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Inside Out – The Grumpy Writing Coach

Inside Out – The Grumpy Writing Coach

 
 
 
 
       As writers, we face a problem: We’re not the reader. This may sound obvious, but it has important ramifications. Our reader is, in many ways, unknowable, because we have no idea of who will end up picking up our work. We do know some things, though:
       Their background probably won’t match ours. Their tastes will be different. Their age group and education will be different to an unknown degree. And, there’s a 50-50 chance that their gender will be different, too. In fact, it’s unlikely that we and a given reader have all that much in common.
       Given that, how can we write anything that will be acceptable to all readers? The answer is, we can’t. It is literally impossible to write anything that will be viewed in the same way by all readers.
       So, do we accept the fact that the majority of people who read our work won’t “get it?” Or is there a way to eliminate those differences? Obviously, there is, or I wouldn’t be writing this article. The trick isn’t to make our work universally accepted no matter the reader’s background. It’s to make all readers the same.
       What we need to do is to make our reader become our protagonist. If we can make them see the situation exactly as the protagonist does; if we give each reader the same set of resources the protagonist will use; if all readers have the same desires, needs, and imperatives as our protagonist, then they will decide on what must be done next in exactly the same way as our hero will—and do that before the protagonist makes that decision—if they read and absorb that before they read the protagonist’s response to the situation—they will become our protagonist and react as that character does.
       Do that and you avoid the impossibility of making the writing universal. Instead you’ll make your readers universal. And with that as our goal, let’s see how we can accomplish that.
 
       We’ve always relied on presenting the facts accurately, concisely, and dispassionately because that’s how we were taught to write. And it works well for book reports. But when writing fiction, instead of eliminating differences in viewpoint it encourages them. Everyone has their own interpretation of your presentation, based on what the words mean to them. Tell the reader, for example, that the protagonist is at peace, and each reader will take a slightly different meaning from the statement. To some, being at peace means there is no stress in their life. For others, that there is no war, or argument. In Islam, peace is based on submission and surrender to Allah. And there are hundreds of other shades of meaning to that one word. So expecting a reader to know our viewpoint is impossible unless we focus on that reader, and are able to interact with them, so as to refine our words to fit their background and preconceptions. But, make the reader know why the character feels they are at peace by making that reader view the protagonist’s world as the protagonists does, and the reader’s interpretation of the word no-longer-matters. They will feel as the character feels, emotionally, because for the moment, they will have superimposed the protagonist’s view on their own.
       Can we do this using the writing techniques we all learn in school? Hell no. Our teachers spent zero time discussing the nuance of point of view. They taught us how to write dispassionately, with accuracy of observation the most important item. Why? Because most people will do their writing in a business setting, where accuracy is critical. We were, remember, learning skills to make us useful to employers. Those book reports we wrote were practice for writing business reports. Those essays, practice for writing papers and letters. No one explained how to use tags, how to structure a scene, or even basics such as the three questions a reader needs answered quickly when entering any scene so as to have context to make sense of it it.
       Converting the reader into our protagonist requires skills that are unlike those used for telling a story in person, or creating a story on the stage or screen. Our medium is different, and has different strengths and weaknesses. Instead of stressing fact and accuracy we stress emotional connection. Instead of presenting things from the narrator’s viewpoint we presented from the protagonist’s. Same story, but a very different approach to presenting it. And that means a very different tool set must be used in the presentation.
       Our goal, remember, isn’t to make the reader know about the terror our protagonist may be feeling. Our goal is to terrorize the reader. We don’t want the reader to learn about the plot. We want them to live it. If you can make a reader put down your work for a moment, to decompress, because the emotional situation is so intense they can’t handle it, you have a winner.
       In the end, we having name for doing this: it’s called point of view. And POV is the single most powerful tool in your repertoire. It is the thing that makes all readers the same.
       John W. Campbell, a noted editor once wrote an article in which he presented a hypothetical situation involving an observer and a climber. It went something like this:

     Observer: “Don’t climb that tree. If you knew what I know, that’s not just a tree, it’s being used as a power pole, so there’s dangerous high-voltage up there.”
     Protagonist: “If you knew what I know…that I’m a trained lineman, doing my job with the proper equipment, you wouldn’t worry.”
     Observer: “But if you knew what I know, that your safety gloves are from a shipment that contained defective product, you wouldn’t go.”
     Protagonist: “Ah…but if you knew what I know, that we heard about the defect and have inspected them to remove the bad gloves—and that the gloves I use will be pressure tested just before I put them on, you needn’t worry.”
     Observer: “But if you knew what I know…”

       Point of view is critical. In the example above, were the observer made to know the situation as the protagonist does, confusion would be eliminated and the conversation would never occur.
       Obviously, the protagonist could be wrong. He or she could be missing or misinterpreting data, as could the protagonist in our stories. But that’s okay, because both our protagonist and our reader will have the same misunderstanding and make the same mistakes, which drives our plot. And our reader will be just as surprised, shocked, or perhaps pleased to learn of the misunderstanding.
 
