In My Time of Dying

April 15, 2012 at 9:19 PM | Posted in Fiction | 3 Comments
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This is my real entry, I suppose. No one likes poetry. Whatev. No splatter fiction, no horror, no science fiction or fantasy. Just–I don’t know what you would call it. Did one of you once tell me I could write romance novels? Ugh.
To see more stories about death, hotwire a hearse and drive slowly over here:
Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge: Death is on the Table

The spacious, well-appointed house seemed bare and quiet.  The midday sun dappled on the plants through the patio window, but the curtains on the front of the house were dark and fully drawn; they formed a barrier to the outside world.
Linda sat at the dining room table.  Calm, still, and red-eyed.  Her cigarette burned down in her hand, and she was lost in thought.
Her thoughts bounced back and forth without meaning:  the last twenty years, the last week–the last year.  Alternately smiling briefly and cursing quietly to herself, she pondered.
And waited.
The children were gone, as were the grandchildren.  For once, it seemed, she was alone.  Finally alone.  Ever since childhood, she had never been alone.  Her first child came along when she herself was still one, at fourteen.  Then another at fifteen.  Between the babies and taking care of her parents, she was never alone.
When her first two children were teens, she got married and got pregnant again.  Then again, some years later.  Her youngest was now a teenager, but in fifty years of life, she had never been alone.  Until now.
She hadn’t felt alone this last year, after her husband had left her.  Abandoned, yes, but not alone.  Her oldest son and his kids moved in to fill the void.  But now…Now her thoughts turned to him.  I can’t believe the son of a bitch is really gone.
Her thoughts turned to the bitter night that he had left, and she begged him not to go.  Later, she would wish that she hadn’t done that, hadn’t begged.  She wasn’t the begging type.  But she did, for him.  Still he left.
Linda wondered if she had done something differently, if she had been different, better–if she could have done something, somehow, and that would have changed the events of the last week–
Was it her fault?
She swallowed hard and choked, and put out the mostly unsmoked cigarette.  Glancing absentmindedly at the clock, she realized the time didn’t register with her, and she had to look again.  Three o’clock.  She should be here soon.
The front door was open a crack; from beyond she heard a car pull up, shut off.  But she didn’t hear a door.  Hmm.  I can imagine this is hard for her.  It’s hard for us all.  I hope she knows that.
After a long time, she finally heard a car door open and close.  She had dreaded this moment for so long, but now she was numb.  She heard the footsteps on the drive and then on the porch, and then a light rapping on the door.  A voice called out.

Kim had dreamt of this meeting, and dreaded it.  Not dreams so much as nightmares.  But she always thought Bryan would be there to protect her, to keep his ex-wife away from her.
Oh, Bryan, why did you leave me?
She had thought–hoped, wished–that they would be together forever, that they would grow old together, spend twenty or more years together.  The one thing that she thought would make her life worth living–she thought she would grow old with Bryan.
Tears streamed down her cheeks, uncontrollably.  His life was over, but it seemed to her…that so was hers.
Before any funeral planning could happen, this meeting had to happen.  She was technically just the girlfriend; legally, a fiancé meant nothing.  The ex-wife held all the power.  She had all the history, she had the children, she had the family connection.  All that Kim had was his heart.
Fiat currency now.
Kim sat in the driveway of her fiancé’s ex-wife’s house.  This had been his house, too.  For many years.  She saw many things that were reminiscent of his touch, his style.  Bryan did that landscaping.  Bryan laid those bricks in that pattern.  What else is left of his legacy?
Oh, Lord…what am I going to do?
She couldn’t bear to ponder the answer.  Well, as Bryan would say, “Let’s get moving.  We’re burning daylight here.”  Kim snorted a laugh and cried at the same time.  Slowly, her head lowered to the steering wheel.
A few minutes later, she felt as though she was watching herself get out of the car—Bryan’s car!—and walk to the front door.
Kim stood before the front door.  There was no screen door.  Curious.  Maybe because this was a newer house?  Screen doors were an option that homeowners would add later.  This house was only five years old.  After they bought it, that’s when things began to fall apart between he and Linda.  Although Bryan would say, “It may not have always been bad, but it was rarely good between us.”
Kim thought of the day Bryan said that.  They had recently met, and his divorce was in the bitter throes of mediation.  She saw something special in him, something that he obviously didn’t see in himself:  he was a good man.  He had a good disposition and a merry shine to his eyes that didn’t hide his pain, but put it all away for another day.
She thought of his beautiful, bright blue eyes, and wished only that she could—
Put it all away for another day.
It was then Kim paid attention to her surroundings.  She had spent the last 48 hours walking in a dreamland.  Had it really been that long ago?  Two days?  Time was vindictive.  The more time that passed, the more distance there seemed to be between the life she had, and this new thing, whatever it was going to be.
Back to the here and now.  Here and now.  Here we are, here and now.  Christ, am I at her door?  Kim looked at it, noticing with curiosity that it seemed to be partially opened.  I can see that.  I can see not caring right now if you closed the door behind you…
Kim knocked on the door quietly and it opened a little more.

