Writing Practice – 3/18/2019

Last night I dreamed…

Last night I dreamed I was sleeping (yes, sleeping) with my girlfriend on a couch, and she was in her bra and panties. I know because I was trying not to walk her, even though I was slipping my hand inside her bra, to hold her boob. I like to hold that. But she did wake up. I think I didn’t want to wake her up because I had this feeling that she didn’t know she was where she was, or didn’t know I was there, or something.

Anyway, after she realizes I’m there, we have a little bit of time to snuggle, then we hear sounds. Turns out the place we were sleeping in was like the back room of a dentist’s office, or a medical office, or something. People started moving around and opening doors and getting papers ready, so we decided to leave. I was worried about her being exposed but she had a full suit of clothes on. I did too.

We went out and ran into some kind of professional group. I ran into someone who knows me, and he covered for me by saying, loudly, “Sorry to miss you at our golf game this morning!” I guess I had been caught not going. I believe lying there with someone else was more important than anything else, so I guess that’s why I tried to stick around. *

But it wasn’t really a golf game I’d missed, it was planning for an assasination attempt on the Canadian Prime Minister. We were supposed to be pretending it was a simulation, because I’d been hired by the Canadian government to help them brainstorm possible assasination attempts, so they could prepare for them and create contingency plans.

That said, I had also been hired by the Japanese to take out the Canadian Prime Minister, or had turned spy, or something. I’m not even Canadian, or Japanese, so I’m not sure why either of them would have showed up.

So we continue fake / real assasination plans, and as we went along, I had a briefcase of Canadian bills, hundreds, which amounted to something like a million Canadian dollars. I was planning to switch briefcases, not for an empty one, or even one with other money. I was going to put my old underwear in, a la The Big Lebowski.

So my underwear was all dirty, so I needed to wash some. While washing my underwear I got a call from the operations expert in Japan. But now he’s actually in New Zealand. He tells me we can’t go forward, at least not with him paying me, so they’ll have to back out. I say, that’s okay, I’ll sell the story to The Guardian.

I decided to go there on my own. I grab my bicycle and start to bike across the ocean to London, where The Guardian’s headquarters are. I see some whales and seals and dolphins way out in the ocean. They’re friendly.

I get rained on, but the rain is not water, it’s Ocean Spray, the Cranberry Mist juice, or whatever.

I change my clothes once I get to the other side. Don’t want to show up to my wedding smelling like cranberries and whale backwash, do I? Turns out, it’s not my wedding, but my best friend from elementary school, whom I haven’t seen in 30 years. I ‘m there to stop his wedding, because she’s not good enough for him. But on my way to the church I get distracted by a pub that’s showing the Rugby World Cup.

I go in to have a pint, and end up staying three hours. When I come out it’s dark and the fireworks are going off – they’re celebrating July 4th as well. I’m a little confused. They tell me that they celebrate American Independence because they’re actually glad to be rid of us. I start to prepare a defense then get interrupted by Kermit the frog’s live stage adaptation of The Vagina Monologues.

Weird, right?

***

* Note – Everything up to this point was real. I really had that dream. After is just stuff I made up, to see how weird of a world I could make.

Writing Practice – 3/12/2019

Outside Magazine “Terror in the Wild” edition, page 52

My father’s e-mail didn’t make much sense…

He sometimes gets in these kids of moods, where he will, for weeks at a time, rant about an Atlantis cover-up, or the Moon landing being real, or the fact that those ancient civilizations that left us all their writings in the pyramids really weren’t from another planet. Each time, I dismiss him as a bit of a nut, but every once in a while he’s got a little ring of truth to it.

“I’ve got the key,” he wrote, and that was it. No Hello, no good bye, and no explanation of what kind of key it might be or how it could be used.

So I wondered, is this something I need to understand? Is it a way for me to be a part of the bigger elements of this world? Or was it just a hoax of his?

I considered, briefly, that it might even be my brother spoofing him. Ted’s done that before, pretended to be someone he’s not through e-mail, to try and get me to go to the Appalachian trail with my long-distance girlfriend, or to get me to think I’ve won the Publisher’s Clearing House sweepstakes, but this seemed too simple for him. He liked grander, broader schemes, and this one didn’t look like that. I believed it was Dad, then, and decided to reply.

“Oh, yeah? Key to what?”

