Tag Archives: Short story

The Perfect Couple: Writing prompt 5 mins

Prompt: The Perfect Couple
Timed writing: 5mins

Time:1986

The first days of snow had come. It was a Sunday and my grandparents were at church. They had given up forcing me to go after I had a huge fit in the church parking lot screaming about how if God was so great why did he take away everyone in my family. I don’t think it was so much that they didn’t have an answer, but that all their church friends were watching us, and they were embarrassed. It is very important to my grandma that everything looks perfect and happy. This was something that both my dad and his brother used to complain about whenever they would get together. On all the family holidays when we would be together, grandma would always do something to make one of the parents mad. She would follow our moms around the kitchen cleaning up after them, and criticizing about how or what they were cooking. Or she would comment on how my uncle was dressed or that his kids were not presentable enough. She thought my dad was the perfect son, but he had made one huge mistake, and that was marrying my mother.

My dad had had a pretty blonde girlfriend when he was in high school, and she came from a rich family that had a lot of connections in the town where my dad had grown up. She had been a cheerleader and was, as my dad called her, traditional. She always had her hair perfect, and her clothes always ironed and starched. She wore the latest conservative styles. White butterfly collared shirts and pink cashmere sweaters with delicate embroidery that she did herself. I knew all these things about dad’s high school girlfriend: butterfly collars and embroidery and that her favorite color was pink,  a lady’s color, because my grandmother would talk about her almost every time she was around my mom. Mom had told me that grandma even brought it up at their wedding. My grandmother was crying because she was actually heartbroken that my dad was not going to get back together with his high school sweetheart. My dad said, he had liked the girl that she was nice enough, and a good person, but that she was exactly like his mother, and if there was one thing a man did not want to do it was to marry an exact replica of his mother.

He said they had met at a business function where his father was meeting with the girl’s father, and grandma fell in love with her at first sight. Dad explained it like grandma wanted to marry her herself. It was pretty much an arranged courtship. Grandma constantly inviting the family over for dinner and arranging the meetings. Her family was liked dad’s family, and he was certain that both parties involved were planning a wedding. Since they were business people, and as dad called them the new salesmen rich, it was not acceptable to get married before college. So both dad and the girl were sent off to separate colleges. He was to get prepared to be a businessman, and she was being groomed to be an educated wife who could host respectable dinner parties. Since it was important which school you went to, the girl was shipped off to a private girls’ school on the east coast, and my dad went to Stanford. Dad had said that he had felt sorry for the girl because maybe he would have liked her if it was allowed to happen naturally, but because it was forced he began to resent the girl, especially because the night before the business function where his father had dragged him along, he had finally built up the courage to ask Sally Renton out for a date. He had had a crush on her since the fourth grade. That night they were to go out to a movie. He said the movie was called Dr. No, and he was so upset that he had to cancel just so his father could show him off to a couple of his work colleagues. He said that it had ruined his chance to ever go out with Sally Renton. My mom said she was glad that his mother had ruined his future plans for love because without her meddling they would never have met.

Obviously, my mother was  not Sally Renton.

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Cut-Up Method for Creating a Short Story

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William S. Burroughs was the first writer I had ever heard about that did something called “the cut-up method“. I think it is a well known practice by now, and in fact, many famous songwriters and modern writers follow the same example of writing or exercising of the writing mind.

I had tried it in the past, and never got too far, but looking back on the experience I think my obstacle had to do with control. I really wanted to craft the “perfect story”. A story that could be award winning, and because of this need of perfection when I wrote I could never really let go. This cannot work when doing a cut up. In the art of the cut up you must let go. The cut up can be likened to staring at clouds, only when you relax your eyes can you see the multitude of images and stories rapidly unfolding above you. 

I didn’t follow Burroughs guidelines exactly but I followed the basic idea which was to see what could be created out of what was already there. It isn’t plagiarism, the story is completely new, it’s just the words that are taken from a context or source and then put together like a puzzle.  The following short story is completely created from the cut up exercise I did recently using the same concept as the cut-up. I had taken and article from a magazine and I began placing words next teach other based on how they sounded in a sentence. Sense did not matter to me. In fact, the more illogical the more freedom I had in the creation. When I did I revision that is when I put in a little cohesiveness and order, but not much. I worked quickly, not allowing myself to “craft” a story and just allowed the words to find the best fit. It was the most fun I had writing in a long time.

As I had mentioned in the previous paragraph, the story posted below is a cut-up story.

