83.7 Percent

“Well, that’s most of them.”

“How is that most of them?  There are still a bunch of boxes on the truck.”

“Yeah, but this is more than half of them.”

“Most isn’t just more than half.”

“Yes it is.  What do you think it is?”

“It’s…  I don’t know…  Most.  Like, nearly all?  Certainly more than just more than half.”

“So is 60 percent most?”

“No.”

“70 percent?”

“Look, I don’t know.  75 percent maybe?  Or 90 percent?  It’s not a hard and fast number.  I just know that it’s more than 51 percent.”

“You’re crazy.”

“No I’m not.  Ask anybody.  They’ll tell you that most is more than just 51 percent.”

“Talked to everyone, have you?”

“Of course not; it’s just common knowledge.”

“How is it common knowledge if I don’t know it?”

“Well, maybe you just missed that day in school.”

“I repeat, you’re crazy.”

“Well, then, if most of the boxes have already been moved, you shouldn’t mind getting the rest yourself.”

“Ha, ha.  Nice try.  Let’s get back to it.”

“That’s what I thought.”

Summertime

The sun hung high overhead in an otherwise empty sky.  The air was still and heavy with heat.  He made his way down the street looking for some sort of reprieve, but there were no trees and no obviously open businesses in which he might seek shelter.  The sun seemed determined to melt him.  As the sweat dripped down his back and off his forehead, he became convinced it would succeed.

A single car drove past him, kicking up dust and making it even harder to breathe.  He hated the world at that moment.  There was nothing about it that was good.  Nothing he could think of, anyway.  Something cool, something wet.  He didn’t want much.  Just something that could break up the oppressiveness of the day.

Despite his willing it, no cloud appeared that might produce rain, or even hide the sun for a few moments.  All he could do was keep walking and hope he might come across something to provide some relief.  Above him, the sun continued to beat down, refusing to show even the slightest mercy.

To Necessity, the Mother of Invention

For much of my life, I’ve had insomnia.  My mind races with ideas.  It isn’t anxiety, not always.  Just ideas going through it and distracting me from sleep.  Perhaps it’s that I’m really a night person.  When I’ve had the chance to work night shift, it seems to suit me.  Whatever the case, since I was a teenager, I’ve always had trouble falling asleep at night.  Often, to try to quiet my mind, I’d tell myself stories.  It’s something I’ve done for almost as long as I can remember.

These stories were often indistinct, the inventions of a mind too tired to be awake and too restless to sleep.  One character regularly figured into the stories early on.  His name was Jack.  A roguish sort, heart of gold, rescuer of children.  Mainly, he was the guy who kept me safe from all of the terrible things in my mind at night.  Jack would be distilled and morphed into different characters in later stories I would write, but he started as my shield against insomnia.

I mention any of this only because there is another common feature to many of those stories.  They often began with the phrase “I need you to do something.”  The words were often spoken by an older man, white hair, long grey beard.  The “something” was never described.  It appeared in my mind like a prelude before jumping right into the action.  The “something” would be revealed as the story unfolded.  It was my version of “Your mission, should you choose to accept it…”  The phrase set the stage, and I could relax into the story, eventually falling asleep.

As anyone who has ever kept a pen and notebook by their bedside could tell you, if you don’t write down your ideas when they happen, they get lost easily.  Probably none of those stories were wroth writing down.  But as I sat here, trying to write a story beginning with “I need you to do something,” I found myself wishing I could recall them.

Pen and Paper

A couple of decades ago, I tried to write on my computer.  For some things, I still do.  Writing emails or academic papers seems to go just fine on a keyboard.  But for prose, fiction, and journaling, I never got fully comfortable with the computer.  Even after writing my first novel on a computer, I found myself going back to pen and paper.

Mind you, this is a completely personal preference.  I do not think one way is inherently better than another.  It’s just that I started writing long before I got a computer, and pen and paper are the means I used.

It probably helps that I love office supplies.  Even as a kid, I enjoyed those stores as much as toy stores.  My dad and grandpa worked out of my grandparents’ house, and the basement always had pens, pencils, note pads, file folders, and so on.  I never wanted for the tools of writing.

Over the years, I have had different favorite pens and different preferred notebooks (composition notebooks, anyone?).  Generally, these have been inexpensive, though I admit that my current favorite notebooks fall on the pricier side.  (I still use inexpensive legal pads for a lot of my writing, however.)

The other day, we were walking by an art supply shop.  On the door was an advertisement for a limited edition Cross pen, Star Wars themed.  I’ve only ever had one Cross pen in my life, an engraved one given to me by my sister.  Normally, I wouldn’t consider such an item, but I thought I might splurge.

While looking over pens, I asked about fountain pens.  I’ve never used one before, but I was curious.  Now I have three bottles of ink, which together cost more than the pen I bought, and I can safely say I have a new favorite pen; my most expensive favorite yet.  It is easily the most fun.  And luckily, the ink washes off of my skin very easily.

