forty-five

I don’t know why, but this birthday feels different. Perhaps it’s because I just went through one of the roughest periods of my life. Call it my Mungk phase, in which I learned most definitely what I did not want in my life.

It could also be my mother-in-law’s hospitalization. I’ve already had three grandparents die, but this is the first in the generation right before mine that’s gone. Everyone younger has been more tragic than fact-of-life aging.

I’m definitely feeling it. Still, I can’t claim no progress. I wrote a novella. I had three things published – two short stories and a haiku. I wrote a one-shot comic that could be fun to draw (and it’s increasingly looking like I might need to do that myself, despite my lack of ability).

The process could be good. Find the pitfalls on my own so I can have a better rapport and understanding with future collaborators.

As I start into a new first draft of the next book, having sketched out a four-issue crime comic, three more short stories (including one that strays into novelette territory) and another couple of poems, I’m actually a little proud, even if the work is a bit raw and I’m feeling less than inspired lately. I’ve read over forty books since I penned that first haiku back on St. Patrick’s Day. I’ve read almost five hundred comics. Lost a pound. Built my meditation practice up to five whole minutes a day. Listened to almost a hundred and fifty albums. Learned forty new recipes.

I get it. It’s a little ridiculous, but it’s important to acknowledge even small steps forward. If The Mungk was about feeling all the bad things at once to understand how I don’t want to feel, this one has to be about finding a way forward. Finding a few moments of kindness in the dark. Being nicer to myself, included.

new hip

My father-in-law’s hip is back to normal, as much as it will be, per his doctor. Thus ends a chapter of running around for him, because in his literal manner, he’s now good as gold and where we had to do all things for him yesterday, today, he’s Superman.

Go figure.

In his honour, I’ve started a hip new story called Forest Edge, a sort of anti-incel thing based on a Tragically Hip song about the myth of the guitar hero and his girl, setting out on the road in a hot car, Bruce Springsteen style.

It doesn’t end well, naturally.

late riser

Ugh.

Eyes crack in tiny slits. Dark room. Alarm. One hand snakes out from beneath cold linen sheets. Taps a button. Silence returns. Cold air hangs over the bed like black cotton. Presses down heavy.

Ugh. Her legs curl under her, hand clamped between her thighs. She pulls the covers tighter, curled around her shoulders. Across the back of her neck. She feels herself shutting down.

A little while longer.

The mattress tugs. Envelops. Sucks her in, like a smothering friend. She curls into a ball. Trapped between pillow top and the black cotton air, she pulls the linens close. They slither coldly against her naked skin and wrap around her ankles.

The tinny alarm pierces her eardrum again.

God, is it louder now?

Her body turns and one hand rises, landing flat on the snooze. The room is gray now. The edges of the curtain shine with uncertain light.

Uhngh, she cries silently and pulls the linens hard against her chest. Night air seeps in.

I don’t want to do this, she thinks as she squeezes her eyes shut and prays for sleep to come once more, laying prone. The light at the edge of the curtains teases her. Taunts her. She shifts, but the linens wrap themselves around her legs and torso, and she doesn’t get far. She pulls the linens up to her face, over her head.

The light behind the curtains won’t leave her alone. It grows in intensity. Pokes her. Prods her. Calls her by name. White streaks of sunlight lay flat across the wall and she peeks with one eye out at the white fire outline of the window. She reaches out. Inches back the curtain. Morning light floods the room, full of promise and potential and prosperity. A universe awaits outside her windowsill, but the sun is blinding and she can only make out the largest of shapes.

Nope. Not ready for that, she flinches as she lets the curtains fall back again. The room resumes its heavy gray silence. Her hands ball in front of her face.

A few moments more. Not now. Not yet.

She rolls away from the window. The linens constrict more tightly around her exposed skin. She plunges, headlong, back into oblivion.

The alarm screams its ruthless tone again. It grates against her insides and fills her head like a spiked pinball ricocheting inside her skull. This time, a hand comes whirling, streaking through the dead filled air. It crashes down.