       So how do we do that? How do we gain those necessary skills? How can we turn our narrative around and make our reader view our story from the inside out, as against from the outside in? How do we change our own perspective of how to present a story?
       The answer to that is quite simple. We do that by learning all we can about point of view and the other important skills a writer needs. We add to our existing knowledge, just the way we did, grade-by-grade, as we built our current set of of writing skills. And the more we know, the greater the number of viable choices we have when handling a given situation. The more we know, the better we know what a reader will respond to. And, the more we know the better we get at making our reader feel like our protagonist.
       Simple? Absolutely. Easy? Of course not. If it was easy we’d all be rich and famous. Any profession takes time and practice to perfect. So the question isn’t if it’s easy or hard. The question is, is it worth the effort? And that boils down to: should we continue to write using techniques inappropriate to the task, or should we add professional skills to our toolbox? I don’t think you need my help to answer that question.
       But still, that’s a lot of work, especially given that we won’t know if we have the potential to make effective use of those skills, and to be successful, until we own and apply them. And that’s a big if, especially since most of us are not going to have people lining up to buy our work. So in reality: do we want to be a writer badly enough to to invest lots of time, and perhaps a few dollars to become a writer as a publisher views that term?
       That’s a difficult question to answer, other than to say that if someone can talk you out of writing you aren’t meant to be one. Writers write. It’s what we do. It’s our curse and our blessing.
       Something to keep in mind when making that decision: writing isn’t a destination. It’s a journey, one that lasts a lifetime. And if every day we write with a little more skill than we did on the previous day, and we live long enough…
       So…now that I’ve discouraged you with the news that you probably won’t get rich from your writing this year, let me make a suggestion as to how to begin your transformation from outside-in to inside-out writing.
       A very good article on creating a strong point of view can be found here. It’s based on the work of Dwight Swain, who is notable for having defined many of the techniques that professional writers use, in a clear and concise way. I’d advise you to read the article, think about it, and when it begins to make sense, check the fiction that made you feel as though you were experiencing it, to see how the author made the technique work for that story. And if it seems like something that would help your writing, pick up a copy of Swain’s book, Techniques of the Selling Writer. It both expands on that technique and will show you many others, equally meaningful. Read it slowly, stopping at every point where a new concept is introduced, to think about and practice that point, so as to make it your own rather than to simply learn that it exists.
       And when you finish the book put it aside for six months. Use what you’ve learned, gaining skill and competence. Then, read it again. This time, knowing where he’s going, and better understanding the concepts being introduced, you’ll learn as much the second time as you did the first.
       Will it make you a published author? Naa. That’s your job. What it will do is give you the tools with which to become one, if-it’s-in-you to do that. And that’s the best we can hope for. Maybe it will turn out to be something interesting, but still, success will still elude you. Could be. Happens to most of us. But still, new writers appear all the time. Why shouldn’t it be you? And as they say, you never know till you try.

       Hang in there, and keep on writing.
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Author’s note:
       These articles are not presented with a, “Do this and you’ll be a published author,” attitude. Anyone who tells you they can provide success via a few words on a blog page is scamming you. Instead, they’re one writer’s view of the ideas put forth by the writing teachers I admire and respect. I’ve done the series as part of what’s sometimes called a Benjamin Franklin debt. If some of what I say seems to make sense, I urge you to seek the teachers themselves, people like Dwight Swain, Debra Dixon, and a host of others, and read their advice directly.

 

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Echo

Echo
     The old man lay dying, kept alive by the machines gathered by his bedside. Other than the hiss-click of the oxygen that maintained the spark of life within him there was silence, until the woman arrived. She slipped into a seat by the bed and put her purse on the floor, under it, then waited for the man to wake.
     The room and its furnishings, in spite of the hospital bed, spoke of wealth and power, rather than the aseptic surround of a hospital. But still, that wealth and power would delay his demise by not one day.
     After a time the man woke, and she said, “You don’t look like a John, to me… Wrong face, for that name, I think.”
      He studied her for a moment then shrugged as well as his wasted frame would permit, before saying, “Yeah, like you figured, my name wasn’t always John. I was born Gordon Brown.” There was silence, as he gathered his strength, then a chuckle, and, “Living where everybody had a name like Martello and Catelli meant I got in a lot of fights. But, that was okay. I liked beating the crap out of shitheads. It made me tough, too…ya know?
     The woman nodded a yes, then, “So, why did you change your name to John?”
     “I didn’t. It got changed for me, because of a…” He was silent for a moment, before saying, “I guess you could call it a kind of dream.”
     “Dream?”
     The old man shrugged, again. “I woke up one morning hurting…a lot. It wasn’t just the hangover. That was bad enough. I felt like… Well, it was worse than being kicked in the balls. It was like knives were shoved into them. But when I reached for my crotch my hands couldn’t make it. They were tied to the bed. I could move a little, but not enough to either reach my nuts or untie myself. That’s when I noticed that my legs were tied, too.” He was silent for a moment, before, “All this happens before I open my eyes, mind you. But then, there’s a brand new pain, added to the rest, and that got my eyes open quick, to find a bitch I never saw before, shoving a straight pin right into my balls. I lifted up to look and there must have been dozens of them in there already, like a goddamned pincushion. And when she saw I was looking, she just smiled, and said, “Good morning, honey,” and pulled another pin from one of those pincushions made to look like a tomato.”
     “And used it?”
     “Used it? Hell yes she used it. And that one, I swear, was as hot as if she’d held it in a flame. But bad as that was I could see there was worse to come. There was one pin in there that was as big around as a damn railroad spike.”
     “And she used that one, too?”
     There was silence for the space of ten breaths, before the man on the bed said, “I don’t know, because that’s when I woke up.”
     “Ahhh…so it was just a—”
     “That was no fucking dream, lady. Not…not… I don’t know what in the hell it was, but I can tell you that my balls hurt for more than three days afterward…bad. I even went to see a shrink, ‘cause I was afraid to sleep. Hell, for months afterward, if I saw my mom’s pincushion in her sewing basket, it freaked me out.”
     “But, you got over it.”
     “Yeah. I got over it. The shrink, he made me carry a pincushion with me for a while, and when I got comfortable with that he had me push in a bunch of pins. That worked.” He laughed. “Hell, it better than worked. I’d finally managed to get a job as an enforcer for a loan shark. Then, one day, I was about to break some jerk’s finger, as a reminder to pay on time, when I had a thought. I remembered how the dream freaked me out, so…”
     “You did that to the man, instead of breaking his finger? You stuck pins in his—”
     Weak as it was, there was a smile in the old man’s voice as he said, “I figured, what the hell, ya know? It hurts like hell but it don’t keep you from work, and it’s so damn embarrassing that it’s even better than a whacked shin or a broken finger.”
     “I’ll bet. So…”
     “So I tied the bastard down and used those pins. You should have heard him scream. I left him, tied that way and hurting—for his wife to find when she got home.”
     The old man closed his eyes, wearing a self-satisfied smile, before adding, “It worked so good that I started doing it regular, like a trademark. And that was so crazy it made me stand out, and got me promoted.” Unable to lift his hands to point, he gestured with his head, to indicate the room around them, saying, “And, it got me here, for all the good it’s doing right now. That dream is the reason I ended up running the local family, and it’s why they changed my name.”
     For a time there was silence, as the machines went about their business. Finally, the woman said, “It’s funny, how an event that momentous can travel all the way to the end of a life and then reflect back as an echo, carrying both the way to that end and the ending, itself.”
     “I don’t—”
     “You don’t remember what you said before you had that dream?”
     “Said? I don’t—”
     “You’d just met the top people in the family, and to them, you said, ‘To be like you guys… Hell, I’d sell my soul.’ ”
     “I… You have to be kidd—”
     “Offer made…offer accepted. That dream was a reflection from this end of your life.”
     “… then…then I’m…dead?”
     “As of a few seconds ago, yes.” She smiled, gently. “You don’t recognize me? I thought you would by now. We met, about sixty years ago.” With that she reached into her purse and extracted a pincushion, bristling with pins. She pointed toward the hand that held it, saying, “It never runs out.” Then she gestured in the direction of his lower body, adding, “And there’s always room for one more.”
     “I— Shit!”
     “Yeah, isn’t it?” She extracted a pin and held it up for his inspection. “Welcome to Hell, Johnny Pinball.”
 

