Category Archives: Prose

The Creativity Project – Let’s Go Short

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Seems like I’ve talked more about the obstacles to creativity recently than actually being creative.

Let’s see if we can’t change that.

I recently stumble across a blog for short fiction called “The Drabble“.  It has been a struggle to find quality short fiction sites that are active.  This site actually does fiction, non-fiction, and poetry.  And they are serious about “short”.  If you want to submit, it’s a maximum of 100 words.

Given that my first collection has a variety of very short stories in it, I thought this was an interesting challenge.  There has been an idea floating around in my head for the last couple days.  It had the feel of one of those flash fiction kind of stories, so I thought “Why not?”

The first problem I hit was that even my ultra short story was too long for “The Drabble”!  It took me about as long to edit down the story to 100 words as it did to write the original.

The “full-length” story is below.  I have submitted the short version, and if they like it, I’ll give them first shot at publishing it.  If that happens I will link to it.  If not, I ‘ll share the short version here.


The Intimacy of Driving

I’m all set. The car is clean, seat adjusted, my little “u” sign carefully affixed.

The first call arrives just as I leave the highway and enter the city proper. A young woman on her way to the gym. She’s forgiving when I’m a couple minutes late. The app and I are still getting to know one another.

Young women are an interesting balancing act. They are climbing into the car of a middle aged man they do not know. I want them to feel comfortable and safe. Should I talk? Should I remain silent? Is the guy who never speaks to them on the trip reassuring or creepy? Certainly, the guy who talks too much is no good.  I usually say a few things right at the beginning, then wait to see if they pick up the thread. If not, I will offer a companionable silence. Most of the trips are quick so it never grows uncomfortable. The younger riders tend to spend the time on their phone, a soundtrack of quiet beeps and sound effects.

Five rides in quick succession. To the gym, a coffeehouse, home from work or to the airport. The airport trip passenger is a man a little younger than me. We compare notes on airports.

I pick up a young woman at a local college. We’re headed out of town. When we arrive I ask where she wants to be let out. She’s never been here before, so we search a little. It’s a woman’s health clinic. It’s none of my business. I wish her well and say a little prayer that all is well.

Then I turn the wheel for home.

 


Never stop creating.

Peace.

 

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Coming Out of My Closet

I’m going to ask you to make a larger investment in this blog post than normal.  What comes next will make much more sense if you watch this video.  This is Ash Beckham, an LGBT advocate, delivering a TEDx talk in Boulder CO.  It’s 11 minutes long but worth the time.  It’s not really about what you probably think it’s about.  Just like this post.

Watch the Video.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kSR4xuU07sc

So what’s my closet?  Well, to be honest, I probably have a lot of them.  I think most of us do.  There was one closet that came to mind as I listened to the video the first time.  It’s my darkest closet.  The one that scares me the most.  And I think it’s going to surprise you.

My whole life has revolved around the idea that I’m creative.  Actor, writer, photographer, story teller.  Here’s the truth – I have virtually never allowed myself to really do any of it.  I talk a good game.  I talk one helluva good game.  Since I left college I’ve been on stage once.  Virtually no one has seen any of my writing.  Or photography.  I have to be forced to play guitar or sing in public.

I’ve gotten away with just teasing creativity for years.  People are going to want to argue that I’ve done plenty creative things.  What I’m saying is that what I’ve done is the equivalent of sliding things out from under the closet door.  You can only get little things out that way.  And you can stay safely in the closet.

In the dark.

Where you won’t have to face the “hard talk”.

You see I am avoiding having the hard talk with myself.  If I come out of the closet, really take a shot at being creative, putting myself on the line, there’s a chance that I will crash and burn.  That’s what most people do.

(Is it?  Or is that just an excuse to keep that door securely shut?  So maybe I won’t be recognized as Hemingway.  How many people are?  Wait, I know that answer.  Exactly one.  Same number for Dickens and Grisham and King and Steele.  Is this about being creative or being successful?)

I stay in the closet because I won’t ever fail in there.  Except for the fact that staying in there IS failure.  No one can challenge my carefully crafted self image as a creative person if they’ve never seen my work.  I’m Harper Lee if she had stopped writing before “To Kill A Mockingbird”.  To that end I carefully never complete any of my creative works.  I’ve talked about a photo show.  Never done it.  I’ve worked on a novel for four years.  Never finish it.  A collection of short stories.  Not quite ready yet.  I never quite practice the guitar enough to get any better at it.

I need to have that hard talk with myself.  Which means I need to come out of my closet.  Kick open, pop open, slide open, ease open that door but I need to open it.

