Tag Archives: Stephen King

A Review of A Dance With Dragons

In Which I Discuss The Book I Just Finished Reading, And Make Mention Of (And Not A Little Slander Upon) The Remainder Of The Series To This Point, With Some Ranting…Literary Criticism This Ain’t

I had the idea of writing this up in a nice meta fashion, mimicking the book—my vibe of it, not necessarily the specific style of GRRM’s voice—but then realized I’d have to write some 10k+ words of generally meandering chatter, spending most of my time talking about the crisis that guy who was working the drive-through window at the place I went for lunch suffered through this morning in his parking lot, and other random bullshit, all while occasionally, briefly mentioning in passing that, oh yeah, there’s a review coming, and it’ll be amazing, and then back to inane, unrelated stuff, before ending the review with a sudden, massive, completely absurd shocker like “BTW, if you read past page 643, you’ll get AIDS and die!”

And that wouldn’t be much fun for anyone, me or you.  Which, incidentally, would serve as a perfectly adequate and accurate review, but, you know, fun and lack thereof.  So here’s something that was at least a bit more fun to write, if not hopefully read.

Ultimately, I finished it.  And had moments where I genuinely enjoyed what I was reading.  He’s a good writer, and has created a handful of vivid characters in incredible circumstances, and I genuinely want to read about them and see how their stories end up.

The key there:  a handful.  All great storytellers seem to understand this just fine.  You can have a cast of thousands, but you need a couple of key names above the titles for people to latch on to.  Especially in an epic story where the POV keeps moving around from location to location…that’s jarring enough.  With all sorts of intertwining conspiracies and plotting, and motivations and loyalties switching on a dime…  And if you want to keep your readers invested in what’s going on while moving them around all over the place, it really helps to have a consistent landing spot for them whenever you return them to someplace they haven’t been for a while.

You don’t suddenly, 500+ pages in, drop in a long chapter involving characters that we haven’t even heard mentioned since halfway through the last book, some 5 years and 700+ pages ago, a dozen or so of them with very similar, hard-to-pronounce names, and somewhat bland and overlapping, easily-confused personalities and motives, and try to reveal  a whole bunch of obscure minutiae about a small element in a vaster conspiracy, then abandon those characters and that location and the whole conspiracy for the rest of the damn book, and expect me to care or even fully follow what’s going on, even after reading through it multiple times.

I’ll say it again:  a handful.  It’s worth noting that the book ends with an Appendix that attempts to list out the key characters and their relationships to each other, just for this one book.

It’s 53 pages long.  That’s not a typo.

In the Appendices for The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien does something similar, listing out the family trees of each of the major houses involved in his stories…not just those mentioned in the book you’ve just read, by the way, but everyone, from the very first great-great grandfather, long since dead, through all the generations over thousands of years, up to the present day and the living heroes who participate in the events covered in the book you’ve just finished reading, a book that is often cited as the definition of Epic Fantasy.  All those people, across multiple races, and thousands of years.  And it’s barely half as long as GRRM’s list of the people in just one book that we’re supposed to keep straight in order to understand what’s going on.

Seriously?  I’m not dumb, I’m actually pretty smart and occasionally smart enough to justify at least a reasonable amount of my inherent arrogance and misanthropy…and halfway through the book, I just gave up trying to follow all the major narrative threads and treated it like a long collection of vaguely-related short stories, pretending at the beginning of each chapter that it was unconnected to anything I’d read previously.

And then we come back around to those few characters who are interesting and worth paying attention to, and they’ve actually got a decent part of the book set aside for their stories, and what do we get?

Jon wakes up, and it’s cold.  He eats some food, drinks some wine, wanders outside into the snow, meets with people who don’t like him, discusses a decision that’s somehow important to whatever’s eventually going to happen (probably in just a couple thousand more pages, it’s like imminent and shit), finds that those people disagree with him, and makes his decision anyway, one that seems pretty obviously clear to everyone reading along.  He leaves, walks outside, it’s cold, he mopes for a bit about how hard it is to be a commander, and then goes to bed.

There.  Fill in some of the generic blanks with random specific details (who he’s meeting with, what the decision is), and you can mad-libs about 90% of the Jon chapters in the book, some 200+ pages.

Was that fun?  Let’s do it again.

Daenerys wakes up, bathes in her pool, chooses what dress to wear, and goes off to procrastinate.  She worries about her “children”, makes a decision that’s pretty obviously awful to everyone reading along, worries some more about her “children”, goes to her pool, and then goes to bed.

Same thing:  we just covered another 200-ish pages of the whole book.

And the worst part is that there’s some really good stuff in there.  Jon does make some pretty massive decisions regarding the future of the whole realm, and his story does bring us ever closer to the fabled Winter that is coming…in the same way that tilting your head slightly forward while standing in Santa Monica does, in absolute terms, bring you slightly closer to Yankee Stadium.  And Daenerys ends up riding one of her dragons, finally claiming her birthright in full…until she stops, and leaves him, gets diarrhea from eating unripe berries, and worries some more about her “children”.

It’s all just buried until mountains of wasted paper and ink.  Sigh.  The man needs an editor more than anyone since Steve King wrote 300 pages too many for The Tommyknockers.

The only one who actually has anything to do is Tyrion, and that’s not because he’s actively pursuing anything—if it was left up to him, he’d happily stay in one place, drinking and whoring until his money, dick or liver runs out, whichever comes first—but because larger people with ulterior motives keep dragging him around, listening to his fast talking just enough to decide to keep him alive, but never enough to actually take his advice and get shit done.  (Except for one memorable occasion, which is probably the most interesting part of the whole book:  Connington’s and Aegon’s return to Westeros, which is the only part of the book I have no issue with at all.  There are a handful of complex but easily-discernible characters, each with their own private motives but all with a clearly-defined goal, and together they take actual tangible steps to achieve that goal.  It’s like someone snuck in and wrote some GRRM fan-fiction while he wasn’t looking, and he never bothered to take it out.)

You know those detective shows or movies, where they’re hunting a serial killer, and they finally come upon his apartment (and of course he’s already long-gone), and they see what must have started as a simple peg board, a few newspaper clippings and notes to help keep things straight, only the guy is bug-shit nuts and now every inch of every wall is covered with photos and articles and notes and drawings so disturbing they’d make a childhood psychologist shoot himself in despair for the next generation, with lines drawn randomly connecting stuff, and it’s all done in some very natural lighting, like afternoon sun from a window, with plenty of dust and haze in the air, and the whole point is to make the audience think “Holy shit, this guy is bug-shit nuts, no sane person could even read through all this, let alone try to make sense of it and connect it all into a larger whole?”

