A Novel Story (Flash Fiction)

Sitting on the seat of my pants rather than flying by them, I settled in. Tucked in a corner of Casey’s, slurping off the Wi-Fi and staggering sips on a cup of Joe, my fingers danced on the keys. I tuned out the pitter-pat of the keyboard that so annoyed me when someone else was doing the pounding. The character driven novel I started had morphed into a plot twist like a pretzel. The protagonist was on the verge of becoming too becoming, and if I didn’t reign her back in, this could end up a screen play for a Hallmark movie.

The lockdown had siphoned off my Muse. Writing at home in the utility room sucked, plain and simple. Half-hearted attempts at moving the novel along became a droning, on the nose, word count. To feel productive I let my characters wander off the preverbal page as cobwebs and half empty paint cans looked on. The fact was, jealousy took over. With the world on fire and truth stranger than fiction once again, my novel couldn’t hold a candle to a media driven culture with all its flash-mob images. I envied journalists and all the morsels they stabbed at in 24 hour cycles.

A novel requires a long attention span, as opposed to sound bites, podcasts, and twit tweets. Without the coffee shop I relied on, putting on airs of fresh ground beans, and patrons shuffling in to order drinks with fraps and frills, well, my mojo atrophied. Casey’s was my bunker, my base-camp to revive and move a novel along. All of those coffee shop types of distractions became a wall around my imagination. It didn’t make sense, but it worked for me, and I was back with my butt in the chair. ‘The’ chair.

Something was off though. Maybe it was the hand sanitizer. Could be the masks we all wore. The extra effort it took to read people’s eyes rather than facial recognition. Tricky. Chairs were missing as well as half the tables. I was glad to be back, and yet after a while I felt like my imagination, like the invisible virus, was ready to find another host. The shop turned into a surgery theatre with all the Muses observing from the other side of the glass. The world had changed, or had been chained. For a moment I wondered if I had time to finish my novel. I could have written War and Peace 2.0 during the lockdown if my Muse hadn’t skipped town.

Fear crept in like I had left the door of my creativity cracked. The usual writer’s doubts marched past. “What’s the point?” “You don’t have what it takes.” “There are a thousand billion books at thrift stores everywhere, what makes you think…” I pulled my mask down for the umpteenth time to slug more coffee. I was tempted to find a tape measure and see if all the X’s really were six feet apart. I wondered if picking my nose was part of the cease and desist order. The public was much pickier now. It seems we all became Big Brother. George Orwell, smiling from his grave, a self-assured corpse of Christi, pointing his boney finger at all the points he made decades ago.

Damn. I guess I have to find a new normal. What a contradiction of terms…new—normal. The war of the words threatened by writer’s block once again.

I asked my protagonist her opinion. She offered me a cup of tea, shrugged atlas eyes at me, and demurred a smile underneath her N-95 mask.

Storm Front

Clouds roiled by,

doubling their chins.

clearing their throats

over and again,

sending echoes down the line.

Veins popped on their foreheads,

razor lights split the tension–

flash points of interruption.

Then the weeping,

sobbing, lubrication of

pent up anger mixed

with distraught.

A million-billion tears

distilled in sheets,

form rivulets

on the overlooked

guttural indentations

of the world’s skin.

“What’s Going On?”

I’ve got nothing to say. So I’ll let my fingers do the talking. Now, isn’t that a bit passive-aggressive?

So many swirling dervishes, spinning hearts out of control. Soaked emotional ballasts thrown over the edge of reason. To try to right a ship that is surely sinking seems futile. News cycles peddling faster and faster and still unable to keep up. Pundits and prognosticators sweeping up the glass in the street looking for some coherence underneath.

Facts:

-George Floyd was murdered by a police officer, watched by other police officers, video rolling from body cams and bystanders’ phones.

-A bottom up/top down investigation ensued. All levels and departments of government on it.

-Protests justly formed.

-Riots are not protests.

-Violence is not peaceful.

Many more facts to add, but these slipped through my filter first.

I loathe going political. Honestly, fear gets the better of me and I would rather run silent to avoid push back.

I’d rather our sight be color-blind than color-coded. Since when is skin tone equal to tone of voice? When did we forget Dr. King’s dreams of mountain top perspectives and the long contemplative walk to Selma? I thought we were all just trying to get along. Rodney King and Dr. King sought to bring peace and reason to the fore, and yet we forget.

