Who Are We?

Calvin stood motionless as he observed the magnificent beast walk past him, just a few feet away. Apparently, the unicorn did not see Calvin. Otherwise, the animal would have bolted. Instead, it was the picture of serenity as it grazed on fresh clover. The creature’s back shuddered from time to time,  spraying morning dew that had gathered on its haunches into the air. Calving reached over his shoulder and, in slow motion so as not to draw the beast’s attention, drew an arrow from the quiver hanging on his back. He slipped the knock of the arrow into the bow string, carefully placed the shaft in the arrow rest,  and pulled back on the string.

What in the name of God am I doing? I’m about to kill a unicorn. This is insane.

Whether it was his thought or the motions of his arms that triggered the unicorn’s response, something alerted the animal to his presence. Suddenly, the unicorn raised its head. Its neck turned toward Calvin and its eyes fixed on him. In less than the time it takes to blink, the rampant beast was on Calvin, its hooves pummeling him. It knocked Calvin to the ground and stepped on the bow, snapping it in pieces like a matchstick. The animal drew back and lowered its head and then charged toward Calvin. The spiral horn punctured Calvin’s chest, piercing his sternum and snapping his spine before exiting his back. It raised its head with Calvin impaled on its horn. Spinning its head in semi-circles, the beast cast Calvin’s body into the air. Its gleaming white horn covered with Calvin’s blood, the animal rushed toward the creek. It dipped its horn into the rushing water and rinsed away the blood.

The unicorn lived to a ripe old age. Never again did it encounter humans carrying hunting paraphernalia. It died in its sleep on a winter evening many years later, after a delightful dinner of clover and spring water. Calvin, as you might have guessed, died before he was cast off the animal’s horn. We don’t know who mourned his death; perhaps no one did. And we have no idea why he was in the enchanted forest with a bow and arrow. Actually, we don’t even know where this enchanted forest is. And we have no information about Calvin’s surname; we assume he had one, but that’s not certain. The newspaper accounts of his demise have yet to be written. Perhaps in another time his obituary will appear in a small-town newspaper; that might reveal something about his background, his family, and other tidbits about his life that will make his passing more meaningful than it has been heretofore. What we do know about Calvin is this: we know his first name, we know he carried a bow and a quiver of arrows, and we know he was about to kill a unicorn before having second thoughts about such an undertaking. And we know he died, impaled on the unicorn’s horn. Why should we care about Calvin? And why should we care about the unicorn? The answers to those questions rest not with logic, but with whatever generic empathy we hide deep in our hearts. Maybe it’s there. Maybe it’s not. If we live our lives in accord with soulless logic, the tragedy of Calvin and the unicorn that killed him do not matter. Nothing does. And that’s the pity of it, isn’t it?

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Blue Eyes

Her penetrating eyes were talons. Once they had him in their grip, he was helpless. Though he was a victim, he was willing prey. He treasured every glance, every sweep of her eyes across his face. She knew the power of her gaze and she used it with aplomb. When she looked directly in his eyes, he felt she was reading his thoughts. Or that she was planting ideas in his mind, ideas her husband mustn’t ever know were there. She controlled him with her beautiful blue eyes, those emissaries of longing that burrowed into his soul as easily as a hot knife slices through butter. Her stare could bring a smile to his lips. And just as quickly, her eyes could arouse in him a palpable desire so fervent he could barely control himself. But he had to. Her husband and his wife weren’t blind; if he allowed his stoic face to waiver, revealing molten desire, carnage would follow.

Trying my hand at writing a bodice-ripper paragraph.

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Five Years

This post, number 2415, marks the fifth anniversary of this blog: August 10, 2012 marked my first post here. I’d written hundreds of other posts on other blogs I’d started years earlier, but that first post on a blog that bore (and bears) my name seemed special. By obtaining a URL representing my name, and by committing to a year of hosting, I felt that I was doing something special. And I was. I acknowledged to myself that I called myself a writer. I’d been a writer long before that, but I was afraid to acknowledge it, for fear of being “found out” as someone who writes, but who’s not really a “writer.” A writer, in my view, was someone who wrote AND published. An author, in other words. A writer who had not been published was not serious. Not committed. Not good enough to call himself a writer. I’ve gotten over most of that. I’m serious about writing. I’m committed to writing—my writing—but I’m not sure I’m sufficiently committed to the craft that I’m willing to sacrifice a great deal of my time to improve my skills. And I’m not sure I’m truly good enough to call myself a writer, at least not good enough to consider myself a writer in the same league as one whose books I might buy. I realize that lack of self-esteem as a writer is no help to me. And I realize, from time to time, I’m better than I often think. Sometimes, I read what I’ve written and I’m delighted to have written it; proud that the words spilled from my fingers in the order they did, in just the right context and with near-perfect relation to the ideas I was trying to convey. Here’s to more of those instances of pride and delight. Five years on, I’m still writing and I’m relatively sure that will continue for the foreseeable future. As I plod along, stitching together what I’ve written in to what I hope is a coherent whole, I’ll remember to be proud on occasion that I’ve gotten this far. If nothing else, I’ve developed a modicum of discipline.

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Punishment

In last night’s nightmare, I was behind Janine and another woman. We were on our backs inside a tiny tunnel, the ceiling of which was just inches above my face. The two of them were riding on their backs on a contraption that seemed like a flat-bed rail car; it glided along on what seemed like narrow train tracks. They seemed to have the ability to power it forward. I, on the other hand, was inching along on my own power, scooting along the tracks. As they glided away from me, the light from their rail car disappeared from my view, leaving me in darkness. I was claustrophobic and I panicked that I might never be able to catch up to them. At some point, in the dream and out, I was making a lot of noise; Janine shook me to awaken me.

Somewhere else in the dream, before the tunnel experience, I suppose, another woman (perhaps the same one)—whose appearance was Asian but whose voice was middle American—assured me everything would be fine. I was nervous, but I don’t know about what. It was nothing like the terrifying experience in the tunnel, though.

Dreams like that make sleep seem like punishment.

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Scrawl

There’s something about the word “scrawl” that I find appealing. Appealing may be the wrong word. Magnetic might be more appropriate. I say this because I’ve used the word in several posts on my blog. In one, I named a character “Ribbon Scrawl.” In another, I mentioned a character’s uncle, “Scrawl Lee.” In another instance, I used the word to describe a character’s handwriting. And I’ve written notes to myself about a mysterious snack-style restaurant I call Scrawl that I may include in a story I’m writing. It’s that most recent use of the word that’s on my mind this morning. All right, it’s not the word so much as it is the place that’s on my mind. Scrawl is a place where Willem Svart, a disgraced South African nuclear scientist spends much of his time. I haven’t decided whether Svart operates Scrawl or has an ownership stake in the place. Regardless, he spends quite a lot of time there. Scrawl’s menu is an eclectic mix of traditional South African and Scandinavian food. The menu includes droëwors, biltong, boerewors, chakalaka & pap, Cape Malay curry, pickled herring, bobotie, kroppkakor, gravlax, smørrebrød, kalops, kåldolmar, tunnbrödrulle, and Durbin curry, among assorted other items unfamiliar to most of us. The place serves beer, of course. The most popular brands are Castle Lager, Carling Black Label, Hansa Pilsner, Heineken, Amstel, and Grolsch. Local microbrews gainied popularity in Scrawl years before the microbrewery trend hit the U.S.