I imagine that’s what GRRM’s writing office looks like these days.

So, to sum up, I didn’t hate it, there was some really good stuff in there, and of course all the hints of some grand, once-in-a millennia conflict coming “soon”, which is entertaining (at least for the first couple thousand pages of foreshadowing), but I won’t be re-reading it, ever, and if the next book is anything like this one, I’m probably just going to set them aside and ignore them until the entire series is done, by which point I’ll be retired and have plenty of time to wade through them and see if the whole damn thing was worth it.

And, seriously, TWO Arya chapters?  That’s it?  That’s like paying a stripper for a lap dance and giving her $200 to take off her watch.  If we don’t get at minimum an entire book’s worth of Arya killing all the motherfuckers on her morning prayers’ list before this things wraps up, I’m gonna be pissed.

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Hello? Is it me you’re looking for?

No, I’m not gone, and despite the rather thick layer of dust everywhere, I haven’t abandoned this blog.  This is one of those periods of radio silence I mentioned way back on Day One…it’s just gone on a bit longer than I’d been thinking these types of spells would.

That isn’t to say that this post is a “hey everyone, I’m back, expect multiple posts per week from now on” piece.  I honestly have no idea what will be going on here and when for the near future.  The day job is slow now (though looks to be ending up rather manic shortly, all the way until late spring), but there are other things taking a sizeable chunk of my attention span:  books to read, games to play (got a PS3, finally, and there’s a metric shit-ton of games to catch up on), evolving family dynamics that are important to me, that I want to be present for and not regret missing later on.

Mostly, though, I hit a point late last year where I was able to come to peace with some things that were starting to rear their heads again.

Put simply, I love writing.  Fiction, non, whatever.  Short pieces, longer pieces, Lakers pieces, all of it.  Falling through the hole in the page and being utterly and completely present in the moment, with the external censors and observers turned off, is a transcendent, ecstatic experience for me.  My understanding of the process, and my experiences with it, have done more to shape my understanding of the world and my own spiritual and religious outlook on the world than all the reading, praying, fellowship…ing, etc., put together.

But it’s not a compulsion for me, at least not usually.  I don’t feel “wrong” if I haven’t written on a regular basis recently (again, at least not usually).  The love of it is always there, but the alignment of my priorities and the net gain when weighed against the other things I’m not doing when I’m writing is something that ebbs and flows.

Up until about a year ago, it had ebbed for nearly ten years, and then last year was a definite case of flow.  I wrote half a dozen new short fiction (the microfiction this blog is named for), two much longer stories (edging into the realm of short novellas), and over 50,000 words on a new novel, the longest single piece of work I’ve ever put down on the page (even if it’s not done yet).  Not to mention  what is close to 100,000 words worth of posts here on the blog.  For anyone not named Piers Anthony or Stephen King, that’s quite a haul, and compared to the years-long dry spell preceding it, it was astonishing.

And then—partly due to external events (like changing my job and career path), partly just due to the tidal flow of these things that I’ve come to accept within myself—it began to ebb again.  I have a new story, longer than the microfiction, shorter than the epic genre pieces of last year, that’s about 2/3 done…and has been in the works for almost two months, off and on.  I have the scattered notes for the second part of my essay on Grace spread across two different notebooks and a partial Google Docs file…and it’s showing no signs of coalescing in the immediate future.  I even figured out a solve for a major issue with the novel that was one of the reasons progress on that came to a halt (I couldn’t muster the effort to keep bricklaying on new chapters until sorting out that major structural flaw)…but have no real compulsion to try to get my head around the effort it’s going to take to write the remaining 40k or so words that it’ll take to finish the book.

See, while it rarely feels wrong for me to take a break from writing (even if that word, “break”, is a bit longer than what other people would consider using that word for), what does feel wrong to me is to feel bad for not working when I don’t want to.

I know I’m going to piss off anyone reading this who’s done any sort of work towards becoming a writer themselves, especially if they’ve taken a class, or a workshop, or read books on the subject.  Because beyond style, beyond how to find an agent, or use of adverbs, or proper manuscript formatting, the one thing they will all tell you, relentlessly and with zero pity, is:

–          Doesn’t matter if it’s great, just get it down on the page (or “Don’t worry about getting it right, just get it written”).

–          Write every day, no matter what.

–          You can’t call yourself a writer, you either write or you don’t write.

And, hey, that may work for some people, probably even most, it just doesn’t work for me.  I’m not setting aside every other effort in my life to make writing my primary path.  Writing is, for me, ultimately, fun.  It is a good thing, a benefit that enriches my life beyond the daily work to be happy and healthy with my family and home.  It is, in other words, gravy, desert, a bonus bit that helps the sum of good things equal something great.

And I refuse to view it like taking my vitamins.  I refuse to feel guilty for not having written X-hundred words every day.  I refuse to beat myself up because this weekend, just like last weekend, I’m going to pleasantly descend into the proper gaming posture and spend multiple hours “wasting” time that could better be spent on something “more important”.  Like writing.

Writing isn’t important in and of itself.  It isn’t some holy task that we—even those of us who love it and are really good at it—are obligated to complete on a regular basis, like attending church or changing your underwear.  It is nothing more than scribbled symbols on paper (or the electronic facsimile thereof).

Its value comes first and foremost from the benefit it brings to the person making those scribbles.  If you’re lucky, someone else will gain additional value from it later when they read it, but sorry, that’s a downstream consideration, not the reason pen first gets put to paper.  And it loses all value for me when I start beating myself up for not having done it.  I’m okay with the notion that I may, at times, be suffering a lower level of amazing greatness in my life than I could, under ideal circumstances, if I found a way to incorporate writing into that ideal circumstance.  But I refuse to take a net loss from a happy baseline just because, at that particular moment, writing was not a part of forming that happy baseline.

Imagine if the money in your pocket was worth 20% less because it was all ones, fives and twenties, and without some tens in there, the rest of it just didn’t mean as much.

That’s horseshit, and something I will not have in my life anymore.

