Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Minor Character


I'm struggling to find the voice of a minor character so I decided to work on his backstory some more in the hope that it will emerge through discovery. Where did he grow up? Who are his parents? Who were his childhood friends? Who is his favorite athlete, favorite actor?

The vast majority of this information will never appear in the actual story, but these answers should inform the decisions he makes, the way he speaks, etc. And I might end up with new characters that can be used elsewhere if needed. For example, his mother intrigues me. She may or may not even get a passing mention here, but I wouldn't mind exploring her in a different context. I already have an idea to put her together with a character from another failed novel and see what they do together.

When I say “I have an idea” that's probably overstating matters. It's more like, hey wouldn't it be cool if they met? I have no clue what the context might be or what might come from it, but they both seem like interesting characters that could mesh.

Will I ever write something involving those two characters? I can't think that far ahead, I've got plenty on my proverbial plate as is. But it might be fun, so you know, I'll keep it stashed in the back of my mind somewhere and see what happens.

One thing I'm finding about novel writing is that there's always room to do more digging. That's true of other types of writing, but another minor character wasn't popping, so I asked more questions about her and came up with someone more well rounded and memorable. So many parts of that first draft can be launch points for deeper dives. Choosing which points is the challenge.

Monday, July 4, 2016

At Least One Other Person


I watch the sea, it helps to anchor me.
—Geddy Lee

I've been doing a lot of podcasts lately, which is terrifying for me but also fun. As a writer I'm used to the comfort of working on my own and having the luxury of manipulating words, sentences, and paragraphs into the precise message I wish to deliver.

I don't subscribe to Jack Kerouac's alleged school of revision. I'm more with James Scott Bell's dictum that “the first draft exists to be rewritten.” Or as Justice Louis Brandeis put it, “There is no great writing, only great rewriting.” First thoughts are often best thoughts, but they're also often expressed badly or incompletely.

I like to revise. The inability to do so is a bug (or feature) of podcasting. You just let fly and hope for the best. I'll admit it's a bit of an adrenaline rush to know that I could fall flat on my face at any moment and turn the show into a complete train wreck. I'll also admit I'm not much of an adrenaline junkie and prefer to operate in controlled or controllable environments.

That being said, I've enjoyed doing more podcasts this year. And this is due almost entirely to my host and cohosts, who have all been knowledgeable, articulate, and just plain fun to hang out with. They feel like conversations with an audience that is there but not quite there.

It's like writing in that regard. I'm always pleasantly surprised when people have read my work. Similarly I get a kick out of learning that someone heard me on a podcast. “Oh, hey, that thing I did... people liked it.” It's gratifying to know that I'm not speaking in a vacuum, that these words somehow connected with at least one other person in the world.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Our Final Breath


It's devastating how quickly time passes. Four years was an entire college career, and here you are wading into the ocean that long ago. I could swear we were just there.

And what has happened since? Life, mostly, as it does.

Shots of the horizon rarely fail to capture my imagination. Where do the earth and sky meet? What is out there? How do I get there?

* * *

One of my POV characters is confronted with the reality that time passes too quickly. He is dead, but in his notebooks he expresses disbelief at his son's having recently turned seven despite it seeming like yesterday they were all coming home from the hospital.

This is hardly a novel thought. It's one I'm sure most of us have at some point. It can be haunting and daunting if we focus on it too much, which is why most of us don't. We jump back into the river and keep moving with life.

Our busyness, of course, doesn't slow the process. And the next time we come up for air we are again surprised by how much time has elapsed. This progression repeats itself until we are done here. It's a beautiful thing that is also tinged with sadness, or at least a longing for more.

* * *

Our finiteness is what defines us. Well, it's one of the things that defines us. Or describes us. We can't know where the earth and sky meet, what's out there, or how to get there. Beautiful and sad. Like life.

So we just keep moving, holding on and letting go at the same time. We pay attention to what we think is important and hope we are right.

Someday we'll all look back on this and laugh. And breathe our final breath.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Distinct Voices


I'm struggling to find the voices of three characters. Lois is a reference librarian in her mid-40s who likes tequila and poker. Rich is a furniture salesman in his mid-20s who talks tough but is a good guy. Alicia is a former track star who is now a mother and wife, but who shouldn't be defined solely as such. They don't meet in the actual story, but what if they did?

* * *

The three of them stood on the beach, looking out onto the ocean. Why were they all here? What had brought them together?

“You guys surf?” asked Rich.

Alicia smiled and shook her head. “I'm not much for water.”

“A little,” said Lois. “You know, back in the day.”

“Back in the day?” said Rich, a twinkle in his eye. “You can't be a day over 30.”

“Shut up,” said Lois, waving her hand like she was swatting flies.

Alicia took a good long look at her. She was trim, and her legs had definition, but there was something. She was definitely over 30, probably by a lot.

She must be about my age.

Rich turned to Alicia. “You just look like a surfer.”

“Thanks, I think, but I'm a sprinter.”

“Oh?”

“Well, I was. These days I don't do much running. More lifting and chasing kids.”

“Gotcha.”

Lois wrinkled her forehead in thought.

Alicia noticed. “What's on your mind?”

“Everything about this feels strange, doesn't it?”

“What do you mean?” said Alicia.

“She means,” interjected Rich, “that our interactions are forced. We don't belong here.”

“At the beach?”

“Together, like this. We aren't even part of the same storylines.”

“Worse, we don't have distinct voices.”

Shit.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

There Could Be a Story in Anything


The crows are out in full force this morning as I think about plot.

“How do you come up with story ideas?”

“I read a lot, and steal from others.”

“You don't just come up with them on your own?”

“Life is not lived in a vacuum. What I do is more remixing than creating. It's like hip hop.”

“How so?”

“Well, you're borrowing from other traditions. So you've got jazz, blues, maybe some Latin music, or stuff from West Africa or India. Take the bits that you like and make them into something different and hopefully exciting. It's the same thing with plot. I just finished reading a book that felt like someone combining elements of Kurt Vonnegut, Monty Python, and Voltaire... probably others as well.”

“And did it work?”

“Very much so. There's a certain school of thought that all the great stories have already been written. Even if you believe that, presenting them in a unique way can bring new life to them.”

“But you wouldn't know what to steal if you weren't constantly reading.”

“Exactly, that's the art. It's like a recipe. Maybe something calls for two parts Shakespeare, one part Hemingway, one part Toni Morrison. Well, you can't find Hemingway, so maybe you swap that out for Fitzgerald and make something new.”

“It might not taste like what you intended.”

“It could be worse, or it could be better. But you'll never know until you try.”

