A Thought in the Cold

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So there I was, in the shower seconds before the horror…that moment right after I’ve turned the hot water off and I’m waiting for that frigid rush of existential proportions. After all these years, it still horrifies me. So…there I was. I’d just turned off the hot water. Waiting for seconds that stretch into the horror of knowing what was coming. And then it hit like an airbag made out of ice. It hurt. And at that exact moment of wondering why I was doing this to myself, I had a thought. A weird one…well…yeah…like most of my thoughts. The thought went something like this: “Love is an envelope you must lick before you seal.” 

What the hell is that supposed to mean? 

BTW, the photo has nothing to do with this. I just like it. 

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How Writing Expunged My Nightmares

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I never finished high school. I was short one credit: Math. A subject I hate more than pig’s brains fried with onions (which I will never eat again, no matter how much I don’t want to offend Albanian naval officers who jump ship in Halifax in the 70s and move to Fredericton where they give house parties featuring Albanian cooking and fried pig’s brains being an Albanian delicacy).

   Regardless of the school’s requirements for graduation (which they changed the following year), I wanted to go to university. So I wrote the college entrance exams and passed, which left me with a choice: attend high school for another year to take one course in a subject I hate…or…go straight to college and take subjects I love.

   Went to college. Got an honors degree in English Literature. Still don’t know what a cosine is. Don’t ever want to know what it is.

   So, everything was going smoothly until about five or six years after I graduated. That’s when I started having nightmares. I was back in high school after being away for a while; in fact, it was the exact same school that wanted to torture me with Math for another year. 

   Only different.

   I didn’t know anyone. Couldn’t find my locker. When I tried to ask questions, the students walked past me as though I were an invisible ghost. Somehow I managed to find my locker. Nothing inside it made any sense. The books were a mystery. My schedule was a mystery. Everybody was in class and the halls were empty. I was alone, trying to figure out what class I was supposed to be in and where it was. I was terrified and puzzled. I was afraid I was going to flunk if I didn’t get to my next class soon.

   Suddenly, I was sitting in a classroom. (You know how dreams are. You’re here, you’re there.)

   It was a French class. I hadn’t been to any of the classes and the finals were coming up in a few days. I didn’t have a clue the material I was going to be examined on. The text  book was in a foreign language (well…yeah). I couldn’t hear anything the teacher was saying; in fact, I couldn’t even see the teacher. The students around me were all looking straight ahead at some place where the teacher was supposed to be. They were expressionless and completely unaware of me, negating any hope of help from my fellow students.

   I started to worry. I looked at the text book. All that stuff I was supposed to know in just a few days. I was doomed. I was going to flunk French. I’d come back to high school just to fail. 

   Wait a minute! I’m back in high school? Why the hell am I back in high school? I have a college degree. 

   At which point, I’d wake up all sweaty and stressed out but relieved that I wasn’t going to flunk French. Yay!

   I had this dream two or three times a month right up to the time, years and years and years later, when a fellow by the name of J. Richard Jacobs invited me to submit some stories to an anthology he was putting together called Twisted Tails. They were stories with a twist at the end that caused revelation, shock or whatever wasn’t expected. A surprise. 

   I was experiencing a serious case of writers block at the time. The novel I was working on was mired in a complete lack of here’s-where-I’m-taking-this-next. Everything had just stopped dead. But there was this invitation to write some short stories, so each evening I went to the coffee shop where my daughter was working and wrote four short stories in pencil. Yep, pencil. 

   One of the stories I wrote was called School Dazed. It was my nightmare revealed in pencil. Of course, I had to redo it in Word to submit to J, but there it was…right in front me like a confession. 

   The story was published in the first Twisted Tails anthology…and guess what? That’s right, I never had that dream again. The same happened with a recurring nightmare I had about being caught in a labyrinth of horrors in a haunted house I’d visited when I was a teenager. And that really bad case of arachnophobia? Wrote it away. 

   I tried writing a story about a man who won the lottery, but apparently it just works for nightmares. 

   Now, where was I going with this? Right…writing can be therapeutic. More on this later. In the meantime, if you have a recurring nightmare, try writing a short story about it. 

