Friday, April 21, 2006

It's hard to copyright ideas because someone has always already thought of it first. Take the name of this space which was lifted from my never-written collection of short stories. I've always been a sarcastic little one; it's probably my most noted trademark. Being a mixed bag of introversion/extroversion and thinking that I know everything, yet having a healthy dose of humility thrown in from being knocked on my butt so many times, I do consider myself to be on the fringes of the mainstream. So having no idea that this species of fish already owned the rights to the name Sarcastic Fringehead, I thought that I would call my collection On Life as a Sarcastic Fringehead. I mean, that describes me exactly. Much to my surprise, the fish, who goes by the more intelligent-sounding Neoclinus blanchardi while chatting up white girls at cocktail parties, was there first. Well, too bad. I'm still using the name, and so is, it turns out, a band playing somewhere in New York that hasn't updated its Web site since December. The fish and the band and I shall meet in court soon enough if we can't all learn to share and get along. I had no idea that fish existed and I'd never read anything written by that fish before I thought up the name on my own. I'll testify to that.
Well, here it is. A fork in my road of procrastination. I read through each journal last night and confirmed that I don't have enough decent story frags to post in this space. I found rejection letters from university fiction journals taped to some pages, so there are works of mine that, by this time, have been recycled into those Earth-friendly gift bags at the dollar store. I don't even remember what those stories may have been. I ran across a few titles and I think I was handing out printed copies as gifts at some point like they were batches of chocolate chip cookies or something. Whatever they were, I no longer have written recordings of them. They no longer exist and that's probably a good thing because that brings me back into the present day.

Time to start working on Stillwater Crowe. Since I feel obligated to keep this promise to myself to write in this space daily, and I am out of ancient writings to post, it looks like I'd better get going on my current characters.

I have a bad habit of introducing characters and prematurely moving the plot along before developing any of them. Then, the story is over because whatever was in my head never actually made it on to the paper. Character and plot development, for me anyway, is a long process. My brain jumps back and forth and over and under and, combined with the kicker that it's hard for me to think anyone is actually interested in what I'm writing, I undermine the process by taking shortcuts. There's my confession. Now that I've admitted this, perhaps I'll commit to being patient and working daily even when I hit a rough spot.

Work with me, people.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

It is extremely difficult not to edit my 10-year-ago self as I'm typing these entries. I am now taking the step to censure myself as well. I think I have about five more handwritten pages of this story, but I don't like where it was going. Eric, the lead, turns out to be a very weak character. Normally, I wouldn't care. Some characters are weaker or stronger than others. They are very much like real-life people in that way. But as I was typing today, I remembered who was the basis of this character. As I'm rereading, my contempt is obvious for a person who I was calling my friend. That person and I went through some crazy shit together and somewhere in there, we lost all respect for each other. I'm just now realizing that the woman in the frag that Eric Ellisor hates more than any other person is me. So I'm not going to post the rest of the story. That would be very close to posting a dated page from my journal and, for everybody involved, it's best that I not come anywhere close to doing that. Dammit, where's my tequila? I know I have some around here somewhere...

Drunk and half-asleep, he called her. Six hours following his empty promise that he would. Her attitude was dry, his was irritated. Neither knew nor cared who hung up on whom. He stretched, naked, the length of the couch, disinterested, really, in the hand job he was treating himself to. Head back against the sofa’s woven fabric, eyes closed, eyelashes becoming damp with the first tears he’d allowed himself this hell of a day. He hated her with heat that would go unmatched by any love he’d had or would have once more in his life. In her ugly way, she demanded reason out of lunacy and cultivated only lunacy out of reason. Would it, she wanted to know, have been different if she’d told him first? Would it, he pedantically repeats to himself for the thousandth time, have been different if she’d told him first? Sighing, he rose from the couch [2006 edit: like a phoenix from the ashes of cliché] wiping away the water from his face and acknowledging that, no, it was improbable that things would have been entirely different. Back in the shower for the third, no, fourth time that day to wash Plymouth’s blood and burnt skin from beneath his fingernails, from his hair, off the layers of his own skin, he realized, simply, that he’d have wanted a choice in a situation where he had none.

