The One Feared is the One Revered

hand-mushroom-cloud-blast-explosionI don’t want to be worshipped– I want to terrify. My rival covets worship, but I’ve never been so inclined. You could say between the two of us, I’m the humble one. And between the two of us, I’m the one providing a service: I scare you, don’t I? Scare you into looking before you cross the street, frighten you into taking the boring, bill-paying job, terrify you into aborting those inconsequential cells growing inside you because no way can you handle what’s coming down the pike, my dear. No way. Be reasonable.

What does my rival do for you? …What? He hung the celestial bodies, slapped them spinning… and what’s bedecked His resume since then? Ask the burned-up, disheveled Syrian boy. Ask the refugees. Or the republicans. Ask the four-footed critters or winged creatures whose orb is fracked and fractured and asphalted, whose space is raped. Ask, what has He done for you lately?

I never asked to be worshipped.

But to petrify, that is my game. Humanity thrives on terror. I submit The Exorcist, all things Stephen King, the Autobahn on a rainy day, and Donald Trump any day. Who delivers this exquisite fright? Yours truly. And I never ask for applause. All I ask is you not applaud my rival, not send upward looks and wide-open arms and prayers for deliverance. No one’s coming.

I want to terrify because the one feared is the one revered. The one feared– his fat, itchy finger perches awkwardly on the launch button. Did I mention North Korea in my exhibit list? Terror fuels the world, make no mistake. What scurrying when the alarm sounds, what an economic boon is war! Didn’t your mother tell you she beat you for your own good? I gave her that phrase.

[Submitted to Cracked Flash Fiction contest. As I wrote this entry, I realized my default is not to story, but to essay. The Screwtape Letters is branded deep into my subconscious, and I shift into first person essays without meaning to. What to do about that? Recently I posted about changing my novel to 1st person. I figure I should do what comes naturally while I’m floundering about. Babies don’t run the 4 by 400. When I force myself into a format, the writing screams, “I’m stilted!” Then I hate it. Then I delete it. I’ve collected quite a few rejections from CFF, perhaps because my writing is more aptly described as Cracked Flash Essay. Ha! Well, the wounded warrior pets herself and finds excuses as to why she didn’t get the gold, doesn’t she? Whatever mind games we have to play to get back out there and get rejected again.]

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What the Alien Said

earth“Again. Slower. Why did she go to… punishment,”

“Jail,” I said.

“Yes, same thing,” he said. This was our third year having these beach-side discussions. This year I felt ready for his Socratic mind games. Every May my family rents a condo in Oak Island, NC. Every year since I turned 12, he’s come to talk. Only to me, he said. Only on my night beach walk.

“You wouldn’t like me during the day,” he said. I believed him. I didn’t much like the looks of him at night. It was like walking next to a web. The rare times we passed other beach walkers he plopped into the water as if gravity snatched him. In the black waves he’d float along, and as soon as we were alone he’d rise again and match my stride with his.

He took no notes, but I’m sure he was recording because sometimes he asked me to repeat a phrase, swiveling his head so my lips were close to the thing that looked like an undulating heating vent on his neck.

“Why she leak?” He said.

“Because she’s going to jail for killing her baby,” I answered.

“On my planet we can kill who we wish,” he said, “We are similar species, you and I.”

“We are not allowed to kill each other.” I said. I didn’t mean to sound haughty. I could swear he snorted, an alien snort.

“Of course you are. 1,300 humans are killed every day by their human counterparts, and you collectively cull 125,000 offspring a day. Why does this one go to punishment for doing what you do every day?”

“You mean kill, and it’s not the same.” I said.

“To cull is to selectively slaughter on a large scale. I stand by my word. ”

I sighed. “People who kill other people go to jail, but with babies, it’s the mother’s decision.”

“I don’t understand why a mother can make that decision sometimes and not other times. This leaky one should be rewarded for taking time to think it over.”

“Look, I don’t expect you to understand, but being pregnant is no walk in the park. While that baby’s inside the mother, it’s the mother’s business.”

