Presidential Cup


by L.P. Stribling

    Coffee that morning came early; it was placed in its position (there was practice involved in the placement of its proper position) – just right of the middle of the desk. The lights remained on until Stanley exited the room. He flipped the switch and the room darkened. Stanley left promptly thereafter. The time was 4:30. The president was expected in his office within minutes.

At 6:30, the president nearly threw open his office door and harrumphed in.

“What is it, Derek? You’ve got just a few minutes. I have a conference – morons who think my Twitter account is doing more harm than good. Speak.” He walked toward his desk as the office door behind him snapped up against the wall with the force of being thrown open.

“Well, Mr. President, it’s about your notion of power.” Derek’s quiet suited form followed meekly. His well-groomed manner made him the perfect fit as an intern with the Cabinet. “I think you may need to really reconsider your approach to the Koreas; their history is one which really relies on a certain degree of diplomacy that ~ ”

The president stopped and turned. The wrinkles on his brow under his golden hair cringed at both the tepid cup and his intern’s boldness. He set the coffee back down. It was his favorite cup – one side held the American flag in as majestic a representation any coffee cup could have – with his name emboldened just below that image. On the other side, a solid, but still professional dollar bill symbol. Black and white. He would have much rather preferred the cup in his hand – just a moment with his coffee, but <sigh> his work was never finished.

“What? I’m not diplomatic enough for you?”

The intern’s lips stretched minimally into an attempt of a smile.

“All right, if that’s what you want to do with the few minutes you have with me, that’s what we’ll do.”

He brought a wooden chair from near his desk over and set it down in front of the man, who much younger, seemed a bit timid with the way he pushed his wired no-frame glasses back up on his nose. He spun the wooden chair around on the shiny hardwood floor of the office and straddled the forward-facing chair with his arms crossed the back.

“When I was your age I really wanted to change things. I thought I could do anything, make any kind of change that I wanted in life. All I needed was the drive and the determination. My brother Jake worked delivered papers as a kid. He started on his own, and soon enough, he got his friends into it. There was one kid, though, who was just a lazy fuck. But he was big, so he intimidated. Tommy was his name. And instead of working his part and contributing to the rest of the newspaper. But what he did was different. This kid decided he was going to disappear for a few hours each day, and then when the other kids got back, he was going to trash his own papers and say that he worked the areas he had been assigned.

“And it worked out for a bit. The kid got paid. But my brother found out about it and was about to rat him out. But Tommy found him before he could do it.

“ ‘If you rat on me, I’ll make your life a living hell,’ he said. Jake did not think that he could tell anyone about it – he was afraid. But, since I wasn’t a part of the group, he figured he could tell me. He was older than me, Jake, but only by a few months, so we were basically the same age. I didn’t say anything. I just knew that I had to take care of the situation. Jake had told me that he was too scared to do anything. Tommy was a big kid, and people knew him to be a trouble-starter. He had been nice to Tommy for a few months and they had grown more of a bond that way. That was in the beginning. Tommy heard how much money Jake was making and asked if he could get in on it. Jake agreed, but reluctantly, because he didn’t really know Tommy that well.

Long story short, I found out where this kid lived. Don’t ask me how. I just did. On a week night I snuck out of the house really early in the morning and walked over to Tommy’s house. I have to let you know, and this is of course off the record, but sometimes things happen for very good reasons, you know? I think fear can be a great lesson, and…”

Derek sat there, stilled as the Commander-in-Chief rattled on incessantly and without any rationale as was his usual case. He even pulled back a bit when the man’s politically menacing index finger shot out as he wanted to highlight his next sentence. It was the same index finger that shot out in addresses to the nation, international conferences, and local forums which needed his input on the economy or recent incidents of national interest.

“You can’t reason with bullies, Derek! That’s just the truth of things.” He pulled his finger back and reset his folded arms. “So I killed his dog and left in on his porch. I made sure the last strike brought the blade all the way through the paper from the porch and into the animal’s body. Now look, Derek; are you looking at me? Derek?”

