Writing Practice 8/17/2018 – an action scene

World’s Great Adventure Stories – p 227

“Slide had found out what was intended, and the news sobered him instantly.”

He decided to fight back. He jumped up from his spot at the bar, and readied his fists. The three men who’d been approaching suddenly stopped in their tracks. Their advantage of deceit was now gone. Slade, six feet and a half, three hundred pounds, and known to be able to take out six average men on a night with either his words or his propensity to drink them under the table, made quite a sight.

The three – Tamson, Byers, and Rogerleth, stood ten feet away and looked at one another. The rest of the bar noticed the commotion and cleared off. They wanted nothing to do with it. Kylie, behind the bar, would have tried to shove them out into the parking lot, but she knew it was safer for her, and for her supply, if they just fought it out there and then and got it over with. She hinted at one of the other regulars at the end of the bar with a hand up to the side of her head, thumb and pinky extended, that he should make a call, and he did. The cops would show up, but and it would be well after Slade had taken care of business, but they needed a ride for the three anyway. Probably to get stitched up.

Byers reached out first. He composed himself, took a big breath, and closed the gap. Rogerleth followed, with Tamson trying to circle around the back. He didn’t make it. Slade kicked a stool at him before anyone even got within five feet, knocking him off balance and intercepting their coordination. Byers led with a punch, which Slade backed off easily, then came in hard with one to the gut. It doubled Byers over, and while he staggered off Slade took an elbow tot he side of his ribs from Rogerleth. It did nothing. The big man made a slight “oof” sound, as if he were puffing a dandelion, then launched his shoulder into the man half his size. His momentum, and the fact that he was coming down from far above, knocked Rogerleth to a knee.

By this time Tamson had picked himself up and was approaching again. Slade saw him coming and donkey-kicked behind him. He missed. Tamson grabbed for the leg and he missed.

Rogers and T now had beads and distances on Slade, so they started aiming jabs and kicks in his direction. Thumps sounded as the three closed in on him, a miniature swarm upon a massive beast, and he swirled and twirled to throw them off. Fists, elbows, knees, hair flew. Echoes of the impacts bounced off the barroom walls. Grunts and scuffs of tables being shoved out the way, the thwock of a fist against chest, grunts and moans as the three attackers thought better of their strategies and reconsidered their attack. Finally Rogers lay on the ground, bleeding form two cuts under an eye and nursing a soreness in his ribs that could only be described as excruciating. T, too, was on a knee, breathing hard, while Byers was nowhere to be seen. Witnesses later say he ducked out the back after taking a solid elbow to the head. Slade, bruised and winded, stood over his two mutineers like a lion over his pride, victorious, glorious, regal, despite the mess on his face and knuckles. He simply nodded to the two on the ground, pulled a stool back up to the bar, sat down and picked up where he had been, and went back to work. The police arrived a few minutes later and found R and T outside sitting on the stoop. When they asked what happened, R started with, “well, Slade jumped us -” and the officer cut him of with a dismissive wave of his hand. He’d had enough in fifteen years of visits to this bar. He knew better than to assume Slade was ever an instigator. He smirked. “You boys learn your lesson?” R and T hung their heads in shame. “Yessir,” T said.

And that was Tuesday.

Writing Practice 8/10/2018 – Destroy a childhood fantasy

Destroy a childhood fantasy…

Santa – been done.

Easter Bunny – Done.

Your parents are happily married – Done.

Your teacher loves you and reallylikes your stupid drawing of a cat – Done.

Doggie Heaven – well, now here’s a promising topic. Let’s see:

“Okay, Kevin, you know how you really love Barney over there, right? And Barney, well, he’s getting a little old. Remember how grandma got old and when her body couldn’t work any more, she went to Heaven? For dogs, there’s the same thing. Big fields to run around in, birds to chase all day, naps in the sunshine. It’s fantastic. Barney’s going to love it there. You want that for Barney, don’t you? You don’t want him to be in pain like this any more, do you? You want him to have the chance to be happy and playful again, just like he was when he was younger, right?”

