Monthly Archives: March 2013

The Salt of the Earth

1) Muse’s directive: “Place Lot’s wife at a school board meeting in Kansas.”

Mr. Lot rapped the gavel on the cheap plastic face of the table, which shivered visibly under the accusing fluorescent lights of Wichita High’s cafeteria. The members of the board shuffled about in no hurry to take their seats, catcalling and heckling each other.

“Order, order I beg you. Thank you all for coming, now let’s get to it, shall we?” Mr. Lot’s smile beamed with the only genuine enthusiasm to be found in the whole town.  “Our business today is to come to a decision concerning enveloping the girls at St. Mary’s Orphanage into our student body. Sister Emily is here to represent the orphanage. Sister Emily, if you please…”  Lot gestured for the diminutive nun to stand.

Sister Emily got to her feet, but her stature was such that it was quite difficult to tell. She shuffled her notes nervously and cast her eyes about the crowd. Her eyes quite stood out from her head, like a lamb in a den of wolves. FInally her gaze settled on Lot and she let out a deep breath and addressed him.

“Esteemed Superintendent Lot, and members of the Board, I come to you today with a sincere need.” her freckled hands shook as she accosted her notes. “Our dear Reverend Mother Chatterly has taken to her bed and likely will not be able to return to her post as superintendent of our school. Coincidentally, the state’s new curriculum and standardized testing would require us to purchase an overwhelming stock of new textbooks and study aids.” Her tiny chin wobbled woefully, and her eyes seemed to be getting glossy with tears. “It did not please our Lord that we should find money in the budget to meet these demands,” she sniffed powerfully for such a tiny woman, “And so we trust you, neighbors, with our dire need to school our girls, lest we lose them entirely. You see, if we cannot prove our capability to provide means for standard curriculum, we will lose our charter from the state.” Sister Emily punctuated the end of her speech by collapsing abruptly back to her seat.

Mrs. Lot, Idit, stood and commanded the room with sarcastic charisma that mocked Sister Emily’s fragile composure. “Dear Sister, we are all very moved, I’m sure. But I worry that our staff are already stretched quite thin,” she said folding her finely manicured hands at her chest, almost prayerfully. “It is also a certainty that our budget for providing lunches for our student body if we amassed, er, how many pupils would we assume?”

Sister Emily whispered “60” but no one but the man next to her could hear, so he barked the number for the benefit of the assembly.

“60? My that’s quite a lot of mouths to feed,” Idit smiled regretfully and took her seat, confident her doubts had been communicated.

Mr. Draper, a misplaced well-meaning man, stood sheepishly, but quickly adopted an attitude of devil’s advocate so that he could counter Idit without fear of direct retribution.  “Mrs. Lot, let us talk through your legitimate concerns. Let us hear how many students we might add in each grade, and compare that to the state’s limits on the teacher/pupil ratio. Also, I only just resigned from acting Treasurer, and I  believe we have excess in the maintenance budget seeing as that infernal tornado relieved us of our aqua-athletics building.”

Before Mr. Draper could finish, Idit was on her feet again, “Thank you for your level-headed input, Mr. Draper, but are you truly considering the children? The orphans are sure to need a level of special needs attention that we simply cannot fulfill. Especially that, Dorothy. I mean no offense to your noble work, Sister,” Idit grinned, baring pearly canines, “We do not have a member of staff equipped with capabilities to educate such intensely delusional pupils. It would be wrong of us to pretend. It would only be hurting Dorothy, you see.”

Idit’s smile faltered. She had finally deigned to look at Sister Emily and thus fell into shocked silence. The nun had dissolved into a quiet riot of tears. The man sitting beside the nun had no choice but to pat her back in a show of sympathy, which only served to knock her habit askew.

Once Sister Emily composed herself, she stood and tearfully addressed the room, “Unfortunately, our dear Dorothy has been missing since that terrible twister last month.”

2) My current word count for my novel is: 26,622/ 40,000.

3) Muse’s next directive: “Fill in the blank: ‘When I first told my family about ___________, they didn’t believe me.'”

Letting You Go

1) Muse’s directive: “A character arrives at work to find her chair missing. What happened to it?”

A grimace contorted the girl’s face as she navigated through the village of cubicles. Running late, insufficiently caffeinated, and chagrined, she endured the banter that was repeated ad nauseum each and every morning, Monday through Friday. She could count on hearing “another day in paradise” sarcastically volleyed at least 3 times before taking sanctuary in her little cubicle. There, she would don her head phones and thus ensconce herself in the sanctity of music for the remainder of the day.

