101 Words

This post has a dual purpose. First, I’d like to promote a story I wrote recently which can be found at the following link:

Origins

Second, I’d like to say that this is one of the coolest writing exercises I’ve ever done. Trying to squeeze a short story into exactly 101 words is both exhilarating and terrifying. To number words, to position them, to craft them, and to make sure every one matters: this is the kind of crafting that turns novels into poetry, and it’s something I want to master.

I also want to say that I had an incredibly positive experience working with Shannon, one of the editors for the site. She helped me work through some of the issues with my story through 5 or 6 revisions, and was always encouraging and responsive. No matter what stage you’re in with your writing career, I’d suggest giving this site a try.

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Bridges, or the People Who Need Them

61.
You can tell them that they can go ahead and
try to build a wall around their country
that I can’t climb over or
burrow under
or burst through.
You can tell them that their machine gun turrets
don’t alter ghosts or immigrant mothers
or the big story inside the fence.
But this ocean is so damn wet and long.
In the night the sky falls a million times on
the bobbing tide but in the day the sun glares
like a dignified drunkard,
relentless.
At dawn I turn west so the hair on my neck
will remember color and joy,
and at night I see darkness loom in the east.

People can’t build oceans.

but they might build bridges that cross them
but they might build people who need to cross them but
they might build a world in need of longer bridges
and I just need to find one
because this ocean is so damn wet and long.

2.
Some day the morning comes when you can’t sleep
the hangover off
and so today while the power resides in her feet
she finds a bridge.

They said they didn’t hear a sound when she found the water
but maybe she heard the water
break her quickly, maybe she heard when they
didn’t scream or gasp or stop walking.
But they remember the creaks and the groans
of the arches as they failed to hold her.
They remember the stale whiskey on her breath
and the spent cigarettes she sucked dry
and the ripples her purse made when it hit the surface
and the day she didn’t show up for work.
She remembers the low lights of the bar
and the way the smoke laughed in circles around them
and that time she was never good enough.
They remember the coast guard lights
and the disaster scrapbook
and the bad taste in every glass of water tomorrow.
She remembers the bridge she was part way across.

3.
He thought maybe stealing the cans of Rust oleum
would quench his thirst for anarchy and he made eye contact
with the store clerk and his fear of prison soaked into his jeans with the sweat
behind his knees. But night time beneath bridges is a canvas of its own where rebellion and cheap
beer and revolution and a keen eye for clean cement fizz freely
in the summer air. And the rattle of the can and its empty thud in the dirt
are sighs of the freer people. Paintbrushes don’t rattle or clink or clog the sewer.
They struggle with rebellion and personal image.

Night time beneath bridges is a fight to tell the story of plight and dissatisfaction and if
Banksy and Van Gogh would fight, Van Gogh wouldn’t know he had lost or that he’d fought.

There are empty cans in the dirt and cops on the loose and a painting of God knows what
under the bridge and honesty mixed with a little truth
and bridges might anchor the next world peace or
the last president or the first good war or the will to make art or the absence of art or


Conviction and war

Lately I’ve been waddling through Tolstoy’s War and Peace. I’ve been told it’s one of the best novels ever written, if not the best. As an aspiring novelist, I suppose a wise plan is to learn from the best. Thus far in my life I have had minimum exposure to literature other than that of North America and Britain, and though I believe there is much to learn from the fluid work of Fitzgerald; the poignant prose of Hemingway; the immersion in fantasy in the work of Tolkien, Lewis, and Rowling; and many more; I am told that the Russians have a practical monopoly in the internal darkness and contemplation of the human mind.

Based on my experience in reading literature thus far in my life, I’ve decided that one of the marks of a great novelist is the ability to make short, nearly hidden, poignant observations about human existence. I’m quickly learning that Tolstoy was an expert in this realm.

In my reading the other day, I came across a quotation early in the novel. Prince Andrey, as an argument in favor of war and a reason why he plans on partaking in it, remarks to Pierre that, “If everybody fought for nothing but his own convictions, there wouldn’t be any wars.” It made me think: how many people fight wars and take the lives of others purely based on the convictions of the country’s leadership? I can’t imagine taking on a task as grotesque in nature as war without believing fully in its cause. And honestly, the cause of anything significant enough for me to fight for would be contradicted entirely by the very idea of war.


The Wanderer

It snowed this morning, and all I could think about was a wanderer. He is as much a mystery to me now as he will be to the readers of my novels long into the story. All I know is he’s searching, and I need to track him down to find out what for. I envision him traversing snow-covered peaks and camping in little clefts in the rocks with a small fire. So far he’s nameless, faceless, and all he has is a footprint in the snow.

Unfortunately for me the snow melted by the time I got home from church, so I was unable to track him down. Perhaps I’ll get him next time, and I’ll be sure to bring a notepad, for I’m certain he’ll have grand stories to tell.