Category Archives: writing

Stephen King’s Prompt

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I haven’t been writing because I’ve been reading lots of books including Stephen King’s On Writing, Mary Karr’s The Art of Memoir and Lit and The Liar’s Club, Anne Patchett’s The Getaway Car, Anne Lammott’s Bird by Bird.

I’ve also read some great contemporary fiction A Little Life (which is a large book accompanied by an equally large pull) and The Girl on the Train, which was entertaining, but nothing terribly deep. I’m going to read Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic soon too. I’m in the middle of Colleen Seidman Yee’s Yoga for Life. I’ve also read a lot of other things: magazines, newspapers, yoga and meditation content, blogs, short stories, and the like. It’s winter.

Wow. That’s a lot of words written by other people.

I’ve also been doing jigsaw puzzles.

I’ve also been doodling. And coloring.

I’ve been doing everything but writing.

I’m not a fan of King’s writing; I’m not against it, it’s just not my jam. I believe some of his books, the less violent ones, would appeal to me. On Writing is wonderful and he gives some very good advice; he also shares some personal history of his experiences with ear infections, when doctors lie, his adventures and tenacity as a very young writer, and about the origins of Carrie and how that book changed his life forever. He speaks admiringly and lovingly of his wife. It was she who ferreted the manuscript from the trash and told him to keep it up, that he “really had something” there. He shared in careful detail his memory and recovery of the accident that almost ended his life. I believe it is that experience that fueled his desire to passionately spur on and encourage all creative people to keep going.

King said of himself that he tries to take breaks from writing, but he realizes that when he does, he’s not quite himself. He gets twitchy and irritable. He said that the writing stabilized him.

I know why I’ve been avoiding it. I can blame it on yoga and lots of planning (I’m teaching 4 kids classes and three adult classes a week now) but no, that’s not it.

I’ve been distracted by the political freak show in my country, as I’m am legitimately concerned for how things are turning, but I have hope that something will change toward the end. Maybe Luke Skywalker will come and save the day.

I can blame it on external forces. The truth is, I’ve been fearful. Fearful of what will come out once I open the gates to the words pressing to get out.

A friend of mine I care for deeply said to me, “You can write it, get it out. You don’t have to share it.” The ego inside me says, “What’s the fun of that? Where’s the recognition?” King said, at the end of his book, that if we write or create for recognition, we are doing it for all the wrong reasons and that the recognition and “fame” becomes the draw, rather than the love of creating. King says, write for the sheer love of the craft.

And he’s right.

So in On Writing, he gives only one prompt. The book is 15 years old, so he’s no longer accepting submissions. The prompt is fantastic, and in true King form, it has a twist. I can’t share it here, because I fear I’d risk unauthorized reproduction of his work, so I’ll sum it up:

Dick and Jane fall in love but the love grows weary. Fights and envy ensue. Lots of dysfunction, passive aggressive, violence, traps, and threats fill the air. (King gives some really great details on how to make it all take shape.) The twist: it’s the woman tormenting the man. Sort of how Misery rolled out.

It’s a fascinating proposal and I’m going to jump all over it. You might not hear from me for awhile, but I assure you that this time, it’s because I’m busy writing, not busy avoiding writing.

Thank you.

ps — if you’d like the actual prompt, here’s the link.

When Mom’s the Child

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I’m feeling a little blue at the moment; my youngest and I had a skirmish. He is newly 12. He’s in sixth grade. He runs late every morning… no matter how early I wake him, he never gets downstairs until 8 and then he drags around and we have not been at school on time in weeks.

Today, I packed his lunch bag in his backpack. It was 8:25. We had a chance… we could’ve been out of the house by 8:30. But I discovered he’d pulled it out of that space and was trying to jam it into another compartment.

It wasn’t fitting, and he was snarfing and huffing to get it in. He was also completely bitter that I’d put it in a place where it just went “phoomp” into place. (But we all know he wasn’t mad at me, he was frustrated at his conundrum.)

SOMEHOW WE LOST FIVE MINUTES IN THIS SPACE.

I was putting on my coat and looping my scarf. The clock beamed 8:30. I stepped over to undo his efforts and redo mine: putting the lunch bag back where I had it. He’s snarfing and snarling.

