August 27, 2022 – If you ever need something to write about:
If you ever need something to write about, just write a list of writing topics. Can be simple, or complex, just let your hand and your mind go. don’t worry about being real, or likely, or even good. Just write.
Write about a bird that won’t shut up.
Write about that same bird eating a cicada.
Write about the cicada attacked, yet escaping, and going off to live in the city with its cousin.
Write about that cousin resenting the cicada for coming and bringing his country ways with him, and having to put up with him, but not having the courage to stand up and make the first cicada mad, so it develops a complex and begins to go to therapy.
Write about the insect therapist, how they didn’t really want to do the job but they’re so indebted to their degree program that were they to take a pay cut and change careers, they would have to sell their house and live in a van down by the river.
Write about that van, and how it’s had several occupants over the years, and the whole community knows that it’s just a place for deadbeats to live out the remaining days of their spiral into oblivion, but the city Council won’t bother removing it, because, hey, at least if it’s there they know to go check on it every couple of days and maybe they’ll find someone there, someone that may need a little hand up, so they can offer that but if the van’s gone then those people who may have been helped out of a desperate situation could just be wandering the streets aimlessly and it would be so much more unlikely that they’d find those people and intervene in their lives to get them the help they need.
Write about the halfway house that those people / bugs / whatever are taken to, and how it’s okay, the good part is that there’s structure and a bed and a library and some counseling on how to get moving again. The bad part is that there’s really no privacy and it always smells like stinky feet and the books in the library have all become so old and worn that you can barely tell what the cover says and they’re all from like 50 years ago anyway, so to read them now, feels a bit like time-traveling back to another era when different sensibilities ruled and different views on the ways to interact in society dominated everything, just just the popular media.
Write about the rug on the rec room floor of that halfway house, how one time there was a fire and someone grabbed the rug on her way out of the building because she liked it more than anything that was in her room and if she was going to lose everything but one thing she wanted that rug to be the one thing.
Write about the boyfriend of that girl, who watched her spiral down and down, helplessly, as she got more and more addicted to booze and dangerous sex, so that he eventually realized that though he loved her, he had to let her go or, like a drowning swimmer, she would have pulled him under, too.
Write about how, when that boyfriend got a new girlfriend years later, he didn’t even mention the one who’d lost herself, but he did check up on her from time to time by calling her mother, once every six months or so, and how they would have a lovely chat and how she would promise to keep secret that he was checking up on the daughter and she knew she would keep that promise, but he was always like 5 percent skeptical.
If that doesn’t give you enough for a story, start again. You can do it. I believe in you.
I think we’re saying “I want to climb Mount Everest” not because we want to do the climbing of Mount Everest, but because we want to afterwards say “I climbed Mount Everest.”
No surprise, though. Our society doesn’t value the journey nearly as much as the destination, despite how many self-help gurus or mindfulness masters tell us that we should believe otherwise.
Sure, it sounds good to say “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey,” but if you examine where we spend our time, where we put our efforts, where we drip our perspiration, where we work until our muscles ache and our fingers bleed and our brains finally shut down from the effort, it’s far more likely to be found in the pursuit at the status-creating or status-affirming external symbol of “success” than at the process you took to get there.
Most of the things we set out as “goals” for our life, whether they be personal, interpersonal, or professional, are set not by what we want to do, but based on what we want to have done.
For quite a while, I’ve had end-goal related writing goals. I wanted to win a prize in the Writers of the Future Contest. I wanted to get a book contract. I desired membership in SFWA.
I wanted the wrong things. I set my yearly or quarterly or weekly goals around those visible end points. The problem is, most of those end points are completely out of my control. Case in point: a couple of years ago I set a pretty hefty goal for my writing: >100 submissions, edit & publish 2 books, draft another, and offer >30 critiques.
All of those are in service to very external judgments of “me as a writer”. They make no consideration at all as to whether or not I would have time and energy to do all of that.
Now, to say that I was overconfident in my capacity would be an extreme understatement. I could probably tick off everything on the list if I had absolutely nothing else to do. But I have a day job and children to raise, and a house to take care of and no supportive spouse. (That’s the #1 ingredient to being a “successful writer”, according to one such person who spoke at a workshop I attended.) Which means my writing time is rather limited. Plus my writing energy will be just as impacted.
And so compared to those incredibly lofty goals, based on what I wanted to have done (publications) and based on what other people told me would bring success (# of submissions), I failed rather quickly. By the middle of March I was behind, way behind. Being behind also had this psychological effect that it intimidated me from working on those things I could actually do, because I think I had the feeling that if I wasn’t meeting my overall goal, it was a waste.
