Ode to the Lonely Flip-Flop

Ode to the Lonely Flip-Flop

20170113_123932We drive under a telephone line that is completely booked by a row of fat pigeons all squinting in unison in the direction of the orange sherbert glow of morning sun.  “Look,” I say out loud in spite of what the rest of the passengers in the vehicle think. “Dawn Patrol.” From what I gather, these greasy little sky-rats  are here every morning, holding a meeting on the same wire.They remind me of their slacker seagull cousins who squat together on the beach, and all face the same direction waiting for that perfect wind, like surfers who wait for that perfect wave. These guys remind me of a story that I started a few years ago. It’s nowhere near finished, but I need to get back to it soon.

My son in the back seat watches the world float by his window while quietly grazing on dry breakfast cereal. We are on our way to pick up his cousin and drop him off at daycare. En route, we notice a child’s flip-flop in the middle of the road. Actually, it would be more accurate to say we noticed the child’s flip-flop because it’s been there for two days. It doesn’t look abused or broken in any way, just abandoned. Forgotten.

I could smell the slightest whiff of a poem about an abandoned shoe as an allegory about society in general gently rolling in like that perfect breeze meant for seagulls. The beginning of a random metaphor started to form in my head that I planned to use at a later date, when I hear, “I wonder why you only ever see one shoe in the road,” my son’s mother said. “It’s never a pair of shoes, it’s only one. I wonder why that is?”

I can feel the Train of Thought pull away from the station. I had to seriously contemplate when was the last time I saw a pair of shoes abandoned and discarded in a place they weren’t supposed to be. I have never seen a pair of Keds on the ground as if they were some victim of some heinous violation cast aside and left to rot in the gutter. I thought about it longer than I would have liked to. It kind of bothered me, truth be told. Because, not only was it another unknown that might be worth at least a few minutes of research for… I dunno… in case I get swept up in bar trivia at the local Chili’s, but counting this scenario, along with the birds taking in a sunrise, and the cereal munching munchkin in the back seat (whom I’ll come back to in a minute), it now looks like I have a few more ideas to build stories around. The last thing I need right now is to add to my growing list of works in progress.

I mean, is there an epidemic of singular shoes dotting the landscape? Do other people notice this? Does the lost shoe feel a sense of detachment and ennui because its favorite sock got eaten by a dryer and now feels lost without it? Is feral footwear common? What about other articles of clothing? How do they feel about it? How often do they get cast aside?

These things are the sugar in my coffee. These are the things that give me a warm fuzziness in my belly because it feels like my obsessive nature has finally been directed into a more positive, and less destructive path. Over the past few years, I have turned into a storytelling savant. I’m constantly asking “what would happen if..?” and among other things, I try very hard to not use zombies as a McGuffin because I ran out of ideas. “At long last, Frank and Carol could now share that kiss in the happy home of their dreams. But they couldn’t because zombies. The end.

Every week, I eagerly await another Chuck Wendig Flash Fiction challenge. Sometimes I play, sometimes I feel a little too out of shape. Other times I collect story prompts like seashells, and of course, there are those moments when something that can’t be easily explained comes charging into my personal space, like say, figuring out why one shoe ends up in the road and not the pair. Instead of defaulting to logic and reason to explain it (which is really boring and smells an awful lot like bullshit), I prefer instead to faceplant directly into the blueberry pie of “Just Make Shit Up” (which might be tedious to the listener, but dagnabbit, it’s not my fault that you ask the most random crap and expect something extremely insightful and intellegent to roll off my tongue.You ask a rhetorical question, you get a left field answer. Deal with it.). I mean, I’m a storyteller. Storytellers…tell stories. How else do you think this works?

I can’t take on other projects. Not right now. My current first draft is nearly complete, and I’ll jump into revising the beast over the course of the next few days. I have several other half started projects right behind this one that need to be finished. These projects are moving slower than I’d like because writing is only taking up a little of my day. When I’m not writing, I’m taking my son to therapy (details, and perhaps the whole point of this post below), and when I’m not doing that, I’m taking care of the family. Which is why it may be dangerous to draw my attention to something that will cater to my obsessiveness like a lonely shoe.

As a Crime Action Drama

Mr. Deveraux could not stop his limbs and extremities from twitching, while Mrs. Deveraux remained the stronger of the two, and opted instead to chew off the skin around her cuticles. Their home has always been a peaceful sanctuary, they’ve fussed over it for years to get it to that point. But this morning was almost too much to process. Melinda had been missing for a little over twelve hours. Since that time, almost an entire squadron of police officers had taken up residence in their once pristine stainless steel kitchen with laptops and various pieces of tracking equipment that they’ve never heard of, and they weren’t entirely sure, but it looked like there were a couple of FBI agents huddled closely in the hallway talking about something, looking grim.

The Lead Investigator’s voice was soothing, almost hypnotic. “We are all going to get through this,” he said. “We are going to get your daughter back. I have called in our finest to track these guys down. Also, once word got out that it might be the Oaxaca cartel, the FBI became very interested. Whoever did this is going to have a very bad day, understand?” Melinda’s parents do their best to acknowledge. “Good, now when that phone rings, I’m gonna need you to remain calm, and act normal.” Mrs. Deveraux laughs an empty laugh, because her normal felt like it has been trodden under by so many police issued boots in her garden full of mums.

When the phone finally did ring, it was as if everyone started breathing again in unison. As if they were allowed. A technician punched in a code into his laptop, and gave a signal to the Lead Investigator. The Lead Investigator donned his headphones, and gave the cue for Mr. Deveraux to lift up the receiver.

“Hello?” The tremble in his voice choked back hard.
“Do you have the money?” The voice at the other end was computer generated. The expressions on the cops faces let the Deveraux’s know that they were dealing with professionals.
“Do you have my daughter?” Mr. Deveraux sneered, “Is she still alive, you son of a bitch?”

The next voice wasn’t computer generated. It was the sound of Melinda, scared, hopeless, weeping, but very much still alive. Mrs. Deveraux clasped her hands over her mouth to stifle whatever might be pushed out of it.

“You have such a pretty child, Mr. Deveraux,” the emotionless voice continued. “Her eyes are quite captivating. It would be such a shame if she were missing one.”
“You bastard!” Mr. Deveraux bellowed. “If one hair is out of place on her head, I swear to God I will…”
“Do you have my money or not, Mr. Deveraux?”

The Lead Investigator nodded silently to Mr. Deveraux. “Yes,” he said. “Yes, I have your money.”
“Excellent,” the voice replied. “Now, listen very carefully, this is what I need you to do next. I need you to grab an article of clothing that belongs to Melinda.” The Lead Investigator snapped his fingers at a cadet to whisper something in his ear. When he was finished, the cadet ran upstairs to her room. “I need you to take that piece of clothing and drop it on the corner of 5th and Elm. Walk across the street and when a brown Oldsmobile parks in front of you, get in the back seat.”

The cadet reappears holding a tiny, pink flip-flop. The Lead Investigator holds it up for Mr. Deveraux to see. “I’ll be using one of her flip-flops, will that do?”
“That will suffice,” the voice said.
“Will my daughter be in the car? Where are you taking me?”
“Be ready at 10:30. Bring the money.” The line went dead.

As A Middle-Grade Fantasy Novel

It rained the night before, and when the kids were waiting for the bus the next morning, none of them seemed too worried that the sun  was hidden by the clouds. The lack of sunshine made everything look dull, except for Rebecca’s very pink backpack and Mark’s very yellow rain slicker.

On the other side of the street, in the old lot where the old drug store used to be, there sat a very white sneaker. Shoelaces untied, and sitting upright collecting rain. Rebecca noticed it briefly before her friends started talking about lip gloss. Mark didn’t notice it at all because he doesn’t like talking to too many people. Charlie noticed it right away, and he knew exactly what it meant.