Lessons From Hilla

Passing Hilla on a street in Potsdam, a visual figure came to the stages of my mind, and because of this image of a figure, I decided to follow her on her lifelong postwar journey.

You may ask me what war is she post of? She is post all wars. She is the story teller of struggles, she is the recorder of our destructions, and she holds the secret to our peace. Her oeuvre is inextricably fused to her backbone like a lamppost, and I walk secretly beneath her light. If she had been a photographer trained in the art of lighting she would have noticed my shadow as it swung beneath her feet or off to her side, but she was not, she had studied typography, and had no interest in looking at what blocked the light. If you are asking yourself with a snide sharp snuffing that comes from the top your nose, “how can a topographer have an oeuvre?” I say to you: ask yourself, if you can not see the subtle and sublime in the surface of the earth then how can you say you know what art is?”

Hilla hopped from one region to another like jumping puddles the primacy of which was to discover at what point of oppression does the artist reveal itself to a person if that person never believed they were an artist in the first place. Hilla believed great works of art came from the oppressed as a form of final expression of the human condition.

 

You may wonder how one can survive when they spend their life following in the shadows three to five feet from another human being in order to find the answer to the great questions because one, myself as the one, believed with reverent faith that no other than Hilla could carry those answers. It may seem an unusual occupation to you, but I had obtained labor in the business of carrying umbrellas on particularly bright days. I will admit that in the moment I had found the proposition unusual, but it payed me well enough to survive and it did nothing to interrupt my followings. All I had to do was await a call early in the dull light of the day that would inform me of what umbrella to carry, and where to procure the chosen umbrella of the said day. I had never thought, under my obligations of carrying umbrellas on days that it never rained, that is was Hilla who hired me to carry the umbrellas. I was under the impression that I was stealth and invisible. I often muttered thoughts out loud because  Hilla never listened to me because I was not really there. I was invisible and had always been so.

“All my future friends are artists who comprehend the complexity of a simplified map situated between historical contradictions of east and west,” Hilla was speaking her voice hard and Germanic in accent, “—notice how no one ever says North or South, other than the Americans of course because that was their only on-soil war. If you listen carefully you will hear people say that all the wicked witches are from the east.” Hilla was giving a lecture to the pigeons, and I was taking notes under my umbrella. Obviously, it was a bright and sunny day and my unknown employer had requested I carry the light coral satin umbrella which coincidentally matched Hilla’s shoes. Remember reader, I did not at this time know who my employer was and therefore still felt that I was a man hiding in the shadows inconspicuously holding a light coral umbrella on a sunny day.

I had just written down the words, all wicked witches are from the east, when I muttered to myself, “she wasn’t the most wicked; she was heartbroken, after all her sister had been murdered by a house.”

“Halt-“ Hilla barked. “Stop with the melancholia of cultural continuity and bring me some euphoria of resuscitation— you post-fascist cosmopolitan.”

 

I must clarify that at the times that Hilla did speak to me I only believed she was speaking toward me as if I were a photograph that she did not take. She spoke to the aspect of me which in her limitless archival of archetypes broke down to her speaking to herself or the pigeons or whatever she was standing beside. This is what I believed. Paradoxically, I was aware she was speaking to me by the architecture of her language, especially when she built sentences with words like post-fascist. I thought she had often mistook my compassion for misused communism commonly regarded as socialism and never looked at as pacifism, but truly was only compassion —wasn’t it compassionate to see the witch as mourning her sister’s death? The ruby slippers were only a side-note.

“You are making excuses for pedophiles and murderers because you like their paintings.” Hilla shouted. “He makes great literature, he diddles children. It is yes indeed great literature, but he still diddles children there is no excuse to make for the behaviour of that madman or her cruelty accept that you love the work of a pedifile. The art and the deed have been done and neither can be changed regardless of how influenced and inspired they had at one time made you. Were you inspired by the crime or the art? Lines in the sand, lines in the dirt everyone drawing lines for others, for themselves and no one being honest.” Hilla threw a handful breadcrumbs to her rapt audience of pigeons each one flapping their wings in grand applause. They always gave her standing ovations.

I had supposed she may have been correct.

 

As I continued to follow Hilla through the industrial mapping of her language I noticed my own structure of vocabulary was beginning to breakdown or perhaps it was already broken and crumbled; washed away by a chromatic ocean searing tonal cliffs and swallowing too many sailors. It came over me like a prophetic revelation that Hilla was rigorously imposing enforced limitations to my thought patterns and therefore she was creating a little oppression in my mind, perhaps to test the capacity I had for finding expression under her personal regime. She could do all this without ever acknowledging my existence.