Ah, the bullshit we spew at the younger, naive generations in order to ease our own trauma. Why lie? Because it makes us feel better. We empathize with our youths’ sorrow over a pet’s death. So we must attempt to alleviate our own suffering by first alleviating theirs.

Here’s the real deal, kid. Your dog doesn’t have a soul. There is no distinction between “Barney, the basset hound” and “Barney the doggo spirit inside”. Barney himself couldn’t tell you where he stops and another dog starts, outside of the physical limitation / barrier / known divide of his nose and ears and paws. So to presume that there is something different from the aging, failing, tumor-ridden body that can barely get up off the couch to pee, is a rather egregious transgression of adultory responsibility.

Instead of lying to you, to try to minimize your sorrow, we should instead be telling you the truth, and helping you to process the sorrow, to help you to understand and properly grieve the loss. Here it is.

Barney is dying. Barney’s body does not work so well any longer. Pretty soon, maybe today, maybe next week, but certainly not much after that, Barney’s body will not work at all. Then Barney will be dead. He won’t run and jump. He won’t chase birds and squirrels and eat treats all day long. His body will just be there, and the personality, the “spirit’ that you have called Barney, the one who, yeah, did like to lay on your bed at night, and who did like to eat Hormel Chili but not Manwich, and who, yeah, did get into the neighbors’ trash once in a while, that “personality” will die with the body. It’s impossible to separate them. They are a whole, a togetherness, and integrated union. Take your hands – lock them together in two fists. Can you figure – that’s it. See how, together, they make a strong, tight, compact bond? Well, take them apart, and what do you have? An empty palm. Nothing. Blankness. What used to be something.

And that’s how it’s going to be with Barney. His body will be “done”. His spirit will be “done”. At that point we can give him a burial, if you’d like, and I think it would be very appropriate to write a good-bye letter to Barney. Hey, you may even want to do that now, so you can read it to him. That way he can hear it, before he disappears, and then that can be your last, best memory of him. What do you think – are you up to it?

Writing Practice – 8/7/2018

Write about paperbacks…

Okay, confession time. I was originally not supposed to write about paperbacks. If I had followed my rules for deciding a topic, I would have done something different. I opened the notebook, to the list of writing topics I had done once, and the first thing I saw was “write about wetbacks.” Now, according to my instructions for myself, I’m not supposed to judge a topic – just go. But today I felt it. I felt a hesitation, a fear, an apprehension I can’t write about that, or maybe, I just don’t care if [illegible] I’ll be racist or I’ll try not to be but it will show anyway, or maybe my misperceptions will all come tumbling out, so I won’t be able to pretend that I’m not racist any more. So I skipped it. I went right to the line above, which happened to be “write about paperbacks”, which seemed safe, seemed okay for a Tuesday morning in a strange place while my kids are sleeping, seemed like I wouldn’t have to dive very deep on that one, so I bailed out. I pussied out. I felt the urge to go hard on something and I chickened out – I forgot my own instruction, my personal mantra of “no judgment”, just let the writing flow as it does, and I judged. I judged the topic, I judged what I would write about, I judged my readers who would eventually see what I’d written and then perhaps also my [illegible], I judged my person [illegible] insufficient to carry the weight of such a subject.

So – paperbacks, huh? Real, weighty, important stuff there, eh? Ah, no, that’s bullshit. Paperbacks is a cop-out.

Why do we call it a cop-out? Why don’t we call it giving up? Why are giving up and giving in the same thing? Why don’t we have a simpler English language, one in which words mean what they mean, not something in one context, “house”, and something else in another context, “house”, but it’s completely unrelated to one another? Okay, “house” is a bad example of that, but I can’t think of another example on the fly like this without thinking, getting logical, which are two things that are part of the rules of writing Practice that I’m not supposed to do.

and I usually follow those rules. The Rules of Writing Practice, I review them every session. Every. Session. it’s part of my ritual each time I write. I start with the date, and a topic, then review the rules, then do a mental preparation exercise, and then I write. I always follow those rules. The rules say to let go. I often do. The rules say to go for the jugular. I do. The rules say to ignore spelling, punctuation, Don’t worry about margins or lines_ you should see my notebook. It looks like an epileptic chicken got a hold of a swirly pen and went to town.

