Writing Practice – 9/26/2020; It’s Been a Minute

It’s been a minute…

It’s been a little while since I was back here. A minute – two – ten – an hour. It’s been half a day, a whole day, three. It’s been a week – a fortnight – a cycle – a month. It’s been a season, a year, a decade. It’s been a generation, a century, an era, a millennium, an epoch. It’s been a while.

How have you been? Wait – don’t answer that. You know I ‘m not serious. I don’t really care how you have been, I’m only using that question to initiate your reciprocating action, in which you will ask me how I’ve been, which will allow me to unload on you, to brag about myself and my children and my spouse, to complain about my boss and my children and my spouse, to monopolize the conversation and to take it in the direction I want and to steer it towards your admiration of me for how strong I’ve been, for how amazing I am for how terrible all that has happened to me has been.

One thing I will definitely not do, rest assured, is take any blame for what has transpired. Oh, don’t you fret, none of this is my fault. It absolutely does not reflect poor judgment, rash decision-making, short-sightedness, willful naivete, or blind ambition at the price of my integrity. Perish the thought! What would ever give you such an idea? Forget it, that. Let’s continue to harp on the fact that nobody else really understand me, not the way you do, friend. Not the way you can make me feel better about myself, not the way that you have been a person to always support me, encourage me, never one to judge, never one to dissuade me from anything, never hard or harsh, cruel, or realistic, and to me that might have short-circuited some of the self-destruction.

No, it is not the only kind of rational thinking that I get from you, friend, but just the opposite. I come seeking solace – a balm for my emotional wounds. I know that you are good for it. I know you are not one to undermine this relationship with anything like truth, so I have once again, as past times, come back to you for my refreshment, my rejuvenation, my resetting of my emotional counter back to “fresh” and “happy” again, a resetting which I know you will be all too happy to provide, for I can see that you too find value in such codependency.

You feel needed, and that makes you feel valued, so regardless of the very one-way flow of energy that this vampiric bond survives on, me sucking from you, never giving, never sustaining, regardless of how little I can offer in terms of a [illegible] or even respect, I know you will continue to pursue your part just as I will continue to pursue mine.

So, friend, what do you say? Got any of the good stuff for me? Sure, it’s been a while, but I know you’re good for it. You can’t have forgotten how to make me feel better already, have you?

After all, it’s only been a minute.

Story published! Read at your own peril.

My short story “The Metamorphoses”, was published on Friday by Altered Reality Magazine. Give it a look and a read, and I would always appreciate a comment on how this story resonated with you.

Photo by Debadutta on Pexels.com

I first saw her on a Tuesday, early November. It was starting to chill down outside. That’s how Bradley always said it — “chill down”. I liked him for small things like that, but small things weren’t enough to keep us together. Hell, even big things like a son weren’t enough to keep us together. Anyway.

She was moderate height, blonde, slim build, pretty. She came in to Jack’s All-U-Can-Eat alone, with a book. Stories, by Kafka. I read one before, I think, I couldn’t remember if it was him or Faust.

She helped herself to the buffet, ate quietly, read her book. After she was finished she got a second plate, and then a third. Each time I cleared her table she gave me a small nod and smile, said “Thanks” with a slight German accent, thonks.

“Marie!” Jack called me over to his manager stand, hands on hips. A scowl turned down the corners of his mouth, his thick, greying mustache poking out over thin lips. “She needs to leave.”

I found myself defending a stranger. “She hasn’t done anything wrong.”

Jack’s glare deepened. “You know what I mean. We got a policy here.”

I tossed my head. “No free meals doesn’t mean much when you call it ‘All-U-Can-Eat’,”

“Whatever,” he snarled. “Just get rid of her.” Rolling my eyes, I slowly made my way over to her table.

I didn’t want to do it, I said, but I was going to have to ask her to leave.

“Can’t I just stay here and read, for a while longer?” I loved her accent. “I’m in the middle of a very exciting story.” She sounded so intelligent, so refined.

