What I Would Say to Graduates of 2017

Graduates, this is good stuff. But not just for graduates, for anyone who sees life as still full of possibilities.

Russell J. Fellows

2017

I live in a fantasy world, I know this. My wife is an actual queen. My daughter is part horse, and my son is an adventurous knight (Nexo Knight to be certain…if you know what that is).

I say all this to let you know that it is only in this fantasy world that I would be allowed to impart any wisdom toward those graduating high school or college this year.

I take what I can.

Friends of ours have a daughter that is graduating high school this year. We’re all very excited for her and proud of what she’s accomplished. She’s quite the artist and has a bright future ahead of her. It’s this event, and the fact that you can’t look anywhere right now without being reminded of these young souls venturing out into the great wide world now, that got me thinking. What would I say, if…

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My Alarm Clock Told Me

My alarm clock told me it was time to wake up.

But it didn’t stop there.

It went on to remind me about yesterday.

I hit snooze.

My mirror told me I look rather haggard lately. Getting old and ugly and hadn’t you better work on your personality? The mirror disagreed strongly with my alarm clock.

My rusty minivan with the huge crack in the front bumper told me it too had a bad day yesterday. That was yesterday. We got the call while we were taking a walk in the park. We’d stopped for ice cream.

“Are you serious?” asked my husband, ice cream cone in hand.

All the fun conversations begin with the phrase: Are you serious? 

Today no one told me to drive faster. Or jeered at my habit of abruptly braking. I have bad depth perception, people tell me. I think things are closer than they are, more dangerous than they are. I see danger everywhere.

The Lexus, Mercedes, and Teslas with whom I share the roadway, they told me I could have made better decisions in my youth. My youth told me it doesn’t love me and wants to break up. My children told me I make their lives miserable, that I make everything harder than it has to be. My house told me I clearly don’t have feelings for it anymore. My garden wants a divorce.

The sunrise over the interstate told me that beauty and ugly can and do copulate. Most every day. That I can have faith and still grieve the death of my dreams. That I can get a friend request from someone dead set on being my enemy. I can be smart and dumb at the same time. I can seem to have it all together and be falling quite apart. Yes. That was yesterday. Today I am told by the birds that beauty hasn’t fled entirely. The dead squirrel matted to the roadside with his symphony of black flies, disagrees.

A fictional character told me it’s not about how hard I hit, but how hard I can get hit and keep moving forward. Jesus says to take the hit and offer up the other cheek. These two agree. I listen to these teachers as if my life depended upon it. Because of them, I listen to the alarm clock when it tells me to wake up.

 

Writer Mind

I’m in the valley every writer goes through. I keep showing up day after day intending to make something amazing. If I were an artist, I’d be making stick people. If I were making dinner, it would be haggis. If I were conjuring up an animal, it would be a platypus. Sure, I just got petted last Friday. Won a contest. Got to judge. But without a steady stream of word-gold, I become convinced the well is dry.  I’ll ever write anything good ever again.

I worry the story I’ve been working on, bleeding onto the page for eternity squared, is a total waste of time. I worry I’m selfish. I AM selfish. I ask myself, what have you done for others? Surely not this writing gig. So I try to list out the selfless …act I’ve committed recently. It’s a short list.

So I’m writing and writing and every so often is the thought: Why don’t you do something eternal like laundry or weeding or deep cleaning? The grime is holding my home together, I tell myself. The weeds have feelings too. Things get dirty again. I wax certain I’m an undiscovered C.S. Lewis (the moment I won a little contest) and certain I’m a grub (most other times, beginning a few minutes after I won the contest).

To really keep things interesting, I sabotage myself by revealing my political leanings to people who would’ve liked me well enough had I just kept my mouth shut. If I had multiple personalities, they’d be Ann Coulter, Ann Lamott, and little orphan Annie. I’m the most liberal conservative in our family, the most confident insecure person I know. The nicest mean person you’ll ever meet. I don’t know why I feel the need to cough up my worldview every now and again. I hope it’s an involuntary trait of a writer. Like how the kidneys clean out your blood without you telling them to. My soul churns this stuff out against the advice of a meek little voice: are you sure you want to post that? I plunge ahead.

Today I read a lovely, worthwhile blogger writing from the mountaintop I can see from my valley, where he talks about writing “whatever the hell he wanted” for five years and he has no regrets and over a hundred thousand followers. He “likes” many posts, including mine. I emailed him to ask, does he really read the posts he likes? Because if so, does he sleep? Is he human? He has not answered my email. Oddly enough, I also have been blogging for five years.

