Friday, March 30, 2012
--DON'T LOOK AT ME THAT WAY
...The other day I had a creative burst and wrote five poems, three of them while in the bathtub.
This is one:
Things I Know About The Things I Don’t Know
The way people save broken umbrellas. The way dried-up pens
love trickery. The way photographs retain their gloss years later.
The way black takes
what it wants and can never be extinguished.
The way oppression overeats at buffets.
The way certain words razor-rip the throat.
The way night sneaks up on day, but never the other way around.
The way babies jump at loud bomb sounds.
The way the sun writes what it wants and shadows really don’t.
The way you say his name after parties, in the shower,
The cuckolded way I watch you apply eyeliner.
The way lovemaking can sound symphonic,
like a deluge of hailstones
or like nothing at all.
Wednesday, March 28, 2012
--SO, WHAT DO YOU NEED TO KNOW AND WHEN DO YOU NEED TO KNOW IT?
...New music arrived the other day. Few things can compete with that.
In the mail there was new Dawes, Elbow, The Local Natives and Delta Spirit. New Bruce Springsteen came later. It's really good.
…I am reading Emily Petit's collection, "Goat in the Snow."
Her poems are spectacular. She's so clever. Sample:
"I look you in the face. Up on a wire it's hard to be anything other than awkward."
Just one more sample:
"It's not your birthday but I am giving you this candy bar and science. A flashlight in your mouth. You build a map in layers. Tiger stripes on your brain…"
…I'm trying Twitter. Did I tell you that?
For a while, I thought it was really silly. Some of it is, of course.
For a while, I think I was just afraid of it, not having any fun,pithy things to say.
I still don't have any of those things, but I'm sort of getting the hang of it, little by little, trying to find my Twitter voice (I think there is such a thing, just as I think there's a blogging voice.)
When I first signed up I had seven Followers and four of those were porn stars or someone posting a pretty, safe photo with a raunchy porn name and a link.
The porn industry is ubiquitious and insidious. I'm not a prude. Not hardly. But it's awfully snaky.
…Evidentially the Disney movie "John Carter" is going to lose $250 million, the worst performance in film history. "John Carter" received favorable ratings from just 51% of all critics.
On the other side, "The Hunger Games" had the third biggest opening ever--$155 M.
…I don't hate many things but I do detest the word "seemingly." It's a concotion for lazy writers. Do use that word. Together, let's abolish it.
…The new "Angry Birds Space" game was downloaded 10,000,000 times in just three days.
I was not one of those 10M.
…Yesterday a new poll was released showing a sharp rise from four months ago--53 to 68% in the percentage of people who believe we should no longer be in Afghanistan.
I am one of those 68%ers.
…I like these things today:
"You've got a special way of rising above the bullshit."
"It you don't have a dark side, it's not to late to make one."
Monday, March 26, 2012
--I WILL POSSESS YOUR HEART
...I like statistics, or finding out about "us," the things we prefer, fear, how we're alike and different.
In no particular order then...
Households with cash income of no more than $2 a day per person:
Where adults purchase the most/least lottery tickets:
57% --Buffalo, NY
56% --Providence, RI
51% --Albany, NY
13% --Las Vegas, NV
8% --Salt Lake City, UT
5% --Honolulu, HI
There are 39,000 standard-screen movie theaters in the U.S. and 425 IMAX
Nearly 40% of women have never been married, up from 33% in 1995, and fewer are in a first marriage.
55% of all black women have never been married.
49% of Hispanic women
39% of Asian
98 -- Percentage of people who say listening to music helps keep them sane
72 -- Percentage of people who still listen to the same music they did when they were teenagers
94 -- Percentage who listen to music while exercising
17 -- Percentage whose workout soundtrack includes Madonna songs
94 -- Percentage who listen to music to psych themselves up for any kind of challenge
31 -- Percentage who think the lyrics are more important than the music
22 -- Percentage who'd rather forget the first album they ever bought
3 in 5 -- Number of people who listen to music every day
61 -- Percentage of men who've used a favorite playlist to set the mood with a woman
22 -- Percentage of men who wouldn't date someone with different musical tastes (wow)
4 in 10 -- Number of men who keep the music playing during sex
5 -- Percentage who have music-related tattoos
8 -- Percentage who cry when they hear "Everybody Hurts" by R.E.M.
Six fittest cities, according to Men's Fitness:
2. San Francisco
Six fattest cities:
6. Las Vegas
Top Six Cities With the Most Eligible Women (According to Mens Health)
1. Washington, DC
2. Portland, ME
3. Boston, MA
4. Seattle, WA
5. New York, NY
6. San Francisco, CA
Fewest Eligible Women
95. Reno, NV
96. Wichita, KS
97. Fresno, CA
98. Toledo, OH
99. Bakersfield, CA
100. Las Vegas, NV
Pieces of mail sent, in billions:
2005 -- 211.7
2007 -- 212.2
2009 -- 177
2011 -- 168
To have a secure retirement, I'll need:
-$100,000 to 1,000,000 -- 48% said this
-Over $1,000,000 -- 42% said this
-Less than $100,000 -- 10% said this
Runners favorite "Running Movies":
31% -- Forrest Gump
10% -- Chariots of Fire
9% -- Spirit of the Marathon
8% -- Prefontaine
How often are you late for work?