“That's an interesting outlook.”

“My job is to have an interesting outlook. Without that I'm nothing.”

“You were saying something about crows at the beginning?”

“They're very loud.”

“Could there be a story in that?”

“There could be a story in anything.”

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Full of Surprises


She pedaled southward along the coast, from Orange County, through Camp Pendleton, and on through toward her final destination of San Diego. It was warm out but not too warm, with a light breeze blowing in off the water helping to cool the air. Seagulls soared overhead as the tide rolled in.

Somewhere south of Carlsbad she passed two women walking. One of them looked vaguely familiar so she hit the breaks and called after her.

“Laura, is that you?”

The woman paused in her tracks and turned around. She was in her fifties, much older now, but still with the same youthful face.

“Amanda?”

“Oh my God.” Amanda scooted her bicycle off to the side of the road and threw out the kickstand. “How long has it been?”

“At least 20 years, probably more.”

Laura's companion made a soft coughing sound.

“Oh, I'm so sorry. Amanda, this is my friend Barbara.”

They shook hands. “Nice to meet you.”

“So,” said Amanda, “what have you been up to for the past couple decades?”

Laura laughed. “Let's see... I guess you could say a lot. The kids are all grown and out of the house.”

“Whoa, you have kids?”

“Yep.”

“Seems we have some catching up to do.”

“Seems like it.”

Barbara jumped in. “I don't mean to be a wet blanket here, but this dialog is terrible. There's no drama whatsoever, no sense that something might come of it.”

“Good point,” agreed Laura.

“Our voices all sound the same, we're pretty much interchangeable.”

“Yeah, that's a problem.”

“Shouldn't you have something interesting to say after having not seen each other for 20 years?”

“You'd think.”

“Life is full of surprises.”

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Once in a While


I've been thinking a lot about yeast lately, which is something I never thought I'd think about a lot. Different strains used to create different effects in beer. The amount of variation is staggering.

This is true not only of yeast but of all life. Even confining ourselves to this planet, as we necessarily must at this moment, there is tremendous diversity. Factoring in whatever else might be out there... well, it makes my head hurt.

* * *

The photo was taken from a train. The Pacific Surfliner, from Solana Beach to Anaheim. This is somewhere between Encinitas and Oceanside, can't say exactly where. Something about watching strangers live their lives while I pass by at high speed always gets me. It's the same when I'm in a car, particularly on a long road trip.

Every one of those people is a characters with their own story. Someone should tell that story. And if I can't know them, then I can at least concoct something believable in my own mind. Who is that bicyclist traveling south? What is her destination, and why? And who are the people walking in the opposite direction?

The photo captures a shared moment in these three lives that none are likely aware even existed. The bicyclist almost certainly has no memory of the walkers, and vice versa. Yet here they are, frozen in time for as long as the photo survives and there is someone to view it.

* * *

In an actual story, maybe they meet. The bicyclist stops to watch waves rolling in from the ocean. She says hello to the walkers and they have a brief chat. Maybe they never speak again, or maybe they become fast friends who get together once in a while. The amount of variation is staggering.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Focus on the Water


A sweeping organ sound creeps in from all sides, filling the room with something undefinable yet comforting in its way. It's a warm, inviting sound that hints at spaces far beyond what we know. Comprehension is impossible because there is nothing to comprehend.

Strings fade in and swell as a bass line drones beneath it all. It's as though a fog is being lifted to reveal many hidden colors. Movement is unhurried, like walking in slow motion, absorbing every surrounding sensation as it passes.

There is purpose in this even as the purpose is unclear. There is a destination, although it is not easy to find or reach.

The experience of moving through fog feels familiar. It's disorienting but not troublesome. There is knowledge that something lies at the end. Gravity pulls everything forward.

A chorus of children sings a simple, haunting melody. The voices sound like more strings, blending with the others before fading back into nothing.

Minimal drops of piano notes create an ethereal texture as the strings begin to pulsate. Counterpoint emerges. It's a slow tide, moving first one way and then the other.

We walk along the beach, watching the water recede, revealing tiny animals that dwell in the sand. There is no need to hurry. Everything was here before us, and so it shall be after we are gone.

The children sing again and then disappear, leaving only echoes, which echo the footprints of those who walk along the beach. Water surrounds us, providing comfort.

The world fades away, moving further into space, separating from other bodies around it. Such is the nature of an expanding universe. Everything is running away from everything else.

Where will it end? When will it end? Who will know such things?

Focus on the water. Keep breathing, then eventually stop.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

More Interesting Than These Words


For health reasons I've had to give up caffeine. I'm hoping this is a temporary situation because I can tell you that life without caffeine is not worth living. It's my drug of choice, and I miss it very much.

Without my morning coffee I stumble through life as though in a dense fog. I have trouble seeing more than a very short distance ahead of me, and after a while I stop caring about what might even be there.

On the bright side, the A's won last night. We were thinking of trekking up to Anaheim for the Sunday afternoon game, but laziness once again prevails and we will watch it on TV from the comfort of our own home.

I am actively reading two novels. One is thoughtful and meditative, the other is clever and sometimes silly to the point of cloying. I like them both so far, though they are very different from one another.

Meanwhile, brew day went well in the sense that the process was completed with minimal difficulty. Started a little after 9 a.m., finished a little before 1 p.m., though much of that is just waiting for water to boil.

I'm hopeful that some of the lessons we learned from brewing our first batch a couple months ago will make this batch more palatable. We'll find out in about five weeks, fingers crossed.

One important factor that I think we screwed up last time is temperature control. We pitched the yeast when it was still a little too warm (though not outrageously warm) and didn't even bother to monitor the fermentation temperature.

So, you know, process. Refinement thereof and what not.

More baseball today. And reading and writing. Or as I call it, the usual. It promises to be more interesting than these words.

Friday, June 24, 2016

They're the Same Thing


Wrote a new scene from scratch yesterday. It's easier now that the first draft is done and I know the characters and story better. It still required thought, but the skeleton came quickly and then it was just a matter of filling in details. I didn't use actual character “interviews” I've conducted, though they did inform thoughts and actions.

Living with these characters in my head for more than nine months makes a difference. So does writing 100,000 words about them. The types of questions I find myself asking now are more focused and less nebulous. They no longer steer me along paths that lead to dead ends. It's a good feeling, although there's still a long way to go.

* * *

Today is brew day. Second batch of beer, this time an American amber ale. Did some prep last night. Big challenge is keeping temperatures down so the yeast doesn't go crazy. The porter we made last time is drinkable but drinks more like a dunkelweizen with all its fruitiness. It's not bad, it's just not representative of the style we'd intended to brew.