I never caught up. Sure, you can blame the pandemic, but a greater factor was that the goals were just set completely wrong.
In 2021, I had no goals. I just was kind of floundering, sort of hoping that I would get some stuff done here and there, I guess expecting that my meandering would somehow lead me to some kind of enlightenment.
This year, rather than asking, What do I want to have done at the end of the year? I asked myself, What can I do?
And I’ve allowed that difference to be absolutely transformative in the way I set intermediate goals and execute on them. My goals this year center on writing practice, attending writers’ group meetings, and finishing new stories and essays, rather than books. All of these are much more achievable, because they actually feed each other and reinforce each other.
The result? I’m writing more consistently in writing practice than I have in years. I’m generating new stories more frequently. I’m submitting more often, to more places, and actually enjoying the research to find new markets I didn’t know about before. Basically, I’m winning 2022. I believe I can continue to do so for the next 9 months. And I think it has a lot to do with how I’ve set my goals.
A different example: at my local writers’ group meeting last week, I had the privilege to talk about writing as a practice. I talked about daily writing practice, just letting the words flow, just enjoying the experience, and leaving it inside the notebook at the end, without worrying about making it into some finished product.
Many people kind of nodded with me, sort of like, “Yeah, I see what you’re saying, but I’m not gonna play along.” I know it’s because the vast majority of people who don’t practice, say that they’d rather spend their time creating a thing. Working on a story or a screenplay. They want something tangible at the end of their hour at the desk. I heard many say, “I don’t really want to be doing something that isn’t going to be a story at the end.”
Now, I love me some tangibility, I really do. That’s why I have thirty empty pens in my collection, used up over the past five years, that remind me of what I’ve done. That’s why I have twenty full notebooks that pile up so high I can’t see around them if I stack them all on my desk, each one filled with the ink from those same pens, creating worlds that no one will ever explore. Birthing characters and immediately burying them between the covers. Drawing great and wonderful insights about the universe which could save humanity from itself, but because of where they were spawned will forever be locked away from discovery and application by the greater population.
But those things won’t make me “a writer” in the modern sense, in which I am creating stories which other people pay me for, and I earn my living doing so.
However, that writing practice is immensely valuable. It’s reps in the gym. It’s miles on the trail. It’s the unseen bottom of the iceberg that pushes the visible peak just that little bit above the surface of the ocean.
Most of the time we do whatever it is that we do, not for the thing itself. We do it most often because of the goal – the end point – the pennant we could hang upon the wall that proclaims we are the champions.
Why do I practice? Because that is what makes me a writer. Not if a story is published in Fantasy or Lightspeed. Not if one of my scripts gets picked up by a production studio. Not if two or two thousand people sign up on my Patreon to receive my musings. I am a writer because I write, not because someone else publishes.
In short, I’m achieving my goals. Because they were set the right way. Not by asking, What do other people say would make me a writer? But by realizing, These are the things I canwrite and the activities I can take with the time and energy I have, and actually doing them.
No, I’m not going to have books published as soon as I wanted. I’m not going to qualify for SFWA as soon as I had planned.
But I’m enjoying this process much, much more. And every week, when I meet with my writing group, I get the opportunity to say that I am still meeting my goals.
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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.
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.
Paint me a picture of the sunset. Use red, and orange, and yellow, and sunflower, and orange-red, and burnt sienna, and pink, and pink-grey, and blend the colors together with the last few clouds of the day, and have them standing in stark contrast to the deepening blue of the sky, as the sun sinks lower, becomes larger, swells with its pride of having performed well for yet another day.
