Absolute Zeroes Spotlight: Caesar Anada

This is the second spotlight for the protagonists of Absolute Zeroes: A Space Story, intended to shed a little light on the personalities of each of our haphazard heroes. The first part focused on Ark Carnahan. Today, we’ve got Caesar Anada.

Caesar is basically the straight man of the group. Even-tempered and mostly serious, he’s the brains of the operation. He’s incredibly book-smart, multilingual, and business-oriented, if a tad social awkward. He takes life seriously because he is incredibly goal and career-driven, and oftentimes the only reason he doesn’t leave Ark (who he finds reckless) and Grey (who he finds temperamental) is the sense of familial bond that comes from childhood friendship.

The window stretched fifty feet in either direction and another sixty high. It seemed absurd to him; even in a spaceport, nobody really needed windows that large. When the ships arriving and departing were as massive as they were, it was impossible to miss them. Case in point: the IRSC Gallivant, staring him in the face mockingly. Could a spaceship mock? This one mocked.

Caesar sighed. He should be on that science cruiser. It was sporting a brand new, cutting-edge fuel distribution and recycling system developed from his graduation thesis. On the distributing end, newer shortcuts were devised that allowed the same levels of productivity to be achieved throughout the craft without burning through all of the fuel. Instead, two parts to every ten were portioned out to be recycled and reused later. The only downside was that the process required so much alternative energy to work properly that the battery required to power it could only be found in large science cruisers or military ships.

Even so, the invention could theoretically cut down on traveling times from one location to the next, allow for smaller fuel loads (the benefits of which ranged from cost efficiency to reduced weight to the ability to transport more storage or passengers), or provide for a larger emergency store.

Theoretically, it could also malfunction and blow the whole boat up, but smarter minds had parsed through his proposal and turned it into something truly functional. Caesar assumed the risk was minimal at most. Yet did he get invited to the Hervatyne Science Colegium? Not even on an internship. Was he offered a ride on the Gallivant for the first journey using the system he designed? Nope.

No, his spot went to some rich admiral’s son. That guy’s thesis? Something to do with the mating habits of Direxian raptor cats when exposed to different temperatures. It was truly miraculous what a trust fund could do for a man.

As the science cruiser turned away, so did Caesar, with a snort of disgust. He made his way towards the nearest food court with what he hoped was only the faintest air of dejection. A myriad of different smells floated through the crowd to take residence in his nostrils and his stomach rumbled his approval.

“Was that you?”

“Huh?”

The question caught him off guard and he turned to find an attractive woman staring at him, one eyebrow cocked in amusement. She held a tray loaded with food. The sight of it made Caesar’s stomach growl again.

“Uh, yeah,” he said. “I haven’t eaten in a while. Not that I can’t, you know, afford to eat. I’ve just been distracted. Building… stuff.”

“Uh-huh. Sounds like you’re smuggling some kind of animal in there. You should eat something.”

“Yeah, I was planning…. what are you, what did you get?” Smooth, he thought.

“They had some Toltarun melons, but I’m finding them bland. The Orbian water fowl isn’t too bad.”

“The melons need salt.”

The woman crinkled her nose. “Excuse me?”

“I know it sounds weird, but Toltarun melons need salt. It doesn’t matter what kind. Plain works fine, but if you like one of those flavored salts, or a sea salt, or whatever… it draws the flavor out of the melon. It’s a reaction between the, you know what, never mind. Just add some salt. The water fowl looks good, but the trick is to add some citrus while you’re steaming it. The best I’ve found is a Catalascan orange blend. You can find it in most markets for cheap. Really adds a whole new dimension to the dish.”

She looked him over, a new expression on her face. He wasn’t sure what it was; women didn’t typically look at him like that.

“You’re a chef, then?” she asked.

“I cook for fun. I keep the guys happy, it keeps the ship happy.”

“Ah,” she said. “The guys. Too bad.” She smiled and lifted the tray in his direction. “Thanks for the tips, Mister. I’ll give the salt a try.”

“Wait, I didn’t mean-”

But she was already going. She tossed one look back over her shoulder as she walked away. He raised his hand in a feeble farewell.

“No,” he said under his breath. “Wait. Come back. Caesar, what the hell is wrong with you?”