It means the Fog Giants have returned. There was going to be plenty of long nights ahead.

~***~

See, things like this are a bone for me to chew on. It’s things like this that make me remember why I should carry a notebook everywhere I go. It’s things like this that yank my attention away from whatever I’m working on at the moment. So please, for the sake of progress, don’t allow me to occupy my mind with such things. It’s bad enough that I’m reminded about that part of my WIP where a flock of blackbirds sitting on a telephone wire.

It also doesn’t help that I have tied that project to the other thing that we are leaving the house for. Let me get back to that.

Recently, I have posted about my son, and how he wants to talk at length about anything, but he hasn’t developed the skill to form words yet. I have always been of the opinion that he will come around to it, but still, there were other characteristics that were telling us that he might need a little help.

The problem was recognizing that he had a problem to begin with. He’s still two, and he’s still trying to get used to things like eating a proper meal, or sleeping in his own bed, or learning words, or not being so focused on certain things. It was hard to tell if he was being difficult, or if there was something more sinister afoot.

To put our minds at ease, we tested him for hearing and vision, and determined that the best course of action would be to see a speech therapist. After a few months of regular sessions, we have made small breakthroughs and tiny miracles. But, for all the progress we have made in regards to getting him to say the simplest words, it didn’t solve the mystery as to why he still flaps his arms when he gets really excited, or why he prefers to walk on his toes.

To REALLY put our minds at ease, we went back to his pediatrician to finally ask the question we’ve been putting off for too long. Is our son autistic? It only took a few minutes of an unofficial yet very effective method of determining he wasn’t to give us some relief. But with that burden taken away from us, and most importantly, from him, we were still in the dark as to what seems to be affecting him.

It took a less than fruitful session with his speech therapist to have her bring our attention to something called Sensory Processing Disorder. It’s a very real condition that affects mostly children. It often mimics autism, but it isn’t autism. It is a very real condition, and the cruelest aspect of this condition is, it’s not recognized officially as a real condition.

To put it simply, SPD is where the person has a difficult time responding or reacting to whatever stimuli they’re exposed to. Think of trying to process something as simple as walking along a beach. Everything you experience, the feel of the sand between your toes, the smell of the salt air, the sound of surf, all collide at the same time like traffic weaving through a poorly attended intersection at rush hour. Everything is snarled and not going anywhere too soon. Reaction times in the individual with this disorder are slowed, or often times, not present at all. Or in the case of my son, happening all at once to trigger this extremely excitable reaction where he flaps his arms, open his mouth wide like a lead singer of a metal band, and have a vein or two swell up in his neck.

It is a very real condition. Unfortunately, no one in the healthcare community can come to a consensus on how to define it. Look, is it on spectrum, or is it another version of OCD? Figure it out and get back to us.

It is quite cruel.

Fortunately, my son isn’t at that level. He’s quite happy, and he’ll respond to things and look you in the eye and talk to you…the best he can. But he’ll still do it on his own terms.

Because SPD isn’t uniform and has a broad definition, and has the traits of something else without being that something else, and it does different things to different people, there has been no formal diagnosis of this condition. That means doctors can’t officially prescribe anything, let alone talk about it. The only thing they can do is suggest Occupational Therapy.

Which is where we were going to this morning, my son and I. This is where we’ve gone for the past few months.20170114_104609

His speech therapy is touch and go. He’ll either be in the mood to say something or nah. Occupational Therapy, on the other hand, is so… much… COOLER! There’s a ball pit! And big bouncy balls! And a tunnel and more toys! It’s a process of learning through playing…or what we used to call it in my day…playing. Occupational therapy is a welcome supplement to his boring ol’ speech therapy. And I think the biggest takeaway from attending these sessions, is my child has to take the lead as to what he wants to do. It’s up to the adults to go along and work with it. So, it’s a learning process for me too.

So, I suppose I could be one of these concerned parents and talk at length about getting your child screened and look for the warning signs and blahblahblah. “I need you to feel empathy for my baby because reasons!” But, I don’t feel like it, and I’m sure he wouldn’t appreciate it either. He’s not sick. He’s normal, he just needs a little boost. And while I could be the loudest crusader to get this condition the recognition it deserves, I really don’t think that’s necessary. It is what it is. It’ll probably stick with him for the rest of his life, but we caught it early enough so he’ll know how to deal with it when he gets older, and that’s all we can do right now. Still though, it would be nice to see him walk normally, talk normally. I love my boy, and I’m happy with my boy. I am proud of every one of his accomplishments every day.

I could complain, but I’d rather deal with it in my own way.

He has several quirks. That’s all they are. Just quirks. Things he does. Most of them are indicative of the condition he has, the rest are all his. And instead of Googling what they all are and fret until I mis-diagnose the hell out of it, I have decided to make him the hero of his own story.

Because, I’m a Storyteller. It’s what we do.

He chuckles in his sleep. It’s the most adorable thing in the world. He also likes to look up at the sky while he’s walking. It’s his preferred activity over anything else to do outside. Recently, I was stringing Christmas lights around the house. I switched them on, and as he was passing by with eyes cast skyward he said, “Bye!” It wasn’t directed to anyone. It was directed to the lights. At first, rationality took over. “Well,” I thought to myself. “Maybe it has something to do with the red bulbs, and somehow relating them to watching taillights move down the driveway every morning as his mom goes to work.” Red light means someone’s leaving, which means “Byyyye! See you laytor!

So, instead of freaking out, I just think of the lonely flip-flop…

Untitled Story Idea…

A family moves to a haunted house, and it’s a house that hasn’t been lived in for a very long time. The ghosts that reside there, mainly an old married couple, have been there for a very long time, and haven’t found a way to leave. The only person in the family that knows it’s haunted is the toddler, and he isn’t saying much. The ghosts aren’t very good at scaring people out of the house, because no one has lived there for such a long time, and they couldn’t find it within them to scare them because they were grandparents at one time. So, they spend most of their time looking after the children to make sure they don’t get into trouble. Somewhere along the line, the ghosts figure out that if they can get the baby to laugh, then the hold that this house has on them begins to loosen. Good deeds remembered, they are allowed to pass on once Christmas lights are hung and illuminated.

~***~

Another one of his quirks, and this is something his mother and I need to focus on, is that he has this obsession with doors. The way they open and close, if they latch or not, if they have a lever or knob, do they squeak, how much effort is needed to go through it. We REALLY lose him at the grocery store where the doors open on their own. *GASP! What sorcery is THIS?* He will literally spend the better part of an hour opening and closing doors. It’s something that we learn to live with.

I’m not sure how to break his fascination with them. Once he gets on a door binge, it’s hard to stop, and that’s something that we are slowly learning at Occupational Therapy. It appears that both of my children have their father’s obsessive nature.

There are good days, and there are bad days. But mostly, they’re good. His OT is quite adept at getting him away from his door habit and directing him to playing with blocks and puzzles, and as a result, his obsession has diminished. What hasn’t diminished is my own curiosity. “Why doors?” I ask to myself…in the same tone as “Why one shoe?”

Revision to ‘Kids of St. Anthony’

Story so far:

A social worker who has lost her child to cancer, and as a result, going through a divorce, is now set to task for finding homes for three young siblings. They reside at St. Anthony’s Home for Wayward children; an orphanage. For the most part, all the children that reside there are normal children, but there is a wing of the church that not a lot of people know about. It’s the wing where they put the “special” children.

The oldest of the three (based on my youngest daughter) has a habit of drawing what appears to be circles on paper with crayon. The middle child has hushed conversations with people who aren’t there, and the youngest cannot cope will unless there is an animal present.

To the system, to the nuns that run this place and to the social worker, these children are perceived to have special needs.

