50 thoughts on “Man on the Ceiling – Melanie Tem and Steve Rasnic Tem

  1. Chapter 1 Road Trip

    “Melanie and I have adopted five children over the twenty-five years of our marriage.”

    This is probably too intimate to retell. It needs to be read as written.
    I found it highly moving, about metaphor, reality, dream, fiction, truth and a spiritual stoicism as tied to creative writing. And moving, too, bearing in mind the literary hinterland of what I have already read by the Temch.

  2. Chapter 2 Alchemy

    “But sometimes imagination is the best or the only tool available to us for apprehending truth.”

    The alchemy of imagination, as told by Melanie as a mother. Or I assume it is thus written, and not by Steve, nor by Steve AND Melanie. But whosoever wrote it, I assume, perhaps wrongly, that it is about true and secret things in the writer’s past life.
    Today, in an earlier review, before I read this section of Tem, I quoted “, my two brightest stars blaze in the zenith, and at last shall be revealed the deep and secret things.”
    I sense this Tem is a very important autobiographical work, but one that is quite different from any nature of autobiography heretofore. Almost autonomous or real-time. And the suggested tragedies regarding a mother’s children consequently even more moving. To move is to destroy its erstwhile copy.

    I have so far read up to “, and whatever I made up would not in any sense be true.” in this Tem Alchemy chapter.

  3. To end of Alchemy
    Haunting material of childhood memories, covering disorientations of locale, obsessions, grievances, prejudices, elements of spite, misunderstandings of intent or appearances, even possession of children by adults as in Turn of the Screw, I infer…a bit like this book’s version of authorial foreshadowing known as aftershadowing.

  4. Just Her Size

    “; several forms of fierce love; things happening before there were words to tell about them.“

    A pretty little thing looking for a stick to use as a stick-horse in the woods, watched by her daddy or by a man who wants to kiss her. Is she amenable to that? Followed by more aftershadowing.

  5. Chapter 3 The Man on the Ceiling

    I have read so far up to: “over the beds of our children.”

    “When Melanie and I got married, we chose this name, TEM. A gypsy word meaning “country,” and also the name of an ancient Egyptian deity who created the world and everything in it by naming the world and everything in it, who created its own divine self by naming itself, part by part.”

    Part by part, indeed. This seems to be an alternating narration by Steve and Melanie, important material for all lovers of the sort of literature that we all love. In fact, I am surprised nobody has recommended it to me before now. About naming, the naming of the horrors we can believe more readily as a gestalt, here a bloc conjoined to the TEM bloc, the things and creatures we think we see, that only one of us can see but when shared become more real… Believing even our own lies that we tell for the sake of the truth of fiction. This is auto-emotional biography, written or read from within a bloc of us as self.
    The man on the ceiling who is one of many potential entities, who is today “an uncle we remember coming down for the Christmas holidays when we were five.”

  6. “If you love someone, they leave you. But if you don’t love someone, they leave you, too. So your choice isn’t between loving and losing but only between loving and not loving.”

    The phenomenon of ‘The Man on the Ceiling’ continues to be adumbrated separately, it seems, by Steve and Melanie. A monster or man that is a complex of disturbing angst and something potentially more positive. Within the optimal reading-mind, this phenomenon is a creature of genius.
    A mix of “Everything we’re telling you here is true” and “obsessively, waiting for him to reveal himself through my words.”

  7. “Go as close to the monster. Know it. Claim it. Name it. Take it in.”

    Melanie and Steve – separately, it seems – tell us of their teenage daughter, about night terrors, the faceless lady in white à la Wilkie Collins, and more vantage points towards the gestalt of the nature of the man on the ceiling. Also the nature of story-telling and truth.
    It all must have given me night terrors, too, as I found myself last night needing to get the night doctor.

    Read up to: “…masquerading as myself.”

  8. penguins

    “The white-haired woman was always on this bus. Always wore the same ankle-length red coat…”

    The woman is now in red. And Melanie (as told by Steve?) goes home to him and their family after discrete exchanges with such others, including a younger mother than her. There is always a worse parent than oneself, I have found. No excuses, though.

