Category Archives: Muse

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.”

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…”

Apologies and Proposals

1) Muse’s directive: “Write about a roll of film that has been obtained surreptitiously.”

To whom it may concern:

I am directing this correspondence to the management offices of the 21St. Dollar Movie in hopes that I may shed some light on the property stolen on the 21st of March.

I wish to identify the culprit, but more importantly, I wish to beg his pardon. Furthermore, I wonder if I may go so far as to propose your participation in the designs of the punitive measures levied.

You see, my grandson, Tucker Delaney, has bequeathed to me the story and has enlisted my assistance in his redemption. I will henceforth relate his story to you, and then describe the participation I request from you. Before I go any further, I must insist that I do not write with the intention to excuse Tucker. I merely strive to give you some understanding.

Tuck and his best friend PJ had no idea as they counted their quarters on the sidewalk at your facility, that they were mere minutes away from degenerating into thievery. Seeing the pictures on Saturday evening had been their habit for months, and they hadn’t any reason to suspect that today would be any different than the others. However, they were destined for their first glimpse of that which captivates all men: the seductive beauty of a woman exercising her influence.

They had been sauntering down the corridor towards the viewing of Captain Blood when their progress was arrested by the image of a woman’s naked shoulder, made momentarily visible to the hall by the swinging door as a patron exited the theater. Naturally, their first reaction was to change course–sneak into this theatre instead. They proceeded to mock what they couldn’t readily understand, as the human race is wont to do.

But there’s little that the boys could do to truly distract each other from the lace,  sultry voice, and the postures of that powerful woman (our own Mae West, of course). However, the impending end of the film began to nag at Tuck. He managed to contrive and convey a brilliant plan to his comrade that would prolong the experience for them; namely, to take ownership of the film.

As I’m sure you know from your interview of your employee, the plan involved luring the box attendant form his perch (Tuck is especially apologetic for Lou’s broken leg, I assure you. Permanent harm was not the original intent of PJ’s strategic position on the floor in front of the door.) Only after the boys were making off with the film through the alleyway, did either of them realize that they only had the film, but lacked the equipment for viewing.

The key, paradoixcal emotions of Tuck’s story that I need you to understand are his initial lust and need to possess, followed by shame, inadequacy, and vulnerability after the theft was committed.

I ask you to consider the potential metaphor here that could be utilized to imbue a certain lesson in relating to women for these young gentlemen.  A young man’s mind does begin to wonder at this age towards the physical aspect of romance. In light of the universality of parental frustration in providing guidance at this crucial stage, I request your participation with a humble suggestion.

The reality of love, respect, and lust are misunderstood, and overly romanticized  in our culture today. I fervently wish to take this opportunity to illustrate to our young men the effort, and intentional nature that is required from a man in a healthful relationship.

Please grant me the opportunity to take an active role in my designs. I offer my services in Lou’s stead for the duration of his rehabilitation. I request that Tucker and PJ be gainfully employed at your establishment for the duration, and at whatever terms you deem appropriate, with respect to their crime. In addition, I would like for the boys to be granted permissions typically denied such youth: the continued viewing of movies of this nature, insofar as I am made aware in advance. I believe this will initiate a proactive curiosity, which I will strive cultivate constructively. It is my firm belief that curiosity left to itself at this stage leads to perverse shame, whereas a powerful, guided trust could do much to instill sincere respect for love, lust, and beauty.

Thank you for your time and consideration in this matter,

Yours in sincerest apology and humility,

Joel Delaney

2) My current word count for my novel is: 19,553/30,000.

3) Muse’s next 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…”

How (not) to be an Ornery Codger

1) Muse’s directive: “Who’s the tallest person you know? The homeliest? The crankiest? The meekest? People at the bitter end of any continuum invite trouble. Begin with an extreme and see what happens.”

Recently, I’ve begun to wonder whether old, bitter Stew Jensen was ever young and happy. What on earth was he before he was the office grouch? What must this habitat of cubicles, fluorescents, and uncomfortable chairs have been like without his balding head craned over his desk?

I inhabit the cubicle across the hall from him. I’ve made a game of recording some of his most audacious mutterings. One of my all time favorites, for your pleasure, was harvested as he poured over a drawing of an electrical console. His nose was poised inches from the Bill of Materials when he exclaimed, “Well I suppose this gets plugged right into a dung heap and runs off hot air and bullshit.” With that assessment, he crumpled the drawing in his gnarled claws and shot it over the wall of his cubicle like he was heaving a grenade into enemy territory. Batty old Cheryl, three rows over announced her surprise with a tinny “Gracious me, the sky is falling!!”

Often, I am scarcely able to contain myself at these outbursts. But I learned the hard way that one must comport oneself  as utterly disenchanted and disaffected by Stew’s passions as possible.

When I first started my work here, I made the mistake of bidding Stew good day. My cordial gesture won me a five minute tirade on the utter imbecility of Congress, and the comparatively regular moods of the stock exchange versus the nature of Mrs. Jensen. Since then, I’ve learned that it’s best not to give Stew any indication that I realize his existence. Any acknowledgement of him seems to be a sensory overload trigger of sorts.

