Monday, August 23, 2010

The third installment...

Here's chapter 3 (the first two chapters are below, of course)! This is the last one I have fully written, so they might be a little slower from here on out, but be patient...It's going somewhere, I promise!

At 2:14 sharp that afternoon, there was a knock on the door. Startled, Louis struck a particularly discordant note, grimacing at the growl issuing from the amp as he made his way across the living room to the door. He opened the door with a grin, afternoon sunlight finally finding its way into the apartment.

“You’re early,” he teased.

Maddie smiled sheepishly as she glanced at the clock on her phone. “Hey, I’m only fourteen minutes late. I think that might even be a personal best for me! I couldn’t find a cable, I looked everywhere at my place.”

“I’ve got an extra one,” Louis said, grabbing a cord from the coffee table and plugging it into Maddie’s mini-amp. “Actually, I think this might be yours.”

“Probably. How’d practice go this morning?”

“I don’t even want to think about it.”

“Oh, that good, huh?” Maddie joked. “C’mon, they’re 9- and 10-year-olds. How bad could you have screwed them up?”

“Hey, it wasn’t a matter of me screwing them up. Well, yeah, partially. But, uh, I got blocked by a 9-year-old.” It was Louis’ turn to smile sheepishly.

“No way! Let me guess, you just wanted to build his confidence a little, right?”

“Yeah, I wish. This kid needs no ego help. I don’t think I can ever show my face there again.”

“Oh, damn, you can’t go back to Porter Elementary School? Whatever shall you do?”

“Yeah, yeah. I’m starving, you want something to eat?” Louis asked as he wandered over to the kitchen.

“No, thanks. I ate before I came over. Hurry up, though, I want to play!”

“Alright, alright. I’m still working on lyrics for the song you gave me.”

“That’s cool. You’re singing, yeah?”

“Right. And I don’t think I can sing and play yet. I can barely play, period.”

“Oh, stop it, you’re fine. But please tell me that note you hit right before I came in was an accident,” Maddie laughed, strumming absentmindedly.

“The knock startled me!” he protested, his mouth half full of a turkey and cheese sandwich. He plopped down next to her with his sandwich on the old sofa—and promptly lost the sandwich over the side of the couch as the legs collapsed under him.

“Aw, dammit!” he groaned as he jumped up, grabbing a napkin to try to mop mayo and mustard off of the carpet and managing only to turn the beige carpet a brighter shade of yellow. Maddie had tipped over onto her side in the middle of the couch, laughing so hard she was crying.

“Maybe you didn’t need that turkey sandwich after all, huh?” she managed to choke out in between fits of giggles.

“Great, I’m down a couch and a damages deposit,” Louis lamented, giving up the carpet as a lost cause.

Maddie straightened up, laughter finally subsiding. “Oh, come on. It’s just a couch.”

“Yeah, but…”

She leaned over the arm of the couch, still smiling, her forehead against his, her auburn hair curtaining his face. “It’s a couch, not a metaphor for your life.” She laughed again, “Now come on, let’s play some music.”

“Eh, I dunno, I’ve been playing since I got back from practice. My fingers are sore.”

“Well, then we can just write today.”


“And then we’ll play it.”

“But I…yeah, okay, fine,” Louis sighed.

“So what do you have so far?”

“Well,” he said, grabbing a small spiral notebook from the table, “what rhymes with orange?”

She stared at him, one eyebrow arched.

“What?” he said, his face splitting into a grin.

“That’s the best you got? ‘Nothing rhymes with orange’? Wow, you weren’t kidding about the writer’s block,” she said, returning the smile.

“Dammit, why can’t we just play covers?” Louis sighed in mock exasperation.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Part Deux

Here's chapter two of my as-of-yet still untitled short story. Chapter one is below, if you missed that and want to catch up. I'm not quite so pleased with this part, I think mainly because it's primarily just character development and I hadn't really gotten any idea of where anything was going yet, but it sticks for now. I think it's alright, though, and it does serve to round out Louis a bit and give you an idea of where he is at the moment. As always, comments/criticisms/complaints/suggestions much appreciated!

Louis groggily opened his eyes, the faint strains of The Clash’s “Train in Vain” echoing in his head, remnants of an early Saturday morning dream. He looked up at the clock—9:14.

He bolted upright, the bass tumbling from his lap with a discordant growl. He realized suddenly that the music was not just in his head—the alarm was going off back in his room. He jumped up from the couch, where he had fallen asleep practicing last night, and ran to shut off the alarm.