I got an idea. “Actually, yes,” I said, looking over my shoulder. “That’s perfectly fine.”

Jack was even more disturbed than before. “What the hell’s going on?” His eyes were accusing slits. “Why is she still there?”

“She’ll just pay again for the dinner service,” I said. And even though I often complain that money is tight, I knew I would be able to cover one extra meal.

The Metamorphoses by Stephan James

Writing practice – 9/12/2020

What keeps coming to my mind is

What keeps coming to my mind is that day – that one special, glorious, magical, mystical day in which you both took me to the heights of ecstasy and dashed my heart at the bottom of the highest cliffs imaginable.

Do you remember? Of course you do. No human still with a heart would have forgotten that day. The emotions were too strong, like a tidal wave washing over the both of us, a relentless force overwhelming and tumbling and covering over us, and there we were, helpless against the forces of love and lust and desire and peace and power.

I wished it could have been different. Do you? Who am I kidding, of course you do. I know you wished it could have been more like a gentle fade to black, a casual loss of feeling that subsided over months, years, as the perpetual erosion of the hours gradually wore down the blocks we both were putting up as shields to our hearts.

Instead, it was a bomb that went off between us, one that disintegrate those walls and sent shrapnel flying into our hearts, our souls, and tore them to shreds too.

It would have been better if you hadn’t said it, too. If it had just been a thing that I was too scared of, or too weak to face, or too inexperienced to understand.

But when you did, when you said “I love you too,” it destroyed me. IT took me from the place of confidence and assurance that I couldn’t do right by you, couldn’t do enough for you, couldn’t be what you wanted and needed, and that I was fooling myself to think that I could, and It squished that idea through a wormhole the size of the galaxy and shot my thoughts and expectations halfway across the universe.

When I arrived I thought that I knew what I wanted. When I said what had to happen, I thought it was the right thing. When you knew what I wanted to say but wouldn’t let me say it, it confirmed my suspicion of imbalance, of an out of alignment relationship, of the distance not only between our beds but our hearts too.

And yet –

And yet

Why? Why did you say it?

Why did you tell me that? Why couldn’t it have just been my foolish, vulnerable mistake?

And that’s all it would have been, had you not said what you said.

But –

  But …

    But.

You did.

And now I sit here, years having gone by, and the wound occasionally opens once again. A short memory of that day, or the weeks before, or the first date, or how you first smiled at me.

There hasn’t been a day where I haven’t thought of you. I hate that fact and love it at the same time.

Hate that I am still so tied to the past.

Love that I can still feel.

Hate that I haven’t moved on.

Love that I haven’t given up.

Hate that I wish it would have never happened.

Love that I love that it did.

Impressions of SLAM

This afternoon I visited the St. Louis Art Museum (SLAM). As I am sometimes inclined to do, I took along my notebook, in case anything inspired me to write while there. As the art is often inclined to do, it inspired me at various times and from various pieces. Here’s what came out.


Araki Minol, Distant Road II, 1979; St. Louis Art Museum, photo by author

We perch most of the way up the Soul Mountain, a respite during our climb, and as we do I turn a head to look back at the wy we’ve come. Tens of thousands of steps upwards, upwards, ever upwards, this pilgrimage has been harder with each passing day, and yet, a moment like this – a brief respite, a chance to Preview the past and how far we’ve come – is welcome, not just for the termination (if only for a moment) of the incessant pounding of the hike, but for a glimpse of the earth’s natural beauty, arrayed out before us like a divine display of pride in the god’s own creation.

Behind, and below us, we see the craggy, snaggle-toothed lesser peaks poking their irregular peak tops out of the smooth, otherwise unbroken layer of clouds. The pure white dazzles int he shimmering morning sunshine, a radiance which would hurt the eyes, were it not also so beautiful that the body sacrifices itself to the risk of permanent damage just to behold the beauty of the moment.


