Sunday, June 21, 2015

William Myrl, Letters to No One (10)

Dear No One,
What is the word for wanting and not having? To yen, to yearn, longing; these are weak words. They are the lackadaisical languishing of a loveless lover, they are full of moonlight and sadness and the mewling 
of youth unfulfilled. What is the word for your heart slamming into your chest? What is that kind of wanting? What is the word for having your hands afire and a dynamo pumping lightning into your stomach, and none of it having anywhere to go? What is that kind of want, that it burns out so quickly, reduced in stature to that of its whimpering cousin?
Did you know that Dickenson is my favorite poet? She is the most consistently good of any that I know. Poe, his good stuff is the stuff everybody has heard of plus, The Conqueror Worm. The rest is worthless residue of his higher workings. Emily has her faults and fails, but her thing with feathers flutters despite them.
Oh, yes, I forgot I was supposed to tell you how the common fare thing turned out. If you haven't had a charge in a given amount of time, and I haven't, you can ask for an informal resolution. This comes with a reprimand, which is nothing, and it will stay off your record as long as you don't catch any more charges in the next six months. At the hearing the officer in command turned off the recorder to commiserate about how terrible veggie patties are. She was talking about the ones they serve at Burger King. It is not the same. On a related note, I wrote the counselor twice and about two weeks later, was removed from the common fare diet. Amusingly, the diets are signified by colored IDs. Red is regular, and blue special diet. I'd had my ID for four years when they sent me back to get a new one. The new, blue ID was the reason the co noticed I was on common fare and wrote me up. Now I will have the blue ID for the next four years or so.
Jark is working on his proposal for the newsletter. He handles the facts and I handle the bullshitting he doesn’t have time for. We've got most of a draft for the first issue, and if it happens, I‘m doing a recurring article about cognitive science. Delightful. The admins seem open to the idea, pending a proposal. Double whammy, Squarehead and Triangle, Prison Edition. No kidding. No takebacksies. We'll see if anything comes of it.
So, I had another psych visit today. I enjoy it, as it gives me a platform to play the anomalous inmate. Two students today, a boy and girl. They were easy to engage with. We went through the usual background talk and questions, things about medication and prison life. I showed them a picture I had drawn, as an example of my hobbies and because I am full of myself. Towards the end the good doctor brought up poetry. We have talked about it before and it helps as a demonstrative lesson about things you don't expect to find in prison. I go through the story about how few books there were in jail, as well as how little available occupation there was in general. I memorized poetry because it gave me something they couldn’t take away. It also helped in the many, many hours I spent in empty holding cells waiting to go to and from lawyer visits and court appearances for three identical cases in three different counties. Jabberwocky wasn't going to cut it.
I don't know exactly how many poems I have left in my head, let alone how many lines. I don't keep up with them like I used to. They are organized by author, the only way to keep track. From some I know a few lines, from some a few hundred. I rattle off the list (blakecarrolcoleridgedickinsonkeatspoeCAsmith) and the doctor asks if I would care to recite one, because it is not something that happens often in his office, I presume. I tell the students to pick a name, because otherwise I might be cheating (it’s what I would think if I was them), and she picks Dickinson. I know five of those, and I try to remember the shortest, which takes me a moment. (it’s such a little thing to weep, so small a thing to sigh, and yet by trades the size of these, we men and women die) I haven't read any Dickinson in five years, so you will forgive me if my wording is inexact. She responds with her favorite short piece, the one that ends "the cutting of a knife". I know I’ve read it but I didn't recognize it immediately. I responded with "much madness is divinest sense...(It's a good poem, google it) I don't recall what came just after that. Soon I left. I get a bit dysphoric thinking about it, just as I always become lethargic after my family visits and lay around a while. The wanting and not having.
“Hope, is a thing with feathers that flutters in the soul, and sings the tune without words, and never stops, at all,” Emily Dickinson. And here's one of mine.
Ode To Soup-----
How strange to live in parallel----
And catch a glimpse of you---
To know that there is music left---
And beauty, color too---
How often have I thought it odd---
That small things can seem grand---
When out of place, and out of time---
Brought from another land---
What little value we do place---
On passing glances, passing smiles---
How much their value would increase---
If sent abroad, to distant isles---
To say a word, to spark a light---
To share a secret song---
And how it hurts, and how it hurts---
When it will not last long---

This reminds me of why I mostly stopped sending poetry to my mother the last couple of years. It is really all this melancholy.

