Even if the impetus
carried over into my tomorrow, by the time you read these words my argument
may not have opened with my trip to a bookstore. It may have been to
condemn the horrible memoirs I perused through at the bookstore. This
get-rich book had the typical advice to eschew hard work, indulge in
hedonism - do not get out of debt, but in debt. Any financially intelligent
person knows this is bullshit. Most rich people are rich by happenstance,
not any accomplishment of their own. Every computer programmer
Ive met tells the tale of Microsofts Bill Gates allegedly
borrowing computer codes from rivals, outflanking them in
the market, then crushing competition via bribes, threats, hostile takeovers
and other unethical, if not illegal, methods. While the world is now
a cyber-village the question of 'has he contributed anything to the
world to outlast his lifetime'? has to be answered. Not because any
of his competitors would have stepped right in to fill his niche - perhaps
bettered his notoriously mediocre products.
Oprah Winfrey cored into a TV niche and this is evidence shes
an insightful interviewer? No. She has a gift for sensing the lowest
common denominator weaknesses of her audience and preys upon them to
empower herself. Think Michael Jordan was the best basketball player
on the planet? No. He was a great athlete who had luck- no major injuries,
in the right spot when scouts came calling, drafted by a team in a major
market - Chicago, when the NBA expanded and watered down its talent
pool. Teamed with a great complementary player in Scottie Pippen to
win championships and received favoritism from league officials. Change
any of these things and his net worth would be closer to $200, not $200
million. Think Julia Roberts, the best or prettiest actress on the planet?
No. She hit right when America needed another movie goddess. Although
she showed acting talent in Erin Brockovich her name brand owes nothing
to that talent. Are there actresses better than her both categories?
Sure. Circumstances got in the way - they perhaps refused to sleep their
way to the top (not to imply Julia did), didnt get the part they
were born to play, or something simply got in the way.
We all know people for whom little goes wrong, and when bad stuff hits
they easily turn it into something good. My best friend, Joe Homrich,
is one of those damnable people, even though he (and I love him) has
the motivation of a ground sloth. A few years back - before getting
married - he was laid off, felt the sting of professional rejection
for the first time. Yet, within two months he had a better job, made
more, and still works there. I, on the contrary, am full of drive, and
need it merely to tread water. When I lost my job last year there was
no better job waiting for me - I had to change my life and have yet
to be rewarded. This fate has been true in the rest of my life, as well.
Despite manifest excellence I barely skim above lifes hardships,
while poetasters like James Tate, Adrienne Rich, & Maya Angelou
make 6 figure incomes from teaching sinecures earned not by excellence
but cronyism, granting by friends, and paid lecturing. Is this envy?
No. Just recognition of truth- something few artists do, kowed into
silence by dreams of making it in the corrupt system.
Life is not fair. Most would settle for it not being outright malicious.
Most are not in either boat occupied by me or Joe. The ratio of failure/success
to your own personal habits and efforts is fairly consistent. Where
it frustrates is when you deal with people who influence
your life. For most homo sapiens this is accomplished by breeding. We
hope our kids or grandkids do something noteworthy. But political leaders,
scientists, thinkers, and artists, are that breed for which (amongst
the best) there awaits a posthumous fate and judgment. The innovations
made, barriers forced outward, become examples inspiring future generations
of innovators and rebels who slowly lug the rest of society along with
them. Randomness affects the arts. I beleive I'm a great poet and writer.
Ive displayed such in my memoirs, essays, and poems. Greats often
eschew praise by modestly stating hard work, or faith in some deity,
achieved those things. This is not entirely true. As of this writing
Ive been to over 1500 poetry events, encountered 5-6000 poets,
heard 3-4 times as many poems, read over 100,000 poems, & state
only 3 or 4 dozen people had as much or more raw talent than I did as
a poet. None has come remotely close to my poetic output in quality,
quantity, nor diversity- the hallmarks of greatness in a field, and
only a few have ever maximized their own potential to produce some excellence.
Id like to think their failures solely based upon lack of will
and/or initiative, for it would portray me not only superior in making,
but in intangibles. Yet, I know while true in the main it is not true
on the whole. The very reason Im a great poet rests on many factors-
trying poetry to woo my high school heartthrob- Brenda Hiram, discovering
Walt Whitmans poetry, knowing I could do better, a long series
of other chance events. Had I married young (Brenda Hiram, Irene Bruno,
Margit Blum) and reproduced I wouldnt have had time to practice
art. Had I been better off, financially, I may have gone to college,
found another outlet for creativity. Myriad things having nothing to
do with skill nor will had to happen for me to achieve my current status.