Life Is Not a Metaphor

April 13, 2012 at 9:31 PM | Posted in Poetry | 2 Comments
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This week’s challenge was to write about death. Any genre at all. I’m not a fan of death. My own, anyway. For other people my feelings range from genuine sorrow to ambivalent to downright giddy.
To read more of these stories, hitchhike with the Grim Reaper over here:
Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge: Death is on the Table

It was quite a while back–Or perhaps tomorrow
So we’ll see how well I remember…
This morning, on a visit
To the true living dead, the rolling lifeless
The eyes that are too old and tired
To show despair or acceptance
Of what this mortal state,
This dubious existence has left us.
Like crumbs, like scraps,
Like a bowl of something left sitting
In the bottom near the back of the refrigerator
Behind the cheese whiz
Who knows what it is, exactly–who remembers?
But we’ve kept it long enough so it’s time to throw it out.

So we take it, through a feeding tube
For days on end…slowly
But life is not a metaphor, not simile
Not literary imagery, or hyperbole
Life is not poetic, so just–
The real nitty-gritty, the facts:
When we grow old and we are queued up to die
And our muscles don’t respond
And our noses can’t smell the urine
That our bodies can’t hold anymore
Our eyes don’t see the fetid organic filth
That we are now living in
Our ears won’t hear the workers
Talking, chatting, gossiping, cursing work
After they cart off another one
They clean up the room and spray it
And change the sheets
And welcome another resident
To life’s holding pattern

Sitting, staring nowhere, and doped for easier handling
Through blurry dull eyes we have a view of the cemetery.
We are carted from place to place,
Too weak and too tired to fight
No emotion left for the patronizing that we accept.
Is it a nice day? How do we feel?
Have your bowels moved? Are you drugged?

Great-grandfather, my ancestor, will I follow you?
Will I die horribly in my youth,
With unfulfilled potential and promise?
Or will my fate be the same as yours–and what is worse?
As you wander aimlessly these stained and dirty halls,
Drained of hope, drained of faculty
Drained of the last bit of hope
You ask everyone you see
Have you seen my beloved wife?
She was just here at my side…
Have you seen her?
Condescending murmurs are the answers that you get
They’ve never seen her,
Because she was lucky enough to die
Before this place could happen to her
Meanwhile, as the days flow like clumps of kitty litter
Through someone else’s fingers
And life goes on for everyone else but you,
Your foggy gray mind lets go of your cherished memories
Like leaves falling from a tree, or rats escaping a sinking ship
They are all that you have left but they betray you and escape,
One by one.

Please stop—please, make it stop.
There is a fog, it’s true, but sometimes
Clarity seeps through despite myself;
The only thing I’ve learned is that
Time is much less fluid than we are led to believe
In fact, it’s rather lumpy
And my personal identity is less than bound to me
Cataracts have let me see the world
Through a Salvador Dali-colored lens
Am I now my own great-grandfather
Whom I once came to see?
This small child ceremoniously presented
As my progeny
Slobbering and wetting himself–Is he me?
I don’t know what is going on now
But I remember that day so long ago
And I imagine it is the same.