Streak the solid blue sky background with the white-blend-grey tops of clouds filling the vision, hanging there suspended as if on strings, or a scaffolding, fixed, waiting. Use the leftover melds of yellow-orange and orange-red and yellow-red-burnt sienna to color the undersides of the clouds, creating that stark contrast between day and night, below and above, the opposite of the way we normally think of the setup. Day is below the clouds, now, at sunset, as Sol has burned himself out once more, performed admirably yet again in bringing heat and power to the world, as she has given of herself to the surface, has divested herself of all that stored potential energy she has, and, instead of keeping it for herself, instead of maintaining herself on it, instead of restraint and inhibition, she has blessed us, with abundance, with abandon, and in so doing she has exhausted herself, like the fat sturgeon fighting the currents to get to her nesting station, as she has deposited her brood in their rightful place, as she, then exhausted, collapses under the weight of the biological urges within her, and dies, to drift back downstream in renewal and in anticipation, in foreshadowing the life of her offspring yet to come. She is the embodiment of self-sacrifice, of service, of giving of oneself for another, and we see the parallel in the sun in the way that she, too, like that mother full of futures, has been filled with our futures, our possibilities of the day, and she, in her infinite patience, has disgorged herself for us. Has given us of her energy, her power, her life-blood, so that we may live, and breath, and drive, and fuck, and we repay not but what we ineffectively, insufficiency, proclaim of her beauty when we write an essay such as this, when we paint a picture such as that, when we sing her praises, insufficiency, inadequately, imperfectly, yet, we still do, we say thank you, we appreciate all you do for us, we spend our time as we rest in the evening with gratitude on our lips and in our hearts and in our notebooks, and we, then, refill ourselves, even as Sol has gone away to fill herself one more, to drink of the eternal spring of Natural Refreshment, to be the way of renewal, to capture and store up, for us, to build up a huge, vibrant, dynamic reservoir of power, and warmth, and inspiration, that she, in her infinite patience and goodness and mercy, will, with the coming of the dawn, once again choose to bless us.
The Good Son – page 107 – The world spun around me.
I could tell I had been drugged. After so many years of intentionally setting myself in this state of mind, I could tell the different types of after-effects. This felt like an episode of marijuana laced with some PCP. I’d done both individually, before, and knew I was happy high, and paranoid while tripping.
This felt like the combination. I wanted to hold everything that came my way and make love to it, but everything I could see had suddenly sprouted heads, and extra butts, and now the leaves had turned purple and the squirrels were the size of donkeys and their eyes were bigger than my head, and that freaked me out a little bit, too. But still I loved those huge, ridiculous donkey-squirrels, and I wanted to take them inside of me and to blend them with me, I wanted to melt them with my stomach acid and to merge their flesh unto my flesh, to imbue myself with the essence of donkey-squirrel, to merge my soul with the liquified, purified, gelatinous donkey-squirrel-orange-leaf-green-rainbow soul, to become a harmonious being outside of space, inside of time, to become a melded, blended, homogenous thing that had no individual identity but only a one-ness, a universality, a connection to the electric underpinning of the universe tangential path out of the cosmos and into, through, above and below and beyond the ether, to lose myself and to gain the donkey-squirrel, to make our consciousnesses become greater than the sum of our parts, to be absent from the body and to be present with the spirit, the Great Spirit, the Greatest Spirit, the one who guides, who directs, who rules, who controls and yet still allows the freedom, a purpose, a will to guide itself, to explore itself, to see where this uncertain, undefined, infinite future may flow to, to be unceasing and incessant, to permanently and effortlessly turn in circles of being, to love and to want and to live and to be, to exist, to subsume, to control and release, to breathe and to be exhaled, to know and to forget, to live and live and live and live and live forever.
Can you see it? There! About twenty feet out, it’s longer than your arm – thicker than your leg. Do you see how that branch comes out from the side, and looks like an arm? Can you see how the fingers stretch and reach towards the sky?
I imagine most of it is below the water line. If there is one branch sticking up, how many more must be reaching down? Three, four maybe. Big, hairy, gnarled arms trailing into the water.
Do you think there are fish swimming in and out, like a playground? This is a pretty big lake, after all. I bet there are some bluegill down there, maybe a sunfish, or a bass. Have the Asian Carp made it here yet? They were all over in that last place we went, remember? Such a problem, though I didn’t understand why. Couldn’t we just catch a lot of them? Maybe eat them, too. You know hwy they’re always talking about starving children in Africa? We could catch those Asian Carp and send them over there so they could eat them.
Do you know how deep this lake is? I bet it’s at least like ten feet deep. I dove in off the back of my friend’s boat last summer, and I tried to touch the bottom, you know, like you do when you’re at the pool? I went down and down, reaching with my fingers. I knew I was goin to touch the mud, but I never felt anything. I felt my ears get tighter, you know, with the pressure and all, but it never stopped. I probably kicked five or six times, and when I do that at the pool I only need to kick two or three and I can touch the bottom. That’ about eleven feet deep. So this is probably a lot deeper. Maybe I was going sideways, but then the pressure wouldn’t have been getting stronger and stronger, would it?