Without will I wouldnt have gotten great at poetry either, but
will is merely another contingent part of life- it doesnt guarantee
is it heiress/vapid blond/tramp Paris Hilton has such an easy life
while millions of more worthy human beings duke it out every day
in the real world? Luck - pure and simple. There is no deep
reason to things. Life just is - the key is to keep moving.
If you only have a 1% chance of success, better to do the shark
thing, keep moving, and increase the odds of getting there. That
increase is only a chance, as raw talent only increases your odds
in lifes crapshoot; like being born with physical beauty or
wealth increases the odds on eventual happiness- but its no
Let me return to influence. Most desire this in their
life- a legacy to say I was here. I mattered. This primal
scream tremors its way forward until twilight. Look at nubile Miss
Hilton- worth in excess of $350 million dollars. She has little
real world experience. The chances of her money doing any good is
negligible. Is this fair? No. Hers is the ultimately historically
silent existence of the gaudy and superfluous. Is this fair to her?
If you read biographies
of financial titans you see they had some once-in-a-lifetime circumstance
that changed their life, some secret benefactor or unknown ace-in-the-hole
that virtually assured their success- a friend, connection, inside tip
that removed randomness from the equation. This is true of Bill Gates,
Andrew Carnegie, Howard Hughes, the Kennedys, the Rockefellers, and
many more. The common thread is not perseverance, nor talent - but luck.
The average person has little better shot at getting rich via industriousness
than playing the state lottery. Winners are freaks. In poetry
I am a freak- by virtue of my talent, industry, and artistic success.
Yet Ive neither the acclaim nor financial comfort that should
be due upon success. Success is a freakishness all its own. The human
heart cares less for the envies of betterness than for the
outrage of difference- even if the same in a given circumstance.
It will always be difference that dominates and motivates the pre-molded
cookie cutter soul.
A few years after moving into the neighborhood of Glendale, on 79th
Place, there moved into a home midway down the block a thirty- something
couple. The man was average looking, 6, thinning sandy hair, average
build, with eyeglasses. His wife was a supertall, 64", superthin
gangly brunet with large, sharp, ugly facial features and Coke bottle
eyeglasses. She soon became the victim of taunting by a girl in the
neighborhood, Laney Morgan, a good friend of Stacy Steiners -
a short, pretty, olive-skinned tomboy with a vicious streak. When she
hated she hated with passion and for some reason she hated the tall,
thin woman she dubbed Big Bird. Other kids had seen her
cruelty directed at children - obese, and gifted, Laura Stuckner would
visibly quiver with fear whenever Laney bellowed: STUCKNER!
Laura was a pretty brunet who, by her preteen years, fattened up. Laney
subjected her to endless cruelty - psychic and physical - to the point
Laura actively avoided Laney.
A pair of blond girls who were the sisters of Donald the newsboy also
felt Laneys ire. They were mercilessly flayed for their looks,
lack of intelligence, and general inhuman unworthiness. They became
virtual shut-ins. Even local retards- the Osterbecks foster child
Jarvis and the weird girls older brother Grape Ape- suffered under
Laneys need to put someone down. No one inspired more venom than
Big Bird. Whenever Big Bird walked by, or parked her car, if Laney was
around, she would hear taunts of Big Bird, freak, ugly cunt..., but
she could do nothing since Laney was a child. Occasionally, other kids
might echo her taunts, but Laney was especially loud, mean, ruthless,
and relentless. Big Birds immasculate husband shrugged it off.
They were just kids- besides, he and his wife dealt with mockery since
Laney was bold and fearless in her hatred. This inspired a weird admiration
for her, as well - on my part - a desire, not just based in lust. I
never acted upon those feelings, for she never liked me in that way,
but Ive wondered if my affections could have quelled what poisons
churned within he? I asked Laney out on a date for shy Vinny Slater.
