Archive for March, 2009


Search for the Grail: Ramping up

The Grail and Arthurian Legend

Photo credit 


The Holy Grail in question here is the almighty writing skill. 


Nineteen strangers, along with my strange self, will be embarking on this mission together, sort of.  Might as well dub us the Twenty Strange.


The mission is to “Consider the basic elements of fiction (e.g., plot, character, setting, theme) from the point of view of the creative writer, who makes both conscious and unconscious choices about these elements in the process of artistic creation. Read about the process of writing short fiction, and read a variety of short works that exemplify fictional elements to analyze the choices that other writers have made. Apply learning to the creation, discussion, and revision of your own creative work. This course focuses on the writing process. Students participate in a workshop setting to post their own drafts and discuss other students’ and established writers’ works of short fiction.”


The Twenty Strange are ramping up this week for the official mission send-off on Monday, March sixteenth.  Ramping up, so far, has meant a few of us trickling into the first discussion activity, “Why Write?  What motivates you to write for this course and what areas most concern you?”  Here’s my debut:


Need.  That’s my motivation. 


I’m stuck into this writing “thing” and have hit the wall just coasting, just sitting down, shaking out the kinks and praying to the gods of creativity for something good to flow through me and out.


I paid no attention in school and I need to put an engine—the elements of fiction—in this car so I can leave the soap box derby and move on to superkart, or off-road, or drag racing or something, anything besides the oldness, limitedness of this soap box derby!


Concerns are the same old fear-driven drill around not being able to do that:  Does little me really have something worthwhile to say, something that will interest others?  Will I fully understand the material here and really be able to use it successfully, or at least use it to produce what truly feels successful to me?  Will the rebel in me settle down long enough to adhere to a schedule to even give all the aforementioned a chance?


All of this, and the possibility of more and better, is what I’m here to participate with all of you in finding out.


Lame, I know, but let me assure you, I’m not the only gimp.



All’s fair

Pill03.jpg picture by zanzinece

“BBQ and Iries, Kitchen Window” by Sheri Park 



Sophie padded out to the kitchen to make coffee.  No one else in the house cared for it.  She could see by the mangled tea bag in the sink that her brother, Sam, had already gone off to school with what he called “chai,” which was anything but.  Uncle Ray was already at the kitchen table staring blankly past his gone breakfast at the pill in front of him.  And Aunt Deena had already gone off to do something more productive than trying to convince Ray to take a pill he’d set his feeble mind against taking.


Not taking his pills seemed to Ray the best leverage he had, the one that got Deena’s goat in the biggest way, anyway.  But Deena had most recently figured out the pill game and had decided not to play it with Ray anymore, at least not to play it his way anymore.  She’d noticed that he’d go awhile without his pills and not like the effects and begin taking them again.  Going off to do something else instead of getting all worked up was Deena’s new tactic to maybe speed that process up.


“Mornin’ Ray,” Sophie said.  She didn’t expect a response and didn’t get one.  Ray just stared at his pill like a zombie and she just went on with making coffee.


No one knew exactly how much Ray was taking in, so when Sophie felt like it, she’d chatter awkwardly on.   Certainly, it felt a tiny bit less uncomfortable than his heavy, dumb presence.  But when she wasn’t in the mood, especially on waking, she just went about her business under the weight of his shadow that was cast surprisingly close around him now.  Not like when she and Sam were little, when they first came to live here, when Ray was younger and could cloud an entire house with his malcontent. 


For so many years, Sophie wondered how Deena could put up with Ray, but now she understood that Deena loved Ray fiercely.  And the pill game and other games they played, that looked more like wars, were their way of loving each other.  And now with Ray getting worse and hardly talking, Deena was beginning to get really scared that maybe he couldn’t even think anymore, couldn’t play their games anymore.  She was petrified of losing Ray in any way, mentally or physically.


Sophie moved mouse-like about the kitchen tidying up while she waited for the coffee maker to finish gurgling.  She left the tea bag alone.  That was Sam’s and Deena’s war, not hers.  Just like Deena did with Ray’s pills, she tried to force Sam to take his tea bag the extra couple of feet to the garbage bin.  But he would not.  Sophie wondered whether Sam’s similarity to his uncle in that way was indication that Ray’s disease lurked in Sam’s DNA or if it was just commonplace stubbornness.  She hoped the latter.


Ray was still staring at the pill in front of him, saliva starting to pool heavily at one corner of his mouth so that it threatened to spill over.  Sophie knew better than to take care of it.  Ray made a hellacious growling noise if anyone but Deena tried to touch him.  So she pretended not to notice as she readied the sugar and creamer.  She reached into the cupboard for a mug and thought she heard Ray croak the word “lost,” but she couldn’t be sure if it was him or the coffee maker coughing out the last blasts of steam.


“Did you say something, Ray?” Sophie asked.  There was no response so she began pouring her coffee and concentrating on getting the sugar-to-creamer ratio just right.


“Lost,” Ray croaked again. 


“That’s what I thought you said, Ray,” Sophie said.  “Do you feel lost, Ray?  Do you think Deena’s lost?  What’s lost?  Who’s lost?”


Then she saw Ray’s hand slowly shaking toward the pill.  He managed to grasp it after a few tries and slowly, shakily got it to his mouth.  Then he began the same slow process with his water glass, to get it to his mouth to take a sip to wash the pill down.  He never did answer her questions.  Then she got it.  The pill wars.  Ray had conceded.  To this round of them, anyway.


Just as Sophie thought of how pleased Deena would be when she told her, she caught sight of Deena peeking through the kitchen door at Ray, her face beaming.