I wonder if we could dive off this boat now, what we would see. Would we scare those fish away? Do you think they would let us touch them? I think it would be creepy to touch a fish. Do you think they can feel things through their scales? Do they have nerves out there? Can they move those scales? You know, like birds can ruffle their feathers. That would be cool! Imagine if you saw a fish, just swimming in its tank, and then it ruffled its scales when it got scared, or threatened. That would look pretty exciting.
Oooh! What if you saw a dragon do that? Can you imagine, a forty-foot long dragon ruffling its scales, and breathing fire, and flexing its wings, and clenching its talons? I bet you’d crap your pants, you’d be so scared.
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?
My imaginary friends are having a real war, and it’s taking a toll on my room. Last night Katie threw my Spider-Man across the room at Jacob. It missed him but hit the mirror and knocked it off the shelf.
Mom says that she doesn’t believe me, that it’s not me doing it, but Dad does. He always takes my side. I wish they weren’t so made t each other, but, sometimes I don’t get what I want.
Katie told me she doesn’t want to be my friend any more, if Jake is still coming around. She said I have to choose – who am I going to pick her or him? I told her I don’t want to pick. Why can’t I have both? Why can’t things be like they used to be?
It started like two years ago. Mom told me that’s when I started having nightmares, but I don’t remember that part. She says she would hear me screaming about monsters. She would come in and check on me, tell me it was okay, and leave. I didn’t remember that part. I do remember that a lot of times I would wake up and Dad was lying in the bed next to me, his arm around my shoulders.
“Hey, big guy,” he’d say, when I woke up. “You were having another bad night, huh?” I didn’t remember him coming in to my room, either, but i do remember when I met Katie and Jake. I was out at the swingset, no – maybe it was the little creek out at the community park – anyway, all of a sudden I heard two other voices and they were arguing, too.
I was able to stop them from that argument, and they made up. They were okay, and I was okay with each of them. I like Jake a little more; he’s about two years old than me, he doesn’t like to ride bikes like I do, so I have to play at the park when he’s already there.
We don’t hang out with Katie much any more. We did for a while. She’s a little younger than Jake so she’s just a little older than me. She likes to ride bikes, so we do that together. She says her grandma promised her a gear-shifter bike for her next birthday, but when ask when that is, she always says, “oh, in a couple of months.” I’ve had two birthdays since I met her, and she hasn’t had any.
I’m afraid if I keep going to like this that she’s not going to get any older, but I will. I might grow out of my imaginary friends. I grew out of my hi-tops last year and my older brother grew out of his shorts and that’s why I have his. I don’t want to grow out of my friends. I want them to stay with me.
But Mom says that I need to leave them behind. It’s not that they can’t help me anymore, she says. It’s just that they don’t need to be there every day. Dad says it’s okay. He thinks as long as I have a way to “process” those things it will be fine.
Sometimes, I wish I did just leave them behind – you know, go out and live by myself. But then I realize I’m only ten, and I can’t give them up that easily. Who’ll take care of me? I can’t get a job. Now way I could take care of myself.
No, it wasn’t. It was a Halloween costumed kid on a skateboard. He only “looked” like a clown.
No, you’re both wrong. It was Carrot-Top, and he was on roller blades, and he was drinking what appeared to be a pineapple smoothie. I should know, it was in exactly the same cup my grandmother used to get her smoothies in, from that place down on the corner, you know the one, where we used to go and get the three-dollar popsicles.
Oh yeah, those things were so good. I’d have like three a day in the summer. My mom always asked what I was spending my money on, and I would lie and say “Chicks, mom, I gotta buy them stuff to impress them.” And she believed me.
Nah, she didn’t believe you. She knew you were gay before you did.
Did not! Did, too. She even told me once, when we were like eight, not to pick on you because of it.
No she didn’t! Shut your fuck hole, asshole!
Guys! Guys! Hold on!
Did you see that?
Nope. What was it this time?Don’t say another clown. I certainly don’t believe you the first time. I”m not gonna believe you this one.
Nope. Guess again.
Okay, was it a parade of pre-schoolers? You know, where they hold that rope and all walk single file and look like they’re preparing for five to eight at the State Prison?
Was it a dog chasing a cat chasing a rat chasing its mate because it was horny and then hungry and then just having fun?
Nope. But I like your style!
Was it a skywriter in the blue, but instead of saying something like “I LOVE YOU HARRIET” or “EAT AT MACAVITY’S”, it was real big blocks, empty squares, kind of like an artificial algebra problem with geometric shapes instead of variables?
Nope. Getting warmer, though.
Was it a worm, shriveled up and hard and flat, squished by too many feet and left alone to rot by the birds because all the good parts had become toughened in the sun?