Off, damn you. It’s not time yet. I’m not ready.

She stubbornly points her back at the lighted window, the linens stretched so tightly across her that the cold air seeps straight through.

Why is it so cold in here?

She pulls the bedclothes up over her face, over her head. The pillowtop grates at her thighs. Tiny pieces of lint dig into her side. Even the linen itself, once so smooth and so warm, feels like sandpaper that scrapes across her legs and belly.

You have stuff to do, her mind gently reminds her.

I know. I don’t care, she replies. I’m tired.

You still have stuff to do.

Behind her, the window beckons. She can’t see it. Refuses to see it. She squeezes her eyes shut. Spots and flecks dance in her smothered pupils as she refutes the call of the sun.

Ugh. Can’t it wait a little while longer?

She rolls onto her back. One arm drapes off the side of the bed, as she glares at the gray flipping numbers of the old clock. She got this when she was a child and it stayed with her since – her daily tormentor.

Tick tock, comes the back of her head.

Not time. Not yet.

She lays, linens twisted and coiled around her legs, one arm hanging lazily off the edge of the mattress. She stares with tired eyes at the window, outlined in white morning light. The air is cool across her skin and the black cotton is now gray wool, stiff and suffocating. Beneath her, the mattress scratches at her.

You should go outside. You know what’s out there.

Thoughts of sky and sun and cars and children dance through her head. Everything so clear and bursting with colour. Violent green grass and the pink flowering cherry blossom beneath the window. The tiny rock garden with its golden sumac and its red rose bush. A tall gingko with bright orange fruit hanging precariously from the branches. People. Places. Things. The world. Life.

Ugh. Do I have to?

Yes, comes the soft reply.

I can stay here.

Not forever.

Leave me alone. Let me sleep. Please.

She tries more extreme measures. Head under the pillow. Her breathing stifles. Carbon dioxide builds in the small space in front of her face. Her own breath, hot and stuffy, singes her eyes, wets her lips. It smells of garlic and ash and doesn’t taste much better. She pulls her knees to her chest, but the linens tighten on her thighs, keeping her from full contraction. She lays, unmoving, and pulls the pillow down tighter across her face. Sweat beads up on her nose as her exhales raise the temperature. It grows hard to breathe. The room is a hazy gray now, almost white, and still, the light creeps in under the pillow.

No, she tells herself. Tells the clock.

You don’t have a choice, the clock tells her back.

Muscles relax and her grip on the pillow loosens. Fresh air creeps in through an opening at the pillow’s crease. It brushes against her face, its icy tendrils licking at her nostrils.

Please is the lame reply, the word hanging impotently at the front of her mind.

No choice. Sorry.

Again, she turns to face the window and stares at the clock. The time surprises her.

Already? How did it get so late?

There is no reply. Only silence, still and pale, frozen in the bedroom’s haze.

Two fingers gently pull back the edge of the curtain and a sliver of the room soaks in white heat. It bathes her face and she squints, but doesn’t turn away.

Ugh. Just…

No.

A tiny…

No.

One moment longer…

Not a chance.

She lets the drape fall closed and sits up. Slowly, she untangles herself from the linens, unwrapping the suffocating coils from her waist and legs. The air of the room is frigid against her skin and she pulls the sheets up over her naked chest. Her heart sinks as she swings her ankles over the edge and leans on the balls of her hands. For a moment, her stomach churns as vertigo kicks in, and she steadies herself against the falling edge of the mattress.

With a sigh, her feet find the floor, soft and plush, and she grips the centre of the drapes and flings them wide. White light floods over her. As her eyes adjust, the world convalesces into pure shapes, sharp and green and red and gold, full of movement and warmth and light.

At last, she smiles, a soft and tender thing, the edges of her lips raised in the barest of lifts, and she exhales, her breath wafting against the window pane.

At last.

She casts one last mournful look at the bed with its rumpled sheets and tousled mattress, no longer inviting, merely cold and stiff and sad. She shakes her head and smiles. Fare thee well, temptress, she says as she turns from its cold embrace. Fare thee well. She heads to the door, out to greet the day, however much of it yet remains.

broke down car

It’s not right, I tell you.

