Monday, December 13, 2010

Hi, It's Me!

I am your first sentence. That's your throwaway. That means you're meant to get rid of it when you've finished writing this and go back to editing. Got that? Don't forget. Get rid of that first sentence or else dude. Yes, I just called you dude, get over it. Oh, by the way, you might want to keep in mind that the farther you get away from that first sentence, the harder it's going to be to remember to get rid of it. Out of sight, out of mind. Okay, that's wasn't very original, but it's approprose, isn't it? Nice word that, "appropropose" except you have no idea how to spell it, so I've got to point out that you have little business using it. You should try to use words you know how to spell, dude. Ha! Got ya again. Not to mention words you know the meaning of. Ow! Ended that sentence with a preposition, didn't you! And you know better, I'm sure. You've trained yourself in how to write properly, haven't you? You're proud of it!! I've heard you say so more than once! But hey, did you ever think that might be the problem, DUDE? That you taught yourself and didn't bother to learn the right rules for writing? But hey, no one, least of all me, is going to tell you how to write!

Okay, so you're tired of that paragraph and want to start something new here. Why not? It's your right. You're the author after all. You can write any damn thing you take a mind to write, and boy, you mean to practice that freedom, don't you!

What? Cutting that off so soon? I'm getting the impression you're trying to get rid of me. But DUDE, there's only one way to get rid of me. And you know what it is, don't you. I don't have to tell you. You stop writing and I'm outta here! But you being you, the author, you're just not gonna be chased off that easily, are you. Not by me anyway.

Okay. So you're still trying, aren't you. To have your cake and eat it too. What do I mean? You know what I mean, you're writing this stuff, aren't you? You want to keep writing but you want me to selflessly get out of the way so you can write ... what? Other junk? Stories? Fiction? Well good luck with that, dude.

Right, I hear ya. You're gonna stop, go pee, go fill your face, go watch TV, go do something else until I just fade away. Well. It might work, but I'm not promising anything. But I want you to promise me something before you go: get rid of that damn opening sentence!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Writing Game

"What does it take to win at this writing game?"

Les sat on a folding chair a few feet away from one of his idols, the Great Writer X. X nursed his fourth scotch and squinted at Les.

"Lemme tell ya what I think about that, son. It's a damn shame, is what it is. So many people wanting to write, to tell their great story or whatever the hell it might be, huge egos on the line. So much sadness. So much suffering. It's a shame, is what it is." X closed his eyes and looked as if he might weep. Then his face went neutral again and he brought the scotch to his lips.

"Okay," said Les. "But what does it take? To write a great book, to get it published, to get readers, to make it in the business?"

"Yeah, well it ain't gonna happen. Not anymore." X finished his drink and poured another. The bottle Les had brought was almost empty. "Lemme tell ya why."

"Sure. Why?"

"Need three things to happen, son. One, talent. Ya got to write, and write great. Ya got to have that magic something that takes your story over the top, that makes it dance along the invisible edge, the razor's edge. You, the writer, you have to be able to throw yourself over and over against a wall that will never give. You have to bleed, and you have to be able to give that blood to your readers."

"Shit," said Les.

"And you have to have ambition. Real ambition. You have to want more, you hear me? More than the average person would ever want. I don't mean stuff, son. I mean Truth with a capital T. You have to have it in you to write great, and more than that, to want to write great work, not just trivial fluff. To have to have to do it. And hell, maybe you have to want to suffer too. You listening to me?"

"Yeah," sighed Les, finishing his own drink now.

"One more thing that's got to happen. You got to be lucky. You got to write books that're gonna hit at the right time. It's all in the timing, son. Because those readers ain't always out there, see. They come and go. Sometimes they're there, like they were in the twenties, and again after the second war, and like they really were in the fifties. Hungry for more than what was in front of them. Dying to know secrets. It has to be a time when people believe they can be more, and the culture and the media are telling 'em to read, to think bigger, to actually work at growing their understanding of how life works. During those times, and they're rare, people queue up to devour anything that comes along that might lift them from their dumps and remind them that there's more. You have to publish in a time when people believe it's possible to become fully human."

The old man sighed and put his glass down hard on the table. He looked at Les. "Son, you came at the wrong time, that's all there is to it. I can't help you. Because right now, let me tell you. There's maybe one of those hungry readers left out of the thousands that used to crowd into the book stores. Maybe not even one. Son, the time's out of joint. Truth, especially the hard core subtle truths that used to make our hair stand on end, stuff like Dostoevsky and Waugh and Hesse and Hemingway and maybe even Salinger or Updike used to write. Christ son, that hunger is just gone now. Eat up by triviality and illiteracy and stupid computer games and sports bars and ...."

X poured the last of the scotch into his glass and raised it to his lips once more. This time the tears were real. "Everyone wants the illusion of mystery. Mystery as game or as entertainment. No one cares about the real mysteries anymore. Son, go home. Write your books. Then put 'em somewhere where they can be found in another age. Thirty years, or maybe fifty. Maybe then. Maybe. Or maybe there won't be books or anyone left to read them by then."

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

SoftCopy Anthology: Facts of the Case

Publisher SoftCopy has just released an anthology of short fiction and art work titled My First Time, available in Kindle and I-Pad versions only (no print).

