A Train Ride to an Unknown Stop

“A great man is always willing to be little.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

The curse of living is not age, but the aging of those around you.  One by one, the flowers of your life, those who brought you the greatest color and beauty, whither and return to the Earth.

You move on, not because you want to, but because you must.  Life’s locomotion chugs always forward, the Little Engine that Could Not Help Itself.  You carry on the memory of those you passed along the way, those who got off the train at one stop or another.

Your ticket is one with no destination.  You ride the rail, ignorant of its path, never knowing what mountain or plain that will next grace the view.  From your window seat, you watch the storms, quivering with a child’s fear, then soak in the glory of the breaking sun, relieved to have survived.

In the confined quarters of the passenger car, you meet fellow travelers.  Some ride for only short, barely noticed spurts.  Others have ridden for as long as you remember, seeming to have as steady a presence as the train itself.

One of the greatest passengers I have known, my Grandpa Joe, is likely nearing the end of his travel.  I fear his departure may leave me missing one of my great influences, one of the few people I’ve known who can transcend the scenery, never affected by snow or storm, he speaks with everyone, yelling affectionate greetings of “Hey little sister!” or “Hey little brother!” to all the children, promising to take them fishing, the way he did their mothers and fathers, the way he did me.

On his worst days, his mood has rarely been darkened.  Sitting and chatting in his overalls, with a crucifix dangling lightly from the front pocket, he always has the appearance of comfort, despite all the pain his body has given him, especially of late.

He is a man who has read the bible cover to cover multiple times.  His relationship with God is personal and strong, and his loyalty to his family as absolute and concrete as his faith.

People speak of self-actualization, those who obtained it, defining it by example.  My example is him.  His is the happiness I most admire, not fueled by possessions and titles, but by love.

The world has changed around him.  The small-town gas station he owned, often leaving the pumps unattended, the door unlocked, trusting even strangers to leave money for the gas they took, is gone.  Nothing of it remains.  The home he owned, the one in which he raised his children and his raccoon hounds, is more in need of bulldozing than restoration.  But his mark on the world, his little section of rural Iowa, is permanent and absolute.

If a man’s worth is gauged by love, then he is rich beyond any I have met.  Where others aspire for the riches of Bill Gates, or the looks of Holly Berry, I aspire only for the happiness of Joe Brammer.

I know we are nearing his stop.  As he lays in hospice, surrounded by his living legacy, God stands with him, smiling at the work he has done.  The train is slowing, the brakes shrieking sparks, as we approach the depot.  I am sad, not just for myself, but for all of us.  My Grandpa Joe will soon be leaving the train.  The ride will never be the same without him.  I have no doubt that deep in your heart, whether you know him or not, you will miss him, as well.

The horizon darkens.  The winter night will be bitter cold.   But daybreak always comes again, smiling warmly like Grandpa Joe.

Just In Case You Need a Reason to Write

NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month for those who don’t do acronyms, is fast upon us.  This will be my first year taking part, but it appears to be an excuse for writers to spend inordinate amounts of time at their keyboards writing bad fiction as quickly as possible.  The goal is to write 50,000 words in 30 days.

This comes out to right around 1,667 words a day.  That really doesn’t sound like much in the grand scheme of things.  Stephen King apparently does around 4,000 a day.  At that rate, he would be done in under two weeks, leaving the rest of the month for college football and Thanksgiving turkey.  50,000 probably isn’t that much for any full-time writer, provided they weren’t going to take time to polish every page prior to proceeding.

But, for the rest of us, those who spend 30, 4o, 50, or more hours a week plugging away at a day job, then trying to find time to plug away at a keyboard in our spare time, 50,000 can be a bit of an obstacle.

1,667 isn’t much on its own.  The real difficulty is doing it every day for 30 days.  What is the last thing you did every day, without fail, for thirty days?  There are few things that you are truly able to find time for every day, especially in a month that includes a major holiday that for a lot of people requires travel.

My own goal will be 2,000 words a day.  Chances are, due to my job, if nothing else, there will be a couple of days during which I don’t have time to write.  Should that happen, I want to be on pace to be well over 50,000.

It isn’t that I need motivation to write.  I don’t.  I have completed and submitted nine stories in the last two months.  Productivity hasn’t been much of an issue.  What I really need is support in writing a novel.  I’ve never written a piece of fiction longer than 8,000 words.  Finishing a novel would be the realization of a dream, of sorts.

November will be my excuse to put all my other stories aside and work only on my novel.  I think I have a good concept.  I have found some interesting characters.  My prep work has been going well.  I think I am ready.   So, let’s get to it.  I’ll try to keep you all updated on how it is going.

Best of luck to all of those who are going to take part.  Keep punching that keyboard and I’ll see you at 50,000 on the 3oth.

Here we go.

 

The Horror of 9/11

Ten years ago, the world changed.  9/11 is the most significant event of my generation.  With any luck, it will be  the last of it’s kind.  But I doubt it.  There has always been terror, and there have always been those who wield it.  Some, like myself and other writers, wield terror creatively, not to impose fear, but to face them.  In facing our fears, we find out who we are.  By looking into the shadows, we expose our personalities to the brightest lights.