Somewhere along the road, something got broke and it can’t be fixed. The engine keeps failing and no one can figure out why. But instead of replacing the car or the damn engine, we’re stuck with the thing – failing, over and over. Sometimes in the driveway. Sometimes on the freeway. Sometimes on the curve of an icy road.

And no matter the frustration, no matter how often we try to fix the damn thing, it doesn’t get any better.

It gets worse and worse and we know – one day, nothing’s going to start that car again. We’re going to be stuck, wherever we are, in a parking lot or a snowbank or piled up in the wreckage with a dozen other cars enduring the same nightmare, and that’s where we’ll be.

Forever.

Freezing or bleeding or quietly starving to death. We can’t get out and walk. We’re locked in. The car won’t start. We already ate the only granola bar in the glove box and ripped our shirt to tie around the hole in our belly, but we’re still bleeding. Still dying. Still stuck, in motion or standing still, inside this goddamned car, on this goddamned road, that we never wanted to be on in the first place!

We don’t know how we got here. All we remember is getting behind the wheel and the car started moving on its own. It keeps going and going, and every once in a while, there’s a nice place to stop for a cup of tea, or some beautiful body in a car that smiles as we pass, and maybe, if we’re really lucky, a good song on the radio. Something beyond the nightmare newsline or the static rhythm of whatever tired old pablum some generic pop star is regurgitating to the front lines.

Eventually, this car will die, and we won’t know where that is. Will it be in the high country, in Pirsig’s mountains? Or in the desert, those vast plains of dry and dusted skeletons? Maybe in a city, in the run-down parts, where people oppressed by others who know no oppression scrabble for food and shelter and feed themselves on compromise, over and over again, the way we do, when we’re running out of hope. When we’re living hand to mouth and all of a sudden, the goddamn car takes a shit. Again.

This car takes a lot of shits. We take a lot of shit.

Sometimes, all we can do is sit there and cry, glaring at the dashboard with desperation as it flashes its warning lights, pounding on the steering wheel and screaming bloody rage at the insensibility of it all. All the while, the wheel takes us nowhere we didn’t choose to go, in fits and starts, sometimes slow, sometimes beyond any sensible limits.

We could have gone anywhere, if we’d just ignored the directions we were given. Instead, we followed turn after turn, signpost after signpost, going where the arrow pointed, and now we’re here, with everyone else, wondering what the hell went wrong. Wondering why that turn into the green valley looked so pleasing, and why we drove on anyway into the smog and the soot. Why the thing sputters and chokes and makes noises we can’t identify, over miles and miles of busted asphalt and crushed gravel. We wonder why we learn to live with the little imperfections. The tear in the seat where the spring sticks through. The radio that only tunes one channel, poorly. The rearview mirror held up with baling wire and a trunk that won’t quite close. That goddamn muffler.

Yes, someday, this car’s going to die, and nothing will revive it. Someday, this car will cruise or crash to a stop, to its final resting place, its forever home. It’s going to decay and become no more, as will everything around it, up to and including the road itself. A pile of dust it will be, carried on the wind to the desert, mote by obsequious mote, until it’s so far lost, no one would ever know it existed.

That’s where we all go, in the end.

And no hunk of junk is going to stop us.

huh, again

Well, this is exciting. I broke down my writing career into a little more than three dozen book ideas, plus another dozen or so comic ideas, and like a lot of writers, a few hundred short story ideas. All in all, by the time I was done brainstorming, I had almost two thousand ideas.

Anyway, for the first part, while I was writing The Mungk, I thought I’d take a crack at a half-dozen other smaller things while I was at it, and you know what? As of today, three of the four things I’ve sent out have been published (or will be shortly, which is cool). The fourth is a comic book whose artist is yet to be found (well, technically, he was found – a friend of mine whose style was perfect for it, but we’ve been out of touch for while. I miss him, to be honest. I meant it to be a one-off, a showcase issue to show I can write and he can draw, by giving lots of different looks to create, intended as a one-and-done, intentionally light and self-contained. It was more punchline than plot, which was fine. It had an internal logic.)

