Excuses, and a Memory

The longer I neglect something, the harder it is to return. I feel that I owe an explanation, an excuse. I feel that I need to feel in the space between then and now.

Well, I won’t. The best way to return to something is to just pick it up. That in mind, I want to share something from my freewriting journal.

I’ve been experimenting with focused freewriting, using a mantra to direct the flow of consciousness.  You’ll pick up the pattern.

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I remember my first swing set. Or maybe it wasn’t my first. I do remember it being one of my first. It was brand new from the store. We took it home in a rectangle box that was bigger than anything I could imagine. On the front was a picture of a family all hanging off the swing-set and laughing and smiling.

I remember opening the box and the smell of the metal and the dust inside the cardboard. It smelled like old flour and sawdust mixed with plastic. We took arm fulls of metal bars out into the back yard. I remember that we had a big backyard. Over the years that backyard changed and shifted. Each year’s obsession or project laying half abandoned in different areas. Mounds of dirt lined one side, a garden that never grew. A partially collapsed shed, next to a partially collapsed goat pen, sat in the back. Around it all, a dog fence for a dog that was constantly escaping, modified and fortified until the fence resembled an ancient mote-and-bailey with spiked walls and a dug trench. In spite of the Frankenstein’s Monster of a dog fence, Bumpkin would still find some way to slip out.

He was shot by a neighbour who apologized with a basket of fruit but never quite admitted that he had been the one who shot Bumpkin. We found Bumpkin laying in the middle of our gravel road. It was a rainy day and he had been shot in the head. His blood had turned the gray gravel the color of rust and we found his teeth stretched in a line behind him. We buried Bumpkin in the back yard, outside the fence.

I remember digging the post holes for the swing-set. We pored concrete into the holes and set the poles. The swing-set came together with a few bolts. If you pushed yourself hard enough you could feel the thing rock and shift against the ground. A few years later the swing-set was rusted and one side had collapsed.

Writing Challenge, A Look Back

 

A week ago I challenged myself to sit down and freewrite a new story every day for seven days, a week’s worth of new stories. For a writer who has trouble completing tasks, one that has struggled with the illusion of the muse, and apparent absence of said muse, that was a daunting challenge. Committing myself to actually writing seven new stories, seven days of daily writing, and making the commitment publicly, was extremely hard for me. I suppose it was specifically those reasons that really drove me to do it. I didn’t think I would actually be able to get through the whole thing, but I had faith that I could.

It was an interesting and rewarding experience. Were all the stories I wrote this week masterpieces? Were they great? No, but I think some of them might have approached good. For me, that’s more than enough.

I learned a lot this week, both about my process and about my ability. I learned that I didn’t need to wait for a muse. I learned that there isn’t a finite number of stories within me, that I don’t need to hold on so closely to ideas that I’m afraid to release them into the world, afraid of working on them lest I mess them up. Somehow, when I sat at the keyboard each day, I was able to reach down within me and something new came up. That was an incredible feeling.

So what’s next? NaNoWriMo, perhaps? I think definitely. Even though I didn’t plan it this way, my personal challenge finished just as National Novel Writing Month began. So, next month I’m going to sit down every day and put as many words on paper as I can. The goal is to write 50,000 words or more by the end of the month.

Tomorrow, I’ll sit down with the momentum from my week of stories, and the faith that when I reach down for inspiration something new will always come up. What exactly I’ll have at the end of thirty days remains to be seen. It will be bad, confusing, disjointed, and not fit for public consumption, but I’ll be damned if it isn’t 50,000 words of a story.

A Song (Story Challenge Day Seven)

I’ve challenged myself to free-write a new story each day for one week. You can read about my thoughts behind the challenge, as well as the day one’s story, Help Me Mister, here.  You can also read day two’s story, “The Dead Man,” right hereday three, “Chess Story,” hereday four, “How Fox Got His Winter Clothes,” here, day five, “Sunsets,” here, and finally day six, “Alphabet Soup,” here.

As before, the challenge is to start and complete a new story each day for a week. The story can be any length, must be free-written, and can not be edited afterwards. Please excuse the resulting spell, grammar, and other literary idiocy.

Day Seven: A Song

A bird lived in her wall. She heard it one afternoon while the house was empty and still able to know peace. It sang in a voice it stole from the city. A tiny voice filled with car alarms and ambulance sirens. She put her head against the thin drywall and listened to it sing.

The birds, she later learned, would pass songs down from to the other. Each family of birds would learn and share their unique song until no two were alike. One could, if they could only speak the language, walk through a forest and hear history sung from every tree.