Evangeline Montgomery, Sunset, 1997; St. Louis Art Museum, photo by the author

I wonder if this is the feeling of schizophrenia – a mass, a seeming jumbled disorder of conflicting thoughts, emotions, logical or illogical connections between elements that would see (to the outsider) to be nothing more than randomness.

I imagine that, to the jumbled mind, this perhaps makes sense – perhaps the lenses inside the brain so refract and refocus and prioritize the overhwhelm that, instead, it looks like this:

Herbert Gentry, Untitled, 1971; St. Louis Art Museum, photo by author

Smooth lines, patterns emerging, a sense of peace and cleanness at the outset and continuing into the whole of the experience.

There is no challenge here except what I make for myself. What I see as disorder, I know is less a problem of the other being “abnormal” and simply my own failure to apply the right kind of equipment.

What state could I put myself in should I wish to be able to see as the other does, the patterns which emerge from the chaos? How can I simplify my own experience, my own observations, the pre-ordained and rigid mechanics I have learned which are insufficient to make meaning out of something which, to another, clearly has a value beyond ink on canvas?


Gebruder Thonet, Bentwood Spiral, 1885; St. Louis Art Museum, photo by the author

Now, I can see a beauty, a symbolism, a regularity, a meaning behind apiece of art. But for the artist, before it is formed, to have not only the skill to achieve a piece, but a vision of what could exist, were she to apply that skill, is extraordinary.

I know not where that vision comes from. Perhaps it is an inherent tendency in us all, the creative instinct deep inside, that only some choose to listen to, only some choose to obey in the call to make something out of something else.

This was a single piece of wood, 28 feet long, and straight. The Artist, instead of imagining it as cut into smaller pieces and fashioned into a chair – or a picture frame – or an oar; instead of those useful, practical items, he choose to see art – this spiral, this sweeping interlocking interconnecting divergence from reality into imagination. Why? Why not? Because it’s there. Because all could do the same thing, given enough practice; and the greatest practice of all is to listen to the Muse as she whispers. She is always whispering. She is always inspiring.

Do you hear her? Do you obey? Or do you listen to the other whispers, in the other ear, of inadequacy, of limited time, of irrelevance once you have created, of insubstantialism, of ignorance by the rest of them out there once you have finished?

She is persistent, that Muse. but she is not overpowering. So be careful that you do not ignore her. Persistent, yes. Perpetually waiting for you to acknowledge her presence? To obey her directive? To do as you have been inspired? Perhaps not.

Therefore, take heed whenever the call is given. Ignore it at your own creative peril. Obey, and make, and make the world better for having done so.

Writing Practice – 6/20/2020

Why do I write?

Just as well, why do I keep asking the question? I have thoughts in my head, surely I have ideas that, if I did not release them to the pages, would build up and build up and build up, until I had no other recourse but to explode my brain in a disorganized, jumbled mess of a release, and then I would have no way of controlling the output.

But that could be okay, wouldn’t it? But, no, it wouldn’t, because I would have no more organized state, no friendly status, no more attractor to future ideas.

Because ideas come to join other ideas. They herd together, they band together, they like to travel in packs like wolves (or, maybe better, elephants, who are less territorial and defensive and more collaborative and cooperative).

My ideas like to be around other ideas and if the destructive release happens (if the reservoir disappears, evaporating into the ether when the head blows up, then there’s really no thing to attract more ideas, and they’ll go off and implant themselves in someone else’s head. Somewhere else that has a more fertile repository, a better breeding ground for the spawn of those ideas in the future.

Would it be too strange to say that such ideas are alive? That they have intentionality, that they have goals, that they choose one thing or another based on a weighing of potential costs and benefits?

Perhaps they do not “move” like flagella, maybe they do not wriggle like the worm or pace like the lion, but I know that ideas do not simply pop into my head spontaneously ex nihilo. They come from their own breeding ground, out there in the non-physical realms, and they are searching for a place to land. They wander the sixth dimension, seeking, seeking, seeking that place that will be welcoming to them. That will invite them in, offer them warmth, comfort, succor, companionship, a place to rest, to remain, to flourish.