As we were walking down the steps out front, he was still bitching about it. About how it was fitting just fine when he was putting it in. About how the delay was my fault because I put his lunch in “the wrong place.”

But where I put it wasn’t the wrong place. Where he was trying to jam it was the wrong place. The zipper simply wouldn’t zip around it; it wasn’t going to fit in the backpack. Plus the lunch bag was not going to stay in the backpack all day. The moment kids get to school they take it out… I disagreed with his protests.

Step step step.

Huff. Grumble. Step.

Dragon’s breath plumed from our faces in the cold frosty air. Mittened hands flopped and flapped, gesticulating and emphasizing our perspectives. Muffled voices pointedly pressing through the scarves.

We shared twenty more steps in relative embattlement.

So we were about 1/2 way down our pipestem and he was still grumbling about it. “I’m going to be late because of YOU…”

That was it. I was done. I turned to him and said, “Ok. you’re entirely wrong about this. You were late to begin with; this is a daily thing with you. No matter when I wake you, you don’t seem to appear before 8 am. With your shoes missing most of the time. The lunch bag simply wasn’t fitting. It fit the way I put it and where it is now. It might not be where YOU want it, but it works. It’s 8:33, the late bell is in seven minutes. You MIGHT make it if we dash. ”

Then he starts to tell me how wrong I am. He’s 12. I’m 48.

I get it.

I’m arguing with someone one-fourth my age. So what do I do? The mature thing:

“I’m out. Goodbye. Go on.”

He swiftly looked at me with huge eyes: half scared, half stunned. Then a mental shift and a set of his jaw: he got a cocky look on his face and kept going.

I then turned around to go home. I decided right then and there, after nearly 13 years of consistently walking at least one of my children to school every day, to pack it up. We were having a moment. We each needed to be alone.

I let him walk himself to school, hoping he would use the crossing guard. His little body, behooded and scarved kept going.

He didn’t look back.

I didn’t say anything else.

No “I love you.” Or “I love you.” Or even “I love you.”

Now I’m sitting by the phone hopeful it won’t ring with an absentee notice from the school. I’m hopeful he didn’t run into assholic Scary Cretin on the path with his giant shit-dropping dogs.

I’m sure he’s fine and he arrived without a scratch; he’s in 6th grade and younger kids with far sterner parents walk all by themselves from as far as a mile.

But I’ve never done that: I’ve never sent him out on his own because I was fed up. We have had far worse irreconcilable differences and walked all the way to school, usually cuddling halfway there.

So now it’s gnawing at me, because of my filter, from when I was a kid. On days when we were too late waking up and we couldn’t get rides with our neighbors, my mother made us walk to school, probably about a mile and a half away. A brother and me, alone all the time in all sorts of weather through Buffalo’s tougher city streets, crossing big-time, city-express, 4-way traffic intersections where metro buses and 18-wheelers traveled and pounded. I’m sure she drove us a handful of times, but she didn’t get her license until she was in her 40s and her unpredictable sobriety created a challenge for us to get there safely if she was a driver. So I have this huge rut of guilt and shame of making him walk on his own.

He used the crossing guard. I’m sure of it. It’s a vow he’s made. We might be angry at each othe, but he’s not crazy stupid. The rest is all path amongst the trees.

I fought the urge to run after him. I was like a magnet fighting off its polarity, forcing myself to stay in the house and not chase him down like Scarlett running after Rhett.

He’s fine. Right?

Am I?

Thank you.

Poetree

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I want to write a poem about my Birch tree

Yet I feel my observations might besmirch me

To you, my fair reader, who had no temptation

Of reading my barking without compensation

The birch, she’s a three-trunk, a trifecta of trees

Who’s named for each son I’ve bounced on my knees

She’s a good forty feet tall, and provides perfect shade

For the vendors who park out front when they’re bade

  
To my home to address one thing or appliance

Which exists in the house, but not in compliance

But she’s shedding herself always, her green DNA
Without warning or notice on each blessed day
If it’s not ripe yellow leaves, then it’s buds, or it’s pollen

Abundant enough to shut your eyes swollen

Or branches or twigs, for they fall all the seasons

She shares quite a lot, she’s a tree, needs no reason!