Not to say that a regular regimen isn’t a good thing for many, even most other writers.  And truthfully, when the compulsion to scribble on the page is upon me, it helps to have a schedule, even a quota, to make sure I keep myself organized, because under those circumstances, a lack of writing ­is a bad thing, not because I was supposed to and didn’t, but because I wanted to and didn’t manage to make the time for it.  It’s when I don’t want to—and note, this is not an active “I am really opposed to writing right now” but a sated “I don’t feel a strong urge to write right now” thing—that beating myself up for doing something I do want to do instead of writing just seems absurd to me.

And I’ve now spent almost 1300 words writing out why I don’t feel like writing.  And I’m okay with that contradiction.  To sum up, I’m not gone for good…just not entirely sure when I’ll be back.

See you soon(ish).

Sore and tired

I’ve been trying to figure out what to write about for this next post.

Lakers?  The NBA’s in its deadest spot of the year right now, mid-summer with most of the major personnel moves already made and training camps still more than a month away, but I can always come up with something to say there.

U2?  I could let you know the results of this mad march through their entire career (still going, btw, with Zooropa just about to wrap up as I type this; I’ve had to take the expected breaks for family/food/bathroom/etc., so it may not finish tonight), or any of a hundred other thoughts I’ve briefly touched on here and elsewhere and expand on it in full.

But no, neither of those, at least not tonight.  If I’m going to complete this Refresh of the blog, catching both it and everyone who swings by up on where my head is at right now, then I need to cover all the bases.  And aside from my family (which I will not now nor at any point the future be writing about here), the three most important things in my life are the Lakers, U2…and writing.

So, a post about writing it is.

I need to point out something that I’ve mentioned in the past but never quite explicitly laid out before:  writing has seldom been a compulsion for me, the way it seems to be with every successful, productive writer I’ve read and admired in my life.  Sure, there have been stretches in my life where nothing has felt right unless I’ve been at a keyboard, or sitting with a notebook and good pen, churning out the wordcount.  As recently as this past spring, I had stretches where I was putting down well more than 10,000 words a week.  (To give a reference point, the average published novel is approximately 90k-100k words, meaning at a rate of 10k words a week, you could write five complete novels in one year.)

But that’s the exception, not the rule.  I don’t ever really get hit with writer’s block; it’s more what Kevin Smith so eloquently referred to as “writer’s laze”.  As in laziness.  As in, more often than not, I don’t want to expend the energy to create something that will entertain others as much as I want someone else to entertain me.  Getting back into a groove where that someone who’s entertaining me is me takes a convergence of events that I have yet to fully understand, let alone master.

Viewed another way, my relationship with my writing would be familiar to anyone who’s ever spent time working out.  When you’re in the thick of it, taking even a single day off leaves you feeling awful, with your entire life out of sorts until you get your body moving again, muscles working, sweat flowing…  But if you take more than a few days off, it gets harder and harder to remember how good it feels when you’re in the thick of it, and easier and easier to reach for the remote/beer/chips instead.  That’s not the whole of it, but it’s a measurable part.

And I’d have to say, right now, I’m very comfortable on my writing couch, and finding it harder to remember how good it feels when I’ve worked up a wordcount sweat.

Part of it is just that this stuff is cyclical, and not something I’m going to beat myself up about.  If I ever, ever feel like writing is something I have to do, and begin chastising myself for not doing it, like a sinner eager for the burn of confession, then I will stop cold turkey.  Writing improves my life, its presence in my life makes it a better thing; I will never allow it to be viewed in reverse, that writing is the default baseline, and its absence is a sub-optimal, suffering existence.  So, I’m not working right now at the same pace I was recently.  That’s okay.  I love the people around me, I show up on-time for my job and work hard while I’m on the clock there, I find lots of things in my life that make it well more than worth living…a downswing in my writing production does not negate any of that.

Part of it is the new job I’m working at.  There’s a much longer post in my head, waiting to be written, about this specific sub-topic, but the short summary is that after eight years of joy and suffering, I’m in a new place, with a new vocabulary and syntax—and I don’t just mean the words we use at the workplace, I mean the rhythm and intent that the entire workplace operates at—and it’s taking me some time to figure out how my life fits with all that.  Imagine a musician, just joined an orchestra, learning a new piece of music.  And while he’s not worried about his ability to play the new piece and play it well, and fit in well with all the other musicians around him, it’s still new to him, and so all the little things that define him as a musician worth having around have to come from conscious intention, rather than unconscious trust.  I know, after I’ve been there for a while, I’ll know the people, places and processes well enough that I can focus my conscious intent on what’s truly important, rather than the moment-to-moment logistics, but at the moment, it’s consuming rather a large percentage of my mental RAM, which doesn’t leave a lot left for working on a novel that has three main characters, their stories intertwining, all while a massive religious war is breaking out (and I’m right now at the moment when the armies are invading and alliances are forming and breaking…it would be a bit much to wrap my head around if I were reading it, let alone trying to create it out of blank pieces of paper).

And part of it is just that the creative tank is low, and I need to fill it up.  You don’t tend to realize just how limited your input of vital nutrients is until you push yourself out of your comfort zone and start relying on every last ounce of what you’ve got.  Borrowing from an analogy earlier in this post, about six months ago I started working out in earnest, driving my body to do more and more each day, only to completely crap out a month ago, and realized that I hadn’t paid any attention to my diet.  I was still eating the same crap food, but my body needed far more of it, and much better of it, if I was going to be able to keep up at that pace.

If you replace “body” with “writing output”, and the food bit with creative stimulus…well, that’s where I’m at right now.  I can’t work off just the pure adrenaline that accompanies the realization that I can work, I need to make sure that all aspects of my life are pulling in harness, input supporting output, the rhythm and routine of things resulting in a harmony that’s pleasing and worth pursuing.

I’m in the earliest stages of that process right now, and thus the actual wordcount output has been a bit low.  I don’t expect that to last.

In the meantime, I’ll be posting an old story tomorrow, one of my all-time favorites, just to keep the fiction blood fresh here.  Something to keep the pump primed until the spice begins flowing again.

Well, hello there…

Not sure what happened…I’ve been behind on posting and such…and yet today has seen a spike in visitors big enough for me to restart my browser and even computer, thinking there’s a bug in WordPress’s stat display.  No such luck:  we appear to have quite a few new visitors.

So, welcome.  Make sure to check out the links along the side:  A Few Things will lay out the rules of engagement here;The Messy Divorce of Faith and Belief is a page about my short story collection of the same name, which includes the short story “The Maid”, one of the winners of Stephen King’s On Writing contest; and the Purified: Fire links are to the first five chapters of the novel I’m working on, posted as they’re finished in all their please-god-edit-me glory.