Beeeep. Beeeep.

He glanced down at the communicator band he had wrapped around his wrist. The small, rectangular display was alight with green letters informing him Grey Tolliver was requesting a video call.

“No,” he said. He pressed the button that directed the call to his ear piece. “What do you want?”

“Wha- where’s the video? You don’t want to see our smiling faces?”

“No.”

“Where are you?”

“Watching my dreams literally disappear.”

“That sounds terrible. Look, enough about that. Ark and I were talking and we were thinking maybe you could cook dinner for us. It’s been a while, and-”

“It’s been three days.”

“Caesarrrrr.” He could hear Archimedes whining in the background. “Three daaaaays.”

The food court beckoned to him. It was subpar and probably cost more than he should pay and he didn’t have the ingredients at hand to make it a worthwhile me, but it was filling, and it was there.

“Caesarrrrrr.”

“Tell Ark to shut up and I’ll be there in an hour.”

He ended the call before Grey could respond and pinched the bridge of his nose. It was shaping up to be one of those days. Maybe a car would hit him on his way back to the Sol Searcher and he wouldn’t have to cook anything. One could hope.

Absolute Zeroes Spotlight: Ark Carnahan

I’ve been super sick lately. Chronic bronchitis, which is the noncontagious kind. That means it’s good news, if annoying, for other people and really just shitty for me. I’m finally on some antibiotics and I’ve got a couple days more to go before I’m out. I haven’t been drinking alcohol, I have been drinking loads of water, and I’ve been resting as much as possible, but I’m not sure if I’ll be fully recovered by Monday. Let’s hope, because coughing all the time is goddamn exhausting.

It’s left me a weird mirror of myself: in a strangely good mood where normally I’m irritable, but sapped of energy, creativity and any sort of sexual urge. Which is weird for me. I don’t really like it. I’ve been left at home sort of twiddling my thumbs and binge-watching Netflix shows. I’ve been reading Joyland by Stephen King, which is one of his more, uh, normal works. That isn’t to say it’s not enjoyable so much as it’s different. A faster read with a slower pace and I’m not entirely sure I enjoy it as much as I do some of his other works.

But who am I to talk? So far I’m three books and done. I was supposed to start Absolute Zeroes: A Space Story months ago. I struggled out a prologue and have been sitting on it since. I went from a bad depressive break to a stressful couple months at work to a wracking sickness that has left me lethargic. I’m really trying to muster the motivation to work on writing again, and in order to do that, I had to figure out some of the reasons I didn’t feel necessarily compelled.

In short: I hated the prologue. It felt and feels forced. I took a hot shower last night and tried to figure out how to retool it, and I think I’ve come up with a solution: scrap the first half completely and work the details from it into a more natural narrative throughout the story. Keep the second half and polish it up, take my time with it. I fully intend on keeping the humor in the book (it’s supposed to be a more light-hearted PG-13 romp as opposed to the Convergence trilogy, which is very much a grim, hard R), but I don’t want it to come off as being slapstick and when I first started writing it, the urge there was too strong. I want more nuance out of it, so I’m trying to figure out how to… finesse it in that direction.

I’ve also considered writing it non-linerally, which would be different for me. I don’t know yet that it would work, but I have some scenes fully formulated in my mind and if I write them one set piece at a time and connect them afterwards, it might help the revisions in later drafts. Ha! Who the fuck knows? Not me! I’m just some kind of writer guy!

In any case, as sort of an update for people interested in what’s going on with it (nothing, so far) or what I’ve got done (almost nothing, so far), I thought I would treat my readers/fans/friends to a spotlight for each of the three main characters followed by a small, unfinished excerpt.

First up is Archimedes Carnahan. He’s probably the most lighthearted of the three childhood friends. He’s quick with a quip and is very much a people person, but his laid back attitude and flippancy tends to hide an insecure nature. His dream is to get into politics eventually, but he isn’t particularly motivated one way or another, more bluster than delivery. He’s the best talker of the three, a decent pilot and a decent shot. Meeeeeet Ark:

She propped herself up on one elbow and looked down at him. “So why all the ladies, Ark?”

“What ladies? There’s only you.”

