Category: writing

A small sweetness

“Miss, would you buy me a piece of cake?”

The tall, heavy-set man had been ambling between the rows of tables, his gaze moving slowly back and forth, from face to face. He stopped at mine.

I had been typing away at my laptop, half-way through my second coffee. Today the ideas were liquid: a smooth ebb and flow. But they lacked a container, something solid to shape them.

I looked up. His sheer size blocked the light overhead. But I could see his face. Expressionless. Tired. If it wasn’t immediately apparent that he was harmless I may have shook my head.

“Sure, just give me a minute.” I grabbed my wallet. Left my words on the screen. “Let’s go.”

He shuffled to the counter. I followed. His rumpled coat clung to his hulking torso. Long, fat fingers dangled at the end of his sleeves. He didn’t say a word.

And then, after a few moments in line. “What month were you born?” June.

“So you’re a Gemini.” No, a Cancer.

A sweetness spread into the corners of his eyes. The trace of a smile. “I’m March. Aries.” Within seconds the vacant look returned. But there was a softness to it. Like drifting back into a happy moment from childhood. A birthday. Licking icing off the spoon.

“What kind of cake would you like?”

His massive finger raised and pressed against the counter glass. Holiday Gingerbread. A large, moist fingerprint marked his choice, then evaporated.

I ordered and paid. The woman behind the counter slid the cake slice into a paper bag, handed it to him. Said nothing. As the man grabbed it, I caught the warming scent of ginger and nutmeg.

And then he was shuffling to the door. Gone.

Back at the table, my words on the screen were still there. Waiting to take shape.

Mourning the little losses

For a week I’ve watched the moments pass. Made mental notes, promised to find a moment and set the words down, anywhere — in pixels or ink. I’ll get to that. After the party. Once the dishes are put away. When I can pop away from the conversation. As soon as I can get to my laptop. Before I go to bed. And day-by-day the ideas slipped. Dissolved into that opaque soup of possibilities that passes behind the glass.

And I cannot see in. Cannot shatter the pane.

This is one of the worst feelings as a writer: that some of those glorious ideas we put on hold or save for later will disappear. Vanish for good. Even though they once flickered and lived inside us; those little lights that announced their existence: ignored for long enough, they leave us. Often for good.

The perils of abandonment.

Apocalypse not

Tomorrow might be the end of the world. These words might be the last ones I write.

Drops from the sky

But am I worried? No. Because the Apocalypse is not upon us. The Earth is not going to explode into tiny fragments and disperse into the universe. Why? Because NASA says so. So nah, all ye doomsayers. Note: I would have preferred a statement by the lovely Professor Brian Cox, but that doesn’t seem to have surfaced anywhere.

Why oh why do we get our knickers in a twist about the end of the world? Every few years there seems to be a diabolical threat to humanity: from asteroids hurtling toward our precious planet to fire-and-brimstone judgement days sponsored by [insert religious cult here].

My theory is that we’re bored. We’re people: we get up, go to work, take care of our families, cook dinner, watch some TV. Every once in a while we go out with friends or take a nice trip. But the daily grind can get a little ho-hum. We need — perhaps crave — some distraction.

So, if one person interprets a “sign,” has a seemingly prophetic dream, is visited by an apparition, or somehow comes to the conclusion that our fair Earth is about to meet its certain end, well, a few people are bound to perk up. Armageddon — if anything — is exciting. And the better the story, the more quickly people will share it. And the more it’s shared the more people will believe its truth.

The end of the world gives us something to focus on. When there is no World Cup or royal wedding to look forward to, the Apocalypse serves as a handy alternative.

Yes, there will be fanatics. Which is both head-scratching and heartbreaking. We do not want to see believers inflicting violence on others or themselves.

Aside from this grim downside, there are actually some positive potential outcomes of our looming and ultimate demise.

