Keeping the kids busy hasn’t been terribly hard. Keeping them from engaging in periodic sibling head-butting is the main issue, though they’ve shown remarkable restraint (why is restraint always remarkable?) and have yet to bludgeon, guillotine, or otherwise massacre each other. As mentioned, until their school sets up tele-classes, or what have you, we’ve given them a loose educational schedule involving worksheets, reading time, art classes, and phys ed (“GO OUTSIDE, DAMMIT!”). It’s not always easy to mind them while keeping on top of emails from work and meetings, and the various teaching, editing, proofing, copywriting, and podcasting tasks that come along. Fortunately, they’re both old enough to occupy themselves. Yes, as I said, there’s the occasional scuffle, born out of boredom, usually starting as wacky hijinks but quickly devolving into lizard-brain screaming and pushing. Mostly though, they’ve been a dream.
They’re lucky they don’t have a social media presence yet. Beyond what I say about them, of course, though I try to keep the pictures and accounts of their lives to a minimum because their lives are their lives. What I mean though is that they have the barest awareness of what’s going on right now. We aren’t keeping them in the dark, and certainly their teachers have talked about what’s been happening. But I doubt the gravity of the situation has really hit them. So far Flynn seems perfectly content, but like her father she prefers to be home. Nate was a little depressed the other night, and when we asked what was up he got teary-eyed and said he missed his friends mostly. He’s been able to play games and chat with his buddies Ike and Francisco via FaceTime, but I imagine that’s not enough. We consoled and promised him that when this is all over—quickly, quickly, and may we all be safe and healthy—he’s going to see celebrations like you wouldn’t believe. And surely, he can have all his pals over for game night or whatever he’d like.
That’s an ongoing challenge with kids and acclimating them to social isolation, particularly if they’re pretty social. You have to make it all seem normal, but at the same time you have to throw in a surprise or adventure once in a while. We told Nate and Flynn they could camp out in the living room tonight, which is little more than sleeping bags in front of the fireplace. They were all for it though there was one trade-off. I had to sit in the easy chair nearby, in the dark, while they drifted off. Living rooms are scary places after hours, don’t you know? No problem. I sat and socialized my media, wrote up the early part of this post, and plotted for tomorrow while they sailed off to hushabye mountain. One more day down. How many more months to go? Sigh.
A friend of mine, EricKirsammer, suggested I regularly post something during this period of social isolation. Some kind of online diary, “in your style” as he put it. Presumably he meant with an ironic, sarcastic, and semi-bitter tone, owing to the complete absence of that sort of writing from the Interweb.
Ohhhh, that’s what he meant. As the philosopher Britannia Jean Spears expounded, “Oops. I did it again.”
Very well then. I’ll try to share what my family and I have been up to during the days of social-distancing.Â One hopes all this social isolationÂ andÂ people avoidanceÂ will keep the body count way down, and my blog will remain a silly whimsical thing.
Starting March 16, my employer sent us to work at home, originally for two weeks. Supposedly, we’d be back in the office byÂ the following Friday. Within a few days Illinois Governor Pritzker issued the first order to shelter in place, self-isolate, social distance, and all the other fun new terms and verbs, and it was decided we wouldn’t go back until the near-end of April, at least. It probably didn’t help that a few peopleÂ in our buildingÂ were diagnosed with COVID-19. I hesitate to use the phrase, “it’s all for the best”, but I suppose it is. My wife Michael, a teacher, and two kids, Nate (12) and Flynn (8), being Illinoisans, had their schools closed the Thursday before. Mike and I both hoped that I’d get to work at home, because the idea of her doing her jobÂ andÂ minding and homeschooling the kids alone didn’t sit well with either of us. Working for a healthcare association, however, I knew they’d do the right thing, and lo and behold they did.