It turns out, they’re partially right. The youngest needs to be in close proximity to animals, because they can talk to him, and that’s how he has been in touch with the outside world. The middle child as actually holding conversations with ghosts. They warn her of danger and teach her history. The oldest, who looks as though she draws in anger and frustration with every circle getting deeper as each crayon gets ground down, is actually drawing very intricate talismans that are crafted to protect all of them. All three children team up with the social worker to solve mysteries and stuff. She ends up adopting them…until zombies…the end.

UPDATE:

First of all, enough of the frickin’ zombies.

Second of all, it might be wise to turn this into a series and expand the universe. Because all the cool kids are doing it!

Why not have this orphanage be home to other children with secret abilities? Maybe it’s been a home for children like this for a long time. Like this one child who shows no attention to the world around him, except when it comes to doors. He might come in handy in a pinch.

The bad guys are closing in on our heroes, and the youngest child is feverishly opening and closing a door to a closet; essentially, opening a door to nowhere. At the right time, he opens this door to nowhere, and it turns out that it’s a door to somewhere. They all escape danger because a toddler opened a closet door to reveal a field of wheat somewhere on the other side of the world…next chapter.

Conclusion

This is me blogging because I need a kick in the ass. This post has taken a week in re-writes and has ended up being approximately half the length of my current first draft. It feels like I’m stalling, but I need free up the log jam in my head.

It’s important to let you know that I haven’t gone anywhere.

I would love to write a short story a week, as I’ve pointed out previously. Respectfully, I’m not sure when Mr. Bradbury laid down the gauntlet about doing this, but I’m fairly certain he didn’t have to take care of kids and household at the same time. Right now, I’d be satisfied if I could finish a chapter a week.

This year will be the year I wrangle all of these ideas that land in front of me and turn them into something interesting maybe. I’m hoping that I will be able to find more time to get to them, but the chances of that are quite small. As much as I’d like to lock myself away in a shack in the middle of the woods, my kids need me right now.

And they are most important.

More to come.
Watch this space.

©2017 AA Payson

In Regards To My Absence…

In Regards To My Absence…

drinkandwritefordisplayThe first thing that I want to do when it comes to filling in my readers on where I’ve been for the past couple of months, is to rattle off this laundry list of things that people normally do, only to catch myself and think, “Who cares? Everyone is in the same boat.” Personal issues and familial obligations override everything at the end of the year. It’s nothing unusual. It’s necessary.

At least, that’s what I want to think as dozens of authors and editors crank out post after post of evergreen content to boost their SEOs and stuff. They know what to do. They know how to make themselves known. How to be present, how to sustain themselves online.

Me? I cleaned out my coffee maker the other day, and I felt like a god for 10 minutes.

I could fake my way through this. I could boldly go where everyone has gone before, and break no new ground. I could do the old Listicle thing and get all the clicks. Chicks dig clicks. Big clicks.

But that’s not me. I’ve gone over this before, and I’m not in the mood to kick that horse again.

I started this post with a head full of snark. I had every intention on laying on the dad jokes, and assume an air of jocularity whilst bullshitting my way through the aforementioned excuses…

But this year has found a way to make my heart heavy.

Not just with heroes from my childhood dropping one by one, not just because of a newly elected dictator of the United States becoming a reality.

It’s everything.

The end of the year can be overwhelming. It usually is. Whatever time I’ve allotted for myself, thin though it may be throughout the rest of the year, has become extinct on the First day of November. It’s hard to think straight. It’s hard not to slip from just the normal winter blues to full blown depression. The result being, nothing gets done. Nothing other than taking care of the kids, and the house, and many other things. Come November first, I check out. I don’t resume any writing activity until long after the ball has dropped in New York City, and cause celebre has silenced.

Spending a lot of time on Twitter doesn’t help kill the blues either. The madness of the world. The shortsightedness of people. Every word is a punch, or a random shoulder check from stranger on a subway; cold, apathetic and willing to accept its own destruction. It is a cold place filled with angry people, and it’s so easy to become part of the chorus. Finding another stranger to verbally throw my shoulder into became more important than writing something meaningful.

It has warped my soul. Although on the bright side, framing an idea in 140 characters or less is good practice for succinctness. Still, there is writing to be done. And brawling on social media doesn’t change that fact.

Plus, as anyone, especially the authors and writing gurus who dispense advice on their blogs will tell you, writing is friggin’ hard.

Dispensing advice is always good to get people to return to your blog. So are motivational quotes. One of which was in my feed the other day. It was from Ray Bradbury.

“Write a short story every week. It’s impossible to write 52 bad stories in a row.”

I was on G+, which is the equivalent of finding a spot in an open field and kicking your shoes off and staring at clouds. I just left a marathon Twitter slapfight, so my mood might have been a little dark at the time. My reply was…

bradbury

 

Mr. Bradbury is, and always will be, one of my greatest literary heroes. Most of my teen years was spent with a copy of The Illustrated Man in my backpack. Still though… going by recent experience, there might be a possibility that his stated theory could be proven false.

Just get me in front of a keyboard. I’ll show you what’s possible.

A little harmless snark was just enough to elevate the mood a little, and it was good.

Still, there was writing to be done.

Ideas for projects have lined themselves up like taxis outside of an airport terminal in my Scrivener. All of them are idyl, none of them have a place to go.

The story I’m working on now, I might have given a little too much room to grow, and might need to reign it in. (Given that the definition of “short story” depends on who you ask, I set my word count to 20,000 words. I honestly don’t think it might see a third of that).Turning it into a shorter, short story might be good insurance that it gets done.

And then, I can move on to the next one, then the next. Then, the next. And then hopefully by mid-August, I would have sharpened my writing skills beyond 140 characters. I guess, the longer I thought about it, the more…I want to say plausible it became (I hesitate on plausible. I’m a little tired of making promises I can’t keep).

I have given this a lot of thought. And by that, I mean briefly mulled it over while sipping a beer. I might…MIGHT be able to do this. Maybe I can write a story a week for a year. I don’t want to make promises, but I already have a head start. I’d still want to publish on my own so I can finally PROVE that I’m a legitimate word monkey, so maybe post a highlight of the text. Whet people’s appetites. Generate interest. Evergreen. SEO. Yippee!

It is now well passed midnight on Monday, January 2nd. In a matter of hours, I will be another year older. Tomorrow, I will start on a year long journey to see how far and how often I can meet this challenge.

Happy New Year, everyone. The crapfest that was 2016 couldn’t end soon enough. The slate is now clean. No more picking fights with strangers. No more hiding away. Time to get shit done.

 

Keep On Keeping On Like a Bird That Flew…

Keep On Keeping On Like a Bird That Flew…

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via GIPHY

What is the essence of Rock & Roll?

Fame? Money? Noise? Pissing off your parents? A violent soundtrack to subvert and bring down the current establishment?

To a geezer like me who’s old enough to remember when MTV actually had music on their… ya know… music channel, it could be any number of those things. I say this as someone who spent his early teens consuming mass quantities of Hair Metal, whose main messages are all about fame, money and the rest.

And, I suppose it is what it is. Those embarrassing years from when KISS went disco, to the moment Axl Rose threw a temper tantrum at the beginning of a concert breaking up the band in the process, it was the next, inevitable, logical step that Rock music had to get to in order to survive. Yes, it was abrasive and deafening, and some of it sounded like it was written by a fifteen year old who found the liquor cabinet. Yes, more emphasis was placed on theatricality rather than musicianship. At that particular point in time, in the dark days before Nirvana, that’s what Rock was; obnoxious, easily consumable, and increasingly ridiculous¹.

Sure, it was pretty to look at like a Michael Bay explosion, and loud as fuck, and oh boy, is his guitar AWESOME, and wow Tommy Lee is a full blown maniac. But aside from that, could we draw a direct line from Little Richard to Kurt Cobain? Are we doing a service to the trail blazers by acknowledging their contemporaries?