Included: my short story of love, pain and alienation, "Facts of the Case". Only $7.99, it includes work by 50 authors and artists, and the quality of that work is mad great.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Six O'Clock News

Honey Jones, cute female announcer on the six-o'clock news:

"Today scientists announced that all matter is merely energy condensed to a slow vibration, that we are all one consciousness experiencing itself subjectively, there is no such thing as death, life is only a dream, and we are the imagination of ourselves." Video clip plays. Scientist in white coat standing in laboratory being interviewed.

"Dr. Jonas Sulk heads a team of scientists here at the Quantum Underground Essential Elements Research laboratory in Whiteout, Alaska. Dr. Sulk, what can you tell us about this breakthrough?"

"Our research here has led to conclusive evidence that reality, what we have until now thought of as external, concrete, empirical reality outside of ourselves, simply does not exist. We think. We dream. We shape our reality with our thoughts and desires and fears. Our work here has demonstrated that's the totality of our existence. Make of that what you will."

"What does this mean for us, Doctor? How do you think this will affect people?"

"Beats me. Go ask your philosophers. Better yet, ask your science fiction writers. If anyone has a clue, it might be them. Me, I've got to go shut down a cyclotron and clean up about two hundred slides."

Shot of anonymous university building. Honey Jones: "We found Dr. Hans Whitman at the city university's philosophy department. Conveniently, he was visiting with a colleague, Friar Milt Schwartz, when we asked for an interview."

Shot of academic in tweeds with arm patches and wool tie. "Dr. Whitman, what do you have to say about today's announcement by the QUEER Institute?"

"Well, Honey, we're still looking at the evidence, but it appears cut and dried. Our physicists here tell us it's irrefutable. So Dr. Schwartz and I have been talking over the implications. It's too early to issue any real public announcement about this, but I can tell you we're all pretty rattled by this development. It completely undermines our model of what's real and what's not, and therefore the value systems we are used to working with."

Friar Schwartz broke in. "Hans, wait. I can't agree with that. Look at it this way, Honey. You're sitting in a chair, right? Holding a microphone? Probably just like you did before this announcement?"

Honey: "Uh…yeah."

Friar Schwartz: "Does the chair or the microphone seem different to you now?"

Honey: "Um …I guess not. Not really."

Friar Schwartz: "So there you are. Our reality, or our _sense_ of reality, hasn't changed. Concrete or dream, it's all the same."

Dr. Whitman: "Milt, you're trampling my territory there, don't you think? I mean, that's a philosophical proposition."

Friar Schwartz: "C'mon Hans. Am I wrong?"

Dr. Whitman: "Well …no, I suppose you're right. But it's obvious, isn't it. Almost an apriori statement. A chair is a chair because it's a chair."

Friar Schwartz: "Yes, and …?"

Dr. Whitman: "Nothing. Nothing."

Honey: "Dr. Schwartz? Or is it Friar Schwartz? Or Father?"

Friar Schwartz: "Doctor is okay. I have a doctorate degree, just like Hans here."

Honey: "Okay. So how does this affect your, uh, practice, or teaching, or ... you know, whatever you do?"

Friar Schwartz: "Oh, it doesn't change anything. I teach and write about the human spirit and our relationship with God and ... like that. I can't imagine any of that changing."

Honey: "But …if everything we experience is a dream …I mean, does that mean God is a dream? Or part of our dream?"

Dr. Whitman: "Exactly. See, Milt, that's what I was trying to tell you before these folk showed up. Honey. You put it rather simply, but effectively that was what I was trying to get Milt here to consider."

Friar Schwartz: "Hans. It makes no difference, don't you see?. I mean, how concrete did we think God was before this announcement? He's not a dream, he's not physical the way we are - or were, excuse me - He's way beyond all of those definitions. My work continues as usual."

Cut to new face behind a desk: a haggard, middle aged professional who needs a haircut. Honey: "This is Dr. Larry Littleman, a psychologist at the Center for the Mentally Challenged, located here in our city. Dr. Littleman, would you care to comment on this morning's announcement by the QUEER Institute? About how nothing's really real anymore?"

Camera holds on Littleman's face for a long time as he says nothing and appears to grow more and more distressed. His clenched hands begin to shake. Finally, "Uh. Well. Uh. You know. It's changed some things around here. We're, uh .…We're, uh, considering it. That's all. Some people here are a little, uh, uncomfortable with this. I can't really talk about it."

Honey: "But sir, how is it affecting your patients?"

Littleman (increasingly nervous): "About the same as it's affecting the staff, I guess. We're …surprised. And a little ...." (There is the sound of a long scream in the background. Camera shakes.)

Cut away to Honey at news desk. "There you have it. People may have differences of opinion, but it looks like life goes on pretty much as it has. Some people, it seems, don't seem to be taking it very well. How does this announcement affect you? Drop by our web site and leave us a comment. This is Honey Jones for The News That's New. Now here’s Tom with the weather."

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Analogies and Metaphors

Future Novelists... These are actual analogies and metaphors found in high school essays (sorry, I'm posting without credit because they're source unknown.)

Her face was a perfect oval, like a circle that had its two other sides gently compressed by a thigh master.