The city birds, she learned, had forgotten their songs. The city was too loud, too busy, too filled with the strange animal called man. The city birds could no longer hear the old songs, so they made a new one using voices stolen from the city. They no longer knew the history of birds, but only cars and machines and man.

The bird that lived in her wall would wake in the morning with a song of a distant car alarm and she would marvel at its accuracy, a pitch perfect rendition. In the quiet times of the afternoon, when the house still was able to know peace, it would sing of ambulances and emergencies, whooping in joy the sounds of alarm. In the evening, the bird would improvise with melodies of jackhammers and taxi horns, loose and inspired like an old jazz musician in a smokey bar.

Later, when the house became a place of anger, when violence filled minds and words and bodies, and the house was no longer able to know peace, the bird left its place in the wall. For long empty hours after, when the house was filled with silence, but not peace, and she would place her head against the thin drywall and listen for a song in a voice stolen from the city.

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Another short one today, I wanted the last one to be bigger but illness and a first day at a new job had other plans. Still, I’m proud that in spite of all that, I still sat down at my keyboard at the end of the day and put words on paper. In the end, that’s all that really matters.

It’s been a crazy seven days and now I’m ready for the next challenge keeping the momentum going. Tomorrow, I’ll write out my final thoughts about the challenge. As always, if you have any thoughts on the process or the stories, toss me a message or comment below; I would love to hear from you. 

Alphabet Soup (Story Challenge Day Six)

I’ve challenged myself to free-write a new story each day for one week. You can read about my thoughts behind the challenge, as well as the day one’s story, Help Me Mister, here.  You can also read day two’s story, “The Dead Man,” right hereday three, “Chess Story,” hereday four, “How Fox Got His Winter Clothes,” here, and day five, “Sunsets,” here.

As before, the challenge is to start and complete a new story each day for a week. The story can be any length, must be free-written, and can not be edited afterwards. Please excuse the resulting spell, grammar, and other literary idiocy.

Day Five: Alphabet Soup

There was a little girl standing behind Mark in the soup isle. She was dressed in a sensible black dress and sensible black shoes.

“What are you buying?” she said.

“Chicken broth,” said Mark, showing her the can. He looked up and down the isle but there was nobody else to be seen. The little girl nodded at the can thoughtfully.

“There isn’t anything in it. You should get alphabet soup, that’s got letters in it.”

“It sure does, but I’m making something called chicken picatta. This is going to help me make the sauce.”

The little girl nodded again and walked over to the shelf. She selected a can and carefully read the label.

“Have you ever had alphabet soup?”

“Of course, when I was a kid.”

“I like it when the letters spell stuff. They don’t always, but sometimes they do.”

“Yeah, I liked that too,” he looked around again. “Is your mom or dad around here?”

“They’re shopping. How come you don’t like alphabet soup anymore?”

“Well, I’m grown up now. Alphabet soup doesn’t taste as good to me anymore.”

“That’s sad. I hope it doesn’t stop tasting good to me. I like it when the letters spell things, that makes me happy.”

“Yes, but I find other things to make me happy.”

“Like chicken picatta?”

He nodded.

“I don’t know,” she said, “that sounds hard.”

“It’s not too hard. You just fry up some chicken in a pan, and mix in some butter and other things.”

“Yeah,” she said, “that sounds hard. I like it when the letters spell things. I guess when you’re grown up it’s much harder to be happy.”

She selected a can, gripped it in both hands, and took off running down the isle. Her sensible shoes tapping on the tile floor.

Mark stood looking at the assorted cans for a long while. He made his selection, paid, and went home. His apartment was spacious and empty. He watered his plants, put his groceries away, and made alphabet soup for dinner.

The soup was bland and needed salt, the vegetables mushy and almost tasteless, but he looked into each spoonful to see what the letters spelled.

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That’s day six. It was a short one, I’m dealing with some sort of flu so I didn’t have a lot of stamina at the keyboard today. One more day of the challenge. If you have a story of your own to share, or any thoughts at all, I would love to hear them. Please toss a comment below. 

Sunsets (Story Challenge Day Five)

I’ve challenged myself to free-write a new story each day for one week. You can read about my thoughts behind the challenge, as well as the day one’s story, Help Me Mister, here.  You can also read day two’s story, “The Dead Man,” right here, day three, “Chess Story,” here, and day four, “How Fox Got His Winter Clothes,” here.

As before, the challenge is to start and complete a new story each day for a week. The story can be any length, must be free-written, and can not be edited afterwards. Please excuse the resulting spell, grammar, and other literary idiocy.