This is what I say when I’m a  grub: He didn’t even read your post. Some days a rational being who’s just finished running a few miles and done vitality yoga– that person will tell me I’ve got something important to say, that to give up is the only failure. And, some really weird people like haggis. Days like today must be climbed over or crawled under or blasted through. On the horizon are days where I’ll come away thinking I’ve made something worthy– and had a great time doing it.

 

Funny! Fiction for Cracked Flash

Waiver

Most epic adventures don’t start out with an application and an insurance waiver, but Tom Kinzel, CEO of Chilly Thrills saw the writing on the wall: the positive correlation between epicness and peril. The 200 bodies strewn upon Mt. Everest gave their silent testimony: counterphobia (charging your worst nightmare) while epic, is risky. But to Tom’s way of thinking, the real tragedies were the corpses of entrepreneurial start-ups that met death in small claims court (a misnomer) all because they didn’t have that one little (but “HUGE, believe me”) piece of the business puzzle: the waiver.

I____________________ am a willing participant in the Chilly Thrills 5000K Mt. Mortem hike, an epic adventure of extreme proportions which requires excellent mental judgment and a high degree of physical fitness, agility, and dexterity.

I FURTHER UNDERSTAND AND HEREBY ACKNOWLEDGE THAT MY PARTICIPATION IN CHILLY THRILLS 5000K MT. MORTEM HIKE INVOLVES CERTAIN HAZARDS AND DANGERS SUCH AS INJURY OR POSSIBLY DEATH AND/OR RISK OF DAMAGE TO OR LOSS OF PROPERTY.

I release, waive, forever discharge, covenant not to sue, indemnify, and hold harmless Chilly Thrills from any and all liability, claims, suits, demands, judgments, costs, interest and expense, (including attorneys’ fees and costs) arising from Chilly Thrills’ 5000K Mt. Mortem Hike.

I have read all applications, preparatory materials, and instructions in their entirety (including this waiver) and signed it knowingly and voluntarily. And I’m mentally competent, fully aware that a 5000K peak is 16+ million feet (3280 feet/kilometer x 5000) that brushes against the floorboards of heaven, a destination I couldn’t reach if I strapped twin F-16 thrusters to my boots and chugged a keg of Monster Energy drink. But– I certify I’ve read this waiver in its entirety. Yes. No lie. Every word. Bring on the epic adventure.

Signed, Epic Participant

 

Fiction for Microcosmsfic.com

 

Washed Away

“At it again?” Ella asked, standing over the hunched form of her husband. Darrin’s once-white robe was covered with a dusting of sand and browned on the butt. Ella handed him a steaming cup of coffee. A sand-encrusted hand trembled but received it gratefully. A ring of untanned skin was all that remained of his marriage. Half submerged in a foamy moat and gouging out fistfuls of muck, his other hand was invisible.

“I think I got it right this time,” Darrin muttered.

“How long?” Ella asked, her sweet voice hollow and feathery against the boisterous surf.

“Since two.”

“Why?”

“I wanted to finish before the tide came up. Recognize it?”

“Our honeymoon, Barcaldine Castle. But you got the top wrong. There weren’t any battlements on Barcaldine.”

“I added those… to keep you safe.” Darrin continued to scrape and mold the sand. The hands that played Brahms flawlessly, that delivered love letters, bills, and junk mail. The sure hands smoothed and teased the castle domes as if they were lace-decked breasts or a fragile neck. He drew his fingertips along the parapets as if they were her lips. One last time.

As the structure neared completion, Darrin’s eyes became glassy, but not a drop would fall. Plenty of salt water all around. The Ella hallucination faded as the sun edged over the horizon. At his feet lay the coffee cup full of brown water and sand. No wonder the coffee was bad.

Waves, inexorable and implacable, crept closer and closer. Darrin took the wedding rings out of his pocket: his thick one and her diamond-studded strand he’d discreetly removed before they shut the coffin. He clutched them to his chest. His other hand rooted around his robe pocket until he felt the smooth barrel, the finger hole.

The end.

Flash fiction is uniquely challenging. You get only a handful of words to communicate plot, brush in some character, some descriptions. No waste allowed! I think it appeals to me because I like poetry. But what often happens when I write flash is that most of the tale stays hidden inside my head, never to meet the page. I suppose I got it right with this one, or right enough because it won last week’s microcosmsfic flash fiction contest. The prize for winning? The honor of judging this week. Judging teaches me more about writing than almost any other exercise I do, so I’m grateful for the opportunity. Judging also allows me to do what I love second to writing: encourage fellow writers.