Derek’s expression of shock refocused on the president. “Ah, y-yes. Sir.”

“Good, ‘cause I don’t want to lose you now; this is important. The point is that you just can’t reason with bullies. Sometimes you have to shove all the shit they’re giving out right back in their face so they get a nice good whiff!

“So, what happened the next day? Tommy didn’t show back up to the newspaper business. It was taken care of. Jake got to keep all his earnings, and all was good.” He flashed his yellow smile at Derek then as he stood and straightened his tie and readjusted his national flag pin. “So, don’t you worry your pretty little head about Korea, Derek. You let me take care of that. Where’s a mirror?”

“Mr. President?” The door opened and a skinny man with a clipboard stuck his head into the room.

“Yes?”

“You’re expected in the library for the briefing.”

“Be right there, Ryan. Thank you.”

The door closed and the president walked over to Derek and patted him on the shoulder. “I’m glad to have you on my side, Derek. Your job here for the next few months is just to watch at learn.” He walked toward the door as he called back over his shoulder. “Oh, can you have another cup of coffee brought over? The one on the desk is old. And use that same cup, will you?”

The door closed behind the man, and the room, with Derek seated in it, fell quiet again.

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Grain by grain it falls away.


On Twitter, @paulocoelho posted this beautiful snippet of wisdom – a reminder.

Your life now, in this moment, the seconds that are rolling by, are yours to do with what you will. But use them, as they are transitory, and will come but once.

機不可失, 時不再來.

  • LP

Thank you for the “Excuses.”


(*Below is my thank-you letter to the cast of Writing Excuses – a true source of writing inspiration, humor, and kinship of craft. If you want to be a writer, and have trouble with inspiration, please consider this cast.)

—-

Dan, Brandon, Mary, and Howard,

Thank you.

My name is Levi and I have been listening to Writing Excuses since its inception. Right from Season 1 all the way to now, I have loved spending this time with you. This is not to take up a lot of your time, but I wanted to thank you for the inspiration you have given me in my writing life.

I have been writing since 2008 after reading Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist, believing that I could do the same (maybe not as well, of course, but similarly). That I could be a writer. I grew up enmeshed in epic fantasy and science-fiction, and wanted to create and exist in those same worlds in my writing as an adult.

But I didn’t know how or where to start.

So, I picked a direction, something. I would read interviews with several novelists who I had admired growing up, articles and tips online about how to dive in, and I sat in on a writing group in the local area. But it was when a friend recommended Writing Excuses that I found a new series of fires had lit within me. From one episode to the next, I found myself listening to them four, five, six at a time. At that time, you were already into Season 3 or so, which allowed me to download handfuls of previous episodes and binge-listen to my delight. I had them on my phone, twenty-some episodes all locked and loaded at a time. If I needed to pause, I could pause, and I would come back to it and pick up where I left off.

And as I listened, I learned. Character, setting, plot, structure, language, dialogue, and on and on. And the two best parts were that the show is relatable, and maintains its level of interest. Let’s be honest, when you talk about writing, you can either make it appealing or not. In this way, I have to thank you on how very low you keep the level of suck. You have humor, you have varying personalities, you’re all very accomplished and have loads of anecdotes of experience to share with us, and unlike many other authors, who may carry an air of conceit, you treat us in a way that not only shows that you know where we’re coming from and what we’re feeling as beginner/amateur writers, but (and most-importantly) that you believe in us and encourage us to dig, and push, and create.

Brandon, thank you. My brother and I are both writers and huge fans of the Wheel of Time. His background of sci-fi and fantasy is heavier than mine, and when he says that the Way of Kings is the finest fantasy series he’s ever read, that’s saying something. Your prolific output, dedication to the craft, and generous advice and demonstration on writing (Youtube, lectures, interviews) continually inspires me. We met in San Francisco when you were on tour with Harriet. Your advice to me was, “keep going.” Thank you.

