Player Piano

“A psychiatrist could help. There’s a good man in Albany.”

Finnerty shook his head. “He’d pull me back into the center, and I want to stay as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out there on the edge you see all the kinds of things you can’t see from the center.” He nodded, “Big, undreamed-of things–the people on the edge see them first.”― Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

This is from Player Piano, Vonnegut’s first novel. I am about halfway through right now. I was talking with my brother about the book and realized I must have read this the first time more than 45 years ago. I don’t recall the whole plot or many of the elements, but I do remember quite a bit of the situations. Unlike some of the later Vonnegut, the writing in this is more conventional in form. Lots of his later stuff is less rigid, even outline-like at times. This is not. It is filled with funny and odd moments, Vonnegut never takes himself seriously in his own work, there is a jolly feel to it, but this book itself is not structured as a series of jokes, as some of his later ones are. 

The book is a reaction to the changes in society that mechanization brought in the 20th century in the U.S. That whole shift from rural to urban is talked about in so much great American literature. I know more now than I did when I read it first but I think lots of what Vonnegut wrote about was a lack of purpose in the world, that a lot of stuff in modern urban life makes little sense. He has a character narrate some of these points and I have forgotten what will happen, so this is a rich and good experience, like reading it the first time. Still, the observations he made are still very valid today. The title, Player Piano, is a nod to people not being in charge of their actions or even desires, that everything in modern life is programmed, individuals don’t really make decisions. There are similar themes throughout his work.

I would recommend this to anyone to read, but I show my age. This was written in the very infancy of the computer age, in the novel some information is stored on punch cards, familiar enough to someone my age but now sold as vintage on Ebay and the like. It won’t really be too long before anyone with first hand knowledge of this technology will be gone. Other stuff that makes perfect sense to me, and things that are supposed to be technologically advanced seem a little silly to read now. It might still be interesting to a millennial, but it would probably not exactly convey what Vonnegut intended. The 21st century reader might see this as too quaint, like the science in Brave New World.  

The ideas in the book though, they are a bit timeless. Still nothing really new under the sun. 

Crisis of Purpose, or, Writing Prompt 11/3

For today’s prompt, have a character quit or surrender.

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He walked across the street, the container of soup hot against his palm. A little had spilled out as he had put the lid on the container, dripping and falling on his shirt as he went up the walk to Eric’s front door. 

“Shit, “ he cursed, and Eric heard him as he had opened the door, as Mike came up

“Not you,” he told him, and  Eric smiled, or tried to through the pain that held him now. 

Mike thought Eric looked even worse than usual. He had been near skeletal for weeks now, but somehow was even more slight than the last time Mike had seen him. His hair stuck awkwardly this way and that, arranged as the pillow on the couch that Mike could see from the doorway had decided. His color had been an off shade of jaundice for a while, but lately there was a purplish caste around his nostrils and lips, looking as if some evil was leaking gently from deep within him.

“The wife wanted to send crackers too, but I knew you had some.”

“Yeah, I couldn’t keep those down probably anyway, but I do still have some.”

Mike passed the soup into Eric’s shaky hands and as he came near the door he noticed a choking funk from within, unwashed clothes and dirty dishes and under all a finality that Mike imagined as the smell of death personified.  

“How are you feeling today?” Eric looked him full in the eyes for the briefest of moments and then looked over his shoulder as he spoke.

“Not so good, my last chemo was two day ago, usually I am feeling a little better now, but this time I still can’t keep anything down, and if it doesn’t come up it comes out the other way.”

Well I am going to the store a little later, you want me to get some Imodium or anything?”

“No, don’t bother, nothing seems to work.”

“Are you going to be able to eat the soup?”

“Probably not right now, but I can heat it up later and try then, right now I can’t do much but lay here on the couch.”

“Ok, well let me know.”

I will and tell Coleen thanks for me, I appreciate it even if I can’t eat it right now.

“Ok, then,” Mike turned away and wondered if he would speak with Eric again.