His thoughts tumbled in his head, making and breaking alliances like underpants in a dryer without Cling Free.

He spoke with wisdom that can only come from experience, like a guy who went blind because he looked at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it and now goes around the country speaking about the dangers of looking at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it.

She grew on him like E. coli and he was room temperature Canadian beef.

She had a deep throaty genuine laugh like that sound a dog makes just before he throws up.

Her vocabulary was as bad, as, like, whatever.

He was as tall as a six foot three inch tree.

The little boat gently drifted across the pond exactly the way a bowling ball wouldn't.

McBride fell 12 stories, hitting the pavement like a hefty bag filled with vegetable soup.

From the attic came an unearthly howl. The whole scene had an eerie surreal quality, like when you're on vacation in another city and Jeopardy comes on at 7 pm instead of 7:30.

Her hair glistened in the rain like nose hair after a sneeze.

Long separated by cruel fate, the star crossed lovers raced across a grassy field toward each other like two freight trains, one having left Cleveland at 6:36 p.m. traveling at 55 mph, the other from Topeka at 4:19 p.m. at a speed of 35 mph.

They lived in a typical suburban neighborhood with picket fences that resemble Nancy Kerrigan's teeth. (gee, sorry Nancy, wherever you are)

John and Mary had never met. They were like two hummingbirds who had also never met.

The plan was simple, like my brother-in-law Phil. But unlike Phil, this plan just might work.

"Oh, Jason, take me!" she panted, her breasts heaving like a college freshman on $1-a-beer night.

He was as lame as a duck. Not the metaphorical lame duck, either, but a really duck that was actually lame. Maybe from stepping on a landmine or something.

He was deeply in love when she spoke, he thought he heard bells, as if she were a garbage truck backing up.

Her eyes were like limpid pools, only they had forgotten to put in any pH cleanser.

She walked into my office like a centipede with 98 missing legs.

Her voice had that tense grating quality, like a generation thermal paper fax machine that needed a band tightening.

Thursday, September 23, 2010


Did I put on a parachute? Do I even have a parachute? This, I think, I don't really want to know. To know the answer is to defeat the purpose of the moment, which is to jump. Jump without knowing, and more importantly, if possible, without caring. I'm holding on to something. I look: it's a metal handle welded to a rib that curves around the fuselage of this airplane. It's strong, utilitarian, useful; the opposite of almost everything else in my life. It's one of the reasons I'm here. To find, and to grasp, something irrefutably solid and immovable, the purpose of which is single-minded: to give steadiness to someone like me when he needs it.

Reminded of the airplane, I become aware of the noise and the vibration. I look up and see an open door. Next to it, a man dressed in a brown jumpsuit and bright red helmet and gloves and goggles. And parachute. He is pointing at me and waving his hand to come forward. I realize I've just woken up from a dream - that I fell asleep while the plane climbed to jumping altitude. And I know I must have a parachute on. My hand slaps down over an oval clamp over my belly button; yes, of course I do. Still, the tiniest part of me wonders, how would I know if I'm awake, really? and I get up and stumble forward toward this young man and I stop next to him - waiting for instruction? - and he motions me on forward, into the mouth of the open door. My hands instinctively reach up on each side and grasp the frame and what do I find? Two more of those fine, reassuring metal handles, sized and placed exactly as needed by someone standing in this door, facing outward, ready to die.

I turn my head to the right to see his face and before I can glimpse his eyes, I feel his hand on my back and a push and the metal handles fail me, or I fail them, and I'm out. Falling.

Have I done this before? I seem to remember doing it, yes, or else I remember dreaming that I did. Then I remember that once, on a cold day drinking juniper tea from an incredibly fragile teacup handed me by a small brown woman with no teeth and a bright red scarf hiding her hideous hair, I wrote a little poem in which I floated like this, and remembered floating like this, and down I floated, wind whipping as if punishing me for something, eyes full of tears despite my goggles and unspoken apologies, arms extended in surrender, glimpsing something like the earth and trees and water and sand turning below me, turning slowly, then quickly, tumbling out of sight finally, and my thought at that moment, my final thought, was, I remember remembering a dream that became a poem that became life that became ....

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

#fridayflash: Gratitude Pill

Herr Docktor Franz Kelling, considered a genius in the pharmaceutical biochemistry world, was anything but when it came to his home life. He lived alone with his fourteen year old daughter Kara. Alone because his wife had left, fed up with both of them. Consumed with work, Franz spent little time with his daughter, and when he did, he found her increasingly angry.

"You're never here and when you are, it's 'Kara do this, Kara do that, Kara do the dishes, Kara take out the trash!' You can't be around me without telling me what to do!"

"But ... but!!" he sputtered. "I'm your father! I feed you and house you! You should be grateful. You must do as I say! You WILL do as I say!"

"OH!!" Kara stomped off to her room and refused to come out.

Being a scientist, Franz naturally started thinking about some technological fix to this drama. "I wonder. What if I make a pill that makes people grateful? I might have to slip it to her in her meal, but ...."

Within a few weeks, he had it. A small pill that lasted for a week or more. The Gratitude Pill. He couldn't resist patenting it and when he did, his institute found out. "Franz, this is brilliant work, but why did you not tell us you were working on something so fantastic? The public will claw down our doors to get this! And of course, since you did the work here, you must share the patent with us."

