I like ’em short

I’ve been reading and writing novel length works lately. I belong to a few online book groups and people are always posting great reviews of this book or that. Sometimes I pick them up, sometimes I like them. It’s hard for me to find that book that hits the sweet spot – the perfect mix of good writing and a good story.

I love the exceptional use of language. That’s a talent.

In my literature and writing classes, I use Best American Short Stories. I chanced upon an old copy the other day. I read half of the first story and felt engaged, awakened!

Picking up the book of short stories immediately energized me with ideas for short fiction.

The joy of reading a short story happens because they’re tight, no nonsense needed, straight to the point, well written and excellently executed niblets of fiction.

The joy of writing a short story is the challenge. The point, the characters, the setting all expertly set up in concise wording in a small period of time. The use of language is easier to control, the beauty and rhythm easier to accomplish.

I once belonged to a short story group. It was so gratifying to read the short fiction. If you didn’t like what someone chose, you could still read the ten or twenty pages and talk about it. It’s not 300 pages of silently cursing your book group.

So… I’m going to recommend some books of short fiction. Of course, I recommend the Best American Short Story Series. Wonderful writing by newbies and scholars alike!

And mine: But also – I’m a huge fan of Jo Rousseau and Ron Terranova.

Jo Rousseau and Ron Terranova also have websites/blog. Stop by and check them out!

Gratitude

I am four, standing in the doorway of a pawn broker’s shop at the corner of E.152nd and St. Clair Avenue. My brother is kicking the door frame while my mother throws words over her shoulder. There’s a younger sister in the stroller next to my mother, and another in her belly. My mother is young, younger than I will ever remember.

She’s pawning her wedding ring – again – because we are out of milk and bread – again – .

I am giddy. Standing in front of my refrigerator. Grateful for a life in which my children will never go hungry.

Memories are said to play favorites. The more you think of one thing, the better you’ll remember it. The less you think of another thing, you’re likely to forget.

I rarely visit the past. Maybe I’m trying to forget. But there’s enough snippets left to keep me basking in gratitude for the life I have.

The Soul is Sold One Piece at a Time

Do you remember who you were so many years ago when you began this journey so full of dreams? MTV was novel and the world was wide open.

The first pinch might be the hardest. It’s such a small, small thing. A tiny piece of flesh in exchange for what seemed like so much.

What’s another pinch?

Because the world is so big.

The city is made of blocks and on those blocks are neighborhoods, and somewhere in those neighborhoods you stopped feeling the pain,

around the corner is where you began to buy in. You didn’t even realized you had wandered so far from the home of your soul.

The world is four walls with an internet connection. We travel so far without going anywhere at all. It’s safe and warm and full proof. The commercialism of promise. The bindings of success.

Within, that child waits for second life.

It’s all over now

The long covid winter has has taken so much. Our days languish. Our nights persist.

And I have adopted men’s pajamas.

The need for attractive shoes disappeared within weeks of the lock-down; the stylish pants and dresses went soon after. By summer, we donned our yoga pants and tennies. When the first chill of autumn blew the leaves from the trees, we switched to sweats where we have lived quietly, but not quieted, through the holidays – unveiling pretty sweaters in our above the waist zoom camera-shots.

January sprung confidence in the new year. But February rolled in, hope stilled in the cold snow, and it happened. The wind chill dropped and the dryer broke. Sitting on the coffee table, a forgotten gift, still wrapped – I tugged the ribbon and unpacked the thermal flannels. I studied them begrudgingly for a single moment before I slipped them on.

Warmth.

The lust for spring freedom is shackled. It can waste away in dreams now.

I have donned men’s pajamas and may never leave my writing desk ever again.

Lay it down

I love when story, seemingly already written on an ephemeral cloud, comes to us. The words pour down and we lay them on the page. They are marshaled in divine design.

It feels like magic, like power. This is genius and, we, the mere conduits.

Then…

There are those stories that drag us pathetically across the calloused black top, burn our fingers and crook our spines, harboring a shadowed threat of what it might become – one day.

We are not magic or power or even conduit, we are witch and warlock and cursed all at once, damned to live an obscure existence sucking on green m-n-m’s and cold coffee.

One moment sailing the skies, the next scouring gutters for unredeemed inspiration.

It’s a writer’s life.

Not for the weakened soul.

Death and Karma

Some years ago, a lovely new writer appeared one Saturday at the wooden kitchen table of our host’s home where we met regularly for critique group. A woman with long, blonde hair, beautiful blue eyes, who shared that she’d almost drowned.

Being washed into the Pacific undercurrent and sinking down, down, down, in this near death experience, she began to relive certain events in her life, but not from her point of view. She became her mother dealing with a rebellious teenage daughter; she landed in her lover torn to shreds and heartbroken.

She relived the emotions of those whom she had caused pain.

