Tag Archives: Personal Essay

The Big Gay Note by Cody Wagner

May first crush was on my eighth grade gym teacher. To protect the innocent, we’ll call him Coach Hottie. Coach Hottie was gruff and demanding and every gay eighth grade boy’s dream.

Despite the 35-year age gap, and the fact that I was only 13, which made the possibility of a relationship very very illegal, my teenage naiveté convinced me there was absolutely nothing wrong with the idea of our being a couple. In fact, I imagined us holding hands down the halls of Pampa Middle School, everyone eying us jealously. I even imagined wearing matching coach shorts to show my dedication as we strutted around. Sure, the entire school was homophobic, but my mind concocted amazing stories of love and acceptance. And they all hinged on a relationship with Coach Hottie.

And so I pursued him.

I found every reason to stay after gym class and offer to help with his paperwork (although I had no idea what he actually did). I volunteered to skip dodge ball to clean equipment racks for him. I even offered to wash his clothes in case his “washing machine ever broke, or, you know, whatever.”

The big problem – besides the aforementioned illegalness (OK I thought I made up a new word but ‘illegalness’ isn’t being corrected.) – was the fact Coach Hottie was very straight. And he acted like I barely existed. Therefore, my interest in him started to waver a bit over the course of a year.

Then came the Towel Incident ™.

Eighth grade gym was the only year I was ever forced to shower. After every class, we had to strip down and rinse off. Eighth graders are disgusting, so it was the school’s way of cleaning us up after we hit each other in the face with big red balls for an hour. The problem was, the idea of getting naked in front of my peers terrified me. After all, I was gay and, um, my hormones were raging.

Consequently, I was always the last student to get naked. I’d strip down, throw a towel around my waist, and go stand near the showers. But I wouldn’t bare all and shower yet. No, I had to stand there, convincing myself everything would remain calm and I wouldn’t get beaten up.

One day, as I stood there talking myself down, I heard, “Wagner, take off your towel and shower!”

It was Coach Hottie.

Immediately, my face flushed and my entire body tingled. Sure, he was just frustrated and trying to end the class. But my juvenile mind interpreted the Towel Incident very differently. My first and only thought was, He wants to see me naked!

And thus my crush was kicked into overdrive.

That night, I decided I had to come clean (pardon the pun). Trembling, I sat down and wrote a love note to Coach Hottie. I wrote that I was gay. And for the first time, I poured my feelings out. The note was long, emotional and perfect.

I sat back and stared at my masterpiece. Grinning, I grabbed an envelope and carefully wrote “To: Coach Hottie”. I debated drawing little hearts on it, but decided to let the note speak for itself.

After folding and sliding the paper inside, I sat back imagining Coach Hottie’s response. He’d be skeptical opening the note. He might even tell me he didn’t have time. After reading a few sentences, though, his expression would change. A tear would probably fall from his left eye. He’d drop the note and say, “How did you know?” I’d just smile and shrug as we leaned in for our first kiss.

Hugging the note, I placed it on my desk before bed. Then I tucked myself in, imagining the joy the following day would bring.

Thank God rational thought hit me in the middle of the night.

I don’t know what did it, but I shot up at 3:00AM thinking, What in the hell am I doing? It was the first sensible thing I’d thought in years. Part of me thinks a future version of myself sent eighth grade Cody a dream message. Either way, I hopped out of bed and tore up the note before I could stop myself.

For some reason, the insanity of what I’d done eased my crush on Coach Hottie. And something else began building up in my head. Despite the fact I never gave Coach Hottie the note, it was still the first time I’d ever written I was gay. That stuck!. Putting the words on paper actually made it real.

After that night, I really began to realize who and what I was.

It stuck with me so intensely that, when I wrote my novel, The Gay Teen’s Guide to Defeating a Siren, I knew I had to include that scene. In the book, my main character doesn’t write a love note. Instead, he writes that he’s gay out of pure frustration. Instead of tearing the note up, it ends up outing him.

The note solidified who I was, so I figured I’d let it kick start my character’s life. Only, because it’s fiction and I could let my imagination run wild, I did so in a way where the note would take him somewhere he’d never imagine or expect. I hope he thanks me for it when he’s all said and done.

