I hide, sliding from one shadow to another, a step behind you, out of sight. Watching. Observing. Taking notes. I search for clues to your state of mind, your wants, your needs, your dreams and regrets. I need what you have to fuel my creation. I’m blank. I’m empty. I’m void of feeling. I’m desperate to keep up with you, lest I lose the source of my one true need. You move faster, sensing my presence? Don’t fear me, I do not take, I only borrow. I use it and return more. I’m only a conduit. I write in the shadows.
Soft music drifts across the room on rain-scented air. Comfort. A soft embrace in the night. The lonely night. The noise of the day turns into the distant memory it deserves to be. Solitude. Calm and quiet. A moment in time etches the soul, not to be forgotten. This is the moment, rare as perfection. A granted wish, soon to be taken.
I treasure these little bits of paper. I hoard them now. I secretly squirrel them away in my pocket. I’m careful not to lose them when I take coins or keys from my pocket. My thoughts, my ideas, my inspiration, they’re scribbled on these little bits of paper. I once carried a neatly folded sheet of paper in my pocket. I carried my list. My to-do list. It was a never-ending list of tasks. Those are the old days. My pocket is no longer a place for a to-do list. There is no inspiration longing for a keyboard, in a to-do list. There is no subtext waiting for a conversation, in a to-do list. There is no title without a story, in a to-do list. There is no perfect line of dialogue searching for a story, in a to-do list. I carry my scribbled notes of random, odd, and disconnected ideas. These scribbled things are not to be forgotten. I’ll use them someday. Maybe not tomorrow or the next day, but someday they’ll fill a gap. They’re my coins in a piggy bank, saved for a rainy day. They’re my safety net. My life preserver. My emergency supply kit. I treasure these little bits of paper.
This is a bit odd, so bear with me while I explain this.
I’m working on my second fiction project for class this semester. The first draft isn’t due for about five or six weeks, and I just turned in the draft of my first project last week, so I have plenty of time. I’ve had the itch to get going on it. I did an outline, which is unnatural for me even though it’s a vital part of writing. (My outlines are usually half-assed random notes and ideas scribbled in four or five different notebooks.) After doing a real outline I’ve been doing extensive research. The story takes place about 1969 and in the American southwest. There’s a car that’s a big part of the story and it involves a road trip. I’ve reached out and found somebody with this classic car that is willing to help me out. I also tracked down a 1969 USA road atlas. I’m familiar with the time period, but I’m fact-checking, etc., all in the name of authenticity.
So what? Well all the research, note taking, and outlining have made me impatient to write it. So I sat down and started tonight. I just wanted to get something down. And oddly, this time I went to the computer instead of my normal handwriting method. The story starts out in the car with my four key characters having a conversation. I was about three pages in when I wrote an exchange that made my stomach flip-flop. This was strange for me. One of the characters said something that sent a shockwave through the car and I was writing the reactions and sudden discomfort of the other three people. I’ve gotten attached to characters in books or movies and felt a pang when either I thought something bad was going to happen, or something bad did happen to them. Never did I ever think that I would write something that would have that effect on me, because I’m writing it. And certainly not after a couple pages.
Hey writers, I know you’re out there reading this. Please tell me, has this ever happened to you?
I’ve always wanted to write. As soon as I understood what writing was, I remember wanting to write. This came from a love of reading. But I never really understood what it meant to write. I never knew what I had to put into it. What kind of passion and perseverance it took. I misunderstood my wanting to write and how completely inadequate wanting is. Wanting isn’t enough. I need to have a need to write. That’s the thing. What I want doesn’t matter. Wants don’t matter. I’m not the kind of person that chases wants. I work for wants, steady as she goes. I’m patient for wants. But I need to need to write. Needs are something we don’t give up on. Needs aren’t put off for another day. I need to write. (If that all makes sense to you, I’m impressed. And please explain it to me.)