I was Cyranno for him. Laney may have thought, or hoped, I was asking
her out for myself, which I thought about, but then male bonding took
over - Vinny would never forgive me had I won Laneys affections
away from him. Not that I would not have liked to have gotten in Laneys
pants, but Id given my word to help Vinny. He and Laney soon broke
up, but by that time my lusts drifted elsewhere. Laneys hatred
for Big Bird increased exponentially. It was humous - after all, Laney
was just a kid and her target a grownup.
We could see the absolute dread this adult woman had whenever she stepped
outside her house- even when Laney was not around. Laney had beaten
her down, just as she had Laura and the weird blond girls. We saw her
bodys readiness to block out the abuse she knew was coming. I
felt for her - not only because Id been victimized by taunts and
other violations, and the pain Big Bird felt now, but for the manifest
pains compounded with high vigorish through the years of taunts she
had endured. Little Laney Morgan was merely the last link in a great
chain of abusers hounding Big Bird. Then, it all came to a head. No
one was the same again.
Big Bird gave birth to a baby. After parking her car, she crossed the
street, headed quickly toward her front stoop. Laney was lurking behind
bushes in a neighbors yard and hurled a stone at Big Bird. It
plunked her straight in the right temple. The woman fell. Her body totally
gave way. There was no slow motion, no detailed replay in my mind as
I watched this. Big Bird just dropped. The baby lay on the ground, next
to its mother as Laney looked on, stunned, and could do nothing. Big
Birds husband rushed out and Laney reacted instinctively- hopping
behind the bushes. The husband picked up the baby, rushed inside,and
called 911. When he came out he spied me, Vinny Zarelli, & Stan
ODougal across the street on the Zarellis stoop. He asked
if we saw what happened? The rock bounced off Big Birds head and
rolled under a car. We saw Laney hurl the rock, and still cower out
of sight. But, who were we to give up a friend? Big Bird must have had
a stroke or heart attack. We said, no, we just
came outside - what happened? After an ambulance came and the husband
rode off with Big Bird (a neighbor lady went in to look after the child),
Laney finally emerged from behind the bush. She was shaken, teary-eyed.
She protested she never meant to really hurt Big Bird- she didnt
hate her, REALLY! It was just a joke because the woman was so goddamned
A part of me wanted to hug Laney, tell her it would all be alright.
Big Bird would be ok. I could have, perhaps, weaseled my way into her
life, and between her legs. I thought of using Big Birds hurt,
and Laneys shock to my advantage - but didnt. Whether that
refrain was out of conscience or reckoning of the odds against my success
I do not know- and its not the point. Like Vinny & Stan, I
walked away in silence and left Laney to her silent toxicity.
In the long run, Laney was the person most hurt by the incident. Big
Bird was back in a day or two and never knew what literally had hit
her. She had merely been KOd, had her wind knocked out. She had
no long-lasting ill effects. The baby was fine, just a few bruises from
the fall, and they went about their business until they left Glendale
a year or two before I did. For reasons she could not discern the life
Big Bird led was not what it was before her beaning. Her little tormentor
had either gone away or grown up. She was barely recalled. Big Bird
gained confidence. She was no longer a scared, little girl inside a
tall womans frame. Laney Morgan was never the same - once an outgoing,
pretty tomboy who inspired desire in more boys libidos than mine,
she withdrew from the kids she used to hang with. A few years went by
without my seeing her. Then I saw her with Stacy Steiner. Although we
lived on the same block the kids from the neighborhood found their ways
to separate lives and rarely spoke anymore. Laney was thin, ashen, her
pretty features a thing I could barely reframe upon the face I knew,
but did not recognize. Shed been released from a hospital, suffering
from bulimia and anorexia nervosa. Although shorter, she looked eerily
like Big Bird. I said hi. She barely noticed me from her glaze as she
walked down the block with Stacy to her house.
One rock thrown changed everything. Laneys personality switched
off because of her guilt. The kids of Glendale were always different
from those of Ridgewood. Ridgewoods violence was massive, gaudy,
and large while Glendales was rapier, swift, and clean. Had the
rock not hit Big Birds temple and she merely screamed in pain,
perhaps Laneys sadism would have continued, the anger and violence
she directed outward would have stayed in that direction, and not turned
inward, causing who knows what greater damage to some future victim?