Mary, thank you. It is because of your dedication to your craft, your investment of yourself, and your honesty with your encouragement and advice for the rest of us is very inspirational. You hand-write letters to your fans and it was through this way that we met once at Norwescon in Seattle and I was introduced to and read Shades of Milk and Honey. Thank for you continued inspiration.

Howard, thank you. Your humor on the cast is great. It is so very nice to have you process the craft for the rest of us as it relates through the lens of the graphic art. When I check in on your site and see that you still putting up new strips every single day, it is very inspiring for me. You bring an art and style to writing that many may overlook and I would like to thank you for not only the exposure of your style to the craft, but your input as a writer and a cartoonist to the topics of the cast. Thank you. I must say that it has been some time since we’ve heard you give us the exclamation of “luxury” in only the way you can.

Dan, thank you. It’s always inspirational to know of those who know what they want and just walk out and get it. As a horror writer, you bring something to the table that the rest of us need to hear. It’s so nice to hear your method of how you break down your ideas into a structure (and eventual final product) for a story which affects its audience. Your Seven-point plot structure is a beautiful tool for writers and I thank you, as I am considering using it in a current project of mine.

Each of you has inspired me as a writer and I very much appreciate

Which brings me to the reason I wanted to write this letter. The most recent episode on true confessions is the best I’ve ever heard. Maybe you thought it was mediocre or just something fun to do, but it was the most poignant and apropos message I’ve heard to date. I think it’s easy for beginning writers to think ideas such as, ‘no, this can’t be the way to do it,’ ‘no, it’s all wrong,’ or ‘no, I’m just repeating myself, I don’t have any chapters yet, this isn’t even what I wanted to write about…..’ and on and on. “Failure” after “failure” after “failure.” And this episode is one in which you tell us to our faces, “Actually, that’s totally normal…and look at all the times I screwed up.” I love the fact that Mary said that it’s not really failure, it’s just data. It’s said that Thomas Edison screwed up over 1,000 times (and I’m paraphrasing) before finally inventing the lightbulb. And when asked about all those times, he is famously quoted as having said, “I didn’t fail 1,000 times, I just found out 1,000 ways to not make a light bulb.”

Math is not my forte, but if we’ve been at this for 12 years (you as the hosts, and me as the listener), then we’ve hit somewhere around 625 episodes – ballpark. And this one, above all, was the most perfect of episodes. No guests needed, no special theme, no writing prompt, just sitting back and listing some of the epic screw-ups that you’ve had, and reminding us that (as Howard said, and again, I’m paraphrasing), it’s not that you fail; that’s going to happen. It’s what you do with that discovery. You can either quit, cry about it, moan, and consider a professionally lofty bridge, or get back up and go at it again. You’re either a writer, or your not. What a period to end the season with.

Thank you for the inspiration. I am looking forward to the upcoming season on character, and if I may, and because I’m into language, I’d like to learn about character and presence – basically, the about of presence a protagonist (or side character) can have and how you can keep a character’s presence from overwhelming the rest of the story (i.e. maintaining a balance of character presence).

Okay, enough from me. Thank you, thank you, thank you for your continued dedication to the craft we all love, and for helping us better ourselves in this venture. You do just by who you are.

And with that, although I am not quite out of appreciation, I am out of excuses. I’m off to write.

See you next year,
LP

Gate 89


Just getting back from a kick-ass vacation with the family. Here’s a clue as to where it all went down:

What a deal. There was sun, beach, accommodating personalities, and plenty of smiles. It’s been too long since I’ve dropped a post; well consider this one official. Was able to meet up with TC,JJ, AC, AM, and NG. So good to get back together with you. To the others that I missed, please don’t fret. I’ll be back. That’s all but a guarantee. I miss it, all of it. I miss the water, the food, the sun, and the softness of the energy. My favorite fountain is there in K Park – the Dillingham one. There’s a cache there that I tried to get with B, but we just weren’t able to find it.