We'll get the process started a little earlier and take steps to cool the fermenter (setting the bucket in ice water seems to be the method of choice, although there are other strategies). We carefully documented where we went wrong last time and hopefully will learn from our mistakes. And we'll probably make more mistakes this time, document those, and hopefully learn from them next time.

* * *

The more I write and the more I brew, the more convinced I become that they're the same thing, with one using words and the other hops, malt, yeast, and water. Both take time and attention, and both yield rewards commensurate with the effort given.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

case/lang/veirs


Saw Neko Case, k.d. lang, and Laura Veirs last night. Very likely my only concert of the year and well worth it. They played most of their new collaborative album as well as tunes from their impressive individual catalogs.

Case sang “Margaret vs. Pauline,” “Hold On,” and a super punked out version of “Man.” Of course, lang sang “Constant Craving.” I don't know Veirs' material, but everything she did sounded great also. She and lang largely drove the writing on their album. Veirs is also a fine guitarist.

The backing band was great. Simple arrangement: keys, drums, bass, guitar from left to right (or right to left if you're on stage). This was their opening show and the nerves showed a bit, especially early. They acknowledged it and had fun with it, at one point commenting on a certain song being played as fast as they'd ever played it. I definitely noticed it with Case's solo material. To her credit she was able to sneak in all the words without suffocating from lack of oxygen. I don't know how she did it.

But this is a minor complaint, and in fact it's not even a complaint, because it was so charming to see such talented and accomplished musicians struggle with nerves. The result was a tremendously energetic performance that teetered on sloppiness without slipping over the edge. Give me energetic and wobbly over listless and precise every time.

I'm picky with my shows. I'll see Rush (though they're probably done), They Might Be Giants, Radiation City, a few artists from Hawai'i. That's about it. When I do drag my ass out of the house to experience live music, I want to be blown away by it. Mission accomplished. These guys delivered a show I'll not soon forget.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

More Likely It's Lightning


Some mornings you just stare at the blank page and start writing or typing or whatever it is you do and hope that it comes out less horrible than this. You just keep going until you break on through to the other side like Jim Morrison said not that I worship Morrison because he doesn't sound like the greatest guy in the world although he is dead but some don't believe that. They called him the Lizard King which seems weird but then his band was called The Doors which is no less weird. Their music was weird I remember the first time I heard it was in the eighth grade. Never experienced anything like it I'm not sure I love it but it's extremely distinctive. It's weird enough to come from a band called The Doors fronted by a man called the Lizard King.

Some days you break on through other days not so much maybe you forget how to use punctuation except for periods. It's not the worst thing people can figure things out for themselves like where the breaks go and such. But still you'd rather be composing something meaningful rather than just slapping words together stapling them onto anything that doesn't move like political posters or whatever. Sometimes it's hard to find meaning in the words there's only letters that make up the words and they all come together as sentences and paragraphs and read like the manifesto of a crazy person called the Lizard King.

That's the problem with writing though. You're never done you just keep going until somehow it all makes sense or something resembling sense. The blank page is your enemy and you must obliterate it with words. Or go outside for a nice walk and hope inspiration strikes. More likely it's lightning.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Disappearing into the Horizon


Familiar places become a part of the background, scarcely noticed during the normal course of events. Whatever magic spark once drew us there dies, replaced by the mundane regularity of existence. This is perhaps a shame.

If we can remember the feeling of that spark, though, maybe there is a chance that it can reignite with the right stimuli. Trickery might be involved.

* * *

This was four years ago and I've forgotten everything. We probably ate a decadent brunch on the other side of the tracks. Actually, no. At that time of year we were meeting my parents at a different restaurant off to the right, just up the hill and through a small park where weddings are sometimes held.

It's possible that we stopped for a beer on the way back to the station, before getting on the train that would take us home. There were no clouds in the sky, and there is a sense of timelessness that pervades the scene.

* * *

People can be the same way. The familiar becomes comfortable, which is good, but which is also easy to take for granted. More trickery is needed to keep it all fresh and new.

This is just a theory. It might be complete hogwash. Sometimes it's hard to tell.

* * *

Tracks stretch into the distance, lined by palm trees. Trains will come and go, disappearing into the horizon on their way to other places that may or may not be familiar. A horn blows, there is the clanging of bells. People stop to watch. Some get off the train, others get on.

There are a finite number of destinations along the line, but it never feels that way. Every time, it seems like anything is possible. And maybe, just maybe, it is.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Things Get Better


Sometimes only a minor tweak is needed. A gap in logic must filled. Maybe it requires an entire scene. Or maybe just a few lines.

Full moon last night as I struggle to find words this morning without caffeine. It's a health thing. The moon was glorious, blotting out many stars, and even more so on waking. It hung low in the western sky, craters beckoning on a cloudless day.

Predicted high is 88 degrees, which is scorching in these parts. People in other places, confronted with temperatures 30 degrees higher, are less impressed. Wish I could help them.

Watched a basketball game last night, which is a thing I rarely do. Once upon a time, yes, but that was many full moons ago. It was entertaining, with many lead changes. The wrong team won, but I'm happy for them. They fought hard and persevered as the opposition self-destructed. Sometimes just hanging in there is the best strategy.

Feeling aimless, probably because I am. By definition I must be headed in a direction, but I have no idea which one or whether it's correct.

Keep writing and hope stuff works. Sometimes just hanging in there is the best strategy.

Today's goals are simple: read, write, and stay cool.

Maybe it's not even about the writing of words, maybe it's about the living of a life. Could be why I don't know what direction I'm headed. Where is my lighthouse or my compass? I only have pen and paper, but that's enough for now.

I can write myself clear of those looming rocks, trace a path around the curving coastline and on to safety beyond the point. I can remember the light of a full moon and hold it with me in times of darkness, as a reminder that things get better.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

My Walkman


I spent some time at my old school yesterday afternoon. So much has changed—the tennis courts are now a lecture hall in front of which wedding photos are taken, the soccer field with a dirt track around it where I used to run at night while listening to my Walkman (yes, my Walkman) is another lecture hall that hosts fancy receptions—and yet much has not.

Despite the gaps being filled in with proud edifices made possible through the contributions of people like me, reminders of the place I knew remain strong. There's no money in liberal arts, so the library and classrooms I inhabited are largely unchanged. The names have mostly changed, but a few of the minds I studied under are still there.

Walking through the halls, trying to remember which class I had where, sparked additional memories. There was the first place I ever voted in a presidential election (my guy lost, as he or she always does), there was the first place I ever spent the night in a girl's room (she was an RA, no less), there was where I used to play piano at odd hours.