Even though it had been a couple of hours between when I sent my message and when he’d first sent his, he replied almost immediately. He must have been at his desk, “working”, or whatever he liked to call all this research he did. Old books, old magazines, ancient journals and maps. My father’s basement looked like someone had emptied the Chicago Public Library archive into his room without bothering to organize anything, or even stack anything on shelves. I pictured him, sitting there, hunched over his ancient iMac, green screen and all, typing away at me. Six hundred miles away, lounging in my bed, laptop open on my lap, a stark contrast in experiences almost as strong as the contrasts of our environments and personalities.

“The key to the future,” he wrote. That too was all, in that message. I wanted to call. I wanted to talk, directly, because I could see where this was headed. Fifty messages, back and forth, over the next two hours, would just infuriate me at the man’s lack of focus, at his undisciplined approach to the world. I’d be sitting here, racking my brain trying to understand, to comprehend, to figure out if what he was saying was, or even might be real, or whether he’d finally lost it and we could safely deposit him at Shady Acres to a nice, relaxing retirement. It would do me no good to call, though. He’d disabled his phones months ago, in the belief that the radiation from the handset was making him sterile! Ha! As if he could, or would want to, get someone pregnant again at seventy-five. Why would he do that? And if he wanted to, who would sleep with him? All those are beside the point, but useful in illustrating that my father was not always altogether “there,” and so I would need to play along. Play his game of back-and-forth email tag, teasing meaning out of him one or two sentences at a time, wondering, questioning, probing, when all I really wanted to do was go have a run, and a nap.

I replied, “The future of what?”

“Of Humanity,” he replied. “It’s not looking good for us.”

“When has it ever?” Okay, a little snark, but when you’re frustrated at the imposition, you can be allowed some.

“Well, it was all good up until 53 years ago.” Then that message stopped. Before I could reply, another came in. “When you were born.”

Oh.

Shit.

He knew.

Writing Practice – 3/8/2019

Norton Anthology of Short Fiction, p. 877

She went off on a walking holiday in Wales.

She took sensible shoes, a small rucksack, and enough money to satisfy her longings for adventure.

As it turned out, she would need much more of all three by the time her holiday ended.

The first to give out was her rucksack. Over twenty years old, she’d first received it as a gift from her own mum, at the age of twelve, when mother saw her spending more and more time out of doors, sitting on the benches beside the paths in the Gardens across the Park. She’d graciously dipped into her own accounts to provide “this wonderful bag,” as she’d called it. “A real treasure trove.” It was leather, about a foot wide, a foot deep, and a foot across. It had a folding flap and leather straps and brass buckles and two shoulder straps, and she’d carried it with her almost daily since then. She’d never imagined it would wear completely out, but, eventually, the cover flap started to come apart at its seam, and the buckles showed that they were becoming worn, loose, crooked, and jangly. The bottom, which had gotten worn through in several places and patched, looked more like Junky the Clown’s patchwork suit than a leather bag. The patches pulled apart at their seams, they couldn’t hold anything smaller than a grape without needing some kind of layer to line the bottom first, and it frankly had a bit of an odor, collected over years of use by shoes, sweatshirts, old books, hand-sweat, environmental dirt, grease, road grit, and the occasional bit of pigeon shit it found itself dumped back down upon.

The bag finally gave out in Kensington, two days walk along the road to Ghent. She’d spent the morning leisurely, having tea at the B&B before she set off, moving slowly as the morning grew gradually lighter, and as she reached the end of the town she’d slept comfortably in, she hitched the pack higher, as she did, and prepared to step forth.

But with that excessive motion, that rough-and-ready jerking motion, the butt-end of the bag simply couldn’t hold any longer, and dumped itself upon their backs of her calves and feet, showering the road with her extra trousers, small bits of makeup, a half a dozen trinkets picked up here and there reminding her of her various adventures, a love not she’d received years ago and never replied to, two guide books depicting the road ahead, and one explained the best places to get wine in Croatia, half a package of crisps, two lipsticks, and the extra sweater she often carried in adventures like this. Margaret stopped and stared, somewhat taken aback. At that moment, she had exactly no idea what to do next.

And that was a first. Truly, she had never not known what to do before. Even as a three-year-old, she could remember knowing precisely how to play a game with her older brother. At ten, she’d told her parents that they needed to send her to boarding school, for her sake, as her neighbors were also going to send their little one off, and she shouldn’t be left behind with all of the riff-raff and bad influences. And at twenty, she’d bent he one to initiate her relationship, and three years later the marriage, to Kelvin, and three years after that she’d been the one to begin the divorce proceedings.