The answer is no. Of course not, dummy. More Neil Young, less Cinderella if you want to pay respect. Rock music is never about straight lines or following rules, or repeating what came before. The essence of Rock & Roll is finding that one thing that inspires you, picking it up, making it your own, and leaving it in a different state than when you found it. The origin of the term can be bandied about ad nauseam, but this is the essence of what Rock & Roll means. It means putting your stamp on something, and in doing so, altering the shape and sound of it to inspire others. Like a large object rolling down a hill and causing other things to roll along with it.

Something… like …a rolling stone, perhaps?

Robert Zimmerman knew this more than most. He was influenced by Little Richard when he was younger, but somewhere along the way, he knew that there was something else to it  He knew rock music wasn’t just three chords and a couple of dance steps. It wasn’t too long before he discovered the works of Dylan Thomas, and found a new music hero in Woody Guthrie, whom he would adopt as his mentor. Leaving his middle class life behind in Duluth, Minnesota, he dropped out of college after one year, hitchhiked to New York City to meet his hero, who by this time was gravely ill. He settled into the Folk Scene in Greenwich Village that was beginning to blossom. He would have plenty of gigs. He started making a name for himself until he was discovered by John Hammond who would sign him with Columbia Records in 1962. At this point, he could have started his career under his own name, but instead he chose to pay homage to the person who influenced him to go on this journey to begin with, and changed his name to Bob Dylan.

You find that one thing that inspires you. You pick it up, make it your own, and leave it different than you found it. For his first three albums, Dylan was the torchbearer for Mr. Guthrie and used his words and passion to fight against war and corruption. He became quite adept at phrasing, at lyrics and poetic imagery. It wasn’t too long that the myth that was created would slowly take over the man. He was no longer this middle class kid from Minnesota, he was instead created from the pages of a Steinbeck novel. He came from the dust of a sharecropper’s field; a downtrodden troubadour who was born on the open road. The very definition of American Romanticism.  Success caught up to him quickly.

By 1965, Bob Dylan had become restless with who he was. He was never one to stay in one place, or be satisfied with with where he is. He released ‘Bringing It All Back Home.’ This was significant in that he was starting to step away from the protest material and dip into the personal and abstract, and in doing so, finding his own authentic voice.

…Oh, it also marked the beginning of him ‘going electric’.

‘Highway 61 Revisited’ came soon after. It was considered a critical darling. A rare specimen that stands the test of time with songs like ‘Desolation Row’ and ‘Like A Rolling Stone’. His knack for wordplay and imagery, now instantly recognizable, were miles, years ahead of its time.  A pop star was supposed to sing about love and relationships in ways that would be easily digestible for mass consumption, and here comes this guy, seemingly out of nowhere, writing lyrics about the human condition and loss and yearning. He heralded the beginning of the Singer/Songwriter movement.  There were a few people who dismissed this album as a complete head-scratcher, because no one had heard anything like this before. But those same voices in the same breath lauded it for elevating the artform from its current state.

Whether it was on purpose or not, the awesome trilogy of groundbreaking albums came to its brilliant conclusion the following year with ‘Blonde on Blonde’. Considered an instant masterpiece and one of the most important albums of all time, it had completely changed the landscape of what songwriting was, into what it could be. It was also the first double album released ever… not much to say about that, just wanted to point that out.

In the months that followed, there was nothing. He had all but vanished from the public eye. Some say it had to do with a motorcycle accident he was involved in near his home in Woodstock, New York. Some say it may have had something to do with the press, and how they kept diving deeper into the myth and poking their nose into things he’d rather not let them see (related: ‘Ballad of a Thin Man’). An increasing drug dependency, marital issues. Perhaps a salad bar sampling of all of the above. He would still release albums, but he would tour less, and give fewer interviews. In any case, it felt like we were losing his voice.

On October 13th of this year, The Nobel Academy had given their prize in literature to Bob Dylan. The reason given was “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition”. I suppose it was gracious of them to give him this award while he was still alive. But my biggest question is, why now? The source that they were sighting was ‘Blonde on Blonde’, something that was released over 50 years ago?

Why did they wait so long to award this particular poet? There were strong enough contenders who have released works this year? Why not them?

His name had been tossed around for years, but never put into serious contention. He had already won a special citation from the Pulitzer Prize committee in 2008 for “his profound impact on popular music and American culture, marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power.” In 2012, it was the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Maybe the time was right for another literary award? Maybe the time was right to pay proper homage to a man who has influenced generations of poets and songwriters?

The short of it was that Alfred Nobel was a little vague when it came to exact criteria to award writers for literature in his will. Double irony points because the committee notes that it was a poorly written will, and so the requirements are left open to interpretation. Maybe now was a good time to recognize the juggernaut that is the Bob Dylan library.

Not so you’d notice from those critical of the Nobel committee. Citing Karl Ritter from the Associated Press:

Others lamented a lost moment for books.

“An ill-conceived nostalgia award wrenched from the rancid prostates of senile, gibbering hippies,” wrote “Trainspotting” novelist Irvine Welsh. “I totally get the Nobel committee,” tweeted author Gary Shteyngart. “Reading books is hard.” The Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano said it was too bad that a “real” writer didn’t get the award.

The sting and the wailing and gnashing of teeth from purists and critics the moment Bob Dylan had the gall of picking up an electric guitar are still present today. It’s less the notion of ‘You can’t please everyone all the time’, and more like they awarded a fraud.

Personally, I’m happy that he won. Upon hearing the news, the first words out of my mouth were, “It’s about damn time”.

Who gives a rat’s ass if he ‘went electric’? Who cares if he isn’t the character you thought he was? A “real” writer? Apparently he’s never heard ‘Hurricane’ and not have his blood truly boil. Apparently he’s never dared to unpack the cryptic bombast of ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’. Apparently, he’s never found solace in the cold comfort of ‘Shelter From the Storm.’

A “real” writer? Does a “real” writer to you have to be dead in order to be real in your opinion? A chi ha scritto questo articolo, credo che non si sa quello che uno scrittore “vero” è stato, se lui si avvicinò e si schiaffeggiato in faccia unta. So, go take your hipster ass somewhere else, because nobody gives a shit what you think a “real” writer is.

Pfft…critics….

Yes, Rock is usually not known for its poet laureates. But then again, there aren’t many Rock musicians who knew there was more to this music than verse/chorus/verse/chorus/bridge/verse/chorus. There aren’t that many Rock musicians (left) who knew that there’s more to this than how many albums you sold or how many appearances you made on television. There aren’t that many Rock musicians that know what the essence of Rock is.

Congratulations, Bob Dylan. It’s about damn time that they recognized your contributions to the world. Thank you for your words and your passion.

Thank you for inspiring me.

dylanquote
Keep on Keepin’ on…

¹Possible exceptions are too many to list here…

The Shape of the Stone (On Following Your Passion)

The Shape of the Stone (On Following Your Passion)

So, there I was this morning. Woke up at a reasonable hour while the sun was still low in the sky and the house was still quiet. I shoved a bowl of cereal in my face while I had a hard enough time digesting what has been happening for the past few days. I shut off my Twitter feed, had a stretch, drank my coffee and got back to my first draft.

Ideally, I like to get a jump on my projects in the mornings. I’m not a morning person, but I do like getting stuff done earlier in the day. Some mornings go smooth. Still, there are other mornings that feel more like a inflatable pool raft. They take a little while, and a lot of effort to get up to where it should be to be sea-worthy. And when they do, when all the things are set in a row and organized and neat, everything is fine. Those mornings go swimmingly as I lounge on my giant, imaginary ducky floaty.

Then some prick comes around and lets all the air out.

For the most part, I feel that, after many years of fumbling about and finding a place for myself in this world, I am lucky enough to have found a calling. Notice I didn’t say the calling or my calling, and I’ll get to that in a minute.