Who knows, maybe he can write me a little note.
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About the Author
Cody Wagner loves to sing, mime (not really), and create. He writes about topics ranging from superpowers to literate trees (really). His award-winning debut novel, The Gay Teen’s Guide to Defeating a Siren, recently “came out”. See what he did there? Cody dealt with bullying as a teen and wanted to provide a fun escape for all the underdogs out there. He’s also handing out cookie dough to everyone who grabs a copy. Check out his writing and see more of his wackiness at www.wagner-writer.com or find him on Twitter @cfjwagner, Goodreads at www.goodreads.com/wagner_writer, and Amazon at www.amazon.com/Cody-Wagner/e/B016NYGV40.

When in Doubt, Make a Fool of Yourself By Joyce Elferdink

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“When in doubt, make a fool of yourself. There is a microscopically thin line between being brilliantly creative and acting like the most gigantic idiot on earth. So what the hell, leap.”
– Cynthia Heimel, writer and columnist

I have struggled in all my careers to follow others’ rules. To envision ways of doing things or solving problems that deviate from the norm is risky, but for some of us it must be tried. For example, during the time I was an economic director in Indiana, one of my board members had ideas for improving the local K-12 school system. His suggestions were a direct response to the issues of the time. Surveying parents and community leaders assured him of the feasibility of implementing these changes. But another board member answered to the school’s superintendent. As with so many in positions of power in our larger institutions, the superintendent would not consider ideas he had not initiated, ideas that could have transformed that school system from mediocre to extraordinary. But the changes did not come with a money-back guarantee and the superintendent preferred the ways he knew and believed he could control.

I supported the board member who wanted a better learning environment for the students. That “leap” across the thin line between creativity and idiocy, between supporting inventive methods instead of the broken status quo, cost me my job. Did I make a fool of myself? There are those who would say yes, but others believe with me that complacency in the midst of turmoil is the true foolishness.

Our world is desperate for visionaries who will show us how to bridge the chasms between people and between our dreams and experiences. Are you willing to make a fool of yourself by stepping into the unfamiliar and enduring–though opposed–or will you be lost in the crowds who dismiss or oppose everything they can’t rationally prove?

Rationalists, wearing square hats,
Think, in square rooms,
Looking at the floor,
Looking at the ceiling,
They confine themselves
To right-angled triangles.
If they tried rhomboids,
Cones, waving lines, ellipses—
As, for example, the ellipse of the half moon—
Rationalists would wear sombreros.

Stevens, Wallace. “Six Significant Landscapes.” (1969, p. 183)

 

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Joyce Elferdink has finally come close to achieving her goal implanted long ago after reading Gift from the Sea: to live a balanced life, where each day includes time for self, for relationships, for nature, and for meaningful, creative work. She has never forgotten what Ann Morrow Lindbergh wrote about individuals “often trying, like me, to evolve another rhythm with more creative pauses in it, more adjustment to their individual needs, and new and more alive relationships to themselves as well as others.”

SOME STORIES HAVE NO ENDINGS by Bonnie Hearn Hill

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Winter had settled in, and Central California carried a sharp, stringing cold that made me appreciate the warmth of the classroom as I entered it that night. With a year of teaching writing behind me, and several students who were now published, I had gained confidence in my ability to help other writers reach their goals.

That night just after class began, an attractive, dark-haired woman dressed in white entered the room, walked to the back, and slid into a seat next to Raquel Aleman, one of my regulars.

With shaking hands, Raquel read an essay that night. Unlike her bilingual children’s stories, “I Fought Back” described Raquel’s abusive marriage and her struggle to overcome her fear when her husband shoved her into the bedroom closet as he frequently did when he brought women to their home. This time, she burst out and confronted both the shaken husband and his woman.

When Raquel finished reading, everyone applauded, the first time that had happened in my class.

As students praised Raquel, the woman in white looked straight ahead, as if she didn’t hear.

“I’ve never told this to anyone,” Raquel said to the class. “I can’t begin to explain how free I feel, and how scared.”

We talked then about how the only things that own us are those of which we cannot speak. We talked about possible markets for her essay. Although we critiqued numerous manuscripts that night, Raquel’s was the one everyone praised as they left the room.

Usually quiet, she was animated as she paused at the door. “See you at the Robin,” she told me.