He dressed slowly, pulling on wrinkled navy Chinos and a t-shirt. Before slipping on a pair of loafers, he pulled on a shirt—the last Christmas present he received from his sister Rachel. Two years ago, Rachel woke up for her calculus final with a crushing headache and died twelve hours later, her doctors having yet to explain how or why. Eric buttoned the shirt, ran a hand about the stubble of a beard and did not think of shaving. At Rachel’s funeral, the campus chapel pews filled with crying sorority sisters and stunned faculty, Eric thought for a moment he had spotted their father somewhere along a back wall. He blinked once, the man did not reappear. Eric sat alone in the front pew reserved for immediate family. Their mother had died two years before this—Rachel was all he had left. When his tears began, a friend of his sister filled a space beside him. He lay his head on her shoulder, she stroked the fine hair on the back of his neck until he thought it was there he could sleep.

Dressed now he was to go no one place. He stepped onto his front porch into the night air and walked, with no destination, for many blocks. Hadn’t been on a city bus since high school, but he came upon a bus stop and began to wait. He tried reading the posted schedule by street lamp then gave up once he saw he wasn’t wearing a watch.

He was embarrassed as he boarded that he had no idea what the fare might be and that he had only a ten dollar bill, a fifty and his American Express card. He folded his ten dollars and stuffed it into the fare box largely due to the glare from the bus-driving succubus, and took a seat near the rear.

Boy, the light was brilliant. Eric thought that, perhaps, in the understanding that free will hides from nothing, the city should not take so seriously its helpless noctuids, flawed by the company they were forced to keep: runaways, drug-pushing minutiae, heroin-addicted private school prom queens. He watched through the dirty glass the morphing of suburbia into urban blight as the bus began its circuitous tour of downtown. He felt hungry around Commerce and Temple. When the bus approached Commerce and Rome, he noticed an all-nite [2006 insert: dang, I had a hooked on phonics phase, too?] diner a block away, got off the bus and headed in its direction.

More gracious and polite was the lighting in the diner. It allowed Eric to choose his own mood instead of having one thrust upon him. Unlike the self-loathing he was forced to recognize on the bus as he saw himself mirrored in too many of the passengers, in the diner he felt sage and mellow.

He slid into a booth, surrounded now by blood-red vinyl, and ordered—all for $3.99—grits, two scrambled eggs, two pork chops, wheat toast slices and a pot of decaf. This from a pretty waitress-girl whose bountiful lips whispered a promise of good head. He walked by the jukebox on the way to the bathroom as Steely Dan yanked him back to his mother’s kitchen and into his favorite striped turtleneck and corduroy pants. He retook his seat to Prince and the Revolution, almost feeling the sting of the slap from his first college girlfriend as she accused him of a never-proven infidelity. Purple Rain is a hell of a long song, and his depression deepened as it played. His spirits lifted once those head-promising lips floated above his table. Her name tag proclaimed his server to be Ruby as she set his dinner before him. Humming to Karen Carpenter, Eric began to eat for the first time in more than 24 hours.

For those who must know, Eric ends up fucking Ruby the waitress, but only after he takes a cab home, picks up his Range Rover that ran the poor Plymouth off the road earlier in the story, and goes back to the diner to wait for Ruby's shift to end. For the record, hell, I might be the Ruby character as well. I seem to be all over this one.
Reading more of the dated entries surrounding this frag, I see now and can partially remember that I considered this to be my sell-out piece of work. My writing has always been a little on the underbelly. Shady, questionable characters doing shady and questionable things. I never think there is an exact right or exact wrong and I try not to speak in absolutes unless I'm being ironic. Headlights, though, appears to be my attempt to be normal and straightforward. Another phase, I guess. I'm releasing this one only as a reference. As a reminder that I should write what I feel, if it's a good piece, even if it doesn't reflect an accepted standard. Most writers, I think, know this intrinsically. Sometimes, we forget it when we are looking for extrinsic satisfaction. Then, our stuff sucks.