In my sophomore year of high school, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. And I know that for some people that’s normal, and they don’t concern themselves with this until much later in life. But for me, it was kind of a big deal. Like, wake up in the middle of the night big deal. Fortunately, a teacher recognized an ability in me that I didn’t notice about myself, and so he encouraged me to get involved in Theater and Speech Club. Thus began a pursuit of a passion. I must have been doing something right. I went to state championships, regional championships. I came in 2nd in a region of 6 states participating in competitions that forced me to do the thing that would make most people wet their pants. Public speaking, performing, learning to take control of an area no wider than your shoulders. Looking people in the eye and selling a character. Second. In a region of 6 states. Not bad for a shy kid. </dadbrag>

I call it a passion for lack of a
better term. It was more like my “A-ha” moment where I was taken by the hand by thisg60077833g6 gorgeous hunk of a Norwegian comic book character into this surreal melodrama that involved European race car dri… sorry, that’s not right. Scratch that. What I meant was my “a-ha” moment where I finally knew, or at least had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to do with my life. I didn’t kid myself. I knew I had to work for it. Just like everything else. But at least I knew what I was doing. I had a direction. It was enough. This pursuit got me through college, but it was finally dealt a Quivering Palm Death Touch when I made the mistake of moving to New York while still a little green. Real life set in quick. The passion faded.

Since that time, I’ve been through several jobs. Most of them were dead end. All of them had nothing to do with what I went to school for. I didn’t pursue my passion at the time because it wasn’t financially possible to do so. I had day jobs to do while I pursued the one thing I worked very hard for. But it wasn’t before too long where my Plan B suddenly turned into my Plan A, and any hope of getting back to my passion withered like a vase full of neglected orchids. I was no longer in pursuit of my passion. I was in pursuit of a paycheck.

And I think, therein lies the problem I have with the “Don’t Follow Your Passion” movement. It’s a mentality of “Give up on your dreams because they’re unrealistic and instead, do something you’re good at.” Well, what if your passion is the thing you’re good at? What if my passion is something I worked at and practiced on a regular basis? Do I give up on something I worked hard for to find an unrelated job that pays the bills, or do I follow my passion and face ruination because in the long run, it’s too hard because there are too many people wanting the same thing? Should I have even bothered in the first place? Am I a “loser” for following my dreams, or am I a “loser” for finding a McJob in an exchange for something that’s meaningful? Some might say the answer is to marry both of these choices together to find happiness, but I suspect those people are usually close to retirement, or financially solvent and at the end of the day, could give a pimpled rat’s ass about you and your stupid little passions. Sometimes, you can’t have it both ways. Sometimes, life gets in the way.

Sometimes, you get lost.

And there’s nothing you can do about it.

Didn’t you want to be a chef at one point?
Too much stress and it enabled my alcoholic tendencies.

How about an IT guy?
Good work if you’re willing to jump through some really REALLY expensive hoops to get to what, in the end, was going overseas anyway.

Accountant?
Did you go to school for it?
…mmmNo?
Have you ever kept a ledger?
Is that the same thing as balancing a checkbook?
Can you define ‘mortgage’?
Dude, I’ve rented my whole life. And, why is it spelled like that anyway?
Then, yeah no. It’s probably not a good idea.

It’s conceivable to regard writing, or any other piece of wonderfulness that lights a fire under your ass, and gets you out of bed in the morning as “just a hobby” as more of a realistic term. Especially, if one were to concern themselves with other goals that are more tangible to them; promotion at their day job, running their own business, raising a family in the suburbs. And it’s easy to step back and look at the sharp decline in readership for the past couple of years and mourn our semi-literate society as they blindly walk out into oncoming traffic to catch another goddamn Pokémon and say, “Whelp, nobody’s reading anymore. Guess I should give up altogether. Oh look! A new season of Big Brother is on! Let me slip into my Faded Glory pajamas and throw a bag of Dollar Store popcorn in the microwave while NOT thinking about killing myself. Giving up this way is so much better!”

I understand it, and I get frustrated by it a lot. I’ve felt it. But you know what else has taken a hit these days? Theater attendance. Not a lot of people are watching movies at the theater that much anymore. Is Hollywood packing it in and only making movies for the one or two people who kinda sorta pay attention maybe? No. They seem content to crank out the same meaningless, poorly written, completely forgettable crap they have been for as long as anyone can remember, because that’s what people want according to some algorithm or something. We are slogged with mediocrity, and we don’t care. They’re still making it. People will eventually watch it. Just because a movie is obviously not “Oscar™ Worthy”, doesn’t mean people aren’t going to watch it and be entertained. Just because a book isn’t on the New York Times Bestseller List, doesn’t mean people aren’t going to read it.

And, here’s the thing: If the movie wasn’t directed by Spielberg, does it mean no one is going to see it? Is he the “exception to the rule”? Have I dodged a bullet because I didn’t follow through hard enough on my passion for acting to instead embrace the world of the cubicle? Personally, I’m not so sure.

I too hear the voices of dogged practicality. The ones that barely contain their disdain at the mere utterance of what I do, have done and want to do. The ones that sound exactly like disapproving parents who mourn the day that their child dropped out of Law School. “So, you know I was talking with Moira the other day,” (Note: For some reason, the Disapproving Parent voice in my head sounds a lot like a Jewish mother from Staten Island. To the best of my knowledge, none of my relatives are Jewish…or from Staten Island, for that matter.) “You remember Moira? She used to be part of our book club until, ya know, the accident? Anyway, we’re talking the other day and she told me her bubby graduated from Harvard. Pre-Law. Isn’t that wonderful? I thought it was wonderful. I just thought it was nice, seeing her being so proud of her successful lawyer son. Yeah. Good times.”

The ones that are so quick to equate creativity with poverty. “Oh, you’re a writer. Wow, that’s neat. What do you do for your day job?” You know, those ones. Don’t think that the side glances and hushed conversations haven’t gone unnoticed. I know I’m in the minority. I know that what I have done and what I am doing is fiercely competitive in nature. But you know what else is fiercely competitive? Being a lawyer.

As recently as 2012, Law Schools were stuffed to the rafters with cute, little lawyerlings all ready to hatch and fly after speeding ambulances. That is, until word got out that the world is overflowing with them (Shakespeare saw this coming). The internet, with its vast wisdom and convenience, just made the roles of internships and paralegals obsolete, because legal documents were easier to get online and print out, rather than consulting a law firm. And those that were lucky enough to find employment on the other side of Law School were too focused in hanging their shingle in a specialized arena, rather than work for something that might benefit them in the long run (i.e. show business law as opposed to trial law). Basically, there were too many new lawyers and not enough law firms. There were too many people pursuing the same thing, and not enough things (jobs, opportunities) to go around. The market became saturated.

…sound familiar yet?

Financial Assistants, Pediatricians, Personal Bankers. Hell, even trying to be a food server at the local Chili’s is competitive. It’s going to be the same no matter where you go, or what you want to do. Competition should be a given. So with that in mind, why do writers, actors, singers, scientists and athletes get dismissed so readily when it comes to pursuing their own goals? Why do people who have a passion to follow their dreams in the financial industry get a pass? Is it inconceivable to presume that there aren’t people out there who dream of being a hedge fund manager, but have to be satisfied with being just another investment banker? Why aren’t they considered idealistic, starry-eyed losers like the rest of us?

These are the thoughts that have been brewing and bubbling in the back of my head for a while now. It’s always out there, but it has been taking center stage lately has young people transition out of school to the real world. Maybe it was just me, and maybe it bothered me so much that I started seeking it out like some sad drunk with a chip on his shoulder and a newly minted ex-girlfriend when he grabs the biggest, meanest, baldest guy in the biker bar, grabs him by the front of his densely patched leather vest, looks him square in the eye and whispers, “You are such a pussy.”

Well, maybe not quite like that, but the displaced rage is the same, and the result of following through with it might leave me just as damaged. I’ve been known to punch above my weight. Never turns out well.

