Writing Practice 1/19/2019

Naps are best when…

Naps are best when you’re tired, but not exhausted. Tired means you can refresh with just a twenty or forty minutes of rest. Exhausted means you need hours. Naps are not appropriate for hours. They’re best in 20 or 30 minute intervals. Lay down, close eyes, rest. You may fall asleep but more likely than not you won’t get all the way down. Just into a comfortable, relaxed state. And then, you can recover some energy – you can refresh, you can just experience the day a little bit better afterwards, and you aren’t so imposed upon by your biologicals.

Naps are great for car trips. Like, when your driver has things under control, and you’ve been reading a book, and you notice it drooping down in your hands, and all of a sudden you find yourself reading the bottom paragraph of the left-hand page, and you scan back up a little and you find that you don’t quite remember the top half of that page, so you flip one page earlier and you don’t recognize that side either, nor the stuff on the page before that, but when you turn one more, There, you remember that! That’s where he said he didn’t love her anymore and that he wanted to break up, gosh, must have been kind of snoozing for like five minutes or so to read like 3 whole pages without noticing, [illegible] that [illegible] means its time for a nap, so you look at your driver, and give a little smile, and confirm that it’s okay of you nod off a few minutes, road trips always make you sleepy, and your driver says of course, and asks if you’d like the audiobook radio volume turned down just a little, and you demure, no, it’s all right, really, and you put a hand out to stop the hand that was approaching the control knob, and you lean your own reclining bucket seat back a few degrees, just like it was made to do, and you curl your legs up beneath your thighs, under the blanket you brought along, you know the one, that little blue-and-white throw that your mother-in-law got you on your birthday last year, and so then you snuggle in a little bit and feel the soothing rumble of the van on the highway and hear the monotone drone in the background as the narrator reviles your driver once more with the exploits of that mild-mannered retiree-turned-detective, and you glance quickly over your shoulder to see two children equally passed out in their own latter-row seats, similarly cocooned in their respective throws, and it is good to be making this trip, it is good to see family, it is good to get out of the house, and you’ll just close your eyes for a few minutes, and wouldn’t you know it you wake up four hours later and you’re almost there already, my how that trip went by so fast.

That’s what naps are good for.

Writing Practice 1/17/2019

I hear…

I hear almost nothing. Still early in the small hours of the morning, most of the house – child, child and cat, child, child, other cat – sleeps, and waits for the blaring ring of an alarm to interrupt the respite. Mine own announced its intentions to disrupt my rest twenty minutes ago; but by that time I was only snoozing, having woken myself a few minutes earlier by some subconscious trick that saw me know how to bring my body up from the ultra-depths before the clanging into the night, so that this experience is not so jarring. I wonder how I trained myself to do this.

My children sleep, but occasionally there will be a day when one or more is moving about at this hour. Bustling unceremoniously through a set of chores, or perhaps pouring and slathering and consuming a breakfast bowl of cereal. Yesterday one of them was returning from an earlier morning exercise class, abnormally energized about the day and invading the usual quiet reverie we keep for this part of our morning with laughter, and talking, and an energy we cannot usually abide. I did not like it. I wished she would simply remain quiet, and peaceful, as the rest of us usually are.

I hear no cats, either which means the large one cannot see the small one and be somehow, illogically, annoyed by her and begin his petulant, sorrowful hissing. Sorrowful in that it’s just sad that he seems threatened by her. Perhaps he knows it is her food which upsets his stomach, but, like an addict drawn to the very thing the very substance which hurts him, he cannot turn away when the opportunity presents itself, so he will invade her space, eat her food, feel it sit uncomfortably in his stomach, and then need to release it in a violent, ratcheting cough that leaves a half-digested, half-wet, half-brown/half-red/all disgusting mass of vomit on my bedroom floor, or my bed itself, or inside the occasional clothes hamper, deposited there with as much ceremony and attention drawn to itself as the Labrador depositing its faecal offering to the gods of the neighborhood while out for a walk on a Sunday afternoon.