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These writing prompts are very good for stimulating prose, the group has been a constructive thing. I think it crazy that in 20 minutes something like this can be done with no editing at all. I can’t figure out how a longer work, short story or greater even, is not hard to do, and why I am not doing it. I lived this bit sometime in the week before the writing group, the neighbor is dying. Of course I embellish, and he has good and bad days and is not so near death, but the struggle is the biggest part of his life now. The Docs are trying to get him to a stable place but have not been able to quite yet. They no longer call anything “terminal,” they call it “treatable.” It is beginning to wear him out.

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I have been going through a bit of a crisis of purpose lately. I feel as if I have all the tools I need to write something but have not gotten around to it. I recently read a piece I had written a couple of years ago and thought it very strong. I wonder that I don’t do that all the time. It is funny though, I still don’t know myself as a narrator very well. I think I have a readability without being too taxing.

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Here is a funny bit though. I commented on an entry in a  blog I like, https://skepticskaddish.com/2021/11/08/sneaking-away-from-the-yeshiva/

 where he worked on a prompt for d’Verse prosery, a specific sort of flash fiction. He described it as “written in the voice of a sheltered young man raised in an ultra-Orthodox Jewish enclave who left the fold.”  I enjoyed what he had written but it was almost all exposition and I commented;

I love you Ben but you need imagery.

He replied;

Joe, please feel free to call me ‘David’ – that’s my first name.
the word ‘ben’ means ‘son of’ in Hebrew – my pen name is confusing, I know… I’m sorry about that.
could you please be more specific about your critique?
Thanks,
David
      

Joe;

Wow, I should have remembered that about the “Ben,” sorry. 
As far as imagery, you just told the Rabbi what you had learned and where it had taken you. “Puncture wounds” and “bombarded” start a little ways down a descriptive path but then sit quietly on a little decorative wrought iron bench, a gentle breeze washing over them carrying the smell of incense and something smoldering, just waiting for some large predator with fetid breath and curved scimitars of yellow teeth dripping dark red abdominal blood from a previous kill to approach, the evil intent clear on their visage as sunlight on water ….
I was mostly just saying “show don’t tell.”

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Completely not my style and it just erupted in response, but confirms a little, to me anyway, that I have something going on.  Stay tuned, I might actually get somewhere.

Writing Prompt 10/20

He baited the hook with a piece of sausage from yesterday’s breakfast. “Catfish like sausage, or rather, catfish like anything organic with a smell to it.” he thought to himself. He cast the hook into the pond, near the edge in the shade of the trees that lined it, the ripples from where it landed in the water moving slowly outward to over the quiet surface. He sat back down in his lawn chair and put his can of beer in the cupholder. 

It was quiet and he watched the line a bit and the little birds moving in the trees around the pond. The dragonflies buzzed quietly over the surface of the water close to shore and there came to him that wet rotting organic smell that surrounds static water. “Life, always creates death,” he thought, and chastised himself for thinking on the finite on such a wonderful day.

In conversation with himself he reasoned, “well, it is true, even if I don’t want to think on it.” He jerked a little on the line in the water, trying to move the baited hook down below to get the attention of a fish. For a moment he wished not to catch anything. If that were to happen, a fish on his line, he would have to pull the fish up out of the water into the air, the environment as deadly to the fish as his being under water would be. The fish would be there on the line, gasping, the body puffing and working to bring the needed oxygen to the bloodstream, but the gills that functioned so well in water not being capable of sustaining life in the air, the struggle of the fish futile as it would feel the life going from it. 

He turned his mind from that thinking. “I am just fishing and enjoying my day, if a fish comes, well, that is the way of things, there is no benefit in bemoaning the fate of a fish.” He laughed at himself, feeling empathy for a fish, a consciousness so much less of his own. “Does the catfish consider the life of a bug it gulps from the surface of the water? Or a minnow it gulps whole?” 

The line jerked a little and he watched intently, the thought of fried catfish filling his mind as he salivated at the thought. “It is the way of things,” he told himself.

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I thought that a good effort in 20 minutes. I had more in my head about the fish mouth opening and closing in the air but there is only so much you can do in the time given. If I wanted to include this in a story, or whatever, I would have had the guy catch a fish and not just think about it.