“Like excrement. It doesn’t bother anyone while it’s inside. Once it comes out, everyone makes a stink about it… Haha! My first wit… makes a stink… but I think I finally understand. Your offspring and your excrement are interchangeable until such a time as… at what point do they become different?”

The waves were cold against my ankles, the little shells piled up in a tide pool. I walked with cupped feet to protect my arches from the sharpened bodies of the sea. The alien and the ocean were always one. Effortlessly, he glided along beside me. I was beginning to hate him.

“Does your planet have a lot of water,” I asked.

“Oh yes,” He wrapped a clear tendril around my arm. I felt the slither go around several times. “Does this subject make you uncomfortable? I’m just trying to understand. If it was hers while it was inside to do with as she pl–”

“Look, I don’t know how it goes on your planet, but here on Earth babies cost a ton of money; they require 18+ years of sacrifice and they bust you up like an egg on their way into the world. Women shouldn’t have to put up with that if they don’t want to.”

“I agree. You should be able to kill your offspring any time you wish, until they no longer depend on you. Eighteen, yes?”

“No!”

The alien rose up, a twenty-foot high wall of water that hissed and foamed and threw arcs of spray. I was drenched. He still had my arm in a frothing grip.

“Foolish human! Time doesn’t change essence. I am me: today, yesterday, and tomorrow. You are you. The passage of time does not alter matter. If you can kill at six weeks old, you should be able to kill at six years old, even sixteen years old. Until you’re free of the little buggers.”

My guts melted like when I’m caught in a lie, but I had to make him see; I had to defuse him. Never before had I seen him like this: dangerous. I willed my voice to be a solid fist over the surf. “The difference is, a baby feels it. The bunch of cells inside a mother… there’s no there, there.”

The rushing water arched over me, blocking out the night sky.

“How do you know the baby doesn’t feel it?” He said, “If I slice off your head in .45 of a second, you won’t feel it either. And you’re a bunch of cells, are you not? The only difference is the passage of time, which means nothing. I have already told you this. I thought we were alike, you and I, but I’ve come to a different conclusion. You humans: I wonder if there’s any there, there.”

 

 

Don’t Forget – What It’s Like Writing my First Novel

keysI’ve been toying with the idea of changing my novel around. This morning I decided to change the point of view from 3rd to 1st– just to experiment. I’ve read many 1st person novels and loved them. Right now I’m reading We Were Liars by e. lockhart. If you want to hear a distinctive voice, read it. If you want to not put your book down for many uninterrupted hours ultimately putting your reality on hold, read it. My son was assigned We Were Liars for his summer reading; he read the whole book on the drive home from Pennsylvania. Then he had his girlfriend read it because it was too good to keep to himself. She also devoured it. I’m halfway through, but it’s definitely one of my favorites. Required reading that doesn’t feel required– way to go, St. Ignatius.

So this 1st person book and the others I’ve loved (The Fault in our Stars, The Screwtape Letters, Out of the Dust, The Book Thief, Telltale Heart) made me wonder if my story would be better served from 1st person. Even the book I hate the most, Catcher in the Rye, I hate because I hate the distinctive voice of the narrator. Many people love Holden Caulfield… or they love to love him. To admit loving Catcher in the Rye is to wear a sort of rebellious intellectualism like the green Masters jacket. It might be legit, but it might be off the racks of Goodwill. No one knows for sure.

Of course changing point of view would mean re-writing the whole thing which does make me want to weep. But I’d rather love my story, and in 3rd person, I’m not sure I’m lovin it.

So today I began the 1st person experiment. You know what? I love writing in 1st person. The few short stories I’ve written, the ones I like, are in 1st person. Since I might be reworking the whole thing, I’m not sure the 57,548 words I’ve written will ever reach the final draft, but in chronicling the journey, I note them.

I’m also itching to write a short story, so I have something about which to hope. Right now I only have three stories in the hoping queue. One is a local library contest, one the behemoth Writer’s Digest contest (my longest shot), and one to a web-based journal, East of the Web. I haven’t been able to join any of the local writing groups because my schedule has me driving or watching sports events. Not complaining, it’s a glorious season, but maybe when I can get back into those arenas I won’t feel so starved for validation. A writer sends out manuscript after manuscript, hoping for affirmation, but aware rejection is just as likely. It’s a boot camp of the soul.