61% -- Never
16% -- At least once a week
12% -- Once a year
11% -- Once a month
For unknown reasons, New York’s approval showed one of the greatest gender imbalances of any state in the country. Women favored New York 43% to 19% while men actually disfavored the state 36% to 39%.
New Jersey is the most overall disfavored state at 32%.
--After elections, we end up feeling better.
How the S & P 500 fared in year four of a first-term President:
-14.9% -- Herbert Hoover 1932
27.9% -- Franklin Roosevelt 1936
13% -- John Kennedy, 1964
15.8% -- Richard Nixon, 1972
25.8% -- Jimmy Carter, 1980
20.3% -- Bill Clinton, 1996
9% -- George W. Bush
Percentage of workers who expect to retire after age 65:
11% -- 1958
16% -- 2001
25% -- 2006
36% -- 2011
Are you confident you'll retire with a comfortable lifestyle?
Do you expect to get a raise or promotion this year?
Men -- 52% Yes
Women -- 63% No
$14, 218 -- The poverty threshold for a household of two people
Percentage below the poverty rate:
19.2% --Children under the age of 18
12.6% --18 to 64 years of age
Saturday, March 24, 2012
--YOU SHOULD COME INSIDE
…I’m writing this late at night.
I could tell you a lot of things right now, but it’d be like drunk dialing.
Some might shock you.
Some could even offend.
Alas, I think I’ll demure.
…I once saw a photo of a Facebook “friend” (I honestly don’t really know her, although she seems very nice) who’d gotten some terrific tattoos, and of course, that just happened triggered me writing, and I happened to see a new online lit magazine that wanted writing having to do with Alamaba, or birthed in that Southern spirit, and so I wrote a few pieces about these pictures, several of which were published in Steel Toe Review and one which was anthologized.
This was it:
Ways to Remember Birmingham
She gives her pets
Hunter and Red Mountain,
Oak, Valley, Tuscaloosa.
The gold fish are 1st through 9th Avenue.
She has the city tattooed across her chest so she can see
the campus in the mirror when she’s on top,
but the truth is
it’s been a long time,
and the fish are floating belly up
and the dog has diarrhea
and the embryo inside her has grown bad boy hair by now,
his hands and feet itching
to make their way into the world
with or without you,
Thursday, March 22, 2012
--I THINK YOU'RE REALLY WONDERFUL
…In yesterday's issue of The USA Today they had this statistic:
How many books do you typically read in a year?
0 -- 14%
1-2 -- 15%
3-5 -- 19%
6-10 -- 19%
11 or more -- 33%
That was surprisingly better than I would have expected.
What do you think?
…An internet friend is putting out an anthology called "I Am Not Pizza."
The idea is we are all different. Some people are pizza, some aren't.
Each piece in the anthology has to include the line "I am pizza" in the poem and as the title. Same for "I am not pizza."
In the bathtub yesterday, I wrote these for her:
I am Not a Pizza
All of our clothes are on the floor
while we sit in bed
picking apart the pieces of Us
that have made you heavy
and as pale as the belly of a moth.
You say you were wrong
to love me,
that there are reasons for leaving
and there aren’t.
Behind us is the moon,
the month of June
staring at us as if we’re orphaned children.
We were so young then,
you a clown cashier saying,
“I have acne, but
I am not a pizza,”
my heart bulging like my eyes.
I watch you put your panties on
with your back to me.
I watch you put everything on,
then close the door
putting me away for good.
You told old stories about me,
how I am thin-crusted, fragile and flakey,
tied together taut
with string cheese instead of cheddar,
waxy, gleaming grease,
my pepperoni pungent
but the red pepper flakes the only part of me left
that really packs a punch.
You withered while we waited for Us to arrive at a place
where it wouldn’t matter that
I am pizza
and you are not.
I’ve tried to insist that
but you just sit there,
legs crossed like bread sticks,
you a bag of bones and skin,
starving yourself so there’s nothing
you’ll need from me.
Wednesday, March 21, 2012
Flash Fiction Fridays
Books have always been a best friend to me. In dark days and bright. I could even tell you that stories have saved my life more than once, and although you’d likely think me melodramatic, we’d both be right.
No one has been able to articulate my feelings about this subject quite like Anne Lamott does in her landmark book, “Bird By Bird” saying: “My gratitude for good writing is unbounded; I’m grateful for it the way I’m grateful for the ocean.”
For me, great stories thump your heart like someone sneaking up on you from behind. Or they twist your heart or prod it. You put the pages down and half expect the parchment to ignite.
The best authors motivate me to write. I’ll have to stop reading—sometimes in mid-sentence—grab a pen and jot down an idea or image.
Great writing pulls up a sofa inside your skull and parks itself there, like magazines on a coffee table, always available to be picked up and re-visited.