Speaking of, Chapter 6 was going to be showing up this weekend, but has proven to be the first real speed bump in this process.  It’s taken me about 3000 words to figure out where the damn thing needs to start, so I’m clearing over to a blank piece of paper this weekend and giving it another go.  At least I know what isn’t supposed to be there now.

Which is a good thing–if the entire process went as smoothly as it started, I’d start to get more than a little self-conscious, and wonder what people weren’t telling me.  I like that there’s some work and exploration happening here.  The only downside is that I already have Chapter 7 written, which is pretty fucking good (motorcycles and swords, ’nuff said), but it won’t go up until Chapter 6 is done and posted.

So, apologies for the delay.  In the meantime, if you haven’t already, take a gander at all the stuff that’s already up here on the site…turns out, though I don’t blog every day like some folk, this place has filled out quite nicely.

Belated thoughts…

Fucking hell.  Does anyone really understand the cracks in reality this kind of thing causes?  One moment, there’s life, the universe, and everything…and the next, there’s something more, something new that wasn’t accounted for when we were taking stock just a moment ago.

Imagine looking down at your arm.  You can see the hair, fine and soft (or not-so-fine and not-so-soft, depending on whether your parents were freaking werewolves or not)…the occasional freckle…how the skin so smoothly bends and contracts as you flex at your elbow…  Now imagine the skin starting to crack and split, and instead of blood welling up and muscle and bone protruding into air, you see more flesh, a pulsing growth expanding outwards.  It’s coming from you, but you’re not doing this:  you’re frozen still, watching as some unearthly force expands from within you.

Fingers appear, clawing forth, and they have the gall to grab on to your own arm, the very flesh they’re breaking through, to help pull them along.  And then, like they’re goddamn flowers, they stretch forth, and are drawn outwards, a hand and a wrist following, and then another pillar of flesh, with it’s own soft and fine (or not-so-much) hair springing to life, and then the bend where an elbow should be, and is…and the next thing you know, you’ve got another fucking arm, a third one, sticking out of you.

I think this may be how the universe feels each time someone new comes along, except, instead of having Steve or Clive write the story…the universe gets Norman Fucking Rockwell to do the narrative.  Because, despite how bizarre, how uncertain and surprising something like this is, the universe loves it, celebrates it…is defined, ultimately, by how full-bodied it embraces it, each time it happens.

All of this is to say that five years ago today (okay, yesterday…I had laundry to get started before I could sit down to write, sue me), my daughter Jane Barrie Hunt was born.  One moment, the universe existed, as it had before…and the next, it was changed, fundamentally, and Jane was here, and nothing would ever be the same again.

I can’t even come close to describing what it’s done to me.  If, on my deathbed, I look back at the entire volume of work that I’ve accomplished over long decades of fruitful creative expression, and glimpse just the faintest outline of the suggestion in all those words of how important she is to me, then I will die with a smile on my face, whatever comes after; I will tiptoe through the sulfur and brimstone, knowing that there’s a tiny chance that someone, someday, will glimpse the depth of my love for my little girl.

Happy birthday, my Boo.  Were you not here, and had I an inclination of what you would mean to me, I would sunder the universe, and defy the very face of creation to bring you to me.

New-to-you – The Maid

So, nothing new ready to go up here yet…combination of no time, and when there is time, I’m working on something that’s taking more than a few days to finish.  But I can’t leave this place gathering too much dust; of the multitudes who visit (almost double digits at its peak earlier this month!), a few of them know where and when I sleep and have access to well-balanced blunt objects.  I need to keep them happy.

So until I have something new to go here, I thought I’d post something old, but in that best salesman’s creed, is New-to-you.

And because it’s been brought up here more than any other story I’ve written, and I’ve had a few recent requests specifically for it, first up is the Stephen King On Writing award-winning story “The Maid”.  Reading through it today…it actually holds up better than I was expecting.  Like nothing I’d written before, or have since, but still pretty darn good.  I was able to resist the urge to roll up my sleeves and dig into some re-writing, which is always a good sign.


The Maid

He noticed, as he pulled into his driveway, that he’d left the lights in the kitchen on.  Nothing unusual there, not these days.  It wasn’t nearly as bad as forgetting to turn the car’s engine off and leaving it running all night, which he’d done two weeks ago, or forgetting that the kids had to be at school at eight and that he was the only one who could drive them.  But it was, in a way, worse, because it was so obvious.  Like hanging a sign out.  He wondered how many of his neighbors had walked by that day, noticing and shaking their heads.  Maybe letting loose with a quiet “Tsk-tsk, poor guy. . .” before continuing on their way.

Nothing he could do about it now, though.  It was actually comforting, however surreal.  Like this house was a home again, their home, and Lily was waiting inside, getting dinner ready, maybe a candle-lit spread for the two of them, the twins over at her sister’s for the night. . .  The twins were with Annie tonight, but it definitely wasn’t to give he and Lily a private evening together alone.  More like he and Jack, or Jim, or even his old college buddy Jose.  Whatever he had left in the cupboard would be fine, as long as it was strong, and put him to sleep.

He gathered his briefcase and his jacket and got out of the car.  Then reached back in, turned the engine off, and pulled the keys out—once is, perhaps, understandable; beyond that is just pitiful.

He’d remembered to turn the entryway lights off, at least.  He hadn’t completely lost it yet.  He dumped his briefcase in the shadows at the foot of the stairs, went to hang his jacket up, then remembered it was Friday and tossed it back on top of his briefcase.  Let the maid get it, he thought, and laughed as he went into the kitchen.

Cruising on autopilot, he opened the closet just past the doorway and pulled out a bottle.  It felt full, so it didn’t much matter what it was, and he didn’t bother looking.  He went to the counter to find a glass clean enough to get him started—he usually went straight to the bottle once the buzz kicked in—and for the first time that day, he started to really worry.  Or maybe it was just a new worry, one he hadn’t already been carrying around with him for the past month.  It was fresher, and it stung.

There were no glasses on the counter, used or otherwise.  There should have been; and dirty, encrusted dishes, piles of silverware, pots of three day-old, half-eaten chili.  But the counters were clean, not even a stray crumb or coffee stain.  He’d done this before.  Sometimes—generally after three in the morning—he’d be overcome with drunken disgust at his life and how it’d turned out, and he’d throw himself into the housework he’d ignored during the day.  Thinking that somehow clean windows or a vacuumed carpet would make the life of a drunk, single father with twins and a nut-case ex-wife more bearable.  He never did a very good job, and it never made things more bearable.  But he always remembered the embarrassing attempt.