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Author’s Note:
     One morning I woke with an image in my mind. Someone had a pincushion and was about to use the contents on me. It was not the kind of dream you’re pleased to wake from. But still, I knew there was a story in there, if I could only think of the “why and when” of it.
     Through the day I could feel the details clarifying as my warped mind gnawed at the corners of the image, trying to shape it into something with a useful shape and texture.
     At evening I sat at the keyboard to see what my auto-editor had come up with, and it flowed well, though I still didn’t know how it was to end. That was a puzzle for later, I decided. First came the shaping to see if it read as well as it felt. But apparently the shaping had gone better than I’d hoped for because I finished it, but for editing, in one short sitting. In fact, though, I didn’t know what I would use for the punch line until I found myself typing the last line, and laughing.
 
     I hope you enjoyed it. If you did, and got here from Facebook, pressing the “Share” button at the page bottom will let others know the story is here, and give them the chance to read it, as well.
     And if my little story pleased you, I’m glad. There are other stories posted, as well. You and others like you are the reason I write. If it did bring a moment of reading pleasure, take a moment to rate it. Feedback matters to me. And if you’re in the mood for something a bit longer. make a stop to look at my novels, and read the excerpts to see if they please, as well.
 
2 Comments

Posted by on March 26, 2014 in Short Story

 

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What’s in a Name? – The Grumpy Writing Coach

What’s in a Name? – The Grumpy Writing Coach

Part of a series of articles for the new writer
 
 
 

     The other day I reviewed a new writer’s story, all about a man named John. In the course of the first few pages John walked, John saw, John said, John thought… The list was endless and boring. By the end of the second page I wanted to throw John in the john. After three I had all I could stand.
     And people wonder why I’m so grumpy.
     Everyone knows that when we tell a story in first person we used the pronoun “I” to refer to the protagonist. No one has a problem with that. So, why is it that virtually no one understands that the third person equivalent to “I” is “he” or “she,” not John, Betty, Susan, or any other name? Turn to almost any new writer’s work, though, and you’ll find the character’s name sprinkled like salt in virtually every paragraph.
     Here’s the thing: we never think of ourselves by name unless we’re addressing ourselves from a third-party position—lecturing ourselves for some reason. What that means is that every time you, as a writer, use the character’s name in describing their action, that’s a-point-of-view-break. Yes, there are times when it’s necessary to use the name because a reader might become confused over who you’re talking about. But those times are few. And readers won’t forget your character’s name if you don’t use it ten times a page. They really won’t.
     And here’s another thing that needs to be taken into account. If we more often use the other character’s names, while sticking to he or she for the protagonist, that makes the protagonist unique.
     Sure we want to use the protagonist’s name, initially, to introduce them. We also want to use the character’s name at the beginning of scenes or chapters so the reader knows who were talking about. We want to use it in dialogue, where the speaker is placing an emotional emphasis by referring to the character by name. But that’s it. Almost anything else is a POV break, and has the risk of distancing the reader from the action that’s taking place. Make sense? I hope so.
     In addition to that problem there’s the use of the possessive, his or her. That too, is often overused, because the reader already knows who the text is referring to. And when we use the possessive we often add verbosity, along with it, that slows the narrative.
     Look at a few examples:
     “As she hoped, her vision was unchanged.” Is that “her” required? Could we not just as easily say “As she hoped, vision was unchanged.” ? After all, who else’s vision could we be talking about, if the character is alone, or if we already know who’s being referred to?
     And with the line, “She moved her hands to cover her eyes with fingertips” wouldn’t it be smoother to say, “She covered her eyes with fingertips?” Of course. Yet virtually every manuscript I look at is filled with unneeded detail, linked to the possessive, like that.
     Small things kill a reader’s enjoyment, each driving in a tiny splinter of annoyance: Unnecessary references; excessive use of the protagonist’s name; unnecessary description. Each is a minor distraction, but such distractions are additive. So anything you can do to remove the unnecessary and distracting words will both speed the narrative and render the author invisible—placing us in the prompter’s box rather than on stage. And isn’t that were we belong?