I had a great day writing. I wrote some really good stuff. Probably the best I’ve written in months. I read it aloud to myself. It sounded good, it felt right. It’s probably still crap, but it made my day. I’ve been rewriting a completed short story. It’s a story that I feel is lacking, it could be better, oh so much better. I’ve worked on it on and off for almost two years. It keeps nagging at me because it feels weak. Feels? Hell no, it is weak. People have read it, they were nice and said they liked it, but they always say nice things. Who wants to be my dream crusher? But it never felt whole to me. It feels like a car with only three wheels, no seats, and no windshield. I started another class two weeks ago, fiction writing. I have to write two complete stories for the semester, along with about ten weekly papers. I volunteered to be in the first group for work-shopping our stories. (Next week I’m going to volunteer to go play on the freeway!) I decided to use this same short that I keep meaning to fix. My problem is that in the current state, it didn’t meet the minimum length requirement. Which really isn’t a problem. It’s a much needed kick in the ass.
I now have a deadline, so I sat down today and wrote, and wrote, and wrote. I doubled the length, with content that enhances the story. I know, doubling content doesn’t equate to improvement. But I got in touch with my characters. I felt their lives, their pain, and their desires. I finished for the day and went back and read what I had written. I was bursting with pride. I think it’s some of the best I have written. I know, it’s just my opinion, but I hate a lot of the crap I write. I have files and files of the crap that I write. I felt like spiking my laptop in the end zone. I read it, and I love it. That’s scary. The new stuff seems good, but the older stuff is, well, it’s crap. Time for a complete rewrite.
I walk this twisted, broken path. Unseen forces reach out and tear at me, attempting to rend flesh from bone, attempting to steal sanity. Their grip is often painful, sometimes numbing, infrequently comforting. The path in front of me is dark. This darkness is not foreboding, it’s the unknown. These forces reach out and push me. Mostly forward, sometimes back. The forces change the path ahead. It becomes steep and hard to climb, only to drop precipitously before me. I plummet, whisked along the path, losing grip, losing control. This is my path, but I only rent it. I travel alone. I’m a navigator with no compass, no bearing. I’m in no hurry to reach the end. This path leads to just one destination. The end.
I’ve loved books ever since I can remember. I vaguely remember my mother reading to me when I was very young. The one thing that sticks out in my mind is the Dick and Jane series. Even though it was about 45 years ago, I recall sitting in her lap while she read to me, encouraging me to learn those words on those beautiful pages in those wonderful books. It was comfort, happiness, and excitement, experiencing those magical books. I remember reading on my own before I started school, and reading everything I could get my hands on.
I started school when I was four years-old. My mother had to fight to get me accepted at that age. Her argument was that I was ready because of my reading ability. The years rolled by and I was always in advanced reading. My voracious appetite for the written word was never satisfied. Whether reading The Great Brain or Encyclopedia Brown series, there never seemed to be enough. I got a paper route right before my tenth birthday. Whenever I collected my earnings, I’d make a beeline to the local Snyder’s drug store book aisle. I recall the agony of having to select just a couple books when there were so many to choose from. This dilemma was repeated every couple weeks. And summer was particularly difficult because I didn’t have ready access to a library like I did during the school year.
Middle school (Junior High in my day) opened a whole new world of authors and types of fiction. The library was stocked for a whole different age group. But this was also a time when peer classes began forming. Reading wasn’t always accepted as something a kid wanted to do, but more of something you only did when you had to do it. Unless, of course, it was comics, Mad Magazine, or dirty books that you were reading. I don’t recall an exact time, date, or thought, but it was during this period that I realized how much I would love to be able to create stories like those I was reading. If reading them was so great, it must be even better to write them. So I sat down at a typewriter and tried. And tried. And tried. I succeeded at one thing; I found out that I sucked as a writer. I wrote literal garbage. (We didn’t have recycling back then.) I enjoyed it, but I really sucked. I logically relegated it to being a fantasy more than a reality.