Yours, William Myrl (10)

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

William Myrl, Letters To No One (9)

Dear No One,
I lost. The prize was being hung in the Augusta County library, everyone but me was upset or disappointed about that. I would have used it as an opportunity to surreptitiously promote my website. If they ever do it again I know exactly what I need to do to win. Poster sized child with some color worked in. There were three winners, two of them deserved it. I’m glad to have my drawing back so I can give it to my parents and command my little brother to make it happen on the interwebs.
My mom keeps telling me to use periods and capital letters, some would call these complete sentences, rather than creating the sort of extravagant collections of phrases and clauses that I sometimes use to carry on a thought long after its end was due; it's not my favorite piece of advice, though I am aware of its being reasonable in the sense that it adheres to the culture of correctitude you find in grammar books and the advice that prospective agents give on their websites, advice I was never confident in myself given that the real successes out there have a tendency to do everything that common sense would tell them not to, not to say that a thing should be done because it goes against what is "reasonable", only that it should be done if there is reason for it regardless of whether it is a thing to be done or not done, a reason such as bothering my mother; because if the thought isn't done then neither am I.
You think so?
My friend Jark did very well with the W&L class. The professor and the principal were talking about bringing back community college courses. It was something that used to be offered and was rescinded because of under enrollment. The requirements were too strict. You couldn't receive institutional infractions (which are usually quite petty) or have certain offenses on your record (you know which ones) or have more than a certain amount of time remaining on your sentence (this is the one that would knock me out) and your grade had to stay up to stay in the class. So there are talks in the works, and Jark has been asked to write a letter or proposal or something. He also has the idea that we should do a newsletter, pending admin primateur, and has to put together a proposal fort that. He is the dearest. He wants to go to real college when all this is over for him. It's refreshing to know someone who wants things out of his life.
I had something amusing happen to me but for you to understand it I need to give you background on a phrase. In Virginia, Common Fare is the code for religious diet. I personally think it's unconstitutional to segregate meal plans according to religion, but that didn't stop me from applying for it myself. It's a lot of raw vegetables and peanut butter and beans, or used to be. There is a new menu as of last month that heats everything up and adds a dash of horrible and that is beside the point. Before getting on the diet one has to sign a contract saying one will not trade, give away or sell common fare food. Also, regular trays are off limits. Violators will be kicked off of the diet, that's basically it. Virtually all people enrolled on the diet violate the agreement every day, mostly by sharing food among themselves at the table or taking it back to the pod with them for personal cooking. I ate regular trays whenever it seemed like the better option, especially after the menu change. One day my ID didn’t scan in the chow hall, so I was sent to get a temporary one from J -building. It was simple enough, and I returned the dining hall, ate my sloppy joe, and went about my business. That night I was given a charge, and I feel compelled to render its statement exactly.
"While working A-side dining hall on May 17th, 2015, offender W. Smitherman (#1421308) approached the scanner. His ID failed to scan so I instructed him to go over to J-1 to get a temporary ID card. While making his ID later on in the day I noticed he was a common fare meal and those are only served on B-side dining hall. He is in violation of the common fare agreement he signed by eating, trading, or possessing unauthorized food items from the main line when he received a regular tray and consumed it." We roll pretty hard in this prison. 
I will share with you the epic conclusion to this escapade next time, on Dragon Ball Z.

Yours, William Myrl (9)

William Myrl; Letters To No One (8)

Dear No One,
The art contest was judged on a Friday, there were thirteen contestants. That puts it at about one for every one hundred inmates in this institution. We were given passes to come to the gym at 7:30, shortly after breakfast. They had set up tables for the occasion, and they brought out our submissions from the rec supervisors office in a messy pile. We could put them where we wanted. The worst pieces were placed on the first table, as if by common agreement, and the best on the last. I decided to buck the system and put my two drawings on the second table with some experiments in color that were well thought out but badly executed. One of mine was a big realistic piece of a lady and a tiger with a small poem in the corner. The other was an Escher based political cartoon about recidivism that looked like it was drawn by a middle schooler. The fellow who was putting down stickers, a buddy of mine, initially thought I was screwing with him when I told him they were both done by the same person. I chased him to the next table and told him to check the name on the back; he did. Once the art was semi-neatly displayed and separated by numbered stickers the judging could begin. Four women entered the scene as we all stood or sat along the gym walls. They were the ladies who ran DCE. The criteria of their assessment was a mystery to us, the made marks on box laden sheets of paper while we chatted about how bad table one was and who would be disqualified from table five because they had drawn a boob or hell raiser or an upside down cross on the forehead of their portrait. It had been made quite clear that this was a PG contest whose winners would hang in the visiting room. That table had been overcrowded, no sense of display. Another reason to put mine next to the color guy who had put his name and id on everything despite being told specifically not to. They were done before nine, and we assumed it would be over soon. We were wrong.
Over the next hour and a half we waited while more judges trickled in; two COs, a counselor, and inexplicably, an inmate with one of his chums. When asked, the rec supervisor told us we could leave if we had other appointments, and that we could take our art with us if we left. This raised further questions, and no one took him up on it.
Asked again, he explained that the other judges were in a staff meeting. We continued to loiter, discussing Picasso (we don't like him) and breasts (we are big fans) and homosexuals who have excellent singing voices (mixed feelings) until around 11. We began to grumble about missing lunch. A dozen judges appeared; counselors, administrators, and the chaplain (whose face could have been a model for Droopy) began the filling of forms. It was a relief to see them, earlier we had been told that the pods would be called so that inmates could view the art, and that we were to "stand beside our work and show it off". Literally, one person came. He was a nice young man.
The judging finished, and we waited for an announcement. The Muslim service that uses the gym on Fridays was rolling out its rugs and giving us meaningful glances. Finally, we were told we could leave. Our art would stay with the rec supervisor, and winners would be announced on Monday. So we left. This is the first contest of its kind, so it is understandably kinked. The last year they tried it no one submitted anything because they couldn't find out whether they would get it back. There is still the question of whether there will be a real prize (like soda) or just the visiting room thing. At lunch, Eor came to me with his serious face on. We needed to talk. The table was full, so he told me to meet him before I left the chow hall. As soon as a seat opened next to me he appeared. He had been calling me to come to his table but I was deaf to it. That morning, he had been working on his world map. This has been his habit for weeks. He's slow, and forty hours would be a conservative estimate. A small amount of coffee had been spilled on it. His world was shaken, nothing could be done. He had given it to my celly, and if I couldn't do anything with it then I was to throw it away. He didn't have the heart to do it himself. He had spent an hour or so sitting at the the table in utter desolation before giving it up.
I unrolled the poster and took stock. There were two problem spots. One was a three square inch splotch along his southern mountain range, the other was smaller but more damning because he had tried to erase the wet spot in a fit of panic and torn the paper. That evening I used a white colored pencil to lighten the stains and drew more mountains to disguise them. The tear required some paper surgery, and came out healthily enough. He was overjoyed, having assumed I had already thrown it out without trying to help, because I am a bad friend. (His phrase)
Anyway, crisis averted.