“Right now, tonight. There’ll probably be a new one tomorrow  and if not tomorrow, soon. I see how you act when a woman catches your eye. One eye on her, the other on the door, jaw working because whatever conversation you’re working on in your head trickles down to your mouth just to see how it feels.”

She wasn’t wrong. Ark could see she knew it too and wouldn’t let it go. “I like waking up to a warm body.”

“As opposed to a cold one?”

“You know what I mean.”

She laughed softly and traced a finger through the hairs of his chest. “I do know what you mean.”

“It’s… nice, you know? The company. The validation. Knowing someone finds a comfort in me. An attraction that goes both ways and takes away from the tedium of the job or the disappointments of wherever I’m at in life at the given moment. It’s intimate, but it’s fleeting, as escapes tend to be.”

“Have you thought about settling down?”

Ark raised an eyebrow. “Are you trying to settle me down?”

“I would never make you do anything you didn’t want to do.”

“That’s my line.”

“Does it ever work on anyone?”

“On most people. It worked on you.”

“Did it? How do you know I wasn’t picking *you* up the first time we met? ‘Oh, you have your own ship? Take me now’, she said coyly, not wanting the cute boy with the drinking problem to see her messy apartment.”

“I don’t have-“

“You and Grey had already polished off two bottles of Togali Blue and were ready to go in on shots of bollah before you caught sight of me. It was a Bundet.”

“I don’t know what a Bundet is.”

“It’s like the third day of the week.”

Ark crinkled his nose. “You people have such weird names for your days.”

She laughed again and pulled her leg over his until she was straddling him. She lowered herself down so that their chests touched and she could kiss his chin. His right hand found the small of her back and kneaded softly.

“I’m not trying to settle you down, Archimedes. I like our little arrangement. If and when the day arrives that my feelings change or your stop coming around, I’ll walk away from this with a cargo hold full of fond memories. I’ll be fine. I’m just worried that you’re going to spend your life running around with your friends-“

“Grey and Caesar are my family,” Ark broke in.

“Family, then. I know they’re important to you. I know how much you need each other. I just don’t want you to miss out on everything life has to offer *you* because you’re too busy running away from it to help them.”

She kissed him again and he ran his fingers through her hair. There was a familiar anxiety in his chest that he’d come to associate with being shot at. He elected to ignore it and say nothing and continue to enjoy the feeling of her body against his for as long or as short a time as they had left.

Decisions, Decisions

I’m beginning to feel as if I’m approaching a crossroads, or that I may already be at one. This would mean more if I didn’t constantly feel this way with irregular severity; you’d be surprised how anxious I get decided between two places to have lunch every day. Still, even though I wake up each morning wondering when I’m going to change what I’m doing with my life into something I enjoy more, lately I’ve been plagued at night  by rack after rack of details. Let me break it down.

1. Professionally (Writing)

I’ve been so terrible at maintaining consistency with my writing lately. I haven’t written more than a couple thousand words on my fourth novel. I’ve been exceptionally lax in updating this blog. I’ve replaced free time and motivation with sleeping too little and drinking and flirting and fucking too much and reading where I can, which is nice, but always pausing before I put pen to paper or hover my thumb over this app.

I haven’t submitted Waypoint to any more agents or publishers, despite the fact that I’m aware it won’t magically manifest itself onto their desks with a kind letter and a gift basket. I feel like it’s a good book that needs to find itself in front of the right reader. I feel like it has a solid, small but positive and vocal following of a few thousand readers, and that it (and its sequels) are things I can be proud of creating.

It still always manages to slip my mind. I just… don’t do it. I forget to look up the next publisher on my list, or if I do, I forget to look up the submission guidelines, or if I do, I forget to put the submission together.

So I’ve got to ask myself: do I still really, really want to be an author as a career? Somewhere inside me, the answer is still a resounding YES. I still carry around heaps of notes and notebooks. I update color-coded files in my phone on a daily basis. I write excerpts for future novels and stash them in those files. I have concepts that I think are ambitious and entertaining and I’m excited to bring them out and share them.

And Jesus, I’ve already written half a million words in three books in four years, so I’ve proven I can and will put in the work.