The institute rushed testing and approval and got the pill on the market in record time. They were right: the world was stunned: a pill to make people feel grateful? Wonderful! It would change the world! It was very possibly humanity's salvation. Who would lie or steal or kill or wage war for that matter, if they felt grateful to their neighbors? It outsold any other pill ever produced.

Then the side effects kicked in. Everyone who took the pill for more than a few weeks (most of the world) began to feel terribly guilty. Guilty for all those years they had failed to be grateful. Guilt, naturally enough, quickly became resentment. Some dealt with it by ignoring their friends and loved ones for as long as they could. When they began to feel guilty about doing this, they once again turned to the Gratitude Pill. And so the circle turned. Others dealt with their guilt by buying and showering their friends and loved ones with presents. This resulted in a world wide spending spree that so pumped up the world economy that when their friends, feeling guilty themselves, returned the gifts, or just dumped them on the doorsteps of local charities, the world economy deflated like a punctured balloon. The national economies spiraled down into recession and unemployment. When things got unbearable for people, they either killed themselves, or spent what little they had to buy Gratitude Pills. And so the circle turned.

Franz, not insensitive to all this, decided to create a solution to this problem. He promptly invented a No-Guilt pill. Predictably, there was instant world-wide demand for this. It was all the factories could do to turn them out by the billions.

Franz's institute was by this time fantastically wealthy. They showered Franz with bonuses in addition to his patent earnings. During this time, Franz learned that wealth was no solution to his problem with his daughter, who had adamantly refused to take any pills of any kind, and who sensibly inspected her meals before eating.

The side effect of the No-Guilt Pill, of course, was a world wide wave of criminality.

Franz was appalled when they came for him and charged him with masterminding and amplifying crime around the world. His institute discharged him and claimed no knowledge of his work or intent, and thus saved itself, however feebly.

Franz's daughter came to visit him in prison. "Hello father. I just wanted to tell you in person that I'm off to see the rest of the world now that you're no longer around to imprison me in our home. And to say thanks for the money I've inherited, and for going away to jail so I can lead my own life. For all of that, I'm just terribly, terribly grateful!"

Monday, September 6, 2010

Lady of the Marshland

Teddy Keller had a friend. Her name was Alice Mason. He was eight, she was ten. She lived two doors down the shanty row by the tracks. When Teddy wondered why she played with him, that fact, being his neighbor, seemed as good a reason as any. She was, he thought, rather pretty for a girl, though she liked to dress rough and wear her hair under an old watch cap and run hard and be tough like the boys in their school. She even tried to be a bully when she first met Teddy. But he just laughed and refused to play and so she gave that up. It was only an experiment anyway, she told him.

They walked the sedge by the tracks on Saturdays, out toward the marsh opposite the yards, away from town, trading urban scruff for barren sandy flats with mud pits and the odd grove of poplars and willows, where their imagination could stretch and there was room to run. There, she quickly assumed the role of Queen Alice, Lady of the Marshland. This meant Teddy had to be her squire and run imaginary errands for her, which he tried until he tired of being told what to do. From then on, he was The Invader, bent on breaking through her defenses and crushing her armies. He liked doing this and however clever Alice thought she was being in countering his offensives, he always found a way to break through, which usually meant tackling her directly and throwing her into the gorse, which he declared her prison. She would scream in protest and giggle as he tried to pin her shoulders to the ground. Then he would insist she shout "Give!", which she refused to do until, finally, she did. Then the game seemed over and he would release her, with promises of peace in the land, to which she would agree. Then they would play castle, with he the prince and she the princess, with their father, the King, being off waging war on the Persians or perhaps visiting kings in surrounding countries. Alice would then declare her intention to hold grand tea parties for visiting grandees while Teddy spent his time nearby but not quite in the castle, jousting with his cavalry. Then dusk and their stomachs signaled time to walk back home. This too seemed a good time for Teddy, because they could be who they really were, and talk about school and other friends and how things might be when they grew up.

"Mum says I might work in Aunt Fergie's china shop in town next summer," said Alice. Spring was well on them with showers and sprinkles and mists. They sat in the doorway of Teddy's da's tool shed and looked out over the network of steel tracks in the switch yard beyond the rusted steel fence that bordered his parent's property.

"What would you do?"

"Dunno. Dust things probably. I don't want to go. Sounds boring to me," she said.

"We could still play, right?"

"Suppose," she said. Then, "I might just run away though."

Teddy thought about that. "Where to?"

"Dunno. Maybe up to Swansea. Da took me there with him once. There's lots of ships. I could go anywhere."

Teddy looked out over the noisy, smelly train yards. "Can I go too?"

"Do what you like," Alice said, sniffing a little. It was her Queen voice, dismissing the trivial thoughts of a vassal.

"Well I might do anyway," Teddy said, standing up suddenly. "I could take a train, be there before you are, you know."

"As you wish." Alice stood up too, rubbing her knees and brushing dust and cobwebs from her jeans, looking bored and restless. "But what can we do today?"

"We could go over the yard. Look in empty box cars," said Teddy.

