Monday, December 27, 2010

OK. enough's enough. Of course we wanted snow on Christmas. But we wanted to be with friends and family more but instead we are home alone and not having nearly as much fun as Macaulay Caulkin did. It's now two days later, almost one o'clock on Monday, December 27, and the side roads are snowy and icy and since I totaled my car ten days ago, I'm reluctant to go driving. There are "dangerous wind" warnings up and on a short walk down to Charlotte Street I got the distinct notion that things could start falling- like trees into power lines, etc. Well, as my friend Morris likes to say, "the traffic is the traffic." We shall make the best of it hunkered down with the Sunday Times, some homemade two bean-tomato soup, and the key board.

So, I am posting a short story I wrote back during our fist snow of the season. I am also sending it off to the Asheville Mysterians, which should take care of any copyright issues. (Yes, the title is The End.)

Noah Adamson steps around boxes to get to the front door. When he opens the door to retrieve the morning paper, he shivers, seeing the distant mountain peaks white against the gray foreboding sky. He may have had worse days in his life but, at the moment, none come to mind. In a few hours his friends will be by with a truck to load up all his worldly possessions and take them to a mini-warehouse where they will stay until the day comes when he can again afford a place of his own. In the meantime, he will stay on a sofa-bed in a friend's spare room, an untenable situation for the long run. Things actually could be worse, he supposes; he could have to stay in a homeless shelter, a situation for which he now qualifies. As he steps back inside, a northwest wind pushes the front door shut behind him.
He pours a cup of coffee and scans the headlines in the warmth of the kitchen, not bothering to look at the help-wanted ads, planning to go to the unemployment office later in the day. His adjunct teaching job at the local university ended six months ago. The last check he'd gotten for a story paid for the first month's warehouse rent and he has nothing in the pipeline.
Back in the bedroom, he sits at his writing table. Avoiding the glare of the blank paper, he glances out the window directly to his left, facing west. There is a dusting of white on the grass. A few snowflakes swirl in the eddies along the apartment wall, then disappear. When he turns his attention back to the page, it seems that the cold has slowed the movement of his brain cells as it is said to do to molasses in winter. He turns his head again to find inspiration from the woods across the street where sometimes a movement will trigger a thought, leading to another thought, a train of them getting underway.
There is more snow on the ground and on the tops of cars parked along the curb and along the edges of the blacktop. He anticipated its coming but is surprised it has appeared so suddenly. It peters out almost immediately as he watches.
He turns his attention to the book in front of him and begins.

Teasing, the implication of alternate other possibilities
If only enough of them can get together, collarborate to
A collaboration in white to
Subvert the atticipated established order.

The An implication of other possibilities
A collaboration in white to
Subverts the established order

Yes, well. Maybe it's a beginning. He turns back to his left, sees only a few wisps of white in the air. No snow is falling but the street is almost completely covered. The grass has disappeared entirely and it looks like there is another inch on the roofs and hoods of the cars. He watches. A car moves by slowly, as if it is sneaking around, hoping not to be noticed. From its track, he guesses two inches have fallen already. He begins to turn away, back to his table top, when he sees the flakes swirling. They stop when he turns his attention fully to the window. He quickly turns back to his work.

forcing its way through the gray cauldron
new recruits

bullying through the gray cauldron

Another look to his left. Another calm in the storm. The sky is still gray but the air is clear. The tire track is almost obliterated. He knows that what seems to be happening, can't really be happening, is just some kind of weird coincidence. An illusion. He starts to turn away. Whorls of white appear. He looks back at the window, assessing the depth of the snow. At least three inches on the car tops. It has not been a half-hour since he stepped out his front door. The boys will not be coming by, not if this keeps up. He will have to call the landlord. Can't move today, Mike. Soon as the roads are cleared. He smiles. A crack appears in the clouds, a patch of blue appears. He panics and returns to the page.