Trying times are not the time to stop trying.

If it weren’t for the masks at the protests and rioting, we might have totally misplaced a pandemic. Justifiable identity suppression while looting. A masquerade party involving drinks of a Molotov drunkenness. The piece of peaceful protests, (Our constitutional right, by the way.) thrown by the side of the road, and into crowds.

“What’s going on?” Marvin Gaye

What brought a cop to the point of kneeling on the neck of George Flyod with his hand in his pocket like la de dah, Whistling Dixie as it were? Why were bystanders just standing there? What would I have done in that moment? What happened to “Everyone stand back, let’s give him some air?” The arrest was over counterfeit money. No matter why the cuffs were put on him, an officer isn’t prosecutor, judge, or jury. On the side of every police cruiser are the words “To Serve and Protect”.  These officers redefined those terms and now all officers are lumped into a police state of mind. I don’t buy it.

I still believe law enforcement is part of our judicial system. You know, Law and Order and all that. The buck doesn’t stop with Officer Krupke or Jerry Orbach. Laws run uphill until justice is served. Equal justice under the law dispensed by a blind folded lady holding scales. The system isn’t perfect because people of influence aren’t perfect. Sometimes justice is underserved, mis-served, or deliberately maligned. We have to give it a chance, before we take the law into our own hands, don’t you think? Or would it be better to slice the system and dole out slivers into each and every ‘We the People’ and see how justice is served?

If that happened I’d be on the Barney Fife end of the spectrum. Empty pistol. One bullet in my pocket nestled near my heart. Or maybe Andy Griffith, handing out the benefit-of-the- doubt more than reaching for the handcuffs. In short, I drive a brown truck for a living, not a black and white.

Black and white…isn’t that the issue here? The thing is the issue isn’t black and white, clear-cookie-cutter solutions. The problem is some people can’t see beyond the colors to the content of the character. I’m not saying that character is all about grey matter. Grey matter is only the beginning. The eighteen inch trip from mind to heart is the path toward healing.

There were and are peaceful protests. There were and are candles and prayers. There were and are civil ways to air sadness, frustration, and anger. But those avenues take heart and aren’t easy roads on which to walk forward. On the contrary, it seems The Road Less Traveled is blocked by difficulty. The first line of the book is meant to be crossed, not a detour.

“Life is difficult.” M. Scott Peck

Let’s say our prayers and incite peace. These are matters of the heart. God help us all.

Up There

Maneuvered by metaphor,

sashayed with clichés,

I looked up and it was still there,

that sun pasted between

a cobalt wall

with translucent clouds

brushing in the fore.

A golden pill hung

before I ever was

and hanging still

when my blip bleeps its last.

I relish every age spot

given by its graces,

and return its due

respect after

tender shoulders

absorb aloe vera.

A light by which

I see.

A warmth by which

I feel.

A presence by which

I love.

Dipping a TOE (Theory of Everything) in the Lake

Did Evolution Give Us Surfing? - READY... SET... QUESTION!

Big trees fell into Lake Michigan over and upon each other like pickup sticks. The beach became a trimmed path to wend down more than to lay on. What happened when I was so busy inland mowing my lawn? So much for long walks on the beach. It was more like an obstacle course, hiking around large upended stumps or limbo lumbering underneath thick trunks.

A bit overwhelmed, I found a perch part way up on a dune. The kids had invited me along to do some hammocking. Yes, that’s a thing now. Hammocking isn’t really a word yet. Auto- correct suggested ‘ham mocking.’ Next Easter I will try mocking the honey ham. Anyway, my kids dug their toes in and continued to the top, while I sat and pondered the plight of our most favored lake of the greats.

Is this simply another sign of the times? Is this God’s way of reminding us of how little control we have over the skin of the earth? Some suggest humanity has contributed to climate change. I don’t doubt that, but the degree of our influence on the changes are still under review to my mind.

I sat for a bit, then pulled out of my back pocket a small book. If Einstein Had Been a Surfer by Peter Kreeft is a slim hardcover about the search for the Theory of Everything. Although it is a short walk on a really long pier of thought, I found it fascinating considering the view of dunes cut off at the knees and horizontal trees still bearing green leaves.

