Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Finished Art Project, An Old Story - And Now, For the A to Z!

Everything I've written recently has either been submitted or is in the can for A to Z. If you came here for a story, feel free to skip the art and go to the bottom of the post, where I've linked up an older story you might not have read.

So, I started out with a large stained wooden blanket chest and a photograph of a design the customer wanted reproduced.

I had to guess at the colors to use, as well as some of the designs - magnifying the picture gave me some details (such as the fact that the horses were merely outlined; under magnification, the wood grain showed through on the pic) but the figures and much of the scrollwork were blurred.

I opted to hand paint everything, and doing those circles was tedious and nerve wracking - I don't have the steadiest of hands. Still, the results aren't bad, and hopefully the customer will agree :-)

That's what I've been working on the past few weeks.  The A to Z Challenge starts in 4 days, so I probably won't post any more fiction until April 1st. I'm looking forward to it...and dreading it...in equal measure! 

How about you? Are you participating? Any cool projects in the works?

If you came here to read a story, here's one you might not have read from last year:  Felony

Thursday, March 22, 2012

What Are You Wearing? - Flash Fiction

One of those days, spilled coffee and the bathroom drain clogged and she's wrestling with the vacuum cleaner bag when the phone rings. It's the Governor; she recognizes his voice, and when he pauses she begins to reply, then realizes that it's an automated message and bangs the receiver down. The cleaner bag bursts and releases a storm of dust and dog hair, which sticks to her sweat soaked face and neck and the phone rings again. This time she listens before saying hello and hears ringing and voices in the background, a boiler room operation drumming up business or donations and she hangs up while congratulating herself on dodging that particular bullet. She stands with hands on hips, wondering how one cleans up a mess from a vacuum cleaner without said cleaner, the phone rings yet again and she doesn't answer it so much as wring its plastic neck, gripping the receiver like a vise and wincing as it strikes her ear. A husky male voice says

"Hey babe what are you wearing..."

...and it's too much, she smashes the phone on the kitchen counter, over and over, the slime ball, the pervert, as if it weren't enough that she was tired and angry and dirty and sweaty, now she feels her stomach balling up with fear and the call can't be traced anyway now that she's killed the messenger. The calendar on the wall is askew and as she carefully straightens it by matching it to its clean shadow, she sees that tonight is her husband's office party and she should be getting ready. It's the last straw, she pours herself a drink and walks into the living room to properly prepare herself.

He walks in at six o'clock and she lights into him before he can take his coat off, not just haranguing him for forgetting to remind her of the party but carefully listing everything he has ever done in their twelve years of marriage that angered or irritated her.

It's a very long list.
He clears his throat several times. He has a cold.

"I tried to call you earlier. I wanted to know what you were wearing..."

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Current Art Project: Or, Yet Another Excuse Not To Write.

Well, it's not entirely an excuse.  As you may know, I do some folk art painting for a local craftsman, primarily wooden bowls, saffron cups, pencil cases, etc. He recommended me to a local chap who restores antique cars, built a stagecoach from scratch - and has started building cedar blanket chests.  He'd like them painted with traditional Pennsylvania German motifs and "fancywork". Trouble is, I've never done a project this big, and he wants a reproduction of a particular chest - and the only photo is of poor quality and black & white.  Which means a lot of research, and guesswork, as to some of the detail and colors.

Oh well, I do like a challenge. So here are a few "before" photos as I get underway, and I'll post another when I finish.

All of the work, including pinstriping and scrolling, will be done by hand - no masking tape, stencils, etc.  This will lend some charm to it (I hope) and is in keeping with traditional work from the 1700 and 1800s.

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I just thought I'd throw in a pic of my fave painted river rock - a cheetah.

So that's what I'll be doing over the next few weeks.  (Then there's the A to Z Challenge.)  Oh, and I've buggered up the blog header. Need to get to that.


Do you have creative outlets besides writing and/or blogging?

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The A to Z Challenge: Topics You Could Use (But May Not Want To)

So, the A to Z Challenge starts next month.
It's not too late to sign up - last time I checked, there were 900+ entrants. Stuck for an idea?

Don't Hang Your Head!
 Here are a few.