“You should learn to spell.” She said as she made drawings of bees gathering pollen. “Your writing looks like a holocaust of the English language; each misplaced vowel and consonant is a massacre of the alphabet. You should be accumulating languages not slaughtering your own.” Hilla was at the top of her game in the absence of humans and often criticized the pigeons and bees of their misuse of the English language. I had always thought this was a little insensitive since english was not their first language.

 

I have yet to describe Hilla. What could be so compelling in a woman that one would follow her across a post war world while suffering at an angle her slings of insults and accusations of post-fascist beliefs. Physically she was a goddess of imagery. She was built like a water tower and had hard nipples the color of coal that you could see through her light colored and often times white linen blouses. Her nipples may have been pink and soft at one time only darkening when touched by the cold or excited fingers, but she dyed them black so many times they stained and eventually hardened. I had heard her say that it gave her great pleasure to watch the leering faces rotating in lust to get a better look at her breasts only to quickly dissolve in expression to that of horrored discomfort with the realization that there was something very unnatural about a pale white woman with onyx volcanic nipples. If those uncomfortable with the discovery didn’t quickly avert their faces with their potential quips stuck in their throats, but instead lingered on her appearance a little longer they would realize that she was really very white, but not that of a natural skin tone. She had painted her skin the color of canvas so that she was blank and new and always ready to create herself. The average man and woman did not understand this and you could see it written on their faces. Often times, since I was a few steps behind, carrying an umbrella of whatever color was requested for the day, I would quickly pass on the following comment, to a person who had completely taken in the look of Hilla, as I wanted to contribute to the novel on their face.

“You should see her vagina.”

It was a marvel to me as I think she would sometimes hear me, this was of course before the days that I had discovered my employer, and she would turn to the overly shocked and pre-disgusted person and say, “You should see my vagina. It is the most beautiful cerulean blue like a deep sea waiting to swallow too many sailors. I have a penis as well and it is as grey as a whale.”

She always used the words vagina and penis so that she could easily create the acronymic anagram VP for very perfect. It was a part of her architecture. No one knew what was true because her lovers never spoke about her they only blushed at the mention of her name.

 

“A minimalist in thought is a minimalist in the mind, but a minimalist in space is a purist of ambivalence.” She said tossing more crumbs to her loyal birds. I continued to copy word for word her lectures. It occurred to me that I was recording- in my own dystopian way, a catastrophe of enlightenment. I was on a mnemonic journey after a woman with nipples like coal and a vagina with a whale of a penis. Very pretty.

 

“It is no longer adequate for you to appear so uncannily close to my shadow.” She said. This time I knew she was addressing me, in fact I felt quite, certain as she turned to face me and looked directly into my face. It had been many years’ since I had passed her on a street in Potsdam, so many that I had forgotten how old I was and where we had traveled. I was struck with dumb sentiment when she had demanded me to hold her umbrella directly above her as she was tired of the sun. She was aware of me, so much so that she had been my benefactor. My keeper.

“Tell your own stories”, she said. “Mine are the literalization of my heart and mind. You may inquire clear-eyed with unrestrained curiosity to the sources and inspirations of my literature; you are even welcome to decode them, but don’t fool yourself into believing any of my thoughts are your achievements— after all is said and done, when everything’s right with your world you’ll uncover your authenticity of your fetishized trauma and lick the scabs of your wounds till they heal. I propose you find you your child-self.”

And with that, she knocked the umbrella out of my hand and left her puddles of regime for me to reflect. She turned on her heels like the Morton salt girl, my childhood crush, and faced the streets of music of which she followed all the way to Latin America where the colors are brighter, and left me on a monochrome street on a day of heavy rain in Stuttgart where the tanks had once rolled in and out.

 

“Don’t fool yourself about the tanks”, she had once said, “they are everywhere.”

 

I was wounded and plagued at her sudden parting. Assemblages of my twenties self that had shattered while I was attempting to tell my child self what to do, confettied the ground at my feet. I felt my fear of a million years flood my face in an ephemeral shower, and that’s when I saw it– my enlightenment- suspended between water and concrete; those were not regimes they were only puddles spinning out my illusions of desire.

 

The Burden

From a photograph

Before the sun rises we will walk out to the river and say good-bye to my daughter. It is the way. I know this. I know— we know— that HE will take all of us one day, at anytime, and it is a blessing, and that is why we are thankful .