    A man on a ceiling needs to scrape himself off it sometimes, I also often find.

  9. I now read the ‘Man on the Ceiling’ section before the next ‘penguins’ section, whatever penguins are supposed to represent. An oblique prophecy from back then of today’s Climate Emergency? I have relations in NSW with whom I have currently lost contact. Such an emergency makes one wonder whether any of us have a posterity at all. The opening words today of the TEMCH I shall quote at more length than I usually quote such things…
    “The man on the ceiling laughs at me as he remains always just out of the reach of my understanding, floating above me on his layered wings, telling me about how, someday, Melanie and my children and everyone I love is going to die and how, after I die, no one is going to remember me no matter how much I write, how much I shamelessly reveal,…”

    I hope my long on-going reviews of the TEMCH continue to flap the stubs of metaphorical penguin-wings towards the white ceiling, as a kicking against the pricks of destiny, if pathetically…

  10. 74384586-8ECC-487A-8AE5-6CCF73F1F153


    “The sunset was paling now, and the light was silvery down the street.”

    The penguins may here be explained by dint of mention of a Valentine card Steve once gave Melanie. But either the card did not exist or Steve and Melanie did not exist as an item. Not both.
    Using the two ‘e’s in ‘Melanie’ (to match the pairs of ‘e’s in ‘Valentine’ and ‘Steve’) one is left with ‘I am nil’.

  11. “The man on the ceiling smiles in the midst of the emptiness,… […] What I tried not to think about was what if I never could find my way home,…”

    I have a friend who often can’t find his way home. This condition is getting worse. This work is a remarkable find for me, indeed appropriate to all of us on our Last Balcony, mentally and/or physically.
    And particularly reflecting (obviating (?)) the dementia ingredient. By means and meanings of literature (horror or otherwise), even gestalt real-time reviewing, whatever…

    Reached the end of this chapter. What will the next chapter bring?

    I am 72 this January…

  12. Chapter 4 Sense of Place

    “I’ve been accused of worrying too much, of seeing layers of darkness other people could not see,…”

    I empathise, sympathise, and somehow joyfully experienced this whole substantive autobiographical chapter by Steve? Or is it autobiographical? Is it fiction? Or is it by Melanie as if through the eyes of what she believes Steve is thinking? Blood or adopted children, angst about children and grandchildren. The responsibility of parenthood as a central nub of Tem, as well as horror the nub’s ironic swaddling.
    It FEELS like autobiography. Full of stuff you cannot put away. No way I can do justice to it.

    “The other day a cab driver told me you have to position yourself to be available for miracles.”

    The synergy of imagination and memory. Sense of place. No accident that ‘genius loci’ has assonance with creative genius and the madness of being loco.
    Inventing Temiconic legends, like… “A lady in white with a knife and no voice stands by people’s beds at night.”

  13. Chapter 5 Naming Names

    “But I understand what she’s asking. Once I’ve found the right name for a character, I can write his or her story. Every character in the world is waiting to be named, and every character resists naming.”

    The turn of the narrator known as Melanie. Whoever wrote it in the first place, it is her story now. The various children that pass thorough her life, including the one we shall name ‘daughter’ drawing a green heart she calls ‘cat’. And the teenage ‘son’ with binoculars watching a version of themselves through the window. It is as if the reader is the social worker, and I have the final ‘say’?

    “This is one of the countless dilemmas of parenthood: when to stay out of their way, when to stand close by, whether it’s permissible to appropriate just a little for oneself.”

    I know of images, legends, words, the singular logos as flesh, that only skilful or unknowingly inspired fictioneering as truth-making can create, but here the words and ideas do actually LIVE in the reader’s mind, begging the question as to why this book has hidden itself away until now. Perhaps because we now know each other well enough to admit its existence.

    “The man on the ceiling swinging from one ceiling to the next to the next; the neighbors never say a thing about him because they don’t and don’t want to know each other anywhere near that well.”

  14. Chapter 6
    Elephant Soup

    “Not very obsessively but with small, solid pleasure, Steve and I collect storyteller dolls.”