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Author’s note:
     These articles are not presented with a, “Do this and you’ll be a published author,” attitude. Anyone who tells you they can provide success via a few words on a blog page is scamming you. Instead, they’re one writer’s view of the ideas put forth by the writing teachers I admire and respect. I’ve done the series as part of what’s sometimes called a Benjamin Franklin debt. If some of what I say seems to make sense, I urge you to seek the teachers themselves, people like Dwight Swain, Debra Dixon, and a host of others, and read their advice directly.
 

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Naked Bitch


Oh naked bitch with whip and chain
You flay my soul, you burn my brain
You give me hate, and only pain
(Yet here I am with you again)
 
Oh naked bitch with eyes of flame
It’s not for me your heart to tame
To you it’s all a boring game
(I cannot seize your secret name)
 
Oh naked bitch when will it end?
My dreams you break, my soul you rend
In hell with you, my time I spend
(It’s me who’ll break, you’ll never bend)
 
Oh naked bitch with hip and thigh
Oh hear my prayer, and heed my cry
You bind my soul, my life you tie
(Please stop the hurt, and let me die)
 
Oh naked bitch, my life you crush
My dreams all torn, their contents gush
And yet to you again I rush
(And when I cry, you tell me hush)
 
Oh naked bitch, I made you so
With deed and word, and even blow
The things I did you’ll never know
(Oh naked bitch I love you so)
 
Oh naked bitch who I adore
Though thousands lay upon the floor
We run to you and ask for more
Oh naked bitch
Your name is War
 
*****

This poem came to me for unknown reasons, and is one of the darker things I’ve written, though one of my favorites. I truly didn’t know where I was going with it, until the last stanza, when I found I wasn’t writing about a woman, after all.

And, like most people who foist their poetry off on others, I have other bad habits. Thankfully, those I do in private.

 
3 Comments

Posted by on July 2, 2013 in Poetry

 

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The Church of the Really Nice Try

The Church of the Really Nice Try

 
 
 

THE CREED OF THE
CHURCH OF THE REALLY NICE TRY

 

     The beliefs of the Church Of The Really Nice Try are firmly based on scripture, and are ever mindful of both the staggering complexities of the act of creation, and of the limitations of the creator—as defined through the word of that creator, The Holy Bible.
     To understand the beliefs of the Triers, as those of the church prefer to be called, you must go back to the very roots of all belief, the first chapter of the bible, and you must stand in judgment as a parable is told:
     There was once a great engineer, who began a project that pleased him mightily. He desired to create a habitat for himself: a house of many rooms.
     For long, he labored, executing each detail of the plan exactly according to his will, until at last the habitat was finished. And he was pleased with the work he had done.
     But as time passed, the engineer became dissatisfied. He’d not made the habitat fully self-sustaining, and if it was to remain in the state he desired he must either maintain it himself or create a device to do the job for him.
     Being efficient, and enjoying the challenge of creating something never before seen, the engineer built a device containing self-willed intelligence, plus the ability to modify its own program, as needed. He activated the device and saw that it was exactly as he had envisioned. And he was happy.
     But the device proved not quite adequate to the task, and required excessive attention. The engineer determined that there were some tasks that his creation could’t handle by itself, and there was no way for it to perform a valid self-check on its programming modifications without the attention of its creator.
     So the engineer produced a second device, to complement the first, and to interface with it in such a way that continued production of these care-taking devices would be both automatic and self-sustaining.
     But the new device began to produce feedback of an unexpected type, and to access unauthorized data sources, until the original functionality was all but lost. The engineer was very angry, and he cast the pair of creations from his house, into an environment that would bring them constant distress, pronouncing them useless and disobedient

° ° °

     Now, as a judge of the situation described you must ask yourself: who is at fault? Was it the creator, or was it the creation? Was the engineer justified in not only discarding his creations, but forcing them into an existence that he, himself, thought brutal and harsh? Or should he have changed the programming and functionality of the device to fit it more smoothly into his plan?
     The answer is obvious, God screwed up! But that conclusion is inherent in the very statement that God created mankind in-his-own-image. Like us, he’s fallible, subject to temper tantrums, and all of the rest of the characteristics that make the human race what it is.