Don’t Say A Word

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So there I was…with a finished novel after just eight years. Not that it took me eight years to write it. I took about four years off to study photography and another couple of years to apply some of that studying to the actual pursuit of picture taking.

During this time, I used the storyboard for my novel as an example of story boarding in my Writing Hurts Like Hell workshops. I also talked about the novel profusely, to anyone who would listen. I even posted excerpts on my blog.

Let’s turn the clock back a bit…to long before I started the novel…way back to the days of Sinclair Lewis. He and his wife would never utter out loud the title of his book Main Street for fear that another writer would pick up on it psychically and use it. Which, of course, assumes that writers are somehow psychically connected.

Maybe so, maybe not so.

I finished the novel over a year ago and put it aside for a few months before going through it for one last round of revisions. Then, I started contacting literary agents. Lots of them. After a few weeks, they started getting back to me with the usual death threats and warnings of legal action. I’m used to this. I bask in the dark light of agent rejection and use it to fuel my enthusiasm for the impossible.

But I didn’t like some of their comments, especially the ones who said things like:

‘We don’t need another Three Faces of Eve book. What the hell were you thinking when you wrote this garbage?’ 

‘Have you seen the movie Seven Sisters? Obviously you have, because this novel of yours is just a rewrite of the movie with a different title, different characters, different story line and different concept. And different uses of the word “and.” Rejected!’

Bastards.

But now that the word’s out, I can talk about the word. The name of the novel is The Weekly Man, not Six Brothers and One Sister. Both have seven main characters.

Seven Sisters has three women born the same day in a society that only allows one baby, so they hide their identity and each of the sisters can go outside their home one day of the week and they name themselves after the day they can go out (i.e., Monday, Tuesday…you know, days of the week).

The Weekly Man has seven personalities living in the same body. The one who was born in that body on Monday exists every Monday (but isn’t named after the day). The one who was born in that body on Tuesday only exists on Tuesdays (and he isn’t named after the day either). So, a different personality each day, ending with a female personality on Sunday (but she’s not named Sunday).

In Seven Sisters, the characters all know of each other’s existence; in fact, they live together. In The Weekly Man, the characters (even though they live in the same body) don’t know of each other’s existence until they’re in their 30s and they start meeting on social media. It took over a year of research and banging my head on table tops in the coffee shops around the city where I did my writing to work this out.

In Seven Sisters, the characters are focused on keeping their existence secret from the rest of the world . In The Weekly Man, the characters are kept secret from each other. Seven Sisters is a serious movie. The Weekly Man is humor. For instance, the Tuesday character is trying to murder the Thursday character but can’t because the they don’t exist on the same day. And, of course, the Sunday character is thinking about getting a sex change.

Now, I’m not saying that the people who wrote and produced Seven Sisters picked up on my idea through some kind of psychic connection. I would never say such a foolish thing, Sinclair Lewis or not. However, I did learn a lesson from this: When you start a novel, finish it. Don’t talk about it. Don’t be distracted by photography or other pursuits. Don’t use your novel’s storyboard in your writing workshops.

And don’t let the agents get you down when they point at you and laugh. It’s their job. It’s nothing personal. Well, the death threats are kind of personal, but I get those all the time, and not just from agents.

I guess the thing to do is sit on the book for a couple of years until there’re all new agents out there who don’t watch movies and have never read books on multiple personalities. Yeah…a couple of years.

In the meantime, I’m working on another novel. But I’m not going to talk about it. And I’m sure as hell not going to say the title out loud.

Attack of the Blue Eyed Zombies

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A friend recently posted a Tweet on his Facebook that I found interesting. It was from a woman, whose name was hidden under a red highlight. It went like this:

Stop complimenting people’s blue eyes. It’s basically complimenting whiteness. Less than 1% of non-white people have blue eyes. No one ever says someone with brown eyes has beautiful eyes. Brown eyes are beautiful. I love mine.

Complimenting whiteness? What the hell? Suppose you have a husband or wife who has blue eyes. You’re not supposed to say something like, “My god, you have beautiful eyes.” 

Here’s how I commented:

I’ve complimented many people on their green and brown eyes. I think this complaint is going over the edge of political correctness and I really hate it when people like this tell me how I should react with other people in a way that takes away my right to be an individual because they have a ridiculous personal problem.