Flopping onto the bed, Louis rubbed the sleep from his eyes and groggily wondered what in the world he was supposed to be awake for at nine o’clock on a Saturday morning. He’d spent most of the early morning hours struggling through Maddie’s music, succumbing to sleep only as the dulcet tones of yet another Billy Mays wannabe came on over the networks. It had been a long and frustrating, if uneventful, evening, his patience never quite measuring up to his progress, which seemed to Louis to be the norm. He was in no mood to be awake so early, but, remembering the basketball practice he was supposed to be at in ten minutes (ah, the joys of coaching 9- and 10-year-olds, always the first practice in the morning), he jumped out of the bed, threw on a pair of old running shorts and a high school track t-shirt, grabbed his cross-trainers from the living room, and sprinted out to his car.

By the time he managed to fold his lanky frame into the driver’s seat and get the beat-up old Civic to start, the dashboard clock read 9:26. Louis raced through the suburban streets adjacent to his apartment complex, the identical rows of brick houses making the ten-minute drive to the elementary school gym seem interminable.

He ran into the gym just a few minutes late, an accomplishment given that he’d been asleep less than twenty minutes ago. His friend Drew, who had conned him into this assistant coaching gig, already had the kids in lay-up lines.

“Hey, man, sorry I’m late. Overslept a little,” Louis said sheepishly as he jogged across the court.

“No problem, I went ahead and got started,” Drew said, as if there was any question that he could run the whole practice without Louis.

The gym was unfamiliar territory to Louis. Being six feet tall since the ninth grade, he had been told to play basketball. It had not worked out well—the long limbs that aided a graceful athlete were unwieldy on him, and he tripped over the ball more often than he managed to put it anywhere near the hoop. That experiment had ended shortly after it began, as the coach told him in no uncertain terms that he was not welcome back to practice the next day—his exploits on the court were as likely to hurt one of his more valuable teammates as they were him.

The gym he coached in now seemed no different than his high school gym. Same generic mascot growling from half-court, same worn hardwood floor that had him slipping all over the place, same high rafters with the industrial lights up above. The only difference was the small stage built into the wall at the opposite end, since, like most elementary schools, there wasn’t any need to take up extra space with an auditorium.

The smell seemed to Louis distinctly similar, too—not so much sweat and hardwood as fear and failure (his own; the kids did fine, for the most part). As he wandered over to the baseline, one of the less experienced kids tossed up an errant shot.

“Hey Lou, why don’t you show Tommy here how to shoot a lay-up?” Drew called, snapping a pass over to Louis near the basket.

“Oh. Um, okay, sure.” Louis dribbled tentatively towards the hoop, jumped off his right foot and laid it in with his right hand. Proud that he hadn’t bungled the shot, Louis tossed the ball casually back over to Drew on the wing.

“Coach, you’re supposed to go up on your left foot, aren’t you?” It was little Andy. The kid had apparently come out of the womb playing basketball, and he wanted to be sure everyone knew it. Not a practice had passed that he hadn’t managed to correct Louis on some point or another.

Drew gave Louis a sympathetic look. “Um, yeah, left foot for right hand, right foot for left hand.” Tommy had jogged to the back of the line, still uninstructed but not overly concerned about it. Louis slunk to the back of the line as well, looking significantly more chagrined by the error.

Drew put them through dribbling drills, went over their two offensive plays, instructed them on the finer points of the 2-3 zone, and ran them through some conditioning. Louis clung to his spot in the back of the line, making sure the kids were paying attention but being careful not to impart anything that could be misconstrued as basketball wisdom, lest he turn out to be quite mistaken again.

With just a few minutes to go in the practice, Drew blew his whistle to gather the kids in at midcourt.

“Alright, guys, good work, we’ve got ten minutes left, so we’ll scrimmage a bit. Lou, you mind jumping in with them? No way my knee’s gonna let me play,” he said.

“Uh, yeah, sure,” Louis said, not at all sure that this was a good idea. Drew had been playing in the scrimmages up until this point, but he had tweaked an old injury playing intramurals last week. Louis grabbed a pinnie and loosened up a bit.

The first eight minutes or so went swimmingly—as the coach, Louis didn’t feel the need to take any shots away from the kids, so he was free to run around and pass the ball on when he got it, two things he could definitely do.

