Tag Archives: fiction writing

Mac’s Gig: The Formation of a Transgender Character

Caysee needed a sidekick.  And I had a deep desire to make this a story about friendship as much as freedom.   I wanted the message to get across that friendships are imperative; they deepen our life experience and keep our souls renewed.   Mac originated from these premises.

But he had to have his own story, his own motivations.   As I let the storyline and Caysee’s character guide me, Mac showed up and his past along with him.  I wrestled with the idea.  I knew that by keeping true to his original appearance I would perhaps also be creating a provoking manuscript, one that opens up entirely different kinds of conversations, and I wasn’t certain I wanted to pursue them.  I thought about some other way for him to have the kind of conflict that would drive him out of the house, or get him on the street.   I could not make him fit any other shape than the one that I presented.  I felt I had to be true to his essence in the way it teased itself out of the ether.

I purposefully didn’t do any research about transgender issues other than an occasional light peruse of headline stories.  I wanted to sniff out a reasonable reaction to the sort of prison in which Mac was living.  Most importantly, I wanted the character and struggle to be composed entirely on my imaginings, with as little influence from the real world as possible. This approach felt right and authentic to me.

Upon reflection, I’ve observed that Mac’s story can serve to inspire.  How many others, identity aside, find themselves in circumstances less than optimum?  How many of us understand the impossibility of thriving when our environment keeps us focused solely upon the task of surviving?  It could be a job or a relationship and maybe we inadvertently put ourselves in the situation, but I’m willing to bet that there are others out there who will be able to draw strength from Mac’s need to be staunch about where he could give up his sense of self and where he couldn’t, as well as his need to find an atmosphere that provided him opportunities to be free to express himself.  At least that is my desire.

When I made the decision to become a writer several years ago, I did so with the goal of always challenging people to think, myself included.  It doesn’t matter that a reader necessarily agrees with my point of view, I am content if I have caused another to at least consider an optional idea.  Even if there is disparity in the final analysis, we are all better for at least having weighed the other side of a thought. My hope is that Mac’s character, and the book as a whole, have achieved this endeavor.

Thank you for reading…

Frankie

‘Caysee Rides: A Story of Freedom, and Friendship’ is available for FREE on Amazon’s KDP Select  for three more days.

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Sample Chapter – Caysee Rides: A Story of Freedom, and Friendship

Fourteen year old Caysee is making her escape from a war-stricken Chicago where her parents died to the hopeful Pacific Republic where she has the opportunity to go to college and be free. She travels with Mac whom she met just before leaving her home town.   They Ride the Wagon Train together out of the Northern Province and into freedom, but the escape challenges both of them, and the Underground Network, in ways that changed them and the continent forever.   Look for the full book to be released by the end of March.

Reflection:

The trio stood, stretched, and made their way to the stairs that led to the hatch. Bryant stood off to the side and let Caysee, then Mac climb their way from the inside of a dark train car to a thick, overcast morning that was brightened by the greenest grass either of them had ever seen in their life.

“Wow.”  Was all Caysee could manage to say when she looked at the sight. A dark cloud cover provided a low, cozy ceiling to the scene.  On their left a wide grey river stretched out, its far shores decorated with pine trees in a dark green hue that contributed to the serious color scheme.  On her right, foothills full of bright green grasses and small trees led her eyes up to the grey Rocky Mountains, whose uneven white tips took up the entire horizon with arrogance.

Nobody said anything for a long while once they settled on top of the car.   The morning was still cool so they huddled together in a bunch to keep warm, but their thoughts were entirely their own. The river guided the tracks along like an imaginary platoon leader, while the mountains stood like soldiers overlooking their travel.

Mac watched the landscape and let the rhythm of the train put him in a kind of trance.  All he could think about was being free.   Free to enjoy the air cutting across his face, even if it did bite at his eyes.  Free to gaze at the water mirroring the cloudy sky, if he looked carefully it was hard to tell where the reflection ended and the clouds began.  Free to just be himself and to feel what it was like to know he had a place in the world after all.  Free to set his own path, not dictated by others or circumstances, but a carefully thought out path, with meaning and purpose.   Free to breathe without worrying if someone was watching him.  Free to speak without having to carefully pick through every word.  Free to be happy and content in a moment such as this without being afraid to let his guard down.

Free.   ”Was there anything worse than being confined?  Is there anything worse being robbed of your ability to follow your own path?”   He thought of the friends he knew while he belonged to the IP.  Not one of them could really choose their own way, even if they felt they were doing so by rebelling against their conditions. He realized now that they were rebelling because it was the only choice they felt they had:  join the masses and let Execs dictate their fate, or exercise what little control they could muster and give into the gang mentality of the Posse.   Neither choice was optimum.  “The only real choice,” Mac decided, “was to take the risk and run toward freedom.”  He could see now that he would rather have died in the pursuit of it than let it be taken from him completely.

He almost did die, thanks to his appendix.  Mac took a moment to remember what he went through:  the painful walk to the abandoned mall – he recalled, for the first time, that Caysee propped him up in some doorway and that he thought she left him for good.  Because of Mac’s dreamlike- fever-state, it seemed like days before his friend came back.  When she did, he wanted to tell her to just leave him.  “Go on.  I am so tired I don’t want to move anymore.  My mind is outside of my burning hot body and I’m begging you to please just let me lie here.  It can’t be much longer and the rest of me will follow.  Go.  You’ll be just fine without me.”

