A Man in the Woods

A man walks in the woods one day
sketching a life unfinished,
filling in details with coal black coal

He works from a photo–it’s always a photo
clipped from a newspaper, a magazine, printed or copied

He walks, searching
the search is the hardest,
trees have grown, branches broken,
weeds overgrown, trunks rotted
violence buried, justice forgotten
landmarks help and so do memories,
etched in bark, etched in minds,
scarred and scabbed, recounted reluctantly

He finds the spot somehow,
the tree and the truth,
and holds the photo up and examines the angle
where the branch would’ve been

He ignores the living and sketches the dead
the details in the photo don’t matter
he removes the noose from around his neck
the absence of life does matter
a flick and he begins to fill that in

Remove the rope and he’s not hanging,
he’s jumping, leaping, soaring
a graduation photo, his family’s first
a wedding photo, a broom beneath his feet
destiny inverted turns his grimace to a smile
his tears are still tears, not pain but joy
for a birth, a boy, a girl, a child, a life
a continuation, a sequel, a love letter to
existence and the right to exist in the face
of a sea of faces hungry for his fate

no that’s the photo

In the sketch the faces are familiar, family, friends
In the sketch, finished, he is a father
In the sketch, finished, he is fulfilled
In the sketch, finished, he is

he is a person, a whole, a lawyer, a doctor,
a nurse, a chemist, a writer

he is a failure, a success, a liar,
a cheat, a lover, a friend,
a collection of opportunities and paths
diverging and merging in time,
false starts and dead ends and square ones and new beginnings

he is and he is and he is and he is and he is but

in the photo he was

A man walks in the woods one day,
sketching a life incomplete

That Other Voice

Voice

No, I’m not talking about that unique style of writing that differentiates your work from other authors.  Not that voice.  Let’s clear that misconception up before it even appears.  I’m talking about speaking up.

When do we choose to bite our tongues to avoid alienating our readers?

When do we choose to voice polarizing thoughts?

I’ve seen varying opinions on this.  Some of my favorite authors maintain the stance that they will only discuss their writing, and avoid controversial topics that might turn off some readers.  Other authors – again, including some of my favorites – have decided to use their platform to express solidarity or dissent with a particular topic.

Who is right?

My answer: Both.

Voice as a Platform

One of my high school teachers used to say, “What’s the point of being able to talk to people if you’re not going to say anything of value?”

(Note: This phrase was often uttered after walking into the classroom to find me regaling other students with tales of the mildly disturbing sort.  Still. The point holds.)

If there is an issue affecting society – whether it directly affects us as writers, our readers, or nameless souls we might never meet – and we have the capability to draw attention and help, shouldn’t we?  It’s no different then observing a fire on the street and calling the fire department.  You wouldn’t walk by and shrug, would you? You wouldn’t say, “Oh, someone else will call.”  Right?

If you can use your voice to do good, use it.

Voice as a Brand

On the other side, our writing is our brand.  It is our own one person business. We wake up, put on three to four different hats and get to work.  Can you truly get upset at someone for choosing not to damage their brand?  I can’t.  Many of us have families and responsibilities.  Some rely on writing as their sole source of income, while others are trying to sneak a foot in the door.  You may wish they’d take a stand, but in the end it’s their choice.

So…

Look.  No one can tell you what flag to carry, which hill to make your stand on, or what issue to champion.  That’s up to you.  And whether you do so publicly or anonymously, again, that’s up to you.

Just make sure you’re honest with yourself about it.

Victory! of sorts…

This post, as with many things I’m responsible for, is late. But here goes…

2016 was an incredible year, and when I say incredible, I’m including every connotation and emotional association that word evokes. There were triumphs and disappointments, too few of the former and far too many of the latter.

But we must remain positive.

At the start of 2016 I set out to do something that has been scrawled on every New Year’s resolution list I’ve created since 2007.

Write a novel.

I dithered about the first quarter of the year, starting and stopping various drafts, not really sure if what I was doing even counted as progress. It wasn’t until I joined a writing group that was both demanding and encouraging that I began to focus, and I owe them a tremendous amount of thanks. The story is incomplete, raw, rough, flawed, and riddled with more holes than Luke Cage’s Carhartt hoodie, but you know what?

It’s mine.

And the bones are there.

2017 is all about editing, revising, sobbing at the hatred that will inevitably build against it, and rinsing and repeating. But that’s what I wrote down for this year’s resolution.

And to be quite honest, right now it feels good, so that’s what I’m clinging to as we enter 2017.

If I Could But Sing…

If I could but sing, I would sing you the melody found in the collective sighs of a people ignored. The weary exhalations of souls facing another uphill climb – the summit raised just a bit higher, the grade just a bit steeper. I’d hum the tune whistled by generations on their way home from a day of treading water while slowly drowning, the wheezing gasping gurgling refrain of life slowly extinguished. I’d sing of what could have been, bridge to what might still be, and have the chorus sing me out with a glorious rendition of what never was.

If I could but sing.

If I could but draw, I would draw you the apprehension my daughter wears as she stares at the unexplainable – the crease of her brow, the tightness in her shoulders, the hunch in her back. I would sketch the motion lines of a nation hurtling towards a barricaded door, forcing it open with little thought, caution tape torn asunder, paintings thought lost for decades now found, their harsh brush strokes erased by white-out and turpentine, only to be reborn via creative interpretation viewed through a fractured lens.

If I could but draw.

If I could but sculpt, I would sculpt you the weight on my beloved’s shoulders. I would mold the burden she carries as she lifts a new generation higher, knowing that though her back may give out today, tomorrow she will return to raise them again. I would spin an oversized urn on my wheel, adding the red clay of a blood-soaked earth to shape it higher and higher, before firing it in the kiln of heated discourse that never happened, and setting it below us all to catch the ashes of a fabled phoenix never born.

