Story Excerpt

An excerpt from a much larger story. The whole piece has a long way to go, as it’s being written just a few hundred words a day, but even that’s a major accomplishment in discipline for me. You’re reading Caleb’s thoughts.

We agreed not to do anything about it until after dinner. That was the best time. Until then, Beth and I separated.

After what she had said, I wanted to explode. But not here. I needed to get somewhere else, and quickly. I grabbed my swimming gear from our boat, and ran all the way to the drop spot. It only took a minute to change into my suit and without thinking, I jumped the 15 foot cliff and placed the goggles over my eyes as I fell into the blue water below.

It was so cold my ears rang, but it felt good on my skin. I let the momentum from the fall take me further under the water and let myself go by exhaling all the air I had in my lungs before moving towards the surface. I let my body rise slowly. Even in the cold, the familiar movement brought me towards calm.

I inhaled slowly as soon as my head broke the surface. Boats peppered the harbor and the only swimming path had always been beside the cliff walls that made up the coast on this side of the village. I took off swimming as hard as I could.

There’s something truly beautiful about swimming. It’s the calm really. That’s the part I crave. Having my face in the water, a steady breathing pattern, and each of my muscles from my neck to my ankles contracting and releasing in unison. My body rotates around my core and allows me to breathe without lifting my head. My arms relax in the air, and contract when they sink into the water above my head, anchor, and pull my body forward into the empty space. My legs don’t kick hard, but they stabilize my rotation and don’t lag. They’re strong enough to go for hours at a time -something I’ve tested when swimming the distance races.

But most of all, when I’m in water, I’m me, and I can react to what I’m feeling. At this moment, I’m angry and that fuels my muscles as I slide through the water one steady arm stroke and rotation at a time. Breathing to my right side, then a few strokes and breathing to my left, lifting my head to spot my position every once in awhile. The routine of it counters the anger that makes me want to explode.

Rotate, anchor, pull. Rotate, breathe, anchor, pull.

My subsiding anger turns into concern. She was right, everyone is going to hate her. They are. Even the parents will call her a whore under their breath and tell their children to stay away. That bad company corrupts, and she was bad company now. They will, because they love to hate.

I feel again for the calm, but I can’t. A few years ago a wife slept with a ship hand. Everyone said the husband had it coming and that the wife was a rotten sinner for letting her worldly lusts destroy her. I remember the day the two came to the church. It seemed to me he was trying to make things work again. But during the service, the elders quietly came and asked them to step outside. There was a long conversation and the last I saw, they were loading a truck the next day.

I was getting angry again and I pulled harder and faster. They love to hate, I thought. They’ll love to hate Beth. Sweet Beth. My lovely popular sister. It made me hurt on levels I didn’t know existed and I screamed with my face in the water, took a breath and screamed again, letting the feelings run through every piece of me and into the water around me. The feeling felt so good I didn’t stop. I was afraid it would end too soon.

I don’t remember at what point I turned around. My body must have known it’s limit was coming, or I was reminded that it was close to dinner, or I thought of Beth being alone. Any one of these would have done it. I turned around and started swimming back. In my exhaustion, it seemed to take forever to make to the drop in. By the time I got there, my body was tired enough that I couldn’t feel.

That’s maybe the most beautiful thing about swimming. When it’s over, I don’t feel anymore.

Earbuds, Nickel Creek and writing goals

I sat down yesterday to write for the upcoming left on mallory workshop “Crafting a Story”, but found I just and wanted to write for me, so I am… and you get to read it too. 

For years I refused to listen to Nickel Creek. It was probably a mixture of being afraid to trust a new band and the fact that they have a seriously unfortunate name. But I started a few months ago, and I’m in love. The spotify station I have for them plays perfect music for speakers or just in my buds.

That’s the way I like to listen to music the most. When buds are in, I’m alone. Not that I’m not alone most times, but when buds are in, I’m really alone. The rest of everything goes away -even most of my distracting thoughts. I can take a deep breath and feel everything release, in that way, it’s almost a spiritual practice. It just brings me to calm.

Writing does that too, at least it’s doing it right now. Throughout the day, I’m distracted by everything as soon as I sit down at my computer to work. Twitter notification pop up on the screen, analytics can be checked, emails can be read and replied to (or just deleted). I can sit and get blog stuff done, but never really calm everything down to just a single task. But when I’m in the right place, like now, writing with my buds and music and feeling the keys on my fingers and the flow of my thoughts… I’m calm.