I do not hear any of that, though, now for they rest, they sleep, they snooze, they wait for the hustle and bustle of the day to begin. I am awake, unusual too, for me, for I need to begin new habits. I need to reconcile my desire with my inactions, and change one to match the other. Since it is easier to change action than hopes, it becomes much easier to get up earlier and write more than to keep sleeping and to pretend that my desires for storytelling and writing in a meaningful ways do not exist, or that they have been somehow mollified, satisfied by the things I have done in other areas of my life, my e-mails, my press releases, my gland-handing and pressing of the flesh in networking, my research and construction of some other kind of work product for some other kind of client in some other kind of area. No, those things do no ultimately represent an adequate sacrifice to the God of Writing, and thus it is now my responsibility, if I wish to cleanse my soul, even if for only one more day, of my impurity of feeling, an impurity which says “you have not filled your obligation to your muse, you have not done what you have been called to do, you have allowed your talent to be squandered, you have not lived up to your potential,” if I believe I must atone for that sin, then I must make my penance and atonement here in this action with this burnt offering and this ink offering and this peace offering and it shall be good once more, and yea, and verily, and truth, and peace.

Announcement

Attention! Attention! Read all about it!

LOCAL WRITER TO PUBLISH BOOK

Stephan James, a writer currently residing near St. Louis, Missouri, announces today that in just under one month, on February 1, his first volume of short stories will be available for sale. Titled Predatory Behavior and Other Stories, this slim yet powerful volume will bring to light multiple issues facing society today.

“‘Predatory Behavior’ was born after seeing just how easy the publishing process really can be,” James says. “I used to think that bringing my ideas to life would be difficult. That it would take months and months, and I’d just toil in obscurity, scribbling in my notebook without ever getting the chance to see my work in book form. But now, it’s easier than ever to make my writing available to a much wider audience than I ever could have imagined. I’m excited that others can now read what I’ve written and use that as the catalyst for additional conversations about important issues within our society.”

There are ten stories included with this publication. The keystone story, “Predatory Behavior”, takes place in a world similar to the modern day, but with one key difference. A population of “Wolves” has sprung up over the past half-century, to help weed out those who are too sick to care for themselves. Not for the faint of heart, for this story contains scenes which may be considered graphic, “Predatory Behavior” nonetheless brings to light issues of health sustainability within our modern society.

Other stories deal with the last humans alive and trying to remake humanity while living on another planet; the implications of selling one’s body, though not in the way we’ve been conditioned to believe is “selling”; and how many people wish to have a new life, yet often times are unwilling to take the steps necessary to achieve it. Plus additional entries are micro-stories, also called Story Art, and highlight James’s prowess at weaving together seemingly unconnected concepts into a wonderfully taut presentation.

Predatory Behavior will be available starting February 1 on Amazon.com or directly from the author at author fairs and trade shows. “My birthday is February 11, and I wanted to give myself a unique birthday present, so I set that as the target publication date. That we’re going to have it ready before then is so exciting. I can’t wait to see the reviews.”

Predatory Behavior is published with help from SJM Copywriting, a local firm engaged in helping small businesses and nonprofits to tell better stories and get better results. More information about James and his writing can be found at stephanjameswrites.com. More information about how SJM Copywriting can support authors, small businesses, and nonprofits can be found at sjmcopywriting.com.

Genius at work…

Writing Practice, 1/8/2019

Genius at work…

“Should be the sign above the cubicle,” Todd thinks. “I’m the only one around here who knows what the hell is going on.”

He was a mid-level middle-manager in a large paper printing & distribution company, headquartered in South Alabama – why there, Todd hadn’t the faintest idea any more. The production happened 3 states away in South Carolina. Everything else (sales, accounting, marketing) were scattered across six or eight (maybe twelve? He could never keep track) pop-up satellite offices around the country, from Buffalo to Boise. “Welcome to the digital world”, he thought, disappointed in disconnection for the hundredth time that month. And it was only the 10th; sheesh, it would be another eight days to payday, and already he felt he was stretching to make ends meet. Maybe he should get another job. “Yeah, right,” he said would, to the coffee shop’s other, disinterested, ignoring him patrons. “Where else am I gonna get to be so underpaid and unappreciated, overworked, and treated poorly when it comes to vacation scheduling, huh?”