Today, though, I have decided to tread that precarious membrane of the icy no-man’s-land that has stretched between I and my neighbor these 3 years. Today is my last day, and I’ve accepted that my curiosity may never rest if I never explore the soul of that bowtie’d, starch-collared, heavily-mustached rogue. After all, if I don’t know how he became as he is, how can I be sure that my fate will not traverse the same path?

I stand up and swagger on over. The expression on Stew’s face at my arrival is some cross between a skittish rabbit and an apoplectic rhino. Before he has the chance to decipher whether his nature in this instance is to run away, or run me through, I say, “Stew I’m movin’ on for work and I just wanted to ask you this one thing before I go.”

Courtesy warrants that I give him room to object. He seems to be deflating by a fraction and I take that as a good sign. I hesitate however, because I realize this question may be illuminating to him. Perhaps he doesn’t realize that he’s the ornery office codger, and my revealing it to him as if he had known that fact as long as I have will, set him off.

“Stew, do you have any advice for a man just starting his career?” I ask to stall for time.

Stew looks down at his desk. Shifts in his chair. Crosses his arms. Exhales through his ponderous mustache.

“Son, ya just gotta be yourself,” he says with a shrug.

I’m disappointed. Certainly the grouch wouldn’t leave me with such a cliche. But then he continues, “But when ya find that yourself is too charming and that gets ya saddled with more work’n any man can do, add a bit of reactivity to your composure. If a person is on edge aboutcha, they’re not likely to discuss or delegate to ya. Understand?”

With that, he winks and taps his nose with his forefinger conspiratorially. His mustache is all contorted up and I’m sure, though I’ve never seen it before, that it’s hiding a grin. He turns to get back to work, dismissing me.

I exit his cubicle and take up my box of personal effects and make my way to the door. I jot a mental note to myself: grow one spectacular mustache for camouflaging troublesome charisma.

2) My current word count for my novel is: 19,064/30,000.

3) Muse’s next directive: “Write about a roll of film that has been obtained surreptitiously.”

Exercise With Verbs for Me, Climbing Lingo for You

1) Muse’s directive: “Use the following verbs in any way you wish: racket, snug, green, spoon, boggle, snake. Not all verbs, you say?…Verbs are sometimes a matter of opinion.”

We stroll into the climbing gym, Sandy and I, with gear in hand. We’re eager to get started. But no sooner does my sandaled foot touch the floor than a gaggle of girl scouts pours through the door behind us. They flow and break around us like a rushing current, and we stand, inert as stones in a stream. The clan rackets about, pushing, howling, giggling, poking, biting. I wonder momentarily if we are actually in the company of chimps who’ve been snugged up in official green vests to be passed off for real human offspring.  I’d probably try that too if it meant I’d be granted year-round access to Thin Mints and Samoas. Fearing rabies, Sandy and I hopscotch around the girls.

Once in the inner sanctum of the gym, we begin to gear up.

“Hah, watch that buckle, Colt,” Sandy sneers at my Craigslist harness, “Make a ‘C’ not an ‘O’,”he advises. I’m glad he’s reminded me because this isn’t a design I’m accustomed to. This thing looked more trustworthy in the picture. I actually think there’s a burn mark on one of the leg straps. Who needs those anyway?

We stub our toes into our climbing shoes and chalk up our hands. Sandy starts doing some static stretches to warm up,  but I try to jump right onto my favorite V1 bouldering problem. I’m thwarted by a guy trying to green a barbie to bouldering for the first time. It’s plain as day she’s not outdoorsy and only came here because she’s into the dude.

I skirt around them and start canvassing the wall to get limber, spooning my heel to the bigger holds so i can stretch out my legs. Once Sandy and I are both warm and content, we meander through the hoard of chimp-scouts and head for the top roping section of the gym.

I’m climbing first, so I thread my figure-eight and barrel knot into the rope in front of the track I’ve been eyeing. It’s a 5.9+ with an overhang at the top where all the holds look to get sparse. I’m just starting to plot out my moves when a girl on the next track (a 5.11) catches my eye. Sandy takes note of my distraction,  and we collectively boggle out because we suddenly don’t feel very manly. This chick’s got guns to spare and she moves quick like a spider, which is attractive in a creepy way.

I shake my head to clear it and give Sandy the word that I’m ready. He clicks the safety on the biner and takes up the slack through his ATC while I approach the wall.  Smearing the sole of my right shoe in a backstep, I grip the first jug with my left hand. I let my center of gravity rest in my hips against the wall before I snake my right hand up for the next hold.

2) My current word count for my novel is: 17,866/30,000.

3) Muse’s next directive: “Who’s the tallest person you know? The homeliest? The crankiest? The meekest? People at the bitter end of any continuum invite trouble. Begin with an extreme and see what happens.”

P.S. Explore here for more fun with climbing lingo.