Tagged: thought

Dallas 3 a.m. 0

On Oct 1, I woke in Dallas at 3 a.m. before my flight back to Las Vegas. Picking the morning flight over the red eye became a battle of trying to sleep in a too soft bed with a thin pillow. I might have slept better on the overnight. I should have just stayed awake and pretended I was 20 again.

I hit stop on the phone alarm and saw a long line of alerts. In the dark, the light of the phone let me know, “20 dead in Las Vegas. More than 200 wounded.”

It was 1 a.m. in Vegas; it had just happened.

For years, I feared hearing a mass shooting in my city. Too many tourists; too many opportunities. It seemed very real.

I spent the weekend with Katie in north Texas. A fan of country, she would have been at the concert. Thankfully, she was in bed in Denton.

Matthew tried to get tickets to the Route 91 Concert on Saturday. He texted to say he had couldn’t get tickets. That left my son Albert. My phone showed he walked into the house at 10:06 p.m.; two minutes before the mass murder.

I sat in the dark and thought how lucky we were. None of our kids were there. Relief and then horror as an alert put the death toll over 50.

We landed in Las Vegas after 7 a.m. Curtains flowed out of two windows at the Mandalay Bay. The Strip was closed so we took Maryland Parkway to work. It felt like the wind had taken the heart out of Las Vegas.

A Justice tried to give blood but the line was 3 hours deep and she had to come back to hear oral arguments. She never was able to give blood.

Albert woke up confused. He read my text, “Are you okay?” He looked out the window. A bus went by so he figured everything was okay. Then he Googled Las Vegas and saw the news. “Oh, that’s why they texted.”

He went out and bought six cases of water to take to the first responders. It seemed like all he could do. He talked to a few of them. Everyone was feeling grief. Not too many people wanted to talk about what had happened.

He kept pausing the news to ask us questions. “Why did he do it?” “I can’t believe he did it.” “Do you think he cared?”

I didn’t know what to say. I had the same questions.

I donated some money to the Vegas Shooting Fund. By the end of the week, it totaled more than $10 million.

Most of the victims were from California. Of my friends, at least 12 knew somebody shot or killed. A large number of people were from my hometown of Bishop. One little town of 4,000 people and so many people were at the concert.

Las Vegas gets a bad reputation as a place no one calls home. Nearly 50 million people visit every year.

But on the first day, United Blood Services collected more than 600 pints of blood; they are lucky to collect 100 pints a day. As people stood in line, businesses brought sandwiches, water, pizza, cake, umbrellas, and chairs. Everyone wanted to help. Our community showed through.

By the end of the week, you could find #VegasStrong on most of social media accounts and billboards around the city.

The mass murder stung us. But it didn’t stop us from being people who care.

I’m still numb to the whole event. I would give anything to wake up in Dallas at 3 a.m. to see nothing on my phone.

March 15, 2017 Scribble 0

I spent twenty minutes holding my head to the right as a doctor went in again for my fourth thyroid biopsy. “Boy this is really deep,” he said. “Yep, maybe you’ll be the guy,” I said. It is clear with have a nodule or two. We don’t clearly know if it is cancer. “At least if it is cancer, this is the best one to get,” said my endocrinologist. “It takes so long to grow.” Comforting. While other writers are busy taking people to other places, I’m in an endless loop of out-patient surgery. No, you would not be interested in the waiting, prodding, and sore neck. It doesn’t jump off as one of those stories you want to hear.

***

Hemingway said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” True. Sometimes you just have to write it out and hope something sticks. Then let it fall to the floor. In Hemingway & Gellhorn  he says,” Never crumple pages. Always let them float gently into the basket. Any writer who rips out his stuff and crumples it will go insane in a year, guaranteed.” I like the idea of floating paper to the trash. I would float this to the trash, but it’s a huge monitor.

***

It turns out nobody reads this blog. (more…)

A Diamond in Her Eye 0

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“You’ll never get me to tell you where the jewels are,” the child said. She leaned back and smirked.

Too much television, thought the inspector. He sat down across from her rattling the metal chair against the table in the interrogation room. The girl leaned forward. She glared at him. The stare-off went on for a few minutes until he leaned forward.

