By Jeff Kubina from Columbia, Maryland (Typewriter) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Where From Art Thou?

I had a thought this week about the core of a writer’s inspiration or drive.  I used to think there were a few writers that went about their art in an orderly fashion, making little piles and sticky notes of ideas and dreams, thoughts and overheard quirkiness, and they would eventually sit themselves down and make something of these.  I couldn’t relate to those folks.  I thought I was part of the majority of writers and we were all lunatic geniuses or possessed.  A sort of collection of disturbing savants that readers don’t always associate with some of the resulting masterpieces they come to cradle like babies.

Here’s an example:  someone sparks an emotion in me and it hooks onto an idea (similar or not) and enforceable yanks my doppelganger (the little shadow-woman that lives inside of me) until it writes it all down … drips it all out, extinguishes the fire.  Here’s another example from the opposite side of that spectrum:  I get my feelings hurt or I go into a deep depression and the shadow-woman trails me everywhere, looms over me in my sleep, trips me for the hell of it, and generally makes my life a living frightmare until I exorcise whatever daemon in the form of a poem or prose.  Either way, I might go for days, weeks even, without a productive writing day, but when it comes there is steam on the windows when my hands leave the keyboard.

Having made contact with a few writers and a poet now, I’m beginning to think there are innumerable kinds of shadow men and women, muses, sticky-note methodology, prompt tooling and daily regimens, possessions, and general mayhem when it comes to the spark that turns a writer’s hand to paper.  I don’t understand writers that function differently from me, and that’s okay, I guess.

What’s my point?

If there are possibly as many kinds of … I’ll call them “instigators,” … as there are writers, then maybe it’s like finding a mate?  What would my daemons do if I started trying on freewriting non-stop, or turned my radio on every morning and used the first ten words I heard as a prompt?  I’m not talking about the occasional dry spell where I try these kinds of things to hunt for my shadow-woman.  I simply wonder if Shakespeare would have been Shakespeare if he’d put aside his usual writing method and tried on something else for a year.  Maybe some other Bill would have been a household name if he’d tried Shakespeare’s.

But don’t mind me, I also sit around wondering how the author of Annie got away with stealing Dicken’s Oliver Twist story?

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On a Wing and a Prayer

The countdown to becoming a successfully unemployed writer continues with only 16 days 6 hours and 55 minutes remaining at the time of this post.  Yesterday I took an important step (not the MOST important step, but a good one) in the journey.  I entered a contest.  I don’t know why, but it leaves that old song “On a Wing and a Prayer,” in my head.  That’s certainly how it feels.  Even if I don’t win, I think these butterflies aren’t going to wear off until after the first year of submissions.

I’ll be returning to my home in the Pacific Northwest (I’m not sure if Idaho counts toward the PacNW but it doesn’t feel like it right now in the midst of snowshoe weather).  While home on vacation, M made me aware of the ARS POETICA contest on Bainbridge Island for writers in something like a three or four county adjoining region.  What better way to start 2015 – my writing year – than to enter a contest in my hometown area?  Then I read the criteria:

  • No more than 30 lines.
  • That includes the spaces between stanzas.
  • We mean it.

Okay, they didn’t actually say the last one.  Still, most of my poems (blank lines included) are just over the 30 mark.  Let me rephrase – some of my BEST poems are just over the 30 lines criteria.  UGH!  The entry fee covered up to 30 entries so I did the Walmart thing and made sure I got the most bang for my buck.  Not knowing if there was a theme or how the contest originated, I did a miniscule amount of research (“miniscule research” – not a recommended strategy).

Turns out there are several poems by that name but the one that seemed most famous or historically significant was by Horace in ancient times.  In summary – he wrote it about writing poetry and drama.  So I thought I’d stick to similar themes.

It was difficult but I selected the following:

  1. Take Me With You

  2. one writer morning, and

  3. Mine.

What do you think?  They’re short (it’s the rules) so you can read ’em quick.  Tell me honestly if you think I have a shot.  Honest and productive criticism is also much appreciated.

 

Cloudy with a Chance of Change – Conclusion

Gusts and lightning, hurricanes
Tornadoes, floods, torrential rains
The Captain lashes to the wheel –
Character – an even keel.

Speaking of the weather,
Let not these words dismay –
Change may be a feather
That falls on who it may,

But each is her own Captain,
Her well marked maps abound.
No feather tells a Captain
Which depths that she must sound.

 

Cloudy with a Chance of Change

Speaking of the weather,
I think it’s safe to say,
Change is like a feather
That falls on who it may.

It flits, it floats, it falling, flies,
Emits a casual lift of ties,
But not for easy, not for cheap.
Its shoulder queasy wants to keep

The ties that bind, the merry smiles
The hearty find, the traveled miles.
The bearer, weighted down with change,
Does find the passage dim and strange.