He didn’t remember cleaning the kitchen last night.  Nor did he think, even sober, that he could’ve done such a spotless job.  It was like the maid he and Lily used to joke about had broken in while he was gone during the day.  Breaking and entering and. . .Cloroxing?  Had he even noticed it this morning?  The routine of the days was starting to melt everything all together—all he could remember of that morning was a pair of three year olds who couldn’t tie their shoes by themselves yet.  And cereal.  There was always cereal; that was a safe bet.

He’d never had a blackout like this before, and regardless of how nice the results looked, he didn’t think he wanted to make a habit of it.  Maybe he should take it easy tonight, watch a movie on pay-per-view and get to bed early.  Spend the weekend sobering up a little instead of the reverse.

There were clean glasses in the cupboard—he’d apparently put everything away too—and he filled one almost to the top with what turned out to be Jack Daniels.  No ice: there’s no need to coast politely into oblivion when you’re drinking alone.  He sat down at the kitchen table, yanking his tie loose and opening the top two buttons of his shirt.  He took a long sip of his drink, shivering as he felt it work its way through his stiff and tired body, and leaned back, stretching his legs out in front of him.  Day is done, he thought, And so am I.

The light on the answering machine next to him was flashing, and he reached out and hit the play button.  The first message was just a hang-up, white noise, only it went on and on, for a good half-minute.  Then there was a familiar sound he couldn’t quite place, a loud rumbling and rattling.  It wasn’t until he heard the horn blow twice that he recognized it for a semi-truck, roaring past.  And then the rest of the noise fell into place: traffic.  It sounded like a pay phone alongside a busy street, maybe a highway.  The message ended a second later without the caller saying a word.  Probably a wrong number, he thought, which fit in quite well with his own crumbling life.  Someone stuck in the breakdown lane, trying to get home. . .  He raised his glass to the invisible caller. Right on, brother.

The second message was from Annie, his ex-sister-in-law.  He sat up and checked the time stamp showing on the display; she’d called and left the message twenty minutes ago, while he was still driving home after dropping the twins off with her.  He didn’t like the way her voice sounded:  hurried, and nervous.  Maybe a little scared, even.

“Mark? It’s Annie. I just got. . .um.  Look, try not to let this freak you out too much, but. . .shit.  Mark?  They lost Lily.  They were taking her over to Ridgeview today to run some tests, and the van to bring her back signed out at three, but it’s only fifteen minutes back to. . .to County, only they didn’t notice the van hadn’t made it back yet until the shifts changed over at six.

“Um, so, I talked to Sergeant Thomas already.  He called me after you weren’t home yet, and he says that everyone’s probably just lost in the paperwork and she’s safe away in her ce—. . .room.  But then he said he wants us all to come down to the station ’til they do find her, and if they don’t, tonight, then they’re going to put us up in a hotel ’til they do.  So you figure it out.

“I’ve got the twins, you just left here fifteen minutes ago, so we should be there. . .any time now.  So be ready to go, okay?  Bye.”

The message ended, the machine beeped twice (meaning that was the last one), and began to rewind the tape.  It sounded very loud in the quiet kitchen.  The rattle and the hiss, and then suddenly the sharp click as it reached the beginning and stopped.  His hand jerked again, spilling some of the liquor, and he didn’t notice it.  He got to his feet, raised the glass, and drank until he started to choke on it.  It burned, and he was coughing all over the kitchen, big coughs that bent him over at the waist, but he couldn’t think of anything else to do.  Everything was so much easier to deal with when he was drunk.  It all just kind of. . .happened, and he was along for the ride.

As the coughs died and he straightened back up, he glanced back over at the counter and saw something moving.

His heart froze, his breathing fainted, and a sudden burst of adrenaline flooded him.  But.  It was just a reflection, his own, caught in the window behind the sink.  It was dark outside, and he was a little jumpy, and more than a little drunk already, and maybe, for a second, he’d thought he’d seen. . .

Lily?  Why would she come here?  Even if she’d actually. . .slipped away, from the doctors, why would she come all the way back here?  ‘Cause she’s crazy, he thought, and wondered where the idea had come from.  You saw her at the hospital.  Crazy people don’t need why’s.  But. . .

“Ah, shit,” he said, and it fell out of his mouth just like it sounded.  The last thing he wanted to be tonight was responsible.  And now he had to spend the evening with Annie and the twins; not that he didn’t love them, Annie too, but he could already feel the Jack Daniels starting to crawl its way up the back of his neck, getting ready to lower its shroud over his temples, and forehead, and eventually his eyes, so he could sleep.  All because some orderly out at Ridgeview had assumed that the “next guy” would take care of. . .whatever it was they did to keep track of the patients out there.  The whole damn world was going to hell.

He put the almost-empty glass down on the counter—and not without a little satisfaction, like the marines planting the flag at Iwo Jima.  Clean my counters, will you? he asked the drunken maid inside of him.  Take that.

He paused in the hallway, listening for the sound of a car approaching in the street outside. There was none—he figured he had five or ten minutes before Annie showed up.  Probably more, considering how she drove, especially with the twins in the car.  Time enough to go and change.  It was Friday, after all, and he hadn’t become a teacher so that he could dress up on the weekends.  He started up the stairs, nearly tripping over his jacket and briefcase along the way, and made it all the way to the switchback landing before he saw her.

They kept a fish-tank at the top of the stairs, ostensibly for the twins benefit, though they hadn’t voiced much of an opinion.  Mark had found himself sitting in front of it at night, especially recently, staring into the calm water, and the eerie glow that the heat lamp gave off, seeping through like liquid fog.  He’d bought the fish, and the tank, but he wasn’t the one who had taken care of them.  That had been Lily’s job, and part of the origins of the Maid Joke.  As in, “They’re your fish, Mark.  What do you think I am, your maid?”  Variations on the theme were, “Stop throwing your stuff on the ground, Mark. There’s no maid to pick up after you anymore.”  Or the suddenly relevant, “I wish you wouldn’t leave your dishes all over the counter Mark.  Or am I just your maid, cleaning up after you?  Is that all I am?”