He was an impatient driver. Sixty when speed limited to forty; forty at twenty-five. Never a careless driver, his eyes were always moving, looking for the unexpected, expecting the improbable just within his periphery.

In front of him on a road posted at 45, a rusted, used-to-be-blue Plymouth is crawling. Crawling at no more, he would later guess, than ten freaking miles for the hour. It was a road deluged with twists and curves [2006 note: would I today think a road could be deluged with twists and curves? Probably not, but I’m resisting the urge to edit myself nine years later] but that was no excuse. A kindergartner could have maneuvered half the stretch at no less than 50. Crazily, the tires of the Plymouth became mired in some imagined mudhole, and the car began to decelerate. Two, three miles for the hour, is that possible? thought Eric as he reached with his left hand and flashed a fanatical six twin beams with his headlights. Trying to get this fucker to either speed up or move to the shoulder for what he assumed to be a much needed rest.

The Plymouth, in compliance, and in, perhaps, apology, rolled toward 40. Eric settled back into his seat, his agitation for the moment removed. Once the Plymouth began an estimated 65, Eric snorted, half in triumph, half in indignation. He’d done his part to improve the 6 a.m. traffic flow, but what was this fool trying to prove? The road was treacherous at most, challenging at the least anywhere near a speed over 60. He could think of no universal signal, as with the flashing headlights for Are you fucking crazy? [2006 note: reversed my earlier decision not to edit. What I had was way on the dweebie side. Couldn’t print it] He watched in disbelief as the Plymouth, badly calculating a curve, struck the guard rail on first the left side of the two-lane highway, then the right. Like a flying Tonka, it flipped over the right-side rail and landed somewhere between the dirt farm road below and the pasture of cattle beside it.

He was afraid he wouldn’t reach the burning car in time. He ran, others ran down that embankment. Some slid. Barely noticing anything else but the trapped driver, once he wrenched open the driver’s side door, he heard a woman trying to pinpoint on her cell phone the location of the accident to 911. By the time the fire trucks, ambulances and every other emergency vehicle arrived, the Plymouth driver had been carried a safe distance from the fire. By whom, Eric would not remember. Whether Plymouth was dead or alive, Eric would not know. Plymouth was being tended by all the other random Samaritans, and Eric was back home within the hour.

Eric Ellisor. I don't even know who this guy is. I opened one journal last night and this is the first thing I found written in it. My handwriting was extremely neat and there were no edits. This means that this version was probably version #106 or something like that. I can tell it was written during a time in my life when I thought every decision was a moral one that cemented my character. Thank God I grew up. These days, I make decisions all the time, sometimes major ones, just because I feel like it. No angst, no heavy thoughts, just life as it comes. Much easier, for me, that way.

I keep finding references on pages in other journals to "finishing it on the computer" or "printing it out at Mom's". Meaning: I've lost a lot of shit over the years. I don't have any printouts pasted in my journals (that I've found so far, anyway) and I definitely don't have any leftover 20th century floppy disks from which I couldn't even access the data today if I wanted to. This story survived, apparently, because it stayed hand written until its completion. And it's not even complete, quite contrary to what I was saying on the following pages about being so happy that I've finally finished something blah blah blah.

Read and see what I mean. Even when I think I'm finished, it's a frag. A long ass frag, but it's still only a beginning. One day, I'll see what else I can do with it.

I don't think the Rachel in this frag is the same Rachel from the Marshall Molester frag. I guess, for a few years, I liked the name Rachel for female plot devices who serve as the moral compass for their male relatives.

Since it's such a long frag, I think I'll divide it into manageable pieces. I also discovered it has a title: Headlights. Good Lord...

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Summer Love & Teasing Trees...sounds like two porn stars accepting their award for best money shot together. Now we all know why I should leave titles to the phantom editor.

This is the paragraph that accompanied the title. Alas, no porn, but I can't promise that some of my postings won't be X-rated. I went through an erotica phase for a while. I just haven't come across that particular journal, yet.