Caysee’s voice acted like a tractor beam of energy that reached out to catch Mac’s mind and attracted it back to his body, “Come on Mac, let’s get you inside.  We got help coming, I promise to take care of you.”

Hell came next, Mac remembered.  He shuddered at the thought of it.  He remembered Caysee floating in and out of his dreams, forcing him to drink water against his will. Every sip was a silent battle between them; Caysee was always stronger and won.

Hell and Pain.  The same knife taunting his body, its blade never dulled and it always found the same opening on his lower right side.  Every muscle was cramped and burning from heaving, he could not move without them screaming and stinging.  Caysee’s voice sang somewhere up above his awareness, echoing in the heavens far above Mac’s hell, and at the very least reminded him that he was not alone.

At some point a man’s voice made its way down to Mac’s hell and he knew that it was important but he wasn’t sure why it should be.  Then magic.  The pain went away.  Everything was quiet.  His body was still.  His breathing was normal.  He could sense light outside.

He grew out of his hell and closer to the voices.  Even though they still sounded faint and far away, Mac knew he was coming back to life.

“Drink, Professor, drink.”  He could hear Caysee reading from one of her books, was her voice shaky?  Was she crying?  She let the book fall to the floor and moved the chair closer to the bed, “I’m so glad you’re going to be okay Mac. I don’t know what I would do if you left me right now.”  She held Mac’s limp hand and sobbed into the blanket it rested upon for a long time.  Mac was somewhat awake and a bit confused by Caysee’s behavior; he hadn’t realized yet what a close call he had with death. He could sense a kind of relief in the sobbing.   Caysee had to be strong for Mac and to do that all of her emotions were shoved aside so that she could make clear, smart decisions.   Once Dr. Greg declared that Mac was going to be okay, Caysee could finally let her emotions out.  The passage in the Harry Potter book reminded her of every fight they had over every sip of water.  It was a memory that triggered her meltdown just now.  It wasn’t necessarily pretty, but the relief and exhaustion Mac sensed in the sobbing made an impact on him; no one had ever cared for him like this.

The thought of it overwhelmed him and Mac leaned back slightly on top of the rail car to watch his friend and savior for a few seconds.   Caysee’s hair was growing out, its color reminded Mac of the browning wheat fields they passed on the way to Saskatoon: golden? sandy? silvery?  He noticed the hair clip was finally getting some use.  It was holding the hair from her face and the dragonflies seemed to coast in the wind the way a vulture can glide for hours at a time. Her face was fuller, Mac thought.  Her skin was healthy instead of kind of dull, a sign that she was eating better.  She held her face straight on, her shoulders square and confident even in the slicing wind. Her lips rested naturally in a half smile. A wave of gratitude came over Mac. Caysee had showed him what a true friend was, someone who stuck around no matter what kind of mess a person might find himself in.   Mac had never known this kind of unconditional devotion and now that he had, he was determined to be the same kind of friend.

Freedom.  Greens and greys and muted whites flashed before Mac and while he let it all move past him he let all of his old life stay behind, blown off in chunks by the wind, no longer needed, no longer wanted.

Freedom.  Deep breaths of air, pure and unpolluted by either chemicals or sounds of bombs and guns.  Freedom.  The long metal chain carried them both closer.  Closer and closer.

Caysee decided she would never get tired of the air moving across her face as the metal chain cut through it with ease.   It was good to feel the wind in her hair. “It’s so cool to have hair again!” she thought, “To be traveling and moving again too!”  These past few days of moving and adventure had awakened many forgotten memories for Caysee.  Most of them were fuzzy, some were quite clear, but they were all memories of going places with her parents.  “Are you ready for another plane ride Caysee?” her mother’s voice was nearly audible.  She was probably around four and she remembered she was sitting on her parent’s bed, surrounded by neat piles of clothes ready for a suitcase.   “We are going to go to the ocean where there’s lots of water and warm sun.  Daddy wants to show you the dolphins.”  Her mom leaned in to smooth her hair over then kissed her on the cheek, and tapped her nose with her finger, “I love you Caysee Jo.”  Caysee didn’t remember the dolphins, but that small fractal of a recollection of her mother was much better.

She suddenly realized that her parents would always be with her, no matter where she went. Every little thing her dad taught her, every story her mom read to her, every camping trip they had together gave her the strength and tools to survive on her own these past three years.   A part of them hasn’t died and that part was her.

Of course!  Caysee thought about this idea for a very long time while the movement of the train rocked them to and fro.  At some point, a feeling of peace overcame her.   Understanding that her parents would always be with her and live on in her gave Caysee the sense of peace that she longed for.   At last, she didn’t have to hold on to their memories so tightly, they would still be there.  At last, she realized she didn’t need to feel guilty for letting them go, they would always be with her.   At last, the past she was hanging on to was finally laid to rest, Caysee could now focus on the future.

It’s a luxury to think about the future Caysee thought, the fresh, cool moving air somehow made her more observant.  She was used to being in survival mode, only able to look as far ahead as maybe tomorrow, no further.  There simply wasn’t the time or energy to consider a future when a girl was always forced to think about eating and a safe place to sleep.  Caysee allowed herself to dream for just a moment about teaching in a classroom while the train rocked the three riders back and forth.  She couldn’t tell the age group or what she was teaching, but she could picture herself standing in front of a group of people and lecturing.   “Yeah, “she thought, “I can do that.”

