This house is unsinkable
I have made it water tight
installed extra bulkheads
to prevent catastrophic
flooding personally inspecting
every single weld and rivet
for signs of wear or defect
No need for lifeboats
I tell the others in response
to their misgivings we’re
fully insured through good
old Lloyd’s of London
only liable if we’re victims of
some unforeseen act of God
i.e. that ice berg you never
spot until it’s far too late
Regular visitors to this blog know that these days I rarely submit my work to outside publications (why should I when I can publish anything I want either here or through my imprint Black Dog Press?).
But this year I came up with a tale that was so good, I really wanted to see it featured in a respected magazine, one boasting a literate readership. So, in March, with some trepidation, I submitted “Restitution” to two of Canada’s premiere literary publications, The Malahat Review and Descant.
TMR got back to me last month with a form rejection slip upon which some arsehole editor had scrawled “Cool concept, try us again!”. You wanna know why CanLit sucks, look no further. The vast majority of editors in this country belong in a fucking head injury ward. And then yesterday, after almost nine months, I hear from Descant magazine. It was the proverbial good news/bad news scenario: my story had successfully navigated the vetting process but, unfortunately, Descant is closing its doors after its next issue (Winter, 2014).
Okay, that does it. Rather than wait around another year to see this fine tale in print, I’m posting it here and over on my Scribd page. To hell with it. “Restitution” is the best story from 0-2000 words you’re going to read this year. You don’t believe me? Fine, have a look for yourself. Afterward, I’ll be waiting around for your fulsome apologies:
There’s been a lot of bad news of late. Friends and close acquaintances in dire straits. A memorial service for a kid only a few years older than our boys. Death seems to be hovering in the air around us, playing eeny-meeny-miney-mo with people we care about. A cruel, arbitrary figure, a Shade with a mean streak.
We’ve reached middle age now and we have to expect losses. Like the old Doors song goes: no one here gets out alive. But it’s not right when it’s kids who are afflicted and young mothers and devoted partners…blameless ones who shouldn’t be singled out for torment or earmarked for an early demise. They deserve better. That they should suffer is unfair and a universe that permits that to happen can’t possibly be caring or sentient or the slightest bit aware of our existence. A cold, dead universe. Endless and eternal and empty.
I know nothing of the physics of death. I can’t tell you the weight of a human soul or confirm that such a thing even exists. I’ve tried reading up on the science—the conversion of matter to energy and the possibility of alternate universes, hyper-realities—but, in the end, my intelligence and imagination just aren’t up to the task.
All I know is that I love you and these recent, grim reminders of mortality make me appreciate what we have and give thanks for every drawn breath. These bedside vigils and funerals are rehearsals for a time that is bound to come and we lose one of ours. That may sound selfish but it’s not. Our grief is just as sincere and our sympathy for what those poor families must be enduring genuine and heartfelt. We imagine what it’s like to be in their shoes and our souls quake. When faced with such a horrifying spectacle, we avert our eyes.
To experience the death of a loved one is, to my mind, the ultimate test of faith. Can your belief system withstand a loss so profound? Can your theology and/or worldview accommodate an agony that rends your very being? Can your God bear the heat of your anguish and rage?
We’ve been together a long time, you and I. Not only in this lifetime but before that. We’ve known each other and always recognize one another each time we meet. As long as you are with me, I can survive anything. I truly believe this. Grief and despair may make me a shadow of my former self but as long as I am comforted by the knowledge of your existence, I will persist, I will struggle; against the odds, against the darkness, believing to my dying breath that being your lover and confidante ennobles me and gives me purpose, the will to go on.
You are all the proof I need. There are terrible things afoot, a darkness creeping in from the edges. Let’s treasure our time together, love, rather than allow fear to take from us all that is worth keeping and preserving. We must refuse to allow mortal dread to defeat us and it is our shared strength that will save us. In the face of death, affirm that we are alive and full of passion and joy and foolish dreams. Confronted by the worst, we pledge to show a brave face, while clutching at each other for the companionship and comfort we know we will find there.
Yes, indeed, I’ve been away, a rare trip that took me out of my home office and transported me across vast distances to exotic, terrifying centres like Calgary and Edmonton. Gather ye around and I’ll tell you all about it:
It’s a journey I should have taken long ago but, what can I tell you, I’m not a travellin’ kinda guy. Sherron and I have been talking this over for some time, debating the pluses and minuses of a road trip so we could take copies of my novel So Dark the Night around to bookstores and beg, threaten and/or bribe them into stocking it. It took some work but Sher finally convinced me we had to do whatever was necessary to get the book somewhere it’s going to get noticed, start some buzz. I did some research and identified around 10 bookstores, many of them indie, in Calgary & Edmonton that would be a good fit for So Dark the Night.