Do I still want to write the book I’m currently “working on”? I think the answer to that is positive as well, but I’m skittish about it. Earned or not, my I initial trilogy landed me a reputation among my peers that is more favorable than not. They really enjoyed those first books, and though I have no degree or professional experience to draw on, though I feel woefully inadequate, people ask me for writing advice and I feel flattered that they do so.

My newest novel lacks a lot of the grit and maturity of the Convergence trilogy. It’s a lot more straightforward and action-filled and even a bit slapstick here and there, and I’m concerned that even though it’s obviously supposed to be a different genre and style of prose, I feel clumsy trying to put it together on paper and I worry that people will dislike the finished product as it will likely be completely different than what they expected.

I’ve been planning the book for probably ten years. It’s a concept that’s very dear to me with a story that seems pretty fun. I want to get over that mental block, but I’m not entirely sure I know how.

Except to take the time. Sit down. Force myself to stop watching Netflix or jerking off for a few hours and tough through it. That might do it.

Sigh.

Then there’s the other end of the spectrum: I read a quote the other day that was along the lines of, “If you aren’t writing to say something, then what’s the point?” and while I’m an advocate for the importance in writing as a form of escapism (both for the writer and the reader) and the necessity of entertainment to keep the weight of the world’s stresses at bay, there is something equally valid in those that write to illustrate passionate ideas and ideals, those who touch on cultural, social, sexual, mental, emotional, intellectual and religious topics. There is something captivating about those ruminating on life, something that taps into the primal node tucked somewhere behind the rib cage, next to the heart.

Nietzsche. Bukowski. Kerouac. Angelou. Thompson. Hemingway. Oates. Poets and travelers, journalists and philosophers. Men and women who wax poetic on love, life, loss, and the lust for more from each day, from each other, and from themself.

Here’s the thing, I think: it requires a certain type of narcissism to believe one can really pick apart the intricacies of those topics. It takes a confidence to put definitive insights onto a page and push it out into the light for the open eyes of strangers to see. While I have always endeavored to write things as clearly and as detailed as I’ve experienced them and the insights I’ve gleaned personally from my experiences, while I have been and will always be honest about the failures I’ve endured and those I see around me, while I will tell you how I believe certain things can be improved or the frustrations I have in whatever regard, I just don’t think I could be so fantastically sure of anything as to write it with such fervor that people would quote me years down the line as if I ever knew what the fuck I was doing ever, with anything.

Would I write about love? Hahahaha. Hahahaha. I have, at length, and I’m still no better at it. I could give no advice that would feel helpful beyond a “What Not to Do” list, chief entry being “Whatever the fuck I did”.

Social studies? Race relations? I have opinions that I don’t feel qualified to give. I know the struggles of being broke, homeless, in debt, bullied, but the fact remains that I grew up as a middle-class white male and that has always and will always give me inherent advantages over others. While I hope to bring as much light to some of the conflicts tearing (still) our people apart, while I want to share conversations and perspective pieces from those more directly affected, I don’t feel I have the proper insight to contribute in a fruitful way.

Do I write about mental health and disorders? I’ll write about my struggles and hope people can continue to relate and maybe find some peace in that, but seeing as how I’ve historically handled my breakdowns with as much grace and aplomb as a whale tapdancing on glass, maybe I should keep my high horse stabled.

So with all that said, I’m torn. I’m torn between finding my way back to pursuing entertaining and commercial writing as a career, taking the steps to treat it like a career instead of letting my anxiety shuffle it off until I can drink the nightmares away for another evening; and writing something deeper and more impactful for people to take to heart and mind. I want my writing to mean something. I want people to be affected by my words.

2. Professionally (Occupation)

Let’s be honest, though, it’s going to be a long time – if ever – before I can fully support myself and pay all my bills with my writing. That means I’m going to need a day job. I do have one. I’ve been here for two years and one month, but the way things have been going, it looks like I might only be here a few months more. I’m just not very good at it, and to be honest, some days it’s difficult to want to be.

My job pays well, but it’s tedious and stressful and my boss has grown difficult to work for. What was once an excited, competitive atmosphere has turned into an intimidating, bullying spectre sucking any joy out of the air that could be found. I find myself popping xanax on days I’m lucky to see a panic attack coming and escaping to the bathroom to get away long enough to breathe when I don’t. I’ve reached a point where, despite working with salespeople I generally like and even admire, I count the very minutes from the beginning of my shift to lunch, from lunch to end.