To Infinity and Beyond…Then Back Again

April 5, 2012 at 5:55 PM | Posted in Political | Leave a comment
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Just a friendly warning to anyone who may have stumbled here via a tag about faith, religion, and God:  There is some bad language in this.  But it’s real and it’s true and it’s about my struggle, and if you can get past these indiscretions, I hope you will find it an enjoyable, thought-provoking read.

I’m not sure what this has to do with, and I’m fairly certain that this will require extensive editing before it gets to the viewing public.  The reader.  To you.

I am…I’m not religious, in the strict biblical sense.  And I’m not going to go that that tired old “but I am spiritual” route because I’m not a 20 year old college girl exploring her new found freedom by getting piss-drunk and letting a fraternity gang-bang her.
In fact, I might be the opposite:  I’m not very spiritual, but I am religious.  I believe in God.  I’m a Christian.  I believe that Christ is my savior, and everything else that goes with it that atheists and secularists love to make fun of.  But there is something else that goes with it, something that the atheists have been missing out on that I think they are just in recent years starting to catch up on.
My good friend is Catholic, and active in her church.  In fact, I’ve helped her with some functions and events, and some of the catering, and I see something wonderful.  It’s not–listen, you hardcore militant atheist assholes who just want to deride everything church-related and read subtext and subterfuge into everything, no matter how harmless and innocent it is:  It’s not all about fairy tales.
It has to do with the sense of community and society.  The common thread–church and belief–is what brings them together.  But the togetherness–friendship, comradery, fellowship, and sense of community–is an end unto itself.  These things are important.  People seek them out.  Most people, anyway, but I’ll get to that later.
In general, most people want to belong.  Are you with me so far?  I hate to generalize, and there are exceptions, but the misanthropic segments of the population rarely stand together to be counted, or have rallies.  *MOST* people don’t choose to be Tom Hanks in 85% of “Castaway.”

And so, here come the atheists, proudly boasting about their intellectual superiority, their inner strength that has no need of a fairy-tale support system, and the fact that they have never killed millions of people in a holy war.  (Well, to be fair, neither have I.)
But here they come, knocking what they don’t understand.
Don’t understand?  *Don’t understand?* Ha!  Why, most atheists are very well-versed and scholarly and learned in all aspects of all religions.  They have to be so they can intelligently refute and mock them against the ignorant masses of primitive, mouth-breathing believers…
Yeah, I hear you.  You’ve read.  You’ve bowed at Richard Dawkins’ feet.  You belong to several atheist websites.  There really isn’t a way for me to say “good for you” without it sounding sarcastic–but maybe it’s just me.
But you don’t understand faith.  Don’t tell me you do, because it’s obvious you don’t.  If you *UNDERSTOOD* faith, you’d have some.  I’m not wrong.  And this is my essay, so I get the last word.  Get your own fucking soapbox (or blog–same thing.)
My point being is that atheists are missing out on the larger sense of community and fellowship.  Compound that with the fact that, much like homosexuals or Scientologists, their numbers aren’t as great as they like to boast.  So that’s the crux of it:  Atheists, besides having a hole in their hearts where Christ should be, also have a hole in their heart where their connection to society should be.
(BTW–notwithstanding that I am a Christian, I do have a sense of humor.  A biting, harsh, and sarcastic sense.  I phrased that last paragraph exactly the way I did because I am a dick.  If I offended or pissed off any atheists–well, I guess it worked.)
I used to say this, “I know I’m not the best example of a Christian–”
And for that reason I wouldn’t usually divulge the denomination of my church because I am NOT the standard by which to measure.
However, like other things, I have given this up for Lent.  I won’t review all of my sins here because this not the place and they are numerous.  But I think that is the very same thing that makes me a g–
Ha!  I was going to say, “good.”  No, I’m not a “good” Christian.  I’m not a “good” example.  But I am an example.  A real-world example.  The kind that atheists can point to and sneer:  “See?  He’s not living his Christian values and tenets!  He should just give up and become an atheist!”
I’m also the kind of Christian that fundamentalist would point to and whisper about and judge behind my back, all the things that atheists think all Christians do.  The Fundies would say that I have not truly taken Christ into my heart.
But I say to all of them:  It’s not really for you to judge me now, is it?  It’s betwixt me and God.  God and I.  What a great road-trip, coming-of-age, buddy move that would be:  “Me and the Big G.”
I’m not perfect, and have never professed to be–other than to pick up chicks.  I live in the world.  I drink, I smoke, and I cuss.  I fornicate.  I fornicate like a mother-fucker, in fact.  I have, on occasion, lied.  I’ll lie to your stupid face if it’ll get you to leave me alone.
None of these things make me a Christian.  The fact that I believe in God, and the fact that I have taken Christ as my personal savior is what makes me a Christian.  I try to be a better person.  Most days, I don’t try very hard.
But I try.  And that’s the point.