Now, I don’t know why, but for a few months now I’ve been queuing up surfing videos. Before that, I had a fetish for tsunamis. Before that, I thought of how unfathomable the oceans are and why God proportioned them thus. Consider this…maybe God’s thought was to overwhelm us with motifs of eternity like the universe having no back wall on which to hang our pretensions. How about the ocean blanketing 71 percent of our little blue planet? Maybe God thought 29 percent was all that humanity could manage.

[Side note: Did you know the saline of the ocean is within .5 percent of the saline percentage of human amniotic fluid?]

Anyway, as Kreeft surfs (He is a surfer, by the way, along with being a professor of philosophy at Boston College.) the waves of thought in search of an ‘everything’ that curls in on itself, he employs a philosopher, a scientist, and a surfer in conversation. After a few pages in I realized how over my head I was, trying to grasp what they were after…but the undertow. I caught a small wave and I wasn’t sitting on top of the world like one of the Beach Boys.

I set the book down several times to look off in the middle distance, the distance being a huge lake of which I could not see the other side. A metaphor of eternity, infinity, or simply a bigness beyond what my eyes beheld in total. I knew Wisconsin was over there somewhere, but right then all I could do was exercise faith. I couldn’t see everything. Hmm.

A thought spilled on my conscience. “Jerry, you’re not Einstein, Kreeft, or a surfer. Why are you splaying intellect? What is it you’re after? Does thinking about these things bring about a peace of mind, or mitigate a piece of your mind?” If anyone does capture The Theory of Everything, then what?

Hang on, I’m about to hit the brakes and take a sharp turn.

Recently someone reminded me that the first temptation of humanity was knowledge of everything. “Just take a little bite of the fruit and you will be as God, full of knowledge.” Well, hey, becoming a know-it-all seems harmless enough. How about realizing you’re in the nude and reach immediately for underwear. How about playing hide and seek for the rest of your life? The ole be careful what you wish for scenario.

Surfing. Channel surfing. Surfing the internet. Have our eyes gotten Googly all of a sudden? Do we ride the Youtube all the way to shore? Since when do we need a 24 hour news cycle, real, fake, or everything in between? Knowledge is power as they say, but is absolute knowledge absolute power? There is a forest. There are trees. Do we understand the difference? Is it okay for elms to lay down on the beach? Does all sand eventually fall through the hourglass? Will the theory of everything distill our intelligence into artificiality? Will we be as gods, or will we be okay with bearing God’s image? Will we acquiesce to God holding onto the final coherence, keeping intact the mystery and majesty of human existence and God’s?

I set the book down and turned to look to the top of the dune. My son was up there, taking in the broadest perspective. My daughter was next to me as we took in a narrowed view of the lake. Down below my other daughter was waist deep in the chilled early summer waters. I may not know the theory of everything, and at this point, I’m not sure I want to. What moves my desire is theories of somethings, like sharing an afternoon at the beach with people I love, taking in the creativeness of God, and thanking God for both. Surf’s up.

Without Birthdays There’d Be No Mother’s Day

I don’t remember the day I was born, do you? But ask any mother about the day her child was born and she will be glad to fill you in.

(Imagine a New York accent.) “Little Johnny came on a rainy Wednesday. Oh yah, he gave me the fits for eleven hours. Johnny just didn’t have a clue as to how to get outta there, so I pushed him! I’ve been pushing him ever since. But anyway, his arm was up over his noggin, the doctor said, so a puny thumb flipped out first like a hitch hika. The Doc fumbled around so only his head was crowning and all. That hurt like a bugga! The good thing was it helped me forget my husband was layin on the floor out cold. He lost it when a nurse handed him a soiled towel to throw in the linen basket. Geez Louise, I had to do the Lamaze all by myself. All that breathing! The nurse took ova holding my hand and started breathing with me. The doc said to start pushing. Golly. Finally, after all the ‘don’t pushes’ and ‘not yets’ I felt like I had the constipations. So I pushed like a motha and screamed like a psycho lady. Lamaze schlamaze! That kid took my breaths away. I swear little Johnny and I were the same color of blue. I bet a dolla he was. Actually, I did swear. More than once, but who’s countin’ at that point. The doc said I was doin’ good, and that I was fully effaced. Ida like to slap him in his efface! Everyone, including my husband, who pulled up beside me again, kept sayin’ to push. With my eye balls bouncin’ at each one of ‘em I yelled with spit comin’ out, ‘I am! I am! Holy Schmoly! Get this kid outta me!’ The doc told me to give it one last big push, which was good, because that’s alls I had left. So I pushed like a weightlifta and out came my boy like a bowling ball. The nurse put him on my chest like a slab of meat and I was so full of the emotions. Johnny cried, for crying out loud, and my husband came in close and all our tears mixed together. I’d go through it all over again! A miracle it was, a miracle for sure.”