  1. Builds community. All over the world people are talking about the Apocalypse. We all live on the Earth, and its end affects all of us. It brings us together in the spirit of collective finality. Plus, it’s a great topic to toss around on blogs, Twitter, and Facebook.
  2. Encourages creativity. The writers and artists of the world have a deep, rich vein of subject matter to mine. Stories and songs and photos. Heck, it gave me something to write about today.
  3. Serves as a life wake-up call. There’s nothing like a looming Armageddon to make a person take stock of their life. Do I need to make some changes in my life? Am I happy enough? Should I learn to surf or play the sousaphone? Should I call my Mom tonight?
  4. Great excuse for a party. If anything, Doomsday makes a great excuse for some celebratory snacks and cool cocktails, no? If we’re all about to meet our glorious end, why not face it with a Bourbon sour and a smile on our faces?

If this is my last-ever post (and it won’t be), I raise my glass.

How tragedy teaches geography

Hearing today’s horrific news about the shooting deaths of twenty young children and seven adults at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, gave me pause for thought (of course). But it also reminded me of a poem I wrote in 1996:

Tragedy teaches geography

How disquieting that earthquakes,
airline crashes and murdered children
help to impress location in our minds
more clearly than a textbook;
how in a few minutes of news we learn
those key details: the topography,
climate, and exact longitude and latitude
of a town split wide open by death;
how suddenly we know the weather
outside a small cathedral in Dunblane.

Similarly and no less tragic, in the Dunblane school massacre sixteen children and one adult were killed before the shooter committed suicide.

This is more of a fragment than a poem; I could never seem to arrange the words to evoke the feeling or bring the meaning intended. Over the years I added place names and took them out — Lockerbie, Bam, Waco, Oklahoma, Hungerford, and then Phuket, Haiti, Columbine, Blacksburg (I could easily, and sadly, go on). But I always left in Dunblane. It was that shooting that prompted the poem. It was that shooting that I remember most as I watch news coverage of the Newtown massacre.

In 1996 I was in my twenties, a few years out of university. What struck me in the following days in that suddenly I knew exactly where this little Scottish town was located. And I will continue to remember. Like a pin pressed into a map marking the latest location of profound tragedy and human loss. Those pins, glowing red across the countries. Towns and cities I may never have known until a bomb exploded, a earthquake rattled, or a shooter opened fire.

This fragment will be revisited again and again. I’m quite certain that it will never quite capture what I want to say. Maybe I’ve already said it here.

12.12.12: not just for freaks

I could not let the day go by without mentioning it, especially given that today is the last major sequential date for almost another century. 1.1.1 won’t happen until 3001.

Beyond the numerical significance, people — mainly the religious/superstitious and astrologers who are damp with anticipation — see today as incredibly “lucky.” Babies born today are being celebrated for their bright and prosperous futures, couples with expectations of constant wedded bliss are getting married by the boatloads, and those in perpetual search of miracles await the great bestowing of the extraordinary. Hell, even the Pope waited until today to tap out his first tweet.

As long as the craziness is kept to a minimum (i.e. no forced births/marriages/leaps of faith), I don’t begrudge celebrating the occasion. As humans we like to think that unique planet alignments and rare sequences of numbers mean have an elevated meaning: that the formation signifies something special. Usually luck. If anything, it’s fun. It gives us (and marketing agencies) something to look forward to.

Me, I’m not buying a lottery ticket, heading to Vegas, taking any big risks, or preparing myself for the apocalypse.

I just think that numbers are incredibly cool. I’m a sucker for the numerically unusual. Patterns and sequences give us structure and boundaries. But they are also are good for the mind, for exploring, for creativity.

Time to write now, I think.

Light leaving

Writing is best when the light is leaving,
as clouds cling to dimming reflections,
as the last traces of the day dissolve into dark.
Until the last clinging arc of blue
drips down and joins the liquid evening.

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Anywhere diner

Booths

Eating diner fries at the corner grill
everything is on the menu: burgers to Chinese.
Reminds me of that place where we used to meet
when the late afternoon released us
squinting into sunshine and snow.
Our hands unwrinkled, faces unfurled.