Over the following years, the itch stayed with me, but I never had the confidence to follow through. I did not realize that besides talent, a writer needs determination and to just keep writing and writing and writing. No matter how easy somebody else makes it look, they worked hard to accomplish what they created. I continued to hide this writing fantasy from everyone. But these magical books by fantastic authors always made me dream of being able to create the same magic.
Through the years, my need to write was probably also held a bit in check by the school work I was required to write. When it came to school work, I was never lacking for words, although I always had trouble with going off on tangents with my assignments. I still suffer from that issue.
I took a couple more stabs at writing after I finished school. I have to laugh at my folly though. I tried to be a “writer” instead of just writing. I thought that in order to succeed, I had to fit a certain mold. I thought I had to sit at a desk with a typewriter or word processor, have an ashtray full of butts, and a waste basket full of crumpled paper in the corner. I’d need dim lights, hazy smoke, agony, and a half-empty bottle of cheap scotch. That’s what I thought was the list of ingredients for making me a writer. Maybe it would have worked if I had added talent, confidence, and determination. Back to the shelf went the dream, back to its comfort zone.
Lather, rinse, repeat, that’s how it continued. Through adulthood, work, marriage, and parenthood, there was always an excuse not to do anything about the itch. I kept it all safely tucked away.
In September 2010, my daughter, eight years-old at the time, was injured at school. She was struck in the eyelid by a pencil being swung around by a miscreant student. She was checked out and it was determined that it was a superficial injury, “luckily” missing her eyeball. There was broken skin, bruising, and swelling. The healing started and she appeared to be on the mend. The eyelid was drooping after the surface abrasion healed, but it was determined that it would heal over time. And it did indeed improve, although if she was overtired it drooped significantly. There was a period of improvement, followed by regression. Back and forth, repeatedly. There was consultation with a specialist, telling us that plastic surgery was an option, but that it might cause the opposite of the droop if she went through a spurt of healing after surgery. It wasn’t affecting her vision, so we were advised to wait.
In late August of 2011, the droop became really pronounced. We made an appointment to see a different doctor, because we were worried that it was going to affect her vision. The soonest they would see us was early October. Over the next few weeks, the droop got worse and then a red bump appeared on her eyelid. In a 24 hour period the bump increased about threefold in size. She could barely open her eye. We called and demanded that she be seen immediately. They took her in the next morning. It was determined that there was a foreign body in the eyelid causing an infection. She was scheduled for surgery the same day to clean it out. There was no foreign body found during the surgery, but the infection was removed. The healing started and things improved for a while. Her eyelid seemed to be almost back to normal. But then it started to droop again, and it appeared there was another infection. On November 9, 2011, she had an MRI to find out what was causing the infections. That evening, while we were all out, the surgeon left a message that we needed to call her right away on her cell phone. I got the message but decided to wait for my wife to get home to call the doctor. My wife had only been in the house a few minutes when the doctor called again.
“Hello” I answered.
“Mr. (withheld)?” the voice asked.
“This is Dr. (withheld), didn’t you get my message?” she asked.
“Yes, but I was waiting for my wife to get home” I said.
“Mr. (withheld), we have the results of the MRI, and (your daughter) has about a half-inch piece of pencil lodged in her right frontal lobe.”
I got dizzy and nauseous. I didn’t say anything. My brain could not process what I had just heard.
“Mr. (withheld), did you hear me? Do you understand what I said? It needs to be removed immediately” she said.
My brain was overloaded. I couldn’t process this on my own. I couldn’t reply. I wanted to collapse. I wanted to wake up and find it was just a bad dream. Seconds seemed like hours. I was finally able to gather myself enough to reply.
“I need to put you on speaker and have you repeat that for my wife” I said. I looked at my wife and could tell that the horror on my face was apparent. I switched the phone to speaker and the doctor repeated what she had just told me.
She continued “I have contacted a friend at the Mayo Clinic and they recommended a neurosurgeon at Gillette. You need to call immediately and make an appointment for the consultation. They promised that if you call right away, they’ll get you in this week.”