With time winding down in the practice, Louis found himself ahead of everyone else with the ball. Confident from his play up to that point, he took a couple dribbles, and prepared to jump off his left foot for his right-handed lay-up, just like Andy had taught him. Unfortunately, as the ball left Louis’ hand, little, barely-five-feet-tall, 9-year-old Andy came flying by, sending the ball ricocheting onto the stage behind the basket, coming to rest dead on center stage—they might as well have put the spotlight on it. He, six-foot-tall, 20-year-old Louis, had just been completely and utterly rejected. Andy crowed. Louis scratched his head in disbelief. Drew blew his whistle, trying unsuccessfully to hide the grin on his face.

“Well, that’s as good a stopping point as any, guys, bring it in,” he said. Louis watched from the sideline as the boys did their “1-2-3-WILDCATS!” cheer and filed out of the gym. Tommy gave him a high-five and a hearty “Thanks, coach!” as he walked out, and for a moment Louis felt better...until a smirking Andy sauntered past. Drew managed to stifle his laughter long enough to pat him on the back and get out an unconvincing, “Good practice, man,” before he saw Louis’ face and sobered himself up.

“Hey, it’s cool, man, I really appreciate your help. See ya Tuesday, right?” Drew asked sympathetically.

Louis managed a lopsided grin. “Yeah, where else would the kids get their confidence from, right? See ya then.”

Saturday, August 14, 2010

A long-ish short story, part one...

This is a story I've been working with off and on for a year or so now. Below is the first chapter, and subsequent chapters will be posted intermittently, as I write them or as I feel like putting them up...the first four chapters or so are already written, so they should be up in pretty quick succession, the rest following hopefully not-too-sporadically. Without further ado, the as-of-yet untitled (let me know if you have any suggestions) story of Louis and Maddie (and Same, but you'll meet him later)--

Louis stared blankly, his thick, square-framed glasses lit up by the screen in front of him in contrast to the glazed eyes behind them. It was the height of his day, watching his favorite show on his computer days after the rest of the world had seen it. His tall, lanky frame sank so deeply into the couch that his yellow t-shirt looked like just another mustard stain on the worn old sofa. After running around for five straight days—class to basketball practice to work to the library to bed and then back to do it all over again—the clean, empty feeling that accompanied the blank look was pure bliss. It was Louis’ turn to watch someone else run around for a change, and he gazed on as the characters averted crises both national and personal, as they lived their two-dimensional lives and loved their one-dimensional loves. There was no room for gray area in that world, a refreshing change for an English major. How they managed to have enough energy to fall in love after negotiating for the release of dozens of hostages was beyond him; he barely had enough energy to respond to his girlfriend’s call for dinner after a week filled to the brim with the mundane.

Nevertheless, after a heroic struggle against both the laws of gravity and his own body’s inertial desire to remain on the old sofa, Louis found himself at the card table that passed for the dining room table in his dingy apartment, boxes of Chinese already nearly spent before him and Maddie, his girlfriend. Forks and knives working in concert broke the silence intermittently. The occasional clink of ice rattling against the glasses and napkins shifting in laps broke the rhythm of the utensils, the dog’s tail thumping against the table leg providing a steady bass beat for the proceedings.

He glanced across the table at Maddie, her bright orange shirt louder than the symphony of silverware that substituted for conversation. The muted tones of the scarf she had neglected to take off when she came in out of the November chill spoke even louder—it would not be a long visit. Louis noticed this, and was sorry.

Sure enough, five minutes later, she looked up at the clock as she finished eating.

“I’ve gotta run, sweetie, I was supposed to be there two minutes ago,” she said, as she rose from the table. She had a rehearsal—clarinet tonight, guitar tomorrow. Tomorrow, though, he’d be there, too, trying to keep up (and generally failing, although she insisted he was doing fine) on his newly-acquired bass.

“Okay, I’ll see you tomorrow, right?”

“Two o’clock sharp, yeah?” she asked as gave him a quick peck on the cheek before heading for the door.

“Yeah, Ryan’s gone for the afternoon, so he won’t be here to bitch about the noise the whole time.”

“Alright,” she responded, laughing as she disappeared out the door.

Ryan, his roommate, wouldn’t be back for another few hours—there was no such thing as free time as far as Ryan was concerned, because any time not spent studying was time wasted.

He dumped the dishes in the sink and wandered back to the living room. Settling into the sofa, he flipped absentmindedly through the channels on the new flatscreen TV (ah, the priorities of college apartment living—who needs a dining room table as long as you’ve got HDTV?).

