The Seeker

A Meta-Cognitive Journal About Writing… Plus Other Stuff

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I Bought A Clothes Dryer Last Fall

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It’s a nice one, too.  A Whirlpool electric dryer, perfectly sized for my household.  Hell, it’ll probably last me most of the rest of my condo-living life.  It has numerous heat and time settings, and perhaps my favorite thing about it is that I can turn the buzzer off so it won’t wake me up on those nights when I put a load of clothes in to dry and then go to bed.  I consider myself lucky to have such a nice appliance, doubly so since it led to my latest story getting published.

Da fuh?  Indeed.  I got another piece of flash fiction published about two weeks back.  This one went up at BULL:  Men’s Fiction.  I’ve had my eye on these guys for a while, and am still a bit surprised that they passed on Last Time when I petitioned them last summer.  It’s all good, though, because part of what kept me writing was trying to score with BULL.  I identify with their mission statement and felt I have something to add to the conversation:

We are dedicated to examining and discussing modern masculinity: what works, what doesn’t, what needs to change and what needs to go. We’re in quickly shifting times and more than ever this conversation is crucial. We want fiction and essays that engage that conversation from every angle. We want stories of exemplary masculinity, cautionary tales, accounts from every possible perspective and persuasion.

The thing is, though, that I wasn’t trying to write directly for them.  I figured if something came up that fit their M.O., I’d give them another try.  Something did come up, and I’m glad I tried them again, because they liked Last Word.

“Last Word” came up because I bought a dryer last fall.  No shit.  One of the first things I noticed was the lint trap.  It’s one of those top-mounted curvy-type ones, rather than the type that pulls out from underneath the door of the dryer.  I remarked to myself that it looked like I could play Jai Alai with it, and was so tickled with my observation that I posted it on Facebook.  I kinda stored that bit of whimsy in my head, and it popped up one night when I was doing laundry and had just gotten a prompt from a flash-fiction writing class I was taking at the time.  The prompt was to write about somebody who had found something.  Nobody really finds a lint trap, though.  It’s not like you ever have one outside of your laundry room, or one falls off the moving van.  So what would possess someone to have a lint trap with them?  Answering that question spawned the story, and the standard sweating through the writing process helped me get things where I wanted them.

So why does all this matter?  Because of the inner critic.  Time after time when I read craft articles, something comes up about silencing the inner critic.  The inner critic is perhaps the greatest deterrent to people writing, and even to established writers writing more than they do.  It’s that stupid voice in your head that shoots your ideas down before they even reach paper.  I’ve written about this strange phenomenon before–it’s definitely something that affects me.  However, I find that when I let myself have absurd observations about the mundane facts of life, and even discuss the observations as if they are serious things, that I’m successfully combating the inner critic and keeping my writing mind open.  I wrote about “Last Time” last summer, and made a similar observation.  It’s what works for me.  I guess this winds me around to an apology to those who find themselves in my company when all too often I am going through this process.  So, to all of you who have suffered through this with me:  I’m sorry (not sorry!).  My nephew AJ Wilson might have something to say about this phenomenon and my fondness for fig newtons, but that’s a post for a different day.

 

 

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Written by seeker70

May 19, 2018 at 3:26 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

I’m Batting Lead-off for the Cubs

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I figured I might as well.  The Cubs couldn’t do much worse, even with my stiff back, heavy legs, and pre-arthritic shoulders (but honestly, isn’t every joint pre-arthritic no matter how old you are, up until you get arthritis?).  Thirteen games into the season, and the Cubs have used three lead-off hitters.  Combined, they’re batting .250, have an OBP of .322, and have scored 4 runs.  If this sounds familiar to anybody who still reads this blog, it probably sounds a lot like last year when the Cubs never nailed down the top spot in the lineup.  It came back to haunt them in the playoffs when they couldn’t manufacture runs.  For comparison, former Cubs lead-off guru Dexter Fowler is riding .267/.365 averages and has scored 8 runs.  But Fowler wasn’t deemed important enough for the Cubs to resign after the 2016 season when they won the World Series.

Somebody please remind Jed Hoyer and Theo Epstein of the old baseball axiom that good pitching beats good hitting, and in a five- or seven-game series, the opposing team is going to figure you out.  It didn’t take long for the Dodgers to do that last year when they pelted the Cubs in the NLCS .  Chicago scored 5 runs in their four losses.  Thirteen games in this season, and the Cubs have scored 11 runs in their 7 losses (including 3 shutouts).  When the power hitting is getting smoked by power pitching, you gotta have guys who can get on and move over.  Failing that, the Cubs won’t go far.  It doesn’t look like anybody in the division is stacking up to beat them, so it seems that the playoffs are likely, but what good is that when somebody sitting in a Starbucks in downtown Libertyville, IL on a Friday afternoon and blogging about baseball knows how you can be beaten?