"You know we aren't meant to go in the yard," said Alice, but there was a glint in her eyes.

* * *

A year later, plus a little, late spring when school was let out, Teddy and Alice met again at the fence by the train yard. They had played together less this last year. Teddy wondered why. "Mum is making me stay in and do things," Alice said. "She says I have to learn to work, to make money. I don't like it. I don't like it a bit." She said this with a tone Teddy couldn't remember hearing before. Something, a catch in her voice, the pitch a little different from what he was used to, made him feel strange.

"You're out now, right? We can have fun. It's almost summer."

"No. Mum arranged it with my aunt. I'm meant to go work in her shop this summer." Alice dropped to a crouch, arms wrapped around her knees, head on her arms. Teddy could see tears. He'd seen Alice cry before, but it had always been tears of pain from a scrape. This was something else. "I'll have to wear a dress and proper socks and shoes and everything. I'll have to scrub myself and be on time every morning. It's horrible! I don't want to do it!"

Teddy didn't know what to say, so he crouched by her side, silent as a sentinel, waiting for her mood to change. Finally Alice stood up, wiping her nose on her jacket sleeve. "I'm going. Don't follow me, okay? I just want to be by myself for a while."

To Ted's surprise, she didn't turn toward the narrow lane in front of their houses. She turned to the fence and slipped through the hidden gate they had made for themselves long ago. Ted watched her silently as she walked over tracks in the direction of the overpass, away from the switching house. She started to run. He watched, trembling with worry as she finally disappeared behind a line of box cars.

It was the last time he was ever to see Alice.

Friday, September 3, 2010

#fridayflash: My True Profession

“Be seated,” said the judge, seating himself at the bench. We all sat down. “Mr. Golden, you are accused of being smart but hopelessly pessimistic. In fact, the State has accused you of having no sense of humor at all. How do you plead?”

My attorney nudged me and we both stood back up. “Uh, your Honor, I ... I don’t know what to say. I have a sense of humor. I do. And I’m not a pessimist. So there must be some mistake. I suppose.”

“You suppose? A simple answer please. None of this hedging. Are you guilty of the charges as read, or not?”

“Uh, no. Not guilty, your Honor.”

“So noted. Prosecution may proceed.”

The prosecutor talked for a long time about my personality, how I am disliked by some and ignored by most, about my published works, both fiction and non-fiction. About how the critics, when they bothered to mention my work at all, uniformly complained, not about what I had to say, but about how I chose to say it. “Your Honor, considering that the accused is a writer of some note, even though he’s disliked by most of the critics, and considering that his work directly influences the attitudes and general happiness and welfare of the public, we intend to demonstrate through the evidence that his attitude, and specifically his unwillingness to lighten the tone of his work and to entertain the public, has a deleterious effect on the public welfare. We ask that a judgement be placed against him and that he be duly restricted from further harming the public by publishing his work.”

My lawyer, a young, inexperienced public defender, then rose. “Your Honor, defense pleads nolo contendere. While my client does not admit guilt, I have been unable to discover evidence to counter the prosecution’s arguments.”

I stared at him in disbelief. I thought he liked me at least. Well, not liked, exactly, but would do his best to defend me. I stood up. “I object!”

“Sit down and shut up, Mr. Golden. Attorneys, approach the bench,” said the judge.

So it happened that day that I was fined a hundred bucks for lacking a sense of humor. And then another two hundred when I objected and tried to prove my innocence by telling a joke so bad that the judge declared me in contempt.

In this way did I become, over time, a reasonably competent digger of sewer drain ditches. When my fellow diggers ribbed me and tried to engage me in humorous banter, I politely refused to participate, out of fear of making my situation even worse. Until the day the foreman fired me and had me arrested. The charge: lack of comradeship with my fellow workers, and no sense of humor.

Unemployed, with no useful skills and a demonstrated talent for offending people, I finally found my true profession, at which I am finally successful. I took up the only profession around where no sense of humor is required: literary critic.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Pema Dorje (excerpted from "The Lazlo Mission"

(Based partially on true events...)

Pema Dorje, seven year old shepherd in the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains, suddenly remembered who he really was. It might have been frightening or confusing. It was neither. It was a moment of pure joy for Pema.

There was no one around to tell except his faithful sheep dog and the sheep crowding before him as they moved down the mountain toward their winter shelter. Pema looked out over the sheep at the slope, at the spread of the Kanjora valley below, at the endlessly varied shapes of stone and grass and earth and sky and clouds, and he remembered. He remembered not just his former life, but many lives before them, and especially the life he had lived in the north of India when, inspired by a great teacher, his incarnations took on a different purpose. It was then he had taken the great vow to forgo the final merging of his consciousness with Atman until all of humanity was ready to achieve similar transcendence. It was then that he was given the name of Avalokitesvara. And later he was to be known as Padmapa-ni and Loke-avara and Guan Yin. Guan Yin. That had been his most recent incarnation. A healer and a teacher. He remembered his life, and he remembered his death at a great age in a tiny village in northern China.

And suddenly he remembered something else. He ran at his sheep, yelling and waving his staff, urging them along as fast as possible. His urgency was not that of need but of excitement. He must find Samdruptse, the village where his servant and protector Chin had planted the jewel.