Bryant sat in the middle of all this thinking and did a fair amount of his own.   “I haven’t been along this route in a while.”   It was a kind of magic to him that nothing really changed.   A fallen tree was new, the river’s bank changed slightly here and there, but the mountains and the green and the vastness of the scene were the same.  Solid.  Secure.  Unmoving.  He marveled at the idea, he could always count on Mother Nature.  For the thousandth time he thanked whatever gods or fate there was that allowed him the freedom to have the life he had. Bryant knew he was alone and he treasured his freedom .  But now, Caysee and Mac captured his attention and held it. For one thing, it was good to have someone his own age to speak with.  Most of the Riders that came through that were his age were scared and with their own adults, he never really took the time to make friends with any of them.  As he hung out with Caysee and Mac he found himself reminded that he was still a kid in some ways.  There was a kind of comfort in knowing he wasn’t an adult yet, that he still had some growing to do.  It made him feel like he had a future.  He couldn’t see it, just as sure as he couldn’t see around those proud mountains, but he knew it was there and he knew there was a lot of it.  He would have to make sure Caysee and Mac were part of it.  They were two of the toughest people he ever knew.  So many of the Riders were skittish and wary, which made them dangerous because he couldn’t count on them to know what to do in a pinch.  But not these two.  He was impressed with Caysee’s ability to live on her own.  Allen gave Bryant a good idea of her life, but the way she held herself and spoke with confidence intimidated Bryant, and though it made him uncomfortable, he respected her for it.  Not many people intimidated him and usually they were much older and wiser for their experiences.  She would be a good friend for him.  Her confidence was contagious.

He let out a sigh and the three of them shifted their positions slightly but stayed to themselves.  He glanced down at Mac, who had shown his own strength and confidence.  “He sure does try to be tough, but the kid wouldn’t hurt a fly.  He just needs a direction and he’ll be fine.”  Bryant didn’t doubt Mac’s ability to work well for the Train or VNET, his passion for helping others was obvious.   Now he just had to think where to hook him up.

The wind was growing colder, drops of rain splattered the top of the rail car, the three of them began to shiver and they spoke almost at once the same thought:  “It’s time to get back inside.”


Risk

“Down upon the canvas, working meal to meal,

Waiting for a chance to pick your orange field…

See the forest there in every seed,

                              Angels in the marble waiting to be freed, just need love. “

                                                                                                                Chris Martin

 

“Was it worth it?”  The hopefulness of a positive answer was apparent in the young girl’s eyes.   It caused the older woman to hesitate for a moment, she wanted to meet that hope with its equal response, but she knew truth was required – indeed expected – so she shifted slightly in her chair and offered an honest, if vague, answer:  “It was in most ways, yes. Pursuing my passion and reaching the goal I set for myself is an accomplishment I own with deep satisfaction. The cost was high, however.”

“But was the cost worth it?  It had to be hard.” The girl pushed, she needed details.  She was willing to take the jump, give up every thing to pursue her passion, but she had to know if the risk was worth the taking.

“Painful.  It was fucking painful.” That was the honest, crass truth of it but to blurt it out would terrify her inquirer and she knew this was a critical moment for the girl.  So the older woman took a minute to deal with emotions that were always just below the surface in order to give a more measured response. Like a nagging knee injury acquired during football days, the pain left its mark on her soul.

Pain from loneliness.  There is no other kind of loneliness, she thought, than having to believe in yourself implicitly and exclusively.   Only you can see the goal; there are no lights to help you find your way.  And you can’t waiver:  people are watching, they’re waiting to say “I knew you’d fail.” Or they’re secretly wanting to see you succeed because they want to take their own risk, they need to know it can be done.

There’s pain from sacrifice.  You can seem like an asshole sometimes for having on the blinders required to realize your goal.   Material wants and personal needs are given up freely, like trinkets, at the beginning of the journey – you know you’ll miss them, you won’t know the permanent effect of their absence until you’re so far down the path the only way out is to finish the course.

There’s pain from terror.   To sacrifice security for the sake of the thing brings upon a person a kind of fear that needs constant minding.  It can drown out the voices of the next story or darken the vision of the next painting.  It can physically paralyze you if you aren’t careful. So you must always be careful.

There’s pain from pretending.   You have to hold your head high and have belief in your goal on days when you forgot why it mattered in the first place. You have to invoke a confidence in your voice, even when terror sits inside your belly; you’ll feel like a fake and a fraud and a poser.  You can’t let them see it.

There’s pain in the discipline.  To shut out the naysayers, ignore your own doubts, and stay focused when you’re bleeding and exhausted requires discipline upon a mind that begs, just once, for a reprieve.  You can never let up and you somehow kill a part of yourself in the process.  It’s fucking painful.

The old woman gave a warm smile towards the young girl, she employed that steel-like discipline to keep her voice even, her tears in check.

“It’s true that the struggle to get here has been more painful than I could’ve have bargained, more difficult than I anticipated.  But I accomplished what I believed that I was born to do and followed my passion.   I won’t deny that the cost was exorbitant, yet I’m certain I would surely take the risk again.”

The young woman weighed the words, ignored the pain she detected in the voice despite the effort to hide it, and made the commitment at that moment to take the risk and pursue her passion. She turned to lighter chit chat, then gradually, quietly left the presence of the old woman with the affirmation she sought.   Once alone, the elder wrapped her arms around herself and allowed familiar, painful, tears to flow.