After class each week, many of us met at Red Robin, and some of our best ideas happened there. This was the first night Raquel would join us.

Students continued to file out until only the woman in white and I remained. Her black hair was pulled back from her face, her lips a deep red. Those are the only details I recall, and even they are suspect. When I think about her now, I’m sure she wore a white suit. In other attempts to recall her, I’ve told myself it was a white dress similar to one I used to own.

We stepped outside, and I started toward my car. “Which way are you heading?” I asked.

“The same way you are, I think.” Her voice was low and controlled.

Panic attacks hid out in the parking lot. Lights could play in weird ways, and even when I thought I was balanced and happy, a crippling wave waited behind every corner. I was grateful to have this stranger with me, grateful and curious. Side by side, we headed through the cold night air toward the parking lot, and I wondered if I should invite her to meet us at Red Robin.

“I liked your class,” she said. “I’m sorry I joined late. I just saw it in the school catalog yesterday.”

“I’m glad you came,” I told her. “Have you written before?”

“Only journals, but I can never get it down. I thought maybe this would help.”

We reached my car, and I leaned against the back passenger door. Something was making me anxious. If I didn’t have the solid surface against my back, I wouldn’t have been able to stand there.

“Maybe it’s time,” I said. “I’ve heard that when the student is ready, the teacher appears.”

“I hope so.” She spoke in a clear tone devoid of emotion. “Several years ago, my daughter was killed by a drunk driver.”

I hadn’t expected that, and certainly not in such a calm, practiced tone. “I’m so sorry,” I said. “I didn’t mean to get too personal.”

“Don’t apologize. I wanted to tell you. It destroyed my life.” Again, she spoke in a matter-of-fact way, as if she had rehearsed this speech for me. “Almost a year after that, my son died of a drug overdose.”

“That’s terrible. What did you do?” I didn’t know how else to respond.

“Part of me was furious with him for doing that, especially since he knew that my daughter’s death had nearly destroyed me. I was so devastated, so…” She stopped and stepped back as if she had second thoughts. “I know you want to go meet the others. Is it okay for me to tell you this?”

“It’s okay.” I felt glued to the ground. For whatever reason, I needed to listen to her.

She sighed, as if attempting to collect her thoughts. “I went to work for the IRS. It was easy because no one cared, and everything was rigid. I had to be on time. I couldn’t talk to anyone. Do you understand?”

“In a way I do,” I said. “You didn’t want to feel.”

“Do you think writing will help?” she asked.

“All I can tell you is it’s a great healer.”

“I believe that.” She glanced around the dim parking lot at the other students who were laughing and talking just a few feet from us. “I can’t share this with anyone at work. I set it up that way, of course. My marriage is over. Both of my children are dead. I’m not just grieving. I’m angry.”

“You’ll be safe here.” I believed that, and I felt connected to her and to the honesty of her words. “If you don’t want to read in class, you don’t have to. Just try to start writing what you feel. Don’t edit yourself or worry about what anyone will think. No one will see it unless you want them to, I promise.”

“That’s what I need.” For the first time, she smiled. “When I heard Raquel read tonight, I wondered how it would feel to be that open.”

“Raquel didn’t get there overnight,” I said. She got there by doing the work.”

The last car left the lot, and I realized my hands were numb from the cold.

The woman glanced at me and then at her watch, although I doubt that she could have seen it in the darkness. “I’m so sorry I took your time. I have never told anyone what I shared with you just now.”

“It’s all right,” I told her. “Remember what I said about healing. I know writing can do that for you. It has for me.”

We talked longer, close to thirty minutes.

Then I watched her walk to her car and realized that I had somehow slipped into panic mode. I, who had been leaning against the passenger door, was so weak that I had to feel my way to get into the driver’s seat. Inside, I took deep breaths and tried to calm the crazed flutter of my heart. It was as if I were expressing the anxiety the woman in white could not.

She never returned.

At first, I made excuses. Perhaps she had to work late. Maybe something else had come up. But the moment I walked into my classroom the next week and saw the empty seat next to Raquel, I knew.

“It’s because she confessed to you,” a friend told me later. “Every time she looked at you, she would have to remember.”

I wonder.