The girl pushed back pinning her arms into the rests. She was a small child with her hair tied back in a blue ribbon. She looked just like the picture sitting on the table next to him. Below her, the marble floor stretched out nearly a foot from her feet. She casually kicked the legs of the chair. Barely seven years and so far the kid had stuck to her resolve.

An older inspector, Don Sexton, had grandchildren her age. If anyone could play grandpa it was him.

He drew a cartoon hand of a large rabbit holding a carrot. The rabbit took an angry bite. Bits of carrot flew out of the rabbit’s mouth. The angry rabbit sported a fluffy cotton tail. The little girl put her hands on the table. She drew closer to the drawing.

“What’s his name?” she asked.

“Sergeant Baker,” he replied.

The girl studied the drawing.

“He needs a badge, or something.” she said.

Inspector Sexton added a badge above the mark identifying the rabbit’s belly button. The girl shook her head no. She eyed the drawing with skepticism.
(more…)

Driving Back from Spring Break 0

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Three days earlier I studied all night with a girlfriend for a physics exam and afterward drove four classmates 12 hours to San Diego for spring break. The entire trip the girls giggled and cackled behind me while a Korean kid sat silent up front. I decided we scared Jae. Although, being a confused immigrant might also explain his silence. Either way, he only said thanks when I dropped him off at his house. For that matter, Cindy told me how to find it.

The rest of the trip to Oceanside I drove in a blur on autopilot. All of the lights merged into a slow motion light show and I doubt I could even tell you about the trip. I arrived at the motel, went to bed, and slept nearly all Sunday despite my mother’s pleas to come to the beach. In the morning, I drove her north to Anaheim where we rode the teacups, stood in a long line for the bobsleds, and paddled a canoe. We ate dinner on the bayou, visited the pirates, posed with Mickey Mouse, and explored the Swiss Family Robinson tree house. Overall, mom had a great time and I played the sweet son. By nightfall, the sky exploded with fireworks and we headed back south. Mom slept pressed into the window missing the nuclear power plant, the Marines, and the moonlit beach. As the tail lights on the interstate blurred into red, I again drove like a drone.

Tuesday, I left mom in the room sadly wondering why I was heading back to college. I made Spring Break last only as long as a three-day weekend with an irritating baby. At the studio I planned to make a lot of cash in the remaining days of my break.

Before I left, Cindy called to say she wanted to ride back with me to school.

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My Life Soon Ends 0

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Sunrise bounced through our plastic dome inching closer to my eyes on the pillow. I looked at the divergence of yellow and red light flaring through the bubble and then across the room. The sixth day of Shepard seemed it would shape up as a typical butterscotch day. I saw the sun’s reflection on the large dome of MaxPol. The sun woke me everyday, but the reflection wasn’t always there. Pioneers colonized Mars 160 years ago by surviving the solar flares in eco-domes with a limited atmosphere shielded from the neural damage of radiation. Those before me found a way to release water, and they invented calendars, fashions, and traditions. They built the central colony of MaxPol and spread out from there. I understood the privilege the pioneers gave me. Every person born last on Mars understood the sacrifice required for the next generation.

Maggie put on a white dress for the afternoon transformation ceremony. She transfixed me with her smile. I looked past her to the mirror as she added a garland of chamomile to her hair. She mirrors Aleren. In the reflection, my grey hair frames the wrinkles around my eyes. With her beauty, my life soon ends.

Maggie stood still in front of the mirror admiring her reflection. She finished up her hair and let her arms fall straight down. I stared too.

“You will make a beautiful bride.” She blushed at my comment. “After the transformation, you will meet your partner. Then you will make handsome babies.”

“And go like you,” she added.

“You must produce at least three children as a Last Born,” I reminded her. “There is no reason to rush.”

“And when those children are born, I will go.” She sighed.

“All Last Born villein must repay steerage,” I said. “And you are the last to repay.”

A generation of villein before, myself, and now my daughter Maggie all preordained to settle the debt.

“This planet requires too much,” Maggie said.

“It only seems that way because of all the work we must do.”

“No,” Maggie said. “Mars owns us until we die.”

Grandmother Viola agreed to the villein contract with the Interstellar Transport and Exploration Company in an attempt to escape Earth. She longed to reach past the stars and make her mark. With her signature, she agreed the next three generations of her brood would work as miners, scientists, and in my case, a Last Born. All Last Borns married after the transformation and raised a family. We taught the Martian traditions and prepared our children for the work. Some of our children work in the distant settlements of Mars or become apprenticed to a scientist here at MaxPol. In most cases, like my middle son Adam, we never see them again.

