Tag Archives: Thought

15 Fairly Fractured Tales

annotated-brothers-grimm-bicentennial-editionWhen my children were portable and saw me as a funnel for the world, my favorite duty was telling bedtime stories. I’m not a brilliant storyteller, but credulity inspires improvisation. I painted myself into corners to see how I might get out.

Rather than write a full post, I’m exercising those atrophied muscles in 15 single sentences from stories—beginnings, middles, and ends. Only a few are really suitable for children, but I aimed to find fanciful and promising ideas ripe for plot, not sleep:

1. The other alchemists thought it silly to try to turn gold into food.

2. What you’ve heard is true—dogs are humans’ best friends—but there was one dog whose only friends were cats.

3. At first just household objects reappeared as papier-mâché but soon whole buildings, the town, and finally its citizens became immobile and lumpy from someone’s bungled construction.

4. He dreamed the sun was a plow and so did she—when they kissed for the first time, they decided to make the dream so.

5. The soothsayer kept the bear caged but told everyone the bars marked the limits of their world and not the bear’s.

6. The tools, unwilling to touch anyone who might use their talents poorly, fled from the people who meant to wield them.

7. “Be careful,” her grandmother told her, “or you’ll end up like your father, lost in his own bedroom.”

8. Once a king decided to possess everything and soon owned all of the planet except himself.

9. Before, she had visited the priest, but that morning she decided to write her confessions on cards and hand them to strangers in the town square in front of the cathedral.

10. Another day, another habit, and soon the animals were very different from the humans, who never learned the knack of making one day echo another.

11. All his life he worked on his map—drawing landmarks guiding him out of his house, through streets, into countryside, over mountains, and into another house with another map just like the first, only dark.

12. Most people don’t know that sleep’s twin is jealous of his sister’s influence.

13. A tree shot straight out from the face of the cliff, and every year or so a villager came along to build a house in it, but the tree and the wind knew what to do and shook them off like flies.

14. “This seat,” he said, “is the judgment seat, and, if you want to know what to think about anything at all, you just need to sit down and close your eyes.”

15. Each of the library’s books contained a song, and opening their covers released the music forever.



Filed under Allegory, Dreaming, Experiments, Fiction, Fiction writing, Identity, life, Memory, Parenting, Prose Poems, Thoughts, Voice, Writing

And I Am An Addict

thewestwing.banner.gettyDamn you, Netflix.

Recently Netflix posted 156 episodes of The West Wing, seven seasons, and I’m whistling the theme song, dreaming of C. J., and worrying about political disputes now 14 years old… and fictional.

I was once so proud of missing the first incarnation. From 1999-2006, when people talked about The West Wing, I shrugged and blithely said, “Never seen it.” When others writhed in disbelief, I smirked. When they insisted I could catch up and that catching up would be worth it, I resisted their evil temptations. I would hold out.

Then Netflix brought it back. Like my mother, hurt that I turned down last night’s boiled cabbage, Netflix brought me a steaming bowlful for breakfast. Only, in this analogy The West Wing isn’t boiled cabbage, it’s green eggs and ham—delicious and served in such perfect portions I always have room for one… more… episode.

Now I’m sleepy and cranky and interested in little else.

A colleague at work told me about someone on Twitter who shares my dilemma. Like me, he’s watching the series for the first time and tweeting witty exaltation about “developments” in the last episode he watched… as if it aired last night, as if anyone in this day and age knew what the hell he was talking about or could share his enthusiasm. But I do understand. I know. I too feel the urge to yell “Let Bartlet be Bartlet!” from the rooftops.

I know, I know, that means nothing to you. That’s the trouble with television series on the computer, they are my ugly secret, drinking I do alone in the dim house. My wife discovers me in the middle of the night, bleary-eyed and babbling about getting one more fix. So many ugly confessions to make—Friday Night Lights, Life, Eureka, Dollhouse, Arrested Development, Battlestar Galactica, Jericho, Downton Abbey, Mad Men, Better Off Ted, Pushing Daisies, Sports Night, Slings and Arrows, The Tudors, A Gifted Man.