Anyway, someday on the comic, I hope, even if I have to do it myself, like so many of my indie heroes. (Unlike my indie heroes, I don’t draw often, so let’s just hope it doesn’t come to that, since you know. Not great.)

There’s another “super-secret” project that’s really just freewriting around a very loose idea, to be published for free online, more of an audience builder/test subject type thing, but we’ll see. It won’t be officially published anywhere save as a self-published, online deal.

But still. Exciting. And kudos to the editors, particularly Tom Ball at Fleas On The Dog and Matthew Sorrento at Retreats From Oblivion. Great editing means addition from subtraction and they’ve both done a hell of a job with my short little pieces. Good on them for being better able to see what I could not. We get so close to these things that we lose perspective sometimes. Having someone who can see through it and strip the fat from it, even in a piece of flash fiction like The Ineffable Hat, is much appreciated.

I’ve read enough articles about writers railing against bad editors to wonder what it was really like. Not being from the publishing world, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but these guys have proven how valuable a good editor is. I suspect there might be more than a little ego at play in those articles I read; some loss of perspective or inability to step outside oneself and see the bigger picture. While I’m sure bad editors do exist, from what I’ve been exposed to, the feedback has been more liberating than off-putting.

I continuously push myself to open up my world, no matter how miserable that can be at times, so anything that forces me to set ego aside and look at something with fresh eyes is invaluable.

I look forward to sharing the new thing, when it comes out.

get back again

I think every creator has that work of art that they made that they just kind of hate. Like, they know it’s beneath them, that it doesn’t reflect who they are or what they believe, what they’re feeling.

And, I’m not talking about stuff that years down the road, they no longer recognize the work in themselves, because they’ve changed as people and they no longer relate to the idea or feelings behind a piece of art that once meant everything to them.

Like Pearl Jam stating they wanted to do something more positive rather than saying, “everything sucks” all the time (around the time of Yield). Ten is still a brilliant album, but I get why once you’re past the angst of youth, why Jeremy or Black might not reflect who you are anymore (although Black will remain one of the greatest songs ever written).

Or someone who was ultra liberal, filling their works with peace and love, sex positivity and anarchistic tendencies finding that in their later works, they condemn sex outside of marriage and promote hateful, fascistic views, having been beaten down by life and rendered bitter by cocaine addition or friendships with Donald Trump.

I’m not sure that Get Back Again is that work for me, but it’s there. I understand the intent behind it, the idea inspired by a song that I’m absolutely certain was not considered one of the Hip’s favourites (attested to by the fact that it never made it onto any albums). It’s a meditation on regret, on wanting to go back to a previous time when things seemed better, and understanding that maybe the person you want to go back to is actually better off without you.

Still, we lie to ourselves and make excuses, deriding the reality of the thing you wish you had, denigrating it so it no longer considered appears quite so sweet. Regret for the past turning to bitterness, anger and self-deceit.

Sounded like a perfect replication of the regressive conservative mindset, which was an oddity in the Hip catalogue. That made me think about the other person, the good one that moved on without them. The one who realized it was okay to be “lost in the light”.

That inspired my story, which then perverted to be told from the viewpoint I don’t take and don’t endorse. It made me ask, what if the lefties actually held the right wingers accountable? That’s clearly not happening these days and it’s emboldened these fucks. What would they do? Would we even miss them if they were suddenly gone?

What would they think?

Hence, the ghost and his point of view. The woman got rid of him, and moved on, happily. He has no way back to her. What does he do? What does he think? Is there accountability in the void? Introspection? Does it work? How far does the ability to self-deceive extend?

These are important questions for our time.

And still. It’s not my best work. I know it. I had difficulty feeling it. There’s a dissonance there that unsettles me, like the thing is unfinished and maybe the totally wrong idea. But still. There it is.