Scrawl welcomes everyone—it’s truly a welcoming place—but its clientele tends to be an odd assortment of outcasts whose demeanor makes “normal” people nervous. Think “biker bar” and your sense of the vibe of the place is heading in the right direction. Instead of bikers, though, the majority of Scrawl’s patrons are professors, philosophers, scientists, and writers, all of whom enjoy the place as a gathering spot for like-minded intellectuals and misfits.

I associate the word “scrawl” with another word I find appealing, “squall.” To my knowledge, there’s no connection between them, save their beginning and ending sounds. Maybe that’s the appeal. Or maybe the meaning of each of them incorporates an element of chaos or disarray. I wonder what a psychoanalyst would think about my affinity for the two words?

The problem of writing about a place I’ve never been is that, the more research I do about the place, the more I am drawn to going there. Knowing a trip to South Africa is not in the offing for me in the near or even distant future, I’d like to find a South African enclave in the U.S., a place where I can meet an assortment of people from South Africa who have emigrated from South Africa to the U.S. for one reason or another and have come together in a community. Is there such a place? I haven’t the foggiest idea. I guess I’ll have to explore that possibility and, if it exists, decide whether a story that probably will never see the inside pages of a book warrants a trip.

Back to Svart. He fits in with the crowd at Scrawl, but unlike his fellow patrons, he is a bad seed. He shares much in common with them, but unlike them he is not a humanist at heart. His actions, more than his words, illustrate his lack of compassion, his thirst for attention, and his unspeakable greed. His presence is a stain on an otherwise impressive and happy third place.

I see by the clock that it is time for me to make copies of the writing I am to share with my Monday critique group. Svart belongs in the story, but not in the piece I’m sharing today.

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Cars

I drove a car, which my neighbor had borrowed  from a friend, to the gas station. Actually, he had traded vehicles with another friend; he had let his friend use his nondescript sedan in exchange for the use of his friend’s RV. It’s a long, convoluted story, but I’ll tell it the best I can.

My neighbor wanted to take a vacation in an RV. His friend who owned an RV agreed to let my neighbor use his. I agreed to look out after my neighbor’s house while he was away. The day after he and his wife left, I was inside his house, watering plants, when they returned. To say I was surprised would be an understatement.

“Jesus, you scared the hell out of me! What are you doing back so soon?”

“It’s a long, ugly story. We discovered, during a monstrous downpour, the windshield wipers don’t work. And something’s wrong with the shocks; Jenny got motion sickness just being in the passenger seat for an hour. And I got too close to the side as we were crossing a bridge and broke off the side rear view mirror. There’s more. Lots more. We just decided we’d had enough. It’s gonna cost me a fortune to have the damn RV fixed, so I can’t afford to take a vacation. Anyway, I left the RV at the shop to get it fixed. I borrowed another buddy’s car to tide me over.”

“I’m not sure I completely understand what you just told me, but I get the gist of it. I’m sorry that happened. But your plants are doing fine.” I nodded to the geraniums, water pooling in the saucers beneath the pots in which they were growing.

“Since you’re here, would you mind doing me another favor and taking the car down to get gas? It’s almost empty. I would have stopped to gas it up, but I would have had to cross heavy traffic and I was just fried.” My neighbor held out a set of car keys, assuming I would take them. I did.

“Sure, happy to. Anyway, you’re parked behind me, so I can’t get to my car.”

I pulled on the door of the 1980 Corvette, surprised at how hard it was to open. It felt heavy; an unfriendly introduction to the car. When I sat down, the leather seat was hard and unyielding, as if petrified from non-use. The engine started easily, but I heard the unmistakable sound of consistent misfires as I pressed on the accelerator. I coerced the monster into reverse and backed out of the driveway. The steering wheel fought with me as I tried to maneuver the car into the street.

My neighbor watched me drive away. He must have wondered why I turned right instead of left at the stop sign.  So did I. There are no gas stations in that direction. The moment I made the turn, I realized my mistake. I’ll have to make a u-turn up ahead, I said to myself. Because I was driving a Corvette, I expected the car to respond assertively when I punched the accelerator to the floor. Instead, it coughed and heaved and, very very slowly, gained speed. When I neared the spot where I wanted to make the u-turn, I pressed on the brake pedal. It was just as responsive as the accelerator. The car seemed reluctant to slow down, so I pushed harder as I spun the steering wheel to the left. Somehow, I managed to catch my sleeve on the turn signal lever as I whipped the wheel. The stalk broke off and slid into my sleeve. Distracted by the mishap, I failed to notice that the turning radius of a 1980 Corvette is radically greater than the turning radius of a 2005 Chevrolet Cavalier. The car jumped the curb on the opposite side of the street, jarring me to my core and, I discovered later, bending the wheel rim. The front bumper barely missed a palm tree, but the grass in front of the tree was torn to shreds by the car’s tires. I looked in the rear view mirror as I straightened the car in the street to see a box truck barreling toward me at high speed. I punched the accelerator to the floor. Again, the car coughed and wheezed, but then suddenly took off like a rocket.

According to the police officer, the car had reached sixty-five miles per hour by the time it reached the far end of the school zone. Fortunately, I missed the children in the cross-walk, but that apparently was not enough of a positive outcome for him to give me a pass. The officer, wearing a red “Make America Great Again” baseball cap, pushed me into the back of the squad car, lacking the decency to hold my head down in the process. The bleeding stopped shortly after we arrived at the police station, but the lump remained for weeks.

I offered to pay to have the turn signal stalk repaired, but I stood firm on refusing to pay for the wheel rim; it’s my contention that I should have been told about the large turning radius.

I’ve received no response to my phone messages. And every time I knock on my neighbors’ door, they turn out the lights and draw the shades. And, yes, it’s okay for me to go as far as next door. The ankle monitor sends an alert only if I go more than two hundred feet from my house.

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Smoked Jerky

Jerky in the rawIf the Universe is decent, kind, and caring, these strips of eye of round I marinated for twenty-four hours will be—seven hours hence—delicious, mouth-watering beef jerky. The kind of jerky I used to seek out on long, aimless road trip through Central Texas.

