Archive for July, 2013

Morning First Draft, No. 2

Posted in Fiction with tags , , on July 31, 2013 by cueball

Here is Part 1.

John Banks was tired and just wanted to get a beer.  He and Carl had been moving tobacco all day.  The stunk and they were sticky.  Tuesday was Karen’s night to clean the courthouse so she would be a little later than usual.  John usually grabbed some food somewhere on his way home on these days.  Occasionally if the day was long enough and hard enough he and Carl would head to Bitsy’s to have a few lukewarm beers and listen to blues.  This was such an occasion.

They sat at a table in the corner almost too tired to lift their beers to their lips.  They talked about the football season that was winding down.  EE Smith was having a good season and should make the playoffs.  Mostly, they just sat and rested letting the beer slowly relax them.

Fred and Ethel came in after John and Carl had been there for about an hour.  Fred and Ethel were actually Russell and Sam.  They were basically inseparable and had been since they were little boys growing up on the same stretch of dirt road.  They were so inseparable that at this point no one in Bitsy’s paid any notice to Russell being white anymore.  The only time John saw anyone pay any mind was a couple of years ago he got too comfortable with some joking and used “nigger” in a sentence.  That got Russell the little scar just under his left eye.

They sat over at the bar and started holding court.  Sam could tell the hell out of a story with Russell as his Greek chorus.  Carl and John tried to ignore them as Sam told some story about some girl he met when he and Russell went to Raleigh a couple of months ago.  John couldn’t tell which positions were real and which weren’t but he was also past caring.  “Karen’s going to be home soon.  We ought to go.”

“Sounds good to me.  Place is too crowded tonight.”

They settled up at the bar with Bitsy and started towards the door.

“Hey, John.  How that high yellow girl you married too?”

John stopped and turned to look at Sam.  “She’s good.”  Carl and moved closer to John and stood on his right kind of between John and Sam.

“I bet she is.  Hey tell me something…”

“I’m going to stop you now.  We both tired and he got to get home to see his wife.  We got work in the morning.  We going to go now and let you and your boyfriend sit tell all the stories you want to.  You going to thank me later for this.”

“For what?”

“Walking him outta here before you said something stupid about his wife he beat you ass.”  Carl put his hand on John’s shoulder and turned him towards the door.  As they walked out the sound level in the bar slowly picked up and people went back to their own business.

“You should have let me kick his ass.”

“I wasn’t worried about him.  White boy was moving his hand to his back pocket.  After Garret beat him with that chair last year, he started carrying a knife.  They almost burned this place down after he got his ass kicked.  They kill us all if we kill him in a fight.”

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Morning First Draft, Number 1

Posted in Fiction with tags , on July 23, 2013 by cueball

It was an old church, like most of the churches in this small town. The walls inside were the pale green of lime sherbet. The carpet was an old deep green worn from years of parishioners walking on it and monthly cleanings. The pews were old oak with worn spots and worn edges. The lights were gold colored chandeliers that put out just enough golden light to provide some kind of mood. Behind the pulpit was the baptismal well with the incongruous painting of a white angel touching a white baby. The room was warm. The a/c wasn’t great and the day was hot and humid. A haze of cheap perfume/cologne and deodorant hung over the crowd as they fanned themselves with programs and the cheap paper fans that looked as old as the church.

Jack looked around at the people.  They all knew his mother.  Most loved and none hated her.  He looked over to his brother and sister as they each sobbed quietly as the ancient organ played on with a quiet rendition of “Amazing Grace.”  He, Meredith, and James were the oldest generation of the family left.  In fact, they were the only blood relatives that they knew of.

John Banks, Sr. and Karen Banks (nee Adams) were orphans.  They met as teenagers and bonded over never finding a family to call their own.  Both had been through foster families and stayed in places for months at a time.  John even stayed with a family for a year, but it never took.

Jack’s father was born sickly.  They thought it might be polio, it turned out he was just small for his age.  By the time he grew into his body, he was too old for anyone to really want him.  Mama was much the same, but it was mostly that she was a girl and girls couldn’t grow up to help keep up a farm like a boy.

They were also half-black and half-white in a time when no one wanted to admit that that sort of thing happened.  Looking at his brother and sister he could see the genetic soup they came from.  “Good hair” with latte skin.  His brother went to bed alone in college only by choice.  His sister had light blue eyes and light brown highlights in her curly hair to go along with skin the same shade as James.

