Excerpt: Fragile Reality

Rather than talk about what I’m doing this month, I thought I might show you. This is the first section of my NaNoWriMo 2012 novel. This is preliminary text, unedited and subject to change.

***

“Turn that fucking light off,” Mike snapped, throwing one arm over his eyes to block out the light. “What the fuck are you doing up at-” he glanced at the clock, “-four-fucking thirty in the fucking morning? Suze, what the hell?”
Susie’s bleary retort was muffled to the point of incoherence by the shirt pulled half over her head, but her husband wasn’t looking for an actual answer in any case. “Just get back in bed,” he snapped. “At least pretend to sleep through the night.”
Susie had struggled into her polo and was busily tucking it into a pair of khaki’s. “I’m not gonna sleep either way; I might as well get a head start at work.”
“No one’s mail is running at four-fucking-thirty in the morning,” Mike repeated. “You go door to door at this hour and someone is liable to shoot you for a burglar.”
“I’m not going out on deliveries. I’m just going to take care of some office paperwork, maybe load the car.” She finished buttoning her pants, then leaned over to pop a quick kiss on Mike’s furrowed forehead.
“Stupid,” Mike snapped. “Overtime’s no good if you don’t get paid for it.”
“Speaking of paid,” Susie changed the subject adroitly, “anything for me in the garage?”
“Bluh,” Mike scrubbed his face with the heel of his hands, then levered himself into a sitting position against the headboard. A little more alert, he took a moment to re-process her question. “Uh, yeah. Package of flour came in for Joe yesterday, if you wouldn’t mind dropping it by his place.” He glared at the clock one more time. “Preferably at a godly hour.”
Susie flashed him a grin, blew him a kiss, and clattered down the stairs as quietly as she could. No need to wake the kids.

The baker’s package was discreetly tucked into the big metal garbage can – the one that they never, ever, used for garbage – just like always. The brown-paper wrapper on this one was perfectly neat and folded, the tape placed in perfect parallel lines. Susie liked it; it was almost a work of art, like a really well wrapped Christmas present. She was always nervous handling the ones that were sloppily packed, worried that they’d develop a tear and send the contents spilling all over the pavement right in front of everybody, but this one looked very professional. It was nice to know there were still people who cared in this business.
The drive to the post office was always the most nerve-wracking part. If she was pulled over and searched now, there was no plausible excuse for the package of white powder tucked safely in her tote bag. Until she reached her official vehicle, any police officer that found that parcel was going to have her in cuffs before she could say say “innocent dupe.” The quiet roads of pre-dawn were reassuringly empty of patrol cars, though, and fifteen minutes later she was safely ensconced in a room full of bland packages with brown paper wrappers, all of which it was her duty – no, her privilege – to deliver to her fine neighbors.
She loved her job.

By seven o’clock she had already finished sorting, sequencing, and loading up the incoming mail. Her special package, now safely camouflaged by a few dozen other small packages of (presumably) legitimate provenance, was no longer a concern. Lizbeth, who kept the actual post office open during the day – wouldn’t arrive for another two hours, which was even better. Susie had never really clicked with the other woman despite Lizbeth’s determined efforts at camaraderie. Any day where the two of them didn’t have to cross paths was off to a good start in Susie’s mind.
A yawning half-hour later she came to her favorite stop of the day; Brews and Chews served pancakes in the morning, burgers at lunch, and beer come evening. More importantly Maggie, who ran the place, was a kind soul who always had a hot cup of coffee with just the right amount of cream and sugar waiting when Susie stopped to hand deliver her mail. Susie, for her part, made sure that Maggie always had some sort of mail, even if it was just a few leftover circulars from the day before.
Today there were actual envelopes for the garrulous old gal. Bills, if Susie was any judge. Better to drop them and go before Maggie could get going on how much harder things were these days. Maggie was a cheerful soul, but she could reminisce about the good old days (and revile the new) with the same bright smile she brought to everything. Susie suspected sometimes that the old girl was medicated.
Pleading a heavy delivery schedule, Susie was able to retreat with her steaming brew to the truck and do a little medicating of her own. Three minutes later and twice as alert, she turned the ignition and pulled up to the next box on her route. The day was definitely looking up.