Take a shot.

Do my best.

Find out who I can be.  It might be a mediocre story teller, novelist, photographer or actor.

Or I might be the second Hemingway.

Time to begin opening that door.

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Thoughts On – Writing

All of my life I have been a story teller.  My earliest memory involving stories is from kindergarten when I acted out the story of Abiyoyo as sung by Pete Seeger.  My memory says I was a hit.

As life went on I found more ways to tell stories.  I went on stage for the first time in fourth grade.  I learned to be a competitive speaker in high school.  In college I completely weirded out my freshman speech class by a dramatic reading of part of Harlan Ellison’s “I Have No Mouth But I

 

Must Scream”.  I told stories as an acting student and a radio DJ. After college I made  careers in radio and now the church by telling stories.

Along the way I began to write my own stories.  I’ve tried to use

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all the skills, ideas and techniques I’ve learned over

the years to create the kind of stories I love to tell.  But I’ve hit an obstacle.
It seems that this writing thing is easy for as long as you’re only playing around.  When you decide you want to get serious about it the writing has a surprise for you.

It’s damn hard.

I’ve decided I want to up my game.  That means that instead of only writing when the inspiration hits I need to begin to work my craft.  Like swimming there’s only one way to do that.  You need to breath deep and dive in.  One of my favorite authors, Isaac Asimov, said that the hardest part of writing was getting your butt in the seat.

So here are my writing projects – to regularly post to this blog.  To regularly post to my media/technology blog “The View From the Phlipside“(which includes three radio scripts a week for the program of the same name), to finish editing the book of short stories I’m working on and to complete the novel that I began in 2009.  That seems like a lot of writing and it is.  That’s what’s been messing me up.  It seemed like too much writing.

What finally dawned on me is that I keep thinking that I have to do all that writing every day.  Quite simply that’s impossible.  Or at least impossible without throwing over all the rest of my life to the writing.  That’s not my goal.  My goal is to write and to make the commitment of the time needed to write.

So my plan is to write every day.  To write something.  Every day.

Because I have stories to tell.

Peace

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Jamestown Story – The Day the Aliens Landed

In the end it was nothing at all like in the movies.

The space ship from another planet didn’t choose New York or London or Moscow. Bolts of energy didn’t vaporize landmarks or disintegrate tanks. There were no little green men or big silver robots or musical exchanges of ideas. It didn’t even look “right”. It was squat, ugly and not quite a cube. The exterior was dull gray that seemed to shift color depending on the angle of the sun or the point of view.

It descended straight down the experts later decided. There was universal agreement that such an approach was illogical and inexplicable but they couldn’t deny what the records showed. It came straight down from space to its resting place with no deviation or correction. All the pilots consulted were equally in agreement that it had been a fairly impressive piece of flying.

That final destination turned out to be the top of the municipal building in a small city in southwestern New York. Jamestown had seen its glory days many years before as a center for furniture manufacture. Now at the beginning of the 21st Century it was trying to decide if there was a second act in its history or not. The space ship landing at Tracy Plaza pretty much settled that issue once and for all.

Curiously the ship fit the top of the building almost as if it were the final completing piece of a model. Initial reaction was as might be expected. The building was evacuated as were all the businesses facing the plaza including the Federal building and Post Office. Police barricaded the streets while the Mayor, from a new, safe and undisclosed location, desperately called for help. As also might be expected his initial calls met skepticism. He was finally believed when his technologically inclined assistant posted video of the ship perched on top of City Hall. That quickly led to the city’s finest being supplemented with any military, intelligence or bureaucratic personnel who wanted a piece of the action. The jurisdictional dispute raged for hours.

In the meantime nothing was happening . The ship simply sat there making no sign. It sat motionless and silent for 48 hours with every boring moment recorded and broadcast around the world. Then just as suddenly as it arrived, it departed.

The ship rose into the air. Straight up it went and disappeared quickly into the blue sky and the black of space beyond. Examination of the roof of the building afterward showed no evidence other than the crushed antennae arrays. They left no message and no token.

For some the apparent lack of interest was demoralizing, for others infuriating. One question had been answered that day in the hills of southwestern New York. We were not alone. Another question had taken its place that struck to heart and pride of proud mankind.

Were we of so little interest?

 

This was the result of a writing prompt in the Jamestown Writes writers group.  It had to have some connection to Jamestown and it had to be 500 words or less.  Those were the only guidelines (we like our prompts with room to breathe).  At least one person didn’t like the downer end but it’s exactly the effect I wanted.  Feel free to leave your comments and criticisms.  I think this blog may see a bit more action.  I invite everyone to help me hone my skills.  JP

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A Moment Like This

Danny wrapped his arms around her shoulders and whispered in her ear.