Ways the world could end.
Recipes featuring Spam Luncheon Meat. (Might be a little difficult.)
People you'd like to see as world leader. (You may, of course, include me.)
One hit music wonders. (Song titles, soundtrack and album titles to make it easier)
Celebs who have no business being referred to as celebs.
Worthwhile charities to support.
Things your mother told you which turned out to be correct.
Endangered species.
Ways to prepare for the zombie apocalypse.
Useful internet sites people may not be familiar with.
Mistakes guaranteed to get your query letter used as a source of endless amusement among agents.
Uses for Sharpie markers.
Cool facts/places from your home town.
Excuses you use to get out of writing. (Or work. Or school. Or family events.)
Best/worst places in the world to visit/vacation.
Medical terms.
Terms for things that no one knows. (Begin with A is for aglet...)
Names, their origins and what they mean.
Great inventions. (Bonus: you get to use Xerox!)
Idioms and sayings.
Parasites. Please provide photos to increase the yuck factor.

So come on, if you haven't joined up, give it a shot. There are lots of themes and topics out there - or you can just use the "seat of your pants" and use a different topic every day. A to Z starts April 1st - I'll be trying to write fresh stories, poetry or creative nonfiction for each post. See you there!

On a side note: I'm prepping some posts ahead of time, and also working on an art project in addition to my job, so I might not be around too much over the next few weeks.  :-)

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Monkey House - Flash Fiction

Watery sunlight has tricked me into thinking that's it's warmer outside than it is.  A Beaux-Arts structure nearby beckons as respite from the winter cold; as I close in upon it, I feel the familiar nausea and excitement that always heralds a collision between past and present.  Sure enough, there is a flash of movement in the tree to my right, another on the roof.  A woman in a long dress is sitting on a bench, oblivious to the fact that a gorilla is calmly sitting a few feet away, watching the people go by.

Glancing upward, the stone statuary against the sky tells me that it is the Monkey House.  My mother has never forgotten that a childhood trip to a zoo resulted in my vomiting during a visit to the primate house due to the smell.  Any time a room was hot, stuffy and odorous, she responded with "it smells like the monkey house in here".  I enter anyway.

Inside there are modern glassed-in enclosures with capuchins, squirrel monkeys and other smaller species.  The days of housing large primates in tiny enclosures are, fortunately, in the past. The children in front of me are disappointed, having expected to see chimpanzees up close.  Their harried escort threatens to turn them over to the zoo.

"They don't put people in cages," the youngster replied with a sneer.

An older bystander cleared his throat.  "Actually, they once did. Back at the turn of the century, the zoo displayed a pygmy named Ota Benda for a couple of days, along with an orangutan."

The boy looked as him open-mouthed, then to the man I took to be his father, who shrugged. "Things were different back then. Poor people, blacks, immigrants - they were treated like animals. Because they didn't think that they had souls."

I've trained my senses to categorize, disregard or enhance certain input.  Breathing deeply, I ignore the odors of sweat, clothing, popcorn and disinfectant;  underneath is what I am waiting for, the pure smell of age.  There are places in this world where time is as flimsy as cellophane wrap and where joy, fear and sadness permeate the very stones.  Unknowingly we breathe in the molecules of past experience and call it nostalgia.

Once outside, I remove my precious camera from its bag.  One day, they say that film will be gone forever, but somehow when I need it, I can always find it.  The pictures that I take will reveal, once and for all, whether this is a Special Place. Most of my photographs are returned from the lab colored in the ordinary manner, but once in a while a building or object will appear in a tea-colored sepia.

There is no rational explanation for it.

The woman and the gorilla, who I now know is Makoko , are still at their posts;  but although they appear in the viewfinder, I know that they will not be captured. Denizens of bygone eras seldom are, at least not by me.

I never choose these spots; they choose me, for whatever reason.

It's time for me to leave, although a barking sea lion is calling somewhere in the park for more attention, more applause, more fish. In the photograph, his eyes will appear liquid brown, the water blue.

I will not be back again.

The Monkey House is now closed.

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Author's note: While this is a work of fiction (my first attempt at magical realism), the following links will lead you to articles concerning the 1906 exhibition of Ota Benga and the death of Makoko as well as info on the Bronx Zoo. The Monkey House recently closed but is a Historical Landmark and therefore will probably be repurposed.

Ota Benga on Wikipedia 

The Death of Makoko the Gorilla

Bronx Zoo, NYC

Monday, March 5, 2012

Dying Words - Flash Fiction

Jivaro shrunken head
Photo: Jivaro shrunken head, courtesy salangome.com,  via Softpedia
Markel, aglow with his brand new degree in Language Reclamation, had spent weeks locating Mursa, the last known speaker of the Zpetylka language. The old woman had promptly squelched any hope of recording or documenting his interview by demanding $50,000.  After all, plane loads of wealthy tourists from the mainland paid good money to be photographed with her and to listen to the tales she told with grunts and gutturals.  The continuation of her culture through storytelling meant nothing to her;  what good would it do her after death? Her only child had never spoken a word, and everyone knew that the language of the afterlife was English.