She’d deliberately built her route so that she hit the rural houses on the east side of town early then came back to make the rest of the downtown deliveries in the middle of the day. In her opinion, the more people were out and about to see her perfectly legitimate delivery of a plain brown box, the better. People talked about furtive exchanges – be they of packages, words, or glances – but looked past what was right in front of them. Joe hadn’t liked it at first, but even he couldn’t argue with results. All the right people knew that flour and sugar weren’t the only white powders in his tins and that he had a wider variety of seasonings than your average bakery, but there’d never been any rumors about how they came into town.
If Susie had her way, there never would be.
Joe was busy with a customer and barely glanced her way as she deposited the box on his counter. “No signature,” she called out casually, and he acknowledged her with a distracted nod. On her way out the door she snagged a muffin from the display in the window. Blueberry, she noted with pleasure.
She glanced at the big analog clock above the bank door. Only eleven o’clock – she should be ahead of schedule for her second favorite stop of the day. Maybe she should call…
“Susie?” She glanced up at her shouted name and spotted Wayne hurrying across the road from his grocery store. She was tempted to hit the gas and pretend she hadn’t heard him, but with a hand full of muffin it wasn’t practical. With an internal sigh, she settled back and waited for him to reach her rolled-down window.
She summoned a smile for the rotund little bastard. “What can I do for you, Wayne?”
He ran a clammy hand over his sparse hair and favored her with an ingratiating little smile. “Good morning, Susie,” he began. As usual, he made too much eye contact and adjusted his clothing almost compulsively. Susie had learned to recognize the signs of his inept flirting a long time ago. “I was hoping that you might have a package for me today.” He was a terrible liar. “I’ve been looking forward to it.”
Susie shook her head with faux regret. “Nothing for you today, Wayne. Sorry.”
“Would you mind taking a look for me? As a personal favor?”
She did not want to deal with this right now…but it was probably faster to oblige him than to talk him out of his lie. With a sigh, she half-turned and pretended to check labels on all of the packages in the truck.
Wayne didn’t waste the time, prattling on about local events and dropping hints about which ones they might attend together without upsetting her husband. Susie did her best to ignore him.
“Sorry, Wayne,” she interrupted as soon as she had made a show of checking the final package. “Nothing today.” She turned the key in the ignition pointedly. “I’ll keep an eye out for you, though.”
“Oh, yes.” He stepped clear of the window. “Thank you. I’ll see you later, Susie.”
“In this town? I doubt we could avoid each other if we tried.” And she intended to try. Susie plastered on her best professional smile, the one that looked like it was carved out of wax, and gave him a little wave as she drove off. He waved after her an uncomfortably long time, but did finally turn to go inside before she reached the corner.
Thank god.
Her phone rang, the sound abrupt and startling in her tense state. She took a second to calm her pounding heart before picking it up and checking the caller. Jacob Barnes. Her irritation disappeared in a flash and she was smiling when she answered. “Good morning, Pastor.”
“Good morning, Susan. I’m sorry to bother you, but I have a few errands over at the church today. Would you mind terribly dropping all my mail off there, today? I process it all in my office in any case.”
Susie slumped a little in her seat. “Of course, Pastor. But you know that the church is near the end of my route; it’ll be another three or four hours before I get there.”
“I’ll probably be there most of the evening,” he assured her. “Patience is a virtue, you’ll remember.”
“I’ll do my best,” she acceded. Glancing around she saw no one on the street, and risked blowing a noisy kiss into the phone. “I’ll see you later this afternoon, then.”
Jacob chuckled. “Until then.”
Susie ended the call and dropped her phone back onto the center console. It figured; she’d been looking forward to a nooner before she had to finish her blasted route, but it looked like she was just going to have to sit on it for a few more hours. She was already headed out to the outlying houses on the western side of town; she’d finish them and then loop back through the last section of town and end up at the church. She hated meeting at the church; it would be so much easier for someone to notice her mail truck there than at Jacob’s country cottage. She’d have to keep their tryst brief today, and have him make it up to her later. She sighed. She was building up a backlog of “laters” with Jacob that almost rivaled the one she had with Mike.
What was the point of an explosive affair if you never got around to the explosions?
With sex on her mind and deliveries on her agenda, she turned onto the narrow road that led along the edge of the forest.

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NaNoWrimo 2012 Incoming!

Yes, it is that time of year again, when sanity flees and fingers fly. When brilliance takes a back seat to dilligence and even those of us who have been lazy and bad writers all year are going to sit up and churn out a novel.