I haven’t been to my Church in a dozen years or more.  I’m what they would term “inactive.”  And since then, I’ve gotten divorced, I live in sin with a woman, I occasionally drink and smoke–albeit lightly, and I’ve had occasion to view a provocative website or two.  Combined with my various other indiscretions, I’m certain that if/when I do go back, I would be excommunicated.  At the very least, I would be disfellowshipped.
I always thought there would come a day when I would go back.  A day when the doors wouldn’t necessarily swing wide for me, but at least they would unlock, and perhaps creak from disuse when I pried them open.
A day when my fiancé’s divorce would be final (I said don’t judge me), and she could make an honest man out of me.  A day when I might quit smoking and only drink in secret.  A day when my browser history might be proudly displayed.  A day when the light of Christ would shine through me and I would stand as a pillar to uphold all that is good and pure and decent.
A day when I wouldn’t have so many dirty thoughts going my mind.  All the time.  Constantly.  Really, it’s non-stop.

Many people that leave The Church or stop going have had some kind of falling out over some slight, real or imagined.  Often, it’s not the doctrine, but rather the misapplication of it by people, or the mishandling of some social situation–again, by people.  People, after all, are imperfect creatures.  Except atheists, of course.  Atheists, ironically, are the highest, most exalted and perfect of God’s creation, who have evolved to a point where they no longer need him.
My own experience was nothing like that, the leaving.  It was just a gradual waning of the light of my faith.  I don’t “blame” God, and I certainly don’t hate him.  Nor do I blame or hate anyone in the church.
I don’t mean to generalize, and of course I can create a lengthy disclaimer–in fact, I believe this entire essay is a disclaimer–if I really need to so that it will protect your delicate baby feelings, but *it has been my experience* that *in general* the *typical militant* atheist is *least likely* to get this:
This is about forgiveness and acceptance.  It was my fault and mine alone, and I accept responsibility for my actions.  I blame no one else for creating the circumstances unduly influencing me.  This is not an affidavit for the admission of guilt of any crimes.  I also acknowledge that despite the atheists’ view, I do answer to a higher power, and while I may have done nothing wrong in their eyes, I know that I face judgment from a higher power.  Even if they think it is my own conscious, there is harm and there are consequences from my actions.
As I am imperfect, I understand also that other people are imperfect as well.  I have forgiveness n my heart for people who are careless with my feelings and thoughtless with their actions towards me.  I forgive people that are too stupid to function in the world and I accept that no matter what I do, I can’t fix them and probably shouldn’t kill them.
Likewise, since I’m not perfect, I ask that Jesus–and you people–forgive me when I’m not as tolerant and patient with all the idiots, dumbasses, fuckballs, assholes, bitches and bastards as I should be.  The world is full of them, and chances are real good that you’re one.
I know I am.