I pray every time I review it that it doesn’t read as a right wing manifesto. God knows these assholes need no more encouragement.

And I sure as hell don’t want to be the one giving it to them.

saturday morning

Doesn’t have that nice wake-up ring like the beginning of Sunday Morning by The Velvet Underground, but hey, it’s still nice not to have to immediately rush into disaster for once.

I’m sure the day will be disrupted, and it started way earlier than I intended, but I’m writing and things are happening and even though my tough-to-sell short story Get Back Again received its first rejection today, things are looking up. Plenty more submissions where that came from.

So expectations for the success of my writing have been amazing, given that my expectations at the amazing level mostly involved actually submitting works to real people in the real world, rather than sitting on it and pretending it was going to magically appear somewhere.

The minimal expectations I have for my writing are just to finish it at this point. That’s done consistently. My lower expectations were to put it up somewhere, and in the case of Get Back Again, maybe have another person read it, given its nature.

The middle involved posting a number of places and getting people to read them, which I’ve done for all but the comic I wrote, which only got sent to an artist friend who hasn’t gotten back to me on it.

Other than that, I’m still sending out, and only the Birds Fall haiku has met my higher expectations. That I’ve sent it to so many publications is still amazing to me.

This morning is dedicated to furthering the story of Allin Wallace, and to submissions, getting GBA to where it needs to go. It’s a tough sell, for sure, particularly in a liberal-leaning industry, but you never know.

(Note: GBA is written from the point-of-view of a dead alt-right supporter of the patriarchy; it does not actually reflect my views. I fall very much on the liberal side – pro-choice, anti-bigotry, anti-Trumper.)

from nothing

It hasn’t been a good couple of years. Life, as with all lives, has its ups and down. I have a beautiful wife that I love, two good stepkids, two wonderful nieces and a trio of siblings with whom we hang out regularly. A granddaughter who is heart-burstingly adorable.

The rest of life, on the other hand, hasn’t been ideal. Crappy jobs, extra weight, aches, pains, depression, stress, tachycardia, name it. I’ve frequently gotten lost in fictions, in ego, in insecurity, food, alcohol, drugs, whatever.

That makes it sound like a season of Euphoria or some Nineties-era drama of the bleak, but it’s not that exciting.

It’s pretty much the same story as everyone else. Life carried them along a path and before they realized they were too far down it to control the direction, all the traps and constraints were in place to keep us from course correcting without massive upheaval and destruction.

Enter Donald Trump, pandemic, war in Ukraine, and the stripping away of compassion, to be replaced with conspiracy theories, absolute stupidity, soul-crushing delusions and entitlements, and I feel like Foreman in the final round, punched out, about to be beat down by the man Ali himself.

Only, instead of Ali, it’s not some grand wizard of boxing. It’s a fat, chubby orange man, a redneck with no common sense, a myopic boomer with no willingness to see past their own nose.

It’s an outraged millennial, or a hysterical Karen. It’s a pompous Gen Zer who thinks their way is the only way.

No one is listening. No one wants to listen. The same folks that scream gender and sexuality are not binary forget that neither is a particular viewpoint on any given subject. There are shades. Perspective is also a spectrum and we begin understanding and compassion only by acknowledging that fact. By trying to see from a viewpoint outside our own, by uncovering new facts, new ways of thinking, and letting go of the ones that no longer make sense.

It’s not about outrage. It’s not about enforcing an outdated point of view.

It’s about understanding. About being open.

I have not been very open. Depression and stress make for potent oppressors and it can be difficult to recognize that one’s mind does not have to remain trapped in a prison of its own making.

I am trying to do that now. I am writing. I am creating things – poetry, short stories, comic books, hip little things and transcendent ones. And yes, books, full size motherfuckers that range from the fatalist to the pure Tao.

And I will suck. For a bit. My views will change. I will fuck up, make mistakes, say dumb shit and have to apologize. I will not get it right, not all the time.

But I will try. And I will remain open, and hopefully, that’s enough.

Target: 100 words
Written: 83 words, haiku: Birds Fall