What happened to the woman in white? Why didn’t she return? Did she ever write? Could I have said or done something to encourage her?

At first, I thought I had failed her. Then I had to remind myself that our encounter that night was about her, not about me. I may have been only one person on her path to share that story, only one of many strangers who would bring her closer to coming to grips with it.

Raquel sold her personal essay that year and much later, her memoir. In the twenty years I taught that class, we celebrated many successes, including my book deal with a major publisher for my first six suspense novels.

For a long time, I tried to remember the name of the woman in white, as if that detail would anchor other memories and maybe an explanation. I can’t believe that I would let a student float in and out of my classroom without asking her name.

Some stories have no endings, no structure to contain them, no red bows on top. When I share with others what I recall of this one, I always hear the same question. “Could you have imagined her?”

I’ve asked myself that as well. No one else with whom I’ve discussed it, including Raquel, remembers seeing her that evening.

Was the woman in white some part of me, a metaphor for that quality in all of us who dare to confront our pain and try to put our voices on paper? Was she part of my own healing?

No. The woman in my classroom and that parking lot was a real as I am. One night many years ago, she stepped into my life and allowed me a glimpse into hers. Even now, I’m not sure what I saw, or why.

 

 

Bonnie Hearn Hill’s many mysteries can be found at http://www.amazon.com/Bonnie-Hearn-Hill/e/B001HMUYPQ

The Need to Rescue Horses by Kathleen Ball

My last series Cowboy Seasons highlighted to need for rescue horses. I did a lot of research but it wasn’t until I rescued one myself that I realized just how cruelly some horses are treated.

A few months ago I received an urgent message about a man who had collected a great many horses and was going to sell them south of the border. He bought them at auction, from Craig’s list and ads in the papers. His purpose- buy low- $25.00 or sometimes free, load them into a truck and sell them to slaughter houses in Mexico.

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He refused to do the right thing and give them up, but he was willing to sell them to buyers. This is Sparrow. I paid $250.00 for her to live.

She’s only three years old. They had to use a hoist to get her to the Crossfire Rescue. The vet said she was weeks away from organ failure. She stayed at the rescue for a few weeks until she was able to make the trip to Fort Worth.

The first time I saw her I cried. Pictures are vivid but seeing her so afraid and shaking broke my heart. She was a big bag of bones. It crossed my mind, we’d have to put her down. It may be more humane.

Sparrow can’t eat hay without choking. Her esophagus is plagued by scar tissue. Starving horses will eat anything they can find: rocks, twigs, or the side of a barn. How anyone could allow a horse to get to such a state of starvation boggles my mind. Looking into her eyes, I see intelligence and a will to live.

She had not been handled by people. She’s not halter broke and she’s head shy. She needs training and I found a wonderful place to board her and the caring woman who owns it is going to start training her.

I don’t care if she’ll ever be able to be ridden. I just want her to be able to go out into the pasture. Right now, she won’t come when called and there is the fear we’d never catch her to put her back into her stall.

We’ve bonded. She was in a round pen for a while and I’d go in there and just talk to her, not trying to touch her. The next thing I knew she was following me – slowly over time she began to walk next to me.

Her food has to be soaked in water, so she doesn’t choke. Slowly she has gained weight. She comes to the stall door when she sees me and allows me to touch her and brush her.

I know next to nothing about how to care for a horse. I’m learning but I don’t have the confidence needed to train a scared horse. I’m fortunate to have found someone who can do it for me.

Horses live a long life. They are not pets you can just discard or throw away. I’m just glad Sparrow now has a forever home and is much loved.

There is no shame in surrendering your horse to the humane society if you are unable to care for it. Horses are expensive. Feed, hay, farrier visits, veterinarian care, land for them to thrive is expensive. To allow a horse to starve is beyond cruel.

Horse rescues are amazing. They make it their mission to save as many horses as they can and many rely on donations to keep afloat.

Horses used to be valued. They were a means of transportation for many on the West. Unfortunately, like many things today, they have become disposable.

Sparrow now-

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Sexy Cowboys and the women who love them…

Finalist in the 2012 RONE Awards.
Finalist 2015 RONE Award
Top Pick, Five Star Series from the Romance Review.