That’s what we have in the volume, “Flash Fiction Fridays,” featuring thirty-one of today’s strongest literary voices. Each piece (including one of mine) in the collection has been read by the book’s editor, Robert Vaughan, live on WUWM’s radio program, “Lake Effect.” How Robert cajoled such talent is a mystery we need not solve, but rather just delight in.
What we have in “FFF” is a chest full of weaponry—some of it shiny and slick and modern, others more medieval and therefore wickedly destruction.
We encounter the damaged characters that make up our own inner selves—estranged offspring, abandoned lovers, parents bearing life-threatening disease, alcoholics, voyeurs—a cacophony of characters, a circus of lives tested by the current of living.
Here is a smorgasbord of riches:
--Sara Lippmann uses a blowtorch: “I picture his hardened half-moons floating on the toilet bowl’s surface like pin bones of small helpless fish, sucked in the flush, replaced by the hum of his razor.”
--Julie Innis takes a boulder and smashes your aorta: “Later she will try to explain her sadness at it all—that nothing remained—why, even snakes give back the bones.”
--Meg Tuite, like Cormac McCarthy, makes up her own words: “So I stood alone, rerunning the minutes I had dumb-lusted you, as the widening hold you left behind in your wake cracked me in half of what had barely been a half.”
--David Tomaloff lobs grenades: “Leslie Ann liked knives. So much so that she ate a whole one by herself while engaging in phone sex with the neighbor, Roy.”
Bl Pawelek keeps you on your toes with smart quirks like: “My son has 89,812 hairs on his angel head. This is the lowest count this month.”
Sam Rasnake bends fable: “There were no pigs’ huts of straw or stick or stone. No chimney or door. Nothing worth his time to enter, nothing to tear down for another meal…”
--Susan Tepper throws darts: “A man without instincts is lost around tools.”
-- J.P. Reese finds a hand mirror and holds it to timely atrocity when she writes: “One day, Muslim soldiers from the north came to my village and began shooting.”
--Susan Gibb paints Polaroids: “The spring thaws have made pie crust of pavement, throwing up stones that might’ve taken centuries to work their way up to the surface from the hellfire of earth’s core.”
--And Vaughan himself, master of both humor and dark, has several zingers, but none as razor-sharp as this opening: “Today my mother broke every dish in the house. The Lladro Three Wisemen were the first to go.”
“Flash Fiction Fridays” is filled with some of the most vivid and memorable flash ever assembled. Treat yourself. It’ll take you places you’ve never been.
Available at Lulu.com
Monday, March 19, 2012
--THIS IS THE SOUND OF SETTLING
…This is a quirky story I forgot I wrote that appeared in Stone Highway Review…
A stranger is kissing me.
His lips are warm and pasty, but it’s a nice pasty, like lilac-scented lotion that’s seen just a tad of sunshine. And the stranger wants things from me, yes, he does, that’s what his urgent maneuvers are suggesting, yet he’s not rough or demanding, it’s just yearning and urges. He says, “I know you’ve had other lovers, but none have been as good as I will be.” He tells me his is the panacea.
I have never kissed a stranger before. His lips now feel like gummy worms. I am sucking the green-lime flavor from them and he goes, “Hmmm. Hmmm.”
If I’d known strangers could be so sweet I would have tried this sooner. I might have made a cardboard sign to hang off my neck with invitations for strangers to come up and lay some sugar on me.
This man tells me I taste of chlorine. He claims I am a clean girl. She says all my sins have been ransomed, don’t I already know that?
We are kissing on a commuter train and I’ve just realized people surround us and there are gawkers in the crowd. That one by the holding pole is sort of biting her lip. She’s a jealous calico and that makes me kiss the stranger deeper until I’m rooting around inside the well of his throat and then I must bite him because his mouth is slurpy and iron-tasting. When he says, “Whoa!” it echoes.
I come up for air. The Asian man in charcoal pinstripes wants a piece of this action but it’s too late for him. I am in love with a stranger, this one, and I blurt it out. “If you leave me now, I will throw myself under these train tracks.”
He laughs. My father had laughter, too. He laughed at strange things, horrible incidents and mistakes he should never have made.
“Who are you anyway?” I ask.
“I’m just a stranger on a train.”
“That’s so unfair.”
“Well, you would hate me if you knew the truth.”
We kiss some more, our tongues blue boats and flexible acrobats. I know I shouldn’t sell myself short like this, but I’m a believer in love songs. Yes, yes, that’s it: I am not myself and I am not that damaged little girl any longer. I am beautiful because the stranger tells me so.
Sunday, March 18, 2012
--SOMEBODY TOLD ME THIS IS THE PLACE WHERE EVERYTHING’S BETTER AND EVERYTHING’S SAFE
…I wish I could tell you everything. I wish I was that brave.
I’ve never told anyone everything.
Confession doesn't count. In Confession, you're only speaking to a screen or a big bald face behind a screen.
I’ve come close. I’ve gotten to eighty percent a time or two. I’ve walked them right to the edge, then turned away.