“You have to decide soon. No matter what I support you. Ask yourself this – what would he say?”

She could hear the tiredness in his voice. They were all so tired now. He kissed her hair, stroked her arm gently and moved away. Lisa heard him pull the door shut behind him.

What would he say? Her father had helped prepare every step of the way for this new chapter in her life. Lisa had used him as a sounding board as she wrestled with what came next. The culmination of it all had been the job offer that arrived ten days ago. THE job offer. THE JOB.

She’d called him even before she told Danny. The phone rang. And rang. And rang. That was worrisome. His years of working in the steel mills in Lackawanna had left him bent and crippled. Unless she or a neighbor was there to take him someplace he virtually never left the house. Lisa drove back to the old neighborhood, to the little row house where she had grown up. When she opened the door she saw her dad lying on the living room floor. He wouldn’t wake up so she called the ambulance and it took him to the hospital.

Lisa turned from the window and looked at the figure in the bed. The fixture above the head of the bed threw the only light. In its harsh glow her father looked dead, his mouth slack, cheeks shrunken. The diagnosis had been a massive stroke, a brain bleed. At first the doctors had tried to give her hope. If he woke up soon things would be better. They talked about the power of the body to heal itself, of the brain to re-wire itself. With each passing day she saw the tension in their faces as they looked at charts and scans. And their words of hope faded.

Ten days later and there was no improvement. They’d gotten him off the ventilator. That was really the only change. Tomorrow he would be transferred to a long term facility, though the doctors said they had no idea how long that long term might be. A day. A week. A month. Every case has its own timetable.

But she didn’t have a month, a week or even a day. She’d put off accepting the position as long as she could, pleading her father’s illness. They had been caring and generous. A decision had to be made. The opening couldn’t be held forever. It was clear their patience was running out.

How do you leave in a moment like this? The job was a thousand miles away. Once she was there she would have to be there for at least a month learning her way through new procedures and relationships. There was no way she could be here. No way to be with him at the end. How do you pass up the dream? If she sacrificed this chance there might never be another. Was it possible to simply walk away from everything she had worked for?

What would he say about all this? She reached down and took his cool, limp hand in hers. Her thumb stroked the back of his hand. Tears welled in her eyes as she leaned over the bed to gently kiss her father’s forehead. She smoothed his thin hair, kissed him again and whispered

“It’s time for me to go, Daddy.”

(This was supposed to be my entry in a local newspaper’s annual writing contest. Unfortunately my e-mail provider decided to burp right when I sent it and it never made it. The parameters were: 600 words or less, had to take place in WNY and involve a man, a woman and a job offer)

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Reflections

About two thirds of my life is behind me now.

 

I’m a little bit pissed about that.

    I’m pissed because I spent an awful lot of those years on stupid things.  Not wine, women and song kinds of stupid things.  Hell with a little restraint those kinds of stupid things would be preferable to the stupid things I did pursue.

I spent too many of those years worrying.  There are few less productive, more destructive, more idiotic activities in this life than worry.  It chewed me up, kept me up at night, even yanked me upright and screaming from my sleep.  Too many years of worry.

I spent too many years, too damn many years trying to please people who didn’t want me to please them.  They didn’t want me to succeed except on their terms.  And their terms insured my frustration and my diminishment.  Why did I care about their stuff?  Why did I stay with some of them as long as I did?  Because they convinced me that I was safer there.  That it would be even harder somewhere else.

And that pisses me off too.

But the part that angers me most is how much time I spent afraid.  The chances for joy that I chose to allow to expire because  the small risk was magnified.  The lens of fear magnifies the hardship and shrinks the reward.

Looking back I see that I didn’t just rob from myself but from the ones I love.  I didn’t give them as much of  my life, as much of my love as I might have.

That makes me both angry and sad.

So now I’m left with a third of my life.  Shall I add regret and bitterness to the list of stupid things I’ve wasted my life on?  Shall I lie on that final day thinking, “What have I done?  What did I do with all those days?”

That would really piss me off.

It would be proof that I’m too damn stupid to learn.  I don’t want to go there.  Why would I want to give more years to worry, to fear and to bitter, small souled people?

There was some good stuff in my first two thirds.  Some really damn good stuff and people.  Let’s build from there.  Let’s live for joy, let’s live for love, let’s live for life.

Let somebody else be pissed off.

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