I have to say, the booksellers in Calgary and Edmonton treated us with exemplary courtesy and respect. They always listened to my pitch with patience and a fairly convincing display of attentiveness. We made some great sales and contacts and even the places that didn’t take the book outright asked for either a sample copy to look over or a promo flier (which we just happened to have on hand). Certain bookstores and staffs stand out: the folks at Pages, in Calgary’s Kensington district, and the dudes at Greenwood’s Bookshoppe in Edmonton. Liz Janzen at the stunning Chapters/Indigo store on Whyte Ave. in Edmonton (Liz, I could’ve chatted with you all day)…book lovers and enthusiasts, trying to keep the printed word alive and vibrant. I salute you and I hope you sell gazillions of copies of So Dark the Night.
But the trip wasn’t all business. July 28th marked our 20th wedding anniversary and Sherron and I celebrated in fine style at a luvly cabin just outside Jasper (a place called Pine Bungalows). Lots of wildlife…including roaming elk and the resort’s mascot, a chubby white cat Sherron dubbed Harold. Harold found us one night as we were star-gazing and hung around until we returned to our cabin.
On the way to Edmonton, we picked up our son Sam, who had been attending film camp with his crony and collaborator Sean. The two of them shot and edited (they’d completed the script ahead of time) a 20-minute short about a botched caper called “Newton’s Cradle” that is smashing. Look for it on YouTube—or over at their blog—one day soon (they’re going to give it a final tweak before releasing it). Fantastic job, guys.
Of course, visiting so many bookstores I couldn’t resist picking up a few titles for my personal library: Wandering Star by Nobel Prize winner J.M.G. Le Clezio; Wonderful World by Javier Calvo; Already Dead by Denis Johnson and Andrew Collins’ Where Did It All Go Right?
One of the high points of the trip was buying a new hat, a Barmah, made in Australia and built for abuse. Found it in a store at Lake Louise while we were waiting out a downpour and Sherron twisted my arm until I bought it. Okay, I exaggerate slightly. I threw a fit in the store and screamed until she gave in and said I could have it. Not quite accurate but a lot closer to the truth than the first version.
Yes, I know: pathetic.
It was a marvelous trip and that is entirely to Sherron’s credit. I’m more than a trifle agoraphobic and the idea of being away from home for any length of time fills me with dread and foreboding. But Sher made this trip fun and stress-free and I have to say I enjoyed being away from my desk for a few days, taking a breather and soaking up the beauty of our Rocky Mountains.
I feel better, re-charged and back in balance. New projects beckon and a good chunk of the summer is gone. Time to get refocussed and into a good groove. Busy times ahead.
Watch this space for further developments…
All this fun I’ve been having with Garageband means that I’ve been a trifle negligent with new blog posts and for that, my apologies.
But I’ll try to make it up to you by posting a new short story that I absolutely love. This time it’s a longer effort, around 2000 words–titled “Death Threats” for reasons that will become clear as the story progresses. I’ll post both an audio version and a PDF for those of you who either don’t like the sound of my voice (understandable) or who lack the ability to download the recording.
I have a great deal of affection for this story, which was written in mid-late May (2009). Have no idea what took me so long to add it to this blog. My guess is that this tale sort of fell by the wayside while I worked on the four linked stories that devoured my entire summer. This is a stand-alone effort and I feel quite confident that it will find favor in your eyes (and ears).
Enjoy, my friends and please do let me know what you think:
Death Threats (PDF)
The other day I received an inquiry from a chap in Jamaica (gotta love that world wide ‘net) regarding my play “The Break: Ten the Hard Way”.
It’s a a drama composed of ten monologues, employing a wide range of perspectives, radically different characters reacting to the impending end of a relationship.
“The Break”, like so many of my projects, started out as a writing exercise. I wrote one monologue and another character, another scenario, immediately presented itself. I didn’t know what to do with “The Break” once I’d finished it…and then, by chance, I caught an interview with two young Saskatoon actors, recent graduates of the University of Saskatchewan drama program. I noted their names and contacted them. Sent them the script and some time later “The Break” made its debut at the Refinery Theatre in Saskatoon, Josh Beaudry handling a very grueling acting assignment brilliantly.
I always thought this one would make the perfect “Fringe” show so, Josh, if you’re ever interested, lemme know.
CBC Radio producer Kelley Jo Burke also excerpted some of the monologues on her “Sound XChange” program.
