Daily Archives: March 7, 2015

Some Stories You Should Read, 2nd Ed.


Over the past month, I’ve been taking part in a round-robin writing challenge over at TerribleMinds. Week 1, we all started open-ended stories, and every week thereafter, each participant was tasked with continuing a different story.

I’m happy to say that most of the stories I had my hands on managed to complete an entire story arc, and saw finished versions. It’s a funny thing… as the weeks went on, there were fewer and fewer participants, and a lot of the stories just kind of trailed off into the void.

I’ve done my best to track down all of them, and when possible, to provide links to the websites of the other authors whose hands touched these stories. It’s been an enlightening experience.

1: Cold Blood. Contributing authors: Catastrophe Jones, Helen Espinosa, Lauren Greene.

2: Bart Luther, Freelance Exorcist. Contributing authors: Josh Loomis, Paul Willett, Henry White.

3: Wasteland. (Unfinished as of now, sadly. My chapter was the last.) Contributing authors: WildBilbo, Angela Cavanaugh.

4: Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening. Contributing authors: Peter MacDonald, J M Beal, Liz Askew.

In short, if you’re on this site reading my fiction, you owe it to yourself to check out some of the links posted above. There’s something of a common thread binding all of us together, and this writing exercise has made those threads a little more visible.

Thanks to everybody who picked up pieces that I worked on, and for laying the groundwork for the stories I continued. This was a lot of fun!


Get Up and Go (A Gramble About Gumption)


By the way, “Gramble” is just a word I made up. I wanted to keep alliterating with “G”s so I stuck one on the front of “ramble”. Don’t be afraid of my Frankenstein’s monster of a word. Its literary thirst for blood can only be satiated with ink.

Anyway. Gumption. Where does it go?

Some days the gumption is there; it burns away in your belly, it secretes its smoky certainty through your pores and fills you to the tippy top with vigor and optimism. Other days, the fire goes out, and all that’s left is the ashy residue of a bonfire, some empty beer bottles, and a few condom wrappers from where all the cool couples disappeared into the woods.

“Gumption” itself is one of those outdated words that you don’t hear much anymore, but there’s no word quite like it. We’ve got the newfangled Play-Doh lump of a word, “sticktoitiveness”, which is not so much a word as a philosophy. There’s “tenacity”, which has something to do with gumption, but isn’t the same thing. Then you can go and get all negatively-connotated and toss out “stubborn”, which, again, rubs up against gumption but doesn’t take the prize turkey home.

“Gumption” is homey and colloquial and down-to-earth. It’s a don’t-give-up mentality that somehow runs the gamut between boundless optimism and pigheaded refusal to back down. It’s a quiet, determined certainty that with hard work, anything can be achieved.

Maybe it’s one of those things that’s impossible to define, but you know it when you see it.

Gumption is a concept that has resonated with me since I read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig. I first read it in my senior year of high school, then again in my sophomore year at college, then again in my fourth year of college, then again shortly after graduating college, then again after I graduated college again, and it’s recently been in my brain that maybe I ought to read it again. It’s a fascinating little book that’s not actually very much about Zen or motorcycle maintenance, but rather about the world at large and how you choose to view it. If you’re philosophically inclined at all, you’ll probably get some mileage out of it. One of its defining moments for me is a scene wherein the protagonist fixes his buddy’s misfiring motorcycle with an old beer can. The protagonist is pleased with his ingenuity; the buddy is flustered and ultimately unable to live with the notion that a piece of trash could fix everything that’s wrong with his bike. He’s too caught up in the idea of what the bike should look like and what fixing it should entail to realize that the chemically-treated, rust-proof surface on the inside of the can provides all the fixing his bike could ever want at a fraction of the cost and time needed for a “proper” fix.

Anyway, I love the idea of gumption — that inevitable, inescapable quality within the self that just knows how to buckle down and get sharknado done — but I’m faced with a terrible truth lately. Mine is gone.

Like, a few months ago, I had it. I knew right where it was. In the left lobe of my brain, next to the wrenches and the repository of dangling participles. But now it’s gone. Misplaced? Stolen? Dried up?

I’m reminded of an Aerosmith lyric: “My get-up-and-go must have got up and went.”

Seriously. I’m behind on the novel. I wanted to finish the first edit by the end of January, and now it’s trailing off into March and I’m always “just a few weeks away.” I’m behind on grading papers at work and have been since… well… January. Even my posts on the blarg have been fewer and farther between since… ahem… January.

What happened in January?

I have no idea, but whatever it was ran my gumption right out of town. But, see, that doesn’t make sense. Because gumption is a part of who you are. Right? It can no more leave you than your wits, or your good looks, or… maybe these are bad examples.

The point is, my gumption is missing lately. If you’ve seen it, please tell it I would very much appreciate it if it would return home. I have a lot of work to get done. And a lot of get-ups that need to get going.

This post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday.


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