We took down the name and contact information. She answered a couple questions about the MRI results. We thanked her and hung up.
The consult appointment was made for two days later. There was a night of tears, fear, anger, and having to tell our daughter that she needed to have brain surgery. Telling her was tougher on us than it was on her. We did not hide anything from her. We asked the doctor to do the same. The kid was a trooper. She had another MRI and a CT scan the day of the consult. The surgery was scheduled for ten days later.
I felt so helpless seeing her walk off to pre-op with my wife, my brave little girl. She had asked the surgeon if she could keep the pencil fragment after the surgery. She also asked if she could see the video of the surgery afterward.
The surgery went well, and I was able to see her again in the recovery ICU. I walked in and saw my little girl. It was her, but it wasn’t. The incision across her scalp pooled coagulating blood in the puckering wound. Her usually bright and cheery face was ashen and swollen, marred by black, purple, and yellow bruising. She appeared to be sleeping with her eyes partly open. But it wasn’t restful, peaceful sleep, it was still the anesthetics.
The room twisted around me. I felt cold, yet I was sweating. My legs protested, wanting the refuge of a chair. My stomach turned and clenched while my lungs fought for air. Tears dripped from my chin, I didn’t realize I had been crying. I wanted to hug and comfort her, but I couldn’t. I wanted her to wake up and tell me that she was fine. I wanted her to sleep peacefully until she was really okay. You could torture me for years and it would never be worse than this moment. Seeing her like this, my daughter, who carries sunshine with her wherever she goes, beaming it into every life she touches, it wasn’t right.
She came home three days later. As parents, we were a wreck. Sleep before and after the surgery was elusive. As soon as I closed my eyes, I’d see her in that recovery room. As soon as I’d finally fallen asleep, mainly from pure exhaustion, the alarm would go off. Sleep was disrupted by dreams of my wife waking me telling me something was wrong with our daughter. During waking hours, the images popping into my head were inescapable. Trying to concentrate at home or at work was pretty futile.
Our daughter was recovering well. She was eager to get back to a normal life. She wanted to get back to school and see her friends, and celebrate her tenth birthday and enjoy Christmas. All of those came to pass and we moved into the New Year.
Two months had passed, and it was all still so fresh in my mind. Time was not healing the anguish. I felt embarrassed, because my daughter handled it better than I did. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t function properly. I was exhausted and in decline. I needed something, but I couldn’t figure out what was going to help me.
One night, when I could not sleep, I grabbed a pen and paper. When I put that pen to paper, I didn’t stop until it all came out. I spewed my fear, my anger, my resentment, my anxiety, and my sadness. This was my therapy, my release. Everything that had built up came pouring out. I had no clue of what a relief it would be. It was just simple words on paper, but it felt like I had opened a release valve. It was also key to an awakening. I finally realized that writing wasn’t just a fantasy for me, it was a necessity. Even if I never get published, I need to die knowing that I tried, that I didn’t give up, that I didn’t let my fears rule my life.
This was a Memoir assignment for English Composition (May 2013)
Recently I was talking about yet another book that I started writing, and a friend told me that I write a lot of “twisted” stuff. Which I took as both a compliment and a challenge. So I sat down and tried to write something a bit less “twisted” than my usual fare. Please enjoy:
The sky stretches out before me, an endless expanse of soothing cool blue.
Wisps of white caress the blue.
A lush, deep green field surrounds me, moving by an unseen force.
A breeze wraps around, gently embracing me.
The deft hands of a master play the reeds of grass like an instrument.
A song of “hush” fills my ears.
A neon-bright yellow butterfly bounces through the air, searching for a flower to rest upon.
The green below me races to the horizon to join blue sky.
The white fingers reach out, touch the green.
At peace, I close my eyes and lift my face to the sky, inviting the sun to warm my face.
The breeze returns, engulfing me, gripping me in a soft motherly hug.
I’m lifted and relieved of my earthly binding.
Carried through the heavens, I’m one with the air, one with the sun, one with the universe.