Where it sprung from is an open query. Had Big Birds genes provided
her with more appealing looks Laneys insecurities and need to
belittle might have lain dormant, in regards to her. Maybe I should
have played on Laneys pain? I could have gotten my rocks off,
lhonestly claimed it all for Laneys good? I understood Laneys
anger and will to violence. I possessed my own versions. Had we become
lovers we may have canceled such passions out or synergistically erupted
them upon the world. More chance. Some amoeba moved left instead of
right a billion years earlier, Big Bird laid out prone on the concrete,
and Laney Morgan was not what she was seconds earlier. I never knew
if her health recovered- inside or out.
A couple years ago a great little film came out dealing with the randomness
better than any film since Woody Allens Crimes And Misdemeanors-
Jill Sprechers 13 Conversations About One Thing. The title
refers to characters coming to grip with that one thing- randomness.
Most critics mistakenly took the one thing to be happiness- but its
not. Few of the characters actually seek happiness, all are struck by
randomness, and deal with the fallout of that imp.
A college physics professor named Walker (John Turturro) is a life study
in opposition to randomness. He constantly strives for order. But, chaos
theory is not his pet. He is mugged, and embraces randomness as a lover
(along with a colleague he begins an adulterous affair with). In a hilarious
scene he thanks his lover for helping him embrace randomness and destroy
order, then schedules their next tryst for the following Thursday, same
His midlife crisis has him move out on his wife and buy a sports car.
The fellow he buys it from is a guilt-stricken rising star in the Manhattan
DAs office. Troy (Matthew McConaughey) sells the car as penance
for hit and running a woman he left for dead, despite prior bravado
over a need for law and order. He begins a masochistic assault on his
body and mind to punish himself. In a world where the rich and powerful
can get away with a crime (like he does) there needs to be punishment.
If the cosmos lacks a punitive agent, he might as well assume that role,
to stem chaos and ensure randomness is not free to infect all. Yet,
randomness works positively, too. Troy finds out his victim survived-
the desire to make amends forestalls his soon-to-be-suicide.
The woman he hit, Beatrice (Clea Duvall), likewise deals with the random
nature of things. Why was she hit? Why did a shirt blow out of her hand,
precipitate her running into the street? Before the accident she was
upbeat, always looking ahead, for things change. She survived a near-drowning
as a child and saw it a sign of her special nature. But,
no good can be seen from this accident: her body is broken, she is reduced
to moving back in with her mother, her job is gone, shes wrongfully
accused of theft, her coworker and best friend have drifted apart. Like
Troy, shes near suicide, wanting to end it all, until ready to
cross a street, at a traffic light, planning to jump in front of a car,
she sees a happy man across the way, whose smile buoys her into believing
not all is forlorn.
The happy man is also is the victim of randomness, whose boundless Pollyanna
obviates any talk of such a topic. Hes the Joe Homrich of this
world, with a great job as an office supply salesman, gotten by the
guilt of the ex-boss who fired him - jealous over his happy nature.
Wade (William Wise), was fired by Gene (Alan Arkin) from his job as
insurance claims adjustor. Even fired, Wade sees the best in things
and people- never realizing the disgust and loathing Gene feels toward
him. Nor does he reason a guilt-ridden Gene got him his new job with
his ex-wifes husbands office supply company. Randomness
is not recognized in Wades world - his new job providence hes
not sure he deserved. Gene is not alone in his misery - another adjustor,
after years of abuse from Gene, quits when he hits the lottery (the
defining metaphor of the film), only to come back, groveling after family,
friends,and moochers leach him of every penny. Gene is eventually downsized
after hopes of promotion to vice-presidency vanish. At a bar, with his
buddy, he runs into Troy, whose sense of purposiveness has yet to be
diminished by the hit and run. He regales Troy with tales of the chance
nature of life, but realizes it is only those at the other end of the
tunnel who will listen, and by then its too late.
As he leaves the bar, Gene ponders what might have been in his failed
marriage, and his drug addicted son whos squandered the material
advantages Gene slaved years for, and who rejects him. As he sits lonely
on a subway he sees a despairing woman. The audience knows she is Patricia
(Amy Irving), the cuckolded wife of Walker, despairing over her marriage
- ended because her husbands mugging led him to damn randomness,
be unfaithful, and leave a clue to this in his belongings that she finds.
As he leaves the train all Gene can do is weakly grimace and pitifully
wave to a woman he does not know, and will probably never see again.
Her husband ended the affair because his lover realized he did not love
her- she was just an instrument in his newfound war on order. Meanwhile,
a student of his seeks order, is rebuked by Walker- then commits suicide.