Then word came of another possible speaker, only 30 miles or so up the river. Markel dutifully hired a guide and lost a pint of blood to mosquitoes in pursuit of this new grail.  If it was true, then Markel might be able to bring her back to the village so that she and Mursa, that banausic primipara, could converse, cooperate and assist him in translating Mursa's stories for all the world to read.

Alas, he was several weeks too late. When he arrived and asked to see the woman, he was startled to be presented to a shrunken head nailed to a tree.  Frantic gesticulation resulted in the appearance of a drinking vessel filled with bilious liquid and floating detritus which the linguist took to be a hallucinogenic concoction of chewed leaves and copious amounts of saliva.  He couldn't make out if it was to facilitate conversation with the head or to placate him in his obvious disappointment and distress.

It was accompanied by the inevitable bowl of crispy salted insects.

Choosing to forgo Happy Hour, Markel made his dejected way back to the canoe and they set off for the closest village to an airstrip, sixty miles in the opposite direction.  Riddled with parasites, shaking with fever and sporting a decidedly yellowish cast to his skin, the lover of languages blessed the little plane which would carry him home and flung a few choice epithets at the porter who had snatched his satellite phone and flung it at a peccary to chase it off.  You would think the idiot would have been armed with something other than an ancient flare gun which had promptly jammed.  The porter was equally irate that his accuracy had not been acknowledged.  You would think the idiot would have known the difficulty of hitting a wild pig directly on the snout.

The University had been less than pleased to see him return empty-handed, and calls from successful and grateful alumni  soon produced the $50,000 required by Mersa to share her trove of Zpetylka tales with the civilized world.  Off to the jungle Markel went, to film the old hag and her theatrical performance, contracting fine cases of schistosomiasis and jungle rot in the process.  It was none too soon, as the Last Speaker of Zpetylka passed away peacefully in front of the village's single treasured television set that evening.

Back home, and definitely to stay this time, Markel and his graduate students went to work, carefully parsing and translating the language in all of it's groaning and spittle strewn glory. There were tales of magic, adaptive island living, the cobbling together of what seemed to be modern devices from the rudimentary leavings of nature.  Markel saw fame and fortune dangling before him.  Halfway through, one of his students stopped and cleared his throat.

"What is it?" asked Markel, still looking somewhat skeletal after his recent bouts of flux.

"Umm...these stories.  I know them."

Markel licked his dry lips and felt his stomach contract.

"How," he whispered.

"They're all from the show Gilligan's Island."

And so the Last Speaker of Zpetylka, who might not have even been speaking Zpetylka for all anyone knew, disappeared along with the language and the culture of a tribe which may, or may not, have ever existed.  But she had added one thing to history;  Gilligan's island can now be viewed with Zpetylka subtitles.

Mr. Markel is now preparing a paper on the evolution of, and current cultural importance of, μιμεῖσθαι mimeisthai (memes).  He is accepting donations on his blog Dead Languages Deserve To Be Dead toward paying off the $50,000 owed to the Alumni.

Sample:  flash fiction

Friday, March 2, 2012

A Superior Being - Guest Flash

Having been under the weather lately, my good friend Born Storyteller (Stuart Nager) has kindly provided me with a guest flash this week. You can also pay him a visit at his fiction site TaleSpinning . Enjoy! (And many thanks to you, Stu.)

“A superior being am I,” for so he thought, and this led to young Jack’s disdain for the everyday life that surrounded him. His parents built these airs into him. At nineteen, his feet followed a path away from his hometown, where his ego had taken him long ago.

His travails only reinforced in his mind how truly exceptional he felt. His bearing led others to assume the best of him; they afforded him all of the privileges they thought should be accorded to one such as he.  Jack did not need to voice his needs or desires: they were readily supplied, whatever time of day or night.

He walked to the ends of the Earth, for he felt this was truly the only worthy destination. Jack stood, alone, in the early hours of that night, staring into the darkness around him and the gleaming heavens above. Backlit clouds danced in front of the sepulchral skies, blotting out patches of star light, only to move along at a quick pace, replaced by open patches of absolute blackness.

The first light of day came, breaking illumination upon where Jack waited. The opalescent magnificence stunned Jack and for the first time in his life, he was humbled.