The Marines first and now age made Jack shave his head, but he kept it in a long black ponytail until the day after high school graduation.

More people filed in and shook the three kids’ hands and hugged them and told them how sorry they were and how they were in their prayers.  Jack didn’t see any of their faces and barely heard any of their words.  He just kept looking at his mother.  She looked small and nothing like the force in his life that pushed and dragged him to adulthood.

His parents went to this church for 30 years.  These were the people that took them in after leaving the eastern part of the state.  John told him the story one night sitting on the porch.  Crickets sounded off like a chorus as moths and lightening bugs flew and banged into the screened windows.  John had just gotten out of the hospital for the first of his three heart attacks.  He could see the end was closer than the beginning and wanted to tell of the past that he and Karan ignored.

They were married for a few months and he was working at a tobacco farm between Raleigh and Fayetteville.  The Civil Rights Era of the 60s were just reaching that part of the state even though it was 1972.  It hadn’t been too long before that Henry Marrow was killed nearby.

John and Karen could have passed for Lumbees and no one would have known the difference.  Instead, they lived as black.  One night, Karen was walking home from her job cleaning the court house in their speck of a town.  Two men jumped out at her wearing masks and tried to rape her.  She managed to throw the bleach she was carrying home to clean her own house and blinded the men enough to get away.  When she got back to the house, she told John what they tried to do and what they said.  Later that night as the dawn crept in, they packed up their old pickup truck with their clothes and whatever else they could pack and left.

His father never told Jack what they said to set off their flight.  He tried to guess, but John never told him.  He had his second heart attack six months later out pruning trees in the yard and the last one in the hospital bed a week after that.  Jack could never ask his mother about it.  He didn’t know how to ask his mother about it.

The pastor stood up and signaled for the choir to start singing.  Jack’s mind drifted away from the church.  It swooped up and outside hovering over the steeple before zooming through time and space back to that night on a hot and dusty road in Eastern North Carolina.  Something changed that night.  His parent left the only home they ever had and journeyed without a plan to some new place where they knew no one.

The Guy

Posted in sports with tags , , , on July 22, 2013 by cueball

Some athletes love to be The Guy (or The Women).  These are athletes who are not only good but good at bringing attention to themselves.  They love for the public to have their eyes on them on and off the field.  They want to be the center of everything.

The Guy in today’s sports, at least for now is Johnny Manziel.  He is in the classic mold of many of the quarterbacks in football’s history.  Go back to Paul Hornung, Joe Namath (the exemplar), Ken Stabler and you will see a lot of the same characteristics that Manziel.  It is fun to watch in a sense because those others were in the NFL when their greatest exploits came to light.  Manziel is still in college where it isn’t supposed to be about the individual it is supposed to be about the honor of Old State U and some antiquated notion of amateurism.

As much fun as it would be to wax poetically about Manziel and my dislike of the NCAA system, I am too tired to go there anymore.  What really interests me is what happens when you are no longer the guy.

Being the guy is not a phenomenon that solely resides in sports.  It appears in other areas of life as well.  Yesterday was the birthday of someone who was The Guy in his lifetime, Ernest Hemingway.  Hemingway was not only a brilliant writer, but he also understood writing as an act and an art better than most people before or since.

Hemingway also loved being The Guy of American letters.  He created this persona and public face that lives on to this day.  Near the end, however, he knew he was no longer The Guy.  He was no longer the Hemingway he cultivated for public consumption.  He was no longer the bear of a man, adventurer, and genius so he ended it with a shot gun.

That is the thing about being The Guy.  It is a hell of a lot of fun while you are The Guy.  However, if you aren’t prepared for it to end, it will end badly.  The Guy very rarely walks off into the sunset and retires to nice anonymity.  Being The Guy is too good a drug.  It never seems to let go of the ones who have enjoyed it most.

That is why people enjoy Manziel so much right now.  He is living every little kid’s dream.  He is rich, a Heisman Trophy winner, a starting quarterback in the SEC, and could give less than two fucks about the NCAA and its rules.  Hopefully, he understands that this is a special time in his life and he should get in as much as he can before it runs out.  He’ll go out and have fun and when the time runs out he will move on to the next part of life.  Or, maybe he thinks this will go on forever and that his real self is this “Johnny Football” creation.