Later, at home, his charges safely penned and fed, Pema went to his father. “Please, I must go to the village of Samdruptse. I beg you to help me get there safely.”

Pema's father had long felt his son's destiny lay beyond the hills of his birth. “I have not heard of this village, son. Let us consult the governor to find where it may be.”

This required patience, as the regional governor passed through their district only once a year. Pema was patient. If anything, he became a better son to his family and worked hard for the family welfare. At last the day came that his father said, “Let us go to the market today. The governor is coming.”

When they gained audience and posed the question, the governor answered, “Samdruptse. Let me think. Ah yes. A small village in the foothills of the Drolmari as I recall. Or so it was in my youth. That village has grown into a fine city. It is the city of Shigatse that you seek. Six days to the north and the west. Just north of here is a fine road leading to Shigatse!”

After that it was preparations and farewells to his mother and sisters and an arduous journey across mountain ridges west and north. When they reached Shigatse, which was more than a village to be sure, but less of a city than the governor had led them to expect, Pema asked his father to take him to the temple of Avalokitesvara. But no one they asked could tell them where such a temple might be. Finally they were directed to a humble monastery on the edge of the town. “Can you tell us where we can find the temple dedicated to Avalokitesvara?” Pema's father asked the monks. They were led to the abbot, an old monk draped in robes of yellow and deep scarlet. When Pema's father asked the abbot about the shrine to Avalokitesvara, he led them behind the monastery to a small and ancient shrine hidden in the back of a walled garden. Pema immediately sat in the lotus position and began meditation before the shrine.

The abbot asked him, “Pema, you have come from far to the south. Tell me why you have sought this shrine and no other.”

“It is because this is my shrine.” He looked up at the abbot with shining eyes. “I have remembered who I am, grandfather.”

After this, there was great questioning of the youth, and the monks quickly understood this boy was the incarnation of Avalokitesvara. Pema was born in 1391, seven hundred years after the death of Guan Yin and almost two thousand years after the death of Avalokitesvara. His family was invited to live nearby while Pema was instructed in the monastery known as Nartang. As he grew, his knowledge and wisdom and intelligence and compassion impressed all who met him. Eventually he took the name Gendun Drup and established the largest monastery in Shigatse, the Tashilhunpo, and founded the line of spiritual leaders in Tibet known as the Dali Lamas. His influence was so great in that region that he renamed the Drolmari mountains behind Shigatse the Tara mountains, to honor the memory of Guan Yin.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Great Secrets

Mick pulled back the curtain, entered, and sat in a small camp chair across a TV table from a very pretty young woman. "Welcome," she said. "I'm Pam. What's your name?"

"You should probably be able to tell me, right?"

Pam sighed. If she had a buck for every time she'd heard that. "Doesn't work that way."

"Okay, if you say so. My name's Mick. Now you know everything about me." He smirked, trying to cover a slight nervousness. He'd never done this, got a reading or whatever it was supposed to be. And damn if she wasn't great looking.

"Hardly. Everyone has a great secret. Something they wouldn't tell anyone, no matter what."

"What's yours?" he asked.

"Are you kidding? That's way too personal. Besides, let's keep this about you." Pam dropped her eyes to her purse. Stuck her hand in it and rummaged. Pulled out a small tube of lip gloss and applied it. She looked back up into his eyes. "Want to tell me yours?"

Mick laughed. He didn't mean to. It just came out, a short bark. A split second later it occurred to him that, well, it was funny. He followed it with a wide grin. His best feature, he knew. "I don't have any great secret, I can tell you that. What you see is pretty much what you get."

"Right," Pam said with an ironic twist to her now glossy and very full lips. "So, it's five dollars. In advance."

Mick reached into his jeans and pulled out a wrinkled bill and handed it to her. She took it carefully between two perfectly manicured fingers and dropped it into her purse.

"Now give me your hand."

"Which one?"

"Either one. Your right one. You're right handed?"

Mick reached out his right hand, palm up. He felt the feather-soft touch of her fingertips cradling the back of his hand as she stared intently down at the lines and curves of his palm. He was suddenly aware of how long it had been since he had washed it. "Uh, so, can you really see stuff there? It mean anything to you?"

"Of course. Shhh. Let me look." A few seconds later, "You had an accident recently. A bad one." He tried to jerk his hand back but her fingers gripped his wrist and held it in position. She continued to look at his palm. "Oh my, you have a temper, don't you. That had something to do with it, I think." She never looked up at him for confirmation. "Lost something." She twisted her head a bit for a better look. "Something important."

This time Mick pulled his hand back hard and she let go. "Sign says you can tell my future. Didn't say anything about my past." Pam looked up at him with as neutral a look as she could manage. "Okay, sure, if you want me to."

Mick wasn't sure he did. He looked at her, his face a shifting map of anger, fear and confusion. He was from out of state, visiting cousins who for a lark had taken him to this county fair. She couldn't have known about the accident he'd had six months before. No one here did. The accident that resulted from chasing a buddy who had thrown beer on him. The attempt to follow him over a chain link fence, and the rip to his groin when he failed to jump over it. The surgery that followed resulting in the removal of his penis and testicles. Sexless and ashamed, that was his great secret.