The tears took only a few moments to cool upon her aged cheeks; the sensation woke her from the dream. She stayed still, keeping her eyes closed in an effort to linger in its affect:  She was so full of life when she was younger!  She acted like a barely domesticated animal whose wild instinct lie just underneath the surface.  Those eyes were so piercing!  They weren’t as bright now, she thought.  The price she paid to meet the cost of pursuing her goals had dulled them slightly but she knew they now also possessed a knowing, quiet aptitude that few acquire.  “Yes,” she admitted as she rose from her nap, “I could never have forgiven my self if I hadn’t taken the risk to follow my passion.  Even if the cost was excruciating.”

Author’s Note:  On rare occasion, the right song comes along at the right moment in life and gets a girl over a challenging bump – uh, ginormous mountain.  I was working with the idea of this piece when I happened upon Coldplay’s ‘Up and Up’ from their latest album.  The words and music cut to the deepest part of this writer and are a soothing salve to the pain of sacrifice.  Go listen to the song kids, and while you do, promise yourself you’ll never back down from pursuing your passion.  Frankie


Choosing a President : A Thought Experiment

“Well then fuck the Prime Minister and cancel the State dinner.  No, wait!  We’ll have the State dinner but let’s invite that idiot from North Korea instead.  That oughta piss off all of those pussies in Europe.”

“But Mr. President, there’s international protocol, we can’t just dis-invite the Prime Minister of Britain because he didn’t agree with you on the whole Greek Reformation thing.  I mean, they really can’t fire all their workers when the people doing the firing are protesting as well.  And we can’t invite the leader of a nation that we’re imposing sanctions upon.”

“Oh for fuck’s sake!   International protocol my ass, this is the Greatest Nation on earth, we can change the protocol.”

“I’m sorry Mr. President but we really can’t.   This is a matter of National interest and prestige.   It’s not just about the US, I mean there are leaders all over the world watching how this visit goes down, especially in light of your, a-hem, the disagreement between yourself and the PM. I mean, this is fucking Britain we’re talking about and we really have to kiss their ass sometimes to keep our sway in Europe.”

“Goddamn he’s such a prick though.   Can’t I just send the Vice-President then?  Make up some excuse that I’m sick or something.”

“I, uh, really don’t think that’s in our best interest sir, we have to be seen as setting a high bar, as it were, in keeping a solid relationship with Britain.   That means the dinner must be perfect.”

“Whatever.  Just have your guys communicate to his guys that I don’t want any chit chat at the dinner table, and put some one cool and good-looking on the other side of me, I dunno, like Cindy Crawford and what’s-his-name her husband.”

“Yes sir, I’ll get right on that.” Jamie, the President’s Chief of Staff, closed the  door of the Oval Office and took a swig of his Starbucks.   He was grateful for the Cognac he added earlier to the remaining latte.  It’d at least get him through the morning.  The State dinner was only ten days away, he had no idea how he was going to keep this together. He sent a text to his secretary to get the number for Cindy Crawford’s agent along with a prayer muttered under his breathe,”Please let her be available on such short notice.  Christ this job is killing me.”  He took another swig and practically ran to the other side of the White House to find out if Bruce Springsteen would play the dinner even though he’d asked five times already and been turned down each time without hesitation. “God, what can I do to bribe the son-of-a-bitch.  And, why Bruce Springsteen?  He could’ve chosen a hundred other ass kissers to do the gig but he chose the one guy who would be a problem.”

Cindy Crawford was available (thank god), Bruce never did say yes (fuck ‘im), but Jamie convinced the President during an opportune moment that maybe  Coldplay would be an acceptable substitute.   Their agent had tentatively agreed, they were British so it was a brilliant nod to the visiting Prime Minister, and they were cool with the mainstream since they just released their biggest album ever.  As far as Jamie was concerned, it was a win-win-win.

The next few days were a blur.  Once the final pieces were in place Jamie immediately forgot about the dinner as he ran around, spiked Starbucks cup in hand, defending the President’s comments:  “No, he wasn’t endorsing bankruptcy as a solution to the national debt problem.”   “What he meant was that China should pursue the right policy for their nation and if that means no more petroleum based engines imported from the US then we of course regret the loss of their business, but I assure you we will continue to engage in other trade with them.”   “I’m sure the President didn’t mean the comment literally, it was a figurative reference that the President of Russia was a momma’s boy.  He meant that Russia appears to sometimes hides behind the skirts of the EU or China.”

The dinner went off without any trauma and Jamie was close to letting his guard down by the time dessert arrived.   The Prime Minister was happy to oblige the request to ignore the President and Cindy Crawford was even more beautiful in real life than he could imagine.  The President flirted with her all evening long and drank lots of champagne.  Jamie sensed that his wife was getting a bit pissed at the ordeal; she kept shifting in her chair and giving him horrible looks.   Jamie thought if the President didn’t realize he was in trouble with her, he was a complete idiot.

Finally the call came for the first dance which required the two to be ‘alone’ in a loose sense of the word; they were in front of powerful world leaders, A-list celebrities and a zillion staff and press.  As Jamie watched them dance to the first few measures of some sickening sweet love song, he could well discern the forced smile on both faces and imagine the conversation taking place behind the masks; he’d heard them personally more often than he’d care to recall, her accent was burned into his memory forever.   “Get your shit together, you are starting to cross the line and get everyone pissed.  Her husband is getting angry too.  He looks like he’s about to hit you. We’re almost done here, keep it zipped in every conceivable way, do you understand me?  The entire fucking world is watching you, act like a grown up!”   Jamie figured the cue for other couples to join on the dance floor came at a fortuitous moment.   They couldn’t speak with others around and their silence saved everyone from an escalating, longstanding argument.