Due date determined by the baby, not the mother | SciTech ...

Pandemic Pondering

Has mitigation led to manipulation or the revelation thereof?

Do masks make manifest our propensity to hide?

Will contact tracing underline or outline a community?

Does distancing lead to dysfunction or uncover it?

Will we think twice about ‘going viral’?

 

Has mitigation led to meditation?

Do masks reveal our trues selves?

Will contact tracing underscore our need for others?

Does distancing lead to a helpful perspective?

Will we think twice about going virtuous?

 

Heard Immunity

No typo. Yes, a bit playful. Everyone has a need to be heard. Nobody wants to be herded. I’ll admit, part of the reason I write is to be heard. Our voices are a gift to others while our ability to hear is the mechanism to receive such gifts. Ever wonder why God gave us one mouth and two ears, I mean besides the scientific anatomical ones? I figure it might be so we listen twice as much as we talk.

The immunity part comes in when talk becomes cheap. It’s simple supply and demand. Ever been around someone whose mouth prattles on and on? They supply too much. They tome on and on and you tune out. Blinking becomes a conscious choice so your eyes don’t succumb to glazing over. You throw a penny of thought into the conversation and coins gush out like a slot machine on steroids.

That’s when heard immunity kicks in. It’s not that they don’t have anything to say. On the contrary, mixed into the white noise of their run on sentences are clues. Their mouths aren’t open and shut cases of our prosecution. A word, a phrase, and tone of voice start rolling over like a rock tumbler. If we can hang in there, we might stop looking at their mouth and make more eye-contact. If I can cup my ears for a little longer, maybe, just maybe, I can interpret their words in the context of their whole. Did you know that body language accounts for the majority of communication?

Listen. Listening can be hard work sometimes. It’s a skill in need of constant development. Make no mistake, listening is not the same as hearing. Just ask my kids. When they call me ‘Jerry’ I know it’s after multiple attempts at ‘Dad’. My wife knows I can’t do two things at once. To tell her I’m listening while checking my phone? Fail.

In all this distancing, sheltering, and personal protecting, there are spaces created to listen. I can’t say I’ve taken every opportunity to really listen. I’d kick myself if my leg reached that far. Instead I’m pounding these keys as a note-to-self.

Two ears plus one mouth equals communion. Community. Communication.

Two eyes plus two ears plus one mouth equals better reception.

Heard immunity is something I want to avoid.

4 Shocking Facts the Wool Industry Doesn't Want You to Know

 

An Eagle, A Weasel, And A Grain Of Wheat (I went long today…cup of coffee’s worth.)

Thursday, often overlooked, fills a gap between Wednesday and Friday. These days are often not named by the sequestered, the distanced, and the unemployed. More people are getting a hint of the homeless while hunkered down in their homes. Do the homeless know what day of the week it is? Do they give a flip?

“Hey you, what planet is this?” Captain James T. Kirk

Precisely.

Anyway, I simply want to mark this day as Thursday, for the record, and all that. Thursday April 30, 2020 for hindsight’s sake!

The Muse didn’t tell me to go get my laptop to write the words above, but I had to dip my toes in the ole ‘stream-of-consciousness’ for a bit.

The thought at hand comes from my readings this morning. I’ll start with where I ended. A weasel. Take a sec now and what comes to mind when I say weasel… Definitely not a term of endearment, eh?

I’ve been re-reading Annie Dillard’s book Teaching a Stone to Talk. In one chapter she details the life of a weasel. A ten inch squiggly line of an animal. She tells of a man who shot an eagle (Must have not been outlawed at the time.) and attached to its neck was the skull of a weasel. Weasels go for the jugular and don’t let go. Their jaws are like vice-grips, and after clamping down, they take their prize back to their den and sequester for a few days until the need arises to play fetch again. (Kinda like safaris to bring back toilet paper and hand sanitizer these days.) Apparently the weasel missed its mark and the eagle wrestled, clawed, and ate as much as it could. Eagle-weasel…Fascinating.