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My Rules for Writing*

  1. No 2-dimensional, cartoon villains.  (Think the Emperor from Star Wars.)  These aren’t real people.  People have motivations.  People are complicated.  Villains should be people.
  2. All narrators are unreliable.  Even without dishonesty, events will look different from different perspectives.
  3. Don’t be afraid of the supernatural.  Use it to tell stories.
  4. Don’t overuse it, either.  It will get stale and lose its capacity to inspire wonder and instill fear.
  5. The world doesn’t make sense.  Not everything gets explained or tied up in a neat little package.
  6. Alienation.  People don’t completely understand one another.
  7. Listen to your characters.  These are their stories.
  8. There is no such thing as fate.  The good guys can lose.
  9. Really examine your characters’ plans; look for loopholes and flaws.  Either plug them or explain why they don’t matter.
  10. In the service of the story, all of these rules can be broken.

 

* These rules are merely descriptive, not prescriptive.  Other people should follow their own style.

Eulogy

“Friends, Romans, countrymen…”

“Not likely to be too many Romans there.  I think they all died off centuries ago.  Some Italians maybe.  But not Romans.”

“Fine!  It was for dramatic effect.  Set the tone, you know?  Shall I change it to ‘Americans’?”

“That would be more appropriate, I think.  Still, don’t you find it redundant?”

“How so?”

“Well, you’re an American.  Your countrymen are American.  So it seems to just repeat the address.  Besides, it’s also rather exclusionary.  Aren’t you going to speak to the women in the audience?”

“Maybe I should begin, ‘My fellow Americans’?”

“You’re not the president.”

“Argh.  Alright.  Stop it.  Can I continue?”

“By all means.”

“Thank you.  Ahem.  I come to bury America, not to praise her.”

“More jokes?  You’re still on Shakespeare?  I don’t mean to tell you how to do this…”

“Like hell you don’t.”

“… but one line is pushing it.  Two is practically plagiarism.  Do you really think people want to hear Mark Antony’s bit that much?  Say what you’re trying to say.  Let the cute stuff go.”

“I was trying to signal the irony from his monologue.”

“They should be able to figure it out if you’ve done it right.”

“Okay, okay…  We have been told America will become amazing once more.  And since an honest man has been elected to the highest office, we can be sure it’s true.  But before the new age dawns, the one that is so new it will be old, let us take a few moments to reflect on what we have left behind.  In the past few years, the country has seen several changes.  The expansion of insurance coverage to many millions of people was one of the biggest.  Unfortunately, the government’s actions forced insurance companies, which have always fought to keep rates low, to raise prices for consumers.  The companies have bemoaned this state of affairs.  Now we can look forward to the companies being allowed to lower those prices again, making insurance affordable by allowing only some people to have it.”

“Ah.  Better.”

“Thank you.”

“Please continue.”

“Another change that we had suffered through was social in nature.  Women, minorities, members of the LGBTQ community had seen slow but perceptible improvements towards equal treatment.  This came at the expense of white males who had built this country through their own efforts without any help whatsoever.  These changes gave white males the barest of glimpse of how these disadvantaged groups had been treated for centuries.  That injustice threatened their feelings, and thus the very foundation of our once proud nation.  Now we can look forward to a return of the white male to his proper place.”

“Uhm…:”

“Too heavy handed?”

“Perhaps a bit.  Go on.”

“Finally, our formerly advanced country had begun making moves towards the technologies and realities of this new millennium.  The transition was difficult as manufacturing was being shipped overseas and the demand for old energy sources declined.  This slide stops now.  We will close our border to immigrants who have never contributed anything to our country.  Rather than prepare for the future, we need to move our own workers back to factories and mines.  This will help us in several ways.  We can take pride that we are making things.  Also we will help make Social Security and Medicare more financially stable, since life expectancy will lower with the accidents and illnesses that are rampant in mines.  The one way that we cannot go back, however, is with unions.  These are job-killing organizations.  If we let workers have rights, it is no wonder these companies feel forced to look elsewhere for labor.  The best strategy to get jobs back is to set up sweatshops with the same conditions and pay that we see in southeast Asia.  That will return our labor force to financial security.”

“Well, that was…  rather…”

“And so, we will soon usher in the end of the privileged political class, those people who serve in political office for years and develop expertise for the job.  We have ended corruption and returned power to wealthy private individuals whose only concern is that of the working class, with whom they have so much in common.  America as we knew her is gone.  May this new America, this return to the good old days of the 19th century, be everything we have hoped for.”

“Well, then…”

“So how was it?  Once you get past the opening bits you hated.”

“Maybe go back to those.”

“What?”

“Shakespeare had the nuance right.  A bit more subtle.”

Et tu?

“Funny.”

What If?

Something a little different to kick off 2017: some questions that plague me.

What if God created the world as an experiment, and it failed, but he didn’t have the heart to destroy it, so it sits forgotten in his closet?

What if reading was a sport more popular than football, baseball, or soccer?

What if no one ever lied?

What if everyone who had died could watch you whenever they wanted?

What if everyone in your life is merely playing a role they were hired to play?

What if we could fly as easily as we could walk?

What if we had never invented war?

What if we never died of old age but we also lost the ability to reproduce?

What if nothing you do matters?

What if everything you do matters?

What if The Lord of the Rings were a work of history rather than of fiction?

What if everyone could know what anyone else was thinking?

What if everyone looked the same and believed the same things?

What if you are merely a side character in someone else’s story?

What if animals could talk?

What if you are lucky at cards or love, but not both?

What if the world stopped spinning?

What if everything you do or say were reported in the media?

What if every year the slate was wiped clean, and we all got to start over?

What if right here, right now was all that there is?

What if everything you believe is wrong?