Lily was sitting at the top of the steps, next to the tank, her head resting against it, one arm draped loosely around the front leg of the table it was resting on.  She was staring out into space, but she didn’t look dazed or drugged.  More like an animal, a leopard napping in a tree, waiting for her prey to stroll unexpectedly by.  She didn’t look like she’d seen him yet.  But before he could move or even think, she did.

“Mark?”  She sounded pleased to see him.  “You’re home.”

“Lily?  Wh-” But the question died on his lips.  His eyes were adjusting to the dim light, and he could see more of her.  She was still in her hospital pajamas, the thin cotton with the V-neck.  Not the green ones, for doctors, or the white ones, for the normal patients, but her orange ones.  For the violent patients.  Her hair was short, just a week or two past a buzz-cut.  Her feet were bare and dark.  And her front was stained with. . .with whatever was dripping from the wicked-looking club she was holding.  It was dark, but he didn’t need to know what color it was.  He could smell the blood from where he was standing.

“Lily.  What are you doing here?”

“I shouldn’t have left you guys.  You know I shouldn’t have, Mark.  And I’m sorry.  You can’t take care of yourself.”

She got to her feet, the club hanging by her side, the horns at the ends of it glistening in the dim light.  She took a step towards him, down the stairs.  Prowling, her eyes alive and watchful.

“You can’t, and I knew that, and still. . .I went and left the three of you on your own.  Stupid, stupid, stupid!”  With each shout, she raised the club and, as he watched in horror, brought it down on her own head.  He didn’t know if she was already bleeding, but when she stopped, it was pouring down one side of her face, a mask with just a single, dull eye staring out.  He started to back away from her, facing her and feeling behind him for the next step.  She followed, getting closer.

“Can you-,” she started, “. . . It’s your fault too, you know.”

“Lily.  Take it easy.”  He had to reach out for the banister.  The whiskey was still creeping over him, and he was on the verge of losing his balance.  He was afraid of turning around and running—hell, he was afraid to move.  She looked like she was waiting, just waiting for the right moment to pounce.  “Just stop and tell me what you want.”

“I want. . .”  She stopped for a moment, then bent over, her hands going to the sides of her head, like she used to when one of her headaches would hit her mid-stride.  He thought for a wild second that he should leap forward and tackle her, now, while she couldn’t pay attention.  At least get his hands on the club she’d been using on herself.  And maybe others.  Bare minimum he could turn and run for his life.  But he couldn’t move, could barely breath.  The shroud was upon him.  She was happening; he was just along for the ride.

She looked up, and saw the intent in his eyes.  Her blood-smeared lips curled into a nasty smile.

“What the fuck do you think I am?  Your maid?”  And she started towards him again, faster.

He kept backing up, one hand on the railing, until he was almost at the bottom of the stairs, wondering if he’d locked the front door, if he’d have to stop and unlock it before she chased him out into the street.  Give the neighbors something to really talk about, he thought, and a sick half-giggle escaped his lips.  She heard it, and lunged for him.

His left foot reached back, feeling for the floor, and stopped before it should have.  His heel came down on top of his briefcase, and it fell over, taking him with it.  He felt his ankle twist, the pain momentarily overwhelming his thoughts.  Probably sprained it, he thought, and then he felt her on him, landing on him, taking her prey.  He tried to roll over, and the last thing he saw was the club in her hands coming down towards his face.

She brought it down again, and again, and again.

Voice and Doubt – A Tale of Attempted Artistic Suicide – Part 5

And now, finally, here’s Part 5, which concludes this saga.  What started off as an idle response to an innocent question–“Hey, where’d that new story come from?”–has grown all out of proportion…but hopefully not to its detriment.

So, thanks for sticking with me through this (those of you who have); regular P.E.M posting should resume within a few days.

Read:  Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4


Part 5 – Wherein the author does everything possible to sell out, and discovers it’s not as easy as people think.

It’s amazing what one little line can do to change how a query letter for a novel is received.

Before winning the On Writing contest, my queries had contained all the usual drek:  stories written, collegiate contests won, the one-act play I wrote that was performed by a theatre company…and all of them garnered one of the following responses:  a form letter (not really even a letter, just part of a page, photocopied and envelope-stuffed by some intern) saying “Thanks, but no thanks”; the same form letter, but with a brief personal note added that they like what I’d sent, but it just didn’t fit with them; or the aforementioned scam.  Responses usually took 2-3 months, and after a while you tend to get numb to them, expecting very little, hoping for little more.

And then, after the contest, I was able to add some variation on the following line:  “And my short story ‘The Maid’ was recently chosen by Stephen King as one of the winners of the On Writing contest.”

Oh, and how things changed.

I sent out 3 queries the day after I found out that I’d won the contest.  If I remember correctly, I found out about winning the contest on a Thursday, and sent out those queries the next day, on a Friday.

The following Tuesday, I got a phone call—at work, at ye olde chain coffee shop, meaning they’d done more than their fair share of research in a short amount of time—from one of the three agents I’d queried in New York.  They asked me for the full manuscript of my novel, and exclusive rights to consider the novel for a week.

The other two agencies followed up within a day or two, via email, asking for the same:  full novel manuscript, and a period of exclusivity.  I had the odd dilemma of trying to explain to the agents I had been pursuing so diligently for so many years, “Sorry, there’s a line, it starts over there, I’ll get to you in the order you arrived.”

Imagine being at a High School dance, and you’re sitting or standing on the sidelines…you’ve asked a few girls to dance, and counted yourself lucky that when you were rejected, at least they didn’t laugh in your face.  And then, a group of the hottest girls you’ve ever seen walk into the gym, and they come right up to you, and start arguing amongst themselves about which one is going to fuck you first.  That’s what it was like.

And here we come to the great sticking point in my writing career:  my novel.

It’s called 40, and for all of its faults and failures, I still love it, in the way I imagine that Dahmer’s parents still feel some sort of parental concern for their killing and cannibalizing son.

The basic notion for it came to me all at once, on April 20th, 1996—Earth Day, which was being celebrated particularly hard on a university campus as liberal/socialistic as the one I was on…and also 4/20, a date of particular note for stoners (which I most definitely was) (and this was several years before Columbine, so there was no morbid attachment to the date yet).  I remember taking a heavy dose of mushrooms that morning, then joining the festivities on the campus quad, enjoying the vibes like only a stoner surrounded by hundreds of other stoners can.