° ° °

     Of course you must be demanding further proof of the fallibility of the Lord. That is the human and reasonable thing to do. So, though this is a rather abbreviated version of the creed of the church, let’s explore the matter further:
     Almost immediately after the description of creation there is a short chapter detailing the liaisons of certain occupants of the lord’s heavenly domain with the women of the Earth—often against their will—liaisons which produced children as a result. This chapter clearly shows that God has difficulty controlling, and even knowing about the actions of his underlings—scarcely the actions of an omniscient and omnipotent being.
     Directly following the described difficulty with his underlings, God looks out upon a world populated with the sons and daughters of his creatures, and he sees naught but chaos and evil. He becomes justifiably angry at the depravity and licentiousness of his creations, and states that he regrets having created mankind. Obviously, the idea that he knows all that will happen is flawed. He vows to correct the situation by putting all life on Earth to death by drowning, save for a favored few. The implication is that this single family will procreate, following the flood, and fill the world with decent human beings.
     The creator then causes Noah, the chosen one, to build a vessel with which to survive the coming flood. It is vitally important to note, at this point, that God planned to change the basic nature of mankind, in one single generation, without intervention on his part other than an act of genocide, directed against the rest of the planet’s population—good and bad—which is a bit of a setback for the concept of a merciful deity. Moreover, he chose the new breeding stock, not by characteristics passed on via genetic means, but by those qualifications that are a result of social and educational background. In other words, the plan was doomed from the start. In demonstration of that, shortly after the descendants of Noah repopulate the Earth, God is forced to destroy a city for precisely the reasons he destroyed the entire population of the planet. And though you and I can see the fallacy of God’s plan, God obviously could not—leading to the primary tenet of the church:

He Did The Job Without A Formal Education

 
      But who was there available to teach him? Who was there to suggest that he make changes in the human gene structure, rather than endlessly punish them for flaws he, himself, had inadvertently included within their basic mentality. Still, given the conditions he had work under, and the staggering magnitude of the task, we derive the second tenet of our church:

It Was A Really Nice Try!

 
     A really nice try. But the job was never finished, because of the nearly infinite complexities of the task, coupled with the limitations of the creator. Look around you. Is this what God had in mind for the human race and the planet? Of course not. Over and over, in the text of the bible, he tells us what he wants, and over and over he fails to deliver the message in a form suited to move humanity toward his goal, leading to both the third and fourth tenets of the church.

He’s Not A Good Talker
He Doesn’t Really Understand Us

 
     Like any engineer, he’s far better with things than with communications and relationships. After all, who does he have to discuss the issues with in order to gain experience and skill? No one. So it falls on us, the members of his church, to continue the task of building—which leads to the fifth, and most important tenant of the church.

It’s Time To Take Over The Job

 
     It’s time for you and I to realize that the task is incomplete, and that it’s been left to us to finish the work. Creation is over. The tasks that only a divine being could manage have been finished. Now the human part of the job must begin. Perhaps the task is too small in detail for his abilities, perhaps he’s simply given up. Whatever the reason, God cannot tell us how to live together, so it falls on us to solve that problem. We must manage the resources of a world, and must find ways of living together without constant warfare. We must make him proud of his creations, and justify his creation of the universe. This then, is the ongoing task of the Church Of The Really Nice Try.
     There are those who claim a direct contact with the lord, and a channeling of his power. But good people die while bad ones are miraculously healed, and the Lord allows millions to be murdered in the name of an ideology. More telling than that, he allows millions to die, sacrificed to his name. Which leads to the sixth, and final, major tenet of our church

Don’t Expect Miracles

 
     Certainly, one should hope for divine help, and certainly one should praise the Lord for having created the magnificence of the universe, but The Church Of The Really Nice Try is for work, not worship. It is for thinking, not blindly following, and it is for the greatest work a human being can do: The work of God.
     Visit your neighborhood Temple Of Brotherhood In The Faith Of The Really Nice Try. Or visit our webpage at:

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Author’s note:
 
     I began this in the spirit of fun, highlighting some of the inconsistencies of the Bible. My goal was to infuriate those people who have word “holy” appear on their forehead, while their reasoning powers diminish to zero, when religion is mentioned.
     But as I wrote this, a strange thing began to happen: I began to wish there were such a church, one focused on finding ways to get along, rather than punishing all who disagree with whatever ideology the group embraces.
     And that’s how I became founder, patriarch, and bake sale chairman of The Church of the Really Nice Try.
     At the moment I’m also the only member, true, but I get to wear some really cool purple robes and carry a staff. I get some funny looks, of course, but women really go for a man in purple robes.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
     I hope you enjoyed my little fantasy. If you did, and got here from Facebook, pressing the “Share” button at the page bottom will let others know the piece is here, and give them the chance to read it, as well. And if you hate me for writing it, push share, so more and more people can hate me as you do. Win/win ;–)
And if, perchance, my efforts pleased you, I’m glad. There are other stories posted, as well. You and others like you are the reason I write. And if it did bring a moment of reading pleasure, take a moment to rate it. Feedback matters to me.
     If you’re in the mood for something a bit longer, make a stop to look at my novels, and read the excerpts to see if they please, as well.

 
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Posted by on January 1, 2013 in Random Thoughts and Grumblings

 

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Let There Be, uhh… Light

Let There Be, uhh… Light
 
 
Stray thoughts come. And as always, are going to get me into trouble.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – –
 
So all this talk about God liking or not liking gay marriage got me thinking on a simple question: why does anyone, today, buy into religion? Understand it, yes. Enjoy it as a social thing, of course. But believe without question? I certainly can’t explain it.
 
To start out with, we’re asked to accept as literal and unassailable truth a story that not only can’t be proven; it can be refuted on virtually every page by a reasonably knowledgeable ten year old.
 
Open to the first page of the Bible and what do we find? Right after zapping the universe into existence God creates light.
 
Light? God certainly doesn’t need any. According to dogma he’s been around forever, and only created the known universe on a whim a bit less than six thousand years ago. Obviously, he doesn’t need light. And the fact that he doesn’t while we do, kind of undermines the “created in his image,” idea.
 