Is this what being a ghost feels like? Some people say that ghosts haunt places because they are unable to move on to some other place, but maybe they just like to visit once in a while, to be reminded of how things once were before returning to the here and now. Visiting a place is different than dwelling there.

It's not just my old school that has changed. I've changed. The world has changed—for better and for worse. Things we worried about back then seem quaint now. Things we worry about now would have seemed impossible back then. We keep going. I wonder what ever became of my Walkman.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Maybe It's Okay


The sun keeps rising earlier, as will happen in the days and weeks leading up to the summer solstice. With it, I keep rising earlier. I'm off caffeine at the moment, which makes the days feel strange. It's like I'm walking through a fog that never lifts.

We spent time at the library yesterday, writing. In a humorous coincidence, I am writing a scene that takes place at a library. So I studied the architecture, the people, and so forth.

One good thing about writing in a library is that if you need a prompt, it's easy to walk over to one of the stacks, open a book, and steal a line. I chose something from a Billy Collins poem. It had to do with a gravel road, I forget exactly what.

Today's plan is exciting. Revise an article, work on a few scenes for the novel, transcribe an interview, deal with the electrician, walk the dog, go out for a walk, watch a ballgame, read a book or two. It's a quiet existence, which suits me well.

I mentioned the caffeine, right? I forget because of the whole fog thing. My mind refuses to clear, everything is fuzzy. It's a strange sensation.

Next week I am meeting friends I haven't seen in too long. It will be good to catch up with them. The next day I'm going to a concert.

These sentences suck. I'm far less interesting without coffee. Or do I flatter myself by believing that I was far more interesting with coffee? Sunny outside, foggy inside.

I was looking at Clayton Kershaw's stats this morning. They make no sense, in the way that this entire attempt at narrative makes no sense. Everything is disconnected and hardly seems real. Maybe that's a problem; then again, maybe it's okay.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

To Ask and to Answer


I am in the process of reading two books—one fiction, one nonfiction—and both are proving difficult in their own way. The novel is translation, and I wonder how much is lost in shifting from one language to another. It's a strange narrative, very literary (as opposed to the genre fiction which I have been in the habit of reading lately). It reminds me of stuff I read in college, which is the sort of stuff I've avoided since college.

The nonfiction piece is a travel memoir that I'm coming to believe requires the reader to be from a certain place and have spent time in a certain other place. In other words, it's not so much an invitation to enjoy something unknown as an opportunity to reflect upon shared experiences. Those who have done so will chuckle to themselves as they relive said experiences, while the rest of us keep turning pages in the hope that this seemingly charming narrative will soon reveal its charm and/or narrative.

Each book cost a dollar, so I can't complain, although I just did in the previous two paragraphs. They are not the sorts of works I would have sought out on my own, but the price was right and I'm trying to expand my repertoire. I want to see how other writers grapple with the same problems we all face in telling a story. And to be exposed to some—one a Nobel Prize winner, one praised by an author I admire greatly—that do it far differently from what I'm used to can't be a bad thing.

It's important to know what one likes and why. It's also helpful to know the opposite. Why don't I like this work? What about it doesn't resonate with me? These are good questions to ask and to answer.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Dazzling with Bullshit


I've constructed the first sentence in my head a dozen or more times, and it's never come out like this. It was supposed to be more grandiose, more meaningful. Instead, it's a mere admission that I have failed in my quest.

Using that failure as a starting point I move onto the next paragraph, which should expand upon the themes introduced in the first. But those are hardly worthy of such expansion, so I continue typing words in the hope that something will emerge.

The words are pretty—some of them, at least—but say nothing. I am dazzling with bullshit, and if I'm to be completely honest, I'm not even dazzling.

I think back to what I'd originally wanted to say. It had something to do with inspiration and self-doubt. But I wasn't feeling inspired enough to pursue the thought, which filled me with self-doubt. Why write what I was already living at that very moment?

By the time the fifth paragraph arrives I have proposed no hypothesis, advanced no arguments in favor of or against said hypothesis, or noted anything of substance. This is a good metaphor for writing and life in general, although the realization that it's a good metaphor sinks me further into depression.

Maybe the sixth paragraph will be better. Nope.

At this point I've abandoned all hope, which gives me a new place to start. This is my “fuck it” moment where I decide any movement is good movement. I've had many of these in my writing career, going back to college.

My first such moment occurred in junior high school. I was supposed to give a speech and tried reading from cards. I kept stumbling over the words and was so embarrassed by my ineptitude that I decided to just talk. I dazzled with bullshit.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Syntax and Meaning


“We were talking about the space between us all.” —George Harrison

The place was empty, the sort of joint that was always empty, except for the regulars. They counted, of course, as much as the furniture or the faded yellow wallpaper. The smell of bourbon and dust permeated throughout, as an old jukebox and the dull murmur of old conversations competed for attention and tried to cut through the seemingly interminable thickness.

“Beer,” said the stranger who walked in from outside. Skinny kid from the city, black denim jeans, collared shirt, all the fixin's.

“Beer what?” said the bartender, looking him dead in the eyes.

The stranger scanned the room. The murmur had stopped, only the jukebox kept on with a song that was both familiar and unknown. Guys shooting pool looked up from their tables and held sticks at an angle that was almost, but not quite, threatening.

He sized up the bartender. Too big. He glanced at the door. Too far away. He quickly searched for other exits but found none.

There must be another way.

“Beer what?” repeated the bartender, unflinching.

The air grew even thicker, which had seemed impossible when he'd walked in. Of all the places to stop, he'd had to pick this one. Why?

He contemplated the bartender's question, tried to makes sense of the syntax and meaning. What did the man mean by his words?

Beer what? What comes after beer? Now? Dammit? Or else?

Then it struck him and he laughed. It was so obvious, how had he missed it earlier? Yes, of course.

“Beer, please,” said the stranger.

The bartender shook his head. “Sorry, son. The correct answer is 'dammit'. You'll have to leave now.”

All eyes stayed on him as he shuffled back outside.

Monday, June 13, 2016

As Good As It Gets


A writer friend, whose work I admire, recently penned a piece on the changing nature of public discourse. Specifically, there's a lot more open hate in the world than there used to be. The hope behind making communication between people around the world was that this would enable greater connection rather than greater antipathy. Alas, the best laid plans...

I had a dream last night that I'd been transformed into some kind of alien species, with various features modified to suit my new environment. This is doubtless the result of a novel I recently read, but it was nonetheless disconcerting. The alienness was less troubling than the way those around me came to perceive what I was. I became something other and was even shunned by certain groups for daring to sit in the wrong seat.