Boy, that took a turn for the weird. Glad I’m not trying to read this afterward. I’d wonder whether I need to be in a sanitarium. Perhaps I do. Perhaps I do.

Writing Practice 7/30/2018

From Telling Stories, page 405

“I am now a very old man and this is something that happened to me when I was very young – only nine years old.”

And though I say it happened “to” me, there is still some part of me that knows I was not completely innocent in it all. Not a bystander – I did my part.

It was a Thursday afternoon in the fall, I think September, and I was walking home from school. Back in those days we were allowed to do that, because it was the seventies, and people trusted one another more. Often, but not always, I walked with two others on my block who went to the same elementary. They had gone on ahead that day, for I stayed behind to chat with the janitor. I liked the way his closet of supplies smelled, so I would sometimes chat him up.

They went ahead, so I walked alone. As I was alone on the sidewalk, I saw, when I was about halfway home, a strange cat on the other side of the street. I stopped. I stared at the cat. The cat stared at me. I watched it, expecting it to run away, or maybe fearing it would attack me, but neither happened. It remained crouched on its hind legs, about fifteen feet away on the other sidewalk.

I reached into my bag. I pulled out the remainder of my lunch – a tuna fish sandwich. Now whether that is fate or luck, I have not yet decided, even though it has been fifty years or more since that day. But, I had tuna fish, and the cat, scrawny, dirty, scabs across one ear and it looked like a few whiskers had been pulled out, his orange-and-white fur looking more like rust-and-brown river water, waited. He stared at me as I approached starting across the street. By the time I was halfway I could see the fear had crept into his eyes, and he turned slightly to run.

So I stopped. I stopped in the middle of the street and I backed up two steps. The cat relaxed just slightly, and I knew it wouldn’t run away then. I crouched down, and then gently placed the tuna fish sandwich, open-faced, on the blacktop, still warm from the sun’s rays, and backed away.

It took him a minute to sniff the air. He slowly, and with great, and reasonable, caution, stepped into the street. Two paces, then four, his feet padded silently. I knew he’d been just barely getting by, and he and I could tell this would be a feast. Maybe more than he’d had in a week. His nose twitched, whiskers flicking the air. His tail lowered, as if he were going to pounce.

He stalked that sandwich, then, for at least five minutes. He took his time, eyes back and forth from it to me to scanning his surroundings. Finally, though, he reached close enough for a taste.

His tongue flicked out, once, twice, three times. I knew he could taste the flesh, and the mayonaise, that my mother used. Even the added salt and perhaps he would skip the little celery bits. I don’t know, but after a couple of tastes he dove in. His eyes closed and he started gulping down huge mouthfuls of fish, satisfying, or at least staving off, a hunger that must have been gnawing at him for days, a week.

His eyes closed, then, and my concentration fully devoted to him, meant that neither of us saw it until it was too late. The Studebaker appeared almost out of nowhere, a silent beast looming immediately over our silent conclave. It struck him just as he noticed it, for his head started to rise up and turn out of the way. I, too shocked to do anything, stood, mouth wide open, as I saw the cat’s orange-and-white body spin off into the ditch, tumbling down and rolling to a stop at the bottom.

The car did not, however, stop. It rolled along as if nothing happened. And I, I strode over to where the cat lay, dazed, stunned, broken and now bleeding again from new wounds and old ones reopened. The grass began to color with his red blood leaking out. He made no noise; he opened no eyes. Were it not for the incomprehensible twist of his back, he might have appeared to be sleeping.

His rib cage, thin, angular, rose a few times, in a slowing rhythm. His back legs twitched once, then again, and then stopped. I stood, silent vigil, and watched as this creature, this being I had never known until ten minutes before, breathed its last. I looked back out to he road and saw the sandwich still sitting there, warming in the residue of the sun’s radiant heat from the road surface. I saw, far off in the distance, the town center and other cars going about their own business. I looked at my hands, hands which had only just now been the cause of another’s death, and I did not cry.