I put these strips of meat in the 170°F smoker, stoked with mesquite chips,  a quarter of an hour ago.  Soon, the smoker will reveal occasional wisps of smoke, signaling the start of the process of drying and gently cooking the meat. During that time, the aroma of mesquite will meld with the beef and its marinade (sugar, salt, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, jalapeño, cumin, garlic, etc.). The result—again, if the Universe is decent, kind, and caring—will be a joyous experience one has no right to expect, but for which one is eternally grateful (if one is fortunate enough to have the process conclude as desired). I may post photos of the result of my experiment. This, my first effort to make jerky, shan’t be my last.

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Seductive Spices

“What the hell are we going to do with three pounds of goat shoulder?” Geneva’s tone revealed her doubts about the gift from Jacob’s friend, Katrina.

Jacob flashed a conciliatory grin at her. “You needn’t worry about it, darling. I’ll figure something out. And if you don’t like it, you don’t have to eat it.”

Geneva scowled at the package Jacob had placed on the counter, then at Jacob. “Fine. But if I don’t like it, I’ll expect you to buy me dinner out. I’m not going to pretend to like it just because she’s your friend. Katrina is a little weird, if you ask me. Anybody who raises goats just to kill them and eat their corpses is a little ‘off.’ And it’s even more bizarre when they give pieces of the dead animal to their friends.”

Jacob smiled as he said, “You’d think you were a vegetarian from the way you talk. I’ve seen you greedily rip the meat off baby back ribs like you’d been trained by a hyena.”

His smile was not returned. Geneva stalked out of the kitchen, leaving Jacob in peace to figure out what to do with the unexpected gift.

“Well,” he said to himself, aloud, “I know she likes Vietnamese goat curry. But we’ve got no lemongrass and there’s not enough coriander seeds. Hmm.”

Jacob pawed through the spice cabinet, then rummaged through the pantry and the dry vegetable drawers, pulling items out of each. Then, he foraged the refrigerator. When he’d finished, the counter was littered with ingredients: cooking oil, the salt container, a large can of curry powder, a jar of allspice, a tin of thyme, two onions, two habanero peppers, a piece of ginger root, a can of coconut milk, a can of crushed tomatoes, and five Yukon Gold potatoes.

After all the ingredients he wanted were on the counter, Jacob turned his attention back to the goat. He cut it into two-inch chunks, spread it out on the cutting board, and sprinkled it liberally with salt. All righty, then, that’s ready to go. On to the next step of the battle.

He chopped the onions, cubed the potatoes, peeled and minced a two-inch piece of ginger root, peeled and chopped the head of garlic, and diced the habanero peppers. Then, Jacob mixed the spices in a white soup bowl: eight tablespoons of curry powder and one tablespoon of allspice seed. He pulled a large pot from the rack that hung over the kitchen island, put it on the stove, and turned the burner to medium high. He measured a quarter cup of corn oil into a cup and poured it into the pot.

While the oil was heating, Jacob patted the pieces of goat dry with a paper towel and then he measured two tablespoons of the spice mixture into the hot oil. Almost immediately, the sweet fragrance of curry powder and ginger and hot oil permeated the kitchen.  During the next thirty minutes, he carefully browned the pieces of goat in the oil. When a few pieces were brown, he set them aside in a glass bowl and started another set. By the time they had all browned, the kitchen was awash in the odors of allspice and seared goat, along with the pungent aroma created when curry powder meets hot oil.

Geneva peeked her head into the kitchen from time to time during this process, sniffing the air but saying nothing.

When all the goat meat had browned, Jacob turned his attention to the onions and habanero peppers, browning the onions in the same pan in which he’d browned the goat meat. The aroma of cooking onions, coupled with the odor of curry and allspice, filled Jacob’s nostrils. Oh my god, this is wonderful.  I hope she likes it. I think she will.

The addition of the minced ginger and garlic to the pot resulted in another burst of aromas, the melding of which seemed to act as a magnet for Geneva. “What are you doing in here? It smells like you’re emptying our spice cabinet into that pot.”

Jacob turned toward the door when he hear the sound of her voice. “Leave me be, woman. I’m making something you won’t like so I can eat it all by myself. You’ll get your dinner at McDonald’s just as soon as I’m done.”

“The hell I will! You’ll take me to Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse if I can’t tolerate that swill.”

“You won’t have to tolerate this swill for awhile. It won’t be ready for another two or three hours.”

Geneva spun around in the doorway and, in her trademark stalk, left the room.

Jacob poured the meat and bones back into the pot, along with the coconut milk, tomatoes, four cups of water, the remainder of the curry powder mixture, and a tablespoon of thyme. He stirred the mixture, inhaling deeply of the fragrance from the pot.

“Okay, I’m done for awhile.  The last thing I’ve got to do is add the potatoes after the meat’s done. Then it will take about half an hour or so for the potatoes to cook.”

He got no response. He stepped out of the kitchen and into the front room. On the coffee table, Geneva had left a note. “I’m going shopping with Maggie. I’ll be back in about four hours.”

***

By the time Geneva returned home with Maggie, the neighbor who unbeknownst to Geneva was infatuated with her husband, the meal was ready to eat.

“Care to join us for some Jamaican goat curry, Maggie? I’d love to know what you think of my cooking skills.” Jacob, fully aware of Maggie’s infatuation, did all he could to encourage it.

“Thanks, Jacob. I’d love to,” Maggie answered, a look of regret immediately registering on her face as if to apologize for accepting the invitation without Geneva’s concurrence.

“Yes, please do join us,” Geneva said. “You might have to come back and help Jacob finish this stuff off, too. He always makes stuff too hot for me. I know you and Jacob both have an affinity for making things hot.”

Jacob snickered under his breath at his wife’s response. She has no idea how true that double non-entendre is!

The three of them, sitting at the dining table, tasted the finished dish.

Maggie’s eyes grew wide. “Wow, this is really great! I love it! My compliments to the chef.”

“Actually, the stuff is supposed to get better over a day or two so that the flavors have time to layer and blend just right. The recipe made enough for eight servings, so you might want to come back day after tomorrow to have it again, just to compare.” Jacob glanced at his wife.

Geneva nodded. “Just as I thought, it’s too spicy for me. I’ll eat this serving, but I think you owe me a trip to Ruth’s Chris when I get back from visiting my sister in Cambridge, Jacob. Maggie, you should plan on coming back to finish this off with Jacob.

Jacob noticed Maggie’s face flush. My hope has been fulfilled. She likes it.

 

 

 

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Distrustful Sky

The sky remained almost dark, distrustful that my appearance on the deck was a good sign. As I hung hummingbird feeders in their assigned places, replenished with fresh nectar, the sky brightened a bit, satisfied that my presence was not a bad sign. Hummingbirds buzzed nearby, zipping by my ear as if to send a message.  I took their strafing to mean they were pleased to see me, though I suspect they may have been cursing me the way birds sometimes do when their food sources have been withheld for hours.