My brain offers that when it not only has enough ideas that the newcomer is not scared, but also not so many that it is too crowded to adequately take hold.

Thus my need for continual offloading of ideas into the page. I must make these ideas feel welcome, while, too, allowing for them to explore themselves, to be comfortable, to be real and to understand that they have a larger part to play in this world. They are part of something. We do not know just what that is. But we – my ideas and I and all my other ideas I have had – and will again have in the future – we join together in this symbiosis, this equal-but-not partnership, and we wait.

We wait for our time to shine. We wait for our purpose to be revealed. And while we wait, we enjoy one another, in a wonderfully trans-materialistic orgy of experience and ideation and substantiation and metaphor and causal chain and letting go and simply wondering in amazement at it all.

Writing Practice – joining

The Way of Story, p 169; Perhaps it’s time to return to a cult…

I wonder, though, which one I should choose. There have been so many in the past decades, that it would be hard to pick my favorite. They all offer something unique, some better way of looking at the world, some alternative option only available with them, and it’s hard to say that the negatives outweighed the positives in any of them.

I’ve been in four cults so far in my life, beginning with the one I was born in to. I probably shouldn’t count that, though, because it was less of a cult that I choose and, to be honest, it was a disaster waiting to happen. Some wise, well-intentioned, but mostly clueless (or naive?) Christians, Episcopalians, I believe, “liberated” me from that group when i was fifteen. Honestly, it wasn’t so bad, there, and if they hadn’t taken me out, I’d probably still be living there today. I see them on the news, oh about every two years or so, when some nighttime drama producer needs a little bump in her ratings, and they do a new “expose” that doesn’t point out anything new at all, doesn’t even point out anything illegal, just – different – from the normal standards of decency around them.

If I hadn’t been removed, I probably would still be there, and probably would be pretty happy, too. I think I have a “joiner’s” mind. I like to be a part of things. I like to get involved and interested and invested. I enjoy the thrill that comes with knowing exactly the right things to say whenever anyone challenges our beliefs, and being able to smoothly and confidently rebut their accusations and questions. It’s an internal win too, and an emotional high, when you celebrate afterwards, whether it is with singing (as we did at Eden Garden) or alcohol and drugs (as at high Point Society) or sex (the Love Shack). We always developed our own ways of coming together after vanquishing our foes, even if they only went home bleeding from tongue lashings, which all of us were always able to administer. We all loved our group. we all lived our groups. That’s the beauty of being invested, you find so many like-minded souls that there is an almost constant reinforcement and retrenching of whatever it is you believe.

And the greater beauty is that we don’t waste time with ridiculous artifacts like proof and objectivity. We don’t wast time trying to either convert unbelievers or to retrieve a lost sheep. We have always recognized and admitted that those who are not called, who are not special, will expose themselves, and they should not distract us from our our true, main mission, of living out our calling.

it is not for us to evangelize. I have always said, it is for us to live as a beacon on a hill, bearing bright witness to our best experiences, and if someone else sees, and is attracted, and chooses to investigate, we should gladly welcome them. But to cast our pearls before the swine of humanity, in futile, foolish, inefficient effort, providing no return, giving us no satisfaction, adds none to the fold, and wastes our time.

And that is why, all three times, I have also walked away. At some point I questioned, I had a concern, a problem, a hesitation about what I was asked, commanded, or directed to do. And, in those moments, as all good cult leaders do, they simply cut me out, disowned me, shunned me, cut me off and thinned their herd by one slightly-less-than-perfect member.

I honestly don’t mind it that much. Because I like the “joining” part more than the staying part, anyway. It’s fun to experience the thrill of discovery anew and fresh again, so I have been missing something like that for a while now.