I work at home twice a month. That’s one of the cushy benefits of my job, something for which I am deeply grateful. I choose two Fridays toÂ stay home so I can walkÂ my daughter Flannery to school and be there to meet them both afterward. It’s a pleasant perk. Wish I could do it more often. As it turns out, the past few days showed that I could. As a copywriter and copy editor my job is all about creating and reviewing documents.Â With a laptop I can carry my office in my backpack. For the past year I’ve also produced podcasts forÂ my association. Again, luckily, my recording studio is portable. Just saying, in case anyone is listening, working at home has been easy. I’ve participated in several meetings, and frankly they’ve been shorter andÂ more to the point thanÂ all the in-person ones. Does a lack of an audienceâ€”beyond a grid of taking headsâ€”encourage people to not perform or pad out a meeting? Maybe so.
I started this blog a couple of weeks ago, but I’ve really been too busy to maintain it.* And I mean busy-busy. My workload, praise Cthulhu, has been consistent enough to justify my paycheck. I know how damned lucky I am (so far) to have a job I can rely on. Again, it’s a healthcare gig, and I suppose today we’reÂ enjoying(?) a bull market. I’ve also been takingÂ every advantage of being home, with no need to commute and no social or child obligations (no soccer, basketball, Boy Scouts, swimming, etc. to take the kids to and from). I can read without interruption. I’ve had greater motivation to work up stuff for Third Coast Review and interact withÂ a group of fine, generous writers. I’ve even been able to give that whole writing thing I basically abandoned over the years another look. In a plague year,Â knowing it can all blow to hellÂ andÂ having extra time is a powerful motivator to attack projects. Also, I seriously, desperately, frightfully need the distraction. Yet, as wonderful as it is to feel productive, I hope it doesn’t last long.
1. Teddy’s Skin by Margaret Wise Brownâ€”The peculiar recurrence of furry animals and fur-lined rooms in Brown’s work becomes apparent in this little-known and strangely horrifying entry in the author’s whimsical oeuvre. Uncommonly, Brown is a character in her own children’s book, having been made by the Color Kittens when they mixed together “all the colors of the world rejected by God.” The Brown character is locked in a room with only two chairs. She sits in one, her childhood bear in the other, mute but obviously too, too alive. It is unclear how long she’s been in the room, or if the room exists. An example of a passage from the book:
“Miss Brown had spent the morning (was it just this morning? Or another?) purchasing parsnips and leafy green vegetables from the local grocers, when she was overcome by a wave of nausea. The world went black and she awoke in a windowless, doorless room. The farthest wall wavered in her sight until she approached it, at which time its infinitude coalesced into a blank, bleak solidity. She imagined she heard a duck kicking at the wall outside, cursing her with quacks and heaving small pebbles at the house for spite.
‘Goodnight, room,’ said Miss Brown.
‘Goodbye, Margaret,’ it replied in her father’s voice. She fell to the floor, chattering, and counted the seven shiny brass buttons on her jacket.”
Throughout the book, Brown is taunted by her beloved Little Fur Family, who appear through orifice-like openings in the very air, demanding that she explain what the fuck they’re supposed to be, and why the fur son found an even smaller fur-being living in the ground, before snapping shut with disgusting liquid sounds. “I don’t know! I don’t know!” sobs Brown, before Scuppers the Sailor Dog appears in his yellow rain slicker and hat with a large baling hook. He swings at her, but vanishes before connecting, representing her deceased mother’s distant personality.
Eventually running out of parsnips and leafy green vegetable, hunger and cold gnaw at Brown. She looks to her bear who would surely provide SOME sustenance and warmth, but at the cost of removing her fondest memories, and perhaps her sanity. The illustrations by Garth Williams are soft and edgeless yet filled with Much-like anxiety. Here is a man tired of drawing cute fluffy animals and filled with a desire to see the world melt and burn, as hinted at by the cover of Wise’s other collaboration with Williams’ Fox Eyes.
The book ends with Brown eying Teddy over her shoulder, fondling a Opinel knife left behind by Mister Dog/Crispin’s Crispian after he appeared in the form of a fur tornado and dared her to finally “belong to herself…or belong nowhere.” Brown weighs the possibilities in her mind and the knife in her hand, but the final page shows only a wordless illustration of a crib filled with flaming autumn leaves. What it means is left to the reader’s imagination, but it probably has something to do with fucking.