My Conversation with a Bumper Sticker

Reproductive Rights are Human Rights

Said the bumper sticker on a lime green, lime-shaped hybrid. Why waste a red light when you can give an ethics lesson to the lucky chap behind you? Bumper stickers are the ultimate one-sided argument.

So rather than slam down on the accelerator, I had a conversation.

Bumper sticker,

I don’t disagree with your assertion, but I do believe you’re being wily when you say Reproductive rights are human rights. To reproduce or not to reproduce, that is the right. The question, however, is what you mean by reproductive. Because I’ve a sneaking suspicion you mean we have the right to kill a certain subset of our reproductions.

Not that you’re in favor of killing. That’d be ludicrous. If I’m scraping cherry pie from my plate into the trash I’m not killing anything. We’re talking about cherries here, you’d say. Void and viscous lumps. Certainly we’re not talking about the heirs of rights: humans.

That’s what’s up for grabs, oh Bumper Sticker: just who is human? Who deserves these rights? Only some. Would it surprise you to learn slaveholders assuaged themselves with similar rhetoric?

I’m all for most forms of birth control, including that fail-safe: a word called no. But if you simply must have sex (I understand), it’s certainly and absolutely your right to erect a blockade for either eggs or sperm, your choice. That’s your choice.

Thanks for listening, Bumper Sticker.

 

 

North Korea Ka-BOOM!

As if there’s not enough excitement in the world with DJT, President You’re-Fired of the United States, enter stage left-his-sanity-behind, Kim Jong-un.

Jong-un’s imminent promotion to world bully lurks just around the corner. Do a Google search and watch in fascinated horror his relentless pursuit of capability to deliver mass extermination to countries far and wide. And the man is clearly not moderate. Have you seen his chins? We all know power corrupts, but what of the hand already corrupted to the point of gangrenous evil? What of that?  Nuclear capability is the coveted mistress of every addled third world leader with ambitions bigger than his britches. And though Jong-un has a rather robust britch, his desire to be prom king outstrips even that.

Today all hundred senators will meet in a top-secret briefing on North Korea. Cue the menacing psycho music because this is some scary… chit. Have you found yourself thankful you don’t live in Hawaii or California? Or worse, South Korea. Most of us have only a hazy clue as to how we got here. The Talking Heads lyrics sum up the confusion rather nicely, whether we’re talking global scale or the 7 lbs of our own hearts:

And you may ask yourself
What is that beautiful house?
And you may ask yourself
Where does that highway go to?
And you may ask yourself
Am I right? Am I wrong?
And you may say yourself, “My God! What have I done?”

Incremental certainties. In my own life I’ve made many choices that have served to increase the temperature of the pot in which I find myself on a slow boil. The US has simmered for years in lobster soup, and now we face a nuclear North Korea, Our pot is about to boil over.

Remember when the Indians got their hands on those new fangled fire sticks? Didn’t bode well for Daniel Boone and friends. And who wouldn’t travel back in time and stop Egypt and the Soviet Union from providing nerve gas to Syria? (They promised to use it on the Israelis, see.) When madmen or even mad men get weaponry, we know the end of the story. And the more lethal the tool, well, let’s just say mother earth will swallow a monstrous birth control pill when a loon starts shooting off a sidearm full of plutonium.

All this to say, it’s a scary world. And a little insane too. How to navigate a world of looming mushroom clouds?

I’m not sure. I didn’t write this post because I have answers. I’ve always been more of an index-finger-wielding, problem-spotting sort of gal. Iceberg ahead.

My best suggestion and what I try to do: Pretend why-are-we-here is a math problem and we have to, on pain of death, solve it. Plumb where the highway goes. Whether the values and opinions we loosely hold are right or wrong. Listen with an open mind to people we hate. Don’t be like dumb, driven cattle, like open holes drinking in whatever koolaid happens to rain down. Be circumspect. And be willing to throw your opinion out there. It provokes conversation and therefore, learning. I’m no political expert, but I do my best to educate myself with what little discretionary time I have. If I vote that’s my bare bones duty.

Those of you who’d rather spend a buck on NPR than on Black Hawks, consider the money it costs to clean up the chaos after some trigger-happy country decides we’re militarily weak enough to take us on. Say, North Korea… How much does that cost the taxpayer? The ones who remain alive to work and contribute to Uncle Sam’s coffer?

Most of us are so busy grabbing our fistful of the American Dream we rarely, if ever, wake up to American Reality. North Korea’s Ka-BOOM! may just be our wake-up call. If not, there’s always a nuclear Iran around the corner as well.

What do you think of the North Korean threat? More saber-rattling or the real deal? What do you think about military spending?