There seems to be a lot of people who will tell you that “Following your Passion” is pretty bad advice. I can see what they’re saying, and I have a pretty good idea who they are saying it to. It’s a reality check for those people who…ooohh…pffff…I dunno…want to play video games as a career. You might be good at it, and it does sound like fun, but seriously building a future around playing the Madden franchise, might be looked at as a little risky when looking to get a mortgage.

See? There’s that word again!
Drop it.

What they say when they say “don’t follow your passion” is something along the lines of, “Look. It’s good that you have a passion and that you are driven to do something great and change the world. But the reality is that more than likely, what you want to do isn’t going to be the best fit for you. So a better option would be to do something along the same lines of what your passion is. You will still have your passion, and you’ll have a more fulfilling life.” Which is all they have to say! If they would have led off with that, then it wouldn’t be so bad. I wouldn’t have to write this long ass post, and I can get back to my first draft.

But harsh reality is better than sugary platitudes, and the advice still knocks your teeth in like some bald biker who just had his masculinity challenged. What it sounds like is, “Congratulations on dumping a hundred grand on an education that’s not gonna get you anywhere, dumbass. Good luck trying to figure out the rest of your life, because we have no idea, and it’s not our job to figure it out for you. We just like to knock the stars out of your eyes so you’ll be compliant enough to take anything that comes your way. We want you to be just as frustrated as we are, because this is reality, loser.”

I dunno. Maybe I’m giving these people too much credit. Maybe I’m missing the point. Maybe I should try and turn the other cheek when it comes to some nameless d-bag who leaves a comment on my post and tells me in so many words that I should just give up because nobody is reading anyway and following your passion is stupid.

The thing I hate most about this way of thinking, other than being defeatist, mentally damaging, and unhelpful, is that I think it presumes WAY too much about other people. It presumes that the person who has dreams of becoming something someday, is still a child. Even though this “child” as a College Degree in, or relating to, that thing they wanted to be when they were an actual child. It presumes that every person who follows their passion has not worked for it, will not work for it, and is expecting to be dropped right into the thing they want to do completely ignorant and unprepared. It presumes that we, the ones who do follow a passion, are stupid.

And what about that word I keep repeating? No, not mortgage, the other one. Passion. Perhaps it’s the word itself that people have a hard time with. Passion: That Purple-Prosed, Bodice-Ripping bastard that pollutes the shelves in airport bookshops and local supermarkets. Passion: the very presence of the word makes you want to lock up your daughters.

The dictionary definition of passion is essentially “to have strong emotions about something”. I think that most people think that something refers to one thing, and it should. But we forget that a passion can be easily replaced. Especially after life changing events: I had a passion for smoking and junk food, now I have a passion for smoothies and yoga (not really, just sayin’). I had a passion for chasing girls around the mall, now I have a passion for chasing my children around the house. I had a passion for acting, now I have a passion for writing. People change. Plans change. Passions change. You still have that passion that lights a fire under your ass in the morning, but it’s fuel doesn’t come from anything external. It comes from inside, Grasshopper. Now, go fetch some water and when you return, see if you can take the pebble out of my hand.

In my lifetime, I have accumulated many callings, and I feel lucky to have experienced all of them. If it weren’t for that fire, if it weren’t for passion making things interesting, I would be a lump of couch potato salad wasting away watching The Simpsons every night. Which is something I don’t want to be. Potato salad is very hard to get out of a couch.

Another thing that chafes my thighs is when most people say “don’t follow your passion”, they don’t follow it up with anything actionable. There are no alternatives to doing your do. Just the cautionary, knee-jerk, face slap that can easily be housed inside a fortune cookie.

“Don’t follow your passion.”
Why?
“Because it’s bad.”
How?
“So bad, you have no idea. Believe me.”
…Wait a minute, you’re Donald Trump, aren’t you! How did you get in here?

Saying “don’t follow your passion” is like giving a death of a thousand cuts where the words don’t kill you right away, but rather they take their time and root and fester in your mind, until you wake up one morning and notice the fire is gone, and you look in the bathroom mirror, and you notice you resemble a human husk made of toenails, cobwebs and failure. Uninspired, drained of will, and waiting for your last breath to leave your body. Say, “be flexible.” Say, “see the world.” Say, “keep an open mind, you never know what might fall in.” Not following your passion sounds an awful lot like “just give up.”

I don’t feel like giving up.

Not anymore.

My calling, if that’s what I’m calling it, isn’t even mine. I didn’t make it or give birth to it, I just scraped off the masking tape name tag of someone else it belonged to, and added my own. And as I hold it in my hand, I can feel the warmth of every hand that loved and nurtured it in their own way, and that gives me hope. What I do now is barely a shadow of what I once did, and that’s okay. In my experience, the world needs more storytellers and less lawyers. I’m happy with what I do now. In the future, who knows?

Whatever it is…

…just let me be happy doing it.

With All My Heart, Loretta-June (Flash Fiction)

With All My Heart, Loretta-June (Flash Fiction)

I love the Noir.high trousers

I love the stories of the hard-nosed, double-chinned gumshoes who have a proclivity for cheap booze, snub nosed .38s, and sweet, whiskey-throated dames with access to lots of
cash obtained through questionable means. The women are all viewed through a glistening, Vaseline coated lens, and the men all have their trousers belted just south of their armpits. Everyone speaks like they have a need to project to the back row after mainlining a couple of Red Bulls. There’s always a Mcguffin involved, and someone is going to get shot. I love this stuff.

The thing is, what I think is Noir is actually regarded as Film Noir, which is almost completely disassociated from Noir fiction. In Film Noir, it’s all about the stark lighting, the fisticuffs, the Private Detective set forth to save the day, but he almost dies at the end. In Film Noir, justice is always served, though most of the time it isn’t wrapped up in a neat little package with a bow. That means that even though the case is solved, but the hero could be dying in a ditch somewhere outside of town. Technically, since the good guys still won in the end, that counts as a happy ending.

In Noir Fiction, there are no happy endings. Hell, there doesn’t have to be a detective character at all.

These are the facts I learned while researching this next Flash Fiction piece. This was my submission for a short story contest that I alluded to earlier this year. I think a sufficient amount of time has passed where I can feel free to post my stuff… on my site.

What I learned is that Noir Fiction, in its truest sense is the antithesis of what would be considered drama, because it is what it says it is; Noir. Black. Hopeless. Dark. Abandon all hope and break out the blended whiskey because you’re in the middle of nowhere with a bullet in the gut. Someone is going to die, and it’s probably not going to be the bad guy. Someone is going to come out on top, and it’s probably not going to be the good guy.

Noir is hard stuff, which is probably why you don’t see too much of it these days. In print, you’ll see it pop up here and there, mostly in anthologies. In movies, great examples would be Chinatown or more recently, Brick. Noir is also hard to sell to a mass audience as in television viewers. The closest I’ve seen recently to a decent Noir, as in Film Noir, is Jessica Jones on Netflix. All the tropes are there, all the characters are there, that they’ve flipped the gender roles that were traditionally set in stone (in this case, the detective is a young woman. The love interest and the crux of the story is a guy) is a welcome and refreshing change.

As with the First Lines Challenge, I had to create a 1500 word story based on a picture. Everything about it said Noir to me. I’m not that experienced in writing in this genre, so I wanted to get it right. It didn’t win, place or show, but I’m still happy with it.

Thank you for reading.