Strangely, when light was created there was nowhere to watch from, and nothing to see. So why bother? Why not have light appear along with the sun and stars? That is where the light comes from, after all.
 
No one ever seems to ask about this point. Though the fact that the church used to burn people at the stake for asking inconvenient questions, and still discourages that kind of thought, might explain. Still, you’d think God would want at least the basic science right, like creating the sun, then setting the planets spinning around it. I sometimes wonder what he would say if he read the things they they report him doing.
 
Still…
 
On the surface, light appearing before the sun comes into being seems a crazy idea. But only today. In past times, it not only made perfect sense, it fit the evidence, perfectly:
 
Assume for a minute that you’re someone who’s intelligent, but at the same time, ignorant of such things as diffraction, reflection, diffusion, and optics. In other words an educated and thoughtful person, living several thousand years ago. And as someone living in biblical times, you know with certainty that the Earth is flat. After all, if the world is round people would fall off. Any idiot can look at a steep hillside and see that.
 
So, our scientist storyteller is getting ready to tell his audience how the world and everything in it came to be. He’s fact-checking his story.
 
With that in mind let’s look at the evidence this early writer has, and apply both his intelligence and his knowledge to the world at large so he can write his story.
 
We know light travels in a straight line. We prove that easily enough by holding out a stick on a cloud free day. It casts a shadow exactly the size of the stick, something easily measurable. Raise the stick as high as you care to and the shadow cast by the sun remains the same size. The shadow of a building is neither narrower nor wider from bottom to top Conclusion: light travels in a straight line. And that also holds true if tested with a candle or a campfire. In fact, when tested with a candle as the only source of light, anything in the shadow of whatever is blocking the light is in pitch darkness. That’s an important point, too, because it has direct application in the next point.
 
In daylight, though, the darkness of the shadow isn’t absolute. Obviously, light is coming from all over the sky, not then just the sun. Inescapable conclusion: the sun is not the only source of daylight. And were it removed we would still have day and night.
 
Doubt that? Let’s go further and select a building with a window on the side opposite the sun. If you place an object in the light from that window the shadow, which obviously cannot be coming from the sun’s light, will narrow with distance from the object. Again, obvious to that ancient scholar: there are many sources for that light through the window, none of them sunlight. And since it’s obviously impossible to have light without a source, the fact that the light exists, in and of itself, proves that God exists and wants it to happen. We know better today, of course, we with our science and our instruments.
 
But people living in biblical times? They had a graphic demonstration of God’s amazing power every-single-day.
 
So certainly God would create that light first. In fact, by the text, he created light, then day and night, both brought into being before he made the sun.
 
So biblical storytelling makes perfect sense if you apply intelligence, coupled with a lack of any scientific knowledge, to the problem. And once it’s written, accepted, and the words are declared holy, who dares question? Only fools like me.
 
Who wrote that particular story? It can’t be God because whoever it was began to get their facts wrong at the top of the very first page. God’s version would be factual, and have the sun, not the earth, at the center of the solar system. After all, God wouldn’t lie. Would he?
 
No one ever asks who was there, taking notes on the day light was being created, either. The tale is written From the point of view of someone relating a memory—but who, in reality, is speculating based on an incomplete understanding of available data.
 
No one ever asks why, if the creation story is true, the light of stars residing millions of light years away from our little planet has already reached us, without the necessity of traveling for millions of years to get here.
 
The Bible is littered with such things. Yet strangely, millions of intelligent people, who could, and should see the obvious, read the opening of the Bible and say, “Yup. That’s exactly how it happened. It says so right there in my Bible.”
 
As you read this, science is driving a vehicle on the sands of Mars, taking pictures and firing lasers at rocks. Science has sent exploring ships to the planets, and beyond even the boundaries of our small family of planets. Science kept my wife and son alive after they contracted cancer. It makes possible such things as you reading this at the touch of a key, and the magic box in your kitchen that provides eternal winter inside its door.
 
Religion? They’re busy arguing over who can have sex with whom, and why they get to dictate.
 
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Posted by on September 12, 2012 in Random Thoughts and Grumblings

 

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Linda

Linda

 
 

     Linda sat, hunched forward in the rocker chewing her lip and ignoring the pain that came with each breath, as she studied the man on the bed.
     Lying face down, where he had thrown himself, Jack sprawled across the bed in a stupor brought on by a night of drink and the effort of beating her. She could probably undress him, but that might wake him and bring a renewal of the anger. In the morning, sober again, he would be apologetic—a model husband—but not now.
     Killing him would easy and satisfying, and she thought about that for a long time. The pleasure those thoughts generated were a bulwark against the pain. But she finally decided against it. If she wasn’t able to do it quickly enough, and if he got his hands on her…
     Hands clenched in her lap, she mouthed the words she didn’t dare speak—the feelings she could never express aloud.
     She for a time on why she’d said yes to him as a second husband—the second man to treat her as an object on which to vent rage. Stupid? Yes. But at the time a necessary decision, or seemed so.
     But it had led to this, so he would be the last. That was certain, because no man would ever raise a hand to her again.
     How stupid she had been, but how lucky she’d thought herself, at seventeen, in finding Opie, her knight in uniform, who provided a way out of the battle-torn shack her parents called home.
     Opie, with his marine swagger and imperious manner had the worldliness of someone who had traveled beyond the county of his birth. He seemed her great hope of escape. But it was an escape to something worse than her home: a marriage that lasted only seven months, all of it downhill, leaving her alone, frightened, bruised—and with only pennies in her jeans—limping along a rural highway in Mississippi.
     This second marriage lasted a year. There would be no other.
     With a sigh, she leaned back into the old rocker, wincing at a twinge of pain from a new bruise. Like the other beatings, this one had its beginnings in events over which she had no control.
 