Blue like the lightning parts the clouds
Blue like lightning parts clouds
Blue lightning

An explosion rends the muted air lifting him off his chair. A flash of light fills the sky. The lights go out. Presumably an overloaded transformer. Wan gray light fills the room. He gets the storm lantern from the closet, goes to the kitchen to make another pot of coffee before realizing the coffee maker will not work, returns to the closet for the Coleman stove. He brings the stove and the tea kettle into the bedroom, puts them on the desk along with a packet of Earl Grey.
He does not look out the window, instead looks directly down at the page in front of him and begins writing slowly, deliberately, like a calligraphist.

Snow. Snow. Snow.

Out of the corner of his eye he sees flecks of white dance in the window before disappearing. Another inch, maybe two, has fallen. Nothing moves. The tea kettle whistles. He pours hot water over the tea bag, inhaling the orangey aroma. Turning back to his notebook, he picks up his pen. He thinks about when he might stop it. He hasn't felt this good in five years, since the first day he got a letter saying a story was going to be published, almost as good as cocaine.
He touches the pen to the paper.

snow, snow
snow, snow, snow...

Ten minutes later, fingers aching, he looks at the pages he has filled, covered with snow. His stomach rumbles. In the kitchen, he remembers the power is out, opens a can of tuna, drains it, eats it straight with a fork, thinks about the people who are in the shelters around town or the less fortunate, huddling under a tent if lucky, or under sheets of cardboard. What are they eating? Are they alive? He stays in the kitchen, avoiding his room. Then, with no recollection of how it happened, he is at his table. He wants to write. Something. Something about what it's like to be at the end of your rope.
It begins.


He warms his hands around the lantern. What little outside light there had been has long since vanished. His overcoat, the one he bought so that he could at least appear prosperous, is buttoned. The gray felt hat is pulled slightly lower over his right eye than the left, his fingers are getting numb in the black leather gloves, but they seem to know what is expected of them. An unlit Camel short hangs from his lips. A smile slips onto his face as he thinks of the image, then disappears. He hears the rumbling from blocks away, the sound of tire chains, of metal scraping asphalt. The light from the truck's headlights precedes it around the corner. He turns his head. The snow is higher than the plow's blade. He knows it will is a catastrophe. The city is not prepared for this. This is it, of course. The story. If only he could write it.

Snow . . .
                                                              The End

Feedback? (And should that last The End be in italics or not. Hmm)


Friday, March 26, 2010

life after the ambulance comes

During the thirty some odd (some very odd, indeed) years of my first "career", rehab meant working on drug, alcohol and other addiction issues. Drug rehab. For the last few years, it has meant physical rehab, dealing the effects of accidents, strokes, traumatic brain injuries. Today it means repairing the damage done by a heart attack and working to prevent another one.

My heart attack happened on Friday March 5. It will probably stand out like 9/11, the day John Kennedy was shot and my kids' birthdays, my sister's and parents' deaths. I sometimes don't remember the specific dates, but I do remember the particulars, where I was, what I was doing, what all was going on in my life at the time. (Actually, my father not so much. He was killed in a car wreck in Florida and there was no time to have it sink into context, although I do remember the sequellae, the memorial service, the sinking of the ashes in the Gulf of Mexico, Mom back at her house.)

Today, I attended my third day of exercise at Heart Path, the cardiac and pulmonary rehab program run by Mission Hospitals. I have also attended the orientation session and two educations classes covering stress, diet and weight training.

Just as having an "event" -- an accident, an ultimatum from a loved one or employer, an arrest-- is what gets people to examine their lives in drug rehab, so, too did having an event get me to take a better look at what I was doing or not doing to keep myself alive.

When I was told that, indeed, I had experienced a heart attack, that the excruciating pain I had experienced early the morning of the 5th was not merely anxiety but was the real thing-- having been confirmed by a blood test that looks for an increase in a certain enzyme released when the heart is damaged-- and the cardiologist recommended a catheterization to look for blockages in the heart, and a stent or stents inserted if they found any, my response was that I wasn't ready to die, I had things to do and my book hadn't been published yet, so let's go ahead and do it.