Me: Nate told me all about the leprechaun traps they set at school.
Wife: Yes, I heard about those. They come in and mess up the classroom.
Me: Uh, you know he made a trap for home too, right?
Me: (Pause) The boy really believes in leprechauns, doesn’t he?
Wife: (Laughs) Yes, I think he does.
Me: (Sighs) So, do we need to fill the trap with something?
Wife: I guess so.
Me: I’ll pick up some chocolate gold coins at Fannie Mae. You hide the trap somewhere and I’ll load it up when he’s not looking.
Wife: Sounds good!
Me: (Mentally counting) So, that’s Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, leprechauns… How many goddamned mythological creatures are allowed to just walk around our house whenever they feel like it?
I told my friend Dave last night that whenever I realize I’m half-assing a project, I remember what he said while we constructed a coffin in my basement. Measuring the wood, I realized the weight and width of the coffin would be quite pronounced if I followed my intended plan, and I suggested we scale it down. This would, sadly, make it too small to get into (you know, in case I wanted to occupy it some Halloween in order to scare the living shit out of the neighborhood kids). Dave put a hand on my shoulder and said, chuckling:
“Dan. If you’re building a coffin, YOU’RE GOING TO WANT TO BE ABLE TO LAY IN IT!”
Truer words were never spoken. Always remember that kids: make your coffin large enough to lie in.
Side note: hard to believe I built this while my five-year-old son Nate was still in the womb. Time, you are a merciless bitch.
Horror fiction is the only genre I follow with any consistency. I’ve had brief flirtations and extended courtships with genres like fantasy (I favored sword and sorcery during high school, but happily never after), mysteries (mostly the old pulp/hard-boiled stuff, though Iâ€™ve followed a few modern series), and sci-fi (briefly raiding my dad’s 40s to 70s sci-fi libraryâ€”truthfully, it’s the only genre I find a bit silly). Horror, however, is my fictional wife, or at least my mistress.
I’ve been reading horror novels, short stories, and comics and watching horror films and TV shows since grade school. Arguably even before that through myths, ghost stories, and fairy tales. I followed a familiar path, starting with Poe, Bierce, Stevenson, Wells, and the other classics; reading through Stephen King’s output; discovering Lovecraft and Rod Serling’s circles; indiscriminately gobbling up every vault, haunt, and crypt of terror-fear-horror EC, DC, Marvel, Gold Key, and Charlton comics offered; falling in love with my literary queen, Shirley Jackson during college; and working through everyone from Ray Bradbury to Richard Matheson to Clive Barker to Mark Danielewski, and plenty of other hacks and auteurs in-between.
Between all that I watched my share of B-movies, monster flicks, cult classics, gore fests, and arthouse horror, and delved deeply into real life nightmares like serial killers and ickier/stickier subjects, and supposedly real life nightmares in the urban legend/campfire story vein. If it was disturbing, made my flesh creep, and had me hiding under the covers, I was interestedâ€”especially so. Why? Who knows? A slow imbibition of poison, perhaps, can do a body good. What does not kill me makes me stronger as I shudder.
The gist of this entry is that I’ve seen and read a lot of scary stuff. Most of it is forgotten, some remains, but a few bits and pieces have lurked for far longer, like dark flickering shadows in the corners of my eyes. Two in particular though, not only stuck around, for years I couldn’t be sure if I’d actually seen them, or if my mind made them all up. I’d like to share them, and if I’m worth a damn as a writer, I might even help you understand why they remained with me.*
As indicated, my brain’s mouth has gobbled great greasy piles of fictional horror-steak, the quality of the meat running the gamut from terrible (as in awful) tales of terror that couldn’t scare a three-year-old, to pungent, succulent, juice-dripping stories that made my sense of reality slip a bit.
Just a little bit.