It is offensive to show any sadness because to be sad is to show anger to Him, to not trust Him, and that is a sin. There is much to be grateful for and I show it through my silence and my peace. She was a girl, and with the death of a girl there is celebration because now there will be space for a boy. Food for a boy, a future for a boy. And, I am pregnant now so it will be a boy. The girl is gone and in His kindness he has put a boy in my belly. We know this. Yet, I feel empty. Somewhere inside of myself where my daughter once slept curled like an egg warming my blood and filling me with something I can only call love, I feel a hole. A deep hole like a well that reaches no water.

As the sun rises from the dark brown line of the earth and pushes the thin rainless clouds away our toes touch the edges of the water. It is all the women of the village who are with me, but they are not for me they are for Him, because they too must give thanks. In the river I wash the white linens that I will use to swaddle her body. She was little so I do not have to use much, but I wish it to be as white as the lily. The other women partake in the ceremony- they murmur, hum and wail in painful tones of remorse and prayer. They give praise and thank Him for taking her, my daughter, and releasing us from the burden of yet another girl child.

The water flushes over my fingers and in-between the fibers. It is warm and smells slightly of urine. I do not always think it is good, but HE has provided it and therefore it is good. I walk deep into the folding river wringing the white cloth, focusing on cleaning and cleansing them. I think about the preparations for the evening. The dying walk with the white candles, how we must prepare the candles for the ceremony, but she keeps poking her baby fingers into my head. I feel her arms around my  neck. Her fingers tangling in my hair, and she is bound to my body as she had always been when I had washed the clothing in the river. I gasp and pull the linen to me and hold them like I had held her. They smell like her and I feel like I will shake until my knees break and I will then collapse into the dirty river. I want to fall and join her my most beautiful child. My first child. But, I cannot. She has been taken for a reason so the boy can live. I must tell myself this until I believe it.

I walk to the shore still holding my bundle of linen tightly to me like it is my daughter, but suddenly I am aware of where I am and what I am doing, and I hope that none of the other women have noticed me; noticed my weakness. It is a sin to be mournful when a girl dies when there is so much thanks to be had before us. Save the tears for the loss of our boys. I know this, and I can be beaten for such a display of sorrow even on the day of burial.

I drape the linen, heavy with the river’s water, over thick branches and slap out the wrinkles and lines of fabric with my open hand. The sound like a wet drum beat in my ears. Soon the other women are doing the same, pounding out the their linens of many different colors, the rhythm rising toward a song. Coolness and warmth pass over me. It is the breeze warm from the sun and wet from the great river, but there is a thin veil of cool that licks the sweat from my neck and shoulders. She is beside me and I know this because I can feel her. I want to say her name, but it is forbidden.

***

The sun will be setting soon. I have been washing all day, and I continue with the final washing as the dark folds over the sky and I wrap the wet cloth over my body, and my head covering every part of me. The heavy wet fabric gathers about my head and ankles and the weight is like that of a human.  A human child. We return to the village wearing the wet fabric around our bodies, and carrying the dry linen in baskets on our heads. We sing songs of praise as our bare feet pass over the dusty road that will take us to our village. Once we arrive, and hang the last of the wet cloth, I will wrap the white linen around the body of my dead child, and once again we will take the slow walk to the river. The river that gives us life the river that gives us death.

All things have been prepared. The older women have painted her and oiled her. Her face has been dusted the red of the earth and black coal circles her eyes that are closed. White dots divide her face in half. Her arms glisten against the flicking lights of the candles and I inhale the scent of oil. Although she is not a boy she is anointed and praised because HE brought her to us and HE has been kind enough to take her away. Perhaps she will return as a boy and her life could be better in the next life. I wish for that, but at the same time I feel sad that she will not ever be a woman.

The night is blue black and the stars blink and weep as we began our walk to the river. The men carry my daughter on a plank of wood on their shoulders. I want to call out her name, but it is forbidden. The villagers have been singing and as we move closer to the river they sing louder. The night is dark now and only the candles show us the way. The scent of wax and smoke fill my nostrils and I can no longer smell her. My eyes begin to burn and I can feel the wet of my tears streaming down my cheeks. This is a feeling of great sadness and I must not feel this but I am overcome. It is only the smoke. I will say it is only the smoke.

We reach the river and my husband and all the men are the first to place their candles into the water. It is like they heave a great sigh of relief. A daughter is such a burden. We are all relieved—but something… something is empty and there is no relief in my heart. They place her body into the water and push her off to float and get carried away into the mouth to be forever swallowed up by Him and all that HE has given to us. We thank him for releasing us and we pray that the boy in my belly is strong. I place my candle in the water to give thanks to Him who took her. I must say a prayer of gratitude, but all I can say is her name; Kalaya.