Lauren Groff tweeted about an author, Kevin Brockmeier, and I got a book he wrote from the library, The Brief History of the Dead. I thought it was terrific, inventive, readable and that it had a bittersweet melancholy to it that I liked, certainly worth a look. As it turns out though, the dog was not impressed.

Inform and Instruct

Tommy and I have discussed the point of writing, what, if anything, it is supposed to mean, or do. For the last decade I have been quoting Richard Russo about the purpose of witting from a bit he wrote in the preface of “The Best American Short Stories of 2010.” He is a novelist known for “Empire Falls” and “Nobody’s Fool.” I read “Nobody’s Fool” after my wife and I had watched the excellent movie with Paul Newman, Jessica Tandy, Bruce Willis and Melanie Griffith. It was the last movie Jessica Tandy made and she was good, as was the whole cast. I enjoyed the book when I got to it later, but the movie had some nice things about it as well. I liked them both. I knew Russo’s name from the preface he wrote but had never read anything else he had written until the movie. There was much to like in the novel “Nobody’s Fool.” Offhand I don’t recall any of the stories from that edition of “The Best American Short Stories.” I might if I still had my copy to leaf through, but it went back to the Goodwill. Russo’s preface I remember though, and had thought on now and again through the years.

In the preface he told an interesting story about when he was teaching at SIU and they had brought Isaac Bashevis Singer to campus to speak to the English Department. I was on that campus in 1983 for a semester. I probably would have taken a class with Russo had I stuck around but life took me another way. His success came in 1986, so he was still there teaching when I was there. I thought that interesting when I puzzled it out much later. The lecture with Singer, an author I have not read, ended with a Q and A and a graduate student posed a question to Singer about the purpose of literature, and Rosso recounts Singer’s somewhat dogmatic answer was simply to “entertain and instruct.’ I have been quoting that since I read it, though in my head I thought the instruct was about how to live your life and the entertain was the sugar coating on the lesson to make certain parts more palatable.

Years later I regurgitated that aloud in Frank Grady’s class and he pointed out that sentiment was from the Roman Poet Horace from 2000 years ago and Singer was only repeating what he had been taught. I had not thought on it too much after I had learned it as it seemed to answer my questions on the subject fine. But in my discussions with Tommy I began to wonder if I felt otherwise than the simple maxim. Part of the reason was the quote I have mentioned in the blog, that I had learned from Tommy, the Ulysses quote about before death something noble could be achieved. Another part was a recent quote from a poem in the Edwin Arlington Robinson poetry collection “Children Of The Night.” (Not about Vampires!) I read that the other evening when something sparked my memory about the poem “Richard Cory” that so many English teachers used last century to teach classical poetry construction and rhyming schemes. 

Robinson wrote in one of his poems, 

“To get at the eternal strength of things, 

and fearlessly to make strong songs of it, 

Is, to my mind, the mission of that man 

the world would call a poet.”

He went on about God a little further on and I would say writer or author instead of poet, but I thought he had something there. I am not convinced of the christian god or even some great spirit behind everything, the universe as a deity, self aware or not. But many times when a writer goes on about the glory of some god or another I find it inspiring if I consider that from my way of understanding things they are speaking of simply being alive. It may be that is what I think the purpose of writing is, to celebrate life. I don’t always know my own mind until I reflect on things a little.

And I will have to think on this. I searched for the Horace quote and found this nugget on Goodreads, 

“The aim of the poet is to inform or delight, or to combine together, in 

what he says, both pleasure and applicability to life. In instructing, be

brief in what you say in order that your readers may grasp it quickly 

and retain it faithfully. Superfluous words simply spill out when the mind

is already full. Fiction invented in order to please should remain close 

to reality.”

So what Russo wrote that Singer paraphrased was just a bit different straight from Horace. These subtle differences may be important. They also may not.