He felt the bile of a challenge rise in him. No sex organs didn't mean he wasn't a man anymore. "Sure I want you to. Tell me my future."

Pam gazed at Mick's face carefully. She'd been doing this a long time, ever since her mother taught her as a kid. Something about this guy, though. She wasn't sure she wanted to tell him more.

"Your hand," she said, looking down without changing her expression. This time she held his wrist lightly with one hand and gently stroked his palm with the fingers of her other hand, following the splay of lines, letting the image and the feel of them create patterns in her mind. She closed her eyes.

Then, "Tell you what, Mick. I'll refund your money and we'll just call this one a nice try, okay?"

"Why?" His features hardened. "Just tell me what you see."

"Nothing. I'm getting nothing."

"I don't believe you," he snapped. "Okay, you were right about the accident thing. So tell me what else you see!"

Something in Pam rose and hardened in her throat in response to his belligerence. "Are you sure? You may not like what I see."

"Yes. Tell me!"

"Okay Mick. You're going to have a sex change operation. You're going to become a woman. Now go away." With that, she released his hand, rose, and left the tent from the back exit, feeling confused and annoyed with herself. What bothered her was the feeling that flooded her when she realized his fate. A feeling of overwhelming attraction for him, or her, or for who he might become.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Death by Story

Jonathan A. was more nervous than he could remember being in years. He was sipping espresso in the lounge behind the small auditorium classroom where he was due to speak in a few minutes. The audience would be a mix of journalism, literature and creative writing students. Undergrads mostly. Jonathan was here at the invitation of Alex, a creative writing faculty member at this private midwest college.

"Thanks for taking this on, Jon. I may call you Jon? Jonathan seems so formal."

"Of course. Thanks for asking me."

"It'll be a mixed bag out there. We announced your lecture and students with a variety of backgrounds are attending. I expect what ties them together is that they're almost all would-be writers. Short stories seem to be the favorite form around here, and short non-fiction pieces. You know how it is, we try to keep up with the times, adapt to the changing literary and journalistic landscape. All of our students post their work on blogs. We require that. We preach short, tight prose. Very few novels-in-progress among this bunch, I'm afraid. It's the Zeitgeist."

"I'm a novelist, you know. It's what I know best. I haven't written short fiction in years." Jonathan put his mug down and loosened his tie. It was warmer than he was used to.

"Of course you are. Two books published and your most recent one ... what was it called? Doing well, I hear."

"Natural Man. It's a story about...."

"Right. I remember now. Marvelous work. Well, are you ready? It's time."

Alex gave Jonathan a brief introduction before the half-full auditorium. "So, I give you the author of The Natural Man, best selling author Jon A. Be sure to subject him to your usual grilling after he speaks." Then Alex disappeared from the auditorium.

He introduced himself and talked briefly about his novels. "I understand that most of you are writers. Could I see a show of hands?" As far as he could see, all hands went up. "Now, how many of you have been published? Paid or not, you've seen yourself in print." After what seemed to be some confusion and hesitation, about half the audience raised their hands.

"Excuse me, Mr. A," said a young man near the front. "Sir, 'Print' has me confused. Does that include self-publishing and posting our work on our blogs?"

"Ah. Well, no, I wouldn't consider self-publishing the same thing as having your work accepted by an actual publication."

"But sir, online newsletters and magazines ...."

"Okay, yes. If they're serious online publications, with some sort of editorial staff using critical judgment." Jonathan paused and looked out over the audience, who seemed uncomfortable, some quietly murmuring to each other. "So, given that definition, how many of you feel your work has been published?"

Only a few hands this time.

"One more question. How many of you are actively working on a novel? I mean with the real intention of getting it published some day?"

Total silence. No hands.

Jonathan was stunned. These were writers? Individuals who love expressing themselves with words? Back when he was in college, that question would have resulted in near-unanimous raised hands.

"I'm puzzled by that," he said at last. "Don't any of you have a story you want to tell the world?"

"Sir," said the same young man, "We write stories all the time."

Jonathan looked intently at the young man. "Please tell me what you think a story is."

What followed was a half-hour of back and forth on the topic of stories, what made one, how it could be best expressed, what were favored mediums and methods, even a bit of personal philosophy about why these people had chosen to major in their fields. Story telling for most of them, it turned out, meant something very different from what it meant to Jonathan. For most, a story almost never amounted to more than a vignette, an incident, a glimpse, a hint. For those few who were published, length was rarely longer than one browser page, maybe 600-800 words. Many were much shorter than that.

"Let me ask you this. Please think about it before you answer. If you were to tell the story of your life to someone you didn't know - I mean the whole story, the real story - how long would it be? How many pages, or words, or how many minutes or hours would it take you to tell the whole thing? If you think you have an estimate, please raise your hand."

Hands soon went up. Jonathan picked one at random.

"Sir, I think I could tell mine in, oh, around a thousand words or so. I could probably trim that down too, once I had the words on the screen."

Another: "A page and a half, maybe two. Three to five paragraphs. That should do it."

Another: "I did this recently when I met this guy at a bar. It took, oh, I don't know, eight or ten minutes. Pretty much covered everything, I think. He did too, in maybe five minutes."