I’m afraid of heights.
A lot of what I’d tell you is embarrassing, bordering on shameful. Okay, really shameful.
It would be hard to tell you those things.
I share the good stuff with anyone and everyone who will listen. The bad stuff I keep hidden in the bottom of my sock drawer, in the attic, buried under some rubble in the backyard.
You might not think my bad things are that bad. Or you might.
Perhaps you'd make excuses for me. Maybe you'd say, "But that was so long ago." Or, "But look at your fucked-up childhood." Or, "You're human; no one's perfect."
Maybe you have a backpack of Get Out Of (Guilt) Jail Free cards.
What about best friends--shouldn't you be able to share your dark stuff with them? Yes, I think so. I think that's the way it's supposed to work and the reason you have best friends in the first place.
How about you? Does your best friend know everything about you?
Secrets are scary, I don't l know why. Or I do know why.
Of course I know why. You do, too.
It would take a lot of balls to be completely honest. You'd need to be in a place where it was safe, where no one would judge, where everyone else was damaged and just as vulnerable.
Some people probably tell their therapists everything. They pay a lot of money for a shrink and so it doesn't make sense to fluff up a story or omit things to the person you're incenting to help fix or cure you.
I guess a lot of us die with our secrets tied in a box somewhere, buried where no one can get hurt.
And maybe that's the right thing after all.
Friday, March 16, 2012
--TOGETHER WE CAN BURY IT
Once, when I was a kid, curiosity overtook my deference for boundaries and I snuck into my parent’s room to snoop. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular, but I remember opening Mother’s jewelry box, the big chestnut-brown thing with the curved lid. The drawers were stuffed. They caught or creaked when I opened them. Inside it was all rhinestones and plastic, things that easily tarnished, but I didn’t know it at the time. To me, this was pirate treasure, gold and diamond riches. Bits glittered, stones winked at me, and the bracelets and chains had a marvelous rustling sound, like a metallic snakes whispering secrets. It all seemed dangerous—me sneaking into a forbidden area—decadent and unnaturally enthralling.
That’s how I felt reading Kathy Fish’s story collection, “Together We Can Bury It.”
I devoured the book. I marked up pages and underlined certain phrases that sang right off the parchment. I dog-earred and highlighted, and when I finished the last piece, I went back to the first and second trying to be certain—like “Love at First Sight” on a second date--that the writing enchanted me as much as I had initially believed, and to be sure, the writing enchanted me. It hasn’t stopped.
From the terrific book title, we move through the lives of troubled people not unlike wraiths who slip through bedroom walls to glimpse the destruction of life or its smoldering aftermath. Some pieces are clipped as short as a page. A few stories might stretch as long as six pages. No matter the length, Fish makes the reader work in all the right ways, so that there are needed pauses and reflections both during and after having finished a story. The reader sometimes has to ask, “Does that mean what I think?” or “Wait a minute—what’s really going on here?” Often, however, the message is brutally clear, as in the concluding lines of “Tederoni”:
“He stoops and picks up the kitten’s smooshed head and its body and the pieces are so small in his hands. Together, we walk to the side of the road and I watch as he chucks them, hard, into a patch of high weeds.”
Fish’s writing is like a light gleaming up from the bottom of the lake, distorting itself as refracted waves curl or undulate. Her characters ring true yet they keep an appropriate aloofness. We both feel as if we know these people, as if they are friends or acquaintances in our own lives, yet it is often like we are watching these friends behave badly on screen so that we’re powerless to intervene.
Fish is great at putting characters in jeopardy (the key to all good writing) and using environment to mood-cast particular predicaments, either evident or looming. For instance in “Foreign Film”:
“They have no eyes for subtitles. The musical score unnerves them. It is exactly the sound of an accordion squeezing the life out of a kitten.”
If you’re a fan of short bursts of lightning, then Fish is certainly your gal. If you want to learn how to write, how to live, what to avoid and where to escape to, then get “Together We Can Bury It.”
Wednesday, March 14, 2012
--DON'T GIVE UP ON ME
…A while back I read this news story about a guy who put his life for sale on Ebay. The list of items included everything he owned--bike, cat, clothes, car. It also included his job (he'd worked that out with his boss), assumption of apartment lease, his little black book of hot dates, and an option to legally switch names with the top bidder.
His life went for $752.00
I wrote a story about that, but it featured a female and was, of course, dark. Bananafish published it years ago when I first started sending out work, then that site went belly up and the story disappeared into the ether, or something like that.
I happened upon "Quicksand" the other day and sent it to a site I really admire, so we'll see what happens.
…Regardless of your politics, is it not a little boggling that 52% of Mississippi voters think Obama is a Muslim?
…It snowed here yesterday, big loaf-sized flakes. At one point it looked like the wind was shredding my roof.
…FYI I'm being random today.
…I sent my son a text with FYI in it and he replied, "FYI, no one says FYI anymore."
Funny kid, that boy.
…I am trying to give Twitter a shot. I am trying to come up with pithy things to say.