Lo, the trimmers, they stalk 

To approach and begin talk 

Of topping her off, limb by limb!
” ’cause she’s too close to the house!

She might let in a big mouse

Through the gash she’ll create on your shingles!”

But her sweet narrow limbs, so wispy, so thin, 

I impart a sly grin, 

I’ll not pay you to help your purse jingle. 
She’s been here since ’03, she replaced a sick fir tree

Infested with mites and decay

A neighbor says she’s too big, to close to my house

I think, “Did I ask? I don’t care what you say.”  
She’ll outlive us all, for her roots are quite spread

Beneath grass, grown anemic and thin

‘Cause she sucks all the water and drains nitrogen
Her older bark is quite rough, but her newer like paper

That my sons have used to write me notes

Of greetings and devotion 

Based on instance, or notion
For in her long lifetime

We are just a vapor.  

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Update: Oops. I wrote this in June. I haven’t written anything since, and I pushed the wrong button, apparently when visiting the WordPress app this morning… no matter. Maybe publishing this has loosened my writer’s block. There are no mistakes. 🙂 
Thank you.   

Fiction from a Walk — “Jake’s Bet”

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Welcome to the new and completely unpredictable feature on this blog wherein I take a photo of something I see on a walk with the dogs and write a piece of fiction about it. I hope it is less than bad.

Today’s image: a bolo tie in the church parking lot.

Let’s begin, shall we…..?

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Desdemona peeled out of the Charleston Baptist Church, singing “So long, succccckkkkaaaaaahhhssss!!!!!” between cackles, which eventually trailed off about a tenth of a mile down the road. It was hedging on dusk, and she had just dumped the losers in the parking lot after a crushing afternoon of strip poker.

These were sons of bankers, a US senator, prominent real estate moguls, a Calhoun (!), and the great great grandson of a plantation owner. A few generations’ pride worth of landed gentry. The men she abandoned, were humiliated, slightly inebriated and in a condition most unbefitting persons of their caliber: they were naked. Utterly and completely. And shivering from sunburn.

To Desdemona McLeod, it wasn’t about winnin’ the money, honey. Although y’all know it always sweetens any deal, it was about vengeance. Despite her own impressive lineage in the Charleston tradition, y’all, she was a woman, and simply put, women don’t play cards. Desdemona played cards, just as her aunties taught her, and their aunties taught them. This was a well-kept “secret” (lie of convenience and complicity) dating all the way back to the 1740s with her most famous relative, Marianna McLeod. Of course, this bein’ the south, it was hush-hush.

People loved to play cards with the McLeods, but no one talks about losing at cards. Especially to a woman, so most losses were relegated to the muted conversations behind the wood sheds or the alley ways along the Battery.

Desdemona didn’t see the fun in that.

“Winnin’ at cards ain’t no fun if I can’t boast about it. What’s the point?” she would huff to her daddy later at the house.

“Winnin’ Dessie. Just plain winnin‘…. It’s a matter of principle too: people don’t take a shine to humiliation. One of the rules of bein’ a card-playin’ McLeod is that we pride ourselves on winnin’ kindly. That means we just take the jackpot and quietly end the game. No need gettin’ anyone’s public pride involved in it…” he trailed off, counting her take.

“To borrow from Scarlett O’Hara, ‘fiddle-dee-dee’ Daddy. That’s just plain ol’ stupid.”

Daddy took off his glasses and stopped counting.

“This is an impressive lot you’ve won here, darlin, absolutely. What keeps this train goin’ is the gentlemanly nature of our relationship with all the players. They all want to be winnin’ over a McLeod, an’ some do. But we play by a simple yet established — y’heah me?– system: we don’t boast … Sixteen thousand four-hunnert n sixty-six … and an West Point ring, poor Perry, and a classic Rolex with sapphire lens crystal. No bad, my dear, not bad a’tall…. That’s what keeps ’em comin’ back, Dessie. We win kindly.” After he organized all the take, he sat up, deposited the funds and the jewelry in the massive vault behind the false door in the wall.