So for the first time, out of all the wonderful, incredible, fantastic, believable and unbelievable experiences she’d had in her life, Margaret was, simply, unable to decide what to do.

The inaction paralyzed her, and that paralysis created further indecision, which cycled up and up and further on and on, until she startled herself out of her semi-comatose state, notice her watch, and saw that at least an hour had passed with her simply standing on the side of the road.

An hour? My! What might have happened?

Well –

If I tell you, I’d ruin the surprise, eh? Better to show you…

When You Go And Do A Thing

So, yeah… A while ago, and pretty recently, I wrote stories, and this year I put them together, edited them, formatted them, got a cover, went through the rigamarole of signing up on Amazon, added things like bank account numbers for payment, ordered proof copies, marked them up, resubmitted texts for print and ebook, reordered proof copies, marked those up, re-resubmitted texts, ordered more proof copies, got e-mails from Amazon that my cover was wrong by 0.05 fucking inches!, stressed out, freaked out, ordered a new cover from my cover designer, got antsy, did it myself, reuploaded the cover and resubmitted the book, got antsy and called Customer Service to see if I could expedite processing and approval, got shot down, had to learn how to sit on my hands to wait, RECEIVED APPROVAL!!!, ordered 50 copies for the Book Launch party, freaked out that they wouldn’t arrive in time, calmed down once they’d been finally shipped and scheduled for delivery, FREAKED OUT AGAIN when the delivery was delayed due to “inclement weather” (pfft – natural disasters, who the fuck cares?), called Amazon already like seventeen times [yes, I exaggerate. It’s a coping mechanism] this morning to learn that indeed, the delivery is scheduled for today, FREAKED OUT YET AGAIN upon learning that the delivery window is anytime between 8 am and 9 PM {FFFFFffffffffffffffuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu………….}, took a deep breath, and said, “I believe it will all work out.”

And so, there you have it. That’s how you publish a book, my friends. Thirty-seven simple steps, and you only have to freak out like nineteen times! Why wouldn’t everyone want to do this?

 

PS: Never in my life have I been prouder to be ranked #6,846! (as of 8:35 am Central Standard Time, Monday, March 4).

Writing Practice 2/27/2019

What is this? See YouTube video:

Something Strange This Way Comes

This is a single sperm of a gigantic rubber monster. It’s about 600 feet tall, and it lives generally in the Amazon rainforest. Last month it was on a multi-national trek, on a press tour or something, and it got kind of antsy. The handlers realized something was wrong, so they jerked it off. These things are the result. They spew out ten million at a time, and when this one here was blown up into the air it caught the attention of an eagle, who mistook it for a fish. The eagle grabbed it in its talons, and returned to its nest, whereupon it found that there was no way in hell that that was a trout or a bass. Instead of returning to the jungle where it was caught, the Eagle simply dumped the rubber sperm over the side of its nest, where it fell to the ground a couple of hundred feet below, then tumbled down a hillside and landed in a stream. This is all in Mexico, remember, because that eagle has quite a wide territory.

Well, about three days of floating in this stream, the rubber sperm ends up in a larger river, which ends up in a larger river, which eventually ends up in the ocean, in the Gulf of Mexico. Now, this wouldn’t be so bad, except the giant rubber sperm got caught in a blue whale’s mouth as it opened and sucked in [illegible] to capture & eat plankton. That’s all well and good, and would have been fine, except that this rubber sperm didn’t dissolve in the whale’s stomach, and was, in fact, shat out by the whale two days later.

You know what’s gross? Sharks eat whale poop. Yeah, they do. Not on purpose. But they do. So there was a whole colony of sharks following our hero whale with the rubber sperm in its tummy, and when the whale had a massive bowel movement those dudes went crazy; They sucked up all the little half-digested-whale shit they could, and this thing ended up in one of them. Not that bad, really – we find sharks with license plates and buoys in them, for Pete’s sake. But anyway, the shark was going on his merry way, enjoying the Gulf of Mexico, when all of a sudden the producer of Sharknado decided they needed some realism. So they got an artificial typhoon maker and sucked up ten million gallons of water, including our friendly rubber sperm-infused shark. Then they took this artificial dumping ground to Nebraska, no, North Dakota, and dropped it into a tornado, and filmed SharkNado 5 – The SharkPocalypse.