And wanting still to hold that place –
The people, friendships, love, and grace –
Doth reach both ways but stands so still,
The future frays the battled will.

And so she knows the change must win,
And freeing courage deep within,
Releases anchors founded here.
Tucks safe the memories held so dear,

And lets the winds of fortune wail,
The goals she’s set – the billowed sail.
So waving, frantic that they’ll see
She cuts the mooring, cruises free.

The sunset forward, history aft,
Heartaches cried and funnies laughed,
A ballast full of lessons learned,
Friendships forged, demons burned –

The Captain sets a course for Then,
Embraces now, begins again.
So Change unfettered, rides the clock
And elsewhere seeks another dock.


 

Tune in for the conclusion of this self-fulfilling prophecy on December 20th.

Personification Loosed

The onion’s protest registered in the air throughout the house.  Its flesh sizzled as it hit the pan and, soon after, it began basking in the sheen of butter.  The metamorphosis began.  Two eggs balked at the corner of the counter before they cracked and were beaten in rapid swirls.  The Organic dill made its appearance from the cabinet above as a new aroma rose from the pan.  The onions were caramelizing.  The egg and spice joined them as the coffee maker hissed its message, “Mission complete.

The tomatoes would probably swamp up the whole thing and the writer doubted they would add much flavor, but she cut one up and threw it in anyway.  They’d go bad in a day or two.  She stirred and sifted the hotbed of shapes and textures and lifted out sections to the waiting plate.  After a sprinkle of parmesan on the concoction, she slid the rest from the pan to cover the cheese.  Her coffee and creamer poured, she carried the muddy mug to the table and downed her morning vitamins.  Rinsing the fork she’d used to beat the eggs, she tasted breakfast and deemed it serviceable.

What to write about, she wondered, as she opened a web browser and began her morning rituals.  The screen stared back at her, still groggy from the operating system update the day before.  She adjusted the brightness and checked her glasses for streaks.  All systems go.  Must have sleep in her eyes.  The fork finally rested on the empty plate, and she moved it out of her reach, purchasing better access to the keyboard.  Her neck pulled at her head and coaxed her to tilt back and stretch before leaning forward once again.  Her fingers reported to their assigned positions but remained poised and still.  What to write, what to write …

Nearly two years of blogging and she’d learned a very important lesson – find your niche and stick to it.  Her’s was “writing.”  Essays, memoir entries, poetry – the style made no difference as long as it had to do with the artistry, romance, challenges, and techniques regarding the craft of writing.  IMG_0175The blog readers had spoken.  So this morning she pondered what sparkling, mystical pool of the art she would dive into.  Candle flames danced. The floor heater whispered a smooth unending exhale.  An unfinished book taunted her from across the room, and still she focused on the blank screen, its face devoid of expression – as clueless as she about what would adorn its space.

An angry truck roared past outside.  huffing as it came to a stop at the sign, and mumbling something about gravel and ice before rounding the corner and grumbling off into the distance.  The coffee pot ticked and popped on its hotplate, reminding her it was there if she needed help.  She went for a refill as the empty breakfast plate caught her eye.  It joined it’s family in the dishwasher.  The icy floor tiles were not interested in her morning routine except to demand that she remove the stray onion skin that had interrupted its stubborn compulsion at order.

A second cup of energy sparked her neurons into more intense action.  “Action,” she said aloud, and the house responded with awkward silence.  She could write about creating action in a story, or inciting forward momentum in pumping out a daily word count.  “Fat chance at that,” the house seemed to insert, and she had to agree – faced with the still blank page.  Yesterday’s post pulled her to her blog page, and reminded her that decades of writing teachers would surely provide material for her to expound.  “But that feels like cheating,” she replied, “unless I put some kind of spin on it.”

The chair squealed as she twisted in it, staring at the patio-door window to think.  The blinds it wore were those cheap, plastic hanging strips that twisted to open, and shuffled along the track it hung on to open wider or close.  Some of the strips were warped and hung crooked, exposing a striped portrait of the neighborhood.  She let the spaces paint lines of light on her brain as she dissected the art of writing for a specimen that could hold her spellbound long enough to make her fingers twitch on the keys.

Alliteration, hyperbole, metaphors – she stretched her memory for other literary devices.  Imagery, simile, irony – she loved them all and they had always been faithful, except for “hyperbole,” she recalled, that one time in college.  Such friends could make or break a piece, she started to write about it, simultaneously questioning each as to their whereabouts earlier that morning.  She broke their resistance, they started talking; she was making great progress. Some were even pointing their fingers, and just when several had named the culprit (“Personification,” whom she’d forgotten to put into the lineup – the space heater began an annoying incessant beeping.