In the Tenderloin

The Tenderloin. 11:30 a.m. November. 

Hey, you how ya doing? You look lovely today.”

He was youngish, somewhere between 19 and 30, with dark brown skin the color of wood smoked oak. His head shaved with new hair growing a shadowy crown of ebony. His face was fine; Swazi nose, Zulu chin, Xhosa face, a child of ancestral Southern Africa whittled away over a century of abuse, and replaced with poverty, drugs and anger. An American boy.

He was such a good boy when he was little.” Grandma used to say. “Such a nice boy.”

(Grandmothers cry a lot these days. )

His dark brown slacks sagged slightly over a practiced limp in his walk. Swagger. His jacket oversized and bulky, black, and worn, but kept as clean as the streets allow.

“Thank you.” I said. My heels clicking against the sidewalk. The sound loud and obtuse. I had bought them recently, put them on layaway and made small payments. I had wanted nice shoes. Heels that were good for my feet but also flattering. This was an expensive requirement that took two months to pay off. They seemed too loud now.

He matched my step never looking at me always looking around or forward. If he glanced my way it was only to look at my body never my face. I forced myself to look at him to not allow fear keep my head down. A “nice” woman keeps her head down. This tactic has never worked in history, and yet we repeat, repeat, repeat.

He pulls out a phone from his coat, and I wince at the movement. Don’t be silly, don’t be silly, I think, keep walking, don’t slow down, don’t speed up, maintain the pace- maintain the pace. Nothing is wrong and I am not scared.

“Can I have your number?”

I keep walking. I don’t change my speed. I keep the same pace. I wonder how long he is going to walk with me. He holds his hand behind his back, and I wonder what he has hidden there. It is mid-day, but the light, and the people do not give me feelings of safety. I have stumbled unsuspectingly into the Tenderloin.

He leans heavily onto his right leg and swings his left forward in a well rehearsed strut. It’s so rehearsed that now it is his natural walk.

“When he was a baby he would stick out his belly and it would lead him around.”

Another man, gaunt face, chestnut skin pulled taught over his high jutting cheekbones, passes us. As he does he holds up two fingers. My unwanted companion nods. The chestnut man brushes against my shoulder, like a dying twig on a fall branch snags a sweater, and I am like a ghost to him; invisible in his world.

Another man pulls his car up to the curb. He rolls down his window and sticks his out his shaved head. His dark eyes and high cheekbones eclipse all other features nearly erased by his bone skin. He reminds me of pictures of boys in Southern Eastern European. I can see his blue track suit and automatically I think he is Russian. I secretly smile at my assumption- how do I know he’s Russian? Television? Magazines? Track Suits? He probably is Russian. He nods to my unwanted companion and lifts two fingers in the same manner as the chestnut man. My new-friend nods in response, but never stops walking alongside me.

As we share this walk, on a San Francisco street block that in my mind suddenly became the size of four city blocks, more men pass with nods and raised double digits. We were waking through a wave of nods and fingers.

His hands have been behind his back the entire time hidden under his heavy dark jacket. I wonder what he has under that jacket and if he will use it on me. I balance on the edge of fear and reason.

“So what do you do for work?” He asks me.

“I’m a teacher.” I say.

“A teacher?”

“Yes.”

He takes this information in like a fine cognac, inhaling first before placing the words to his lips and slowly sipping, then swallows with a nod to no man on the street but himself. He shifts his hands and arms but doesn’t reveal  them.

‘You know,” he begins, “I’m tryin’ to get back on my feet.”

“Such a good boy. And so smart too. Just whip smart.”

I don’t say anything. I just keep walking. I know at this point that he isn’t going to ask me for any money, not that it mattered, but if he didn’t want money, what did he want? Why the long walk?

“So, can I have your number?”

“I dont live here.” I say.

“I don’t either.” He says, “What does it matter? I want to be your friend. I’ll go where you are.”

“You gonna go to China?” I say, half smiling at his friend request. I still want to see his hands.

“I’m tryin’ to clean up. I’m thinkin’ about gettin’ my G.E.D.”

“You should.”

“I don’t know what I want to be yet.”

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” Grandma asks. “I wanna be a police man so I can save people!” Baby says.

“Doesn’t matter.” I say, “Start with your G.E.D. You can be anything. Imagine what you can be.”

