ralph robert moore
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Copyright © 2013 by Ralph Robert Moore.
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maybe sometimes owning a tuxedo makes a difference
july 1, 2013
There's a hunger in all of us for peace.
I'm not talking about world peace. That will never happen.
I'm talking about personal peace.
Truly liking yourself. Truly liking all others. Going to sleep at night and not grinding your teeth. Isn't that humiliating, to wake up, roll over, mouth hurting? Being able to go down the stairs and out into the street knowing you'll be treated with the respect each and every one of us deserves.
And that will never happen, either.
You'll never be treated with the respect you truly deserve. Are you kidding? In this world?
The yearning for personal peace is a theme I've always been interested in, so in the late nineties I started thinking about a perfect land. Here on Earth. A land where we live a life of quiet happiness, no demons, treated by others with dignity.
I decided to set that land in Antarctica.
And I started writing about it.
Not the real Antarctica, white, cold and forlorn, but a secret, green Antarctica teeming with deep forests and elegant cities. A land that had been hidden from the rest of the world for thousands of years. Because the world didn't deserve my Antarctica. At the time, I didn't think of trying to get it published. I wrote it because it was a land I enjoyed living in, creating, rolling out the forests and lakes, the blue rivers, friendly cities.
People in Antarctica live on average for 140 years. Most work only a minimum number of hours a week to support themselves, because land for your home is free, the freshest food imaginable is available without cost in the many fields and coves of the continent, and when you need something you can't make yourself, you just trade with someone who wants something you can make and they can't. Most Antarcticans spend their lives pursuing their personal interests, because if you could, wouldn't you?
As I wrote more and more about Antarctica, I thought, what should I do with all this?
I already had a website, SENTENCE, at ralphrobertmoore.com, that focused on my writings and my life, but for Antarctica, I felt I needed something different. So in 2000 I created a second website, Jump Down The Hole, no longer in existence, in which I explored different ways of creating fiction, not through linear narrative, but instead through popular website formats.
Two of the most popular features on that site were the Antarctica pages, and The Maddox Family Home Page.
In Antarctica, I wanted to explore a 'what if' idea. What if Antarctica, rather than being a cold, barren wasteland, was instead a populous nation of beautiful cities, green forests, blue lakes, pink glaciers, with a history going back 40,000 years? Rather than simply writing a story about that notion, I decided to create a fictional tourist-type website devoted to Antarctica, much like sites created on behalf of Germany, New Zealand, or Brazil.
In The Maddox Family Home Page, I wanted to write a story about a single, middle-aged father raising a daughter. Normally, I'd do that using conventional narrative to create a novelette, but this time I decided to tell their story piecemeal, through the different pages of their family website, the father's on-line diary, poetry page, recipes page, and the site's guestbook all contributing insights into their lives, all the pages together revealing the full story. I even had pictures taken of me, in disguise, posing as Arnie Maddox, pillow under my shirt to make me as thick-waisted as Arnie, the photographs photoshopped to give me a balding pate.
This mimicking of popular website formats intrigued me because it allowed the reader, by choosing links according to their own preference, to start anywhere they wanted within the fiction, then explore the lie in a sequence determined by their own link clickings.
After I shut down Jump Down The Hole, I some years later transferred all the Antarctica and Maddox Family pages to SENTENCE, putting them under my Fiction/Special Projects section.
The Antarctica pages have become very popular on the Internet. If you Google "Antarctica Cities", for example (as of the date I'm writing this), my site comes up as the second result out of 30,200,000 search results. That's 30 million pages, and my page is the second page on that list.
Over the years, I've received hundreds and hundreds of emails from readers all over the world, who have read the Antarctica pages, don't understand it's a fiction, and want to know more. Because nowhere in the pages does it mention that none of what I've written is true.
I've had emails (quite a few) from angry teachers who have told me their Geometry class students have used my pages for their school reports. From scientists actually living in Antarctica, who have shared, and been amused by, what I've written. And, the largest category, people who were entranced about this land they never knew about, and wanted to move there. This last group, of course, is the most heartbreaking. I can feel the hope in their sentences. Really? There's some place I can live where life is always good? Where I'll be treated with the respect all human beings deserve?
My standard response to any query is, "My Antarctica pages are a work of fiction. I wanted to write about a land that should exist, but unfortunately doesn't."
I get a variety of responses. Some of them resigned ("I should have known better"); many of them angry. I gave them something to believe in, then told them it was all fake. I told them there was a land where you could find personal peace, then revealed there wasn't.
I bought a tuxedo once. About fifteen years ago. I was working for Equifax at the time, a worldwide financial organization. Each year, they selected who they considered to be the best employees in their companies around the world, and flew them and their spouses to a vacation spot, to reward them. One year, they selected me. Mary and I flew to Florida, to Palm Beach, and were put up with the other award winners at The Breakers Hotel, one of those lap of luxury hotels that's been around for over a century. Each day we got motivational speakers, and at night, live entertainment. Mary and I had seats at a table so close to the stage that when Maria Muldaur sang her hit single, Midnight at the Oasis, we could literally see her back molars. But we didn't really enjoy the trip. If we had done it on our own, it would have been great. But having to participate in all these team-building exercises…not so great. Anyway, the final night, at a fancy ball, all the men had to wear tuxedos. Most men rented theirs, as if they were going to a prom, but we decided to buy one. What the fuck. I have to admit, I looked pretty good in it (but probably all men feel that way. After all, it is a tuxedo.)
After that event, the tuxedo hung in one of our upstairs closets, in a rarely-visited room, for several years. A twang, on a hanger, from our past. Finally, we decided to give it away. To a charity we had worked with for a number of years that provides clothes for the homeless.
Sometime afterwards I thought, Well, that was a stupid thing for me to do. The charity is to help clothe the homeless. How the fuck is a tuxedo ever going to help a homeless guy living on the streets? But, the thing is, who knows? Maybe having a tuxedo in the shopping cart of your life is like wheeling around hope. That there is a better world, and even though you're low right now, treated on the sidewalks little better than a dog, having to beg people for food-- and I mean, hand out, eyes down, literally begging a stranger for food--maybe it helps in some small way to have Cary Grant and James Bond carefully folded up in one of the black garbage bags in your shopping cart.
I created a fiction that, like most fictions, was meant to evoke an emotional response. In this case, a fiction that was deliberately set up to raise hope, and then disappoint.
It's cruel of me to do that. I don't pretend otherwise. I mostly write horror, and the finest horror, to me, isn't describing intestines being pulled out of someone's asshole. It's perfecting a mind fuck.
I've told all these people that there's hope. And then I've told them, there isn't any hope. The hand on the back of your head isn't lifting.
But, maybe? Someone I've bitterly disappointed will work towards creating a real Antarctica? Just to spite me?
I'm proud to report that my short story, Our Island, published in the anthology Where Are We Going? edited by Allen Ashley, published by Eibonvale Press, is one of four stories nominated by the British Fantasy Society for Best Story of the Year for the 2013 British Fantasy Awards. The winner will be announced at the Fantasy Awards banquet at the World Fantasy Convention in Brighton, England on November 2.