But just enough.
The latter are rare, their power depending on their originality, the writer’s skill, and my age while reading them. What scared me at age 10 wouldn’t make me arch an eyebrow at age 45, but like a chicken pox scar, some sensations remain scratched into my memory’s flesh. Hm, maybe not a chicken pox scar. More like a self-administered tattoo.
The fictional fears that stay with me are diffuse: Lovecraft’s description of Akeley’s cylinder recordings of the Mi-Goâ€™s buzzing voicesâ€”use of recording technology as a false document to cause the heebie-jeebies decades before The Blair Witch Project, incidentally. The night burial of Church the cat in King’s Pet Sematary. The cool, low-toned fear of House of Leaves, when the protagonist stops and listens to the constant grinding and shifting of the walls, floors, and ceilings as the house remodels itself. Clive Barker’s “Dread,” which ends ludicrously, but has an exquisitely horrific extended photographic sequence featuring a vegetarian, a steak, and a locked room. No easy trick for a writer when they can’t show you the photographs.
Those are memorable bits, surely, but there are two that lingered, sticking to my brain like a black tumors, and metastasized over the years, become more terrible than I knew they could have been (this entry deserves turgid, overwrought metaphors, leave me alone!). Why did these moments become so exponentially freaky and terrifying? Mostly because I encountered them once, and then never saw or heard about them again. Even worse, no one I spoke to about them knew what I was talking about. A horror trope in and of itself!
I’ll wager most of the younger folks out there have no concept of the pre-Internet age, when pop knowledge wasn’t easily acquired. Surely, you could go to the library and get your fill of info on Benedict Arnold, Art Deco, wainscoting, or other “normal” topics, but try to locate an iota of info about an obscure TV show, film, writer, or book… good luck with that pal. In my youth, while looking for works by, say, Kerouac and Lovecraft, the four or five local libraries I had access to were only able to scrounge up Tristessa and The Dunwich Horror. As for other books by those writers, or just more information about the writers themselves, the librarians did their best, finding and photocopying a scattering of articles through reciprocity agreements with other libraries. Ultimately, they were found wanting. Think of that drought of facts, and compare it with today, when punching a few words into Google turns up rafts of websites about Jack and Howard that all but tell you what they had for breakfast on any given day of their life.
One more point, a seemingly strange point: while the info they turned up was sparse, they proved that Kerouac and Lovecraft existed.
Now, imagine trying to describe something you experienced briefly as a child, without benefit of verification through images, sound, or text. Just you, babbling: “There was this cartoon I watched every day as a kid, where this alien boy came to earth, and he had a medallion that gave him superpowers. And his worst enemy was a guy who threw a buzzsaw watch.” For years I described the show to kids in my own neighborhood, trying to find someone else who had watched it on UHF channel 44. “Uncomprehending” is too light a word for their expressions. It wasn’t until I took German in high school and met a girl named Ramona who’d also seen Prince Planet that I realized I hadn’t made it all up. That sense of doubt is weird enough for an innocuous (if hyperviolent) cartoon like Prince Planet, but it becomes cancerous with a thing that scared the hell out of you. I’m sure there’s a psychological term for it. Maybe the Germans call it by some multi-syllablic name.
But I lived until the 1990s, and I light a candle and say a prayer for Mother Internet for letting me know I wasn’t going mad when I rediscovered the following spookshows.
As a kid, how old do you have to be before radio shows seem stupid and boring? I should experiment with my four-year-old son, and play The Shadow, The Whistler, Weird Circle, and other old-time radio shows for him before he becomes jaded. I’ll tell you one thing, I’ll sure as shit not play Arch Oboler’s 1962 Drop Dead! albumâ€”featuring reenactments of his 30s and 40s radio show Lights Outâ€”within listening distance of the lad until he’s at least 10. Maybe 30.