Death found an author writing his life.. (3517039221)

Death found an author writing his life.. Designed & done on stone by E. Hull. Printed by C. Hullmandel. London, Dec. 1827.

The fuse breaker’s lack of cooperation had incited a strike.  She moved from her seat and headed over to begin negotiations.  The phone rang.  Work was calling.  She would have to finish the article another day.  It was times like these that she was grateful for the MacBook’s battery.  The laptop would protect the morning’s work, safeguarding it until her return.  She had a lead now, she thought.  It was only a matter of time before she could round up “Personification,” and expose its habit of transforming objects,  animals, and even concepts like “death,” into humans.

By Jeff Kubina from Columbia, Maryland (Typewriter) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

A Writer – After-the-Fact

I am a writer after-the-fact.  My favorite class in middle school was a literature class where our teacher (oh, how I wish I could remember that heroine’s name) encouraged some of the best poetry I’ve ever written, and taught us how to write persuasively through the most horrible song ever made up.  Seriously – it “REECed.”  Specifically – it was a labored rhythmic chant to the acronym she created – “ASPIREEREEREEC,” and if you write persuasive anythings, I’m sure you can fill in the words.  My favorite high school class was Mrs. Amy Leeson’s Literature class where we combined neuvo-geek with drama-chic with half the academic bowl team that she ran also active members of the school’s drama club (Ms. Leeson directing).  I still have the T-shirts – one with a puffy brain on it and the other with a shield that warned our opponents we were either coming home, “With our shields or on them!”  I can still sing all the lyrics to “Guys and Dolls,” and I still remember my first awareness of a transgender person in the form of 20th century artist, Wendy Walter.  Enlightenment.  That’s what the written word meant in my formative years.

But Dollar_sign_(reflective_metallic)only dreamers, those who are impractical from their youth with no good parenting or influence to set them right about financial security, responsibility, and avoidance of embarrassment, only those people would ever pursue a writing career out of high school.  Duh.  So I joined the Army Reserve, went to college for nearly eleven years before settling on a major and finishing it, and had two successful careers into my nearly middle age.  As a woman who observed typical corporate gender roles without question in my twenties, and later became a member of executive leadership in a tax-funded organization, I saw why feminism is still so relevant today.  I experienced proof, in my own journey, that the “American Dream” where your hard work and perseverance leads to success. can be true.  True, that is, if you are okay with the concept that success means upper-middle class but probably not Mercedes or Rolls Royce type of success.

I am a writer after-the-fact, because after a winding path to a place where I recognize the importance of balance, the ability to pay bills and have a roof over my head and still be home spending quality time with loved ones, still reaching out to friends from time to time and enjoying a latte, or hilarious conversation with wit flying at breakneck speeds – after coming to that conclusion, I am taking advantage of a tiny crack in reality that has opened up.  I am walking away from an 18 year career that I love, a great paycheck too, and returning to the land of “hand to mouth,” in order to write.  I find it fascinating that it took me 22 years to lift myself up by my bootstraps from poverty to the “upper-middle class” I mentioned, yet in just 42 days I will be immediately demoted to a level just slightly above that $17,000 annual salary I made in 1997.  I’m sure I’ll enjoy writing about that one day.

For now, suffice to say that my wife will be paying our bills and bringing home the bacon (in the form of the healthiest food we can afford for meals).  Instead of the “shotgun-style” three room house (in “Crackville”) I rented back then, we’ll be comfortable and happy in our lovely home with a gorgeous view of the Olympic mountains.  Granted – we’ll be paying on two mortgages: this one and the one we rent (thankfully) to a dutiful family in the South.  Granted – we’ll be biting our nails, hoping the skylights in the roof don’t spring a leak in one of the rainiest areas of the U.S., or the septic tank holds up, or the already warping wooden deck in the back doesn’t fall apart.  But we’ll have each other, and friends, and I’ll be writing anywhere from 3000 – 6000 words a day, and isn’t that what dreams are all about?

Amazing too, that it only took 22 years to ponder how it might have been if I’d ignored the corporate plantation owners’ offers to rack up credit card debt, the government subsidized bank offers to accumulate massive student loans and spend the next years of my life in servitude to those debts.  To consider the possibility of being happy with what can come from me instead of how hard I need to work to get things to come to me.  Perhaps the real lesson to be explored is how much I would even be able to write effectively if not for the trip down Al-Anon pain, debt-stress, heartaches, and coming out among the hundreds of other ingredients into the who I have become.  But again, that’s for another day.
256px-Bookstack.svg
If I had it all to do over, I’d take more classes on writing.  And literature.  I remember thinking how I could cut down on my amount of required reading in college by limiting the Lit classes I took.  Messed up thinking.  At 41 years old, I find myself doing nerdy things like picking up a college literature text for a bargain at a Salvation Army Store and drooling over its variety of content once home.  I pour over the tiny text (and cringing, I admit to keeping a magnifying glass handy whilst reading it) and recall why I fell in love with Twain, Woolf, Poe, and others.