It seemed to her that, what might have otherwise been a group of witty and genuine individuals, had been obliged to pantomime simple pack animals in exchange for a steady mortgage payment and decent dental coverage.  She hated that she could feel herself adapting her sense of humor to maximize corporate America appeal–which is to say, anything for a sarcastic chuckle from a coworker. She had recently found herself exhibiting strong opinions about fluorescents lighting, tacky carpet, and the ergonomics of office chairs. The funniest thing all week was blaming the penny pinching site manager for frigid toilet seats–clearly the expenditure of heating the ladies’ lavatory was too extravagant for his sensibilities.

She acknowledged Kyle as he hurried by, coffee cup clutched to his chest, likely his 3rd dose of caffeine since his arrival at the office at 6am. She almost mimed him as he said, “Workin hard or hardly workin, Alex?” as he had every morning for the past 2 years.  His subtle joke about her work day beginning hours later than his had lost its appeal within the first week. Why hadn’t she found a polite way to cease this awkward ritual ages ago? Did he lose an equal measure of self respect for dolling it out as she did for accepting it?

Come to think of it, hadn’t she been losing the spirit for the adventures supposedly lined up  for a young moderately-well educated American girl? What was she trading her joie de vivre for? Certainly not the lively interactions. She winced at her pejorative assessment of her daily conversations. She enjoyed many of them, despite herself. “From whence the bitterness, Al?” she demanded silently as she steered into her cube.

She stopped dead and nearly dropped her mug of Organic Fair Trade Guatemalan on the brand new God-awful carpet that still stank of glue, or bonder, or whatever the technical term was.

Her desk, usually a hazardous amalgam of textbooks, drawings, and spare parts–the guts of some project or other, long amputated from its primary assembly–was nearly bare. A family of dust bunnies, recently evicted from their hiding places, gamboled nervously about in the wake of her arrival. Her textbooks were filed neatly in a cardboard box that lay afloat in the middle of the floor, marking the space where her austere chair used to stand guard.

“Alex? I need to speak with you in my office,” announced a stern, though not unsympathetic voice behind her.

2) My current word count for my novel is: 25,621 / 40,000.

3) Muse’s next directive: “Place Lot’s wife at a school board meeting in Kansas.”

Happy 2 Month Anniversary!

So much has happened since the last anniversary post! Actually, having this occasion for reflection makes the recent past seem rather heavily weighted to the negative. Recall that career as a field service engineer I mentioned? An engineer I remain, however I no longer collect a paycheck in that capacity. The recession finally visited the nuclear industry, and my strained relationship with management strung the noose.

So, good news! I’m a starving artist!…

I am rearranging my goals for this manuscript, which will be reflected in the countdown soon. Since writing is now my primary occupation, I figure I should get a little more aggressive in my aspirations.

Cumulative Word Count Progress: 12,091! 25,570 in total. Amusingly, I came to the conclusion after weaving the two independent stories that make up the manuscript that there’s more work that needs to be done than originally anticipated. Therefore, I’m bumping my goal word count goal to a tentative 40,000.

Excerpt: Early diary entry from main character, Seneca, as a human.

April 15

Dear Diary,

I spend too much time these days  thinking how very remote and practically imaginary our connection to other people is: how individual each experience of life truly is.
I asked myself, “How do you describe how it is to be you? What words would you use to describe how it feels to be in your skin? The state of being my person is:….”

I thought of the sound and the caress of each automatic breath:  the rhythmic billowing and contracting under my chest and ribs. I feel the thrum of my heart against my ribs and the hot pulse of the tributary in my neck; the touch of my tongue to my teeth; the featherweight of  bangs against my cheek; the texture of my fingerprints. I test the network of muscles which respond in my back and legs, restful but dependable, as I go through the motions of being this animal. I note the live, warm scent of my skin mingling with the floral notes of my shampoo. I observe the flutter veil of my eyelashes snapping the images of my world into singular moments, and the imagined industry in my brain weaving those images into movie memories.

But all these things are terrestrial. Merely tactile. If I had to describe the integral sense of being me, the word would be: alone.

And the only thing more sad, final, and horrifying, is thinking I might not be alone, but pregnant: host: mother. To something unwanted.