Which brings me back to how I started – perhaps it’s time to get back into a cult.

Any recommendations?

Writing Practice – Just Write

Just write…

Just write a story. Just write a poem. Just write a chapter, or a paragraph, or even a sentence. Just – write – something, anything.

Doesn’t have to be great. Probably won’t be terrible, either. Most likely it’s going to be pretty well down the middle – not that good, not that bad. 80% of the world is, by definition, right in the middle 80% of your work, so when you write something great one day, the next you ought to expect to be below that, much more likely to be around the mean than another of those outside-the-edge pieces.

Just write. Make it real, make it true, make it honest to you, and then you’ve won. If nobody lies it, what does that matter? You did. You do. You wrote. You enjoyed it.

But here’s another similar idea- you’re not that special. If you like something, it’s pretty likely that others will, too. They’ll resonate with your stuff, because they’ve been that same poor kid growing up without a parent because they were always working. They’ll see similarities between how you listed portrayed showed demonstrated the existential angst of today’s midlife crisis generation and they’ll want to see more of the same.

Or they will stand in reference of the way you depicted (in their minds, only using your words) the vast landscape, stretching across their vision, using such basic, yet powerful, words as intrepid and seeking and voluminous. You may not make the “best” of every you and your mind and the way you see the world, thing, but I guarantee, I promise, when you are honest in yourself, when your writing reflects you and your mind and the way you see the world, Others will see it that way, too. They will feel the pull inside their chest, a reverberation that pulls them out of their chair or their subway seat or off their porcelain throne, where ever it is that you have reached them, and they will stand up proud, proud to have read you, proud to have been seen by you, proud to be shown to the world in such a pure and vibrant and poignant way, and they will advocate for you, they will tell neighbors and friends and enemies about you, they will say, “Oh, my god, you’ve got to read this, it’s totally what I was thinking the other day,” and at that point you have transitioned. You have evolved. You have gone from writer to influencer and they, that audience, they too have matured, they have evolved, they have arrived, the have advanced from passive in-takers to active out-givers. They give you to their audience, they give you to the world around them, and, in that way, the seeds spread, and the cycle begins anew.

Welcome the cycle. Appreciate it. Revel in it. And love it. For it is as organic as moss, as influential as the steady drip of rainwater, as inescapable as the sunlight. It will find you, it will swallow you up, it will overtake and overwhelm you. But only if you choose not to seek after it. Only if you allow it to happen, in its own time, at its own pace, not by Striving and Searching for accolades because you have tried to write “what they want”, but, paradoxically, because you have not.

Writing Practice 1/12/2020 – Budget

Prompt: “budget”

Good lord, don’t speak to me of budgets. How often must we talk of accounts, and income, and expenses, and allocations? Let us live our lives! Let us run free! Let us roam, let us expand let us explore! No more artificial, arbitrary constraints of a dollar here or a dollar there. No more abstract concepts of balancing from one ledger line to another. No more wondering whether we’ll be off and over by a penny, thus incurring the same warmth as if we had gone over by ten dollars or a thousand.

Why such absolutes? Be more fluid, more flexible, and see where life takes you. Fly! Fly free and enjoy the wind of life in your hair.

Ignore the boundaries of capitalism and embrace the freedom of poverty. Release yourself from the shackles of limitations and discover just how much you can accomplish with nothing, nothing at all.

Ignore the voices at the back of your head saying “worry” and “fear” and “save”. What do they know of life, anyway? What good is saving now for another day, when that other day, you are too feeble to use what you have saved?

No, tomorrow is not guaranteed. And, likewise, neither is a year from now not guaranteed. So, live your life. Love your life. Appreciate your boundaries, and run free within them.

When you find, as you absolutely will, eventually, that those boundaries no longer offer the stimulation you once received – when your cavorting within the confines of your budget no longer satisfy your curiosity for adventure, for exploration, and experience – then, then my friend, it is time.