He no longer allows my kisses. Sweet, juicy kisses to those big beautiful lips of his that could almost border on obscene had they been shared at any other time than after an exceptionally well-read bedtime story in any other place besides just inside the guard rails of his miniature twin bed. Hugs that could break the necks of the less-in-love, whispered promises of his goodness that guided my dreams each night are no more. This is a phase, I hope, but one that I had not anticipated for another thirteen years, so I am not only hurt, but frightfully bewildered.

Now that I have my journals out of storage, I have discovered two things: I am a much better writer, thank God, than I was in 1993, and I do believe I only matured into an adult about five years ago. When I was in my twenties, unbeknownst to me (I have always loved that word unbeknownst), I was a child. I am positive that everybody around me knew it, though. They were certainly beknownst about it.

Just in case somewhere in a previous post I promised to post all my unfinished stories, let me amend. I will only post the ones that I can type without becoming physically ill. I don't know what I thought passed as description or imagery, but whatever it was now passes for raw sewage.

Here's a passable one, though. Not sure where I was going with it.

The blue of his favorite Kool-Aid sparkled in his glass, and he was reminded. Above the hum of the air-conditioner and tuneless whistle of the dying tea kettle, he told his wife Rachel of the cutie living along his route at 687 Rockway. Only a glimpse of her was he rewarded each day as he threw the news into their morning while she and her mother were swallowed by a champagne Mercedes. What a bright and blue pretty dress she had on today. She smiled and waved at him, and he nearly fell from his bike. He smiled and waved back, but the little girl was not similarly affected.

Rachel piled mashed potatoes on her husband’s plate and asked in bone-stiffening apprehension if he’d spoken with the child. She knew that the cutie at 687 Rockway was a child because she knew her husband. Broke through his detailed descriptions of the scar on the cutie’s left knee and the array of hair ribbons he’d witnessed that week with a more forceful inquiry:

You have not spoken with her, have you, Marshall?

Marshall answered that he had not and Rachel’s temporary relief allowed her continue serving her husband this meal.

As his bladder emptied later that night and as the most curious sounds of his stream meeting water pleased him tremendously, Marshall thought about the other one. The other cutie who was old enough—he’d asked her. Eighteen, so it was okay when he felt the smoothness of her soft white skin. It was okay when her nipples rose to meet his fingertips and when his fingertips dove to meet her elsewhere. Sandy was her name and she promised.

I went through my current journal last night so I could post yesterday's story fragment. I don't write daily in my journal. I write in it when I can locate it. I use only a Pilot Precise V5 rolling ball extra fine pen. Usually blue. Sometimes purple. Occasionally green. If I can't find a Pilot Precise V5 rolling ball extra fine pen, and I just have to write down what's in me, I'll use what I have, but I'll complain loudly in writing as I'm writing. Before I had a steady paycheck, I had to use any old pen because those V5s are relatively expensive. Not that they are $100 a pen or $100 a box or anything, but when you have no money, neither are they 300 for $3 Paper Mates.

I don't write daily in my journal, so one journal can contain entries for a year or more, depending on how active my writing phases are. The journals are a mix of story fragments and dated personal entries. I can tell the story fragments from the personal entries by the date in the upper right hand corner. Date: that's me talking. No date: it's a character.

It turns out I've been working on the posted story frag for over two years. Two years, four five paragraphs. It doesn't always take that long for me to get a story on paper, but my characters have a tendency to lead their own lives once I flesh them out enough. They start doing things I hadn't planned or outlined. They are living and sometimes they get away from me. About 13 years ago, one character died suddenly. I didn't mean for it to happen. It certainly was not part of the original outline. That morning I was writing him, by that night, he was dead, killed accidentally by his schizophrenic best friend. I didn't write for a year after that. Was I mourning the death of my character? Who knows? His name was Troy.