Grandma must have said that more than once. “Momma? Poppa? Can I be anything? Anything I want? Momma? Poppa?”

I look at his face. His young dark face already too old. Twenties? Thirties? Maybe, just maybe a teenager in the body of a hardened man.

“I wanna be your friend.” He says, “Can I be your friend?”

He never looks at me. Never looks at my face not the way I look at his face. I make him human he doesn’t do that for me.

He brings his hand out and holds a phone ready to take my number.

“We can’t be friends.” I say. “We can be acquaintances.”

“What’s that?” He says finally looking at me.

“Doing what we are doing right now. Walking together to the end of a block. We talk. We’re friendly. We say good-bye. We leave each other.”

“Oh. Well. I don’t want to waste anymore of my time.” He spins on his heavy leg and turns back up the street.

And leaves me with no good-bye, and like that I was dumped. In the Tenderloin.

My are you lookin’ lovely today!” A  giant black man with shiny skin is standing akimbo and yelling at me as I walk toward him. His white bleached shirt white as his teeth and tucked into pressed blue jeans stretched over colossus muscles. Huddle at his legs like a frightened children are a frail lady tweaker and a pile of rags with a toothless grin. They all smile at me. The woman’s skin which was once white is yellow and dry with a red sore on her chin and one on her cheek. Too much picking. Her clothes are dirty, but no where near the level of muck that is the Raggedy Cousin It hunched beside her.

“You sure are lovely.” The man yells again, and his voice is booming a deep rich baritone. The tone is to warm to be bothered, and only exasperated amusement rises into my being.

“Thank you.” I boom right back.

They were all children once too.

They all smile, and laugh cheerfully as I step off the curb onto the next block.

This new block is empty except for a schizophrenic man who is yelling to his invisibles.

“I know! I know! I’m upset! Yes! Yes! I am because that’s not what it’s about! I’ll gut it! I swear, I’ll gut it out! They’ll get it! They’ll get it!”

I walk pass him without incident. I am not a part of his visions.

I smile in the Tenderloin.

The banter is not cheap on the sidewalk, and it’s full of visions and monsters. Men and women who were once children shrink into reptiles because the light is too harsh and too cold. This is a place where the light is evil and the dark is good. A person can’t help where they were born. Not everyone was given equal opportunity, no matter how American one is.

“Fluorescents! It’s the fluorescents!” The man yells, and his voice falls behind me.

I agree with him it is the fluorescents. The grey pale light steals all the color. Whitewashes even the white.

Hunger suddenly diverts my thinking. I too am reptilian. I think of food. I could snap in a single jump to catch my prey, and everything else like fear of the street, fades in this one impulse of hunger. I must eat.

The Olympic cafe.

An old diner with faded pink linoleum tables, and a black and white checkered floor. Black  stools line the bar. I take a seat at a small single style booth. This is a place that once had smoking and non-smoking separated by this side of the room and that side of the room. I order bacon and eggs and black coffee.

Sometimes, I want to be an old man, anonymous, and alone with my shot of whisky, my cup of hot coffee, and my cigarette: “You youngsters you look at me and think I am sad, lonely, and pathetic, but I’m just sitting here being fine lost in my thoughts. My stimulants are small as you binge in your excess of partying such reckless youth. Now, I, I ease into my drink like a sage wrapped in a single sheet of bourbon: not a lake, there is no need to drown just to float. I am not waiting to die like Dylan Thomas. I am not gently waiting for the night to take me; I’ve a fine life. Leave your projections at the counter”.

I dream about being an old man. I will be an old woman. I want them both.

My thoughts are interrupted by an old black man his skin ash with age and the street. His hands in prayer shaking with pious pity and true religion. The owner of this timeless diner stares through the glass with dark Greek eyes. Pain through pane glass. The owner slowly shakes his head closing his eyes, he is hard-nosed, but not angry. “No.” He says.

They have a history these two.

Two old men. Old Americans: one stolen, sold, and bought; one who sold himself to come to the new country. Choices and no choices. America in the Tenderloin. The Tenderloin in America.

All babies grow old. Come little children, let’s play kick the can ’cause all babies grow old. Hey, little baby’ll be an old woman soon. An old grandma looking at old men staring at each other through windows of pain. I want to be them both at once. I want to be the old America, the grizzled broken dream; the death of a salesman and the raisin in the sun.

I eat my eggs, and drink my coffee in the Tenderloin.

Version 2

 

A Lost Novel

I had that moment when you lose everything that you’ve written, and I survived it.