Reading my friend's article after waking from this dream has had a curious effect. We see the world through filters, and I think about his disappointment at how increased access to information and communication tools has decreased our ability to empathize. I think about my own transformation in this dream and what it means to be the so-called other, to exist outside social norms, to be shouted at or ignored for not conforming to some preconceived notion of normality.

The convergence of these two events is coincidental, but their juxtaposition gives me pause. Awareness arises in mysterious ways, and perhaps I needed to be reminded of basic human decency, the way we all do from time to time.

Judging from the open hate that still thrives around us, “from time to time” might not be often enough. Seems we can do better if we try, but maybe I'm too optimistic. As the movie asks, What if this is as good as it gets?

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Keep Practicing


I've spent six months with my current cast of characters and one of them needs a different name. The current one is too similar to another character's. This should be easy, just pick something. But it's not because I've lived with the other one for so long. To change names is to change identities. I'm a little annoyed by this, though not in the sense that it's something of great consequence. Just annoying.

I'm also thinking of transitions. What was once important to me now seems trivial. It's odd to be reminded that things were otherwise, to see visual evidence that I used to care about something that hardly feels real. It's like trying to remember a dream after waking. I might recall certain specific events for a while, but eventually it's a giant fog full of nothing more than vague impressions.

In a painfully real sense, that's life. People sometimes talk about letting go as though it's something we can choose to do. No, letting go happens whether we want it to or not. The best we can do is accept it, not fight it so much. It's a physical law, like gravity, not the breakable sort that we create for ourselves.

On the bright side, such finiteness provides immutable parameters in which to function. Boundaries are lain and observed, no matter what. There is no room for doubt about how things begin or end. This should provide more comfort than it usually does. The world is so full of uncertainty, and this is a source of unease. But when we find something that is certain, it causes even greater unease.

This problem should be as easy to solve as renaming my character. And yet, neither is easy. It's like the difference between theory and practice. I dunno, keep practicing?

Monday, May 30, 2016

It Never Goes Away


Some days you sit and stare at the keyboard, then at the monitor, and hope for anything. You look outside and wonder where the birds are. Oh, there's one, on top of the pine tree. It's probably the same bird you always see on the top of that same pine tree.

“This is shit,” you think to yourself while struggling for more eloquent words or a better situation. Frustration sets in, but you keep typing because that's your job. You check and notice that you've only typed 80 words, which means you need 221 more to meet your quota, and then are happy because this sentence just used 34 words on its own.

You could, if so inclined, fill the remainder of your quota with sentences describing how much farther you have to go before reaching said quota. It would doubtless make for gripping drama.

You were thinking about grief when you started typing and then decided against focusing on something so heavy, although today is Memorial Day, so it wouldn't be entirely inappropriate. On the other hand, “memorial” relates to memory, so maybe you remember those you've lost and are filled with joy at knowing that you got to spend some amount of time with them in this world.

It's good to be connected. Good, but sometimes difficult.

You conjure the images of loved ones in your mind. And you contemplate the different kinds of loss. Some died, others just went away. Some you knew, others you really didn't.

As you grow older, you come to gain a greater understanding of bittersweet. And yet, you still have trouble finding the right words to describe it. There's a feeling whose essence you want to capture but which remains ever elusive.

Best get comfortable with that. It never goes away.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Unspeakably Large


I'm dreaming of Utah, of places I've never been, like Canyonlands and Arches. We were discussing beauty in the world and I felt limited, which I am, as are we all. Animal, vegetable, mineral... makes no difference in the end.

Roads traveled linger in my mind like atoms scattered across an ever-expanding universe. Those not traveled gnaw at me, call to me like the Sirens. I would go there if I could, perhaps even to my death.

The last thing I see might be magnificent, or it might be mundane. But then, there is magnificence in the mundane, even if we do not always recognize it. We just need to look more closely, pay attention to the right things (assuming we know what those right things are).

But we're dwelling too much on endings. Beginnings are also worth remembering, for they are our launch points into a larger world. They only hint at what lies ahead, when we may feel both excitement and fear at the unknown.

Then again, is there really a difference between beginnings and endings? If every journey is circular (from the universe, back to it... never having left, in fact), then points along the loop are arbitrary both in position and in sequence. They could easily be changed without consequence. Yes, minor differences would arise, but in the end (or beginning) there is only everything around us.

At this point I must mention that I'm completely sober as I write this. My mind wanders into weird areas of its own accord, without chemical assistance. It's a blessing and a curse.

Meanwhile, Utah continues to exist, largely unexplored by me. The same can be said of the entire planet or even universe. Space is unspeakably large, so I'm led to believe, though I can neither confirm nor deny.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Bad Case of Loving You


We had a regular gig at strip mall dive bar in Chula Vista, between a 99 cent Chinese restaurant and an all-night laundromat. Across the parking lot was a Denny's. We parked and loaded our stuff out back. About ten yards separated us from the retaining wall that kept drunks out of the adjoining apartment complex, which probably had enough drunks of its own.

The bartenders were cool, mostly women. At least one of them had done hard time and provided good anecdotal evidence that rehabilitation could work. The bouncer was a mountain of a man who rarely lost his cool, and for good reason. We made friends with him and the women serving drinks. You never know what will happen in a place like that, and you want as many people on your side as possible.

First set is always “oldies” (Beatles, Eagles, softer stuff from the '60s and '70s). Second set is AOR (Tom Petty, .38 Special, etc.). Third is dance tunes (“You Shook Me All Night Long,” “Play That Funky Music,” “Brick House,” etc.). Fourth is straight-up shitkicker music (Steppenwolf, Judas Priest, Bush, White Stripes, anything aggressive).

There's grandmas, bikers, gangbangers, tweakers in the joint on any given night. Some folks fall into more than one category, and most get along well enough, even after a few too many.

One night we're playing as usual and this couple at the corner of the bar nearest me (stage right) starts getting into it, just yelling at each other. It gets physical as we're wrapping up a song. They're right in front of me as we start the next song, which I sing: “Bad Case of Loving You.”

Doorman jumps in, hauls them away. I eventually stop laughing long enough to blurt out the first line.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Insufferable Bore


Another thing that pisses me off about the book I'm currently reading is the quality of research. It's bad enough that the author displays an almost limitless lack of adventure and the same amount of self-pity. Never mind her strange obsessions with coffee and food, and the fact that she belittles her more interesting travel companion at every opportunity. Forget her didactic tone, her purple prose.