It all came to me in a bit of a chaotic rush:  not quite a full Idea Bomb, but close to it.  Legend holds that prior to his crucifixion, Jesus was sentenced—amongst other punishments—to 39 lashes with a whip.  40 lashes was assigned as a death sentence, the assumption being that no one could survive that many lashes with a whip…so 39 lashes was the equivalent of saying, “Whip him until he’s 99.9% dead, then we’ll figure out something else to do to him.”

And so I wanted to tell the story of someone who was pushed to the absolute edge—39 lashes worth, with the 40th hovering constantly over him—and the rest proceeded from there.

It took me a little over six months to complete, and as I believe I’ve already mentioned, this was the exception that proved the rule:  as good as it felt to write it, the end result was an absolute disaster.  You could say I survived the experience—after all, I did actually finish it, which 99 out of 100 writers never do—but the end result was as awkward and amateurish an effort as has ever been committed to the page.

There are some brilliant moments, but by and large, it’s clearly not something that any self-respecting publisher would want to put between two embossed covers.  Still, it was what I had, and I was running with it, regardless.  Most writers never publish their first-written novel, and many more get an agent based on a novel, fail to place it, and later manage to get their second or third one published via that same agent.  I was just hoping for a bite, a relationship:  someone in my corner who wanted to help me get where I wanted to go, whether it was with this first novel or something better that was yet to come.

But it was no surprise when the first agency, after reading the whole manuscript, decided to pass.  And then the second, and third did.  And another 3 queries went out, with similar drooling responses…and passes.  And on it went, for a couple of months.  Take that same situation, those incredibly hot girls arguing over who’s going to fuck you first, and then one of them wins out, and gets you alone in your room, and the pants come off…and she takes one look and starts to laugh.  And then the next girl comes in, all hot and bothered…and she laughs too.  Over and over again.

It gets so you start to feel a bit desperate.  To be so close, and keep failing.  And a lot is possible for someone when desperation kicks in, things that you’d never even consider otherwise.

A few months into this rejection process, I was at work one night, and talking about winning the contest with one of my co-workers, and someone who was standing in line overheard the conversation, and interrupted us.

“My name’s so-and-so, and I work for [insert big-time LA-based agency here].  Here’s my card; give me a call tomorrow and we’ll set something up.”

I don’t normally buy the cliché of sitting in a soda shop on Hollywood Boulevard, waiting for a producer to walk by and “discover” you…but it’s a cliché because, on occasion, it actually happens.

I feel like I’m getting a bit bogged down in the narrative here, so let’s cut to the chase:  I had a meeting with them a week later, and then another meeting, and then another.  I brought them my novel, and just about every story I’d written to that point that I thought might be “marketable”.  They asked me to write a treatment for the novel, and then a treatment for “The Maid”, and then treatments for a few of my other stories.

I do now, incidentally, curl fetal whenever I hear someone discussing a treatment for a script…sometimes I vomit, sometimes I don’t.  It’s unpleasant either way.

And so I wrote those treatments, those 2-3 page abominations.  I knew I was close, I was an active account, they were billing hours to my meetings…I was just desperately trying to move past the Meetings stage and into a Lunch Meeting (meaning a hefty expense report would be filled out and submitted, and there had better be a paying client to justify it), or even, god help me, a Meeting with Friends I’d Like You To Meet…which is where all the actual work gets done in LA, and where the checkbooks burn very, very close to the surface.

And if you’ll excuse the vulgarity…I got down on my knees, with absolutely no hesitation or shame (at least then), and sucked their root.  Sucked it hard.

I took my novel (which, remember, was Not Very Good), and “The Maid”, and half a dozen of my other stories, and just flat out prostituted them.  Twisted their souls, throwing out everything that had been important about them to me, mangling them as I tried to fit them into some semblance of a 90-minute three-act structure.  And while I did a pretty good job with those particular goals, well…if you put lipstick on a pig, but also cut that pig’s throat and gut them, stringing their innards all about like rotting decorations, pig or no pig, no one’s lining up for a kiss.  It’s just a dead pig.

And after a few months of back and forth, the agency stopped returning my calls.  And emails.  I didn’t take the final crazy step of dropping by their offices without an appointment, but I imagine Security would have thrown me out if I had.

It didn’t take very long for me to take the hint…I grew up here, after all, and while I’d gotten plenty wrapped up in what I thought was happening, and how close I was to finally breaking through to the inner system…I know when someone’s holding their breath, sitting still, hoping I’ll give up and go away.

I won’t lie:  I’m not entirely sure how to describe how I felt when that realization sunk in.  Because I don’t really remember.  It’s a bit of a black hole…I remember everything else that was going on at the time—getting ready for a wedding, injuring my knee…I remember just about everything else with detailed recall.  But about my Writing, my one true passion…I remember the last meeting I had with the agency, and the next thing I remember is about two years later, and realizing that I hadn’t written anything new in a very long time.

It’s no joke that, for any kind of tragedy, the longest stage of the grieving process is denial.  Sometimes there are outside factors that can help prompt you out of that stage and into the next…shit like an open coffin funeral, for instance…but sometimes there aren’t.  I’ve always been private with my Writing (at least until now), only sharing it with people—or even the fact that I was working on something in the first place—when it was finished.  So those closest to me were already trained to not ask me about what I was or wasn’t working on…no matter how long the silence continued.

And it’s not like I had folks on the outside banging at my door, wondering where the next great Hunt story was…form rejection letters don’t generally lead to a wide fan base, not without a few critical intermediate steps along the way.

Truth be told, I’m not sure, even today, almost nine years later, that I’ve completely moved out of the denial stage; I suppose this absurdly-long accidental confession might be part of the process.  And the pretentiously-eloquent microfiction is, more than anything, a cranky rejection of all the work I used to do…and most importantly, the perversions I foisted upon it all in the name of potential success.  The story “edge”, which I published an excerpt of here about two weeks ago…that’s the first complete written work of consequence that I’ve finished since 2001.  I’ve had a few half-assed false starts in the years since, but until two weeks ago it was nothing more than some self-indulgent lines hinting at something that I knew would never actually come to life.

But “edge” is done, as is “Two Deserts Returned”… and “Love Story” is in progress, and hopefully finished in the next few days (I’ve been a bit pre-occupied finishing this saga).  And this work somehow feels different…like it’s been freed from some sort of external set of conditions that it’s supposed to adhere to.  All of my previous work was measured against this mysterious standard, and I had to waste so much energy defending it, hoping by sheer force of will to prove that it was good, despite how badly it failed to measure up.

