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.

Advertisements

The Man Behind the Mic


by

L.P. Stribling

    The man who stepped onto the podium in the middle of the last quiet moment of humanity wore a suit which suggested he was the true face of patriotism. The small two-cent flag on his black suit’s lapel was tilted slightly, but would pass for centered for the majority of those he met. His eyes flashed hard at the center camera below him, his gaze rocketing into every living room of the nation; in the following seconds, those same eyes would release into every living hollow on the planet that contained a pulse of human life.

    He smiled and began.

    “My fellow World Order people, today we have shown that…”

    From the back corner of her living room, Dena Metrin’s heartbeat brought itself to her attention as she watched the screen, almost panting.

    “Please tell me you’re close, Rick.“ Her eyes darted over to the man hunched over his computer at her left. His fingers ran across his keyboard as if he were epileptic. White text sprayed across a blue screen. The pencil in his mouth had a body lined with bite marks. He had been rolling it around in his mouth clamping his teeth down slightly as he worked. As long as Dena knew him, it was his own peculiar way of dealing with stress. When he bit all the way through it, he would spit it out and pull a fresh pencil from the pack next to his keyboard and begin anew.

    “Err,” he said through his pencil. “Ah depfinilhee feek ahm gehng crossr.” She reached out and threw the pencil out of his mouth to the ground.

    “What?”

    “I said,” he repeated, still looking at the screen, his fingers not slowing, “that I think I’m getting…closer!” The last word erupted from him as the screen began raining white text as a full download of something was coming in.

    “Good,” Dena said, “because I think we’re about to get to the pretty bad part.”

    “…it’s not that often, and we all know this, that we have an opportunity in our history to really change everything that we’ve done – all the mistakes, all the backwardness, all the evil and wrongdoing.” Pause. “Well now, ladies and gentlemen of this beautiful moment. Now is that time, and you should feel a tingle run through you in knowing that you are alive here to witness it, because..”

    “Okay, so now how long? Remember, we only need the microphone. That’s what he’s going to use.”

    “Eah,” Rick said, another pencil in his mouth being gnawed on at breakneck pace. “Uss a fsheew mor sekns.” The keyboard sounded like each key was being hit with hard rain.

    “…and with that I’d like to begin by saying ‘so long’ to our past.” The man motioned off camera with a nod of his hands. The building behind him, almost half a mile away, the backdrop of every presidential speech in the history of the nation shattered as a missile came from the sky and blew it directly from its center outward.

    The sound rocketed the people; the cameras shook, and screams were heard from every angle off camera. The man’s beady eyes focused on his audience without any emotion; he nodded as if this was the reaction he had expected all along.

    “Okay, I’m going to need you to make those magic seconds happen right now because…”

    “…and you can see,” he went on, his voice stern and heavy, “that we are on the precipice of greatness! We are ready for change, for tomorrow, a bright tomorrow. We are ready for…ladies and gentlemen, we’re ready for a makeover.”

    “Got it!” Rick yelled.

    In their room, the only sound came as the pencil dropped from his mouth and clicked a bit as it hit the floor and came to a roll and then stilled. Three hundred miles away, HBC’s main camera shook slightly as the man behind the mic grabbed it from the podium and tore it free to hold it aloft in one victorious hand.

    “Behold!” He yelled. “Our makeover!” He turned the mic upside down and pressed a button on the bottom.

    The nation, the world watched. Nothing.

    He pressed again twice, three times. Nothing.

    “Fucking thing!” He slammed the microphone down and stood back from the podium reaching into his vest under the pin of the nation.

    “Welcome to the new you!” He yelled, drawing the revolver out and aiming at the audience, pulling the trigger faster than the audience could comprehend.

    BAM! BAM! BAM! “Welcome!” He cried with each shot. BAM! BAM! “Welcome!”

    Bullets riddled his body and the man dropped to the stage. All camera screens went black then.

    Dena slid to the floor and loosed a sigh. She and Rick said nothing for a long time. Rick’s box of pencils lay untouched.

    “Well,” she said breaking the silence. “There’s that. Take us home, Rick.”

Seconds passed before the rain started again.

Teresa – Happy Mother’s Day


Dear Teresa,

T2

It’s Mother’s Day and I wanted to stop and pass along to you (and I guess the rest of the world) how much you mean to me as a mom. You’re wonderful.

T1

You met me first when I was around thirteen, and I’m pretty sure I made you work (jump through hoops and whatnot) for any leeway of position within the family. We were at Shady Lakes, I believe, and I’m not really sure if either you or I caught anything. I had a great time. And I remember clearly when Pops asked if I had a good time, I said no (what a little snot I was). I was very protective of him, of course.

T3

You always cared for me and loved me as your own, and you supported me in everything I did. We didn’t agree all the time, but that didn’t stop you from coming to every one of my sports games in high school, my graduations ceremonies all over the country, or from playing embarrassing card games with me and family and friends (**just for the record, she has played Cards Against Humanity with me and the family…and played some dirty cards). You spent hours upon hours planning for all the parties you threw for me. You cooked, you cleaned, you got on me when I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to. We have been hiking, fishing, skiing, traveling, the works, and I want you to know how much you mean to me.