Figure this shit out, Cubs.  But no hurry.  You’ll get far enough into the season and still be in position to do something by my deadline:  July 15.  That’s the day of the World Cup championship match, in which I have France beating Germany for the title, and it will be over early enough for me to watch you guys square off against San Diego at PetCo Stadium.

See, this is where baseball is with me anymore, and it started two years ago.  The season is so long, and there are so many games, and I’ve been to and watched so many games in my life, that I’d rather pick it up in the thick of the playoff races.  Fortunately for the sports enthusiast side of me, there are major international soccer tournaments at least every two summers, and damned if their intensity and entertainment don’t captivate me more than the national pastime that is still finding its footing in the middle of each summer.

So play ball!  Play good ball and set your team up for October.  And for Pete’s sake, learn how to manufacture some runs.  But first, kick some balls and score some goals.

Written by seeker70

April 13, 2018 at 7:49 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

In a Flash

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I wrapped up a flash fiction writing course recently.  Given my recent successes with the flash form, all of which came through me feeling my way along with what flash is and how it is effectively executed, I figured it was time to get some focused guidance on the form and allow myself to be taken places I wouldn’t have otherwise gone on my own.  It was time well spent, and I discovered some worthwhile things along the way.

One of our first assignments was to read an article about the history of flash fiction.  There’s a current mindset in writing to consider flash a new thing, though it’s not at all.  It is definitely rising in popularity right now, which is attributable to how the public prefers to consume news and our use of social media, but flash itself has been around for a long time.  The article cited examples as far back as the late 19th century, though taking the origins back as far as the roots of narrative poetry could also tell you how old the “movement” is.  What most struck me, though, is what Sherwood Anderson said.  First, he descried the plotted short stories of magazines (calling them the bastard children of De Maupassant, Poe, and O. Henry), and followed up by saying that people’s lives don’t follow plots, and that “life is but a history of moments.”

First, I seldom feel the need to justify what I write.  Honestly, I’m too damn busy trying to write whatever comes to me in the best way I know how.  But when someone like Anderson says what he said and the thought rings in your mind like one of the truest tones you ever heard, you better pay attention and think about how and why those words resonate with you.  Because what I found out was that was why flash stories come to me and make sense to me.  Something in my hard-wiring is geared toward me seeing moments and being able to flesh them out in some meaningful and effective way.  My habit of practicing poetry writing operates in the same way, and undoubtedly my favorite poems to read and write are those that capture distinct moments.

So what to do with this new insight that was verbalized in a way that I was unable to verbalize it?  I don’t care so much that I couldn’t verbalize it because what I was doing with flash and the way it was coming to me was highly instinctual.  It is, however, always better for me to know why and be able to say why I’m doing what I’m doing since that gets me closer to being able to teach it effectively, but that doesn’t necessarily tell me what to do with it.  So, again:  What to do?

Write, of course.  Keep writing.  And write flash better when it presents itself to me.  And when other things present themselves to me, write them, too.  It seems obvious when I write it out, and it might feel like I’ve only grown by a quarter of an inch through this enlightenment, but the growing has only just begun.

Written by seeker70

March 20, 2018 at 9:26 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Repost: The NRA Needs to STFU

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This was originally posted in the wake of the Newtown Massacre, but it as equally fitting now as it was five years ago.  The only thing I would change is the first two sentences to read “Let me be clear about this:  I am opposed to the NRA.  They are a terrorist organization.”

Let me be clear about this:  I’m not opposed to the NRA.  They serve an important purpose.  In light of their response to the Newtown Massacre, though, I’m thinking that they need to make serious changes in their leadership and stances on gun reform laws.  More immediately, though, I’m left wondering if they fulfilled the Christmas wishes of a certain someone by letting him decide the best course of action to deal with future school shootings.

The NRA promised meaningful contributions to help put an end to school shootings like the one in Newtown (and Columbine and Padukah and Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois…  might as well bring them all up at this point).  Instead, NRA president Wayne LaPierre implored Congress to appropriate whatever is necessary to put armed police officers in every school — and to do it now.  I would like more than anything to understand how such complete idiocy from one of the most powerful lobbies in Congress could be on full public display, and it seems to me the only logical explanation is that after LaPierre spoke and was exiting the area, he ducked into a bathroom and removed  a foam rubber mask only to reveal that it was Ted Nugent all along.

For those of you who aren’t fluent in Idiocy, I’ve worked out a translation of LaPierre’s offerings:  “Gun violence is inevitable.  Our children need to know that wherever they go and whatever they do for the rest of their lives, they and their children and their grandchildren can expect gun violence that we are powerless to stop.  An armed presence at every turn should be as much a part of their daily routine as a “Good morning” from the bus driver, the principal greeting them at the front door of the school, and the Pledge of Allegiance.  This seems the best and most logical solution, because Lord knows that the NRA isn’t going to move an inch on this issue, even if we are up to our necks in the blood of 20 kindergarten and first-grade children.”