When Maggie reached the age of viability when the fears of death passed, roughly one sol, her mother walked out of our living pod to end her life. She birthed three children, as promised, and had nothing left to do. Aleren dressed in a white robe, weaved flowers through her hair, and slipped out of our pod onto the soil of Mars. Beyond the dome, the air was thin and Aleren had only a few precious minutes to reach the pedestal. I stood with my two boys and daughter watching her walk away. I was proud of Aleren despite the tears rolling down my cheek. When she finished walking, she raised her arms upward, and turned toward our window. Maggie rushed to the window while Adam held my leg and hid his face. Zach stood stoically next to me. She ended her life on Mars with no regrets.

Aleren dropped to her knees and her head began to swell. Seconds later, her white robe exploded upwards in the wind and she was gone. Aleren aged 16 sols, gave birth to three children, and completed her transformation.

After Aleren transformed, I continued teaching our children the Martian traditions and duties passed down by the pioneers. In time, they began to forget their mother despite the picture of her face in the hallway. When he turned 16, Zach apprenticed to a climatologist. Later, Adam went to the far colonies to work in the mines. Maggie was born last, roughly three sols after Adam, and never knew Aleren. I added two sols to my life due to Maggie’s learning difficulties. Looking at her today, you would never know she was slower than the rest. When she leaves our dome, I will have aged 27 sols, fathered three children, and will walk on the surface of Mars to join Aleren.

“Father, are you thinking?”

I shook off my melancholy. It struck me I should not upset her before the transformation ceremony.

“I was remembering your mother.”

“I only know what my brothers have told me,” Maggie paused. “Why did she leave us?”

“She realized her purpose,” I replied. “Her benediction and death allowed you to live.”

I needed Maggie to understand the gift Aleren gave her.

“I barely passed one sol,” Maggie said. “I never had a chance talk with her, learn from her, or gain her wisdom.”

“All Last Borns have one job; to ensure life goes on. She spoke to you often in your crib about the future.”

“A baby maker, you mean,” Maggie said. “Enough. It is time us breeders became naturalized freemen.”

“Your mother was very proud you would be a Last Born,” I said. “Your children will be citizens,” I paused to look her in the eyes. “The first generation of Free Martians.”

“And I will not be able to see it,” Maggie said.

I gave Maggie credit for grasping the gravity of her transformation. And it gave me pause; I would not see my family earn citizenship either. Zach and Adam would never be freemen, but at least they had the chance at a long life. I did have that comfort to fall back on. And Maggie would be the final Last Born. My grandchildren would decide the future for themselves and their children.

I placed my pressed white robe on my dressing table. After the transformation ceremony, I would come back alone and prepare for my passing. Maggie would be off to the breeder colony and will miss it. Just as well; Maggie didn’t remember Aleren’s passing and she wouldn’t remember mine.

Under the central dome, the transformation candidates stood on a transparent stage. Maggie embraced her friends and I could hear their laughter above me in my seat. All the Last Born fathers sat away from the rest. The audience cheered as the chancellery read the names of those moving on.

As a group, Maggie joined the Last Borns by holding her right hand equal to her head and reciting the vow. Each swore to build up the community, teach their children, and carry out their purpose. At the end, the chancellery invited the honored Last Borns to stand. We stood and the crowd cheered as the chancellery thanked us for completing our service.

Everyone became silent for the marriage partner epistle. Maggie gasped when the chancellery chose Charles, a tall, black-haired Last Born, for her partner. I imagined their handsome babies.

At the end of the ceremony, Maggie approached me with Charles walking a step behind dragging on her hand. She seemed assured. I tried to act casual but my happiness betrayed me. Tears welled in my eyes and I pulled her close.

“They made a good choice,” I said. “Your children will be strong.”

“Yes, I suppose.” Maggie took a furtive glance back at Charles. “He is as good as anyone.”

“I guess you two are off for your training?”

“Yes. We learn the private bits about each other,” Maggie said.

“Don’t practice too much.” I couldn’t help myself. Maggie punched my arm and Charles became scarlet.