Whether it will be a good novel remains to be seen.

I haven’t decided what I’m writing about this year. I’d like to say I have – I have this mood that’s been kicking it’s way around my head for upwards of two years now, but it’s never quite coalesced into a story. It’s not a plagiarism, but it wears it’s references on its sleeve and tries to evoke a feeling that I’ve only found in visual media. It’s not horror, but it walks wide around the edges of the genre.

I don’t know if it’s going to happen this year or not. I’m starting to collect my ideas for the tale, to see what this random assortment of scenes and characters becomes, but it’s still very wobbly. Fear not, though, Gentle Reader. If this tale refuses to be told, then I promise you that I will tell another. Whether you’ll ever get to see it is a harder question…shall I share it with the world, or bury it in the back of my computer never to be spoken of again?

Only time will tell.

Wait, what’s the date?

Oh, crap! That’s so close…

Duck and cover! Duck and cover!

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On Immortality

Life can be very ugly, but I am still astonishingly blessed to live in the time and place in which I do. And if, as I hope, future generations have it even better, then it will be partly due to the decisions and morality of myself and all those laboring in this current now.

May that labor lead ever onward to better and more beautiful things, and may each generation be given the blessing of outliving the grounded ideologies of the last.

Immortality is a lovely idea, but maybe only for the individual. For our society, it could well be a drag weight. Our elders keep us honest, temper the youthful glorification of all that is new or exciting. They also act as an anchor, holding us back from pursuing lofty ideals with the habits and mindsets of their lifetime.

It is a balanced system that has served our species very well. Our progress throughout history has been steady and almost uniformly forward, toward more liberated and egalitarian ideals. Atrocities still happen, but more and more of the world can recognize them for what they are, rather than simply accepting the way things are. Time and prosperity are the two things that our species needs in order to learn to accept one another. Time to change, and the prosperity to limit desperate acts.

But I wonder, sometimes, how our species might respond if we found ourselves gifted with a sudden preponderance of time, if there was no steady reaping to cull out old ideas when their time had finally passed, and allow a new status quo to settle in and shape society for the next fifty thirty years or so.

Time is important. Death is important. Even the greatest mind and the most liberated, versatile soul is a product of his or her era and upbringing. If immortality were suddenly free for all, would society cease its inexorable forward march, or would we, as individuals, learn to embrace more and greater changes over the course of our lives?

I’m not telling anyone to cut their lives short. Faced with the option of immortality, I don’t even know what choice I would make, myself. But I do wonder, sometimes, how much our world would have to change if anyone could live forever. How much we would have to change…and if, after all those changes, we (now) could even recognize ourselves in what we would become?

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A Few Thoughts on Conceptual Art

First, the disclaimer: In my opinion, there is no definition of art. Art is anything that the creator believes to be art: sketches, decor, paintings, or architecture. A well-designed vacuum. I don’t get to say any of it is not art, whether I like it or not.

I do, however, specify that the artist must believe the work is art, not just say the work is art, because there are an awful lot of flim-flam artists out there using junk to part the gullible from their cash. From the outside, I may not be able to be sure of the difference, but you know who you are…and you should be deeply ashamed.

And that brings me to my point: if anything can be art, then what constitutes good art? That is highly subjective, of course. Generally, it seems to be “anything that a lot of people agree with the creator about.”

Therefore, what I am about to say is not intended as a broad dismissal of an entire category of art…it is merely my personal view of this particular category.

On to the rant!

I see it all the time: random objects grouped together and given a cute or outrageous title and a little description explaining why the artist feels that these found objects constitute art and what they are really saying.

I loathe this.

In my opinion, these people are to talented artists what ‘idea guys’ are to novelists. You know the ‘idea guy’ – the one who is always telling you how he could be a writer, too, because he’s got this great idea and dismissing the fact that you actually sat down and wrote your idea into a novel as simply a technicality. He thinks that the tenacity and effort and detail work involved in actually realizing the idea is for other people, and he’s unusual for having a clever concept.

I have news for you all: for most people, coming up with the idea is the easy part. I can brainstorm a hundred (or more) novel/short story ideas in an hour and very few of them hold up once I actually start writing. The clever concept turns out to kneecap execution and the idea has to be scrapped until a whole new approach can be developed.