Writing Group again

Mike hurried west into the setting sun, the trees around him bathed in the early evening light, orange and gold before the darker shadows rendered everything a shade of grey. He moved quickly and bursts of anxious energy coursed through him as he tested the air. There came to him the smell of burning, not wood or leaves but sickly artificial plastic, not nature’s burning, but the waste of mankind. It shortened his breath and shut his throat and burned his eyes, tears running down his face. 

To the left and the right of the rough gravel he heard creatures moving, the muted steps skittering in deep leaf mash, but could see nothing through the darkening cover. Away and behind him the sounds seemed to be headed, and the noise of creatures both large and small, the deer and the mouse alike, leaping away from the direction he was going.

There came now, in the path he was headed, a haze of smoke. As the light had faded he could see no color, but in his imagination it was a sickly yellow, a caustic ammonia. As he headed on it worsened and he thought of turning back. It was important to him to continue. Ahead he discerned not a sound, but the rumor of sound, the waves of it deep and rumbling that he not so much heard, but felt, in his jaw and his chest, a physical manifestation of sound. 

It came now to his ears, a deep grinding, a mechanical elephant call that traveled through the ground and the mass of the biggest things around, the source maybe close maybe miles from where he walked.

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The prompt for this was “what is just over the hill or behind the closed door.” I wanted to work on description today and had no idea what lay ahead but only that it was ominous. It is the time of year for that sort of stuff. I had the goal of description and to use senses and to keep away from exposition. I thought 20 minutes was not long enough at all and once I had started I didn’t want to write about the idea I had chosen.

A pattern in my writing that I do not care for seems to be repetition. Not intended, there are clearly very important times repetition needs to be used, but needless repetition of words and phrases. I might have to look at a text on grammar, but the use of the present tense “to be” seems a source of lots of unnecessary words.

Ok, I have a book at the library on evolution and a copy of “A Confederacy of Dunces.”  I read it more than 30 years ago now and can still recall quite a bit as I play it in my head. I remember not being able to get all the way past the tone of the preface where the editor tells of what happened to Toole. It really colored my reading of it all those years ago. I don’t think it will this time, but I am not certain.

Sally Wallace

Sally Wallace passed away last year in July. Here is here obit in the Champaign Paper; https://www.news-gazette.com/obituaries/sally-foster-wallace/article_baccef8e-0b4d-11eb-a56d-308d99b27af3.html

She taught a class in Short Fiction that I took at Parkland Community College in the early 80s. The class was a joy, quite demanding, very invigorating. She gave us a checklist we had to use for everything we read for her class. It included learning a little about the writer and when they produced the material we were using, date first published and where, POV, setting, first and last line and so on. When I returned to college so many years later I used the approach to reading fiction she taught me, I think it a good method. I busted my ass for her class and she gave me an “A” which by her reputation meant something. She was approachable, but tough. I called her Sally, in and out of class, and would stop by her office and chat with her. I remember bringing fiction I had written for another class for her to read. She praised what I had written and that was pleasing to me. I thought she was an attractive woman, small and trim and fair, and quite witty. I may have been a little smitten by her.

I don’t recall much of what happened in class other than I loved being there. The classroom was bright, windows lining one wall and blackboards all the way across the other, real blackboards with dusty white chalk. One time Sally wrote an “a” on the left side of the boards and then walked all the way to the right and wrote “lot.” She said that was how far apart the space should be when a person wrote “a lot,” and if we ran it together in a paper as “alot” she would give us a failing grade. Once she said she would not eat at a restaurant that had grammar errors in their menu

She demonstrated ideas about punctuation with the sentence “Woman without her man is nothing.” Depending on where you put commas in the sentence the meaning is radically different. Woman, without her man, is nothing. Or – Woman, without her, man is nothing. She was very precise with her language.

I know I have a paper or two I wrote for her still, I found them when I returned to college searching for a 20th century syllabus to compare to a 21st. She was quite encouraging about the papers, with many handwritten notes that made it very clear she had read and considered what I had written. 

One personal story, she related that at Mount Holyoke, where she did her undergrad, they wrote their papers out longhand and one professor limited the papers to a single side of one sheet of paper. She told of writing as small as possible to be able to get all the ideas she wanted to present into the paper.  