The short of the thing is to eat differently, exercise more, and reduce stress. What I intend to do is to chronicle my recovery. (Without putting myself in the position of feeling like, Oh, No, I haven't done the blog today!!) For today, I've eaten well so far (1/2 cup "heart healthy" cereal [more about that later] with skim milk and half a banana, glass of grapefruit juice diluted with equal part water; a stalk of celery with hummus for a snack), and exercised at rehab (20 minute on a treadmill and 15 minutes on a stationary bike) and will take a walk with George this afternoon and plan to eat well the rest of the day. I have committed to listening to more music. (Greg Brown is playing in the background.) I started to think about what it would be like to return to work Monday and stopped myself. Today, Bob! Just live today. Monday will take care of itself.

In subsequent posts I may talk about the spiritual implications of all this.

This is, of course, part of my recovery. To take a good look at all this. See if I've learned anything, as my father would say. (Well, Dad, I've learned for real how transient this whole thing is. I don't know if I want to go out at eighty-seven being smashed by a truck, but I do know that if I live to eighty-seven, I want to be healthy when I get there.)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Wednesday afternoon

Just returned from a modest walk up Sunset Drive. It is an ultra-clear day, in the high 50's. Perfect afternoon for it. My legs and lower back remind me I have not been keeping up the habit. Then while fixing my afternoon coffee, my back froze up as is does. A little stretching and it was fine although I can feel it complaining as I sit here at my desk.

So. A solitary Thanksgiving coming up. Kids are all over the place- Jossie at her home in Spain, Adam, Heather and Wyatt at home in Worthington, OH and Cammie and Billy holidaying in Beaufort, NC. Beth is with friends in Centerville, OH. I have to work tomorrow so I have stayed put. Bought a fresh turkey breast from Greenlife to roast along with the fixin's-- potatoes to mash, dressing mix, cranberry sauce, stuff for green bean casserole. And asparagus. The latter may have to wait its turn.

Last night as I was heating some taco shells I realized the bottom burner on the oven wasn't working. Aaagghh. Could I get it fixed in time for turkey roasting Thursday morning? The first thing I did was spray the oven with over-night oven cleaner because it was disgusting-- the oven, not the cleaner. I am hardly a compulsive housekeeper but even I didn't want the apartment manager or whoever might fix it (if anybody) to see it like that. This morning at eight o'clock I called the rental agent because I couldn't find the manager's number. I think I woke him up although he admitted to having a cold. He said he would call Mike and see that someone was out here today. I cleaned out the gunk (it still needs more work) and before I left for work Mike was here. So, fresh turkey breast tomorrow, after the movie or movies. I had figured I could see two movies-- Men Who Stare at Goats and Pirate Radio back to back tomorrow afternoon. But that probably puts me back home after seven at night. We'll see.

Deadly Dancing is with the editor. Hoping for only minor corrections. He repeated his idea of starting his own (or maybe a collective-- "our" own) imprint. Something like Pisgah Press. Including mine, there are three books extant or in process he thinks would be good to start up with. The advantages of doing this over the more "traditional" is not having to find an agent or a publisher. The downside is, no advance money, none of the even modest resources of an established small press. Still have to do all the marketing. I told him I was interested. I am. And ambivalent.

Oh, there's more to catch up with, but I'm going to lie down with Steven King's new book, one I would never have picked up on my own, but Beth bought it and gave it to me to read while she is out of town. It's like popcorn, not very filling but hard to put down. I have not read a King novel (I do read his stories that appear in the New Yorker) since the Shining. That was a good yarn, as I remember, better than the movie. This one is over 1000 pages. Since I read at the pace of a forth grader, maybe, it's going to take longer than her trip for me to finish it. Way longer. Maybe by the first of the year.