I still remember how queasy I felt after hearing the LP at a friend’s house one long-ago Halloween. If you’ve heard of Oboler’s show, you probably remember one story in particular: “Chicken Heart.” Everyone remembers “Chicken Heart.” With that title how in God’s name could you not? Orson Welles may have convinced the rubes that the Martians had landed, but Oboler left a bloody wet thumbprint of terror on the brains of multitudinous youths, including Stephen King and Bill Cosby, who did a routine on the show. I won’t summarize “Chicken Heart”; it’s best experienced through the first link. Certainly, it’s ridiculousâ€”absurd evenâ€”but there’s something there, something grotesque and wrong. Thump-thump… thump-thump… thump-thump…
For me, Oboler’s scariest, freakiest skit was “The Dark.” “The Dark” barely has a plot. Scary stuff just…happens. From memory…Sam the cop and a psychiatrist are called to an old abandoned house (is there any other kind in these stories?) because the neighbors, presumably, heard screaming and shenanigans taking place. The cop and the doc walk in and discover a madwoman, given to bursts of cackling, shrieking laughter that will drill through your head. Something stirs in a nearby room, and when the doctor, to the cop’s chagrin, opens the door they discover… a man… TURNED INSIDE-OUT! A monster shows up, as monsters do, in the shape of a shadowy mass that acts more like a pitch-black amoeba. Listen to the link before proceeding further. I’ll wait.
“The Dark” is scary. “The Dark” is also, under scrutiny, stupid. Unlike many fictional monsters, our shadow beastie makes no damn sense whatsoever. Let’s pretend a person could survive the initial, incomprehensibly painful shock of the act, not to mention that a person could be “transposed” (they can’t, sorry), and ask, what is the creature’s motivation? Whether sentient or non-sentient, why does it do what it does? According to the presented evidence, it doesn’t perform full-body prolapses to eat, defend itself, or even to meet some magical/ritualistic purpose. Notably, it does not properly kill its prey, making it unlike any known or even possible creature. Barring any yammering about alien morality, we must assume that it is sentient and yanks human beings from stern to stem simply to be shitty. That’s horrifying, especially to a young boy seeking sense and hoping for kindness in the world.**
The sound effects are the second level of “The Dark’s” horror. The good doctor’s yucky description of our reversible human being is terrible enoughâ€”we’re left to imagine a pitiable anthropoid mass of veiny, sticky, red flesh, dangling organs like a grisly purse rack. Doc’s description is merely gross, but Oboler revealed his creepy genius for radio through the sudden stomach-lurching sound effect of our poor floppy guts-man trying to stand up, pitiably mewling and wetly slapping about the floor like a landed trout. Good gravy, no wonder the cop passed out.
Purportedly (though perhaps apocryphally), Oboler achieved the inside-out sound effect by filling a rubber glove with cooked macaroni and slowly reversing it Mercifully, he avoids the likelier sounds of such extreme body modification involving the bones, or the effects of reversal of the lungs and larynx. Perhaps in the words of the several dozen insensitive bastards I’ve met in my life, I’m “too sensitive,” but “The Dark” put the fix on my head for two reasons: it didn’t just make me imagine my own insides slithering out, it offered the scenario of discovering someone so reversed, and the feelings of frustrated compassion and helplessness it would entail. Gut blowout isn’t something you can kiss and slap a Band-Aid onâ€”the first sensible reaction available to a lad of eight or nine years.
Then there was that one story…
I’ll bet you have one too. A tale you read by daylight, which laid in wait in the back of your head until bedtime, emerging from the closet to say, “Hey, kid! I’m gonna keep you awake for the rest of your life. That cool?”
I read mine in seventh grade. At the time (I think I was 10) it scared the bejeezus out of me, and for years, even after maturity sapped it of fear-power, it returned in some form or other on nights that seemed excessively lonely and dark.
A great deal of its strength rested in its formatting. Someone in my class, I don’t remember who, passed along a manuscript. That’s how I remember it: a typewritten stack of eight or so pages, not a photocopy (fairly uncommon in the classroom in the late 70s), though it might have been a mimeograph; I have a memory of the ink being purple, but I can’t verify that. If it had been passed along to me as part of an anthology or a torn-out magazine page, I would have been fine. What it resembled was a sworn statement, some sort of confession, or an MS found in a bottle. I took my turn with it that night and brought it back the next day. For a long time after sleep wouldn’t come.