This tweet is reverse discrimination. If you’re white, then yoau’re getting something you’re not entitled to get…because you’re white. And you should feel bad about getting the compliment because less than 1% of non-white people have blue eyes. And this is your fault. Because you have blue eyes. And you’re white.

Bullshit. 

We’ve always lived in a world where no matter what you say or do, you’re going to make some people happy and piss others off. We get through this by doing or saying the things we believe in and to hell with that annoying group of people whose ire you awaken by expressing yourself.

And yes, there are certain things that are unacceptable under any circumstances. Walking up to a stranger and putting a bullet in their head is never good. Calling someone a racist name is bad. Saying or writing words to incite others to commit crimes is wrong.

But increasingly, I’m seeing swarms of self-righteous people making up arbitrary rules on language, behavior, purchases, preferences, opinions and…well…everything. 

A friend of mine unfriended me on Facebook over a disagreement we had about an article in which a woman felt that she was somehow being denigrated by men who opened doors for her. I’ve seen women open doors for men. Does this mean they’re denigrating men? 

It seems like everyone with a pet peeve, no matter how petty, is using social media to control others with their inane pronouncements on conduct that, unfortunately, gather a certain amount of momentum from a population that’s so afraid of doing the wrong thing and being criticized by others that they take this garbage seriously. 

The problem with this is that it keeps us focused on small matters of personal presentation rather on the larger matters such as the death of our planet, the increasing likelihood of nuclear war…you know…stuff we should be thinking about instead of wondering if it’s OK to tell my daughter that she has beautiful blue eyes.

Around Sunset in the Graveyard

So, this is a hippie story. It takes place in the early 70s when Freddy Beach was still recovering from the Strax Affair which made the University of New Brunswick one of the most newsworthy campuses in the country for demonstrations and student unrest. You can read about that here, but it doesn’t really have anything to do with this hippie story.

This story takes place in a graveyard right in the heart of downtown Freddy Beach. 

I had hair at that time. In fact, it was almost down to my ass. I was a hippie. I wore beads. I had a leather vest with a peace sign painted on it. The peace sign glowed under black lights. I did drugs, mostly LSD, called acid at the time. My roommates and friends did acid as well. When we did acid outside in the summer and fall, it was in the Old Burial Ground, so-called because the first burial was in 1787. That’s a long time ago. Old.

We used to do hits of acid while sitting in a group of four or five people in this area:

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We talked to the people buried here and sometimes they talked to us. Well, not to me. But some of the members of the group engaged in long conversations with the long deceased. I was mostly quiet when I was on acid, you know, just grooving out on the dinosaurs and elephants parading in front of me. 

One member of the group was a hippie witch named Miska. Miska never sat with us. Instead, she lay down in one of the tombs; in fact, this one:

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At that time the cover stone was broken and whatever remains had been inside were long gone. After Miska dropped her hit of acid, she climbed into the tomb and lay down with her hands across her chest. She said that this made her one of the dead and made it possible for her to go on adventures with the dead people in the graveyard. She never told us anything about those adventures. We didn’t ask. 

One day, about a half hour before sunset, we were sitting in our favorite graveyard spot with one or two people talking to people long since deceased (not me though, I was watching dinosaurs) and Miska was in her tomb with her hands across her chest having adventures with the dead. We were all doing our thing when a couple passed by us on the sidewalk, right where it curves:

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Now, the spot where they walked was a fair distance from the tomb where Miska consorted with the dead, but it was still light enough to give a clear view of the tomb. 

I stopped watching extinct animals and elephants and looked at the couple. They seemed nice, probably in their late teens. They smiled as they approached us. We smiled back. Everybody  was smiling and it was one of those moments when everybody was happy and smiling at each other. 

It was around that moment that the male of the couple turned his head towards the tomb where Miska lay. And it was at that exact moment that Miska stopped gallivanting with the dead and sat straight up with her hands across her chest and her eyes wide open. And Miska had very wide eyes surrounded by black eye shadow. And she had very long, very black hair. And she was wearing a black dress. The suddenness of her unexpected movement could be very disturbing if you weren’t used to her. 