“It looks like they want you to go.” I pushed Maggie and Charles toward the stage. “I am sure everything will be fine.”

Maggie wrapped herself around me dropping her head on my shoulder. She wept and pulled me closer. I rubbed her back and whispered, “You make me proud.”

“I love you too,” she said.

Maggie avoided an awkward goodbye. I stood with the other Last Borns watching her leave. Soon I stood alone with nothing left to do but return to my dorm.

I dressed in my transformation robe and reflected on my life. None of my children died, they each learned something from me, and there was nothing left to teach them. The last thing to do was complete my transformation. Before the ceremony, I transferred my credits to Maggie, uploaded my last words, recorded a congratulatory video for my grandchildren, and pressed my robe with an iron. I fingered the trim on the collar feeling the intricacy of the lace. Everything seemed in order.

At central day, an alarm sounded and a happy voice reminded me to proceed to my affirmation. This was it. I would perform the last part of my vow.

I climbed up to the airlock between our dorm and the outside dome. Across the complex other Last Borns also entered their airlocks. I counted as many as six other men. Not as many as in the past, but still a sizable number. I realized I had never spoken to any of them.

Over the speakers the Requiem Aeternam began to play in the airlock. I decided this was a fitting anthem for my end. I took a deep breath and let it out. The door opened and the atmosphere blew out the rupture in the dome. On Mars, I lived a total of 27 sols. On Earth, I would celebrate reaching the age of 50 years. For the first time I felt tired.

The final moment of my life I practiced sols ago with Aleren. We each let out our breath like we were coming up for a dive. We giggled when we had to breathe in. Now outside it was difficult. I felt the effects of the vacuum on my face and my lips tingled from the lack of oxygen. I failed to realize how hard it would be. Yet, I wanted to experience my death. The moisture in my eyes evaporated and my lungs started to freeze with my slow exhalation.

Aleren made roughly 40 steps before the wind scattered her across the surface and I wanted to walk as far as the platform. Yet, I had not counted on the difference in our age. My heart struggled under my exertion and I walked less than 20 steps. I managed to reach a small rise in the dirt. I climbed over it, dropped to my knees, and realized death was near. My eyes began to burn, so I closed them, and let the sun warm my face.

As I gave in to death, the ground under me opened and I dropped beneath the surface. I tumbled down and landed with a thud in a dark hole. I could see nothing but black; did somebody dig me a grave?

“Place him in the bateau and run to the compression chest,” a male voice said.

The taste of oxygen differed from the thin nitrogen and carbon dioxide of the surface. I took a shallow breath. It felt cool in my aching lungs. Around me I heard voices, but my eyes were blind. Nothing took shape.

“It may be too late,” said a female voice.

The transformation prepares us for the responsibility of ensuring life begins on Mars, I thought. Each Last Born teaches, scolds, counsels, and nurtures their children. I let out a final breathe.

“We must save him. He deserves to know the future.”

“Adam?” I thought I heard the voice of my middle son and realized it was a dream. His voice took me to my memory of all of us standing together for a portrait under the middle dome with the yellow sun shining behind us. I smiled thinking about them as my transformation ended. I knew Mars was a better place.

Pantser Plotter 0

There are two camps of thought: the people who listen to the muse and write by the seat of their pants and the people who write an entire book-length outline prior to starting to write.

I prefer to combine the two, without writing an entire book-length outline. Let me explain my thoughts on this debate.

Pantsers argue they are free to listen to the story and the characters. It is a muse-centric approach, with the characters exploring the milieu and wandering about discovering the story. All fine and well. It is interesting how a story can take on a life and allow a writer to document scenes and fill in the story.

Plotters say there is no way a story can take shape without a road map: it requires a structure to allow the characters to face their inner and external conflicts. The characters are forced to face their fears. Plotters like to know where the story is headed.

Here is my take: Pantsers need to outline and Plotters need to be open to just writing.

In my experience, without an outline I have twice been abandoned by my characters in the second act. They exhibit attention deficit disorder and climb out of the book. The characters say “well, that’s all I got,” and the story sort of fizzles out. I’m rewriting “Fish Tacos: Or How I Went To Mexico to Save My Soul” because the main character started bitching about his past and failed to get off his butt. Sure, I’m the writer, it is my story, but I let the character dictate where he would go and when he would get there. Believe me, if left to his designs, the main character would still be sitting in the desert waiting to move.