    A new Tem image for me to cherish. Too much to take in – in one go.
    While in a relatively short space of text.
    To cherish, having once been a storyteller myself for my children, each a bud on my body. A soup of tellers and told?
    …and we have now come from penguins to elephants, but we are not finished with the latter yet…and, meanwhile, who is storytelling for whom in the ‘soup’ of Melanie and Steve?

    “….language become meta-language that took the story deeper and also kept it distant:”

    Every word needs a sealing to keep the meaning in?

  15. Elephant’s Ear


    The wrestling as parent about story-telling – like telling the child the soup was elephant soup – a wrestling with the spectrum of abuse / lie / constructive fantasy. Mushroom or elephant ears. Dumbo or Trumpo on the ceiling, though, I wonder!
    In this writer’s case, it seemed to have worked positively.

  16. Read to the end of Chapter 6

    “Did we, in fact, know what she meant? Was the story we made up for ourselves, out of the cues she gave us and those we added on our own, the story she had in mind? Was my story the same as Steve’s, the same as her mother’s? Was she the storyteller or the child sitting at the storyteller’s feet? Are we?”

    Storytelling is more about life than life itself. And this section is a tussle with that constructive confusion of truth and fiction. The death of a child’s pet, as an example, and the stories given by all parties around it in mutual synergy. Weakness and fear are needed as well as strength and bravery to make such a synergy work.
    To drink at the Sinner Bar?

  17. Chapter 7 Telling Tales

    The prelude to this chapter has many telling words, including…

    “Instead I made up stories about why I was who I did not want to be:”

    Many ceilings that I know from my memory, meanwhile, had one bayonet lightbulb hanging from each of them.

  18. Hideout

    “I was twelve, too old to be afraid of such things and too young not to be.”

    The counterpart of hide-in. This books makes you think in a way you have never thought before. And it does it disarmingly. A boy, Steve, I guess, dares to enter a wild part of the family’s own garden, such overlapping of the trodden and the untrodden paradoxically making it feel even wilder than true wildness, I gather. Where, despite his father’s warnings, he meets another boy, one with would-be racial issues should Steve’s father ever meet him. And then we drift on into thoughts of Melanie and this story-telling is like story-telling where comparisons only work if you compare identical things, later stirred by becoming a backbrain recluse at the cusp or counterpoint of nonsense and sense where true truth can hide out and exist. Or so I infer.

    “This, of course, is where the act of creation happens, at this juncture of experience and imagination; it may be where reality happens, too.”

  19. Stalked By God

    “One night when he was ten years old, he saw God. Worse, God saw him.”

    Pareidolia as a means of immortality, becoming voices in others’ bloodstreams, for example. Starting with seeing the face of God in the clouds, the ultimate ‘man on the ceiling’, I guess. Then seeing other faces everywhere. Even faces in your own face: the ultimate Nullimmortalis. Immoralist, too. Even history of Mentalist Treatment to shed doubt on what one believes…
    Perhaps leading to the autonomous Temch itself…beyond any literary theories of Intentional Fallacy….

    “: we are required to love our children in every conceivable and not-quite-conceivable way, without measure or limitation, and still it will never be enough.”

  20. See Me

    “He didn’t dare admit that his best friends had no more presence than a dark line of clouds in a swift-moving sky.”

    I am gradually losing my confidence in gestalt real-time reviewing, as it seems even madder than the books I choose for doing it. See me, see me, I am in this section like the bear, and we all know about the bear in Steve’s Excavation. This ‘See Me’ represents my fears as above-expressed. About three boys without a context so that they build it with their own stories, thus summoning the bear that is me who they know threatens them with even more madness after reading about them. Chicken and egg, bear and bear’s young. No way to treat our young! I’ll be crawling on the ceiling myself before long.

  21. The Day He Died

    “The day he died the insects all put on their secret ears and came right up to the door, listening.”

    This is a wonderful poem with ‘The Day He Died’ incantation blended with the Tem prose we all know and love, full of beauty as well as darkness. Revelation, too.

  22. School’s Out

    “It was the day he realized he had lost understanding.“

    This whole section is surely the perfect expression of what I have been feeling recently. How could Steve and/or Melanie have empathised so deeply with someone like me all those years ago?