As day after ordinary day slipped past in his life, Maddie’s presence was the only thing he found extraordinary. She was endlessly patient with him, genuinely supportive of each of his dreams as he jumped from one thing to the next—he had considered everything from accountant to rock star over the past three years—and, perhaps most importantly, understood at times like these that his lack of conversation meant that he was comfortable and content, not awkward or angry.

Of course, these days, Maddie’s presence was extraordinary simply because it didn’t happen very often. It wasn’t through any fault of her own, or because they were having issues—they rarely fought, making do with congenial disagreements most of the time. No, seven months from graduation into the “real world,” she simply didn’t have time for social interaction. He didn’t blame her, and if he didn’t so desperately need these nights free of mental stimulation, he was sure he’d find himself just as busy.

There was nothing on TV. Shocker, really, for a Friday night. He settled on a basketball game, not knowing or caring who was playing. He used the time to let his mind wander, needing the free time as much to try to figure out his future as to recover from the past week. He’d be graduating with an English degree from a middle-of-the-road university—not exactly a résumé that would have employers knocking down the door for the chance to hire him. Grad school had crossed his mind, but never seriously. He didn’t love literature, certainly not enough to spend the next few years of his life crammed into a corner of the subject writing a thesis.

He wasn’t cut out for retail or food service, those two stand-bys of the indecisive. He had worked each during various summers at home from school, and had made his escape from each well before the end of summer signaled the end of his term. No, the kind folks at Foot Locker would not be happy to see him again after he mixed up the $5 and $20 bill drawers in the register, resulting in a net loss of about $500 over four days (coincidentally, this also marked the end of his accounting aspirations). Nor would Taco Bell be likely to offer him anything after he accidentally served a chicken quesadilla to a card-carrying PETA member. He was pretty sure he could still see the faint outline of a handprint on his face when he looked in the mirror from where the woman had slapped him. Neither the PETA woman nor the manager seemed to think that had been punishment enough, though, and he had been fired on the spot.

So what was next for him, then? He and Maddie had been through the same conversation countless times—

Her: Okay, so if you could do anything, anything at all next year, what would you do?

Him: I don’t know.

Her: No, I mean…okay, so regardless of qualifications or experience or any of that stuff, what would you do?

Him: No, seriously, I have no idea.

Her: Well, do you just want to make a decent living? Or isn’t there something you really, really, really want to give a try?

Him: I mean…yeah, but…I don’t know.

And on and on it would go, Maddie rephrasing the question what felt like twenty million different ways, and him replying with some variation of “I don’t know.” He smiled at the thought—only she would keep coming back to that same question, thinking the problem lay in her questions and not his answers.

It wasn’t like he didn’t have dreams—his latest remained to delay said “real world” for a couple years and bum around the country with Maddie, playing music. Of course, he realized, to do that he should probably be at least proficient on his instrument of choice. He muted the TV, got out his bass, and started struggling through the music Maddie had written.

Monday, August 2, 2010

I'm really bad at titles...

But here's something I wrote. It's not great, but I think the message is intact.

Joy abounds
in sights, in sounds,
not focused inward nor simply serene
but exploding outward like nothing we've seen.
Changing perceptions, hearts and minds
as all who seek are sure to find.
And even those who never sought
are sought themselves, their ransoms bought.
Forgiveness flows, one to another
Prodigal Son is welcomed by brother.
Peace comes with clarity
as all disparity
is wiped away
for we are equals, all, today.
But equals, not same, for same is old,
and God, in wisdom, is ever bold.
Perfected above
as God above
is God around,
our saving ground
where grace is found.
If God is here, then why should we wait?
Why continue in rejection and hate?
Is this heaven? No, I say,
this is our world's potential, today.

Friday, July 16, 2010

What I learned on my summer vacation (halfway edition)

I'm at about the halfway point for my internship experience (OK, so a little past, but I uh, might have been at the beach when the halfway point hit...yeah), so I figured it was time for some reflections. I can't really say that I had any expectations coming in, so it's tough to find a standard for comparison. As such, I think I'll talk more about lessons I've learned than about things I've done. The most striking experience I've had was a Bible study I lead last week. The text I used was the passage from Mark about Jesus and the rich young man, and I knew going in it'd be a challenging text for me. I wasn't prepared, however, for how radically I thought about it. For quite awhile now (I suppose partially because of the whole econ major thing), I've thought about how absolutely twisted our idea of necessity is in the US. We "need" a new iPhone or 3-D TV or Macbook. Technology is a status symbol in our society, as it has been in so many before ours. We are not unique in this capacity, but we are obsessed and we have so much more with which to be obsessed. I really, honestly believe that this attitude runs counter to an actually Christian life, but any of us would be hard-pressed to break it. We're so heavily socialized into being "plugged into" our culture, not realizing the cost of doing so. We're numbed from that which is important by the sheer omniscience of what is not. This is certainly not a new thought; it's been around for generations, but not much has changed, in that regard. I've felt it more distinctly recently, though, and I don't think I could live with myself if I didn't do something about it, in my own life if nothing else, but I'm not sure how to cope living outside of this culture. What else is there to do? What does life consist of when the basic necessities come to so many of us so easily? I think that's the issue we've run into with our society, that we've got what we need and are having trouble figuring out what else to do with ourselves. Until the past century, or probably even more recently, existence was a struggle for the majority. I recognize that for many, it still is, and until the attitudes of those for whom it is not undergo a drastic change, that fact will remain.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