Jamie took a long swig of his bourbon as he watched the President sit in his seat when he returned from the first dance and the brief conversation with his wife.  He knew the pose, the look, the rhythm of the breathing of his chest:  shit was about to happen.

He saw it unfold with such perfect consistency it put a knot in his stomach.  First the harsh snap at the poor waiter…as if he should have read his mind and switched the drink from champagne to scotch.  Then the invisible line crossed…ever so slightly with just a nod and tilt of the glass to the Prime minister.   A short comment, the lure of perhaps a fragile but sociable conversation, and then the bombshell.   The pent up, misdirected anger so beautifully put together in a short quip guaranteed to upset even Jesus himself.

The Prime Minister was visibly shocked by the remark when it was finally delivered.  Jamie’s first instinct was to look around the room and determine what the press was doing.   Thankfully he saw that they were all enamored with Cindy and her dance moves as she worked it to the newest, hippest Coldplay tune.  He finished his bourbon, grabbed another and turned to see the Prime Minister, always polite, whisper in his wife’s ear.  He saw her expression as it morphed from disbelief to horror to disbelief and then to hardened rage.  She put her napkin on the table and intimated that she was ready to leave for the evening.   It was early, tongues would wag, there would be explaining to do.

Jamie felt when the press turned their attention to the exiting couple.  A short span of silence was followed by a rustle of voices and texts and pictures and motion at the horror of Britain’s early exit from the dinner.  The President was alone at the table for the moment.  Jamie watched him squirm a bit then he drank his scotch in one go and nodded for another.  As he waited for the blessed waiter to reappear he caught Jamie’s eye and motioned for him to come sit beside him.  He couldn’t refuse, he knew the press were watching so he went to the table and sat down with a confidence he knew he didn’t possess.

“Those Brits are such sensitive babies, the guy can’t even take a joke.”

It was going to be a long night, Jamie asked the nearest waiter for a pot of coffee.

“What was the joke?”  He was beyond any attempt to imagine what might’ve been said. After two years as Chief of Staff, Jamie knew he should just be prepared to be shocked and count on working his ass off for the next seventy two hours addressing damage control.

“I told him I had a great idea for a new reality show, we could pitch it as promoting international relations:  World Leader Wife Swap.  But I told him it wouldn’t work out very well, I’d end up with both chicks cause his sure as hell wouldn’t wanna leave me once she was in my house!”

 

 

 

 

 

 


It’s Been a Long Week, Time for a Smile

 

The Book of Chef La La Foutaise:  In Which Haggis Sends Him to Despair (Because I checked the sauce and this one hasn’t been done yet, I think.)

“Let me at him!”  The crude request came from Haggis, who could bear the competition no longer.  It was the early days of what anthropologists call “the foodie revolution” and flocks of Haggis’ followers were fleeing his culinary Highlands for the warmer climes of Italy and the new spaghetti dish made famous by Chef La La Foutaise.   Haggis was pissed about it, he’d kept tummies full for centuries and this young pasta upstart threatened his existence.  He thus traveled the saucy road himself to present his case to The Flying Spaghetti Monster.  How awkward did the dull northern god seem against the glistening tentacles of His Noodly Appendage!

“Fine.” Shouted an irritated, booming voice from somewhere between two giant meatballs and a glob of wet noodles, “Have at him, but you are forbidden to end his life.  He’ll do that himself with a slow death of cholesterol plaque, so keep your mitts off.  His kitchen is open game, so is his herb garden.  Do what you must and may the chips fall where they may.  You will find, however, that my dear Chef is loyal under the most trying circumstances, pasta is his life.   I have faith in this human.”

Haggis left the company of His Noodly Appendage with hope.  If he could dethrone the Chef once and for all he just might be able to remain King of Comfort Food.

His first stop was the Chef’s herb garden.  Trample, tromple, tromp.  Each tender leaf of basil and oregano was methodically bruised and destroyed.   There would be no seasoning in the Chef’s sauce. Our hero did despair as hard as any and verily his sobbing was heard up and down his block as he plucked dried herbs from his pantry and sacrilegiously added them to his fresh tomato sauce.  Yet he did prepare the most scrumptious of delights that evening, and to the Holy Trinity of Pasta, Meatballs, and Sauce, our Chef humbly gave thanks, as well as giving himself a pat on the back for having the forethought to save some of last year’s herb crop.

Seeing that his adversary was undaunted, our bloated villain Haggis took things to a whole ‘nother level.  He destroyed the tomato and garlic crops.

Oh the wailing!  Oh the complaints!  Oh the interesting swear words that were invented the moment our Chef did see that some master of maleficence had visited his favorite garden!  “How?” he whined, “How does one make a spaghetti sauce without fresh garlic and tomatoes?  I simply must cancel my dinner party this evening for I cannot make do in these conditions.”

The Chef was a mess.  The dinner party he planned that night was greatly anticipated among his neighbors; they all looked forward to a meal at the Chef’s house. The food, the ambiance, the company, and the pleasing demeanor of the Chef himself had earned a reputation in the village.   To cancel would bring the wrath of his neighbors upon him, and he saw what they did when the cable company blacked out the local football game.  Let’s just say the cable company changed its mind. He would find a way.