I’m hopeless and will need at least 20 steps to get better. Yet who can understand? Who will be my sponsor? I’m caught in a time warp—sort of like Life on Mars, which shouldn’t have been cancelled. I carry my furtive addiction like a looped spoon and a length of surgical tubing, afraid to admit my sickness and afraid to find company, afraid to quit and afraid to seek help.

Last night I finished the end of West Wing’s first season, and I thought I could cut myself off there, go cold turkey, but, after a Town Hall in which—between the President’s brilliant answers during Q and A—Toby learned his brother on the broken space shuttle landed safely, some West Virginian white supremacist Nazi took a shot at Charlie because he’s dating Zooey! I could hardly be expected to wait… how did people manage it when summer months passed between one season and the next? I had to see what happened and what happened had two parts.

122 episodes to go. Help me.


Filed under Doubt, Essays, Home Life, Identity, Laments, life, Modern Life, Television, The West Wing, Thoughts, Worry

The State (and History) of My Blogs

roofs_of_prizziWordPress says 2012 was my biggest year as a blogger. Though statistics are crass and don’t say much in the end, being “Freshly Pressed” in August helped nearly double my visitors this year. And I have many more followers, for which—I can’t say often enough, Dear Reader—I’m grateful.

But 2012 wasn’t really my best year as a blogger. In 2008, my totals were twice this year’s.

Signals to Attend, derelict satellite, and Haiku Streak (the Niña, Pinta, and Santa Maria of my blogs) are my fourth incarnation as a blogger. I can’t remember the name of my first blog on Earthlink, but I wrote a haiku a day and an essay a month, book reviews every once in a while, and, if I couldn’t think of anything else, I pasted in poems I’d written long before. I posted so infrequently only an audience who liked watching flowers turn to the sun would enjoy following my work.

I resolved to start over and do better, but my still-born second blog was so flawed in conception and design that it lasted only long enough to gasp its last breath. I think my first post might have been about how I couldn’t possibly hope to go on.

Then I started an anonymous blog, Joe Felso, on WordPress, and, for reasons I never really understood, it grew and grew. Maybe because I posted every day for months, people visited and continued to visit even when I slowed to four posts a week. No one would mistake me for a self-promotion machine, but, as Joe Felso, I courted readers and became part of a circle of popular blogs. Though I wasn’t posting to Joe Felso at all after 2009, that blog remained my most popular until, finally, this blog surpassed it in 2012.

When I gave Joe Felso up after three years, it was at its peak popularity. Exhausted and blocked, I couldn’t think of anything new to say, and the anonymous mask chafed. I’d had enough, I thought, and decided blogging was more burden than blessing. I didn’t need it.

Only a few months later, in January of 2009, I started here, using my real name, posting once a week and then, later, twice a week on this blog and derelict satellite… four posts a week, just like before. All I’d really given up was my audience. I intended to shut Joe Felso down but left it open as a sort of museum and stole from it once a week, revising or rewriting posts I’d made before. That well has since dried up. Everything you find here, and on derelict satellite, is newly minted twice a week. Only today, I finally made Joe Felso invisible.

All told—on and off—I’ve been blogging ten years, a long time in blogging terms. I’m approaching my 300th post on Signals to Attend and am well over 1000 posts, counting my various lives as a blogger. The quantity of my readership hasn’t grown though the quality has.

And every time I approach a milestone—like 300—I think of stopping.

The internet continually reminds me how little it needs my additions. My crowd of words gathers on the edge of an abyss, waiting for each new post to push more words over. My numbers are nice—better than some, I suppose—and still I wonder what I have to say that I haven’t said before and how much pleasure I can expect from expressing myself again. I have only my voice after all and no real, dramatic destination or goal.