Todd worked remotely too, but he lived right next door to where the headquarters had its location, so the upper-levels (the ultra-brown noses, he liked to call them) generally had him do the lowest-level mail sorting and distributing as part of his job. They said it was a “reasonable ask”, didn’t see why he’d “push back”, and just expected him to “get with the company agenda.” Todd liked to make air quotes each time he complained, which was quite often, [illegible] go with the time nobody heard him.

He either spoke to empty air or a similarly disinterested room, and that’s why he felt so disappointed. Plus he wasn’t really understanding all the logistics of print and distribution, but his own subordinates seemed to be happy, so that made his bosses happy, which he guessed was all that mattered, right? Keep the quarterly numbers positive and everyone gets paid. Let them slip negative for too long, and heads had been known to roll.

And while Todd didn’t really like his job, on top of not understanding it, the prospect of trying to sell himself to another company, at this stage in life, intimidated him even further; and so he put his head down, “toed the company line,” and got the mail daily. His bosses never knew that he usually took the extra careful step of wiping his ass with one or two pieces before delivering them on.

Oh, not in the disgusting, brown way that would get him fired. Just, you know, after he’d already wiped clean and there’s wasn’t any real residue left, Todd would take three or four pieces each day, didn’t matter who they were addressed to – sometimes the CEO,sometimes the marketing manager, he thinks once it was an IRS request – and rubs them around inside his pants a little bit. Just enough for him to know what he’d done, not enough to leave a mark and get him fired. it was the least he could do for a company who’d done so much for him already.

Writing Practice 1/7/2019

Curled up on the couch on a cold, cold night…

My cat sleeps. He is on his side, curled into a tight ‘C’, nose buried in back paws, tail curled up across his ears. His shape is more “lump of soft clay” than “athletic, powerful feline”. He purred, half an hour ago, when he first showed up and lay down beside me, the edge of his back just touching the outside of my thigh.

That is all the closer he gets, even on these cold nights. Just a slight touch – just an edge – to let you know he’s there, but he’s not interested in snuggling. Just – proximity.

I can accept that. I have enough snuggling. My partner lies on my other side, her head resting fully on my lap. My fingers stroke her hair; one hand is buried to the first knuckle, gently gliding along, feeling the rasp and tug as I catch the occasional tangle, hearing the whisper of fingerprints on follicle, watching as the thick brown mass parts seamlessly before the prow of the ship that is my hand. She was awake, twenty minutes ago, when she lay down; but her breathing has slowed, as if she has reached that peak rest state, that human hibernation which is a combination of relaxation, comfort, and trust, in which you can feel at peace and protected from all that is outside – wind, rain, weather; and all that is inside – doubt, fear, worry, inadequacy, incapacity.

I sit, flanked by two loves, and participate in a third. I hold a book in my free hand, gently turning the pages with a thumb. I would pay more attention, but the story is not intensely riveting. I read to complete the book, to check it off my to-do list, to achieve something and thus feel as if I do not waste my time. For is that not the American Way? Busy, busy always, make every second count, do something, anything, and thus, by your success, prove your value as a person, as an individual, as worthy of the life given to you and the resources expended to make you, to raise you, to get you to this point.

Well.

Suppose I did not read tonight. Suppose I did not “make every second count.” And simply, plainly, relaxed, rested, held these two parts of my life with both my hands. Would I lose out? Would they?

No.

And no.

So. Do I dare? Do I resist the temptation for more, more? Do I put down the book and simply be, in the moment, with those who love me and share with them my heart?

Or do I succumb to the societal influence and grasp, grab, mutilate, suck every last ounce of profit out of every last breast of opportunity?

You know what? I do.

I put the book Down. I place a hand on a shoulder and stroke gently. I place the other on a head and scratch, equally gentle.

Purrs come from one. Contented signs come from the other. And I bask in the moment, restful, plain, calm, accepted and accepting, for this – THIS – is living.