I’ve worked varying forms of retail for 13 years. I like people. I do. I get really annoyed with them and I’ve grown increasingly introverted as I grow older, but deep down, I love meeting, talking to and learning about people. And yet at least twice a week it hits me that a common part of my job is processing payments for people too lazy to do it any of the other three ways one could it do on their own. What mediocre, pointless, trivial bullshit.

My job isn’t exciting. It’s the same thing day in and day out, and because of that, I feel drained at the end of each day, and because of that, I’ve been blowing my money on things to try and stimulate any sense of reward from the base of my skull. I’ve been living check to check, but now I know I might not be here for much longer, and I’m going to need to save up. Something has to change. I need to do something different, but I need to make sure I’m in an okay position when that shift happens. I suspect I’m going to be grumpier than normal for the next few months.

3. Romantically

This is far and wide the aspect of my life I’m least worried about. Yeah, I’m heartbroken. I’m lonely. I’m pushing thirty and the last serious relationship I was in was six years ago. The last two that seemed they could turn serious ended so poorly it completely shut me down for months. It’s difficult for me to open up, and even more so to find a connection with people I open up with. When I do, I fall pretty hard and I give my affection fully. I love deeply. It has given me some of the best moments of my life, and it has also historically not often ended well.

I would love to have a connection and to be in a relationship, to share experiences and memories with someone special, but I’m not trying to force anything. I’m gradually learning to just let things happen as they may.

Still, I’ve learned I’m fucking terrible at talking to women I find attractive. New women, I mean. Like, someone I’ve just met. If it’s someone I’ve known a while or at least met a few times, I’m able to relax and it’s a completely different scenario. Crushes are had. Sex isn’t uncommon. For a chubby, nerdy guy who too often lets his hair grow out to an awkward length, I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t attention from multiple people at almost any given time.

And I like those women. They’re friends and lovers and there’s a shared trust, comfort and intimacy there. I’m a huge fan of sex, even in a casual regard, because I think there’s a created, emotionally charged release that adds passion and closeness. It’s a beautiful thing, and it’s fun, and it’s nice to feel desired and to make someone else feel that, too. And I’m good at creating those connections, even if sometimes I’m terrible at the act itself. I know for a fact that I’ve conducted myself poorly on occasion, but have remained friends with that person afterwards and become closer for it.

That connection, those bonds, those are easy to me, and I value them. But trusting on an emotional level, on trying to arrange dates, on gauging a woman’s romantic interest in me, on working out compliments and genuine relationship building conversations… in those instances, I am a bumbling, mumbling mess. I think I really suck at dating, and it bothers me because I would like someday to have a family.

Be that as it may, I know I need to get my life together, first.

4. Life

I do not know what I want to fucking do with my life. I live lightly, and I kind of like that. Most of my things are either expendable or able to be stuffed into the storage unit I’ve had for years. My bed is a borrowed air mattress. Anything essential can be narrowed down to two suitcases. Realistically, I could probably make it one. If I had to, I could drop my phone bill down to $30 a month and rely on Wi-Fi for any Internet related things I needed.

I’m at that age where I kind of really need to figure out what I want to do and make a plan to do it (and then stick to the plan, obviously). I considered Greyhounding and hitchhiking and couch-hopping around the states. I have  friends everywhere, and it would give me a golden opportunity to see amazing – and probably awful – things all over the country. But how much money would that cost? Bus fare, hostel rooms. I can eat on a budget, I’m no stranger to the Dollar Store Diet. Emergency funds? Laundromat costs? How long could I last?

I’ve considered moving back to Los Angeles, as I have every day since I left. I’ve considered moving to New York. I think I’d like it there. I’ve even considered Pittsburgh because for as much as I hate the Steelers, I really liked the atmosphere there, the food, and the fact one of my best friends lives nearby.

Hell, I’ve even considered trying to find some kind of visa to move abroad and work a while. I love to travel, and I especially love other cultures.

All I know is things need to change. I need to change. I’m just flustered by all the choices, because I’m really, really good at making the wrong ones. I’m just starting to hit an age where the right one once in a while would be a welcome change.