Those of you that followed my postings of my novel Zizkov, have probably noticed I stopped posting the chapters. Part of it was my instability and then moving to a new country, and then, well, I lost it. Not my mind but the document.

I needed to make room on my computer in order to update my software… I put it on my external hard drive… erased it from my computer…updated the software…and then the external hard drive crashed. I do have a copy of an older draft on google docs, but it’s an older draft and I had changed the ending.  I have some hard copy somewhere also with the older ending and none of the editing, but the final draft is lost, at least at this point before getting to a computer place to see if any data can be restored. Basically, the final draft is lost.

I spent a really long time working on that novel. Years. The funny thing about losing it is that I remember talking with a writing instructor about my book and the possibility of it never being published— actually he was talking about the possibility of it never getting published, and he used his own first novel as an example. He had said, it was okay, and that first novels are not meant to be published they’re for practice. I insisted that that was not the case for my first novel. Oh, no. A person does not spend years on a book and then just willy nilly say, eh, that was practice.

That was about four years ago. I think the novel was for practice. I also think the novel was a block. A block from writing other things. I’m okay with losing it. I think there was some really good parts, and that the story was interesting, but I rewrote it so many times, and it was never right. Maybe, one day I’ll write it again. I don’t know.

When I realized that the disk was corroded I was surprised by my reaction. It was, “Welllll shiiit.” And, that was about it. I think it’s okay that it’s gone. I can never again use the excuse of perfecting my novel as a way of not writing new work.

Speaking of new work. I’ve been pretty quiet for awhile. I was thinking maybe I just didn’t have the energy to write anymore, and then I got a little spark here and there, and have been sketching some new short story ideas and crafting another, and fooling around with a script. I’ll go back to posting random excerpts and stories and ideas here as I “play around”.

I recently finished reading Great Expectations by Charles Dickens and I am currently reading The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx. It’s fun to go from a classic to a modern style of reading and really see the difference in the use of language and structure to tell a story. In the non-fiction world I’m reading a book on the brain called The Developing Mind by Daniel J. Siegel which is slow going for me, but really fascinating, and also I’m racing through Vivian Gornick’s The Situation and the Story.

In the poetry realm I’ve finished Patti Smith’s the Woolgathers. It doesn’t necessarily fall under the genre of poetry as it is written in prose, but it is so poetic in tone and rich in language to me it is poetry. It was a peaceful and calming read and I could read it again and again.

I hope everyone had a good November novel month. I did not, but that’s okay.

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The Lost Mission

This is the entry for the second round of the NYC midnight short story challenge. I didn’t get passed on to the round three. I posted the feedback on my previous post. 

 

The Lost Mission

A man hears voices in his head, and one night in a Swiss Village they come for him.

When he awoke there were still no signs of human life. He felt at moments that there were people around him, like small flashes of life, but there was no one. There was no time, no past, no future. He was alone. They had taken them all, he thought. They came from the sky and took everyone. He wandered from kitchen to kitchen looking for food. He had been trapped in the hotel since the The Visitors had arrived. He sometimes tried to leave, but no matter which door to the outside he opened, it turned into another part of the hotel. It didn’t start this way, but he always knew they would try to come for him.

He had come to Montreaux on assignment to write a lifestyles article about the Jazz festival. The hotel was hard to miss. It was bright yellow with the name written in art nouveaux  lettering “Hotel Montreaux Palac”. It had been a five star hotel that catered to the rich and famous. The hotel had stood out to him, but it was the pretty Swiss woman standing outside who had really interested him. He had wanted to find a way to talk to her, and had asked her to take his picture in front of it. Her name was Maria. It seemed years’ ago that he had spoken with her, and tried to flirt with her to get a peak inside the Montreaux Palac. Now he was the sole inhabitant.

Life had felt relatively normal before his trip, and it was his first assignment in Europe. He had some troubles in his past, but his mind felt clear for the first time. Maria had worked in one of the kitchens and he had asked her to meet him for a drink after she got off work. He waited for her in one of the expensive bars. It was then as he was waiting that the voices returned. It was a buzzing insect chatter in his brain. “Come home. Your time is over.” He looked at the bartender wondering if he could hear the sounds in his head, but the bartender wasn’t looking at him. He was looking beyond the massive glass windows toward the water and the mountains. There were lights, round full brilliant lights, and many of them moving quickly toward the hotel.