One of my worst fears--here, on Twitter, in person--is being boring.
…I miss the people I met at AWP. I wish we could transport ourselves each weekend and have a little shindig.
…I saw the movie, "Friends with Kids" the other day. I quite liked it, but the reviews were far from glowing, which surprised me.
Adam Scott, Kristin Wiig, John Hamm and others were in it. It's a tad on the raunchy side, but so was "Bridesmaids," right?
…I'm having problems with this site. It will let me post commentary (obviously), yet it won't let me delete or add to the "Words in Print" column. Any thoughts or helpful hints as to what I should do?
…I've been watching, "Weeds." It started out a little dicey, with spotty acting and writing, sort of degenerating into "Desperate Housewife" humor, but I've stuck with it and now on Season 2 I'm getting the payoff.
…I'm sure using the word "I" a lot in this posting.
…These are some things I like on a Wednesday:
"How to Love:
Sweep into one corner
all your ego.
Set a match to it."
"Good people are good because they've come to wisdome through failure." William Saroyan
"Passive aggression makes a hell of a chew toy." Erin Fitzgerald
"The heart has reasons which reason does not know." Pascal
"Love consists in this, that two solitudes protect and touch and greet each other." Rilke
"There is plenty of courage among us in the abstract but not in the concrete." Helen Keller
"There is always something to be grateful for, including the ability to find something to be grateful for."
Monday, March 12, 2012
--PEOPLE KEEP SAYING WE KNOW EACH OTHER
...I had this story, "Ovation" published in the print journal, Black Fox Review. It's one of my favorite stories and I so adore Ruthie...
Before she died, Ruthie wanted to go skinny dipping.
She paid a man from the home named, Jay, to take her. They rode in the van with the bad shocks and she watched her skin bounce, heard it slap, her dermis the color and texture of tortillas. In the rearview, Ruthie saw herself as a series of shudders, a broke down woman with white dandelion seed hair strapped into a wheel chair unit. When she leaned forward she could pick out the sparkly bits of sliver-blue in her irises. Her eyes were the thing that had changed least over the years. She knew she’d never been beautiful, but Levi had gushed about her eyes. At first Ruthie thought he just wanted inside her skirt, but Levi never stopped remarking on their light, said the colors shifted in the sun, said it was like panning for gold. And so she’d believed him.
“Are we almost there?” Ruthie asked. It had been decades since she’d been so excited. Her stomach gurgled. She felt giddy and girlish.
Jay leaned over the headrest, his breath smelling awful of cigarettes. When he shot her a look, Ruthie knew not to ask again, not to push her luck just yet.
Levi was deeply muscled with skin like cooled lava, the first black man she’d ever befriended. He stared at her constantly and this made her feel as if she were being excavated. His consistent attention wasn’t overly sexualized, though. He just seemed very interested about her.
Levi worked on the other side of the lake doing landscaping for the Wheelers and one brave day Ruthie rowed across, tied the boat to the dock, and called to him.
His gaze went immediately to her eyes, gleaning something she was unable to discern. Sweat twisted down his neck, into his chest like inky rain and she was ashamed by how desperately she wanted to lick it off. Ruthie was not that kind of girl; she was a virgin and had only really kissed Tommy Pittman.
Levi smelled of mown grass and sour perspiration and Ruthie adored the aroma at once. She was exhausted with always having to be ironed and perfumed.
They talked for hours that day. And the next. And for days and days that summer.
Ruthie’s affection for Levi became dominating and exclusive. She knew she would never love another, but Ruthie soon learned that Levi’s fondness was simply that. He did not love her, not in the way Ruthie desired.
Levi loved a white man named Benedict.
To be homosexual back then, and to also mix races, was preposterous. Levi realized he was in a doomed affair, just as Ruthie knew she was now equally ill-fated.
Listening to Levi describe his yearning for Benedict was a paradoxical torture for Ruthie. He had opened up a place inside her that no one else could fill.
Levi confessed to Ruthie that he would meet Benedict on Friday nights in the hidden cove east of Storm Lake. They’d go skinny dipping.
“You should come!”
Ruthie laughed, but secretly she was holding herself back from having a heart attack. The thought of seeing Levi naked ran a hot blade of lust through her.
“Seriously, join us. We get there at nine. I’d love for you to meet Benedict.”
The days leading up to that Friday were impossible. Ruthie had decided she would do it; she would swim naked with her beloved and her beloved’s lover.
At the last minute, however, she chickened out. Convention got into her brain. Suddenly it all seemed ludicrous—her infatuated with a man who did feel the same. And to go skinny dipping with them!
Saturday morning her world burnt down.
Both Levi and Benedict had been found drowned, washed up in the cove with cattle rope strung around them, neck-to-neck.
Ruthie broke, actually felt something coming unhinged inside her, irreparable for all eternity.
That was sixty-seven years ago.
Now the river came into view.
Jay grumbled as he extricated Ruthie. “This is the worst idea ever,” he said, pushing her to the water’s edge.