I have a moderately full day planned, starting with giving a friend a ride to an appointment and back, followed by an afternoon program by an author, and then a late afternoon presentation and screening of a film about the life of D.T. Suzuki, the man credited with introducing an understanding of Zen Buddhism to the western world. During the interstitial moments, I’ll try to fit in writing more on my still-young novel and eating breakfast and lunch and an early dinner. These activities, coupled with my slothful nature, will preclude me from doing any much-needed work on the “yard” today. I need to blow leaves, buy and spread bark mulch, buy some lumber for an outdoor project, try to lessen the displeasing appearance of a large, ancient dent on my old beater pickup, and perform literally dozens of other tasks in need of attention.

According to the weather forecast, today would be a good day to do outdoor work, save for the temperatures, which are expected to reach the mid eighties. The forecast for the next several days calls for rain. So, I might be saved from my intentions again by those distrustful skies.

 

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Fresh Joys and Unending Tears

I love sitting outside on the screen porch at the intersection of dusk and darkness. I sit listening to the frogs and toads and insects and who-knows-what make a cacophonous racket in the trees and hillside just beyond the deck. If I needed to concentrate, the noise would be deafening, too loud to allow me to focus. But I recognize that, when I sit there, I have no power to control the noise, so my options are to go inside to the television or radio or music or to sit outside in self-silence, experiencing the exceptional volume of nature. Nature has a reputation for quietude. The reputation is undeserved; she is a howling beast, replete with screeches and screams and rumbles and roars that earn their Hollywood reputations for instilling fear and admiration.

When I sit outside, I become part of the cacophony. I’m a piece of the noise. And that’s perfectly okay; I like serving as a silent instrument in an orchestra.

In an ideal world—a world that mirror my dreams and expectations—I’d sit there and listen to the music of the earth while sipping a glass of cold sauvignon blanc or cabernet sauvignon or Jim Beam whisky. Last night, though, the sauvignon blanc fairy failed to deliver and other wines did not find their way into my house, in spite of the directions I left for them. So, instead, I sipped cold gin, enhanced with a touch of fresh lime juice. There’s nothing wrong or immoral or even offensive about drinking gin. I’m in favor of it.

Aside from the absence of complete darkness—or, if you prefer, the presence of  incomplete light—the early morning differs from night in an utterly different way. The discordant orchestral cacophony gives way over night to a gentler, much more quiet, harmonic hum, interrupted on occasion by a bird  call or a dog’s bark or cattle lowing from the pastures below.  Morning beverages differ, too, from those of the evening. I can’t remember the first or the last time I had gin or bourbon or wine of any kind early in the morning, for it has never happened. My beverage of choice in the morning is, usually, strong French roast coffee. When I’m feeling especially energetic (and if I also happen to have the right fresh espresso-grind coffee in the house), I’ll have an espresso or three. But that’s rare. Normally, it’s just coffee.

I was waxing philosophical about sitting outdoors in the evening, listening to the sounds of nature. Somehow, that morphed into an exposition of my evening and morning drinking preferences and habits. Recently, I spoke to someone about how my writing tends to drift from rabbit hole to rabbit hole. That’s not the case (usually) when I’m writing fiction for which I’ve predetermined the story’s general direction or know specifically how it will end But when I produce my stream-of-consciousness, journaling-style, word dumps, I tend to wander. I think my thoughts ricochet off one another, causing new ones to form and releasing others held captive by other ideas. There’s value to be gained by writing such deviance; somewhere among the millions of pieces of crushed and worthless stone may be found a gem. The effort to unearth it from its rocky grave and then polish it so that it at least reflects light is enormous. But, I hope, worth the expenditure of mental and physical energy.

The following quote is widely attributed to Franz Kafka, but they actually are the words of Anne Rice, from the preface to a collection of Kafka’s works:

Don’t bend; don’t water it down; don’t try to make it logical; don’t edit your own soul according to the fashion. Rather, follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly.

Those words move me beyond my ability to explain why. Some words, experiences, or even images feel like messages from a kindred spirit, or God, which I think is the same thing. No, of course I don’t believe that literally. But figuratively, I’ll take that belief to my grave.

That thought reminds me of an experience I had this afternoon. Among an otherwise decadent day of sight-seeing in the Arkansas capitol and eating lunch at an expensive restaurant, we experienced something that moved me. We went to the Butler Center Galleries in downtown Little Rock, simply to see what was on exhibit; we went to be entertained, I suppose. And we were. And we were delighted by incredible art. And I was crushed by an exhibition called, “The American Dream Deferred: Japanese American Incarceration in WWII Arkansas.” The exhibition featured art of Japanese Americans who were incarcerated in Arkansas during World War II, as well as objects from the Arkansas internment camps. My reaction to the exhibition was the same as my reaction to the Border Cantos exhibit at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, though not as intense; this was a smaller exhibit. Regardless of size, my eyes could not help but fill with tears as I read about and thought about the people who—only because of their ancestry— were imprisoned. This situation is not new of course; it has gone on for centuries. But the idea of this sort of thing happening in the United States rips me apart inside.  Slavery. Japanese-American internment. Mexican and Hispanic mass deportation. Muslim demonization. Shit. Where do I live?

The reason sitting outside, listening to nature’s noise, is so appealing is that it deadens the noise I hear when I hear humans being humans.

One day, when I expose my writing to the world, I’ll have to have a thicker skin than I have tonight. My skin tonight is as thin as a whisper; a rumor of brutality draws blood.

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Lost Among Serpents and other Reptiles

A bizarre merger of odd dreams into a nightmare

A young woman from Australia, who worked for my company years ago, was visiting. We were in someone else’s house. I remember windows looking down on a street below. And I remember strange stairs leading up to an area of the house where I was staying; each step was split in two, so that each tread of each step was at two different levels.

Someone, I don’t know who, was missing and we could not reach them. The young woman and two or three guys (I knew who they were, but do not recall) wanted to go somewhere, but needed the other guy who they could not reach. I agreed to let them use my car to try to find where he might be. They were in a hurry and I needed to get something out of the trunk. I threw my winter coat in the trunk for a moment so I could look for whatever I was seeking, but forgot it.

They drove away and just as a heavy snow began failing. Interspersed within the snow were balls of hail. I heard peels of thunder and flashes of lightning. I decided to walk home; I thought I wasn’t far and I needed to get there so I could prepare to go pick up paintings at Garvin Woodland Gardens. I started off and got completely lost in an enormous high-rise complex. I knew the complex was part of a university connected to several large businesses. Anyone in this area must be rich, I remembered thinking; they were part of what some would call “the upper crust.” The business people around me had a demeanor that said they were rich, rich, rich and they were proud of it. I went through various office building doors that led me to more areas in which I knew I did not belong.