You’re a wonderful mom and I wouldn’t be the man I am without your love, comfort, and care. I love you every day.

Happy Mother’s Day

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

In your nose


Me: You look great today, baby.
Wife: You have a booger in your nose.

The relationship I have with my wife is delightful. We’ve been married for nine years (this June) and each day is better than the day before. You’re the best, sugar. Thanks for being my girl. I love you now, always, and sometime in the next half hour.

-pb

You Do You


do-what-you-love

Another beauty from Mr. Wendig. When I read this this morning, I about crapped myself laughing. I love the way he puts it – art is art and there’s no one right way to do it. Just because others have done it one way does not mean that the rest of us have to do it that exact way. Just because some of us view a certain piece of art one way does NOT mean that the rest of us have to view it that particular way as well.

It’s a beautiful thing to know that when you do your art, you’re doing your art your way. Just as John Keats put it:

 

Beauty is Truth, truth, beauty; That is all there is to know and all you need to know.

 

Your art is your art. Some may like it and some may dislike it. In fact, some will like it and others will not. And if anyone criticizes you about your art, saying that it SHOULD look one way or another, or you SHOULD have done it one way or another, I agree with Chuck – they can go drink a Middle-Finger Frappacino.

Writing and publishing are two different games, and you should not go cry in a corner just because your stuff doesn’t get published. Your art was successful long before you tried to get it published – it was successful because you finished it, and you wanted others to read it.

Boom! Done. End of list.

Congratulations!

So here’s the deal. When it comes to your art, it’s yours. You own it. No one else. So, put your headphones in, turn the volume up, read Chuck’s wondrous words and again, be on your way.

(*P.S. Check out Chuck’s article below)

Have a word-filled 2016.

lp

 

————-

YOUR 2016 AUTHORIAL MANDATE IS HERE: BE THE WRITER THAT YOU ARE, NOT THE WRITER OTHER PEOPLE WANT YOU TO BE

By Chuck Wendig

 

That blog title is way too long, but fuck it.

A handful of weeks ago, some presumably well-meaning tickledick posted a comment here at the blog. It was a comment that I chose not to approve because, really, I don’t need your shit, Rando Calrissian. This blog is my digital house, and I don’t let strangers inside just so they can take a dump on my kitchen table, especially so we can all sit around, smelling it and discussing it. But the comment was a splinter under my nail, working its way up into the finger-meat. And then reading George R. R. Martin’s end-of-the-year message about not finishing the newest SOIAF also was something that crawled inside me and starting having thought-babies.

Being here on the Internet is a bit like hanging out on a clothesline — some days are sunny and warm, other days are cool and breezy. Some days it pisses rain and the wind tries to take you, and other days it’s daggers of ice or a rime of snow or smoke from a wildfire or some pervert streaking across the lawn and stropping up against you with his unwanted nasty bits.

Being on the Internet means being exposed.

You’re just out there. A squirming nerve without the tooth surrounding it.

That’s good in some ways because you’re exposed to new people, new ideas, new ways of doing things. You’re not an isolated creature here. You are an experiment being observed and are in turn an observer of countless other experiments, and that makes a subtle-not-subtle push-and-pull. But can also be erosive or corrosive — it can wear off your paint a little bit.

As a writer in particular, it has its ups and downs, too. Here, you’ll find yourself surrounded by a gaggle of ink-fingered cohorts who know what it is to do what you do. You’ll have a herd, a cult, a clan, a tribe. You’ll have smaller communities who know what it is you write or want to write, too, whether it’s young adult or epic fantasy or erotic sci-fi cookbooks. And here on the Digital Tubes, everybody is has an opinion, everybody is an expert. And that’s extra-true with writing. Other writers have their processes and their hang-ups and their wins and their losses, and they share it all. Which is, on a whole, a good thing. Information is good. Camaraderie is good.

That, though, can muddy the waters at the same time. This Person is doing This Person’s thing, and That Person is doing That Person’s thing, and Other Person is really loud about what WILL SURELY WORK FOR EVERYBODY (translation, will probably only work for people who are or are like Other Person). And advice gurgles up around your feet like rising floodwaters. Do this, do that, don’t do this, don’t say that, don’t write this, this isn’t selling, that is a no-no, publish this way, sell that way, don’t publish that other way, drink this, wear houndstooth jackets with elbow patches, drink that, snark here, snark there, with a fox, in a box, wearing socks, eating rocks, with a bear, without hair, anywhere. We have a whole lot of writers trying to figure out who they really are, and in the process, do a very good job at also telling you who you should be in order to conform to their notions of who they want to be. To confirm who they are, it’s easy for them to also confirm who you should be, too. That’s not sinister. That’s just human nature. It’s easier to become something when others are along for the ride. And it’s also the joy of confirmation bias — what worked for me confirms that I WAS RIGHT AND SO YOU ARE A HEINOUS DIPSHIT IF YOU DO NOT FOLLOW PRECISELY IN MY FOOTSTEPS. I do it. You do it. Most of us do, I think.