Day Five: Sunsets

The ravens followed Marguerite home. She had been picking up groceries from the corner market around the block, a few odds and ends to see her through the end of the week.

She noticed them when she glanced behind as she was about to cross the street. A great mass of dirty black ravens perched on every surface. It would have been impossible to count them if Margaret even had a mind to try. She sighed, a big theatrical one meant to be heard all the way in the back row, and continued pushing her little wheeled caddy toward home. Maybe if she ignored them they would get the hint and go away. They didn’t and the raven’s followed her home.

After she put her shopping away, and given the kitchen counters an unneeded scrub, she glanced out the window at her front yard. The ravens were milling about, muttering to each other and molting on her grass. She had a young man from across the street mow it every other week and now she would have to give him another five dollars because of the mess.

She pulled open the window and stuck out her head.

“Go on now,” she said, “scat! You go tell your boss that I ain’t coming.”

The ravens looked at her but didn’t leave. They milled about and by the next morning more had arrived. The mailmen had taken one look and decided to leave her mail on the sidewalk in front of her gate. He placed a rock on top of it so the mail wouldn’t blow away, which Marguerite decided was thoughtful of him.

Margret stopped by that afternoon. Marguerite was standing on her porch with her hands on her hips, giving the ravens a stern look in the hope that they would get the hint, after an hour they hadn’t. Margret leaned on the font gate and looked at the yard.

“I don’t suppose your planning on going with them,” said Margret.

“No, and I done told them as such,” said Marguerite.

Her neighbor nodded and went on.

Later that evening, Death came by wearing an eggshell blue waistcoat and a seersucker suit. Marguerite let him in and told him he looked like a snake-oil salesmen.

“But this is a nice face,” she said after they were seated and the tea was served. “This face is much kinder.”

Death sniffed at the steam rising from the delicate tea cup.

“You know what I’m going to ask you,” he said.

“Yes, and the answer is no. I’m not done yet.”

He nodded and sipped.

“Done with what, Marguerite?”

“I don’t know, all this. Seeing stuff, learning stuff.”

“There is only so much in this world.”

“Yeah, and I ain’t done looking at it.”

“Marguerite,” said Death, putting down his china cup, “things must move on.”

“Let them move then. I’m staying put.”

“What then? You’ll make your tea. You’ll go shopping. You’ll watch the sunset, and then you’ll do it all again.”

“I like the sunset.”

Death plucked at his sleeves.

“They are lovely. We used to be able to stand on the mountain tops and watch the sun dip into the valleys and watch the stars come out all in the same breath; you would not believe the colors.”

“I would. I remember,” she said, putting down her cup and crossing her arms.

“The problem with sunsets,” said Death, “is that you must eventually realize that one looks just the same as the other.”

“I still think they’re pretty, and if that’s all you have to say then I think it might be about time for you to be getting on your way.” She stood politely and showed him to the door. He paused on the bottom step of her porch and looked back.

“Do you want to know why the sunset is celebrated? It’s the closing of a day.” He straightened his waistcoat and left. The ravens followed him.

She closed the door behind him and went back inside. She finished her tea, gave her counters an unneeded scrub, and went back out on her porch. There was one raven left in her yard. It watched her from on top of the clothes line, swaying back and forth in the late afternoon breeze. She sighed, another big theatrical sigh, and tried to give the bird a stern look, but didn’t have the heart. She went back inside, retrieved her hat and her shawl, and left.

The hill wasn’t a tall one, but evening was coming to an end by the time she got to the top. She sat and watched the sun dip into the valley and the stars come out, all in the same breath.

She couldn’t believe the colors.

 

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Day five, can’t believe I made it this far. I’m coming down with something, so today was a bit of a slog, but we made it through. Have you tried anything like this or have your own writing challenge to share? Drop a comment below.  

 

How Fox Got His Winter Clothes (Story Challenge Day Four)

I’ve challenged myself to free-write a new story each day for one week. You can read about my thoughts behind the challenge, as well as the day one’s story, Help Me Mister, here.  You can also read day two’s story, “The Dead Man,” right here, and day three, “Chess Story,” here. 

As before, the challenge is to start and complete a new story each day for a week. The story can be any length, must be free-written, and can not be edited afterwards. Please excuse the resulting spell, grammar, and other literary idiocy.

Day Four: How Fox Got His Winter Clothes

The world used to be smaller, take it for truth. It didn’t take so much time to get from place to place. The world has grown now, but then it was smaller.