When I was active in my church–
You know, it was a long time ago.  But I remember that it was pleasant.  It was fun.  It was a good experience.  It wasn’t like everyone was wretched and evil but put on a fake face to go to church.  It was more like we were living our lives, every day being dragged down a little bit.  But when we finally made it to church, it was like crossing a finish line.  Made it!  Safe, for another week.  The smiles were real.  Once you crossed the threshold, all the problems of the outside world slipped away, and only the important things remained.  The important things are family, and love, and God.  The rest didn’t matter.
We had activities all the time.  Before we got married, my wife and I gathered with the singles group.  Every week we went out together.  We would meet at church, have a prayer and a spiritual lesson, plan some activities, then play volleyball and go out for pizza.
There was always something going on.  Big Christmas and other holiday plans, excursions, activities for the kids that needed sponsors and volunteers, dinners and other things happening.  The thread that brought us together was our faith.  The Velcro that bound us was the fellowship.

And so now I have a question–a question that I didn’t know I had when I started this, but I think it was inside the whole time, the impetus and purpose of this whole exposition.
First, Given that there is some importance to the fellowship aspect, and I miss that and I want to be a part of something like that again;
Second, as painful as it is for me to acknowledge, if/when I choose to (or feel called to) return to my church, I know I would face some kind of disciplinary action.
And an atheist or just a regular non-church going bloke might wonder why, or how would they know about my misdeeds?  Well, I would have to tell them.  Why don’t I keep my ridiculous pie-hole shut?  Well, that’s dishonest.  I have to tell my [local church authority].  I *have* to.
So what are my possible courses of action?
Is excommunication permanent?  There is also disfellowship, which allows a member to return, after a period of…probation and censure.  Could I ever be re-instated?  If not, would I then be forced to join another church if I wanted to go to church?
Would it be better for me to remain inactive (but still a member, at least on paper) than to go back, only to be kicked out?
Could I join another church, with a different doctrine and different beliefs, knowing what I know and believing as I do?  Would I merely be paying lip service to this new church?  The gist of our beliefs are the same, although some Christian churches are vehement about the differences, no matter how nuanced.  One doctrine from my old church is that we believe in worshiping according to the dictates of our own conscious, and believe that people have that right–let them worship who or what they want, in whatever manner they want, or not at all.  This I firmly believe.
Another doctrine is more of a reminder:  even if we don’t agree on all things, we know we agree on many major things, and let us use those to join us, rather than allow the differences to separate us.  All beliefs possess some part of the truth.  (Of course, my caveat is, “all beliefs…within reason.  I’m sorry, but I swear to God, calling Scientology a religion is like calling date rape a sport.)
Would I be betraying my inner core of beliefs if I joined a different church?  And how firm am I, really, in those beliefs, when I’ve been inactive for so long and not living my life and conducting my affairs according to Church Doctrine anyway?
It’s almost but not quite like I had applied to MIT, and by some fluke I got in.  Then I flunked out, of course.  Of course I did.  Then I hung around the campus and wore an MIT sweatshirt for 20 years, proudly.  But they don’t like a scruffy-looking dropout hanging around, wearing their swag, bragging about the glory days.  If I go to re-apply, they will look at my transcript and say, “Not on your fucking life.”  I’ll end up going to the local community college, where the classes aren’t as tough and you don’t learn as much and it won’t help you get a good job.
As long as I don’t push it, I can still say I went to MIT.  But I’ll never finish–I’ll never get my degree.
So, what do I do?  I think I have myself talked into at least going and talking to my church leader, informally.  And I guess–the thing that should have occurred to me first–I guess I need to pray about it.