LorettaJune

With All My Heart, Loretta-June

As the smoke spun in lazy circles from the end of a lit Winston which dangled from her heavily painted lips, the first thing that came to mind wasn’t how far she could hold the ash before it falls to the floor like the Hindenberg. Nor was it the gaping wound in her side, or how quickly she was bleeding out as she reclined nude and resplendent in an empty claw-footed tub. No, the first thing that came to mind as she snapped back into consciousness was her pearl-handled Derringer, and that it had one bullet left in the chamber. Soon, he’ll come home to a bloody mess. Soon, the bathroom door will be ripped from its hinges and shredded to matchsticks by thick, meat hook fingers. Soon, there will be more blood. She pulled on her cigarette, let the smoke fill her lungs, and as the nicotine gently swaddled her pain in a gentle narcotic haze, she dipped her index finger into the pool of blood, she scrawled a message into the bleached white marble wall and sighed…

“Well, Geraldine, you really fucked up this time, haven’t you?”

When she came to again, she heard a car door shut, then another. It was his car. Edgar was home. She memorized every sound of that damned thing every day for five years while she was kept like a pet. It was a Cadillac V12. Out of his entire stable of Detroit’s finest, he took a shine to this one. She was his favorite. It was his faithful steed that he would show off down on 12th St. every Tuesday night.  

Edgar’s primary occupation was separating hard earned pensions from little old ladies, shaking down local business owners for protection money, paying off cops, and greasing the palms of elected officials. He owned the cops, the mayor, the press. Edgar owned this town, it was no secret. What was secret, was his penchant for certain indulgences.

There were rumors of three day orgies at his mansion involving members of government, Hollywood Fat Cats and young boys flown in from Southeast Asia. Depending on his mood, there were times when he asked for the company of a young, Midwestern girl to engage in a menage a troi with a six foot tall Haitian. Sometimes, all three would tangle. Other times, he’d let her watch. His palate for the carnal was legendary. Being born of privilege has its perks. He took what he desired. He always did. And since tonight was a Tuesday, he wanted Geraldine. Out of the entire stable of 12th St. ladies, he took a shine to Geraldine. She was his favorite.

Geraldine was not born of privilege. She was a mistake. By the time she reached eighteen, her chances at a better life shrank like the burning end of a cigarette hanging from the lips of a dying woman. It was no surprise that she would end up on the street. It was also no surprise that she would live a life of ill repute, given the lack of options. And it was no secret that she was his Tuesday Night Fling.

Edgar, as twisted as he is, has always been a respected member of the community. Geraldine knew that to speak of his double life would be the end of her life as well as his. His secrets were his under penalty of death. Although he paid well, and was great in the sack, he will never have her heart. All her secrets were hers to keep.

Again, she snaps back into consciousness. She has no idea how much blood she’s lost, but she’s fairly certain that she is not long for this wretched world. She can barely keep her eyes open, let alone be bothered to flick the cigarette sized ash from her lips that has since burned down to the filter. She must save her strength, just enough to stand up to her captor, point the gun, and pull the trigger.

Any minute now, Edgar and his meat-headed right hand man, Francis, will discover the failed hitman bleeding and broken at the base of his elegant marble staircase. Any second now, chaos will ensue when they have to use Plan B.

As the footsteps get closer, Geraldine stiffens herself, and spits the filter of her spent Winston into the nearby toilet. Whatever happens, she’s ready.

First comes the courtesy knock, as if there were proper etiquette to murder. Then comes the jiggling knob. Before they came busting in, guns blazing, Geraldine found the strength to fill her lungs. “Occupied,” was her battle cry, followed by a one finger salute.

“The boss wants to have a word with you, street rat,” growled Francis from behind the door.

“Francis?” Geraldine asked propping herself up. “Is that you? I almost didn’t recognize you. When did you start speaking in complete sentences?” It was her half-mocking tone that would always send him into a rage. He was never the brightest, and Geraldine often took great delight in exploiting that fact. She knows she should mind her tongue, but she was so tired of this life. The sooner it ended, the better.

“There you go again,” Francis said. “Runnin’ off at that pretty little mouth again when it could be used for somethin’ better.”

“Like I said before, you walking hamhock,” Geraldine said, adrenaline pumping. “When you find that little thing between your legs, let your mama know so she can wash it for you.”

The bathroom door buckled from the force of a giant’s shoulder being driven into it. “That does it, you little slag! When I get a hold of you, I’m gonna rip your tits off and shove ‘em…”

“That’s enough, Francis,” Edgar said over his shoulder, his voice was calm and soothing. “Thank you for finding her, now be a good boy, and get Dr. Werner here on the double please. I’m sure she’s been through enough today.” It wasn’t unusual for Edgar to be the steadiest one in the room in stressful situations. Geraldine knew better. It was the calm before the storm. “Geraldine, my love,” Edgar said. “Why don’t you come out of there so we can talk.”

“That’s cheap even from you, Eddie,” Geraldine’s said. “Did your goon that shot me wanna talk too?”

“I see you used the Derringer I gave you for Christmas. Didn’t I tell you that it would come in handy, my dear?” Edgar’s voice was a slick, greasy grin. His fingers busy themselves with the lock.

“You’re always so thoughtful, Eddy.” Geraldine found her feet, and stood tall in the tub. “I take it you heard from my lawyer?”

“Indeed I did, my dear. I know the man, and I’m surprised that you could afford his services, but then again, I should have given you a smaller allowance years ago. Live and learn, as my mother used to say.” Edgar’s voice was steady as the lock yielded to his advances. 

“Oh, I couldn’t afford him. You’re right about that, you’re right about a lot of things. But you’re an idiot to think that I didn’t have a life before you walked into it, Edgar. He was a good customer of mine. He owed me a favor, and he’s not the only one.”

“That’s right. The agreement.”

“It’s what we agreed, Edgar.”

“Yes, yes. Not to ask about passed lives, live in the present, it’s all so neatly packaged. And while it could be argued that you stuck to your end of the deal,” the door slowly creaked open. “your definition of present time is slightly different than mine at the moment.”

Come on. Get it over with, you pompous ass,” Geraldine thought. “Enough of the bullshit, Eddy. Just let it out.” Behind her back, the Christmas Derringer is gripped a little tighter.

“When were you going to tell me, Geraldine?”

“About what? That I had enough of being your plaything?”

“You stole from me, Geraldine.”

“I’m not a bank, Eddy. You gave me that money, did you honestly think I’d give it back to you.”

“I didn’t think you’d funnel it to somewhere else. Where is she, Geraldine?”

Terror and resolve changed her expression,“Go to hell, Edgar.”

“Where is the child that is taking half my empire?”

Geraldine leveled the barrel her Derringer, right between his eyes, stopping his approach. “She is safe,” she said. ” Just out of your reach, where she should be.” And with that, she raised the pistol, stuck the barrel in her mouth, and pulled the trigger.

Dr. Werner declared her death a suicide. The cops started their process of getting their stories straight and clearing him of any wrong-doing. The press did their Dog and Pony show for legitimacy sake. Edgar was secure in the knowledge that this will all become a memory in a couple of days. No one is going to miss a dead hooker.

What he never saw coming was another one of her favors being cashed in. Perhaps it was an oversight, perhaps he wasn’t vetted properly, but the crime photographer on the scene, was her Wednesday night.

The following morning, when he received the paper with his breakfast, he nearly choked on his coffee when the front page of his own paper had the crime scene splattered all over it. The message that she scrawled out in blood, was barely legible and made worse by flash photography. That was hardly an issue, as the photographer took notes. He knew her handwriting, and in turn deciphered her epitaph for the entire world to see…

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© 2016 AA Payson

Earth Mission: Caruso (A First Lines Project)

Earth Mission: Caruso (A First Lines Project)

The axiom of every creative is to make something out of nothing. Right? But sometimes, that nothing just happens to be pretty darn cool to begin with.

  • A sunrise from a lake at just the right time at just the right angle.
  • A first kiss.
  • Witnessing the birth of your first child.

In this case, for the latest First Lines Project, iAuthor challenged me to write the first lines based on this image:

Space Shuttle launches one last time

In 2001, I moved from New Hampshire to the “Space Coast” of Florida. Since that time, I’ve seen more than a few shuttle launches. Most of them from just outside of my apartment. Something happened whenever one of those birds took flight. It didn’t matter what you were doing, if you were outside and you heard the booster rockets, you stopped what you were doing and looked toward the coast.