I am a writer after-the-fact, but I do wonder what I might have been if I’d been one of the irresponsible dreamers and become a writer before it all.  Would my children be those books I blush at, and shake my head about the travesty that anyone could make a killing off such base and carnal fruits – so simple and formulaic they don’t require a spellchecker or a care for unique plot design?  Was that a low blow?  The difference is: I don’t care at 41 years of triumph.  Have I read them?  Would I be able to speak with such clarity as to their contents if I hadn’t?  But I wouldn’t pay my hard earned money for them.  I know, I know.  I digress.

Ernest_Hemingway_at_the_Finca_Vigia,_Cuba_1946_-_NARA_-_192660     Would I be a writer of clarity and intelligence, or a rambling idiot who thinks twerking is something worth writing about?  Would I seek to write something with literary value, or be forced to the debt plantations anyway, striving toward a publishing contract that would pay my growing bills?  I will never know.
Kafka
I used to detest the upper classes.  I used to writhe in hatred for the entitled oblivious, the self-interested pundits, and shake my fist at the unfairness of it all.  I looked at writers like Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and all the others and thought, “Of course she/he can write something deep and meaningful – they can sit around in their ‘writing bungalow’ comforted by their inherited money and just spill words of virtue whenever the mood strikes them, no fiscal or leadership care in the world.”  I connected with the Kafka’s and those others who wrote from poverty or while struggling with the realities of 99 percent of humanity.  Yet, here I am.  In just 42 days I will be able to say – I am a writer, after-the-fact, who can write with limited care, surrounded by friends and family who don’t need me to supervise anything or make any crucial decisions.  I am a writer with stories and time.


 

Featured Image by Jeff Kubina from Columbia, Maryland (Typewriter) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
L. Frank Baum, 1899

Writing & Blogging: Lessons Learned in NaNoWriMo2014

If you are a writer, an author, a novelist, or interested at all in the literary world, you know that November marked the popular National Novel Writing Month, or as it is more affectionately (or vehemently) known – NaNoWriMo.  This was my third year participating in the event where writers from all over the world commit to a monthly word count goal of fifty thousand words.  This was the first time I won; I wrote over 50K words and am still going.  But more importantly, I learn a few things from the experience.

1. Keeping a daily writing habit is essential. 

Doesn’t matter if the material is not my best, or even crappy.  Putting my body and mind in the habit of writing something, anything, everyday knocks the idea of writer’s block off its rocker a little.  It means I don’t worry about quality so much as quantity for this exercise.  If you wrap that whole philosophy up into a little stocking stuffer – it means you tend to be looser, more limber, and can step into the ring looking like a buff, energetic writing monster.  It means quality will come easier.

2. Setting a daily minimum keeps me honest. 

Otherwise, I can subscribe to the idea of daily writing and then cheat out a sentence or two and call it a day.  Maybe you don’t have this problem.  I do.  So even if I set a low 500 word count minimum, I can do the math on how much content that gets me in a year and be happy that I’m on board.  With the day job, I think 500 – 1K is reasonable depending on your genre.  I intend on upping that to 3K – 4K when I go full bathrobe writer in 45 days.

3. First draft writing is important for building confidence.

Before my first 50K on one project, I always wrote as if doing a term paper the night before its due.  I wrote, edited, rewrote, wrote some more, polished that, etc.  By the time I got to the ending, I had lovely content leading up to it and the “grand finale” of finishing and being done at the same time was wonderful.  But facing such a large project, I had trouble.  My first two NaNo years were hell because I couldn’t let go and just type.  I made it to about 3K the first time, and only 8K the second.  I knew that I needed to prove to myself that I could tackle a project as large as a novel before resigning and becoming (for all intents and purposes) unemployed.

So this time (and as many of my blog posts display for all to see) I just threw caution to the wind and made myself ignore aspects I wanted to go back and change after a few paragraphs.  It required discipline to stay committed to that plan.  It also required that I let go of the control I relish in the creative process for the time being and just vomit the ideas and ramblings that came to me onto the page.  The experience was a watershed moment in my writing practice and I encourage anyone who hasn’t tried it to give it a go.

I intend to finish the content of the book this way (probably another 50 – 100K) and then revise for the next two months.  Then I will follow the seasoned advice of many successful and published writers and toss the whole thing in a drawer for a few months.  In June or July (right around the time of Camp NaNoWriMo) I will pull it out and begin learning how to edit and develop a third and fourth draft.  Who knows?  Maybe it will be ready for an agent shortly after that.