Once the initial shock of losing his freshness wore off, the Chef set about to improvise.  “Ragu it is!” he declared, “But it will be MY version of Ragu, I certainly don’t trust the people at Kraft.”   The challenged Chef unsealed the jar and upon a first whiff of cold sauce, he declared again, “How people can use this stuff on a regular basis is beyond me.”  Without so much as a prayer to His Holiness – it wasn’t needed, the Chef knew exactly what to do in this circumstance – our underdog added and stirred and tasted and added and stirred again.  By the time he was done, the jar of Ragu had been transformed into a culinary miracle:  one could discern the delicate balance between oregano and honey, one could taste a hint of white wine, one could almost imagine that fresh garlic had been added when in reality it was dried.   Once combined with the homemade pasta, the Chef’s guests could tell no difference and praised his talents generously.  The more wine the Chef served, the praisier his guests became.  He kept their glasses full, gave thanks to The Flying Spaghetti Monster for the fruit of the vine, and congratulated himself on his che’effing genius.

While the guests woke up to hangovers and our Chef woke up to dirty dishes, the mighty villain Haggis woke up to disgrace; he thought for sure the Chef would give up without fresh tomatoes for his sauce but he found out the dodgy bastard managed to slide right through the difficulty and please his guests anyway.   Haggis thought long and hard.   If he wasn’t successful at sabotaging the sauce, then the noodles were next.  Consequently and methodically, every jar of olive oil in the village was rendered rancid, every bag of flour was riddled with weevils, every hen was sedated so she couldn’t lay eggs.  “Game on Chef!” Haggis did squeal from the top of a sheep shed, “Let’s see you make a pasta dish NOW!”   Haggis was quite pleased with his work and demonstrated it through his taunting techniques, “What’ll you do, huh?  Try some soy flour and almond oil and substitute applesauce for the eggs?  Ha!  I’d like to see that!”

I wish I could say that the Chef was gracious under these trying circumstances but really he lost his manners and all regard for societal protocol.  He wandered from house to house, didn’t even bother to knock before entering, and ravaged each pantry for fresh staples, leaving a wreck behind.  Haggis did his work well though, and the Chef was left with nothing, not-a-thing with which to make his soft, tender noodles.   Despair tore at his soul while his own hands tore at his apron and he ran around the village square with a repetitive wail, “What will I do now!”  His neighbors did close their doors, their windows, and their curtains in order to leave the Chef to his misery.  Behold! It wasn’t a pretty sight.

The Flying Spaghetti Monster looked upon this frail human with pity.  Verily He wanted to rescue this small soul and tell him that it was okay, that the Chef was just caught in the middle of an infinite battle between Himself and that prick Haggis, that his reaction will affect future generations in no way whatsoever.  But it was against all Colandrial consideration to breech the veil between god and man, so His Noodly Appendage did what most gods do in times such as these:   He invested in industrial strength ear plugs to block the Chef’s whining, and left him to his own devices by going on holiday to Vietnam where there was a new restaurant opening that He wanted to try – bring on the pho and bon appetit!

Feeling abandon by his god as he really was, our Chef did abruptly end his pity party and set to work to overcome his obstacles.  If he could manage to transform a jar of Ragu into a tasty dish, then by god he could manage to make some sort of pasta.  He suddenly became a man who considered his options.  As he studied the contents of his pantry, a small light flickered in the hopeless dark of the Chef’s culinary nightmare – he would triumph.   He closed up the house so his nosy neighbors were prevented from spying, and he set about to do what no Italian had done previously – make a pasta dish without pasta.

Haggis watched his victim squirm and he himself became prematurely giddy with delight when he saw the Chef had boarded up his windows.  “Ha!  I’ve done it, I’ve won! The Chef has shut himself up to wither away.  I will remain king of Comfort Food!”  He then went off to Germany for the night because he developed a thing for sausage while staying on the continent.

Haggis returned the next morning to find the Chef in a state of half-drunk, half-hungover happy delirium.  He had triumphed where none could even face such an obstacle and served his village the most sumptuous dish of first gnocchi.   While Haggis had indeed ruined every flour bin in the neighborhood, there were potatoes that could be put to use along with some butter (gasp!), and a solitary egg from a hen that the Chef shook and dangled so that gravity itself forced the production of a singular, white, oblong cache of culinary glue. By mixing them together and using a jar of Ragu white sauce this time (which, of course, he modified with his own touch as aforementioned), Chef La La Foutaise managed to invent a most wonderful addition to the Italian menu.   The international food landscape was permanently altered.

Never in the history of the gods had one imaginary being been so dejected, so utterly defeated.  Haggis bowed his head, hunched his shoulders, and took his paunchy sausage belly back to the highlands where it belonged.   He pouted the entire way.

“Something wrong?” The Flying Spaghetti  Monster inquired of Haggis,

hisholiness

courtesy wiki.ironchariots.org

whom he bumped into upon returning  from the most phenomenal pho he had ever tasted.  He knew the answer of course, the FSM is after all, omniscient about all things Chef-y, but he wanted to watch Haggis squirm in his loss.  Our Breaded Entity is not above gloating.

“I don’t want to talk about it.”  Haggis was a broody bitch.

“I heard through the grapevine that something called ‘gnocchi’ has been invented.  That wouldn’t be our Chef La La would it?”  The FSM failed at hiding his smile.  The Chef had surprised even the Holy Noodly Appendage and the latter was most amused over the entire circumstance, He couldn’t wait to try a fresh batch of gnocchi for Himself.

“I don’t want to talk about it.” Haggis really was a sore loser.