All was well and good until the shoot wrapped, and then the sharks were free to go. One of them decided to make his way to New York to become a dancer, a few went into investment banking, and a couple got married. Our special little guy, though, ended up traveling down the Mississippi River, until he ran smack into Hurricane Ivan, or Whatever it was that hit Texas in 2017. This thing poured a Great Lake’s worth of water on the Mississippi River basin in a day, causing the river to flood. It overflowed all the banks, all the way, inundating all the places. Hell, even out by my house got a foot of standing water, and, unfortunately for the shark, she got caught up in that and stranded on Baxter Road.

She died about three hours later. It took six months, but the scavengers around finally picked off all her flesh, scales, and internal organs, leaving, you guessed it, one Rubber Monster Sperm lying in the gutter, just so I could find it. Isn’t that a coincidence?

Writing Practice – 2/25/2019

A walk in the woods…

Footsteps crunch on brittle lanes. Pebbles scatter before the toe of my boot, startling and chasing away small creatures of 4 legs or no legs, the brown-and-green-and-yellow of a garter snake just barely registering in my mind before it disappears again into the underbrush. I hear chickadees calling, twit-tweet, twit-tweet, echoed falsely by jays, robins, maybe even a crow or a raven. I walk in my ignorance, knowing names of things, but not essences. I can hear bird songs, identifying that they are different, but I am no ornithologist. I cannot, with any certainty at all tell you which is the robin and which is the cardinal’s song. I can recognize their picture, but everything else is a false front. I know nothing for real; all I list on these walks is impostering.

I cannot tell you the difference between granite, quartz, shale, limestone, other than that they will be found in different layers, exposed as the winding streams have cut mercilessly into their hillsides over the last ten million years. Which must mean, then, that those same hillsides are far older than that, right? Which came first, ended up at the bottom of that pile, and will be exposed last: limestone or igneous rocks? See, I cannot even be sure I have the right kinds and thin categories. I have many facts within my head, but little use of them.

I cannot tell you, again, with any kind of certainty, whether you are looking at an aspen, a maple, or a boxwood cedar. I think I could reasonably tell you which is a birch, and maybe an oak; yet to distinguish an apple tree form a box elder would take much more expertise than I can bring.

It’s not that that I am ignorant. I care. I do. When I am in that environment, active, embedded, I listen to my guides and gurus, I understand what they say, I nod along when they explain how the leaves of this species are identified by the thick veining pattern on the underside of their leaves. I pay close attention as she points out the differences in this bark from that. I strain my hearing and indicate, with a subtle nod, that yes, I do hear the differences between the twoot-twoot-twoot of the whippoorwill and the tip-tip-toop-tip of the nuthatch. I concentrate, hard and expressively, on every word that helps me to differentiate the bluebells from the lady slippers growing beside the path. I am a good student, the best, and I ask insightful, meaningful questions, ones that inspire my guide, impress them with my ability to make connections between fauna and flora, that show I am not only paying attention, but that I care, and I will continue to care in the future, and that perhaps they have convinced another disciple, they have converted another recruit, they have a future bird-watcher or tree-hugger or trail-sustainer in their midst, and all their effort has not gone to waste, that I will come alongside them, and will come along behind them, and I will pick up their convservationist bent, and I will continue their work after they are gone, and I will pass that love and passion on to another and another, and another, and these great resources, these great forests, these trees and trails and pine-needle-strewn meadows, they will never disappear, they will always be with us, they will always remind us of our responsibility to care, to husband, to shepherd the world around us, as our responsibility and our privilege for the privilege of living the blessed life we do.

I will let them believe this, for I am a good person, and, then, I will finish my tour, I will walk out of the woods, I will knock the dust off my boots at the edge of the parking lot, and with that dust will fall my intention, my memory, my insightfulness, my burden to carry on their passion, their love of nature, their desire to see this world thrive for generations, centuries, millennia to come, and I will return to my life, my world, retaining nothing more of my experience than a few more names to add to the list of near-meaningless facts accumulating within my mind.

Writing Practice – 2/23/2019

[the punchline of a joke is:] Put up a Bingo sign. [I’ll tell the joke after the writing exercise.]

Here’s the scene: crowded airport, filled with travelers. Small kids with moms, business executives, families heading to another state to take a daughter to college. Within the crowd, one person stands out. It’s a clown, an old-man clown; he’s clearly been doing this a while, because his outfit is frayed and worn. not intentionally, but, yes, intentionally – his yellow suit is “patched” in various places with other colors of fabric, but as you watch you can see where the patches have themselves started to pull away from their seams. The seat of the suit is wearing through and has new holes. The gloves are dingy around the edges, and his shoes – large, exaggerated toe box, thick sole – are black but spotted, as if he’s needed a shine for quite a while but just can’t afford one. Or is too proud.

