Something scary

© Mkopka |

Well, here it is, Halloween, the day of ghosts and goblins and zombies and vampires and all the scary stuff that goes bump in the night and raises the hair on your nape and generally sends the bejeebers screaming into the night. (Is that too awkward a variation of “scares the bejeebers out of you”?)

One feels obligated to compose some sort of scary, or at least spine-tingling, bit of whimsy to mark the darkness and scariness of All Hallow’s Eve. It’s tradition, don’t you know.

But here I sit, relaxing on the love seat while my darling companion reads the newspaper with her feet up, one golden retriever lying by her side and the other contentedly and intently gnawing on an old bone. I turn my head and see the black cat, the fifth member of our little family, curled up on the bed.

Black cats are scary, right? Maybe I can write about Blackberry, but she’s not that scary. She did run across my path when she was four weeks old and wandering the high grass on a highway ramp, emerging when I stopped my car and went looking for her. She screamed “Home! Home! Home! Home!” over and over to the point where I thought of naming her E.T. Come to think of it, she still cries “Home! Home! Home!” over and over until she’s fed in the morning, all these 15 years later.

I could write about E.T. The Extraterrestrial, which has a trick-or-treat scene and has been in the news again for its 40th anniversary. It’s the only movie I ever watched in Philadelphia (longish story) and one of a handful that charmed me so much that just mentioning the title will make a part of me well up with fond emotion. It’s a wonderful story but I continue to believe John Williams’ magnificent musical score is what tips the movie over into greatness. “I’ll be right here.” Dang it, I’m choking up again.

I could turn on the TV news — that’s certainly the best source of scariness these days — but as Summer leaves her bone alone, jumps up on the love seat next to me, and accepts an arm around her shoulder (forcing me to type with one hand), I have to accept the fact that I’m simply too content to drum up anything scary. I can’t even write about something scary that disrupts this idyll, because now the moment is preserved in my memory as something to recall fondly in harder times to come.

The power of the streak

Sometimes you write because you are moved by the muse, or the moose.

Sometimes you write because you made a commitment to blog every day, and so something has to emerge from your fingers or the streak will be broken.

Both are powerful motivations. I have felt them both, and there’s something peculiar about them.

Sometimes the stuff I’ve written for no other reason but the keep the streak alive is pretty darn good and well received, and sometimes the stuff I’ve written under the spell of the passion is a mess and everyone is too polite to tell me.

No confusion about which one this is: It’s Saturday night, I want to sleep, and I promised myself two years ago that you’d have something to read here Sunday morning. So I’m writing about preserving writing streaks.

The greatest power of the streak, and its greatest benefit, is it keeps me writing, even if I just dash something off about the power of the streak. 

Without the streak, I would just go to bed having written nothing of substance all day.

There you go. In the morning, with more rest, I’ll write something more substantive for Day 822 of the streak. Just my luck, you’ll remember this one longer.

Golden sunset

The sun was fixing to set, and the sky was closing in on what may or may not be a rainy night ahead, but before calling it a day altogether, the clouds parted and shone a spotlight on the trees across the way, which were flashing orange before tucking themselves away for a long winter’s nap.

Sometimes you just have to stand and admire the everyday brilliance of this amazing world we live in. And sometimes you also remember there’s a camera in your pocket to capture a partial image of the moment to savor again and again.

Thank you, Lord, for this yet another most amazing day.

Change of scenery

I am moving out of my office/bedroom, where I have created stuff for the last 10 years, and into another bedroom, in part because I have new/old furniture. My current office will be transforming into a bedroom.

The centerpiece of my new workspace is this fine rolltop computer desk — I think it’s real oak or at least maple, because Red and I struggled to move it by ourselves when we picked it up last weekend. We were saved by two brawny lads who did the heavy lifting for us. There were a couple of tricky lifts required to get it out of the house where the estate auction had been held, but these guys hardly broke a sweat.

We’ve kept the desk in the garage for a few days while we prepare for the big move. Stuff needs to be packed for the big 20-foot transfer from one side of the house to the other, and we also have one other piece of new/old furniture to pick up this weekend: A 10-foot-wide, 79-inch-high entertainment center/bookshelf unit, actually five units that live together.

You may think we’ve splurged on a fancy-schmancy collection of office furniture so I can act like a big-shot author as I head into my old age, but it’s nothing of the sort. We have become fans of a online auction site called — C.T. for Caring Transitions — that helps people sell off their belongings when they downsize or otherwise decide they don’t need so much stuff anymore. 

At the same time a whole lot of people are not looking for stuff these days. Collectibles and the like see a lot of action. Furniture, not so much.

As a result I got this tremendous desk, which easily will serve for the rest of my life, for $6. Six bucks! And the big wooden bookshelves? I put one dollar down and no one outbid me. We’ve gotten some remarkable deals through CTBIDS, but this is the most amazing pair of acquisitions to date.

I find myself imagining the wonders I will create sitting at the finest desk I’ve ever owned, but I can’t necessarily say that will happen. 

One of our local school districts is asking voters for permission to build a new middle school to replace the outdated existing building, which despite hard work to keep it up has become a rambling wreck, parts of it dating to 1917 and most of it dating to 1957. One skeptic asked the superintendent why they’re not pushing the idea that a new school would improve kids’ education.

“I’m not sure that you can necessarily say that because I walk into a room that provides me better lighting, it provides me better aesthetics, I’m not sure that I can look at you and say that automatically going to improve scholastic aptitude or outcomes in students,” the superintendent wisely said. “I will say that it provides more opportunities.”

