One Door Closes

I’m nearing completion of the first draft of Accidentally Inspired.  It should be done this week.  And it leaves me wondering: what the fargo do I do when it’s over?

Like Inigo Montoya after slaying the six-fingered man, I fear I may run out of steam a bit once the Project is over.  If there’s one thing I’ve learned from running, it’s that momentum is key.  He who stops might never get started again.  Succumb to allowing myself time off and next thing I know I’m sitting on that draft that I never did anything with, sucking down more Cheetos and licking the orange dust off my fingers instead of getting it all over my keyboard.  Except that in this example, getting the cheezdust on my keyboard would be something that’s desirable.  Y’know, because that’d mean I’m using it, and otherwise I’m just a sloth with Cheeto fingers.

I’ll allow myself a little time to decompress after finishing this draft.  Writing it, as much as I’ve enjoyed the process, has been taxing and exhausting in some ways I never imagined.  Be it slogging through endless hours of drafting characters who, to be honest, I’m growing a bit tired of, or writing into the wee hours of the night because I can no longer find time during the day, I’m beat.  I feel a bit like Forrest Gump after five or six trips running across the country: I’m tired, and I think I’ll go home now.

So a LITTLE bit of time off, but not so much time that I slip into the warm comfortable Snuggie of NotWriting.  Because as comfortable and comfortING as that Snuggie is, I recognize it now for the deathtrap it is.  The deathtrap that hoovers up the creative energy I should have been venting for the last ten years of my life and devours it like a great Sarlacc pit in the desert, where it withers and dies and doesn’t give birth to interesting stories or make me feel wonderfully productive and interesting or make me rich and famous (because that’s likely in this path I’m trying to walk, right?  RIGHT???).  No, as inviting as that Snuggie is, I will be doing my damnedest to let it collect dust and spiderwebs in the garage, because even though I’ve spent the past four months writing my butt off, I feel like there are miles to go before I wake.

As the proverbial door closes (okay, it’s not like the door closed because I took that door and explored the fargo out of it, but let’s pretend the metaphor holds), what proverbial window stands open in front of me?  It’s hard to say.  I’ve got the other novel ideas that I was considering back in March when this jolly parade first lurched like a herd of turtles into motion.  I’ve got a not-insignificant little collection of Flash Fiction which I’ve dutifully written almost every week; many of those stories are itching to be expanded, fleshed out and stitched into a living, breathing and terrifying Pavlak’s Monster if I can wrangle a bolt of lightning into their harvested parts.  And of course, after a bit of time passes, I’ll need to start on the monolithic task of editing AI, which means I’ll need to sharpen my bonesaws and reinforce my sledgehammers to start smashing that thing to pieces to put it back together Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger-like.  Or, who knows?  Perhaps I’ll be struck with a new bolt of inspiraton, like a lonely sheep in a lightning storm.

Um… pardon me for a second.

Sheep gets struck by lightning, develops super powers, bites farmhand, farmhand develops superpowers, gets the girl, saves the earth, knits a lovely lightning-imbued sweater, rides his shorn lightning-sheep into the sunset.

Okay, I’m back.

Anyway, if you’ve read my previous posts you might know that I’m a tremendous fan of Douglas Adams, and anytime I can compare myself or my work to his stories I end up feeling in a better way about myself, so here it is.  In the latter phases of his last (not really the last) book of his Hitchhiker’s Guide trilogy (not really a trilogy), the hero finds himself on a faraway planet viewing God’s last message to his creation.  He sees it, sighs, and says, essentially, “well, that’s that.”  And goes home.  Of course, Adams decided he hadn’t had enough after all and wrote another book after that.  But I feel very much like that.  Here I am, novel nearly finished, and there’s a message just over the horizon in flaming letters forty feet high that I can’t quite make out yet, but I have the sneaking suspicion that whatever message those letters carry, it won’t fill me with the deep spiritual calm and satisfaction that this little endeavor of mine was worth doing, and it’s done now, so now I can rest.  It probably won’t mean anything at all, in keeping with my little philosophy on this site: “Things don’t always have to mean things.”  But it’ll be there, and I’ll see it, and then I’ll have to find something else to do.

I’ll be on the lookout for any windows that happen to be popping open in my near vicinity.  Or maybe I’d be better off setting some charges and blowing down a wall.