Writing Practice 1/6/2019

[author’s note: sometimes I write something during this writing practice and I think, “Man, what would it be like if I actually came back and edited this and re-wrote it?” Generally that’s because it’s kind of wanders a bit before settling down to get to the point, and I feel like it could be much more focused and make a greater impact if I took out that rambling and lack of focus. This is one of those exercises. What do you think – agree or disagree?]

Describe the most boring day of your life, but do it as an action movie trailer voice-over…

In a world where everything is always as it seems… one day … NOTHING WAS RIGHT.

Well, not exactly true. SJ woke up one morning with a pounding headache. Thinking this might be the result of a terrible party the night before, he checked his clothing … No bloodstains. He checked his bed … no strangers. He checked his car, parked where it normally would be, right in the garage – no marks or tickets plastered to it. He checked his phone – no outgoing drunk-dials at two in the morning.

Damn, this must have been not the result of a party. Just a regular, boring old headache.

OR WAS IT?

SJ stared at himself in the mirror. “Maybe a tumor.” He thought to himself. “Maybe a blood clot. Should I take something?”

He did. Two Tylenol, straight from the bottle. Didn’t even wash them down with a swig of water or anything. Boom! Instant relief.

Well … not instant. It would take a while, and SJ knew it. So he decided to lay back down. He got in his bed, pulled the covers up to his chin, and prepared for the worst …

Nightmares??

Sleepwalking?

Tremors? Who knows what he might do with such powerful drugs coursing through his system? He thought of writing a note before he fell asleep, to explain his profound sorrow at all the destruction he would soon wreak on the unsuspecting citizens.

But then he thought, “Nah, this is pretty comfortable, and maybe I really just need some more sleep. Besides, the notebook and pen are all the way in the other rom. So I guess I really don’t want to get up. I’m probably good, anyway.”

Turns out …

He was right.

SJ slept the rest of the morning. When he woke up at half past noon, he peed, took two more Tylenol. For his headache was gone, but he figured, it had helped him sleep so well before, why not?

Why not, indeed?

Little did SJ know that behind the scenes, while he slept, his body was plotting against him.

Sabotage –

Mutiny –

Rebellion.

Call it what you wish; in the end, it would be the untimely action of SJ that would determine all their fates.

Not only him, but his silent assassins lurking within. Who will win? SJ? Or the microbe population that was now running rampant with the superpowers brought on by the Tylenol?

Watch

THE FORCE WITHIN…

To find out.

Coming soon to a theater near you.

You won’t BELIEVE how this one turns out.

Writing Practice 1/5/2019

Beards are good for…

Beards are good for covering up acne and other blemishes on the lower half of your face only. They don’t do a lot for the zits, pimples, blackheads, whiteheads that show up on your upper cheeks, lower (way lower) neck, and forehead, but, let’s be honest, you gotta take what you can get.

Beards are good for intimidation. I mean, how many times have you walked up to a 300 pound man with a wide, full, scruffy beard hanging ten inches down below his chin and said, “Yeah, I can take him”? You don’t do it. But imagine the same guy, same size, same shape, and this time he’s clean-shaven, so you can see that extra roll of fat around his neck, and his sunken chin, and the fact that his earlobes hang way down, and all of a sudden he’s not so sure, he just looks like a big lump. That’s the beard effect.

Beards are good for sculpting. There actually are international championships of beard & mustache care / sculpting / art work. It’s about as ridiculous as the contests that women enter to see who can have the most radical hairdo. It’s strange, but we want to find as many ways to fuck up our own natural looks as possible, so we pierce, we tattoo, we makeup, we sculpt, we lipo, we dye, we change our clothes to meet “fashion”, and what is it all for, anyway? What do we end up doing with those things? Not having epic beards, that’s for sure.

Beards are good for distinguishing males from females. Not many times do you see someone with a beard and it’s a female. Not the full beard, at least. A lot of 70-somethings, 80-somethings, 90-somethings grow that thing, long, downy hair on their chin, like only twenty or so, and it rolls back under their chin and just kind of lays there, so they sort of, from the side at least, look like a little Billy Goat. Ha! Billy Goat Grandma, how are you doing today? “Not ba-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-d!”

I crack me up. That’s a good Dad joke. I’ll have to remember that one.