The stories intertwine in a non-chronological fashion, but makes sense-
as much sense as Laney Morgans stay in a hospital for her body
could not sustain itself, weakened by her desire to punish herself for
the pain she caused Big Bird. What Beatrice says to a child who asks
her why she was hit by the car serves as de facto epigraph to those
accustomed to the prow of fate, I was in the way.
Been there. Done that.
Things happen with no rime nor reason- only the human ability to go
on retroactively allows anyone to tentatively ascribe meaning to the
innate randomness shimmering through the cosmos. Why did I lose a job?
Because some boss had a bad day, or did not like me? Or I actually followed
instructions not meant to be followed in the real world?
No matter how good, nor hardworking a person is almost all the things
in a life come down to chance, luck, randomness. We have little control
over the grand, and worse - the minor, forces shaping our beings - the
insertion or deletion of a piece of DNA before our birth, the trajectory
of a rock flung from a little tomboys arm. This is where true
human fear comes in. Not of death, not of the unknown- but the lack
of control over the most banal of circumstances, and fundamentally knowing
this. We deny it, constructing religions and philosophies, but their
existence is the proof. Making a film like 13 Conversations About
One Thing is a hell-mell process. Its greatness could have been
aborted before conception- a shortsighted studio suit, a
poor performance on oneday by a cast member, a mediocre script, poor
distribution, some national emergency that kills an opening weeks
box office, the pullout of a backer. That I can reference the film in
this way is, itself, a manifestation of chance.
Rewind the 4.5 billion year history of earth and if any nanosecond was
just slightly off I might not exist, the human race might not, I might
be a famous film star, or an aardvark! Director Jill Sprecher perfectly
encapsulates that greatest of human fears - not death, but CHANCE- into
an incredibly poignant, cogent, and literate film showing all the algorithms
in the world cannot guarantee a butterfly fluttering in Brazil 60 years
ago was not the cause of the most recent disaster in your life, community,
Only by accepting we have so little control over things can real happiness
come. The cosmos is indifferent and purposeless. Human beings are not.
I will write as many great poems as I can until death seizes me, not
because it guarantees influence, because I am a better person for the
effort. I will better myself in all respects, not out of vanity nor
a Sisyphan urge, because it increases the odds for all who might stumble
across my existence to know they are not the only ones, nor first, to
soldier on. Randomness may be the rule, but nothing guarantees conformity
leads to success, either.
I think of Laney Morgan now and again. It is a decade since I last laid
eyes on her wasted form. I remember her jumping out from behind the
bush and hurling the rock at Big Bird. An act of hate changed the hater
forever. She releases the rock from her grip. The rock hangs forever
in my memory. I think of other thrown things in my life: dead rats,
jellyfish, a coffee can, a Chinese star. They are all there, hanging
in the same moment, even as they are different moments. I walk by and
pluck the objects back from the ether. Then, I put some back within.
Things go on despite, and in spite of, my ways.
Years earlier, Im in the basement apartment of the house I lived
in, in Ridgewood. The landlords niece, Bessy, had been raped last
night and is near catatonic. She always liked me. I like her. She is
hurting. I sneak past the Kelnhoffers and my parents, rush up to where
she lies. I stroke her shoulder, tell her its a sunny day, and
she explodes, screaming and running toward the door, up and out in to
the street in her night frock. Dad and Mr. Kelnhoffer catch her, bring
her inside, & restrain her. Later, men in an ambulance take Bessy
to a sanatorium. I never see her again. I wonder if the rape or my touch
was the final straw?
Here is Laney Morgans rock - or one not unlike it, hurtling through
the years. I have not returned it. Instead, I toss it to you:
I remember some wails- but thats about all-
from Bessys basement apartment. Below us,
the Kelnhoffers went down. Dad stood in the hall
as mom kissed me goodnight. I got a good sleep.
The next morning I held all the sounds of spring
like a child should. The grownups said nothing
of the night, the strobe lights. I heard the word rape
for the first time. It nearly happened to her,
they said. I did not see her for days because
of it. And when I did it did not occur
for me to act any different. I didnt.
I touched her. And her eyes turned around screaming
through me. I jumped back, as she started walking,
out the door, as if a love which once was felt.
© Dan Schneider October 2004
all rights reserved