So now I plot everything: short stories; novels; non-fiction; and, screenplays. I give the viewpoint characters a purpose and a timeline to meet. I challenge them to face their demons. I gift them happy successes. By the time the story ends, they see their doubts, obstacles, challenges, and growth.

In some ways this is the perfect way to write by the seat of your pants: the story structure lets them wander about, as long as they meet their deadlines. So I guess I’m a Pantser Plotter . It seems to be working.

[plain]How do you plan your projects? Do you outline or just let it flow? Leave a comment below.[/plain]

A Simple Mistake 0

It had happened again. And he feared the result. A near miss or a slip up and the entire room was questioning his ability. More than 30 years doing this job. And yet, he wondered if he really understood how to do it.

The mistake had happened almost as soon as he made the decision to move forward. A reaction timed wrongly, and if it had not been noticed, he might have been able to correct it. Unfortunately, he was no longer as young as he was once was and others now seemed to be quicker and better able to do the job. They pounced on the mistake faster than a lioness. He was dead before he hit the ground.

“Let me just try this again,” he said sheepishly.

“It’s really nothing,” she said.

“Just give me a minute.”

“No need. We’ll take it from here,” she finalized.

(more…)

On the Path from Small to Large 0

Small.
Brownie Cottage.
300 square feet.
Enough room to sit.
And maybe spin all around.
The size of a gingerbread doghouse.
If the dog was a small mastiff.
A big dog with a very large appetite.
With no place to store the dog food bags.
The minimalists say we all could stand to slim down.
That our mega mansions, stuff, and stacks of books signify waste.
But the very thought of living in a one-room cabin frightens me:
Like Thoreau living in an urban forest with no solitude or private pond.
The stacks of books, hand selected, some with gold leaf edges are precious friends.
Even if they spill off the shelves and pile up in towers on the floor.
“You’re a hoarder,” say visitors who look down in disdain at my collection of wordy excess.
And although I attempt to purge, sort, and reduce the pages, it is hard to part company.
They all contain dreams, fantastic journeys, ginormous thoughts, hidden truths, ineffable fruit, obsolete wisdom, scientific hypotheses, and farce.
Put them on a Kindle, they say, yet most are out-of-print, esoteric, or hand-me-down treasures.
Which makes it all the more difficult to release them to a better place; a Goodwill, or a book sale.
So they stand stacked like beleaguered sentries circled in spindly towers keeping silent watch over words cluttering the floor.
They wait and watch with dread wondering when they will be released into the world and set free.
Each knows I haven’t the courage to sort, pick, or drop any of them into a box.
A certain belief none of them will be downsized to shoehorn them into a tiny house.
Or are they mistaken to express this joyful expectation that they are so highly regarded?
Unfortunately some must be labeled, screened, and stacked for certain delivery to the curb.
The house must shrink from 3,500 to 1,700 squares, albeit not a one-room schoolhouse.
It is still smaller than the library where the sentries now stand guard.
The childhood adventures remain and the college texts with inspired margin notes.
Each is carefully stacked next to the poems and dime-store mysteries.
The free classics will find a home electronic and portable.
Words stacked neatly alphabetical in my library virtual.
I will sneak in some Steinbeck or Holmes.
The rest will be donated for free.
To give others pleasure or pain.
The words will worm inward.
To plant a seed.
An inspirational spark.
To think.
Large.

Copyright 2015, Michael S. Sommermeyer. All Rights Reserved.

[plain]This shape poem works from one to 20 words and then back to a single word. Pick a topic and write your own shape poem. Add it to the comments below.[/plain]

The Devil Knows You’re There 1

He hung 100 feet above Fremont Street, like Superman, tethered only to the narrow ribbon of wire in a harness. Unable to twist and look up at why he was stuck, he looked down at the street instead. A sea of tourists moved below him as if he was another attraction. A small boy let go of a smiley-face balloon and started to cry.  A bald dude stared at him in a peewee muscle shirt. A ragged homeless man bumped the crowd begging for a dollar. A topless brunette in a devil’s costume waved at everyone while holding a red fan over her exposed breasts.

Mark had promised a different outcome. (more…)