In summary, a young boy named Tommy is frightened of his basement, and has been so from a very young age. The door stands in the kitchen, the single room in the house where Tommy doesn’t act like a perfectly happy little fellow. When open, he screams bloody murder until mom or pop closes and locks it, taking the extra measure of stuffing the cracks in the doorframe with rags and the like, worshipping the lock with kisses and caresses. Childhood binding magic.
His parents, total yokels, are put out, and employ old-time parenting techniques like “thrashing” him and sending him to bed without his supper for this single bit of insolence. Tommy grows up, and at five years of age, in preparation for school, they take him to see the family doctor. Naturally, he is perfect health, but his basement fear is brought up. In private, Tommy tells the doctor there’s something down there, something bad, but when pressed to describe it, he reveals that he doesn’t know what it is… he just knows that IT is down there. The doc advises Tommy’s parents to nail the door open and leave Tommy in the kitchen for an hour so he’ll see his fears are groundless. Since this isn’t inspirational glurge from Reader’s Digest, you can guess where this is going.
And here was my other bout with self-doubt and potential false memory. I knew the story existed, but other than a vaguely remembered title (“The Thing in the Basement” sounded right, but seemed too vague). I couldn’t find it at the library, and I wondered whether it was the work of a classmate’s older sister or brother (hence the typewritten manuscript). The story, as I recalled it, was a perfect frame on which to hang a horror story. The tropes are all there: helpless, frightened victim whom nobody believes; a subterranean place that radiates evil; clueless authority figuresâ€”it seems like it could only exist in the abstract, as every horror story.
But time heals all wounds and, with luck, makes one smarter. I didn’t know Shinola about good writin’ back then. I concentrated on plot, and the plot for “The Thing in the Cellar” is scary as hell because it’s fill-in-the-blank. When you’re a child, you spend most of your time filling in blanks, often with erroneous info. See, I knew what Tommy was afraid of, I knew it because I had my own basement monsters. Somewhere I encountered a picture of a Metaluna mutant, and for a month I thought one was huddled behind the couch in my dad’s basement den. I can still it in my mind’s eye, shambling up the steps, ready to rip off my head with its claws. Now I’d probably just side-kick it back down the stairs and run like hell.
The fear got worse. I read about the “true” story of a girl who suffered periodic attacks by an invisible assailant. My unimpeachable source, by the by, was a Ripley’s Believe It… or Not! comic book, in a story titled “The Thing with Claws” (I sense a trend). My Metalunan metamorphosed into a see-through clawed assassinâ€”the unknown became the invisible and vicious, compounded by an unseen and horrific result, namely, Tommy’s death in the story.
Ah, as for that. These two sentences stick with me to this day.
Trembling, he examined all that was left of little Tommy.
The mother threw herself on the floor and picked up the torn, mutilated thing that had been, only aÂ little while ago, her little Tommy.
They sting worse now that I have kids.
We know the result of the cellar thing’s attack on Tommyâ€”presumably a moment of joyous triumph for the creature, since it had the only being aware of its existence in its powerâ€”but we don’t know its extent. “Torn.” “Mutilated.” “All that was left.” Perhaps you’re picturing a few well-placed, deep scratchesâ€”something whipped up by the Buffy the Vampire Slayer make-up/special effects department. Not me. Not with my stupid, scared child brain. I conflated the integrity of Tommy’s corpse with a story I overheard my father telling; the one about the family who adopted a poodle as a companion to their Doberman. The next day they returned home to discover cottony viscera all across their living room rug. My child’s mind made it worse, picturing Tommy left in stringy tatters and a single red chunk of gristle staining the kitchen tiles. Tommy? Did I say Tommy?
Sorry, I meant me.