“I paid you $1,000. Where else are you going to get that kind of money?”
Jay had fitted her with a life vest and tied a tow rope around her waist. He was ornery but strong and had no trouble lifting her into the water.
“Damn river’s ice cold,” Jay spat. He fed the rope some slack and Ruthie drifted out a few feet.
“Just do it.”
“You’re a nutty old broad.”
“I am,” Ruthie agreed. “But if you don’t keep your back turned for a full five minutes, I’ll report you to Nancy. I’ll tell her you hatched this plan, that you robbed me. I’ll see you ruined.”
Jay called her an antique female dog, but did as she requested.
Ruthie had worked her skirt off already. Next she undid the buttons of her blouse, and then she sawed a jackknife through the rope. She’d planned well, had even spent time sharpening the blade.
There. She floated. A current caught her at once. It was wonderful.
The waves sounded sloppy, like enthusiastic applause, an ovation.
She went under, which was perfect, because that gave her the ability to finagle the life vest off. When Ruthie came back to the surface, she was naked and Jack was a tiny bug on the shore.
She tilted her head back. She closed her eyes and listened to the water having its way with her. She did not protest. She felt Levi caressing parts of her no one had ever even seen, the parts she’d saved for him all these years.
And when some time later Ruthie went under for good, she heard Levi say, “Open your eyes, Baby Doll. I want to see your eyes again.”
Saturday, March 10, 2012
--I DON’T WANNA LET GO
…I thought about John yesterday. For no reason. Or maybe there was a reason.
I might have had a spark of loneliness. It might have been an anniversary I didn’t recall.
No matter: his face was like the blink of a power outage--there one second, then not.
I miss him.
It’s been 12 years now, and still I do.
When you grow up confused about loyalties, about basic concepts like love and family and the essence of what it means to be nurtured, you don’t become mistrustful of others so much as you lower your expectations—no one can disappoint you if you don’t expect a whole lot, right?
That’s more or less how I meandered through my first twenty years of living.
But then there was John.
I met him at a pivotal moment in my life.
He was already an industry legend.
He was six foot six, a tree of a man whose size you forgot almost at once.
He had a damaged knee from his NFL days. He had a bad hip, too, so he walked with a stilted gait like a tree bent by the wind, an accordion pinch at the waist.
His grin was what did you in. It was utterly boyish and unabashed, so authentic. You saw that, you saw John, you heard him laugh and saw him look you in the eye as if maybe you might be Jesus come back to earth and you immediately knew that he was the r e a l thing.
In some ways, John was like my best friend, an older brother, my Dad, a personal trainer-teacher-tutor-coach-confidant-mentor.
Do you have someone in your life like that? Have you ever? If you do or did, I think you’re pretty lucky. I think that’s a very rare thing, indeed.
I’d never met a person like John before then, and I haven’t since.
He was CEO of the fourth biggest retail company in America, yet he gave the very same attention to a stock kid as he did the President of a subdivision.
He loved the odd, quirky employees that the rest us shied—or ran--away from.
He was a freakishly good listener.
He was remarkably smart but had an “Aw shucks” Colombo quality.
He was a hugger.
He was always, always making people feel special.
He would say to a female employee, “Your hair sure looks pretty.”
He would say to a male employee, “You’re sure a handsome young buck. Do you know how lucky you are?”
He would say, “I don’t know how we’d get through this if you weren’t here.” He’d say that, looking you square in the eyes, and he’d mean it.
At an extremely swanky party in Manhattan, John once stood up (sober) atop a bar counter and shouted to a crowd of tight-assed analysts, “I LOVE RETAIL!!” so loud that the chandelier heaved and drinks toppled all across the room.
The balls on that man.
But he did love retail.
He loved people and life, too, and he taught me how to do the same.
He taught me that you shouldn’t be ashamed to express your love for the things you cherish. In fact, he saw it as a kind of duty—(which is why here, and other places, I always share the discoveries of a great book or movie or album...)
Some folks wish they were this or that celebrity, a sports star maybe. Me, I just want to be more like John.
After he left the company, John started rowing.
Evidentially, he was in such superb condition, that at age 50 (fifty!), he would have been considered for the Olympic Crew team.
I’m not sure if it was the strain of training which was the cause, but I do remember the time and weather, where I was and what was said to me and who said it, on the day I was told he’d died.
John was the first person I’d ever been close to who passed away. Before then, death was an aloof event, horrible to be sure, yet unfamiliar and distant.
John’s death shredded me.
At the funeral—only the second I’d ever attended—I couldn’t speak or look anyone in the eye. People in the pews chatted and smiled and gestured. It felt like blasphemy to me. I didn’t understand then that funerals are also rare occasions when old friends gather not only to celebrate the passing, but to reconnect with one another.
I hadn’t expected to write about John now, and certainly not here. It may not even make sense to you. You might think me a little nuts.
But that’s okay. I miss him, and the things he taught me. Here are a few off the top of my head:
--“Len, when people give you a compliment, don’t shake it off. Just say, ‘Thank you.’ It’s okay to let people make you feel good about yourself.”