In the "musings about the future" category...

What do I want? What does God want for me? What does God want? These are the questions, in ascending order of importance. I'm thinking it's best, now, to start working backwards from the order in which I've written them. What does God want? Well, as succinctly as possible, and in what is possibly a massive generalization, to be revealed in truth to creation and to seek relationship and be sought. It would follow, then, that God wants me to seek God out; to study, to learn, to pray, and primarily, to do. It is in action that we incite others to do the same. What good is belief if it is not transformative? What good is orthodoxy--or, to avoid the connotations, right-thinking--if it does not lead to right action? Of course, what good is right action if it is not built on a foundation of right thinking? The former is easier to answer then the latter.
The question, then, is: what is right action for me? My gifts, my blessings, and my journey mean that what is right action for me is not necessarily the same for someone else and vice versa. What we do have before us, though, is the example of Jesus' life--he was counter-cultural, but he was counter-cultural for a reason, and that reason is the love of God and the love of God's creation.
We are called by the love of God to a love of God's creation. Random acts of kindness are great; purposeful acts of kindness are better.
But what is better--to change one person, one heart, one mind, or to change the system that inevitably produces the hearts, minds, and character most prevalent in society today? Is there a better system? Can we really lift people to the station that human dignity demands simply by changing the system? I am of the belief that there is a better way, but I also think changing minds first requires changing hearts and changing perspectives. How do we go about such a grand mission?
How can we change a culture that pervades our entire lives, that claims the entirety of our reality and our consciousness? How can we convince people that we are, all of us, subject and not object? That the things we take as our objectives are simply object, to be used, enjoyed even, but not idolized? How do we convince people that these things are not a necessary part of the abundant life, and indeed can even detract from that life? It's said so often it's cliche, but yet it is still true and is still not followed. It's believed, even, but few truly adhere to it. We're just as capable of double-think as Orwell prophesied. How do we counteract that--how do I counteract that in myself? Here, I think, right-thinking comes back into play--praying, studying, reading, thinking, experiencing, reflecting--all done intentionally, with purpose. So with that in mind, what does it look like to live a Christian life today? How do we start--well, no, how do we re-start a revolution...?

And a second

One from this week. I've been on a Job kick lately (mainly because that's just where I'm at in my reading at the moment). It's so wonderfully written, it's a shame that gets overlooked sometimes:

Job 7:17-18—What are human beings, that you make so much of them, that you set your mind on them, visit them every morning, test them every moment?

The book of Job is one of my favorite books of the Bible. It is truly representative of a “thin place”—a place where the divide between human and divine seems not so large. In his despair, Job unwittingly finds God nearer than ever, available for conversation, even, though it is probably not the conversation Job would most want to have. Here, Job asks the question many of us find ourselves pondering, in both good times and bad—who are we to be children of God? What is so special about our species that we find it possible to commune with the Almighty? The question in answer to our question, though, is who is God, that God should deign to seek relationship with us? The answer to that, of course, is greater than we can ever know. God is love, and God is loving. God is patient, God is compassionate, and God is faithful. In Jesus, God is revealed, also, to be a God of suffering love. God is not abstract, not content to sit far-removed and watch creation play itself out. No, God suffers with us. Our suffering is God’s suffering, because God has created us and called us good. We are called to find joy in our suffering not because we are to be masochistic or just because our trials make us stronger, but because we have a faithful companion in our suffering, an empathetic God. Remember that, in your times of trial and tribulation—God is with us, has been with us for all time, and will be with us until the end of time and beyond. Recognize in suffering the opportunity to find those thin places, and cling to God ever more strongly as God carries you through to the other side. This is the source of our greatest blessing, and with it we should rejoice at all times!