    ‘I am gradually losing my confidence in gestalt real-time reviewing,…’ from this review above a couple of days ago, and latterly here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2019/12/28/cruise-of-shadows-jean-ray/#comment-17868 as I approach my 72nd birthday in next few days, the cut-off point according to ‘Midsommar’! Even in Midwynter as it is!


    “He was looking for Melanie, who’d left him after forty-eight years but could not be lost to him forever because he would not be able to live without her.”

    Steve losing and finding and losing and finding Melanie in various parts of the house is probably the most moving material you will ever encounter. And I don’t say that lightly. Whoever wrote it. (If Melanie did likewise for Steve, would she find him or lose him on the ceiling? Part of the ceiling rose?)


    A feisty grandmother in a wheelchair takes her grandchildren to a virtual reality thingie of reptiles, volcanos et al, with interaction with ancient people. Except it’s not virtual! Invigorating, but with a tellingly cloying reference back to the elephant soup, if you are as sharply astute as me to recognise such a reference from having read earlier parts of this book.

  25. 25 of the 487 Rules of Storytelling

    No 8 is “Make stuff up, but never lie.”

    By the way, discovered this in a worthy context elsewhere: “The Citizens Climate Lobby: With 487 chapters worldwide, including 18 in Colorado, CCL is a non-profit, nonpartisan, grassroots advocacy organization focused on national policies to address climate change.”

  26. Chapter 8
    Hitting the Quarter-Mark

    “Let’s imagine they’ve been married now for fifty years.”

    My own wife and I are having our fiftieth anniversary this coming May. May time, meantime, may it happen. Unless the horror intervenes upon the fear first. Writing about fear makes it become horror (or some ‘no man’s land’ of making one spouse become the other?) as is also hinted at the beginning of this chapter.

    A man and wife becoming “the patterns that go together”. The patterns of looks and behaviour reaching that ghastly or unghastjy gestalt. Patterns of body-art, too, like scars and ring indentations.

    Steve’s fear is adumbrated here (by Melanie?) most touchingly. Perfect emotional prose – unmissable. A fear she, too, grows to share?

    I have read up to: “There’s a figure on the ceiling for her, too — not the same as Steve’s, but close enough.” in this chapter.

    • “Someone has switched our baby, someone lives in our attic crawl space, someone has stolen our grandmother’s corpse and now drinks tea and watches television with our grandmother dressed in clothing that would have embarrassed her. An alligator lives in our sewer line.”

      Very strong material about Steve’s anxiety, fear and dread. Or at least it was someone called Steve as called Steve by someone called Melanie. Ranging from a remarkable birdish vision of the ‘man on the ceiling’ to the reciting of Yeats’ Second Coming while driving near a tornado…
      (I did not need empathy to fully experience what was described here or what underlay it.)

      I have read up to: “… the throat of his father, whose rage and pain spun the world.”

    • “You were alone, in the nobly silent company of others who were alone. Why should that be terrifying? Why should it feel like death?”

      A lot of this seems in mutual synergy with what I wrote about Matt Leyshon’s ‘Grotesque Body’ an hour or so ago here. This is some of the most satisfyingly complex yet understandable material in this book so far, including memories of fears and dreads, particularly fear of death created by Melanie’s religious upbringing and her eyesight defects and her personal routines at night as there is some reference to parental lack of understanding on the latter, and Steve’s general ambiance of fear and anxiety, their backstories, including her memories of a camping trip….
      Why is this book not seminal reading in the field of Weird Literature and/or part of study courses in Eschatology? Hitting the Quarter-Mark as part of Zeno’s Paradox or Null Immortalis?

      I have read up to: “…a particular and not entirely visual opalescence, would stay with her for the rest of her life.”

      • “And of course it’s true. Terrible things loom over the heads of most of the children of the world. Governments start wars and then send out for lunch.”