I’ve often wondered why I did not cry. Was it because I did not know what happened? Or because I did not care? Maybe shock? Or just generally too young to realize how permanent death is, even to a creature such as a stray cat? I do not know. Maybe I never will. But I have told this story to a dozen different therapists, ministers, friends, and lovers over the years, asking that question – why not? – and none has ever been able to give me a satisfactory answer. Perhaps none ever will. Until one does, the, I will keep asking, keep seeking. I can do no other.

Writing practice 7/19/2018 – Persephone

Write about Persephone…

She is a demi-god, born of a human woman, impregnated by a god, lived in Greece three thousand years ago, and she is the one who stands at the cliff’s edge and calls thunderstorms across the ocean. She raises an arm, a silky, milk-white arm to the heavens and the heavens bow down in service, they come fleeing from where they were at her beck and call, and they pour themselves out upon the lands in deference to her beauty, her power, her status as more-than-woman, they acknowledge her and fight amongst themselves to prove their devotion to her, their master, their guide, their wise, just, perfect leader.

She is Persephone, a racehorse, three years old and in the prime of her career, barreling down the track, full-bore, all-out, nonstop, and she is behind but she feels the crack of the whip and knows there is another step, she is covered in sweat and dust from the track and flying clods kick up into her teeth and she tastes them as she pulls abreast of the leader, her rider feels good atop her back, a part of her, a unanimity of purpose and desire, they push forward lean forward as one, as one being, a symbiosis, a parallelism, a conjoining of heart, of mind, of effort, and she/they/it pulls forward once more, now tied, now leading, now winning, and crossing the line to know victory is a sweet eruption volcanic orgasmic sensation unmatched anywhere in the world.

Persephone is a boat, a ship, thirty feet long and equipped with two sails, the mainsail and the jib, and she has a seven-foot keel her owner drops when it is stormy outside so she will sit lower in the water, to avoid danger of capsizing. He, the owner, has lovingly restored her over a six-year period. He bought her from a junk dealer back in Massachusetts, when she was lying languid amongst the other rubble, and he saw her, saw her potential, had to have her. Now she sails the Caribbean, the soft, warm waters caressing her haul, her rudder, with a lover’s embrace, and she is home. She has purpose, she is home, and she will never go back.

Persephone is a small child, a girl, almost a woman, at twelve, and she sits in piano rehearsal patiently, watching her teacher work with her sister, anticipating her turn. She has worked hard all week, six days of practice, twenty or more minutes each day, and she’s eager to show off her new skills to Mrs. Robinette. Finally Mary is done, hops off the bench, and Persephone hops up. Today is an etude by Haydn, and she plays it note-perfect, timing-perfect, and when she is done she beams up at Mrs. Robinette, who smiles gently, claps her hands thrice, and says “very nice, Steph. Nice, but not beautiful. Can you find a way to put some more emotion into it? Like this,” and she scooches Persephone over on the bench, places her hands on the keys, and plays, and the usurpation of Persephone’s joy at having played perfectly fills the air. Mrs. Robinette is a fine piano player, but as an instructor, she’s kind of an ass. Persephone would never say it out loud, but she has written it in her diary at least half a dozen times. Tonight will make one more, for sure.

Writing Practice – 7/17/2018

From Telling Stories, page 225

“It is a northern country. They have cold weather, they have cold hearts.”

But their words are warm. They speak of love, they speak of tenderness. So to outsiders, they sound welcoming. They sound safe.

It is a lie.

They have learned how to deceive. That is the way of the north. It is not a community endeavor. It is survival of one, and one only, in any way possible, and so the tendencies to restrict vulnerability with truthfulness, no, not truthfulness, the tendencies to restrict vulnerability with falsehood has become ingrained into the psyche.

Do not let another know what you truly feel. For it is not necessary, really, for you to tell, for if you are a resident, it is known by all the others that your heart is as cold, as callous, as heartless as all the others in this place. How could it be otherwise?

The outsiders, they do not understand this phenomenon. They come to view, to observe this community where everyone smiles, always, billed in the over-there advertisements as “the Land of Perpetual Happiness”, but the reality is far less joyous. They come, they believe, they depart, and the attractions, the people in the zoos of their storefronts and town plazas and sidewalks and in their homes, the people are on display, they are objects of manipulation, they are exploited, and this, too, drives the true warmth out of their hearts.