Now, to a recumbent position. May catch up with you tomorrow.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Bear Scare

It is an "Ahhhh" day in the Southern Blue Ridge Mountains. Carolina Blue sky, with wisps of white, like cosmic cotton balls pulled apart and strewn willy nilly ito the air. I was at my desk at eight a.m., getting antsy. My spirit told me to go up the Blue Ridge Parkway. I grabbed a coffee at Starbuck's (it was the only place open, I'm sorry) and a chicken biscuit at Bojangles (no apologies) and headed east. There were few others on that scenic drive, the Leafers still lolling in their lodgings in Asheville, or not having arrived yet in the area. The foliage was at peak color for the first few miles. I was disappointed when I first experienced fall in the western Carolina mountains, the colors being less dramatic than I had been used to growing up in the Northeast. Over the years I have come to appreciate the more subtle palette of the region, the soft pinks and muted yellows, interspersed with dashs of bright orange and red. The colors faded as I gained altitude. The drive was still spectacular, vista after vista appearing around the curves in the road. There was none of the haze which has become more or less a permanent characteristic of the air in the southeast.

I hiked to the top of the ridge above the Craggy Garden picnic area, somewhat disconcerted by the sign reading, "AREA CLOSED-DANGEROUS BEAR ACTIVITY." However, it was posted near the ridge top, facing away from me, meant to be seen by hikers coming up from the other side. It made no sense, since there had been no such caution at the picnic area itself, which would be the place most attractive to those black marauders. Nonetheless, I did cut my hike short by about ten minutes, in the possibility I had missed something below, since I was the only car in the parking area-- others may have gotten the message somehow. Back at the picnic area parking lot, there were now several cars. I ask a man if he had seen any other such warnings. He had not. I have decided it is an artifact from earlier in the year, other postings have been removed, and they didn't get to this one.

My spirit renewed, I returned to my table and have spent the next three hours finding things to do other than work on the novel. I am twenty-five pages or so from finishing my run through making changes suggested by Andy. There will be some additional work to set up the main villain better, flesh out a subplot and make our protaganists wife a richer character. My goal was to have it done by the end of the month and if I quit doing THIS and focus on THAT, I may make it.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Home Stretch

Three forty-five, Wednesday afternoon, cup of cafe au lait at hand, unlit Camel dangling between my lips, dressed in writing attire -- 2006 Rome (GA) International Film Festival T-shirt, gray cotton gym shorts, green wool blend socks (my toes get cold, perhaps a harbinger of great circulatory issues to come). Candle lit. Windows open. Didn't sleep well, up from two-thirty to five-thirty, during which time I read and thought I might have to see my doctor about getting some Trazadone, standard anti-depressant sleep-aid drug. Discovered this morning I didn't take my nighttime meds which include melatonin -- a non Rx sleeping aid -- and my generic Dylantin, anti-seizure meds which have some sedative effect. So, no wonder I didn't sleep. Skip the Trazadone for now.

Glorious afternoon, mid-60's, clear blue skies, light breeze, a voice says "you ought to be out in this." The voice carries little weight against the forces of sloth. Or shall we be more affirming to ourself. We are writing. Then we might be napping. Lack of sleep and all, you know.

Andy, my editor, had much to say. The work is in the last stages of creation. Need to deepen Kathy, the wife of the protagonist; draw out a plot line more; create more tension near the end. I envision how the first and last of these will go. The drawing out of the particular plot line ("the movie") is going to be the greatest challenge. I struggled with it in the original and it showed. It is a vehicle for generating suspicion of one of the main characters and was more intentionally constructed than other parts of the narrative which flowed more directly from the initial story line, although we always new this particular character - Jay - would be a suspect. I played with alternative narratives none of which seemed satisfying.

Part of my difficultly lies, I think (I'm just making this up, but it seems reasonable) is my ADD, my difficulty in thinking the thing ALL the way through. I get part way into it, it seems to be good, and then I get into problems. Maybe this is sloth, the failure to attack it with the necessary discipline -- if "a" happens, then "b" happens, then "c" happens, all the way out to "n." And all of this is happening while two or three other story lines are also going on, and none are entirely separate from the others. Andy suggests, however, that the movie story line be kept MORE separate from the others. I thought it was. There's the rub. Because that story is what brings us to our first contact with the prime villain. And is the problem then that it is too much of a stretch, or do I have to lay more groundwork so it is more organic to the larger narrative?

My goal is to be done in a month, lets say November 1. I have already done 40 pages of general clean up. He will then read it again.