Any fellow writers out there have advice on how to tackle this mounting sense of… I dunno, fear? dread? exhilaration? aimlessness?  Whatever it is that comes with “finishing” (yeah, it’s not even really nearly almost finished) a project?

Just a Sec, Ty

Chuck’s Flash Fiction Challenge of the week:  Bad Parents.

I struggled with this one because my parents are actually pretty good ones by virtually every yardstick I have by which to measure them.  And, you write what you know, right?  So I was stuck.  I thought about writing to the news of the week, with the guy who essentially cooked his kid alive in a car, but the thought of getting inside a mind like that turned my stomach.  Then I remembered this story which was told to me by a sweet old lady at the mall while we were chatting about my boy about a week ago.

So I decided to steal it and spruce it up.


Just a Sec, Ty


The dull hum of the food court is the roar of Fenway Park.  Tyler checks the runner, catches a signal, tips his brim with sweaty fingers and draws back.  His arm coils backward and slingshots forward, a striking serpent launching itself toward home plate.  The ball hurtles through space, its seams blurring in a wicked curling dive.

But Tyler is ready.

His hawk eyes track the ball’s impossible movement, down and away.  Like an unraveling slinky he plants, turns, swings, and connects.  The ball goes screaming away into the stratosphere, a meteor streaking through the sky, shattering the sound barrier as it sails into the night.

Tyler starts to run.

His locomotive legs pound the turf as he races for the wall, its ivy expanse stretching off on both sides.  Home run shot, no doubt about it, but only just.  The wind whistles in his ears as he sprints, looks over his shoulder, and leaps.  His legs like giant springs, he bounds into the air; an impossible leap, but he’s done it.  The momentum of his catch sends him tumbling head over heels, til he stops, flat on his back, cradling the tiny ball in his glove.  He hides it for a long moment, savoring the moment for himself.  Then he leaps to his feet, thrusting the bit of horsehide into the air.  His world erupts in a blinding spray of camera flashes.

The elderly man at table twenty-three claps and whistle at him over a plate of soggy lo mein.  “Nice play, champ,” the gentleman says, his wrinkled features pulling into a warm grin.  Tyler throws a glance over his shoulder.  She hasn’t noticed.  He trots over.

“Keep practicing,” the man says, “and you’ll be making those catches on TV one day.”

Tyler’s six-year-old eyes shine, and he pulls his two-sizes-too-big pants up at his waist.  “You think so?”

“Sure do.”

She still isn’t looking.  She missed the pitch, missed the home run swing, missed the miraculous catch.  Tyler tugs his cap straight and meanders off through the food court.  He walks past kids his age, older kids, toddlers and babies in strollers.  This one’s parents are holding both his hands and swinging him through the air, this one’s mom is licking a napkin and dabbing at her face, that one is screaming holy hell while dad pats him on the back, mumbling soothing nonsense at him.

Tyler’s feet carry him into Sears, past the shelves of shining silver appliances and the rows upon rows of brilliant television screens, until he sees it: his chariot of fire, a fully-loaded formula one racer with brand new tires and green paint, luminescent in the sun.  He jumps in, buckles his belt and helmet on, feels the engine snarl all the way down to his butt cheeks.  The checkered flag goes up and his world narrows to the road in front of him and the cars on either side, blistering past him like angry bees, roaring in his head like a rampant Tyrannosaur.

“Little boy.”

He blinks.  What’s this old lady doing on the race course?  But the cars are dissolving, his helmet is gone, and now he’s just Tyler, sitting on a shiny new John Deere lawnmower, with this janitor looking at him.  It’s concern on her face, and he doesn’t quite know what that means. All he can do is stare.

“Pretty nice driving, there.”

She’s wearing a red polo shirt, she works in the mall.  He hops off, doesn’t want to get in trouble.

“Where’s your parents?”

Tyler shrugs.  Don’t talk to strangers. 

“I followed you from the food court.  Where’s your mom?”

Another shrug, a shuffle of his feet.

“Can I help you look for her?”

Tyler looks in her eyes for the first time.  Kind eyes, like the old guy watching him hit home runs.  Like his grandmother’s, in a dim memory from when he used to visit her.  Half a lifetime ago.  She’s not dead, mom just doesn’t take him to visit anymore.  He nods and thrusts his hand out for her to hold, which she does.  Her hand is dry and warm and big, and her fingers close around his and he feels safe.