        While Melanie is making macaroni cheese, two planes fall out of the sky, so close I wonder if it was real at all but merely a meme for the way we live precarious lives, as today with the Wuhan coronavirus and a few days ago a near world war arising from Iran. Trump as the joker in fate’s pack, I say! But the feel of these passages read just now make it SEEM a real part of Steve and Melanie’s past life, and it is indeed an astonishing text to read, and so MUST be read, before any of these potential fatal booby traps transpire in YOUR life. Seriously.

        I have read up to: “Debris like ideas, like bits of memory.”

  27. Chapter 9 Asymptote

    “I hasten to protest: Steve and I don’t always live like that! Not everything is fraught with Meaning. Like everybody else, we bumble through most of our daily lives…”

    I imagine asymptotes plotted on the sky like contrails or on the ceiling like…? Whatever, the dangerous place and the safe place – I learn from this – are both LOVE. Adopting one’s own child by someone who is charged in professional life for adoption procedures is tellingly evoked here, and the ever circling as well as plotting, quests for intersections between child and prospective parent. Those processes also apply with those we adopt from our own womb, I guess? Seemed like it to me.

    “…little boys, still toddlers, had increasingly been showing us that already they were on far more intimate terms with the man on the ceiling than any of us, in our naiveté, would have thought possible.”

  28. The Yellow Cat

    “Imagining yourself real was scary.”

    An important section, I sense. A journey in a girl’s childhood as she remembers her grandpa’s death to which she was sole witness? Well, all this book’s sections are important, I guess. Guess the Gestalt! Might try to finish this book today. Winnow or widow importance from importance. This section is about Gabriella whom we met before (Melanie and Steve’s 13 year old daughter, the same age as Mariye in the aforementioned Murakami) and Gabriella’s cat Cinnabar. Cats talk like humans in some Murakami, by the way. Gabriella’s relationship, real or otherwise, with her parents and grandparents. Where the blood line was real and where it was not real in those relationships is a moot point. At first Grandpa’s reference to a car in the wood that would take him away, I thought was an inner typo for cat. But no, it was a mix of the nature of death through Gabriella’s eyes, her questions about it, that place where cat’s heaven is. The questions that might one day evolve into an existential angst. Or a car’s – in the yellow wood?

    “Cinnabar was yellow like a fat pile of leaves on the dashboard.”

    • Something is about to happen. […] It comes as close as it can to the danger without actually encountering it. […] Maybe it’s the state of the world; this year, like every other year in the history of the planet, there is much to dread. […] Maybe it’s the way the earth turns and tilts at this time of year, magnetic field shifting,…”

      Tilts, or slopes.
      Melanie’s meeting with the Nun reminds me of the meeting of two Popes.
      Rhyme not intended!

  29. Chapter 10
    Down the Dark Stairs

    “Melanie has been teaching me lately about the asymptote, which is a way of talking about that goal you cannot achieve no matter how far you extend yourself, that state you cannot reach, that idea you cannot understand, that person who will not care for you the way you want them to care.”

    This book is truly special. I am searching my own soul in the retreat of this book, ar the bottom of my own dark stairs. The cat’s stares. I had one cat as child, Tuppenny. And when my two children were young, another cat, Morella

    “I could not last more than an hour in a silent retreat.”

    “Melanie and I write this biography of our imaginations.”

    Of the nature of miracles. And a dead son who has not become this book’s man on the ceiling. Of if he has, let’s hope he removes the man I once thought was up there. We have all got our man on the ceiling. And if we try hard enough we can change him for a better one? Transcending today’s intolerable “And you drip urine.”

    Reaching out for the true Nemonymous soul? And its parthenogenesis of late-labelling, I guess. Its gestalt. The debris of my life in its own special area (in my case a log cabin in the back garden.)

    “For down here in the dark, names are more important than ever, even though we do not know the names, or hear ourselves speaking.”

    Everyone can use this book as a retreat, and get different bespoke answers. The nun as none? A blank story. All of the answers are valuable. But I see this book has not yet finished… Nor have I.

  30. Chapter 11
    Everything We’re Telling You Here Is True

    “Sometimes not getting there is half the fun.”

    Like Zeno’s Paradox? Or a tontine of one’s children reversed? Until I reach beyond the ceiling towards the God and Goddess, both as one.


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