Returning to his daughter who was now in a slump, Daddy rubbed his temples and took a seat in a cognac tanned vintage overstuffed leather club chair; the classic “I have arrived” chair, but in the case of the McLeods, the chair arrived after the family, the chair was the one saying “I have arrived.” He smiled warmly at Desdemona as he sat back, closing his eyes and still smiling. Daddy placed his hands behind his tousled head of blond hair as he propped his legs up on the matching ottoman and released a satisfied sigh.

“Then I reckon I might’ve overdone it, Daddy.”

Opening one eye, Daddy stole a peek at Des. She was biting her lower lip and had perched herself nervously at the edge of her seat. The sun coming in from the tall library windows alongside the room was low; dust motes flickered in the shafts of dappled light which escaped the leaves on the magnolias outside. The summer sun was setting. Daddy noticed that Desdemona was ashamed, but peculiarly animated.

“Come again, deah?”

“We didn’t play here. I also didn’t drink along with them. That’s because of the rules, there was no other woman with me, so I didn’t drink, Daddy. But they did. A lot. Uncle Mitch’s mash, in particular, was a favored drink among the boys. That an’ bourbon…. It was so funny… Jakey Ravenel was the only one left with anything on — his ‘good luck’ black bolo tie… I remember telling him that even if I won it, I didn’t want anything to do with it… they make my stomach turn; ‘There’s no place for a bolo tie in South Carolina,’ I remember tellin’ him… He kept rambling about it because of his Texas uncle… ‘Not an uncle by blood…’ his brother Jimmy reminded him…”

“Where did you play, Des? I’m sure I want to know…” Daddy’s eyes were both open now. The horn-rimmed glasses were back on. The legs were off the ottoman, both feel firmly planted into the cherry hardwood floor beneath the chair. One hand was smoothing his hair and the other elbow was pressing into a thigh, leaning forward in the chair.

“At Lou’s. Off Penny’s Creek down near Wadmal —”

“Down near Wadmalaw Island. You went all the way near Wadmalaw… Did you cross route 700?…”

This was critical.

Desdemona put up her hand, “Just a sec, Daddy. Let me think….”

“Did you cross route 700? Did you go anywhere near Johns Island? Did you leave the county?” he asked, hotly.

“Maybe. But we weren’t playin’ yet. See. We were getting a bite to eat because the boys needed food, so I stopped for a bite. I told them it would be my treat because the next meal they’d need they wouldn’t have the money for… It was hot today…. But no. We didn’t play yet.”

She knew where this was going. She let her ego get the best of her. Des was prone to getting ahead of herself. In all her 23 years, in her fledgling first year of law school, she didn’t care for the details. She just wanted to get in the courtroom. Her family was convinced she’d make a better law enforcement officer than a law interpreter. “Nope. No playin’ cards … least not by me … anywheres near Johns Island.”

“But you drove.” Daddy reminded her.

“Yes, but I can’t play and drive. That’d be crazy. Nope. No cards played by me in the truck while we were on Johns Island.”

Daddy finished law school. Head of his class. UVA. Had an established, prominent and ethical law practice in town and did a ton of pro bono work. To him, it was about the advocacy more than the paycheck. “Sometimes people just get stuck in a bad way and they need help. That’s why I’m here.” was printed on back of his business cards.

“Did anyone play cards in the truck while you were on Johns Island, darlin’?” he asked.

She shifted in her seat. “That I can’t rightly say.”

Meanwhile, back at the church parking lot, the heap of prominent-familied, ruby-skinned, men fell asleep under a palmetto tree on the soft-ish, rounded and warm landscape pebbles and a sun bleached pool towel stolen off a clothesline not too far off in the distance. In the southern sky, a crescent moon was on the rise, reminiscent of the South Carolina flag. Save for the silhouette of the many moons below, it was a lovely picture.

A rejected black bolo tie rested in the setting sun all by its lonesome. Come tomorrow, Sunday morning, early attendees were in for a surprise of God’s creation.

i'd leave it in the parking lot too...

i’d leave it in the parking lot too… (not a very good picture at all; the dogs were in the way and they’re not very smart…)

Thank you.