The clown doesn’t so much fight the crowd as meekly wait for the occasional breaks in the stream, to make his way towards Baggage Claim. The jostling jumbles his make-up occasionally. He usually covers his whole face with white, then comes back again with purple nose and orange oversized lips. Today he has added red cheek spots, in the hopes that looking happier will make him feel happier. It’s not working. The people in the crowd see him, smile, pat him on the back occasionally, maybe stop to take a quick picture – who can blame them? They’ve never seen a clown in an airport before – and then go on their way, when they feel the cloud of sadness wafting form him, rolling off the shoulders of the too-wide suit in waves that reach out five, then, fifteen feet in his wake.

He is not a happy clown today.

He holds a bunch of helium-filled balloons, another attempt to make himself feel what he doesn’t. It’s not working, either, their jumbled rainbow does not inspire joy, or elation, or even much more than a general amusement, even in the other by passers. Occasionally a traveler will stop to consider the logistics, whether the balloons, too, wen through security, or whether they were inflated past the gate. But none really stop long enough to ask the question. Most of those who do, who think of it, feel the blackness, the unseen sadness, radiating off his suit and shoulders and smile-that-isn’t-real and they move along without really knowing what it was that they wanted to say anyway.

Only one person actually talks to him. A young man, perhaps twenty years old, with Down Syndrome, and therefore a much greater appreciation for how hard it can sometimes be in life just to feel like you don’t fit in, stops and talks to him. “Hello,” he says. “Hello,” is the response. “You look sad.” “I am.” “I was sad yesterday. I had some ice cream. Maybe you should eat ice cream.” “Thank you, that is very thoughtful.” “Can I have a balloon?” The clown pauses for a moment, then hands the whole bunch, multi-colored globes and strings of gift ribbon a handful, to the young boy. His face breaks into a huge grin as his escorts frantically wrack their brain wondering how they’ll get these new objects through Security, and before they’ve even had time to ask “Wait, what?”, our clown has moved along. He is not happy, yet, for so many other events of the past three days weigh so heavily on him, but at least lightening his burden also lightened his spirit – a bit.

Our clown has found the DOWN escalator to take him to Baggage Claim and Ground Transportation. He has no baggage (physically) to claim. He carries a briefcase and thirty years of memories. He wishes it weren’t so, that this trip never happened, that he’d been able to reconcile before the end, but, alas, estrangement does strange things. Our clown finally notices his driver, one of only three or so, holding a sign with his name on it -“KYLE” –

“It really should say BINGO,” he thinks. “I mean, really, that’s who I am, right?” He looks at himself, then, and without a moment’s hesitation, and without a moment’s shame, the weight and grief of the past three days come flooding back over him, washing upon his heart like a tidal wave, overpowering him, and Bingo, Bingo the clown, the one who chose his “career” of happiness over his family, who allowed his pursuit of passion to drive a wedge between himself and his mother, his now-dead mother, his dead mother who never approved, who couldn’t see anything other than a whole in fancy-colored clothes, who herself was incredibly closed-minded, judgemental, rude and simple, who was now dead and rotting in a box six states away back where he’d left the family immediately after the funeral, his mother, he knew, would scold him for crying like this, for making a scene in the airport, for blabbering and streaking all that fake-up and messing up his old, worn suit, and causing a scene, his mother would have scolded him and told him to shape up, she wold have wipe his whole face clean of orange nose and purple lips and clear tars and yellow snot, she would have said, “There, there’s my boy, there, Kyle, why don’t we go home now,” and Bingo, he should have gone along, he would have buried his head in the corner of her shoulder, between her neck and her arm, he wold have felt her love and acceptance, for him, at least, if he were Kyle and not some simple sad sack clown, if he’d gotten a real job like architect or manager of the water treatment facility, or, hell, anything that wasn’t performing, he would have felt safe and comfortable, but – he couldn’t because he had missed out on all that those last 30 years, and now she was gone, and he was alone again, and, stupid pride, that’s all it was, stupid, so as Bingo/Kyle stood in the airport Baggage Claim and his tears dried and his snot ran onto his upper lip, he waited. He waited for a sign. For something inside his mind to tell him what was the right thing to do.

He didn’t know.

So , he waited.

***

Q: How do you get 500 old crows into a barn?

A: Put up a Bingo sign.