Back when the world was smaller, all the animals lived together by a lake. Of all the animals that lived by the lake, Fox was the laziest, but also the most clever.

“Fox,” the other animals would say, “we are working hard. You should be working hard too.”

But Fox would only laugh and dash off into the tall grasses. The other animals would shake their heads and go back to work.

Now back when the world was smaller, the days were longer. They didn’t have seasons like we do now. They were much longer. It had been summer for as long as anybody could remember and winter hadn’t come around yet.

“I’ve been talking to Moon,” Said wolf to the other animals. “He got into an awful fight with his sister.”

And that is what happened, take it for truth. Sun was so embarrassed after fighting with her brother that she began hiding her face. The world got cold and the animals knew that meant winter was coming. They all put on their warm coats and bundled up tight.

All this time Fox had been playing and laughing through the tall grasses. So when Moon and Sun had their fight, Fox hadn’t a single warm thing to wear. Bear suggested that Fox just stay indoors where it was warm, but Fox liked to play too much to stay indoors all winter. Remember, the seasons where much longer back then, take it for truth.

So Fox got a plan. He went out under the tallest pine tree in the woods, so tall that it touched the sky and one day Mouse climbed it so she could ride on Moon’s shoulders, but that’s a story for another time. Fox went under the tallest pine tree and rolled around in the pine needles. The pine needles were still sticky from the sap and they stuck to Fox until he had a nice warm coat of pine needles. He was already feeling much better but his feet were still cold as they were bare. So he took a walk to try and keep them warm.

As Fox was walking he came to the foot of the Lookout Rock, which was the very tallest rock in the forest. On the top of the rock, in his usual spot, was Crane. Crane was looking mighty fine and comfortable in his military uniform. Of all the animals, Crane was the proudest. He was always strutting about in his red cap and his fine white socks. Fox climbed up lookout rock and said hello to Crane.

“Don’t bother me,” said Crane. “I’m keeping a watch out for invaders. Go away, Fox. I don’t have time for your silly games.” Crane had a very gruff manner.

Fox thought that this wasn’t a nice way to behave. He was feeling grumpy because his feet were still bare and his toes were cold. Crane had warm white socks on, and Fox thought that Crane had no reason to be grumpy. So Fox decided to play a trick on Crane.

“You are such a brace watchmen, Crane,” said Fox. “Everybody knows that you are always keeping watch up here for invaders.”

Crane pretended not to hear but Fox knew he was listening; Crane was the proudest of the animals.

“Of course,” said Fox. “If I were an invader, I would know that Crane is always standing guard on lookout rock and I wouldn’t dare attack from the sky.”

And he meant it because back when the world was smaller all the animals could fly, take it for truth.

Crane adjusted his red cap, he was feeling particularly proud.

“If I were and invader,” said Fox, “I would be clever and probably attack from the tall grasses by the lake where I couldn’t be seen from Lookout Rock.”

Crane hadn’t thought of this.

“Yes,” said Crane, “I was just about to go stand watch in the tall grasses, but I didn’t want to leave Lookout Rock unguarded.”

“That is very brave of you,” said Fox. “Don’t worry, I’ll stand guard on Lookout Rock while you go watch for invaders in the tall grasses. Someday, I hope to be just as brave as you, Crane.”

So Crane climbed down to the tall grasses by the lake and stood guard. He was very tall and could easily see over the top of the grasses. After a little while Fox got bored pretending to stand guard.

“You know, Crane,” said Fox calling down to Crane far below. “It’s very clever that you are guarding the tall grasses. If I were an invader, I would know that Crane would be too clever to be fooled by such a simple trick. If I were an invader, I would have to think of an even sneakier trick and attack from the lake where I couldn’t be seen from the tall grasses.”

“Yes,” said Crane, “I was just about to go stand watch in the lake, but I didn’t want to leave the Tall Grasses unguarded.”

“That is very brave of you,” said Fox. “Don’t worry, I’ll take your place in the tall grasses and watch for invaders, so you can guard the lake against the cleverest of invaders. Someday, I hope to be just as brave as you, Crane.”

So Fox climbed down from Lookout Rock and went down to the Tall Grasses.

“Wait,” said Fox just as Crane was about to step into the lake, ”You have such a fine military uniform, Crane. If you go stand guard in the lake, your socks will get soggy and then you won’t look so fine anymore.”

“Yes,” said Crane, “But all the other animals are jealous of my uniform. One of them might see my fine socks laying on the ground and take them for himself.”

“Why then,” said Fox, “I would be honored to stand guard over your socks while you watch for invaders in the lake.”