Like buying lots of lottery tickets, I’ve got to get more hopes out there while I whittle away at my novel.

July… Don’t Want to Forget

CNW_Winner_200July was NaNoWriMo month for me. I set a goal of 30K words, figuring a thousand a day would stretch me. Boy, did it ever. I consider writing a fun, yet precise and artful enterprise, but in NaNoWriMo the point is to get your story out as fast as possible. In the writing world this is referred to as the vomit draft.

Because so much will be slashed or re-written, it’s not worth it to make every image glorious, every word just so. That comes later. Still– spending a month hurling sub-par exposition onto the screen because I had a word count to make… hurt my lit-snob eyes.

At first it was hard to keep going. Part of what motivates me is the delusion that what I’ve got on the page is excellence. Like exercise or right eating– if breakfast was a donut, might as well hit McDonald’s on the way home because they day is shot. With the vomit draft, I had to leave that thinking behind, to have faith that the sacrifice of my summer mornings would eventually reach the throne room. Confession: I actually love writing and would gladly do it all day long. What I sacrifice are the other practical things I could be, maybe should be doing.

This chart represents my July. How Maureen McHugh got into my head as I slogged through this process, I don’t know. Or else, maybe I’m not that special; I’m just like every other person struggling to write a book. Ok, probably that.

Credit: Maureen McHugh

Credit: Maureen McHugh

While I was practically chanting to myself it’s not a waste to pursue this dream of mine, my kids were doing their summer things too. My job is to get them there. Luke spent Monday through Thursday afternoons downtown. That meant I created my curriculum in the beautiful Carnegie Library or jogged the Hope Memorial Bridge while Luke dragged weighted sleds across Wasmer’s turf field. Have you ever stepped onto a turf field on a summer’s day? It’s like stepping on Mercury. I could see the skyline of Cleveland and feel the breeze off Lake Erie. Luke could feel his thighs melting, I imagine. Two of the pics below are of the aftermath of soccer tryout preparations. Note the dead grass and clever use of lawn accoutrements.

They say chlorine is the breakfast of champions. Gabe had it for breakfast and dinner. He participated in our city’s rec team and in the long course with his club team. The combination made him strong and lean as he’s ever been. Long course was a dish of humility– holy cow, is this pool long; the rec league, a dish of validation– is this kid for real…

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Gabe and Coach Lindsey

Yep. Real as the alarm every morning and the practice every night. …because that’s how winnin is done. – Rocky Balboa

Bob’s summer. He gave it as he often does, to planning a mission trip to South Dakota. Nothing makes Bob happier than helping people stretch themselves in service and charity. The team built a playground and helped construct a house. They led the church services and even fed anyone who came to church. This missions trip is not for the faint of heart. I also posted about it here.

It’s no pleasure trip either. A manager at Aeropostale, Tory gives the same due diligence to cleaning sludge out of a flooded basement in South Dakota as she does to running the store. That was her task for two days. All alone, no complaints. Like Bob, she’s got a feel for managing people and is not above any job that God needs done. I’m here, Lord. Send me. I have a feeling that willingness to get their hands dirty is what makes them effective managers.

As the team wends its way back home, stopping in the badlands, Custer State Park, and Mount Rushmore, they solidify friendships that will last long after the trip is over. Here they are at Indiana Dunes State Park, the last stop on the way home.beach

That was July. Today Luke is at soccer tryouts for St. Ignatius. We’ve always sought the biggest pond for our frogs. Sometimes that big pond was speech and debate, post-secondary college, Model UN, Civil Air Patrol, or the higher athleticism of club sports. I watched club soccer kids getting cut on Tuesday, kids who’d be playing varsity on their city teams. I watched them shake hands with the coaches, hang their heads and walk away from a sport they love.

I think, this pond feels more like Lake Michigan.

It was at this point in my post that I had to leave to pick up Luke from tryouts.  Teams were being finalized as I typed. But August happenings will be another post. 🙂