Either way, our reactions to him will make the next 4 years of his life interesting to watch.

Why?

Posted in Uncategorized, writing with tags , , on July 21, 2013 by cueball

Why?

I am preparing applications to Masters of Fine Arts programs in creative writing and they all have the essay portion.  The essay that asks you essentially two questions:  Why should we admit you into our program and Why do you want to be a writer?  Those seem like two simple questions that you should be able to answer easily.  To me they aren’t simple questions because they seem to get to something deeper than just wanting to be a writer and wanting to get into their graduate school.

To me, these questions ask the essential first questions:  Why do I exist and what am I doing with that existence?

Since I began to get more serious with my writing I have been asking some form of these questions.  Usually it comes out as, Why do I want to write?

I don’t know if I’ve been able to come up with an answer.  I read short stories or books or I watch a television show or movie and think one of three things:  I wish I had written that (to me the highest compliment one writer can give another), how they did they write that, or I can do better than that.  The first is an envious challenge.  The second is wonder.  The third is the arrogance all writers secretly have.

This combination of things is why I write.  I listen to a song off Jason Isbell’s latest album Southeastern and I wish I had written anything half as beautiful or heart rending as “Traveling Alone” or “Elephant.”  I read Hemingway or Joyce and I marvel at the mastery of language that allows them to use the simplest of sentences to convey the most complex ideas and emotions.  I watch some of the most expensive movies made and wonder how drunk someone had to be to green light these hideous scripts.

Another answer as to why is this:  I have something to say that is different from what others before me have said.  I think I look at the world differently than most people I know and slightly differently then the writers I read.

One example is that most of the time when I read something or watch something that is purportedly about life in a small town or in the South I often have the feeling that I don’t recognize any of the characters.  That is surprising because I have lived in the South my whole life and small towns for a large part of it.  If I could write one thing that gives a depiction of life in either of those places that is a tenth more accurate than some of the things I’ve read or seen, I will have accomplished my primary goal as a writer.

That is the closest approximation as to why that I can come in this limited space.  Maybe I’ll get into an MFA program and then figure out a way to pay for it.  Maybe I won’t.  Either way, I have a book to finish and short stories to write.

Slowly Finding Purpose

Posted in Uncategorized, writing with tags , , , , , on July 13, 2013 by cueball

One of the hardest things I’ve ever attempted to do is write a book.  I started and finished the first draft in April’s Camp NANOWRIMO.  That might have been the easy part.  The first draft.  It doesn’t matter if it is good it just matters that you get it down.

Now that I am in the midst of trying to fashion this book into some compromise of what it is and what I wanted to say, I will say outside of just life in general, it is the hardest thing I’ve ever tried to do.

It is also one of the most personally edifying things I’ve ever tried to do.  The process of editing and revising has made me ask at least one very important question:  Why do I write and what do I want to say?

I listen to a lot of culture podcasts and read a lot of culture blogs.  One of the things that has annoyed me is the occasional arrogance of the bloggers, writers, and podcasters that live on the coasts.  Many seem to have unstated yet almost always prevalent idea that the media centers of the Northeast Corridor and California are better.  Not just more interesting places to live but better than the rest of the country.

Writers and podcaster often use the “flyover” areas of the United States, also known as the majority of the country, as punch lines and examples of bad America.  That is interesting since it seems most of these cultural trendsetters have never met anyone south of New Jersey or west of Philadelphia.

Let’s not get it twisted.  I was born and have lived in the South my whole life, so I know the problems and issues the South and other parts of the country not named New York, Boston, or Los Angeles have, but I am more interested in exploring those ideas and those problems then making fun of them for cheap laughs and easy trend pieces.

Why do I write and what do I want to write about?  I write because I think  I see the world differently then anyone I know or read.  I want to write about “real” people.  The people who have hourly jobs they hate, not because they are stupid or lazy, but because sometimes life kicks you in the nuts and it never cares who you are.  I want to write about families and friends that aren’t dysfunctional, but that are part of “weird old America” as Charlie Pierce calls it.

Now, if I can just get this damn book to do that, I’ll sleep better.