"That's it?" replied Jonathan. "Ten minutes for your whole life? A thousand words? Folks, that's maybe three pages of type script. Are your lives really that empty of content? Not to mention meaning?"

Jonathan dismissed the group. He sought out Alex and apologized for what felt was a failed lecture.

"Don't worry about it, Jon," Alex said. "Those kids, they're just doing what we've been teaching them. To prepare for the real world and a limited job market out there. Fiction or non-fiction, it's all the same. No one wants to read long works anymore. It's all about the short hit, the summary, the sound-bite. I mean, short or long, they're all stories, right?"

Jonathan, a deep sense of despair overwhelming him, shook his head. "Those kids don't know what a real story is. Hell Alex, they don't know their own stories. Their lives are little more than sound-bites now. God help them. God help us all."

Friday, August 6, 2010

Spider's Song

our home this bell inner shell curved well of love babies strung beads across center motion clapper sways rocking our children with ringing love as we collect meals sweet meat of flies torn life giving flesh no strife we live short sweet lives our home a shell of warmth and motion and song

we know not of others but as selves as one as food we love the bringers of blood for our children their final moments a chorus song of ecstatic singing agony we hear love with each tug and vibration we thank them-us and sing back their lives to them we feel as they feel as we are all one song life unto death unto life and yet again the vibration of eternal strings

our children stir and pour forth a flood of smallest silent clicks on shell of home we see and almost feel them crawl over and around and past us waves of waves of smallest blessings each one and all turn in alarm at brightness and heat as they reach outer rim and feel air pick them into its arms and carry up and down and all directions are one direction spreading collapsing union separation entangled in so many arms at once

and our mother odor leads them back now to tangled torn web our joy to spin to wholeness as over and again we learn to talk each to the many and our loving food hosts always to each of us feed our dreams the dreams we love we love we love

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Desert Treasure

Diamonds were never her best friend. Too many complications attached, too much greed or bad karma or something floating around them. And you had to keep track of the damn things.

Which was why she was tramping around in sand dunes at dawn in her bare feet. Sandra still couldn’t believe that her asshole boyfriend, obviously high, had grabbed her purse and flung it out the window. Only he hadn’t. He’d pretended to, grinning like a ghoul. By the time he brought his hand back into the car with the purse, she had nearly rolled the Mercedes trying to stop it by stomping on the brakes. When he handed it to her she knew instantly that it was too light. Then she saw the rip in the bottom corner. “Get out get out get out!” She screamed. She started searching the floor of the car.

But they weren’t there. The jewels, worth more than her car, more than her mansion for god’s sake, had worn a hole in the purse and when he jerked it out the window they must have flown out onto the side of the road. Unless they had fallen out earlier. Sandra shuddered at the thought, then she wept.

But only a little. Then she backed up to ... where? Her best guess was maybe a couple hundred feet. Then she tore her flats off and ran to the gravel and sand that bordered the highway. Beyond, endless stretches of dunes and sage and stones. And pain.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Alpha List

All of my beads are plastic. Their colors are funny but faded and not very pretty, not like Celine's. Hers are the real thing. More than the real thing, they're ancient and from strange places and have qualities that make it hard for me to think of them as just beads. They're artifacts of older and different cultures. They speak of ancient peoples, ancient energies.

My beads reflect my history, my values, my likes and dislikes. They have soaked my being like many small tough sponges and now lay limp each to the other. Though they remind me of good times I've had, resonant of romances, they do not contain beauty. Not like Celine's.

“Be splendid”, she whispers in my ear. “Be daring. Be darling. Be that which you cannot find with your eyes”. Her voice in my mind, her touch on my skin.

Morning clouds rush like gray and silver racers in the sky, streaking my perceptions like water poured on watercolors above me, smearing all that I can see or hope to see until I doubt everything. All around me becomes old and ragged and fragile.

“Be splendid in your armor of gilded flesh. Stand fresh in the rain. Spill it to the ground and in and through you. Be washed clean once again.”

Celine steps into my room, just inside the door and fresh from her bath and in nothing but a towel. She smiles at me and flashes it open to show me her pyramid of fine brown hair. This makes a light go off in my head that blinds me and makes me want to turn away. She does this almost every time she bathes. It's not that I don't want to look. It's that I want to look too much.

“Celine! Don't do that!” I shout at her, spilling my beads, turning my back to her. “Go away!” I pick up a comic book but the colors all look too strong and garish and somehow hurtful so I throw that under the bed. Stomach aches, head hurts. I don't know what to do with myself.

Dust and dreedle, doodles of dread. Donuts define destiny. Dry and dessicated. Don't!

Eh? Enough?

Fail. Words do.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

We Are Our Stories

Welcome. This blog is about writing, or perhaps more accurately, about what stories mean to me, and why I have dedicated myself to learning the art of telling them. Some posts will be essays, original or borrowed. Some will be short stories - generally very short. "Flash" fiction (1,000 words or less) or even shorter. I have written some longer stories. I probably won't post those here though, partly because doing so risks making them unacceptable to print publishers who are willing to pay for first publishing rights.

I hope you will find these posts entertaining, or informative or educational, or worth your time in some way. You, readers of stories and information about the craft of story telling, are why I write. Feel free to let me know how I'm doing.