I walked outside one of the buildings into a large, grassy area. It suddenly occurred to me that I could use my phone to see where I was. Just as I pulled it out and opened the map app, a guy rushed past me, chasing after a snack slithering along the ground (there were a lot of snakes visible on this stretch of open ground, full of green grass). He started tormenting the snake he was chasing, using one of the sticks that snake hunters use to snag their prey. This snake was a rattle snake, I could  tell by the tiny couple of rattles at the end of its tail. Suddenly, the snake struck at him and got him. He started screaming “it got me,” and pried it off, using his stick, which he waved around with the snake writhing at the end. This commotion riled up an alligator that was in a shallow pond nearby; it came at me, fast. I tried to kick at it, but it got hold of the bottom of my shoe and started shaking it. Someone else came up to try to help me, but just as he tried to put something on top of the alligator, the alligator released its grip. I thought it was going to lunge at me, so I jumped down on it with my elbow on the top of its upper jaw and pushed with all my might down on it, locking its mouth shut. I was expressing fear, frustration, appreciation all at once. That’s when I woke up. My wife started shaking me at the same time; I guess I was making noise.

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Mi Escritura Estraña

When I took the hummingbird feeders out this morning, I was surprised at how cool it felt to walk outside. The indoor/outdoor thermometer read 67 degrees, a much more civilized morning temperature than recent morning lows of 76 or more.

The temperatures in the mountain village of Mexico, south of Guadalajara, where my brother lives, are only a few degrees cooler this morning than we have here. But the daytime highs there reach only the high seventies, occasionally topping 80. By the time we visit in a few months, the average daytime highs will have dropped to the mid-seventies and the nighttime lows to the low sixties or below. The hottest month there is May, when the highs reach the mid-eighties and the average lows stay in the low sixties. That’s a climate I could learn to love.

According to an online language instruction website, duolingo, I am thirteen percent fluent in Spanish. While I wish it were true, I think my level of fluency is considerably less. My ability to understand and communicate in Spanish, though, actually is far better than the speed with which I can do it. I can force myself to understand and make myself understood to a limited extent, but it’ a slow process. I imagine the speed of my Spanish communication is akin to the speed of swimming—with boat anchors tied to both arms and both legs—across a large lake filled with blackstrap molassess.

I am sure I have the intellectual capacity and lingual flexibility to learn to be conversant in Spanish, though I am less certain today than I was ten or twenty years ago. But what I possess in capability I’m afraid I lack in discipline. I’m undisciplined in so very many ways. And on top of that, I’m more than occasionally contumacious. Now there’s an adjective that, unfortunately, describes me. It’s defined as “stubbornly perverse or rebellious; willfully and obstinately disobedient.” Surprisingly, to me, Google Translate offers a Spanish translation: contumaz.  Perhaps before I engage in a serious attempt to learn Spanish, I should become fluent in English. Most English-Spanish translation resources refer to terms like subjective, indicative, imperative, perfect, perfect continuous, preterite, etc., etc. Even though  my mother was an English teacher who worshiped at the altar of grammar and insisted on diagramming sentences, I resisted learning the terms. I remember saying to someone (not her), “there is no reason to call a word a gerund; just call it an ‘ing’ word.” I think, now, a more thorough understanding of the structure of the English language and the terms used to describe verb conjugation might have served me well.

But I’m not writing about a lifetime devoid of English verb conjugation, am I? Probably not. Yet I cannot say with certainty what I am writing about. The weather? A trip to Mexico? Learning languages? It could be any or all of the above. It’s just my strange writing, mi escritura extraña.

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Lion

I do not follow film. I do not wait with anticipation for announcements of Oscar nominations, nor do I track predictions about which new films will be the latest and greatest contributions to filmdom. I guess that’s the reason I’d not heard of Lion until quite recently. It was the film screened tonight at the monthly Film Night at the Unitarian Universalist Village Church. I was more than impressed; I was stunned by the film. The writing, the cinematography, the story, the whole damn thing! What an astonishing story! What a heart-breaking story that both rips one’s soul to shreds, and then offers an opportunity to believe in the uplifting power of perseverance coupled with good luck!

I am so glad I watched the film. In a sense, it was deeply depressing and heart-breaking, but it injected bits of hope into that ugliness. I left feeling embarrassed for my recent ennui and hopeful, knowing that only by trying will we learn whether our efforts will be successful.

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The Last Cold Front

“Man, the weather is changing a hell of a lot faster than the models predicted. Two years ago, I was among those saying we wouldn’t see a sea level increase by three feet until 2100.” Angus McCutcheon’s leathery face was the picture of worry. His mop of red hair, streaked with ample amounts of grey, clung to his sweaty scalp. He glanced at the mirror on the wall and saw a much older man than he thought he’d see.  His blue eyes, almost buried behind massive brown wrinkles of skin, turned and squinted at the computer screen.

Shelly Thumb nodded. “It’s gettin’ damn near scary, Angus. Crops are the shits.  And I don’t know where we’re gonna get our water if the reservoirs keep on like they’re doin’ of late. Priest Lake has gone totally dry. Did you know that?”

Just as Angus started to acknowledge Shelly’s bleak assessment, an alert from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration popped on his computer screen. A cold front over central Alberta, Canada, has begun to move south. Expect it to bring cooler temperatures to eastern Washington state and western Montana over the next twenty-four to forty-eight hours. Temperatures behind the front could drop to the middle seventies briefly. Nighttime lows will return to the mid-eighties after the front’s passage. Daytime highs could return to near one hundred by Tuesday.

Angus sighed as he read the alert. “I’d hate to own land on the coast and watch it disappear beneath the waves. But it’s really not much better here, is it? I mean, we’re seeing the collapse of farming right before our eyes. What are you and Jack gonna do if we don’t get rain?”

“We’re gonna do what everybody else is gonna do. We’re gonna die. People around here say  “at least folks on the coast have water,” like it’s some kind of salvation. But for cripe’s sake, it’s salt water. We’re all up shit creek. Do the NOAA predictions give you any hope, Angus?”

“I’m afraid not. But I’m excited that this alert talks about a ‘cold front.’ I haven’t seen them use those words in weeks. Maybe that’s a sign.”

The following Tuesday, NOAA issued another alert. In the absence of atmospheric evidence suggesting the development of future cold fronts, NOAA has suspended announcements about cold fronts moving south from Canada. Henceforth, NOAA announcements will focus on the effects of waves of warmer air moving northward.

 

Posted in Fiction, Uncategorized, Writing | 4 Comments

Envision

Constraints exist only in one’s imagination.
Possibilities have limits only in the mind.
If a person can conceive of time travel,
he can travel forward in time, carrying
a notebook in which to record his reality.
Circumstances impose boundaries only when
we let them bind doubts to our dreams.
Stories I tell myself shape the future
in ways impossible to measure without
tools I create in my imaginations.
Even old men build bridges to infinity,
using ideas to form structures clad with words.
Accomplishments rest on visions fed by wishes.
Hope is the calculus of fantasy, scrubbed
clean of impossibility and polished with
inspiration and unbridled ingenuity.
Envision a future and it is yours.