I may have written before about the why of a free-lance editor as opposed with selling the book and let the publisher do the editing. And the why is, in this ultra-competitive environment I would like to have the tightest, best-written work I can before sending out to the universe. (And, of course, it keeps me one step away from the dreaded HAVING TO PEDDLE THE BOOK stage.)

Trivia tonigh sans daughter and Billy. I feel a nap coming on, to get my brain into a state that random knowledge contained therein will be more to come to the fore when summoned.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Getting Ready

I'm meeting with Andy over dinner tonight at his place, excited and anxious. He has said he likes this draft much better than the last, but that does not mean he won't have suggestions for serious changes. I don't mind the work, if it seems to fit with what I want to do with the novel. It is the time that bothers me. I want to get this off to a publisher, agent, whatever comes first. I am clearing the decks, putting all the other fiction work to the side (having submitted the first 1000 words of my novella, Come Back, to Glimmertrain's "First Pages" contest, and gotten some ideas for places for the short story, Junk Mail-- I will continue try to place it, but the writing is done!) and getting the desk top clean. This is in lieu of writing fiction this morning, a condition akin to withdrawal for me. I was writing on the second of the Rick Ryder books into yesterday afternoon when I had to tell myself, STOP. Put it down. It will wait.

Fall has come to the mountains, a few days late, having been shoved aside for some late summer storms. Cool, clear, breezy this morning. Took a walk to the City Bakery. They had no bread! It hadn't come from the ovens yet (the ovens being across town.) Was forced to choose among cinnamon roll, bagel, bear claw. Cinnamon roll won. Real pastry! And Asheville Coffee Roasters was closed late yesterday morning. What's going on here? Thwarted at every move!

(Spell Check for this doesn't recognize ASHEVILLE!?)

Saturday, September 26, 2009

A tree dies in Asheville

Back on Day Two I noted the orange band around one of the two sycamores in the yard. I knew what that meant. Like when you see a noose hanging from a scaffold and a man being walked up with a hood over his head. At the time I had also seen a similar ribbon hanging from one of the lower branches of the other sycamore on the property, the one that I saw right outside my window, the one I looked to for inspiration. I assumed the ribbon hanging on a branch indicated that some of the lower branches needed to be removed. So when the Asplund trucks arrived a few afternoons ago, I knew the one tree was about to meet its demise. I talked to a supervisor looking kind of guy, the only one there at that time, apparently reconnoitering the area. I said it was too bad the tree had to go but saw it was dying and how dangerous that can be in a residential area. He said, yeah, the other one's going, too. I hadn't noticed, as much as I have looked at that tree, that the upper branches were barren. Three mornings ago, they came. When I got home from work, both trees had been stripped of limbs. The next morning they came to finish them off. I watched some as chain saws ate into the flesh of the trunks. Loud thwumps shook the building when they finally toppled.

Who knows what was killing them. Some bug? Air pollution? The stress of urban living? I understand why they were taken down. It is a loss just the same. Less CO2 being taken care of. Fewer roots to hold water (although, the stumps were not removed- they have this piece of equipment, a saw blade maybe three feet across, that is worked back and forth over the top of the stump, grinding it down to about a half foot below ground level- we suppose the hole will be covered and the roots will not be able to breath, and will eventually die themselves). Less green to balance the greys and blacks and browns of the city.

Now I see directly across the street to the "vacant" lot. It is not really vacant at all. It is so dense with growth, I can not see past the vegetation at sidewalk level, although as the hardwoods lose their leaves, more will become visible. There is a great maple tree, taller perhaps than the sycamore. It is already showing orange. My view of it will be unobstructed (except for the philodendron hanging in my window I have to maneuver my head around).

Still, I will miss my old friend. I will get used to it. What don't we? What can't we live without? It is not the same as a loved one -- a parent or sibling gone -- there is no pain. Not really much sadness. A slight void. The squirrels and birds which populated it will no longer be around either. It is a chain. The web of all living things. A slight tear in the web, hardly noticeable, possibly balanced by something new growing somewhere else.

Ah, Saturday. Time to write. Meeting with Andy -- the editor -- tomorrow. I'll keep you posted.