What a gift! Or, maybe, a curse.

This inspired me to wonder if we die the way we live. Death and karma. Was that lovely woman a selfish, thoughtless human, and her experience was to feel that pain she’d caused others?

If you’re a horrible human being, do you die a slow painful death? If you allowed kittens to suffocate, do you die gasping for breath?

I know someone who caused a lot of pain to others and he developed a disorder, later in life, in which every little bump would bruise and swell in painful edemas. A callous could glow into an infection. He spent the last years of his life in more pain that he might of caused.

However, I know plenty of lovely humans who have died in unfavorable circumstances. Certainly, that wasn’t karma.

I choose to move through this life causing as little pain and unhappiness as possible.

But it’s not because of the fear of death. It’s not even the fear of karma. There is so much pain and vexation in this world already – I don’t need to add any more to anyone’s life. I’d rather add laughter, happiness, joy. Not that I always succeed. This still is life.

I remember that woman from our critique group, her story, her presence because she yelled at me. Upon reading my story, the group began to respond. She became outraged and began gesticulating wildly. “You can’t write this. This will hurt people. You will pay for this. You can’t write this.”

I reflected on this and asked the group – after she was removed by our host – does my story lack empathy?

I attempt to create characters and stories that express the range of human emotions, the best of which teeter on the axis of sympathy and empathy. My writing partners and my readers believe I’ve achieved that.

I believe in karma in some sense. I believe what we put out there, we receive back in one way or another. Maybe death is random. Maybe not.

*

The Crier is about a world where empathy is questionable. It appears a single Kindle Story and it appears in How to Throw a Psychic a Surprise Party.

*

Thank you for reading. Be well.

Fear

For many years, I have walked confidently on the stones in the stream, believing the fall not that deep, won’t hurt that much.

The truth is that the fall might not be very deep, might not hurt at all – it’s the fear of the fall that worms it’s way into the squirmy regions of my brain. That’s where all fear starts – somewhere deep inside the brain which is supposed to warn us of danger. We begin to feel it all though our bodies.

I come from a legacy of anxiety.

I, however, have never subscribed to the fear. I’ve never allowed it to control me or my life. In fact, I pushed back by crashing through obstacles of all sorts, by caving, and diving with sharks, traveling to far away places, and teetering on the edge of canyons for selfies. Yes, I’m one of those!

This past year, however, those rocks seem far more precarious than I ever noticed. The water rushes past so quickly, loosening the stones, unsteadying the path.

When I take one step at a time, I’m okay. If I look at the other side, if I concern myself with two or three stones ahead, I begin to panic.

Walk steady. Walk slowly. Head high. Believe it will all be okay. The other side is nearer than it seems.

Link to publications

Success Stories

I didn’t grow up with a lot of positive role models. There were not many (if any) people in our neighborhood who were looked up to as success stories.

I can see my neighbors, even now, from the concrete steps of our four unit blond brick building on S*** Avenue in Collinwood. Across the street, Francis. She had Lucille Ball red hair and sat on her porch from 9am to 9pm, beer in hand. Next door, a single mother who worked at a bar and brought work home with her – in all sorts of ways. Next to her, a retired old man who sat across from Francis with his own beer in hand. His wife, Goldie, was a sweet woman whose toes twisted around one another, feet mangled, she said from twenty years of high heeled waitressing. On the other side, a retired railroad worker, no patio, so he sat in his kitchen hand wrapped around a cold beer.

There were bars on every corner. T & M’s could be seen from the porch. Strangers and neighbors stumbling out with the music pouring onto the street.

The teenagers went to high school, married the boyfriends who beat them, and set up house on the next block. A few got away, I’m sure. But I can list many more who died young or ended up in prison. My teenage crushes are dead now. One was shot in the head, the other crushed under the wheels of a truck. I never got into drugs, thought those who smoked and drank acted silly, stupidly, dangerously. Girlfriends recall tales of waking up half naked, uncertain if anything happened. That wasn’t the memory – or lack of memory – I wanted.

Mostly, I felt limited. I felt outcast. I didn’t seem to belong with any particular crowd or group or gang. I wanted something more, something different, and I didn’t know where to turn. Getting out and getting away seemed the only answer for me. I didn’t know what might meet me beyond the borders of the familiar, but there was no safety and no options in the familiar.

Someone once said – it was very brave of you to travel across country on your own and start over alone. I hadn’t considered it was “brave.” I’d believed it was my only choice, my only chance. She offered, the world is a dangerous place for a young woman to do such a thing. Sometimes home is a dangerous place. Limiting yourself is dangerous. Not fulfilling your potential is dangerous. Living a life in which you’re completely unhappy is dangerous. Sometimes, saving yourself, however scary the unknown is, is your only choice.

 

Superman

FB_IMG_1591759669613