“That is a fine idea, Fox,” said Crane, “but the water makes my feet very cold and I might start shivering. I can’t guard the lake properly if I am shivering.”

“Why then,” said Fox, “When your feet get cold, tuck one of them up like this.”

Fox demonstrated and Crane thought it was a clever idea.

So Crane took of his socks and lay them on the ground. Crane had very skinny legs but he was the proudest of the animals so he pretended not to care.

When Crane was out in the middle of the lake, he began to notice that the water made his feet very cold. So he stood on one leg and tucked in the other so that only one of his feet was cold at a time, just as Fox had shown him.

“Yes,” said Fox who was watching from the tall grasses, “Standing in guard in the lake is very hard work, only the bravest of animals would be able to do it.”

“Yes,” said Crane who was feeling particularly proud, “It is hard work, but I am very brave.”

“I could never stand guard in the lake,” said Fox from the tall grasses. “My feet are already cold, and I’m not standing in the water. In fact, my feet are so cold that I’m going to take this nice pair of warm white socks I found laying on the ground here. Thank you for keeping us safe from invaders, Crane. Someday, I hope to be as brave as you.”

So Fox took Crane’s white socks, put them on his feet, and ran off through the tall grasses, laughing and feeling much better.

Crane knew that he had been tricked, but he was too proud to admit it. To this day Fox is still wearing Crane’s white socks and you can find Crane proudly standing guard in the lake, trying to keep his feet warm.

That is how it happened, take it for truth.

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Day four down, thanks for joining me! Have you tried anything like this or have your own writing challenge to share? Drop a comment below.  

 

Chess Story (Story Challenge Day Three)

I’ve challenged myself to free-write a new story each day for one week. You can read about my thoughts behind the challenge, as well as the day one’s story, Help Me Mister, here.  You can also read day two’s story, “The Dead Man,” right here. 

As before, the challenge is to start and complete a new story each day for a week. The story can be any length, must be free-written, and can not be edited afterwards. Please excuse the resulting spell, grammar, and other literary idiocy. 

Day 3: Chess Story

There were two old men and they played chess in the park. Who they are isn’t important to the story; that isn’t something you need to know. They are just two old men who played chess in the park.

They played chess every Thursday, except the Thursdays they didn’t. On those weeks they played on Tuesday, or sometimes Wednesday. Once they played on a Sunday, but that was a one time thing that only happened four or five times. They played chess on days that they could.

They fought in the war, but not the same war. They never talked about it because it wasn’t something that needed to be talked about. They played chess and didn’t talk about the war.

They talked about their kids while they played. They had kids, and grand-kids. Except that only one had grand-kids; the other old man only had one son who died of leukemia when he was forty, the old man, not the son. The son was younger than that when he died, but that isn’t important to the story. The other old man talked on the phone to his grand-kids sometimes. They wanted him to move out and join the family out west. He said he would but never did. They said they would come visit but never did. He told them he was happy, not lonely, and that he played chess in the park.

The other old man, the first one with the son who died when the old man was forty, didn’t talk as much. His stories were old and had gone stale. He talked about the weather. The weather was interesting to him ever since he was a kid and his dad took him hiking and he saw the clouds move. He would have been a scientist if he hadn’t fought in the war, which hadn’t been the same war as the other old man’s. Instead, he fought in the war and played chess in the park and talked about the weather.

The other old man, the second one with the grand-kids who called and never came to visit, didn’t care about the weather. He had fought in the war and went on to make a family and money. The money didn’t matter to him, it let him make the family. When they left he no longer needed to make money, so he put that aside. He never talked about money when he played chess.

One day, it was a Thursday, the chess table the old men played on was gone. They suspected it was stolen, or torn down, or lost. The both agreed that it was a silly thing to lose an entire chess table. They didn’t play that Thursday. The next week they brought their own board and played chess on a picnic table in the park.

One day, it wasn’t a Thursday, the first old man didn’t come to the park. It doesn’t matter which old man, that’s not important to the story. The next week, nobody played chess in the park.

One day, it doesn’t matter which day, the other old man didn’t come to the park. The picnic tables were used for picnics that week, and the next week.

Eventually, the picnic tables were removed; families didn’t go there anymore. The park became home to transients and drunks. The grass grew long and then dug up and then replaced by a small parking lot with a chain link fence and a frowning grey attendant, but that’s not important to the story; that isn’t something you need to know. What you need to know is this:

There were two old men and they played chess in the park.

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That’s day three, almost halfway through the week. Have you tried anything like this or have your own writing challenge to share? Drop a comment below.