Also, it was rather magnanimous of LaPierre to pledge all the NRA’s resources to create a model security program “for any school that wants it.”  I have no doubt that the collective brainpower within the organization will come up with something stunningly awesome that will help them make money bloody hand over bloody fist since ideally they would become a public education vendor not much different than an ACT prep company.

To make matters worse, now there are more dolts lobbying for teachers and other school employees to carry guns.  Some of them are pointing to tiny Harrold Independent School District in Harrold, Texas that armed their teachers a few years back as a means of added security.  I wrote about it herein–it was one of the first pieces I ever put up.  I’ll caution you about some of the logic that comes out of Texas, a lot of the logic that comes from school boards, and all the logic that comes from superintendents like David Thweatt, who continues to defend his district’s policy by citing that they haven’t had an incident of gun violence since they instituted the policy.  How many incidents did they have before the policy?

So thanks, NRA, for once again showing how inept and insensitive you are in the face of a national crisis.  You are at least consistent–you continue to show how batshit crazy you are.  Hopefully, this problem will take care of itself–your extreme politics will continue to push you to the margins of the national conscious until you more of a joke than an influence.  If you continue in your current incarnation, the sooner that happens the better.

Written by seeker70

February 25, 2018 at 9:15 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Hello, Shredder

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I spent a few hours with an old friend a few weeks ago.  We’re both better off for the time together; him to keep his teeth sharp, and me to clear out my head and the papers that clutter my file cabinet and desk.

Shhhhh… he’s resting up for the next round of destruction.

This wasn’t some impulsive endeavor, though after pulling more staples than I could count, creating a mound of paper clips, and shredding 400-some papers of old drafts of stories and poems, I wish I had been impulsive about shredding a long time ago.  I thought for years that I was doing myself a favor by keeping all those old drafts around.  Never know when you’re going to get back to that half-ass poem you got into in the summer of ’11.  At some point I was going to find time to keep at the novella I started in ’13—why wouldn’t I?  I was already thirty pages in, and I knew where I wanted it to go.  Plus, I can’t tell you how many times I took something out of a poem or a story only to dig back through the drafts to find it again and put it back in (that actually happens sometimes, though not frequently).  I thought the preserved drafts were protecting my ego and proving to the unseen critic looming in the shadows that I work diligently on my writing, and therefore I deserve to be successful.  All the proof was right there in my file cabinet and on my desk and every other place I stashed an ungodly amount of papers.

Turns out most of those thoughts were pure bullshit.  The biggest things happening were that I was cluttering up space and stressing myself out over writing projects that I was never going to get back into.  I came to this conclusion in the waning days of The Writer’s Almanac last fall when I read a little bit about the novelist Andrea BarrettTWA liked to recognize her birthday each year, and I always paid attention since I have met and worked with Andrea and respect her writerly insights.  Here’s what she said about the best writing advice she ever got (this originally appeared in The American Scholar):

“…(it) was extremely simple, initially devastating but actually incredibly kind, liberating, and utterly transformative…  After workshopping my story, Nicholas Delbanco asked me if I’d written anything else and offered to read it…  (he) read my grubby pages, promptly met with me to discuss them, and gently let me know that the novel on which I’d spent so long was rubbish…  the kernel of his advice was simple: Throw it out, and move on. Take all you learned writing that and make something new. Afterwards I cried, I fussed, I crashed around—and then I did what he said. What a huge relief to shed those mauled and tortured pages! And how quickly, freed from them, did I begin to write again.  That advice made me a writer: both in the specific moment and since then as a guiding principle. I throw out things all the time, still; sometimes things on which I have, as I did with that first novel, spent not only months but years. What’s important, what the attempt taught me about writing, the material I’m exploring, where I want to go next, always survives.”

I got to thinking about the reams of old stuff lying around The Seeker luxury headquarters, thought about what I’ve been writing a lot of lately (flash fiction and poetry), and thought of Google Drive.  Everything that was worth anything, and anything that I would ever get back to, was right there.  If I wanted to flash back to stuff I’d edited, I could always go to “revision history.”  So when I got some time near the end of my holiday break, I said “Hello, Shredder,” and fed him so much paper that he overheated and locked up a few times.

I can’t say I shredded everything.  I didn’t.  I have the entire writing process to several pieces that I’ve gotten published, and I keep those for the sake of my Creative Writing students.  I bring them in sometimes to show what it took to get something published, and that usually soothes their jangled nerves about rewrites and reminds them that I’m on their side with making draft after draft after draft (after draft!) of a piece until it speaks effectively.  Also, I can’t say I feel miraculously un-constipated.  I do, somewhat, but I feel more euphoric than anything.  I trust myself.  I have learned a helluva lot about writing, and it’s evident in my cognitive processes as I write.  I don’t need all the evidence sitting around my office practically glaring at me and guilt-tripping me into working on it.  The evidence will appear with the next thing I write.