I was delighted by the reactions this piece elicited and I’m pleased to be able to present it to you, for free reading and downloading.
I’m certain some of these voices, at least, will sound very, very familiar to you…
Go to the “Rarities” page (above) for your free copy
or click here for the free PDF of The Break
Speaking of which, I’d better explain what I’m up to:
This year Esquire magazine is promoting a fiction contest where authors are invited to write stories based on three titles they (the editors) provide. You can visit their website for further details. I discovered the contest in May, printed up the info for later reference. Found the stuff again in late June, thought writing a story based on someone else’s title might be an interesting writing exercise. Wrote down the first title, “Twenty-Ten”, and went for it. Not necessarily thinking of submitting the finished work to the contest, just seeking to limber up my wrists before the real work of the summer began.
Well, I wrote one story and it turned out pretty darn good so the next day, suitably encouraged, I wrote a second and almost immediately a concept occurred to me for the third. So in the space of a few days I had three handwritten drafts. Tapped them into the iMac, opened one up, did a bit of fiddling…and now, three weeks later, here I am.
But I have a problem and I’ll bet you spotted it right away, didn’t you? You’re only supposed to submit one story and I’ve got three I’m quite taken with. I read all of them to my family the other night, hoping they’d immediately point out a winner but the verdict was mixed. They loved the stories, the characters, but each seemed to favor a different tale. Even I had changed my mind as to which one I preferred by the time I’d finished reading the last of them. Good grief. Well…I’ve got until the 31st (what is that, Friday?) to choose one story and edit it into tip-top shape. Because I will indeed be submitting something, despite my oft-repeated reluctance to enter writing competitions. For one thing, there’s no entry fee (mandatory). For another, Esquire, like the BBC, is a flagship, one of those names you’d dearly love, as a writer, to have on your resume. And one last consideration: I’ve written three bloody good tales, any of which is worthy for consideration.
My break’s over. Yesterday was fun: I sat around reading Paul Auster’s Man in the Dark (not one of his great ones, unfortunately), straightened up in the office, cleaned my area of the basement (we’ve been painting and installing a new ceiling light/fan in our kitchen so everything is a mess), listened to some alternative radio on the ‘net, trying to ease up and relax…but it’s time to get back at it. Grind, grind grind. Funny how hard you have to work on a story to make it read and flow naturally.
This tales have already taken up more of my summer than I’d intended–this started out as a simple writing exercise, remember? I still want to dive into edits of my next novel and here we are, approaching the end of July. Yike!
Time to finish up these tales and get back on track. It’s been an intriguing interlude but that novel beckons, miles to go before I sleep and all that.
That’s it for the update.
Hope you’re all having a fun summer. We’re finally getting some hot, sunny days, real Saskatchewan scorchers.
And, last but not least, it’s our 19th anniversary tomorrow.
Thanks, Sherron, for everything.
Forever and ever, doll…
Or…maybe you do.
Living in abject fear, a state of near unbearable suspense, day after day. How wearing that can be. Because that’s what we’re talking about here. A mindset centred around dread, a soul-sucking sense that things are about to fall to pieces and there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it.
How can someone exist like that? How can they face getting up in the morning? What keeps them going?
Questions only the uninitiated, the smugly secure would dare ask.
Y’see, what the preceding sentences have failed to convey is the intoxication someone like me feels when a potential crisis peters out into insignificance. The surge of relief that provokes can’t be matched or simulated by any mind-altering drug I’m aware of.
And on those rare occasions when my worst fears turn out to be justified, the sense of relief and vindication I experience is…sublime. I actually tremble with the sick pleasure a junkie must feel just as the needle hits its mark. I’m like Chicken Little, running around, clucking with excitement and joy as big chunks of the firmament crash to earth around me.
“Rawwwwk! Told you so! Told you so!”
I’ve always been a worrier, possessed by the certainty that happiness is transitory and danger lurks around every corner. My childhood was like that, perhaps even my infancy; the baby who always makes strange, no matter how many funny faces you pull. Filled with such foreboding when faced with each new encounter or experience that I was literally sick to my stomach. Vaccinations, the first day of school, a trip to the dentist; preparing for these minor inconveniences as if they were a very public and brutal form of execution.
I can recall nearly wetting myself whenever I was called down to the principal’s office. It invariably turned out to be something mundane, a message from my parents, a form that needed to be picked up. I’d exit the office and immediately make a beeline for the nearest washroom.
My high school years were no better. So fraught with painful anticipation, consumed by a nervous energy that burned off every ounce of my frame; I weighed about 125 pounds the day I graduated. A long, thin stick insect, whittled down to the quick by neuroses. Not an attractive figure.