Every launch were always held in high regard, and they were a decent social equalizer too. You could be in the middle of a hostile discussion about politics, seconds away from a fisticuffs. Everything forgotten, and camera phones come out when you hear the low and thunderous rumble to witness this spectacular and awe-inspiring moment.

To base the first lines of a story based on this, had its own set of challenges. Everything seemed fairly obvious: perspective of the tourists/mission control/astronauts. Rocket Man. Major Tom. All well and good. But for me, it had to go somewhere else.

Thank you very much for reading.

Caruso

Earth Mission: Caruso

“Shuttle Discovery, this is contol.” Connor would always marvel at the disembodied voices that would echo across the launch pad. They weren’t like the cold and sterile computer voices he grew up with. To him, it always felt like there was a hint of ambivalence, of fear, doubt, humanity. “H-two tank pressurization OK. You are go for launch, over.” Connor’s eyes widened. This was his favorite part.

“You’re standing a bit closer than usual, Connor,”  a female voice from behind him crooned.

“I know, mother. I shouldn’t be on the grass. But this part is so exciting!” Connor could barely contain his glee. “I keep forgetting, how much gasoline did they use to go to space?”

Shyla, his mother, was ever patient with her son. He is extremely bright for his age, but he still has his moments where his youth shines. “They never used gasoline, Connor. They used something called liquid oxygen. It was far more abundant and far more powerful than any fuel known to man.”

“Oh. Is that what they kept in those ‘H-two’ tanks?”
“Well, no. Not exactly. They kept hydrogen in the H tanks. They kept the oxygen in another. They kept the gases separate and very cold so when they got together, they would explode. And that explosion was strong enough to launch the astronauts into space.”

The man’s voice barked from every loudspeaker, “10, 9, 8,…” Connor and his mother at the edge of the marsh. Dangerously close to the launch pad.

“Oh, I see.” Connor’s voice trailing as the anticipation builds. “Mother?”
“Yes, child?”
“If they didn’t use gasoline in the tanks, and used something that was even more precious to get to space…”

“3, 2, 1…Lift off of Space Shuttle Discovery!”

“Is that how the Earthlings died?”

A thunderous explosion and fiery walls of spent fuel came rolling towards them faster than a Martian dust storm. Shyla’s expression wilted because as much as she was well versed in Ancient Earth culture, she had no real answers for him.

“Computer?” She sighed. “End simulation.” The walls of exhaust stopped advancing, gulls and sparrows froze in their mid air escape. The cameras of a few dozen tourists ended in mid-frame. An ancient spacecraft hangs silently above a ball of fire. And then, all at once, everything vanishes in a mist of ones and zeroes. “Simulation terminated” said the cold and sterile computer voice.

“My child,” she said gently rubbing the top of his head. “I’m afraid nobody knows for sure how it all ended. Some say there was a great war. Others claim it was ancient religion. Still others are convinced there was a great draught, and it eventually drove everyone to cannibalism.”
“Awful,” Connor winced.
“I know!” his mother agreed. “But whatever the reason, I’m sure the Earthlings, your ancestors, as flawed and primitive as they were, had the glorious foresight to colonize Mars because they had hope for mankind. The lives of you and me and everyone we know depended on it.”

Connor cast a miles long stare through glass roof of the Martian bio dome, to a tiny blue dot in the sky. “I wish I could see it, mother. I wish I could breathe the air and feel what the sun feels like on a closer planet. And taste rain, oh I would really like that.”

“Oh my child,” Shyla laughed. “Someday you will. Someday.”

A random comet streaks across the night sky.

“Can we load the ‘Old West’ Simulation?”

“Not tonight, cowboy. It’s getting late.”

©2016 AA Payson

Tuesday’s Child is Full of Grace (A First Lines Project)

Tuesday’s Child is Full of Grace (A First Lines Project)

Well now…

Here we go again with another title with the word ‘grace’ in it.

No, I didn’t mean for this to happen, I don’t have a Sue Grafton thing going on. I just have to learn to plan things better.

The takeaway from this challenge is that it has taught me to be more succinct. It has taught me to get to the point quicker. I have this tendency to ramble, and that’s usually indicative of a prominent Dad-gene or something where a person, usually a male, usually of a certain age, will bend an ear or two about a certain subject regardless if it has anything to do with the subject at hand, but it doesn’t seem to matter because when the prominent Dad-gene is stimulated, the antidote isn’t necessarily in the recognition of others, the anecdote is the antidote. Some guys just like the sound of their own voice. Why, I remember a time when I was a boy and the summers were long andSOMEBODY STOP ME BEFORE I RAMBLE AGAIN!

Seriously, the above paragraph was rewritten like 10 times because it was too long.

Thanks, iAuthor!

While I have finally acquired the skill of using fewer words to make a more impactful statement, I’ll still flail around like a fuzzy, yelping chick until I get my feathers in place, and learn how to fly straight.

Speaking of repeating myself, looks like I’m going back the well again. Not that I’m complaining. Ionut Caras’ photographs are a perfect playground for storytellers seeking new inspiration. I didn’t spend too long in looking at this one. I knew exactly where I wanted to go.

This one was a little clunky, but I had a lot of fun with it. Just your standard world-is-coming-to-an-end type of story and heroes and villains coming from unlikely places.  One of these days, I’d like to explore the macabre. I might have to add this one to the WIP pile.

Thank you for reading.

Tuesday's

Tuesday’s Child is Full of Grace

“Today marks the seventh day of these strange and deadly weather patterns,” a talking head on a televised news cast droned in a broken and vandalized store front. “Still no word from the world’s top scientists as to the reasons why the entire planet simultaneously and spontaneously evolved into a toxic wasteland.”

Outside of the shop, anarchy rules. Cars and buses have folded into each other in a smoldering embrace. Drivers and passengers broken and rotting from the aftermath.

“World leaders, fresh from their summit in the Hague, offer nothing more than thoughts and prayers for the survivors. Markets plunge, and law and order have become relics in their meaning.”

Somewhere in an alley choked with human debris, a man with rage in his eyes, a lifetime’s worth of tattoo’s on his flesh and a numbered orange jumpsuit on his back, stockpiles bloated and freshly violated corpses. He broke out this morning. It is now early evening. He hasn’t stopped. He isn’t going to stop.

“Surviving Evangelicals have gone on record to give the official word that this is indeed the end of days.”

A crow, having had his fill from the hollowed eye socket from the corpse on the top of the pile, launches himself into the sulfur choked sky and over the burning city.

“Mortality rates have reached all time record highs, the world is….is…” the talking head stammers while shuffling his papers in front of him. “Forgive me. It appears the teleprompter has gone dark, and I’m just being informed that the copy writer has just collapsed at his desk.”

The crow navigates through rows of once meticulously trimmed hedges and trees of a once vibrant park that is now dying from rot. He spots his quarry near a rust choked fountain; a baby carriage occupied by a slumbering, six month old infant. His talons grip the carriage’s handle. His eyes fix on the child.

“Ladies and gentlemen. To anyone within the sound of my voice, I would just like to say if there’s anyone left. Please, find a way to take care of each other. Find shelter underground. I will remain here for as long as I can, I don’t know how much time we have left. As we stand on the brink of extinction, I for one will not go quietly into that good night. Half of our crew have already perished…I…I…” he trails off as tears well in his eyes. He is unable to continue.

Inside the carriage, the baby stirs. He opens his eyes and smiles at the crow staring back at him.

“Is it finished?” the baby asks, his voice as old as ash.

“Yes, my lord.” quoth the crow.

“Good,” the baby yawned. “Then, let us begin.”

©2016 AA Payson