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Venezuelans and Their Food

Earlier today, an article on the National Public Radio website about a food common in Venezuela, called arepas, launched my exploration of the dish. Several recipes later, my interest grew beyond food as I became increasingly intrigued about the current state of affairs in the deeply divided country. I tried to find reliable, unbiased information about the recent plebiscite and the Maduro government’s response to it. Regardless where I looked, I questioned the legitimacy or the veracity of the news. from BBC to NPR to a couple of English language “news” websites dedicated to Venezuelan politics, nothing was sufficiently comprehensive, nor sufficiently absent judgmental language, for me to feel I was learning what’s really going on in the country.

Much of what the major international news organizations write about the country seems to be fed to them by the governments of the countries within which they operate. BBC reports on what the British government says. NPR (one of the news outlets I’ve come to trust almost completely) reports on what the U.S. government says. I have absolutely no confidence in a word that comes from the present U.S. administration; it is steeped in blatant lies. And when I read Venezuelan media, the claims that effectively say “we report only facts and do not allow bias to enter our reporting” are immediately crushed by blatantly biased reporting, both pro-Maduro and anti-Maduro. Despite my inability to find news I can trust (or my inability to trust news I can find), I think the days of Nicholás Maduro as President of Venezuela are numbered. Of course, I’ve thought the days of Donald Trump’s presidency were numbered in the low single digits since his inauguration and I was wrong about that.

The upshot of all this is that I wish I knew more about Venezuela and its immediate future. And I wish I had more confidence in the news media. I am not about to start calling every media outlet “fake news,” but I think many media outlets are allowing themselves to be manipulated into becoming just that. Part of the reason can be traced to people like me, people who choose to get their news “free” online, as opposed to paying the very reasonable (and very expensive) prices of newspapers. And, for that matter, television news. We ask advertisers to pay for news; we feel they should pay for our access to information.

This little side-show has gone in an altogether different direction that I envisioned when I started. I’d really like to find a source for the pre-cooked white corn flour necessary to make arepas. I suspect that won’t be hard. And I’d like to assemble a collection of recipes for several fillings I can use for arepas. I suspect that, too, won’t be hard. And I wish I could share some of the arepas I make with the hungry people of Venezuela. Because I think they are in far greater need of arepas than I.

Posted in Compassion, Food, Justice, Politics | Leave a comment

An Artificial Benchmark

This is post number 2400. And ninety-one more await as drafts, though most of them will eventually be erased without ever realizing the potential of being seen by human eyes other than my own. If each of my published posts embodied a day of my life, this blog would represent more than six and one-half years of my existence, more than ten percent of my time on earth thus far. That’s either a sad critique on the impact I’ve had on the universe or a commentary about my ability to talk to myself at length. In reality, I’ve been writing this blog for just shy of five years,  having written my first post here on August 10, 2012. In that first post, buried among the introductory garble, I said this:

This site was conceived as a place for me to record my confusion, thoughts, beliefs, frustrations, wishes, dreams, desires, and what little wisdom I have had the good fortune to acquire through the years. Reflecting back on my life, I have many regrets, almost all based on my failure to be the kind of person I know I want to and should be.

It has turned into a place where I do all the above, as well as labor over writing fiction that simulates my confusion, thoughts, beliefs, frustrations, wishes, dreams, desires, and a modicum of wisdom. The characters about whom I write, the ones whose inexcusable flaws exist in parallel with short-lived outbursts of decency, are modeled in one way or another after the person I know better than anyone: me. Perhaps that’s why I’ve been unable to finish—satisfactorily—writing about any of them. Neither their worst flaws nor best attributes, after the flaws have been sanded and polished, have a finished model in life.  It’s quite possible that the characters in my writing would have scant appeal to most readers, given their flaws.

I continue the slow process of attempting to compile a collection of what I’ve written, both here on the blog and in other places, into a collection with some semblance of order and connectedness. I’m finding chaos in what I’ve written, with occasional pockets of smoother, less disturbing environments. I suppose all human lives are chaotic disturbances into which sufficient serenity is introduced to make them bearable. So, in that sense, my writing is like life. And therein rests the eternal question: what is the meaning of life (and, by extension, my writing)? None of my diatribes answer that question, not even the ones that assert, “there is no meaning to life, life just is.”

Why these matters are on my mind today, not on the anniversary of the blog but, instead, at the achievement of a meaningless number of posts, I do not know. I did not stop to ask before I wrote what I’ve written. And now it’s too late. I’d have to go back and start over, and that’s not on my agenda this morning. This morning, my agenda calls for delivering my wife’s car to the dealer for its 30,000 mile service, which will drain our bank account to the tune of well over $300. Perhaps I’ll write about greed in the automotive sales and service industry in a future post.

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Distant Broden

Lina waited for Broden to continue.

“Oh, he was just so totally in love with life. Why would a man buy a two million dollar car and then kill himself a week later? I mean, it just doesn’t make sense.”

“That puzzles me, as well,” Lina said. “But I was part of the forensics team that looked into the car. We found nothing mechanically wrong with the car.”

A vein rose on Broden’s forehad as she spoke. “I don’t doubt you found nothing wrong with the car. But how can that lead to a pronouncement that the cause of death was suicide?”

“I can’t answer that. I was not the one who made that determination. Tell me, does the pronouncement that your husband’s death was a suicide have any effect on your insurance settlement? I assume he had a life insurance policy.”

Broden’s eyes bore into Lina as she responded. “I can’t answer that. I haven’t even thought about life insurance. Fortunately for us—for me—money has not been an issue. If you’d like to check, though, feel free.  I imagine you already have. We both have policies issued by Länsförsäkringar. I don’t recall the amounts, but I doubt they were significant, at least not compared to our net worth.”

Lina had checked into insurance before the investigation had concluded. There was nothing to suggest murder for insurance money. But she had run out of ideas. She was, to use one of Eklund’s favorite sayings, “poking the bear.”

Weaving, again. Just weaving. I hope to open my blog one day to find a tapestry.

Okay, but now I have to explore that statement. What am I waiting for? What magical potion will string together for me all these disjointed snippets, vignettes that struggle to find relevance on their own? I’m not happy with myself tonight. I’m disappointed that I’ve not published anything, I’ve not even finished anything worth publishing, and I’ve allowed Donald Trump to keep breathing. Not that I have any control over that last item, though if I were a praying man I’d pray I did. I need to either find someone to guide my prolific, stream-of-consciousness writing or give it up and devote my attention to learning how to do body work on my newly-reacquired 1997 Ford Ranger XLT Extended Cab. I’m probably better suited to the truck. I can buy a new headliner for $260 plus shipping, install it, and feel like I’ve accomplished something. Or I can write snippets unrelated to anything else I’ve written, give myself a passing grade for literary accomplishment, and wish, unsuccessfully, I would accomplish something. The truck wins. It’s more expensive, but what’s money for except to spend?