I wrote my first novel on a Commodore 64 and didn’t complete a second novel with until after the Macintosh, Windows 7 PC and iMac that succeeded it had come and gone, so I know the nifty new desk won’t increase my productivity or spark my imagination. But I will say that it provides a better environment and more opportunities. 

CTBIDS is a franchise operation, so you probably will find some local auctions if you check it out. It’s unusual to get deals quite this ridiculous, but I heartily recommend giving it a look. Assuming I survive packing, moving and unpacking all of my stuff, I look forward to reporting back on the new digs. 

Moose call

Somewhere over my head, I heard the call of a moose.

“Hey!” he called with a flourish. “Watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat.”

I rolled my eyes. “That trick never works.”

“This time for sure!” he cried. “Here’s the secret: Don’t think, just write.”

“Oh, please,” I said. It was close to midnight and a dark and dreary time, while I pondered, weak and weary, over a quaint and curious volume I was attempting to write, and the last thing I wanted was another piece of advice. “You keep coming by to chat, but you always say the same thing — “Don’t think!” — but I keep thinking.”

“No doubt about it,” said the moose, “I gotta get another chat.”

So there I was, reaching into the ether, trying to drag a story kicking and screaming into this plain of existence, and the characters were there and the setting was there and the motivations were there, except my own motivation — I didn’t care, and if I didn’t care, how was I going to get you to care?

“Stop worrying about it,” the moose said. “Just write.”

I sighed. “Don’t you see that I’m writing?”

“Meh,” said he. “Your fingers are moving and words are coming out on the page, but that ain’t writing, that’s the way you do it.”

“What do you suggest?” I challenged.

“I dunno. You’re the writer. I’m just a moose.”

And with that, he just stopped talking. I have waited here each night since then, waiting for the inspiration, waiting for the moose to speak again. He had to be joking, didn’t he? He saw me write, he saw the words come out, how could he say that it wasn’t writing? What did he mean by that?

Yeah, that must be it. He was telling a bad joke, trying to make me laugh and start telling the story I was born to tell. 

What story is that? I’m glad you asked. Once upon a time …

The moose grinned. “I guess I don’t know my own strength.” 

All these years I’d been hearing it wrong. It turns out, when I sit down to write, I need to invoke the moose.

Two cows on a shelf

The cows smiled as they surveyed all that they could survey. It was a cluttered panorama with papers and wires scattered everywhere but, paradoxically, books arranged in a certain order and movie posters neatly placed on the wall.

“It’s as if he can’t make up his mind to be a cluttered mess or obsessive compulsive,” one cow said to the other. The cows didn’t have names because, as an impossible quasi super villain once said, they knew who they are.

“We must have an adventure,” said the other cow.


“Well,” said the adventurer, “there has to be a story to tell about us so people remember who we are.”

“Why can’t we be remembered as the two little cows who sat contentedly smiling on the bookshelf for years upon years and lived happily ever after?”

“Yes, I suppose we could,” said the other. “But something has to happen to make it a story. That’s what makes it a story: Things happen.”

“I don’t want anything to happen. It means change, and I like things just the way they are.”

“So do I. But wouldn’t an adventure be grand?”

“It depends on the adventure. Some are full of mystery and intrigue and peril, which are three things I’m not terribly fond of.”

“I see what you mean,” the other said. “But this could be an adventure of discovery and beauty and strange new worlds and new civilizations.”

“I’m not sure I like ‘strange.’”

“Now you’re just being contrary. Come on, let’s go.”

“You go ahead. I’m happy right here.”

“I’m not going anywhere without you. We are two peas in a pod.”

“No, we’re two cows on a shelf. And I like it that way.”

“Oh, all right,” the would-be adventurer conceded. “I was just saying.”

“But you got your wish.”

“I did?”

“Yes. We’re in a story.”

“But nothing happened!”

“Fancy that.”

And they did live happily ever after.

Ducks in a row versus Godzilla

I’ve been having that urge to make something — a story, a poem, a song, a recording — anything — just as long as an expression comes out and an attempt at connection is made. See what I think and feel — do you think and feel this, too, or something like it? Thank goodness. I guess we’re not alone, after all. What’s that? You think and feel it in a different way? That’s great, too; now I can see it your way and it becomes part of our understanding of each other.

But before that connection, the art needs to be made. Which way do I go? What is trying to come out?

And that whimsical voice I rediscovered the other day, where has it been? Where has it gone? Where is it taking me? Can I relinquish control, let it take care of the vertical and the horizontal, and journey to the outer limits with it? 

It’s like when you know the only thing that will work is to let go but you keep holding on with all your might, and the whimsy struggles to burst free until it’s smushed in your grip, and oh the anxiety — you could feel that a unicorn with sparkly eyes was trying to lift you into a fantasy world so fine and adventurous that you could see a big fluffy dragon smiling at you, but you couldn’t make the leap, you couldn’t name the princess and release the magic, and woe is you, woe is you, woe woe woe woe yeah yeah yeah, hey, little devil …

Give me another chance, I know there’s another silly story in there if you just let me try — but wait, these are words of frustration and despair. That’s nearly the opposite of whimsy.

Whimsy is ducks in a row with X’s for eyes facing off against Godzilla. Whimsy is salt and pepper shaker cows smiling at each other. Whimsy is a moose in a winter scarf and a fedora up on the top shelf. 

Lift up your eyes and find a gentle smile, a chuckle, and a belly laugh. Coax the twinkle back into your eye and set sail for a land so far away that it’s right there in your heart.

And there you’ll find that tale of funny animals and pumpkins in jeopardy that you were longing to tell, or something very much akin. As for the tyrants who would steal your hopes and dreams and leave you to wallow in the horrible, disarm them with ridicule and ignorance — that is to say, laugh and ignore them.