“I can’t blame you there.  But I can say that I did warn you.  My Chef is a solid homie through and through.  Pasta, uh, always finds a way.”  The FSM did disengage Himself from the cruel northern entity and floated merrily on His way towards the boot-like peninsula where He did give His seal of holy approval to the new menu addition with a mighty “Argh!”

Verily, Haggis learned his lesson.  He never ventured from the highlands again and by-the-by he came to find a quiet pleasure in the small following that he retained in spite of noodles and gnocchi.   We should all be aware of the same lesson Haggis took from the incident however: The Flying Spaghetti Monster will always be more interested in new Vietnamese restaurants than He is in His own congregation.

R’amen.

 

 


In the Beginning…

in the beginning

Taken 09/04/2015 sunrise over Lassen Peak.

Oh to watch the Sun rise!

To welcome the new day with him.

Me with my coffee, he with his light,

Enjoy the silent morning together

in each other’s confidence.

Without words, yet with mutual understanding,

We together agree:

This!  This is where life meets its purpose!

At the beginning of each day,

At the start of the gate,

At the commencement of exercise.

“Anything of importance,”

He reminds me with solemn quiet,

“Is accomplished with the first ray of light

and the initial commitment of will.”

Oh to watch the Sun rise!


Planking and Editing: Discipline Through Exercise

Who knew that planking and editing have their similarities?

I didn’t, at least not until I added the former to my exercise regime.   After four babies wreaked havoc on my lower lumbar system, I’m always on the lookout for anything to keep my back muscles strong.  Enter planking, that horrible exercise invented by the devil himself (after he thought up wall sits).  If anyone has been able to do a plank for a full two minutes their very first time, they have my undying respect (as it is, three weeks in, I am up to a minute thirty).  Planking is work, it’s grueling, but it’s definitely effective.   Within just a few days I noticed a sense of overall physical strength and – bonus! – the arms I inherited from my grandma have never looked better.

If planking was invented by the devil, then I’m pretty sure editing was invented by his archangel.  Editing is work, it’s grueling, but it’s definitely effective. The discipline involved is not unlike the focus it takes to keep upright on arms and toes for one hundred twenty seconds. It takes focus.  It takes a will of mind that can only be activated by one’s own choosing.  Think of those beautiful passages, full of poetic prose, close to your writer’s heart because, damn, who have you ever read that compares the sunrise to the opening of a sunflower with color descriptions that would make Robert Frost cry?  During the editing process, its those precious paragraphs that must be excised.  Taken out.  Highlight, ctrl x. They don’t belong no matter how many minutes you spent finding the terms for differing shades of yellow and orange.  This is the kind of discipline editing requires (similar to planking) where focus is paramount for a successful outcome, but it’s absolutely worth the effort.   That lean, streamlined, strong manuscript you submit to your publisher is the reward – not to mention the overall strength you’ll acquire as a writer (bonus!).

Editing is one of those things that we don’t necessarily dream about when first committing to a writing career.  We envision our name on the best seller list or at the bottom of a book cover.  We are excited to get that story out of our heads, give it life, and make it breath for our readers. But few of us realize the discipline involved with the editing process until the first work is done and we begin to cut, paste, and delete. It’s tempting to be generous to ourselves and our cherished prose, but we must enforce strict self-control in order to achieve the strongest possible outcome.

Have a great week kids, write something, and here’s to discipline – on and off the page.

Yours, Frankie


What’s Your Element?

One of my favorite things to do is watch someone in their element, doing what they love most to do.

I had a dog whose element was swimming.  She would swim for up to an hour at a time.  On a few occasions I worried that she’d cross the small lake we frequented, come out on the other side and wonder where I was!  She was happy though, oblivious to the family she left on the shore, and content to paddle along without any direction in mind. I couldn’t help but marvel as I watched her in her element, doing what she obviously enjoyed most.

I have a son whose element is on the gridiron.  Since he was eight, something happened whenever he put on his pads andcamp2 helmet and stepped on the green field. The gentle boy with a wont to please disappeared; replaced by a fierce competitor that took this mother a couple of years to get to know.  He’s a junior in high school this fall, playing starting defense and his passion has only increased.  Over the years I’ve watched him discipline himself to go on early morning runs, hit the gym in the off season and during summer break, and absorb the stories of his heroes on “A Football Life.”  Tonight we kickoff the season with the traditional scrimmage and as I sit in the stands and watch him play, I’ll do so knowing he’s happy to finally be competing, content in the challenge to do his best and lead his team. Completely in his element.

For some of us, writing is our element.  Tucked away from the world in order to create an imaginary world for others, we spend countless moments absorbed in a thesaurus or staring out the window in search of just the right words and phrase.  As grueling and demanding as the process of editing is, we find immense satisfaction in the activity of creating the perfect sentence (I am thankful to live in the computer age. There’s something seductive about highlighting a group of words, capturing them with my mouse, and moving them. Poof!  Magically the sentence I struggled with now reads and flows with elegance.  It’s like Lego’s with words!).  We writers are never happier than when we are agonizing over vocabulary or the structure of our next work, because we are in our element.

But what if you aren’t in your element?  What if you aren’t doing what you love to do and what you are passionate about? Then I challenge you to make a change. Life’s too short kids!

Yours,

Frankie


Lost Souls: An Atheist ‘s Sacrifice

Nate heard his girlfriend’s sobs when he entered their apartment and followed them to the spare room where she sat in her favorite wicker chair.

“What’s wrong Ange?” He smoothed her hair out of her face and waited for her to speak.