4. Truth – “Find a niche for your blog and stick to it.” 

In posting my blog since I moved to Idaho for work in 2013, I’ve watched how interested readers/followers are in what I post.  My original idea was to have a daily snippet of writing, just a morsel, that readers could enjoy in less than a couple of minutes with their coffee. I discovered that I don’t do that well.  (Someone who does that really well is – http://myothervoices.wordpress.com/ although the content is not daily.)   I tried serials, but learned writing them “on-the-spot” daily is embarrassing since I didn’t edit them much prior to posting and later wanted to change the storyline or bury my head from all the typos.

I hadn’t learned that lesson until NaNoWriMo2014.  I posted unedited tidbits from my daily word count climb for all to laugh at and/or find amusing.  But since I slid around in the plot arc so frequently, and since there was no character development provided for a backdrop, it was hard to follow any story or stay hooked.  This was the valuable criticism from my lovely beta-reader and wife.  I agree.

Overarching all of this was the countdown theme.  My wife and I have set a goal for my return home once bills are paid and finances in tune for losing my income.  I thought sharing the experience of the countdown would interest some because, who doesn’t dream of quitting their job and writing full-time?!  I learned that to leverage that, I needed much more focus and time than I could provide to the blog.

My point?  The most popular articles on my blog since starting it are the ones dealing with the writing practice, habit, journey, and frustrations.  I love to write about those things almost as much as I like creating fiction.  So I believe I have found my niche.  Expect blog modifications to follow.

The Problem with Sonnets

A writer/poet – I appreciate
All form, but also dearly love free reign.
Still, yesterday I planned to write by rule,
And post a sonnet here for you to read.
“Iambic” and the word “Pentameter,”
Won’t fit inside a verse that has that count.
For starters, therein lies the rub I fought,
It’s difficult to capture depth and flow,
When forced to beat the drum on every verse.
The point and art get tangled for the worse.

What’s more, I am not one that talks so much
To say what fewer words could well convey.
But Sonnet creeps and crawls and reaches out
To poke and tickle thought and pondering
Before arriving at a central theme
And twisting a duplicitous array,
Or giving fuel to irony at last.
And somehow all this ends a melded blend.
Unlike the daily spew, the Sonnet points
To focus perfect words at ending joints.

256px-ShakespeareAnd then there are the rhyming schemes to shape,
(Which, as you see, I’ve floated in this post,
Except to rhyme the couplets, Shakespeare style).
“A-B-A-B,” then “C-D-C-D,” goes
The Shakespeare variation at each start.
Then “E-F-E-F,” next is followed by
The final “G-G” couplet at the end.
See – Will abandoned old Petrarchan rule.
“A-B-B-A,” done twice, and then to field –
“C-D-E-C-D-E” was hard to wield.

Don’t get me started on the Dante twists
Where “A” through “C” are all that one can rhyme
The worst Sicilian puzzle to my mind
And long before a Puzo story that.
So I attempted, but alas – in vain,
To focus all my talent to the task.
Eight lines was all I managed yesterday,
And really, only seven counted good.
My point is:  all the thing was meant to say
Was, “Time slips fast, especially in a day.”

Here lies yesterday’s unfinished sonnet:

“The brown of noon has come and murdered birth
With up so floating nothing inked but rhyme.
A spacious nothing lurks and fondles worth
What little is, and tiny left of time.
A gasp, and I inhale the dust of sleep,
My eyelids snap and muscles flinch to wake,
The bleach white curtain lets the sunbeam seep
Its “lost-time” acid all my urgent take” . . .

Morning Mind Squatter

1949-scattered-papersIn the early morning, as I rise from the depths of that all-encompassing death of sleep, I sometimes stumble into conversations and ramblings that aren’t my own.   In those moments right before I open my eyes, I feel my thoughts stroke surfaces of things I don’t even care about.  This morning it was something about a lecture on topography and a way to talk to those folks that prefer to dine earlier in the day.

It’s as if I woke into a wrong room, and body … inhabited by a completely different person who was not expecting my arrival at that hour, if at all.  Irritated that I was taking my synapses back, the phantom intellect and perpetuator of useless topics stood up in a huff and shuffled her papers in irritation, then stormed toward the middle or back of my brain to see about finding a more private room, or to schedule the current one for another time when I would be less likely to interrupt.

To my knowledge, I’ve never once been pleasantly surprised by this imbecile.  Her random topics aren’t entertaining in any way, and although boring, they are too awkward or alarming to effectively put me back to sleep. I think I understand where the stories about tiny shoe cobblers might have originated if this is the state of our condition in middle-age.  I’m not a big shoe collector, but I’d take quiet little cobbler elves over this ignoramus any day.  I fear she will chase away my muse inspired wakings – those mornings where I rise with good ideas and rush to my keyboard before coffee to get them written.