She’s still on the playground, amidst the raucous toddlers and kindergartners and first graders, seated on a bench at the back, next to a plastic padded mushroom.  She doesn’t look up.  Her fingers fly across the face of the little black device in her hands, her face free of any emotion.

“Mom!”  Tyler runs to her, hugs her knee.

“Just a sec, Ty.”  Click click click click.

The janitor clears her throat.  “Excuse me, miss?”

Click click.  “Hmm?”

“Just thought you ought to know I brought your boy back from Sears.”

Mom looks up.  “What?”  She glares at Tyler.  “Is that true?”

Tyler’s face flushed and he stares at his shoes.  The woman in the red shirt kneels next to him and puts a hand on his shoulder.  “He was all right.  Driving him a race car.  But I thought he ought to be getting back to you.”  She gives Mom a stern look.

Mom snatches Tyler’s hand and pulls him away.  “I don’t need you to touch my son.”

Mom yanks him out of the playground, and tears spring into his eyes.  Tyler throws a glance backward at the janitor and thinks he sees tears sparkling in her eyes, too.  But then his mom’s hand isn’t a hand at all.  It’s a thick, ropey vine, and the jungle is singing around him as he swings through the trees, dodging the legs of passersby like so many tree trunks in the wilderness flashing by.

A momentary distraction as Mom’s voice breaks through the vision: “wouldn’t believe what just happened to me, the nerve of this woman…” and Tyler’s heart lifts, because he knows now she’ll be talking about him all day.

Opinions are Okay, Nonsense Bigoted Politically Insane Opinions Are Not

Want to give yourself an aneurysm?  Want to feel a blind, all-consuming urge to destroy another human being with your bare hands boil through your veins?  Cruise over to this article by Stephen Webb, entitled “Why Soccer is Un-American”, and give it a read.  I’ll wait.

Okay, disclaimers first.  I don’t know Stephen Webb’s background, but given what I read in this article I’m going to go out on a limb and say he’s one of these more-or-less-lunatic-fringe right wingers that LOVES AMURIKA and wouldn’t piss on the rest of the world if it was on fire.  Seriously, there is so much anti-everything-but-America in this article that I actually vomited a little bit of red, white, and blue after reading it.  Just a little bit.  I also don’t know what an article about soccer is doing in a magazine like Politico, which I don’t read regularly, or in fact ever, but I imagine it’s just one of those topical pieces to fill space in a periodical — hey, we have some space to fill, the World Cup is going on, let’s write about that!  Not that I would know ANYTHING about that on this blarg.  Ahem.

So, in this article, Webb lists a litany of reasons why soccer hasn’t caught on in the US, arguing from the standpoint that sports are “a reflection of national character and aspirations,” which I’ll grant is in a lot of ways true.  But basically, after that first sentence, he deconstructs soccer and our nationalism (the way he sees it) in ways which are frankly bordering on certifiable.  When I first read it, I thought the whole thing was a gag piece, until I read the disclaimer that he himself printed at the bottom which states that the entire article is “non-ironic” except for the ADHD study that he completely made up.  Let’s just start there.  You can’t write a serious piece, one meant to be taken seriously and read intellectually and, presumably, to have a discourse had over it, and then just invent a fake study as one of your supporting points.  Okay?  You just can’t.  But we’ll come to that in time.

Here, then, is a summation his arguments as to why soccer isn’t taking off in the US, and why they are so ridiculous, so insane, so bat-sharknado, poop-flinging crazy that if you read Politico unironically, you should rethink your life decisions which have led you to this point.