Stillwater Crowe is the first character introduced in the current frag, but the story actually focuses on Parker Gale who has yet to hit paper in any form. The other main characters are a guy who thinks he's Freddie Mercury and a guy named Tim Woodman. It's an adaptation of another story, so it's important that I stay fairly close to the original intent. That's what's taking me so long--disciplining myself to stick to the character and plot outlines. In four five paragraphs, I don't know if it's clear yet that Stillwater has no tangible memory. Maybe it comes and goes. I don't know. I haven't figured that out yet.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

I start things and don't finish them. I have no follow-through. I pay very little attention to end-phase detail. That kind of detail is for suckers people who have no other eventually unfinished projects to start. None of this has ever been printed on any of my resumes or been referenced in a job interview unless I just did not want that particular paying gig. But I am saying it here for the following purpose: I do believe I will use this space to dump share with humanity all my unfinished short stories and other scribblings.

Like any good writer, I am a bit unorganized, and I don't have my journal with me at this very second. My current one is five miles away in my kitchen drawer. The ones from the past 11 years are in storage with everything else I own. I'll go pick them up when I get around to it. My very first ex-boyfriend, years ago, once made me a wooden circle with the word "tuit" painted on it. I guess he'd had it with my promise of getting a round tuit and just lost it in a world of silly and hurtful puns.

So tonight...or maybe first post with my most recent unfinished short story. I'll get around to finishing it one day. For now, I'll place it gently and lovingly into the arms of the universe. If you like it, I'll be so happy. Writers live for praise, no matter what they tell you before the first tequila shot. Just remember, everybody: copyrighting still exists in cyberspace, so be nice. If you like something, and, wow, like it enough to use it for your own purposes, please ask before borrowing. Using other people's stuff without permission and attribution is usually illegal and always mean, even on the Internet.

Walking away, behind me my mother standing in the doorway in her unwashed housedress, hair sticking out in all kinds of crazy directionless ways, screaming something, screams being nothing to her but usual, but I admit something was different about this scream, maybe she was screaming for me to come back. Not, this time, maybe, screaming motherfucker. Not, this time, maybe, screaming lazy motherfucker. Didn’t sound exactly like stupid lazy motherfucker, could have been a plea. For me. Her son. To come back because today was, you know, one of those brand new days you sometimes read about. Different I’m sorry I promise I love you won’t you please come back. For a second, I adjusted my backpack and, carefully, my considerations. Stopped to capture the rhythm in her hysteria…ah, there it was…I was still a motherfucker. But I was a motherfucker who was now walking fast away from this shit and that alone makes me better than most motherfuckers you know.

Found a bit of a pad somewhere, not not close, not not far. Not sure how I pay for it, if I pay for it. Cool cat with lightning white hair we call gramps works the front desk and takes money from a few people. Mostly, he gives ‘em friendly shit of the workin’ hard/hardly workin’ variety. I like my room, nothing in it but me and a bed. Shower and head up the hall and I’ve counted five dudes walking in and out. No phone around the place. And this won-der-ful woman I feel obligated to call Mom and she has yet to call me motherfucker cooks us breakfast every morning, no fail. Eggs, toast, bacon, oatmeal, Frosted Flakes, and pancakes if we ask. We are on our own for lunch and dinner, but that breakfast can and does hold me all day sometimes.

Cool cat we call gramps tells me about a place maybe I can get a quick gig doing a few odd things, pick up a few bucks here and there. Am I out of work? I ask him this, hoping he knows ‘cuz I don’t. He laughs and slides me a small white card with an address written on it in tiny neat print. I bet it’s Mom’s writing. Guess I’ve eaten one too many pancake without some sort of monetary compensation. Not wanting to get on the bad side of anyone associated with this good place, I accept the card and head on out to find whatever it is I’m looking for.

Two blocks up, three blocks over, I get it, I’m there. New cool cat waiting for me and I like him already. I feel where he’s been, I’m at where he’s at, and I know where he’s trying to go. I tell him nothing of this as I introduce myself. I love how he says my name: STILL water. The Still intoned as nothing but, you know, very un-still as the word rises as an uphill stream. STILLwater Crowe, he says, and I am home.

I do my odds for him: sweeping floors, greeting customers, twirling a mop on such needed occasions. After about a minute, I figure out I’m not the most necessary employee hired in world history. Most of what I do, Ellery probably did himself before I got here or it just as well didn’t get done. Grateful, I work hard and fast, taking a break only when Ellery claims I’m about to give him a heart attack, I’m working so much.