They cannot understand the southerners either. To know is to understand, and since they refuse to know they have not the opportunity for understanding. Were they to somehow find a portion of their stone-cold pits transfigured, they may have the first step toward that place fo common knowledge. But, since that would take a miracle, it shall be a long time coming, and for now, these two groups will maintain their separate and unequal status, neither satisfied with the condition, neither truly comprehending their level of dissatisfaction and, consequently, the limitations which such an arrangement places on them.

It is easy, casual even, for an outside observer such as ourselves to make such judgments. We can see objectively into the situation, weigh pros and cons without malice, and pass the verdict on without emotion and conflict.

But for them? For them it is impossible. They are in it. They are buried neck-deep in the situation, and for that they will ultimately suffer. The only redeeming quality in this suffering is that, because it is constant, they know not what it truly is. In this their ignorance is bliss. A terrible bliss, but, nonetheless…

Writing Practice 7/8/2018 – Epigenetics

Write about epigenetics…

You and I and everyone else in this world, well every thing else in this world, with DNA at least, have genes. Genetics is the science of understanding which genes we have. Epigenetics, then, must be something different. My vague recollection includes a brief entry for this topic, so I’ll try to make an educated guess, or at least bullshit you into believing I know what I’m writing about.

The introductory “epi-” must mean we’re talking about more than the physical structure of the genes themselves. That’s the way specific combinations of the molecules A (adenosine), G (guanine), T (toramine), and C (cytosine) are arranged in sequence. Epi- means not just what genes do you have, but what genes do you use. It’s sort of like metaphysics for the physical (ironically metaphysics is not about the physical at all!) world. Meta physics is the “meta-“, the “more than” physical. The “beyond” physical. The intellectual, the emotional, the psychological – structural elements of every thing beyond the stuff of matter and quarks and electrons and Newton’s Laws and thermodynamics. Could have named it “meta-genetics”, but I think that the audience would get confused. They would have thought it was covering population-level ideas. Because we use “meta-” often to talk about umbrella policies, things that cover a whole swath of one area of study. Meta-studies are studies of other studies, like you examine all of the arguments and research conclusions in individual published papers, and draw a conclusion about conclusions. So a “meta-genetics” would possibly be interpreted as studying conclusions about population-level genetic trends and expressions over and above what shows up in individuals.

So our topic, “epi-” genetics, to be “beyond” what you have to what you use, is a slightly different topic. As I see it (and, of course, I see it clearly, duh, why else would I be writing so without authority on the subject?), epigenetics is the science of not only what genes we have, but how they express themselves in the life of the individual animal, or plant, or bacterium, in which they reside. [Aside – do bacteria have similar structures like vestigial organs, that humans do? What the hell even is a bacteria in any way? Why are we so afraid of them?] So that there may be genes for, say, ability to digest a certain enzyme. Let’s call it examplase (for example). So humans, at one time, needed to digest examplase because it was found in high concentrations among certain bushes & berries in, I dunno, the Sumerian Crescent. So, the one who digested examplase better, over time, were more survivor-like, and therefore more likely to pass on genes for digesting examplase to their offspring.

Now, fast-forward ten thousand years. There may be a gene for examplase in every single human around. But, it isn’t doing anything any longer, because not because there isn’t any examplase (there is, in the Sumerian Crescent), but because we have largely eliminated it from our diets. So even though we could use the energy processing systems of our digestive system in order to break down examplase, we don’t need to. So our bodies have recognized this and we have “turned off” the access to the examplase digestive instructions within the genetic code.

Maybe think of it as a library. All the sections have instructions as to what to do. If we want to do more, we add another section of instructions (genetic code), like adding more shelves of books. The’ll always be there. But, when we don’t need them immediately, we can turn out the lights and lock the door to that room for a while, safe in the evolutionary knowledge that if we ever need to go ack there, we could, and what we need will be waiting, patiently, to come to our rescue in our trials.