If I could but sculpt.

But I can only write.

So I will write to my daughter and pour out my heart so she can read my love even after I’m gone. I will write to my friends and family about the path we’re climbing, describing the obstacles we’ve already faced though they may wear a new coat of paint. I will write to the love of my life. I will write every day and night until she knows she’s not alone in her struggle, and that she does not do so in vain. I will write and write and write until my hand bleeds ink and blood and tears, and even then I will continue to write.

It’s all I can do…

Normalcy

There’s a subtle difference between disappointment and betrayal. Disappointment results from the hope against hope that the normal will be altered to the abnormal, when in fact the normal has no intention of being disrupted, and that desperate wish that burned bright and hot gets extinguished with no hope of resurrection. Maybe it was a long shot, or maybe it nearly came to fruition, but in either case at some point it was rejected and you returned to your normal life to continue on.

Betrayal harbors something more insidious. It is the realization that something or someone you expected and trusted to behave in a manner of normalcy that you’d become accustomed to alters that behavior when you most needed their reliability. It is a soul-crushing heart-clenching act that robs your lungs of air and your mouth of words. It pumps blood through your veins at a rate unsustainable for any length of time but the immediate present, pushing and clamoring and demanding you do something, anything, to expend the upswell of energy. So you start smashing and gnashing and stomping and beating and clawing and yelling and screaming until you’re hoarse in the throat and the corners of your eyes burn with unspent tears of condensed futility and you’re mentally, physically, and emotionally drained of any will to continue existing in your present state.

Sometimes that entire escapade takes place solely in your mind.

On the outside you nod and accept the reversal of this world and everything you thought you understood about it. You try and catch the offender’s eye in the hopes that there exists a glimmer of regret, a tinge of understanding that what they did/are doing/will do is a disemboweling of your ability to function coherently at the moment. And when it’s not there, what then?

Do you ask why? Do they respond? Is there confusion on their part, and maybe you misread a snapshot of their aberrant actions as their version of normalcy? Did you assume too much with too little to support your assumptions?

Or do you just move on? Do you accept their actions and allow their prismatic fracturing of your reality to resettle into a new arrangement, beliefs altered and the rules by which you existed massaged to accommodate their addendums? Do you swallow the bitter pill of acknowledgment that perhaps you were too naive in the way the world operated, digesting and absorbing what once was toxic anathema until you become familiar and tolerant of the pain resulting from that betrayal?

What do you do? What should I do? What can I do?

I can live with disappointment….

So Many Stories, So Little Time…

My day job – the one that feeds the kids, pays the bills, and provides us all with blessed insurance – involves a lot of time spent on the road. I can’t begin to tell you the places my mind soars to while I’m stuck behind the wheel. Sometimes it’s there for an hour, sometimes three, but the one consistency no matter the duration is that it returns with that magical Idea.

You know the one.

You might know it as the one that strikes just before you pull up the comforter at night and sends you scuttling around the bedroom at 11pm for a pen and scrap of paper.

Or the one that ambushes you in the shower with such force that you splash shampoo into your eyes as you frantically breathe on the shower glass to scribble notes with your index finger.

That one.

Now, if you’ve been wracking your brain for weeks trying to come up with an idea for a story, congratulations! You’ve got it! Go forth and meld that masterpiece.

But, if you’re like me and you already have a project you’ve been grinding on for [insert the age of your toddler here] years, what now? You can’t stop in the middle of your WIP to try this new thing…that’s Penfidelity (totally just made that up but I’m trademarking it so hands off!)

Should I sigh and let the idea fall away like seeds fleeing from the grasp of the trees looming over them?

Should I write an opening chapter and then shove it into my Drawer of Forgotten Projects? (Don’t look at me like that, we all have one…)

Lately I’ve been trying to capture those seedling ideas as fragments of a story in media res…a character struggling against something, or dialogue revealing a complication – something that captures the gist of what my mind created and brought to my attention. So far it’s been working, and some have even made it into my current WIP.

Who knows…whenever I’m finished with this book, maybe one of those seeds will flourish into my next project.

Thoughts?

What’s the plan?

Don’t worry, I’m not treating this blog like a one night stand at a seedy motel off of I-95. I do plan on visiting, and frequently. In fact, let’s make it official.

I promise to post significant content every Sunday.

Does this post count as significant content? Let’s pretend it does.

With all seriousness, I’m going to start putting up segments of my short stories as I write them and shorter pieces that I complete for competitions. Feel free to tell me what you think, positive or negative, as my intent is to become a better writer, not to feel warm and fuzzy.

Because, to be honest, warm and fuzzy feelings usually indicate a nerve condition. At least that’s my assumption.

So stick around, poke about, and allow me to entertain you with a story or two. Maybe we’ll both have a bit of fun.

Psst…I need your help

Look – I don’t have much time.  There’s no telling when they’ll strike again.  I’ve been running and hiding and writing for 18 months now.  My luck can’t hold out forever.

I need topics.  Ideas.  Concepts.  Something to write about to keep them from guessing about what I’m researching.  You feed me the faint dreams you think could make a great story, and I’ll work on writing it up.  Look for the clues in the plots, the threads of continuity that tie everything together, and maybe we can finally get out from under their thumb.

Got a partially fleshed out character you think could carry a tale?  Pass it to me.

Have a pulse-pounding plot you think would keep readers on the edge of their seat?  Feed me.

Whatever you do, keep reading, and don’t let them guess what you’re going to do next.  I’ll keep checking this post and will reply if I need to talk to you.

Good luck.  And thanks for the help.