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Author Topic: Pseudopod 345: Boxed  (Read 3450 times)
Bdoomed
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« on: August 03, 2013, 02:11:53 AM »

Pseudopod 345: Boxed

by Donald McCarthy

DONALD MCCARTHY writes fiction and non-fiction. His works have appeared in KZine, The Washington Pastime, Drunk Monkeys, The Progressive Populist, and Cover of Darkness. His twitter account is @donaldtmccarthy.

Your reader this week – Alex Rudy – remains an enigma.



“A few beads of sweat slithered down Trevor’s forehead and he blinked rapidly, a panic attack oncoming. His pulse was quick, as if he’d just come in from a run, and the contents of his stomach threatened to come lunging out of his mouth if he didn’t calm down. He grabbed a pillow off the sofa and placed it over his mouth, screaming. Once his throat became hoarse he flung the pillow back on the sofa and threw himself on top of it. “I don’t cope well,” he said.

He looked across the room, to a small, gray box on top of his fireplace. The box asked, “Why are you telling me this?”

“I had a bad night,” Trevor replied, speaking quickly. “I was with Kim. She had her friends join us. She didn’t tell me they’d be coming. How am I supposed to prepare for something like that if she doesn’t tell me they’re coming? I thought it’d just be me and her at her apartment but a minute after I arrived she said there’d be others. She rattled off their names but I couldn’t remember them. I can’t be expected to just remember names that are randomly thrown out there.” Trevor began playing with his hands, one gripping the other tightly. “I got sick right away and had to excuse myself to the bathroom. I have something going with Kim, something good, and this could’ve easily messed it up.”

Trevor stood up, his legs so weak with anxiety that he came close to falling. He slowly walked across the room towards the fireplace, looking only at the box, as if he would lose his balance should he even glance at any other area of the room. “I couldn’t relate to any of them. I stumbled through conversation. I said idiotic things. My opinions made no sense. I made a fool out of myself. It was terrible.” Trevor reached the mantle, placed both hands on it, and loomed above the box. “I wish that the whole thing could be done over.”

“I can’t make that happen,” said the box.

“Neither can anything else,” said Trevor. “But you can do the next best thing. Get this night out of my head.”

“All of it?” asked the box.”




Listen to this week's Pseudopod.
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flintknapper
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« Reply #1 on: August 04, 2013, 01:38:08 PM »

What I kept coming back to after listening to this story was would I use the box? If I had the option to get rid of all my negative memories would I?

On one level I tell myself "of course not." Memories good or bad are what shapes us. I would never buy into the box but that isn't quite right... I can see Trevor's perspective. I am not talking about the big stuff like the loss of loved one, but who wants to remember poor service at restaurant? or the time you were stuck in traffic for three hours? I could see Trevor initially using the box for removing memories like these. From there it is a slippery slope. Trevor is a monster, but he doesn't remember it. The absence of his memories has made him one. He doesn't have to live with his conscious or his choices. He just chooses to forget.

I liked this story. It was well written and is a great moral dilemma. The narration was similarly strong. It is interesting too in the sense that the last story, The Pit, was a tale about a man coming to terms with his actions and his memories. Boxed is obviously the opposite. I like the juxtaposition. I am not sure it was intentional, but it makes me smile.

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« Reply #2 on: August 05, 2013, 12:33:18 PM »

Well that certainly got me jittery. I kept alternating between annoyed at Trevor for not dealing with the situation better and sympathizing with just how much anxiety sucks. The ending was a bit rough, although not entirely unexpected. It does make one wonder just what he's erased before...
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Kaa
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« Reply #3 on: August 05, 2013, 05:58:17 PM »

Like flintknapper, I wondered if I would use the box. I could only come up with two memories in 48 years that suck enough that I'd want to be rid of them. Two. But as flintknapper also said, it would be a slippery slope after that.

But I can think of better uses for the box. Imagine being able to go back and read your favorite book for the first time, again. See your favorite movie for the first time, again. That was the use I came up with, and I prefer to think that I would use it for something like that instead of getting rid of memories that cause me pain.

I won't do the Kirk line, but who a person is, today, is a result of all the choices they've made up to this point. Good and bad. So, remove one of those bad choices. Am I the same person, now, without those memories? In time travel, the answer would be "no," because a different set of memories would replace the erased ones.

But in this story? Maybe, but with some odd holes. You just erase the unpleasant memories of the bad consequences, so you can't learn from them.

It sounds horrid, and this story picks up on that right from the get-go, and illustrates it superbly.
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Cheshire_Snark
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« Reply #4 on: August 07, 2013, 08:21:16 AM »

I definitely took away his refusal to learn from the past (and him creating a smaller and smaller world for himself to live in by doing so) as one of the really horrible things. I do like that the box is from an unknown source - it'd be interesting to read a follow up where these items were commonplace.