I have this overwhelming experience with the process when I’m not afraid to write like I think, in a somewhat strange, somewhat wonderful fluid way that says what it needs to in long flowing sentences, and then, short ones. Because when I think too much about writing, I try to structure the shit out of it. In my mind, I’m “doing it right,” but it doesn’t feel write coming out.  When I’m just writing, I remember the beauty involved. I remember that it gives me pleasure.

For the workshop, I’m asking everyone what every one’s goal is for being in the 6 week stint. I figure that before I ask everyone else what their goal is for this workshop, I want mine, but not just the goal for the workshop, but my goal as a writer in the group.

I want to change what is. That’s what I want, and I want to use writing to do it. I want to write stories that express the way things can be or should be by showing that transformation from now to then. I want to write more about what I know emotionally and for it to liberate me by showing me something I didn’t see before about myself. I want to write for change and for fun. It sounds like having your cake and eating it too, but hey, it’s a goal.

Thanks for reading. Now I’m off to write the plan for left on mallory’s workshop. If you’re a writer in the Jacksonville/Riverside area of Florida, this is going to be a great place for you to find the love in writing.

Oliver Jeffers – Picture Book Maker

I didn’t know who Oliver Jeffers was before seeing this today in Vimeo’s staff pick section.

He writes and illustrates picture books. Really good ones.

More than the great storytelling nature of this film, one line inspired me,

“I get to do what I love for a living. And I feel a sense of responsibility to enjoy that as much as I can.”

So take the three minutes to watch this little guy, and remember to keep enjoying what you love to do.

9 Lines for a Fortune Cookie

Every Thursday, we run with a prompt in left on mallory. This week was take 10 minutes to write as many fortunes as you can.

Well…

1. Life is the collision of circumstances

2. Driving is the mode of the desperate

3. Health is relative to misery

4. Seven is in your future

5. Your eye will see great things

6. Laugh today, you may cry tomorrow

7. The road is a haven for adventure

8. In the far south all things will happen

9. Hug a preacher

The Dream to Build Writers

I’ve been stuck with an idea that I haven’t been able to express for months now. One that centered on a fleeting image of people gathering together to build themselves into stronger and more influential writers.

I’ve felt that the community I live in could benefit from this gathering of creative people. Today, I’m pleased to share the very humble beginnings of this image.

Left on Mallory has been a small community for local writers in Jacksonville, FL for several months now. We started in January to create space for ourselves to write. I’m very proud of what we’ve done, since groups like this always have the tendency to turn into “blah.”

Things have grown -not so much in the quantity of participants but in the depth of the group’s offering. And I’m very pleased to share that Left on Mallory will be starting it’s first full-blown 7-week workshop tomorrow.

We’re calling it the “Late Spring Writer’s Workshop.”

What will happen? We don’t have a clue, only speculations. For us, it’ll mean more structure, but we hope it’ll mean a lot more for our community as a whole.

The Writer’s Purpose in Community

“We write in service of the truth”

Professor Laura McCullough is the first person I heard say this. She quoted someone famous I’m sure, but that’s not important. What’s important is that I didn’t understand when she said it.

I didn’t understand later when I wrote a poem on capital punishment or a story on homelessness in Columbia, SC. I didn’t understand it years later when I finished my writing degree. I’m sure I don’t fully understand it now. But I’m getting there.

I finally caught a small understanding a few weeks ago. I thought about my writing and what I want it to accomplish. I thought about the news. About the deep trenches on either side of every issue even in my own city.

Politics is politics, then, now, I’m not changing that. But there must be a way to articulate a common humanness at least for my community? Wouldn’t building common ground be better than building impregnable barricades around ideologies?

But how? is a million-dollar question.

Then, I thought about art. Specifically, the art of writing as an expression of culture in turmoil. It’s historic ability to communicate without ostracizing. To take a point-of-view, that cannot be spoken outright and put it in story form. Weaving humanity together into a common and relatable form. Not as rhetoric, not intending to persuade, but to express before the reader.

In this way, art can get people to listen when nothing else can.

I think about creative writing everywhere and it’s place in culture as an agent for truth. In this light, “We write in service of the truth,” is a statement that fundamentally changes the reason we write. It gives us purpose, far removed from our instruments.

As agents, we’re more than writers, we’re mediators who make some sense of  humanity and present it to our community.

Anyway, it’s a thought-in-progress. Feel free to take it the way you want and give me your thoughts.