*

     Jack came onto the porch, the hesitation in his step announcing that he was already drunk. She gave thought to hiding in the shed until he slept it off. But he was already reaching for the door. And, drunk or sober he had been fairly well behaved since the last time, nearly a month before. And the one time she had hidden, he accused her of being unfaithful—of being out of the house with another man—and had whipped her with his belt until she had prayed to die.
     Jack, angry and sober, was a far worse thing than when he was under the influence of a few beers. She thought then about leaving, had even begun packing, but in the end, returned everything to its place before he could notice. Without money or skills, and with Jack’s promise to track her down and kill her if she left, options were terribly limited.
     Instead of hiding, this night, she smiled when he came into the living room.
     “Hi, honey,” she forced herself to say. “How was your day?”
     He was five hours late for dinner, now long cold in the refrigerator.
     He growled something unintelligible and sank into the easy chair, blowing out a cloud of beery breath and scratching his stomach. Seeing the condition he was in, she sincerely hoped he was not in the mood for sex. After a few beers, he lost what little consideration he normally had for her pleasure, using her as he might a druken slut, rather than a beloved wife. Sometimes, she wondered if he actually knew the meaning of the word love. Sober, he was a passable, if unimaginative lover, but drunk, he was an unfeeling brute, demanding things of her as he might a prostitute.
     She studied him, seeking some clue as to what kind of mood he was in, so she could adapt herself to it and get through the night.
     He muttered again. Missing his words a second time, she said, “What was that, Jack, honey? I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you.”
     He swiveled his head toward her, mouth turned down in disgust. “I said, I lost the fucking job, you deaf bitch! I lost the fucking job.”
     Oh shit. She clamped hard on the urge to run for the door. That would be suicide. Running triggered his hunting instincts, and he was sitting between her and the door.
     The problem wasn’t the loss of the job. Jack could always find another. He was a good mechanic—could be a better one if not for the drinking. The fear was for what that loss might mean for her.
     Forcing the chair around with a shriek of complaining wood, he pointed a grease-stained finger at her.
     “Let me tell you, something, baby. That Jew bastard Koch—the fucker who owns the God damned agency—he wouldn’t know a good mechanic from a dumb nigger, but he’s gonna pay for this. I’ll tell you that. He’s gonna pay real good!”
     “What will you do, Jack?” Her voice was a tiny thing, mouse-like, and inoffensive, she hoped.
     He stared at her for a long moment, then mimicked her voice, bringing his own to a nerve-jangling falsetto screech she despised.
     “What will you do, Jack? What will you do, Jack? What the hell do you think I’m going to do? I’m going to kill that bastard. That’s what I’m going to do.”
     The shock must have shown on her face, because he abruptly stood, overbalancing and stumbling against the footstool, which he kicked out of the way with a crash.
     “Don’t you fucking look at me that way, you bitch! The whole thing’s your fault anyway.”
     Wise enough to keep her mouth shut, she said nothing, simply poised herself to flee, if necessary. With a growl, he waved a backhanded blow at her, mumbling, “Pow! I ought to do a job on you, but you’re too fucking dumb to change.”
     With that, he stumbled into the darkened bedroom, accompanied by her sigh of relief.
     Unfortunately, he was only passing through it, making a toilet call. He returned to the living room far too soon, then headed for the kitchen, where he opened the refrigerator, bracing himself against the door as he scanned the inside.
     She got to her feet and began easing toward the front door, but before she could get more than a few steps in that direction, the door of the old refrigerator slammed shut, accompanied by the crash of jars spilling from the door compartments.
     “There’s no beer, you stupid bitch. I told you to buy some beer!”
     She thought of telling him the truth, that he hadn’t remembered to give her money for the beer, but that would only make him angrier.
     “I’ll go now, Jack,” she said, hurriedly. “I’ll run down to the store right—”
     Any further words she might have said were stilled as his hand clamped on her windpipe, lifting her almost off her feet. The rest was a blur of pain and fear as he vented his rage on her, the cruel blows raining on her body like some demented parody of a boxing match. Only the fact that he would begin kicking her, should she fall to the floor, kept her on her feet, saying “please,” over and over in a litany of fear. When he threw her to the bed and began to tear at her clothing, it was a relief.
 

*

     The beating hadn’t lasted long, nor was it as bad as some, but it finally broke something inside her—a dam of pent-up anger and self-lothing that had been filling for years. First had been the endless years of vicious warfare between her parents, with their insane and unpredictable alterations between passion and hate—with her used as both a weapon and target. Then, there was the stupidity of her first marriage, and the death of her dreams of romance and escape. Now, there was Jack.
     As she sat watching her husband—hating him with every fiber of her being—she wondered how she could ever have put up with him. Certainly he was the one who took her in when Opie pushed her out of the car and drove off, though she had paid for that with the only coin she possessed—her body. Certainly, when he wasn’t drunk, he was a decent enough person.
     He was even handsome, when his face wasn’t flushed with anger. But at best, he treated her as though she was an appliance rather than a person, as though wives were bought at the discount store and had only specified and well defined functions: keep house, tend the small crop fields for him, wash his clothes, satisfy his sexual needs, and absorb his rage when necessary. It was assumed that any needs she had would be taken care of without his help. That he neither loved nor respected her was all too obvious.
     