I might be asking for affirmation, but I’m not being glib. Crises of faith that hit others once a lifetime seem to befall me four times a week. Perhaps it’s our accelerated world. It could be the stakes I seem to face every moment. Maybe doubt— through all my blogs, the only sustained reason I’ve ever found to write—fuels me.

The new year dawns. I’ll continue, and, begging your patience again, I will tell whatever truth I understand. When I pass 300, I will try not to look back. Something must compel me, who knows what, and I can’t shut up.


Filed under Aesthetics, Ambition, Anxiety, Blogging, Doubt, Essays, Fame, Identity, Laments, life, Numbers, Thoughts, Writing

Wanting Something

macbeth.jpg Another reprise from Joe Felso:

Henry Ward Beecher, the 19th century preacher and brother to Harriet Beecher Stowe once said:

A noble man compares and estimates himself by an idea which is higher than himself; and a mean man, by one lower than himself. The one produces aspiration; the other ambition, which is the way in which a vulgar man aspires.

When I finished my MFA program some years ago, I intended to rain my poetry on publishers everywhere. I wouldn’t be denied. After the first rejection, however, my ambition wilted. After the second, it turned brown. The third crumbled my ambition, and the fourth swept it away in a spinning eddy. I watched it go.

Had I seen my work as capital A Art, an idea higher than myself, I might have persisted thinking the world needed my words. But I took bad news personally, as something aimed at me, not Art. I thought, “Maybe my disappointment signals I’m writing for the wrong reasons. It’s about me, not the writing.”

Classmates who could separate their egos from their work either moved on or hung around long enough to succeed. My sense of purpose just became increasingly absurd. I began to think I might just as well aspire to achieve the most lifelike moo-sound or to swim the English channel in a flour sack.

Before I started blogging, I’d almost stopped writing altogether.

Early in Macbeth, as Lady Macbeth contemplates killing King Duncan, she says her husband is “too full o’ the milk of human kindness / To catch the nearest way.” She also says:

…Thou wouldst be great;
Art not without ambition, but without
The illness should attend it

The “nearest way” to the crown is stabbing the king as he sleeps, and it’s clear you can’t do that if you have “the milk of human kindness.” You need a side of “illness” with that milk.

Like Mr. Macbeth, my ambition isn’t absent, though someone might faint praise me in exactly the same way—I’m not without ambition. I don’t want to kill any kings but sometimes fantasize about being great. It might be okay. I’m just not sure how much I’m willing to do to be “great” or how I’d know when I got there.

Perhaps the real line Macbeth crosses isn’t between kindness and cruelty but between Scotland and himself. As long as he could convince himself he was killing for the king, he did not think of killing the king. His worst discovery may have been that, while he was off soldiering for Scotland, he was killing for himself all along, that he could only kill for himself.

I accept the ambitions attributed to the greater good by institutions of which I’m a part. I’m a dutiful soldier. If the school aspires to something, so do I: get papers back in three days or write a unique grade report for every student or accommodate every subtle learning difference with an infinitely varied approach to instruction. I’ll do my best.

My students ought to thrive and to do so they need dedicated, thoughtful, and diligent teachers. These educational ambitions arise from loftier ideals and usually make obvious sense. However, if I’m being honest, I find more satisfaction in a bad painting than in a set of papers punctually returned. Is it selfish to place personal goals before higher purposes?

How much of my professional ambition is truly rooted in desire? I know I can’t accept every institutional goal given me, hearing “hold this” until I finally have no hands, arms, shoulders, back, or any other part of my anatomy unoccupied. Eventually, I’ll want to please myself.

I have no murderous motives, but I am not without ambition, and neither my desire nor my discomfort with desire can be quieted entirely. I don’t want to be an egotist, but inevitably I am. I want what I really want.

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Filed under Aging, Ambition, Anxiety, Buddhism, Doubt, Ego, Essays, Fame, Hope, Identity, Laments, life, Poetry, Thoughts, Writing