The male walker wasn’t used to her. In fact, I don’t think he’d ever seen anything like her before, at least, judging by his reaction. He screamed. It wasn’t even a man scream, it was a high pitched anti-man scream. And then he started running. He ran down the side walk, out the gates, across the street parallel to the graveyard (without even looking for traffic), up the street across from the graveyard and out of site. 

His girlfriend stood there watching him run away, leaving her at the mercy of whatever horror he deemed Miska to be. I seem to recall her making several faces, none of them approving of her boyfriend’s behavior until, after he was clean out of sight, she shrugged. She looked at us and one of the girls with us invited her over and gave her a hit of acid. 

We tripped out in the graveyard well into dark and her boyfriend never came back. 

 

When Gravity Catches Us: Thoughts on Thinking

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We live in two worlds; one’s outside, one’s inside.

The outside world is the world of earth, air, water and fire. It makes its own rules and we obey them. Walk off the edge of a cliff and this world gives you gravity. Build wax wings and fly toward the sun and it will suffocate you before you reach 30,000 feet. These are the rules of the world that existed long before we arrived. We’re the eggs; outside is the chicken. 

The inside world is in our heads and under our skin. It’s where we think and where we feel. It’s us…the eggs…and we also make our own rules but the outside world doesn’t necessarily follow them. We have to adapt our rules to conform to the rules of that other world. Walking off a cliff? Wear a parachute. Flying into the sun? Surround yourself with a space ship. 

This hierarchy of rules has worked well for about a million years, or since whatever date you deem human thinking to have begun back at the beginnings of the bicameral mind or maybe when we learned how to build a campfire without becoming the logs. If we come to a river where we think there should be a path, we build a bridge. If we need water for power, we build a dam.

This is not changing the rules; this is modifying them, and that’s OK: beavers build dams. 

The problems start when we ignore the rules or deliberately disregard them, like when we build thirty dams on the same river. Or when we remove masses of material from the earth and transform them into materials that never have and never should exist and then we coat the earth with them, like buttering the planet with poison. 

And you might ask: Why the hell would we do that? And I might answer: Because we convince ourselves that we’re not doing it…even while we’re doing it. For example, you buy the health wise, low calorie pasta bowl that cooks in just four and a half minutes in the microwave. When you finish the meal, you have a sense of doing something right, giving your body healthy sustenance. And you throw all that plastic packaging and the plastic bowl into the plastic garbage bag without thinking that what you’re doing is being simultaneously done by millions of other people. 

All that plastic.

When it comes to satisfying our needs and wants, we look at the good and ignore the bad. It’s called rationalizing and rationalizing is one of the highest levels of intellectual activity and very likely the key ingredient in the extinction of the human race. 

Some people talk about how logical the rational mind is, but there’s nothing innately logical about it. Logic says, “I’ll buy the smaller more fuel efficient car and be part of the solution.” Rational says: “I’ll buy the gas guzzling SUV because everybody else is buying the smaller cars, so it doesn’t really matter what I buy.”

It’s adaptive thinking. At which point you say, “Adaptation is good. It’s a survival mechanism that allows us evolve as the conditions around us change.” But there’s a big difference between adaptive thinking and adaptive evolution. 

Adaptive thinking wraps itself around the needs of the moment and justifies itself by meeting the needs of the moment, but we’re not going to physically adapt to a world with un-breathable air. We can live underground or in controlled climate housing or maybe even under the ocean, but we’re not going to walk in a park, canoe down a river or harvest a crop without some form of portable life support system, at least (depending on future technologies) not for several hundred or several thousand years. 

If we’re still around that long. 

Back to that thing called rationalizing. 

It creates a situation in which we create another world (the one we think we live in) and the real world (the one we live in). The problem here is that we’re so good at rationalizing that the world we think we live in becomes the world we live in. We convince ourselves that tossing that plastic water bottle into the garbage isn’t going to be harmful to the outside world because it isn’t harmful in our internal world. It’s just one bottle. Who’s going to notice? Sure as hell not the tens of millions of other humans throwing out plastic bottles every day.

Tens of millions. Every day.

That’s a lot of bottles. But we don’t see them. We see just our one bottle. We know the others are out there but we choose not to see them. It’s a conscious choice. 

This is scary. We need to come out of the cocoons of our inside worlds and live more in the outside world before gravity catches us without a parachute.

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