A Fool’s Paradise

April 2, 2012 at 8:45 PM | Posted in Personal | 2 Comments
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I might have tricked myself into thinking that I was actually writing, for a while.  But the truth of it became glaringly obvious when I saw all the empty folders–folders I had created, with plans to fill them.
I had been writing steadily, continually (not continuously, which is a different thing entirely) since 2005.  Hundreds of entries I’ve written.  In fact, my ridiculous blog keeps track of the statistics, and I’m numbering in the 700s.
Long about last summer, I discovered a website, Chuck Wendig’s Terrible Minds.  He had these flash fiction challenges, and I got sucked right in.  I participated fairly regularly, and whaddaya know!
–I had some readers.
And I wrote some pretty good stuff along the way, stuff I’m pretty happy with.  And I learned about writing on a deadline, and editing.  I also learned about honest feedback, and how to take it.  But more than that, I had people who read my shit.
In the olden days when I started the blog, I had readers.  If you go and look at my early stuff–most of which is grammatically horrific if not downright unreadable–you’ll see a host of comments from people who came to read and enjoyed what I had writ.  Over time…it all fades away.
I missed that.  In the meantime I poured my heart on my blog, exposing myself and my secrets, leaving me vulnerable.  I was harsh and honest.  But what if someone reads my dirty little secrets?  I wasn’t really worried about that.  The surest way to have privacy on the internet is to have a blog that no one reads.
I thought mayhaps I got away from my original goal…which is writing…by writing something else…
It’s all very confusing to me, and solipsistic in nature–this only matters to me, and all the voices in me head.
I decided long ago (and I realize now it wasn’t a firm resolve preceded by deep thought and heart-wrenching agonizing over the choices) that my blog would be defined sort of this way, in this style:
  “My blog is about my life.  It’s an on-line journal where I tell the stories of my life and what I’ve been through.  Not in the trudging, weary monotony of a diary, but essay style, wherein I pick a topic or theme or event and write about it.”
And then I added to the theme and expanded on it:
“I’m going to tell the stories of my life as they happen, but also dig into my brain and pull out the memories of things in the past, and write about them also.”
It sort of congealed like rancid grease into this:
“I’m going to collect all the stories of my adventures working in foodservice and management, because surely there’s a story there.”
There may, in fact, be a story there, but don’t call me Shirley.
And I’m comfortable enough with myself to play around with different styles of writing.  After all, it’s just my blog and no one reads it, right?  I’ve done the first person, essays, rants, third person, fictionalized essays, historical fiction, humor, drama, fantasy–
All  the while maintaining the highest grammatical standards.
I’m not sure what goal is or what it should be.  I guess I want to write, and be published.  I used to think it was for the money, but I’m too realistic for that.  Also, I’m too narcissistic.  I never thought I could be too narcissistic.  That’s like being too smart or too clever or too good-looking–and I am all of those things as well.
Because of the narcissistic thing, I crave attention.  I don’t want to write to be rich.  I want to write to be read.  I want people to read these words I put down and enjoy them.
I want to be on the escalator at the mall and over-hear two women:
“Oh, that new Bushong book is out.  I want to stop by the bookstore.”
“I’ve heard of that new one.  I really like his older stuff, though.”
“They’re going to make a movie out of that one–”
“Ugh.  I know they’re going to ruin it.”
Then I introduce myself to them, and one of them blows me in the food court bathroom.  (I may have confused two different fantasies there.)

I want to write, and yet this little bit right here is the most I’ve laid down on the screen in many, many weeks.  And I haven’t worked on my novel since November, doing that damned NaNoWriMo.  If you don’t know what it is, I’m not going to explain it.  But it sucked the writer’s soul out of me briefly.  Good thing the lint screen caught it, because I feel it starting to come back.  Kind of like the pilot light on the water heater, you know?  You have to hold down the button and wait, and hope it stays lit on its own when you let go.
I’m about to let go.
Dammit all, writing isn’t hard–not for me.  I’m not trying to sound elitist; I didn’t say that what I write is good.  But I can do it.  I can put the words on the screen.  I can lay down the tracks.  I can put on the miles.
I’ve had some distractions, which is not a reason or even an excuse, but more like a symptom.  I think I had some low-grade depression over the winter, compounded with real-life issues that are just naturally depressing, unless you’re a sociopath.
And I may still have it, but I need to funnel this shit somewhere.  Maybe it’s because I need to take a dump right now, but I feel like I have a cosmic constipation of my karmic energy.  I need to get this shit out.
I think I’m ready now.

  And yeah, I know.  I know without going back and looking that I’ve done this before.  This re-evaluation of my worth and examination of my heart’s desires and my deep meditation on the whole meaning of the universe and my place in it.
  I’m not going to say, “But this time I mean it.”
  What I am going to say is, “I know.”  And then I’m going to dig in my heels, roll up my sleeves, adjust my balls, and try again.

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