Even aside from all that, she just plain gets her facts wrong, which maybe isn't too surprising given that she takes the time to complain about how she once spent eight whole hours researching something. While looking for more information on her subject matter, about whom I am now genuinely curious, I've discovered that she has probably gotten the nationality of her subject wrong. I'm in no position to confirm or deny this, but here are some other gaffes:
  • At one point she decries an event as being “archetypically American,” which would be fine except that the event in question occurs in Canada. She actually repeats the error later in the same paragraph. The author is from Australia. Or New Zealand, whatever.
  • I flipped to the back of the book to see how much more there is to read and stumbled across a familiar line: “Isn't it pretty to think so.” I immediately recognized it as Hemingway and thought it was from The Sun Also Rises (it is). She even mentions the sunrise in her sentence leading up to that quote, which she then attributes to Fitzgerald.
So yeah, if you complain about doing research and can't tell the difference between the United States and Canada or between Hemingway and Fitzgerald, I have to assume you're making shit up.

She got a government grant for this. And she's an insufferable bore.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

There's Always Stuff to Do


The question becomes one of how much you can cut out of a thing and still have it be that thing. Or in a perfect world, a better version of that thing. What is needed, what isn't? Signal or noise, wheat or chaff.

So you keep cutting, and the thing may get worse before it gets better, but you trust that you'll end up with what you want. Sometimes you get lucky and it actually works that way.

Other times you end up with a mess. Okay, then. Make something else out of that mess. In which case it doesn't become a better version of the thing, but rather a different thing altogether. Hopefully a better thing than what you originally had.

If not? Well, try again. Keep trying. Add, subtract, change. Probably swear a lot. If you're like me, anyway, maybe shake your fist at the world. That always helps. Make a mean face, show the world who's boss, or at least who you like to believe the boss is.

Get it out of your system, get back to work. Read a book. Play with your dog. Go for a walk. Do stuff. There's always stuff to do.

* * *

Speaking of books, I'm reading a travel memoir written by a woman who has chosen to give herself the most unsympathetic narrative voice imaginable. She whines about everything: the eight whole hours it took her to research something, the coffee she drinks, the food she eats, her less boring companion who drives her crazy by not being a complete stick in the mud.

It reads like parody in parts, but she's dead serious, which makes it even more amusing. I have a feeling the companion will not survive the trip, and we'll be stuck with the narrator by herself.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

You Got My Order Wrong


I ordered a chef's salad and the waitress came back with shrimp salad and an admonition from the chef that they don't make shrimp salad on weekends. First, you got my order wrong. Second, your chef's instructions to you have nothing to do with me. Third, you are the restaurant owner's stepdaughter so ignore those first two points.

* * *

The parking garage was crowded, as mall garages often are. A woman waiting for a spot was taking up too much of the lane and I couldn't get around her, so I stopped to wait for her to take the spot. When it opened up she kept looking at me but wouldn't move.

I pointed at her and at the spot, to let her know that she should go ahead. She kept looking at me but wouldn't move. Finally she threw up her hands and drove past me, leaving the spot empty. With her out of the way, I could continue forward. Presumably someone else took the spot she'd wanted.

* * *

In a different parking garage, in a different mall, in a different city, I pulled over to let a woman pass so I could turn around and go back the way I'd come. Instead of passing, she decided to sit and watch me. Then she honked her horn and yelled, “You don't suppose to park there!”

First, I know that, which is why I'm not parking here. Second, you're not the police. Third, go around me like a normal person would.

She didn't go around me, so I couldn't come back they way I'd come. Instead I had to go all the way around the garage and head out the other side, which is not where I wanted to be.

Where did I want to be?

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Stuff in the World


You must have been in Hawai'i, me wandering down India Street looking for something to eat or drink, finding both. It was sunny outside, as it often is in this part of the world, except in the summer when tourists visit and are disappointed by the predominant cloudiness.

They eventually return to Wisconsin or Germany and tell friends how wonderful it was here despite the weather. Maybe they saw pandas at the zoo or took a harbor cruise and shivered in the stiff breeze that they weren't expecting. By God, it was wonderful!

I was watching these people have the proverbial times of their lives as they strolled down the street and popped into shops, supporting the local economy by paying too much for pedestrian items, thank you very much. There were dogs and bicycles. Some stopped to sit in chairs on the sidewalk. The people, that is, not the dogs and bicycles (the latter would look especially silly in a chair, although now I want to see it).

The food was, as the tourists would say, quite wonderful. Crisp thin crust, melted cheese so hot it burns the roof of your mouth, ground meats, fresh veggies. The beer was also wonderful because all beer is wonderful, especially the kind they make in this part of the world (although Wisconsin and Germany are also home to fine beer).

After lunch I continued walking and watching, overhearing snippets of conversation along the way in many languages, most of which I didn't understand. There were a few clouds, though not as many as when our poor tourist friends came to visit that one time.

I missed you, as I always do when you are gone. But I found things to do, as I always do. There's a lot of stuff in the world.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Bagels


Bagels. Goose eggs. Zero, zilch, nada. Whole lotta nothin' goin' on.

The trick we must play on ourselves is to believe that we can learn and improve with effort. Fake it till you make it, as they say. We try new things and are transformed. Even if those changes may seem slow at times, they do occur.

We drank some of our first batch of homebrew last night, a porter. It is not particularly good, but it is particularly ours, made with our own hands. We could at least taste the effort.

And since this is all one giant experiment, we played with our food. Take some shredded coconut and brown it in a frying pan. Toss in some vanilla extract, some almond extract. Dump all that into a French press with the beer, and voila, it's a totally different drink. Still not particularly good, but now in a way that tastes more like amaretto.

The process reminds me a lot of writing or making music. Yes, eventually you'd like to end up with something resembling what you intended to created. In the meantime, pay attention to the process and make tweaks as needed, enjoying the mistakes made along the way. Some of those mistakes could lead to new and exciting discoveries: an unexpected twist of phrase or flavor combination.

None of this is revolutionary, but it's good to be reminded every now and then that such things are not only possible but likely given enough time and effort. So the sooner you start and the more you apply yourself, the better your chances.

This is what we tell ourselves as we try to fake it till we make it. The alternative is to do nothing at all, but there will be plenty of time for that before we know it.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Keep Moving Forward


I was late, as usual, and couldn't find you. I was carrying too much, kept dropping things all over the place and stopping to pick them up again. I ran through airport checkpoints with my ticket, which was one of the things I kept dropping.

Where was the gate? I watched time slip away on any number of clocks but had no idea where the gate was or how to get there. I stopped for a beer when I knew I wouldn't find you. I began sobbing and ended up on a beach.