That was me.
I was there. Dead. Shredded. Violated. By the Thing in the Basement.
Rereading the story, there’s another segment that may have gotten to me. The oafish Mr. Tucker takes out his toolbox and pounds nails while explaining to his clearly terrified son in English spoken not by people who real are:
And IÂ am going to nail the door open, Tommy, so you can not close it, as that was what the doctor said. Tommy, and you are to be aÂ man and stay here in the kitchen alone for an hour, and we will leave the lamp a-burning, and then when you find there is naught to be afraid of, you will be well and aÂ real man and not something for aÂ man to be ashamed of being the father of.
I should make the point that my parents loved me and were plenty sympathetic whenever I was afraid. Mom was nurturing and reassuring; Dad rationally explained away fearâ€”I tend to do both with my son whenever he’s afraid.*** But no kid, no adult, ever gets rid of the fear that the only thing worse than Mom and Dad not being there is Mom and Dad not giving a shit or acting, by intent or omission, as agents for one’s invisible claw monster destruction.
Closing thoughts? None, really (though if anyone wants to pay me to expand on this essay, I’m all ears). When people ask me why I writeâ€”which happens ALL the damned timeâ€”I explain that I write about two subjects: what I love and what I fear. I write about what I love because I want other people to enjoy and preserve those things. I write about what I fear because, for as long as can remember, I’ve been a fearful fellow. And I don’t like it. As my former dentist told me, “Fear is the mind killer.” By reading and writing about what I fear I become not only stronger but smarter; and as I become smarter I become a better person. As personal meanings of life go, that’s not a bad policy.
As an addendum, and FYI. I’ve never mentioned the above to anyone for as long as I can remember. I figured it was time to exorcise those particular demons.
*Also, I’m reading Stephen King’s Danse Macabre, and I’ve been itching to throw in my two, no, let’s make it nine cents on the subject.
** Side Note: I imagine Oboler had Doc specify his mouth as the final piece covered by shadows in order to avoid suggesting he was turned inside-out starting at the rectal end. Which, from an engineering perspective, makes slightly more sense.
*** My favorite technique for when Nate is afraid of somethingâ€”say the giant frog-shaped shoe and sock basket on his closet doorâ€”is to punch it out and encourage him to take a few swipes himself. Mom and Dad did a good job, but I wish they’d encouraged me to go a few rounds with my monsters. In hindsight, they were all wusses.
Mike, Nate, Flynn, and I are on our way to the beach house we rented in Michigan. It’s located some ways off the main road, requiring a series of twisty turns through the greenery. Mike asks me to review the directions on the Post It notes she scribbled out the other nightÂ while speaking to the lady who owns the beach house.
Mike: What’s the next turn?
Me: Port Sheldon Road to… Who the hell is Ron Butternut?
Me: It says right here: “Ron Butternut.” Who is this Ron Butternut? ARE YOU SLEEPING WITH HIM!?!
(I point at the directions, knowing full well it says “R on Butternut” [Right on Butternut Road] Mike laughs.)
Mike: That’s an awesome name. You should make him a character in a story.
Me: Except it would be funnier if it were “Ron Butternuts.” I’d have him address a audience like this: “Hello, everyone, I’m Ron Butternuts. SHUT THE HELL UP.”
(Mike and I laugh.)
Throughout the week we kept speculating on who Ron Butternuts was, and so forth. Finally, one night, on our way to get ice cream in Holland, MI, we bring up Ron one too many times for Nate’s taste.
* The challenge of writing my novel’s first draft (which comes between the rough draft and the final draft) is that while it needn’t be perfect, I’d like it to make sense. Surely, there are continuity errors. I think I’ve jumbled a few characters here and there (one guy has had three different names). And I must admit, my sentences sometimes stretch out across time and space. But still, were someone to read my book before the final draft, they could say, “You know, this needs work, but I get it. I know what’s going on.” Even if I shove this thing into a box and store it somewhere in the basement, not to be seen again until after my death, at least it’ll make sense.
