Slipping poison into a vial of laughter


I don’t know much about Seth MacFarlane – mainly that he has a different sense of humor than mine, because many of his jokes fall flat with me – but he seems to be an intelligent and talented man, so when the characters in his scripts say or do something, I think he knows what they’re saying or doing.

I’ve been mostly enjoying MacFarlane’s television show The Orville, his homage to Star Trek, but he stopped me cold last week with an exchange during the episode titled “All the World Is Birthday Cake,” written by MacFarlane, in which Capt. Ed Mercer’s crew makes first contact with a civilization much like ours but a century or two behind the enlightened Union space travelers.

During a banquet scene, one of the natives asks about the economic system of the visitors, saying, “I’m fascinated that there’s no form of currency exchange.” Continue reading “Slipping poison into a vial of laughter”


A day lost and found

above the contrail

The day had come and gone without his notice. He had buried his face in the everyday and could not say whether the sun had shone all day or if snow had dusted the neighborhood. It was as if he had slept all day, but he remembered waking.

Outside, he knew, there was a cold colder than the coldest cold and a land anxious for spring, but he hadn’t glanced out the window, as far as he could remember, so he couldn’t say if the ground was softer or harder or ice-covered or some lingering grass was visible. He thought he may have communicated with the outside world but couldn’t remember the details. Continue reading “A day lost and found”

3 journal fragments: What time is now

willow 12-21-2018

Almost a month into my Year of Finishing, and I haven’t finished anything yet. Even the schedule of what to finish, and when, isn’t done. What gets finished first, hmm?

What time is now?

I’m amused by the new bosses who have spent the last eight years screaming in the faces of elected officials that their policies are shameful and hurtful and mean, and now, having succeeded in winning significant seats from those they have treated as mortal enemies, now call for civility and bipartisanship. Where was civility when their duly elected opponents were passing their legislation? Where was civility when they were shouting from the gallery and fighting to have courts declare their opponents’ laws illegal and immoral?

What time is now? Is it time for civility and bipartisanship – the latter a code word for “cave to my demands” – or is it simply time to resume the battle, with the battle lines redrawn? Continue reading “3 journal fragments: What time is now”

Lost in the flit


The thoughts bombarded him like an automatic machine gun spraying the yard like lethal missiles. Overstimulated, he folded into a stupor, unable to think straight enough to take a step one way or another. Sounds, blinking lights, and hundreds of people dashing or walking this way and that.

He knew he had somewhere to go but suddenly had no interest or memory of where that might be, only an overwhelming urge to process the scene in front of him. It was if he had been dropped into a teeming ant hill: Everyone about him knew where they were going and was going straight about their business, but it looked like chaos. He wanted to see the pattern, he wanted to see how it all fit together, the infinite combinations. Continue reading “Lost in the flit”

A premise in search of a story

press dreamstime_s_84073300

The Printer. The Librarian. The Disk Jockey. Three denizens of Sunset Electronica, a story or novel or series of stories or novels for which I have a premise, a setting, but no story to tell.

They all preside over electric or electronic devices but old ones, built before computers were installed and equipped with tracking devices. The press was just a big machine – so was the turntable, and the book.

We can add The Mechanic to our cast of characters. And The Tracker, a hunter who does not depend on electronics to find fish or deer. They are the Keepers of the Old Ways, regarded with awe now but once with bemusement, for of what use were the Old Ways in a digital utopia? Continue reading “A premise in search of a story”

Fill the unforgiving minute

how to get it done

“If you can’t be great, then there’s no sense in ever playing music again, Sal.”

— Eddie Wilson, creative genius, in Eddie & The Cruisers

Is Eddie right? If you fail over and over to produce great work, you may as well quit? (That is not what he said, but it’s the underlying premise.)

No, Eddie’s wrong, as you might expect me to say given my devotion to Bradbury, whose mantra is attached to my desktop: “You only fail if you stop writing.”

Creating art of any kind is about the art – you can strive to be great, but there’s plenty of sense in making music whether you can or can’t be great. Continue reading “Fill the unforgiving minute”

Before you throw that old book into the trash …

classic trash

Click this link to discover an article that should be required reading for everyone who loves literature.

It’s also for everyone who asks to ban The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn because Huck uses the “N-word” to describe his friend Jim, for everyone who refuses to enjoy old movies or read any book more than 10 minutes old because the ancient artist’s point of view is abhorrent seen through our modern eyes.

It’s as if we imagine an old book to be a time machine that brings the writer to us. We buy a book and take it home, and the writer appears before us, asking to be admitted into our company. If we find that the writer’s views are ethnocentric or sexist or racist, we reject the application, and we bar his or her entry into the present.

As the student had put it, I don’t want anyone like that in my house.

I think we’d all be better readers if we realized that it isn’t the writer who’s the time traveler. It’s the reader. When we pick up an old novel, we’re not bringing the novelist into our world and deciding whether he or she is enlightened enough to belong here; we’re journeying into the novelist’s world and taking a look around.

The difference in perspective, the clarification of who exactly is doing the traveling, might lead to a different kind of reading experience.

Please, for your own sake, read the article.

My Year of Finishing

2018 is over

The turning of a calendar is arbitrary and perhaps an odd time to be making assessments, although there is no bad time to take stock and decide whether everything is on track and moving along on plan. For that matter, birthdays work for this purpose, too, the passing of a year being complete with a full journey around the sun measured and filed away.

Being born on the first day of spring, more or less, has its advantages, as I have always had three-quarters of a year to prepare for the coldest and harshest time of the journey through the cycle of seasons. Or is my assessment that winter is the most unpleasant time simply my perception because of when I was born? Do December babies love winter? Do we always love our first season the most? Have I just solved Ray Bradbury’s love of late summer and fall – Ray, who was born Aug. 22?

Last year I resolved to write a short story a week, a la Bradbury, an exercise that survived perhaps 10 weeks. It did result in Chapter One of what I consider my best idea in a while, the Comfort & Joy Detective Agency, although even that has stalled after that one chapter like so many of my projects. I have struggled with stick-to-it-iveness, which is why my journals have become my most successful writing project: I have done some scribbling almost every morning for almost four years now, contemplating goals and issues and navels, tossing out fragments of story and imagery.

Some of those fragments and observations have appeared here, some of them have been transcribed into still-unfinished projects. Here’s one from New Year’s Eve, this past Monday:

“You’re finished,” she said. “So celebrate.”

“That sounds so final,” he said nervously. “Like I’m finished, so it’s time to die. I want to call this new year My Year of Finishing, but to me that makes it sound like ‘this will be the day that I die’ or something.”

“Can I point something out?” she said. “The man who wrote the song with the refrain, ‘This will be the day that I die,’ lived to write the song. Last I looked, he was still alive almost 50 years on.”

“Oh yeah,” he said, now sheepish. “OK, then: 2019 will be My Year of Finishing.”