Where did the beach come from? Where did the airport go? The tears receded as the tide rolled in and I ran across the hot sand. I had no idea where I was or how I'd gotten there.

* * *

Self-fulfilling prophecies are troublesome. Belief and mind-sets, cause and effect. Reality is nothing more than dreams come to life. Vonnegut advised us to be careful about what we pretend to be. We should be similarly careful about what we dream, for example, getting lost at the airport.

That extrapolation probably makes no sense, but what if it did? What if dreams were a necessary precursor to reality? Stronger than that. What if there were an exact correlation between our current dreams and future reality?

That sounds a lot like the age of superstition. Explanations are needed to create coherent narratives in our minds that allow us to continue moving forward as a species. But what happens when those explanations are wrong and we cling to them anyway?

* * *

In the end, it's hard to keep moving forward. Life is more like dropping things and having no idea where you are, where you're trying to go, or how to get there. Let's hope this isn't self-fulfilling.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Something Else in Mind


How would you describe your relationship with Jerry?

My relationship with Jerry is... he comes over late at night after the kids are in bed and leaves before they wake up in the morning. It's fantastic.

But you're married?

But he's away on business.

And he's okay with your arrangement?

He doesn't know about it.

How do you think he'd feel if he did know?

Maybe he wouldn't go on so many business trips. Besides, it's not like he isn't getting any action when he's gone.

Do you know that for a fact?

Technically no, but come on. It's what I'd do.

How did you become such a big James Dean fan?

I wouldn't say I'm a big fan, but... okay, yeah, I'm kind of a dork for him even though he died way before I was born. Is that weird? I don't think that's weird. Anyway, I like the movies he made and obviously he's hot. Plus he died just around the corner from here.

And that adds to the appeal?

Not exactly. It just makes his presence more real. Does that make sense?

Not exactly, but that's fine. What about your hair?

What about it?

Would you describe it as more auburn or chestnut?

How would you describe it?

Are you flirting with me?

Maybe. Would you like that?

Maybe.

Good to know. Anyway, I've heard my hair described as both. I guess I'd go with chestnut, but I'm happy with whatever makes you happy.

Chestnut works.

I'm glad to hear it. How many more questions do we have?

Not many.

Good, because we could be doing more interesting things, if you know what I mean.

Where is your husband right now?

Is this part of the interview or did you have something else in mind?

We're done.

Nope.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Natural Evolution


Why do you think the two of you didn't get along toward the end?

First of all, it wasn't just toward the end. This had been a long time coming. I can't even remember when it started, probably when I was in middle school. But basically he loved baseball and wanted me to love it, too, which I didn't. That somehow diminished me in his eyes.

Do you really believe that?

Yes, of course.

But if you're his son, why would something like that make a difference?

My guess is that he expected me to be a certain person and then I turned out to be someone else. I let him down in a way. It's hard to say, but that's my guess.

Did you ever ask him?

How the hell would I do that? You don't just ask someone if you've disappointed them. How does that conversation even work? “Hey dad, do I disappoint you?” People don't talk like that.

No, I just meant, did you ever check in with him to see what was going on in his life?

I don't follow.

Like, maybe he was disappointed in himself and not you?

Why would he be disappointed in himself?

I don't know, but that might be an interesting question to ask.

Sure. “Uh, dad, are you disappointed in yourself?” That seems realistic.

More like, “Hey dad, are you happy?”

Yeah, I can see that. No, I never asked him, but I can see it. It seems kind of corny, but... I dunno, maybe we're just too stubborn. Someone would have to make the first move, you know?

Why not you?

Why not him?

I see.

It's not that simple. It's not like we just decided to be done with each other, it was a natural evolution.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

We Speak Different Languages


How is your relationship with your son?

Difficult, not like what I thought it would be. He's really into music, which is great, but I don't know anything about that world. We speak different languages, you know? I try to connect... well, I used to, but it seems I've given up on that. We both have. I'm hoping it's just the age. Honestly, I wish we got along better, or even at all. I thought we'd be maybe not buddies but at least... I dunno. There's just no common ground, it's pretty frustrating.

How do you suppose he feels?

No clue, you'd have to ask him. I'm guessing he probably feels frustrated, but I really don't know.

How is your job?

It's fine, you know, it keeps a roof over our heads. Nobody ever grew up dreaming they'd manage a retail store, right? But the pay is good enough, same with the benefits. It's stable, secure. It put one kid through college and it'll put another through before too long.

But are you satisfied with it?

I'm satisfied with the roof over our heads.

Do you regret not pursuing a career in baseball?

Regret is the wrong word. That implies that I'm not happy with where I ended up, which isn't the case. But yeah, it'd be interesting to know how that might have turned out. The Royals drafted me in the 23rd round so it would have been a long shot. I couldn't hit, but I was a reliable shortstop and might have shown enough glove to make it as utility guy. But you know, with a family... no, I don't regret it at all.

Could you have been a scout?

Probably, but again, was I willing to put everyone through the hardship needed for me to make it? No.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Disappear for a While


“If you could be anywhere tonight, where would it be?” His questions were always loaded.

“Anywhere?” She twirled her hair slowly. “Right here.”

“Too predictable, try again.”

She tried to remember places she'd loved or places she'd longed to visit. There were too many to count, so she went for the easy one.

“James Dean Memorial,” she said.

He raised an eyebrow, but remained silent, letting her do the work.

“Shut up,” she said, “I like James Dean. Besides, it's not far from here.”

He smiled. “I didn't say anything.”

“You didn't have to.”

“I never have to.”

She shrugged her shoulders. “More vino?”

He nodded, and she poured. It was a pinot noir from Oregon. Expensive, not too bad.

“Have you ever been?” she asked.

“I didn't even know there was such a thing.”

Was he pulling her leg? He played dumb so well, it was hard to know. He had to be messing with her. She flicked his nose.

“I'm serious,” he said. “My James Dean knowledge is limited. What's out there?”

“Not much.”

“Then why go?”

“There's a great view of the sky at night. You can see all the stars. It's a good place to feel small.”

“Why would you want to feel small?”

She smiled. “You never want to feel small?”

“I don't think so.”

“You never feel like there's too much going on this world and you'd just like to disappear for a while?”

He nodded.

“When you stare up at the stars,” she said, “it's like you disappear. You're only one tiny thing among billions of much bigger things.”

“Hard to take yourself seriously.”

She sighed. “Or anything.”