You shall know it by the warning signs: when you are antsy with your routine – when you are bored of your friends – when your lover does not – when you see these, be aware, and be prepared, that the change is coming.

It will be difficult, no doubt. It may be violent, how strongly your subconscious rebels against the freedom you are exposing it to. But push on, continue, fight this good fight, for in doing, you dissolve the last barriers to true experience – those limitations on mind, on body, and, truly, on happiness usually called a “budget”.

How to draft a book

If you’ve ever wondered how to write the first draft of a book, here’s what I did. I don’t recommend this process.

  1. Be in your mid-life crisis.
  2. Recognize that writing is one of your stress releases.
  3. Be talking with your writer’s group, and get the idea for a book title called “In Too Deep”.
  4. Imagine that In Too Deep would be an awesome name for an erotic book.
  5. Decided to write that.
  6. Notice that NaNoWriMo is coming up.
  7. Start NaNoWriMo without any characters, plot, setting, or anything, knowing only that you’re going to take some of your recent experience and try to write >50,000 words in 30 days.
  8. Finish NaNoWriMo with ~50,500 words (thus WINNING!), but realize that the story is only half-finished.
  9. Write another 10,000 words in the next month, and run out of steam.
    • Because you’ve generally used writing to figure out what the story is, not try to sell it.
    • And now that you know where the story is going, you don’t need to write any more. It’s not that interesting, and you’ve got some other stuff going on, so, meh.
  10. Wait 3 years.
  11. Pick it up again and add another 3,000 words.
  12. Put it down for another 3 months.
  13. Pick it up again and re-read it, and think, “Hey, you know what? I could do this.”
  14. Commit to finishing the draft by December 31, 2019.
  15. Get encouragement from your writer’s group.
  16. Get 3,000 words from the end and keep getting sidetracked by new ideas that come into your head.
    • Realize these are self-sabotaging your completion, because if you actually finish the damn thing, then you’re done and you don’t have something to do.
    • Say “Fuck that shit” to self-sabotage, and decide to write the last 2 scenes without adding anything extra.
  17. Write the next-to-last scene with 3 days left in the year.
  18. Think, Maybe?
  19. Write the last scene.
  20. Basically go, Wait, what did I just do?

Repeat.


Yeah, I don’t recommend that process. But, it worked! I have a draft of a novel. And I’m going to decide by February 11 whether to try to get an agent and traditionally publish, or self-publish.

Any and all comments welcome.

Writing Practice 1/5/2020 – “Mushrooms”

It is a strange mashup we have made in English for those multi-faceted varieties of fungus. We call them mushrooms, from a very strange quirk of language. Originally they were called “toe-fruit”, up until approximately the 13th century. Such a name applied because they were often harvested by walking through the forest, and kicking at the growths on the ground with your toes.

All of that changed, though, with the advent of 13th century farming techniques. A young farmer in England, whose name is unfortunately lost to history, had been finding toe-fruits in the wild for years. One afternoon she had entered her walled-off compost room at the side of her house, and found the toe-fruits growing not only at ground level, but at many different heights up and down the walls.

We now know that the spores of such must have been spread onto the rich, fertile compost by some method – mice, or perhaps accidental distribution via undigested food, or some other means. We know not what she said, or what she believed, but we do know that she became one of the first to cultivate toe-fruits with regularity, ultimately using the profits of her harvest to build another compost-room, and leveraging success over and over. The villagers around found her toe-fruits were ecstatic to find a regular, reliable source of such edibles, and when they asked her where she found them, she would cryptically reply that they came from “mush room”. Not wanting to give away the secrete of [illegible], for if she did others might apply the same to their own benefit, they more [illegible] accepted this bounty and applied the spoils to their lives.

Thus was both the strange name of the mushroom, which has carried on down to the modern day. Should you ever encounter other cultures and languages, though, you will often find yourself dealing with a name that, should it be translated literally, resembles not so much a room full of mush, but the fruit of your smallest digit.

Cheers!