     Reaching a decision, she stood and limped her way to the closet, where her battered old suitcase was stored, tucked behind a carton; hidden against her need. He had thrown it away, snarlingly informing her that she would never leave unless he ordered her out. But she retrieved it, carefully wiping away the mud stains before hiding it, while he was out of the house.
     Clearing the top of the dresser she opened the case, leaning the top against the mirror to hide her battered face from view. She began to pack, moving quietly enough not to disturb him, taking only what she could pack into that small case. Anything else might take too much time.
     Finally, finished, she moved to the bed and began the most difficult part: getting to his wallet. Lost job or not, this was payday, and he would have two weeks pay in his pocket, maybe even something extra as severance pay. He had been with the agency for seven months.
     Her own money, saved penny-by-penny from the household money, amounted to less than fifty dollars, and would take her no further than the next man like Jack. There would be no more like him, and for that more than just a few dollars were needed.
     Jack grumbled under his breath as she got into the bed, then settled down to snoring as she leaned against him, as though cuddling in her sleep. He never stirred as she removed the wallet.
     Nine-hundred dollars! There were nine one-hundred dollar bills in the wallet. And there were smaller bills, too. She didn’t take the time for an exact count, but there was enough to get her out of the county, even the state. Enough, perhaps, for a new start.
 
     Slinging her bag over her shoulder and picking up the suitcase, she cast a longing glance at the old sewing machine in the corner. Through the bad times it had been her companion and her solace. Leaving it was like leaving a dear friend. Everything in her wardrobe had been made on that machine, carefully copied from the dresses worn by models in the newspaper and in the magazines she took from trash cans. Jack had not let her even buy patterns, grumbling over the expense of the cloth she used.
     Unable to simply pass by, she bent her footsteps toward the old machine, stopping to run her hand over its smooth curves, stroking the cool metal of the drive wheel and thinking about how well it would do to sew a shroud for her husband.
     About to leave at last, she turned her head for a last look at his sleeping form, then stopped, her fingernails tapping on the metal of the machine—wondering. She stood that way for a long time, then picked up the suitcase and headed for the front door.
 
     The night air was soft and filled with the growing smells of springtime, symbolizing, for her, a new beginning, one that would take her from this place, and this life. Never again would she submit. Never again would she permit a man to dominate her life. A line had been crossed, and there would be no going back. The flame of anger had been hard to ignite. Life before this had seen to that, but now it burned with a clear and steady glow, as she loaded her suitcase into the rear seat of the car. She placed her worn old shoulder bag on the front passenger seat, then slipped the keys into the ignition, where they would be ready. Sliding out of the car, she closed the door far enough to extinguish the overhead light and kill the warning tones, but left it unlatched, in case she might have to get into the car on a run. Finally, she headed back to the house.
 
     First, she bathed herself, flinching at the new bruises and scowling in disgust at the yellowed remains of the older ones. Then, she dressed herself in the best of the clothing remaining in her closet. Finally, she headed toward her sewing box for needle and thread.
     There was anger in her hands as she sewed, and anger in the teeth that bit off the ends of the thread she sewed with. It was not the kind of anger that Jack knew. His was unreasoning rage, destructive and wild. Hers was cold and controlled, serving her purpose. Moments after she started, her lips turned up in a grim little smile at the realization that there was little chance of him stopping her, even should he wake. Insuring that, the first thing she did was to sew the legs of his pants together at the bottom, then, after rolling his inert form onto his back, she sewed his sleeves to his shirt front, using heavy duty button thread. Even should he wake, and somehow manage to get free, doing so would take time. She knew she could beat him to the car, if it came to that, and knew, too, that the car would come to life at the first touch of the starter. To Jack that was a mark of professional pride, and would work in her favor.
 
But there was no need to run. He never woke. From either side of the bed she pulled the sheets free from the mattress and tossed them atop his body. Those, she joined to form a narrow tube which she converted to a form fitting suit by sewing them to his sleeves and pants, taking care not to stick him with the needle and wake him. It took several hours to complete the job, but when she finally finished, he was sealed inside a body-sack that bound his arms and legs far more securely than had she tied him. The sack she sewed to the mattress
     By then, she was humming to herself, not caring if he woke. Finally finished, she had only to go over the hurried work she had done in the beginning, reinforcing it until she was satisfied that there would no easy escape. He could probably work his way out, but that would take hours.
     He was awake when she cut the final thread, blinking his bloodshot eyes in the harsh morning light, his face filled with confusion. It was then that she sat back to admire her work, ignoring his angry questions. With a nod of satisfaction she stood, and then went looking for his baseball bat.
 
     Linda was humming to herself as she drove away, glad that she had taken the time to kiss him goodbye, even if he hadn’t noticed. It was, she decided, the start of a beautiful day.

     

Fin

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Author’s note:
 
     This piece began as a dramitization of an actual event, given me by the woman who claimed to have done it. She claims she got the idea from a story about Willie Nelson. Was it true? I have no idea, and the woman no longer lives where I can ask. But the story seemed to work, and because I was curious about what happened to Linda after that morning, I began the novel that followed her life after that traumatic night. It’s about one third finished, and one of these days I will get around to completing it.
 
     I hope you enjoyed it. If you did, and got here from Facebook, pressing the “Share” button at the page bottom will let others know the story is here, and give them the chance to read it, as well.
     
     And if my little story pleased you, I’m glad. There are other stories posted, as well. You and others like you are the reason I write. If it did bring a moment of reading pleasure, take a moment to rate it. Feedback matters to me. And if you’re in the mood for something a bit longer. make a stop to look at my novels, and read the excerpts to see if they please, as well.

 
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Posted by on August 30, 2012 in Short Story

 

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