There’s been some improvement since then but I still get thrown into a tizzy over relatively commonplace occurrences:
* A stopped up drain means ripping up the basement floor and paying an astronomical fee to some greedhead plumber (it turns out ten minutes of roto-rooting and a $150 touch does the trick)
* A stalling car means replacing the engine, maybe even being forced to buy a new(er) vehicle (no, actually the spark plugs need changing)
* One of my sons having a grumpy day is an early manifestation of a depressive personality (nope, he just got out of bed on the wrong side that morning)
And did I mention that I’m a borderline hypochondriac? Now there’s a lovely combination. So every ache, every twinge is magnified in importance, exaggerated, fretted over. A belly ache could mark the onset of pancreatic cancer. A rare headache could mean a malignant brain tumour. See what I mean? And what about this latest development, waking up at 5:00 a.m. in the morning with low-grade nausea. Not out and out sick-making, just a weird, unpleasant feeling in my lower gut. Does this mean anything? Is it significant in any way?
That nervous energy sometimes manifests itself as a racing heart. Occasionally I get little jolts and twinges. And with a family history of heart disease that could be an indication of a problem. Or not. But, let’s be candid here, one day–it might be tomorrow, it might not happen for decades–my fears will be realized, my body at last betraying me and those small aches and pains will coalesce into something genuinely life-threatening, something that keeps on growing until it blocks some vital pathway or invades and compromises a critical organ. Punishment (or reward) for all those years of waiting for something serious to crop up, a final confirmation of the bad news I’ve been expecting all along.
Each day I pray for release from the irrational fears that afflict and bedevil me. I place myself in my Creator’s hands and repeat my personal mantra of “health, happiness and wisdom” over and over again. Not only for myself, but also for family, friends and loved ones.
I know sooner or later it all comes to an end. Each one of us, at last, runs down, ceases to function, the machinery wearing out with a grinding of gears, sparks, smoke pouring from our ears. No one here gets out alive.
Funny, I don’t really fear growing old. That doesn’t factor into my thinking. As a catastrophist, of course, I have serious doubts I’ll live that long.
Frankly, knowing the end is nigh will undoubtedly come as something of a relief. It takes so much fucking energy and strength constantly fretting about money, not being able to properly provide for my sons’ education, what if something happens to the house. Etc. etc.
The sense of panic that almost unmans me when I can’t shake the thought that I might not be up to the task and that, inevitably, life is going to present me with an intractable problem, something I can’t solve, hide or ignore. I am hounded by the knowledge that I’m really not that smart or strong or brave. And that the time will come when my weaknesses and vulnerabilities will be exposed (Christ, better anything than that). The worst feeling, the greatest terror I have is that I won’t be able to save the people I love or prevent some terrible personal apocalypse that will consume them while I watch, helpless to intercede. My resolve failing me at a crucial juncture, my faith evaporating away as I face on-rushing danger. Something I glimpsed a long time ago.
Remember? I tried to warn you of its impending approach, tried to make you understand the severity of the situation…but you told me it was all in my mind.
More late, breaking news:
“Matriarchy”, a particular favorite of mine, the best of a recent crop of mainstream short stories, airs on CBC Radio (Saskatchewan) this weekend (October 27th). The show is called Sound Xchange and it starts at 5:05 Saturday afternoon. The producer is Kelley Jo Burke–Kelley’s always been a big backer of my work and I’m sure she did a smashing job with “Matriarchy”.
The story is perfect for the radio. It was originally conceived as a writing exercise, the initial drafts were only four or five pages long. Later on, I went back and saw immediately that it needed an expanded narrative, which brought out more of the back story, which added layers to the narrator’s character, nuances not apparent in those early versions. I love this little beauty. More bitter than sweet, with a last line that just hums.
Here’s a link to the SoundXchange blog, where Kelley says such nice things about yours truly, I blush to repeat them.
Skye Brandon reads “Matriarchy” and another tale, this one by me old crony Art Slade (Art Slade’s Page). Art and I have known each other for eons and it’s been a pleasure to watch his career flourish. “Stubb” is a solid effort and will give you a good idea why Art has achieved the stature he has.
If you somehow manage to miss the initial airing…well, you’re probably out of luck. I asked Kelley Jo but she said WGC rules stipulate she can’t podcast or post the story (that way you could download it later). So it looks like a one-shot deal. Enjoy it…and, afterwards, if you think about it, maybe drop a comment or two my way. I welcome your feedback.
Have a great weekend, folks.