I don't think I'd use the box, even to take away the memory of something I liked so I could experience it again. So many experiences are based on who we were at the time; I can that imagine seeing a film that I adored as a child (and re-watch as an adult with affection and nostalgia for memories of the kid I was when I first saw it) wouldn't be the same without memories of the first time I saw it. Sorry, that's a very awkward way of putting it - like, sometimes nostalgia is a big part of what makes us enjoy things, and if we see things through a new adult perspective, without that cushion of good memories, we mightn't enjoy them as much.

"Thanks for the Memory" and "Confidence and Paranoia" from Red Dwarf both play with memory erasure in a pretty fun way; something about this story reminded me of different aspects of them.
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Kat_Rocha
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« Reply #5 on: August 08, 2013, 05:14:28 PM »

I have a memory problem. My short term memory stinks and I can loose an entire month and not realize it till somebody mentions something from that time period. I sometimes forget entire conversations that only happened a moment ago.  My memories are precious, even the bad ones. So I would not use the box. The idea is more frightening to me than having my boyfriend smother me with a pillow and then forget about me.

This was a very good story however. As Doctor Who once said "A man is the sum of his memories..." so it begs the question of what type of man would want to be rid of all his bad memories? It's a new form of narcissism really. Only "good" things happen to you. Your life is awesome. When really it is just as flawed and imperfect as everybody else. Fears, bad days and all.

-Kat
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Cheshire_Snark
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« Reply #6 on: August 10, 2013, 04:51:21 AM »

Yes - even bad memories are precious.

Oh! And how could I forget "Dark City"!

I loved the idea that it wasn't the memories that made a person, but something internal/intrinsic:

Mr. Hand: But I wanted to know what it was like... how you feel.
John Murdoch: You know how I was supposed to feel. That person isn't me... never was. You wanted to know what it was about us that made us human. Well, you're not going to find it...
[Murdoch points at his head]
John Murdoch: ...in here. You were looking in the wrong place.

(I guess Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind would also be relevant [?] but I've not seen it).
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Kaa
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« Reply #7 on: August 10, 2013, 01:32:18 PM »

(I guess Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind would also be relevant [?] but I've not seen it).

Indeed. It's all about erasing the memory of the person who broke your heart, and everything related to that relationship.

The funny thing about that movie is...I saw it. Watched it all the way through. But I don't remember it except in vague snippets. Smiley
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Cynandre
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« Reply #8 on: August 11, 2013, 11:34:43 PM »

What an addictive concept, a Box that takes the memories you do not Desire. I would not want it near me. Too much temptation.
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evrgrn_monster
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« Reply #9 on: August 12, 2013, 07:20:51 PM »

I found the premise of this story much more intriguing than the actual execution. My main point of contention lies with the Kim character; she was completely unbelievable for me. I don't see a person being that adamant about the painful deaths of their potential significant other, or being so intent on the box. Plus, why would she demand he get rid of it? She's not his girlfriend or wife; just a girl he's been seeing who has just come to his place. Why would she tell him that there was no way his parent's ashes could be in there? That is just being the scope for me. It just did not work for me.

However, the idea of a mind erasing box? That is truly horrifying and I think could have much more teeth than this story gave us.
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« Reply #10 on: August 13, 2013, 01:35:23 PM »

I loved your post-story comments Alstair.  You put a beautiful and pertinent footnote on the story. The work you do in your "unprofessional" life adds a great deal of value so while you may be feeling under-appreciated by those with the ability to hire you know that you are greatly appreciated by others. 
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« Reply #11 on: August 13, 2013, 01:40:08 PM »

Apologies, I meant Alasdair.  Forgive the sloppy spelling previously.
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Cynandre
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« Reply #12 on: August 15, 2013, 08:05:01 AM »

I found the premise of this story much more intriguing than the actual execution. My main point of contention lies with the Kim character; she was completely unbelievable for me. I don't see a person being that adamant about the painful deaths of their potential significant other, or being so intent on the box. Plus, why would she demand he get rid of it? She's not his girlfriend or wife; just a girl he's been seeing who has just come to his place. Why would she tell him that there was no way his parent's ashes could be in there? That is just being the scope for me. It just did not work for me.

However, the idea of a mind erasing box? That is truly horrifying and I think could have much more teeth than this story gave us.

I don't know. I have seen some people act certain ways when confronted with something or someone they do not comprehend or like at first sight. Even to the point of aggression which I have never understood myself. I once or twice have been the reason. So a part of me can see it. Only,.... I would have thrown her out by the time she started trying to touching my things.
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« Reply #13 on: August 26, 2013, 01:30:26 AM »

It's a cute concept, and I enjoyed the parallels I saw to high-functioning autism spectrum folks in the coping mechanisms to address the losses that come with memory removal.  (Because it really is the memories that make the person.  The highly selective, heavily edited, mostly imaginary memories.  The more I learn about how the brain works, the more I regard all the information it gives me with suspicion.)  (And yes, I realize that makes no sense, since all I am is the information patterns in my brain, as modulated by input from the body, but nonetheless.  Don't trust anyone, especially not your own senses.)