* Life has been difficult. Not hard, but difficult. A spate of viruses hit everyone in my family, so everyone’s been sick at some point since February (my wife got strep TWICE). Also, my father’s 80th birthday is in a week, and while my family was working to make it a memorable day he started experiencing a health issue that required an MRI. We won’t know what’s up with that until tomorrow evening though. Let’s hope it’s good news.
And so on.
Anyway, God, fates, etc. Thanks for not hitting us TOO hard, but let up, will ya?
* So, how’s by you? I have to admit that while I’m no longer in Facebook withdrawal, it’s been weird to experience a pre-social networking life. I can’t share photos of my kids as easily. If I find an interesting article, I can’t immediately post it. What’s more, I miss my online friends. So, back to work, Dan. Kathy’s not giving up those passwords unless you have a novel in hand. To the work, to the work.
* I’ve dulled my hand at blogging, it seems. Self-exiled from all social media in order to finish my novel and accomplish other tasks, I decided it would be all right to keep “bloggeneringing” because it requires writing that was a bit lengthier, more thoughtful, and challenging. So lengthy, thoughtful, and challenging, my muse treated it as if she were attempting the King Pigeon pose.
“Wr-wr-write? Extended entries? I can’t be done! It shan’t be done! It negan’t be done!” she shrilly shrieked.
Then I recalled that during my Live Journal days I usual wrote in short bursts: longer than a tweet, shorter than a Facebook post.
* Like Sinistar, I live. When I handed off my passwords for Facebook, Twitter, and the rest to my friend Kathy, life didn’t stop. I’m still raising two lovely kids with my wife (no, really, they are quite lovely; the loveliest things ever), still punching the clock in the morning and evening, and still frittering away what little free time I have on writing, art projects, and my son’s increasingly esoteric requests (“Daddy, can you make me a ray gun that shoots a blue laser that makes elephant beans furious?” He didn’t actually say that, but sometimes the box cars in his train of thought are filled with oddities. I suspect Phineas and Ferb and Mythbusters have been strangely altered through his mind filter).
The baby girl sleeps longer during the night, but still wakes up at about 4 a.m. mewling for formula, striking the wife and myself with insomnia and, in my case, daytime hallucinations. I occasionally see black cats whipping by in the corner of my eyes. Good thing I rarely drive anywhere these days.
It is a good life, but…
* The novel isn’t finished. I wanted to finish it two weeks after the password hand-off, but certain circumstances whereof I cannot speak without getting ticked have emerged. Also, my writing hours are now confined to 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. during lunchtime and about 9:30 to midnight when all are asleep, and after the dishes are put away, the toys are picked up, the laundry is folded, and so forth. Not having social media to play with has freed up some time, but I still find myself frittering minutes away at this or that site when I should be writing. I’ve made progress, finally exiting a chapter that seemed inescapable and ever-growing, for instance. I’m risking similar literary quicksand in chapter 20 too, but I’ve slogged on, reaching for branch after branch and vine after vine overhead until I yank myself gasping back to dry land.
I recently read an interesting statement from a writer on another blog (I should have written down his name, sorry). He said something like, “Can’t bring yourself to write 1,000 words a day? Write 2,000 instead and edit them later.” Which reflects on a Wm. S. Burroughs quote I frequently drag out to prod myself into action: “The biggest obstacle for any writer is the knowledge of the amount of bad writing he’ll have to do before he creates any good writing.” I have produced a great deal of bad writing lately, I am proud to say.
But it’s not finished, and I’m still tormented (yes, genuine torment!) over the likelihood that the novel will go no further than my printer (or maybe lulu.com). Very well. On the day I write the final word, I’ll print out the entire book (I already printed out section one), photograph myself holding it and post it here, shove it into a large padded envelope, and then stick it on the closet shelf for a month, pretending it is dead. DEAD! For laughs, after I finish the final edit, I may set the first draft on fire in the backyard. CATHARSIS, I WORSHIP THEE.