I’m not trying to be selfish here.  If she would simply pick any number of the millions of things that even remotely interest me to poke around in, I’d let her stay longer.  What’s wrong with a little history of Ireland, book reviews, Mars and physics or astronomy . . . even gluten-free or lactose intolerant solutions.  Okay, those last ones are snore-inducers, but there’s things in there like: Nero and pyromania, “the threat of pink,” oh – and don’t miss “code yellow butterfly.”  She has her pick of specifics or abstract to run with – all of them fascinating and/or useful.  But instead, I have to walk in on the sordid pictures of her dissecting the types of arch support, or why the letter “J” curves left instead of right.

I worry.  What if this is a takeover starting?  I’ve always feared that day, when I start to forget little and big things, and head down Alzheimer’s road.  What if this boring and presumptuous phantom is biding her time for that, so she can take over my person?  A body snatcher in the makings?  Perhaps more sleep and exercise is the answer!  Well, more sleep at least.

Don’t mistake my anxiety.  I know this mind squatter pulls these topics from somewhere in my head.  I’m not insinuating a lobotomy of all that is bland.  It’s just . . . well, you know the score.  Take a difficult math concept and “Teacher A,” who explains patiently, shows you pages in your book, and even scribbles some things on the board.  You just don’t get it.  Enter “Teacher B,” who says little and writes from simple to extreme across the board, then turns and, you feel enlightened and now completely understand the concept.

This morning intruder is starting to make me wonder if I might like to explore (more fully) the techniques of sinus cleansing.  If she ends up being “Teacher B,” I’m doomed.

Building God

There’s a god in a building, just down from where I used to live.  He is going to get worshiped about twenty minutes from now.  I’m pretty sure he’s in there, because I see his people come and go, but they never let him out, at least not when I’m around.  Those people are a little different from me, so I figure that god  has a specific “type.”  Then there’s those folks at that other place; they did their building thing yesterday.  They like to take their god everywhere, so I’ve met that one.  He’s pretty old – the cranky kind – and he likes to talk about things we shouldn’t do all the time.  I don’t think he REALLY gets out much, because if he met other kinds of people in this world, he might like to discuss some other topics and, y’know – sort of mix it up a bit.

I met God in a bar once.  He told me a funny joke – clean and hilarious.  Later he told me I should really take better care of myself, and do more things that would make me the good kind of proud.  That was after we’d talked about life in general for a while.  I had to agree with him at that point.  Next morning I had such a hangover.  But instead of cursing myself for being an idiot, I rolled over and hugged my Bible.  I knew I was right where I was supposed to be.

He’s not always in the bars though, in case you go looking.  I’m sure he can be found in other buildings with the various names for God.  Just don’t pin him to a time or people.  He likes to spread out and get real close.  I enjoy our talks much more when I’m clear headed and healthy.  He likes to smile though good-hearted people, and (for real) He likes long walks, and just sitting and being quiet together.  I especially like it when he writes to me in all kind of ways.  Just the other day I read something that make me smile at another aspect of His kind of love.  Better than rocket-fuel that stuff.

I think people get afraid of different ideas about God and that’s why they stay in their buildings at specific times on specific days.  “IT IS WRITTEN, PERIOD EXCLAMATION POINT.”  I get that in a variety of ways from the building people.  Reminds me of those teachers who didn’t like us to interpret poetry differently from the most commonly held traditions.  I mean, I understand that red is red, like apples.  Except there are some that are green, y’know?  I don’t claim those “grapples” where some people developed a way to infuse apples with grape taste.  What – did they mess with the fruit DNA or something?  I’m not in favor of that with God’s character.  Shouldn’t try and mix too many human traits and opinions with a Creator like mixing fruit DNA or something.  Grapes and apples don’t even grow on the same kind of thing.  I wonder if there’s a lab in some of those buildings.

I should backtrack a little here and explain that I don’t tell this stuff to many people either.  Plus there’s the fact that we humans have a hard time describing living, sentient beings without using human terms.  We do it with our pets.  I even did it with God in this same essay.  So I’m really not much different from those building folks.  In fact, some of my favorite pals are building people – and sometimes, when the timing is right, I can see we share a little piece of His character in something we say or more usually – something we do.  That’s like finding a twenty in the pages of a book for my attitude and demeanor when it happens.  God is such a poet.

Taco Boy

Taco (5076902674) (2)
Yesterday at the Seattle ferry terminal I grabbed what will be the last good fast food/restaurant food I will have for at least another month – a couple of Tacos from Taco Del Mar.  Don’t judge.  Living in rural Idaho has given me a new appreciation for … convenience.

The ferry was running late and the terminal was packed.  Crowds are not our kind of scene, but we were fortunate to grab a table and chairs just in time.  Sitting there, eating my dripping taco, a tiny little head and face appeared to my left, just over the table edge.  A little boy was staring at me, or rather, my taco.  It was sort of akin to those times you eat at a friend’s house, and their pet starts to beg.  Awkward, and uncomfortable.