  1. There is not enough violence and aggression in soccer to satiate our national bloodlust.  Okay, bloodlust was my word, but it’s certainly implied.  In short, he claims that we love sports like (American) football for the innate violence and aggression that the sport demands.  Two things.  First of all, uh, that’s insane.  We love sports because they’re violent?  Sure, (American) football has its share of warlike, pound-your-neighbor-into-a-pulp-for-no-good-reason behavior, but baseball?  Basketball?  I’d argue that soccer is at least as violent, with the potential for injuries as significant if not more so.  Which is the second point.  These guys (soccer players) are running around a field at top speed with feet flying everywhere wearing virtually no protective gear.  Watching the game, I don’t know how any of the players escape without at least a rolled ankle; compound fractures of the shinbone seem more likely.  How is this not violent enough for us? STUPID x1.
  2. The game is about preventing goals rather than scoring them.  Sorry, but no.  American sports are just the same.  In (American) football, it’s oft-stated that the best offense is a good defense.  There’s a huge premium put on preventing the other team’s scores.  Heck, look at this year’s Super Bowl, where the #1 offense (Denver) met the #1 defense (Seattle).  It wasn’t even close; Seattle embarrassed Denver through superior defense.  And baseball?  Yeah, sorry.  Who’s the most important person on the field during a baseball game?  If you said anybody besides the pitcher, hook up some jumper cables to your nipples and try again.  What’s the pitcher’s job, again?  Oh, that’s right, TO KEEP THE OTHER TEAM FROM SCORING.  Saying that soccer is a defense-oriented sport and that’s why Americans don’t like it is as idiotic as saying that fat-free potato chips are better for you than the regular kind.  You’re fooling yourself.  STUPID x2.
  3. Soccer minimalizes the performance of the individual.  This is getting a bit broken-record here, but let’s look again at American sports.  Football.  Is one man responsible for the victory or defeat of his team?  No.  Baseball?  Ehhhhh… maybe you could say the pitcher is, but it’s a stretch.  Basketball?  I don’t care how good LeBron is, if he doesn’t have competent teammates he’s not winning anything.  They’re all team sports, and typically the best team wins.  Sharknado, look at my hometown Atlanta Falcons.  We’ve got some excellent players, but last season, we were one of the worst teams in the league.  Individual performances do not success make.  THAT SAID, shut up.  Soccer teams have stars.  Pele?  Ronaldinho?  I didn’t even follow soccer and I knew those names.  STUPID x3.
  4. Kicking a ball is not as precise as hitting or throwing it.  Oh my god.  It’s getting really bad now.  Seriously?  Okay, deep breath.  AMERICAN FOOTBALL.  Kicking the ball is a major goldfingered part of the game, precisely because you lose control when you kick it.  You know what you gain?  RAW FARGOING POWER (see #1).  They offer points for a field goal because it’s not easy to kick a ball with control through a set of uprights thirty or forty yards away.  And hitting?  Uh, nope, wrong again. If hitting were precise the scores for baseball games would be in the double digits every game.  And has Webb been watching these World Cup matches, or any professional soccer matches ever?  Tell me there’s no precision in the way those guys can kick.  Are they perfect?  Of course not.  Does luck play a role?  YES, JUST LIKE IN EVERY OTHER SPORT EVER.  STUPID x4.
  5. He made up a study about why soccer is basically only appealing to people with ADHD.  Because watching the ball bounce back and forth stimulates the “lesser humans” in a way that “sophisticated sports” doesn’t.  Seriously.  He said that.  It’s so idiotic I can’t even dissect it.  STUPID x5.

Sorry, Stephe.  Five strikes and you’re out.

There’s more, of course.  He talks about how the sport is “socialist” because of the low scores and the way that nobody really stands out.  About how scoring is an accident rather than by design.  And okay, okay, I get that this is an opinion piece, and just like buttholes, everybody has opinions.  Also, this is the internet, so everybody (even me!) can share his opinion just as easily as the next guy, no matter how stupid it is.  The problem I really have with this article is not that Webb (obviously) hates soccer: hates it so passionately that it’s not enough for him not to watch it, he wants you not to watch it either (narcissist).  The problem I have is that he takes all this, all his idiotic mouth-foaming ill-informed illogical hate and then goes and makes it political.

Don’t like soccer?  That’s fine.  But it’s no less American than any other sport, certainly not for any of the reasons he’s listed.  And it’s not a lesser sport, no matter how you slice it.  It’s just not popular in America, and do you know why?  Because we’re not exposed to it.  Check the statistics.  Viewership for this World Cup is through the roof and breaking records left and right because the sport is compelling to watch.  Why have we not been exposed, then?  BECAUSE ADVERTISERS CAN’T PUT ENOUGH OF THEIR BRIGHTLY-COLORED PSYCHO-VOMIT INTO YOUR FACE DURING A MATCH.  Seriously.  That’s it.  There are no breaks during a match except for halftime, and that means no ads.  No ads means no money, and no money means the networks aren’t showing it.

The only way soccer is Un-American is that it isn’t peppered with two-minute breaks for you to get off your donk and go get another beer or tray of chips or buffalo wing.  You know, during the time-out or the pitcher substitution or the instant replay review or the inning change or the scoring time-out or the offense/defense changeover or the injury time-out or the rain delay.