There is comfort in these everywhere places:
the too-familiar scent of old grease and vinegar.
The waitresses: kind but worn, tired,
like this floor. Like the faceless
and frameless anywhere artwork.
But the walls, they remember us,
would still recognize our lined faces.

In these places, a permanent grit exists:
a little bit of everyone left behind.

Pepsi sign

‘Don’t become a writer. ❤ Dad’

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I’m walking past the shop-fronts; some alive and vibrant with clothes and jewellery and knickknacks, some dissolving into the blur of grimy windows and melancholy. And in that blur, one window jumps out of the dinginess. It has a message.

I can’t see anything inside the store; it’s dark and dusty, and only a few metres of worn floorboards catch the light. Nothing has called this place home in a while.

And stuck to the inside of filthy window is a short note (supposedly) from father to child: HAVE A GREAT DAY AT SCHOOL! AND DON’T BECOME A WRITER. ❤ DAD

This makes me stop, and within seconds I’ve invented his story. There is a man — who knows if he is a father. He’s a tired and rumpled guy who looks ten years older than he is. Lined, unshaven. A little anxious. He has has penned a few unread novels that sit somewhere in these shadows. He tried to hide from writing and make a living from running a takeaway shop. Which was also unsuccessful. Failure haunts him and he’s had enough. Leaves his books and his shop and his warning behind.

His message, sarcastic and pathetic, is meant to be funny. And it is funny. Few would argue that it is probably sound advice to little writer wannabes. A message that perhaps people would have remembered him for.

Writing and lawnmowers

The goal was to write every day. Without fail. Without making excuses.

And yes, there was the flu week. The days of fever and wheezing and general nastiness. If I had managed to drag my aching fingers to the keyboard who knows what drivel would have poured forth (I’ll resist a tempting snot analogy). Those days I give myself a pass.

But what of December 2, 3, and 5? What’s my excuse for not coming here and doing what I love: making pictures with words, coaxing characters onto the screen?

I get distracted, sidetracked. There were years when I kept an online journal with daily accounts, anecdotes, and creative wanderings. And then it would stop. And start again. Humming and whirring away — and then clunk. Over. Like my mom’s old lawnmower: the slightest little rock or wrongly-shaped blade of grass and it sputters to a stop. Almost offended. And then it takes so many cranks to re-start that it doesn’t seem worth all the effort to get it going again.

I am not exactly like a lawnmower. The comparison ends at both the ease of quitting the job and the difficulty in restarting it.

  1. I do not attack writing with the viciousness of shearing blades.
  2. I would like to think that I create instead of destroy.
  3. I do not follow a linear path, back and forth across the page until the job is done. Because sometimes I write poetry.

As as much as I like to anthropomorphize, I do not think that a lawnmower actually enjoys the task of cutting grass. I would think that mowing the lawn ranks pretty high on the monotony list. And while writing can be a chore sometimes, I actually enjoy it (when I’m not avoiding it).

So what do I need to do on days when the motor won’t start or imperfect greenery threatens?

Get a pushmower. Or a weed-whacker. Or maybe even just a pair of scissors. Approach with a different perspective. And just get it done.

The air in Liverpool

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The chill, the smell of the air:
it stays with you. It doesn’t smell like this
anywhere else in the world, but here.
And it clings to your clothes, your hair.
If you’re here long enough, it seeps
into your skin, pools in the blood,
climbs into your bones and settles in.

It never leaves: this pungent scent
of seawater and salt. It mixes with the mud
and blood-red of brick and iron,
dissolves with the damp and heavy exhalations
of dock workers, their corrugated hands betraying
an eternity of work and worry.
— Their skin and sweat is here, too;
it paints this sombre city’s walls.
The rain washes them into puddles,
drains them into uneven streets,
Pulls them back into a mighty river
that holds them, that won’t let them go.
Keeps their scent close.