Well, I couldn’t help but overlay a metaphor over such an image. Now, what comes to mind when I say eagle? Right. Weasel going after the jugular of an Eagle. We’re talking freedom here and the defending of it. I gotta be careful or this blog might turn into some sort of hummus of hubris in which we keep grabbing the chips on our shoulders to dip and dip and dip.

I’ll be the first to admit I shy away from talking politics. (By the way, do you know the definition of politics? Poly means many, and ticks are things that suck the blood out of you. J) I usually don’t talk religion in a matter-of-fact way either. Those who do might be considered courageous or fanatical, depending on who is listening and the filter with which they listen.

I believe our country was founded on freedom, warts and all. I believe my Christian faith is also founded on freedom, some Christian knuckleheads notwithstanding (Myself included from time to time.). First, country-wise, a Trail of Tears, no explaining that away. We also confess to the sin of slavery, and thousands died, white and black, to bring about emancipation. It’s human nature to look on the color of the skin first before discovering the content of anyone’s character. Some are more skilled in getting past appearances than others. (That could be a blog post [or a book] in itself. Probably is many times over.) We can make confessions of creeds and miss the point entirely, which is Christ himself, not crusades or Christian religion per se.

How are you feeling so far? If I were you. Wait. If I were me, I’d crack some eggs, scramble them, and lay the eggshells between us. It’s like back a few generations ago when the topic of sex was spoken only using winged insects and avian references. If we do discuss religion and politics it’s usually after we’ve had one too many and our defenses are down. Well, what I mean is there are plenty of talking heads…often talking past each other. Our divisions gladly pluck up talking points and paste them over each other’s mouths. I know. I know, but don’t we all like a bit of drama with a splash of optics?

Annie Dillard, the weasel and the eagle, was read last. The first thing I made an effort to get synapses synapping was in the gospel of John. Jesus, in usual fashion, had his disciples scratching their heads.

“Listen carefully: (interesting, Jesus already knew they might not get it) unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat. But if it is buried, is sprouts and reproduces itself many times over. In the same way, anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have if forever, real and eternal.”   John 12:24, 25. The Message Bible

Okay, what the heck does a grain of wheat dying have to do with the old eagle/weasel? I got to thinking about how we humans like to weasel out of things. It seems our tendency is to stay in our little stories. Get what we get and go to our den until we need something else. At least that’s my modus operandi most days. But this weasel…the one that bit like a tick and wouldn’t let go, died attached to freedom. Who knew the places he flew before dying. In an odd way maybe he was buried in the sky. Hmmm.

I suppose I should have a point. It’s personal, first and foremost, like a finger pointing at my chest, because in the end it’s our hearts that matter, right? Okay, let me put it this way. I see eagles occasionally on my delivery route. It’s as if I saw one and it flew over to me and said, “Bite me.” It’s as if Jesus walked up to me and said, “Jerry, you are that grain of wheat.” It’s wholeheartedness gone wild, courageous enough to risk it all. Death be not proud. Living to die, and dying to live and all that. So much more, but I’ll chew on this awhile, no, maybe clamp down.

Tuesday

Tuesday

Like the middle child

of the beginning of the week.

Looked over rather than seen.

Endured as opposed to lived.

You know how each day

exudes an ambiance?

Sunday with its long naps

and pew perching.

Wednesday has ashes and humps.

Monday, extra cups of coffee.

Thursday is second fiddle to Tuesday.

Saturday the garage is addressed.

Friday we remember God.

But Tuesday.

It acts like the missing sock.

Maybe it’s the overlooked,

almost empty loaf of bread.

This day clangs no cymbals,

yet is loaded with snooze buttons.

We pay no mind to Tuesday

except when we call it fat.

That day, once a year,

when we all mispronounce

a pastry, or misspell it.

Tuesday afternoon gets a nod

from The Moody Blues.

They had sympathy,

for a portion of the day at least.

Well, anyway, say hi to Tuesday

for me.

P.S. I’m so sorry I forgot your special relationship with Morrie Schwartz and Mitch Albom; They were Tuesday people after all.