Released from my constraints, I surround the earth.
My host shares with me her every elemental beauty.
I’m adrift in a peaceful feeling never experienced before.
I see, feel, and hear everything. And nothing.
The sensory overload tests my consciousness, which is pulled to its limit before my time is up.
I’m pulled against my will and returned to my corporeal prison, left longing for release again.
I can see it with my eyes, and now I’ve felt it with my soul.
It’s a beautiful world.
The following is a fictional piece. I’ve been working on my book and I went off on a tangent while writing a certain scene. A four or five sentence paragraph grew into a few paragraphs. It does not fit within the story I am writing, it’s just too heavy of a passage. There is already enough sadness in the book to include this also. So here it is:
The image in the mirror shows a man he should know. The face is recognizable, but he doesn’t really know the man before him. Staring back at him is a man at an age that is unfamiliar to him. His mind has tricked him into thinking he is much younger. The reflection doesn’t lie, nor deceive, it is truthful. Unlike his mind and his heart, the mirror is brutally honest.
He searches the reflection for his past. Grasping desperately to hold on to any memory he can. He knows something is there, but the years have been stealing the memories. Hiding them. Faster. More efficiently. Relentlessly. With every tick of the clock.
His mind struggles and his heart aches to maintain his tenuous grip on the past. It’s unfairly ripped away from him. It’s a child’s toy caught in the surf. It should wash toward shore, but is rhythmically pulled away into a vast expanse of nothing. He watches helplessly, unable to intervene.
The mirror is a friend of the young. It has become his enemy. It’s judgmental. It gives no comfort. Nostalgia means nothing to this cold lifeless foe. It will not help bring back his past. It is steadfast with an unforgiving reminder of the present.
Anger overtakes him. He swings his hand up and smashes the mirror with his palm. The cracks radiate out in every direction from his hand, a reflective kaleidoscope. He holds his hand against the broken mirror while blood trickles down his arm. His reflection is distorted beyond recognition. He looks at the blood dripping into the sink, mixing with his tears, slowly flowing down the drain.
I sit at the table, my composition notebooks, journals, pens, and laptop spread out in front of me. It’s a very old wooden table. It’s seen more years and history than I have. It’s older than I may ever be. It’s been around for so long and has been surrounded by so many different people, that it almost has a soul of its own. It’s weathered and worn, smooth, not rough. It’s gotten shiny with age. It still smells like wood, a pleasing scent, a comforting scent. It’s stable, sturdy, and heavy, built in a time when long-term quality was an expectation instead of something that causes surprise or wonderment. The deep dark rich honey color feels warm and inviting. Gather around and sit down, it’s time for a shared meal.
The little nicks, scratches, and scrapes on the table top intrigue this observer. They don’t just tell a story, they tell a library full of stories. Joy, sadness, grief, relief, laughter, anger, resentment, ambivalence, jealousy, hatred, and love, it’s seen them all. Stories that it cannot tell, it cannot share. This table took an oath of secrecy, not by choice, but by destiny.
Put your palms flat on the surface and you will feel like you are touching the past. Close your eyes and you will feel the passion of the builder. Feel the care that went into selecting the right wood. Feel the craftsmanship and the pride that went into creating this testament to the skill of the builder. Feel the craft that was handed down from generation to generation.
The shiny surface would make you think that it would feel cool, but it’s always warm to the touch. I like to think that it has absorbed an eternal warmth from those it has encountered.
My dream is spread across this wonderful table. The builder is gone, but I hope that somehow they know how special it feels for me to use this table to craft my work. This table inspires me. Most would probably never take note of it the way I do. I suspect that few would feel the way I do about a simple table. This table has touched so many lives. When I look at it, I imagine where it has been, who it has encountered, what has been discussed by those that have rested their elbows upon it. I want to reach into this table and pull it all out. I want to experience it all. Feel it, hear it, smell it, breathe it.
I cannot though. I have to settle for my imagination.