Having the skill to convey your idea to an audience is something else entirely. It takes work, and practice, and perseverance, and no little amount of luck. It takes showing up and working hard, and just because you’ve done it once doesn’t mean it will be easy to do it again, either.

I don’t care if you’ve got the most amazing idea in the history of ideas – unless you get off your butt and create art – painted, written, or other. I also don’t care if you suddenly realized that the humble mason jar is the perfect metaphor for women in our society: undervalued, tougher than they look, versatile, beautiful, yet impossible to fix once they’re broken.

I. Don’t. Care.

Now, if you find a way to convey that idea with imagery, shape, and form?

Talk to me. Seriously. I’ve got nothing, but I am 100% sure that there is a talented artist out there who could pull it off.

You can make anything art, just by believe it is But if you can’t make someone else feel your art (or at least understand some of your meaning without a clever written caption) then you will never get my interest.

It doesn’t even have to be an easy piece to understand. If it looks like it took skill to put together, I’ll probably take a minute to try to figure it out. You can even make the title a hint, I don’t mind.

Just don’t expect me to pay money – or even attention – for an idea that took you thirty seconds to come up with, no effort to implement, and that made no effort to engage me at all.

It might be art, but it’s still a dime a dozen.

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Poetry: Inspiration

I scent the air with a seventh sense,
Like a predator circling in.
I push toward the center, but the center pushes back.

I trawl my net through black pitch depths,
Stirring up three decades of detritus.
Fragments. Garbage. Missing parts.
Pointless facts and random patterns.
The geometry of creation conforms to no known configuration.

I swing my fists frantically at shadows,
I struggle against the sucking mud of my own mind.
I dive beneath the surface and the riptide carries away my free will.

Only to return it again
In a violent rush
The moment I cease my long vigil.
The muse of ice cream headaches,
The ghost of migraines past,
The Faustian deal of my subconscious self,
The price of the rite of paper and pen.

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I’m So Grateful…

The human race still has far to go, and even here in the United States where I live there are hundreds of things I would change – hateful, cruel things. Incomplete reforms. Tragic situations that could be remedied with just a little human kindness. I don’t mean to discount any of that here, and I will continue to fight and vote for the changes we need. Today, though, I want to step back and comment on how far we’ve come and how lucky I, personally, am to live in the time and place where I am.

I am grateful to be born in a place where women are legally equal and nearly so even in cultural status.

I am glad to live in a place where sexuality and the nature of gender or love is treated as a personal state and not a requirement, and where we are advanced enough to even have the debate about what constitutes love.

I am overjoyed to be able to speak my mind freely, with only the weight of social pressure to enforce polite discourse, as I am glad of my right to bring social pressure against those I disagree with, to promote further change.

I am proud to be part of a society that values science and knowledge, where even those using religious arguments are expected to seek facts to support their claims if they wish to be heard.

I am happy to live in a giving society where charity is considered an important trait.

I am thrilled to live in an advanced society, where information, education, and tools are widely available to help the motivated individual improve themselves and their lives.

I am profoundly lucky to live in an affluent society, where I have the choice to simplify my life as I wish, rather than being trapped in the enforced simplicity of poverty.

I am ecstatic to live in a place where terrorist attacks and mass slaughter are so rare as to be shocking and worthy of national outrage. A decade later, and we still mourn. How lucky we are, to have that luxury, when other human beings must face such tragedy so routinely.

I hope for many changes in the years ahead, but it is important to remember that I am already lucky. As backward and painful as it sometimes is, I live in a place far closer to paradise than many. Certainly, there are other places far better and more reasoning than this country…but perhaps that, too, is lucky. I have much still to fight for, and strong models of my ideals can be found, scattered throughout the other nations of the world.

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New in the Etsy Shop: Vibrant

Rich red sky, purple mountains, and green pine trees.Vibrant is a deliberate attempt to get past my fear of bright and rich colors. I have a marked tendency to work in just one or two colors at a time, because I’ve never trusted my color sense.

In this painting, my goal was to cut loose and use the richest colors at my disposal. If it came out horribly, I could give myself a well deserved “I told me so,” and if it came out wonderfully, I would have overcome a great and pressing lack of confidence.

I think it definitely came out toward the wonderful end of the spectrum…but the colors are just a little *too* contrasty for my tastes, nonetheless.

I love it, but I don’t know that I want it on my wall. I like my muted tones a little bit too much.

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