Written by seeker70

January 22, 2018 at 8:00 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

The Fiction That Was

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Soliloquies Anthology vol.22.1 arrived in the mail a few days ago.  I had been anticipating its arrival given that my flash fiction piece “Hardware” was published therein.  Like anything that shows enough promise to merit publication, there was an worthwhile journey to the story getting there.

Cool cover design, eh?

The story came to me after having gone to Home Depot one day last summer to buy a bucket.  My writer brain was engaged like always, and even though I was out of there in ten minutes, my experience that day kept playing in my mind.  I was particularly focused on the woman who helped me—she seemed friendly to the point of being a little too friendly, and I wondered if that was a cover to somehow kick-start herself into being happy with how she was earning a living.  I got to thinking about our brief encounter from her point of view, and I was weaving that in and out of my mind with what I would do if I worked there and I wasn’t happy but I wanted to find a way to make myself happy.

This is somewhat vague and at least a little complex, I know, but it’s how my writing mind works.  I started writing some thoughts down as if I were the woman who helped me, who I named Dawn.  I was mindful of how I was developing her voice, though.  I know from previous experience that first-person narration relies heavily on how interesting the narrator’s voice is, so I was perhaps more mindful of developing voice than I was anything else.  Some of the other elements that come into play in fiction and narrative non-fiction pretty much took care of themselves.  I stuck only to Dawn’s encounter with me, which was about 5 minutes in real time, so the plot was very short and entirely forward-moving.  But I was mindful, too, to create a tone that made it apparent that it’s not the job Dawn doesn’t like so much as some of the people she works with who she feels don’t care about their job as much as she does.

Through the drafting process, I was able to find the language to make Dawn’s voice sound real for her station in life, but I also tried to come up with some quirks and nuances to make it more idiosyncratic to her.  Plus, there had to be an unexpected thing or two in there along the way to surprise the reader and keep them interested.  The practice alone with creating this kind of language made the story worth writing, but I wanted to take it further.  James Wood’s excellent text How Fiction Works told me that if I’m using a first-person narrator, I’m also using an unreliable narrator.  Woods references, “…the unreliable first-person narrator, who knows less about himself than the reader eventually does.”  So what was the reader going to realize about Dawn by the end that Dawn doesn’t realize about herself?  I settled on something, but there’s no use in telling you the whole damn story.  Buy Soliloquies Anthology vol.22.1, or holla at me and I’ll hook you up.

Once I felt I had this thing nailed down, it was a matter of finding a place that publishes flash fiction.  I came across Soliloquies Anthology, and told them that based on their name alone, I thought I had something they might like.  Turns out I was right.

I realized long ago that there is no formula for writing a story that an editor will think merits publication.  If there was a formula, writing would be a helluva lot easier and a helluva lot less meaningful.  But I can’t shake the feeling that “Hardware” came together like a formula for me.  Maybe what I’m finding out is that the longer I practice, the sharper my writer instincts and abilities become, and the more likely I am to write something worth reading.  It seemed this time around that I was plugging pieces in because they felt like they belonged in certain places.

P.S.  Speaking of Wood’s insight into the unreliable first-person narrator, I can’t close this out without mentioning my recent favorite example of a narrator not having a clue about the biggest issue in his life.  Thank you, Thomas McGuane, for writing a story that has had a huge impact on me:  The Casserole.

Written by seeker70

December 22, 2017 at 8:31 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Another One-off From the PAD Challenge

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It’s that time of year again.  Not that turkeys, football, and pumpkin pies are passing before my eyes, but the Poem-a-Day Challenge.  I consider myself a salty veteran of the engagement anymore, this being my fourth year attempting it.  Each year presents its difficulties, and this year’s is that I’m so busy and stressed with school that I can barely find time to scratch out a few thoughts.  Still, I soldier on.  Part of the lesson each year, too, boils down to seeing how much time you have that you don’t use that you could use to write.  There’s the strange phenomenon, too, of producing some things you’re happy with even though you rushed that shit through when you started it.

Anyhow, it’s all blah-blah-blah angsty writery bullshit.  So one of the prompts last week was to write a sonnet or other traditional form, or write an anti-sonnet or anti-other traditional form.  I decided to write a tanka and wasn’t too displeased with the results.  I’ve written these before and even posted them on The Seeker, so it’s not a strange form to me.  I missed the two-way flexibility the third line is supposed to embody, but I not too concerned with that.  It’s seasonal, too!

Leaves
Green then yellow then
red then brown before tumbling
to the cold, wet ground.
We should all be so vibrant
surrendering to the fall.

Written by seeker70

November 22, 2017 at 3:25 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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