I had not forgotten her, though had not thought of her for quite some time. When I returned to college, to UMSL a couple of years ago, in one of my first classes I was assigned This Is Water, the famous commencement address by David Foster Wallace. At the time I thought it one of the more excellent things I had read in quite some time. I had done the reading prep Sally taught and noticed in his biography he was from Champaign and his father was a U of I professor and his mother, “a grammar snoot” , was a JuCo Instructor at Parkland. After reading some of the things he had written I was honored to have been his mother’s student and could see how she could have created an environment that produced his like.

When I graduated from UMSL a year and a half ago I did a search for her and knew she had retired from teaching but that she was alive, though she had moved to Arizona. I don’t know if she would have remembered me, but maybe, my mother taught at Parkland for a while and was quite notorious and I was loud and boisterous and really cared about her class. I sent a couple of emails to Parkland college and what might have been an account she still used but got no response.

I don’t know why I searched for her the last couple of days, what prompted me, but I found her obit and thought of her fondly. Thanks Sally.   

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Mice do not fear gravity

Thought of the day – I was in a fruitless debate with a theist on youtube and was trying to explain demonstrable repeatable evidence and used the example of terminal velocity. I should not bother with this endeavor, no minds are changed and usually it ends with the theist damning me to hell. But having been fortunate to watch and listen to a number of persuasive and theatrical preachers in my youthful religious phase I am partial to a good sermon well preached. I like the craft of it, the showmanship, even if I believe none of it. Billy Graham was a pretty good preacher, not fire and brimstone, not hard preaching, but thoughtful and eloquent, he made you think. There was a pure showman I liked as well, Billy Sunday, he would call out the devil and reproach him from the pulpit, great theater.

So I listen to a sermon now and again on youtube and comment sometimes. Usually I point out significant deviations from the christian bible, glaring discrepancies I recall from my youth. Just about any position taken by a modern american christian can be shown to be contrary to some bible verse. I comment not because I am under the illusion that I can change minds but that someone on the fence about religion can understand the thought process of someone who does not believe, to show perspective. Religion as a function of a society I am in favor of, a church can be a great social unifier, a place of comfort, and a skilled pastor can be a source of help navigating life, can comfort those in need, that job is more than just preaching. These youtube yahoos though, I would not see a fence sitter get caught up in a fringe group and give away a significant portion of their life to a charlatan or cult-like group. Life is too short give up time that you can’t get back. I try to be a rational voice in the craziness.

Lots of times though, when someone responds to one of my comments they try to make their point by making grandiose claims for which there is no demonstrable repeatable evidence. I always ask them for evidence and they often have no idea what I am saying. Paul in the New Testament writes about this in Hebrews 11 with the famous verse, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Paul would not have to have said that except someone asked for evidence. It seems even then people were demanding evidence for the claims of christianity.

But these youtube theists are not usually schooled in scientific evidence so I often use terminal velocity as an example of the sort of demonstrable repeatable evidence I am looking for. I tell them,

“if you drop an object in the air, gravity will pull it downward towards earth, accelerating until the air resistance against the shape and density of the object stops the acceleration, and the object will reach it’s greatest speed. That is called Terminal Velocity. Every time you drop an object it will accelerate until it reaches terminal velocity or until it hits the earth.”

I get replies that vary but are generally of two types, the earth or universe is evidence of a creator, and I know the truth and am a god denier and am headed for hell. I tell them the universe is evidence of itself and nothing else, and there is nothing to demonstrate a heaven or a hell exists. Generally though, when I consistently point out and deny unsupported claims I get told I am evil and going to hell. I get it, I felt a similar thing towards unbelievers at a point in my life. Truth is relative and maybe not even a real thing.

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Again, I don’t change minds, but hopefully I can help an undecided come to a more rational conclusion. Anyway, I used the terminal velocity description today and decided to check my work and read the wiki article about it. I came across this little nugget of information that has no use to me at all, in my life now, or in any point in my past, or in my foreseeable future.