The best horror has always been a reflection of society’s fears.  Vampires and werewolves were born out of superstition.  Other monsters, such as Frankenstein and Godzilla, were born out of science and nuclear war.  These days, we have no need of superstition, nor monsters.  Our fears lie waiting behind much more familiar doors.

Our greatest threat is human.  Humans are capable of far more destruction than any monster.  As we found ten years ago, our monsters may be anywhere and strike at any time.  We live in a world where a simple search on your computer may find pedophiles next door.  Mothers and fathers kill their children.  We are connected by the anonymous thread of the internet, never knowing who is on the other side.  Yet, we post everything about ourselves and our loved ones for all to see.  Meanwhile, there are those out there who would use that information to harm our children.

This is the world we live in, an age of enlightenment.  We know the capabilities of humankind, both good and bad.  9/11 was a reflection of that knowledge.

You may have seen the terrorists, at the airport, in their cars, out and about before the attacks.  They weren’t hiding in caves.  They were living among us.  They committed a horrible act that most of us could have never imagined would take place in the United States.  Two structures synonymous with our success toppled in a matter of minutes.  The horrified and hopeless jumped to their deaths.  Almost three thousand people died on that day.

But then, the most amazing thing happened.  People ran in to the collapsing buildings trying to save others.  Others dug through the wreckage looking for survivors.  A group of passengers on a hijacked plane said, “Let’s roll.” and showed the terrorists real strength. We came together as a nation, paid our respects, and healed.

We will never forget.  We saw our greatest fears come to life, but that isn’t what will be remembered.  We will remember the great strength shown  in its wake.  Today, we remember the heroes of 9/11, those who died and those who lived.  We remember the day we were thrust into the darkness and found our greatest light.  We remember where we were, how we felt, and how it changed everything.

Ten years ago, I was a journalism student, waking up to a phone call from my best friend.  He said, “Dude, we are under attack.”  I will remember that phone call for the rest of my life.  I will remember the heroic acts of those who refused to give in to fear.  I will remember their affect on me.  I will never forget.  I doubt you will, either.

Our fears make us human.  Our ability to overcome them makes us special.  God bless the heroes who that showed us that.

The Rage of One Man

The rage of one man is nothing to fear.  It is generally pointless, aimless, and like a flash fire burning hot for moments, before burning itself out.  It is a smoldering cigarette, extinguished by mere chance, or the proper placement of a boot.

But sometimes, that smoldering cigarette catches fire to nearby grass or leaves, it spreads and spreads till you see entire California towns evacuated due to raging wildfires.  The same way, rage can spread from one man, to another, to another, and another.  The rage of two men can be dangerous, but is directed in a single direction.  The rage of many, like a wildfire, will consume everything around it.

Today, London is consumed by rage.  The heat has become so widespread, that few could probably tell you from where the initial spark came.  The problem with civil unrest, is that it’s victims are not the government, nor the authorities, nor any of the people who were in any way responsible for the unrest.  The victims are people, just like those whose rage has consumed them, just like the people who are now victimizing the innocent, just because they can.

Civil unrest made us what we are as a nation.  It is a great and powerful thing.  It molded us into the single most powerful democracy on the face of the Earth, but it has lost its way.  Not just in the U.S., but in London, as well.

I have been in a position to see a few riots, and to witness their aftermath.  What was once a means of expressing displeasure has become a means of causing senseless destruction and committing senseless thefts.  From the recent riots in Canada, sparked by the simple losing of a sport, to the current riots in London, which were at least partially sparked by a police shooting, as well as slashes in government spending.

I will make no judgements of who is right and wrong in those issues.  I was not there for the shooting, and I am not an economist.  Where I will make judgement is of the people who have used this unrest for the sake of looting stores and burning businesses to the ground.  Did the owner of a family business that had existed for generations pull the trigger than gunned down a man.  Of course not.  But they burned his business to the ground.  Did the manager of an electronics store slash government spending.  Not at all, yet it is his storefront that has been destroyed and his stock that has been stolen.

The riots will come to an end.  All rage, no matter how severe, eventually burns out, but the victims will still have been victimized.  Meanwhile, people who would never throw a brick through a storefront or steal high-priced sneakers on their own are in stores, taking whatever they can carry.  And tomorrow, when the riots are over, when they can no longer hide behind the name of social unrest, they will be simple thieves, minor criminals.

If by some chance, one reads this blog someday, on a laptop stolen in the name of some person they cared nothing about, or some budget cuts they really didn’t know about in the first place, I ask that person to look hard at themselves, then click to another page, because I don’t want you being part of my world, even the little piece that is this blog.

Rage, I will always understand, even if I don’t agree.  Parasitic scum, however, will never have my sympathy.

From Associated Press

 

Writing: 3000 words on a short story, re-writing past longer short for submission

Currently reading:  What Dreams May Come by Richard Matheson, Strunk and White’s Essential Guide to Style, Burning Chrome by William Gibson, On Writing Horror by The Horror Writer’s Association

Recently finished: Starship Troopers by Robert Heinline.

Recently saw:  Middle Men