At present, life finds me at Gate 89. Coffee is here just within reach of my right hand. Locked and loaded.

Here’s the latest. Back to the keyboard.

Why the Old Man Smiles


It’s 11:22 p.m. and before I crash, I need to tell you about how my day ended.

Today had some stress to it. It’s a Sunday – a day off, but still, there was some stress. If you’ve ever been a student (so, I presume most of you), you’ll understand what it’s like when your vacation ends and there’s that one day where you’ll have to get back to school…and then of course there’s homework, tests to study for, lab reports, essays to write..that kind of stuff. And that’s if you’ve ever been a student.

But this especially hits home if you’ve ever been a teacher. If you’ve ever been a teacher, you’ve no doubt experienced that time when your vacation ends and there’s that one day when you’ll have to get back to work…..and then, of course, you will have had to have prepared all of the homework, tests for the students to take, the components of the lab reports, the rubrics for the essays you’ll have them write….that kind of stuff. All the stuff that, as a student, you just sort of expect is going to be there, and as a teacher, you never knew that you had to prepare.

            But it’s there – all that stuff.

            Today was a day in which I was doing all that kind of stuff. During the course of the day I got e-mails from students asking me why their grade was an A- and not an A, I had thoughts about the parents I’ll be speaking with throughout the term, I opened my e-mail for the first time in two weeks and had to respond to each of those. After all that I had to figure out how not to use a certain grading tool because of some of the disadvantages it brought me last term, and learn how to use another grading tool with which I am completely unfamiliar.

            And, finally, AFTER ALL THAT, begin planning for the week.

            Hours. It took hours off the day. I had to somehow manage to sneak in a lunch there in the middle, and then get back at it.

            Then there was dorm duty. The kids were great, but there are 40 of them and none of them have homework, and they all want to crowd in the same room and have yelling conversations when my colleague’s bedroom is right next door. In the meantime, there are other students walking in and out, traipsing through the hallways yelling out the names of their friends. “Hi,” I say, “who are you again?”

            So there’s that.  Four hours there.

            It’s 11:00 p.m. The day is done. It’s very black, dark, and cool out. I have but to drop by my office, drop off some books, send some e-mail messages, print something, use the restroom, and then I can leave.

            Done. Walk outside. <DEEP SIGH>

            Then, stopped, in the middle of the quad, I just want to listen to the silence. It’s so quiet, I just want to hear that.

            I look up….

            …and begin to laugh.

            Not a chuckle, a giggle, or a snigger. A full laugh. An out-loud laugh. A hearty gut laugh.

I take a breath and bend over laughing aloud again. I look around at where I am, in the middle of a quadrangle, surrounded by dormitory windows (some on, some off), and in the middle of the night’s silence, I’m laughing aloud.

            To answer why, here is what I see.

 

Many of you just see a moon, but what I saw this.

 

            Here he is, my guardian, my spirit. And in that moment he reminded me that I was worried about bullshit – that all my worries were completely irrelevant. Considering how very vast the great Great Cosmos is, and I am getting anxious over the infinitesimal.

            Now that’s true love. Thanks for the reminder.

Guns and Church


My wife just told me about how somewhere some dude walked into a church and shot and killed twenty some-odd people.
She talked; I listened. And I thought about that particular event in the whole of humanity. It’s interesting to think about what motives people have for doing the things they do. I’m not singling out murder here, but since that’s the item d’jour, that’s what I’m thinking about in particular.
The Universe/God/Allah/Life/The Cosmos (whatever you want to call it) functions the way it will function and it will continue to function regardless of how angry we get over it. That’s the way it’s been for forever and that’s how forever it will be.
It’s all a judgment – the finest of lines between despair and joy.
Wow – every day’s a gift.