“To the mouse and any smaller animal [gravity] presents practically no dangers. You can drop a mouse down a thousand-yard mine shaft; and, on arriving at the bottom, it gets a slight shock and walks away. A rat is killed, a man is broken, a horse splashes. For the resistance presented to movement by the air is proportional to the surface of the moving object. Divide an animal’s length, breadth, and height each by ten; its weight is reduced to a thousandth, but its surface only to a hundredth. So the resistance to falling in the case of the small animal is relatively ten times greater than the driving force.”

There you have it, mice do not fear gravity.

Groff Again

“For it is a deep and human truth that most souls upon the earth are not at ease unless they find themselves safe in the hands of a force greater than themselves.”

So I succumbed to the hype and reserved a copy of Groff’s latest, Matrix, at both the city and county libraries. I even put myself on the Large-Print list because I was like the 27th hold on 8 copies or something. Tommy was reading it and I almost bought it because we had enjoyed talking about Fates and Furies so much. Way before I thought it would be ready the library sent an email that a copy was waiting for me and it wasn’t the large print either. Maybe should have bought it to support Lauren. I dunno, I would have ended up giving it away, I don’t store books for years and years anymore and my shelf is near full.

It is about time for a harrowing. I have a number of books I had the greatest intention of reading and just have not found the interest. I started Wolf Hall a couple of times, that should be a good fit for me, I don’t know why it is not. Love in the Time of Cholera feels so familiar, I have started it several times, each time thinking I have read it before. Beloved I will re-read, when I can handle the depth. Morrison is such a treasure. The Kite Runner comes highly recommended from somewhere or another, I should at least give it a try. There is an early Eugenides and Ishiguro and a copy of In Cold Blood. Ohio and The Hail Mary Project I have read, I just need to find a good home for them. There is quite a bit of reading on that little shelf, and some good stuff as well.

But Groff is the star in ascension for me right now. Matrix is quite different than Fates and Furies. I have only read the first section but like it. I was introduced to Mary from France a couple of years ago in college. I was entirely struck by the quote,


“Anyone who has received from God the gift of knowledge and true eloquence has a duty not to remain silent: rather should one be happy to reveal such talents.”

So I am quite excited to see what else Groff is going to do with the character in the book. I sent a comment to Groff on one of her Twitters and she “liked” it. I told Tommy about it and he thought it cool. He said “You read what she wrote and she read what you wrote.” I laughed and mentioned Vonnegut had written something about an author having a readership of one and being content and Tommy said Epicurus said something like that too. We have different backgrounds he and I, but it is striking to me that we draw the same sort of ideas from wildly disparate sources. Humans seem a finite entity.

Little Fires Everywhere

“Some years later, she would drive five and a half hours, daughter in tow, to the great March on Washington, and Mrs Richardson would forever remember that day, the sun forcing her eyes into a squint, the scrum of people pressed thigh to thigh, the hot fug of sweat rising from the crowd, the Washington Monument rising far off in the distance, like a spike stretching the pierce the clouds.”

This is from Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. I thought it one of the best sentences I have read in a while. Fug is a bit of english slang for a strong smell in an enclosed space. It naturally follows the use of scrum, a rugby term, a british sport, a word that completely describes bodies thrown together. Such a rich little moment in a book with lots of things happening.

The book won the Goodreads Choice Award for fiction in 2017. I wonder at times their selections, Goodreads seems to have too universal a membership to be able to consistently choose books that I find worthwhile. I mean, I read Where the Crawdads Sing at their recommendation and still don’t feel like forgiving them. I know Horace said, “To inform and to entertain” and that to be snobbish towards romance stories and mystery and crime drama is a weak position to take, but I think literature ought have a purpose. It seems as if it should, to me anyway. 

This time though, with Little Fires, I think Goodreads got it right. I don’t recall why, but what I could glean from the reviews kind of put me off of reading the book. I found a copy at the Goodwill and hung on to it for a few weeks before I started reading. Celeste Ng, pronounced “ing,” certainly wrote a strong professional book. I think it speaks to many emotional subjects in a family setting and with some pretty big life questions as well. I don’t do spoilers, read the book.