William Myrl (8)

William Myrl; Letters To No One (7)

Dear No One,
Given that my game-mastering career may soon come to an end, I choose to enlighten you as to the intricacies of the practice itself as it exists in my domain. For many years, roleplaying games were banned. They fostered escape tendencies, violence, weird fantasy fugues. The official policy was that dnd would make you crazy, they taught COs this, and in some places still do. I have been told by a corrections officer that many people cannot tell the difference between the game and reality. He was absolutely serious. It's like Dr. Seuss up in this bitch sometimes.
A year or more ago the books were reapproved. It was ten years since they were banned because someone was killed over something completely unrelated. We had them before, photo or hand copied, torn out of bindings or bleary memories; passing around monster manuals like bricks of heroin. Now we could order them, and dice sets as well. We had been making our dice out of paper molds and salt. Pepper was too heavy, and paper filling was too light. Mine were always wonky, but I knew a fellow who would make a set for a bag of coffee that was near indistinguishable from the real thing. Inmates are remarkably handy creatures; you should see what we do to boil water without a microwave. So now we have the books and the dice, the maps and the miniatures are craft objects. Grids are easily, if tediously, replicated. Figures we make by soaking toilet paper and shaping it, then letting it dry. Pressing it into a toothpaste cap is a good method for consistent circles, and pyramids are quick variety. The dry pieces are colored with markers, given patterns and sometimes names. It is all very exciting. 
When it comes down to actual gaming, a schedule is usually preferred to spontaneity. Nailing it down depends on school and work schedules, when they exist, and the all-important TV lineup. The day is broken up into what I think of as "periods" between lock downs. The morning period is the longest, spanning from six thirtyish to 12:45. Breakfast and lunch subdivide it, they both occur in ranges of about an hour and a half, the averages being 7 and 11:45. A game session between 8 and 11 is as extended as is gets, with the other periods not breaking 2 hours of uninterrupted time. Not many wish to stay up in the morning to play pretend, however; I certainly don't. And outside recreation is available during the day, conflicting those who value exercise. At night, others complain the pod is too loud/busy, and there is less time. Some people are always available, and some will never be pleased. I have had the company of both.
What else is there to say? DnD is a game of imagination and communication; both qualities uncommon enough in the world at large and all the more precious in a place such as this. I have played with perhaps two dozen people in the last few years, ran four campaigns that lasted 6, 3, 3 and 6 months respectively, and I feel this qualifies me to cast judgement. It is not worth it. There are moments of humor and accomplishment, of camaraderie and mutual creation, and they are far too few. In the last campaign, which is finishing in the next week, I had to make two groups to accommodate the players who couldn't play together nicely. I have had an average of one player quitting or
threatening to quit every week. There is only still a group because they always come back, usually within hours. I am virtually certain one of my players has an undiagnosed personality disorder, probably histrionic, and in a previous group we once had a death threat at the table.
Specifically, he said he would cut off the others head and stuff it in the icebox. This was not delivered in a bantering manner. They were arguing about who was looking at whose character. It was a dominance thing, as with the apes.
The time has come for me to put/away my staff, and all my books/to molder, in there serried nooks/my furnace fires, returned to soot/the magic gone, and all my power/forgotten, with the faerie light/and I am welcoming the night/ to come, within the hour...

I won't have much to say about the game after this, I maybe promise. It would be nice if I could play with you someday.
Yours, William Myrl (7)