“Brenda called today.  We got into a bit of an argument.  It ended with her unfriending me on Friendlink and everything.”

“Why did you argue?”  Nate was concerned. Brenda and Angie had been friends since high school and though they lived two states apart, they kept a close relationship.

“Oh, she said she felt led to question me  about my lack of faith.  She kept bringing up that whole ‘I’m being led astray’ idea.   She was nice enough, I knew she was acting out of concern.  I wore the same shoes once, so to speak, so I just let her ramble on about returning to church and repenting.  I didn’t really respond at first because I was hoping I could just change the subject or something.  Finally she asked me if I could see the error of my ways.  I said that in no way could I unlearn what I’ve learned about gods and evolution and the fallibility of the bible.   I brought up the comparison of Helios. I told Angie I can’t make the leap of faith our ancestors did and believe that he drives the sun across the sky anymore.    In the same way I can’t make the leap of faith required to believe in the god of the bible because we know the bible has been contrived and tampered with, plus evolution, plus our habit of inventing gods…”  Angie stopped to wipe her face and gather her thoughts.   Nate waited beside his partner and allowed her to continue at her own pace.  Long moments passed.

“She couldn’t really ‘argue’ with my points and so she went on the defensive and said she’d have to really think and pray about our friendship.   She didn’t know if she could be friends with an atheist, she said.   I reminded her that in the past year of my godlessness I’ve still been loving, I’m still faithful to you, and even I’m involved in the community.  She responded by telling me that none of that matters if I don’t have Jesus in my heart and then she said she had to hang up.   When I checked my Friendlink page later I saw a message from her that she just couldn’t be my friend anymore but if I had a change of heart to please call her and she would welcome me with open arms.   Then she unfriended me.”  Angie let out a heap of sobs after the last statement and Nate, empathizing with her pain, held her close and concentrated on even breaths so she would sense his calm.

He understood her pain.  He’d been ostracized by some of his own family.  The justified anger and hurt took some time to work through. Nate hated to see his beloved endure the same.

After a while Angie sat up and spoke. “I know you’ve been through this with your own family.  Maybe I shouldn’t complain about losing a friend.”

“That’s not the point.  Ending any relationship is painful and requires a mourning process.  Pain is pain no matter what the circumstances.  We’ve talked about it before remember? We’re going to lose friends and family over the gig.  But we support each other in the process and we do get through the grief.”

She allowed his words to soothe the wound in her heart and by degrees the conversation lightened. Soon they were discussing the evening’s basketball game and choosing teams. The loser had dinner and dishes duty tomorrow night.

It was a few months before Angie worked through the pain of losing her friend however.  A twist of timing meant that she had to endure Brenda’s birthday without the traditional phone call and homemade card.  She made the card anyway.  It sat on the kitchen table for a few days before she tucked it deep within her armoire. Nate was brilliant.  He held her when she cried over her lost friend and provided silence when she needed time to think.  She focused on a couple of newer friendships and they did help some to make up for the hole left by Brenda’s exit from her life.

Still, the prodding of her friend’s questions caused her to examine her decision to leave church.   She found herself going through a cycle of thought:  was I right to leave religion?  could I really go back? how?  How can I go back when I see the landscape of evidence before me compared to the narrow view the bible offers?

She couldn’t.   The thought of returning to the four walls of limited thought and knowledge even evoked a sense of claustrophobia in Angie.  If it came down the to choice of acquiescing to religion and keeping friends and family, or living in the reality of what we observe and losing friends and family, she always came out on the side of the latter. Always. After going through the same cycle and coming out on the same side repeatedly, Angie found a deeper strength in her decision. She gained a greater measure of peace.

At their high school reunion three years later, Angie and Brenda managed a cordial but shallow conversation and then moved on to other people.   Angie reflected later that night at the memory of their breakup and looked back to see how far she’d come since then.  She had no regrets.  Like Nate said once, sometimes losing a friend is an atheist’s sacrifice, but we do get through it.


*Author’s note.  This is a complete work of fiction but it was born out of the many testimonies I’ve read in online forums.  I’ve had a bit of fortune myself in that most of my friends are accepting and loving even though I’ve abandon the faith.  A few have distanced themselves but I’ve not experienced the ‘breakup’ that Angie did.   At times familial relationships become strained but love always overcomes and we’ve pretty much all learned to avoid the topic in order to retain our rapport.  Some are not so fortunate and I wish for them strength and grace as they work through their own sacrifices. Yours, Frankie


Inspiration from Competition

One of my sisters planted a seed in my mind and its grown to become a full-fledged entity to deal with:  Why don’t you enter  a writing contest?

I’d never thought of it before.   My focus has been on magazine submissions, building my web presence (many thanks to you readers for tuning in), and working on my latest manuscript. When I began to investigate what opportunities were out there, my competitive drive took over and I find myself happily grooming a couple of works for submission.   I’m enjoying the process and as I prepare to send off my first entry, I would plant the same seed in your mind:  Why not enter your best work in a writing contest?   You’ll be challenged in ways unimaginable but fruitful.  You’ll be inspired in the face of competition.

Here a few contests I am eyeing, but there are hundreds out there.

Manchester Writing Competition – Deadline for entries is September 15, 2015.

The Gift of Freedom (A Room of Her Own Foundation for Women: Artists and Writers) – Deadline for entries is November 2, 2015

2015 RRofihe Trophy ‘no fee’ short story competition – Deadline is October 15, 2015

Best of luck, and here’s to creating some winning work.

Yours, Frankie