I will say that it dredged up some strange emotions. Somehow I remembered the week my Mother was dying. Our relationship was fairly strained and never really made right. But my brother and sister and I spent the last week of her life with our Mom, over thanksgiving the year she died. It was a very strange thing and another source of turmoil and confusion in the relationship, something I still have not figured out, all these years later.
 
I was away from St Louis for a week and when I returned soon spent an evening at the Taproom downtown. This was before microbreweries were prevalent, before you could find more than AB products at the 7-11, so I had been a week without a good dark beer. I was a regular at the Taproom and an oatmeal stout drinker then, so attuned to the beer that I could tell when they changed from one keg to the next. That first sip after I had returned to St Louis brought me to tears at the bar, not for my mother so much, but for having a life that was important to me, completely apart from my mother. Somehow, this book brought that memory out of me, though I can see no connection at all to the story. Ng got to that idea though, and loss, and choices. I am glad of the reading of this, despite my initial reservations. 

Writing Prompt

Mike jerked the leash against Biscuit’s pull and she was thrown back and around, away from the busy street and back towards the sidewalk. Her long frame awkward a moment before she righted herself.

“Heel, damnit” Mike cursed. 

Biscuit opened her jaws for the leash again, and Mike was angered, if she could get the leash to the back of her jaw she would cut it as easy as scissors to paper. He whipped the loose end of toward Biscuit, never coming close to hitting her, the action enough to make her shy away. Mike felt it a betrayal to use the previous abuse against her, but it did stop her from cutting the leash and prevented her from being loose on the street in the busy traffic.

“Hey you, asshole, I saw what you did, you stop hitting that dog,” a round young face screamed from a passing car, slowed to where Mike and Biscuit walked. The car screamed past them and then slowed and spun around and came back towards them, Through the passenger window the face screamed again.

“Hit her again and I will kick your ass you asshole,” the face screamed and Mike squared up to the car, and raised his palms questioningly, ready for whatever might come. Through the passenger window now, the face evaluated Mike and Biscuit and suddenly lost resolve and drove off quickly.

Mike and Biscuit continued along the busy street.

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I participated in a writing group this morning. I thought it very useful. There were about a half dozen of us in a zoom meeting. The moderator put a prompt out that was confusing to me, something about a character being watched and gave us 20 minutes to write, after which we read out loud, one by one. I had a hard time with the prompt and finally settled on what I have here. I wanted a complete scene so I sacrificed detail and description. Looking back I could have written it from the viewpoint of the character in the car and had an easier time of it. Still, from an ambiguous prompt (to me anyway, no one else seemed troubled) I felt I did ok. If I were to edit it wouldn’t be hard to take the “tell” out and just “show.” In 20 minutes though, I couldn’t find time to include a whole bunch of stuff. Like I said, I sacrificed for completeness.

I was very interested in seeing what the others wrote and it felt a minute like being back in Seely’s non-fiction class, tons of exposition and no imagery. There was some surprisingly decent dialogue. There was one young woman though, I am guessing age by her voice as her camera was off, who was clearly a writer. Published or not she had the real stuff, she just needed to practice to get cleaner. Maybe a bit heavy in the detail, a bit feminine, but skilled, a good voice. She had put her scene in a forest with a rainstorm and sounds and tactile elements. The only sense she didn’t include was olfactory, taste or smell. I have to make a point of noting olfactory in writing, it seems the last sense that writers use. I think it may be more important than many realize. I notice it mostly when it is missing.

I thought this a good exercise and I am signed up for a few more of these. I think working a prompt a good idea, I have been doing it on my own a little. One way to think of a novel might simply be as a series of prompts. I am going to outline “Of Mice and Men.” I bet there aren’t 12 characters in that short little book and not much more than 10 scenes and three or four settings. I might be surprised at what is included, but I think Steinbeck did so much with very little. I envision my story being about as sparse in scenes and settings. I think outlining that little book will be useful. It feels as if I am starting down a good path lately.