He had always felt somewhat different in a way that he could never explain. When he was sixteen his parents had put him in a hospital for a year, because he believed he had come from the stars. They had said he was depressed and suicidal, but after some years of therapy and some medication he wandered through his life fairly stable and somewhat successful. Still, at times he would get this lingering feeling of being watched, and he felt like he could hear distant voices calling him. He never spoke of it because he had worried about being put away again.

 

He followed a small crowed of people outside. He forgot about Maria, and the bartender, and everything else.  The stars had appeared to grow brighter, closer, and stronger while the darkness began to pull away. It was the The Visitors. They had come before when he was young. They spoke to him, whispered they missed him that his assignment was over that he could come home now. He looked around to see the people staring into the lights. He screamed for everyone to run, but no one seemed to hear him. He covered his ears and closed his eyes. He ran back into the hotel and hid. He didn’t see them leave. He didn’t watch the darkness return and the stars fade back in the universe. He turned away from them.

He did not know how long he had been in the hotel he only knew that food was becoming difficult to find. Occasionally, he felt as if he would see the figure of a human passing through the halls of the hotel, sometimes he thought he saw Maria, but it was nothing just a whisper of a memory.

“He’s grown so thin.” The voice was genderless yet motherly.

The man spun around at the sound. He had not heard them speak, not since the first night they came from the stars. It frightened him that they were still here. Watching him. They were coming to get him. The last man! He ran through the halls looking for a place to hide. He ran from the reception to the luxury suites, until he hid in the grand pantry that once stored exotic and rare foods like fresh Beluga caviar and white truffle oil. He held his breath. His hunger replaced by fear. He waited.

“Come home son” it was like a faint whisper in his brain. Come home. He could hear the voice again, calling him to go home. There was crying, and he felt a great deep sadness.

“We send them here and then we can’t get them back.” It said. “Trapped between dimensions” it had said. “We have to leave him,” it had said. The Visitors were leaving.

Yes. He thought, yes, leave me. There were no humans left. Yet, he knew he was wrong. “Son,” it had whispered one last time, “You cannot stay here. You are nowhere.” He pressed himself even deeper into the pantry with the hope that the darkness and the corners would protect him. The door opened and a bright light washed over him he covered his eyes and began to scream.

**************

Maria, paused a moment. She thought she had heard something. A faint sound coming from the corner of the pantry. It unsettled her nerves. She thought about the man who had asked her out for a drink. The man who disappeared the night the lights came from the sky. He had called out to them. Take me home, he had said, and he disappeared, but for some reason, Maria felt as if he had never left.

NYC Short Story Feedback

I didn’t make it past the second round of the NYC Midnight Short Story writing challenge. It is not too unexpected. I had a hard time getting into the theme. I knew it was disjointed and even though I sent it off I didn’t really like it. So, although it was a slight disappointment I wasn’t surprised.

A great thing about doing the NYC Writing challenge is that even if you do not get passed on to the next rounds they still will give you feedback on your writing. I find that the feedback is very helpful. Some of the stuff I am aware of other notes are new- it is all helpful.

Below is the feedback they sent.

 

”The Lost Mission” by Adrienna Ogin – WHAT THE JUDGE(S) LIKED ABOUT YOUR STORY – ……Interesting ideas. I was most interested in the main character’s history, including his teenage belief that he had come to the stars…….The mystery is presented up front, which pulls the reader in.//The tone has a distance to it which helps the reader identify with the protagonist’s predicament……………………………….I really like the inter-dimensional aspect to this story – it brings a real sci-fi flavor, but it feels fresh. The story has a nice arc and feels complete by the time we reach the end. The shift in perspective for the final paragraph is handled well, giving us just enough information to leave a ghostly after-image, without over-explaining……………………….   WHAT THE JUDGES FEEL NEEDS WORK – ……The scenes of this story feel structurally disconnected, and I wasn’t able to put it all together at the end…….There’s a switch of POV at the end — and those last lines are chilling and leave a strong impression. However, those lines would work much more seamlessly if there were some anchor at the beginning so that it’s an echo, rather than an out-of-the-blue POV switch.//When a story is rendered in the past tense, it’s important that anything which happened before the time of the story is rendered in the pluperfect…………………………….…Some of the descriptions were a little bland or too general. For example, “Life had felt relatively normal before his trip…” Normal by whose standard? Why “relatively”? And: “He had always felt somewhat different…” You can cut “somewhat” and double the strength of the statement. But even then, it might be better just to lean on the examples of his feeling different (hearing voices, needing therapy & medication) and trust the reader to know this means he felt different from other people. And: “…after some years and some medication…” How  many years? What medication? Getting more specific will help lift this story to the next level…………………….