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Ophira

“If you look long enough and hard enough, you can find things to dislike about almost anyone. But you’d be looking for the wrong things. Instead, you ought to be looking for those shreds of likability hidden among the overgrowth of noxious weeds.”

That’s what Ophira Strunk said to me before she boarded a small freighter in Baltimore Harbor, bound for Norway. Ophira had an unhealthy attraction to Norway. At least that’s what I thought at the time. In fact, her attraction was not to Norway but to Stefan Ruud, a married man who had just left his wife, Elise, and son, Kennet. I learned later that Stefan, an oceanographer by training and a writer-philosopher by avocation, did not really expect Ophira to come to him. But he wished she would. He wished so hard she would that he took the extraordinary risk of leaving his family in anticipation of Ophira’s arrival. I, of course, felt deeply wounded when Ophira told me later she had left me for a married man she’d never actually talked to before she disembarked from the freighter in Stavanger. Later, though, when I learned more about what drove the two of them away from their respective spouses and toward one another, I was touched that they took risks the rest of us would never dream of taking.

Ophira was not my wife. Not formally or officially. We’d lived together as if we were married since 1975, though, so perhaps the state would recognize us as having a common-law relationship. When she told me she wanted to travel, alone, to Norway on a freighter, I tried to dissuade her from such an odd undertaking. She would have none of it, though. She was determined that she would take the trip, as she told me, “to explore parts of me I did not even know where there until just recently.”

Weaving. That’s what I may be doing. I may be weaving strips of story, thread by thread, into a tapestry. Or whole cloth. Or a tangle so utterly chaotic that it will become suitable for nothing but stuffing pillows.

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Damn the Grills, and All They Stand For!

The intense loathing I feel for the man who sold me my cheap grill is intensifying. It is morphing into abject hatred, coupled with hatred steeped in molten rock and liquid steel so thin that it could be sprayed from a hypodermic needle. I do not know the man’s name. It’s probably better that way, lest I search Saline County property records for him, get his address, and cause him to vaporize in the white-hot heat of my rage.

You may wonder what caused such an outburst? Glad you asked. I just burned the sh** out of my fingers, courtesy of the grill. And the jerk chicken I was grilling was not even close to done. So I had to open the inadequate grill lid (difficult, as a bolt disappeared on the first try), retrieve the chicken from the inadequate grates, try (but fail) to protect my eyebrows and hair from intersecting with the heat of the sun (on the wrong bloody side of the grill), and move the chicken corpses to a cooker suitable for oven cookery.

Tonight, I’m in the mood to capture and force hummingbirds to listen to my complaints, kill chickens that exhibit even the least bit of scorn for my eating habits, skin grill-sellers, vaporize gas grills and their progeny, and set fire to the Milky Way for its willingness to host bad actors.

If my finger didn’t hurt the way it does (thanks to the goddamn grill and its expulsion of a bolt holding the lid on at the most inopportune time), I would go to bed early and sulk. Instead, I’ll drink whiskey and plan an insurrection. Grrrrrr!

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A Short Treatise on Reconstructive Transplantation

The first experiments with what was once called “teleportation” involved enormous machinery into which a person’s body was inserted. This occurred long after the whimsical “teleportation” of characters in Star Trek brought the idea into the popular consciousness. Unlike the Star Trek characterization, the real process was much more involved and, in the early days, extremely dangerous. Estimates of the number of unsuccessful teleportations have ranged as high as two hundred thousand. To this day, no one is quite clear on what happened to the physical bodies of those who disappeared, never to appear in their intended relocations.

The term “relocation” is not, and never was, accurate. The proper term, reincarnation, was avoided because of its religious overtones, but that’s precisely what it was. Yet someone, no one knows just who, started using the term “transplant” to describe the process. It caught on, despite summoning chilling visions of organ removal and replacement. Regardless of its history of lost souls and erroneous linguistic identification, the process we now call “reconstructive transplantation” is as common as marriage and automobiles were in times past.

Today, reconstructive transplantation has reached an almost one hundred percent success rate. It is rare, indeed, to learn of a person disappearing during the initiation of the process and failing to reappear at the conclusion. It happens, but in the old days, people died in automobile accidents or wedding violence with greater frequency; the risks are deemed to be within acceptable limits.

Reconstructive transplantation (RT), in its simplest form, involves replicating every aspect of a person, including every single physical, mental, emotional, and experiential attribute. That includes memories (which, as we know, are bio-electrical). The data that record these attributes are transferred, instantaneously, from the reconstructive transplantation initiation equipment (RTIE) to the reconstructive transplantation receptor equipment (RTRE). Simultaneously, the RTIE’s laser essentially erases the individual who has been replicated at the same movement the RTRE replicates (like the old-style 3-D printers, but far faster and more elegant) the subject in his or her new location. As I describe this process, I hope you can see that it’s not a physical movement of the individual from one place to the next, but the actual elimination of the individual in one place and the recreation of the person in another.

One especially pernicious aspect of RT involves the occasional hiccup, in which the RTRE creates more than one copy of the subject. Because they are absolutely identical and their creation occurs simultaneously, there is no way to know which is the “original” and which is the “copy.” The legal system is still sorting out how to handle claims between the “dupes,” as we call them, for the rights to live the lives they both assert are theirs. At present, the admittedly unpleasant method is to allow each dupe a fifty percent share; one dupe lives the normal life for a week while the other is kept in a dupe suppression facility (kept in what amounts to a medically induced coma), and then the two switch places. The obvious problem with that is that the two accumulate vastly different experiences from week to week, making them different from one another. Eventually, the legal system will determine how to handle this. RT specialists have long called for immediate euthanasia in such situations, in which one of the two dupes would be selected at random and put to sleep, thereby eliminating the problem of experiential divergence. The ethicists are still working on that one.

The converse problem occurs when the RTIE eliminates data and the subject but the RTRE fails, for one reason or another, to capture the data. That may well be what happened to the missing two hundred thousand.

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Shielded from the Real World

A word of warning: This is macabre and unsettling. Maybe quite advanced on the madness scale. It’s just me, practicing for something yet to be written, I suppose.


“Mrs. Griffin, may I go to the bathroom?”

“No.”

“But I need to go, Mrs. Griffin.”

“Tough. You had your chance fifteen minutes ago. Wait another fifteen minutes.”

“I can’t, Mrs. Griffin. I need to go bad.”

“Did you need to go fifteen minutes ago?”

“Yes ma’am, but not so bad.”

“Well, then, you’ll just have to wait. And next time, don’t put it off.”

“But Mrs. Griffin, I’m afraid I’ll soil my pants.”

“You better not. If you do, I will tan your hide. Is that clear?”

Tears suddenly flooded the boy’s face as Tanksley Trevemore began to cry, his sobs deep and effusive. A sickening stench flooded the air. The rear of the boy’s khaki trousers darkened from beige to dark brown.

Hope Griffin smelled the mistake and grabbed the wooden paddle hanging from the side of her desk. She marched over to Tanskley, yanked him out of his chair, and bent him over the desk, his face and chest against the desk and his brown butt facing upward.