Clicka Clack

The body has all sorts of delightful ways to remind you that you’re getting older.  Some are obvious, others are subtle.  Some are tsunamis that strike without warning, others are the slow inevitable creep of continental drift.  (I’m looking at you, my slowly-but-surely receding hairline.)  Today I’m keenly aware of one nasty one in particular — my crackling bones.

I’ll go ahead and be judicious and say that it’s possible I can’t attribute the cricks and cracks in question entirely to age, but I’m living in denial that my running career of the last couple years is causing lasting damage to my body.  It’s not.  IT JUST ISN’T, OKAY?  Now that that’s settled…

I posted last week about another kind of drift, that being the outward slide of my waistline and the upward trend of my bathroom scale.  Okay, my wife was pregnant so it was impossible to be careful about what I was eating, not that I was trying anyway, but that’s over with now, Sprout the Second is a month old tomorrow (!), and it’s time to restore normality.  So: diet starts this weekend, and my new exercise regimen has been ramping up for about a week and a half.  Or maybe two days.  I don’t know because, as I’ve mentioned before, my house exists outside of space and time as we know it.  Or, at the very least, space and time are playing silly buggers on me.

Anyway, that new regimen has me doing some bodyweight exercises on days on which I do not run.  I have a feeling that this is a pretty good way for things to start off because on the first few days I did these exercises, I could not climb stairs properly afterward, nor could I reach the top of my head to wash it in the shower.  I have it on good authority that destroying your muscles like that is a good way to wake them up, so those must be good signs, yeah?  That workout is getting easier, so I’m ramping it up, doing extra sets and extra reps.  But during yesterday’s session, I dunno if it was especially quiet in the room or if I was in a higher state of awareness due to the blood flow or the dizziness induced by my 60-second plank attempt, but I heard a funny sound while I was doing some jumping jacks.

Quick sidenote on the jumping jacks.  I’m not sure if I’m doing them wrong, and I feel that I must be, because they are the easiest part of the workout for me.  Unless of course I perfected the technique in 5th grade gym class and my muscles stored it in memory which is tapped into and processed with perfect efficiency now twenty years later.  That works, right?

Whatever.  The jumping jacks are easy, but I hear a sound.  Sort of like when you have a handful of pop rocks in your mouth; a low crackling that fades in and out as you open and close your mouth.  Or maybe like the consistent repetitive clack clack of chips at a poker table.  Damn, where’s that coming from?  Oh, it’s just my entire both feet clicking and crackling away with every jump.

I’ve had a pretty constant pop to my right ankle for a lot of years: the detritus of a pretty gnarly ankle sprain that I never went to the doctor for because I’m a man.  It goes off if I rotate my ankle in bed or flex the foot going up or down stairs, stuff like that.  But this noise is not that.  This is my entire foot, in fact both feet.  I tune in more closely as I finish the set, and it’s like I can hear dozens if not hundreds of tiny little bones and ligaments and tendons clicking and sliding and ticking against each other like a bunch of ball bearings trapped in a spider web.

What do I do with this information?  Go to the doctor I saw a few months back for my plantar fasciitis and say, oh, yeah, now I can hear every bone in my foot move when I do jumping jacks?  He’ll only tell me to stop doing jumping jacks or stop running, so that’s right out.

I guess I just have to accept that this is my new body, one that makes all sorts of noises I wasn’t planning for it to make.  (I’m sure my wife could tell fantastic stories about my unintentional emissions.)  I have another birthday in a few weeks, maybe by that time my entire skeleton will calcify and I won’t be able to scratch my nose without sounding like a set of dominoes falling down a marble staircase.

The Night Writes

Sometimes I start with a title, other times I write the entire post first and choose my title based on what I wrote.  Tonight I start with the title.  Immediately upon writing it, I realize that the title is misleading, because it implies that the Night is the subject and that Writes is the thing that it’s doing.  Which is nonsense.  I do the writing around here.  No, in my head it was the Night (adjective) Writes (noun), like the DTs or the heebie-jeebies.  In other words, the title is a problem.  I could change it BUT I WON’T because problems are what make the world turn.  Just ask that guy who sang about the problems and the b-words.  I feel like things worked out for him pretty well.Read More »