--“Twice a day, for thirty seconds, find someone and tell them how much you love them and why.”
--“I think business would be a lot better if the executives in this ____ing company answered their own goddamn phone instead of saying on voicemail that they’re going to be busy all day in meetings.”
--“You should just go somewhere. Take a few hours--or the whole day, I don’t care--and dream. It doesn’t have to be anyplace special, just quiet. It can even be the library. I think you’ll be surprised by what you discover.”
--“You are a bright light.”
--“It’s not the managers, it’s the salespeople that know. Forget the fucking managers. From the mouths of babes, Len. From the mouths of babes.”
--“As a leader, you should really just be a jacket that gets thrown in the mud so your people don’t get dirty. Why else do you exist?”
--“Don’t you feel like you were just born for this?”
--“There are a lot of people counting on you. That right there should tell you something about yourself.”
--“If we’re going to do this, then damn it, we’re going to do it the best we can.”
-- “Soon everyone will know what a great leader you are.”
--“You can see who believes it. All you have to do is look into their eyes.”
--“All I ever wanted was my own Kool-Aid stand. I can do the rest.”
--“Bob Marley has a lot of answers. People just need to listen.”
--“Do you have a second? I want to show you something.”
--“You are really special. Do you know that? You are.”
Wednesday, March 7, 2012
--YOU HAVE THE BEST SMILE EVER
When I returned from Chicago, someone asked me what I’d learned at AWP, and also if they could print my reply.
They said they only wanted one sentence.
That’s a little like being asked to barrel rope a steer using duct tape.
Still I did it. I gave my best answer, clipped as it needed to be for their purposes.
But here are some others. Here are more things I learned at the conference…
…Apparently writers have bad days, bad luck, bad marriages, bad parents, bad sex with their bad boyfriends/girlfriends. They get bad haircuts, bad manicures, bad pap smears.
They have bad dreams and seem to regularly contract bad breath. They have bad pets who won’t obey. Karma is continually bad to authors. Writers have bad tricks played on them. They sometimes end up in bad bars listening to a bad ska band, or in a bad company, or even working for a bad company, say one that embezzles employee pensions.
Writers aren’t bad people, not at all, but bad things seem to happen to them all the time, or show up in their writing at least, which is what makes it all so very interesting.
Writers are people like anybody else--persons who’re just as impatient as the next bloke, with irritable bowels when they have to wait over 20 minutes for an elevator. They’re willing to cut you off in order to get a cab for themselves. They have sharp elbows and can be cocky for no apparent reason, or because they know someone who knows someone who has an agent or did have an agent back in the fall of 199_.
But mostly they’re very selfless. Mostly, writers are unusually kind and polite and pacifistic. Mostly, they go out of their way to make you feel as if you belong in their same, shared space.
Many writers are, by their nature, wallflowers. Shy. They color and fidget when you acknowledge their achievements or compliment them. They get suspicious when you do this, eyes skittering, cheek twitching as they ponder, “So what does this guy really want from me? I’m not an agent or editor, plus I’m broke.”
On the flip side, a large number of writers are extraordinarily brave. They’re not scared to stand naked in front of an audience being vulnerable exhibitionists.
Indeed, these same folks aren’t afraid to read their words, no matter how personal. They’re not frightened at all reading aloud very, very explicit sex scenes about orifices and appendages, about what those appendages are doing, and to whom, and for how long, and in what ways…
And on occasion, they’ll even read said sex scenarios while sets of parents/grandparents sit in the audience, straining to construct the erotic images, tapping the table and muttering, “Hold on. Hold on. For crying out loud, you’re reading too fast!”
Writers drink a lot. Some do. They feel duty-bound. After all, it’s a burden passed down from Fitzgerald to Hemingway to Bukowski.
Writers are real people with demons just like everyone else, but they get cathartically stoned when giving their demons names, then slashing them to ribbons, slowly, with barbwire. For most authors, slinging sentences is so therapeutic it’s akin to getting a foot rub from Freud.
Writers are curious, acutely aware of everything in their environs, and generally they are infatuated with the moon. They are moon stalkers. They fawn over it. They gawk and drool and have hundreds of descriptions for Luna. Some want to make love to it. Indeed, if it were human, the moon would need a restraining order.
Writers are generally more supportive than other tribes. They’re huggers, back-patters and congratulators. They know how lonely the craft is, how cunning it can be when one is in the midst of writing a novel or boxing writer’s block. They say things like, “You can do it,” or “Don’t worry what anyone else thinks, you’re talented.” They say, “A shot of Jameson always works for me.”
Writers have a sharp survival instinct. When threatened, even the most soft-spoken writer can transform themself. For instance, when they’re set to read in a raucous bar, before disinterested patrons, without a microphone, below a Boeing 747 engine blowing steamy, stale air—even then, the most meek writer will still do his or her best to bellow, “I SAW THE PALE MOON AND IT WAS WINKING AT ME…”
Writers know an array of swear words and are not afraid to use them.