I’m writing again…something, somewhere, has forgiven me, and freed me from whatever prison I was rightfully sent to after treating the work I’d done with such disdain…I’m not sure anything else about it matters.

I’ve thought a lot over the last few weeks about why it appears that I’ve actually started writing again.  I’d like to know, if for no other reason than to have some sort of road map in case I ever hit another drought like the one I’ve been living through.

I know why I stopped writing, that’s pretty obvious, in retrospect.

I’m not sure I’ve adequately explained just how grievous my sins were, and how much I brutalized my work back then.  I took the things in my life that were most precious to me, the stories I’d written, the work I’d done that I knew God had put me on this earth to do, and mangled them, dismembered them, like a killer trying to fit a body into a trunk.  All in the hope that someone would pass me a piece of paper and say, “Here, sign this…your check will arrive in the mail in a few weeks.”

And I’ve been grieving that loss, that self-inflicted mutilation, ever since.

But as to why I’ve finally started writing again…that, I don’t know.  There are plenty of “reasons”, but none of them add up very well, the total falling well short of the sum of its parts.

There is one phrase, though, that’s kept returning to me recently, and if there’s any secret here, any lesson to be learned…well, let me tell you one last story.

I wasn’t raised religious, but came to the Christian church of my own accord in Junior High.  I consider my current religion to be a variation on Recovering Born-Again, because back in those days, I was seriously hard-core.  My church and my fellowship with those around me were my life.  I entertained very serious thoughts of entering the ministry.

And there came a point where that wasn’t viable anymore.  A point where my perspective on the entire business underwent a subtle but fundamental shift.

I was about a year removed from college, having dropped out to finish writing my novel.  I was laying back on my bed, smoking a cigarette, and was hit by an Idea Bomb.  It’s only happened to me twice in my life…the first time was when I got the idea for my novel, but that was muddied by all of the psychedelics I was on at the time.  This time, I was completely sober, and if you’ve never experienced it yourself, then there’s no real way I’m going to be able to describe it to you.

I was thinking through some of the stories I’d written, and some of the ideas I was still working on, waiting for them to gestate enough that they’d be ready to commit to the page.  And all at once—might have taken a few seconds, might have been several minutes, there was no sense of time passing at all—I saw a common thread.  I saw a Story, something that tied it all together, a fundamental truth underlying all the work I had done and was about to do.

Steve King has described the experience of having an Idea Bomb hit you as something like having a tactical nuke go off inside your head.  What happens is that—usually completely unprovoked—all of these disparate ideas that you’ve been carrying together in your head suddenly form up and lock into place in a way that you’d never even come close to considering before.  The difference between Before and After is like the difference between a long string of proteins and Life, Created and evolving towards the Godhead.

So I’m lying there, and this Idea Bomb hits me, and it’s a physical experience.  My entire body is tingling, like I’m recovering from the single greatest orgasm any human being has ever experienced.  I actually had to check myself to make sure I wasn’t levitating inches above the bed…and I’m not speaking metaphorically.  At that point, had you brought the crippled to me, I could have motherfucking healed them.  Levitating was a parlor trick, barely enough to hold my curiosity for a minute or two.

And afterwards, when trying to describe it, a phrase came to me, the same one that’s pinging around inside my head right now when I try to figure out why I have been silent for so long, and now have started to write again:  God-breathed.

The bulk of the New Testament is comprised of letters, mostly from Paul to various communities (thus Romans, Colossians, etc.), but occasionally to specific people, to help them in their ministry.  And in the second letter that he wrote to Timothy (thus, 2 Timothy), he says:

“All Scripture is God-breathed…”

There’s entire dissertations as to exactly what that phrase means…and by all means, discussion and debate is wonderful fun.  But it can never replace personal experience.  And one of the things in life that I know to be true, beyond any amount of discussion or debate is this:  when he says that all Scripture is God-breathed, what he means is, “That dude, when he sat down to write…he got hit by an Idea Bomb.”

The experience pushed me down a train of thought that led to my departure from the church, but closer to God.  If the people who wrote the scriptures—real, normal people—had been touched by God…why would God stop doing that?  Was there a finite window during which he was rushing to get his message down on paper, after which he put his feet up, opened a beer, and took the next two thousands years off?  I doubt it.  Any realistic definition of God places him outside of any time-limited definition anyway…there’s just no conceivable way that one aspect of his impact on human lives would be limited to a narrow window of linear history.

I think that all through history, people have written God-breathed work.  And by that, I mean that people have somehow, for a brief moment in time, managed to hew closer to the truth than any of us can purely on our own.  The details of that truth are colored by the vessel doing the work…so, Ayn Rand, her work is God-breathed, no matter how secular-humanist her subject matter.  Same with U2, Steinbeck, Stephen King, Tolkien, and Glen Greenwald, and Brecht, and Thomas Aquinas, and the Bee-Gees…no matter the specifics of the work, the Truth of it burns through with white-hot intensity.

In that moment, when that Idea Bomb hit me…God breathed upon me.  And I was unable to read the Bible—or take part in any organized religious activities, which all have their foundation in something from the Bible—in the same way again.  After all, if God had breathed upon the Bible’s authors, well, he’d breathed upon me too.  Which meant that my pursuit of insights into the nature of God, the universe and everything were just as valid, and just as likely to result in Truth as anything I could read in the New International Version.

That specific Idea Bomb, it did end up undergoing some revisions…the yet-to-be-written stories that were tied up in it were eventually written, and differed from their internal concepts once they were finally down on the page, as often happens, so the idea evolved, and adapted…but it ultimately, years later, resulted in the only formally published work I’ve got out there:  The Messy Divorce of Faith and Belief.

(If you click the tab at the top of this blog with that name, you’ll find a link to purchase it.  I encourage you to do so…it’s good, and I have bills to pay.)

And when I try to think through possible reasons why I’ve started writing again, it’s that phrase, God-breathed, that keeps popping up.

A breath doesn’t have to hit you all at once…it can flow in quietly, cooling and gentle.

I don’t know why I’m writing again now…but I do know that I can feel the breath of God upon me again.  Megalomania is a good thing, in small doses (and as long as you’re not a high ranking member of either the clergy or the military).  God—whatever your definition, whether he has a long white beard, or like the Tao is everything you don’t say and nothing you do—has a personal, vested interest in everything.  And that includes each of us.  It includes me.

For whatever reason, I was blind, but now I see.  Lost and am found.

I can write again.

It might have something to do with Grace…but that’s a story for another time.