However, I do have to say that it works better in audio, where tone and delivery can make some of the lines - particularly Kim's dialogue - sound less off-the-wall.  I have to agree that Kim was the weak point; the protagonist is messed-up enough that it's not jarring when he phrases something weirdly or makes abrupt leaps of logic in disregard of conversational flow, but Kim is supposed to be a normal woman; her fixation and sudden swerves feel out of place.

Given that the box was established as unable to alter actual reality, there's going to be big trouble in a few days when people notice Kim is missing.  "That squirrely guy she was dating" is going to be suspect number one, and the fact that he is going to *have* to lie about what he was doing during that time period (because he doesn't know) is emphatically not going to help.
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« Reply #14 on: October 10, 2013, 09:15:47 AM »

I enjoyed this.  I saw the ending coming long before it came, but I didn't think the story depended too heavily on that being a surprise.

I don't think that I would use the box, at least in my current state of mind, but in a moment of deep grief I can understand why you might want to do it.  Am thinking of grieving of a loved one.  At the same time, since the box can't actually bring back a loved one, your choices would be to remove the memory of the death, leaving you with confusing lack of closure, or to remove memory of the person entirely, so that wouldn't be great usage anyway.

At the beginning of the story I thought he was an extreme odd character because of his complete inability to cope with anything unpleasant, but as the story went on I understood that this was a direct consequence of the Box being there--a slippery slope that he's gotten rid of an argument here, a traffic accident there, and keeps escalating until he just can't handle anything without the Box.  It would be best if he erased his memory of the Box and left it somewhere.

But I can think of better uses for the box. Imagine being able to go back and read your favorite book for the first time, again. See your favorite movie for the first time, again. That was the use I came up with, and I prefer to think that I would use it for something like that instead of getting rid of memories that cause me pain.

Again with Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, this quote did come to mind:
Quote
Joel:  Is there any risk of brain damage?
Doctor:  Well, technically speaking, the operation is brain damage

No matter that how magical vs. sciencey the Box is, I'd still consider it brain damage.  I can't believe there aren't long term neurological consequences to destroying memories like that, even discounting the obvious behaviorial problems that are shown in this story.

So many experiences are based on who we were at the time; I can that imagine seeing a film that I adored as a child (and re-watch as an adult with affection and nostalgia for memories of the kid I was when I first saw it) wouldn't be the same without memories of the first time I saw it. Sorry, that's a very awkward way of putting it - like, sometimes nostalgia is a big part of what makes us enjoy things, and if we see things through a new adult perspective, without that cushion of good memories, we mightn't enjoy them as much.

I totally get that, as I suspect that anyone who has looked up their favorite childhood cartoons on Youtube can.  As I was growing up into high school and college I lamented that all the modern cartoons all suck.  And while that was generally true, they didn't suck MORE than 80s cartoons, it's just that my perspective changed and now I'm left with nostalgiac inaccurate memories of those cartoons that I don't want to ruin by watching the actual shows again.

However, I do have to say that it works better in audio, where tone and delivery can make some of the lines - particularly Kim's dialogue - sound less off-the-wall.  I have to agree that Kim was the weak point; the protagonist is messed-up enough that it's not jarring when he phrases something weirdly or makes abrupt leaps of logic in disregard of conversational flow, but Kim is supposed to be a normal woman; her fixation and sudden swerves feel out of place.

Who says Kim is supposed to be a normal woman?
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« Reply #15 on: October 10, 2013, 11:02:14 AM »

What narrative reason would there be for her to be crazy?  It's never explicitly stated, and as an implicit assumption it's deeply suspect both on a writing and thematic level.  (That is, there's nothing in her dialogue that specifically indicates she's unbalanced, either, and the theme of the story - exploring this strange man and his toxic coping mechanism - would be undercut if one of the reasons he's struggling to relate is because the girl he's dating is also unbalanced.)
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« Reply #16 on: October 10, 2013, 02:02:23 PM »

What narrative reason would there be for her to be crazy?

Crazy is not the opposite of normal.

That is, there's nothing in her dialogue that specifically indicates she's unbalanced, either

You yourself pointed out that some of her dialogue seems off-the-wall. 

And, unbalanced is also not the opposite of normal.

, and the theme of the story - exploring this strange man and his toxic coping mechanism - would be undercut if one of the reasons he's struggling to relate is because the girl he's dating is also unbalanced.)

I disagree.  I don't know that I would say that she's unbalanced, but she's weird in her own way.  The rest of the story illustrates well enough his problem relating to anyone, so I don't think it undercuts anything if she's weird and hard to relate to.
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« Reply #17 on: October 11, 2013, 08:49:36 AM »

Okay, one thing does come to mind--reading slushpile stories with "humorous" rape scenes in them.  I could totally do without that memory.

Oh, also, hearing the synopsis of Human Centipede. 
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