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Breaks Are Good


Breaks are good. They help provide perspective, which is needed most when we don't realize it, when we're so invested in our process that we can't see beyond it. Breaks let us breathe and consider the problem in different ways.

I didn't write yesterday. It felt weird, but life kept me from sitting down and doing work. My brain didn't get them memo and kept trying to solve puzzles. It worked through various scenarios that my fingers could try the next time I was at the keyboard.

So today's project involves rearranging the first five chapters of my novel. The goal is to mix my various POV characters up a bit, have them appear at different times. Will this have a profound effect? Maybe, maybe not, but it can't hurt to try.

Point is, if I'd kept plowing through the work like a bulldozer, I'm not sure I'd have even thought of such an alternative. Not quickly, anyway. Which leads to an interesting paradox: Taking breaks can improve efficiency.

I forget this all the time and keep going. My mind doesn't want to stop. It's so invested in the process that it just keeps grinding the ol' gears. The hard part, and I haven't figured out how to do this, is getting myself to remember that resting and contemplating is a crucial part of the process.

To wreck another metaphor, you plot a course. It feels like you're going in the right direction, but you can't be sure. So you pull over to the side of the road, figure out where you are and where you want to be, and make any necessary adjustments.

You can't make those adjustments if you just keep going. And if you never pause to figure out where you are, who knows where you'll end up?

Friday, May 13, 2016

One Never Knows


In the interest of accountability, I finished 6 ½ of my 8 goals yesterday. The only ones I missed were editing someone else's article and watching baseball. Technically there was a game on, but I had no interest in either team and watched Star Trek instead. Partial credit.

Moving on, today it's more of the novel. It's always more of the novel, which is fine because I love it. Not the novel itself, which needs more improvement than I might be able to give it, but the process. The discipline.

I've tried writing a novel twice before. Once in college, then again last summer.

The one in college I wrote late at night, usually accompanied by Joe Satriani's Flying in a Blue Dream or J.S. Bach's Brandenburg Concertos. It was a sustained effort, and I got to revisit my characters at the end of every day, which provided some level of comfort.

The key problems were a) it lacked plot and b) I had no clue what I was doing. Either or both might have been overcome, but after a year or so I gave up. I finished a first draft, but attempts at revision made things worse rather than better. I was young and frustrated, and there was much else to do in life like earn enough money for food and rent.

That novel was written longhand on yellow legal pads. I'm pretty sure it's still in a black notebook somewhere in the garage. Now that 25 years have passed I'm tempted to find it and see if anything can be salvaged.

I attempted my second novel last summer. The story feels contrived, and there's too much exposition, but again I loved the process. I might use the setting for something else, borrow a character or three. One never knows.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Hooray for Me!


Today's goals are simple:
  1. Write this—Seems straightforward enough and achievable, especially since I've decided to make a list rather than assemble paragraphs.
  2. Slap together a quick book review—Something more profound than “I liked it” would be good (although “I liked it” is an accurate assessment).
  3. Work on the novel.
    1. Clean up yesterday's mess—I don't even know where to start, but then I never know where to start, which is a good place to start.
    2. Move forward with today's mess—You could define a writer as someone who makes a mess and then tries to clean it up, and not be far from the truth.
  4. Edit someone else's article—This is hard for me because an actual person wrote the words and probably loves them more than I do.
  5. Go to the gym—Technically I'm just driving my wife, so this is a gimme; I get to read a book.
  6. Record a podcast—Talk into a microphone and have someone else record it; the hard part is having something interesting to say, which is the hard part of many things in life.
  7. Put bottles of beer in the refrigerator—This is actually homebrew that isn't quite ready but that I want to test as a reference point so I can hopefully learn how to do it better next time.
  8. Watch baseball—I haven't checked the schedule yet, don't know if this is even possible; might watch Star Trek instead, which wouldn't be the worst thing.
Eight goals seems like a lot, but I think I can do it. I'll need to give 110% and catch a few breaks, and possibly indulge in a few more sports clich├ęs, but it's still early... there's plenty of time. And hey, I've just finished the first goal. Hooray for me!

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Revising


They say that the only writing is rewriting, and although I believe this to be true, I also find it more than a little problematic. For example, a scene I'm working on now reveals information that shouldn't be revealed until later. It needs to be earned by both the characters and the reader. If it appears too early it feels like cheating.

This is all well and good, except for one thing. Now where the hell do I put it? Other scenes are contingent on this scene, and the information revealed here leads to other actions. Moving things around disrupts cause and effect, as they currently exist.

The challenge, then, becomes one of making slight (or not so slight) modifications to cause and effect. Sounds easy enough in Chapter 1, but what happens in Chapter 31, when all the dominoes I'd originally lain at the beginning are now in different places? I'll tell you what happens: probably something different from what I'd envisioned way back when.

Revising is literally re-envisioning. It's seeing things a different way. When the son returns, a stranger in his own home, maybe the neighbors mention his prolonged absence. Great idea, now I need to add neighbors into the story. Their world just became more complex and richer for it. I just gave myself more work to do.

Does the mother react a certain way because that's how she would react, or does she do so because I want the plot to advance? If I'm honest about it, which I must be, it's the latter. The only problem there is that such reaction is complete bullshit and topples the remaining dominoes. Nobody, least of all me, will care what happens after her forced reaction.

Her reaction will be forced either way, it just shouldn't feel like it.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Compliment to No One


Some days you just stare at shit like an outsider, like some half-crazed thing that doesn't understand how the world works. You stop at the wrong place in the wrong part of town on your way to some other place you don't really want to be.

The universe feels out of sync and it's not your fault. And as you stare at shit, you realize that blame isn't even part of the equation, not that this realization helps matters. It just adds another dimension to your staring.

“What's good here?” You're looking at the menu, she's looking at you like it's 8 a.m. and she wants to go home, which it is and she does.

“Pretty much nothing.”

“Okay, I'll have that.”

She doesn't crack a smile, probably hasn't in years. How did she get here? Not only the physical location but the mental state? Both are troubled places that would break the best of them, which he doubted she ever was.

“Say again?” she says. Fast, too.

“Two eggs over medium, side of bacon, black coffee.”

She takes your menu and walks away without a word.

A bell rings as the front door opens. An older gentleman with silver stubble and a trucker hat ambles in. You're surprised he ever left. He takes a seat without waiting, just takes it. He isn't the sort who waits, he's done that enough in life. Waitress is already pouring him coffee before his ass hits the chair.

You keep staring at shit. Paper napkin and mostly clean utensils scattered in front of you like some four-year-old set the table. You still don't want to go where you need to go, although this place makes it seem more appealing. It's a compliment to no one, least of all you.