I swallowed my bite and just stared right back at him.  He smirked a little and I smiled back.  His father then revealed himself to be the man sitting at the table next to M, along with presumably his mother and an older sibling who were totally disinterested with the whole thing.  His father called to him, ordering him to leave us alone and come back to their table.  This boy couldn’t have been more than three or four.  He wasn’t helpless (obviously) and also wasn’t talking.  Whether he could speak at all, I do not know.  One thing was certain – he completely ignored his dad, and if I didn’t have ears, I would never have known he was being called just to look at the little brat.

I say “brat.”  It’s not that this child was being extremely annoying.  He wasn’t grabbing at things that were not his or tossing his animal crackers at anyone.  He wasn’t screaming at the top of his lungs or repeating anyone’s words over and over again.  He was just being, independent.  It was soon after our staring contest that he traipsed over to the table next to me and his father got up and grabbed … not his hand … but his leash.

The little dude was wearing a leash.  And not the bungee cord type that expands and contracts, but a bonfire leather, sturdy, on a metal swivel do-hickey – leash.  It attached to a body harness he was wearing over his clothes.  And his dad pulled him back to their table and spoke to him as the little tyke looked neither hurt, angry, or amused.  In fact, he looked elsewhere as his dad spoke and in adult terms, totally blew him off.

The boy attempted to part their company again shortly after his father’s diatribe.  His dad gave the leash a tug and he instinctively grabbed the leash out of his dad’s hand.  Strangely, dad let him have it, becoming to interested in something they were doing at the table.  So, with his leash in hand, the little boy proceeded to traipse around the tables and into the ferry terminal toward the door that lead to Seattle.  His father turned once and called to him, then turned around again.  It was so surreal.

I lost interest when his father got up and went after him at some point after.  I sometimes have to shift gears before what is in my head comes out in real life.

So I thought of a story that my better judgement declined before it hit the page.  It was about a child stealer who watches this whole scene, and easily whisks the boy away.  Later, when the boy is in a box with air holes in the back of a horse trailer headed for who knows where, the evil kidnapper says, “Bet you wish you’d listened to your pappy, huh!”  And the police take the family’s and the witness statements and call CPS.

My beta-reader told me recently I should be very cautious about killing a kid I have in my Malone story.  He said it would turn off any parent readers and make people angry.  I have to agree.  I feel the same way about this story.

The Writer’s Grave

There is a well – a reservoir that stores the great and lofty ideas of a writer.  Its depth requires an air tank and its miles from shore to shore – a sturdy vessel.  And while this repository of “what ifs,” insight, and observation is easily navigated while driving, waking, or standing in the shower … it does not lend itself to a map nor does it beacon in lucid moments at the keyboard.  White squallThis wealthy ocean, this Shangri-La cool drink of creativity, exists in just that moment, that exact spot in the time-space continuum, where fear flees and boldness declares white squalls of edgy inspiration – drowning the willing victim in new worlds and unexplored feelings.  A fickle sea when set as a destination.  A happy grave when found in distracted efforts into Otherland.  To die a little in that resting violent sea of throbbing neurons … every writer longs for that little bit of death each time they sit lively to perform their art.

Screen Love

Joan Blondell eats with the boys at a North Atlantic base while on a United Service Organization (USO) camp show tour

When I was in college (the second time), I fell in love with Joan Blondell.  At the time I was 33 and Joan was 99.  I just couldn’t help marveling at the full bodied, big eyed beauty joking around on the screen as we watched Gold Diggers of 1933 in my “Reel American History” class.  Years later I discovered that she was also the cuddly looking, grey-haired waitress in the movie Grease.  That’s when I realized it probably wasn’t going to work between us.

Still, I couldn’t shake the ending of Gold Diggers of 1933.  The movie is your typical Busby Berkeley, showgirls-in-symmetrical-order, film.  In general, it’s about girls needing a man with money to survive.  But it’s also about the show within the show and, in the end, skews off on this tangent about the forgotten men.  Blondell and Etta Moten Barnett sing a magical song and dance number about men at the bottom of the barrel in the country.  Men in uniform march back and forth on these arches in typical Berkeley style and really create this magnificent crescendo for the movie.  When it’s all said and done, you’re left with no recollection of the previous (frivolous) storyline and only with the emotional reaction you have to the Forgotten Man number.

It’s a classic example of how movies can really highlight a cultural or political element and make you either mold thoughtlessly to it’s depiction, or enjoy the moment and analyze it’s accuracy later.  President Roosevelt spoke about his “New Deal” plans to the nation via radio a year before this movie.  He coined the “forgotten man” phrase in his speech.