“Maybe this will teach you a lesson,” she screamed as she slammed the paddle, drilled with dozens of tiny holes, against the brown backside. The instant the wood hit the cloth, brown streams sprayed up from those tiny holes, drenching Hope.

“Goddamn it, Tanksley, you did this on purpose!” The paddle again tore through the air, landing hard on Tanksley’s brown bottom. Another mist of youthful diarrhea engulfed the woman, whose convulsive shrieks caused the other children in the room to wince and turn away.

Cagley Smale, the acting principal, entered the room just before the first paddle hit Tanskley’s behind. He witnessed both the first and the second incidents of hard wood against soft, wet fabric. And he heard Hope’s enraged howls. He had no other choice, he thought, than to put an end to the beating. Raising his 45 calibre pistol in front of him, at eye level, he pulled the trigger. The report was deafening. Little Tanksley’s body went limp.

“Thank you, Mr. Smale! I thought the boy was going to kill me.”

Smale, seeming surprised by the response, tipped his hat at the teacher and spun around toward the door. “It was nothing, ma’am. It was nothing. I’m just sorry I missed.”

He stopped, turned around again, and aimed the pistol at the smiling teacher. The explosive sound of gunfire filled the air as Hope Griffin’s eyes grew wide and she clutched her chest. The bullet entered her chest just below the sternum, missing the heart by only a few inches.

“How could you?” Her words, shallow and weak, barely escaped her mouth.

“It was easy,” Smale replied.

The remaining children in the room looked confused and frightened.  “Children, don’t you fret, that poor boy is no longer suffering the indignities of dealing with Mrs. Griffin. And you won’t have to deal with her anymore, either.” Smale’s toothy smile filled his face with ivory pickets as long as his lips were wide.

The class erupted in spontaneous applause. Karen Clockman, subbing for Eleanor Corely, who Smale had gunned down only a week earlier, peeked in the door. “Is everything all right?”

“Peachy,” Smale replied. “Do you have anything that will remove blood stains from a white shirt?”

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Citizenshifting

For reasons beyond my capacity to understand and explain as I begin to write this, I crave fish this morning. I’d like a filet of fresh cod, heavily salted, grilled over some smoky mesquite shavings and drizzled with lemon juice. The fish would pair well with a baked potato dressed with Greek yoghurt mixed with fresh-ground black pepper, horseradish, and a touch of vinegar. Slices of ripe tomato and cucumber spears would almost finish the meal, though I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the absolute requisite: slices of peaches so ripe they’re nearly over-ripe.

I do not know why, but this menu takes me a hundred years into the future, when I am a middle-aged Canadian man living alone in a small but comfortable home in Vermilion Bay on Eagle Lake in the township of Machin, Kenora District in northwestern Ontario. I suppose that’s the reason the menu is on my mind. See, it didn’t take long for me to understand the genesis of my hunger, did it?

This is a typical breakfast meal for me in my future incarnation. It’s not a common breakfast for other Vermilion Bay residents, mind you. Most of my neighbors enjoy breakfast cereals before heading out to guide visitors from Duluth and Thunder Bay on fishing and hunting expeditions. I, though, relish my fish and potatoes and so forth. When I have visitors, a rarity, I surprise them with my breakfasts. Perhaps that’s why visitors are so rare for me.

I’m as much of an oddity a hundred years hence as I am today. It’s not just my appetite, it’s my attitude. Unlike my very pleasant neighbors, I’m more interested in the evolution of Canadian English than I am in hunting and fishing. I’ve just completed a dictionary of Canadian lingo, defining and recording for posterity, terms like chesterfield and pogey and all-dressed and give’r and parkade and hoser. They’re all terms my neighbors use, but they are unaware they’re uniquely Canadian. Ever since I was a boy, in that other life, I’ve coveted the state of Canadianship. In spite of the growing number of incidents in which Canadians behave like their southern neighbors, Canadian decency still courses through my veins. I’m afraid the coarseness of the Dakotas and Texas and the rest of the fifty U.S. states is flooding northward, though. One day, and it won’t be long, Canada will be just another notch in the belt of swashbuckling indecency and arrogance. That’s when I’ll have to leave, bound for the outskirts of Kvaløyvågen, Norway. I’ve always admired Norwegian decency, too. Would that I would have been born Norwegian. My parents would have lived a far better life than they did as struggling Americans, two hundred years earlier. I might write a book about the benefits of citizenshifting. But, then again, I might not. But I’ll coin the word, by God. I will coin the word and claim it as my own. Citizenshift. Citizenshifting. I am a Citizenshifter. That’s not to be confused with being Citizenshiftless, which is not to be coveted in any sense of the word.

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Time in Motion

I woke up tomorrow, refreshed. And I will wake up yesterday, equally as spent as the day after tomorrow.

Time is cylindrical most days, spherical in others. Its texture mimics the odor of bravery or the taste of sullen defeat. We treat time as if it were invisible, like the concept some call God, but its shape and size and countenance are as clear to us as that decaying face in the mirror, if only we allow ourselves to see it. We encase the passage of time in photographs, capturing babies growing into homeless alcoholics and greed-drenched politicians. We nurture it as we mold idealists into administrators—whose sole purpose is to bring mindless order to circumstances in which the potential beauty of chaos is ripe and ready. Time twists us into stone pretzels, deformed fossils of unrealized dreams and broken promises unwilling to bend or yield to concepts outside our parochial experience. Time is an allegory for pain, an illusion of meaning, when meaning never existed. Clothed in robes of memory and draped in hollow wishes, we claw our way from the womb to the mortuary, seeking satisfaction in a world in which there is no reason to be satisfied. The only satisfaction is time gone by, that worn and weary remnant of struggles and mistakes and those temporary victories swept away by losses too enormous to comprehend.

Sadness, as deep as the vault within which the Milky Way was buried at the end of its pointless reign, will wash around the remnants of time, flushing the rubble of existence into the drain from which nothing can emerge. Black holes are harbingers of time expunged. When the gravity of our mistakes and our dangerous folly tilt the scale of celestial justice, black holes and their hidden progeny will swallow time and its accouterments. Even dreams cannot break the bonds of the end of time.

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Skeptic

When people you value ignore things important to you, you begin to wonder how important you are to the people you think matter. You start to withdraw into your shell and you question the depth of others’ investment in your happiness, just as you begin to question the merit of your investment in theirs. When it reaches that point, you reach for the switch and you turn it off. As nakedly self-serving as it sounds, you cannot afford to invest your emotions in people who don’t reciprocate. Happiness is not a commodity readily available on the open market. It is a rare thing, requiring nurture and tenderness. You may think a quid pro quo is an ugly, commercial element unsuited to friendship. You may think it, but you’d be naive. We all want to be the personification of altruism, but we’re not suited to the task.

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