It then gets further complicated once you have readers. Or, Uber Readers, aka, fans. Because they, too, have opinions on you and your work. They will have opinions on your process. And it’s not that they’re wrong, it’s that they’re — no, wait, they are wrong, never mind. They’re totally wrong, because they’re not writing the stories. They’re right about what they want to read and when they want to read it, but not about how to create it. It’s hard to tell someone how to do their job. It’s extra-hard to tell them how to make their art. Because process and prose and authorial intent are all intensely personal to the creator. Personal and twisted further by the pressures of creation and the potential mental stresses that come along with it — remember, a great many writers and artists also suffer from depression or anxiety or other ghosts in the gray matter.

It’s not just one type of writer over another. This is true of new writers who are just finding their way. This is true of mid-career or mid-list writers who are out there in the wilderness surviving, not sure how to get out of the forest just yet. This is true of super-successful authors who are trapped under the magnifying lens of a massively public fanbase — the sun likely focusing into a laser-hot beam upon their foreheads. All artists of every level are exposed here.

Here, now, is the comment referenced at the fore of the post:

“There is no skill floor or ceiling to being a writer. Anyone who speaks a language, who tells a story, can write. To be published is a stricter process that requires an adherence to professional guidelines and to a standard of quality that is dictated by the publishing office. That you’ve been published so many times is no small feat, and I commend you for it.

But having read Aftermath and Blackbirds, I feel that there is…a laziness to your style that you seem to be either unaware of or have come to terms with. It’s difficult to quantify, but it gives me the impression that you don’t value writing as an art. As a job, certainly. But not as a form of expression. Because otherwise you wouldn’t spend 45-90 days on a book. A soul isn’t bared in three months. Professional or no, no book you truly care for should go from start to finish that quickly.

To know an art is to break established rules in the hopes of producing a truer version of your vision. And you certainly break the rules of writing craft. In the first three paragraphs of Blackbirds you’ve disregarded flow, used inappropriate comparisons, and introduced the main character through a mirror scene. And while these things are permissible, they are not the hallmarks of someone who cherishes what he writes.

Great writing seeks subtlety. It’s the words that are unwritten, the descriptions that are inferred, the meaning that comes across through the subtext of what is explicit that writing excels at communicating. But your writing doesn’t ask me to look within myself for answers. It asks me to look no further than the page. And that, to me, is a tragedy. Because we’re all capable of greatness. But greatness comes from being dissatisfied with how things are, and with pushing the boundaries of what you believe yourself to be capable of in order to achieve your absolute best. And even then, you won’t be satisfied. You’ll push yourself further in your next pursuits, because now you’ve touched on what you’re capable of, but you won’t be satisfied.

To release your books in such a short time frame tells me that you’re satisfied, and that breaks my heart.”

I tried for the better part of a week to conjure a more cogent response than “fuck you,” and I got as far as “go fuck yourself.” Like, I tried to go through it once and conjure point-by-point rebuttals — well, no, because of course I value art and art is not beholden to any timetable and it takes the time that it takes short or long and — but eventually my rebuttal dissolves into a gargled cry of “eat a bucket of deep-fried fucks, you squawking chicken-fucker.” With an added, “HOW’S THAT FOR SUBTLETY,” and then a crotch-grab as I cackle and yell, “CHERISH THIS.”

This is someone who wants his vision to be my vision. He has very explicit ideas about how art is made — ideas that, by the way, are provably false. (For writers in particular, looking at the daily word counts of famous writers is clarifying in its sheer variation.) Great writing is not one thing any more than great paintings are, or great music, or, or, or. The variation in art is glorious. The variation in the process that puts the art into the world is equally amazing. Music can be operatic, or punk, or dub-step. A sculpture might be an alabaster goddess or a bunch of fucking cubes stuck to a bunch of other fucking cubes. Food can be subtle and airy or unctuous and heavy or whipped into a foam or shoved between two buns (tee hee buns). Comedy can be a routine that takes years to write, or an improv session that took 30 seconds to conjure.

There’s no wrong way to do it, as long as you’re doing it.

There’s no timetable, as long as you’re taking the time.

Nobody can tell you how you do it. They can only tell you how they do it or what illusions they hold about the process — illusions that often wither under actual implementation.

They can offer suggestions. And you are free to take them, hold them up in the light, and see if there is anything there of value. And if there isn’t? Then you can fling it into the trash compactor on the detention level where it will be ogled and eaten by the one-eyed Dianoga.

That’s not to say there aren’t people you should listen to — a good editor or agent, a trusted friend, a beloved author. But even there, you want to find people who will clarify and improve your process and your work — not substitute it with something that isn’t really yours.

So, in 2016, I advise you to give your middle fingers a proper workout and elevate them accordingly to any who would diminish who you are, what you make, or how you make it. You don’t need to wall yourself off from it, but you also don’t need to be a sweater hanging on the clothesline, either. Get some tooth around that nerve.

Know who you are. Learn your process. Find your way. And don’t let anyone else define who you are as a creator, as an artist, as a writing writer who motherfucking writes.

Happy 2016, writers.

You do you.

*explodes in gory human fireworks*