We talked about that in my college class.  Meanwhile, I couldn’t take my eyes off Blondell, and Barnett’s voice on that song just served to grease the wheels of my infatuation.  Movies, music, writing, visual art – what wonderful aphrodisiacs for just about any formulation of a new or greater idea.  The idea of love, for example.  The idea of fighting for a cause.  The idea of time travel.

War with Me

Every night I wage a war.  The enemy crawls into the room and begins its familiar bombardment, first with feathers and then with rubber bullets.  In a matter of minutes I’m surrounded by fire breathing dragons screaming with urgency – I must enter their realm.  I refuse, at least for a few more hours.  It’s about the fight, yet I don’t even know where my objection starts in me.  This battle makes no sense and doesn’t do me any good.  But somehow, Sleep has become my enemy.

Its army comes at me as if I’m expecting it.  Like I’ll throw myself at their mercy once the grenades are thrown.  I shake my head and pop my lids open again, a yawn stretches me but I stay connected to the wakeful world … with my eyes.

Two days ago I went to the eye doctor and he tells me I have slight cataracts in my left eye and the onset of macular degeneration in my right.  What’s left to fight with if I don’t have my eyes?  The monster approaches tonight and my weapons start to ache.

All these years, for reasons I don’t comprehend, I fought sleep off.  It isn’t insomnia; it’s a conscientious, albeit an underground and seditiously layered response.  My mind wants to stay rapt with the happenings of the day or the fantasies I’ve missed while doing the responsible job thing.  It wants to read new depths and experience different worlds, scan new perspectives and flex different thoughts.  It’s crosshairs are a pair of blue peepers I’ve had since I was born.  Now the weapons of choice are losing their effectiveness yet the enemy is in no way breaking its stride.

It certainly occurs to me (on a regular basis, should you question my clarity on this matter) – sleep would assuredly heal my situation,  or at a minimum slow this eye-death process.  Would that I could allow myself to be taken prisoner.  To surrender.  The sheets and the pillow call my weary body.  Why can’t I give in?  Shell shock?  Post traumatic stress syndrome?

But I still fight.  I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to stop this madness.  No doubt if I could just figure out what started this war for me, I’d be able to agree to a cease-fire, draw up a peace plan.  Resolve to do what’s best for my sanity.

Alas, I fear that peace may never come.

Choosing Sides

Unless you order the “Gut Buster Special” which comes with a premeditated calorie delivery system, there are usually choices for additional sides in any dining out experience. In most cases, even the “Gut Buster” has allowable customization: “Would you like tots or fries with that?” What I’d like to explore briefly is how the server promotes these sides when taking your order.

NCI_Visuals_Food_HamburgerDoes your server explain the ideology behind each choice, flinging punditry and and leaning more in favor of baked tots over fries? Perhaps your wait staff is passionate about the health benefits of the baked tots over the more artery clogging fries. Liberty fries, of course … but still. Do you study the menu before the notepad carrying fount of opinion arrives to query you, pondering the nutrient content and trans fat risks? That way you are an educated side picker. Of course, it’s always important to educate yourself before you vote. But wait – how much should you trust that menu?

No worries. Your apron clad expert will arrive any minute to bring you up to speed on his or her version of the truth. Just keep in mind, your server may have lost a loved one to a heart attack, or diabetes. El Garçon may have a hidden agenda for coercing you to leave those fries alone. Don’t be mad. He’s just trying to spare you from an early death or unfavorable afterlife. Heaven forbid he owns baked tot futures.

You could research this choice a little, don’t you think? Give your conscience a little more certainty to rest its weary head upon. Careful – the restaurant next door is pushing the fries … after all, tots are “so five years ago.” Then there’s that nice looking dog walker you stop on the sidewalk (in your effort to get a random, unbiased opinion) who looks at you like you’ve just invaded the planet. “Are you nuts? Think about sticking to salad, Pudgeball.” How rude?!

Let’s speak to the manager/owner, shall we? Eh hem. “Excuse me Ma’am, but I’d like more information about the pros and cons of each of these sides so I can make an informed decision. Can you help?”

This woman is of average height and build, looks healthy enough and, we’re thinking, must be of decent intelligence. She owns and runs her own restaurant for crying out loud. Let’s check out her response.

“If it weren’t for the government telling me how to run my establishment, I wouldn’t even serve fries. You don’t have to ask for me to tell you that eating fries is a sin and those that do are going to burn forever. Especially those that dip their fries in the ketchup. There’s only one right choice here and if you don’t see it my way, I’m going to have to ask you to take your “Gut Buster” and leave.”

Game over. If you still wish to play the “Choose Sides” game, please deposit another pocket of quarters into the slot labelled, “I am a person.” Otherwise, please place your nickel in the slot marked “Corporate Individual.”