Writers are more likely than not to play “Words With Friends”, and they would rather have a limb sawed off than let you win.
Writers are, obviously, creative, and this extends to their fashion sense. I saw a writer whose eye glass frames were swirling police sirens. I saw another whose face was masked completely in metallic cement. I saw several wearing ostrich outfits. Many writers, however, are simply your run-of-the-mill skinny-jean-wearing, four-day-old-whisker-wearing, flannel-shirt-hipster-cardigan wearing, thirty-year-olds-trying-to-appear-twenty-something’s—and, surprisingly, they pull it off with aplomb.
Of all the types of people there are on the planet, writers are my favorites. Even boring writers. Even bitter ones. If we can talk about the way words make us believe what we might not otherwise--as long as we can do that for even a little bit—well, I am one happy fellow.
Monday, March 5, 2012
--I GAVE A FALSE CONFESSION
…I’m still digging out from AWP. More to come in a bit. For now, here are some things I like that you might, too:
"Everywhere I go, a poet has been there before me." Sigmund Freud
"My constant fear of death. My wanting to hold things still so I can look at them forever. Not be part of this body that is growing old but somewhere in me seeking eternal life. Wanting to overcome death. Suicide is power over death in that you do it." Spalding Gray
"There are millions of suns left."
- Walt Whitman
"No man who has once heartily and wholly laughed can be altogether
irreclaimably bad." Thomas Carlyle
*One of the most beautiful lines he ever wrote was, “You look at me like a dying can of commodity meat.” (Commodity meat was what the country used to feed poor people before McDonalds came along.) Hasil Adkins
"I think that's how we leave, signaling our imposters to leave us." Erica Wright
Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia. -E.L. Doctorow
I read poetry to save time. - Marilyn Monroe
The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources. - Albert Einstein
For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror, which we still are just able to endure. - Rilke
Every act of creation is first an act of destruction. - Pablo Picasso
Keep your face always toward the sunshine - and shadows will fall behind you. - Walt Whitman
“For all sad words of tongue and pen, The saddest are these..."It might have been.” John Greenleaf Whittier
“Fate is like a strange, unpopular restaurant filled with odd little waiters who bring you things you never asked for and don't always like.” Lemony Snicket
"The only service a friend can really render is to keep up your
courage by holding up to you a mirror in which you can see a noble
image of yourself." George Bernard Shaw
Friday, March 2, 2012
--I THINK OF YOU LIKE A CELEBRATION
...Greetings from Chicago, from Chi town.
Chicago is a wonderful city. It has much of the energy of New York, but the wide boulevards leave it feeling less congested and less intense, which can be construed as both good or not. And then there are walkway bridges at certain junctures where you're overlooking the river and all this extraordinary scenery of roman gothic architecture and skyscrapers that has the feel of something Italian and you almost expect a gondolier to float by singing.
And I know why they call it the windy city. Last night my face flew off. I tried to catch it, got hold of my jaw, but if just zipped off--frozen as it was--but alas it was useless.
There are advantages and disadvantages to not having a face.
Especially in crowded spaces.
Especially here at AWP.
...So, yes, AWP. How do I even start? This thing is a massive amoeba, a small city unto itself. Often it takes fifteen minutes until the elevator opens and even then you may or may not have to wait for the next one to be empty.
I've met so many fantastic people that I've either known virtually or that I've just admired. The list is very long. I may share that later.
I've been at a number of readings. Reading your work live is truly an art form. You can have a strong piece but if you don't deliver it in a compelling, theatrical way, it more or less will suck and people will drift or lean over and blather onto the closest friend seated next to them. I heard some really strong readers and some surprisingly weak, meek-voiced ones.
Sarah Rose Etter was a presence on stage, as was xTx. They slayed it. I heard them last night at The Beauty Bar for the Pank/Anamela reading.
I read earlier at a Connotation Press event. There were 28 writer/readers. I went second to last. It was a long, narrow, Irish pub with a loud, airplane motor-type air vent hovering above that you had to project over in order to be heard. It was a little like shouting, like yelling underwater.
I was nervous. I don't understand--why after years of speaking to throngs of hundreds every week when I was in the corporate world--I get nervous in front of a gaggle of writers.
But I was a little antsy.
Still, I think I did all right. I read "Missing Chance" (which should be here under "Words in Print.") It was my 9th acceptance ever, published in Elimae, and named one of the best 50 online stories of 2009 by Wigleaf magazine.
Writers are interesting people. For the most part, they're friendly and open. In some settings, when you're just meeting them for the first time, say, they are aloof or cold or even suspicious, which is odd and discomforting considering--Hey, we're both part of the same community, you jerk or B.
But I guess writers are just people. Even the famous ones, the populars ones. Even those you admire.
...I hope you had and are having a stellar week. Thanks for reading. I really appreciate it. I likely will not post again until I'm home, Sunday night, but then you never know.
...Here's something I saw/read that I thought was great in it's own way--
"The last time I saw him he was walking down lover's lane holding his own hand." Fred Allen
So much to say.