Yes, dear,dirty, distraught me. I think we are pregnant.
682 calories.

Personal Philosophy

1) Muse’s directive: Invent an opposite. What is the opposite of a kiss? What is the opposite of green? What is the opposite of a train?…Use both the thing and its opposite in a story…”

The opposite of love is not hate. In fact, the more I deal in the realm of romance, the more I realize that those two entities are just two sides of the same coin. The true opposite of love is  indifference.

Love and hate both consume your energy, dogging your thoughts constantly. When you love someone, you want to see them everywhere. When you hate someone, you dread seeing them anywhere. When you love someone, your spirit feels called to be the best of itself so you try to do what’s right.  When you hate someone you feel drawn toward resentment, displaying the best of yourself in the cleverest, most vengeful schemes. Both love and hate keep you focussed on the object of the emotion.

Indifference however draws nothing from your energy. You may not even realize the person’s existence enough for the verb that describes your actions to be “neglect”.

I guess that’s why I feel moved to love, and only love, in the thousands of possible ways a girl can. Hate is an all-consuming negative. In hate I do not recognize myself. Likewise, wIth indifference, I truly wrong the people I interface with, thus I am faced with a version of me that is alien and repugnant.

There is only one option for me–to love.

The existence of choice is a fallacy.

And the results are agonizing. Love calls for you to be truly vulnerable and accepting of the possibilities. Sometimes you find yourself watching imminent disaster crest on the horizon, and your only option is to endure. Often, you find yourself clinging desperately in these struggles to the knowledge that at least you are being true to yourself. At least you are you. Everything else is being ripped away in the tempest of disillusionment, but there she is.

At least she can say she is she.

2) My current word count for my novel is: 24,178 / 30,000.

3) Muse’s next directive: “A character arrives at work to find her chair missing. What happened to it?”

Trouble Me

1) Muse’s directive: Write the following in the voice of a fifty-two-year-old man: I could have avoided all that trouble if only I had remembered to…”

Hard afternoon sunlight glances off the funeral director’s golden placard as I approach his door. I apply my knuckles to the wood paneling, posing the question of entry to the room’s inhabitant.  When Christopher P. Carmon emerges from his office, he is smiling in that somber way. I’ve never been a talkative man and recent events haven’t improved that. I extend my hand, and when Mr. Carmon takes it, I return his purchased smile.

He beckons me into his office with a broad sweep of his arm. Once we’re both inside and the door is closed, he indicates a deep, velvet-upholstered chair. I take up residence in it, and he seats himself across from me.  In soft tones he begins to speak with the usual sympathies about the “dear departed”.

I can’t help but let my mind wander, so I let him go on with niceties by himself.  Instead, I think about her. I could have avoided all that trouble if I only had remembered to bring an umbrella that day. I could have been out hunting right now, or finishing a carving instead of sitting in this office, organizing her way into the ground. I could have done without all the fighting. I could have lived without those heinous months when her Mother came to help with the babies. I could have done without the guilt of breaking her heart because I hadn’t yet learned it.

Out of long habit, I turn my wedding ring about my finger. The movement sends a lance of reflected light into my eyes. It’s only then that I realize there are tears welling there. Instinctively I lift my hand to my brow and bow over my knees. The tears flow in several tributaries down my cheeks to water the lilies in the patterned carpet.

Almost by force, I’m taken back to that fateful April shower that prompted a beautiful lady with soft brunette curls to offer to share the space under her umbrella. A choked laugh clutches my chest because I think of how I must have looked through her eyes: wearing a drenched, oversized suit looking like a mongrel after a bath.

After a few moments I realize Mr. Carmon has ceased his sentimental muttering. I dab at my eyes with the backs of my fists and look up at him. But it’s no use. I don’t see a richly dressed man in a richly dressed office. I see the freckles that dappled her nose and cheeks. I see the shy smile that flaunted those cherry lips, and her violet-gray eyes that flashed through the sodden twilight gloom.

I take a deep breath and stand. Collecting my coat, I offer Mr Carmon an apologetic smile, tip my hat, and take my leave. Today, I just want to take a walk alone with the girl in my head who has been troubling me for 25 years.

2) My current word count for my novel is: 21,328 / 30,000.

3) Muse’s next directive: “Invent an opposite. What is the opposite of a kiss? What is the opposite of green? What is the opposite of a train?…Use both the thing and its opposite in a story…”