Kathleen Ball writes contemporary western romance with great emotion and memorable characters. Her books are award winners and have appeared on best sellers lists including Amazon’s Best Sellers List, All Romance Ebooks, Bookstrand, Desert Breeze Publishing and Secret Cravings Publishing Best Sellers list. She is the recipient of eight Editor’s Choice Awards, and The Readers’ Choice Award for Ryelee’s Cowboy.

There’s something about a cowboy….

***Order of my Books***

Lasso Spring Series
Callie’s Heart
Lone Star Joy
Stetson’s Storm

Dawson Ranch Series
Texas Haven- FREE
Ryelee’s Cowboy

Cowboy Seasons Series
Summer’s Desire
Autumn’s Hope
Winter’s Embrace
Spring’s Delight

Mail Order Brides of Texas

Cinder’s Bride

http://www.kathleenballromance.com
Facebook Fan Page- https://www.facebook.com/pages/Kathleen-Ball-Western-Romance/121300767916947

@kballauthor

Power of the Common Person  By Delinda McCann

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Power is a curious force.  We read about Wellington and Admiral Nelson, or on this side of the pond, we learn about George Washington, Robert E. Lee, and General Ulysses S. Grant.  They were all powerful men to be sure. Still, where would a great general be without his soldiers?

We the people are the true greatest power on earth.  Consider the teacher in the classroom, teaching children to read, do math and express themselves.  No wonder politicians think we have a crisis in education.  Those common, underpaid, over worked citizens hold in their classrooms the power to topple the most powerful political regime simply by educating the children in their care to think and to reason. Knowledge is a very dangerous thing.

Think about the common builder who holds the power and knowledge to build a house or a whole community of homes.  He can actually create something of lasting value to the community.  Any bully can destroy, but true power lies with those who create and build something that lasts beyond their lifetime.

In the eighties, a musician in Russia got an idea.  I’m not certain I ever learned his name.  He composed an hour long program of music for children.  He joined with more common people and found funding.  He found the children of common citizens and taught them his music.  They traveled the world singing with children from the countries they visited.  In Seattle, my daughter sang with this group as about four hundred children took to the stage to sing about peace, hope and loving your neighbor.  This was at the height of the cold war when our President was spending trillions on a star wars program capable of destroying the Soviet Union. That is, while the power elite set about destroying economies and promoting the misery of many people, the children where changing hearts and giving people hope for the future.  I’ll vote for the children as the greater power.

When you sit back and think about it, you will realize that the common people of this world are busy as an ant hill creating beauty and new technologies.  All the power elite in all of history have not created the change created by common, often lazy, people finding a better way to do a tedious job.  It is the labor of thousands of ordinary citizens that build our airplanes, grow our food, make our roads and read our novels that keep civilization intact.  How many people go to work in the morning to labor at a job then come home to garden, knit cook and tinker in the garage.  The power of all those busy people is a force to be reckoned with and feared by the destructive bullies of our world.

So what do we the people do with our power?  Too often we sit back and ignore the bullies as they go about destroying communities and spreading fear.  We can do better.

First we need to decide whose side we are on.  Do we want to hang with the bullies and spread fear, hate and destruction?  A large section of our population does.

At the end of the day, I can only conclude that the common builders, laborers, teachers, poets, architects, tinkerers and writers have the greatest power.  Choosing to build is not always easy when the fear is thick around us.  It takes real courage to choose not to give in to the fear.  It takes real determination to educate oneself.  It takes wisdom to listen to other’s opinions without prejudice.  In the end it takes the power of the humble person to choose the path of the builder.

A social psychologist, Delinda McCann has dedicated her life to making this a better world. You can find her books at http://www.amazon.com/Delinda-McCann/e/B00785DSMW

CHAOS IN YOUR LIFE AND HOW PRAYER CHANGES THINGS by Louise Malbon-Reddix

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Chaos is defined as complete disorder and confusion. Living here in the Washington, DC Metropolitan area, chaos is seen, felt and heard when a little snow falls in the area.  It is a mad dash and scrambles to put into place all of the known measures to keep the public safe during the snowfall.  It can range from school delays and/or closing.  Late arrivals to work,  owing to now having to find child care for children and preparations to your own home for safety before the venture out into the community at large.

Chaos is also defined as behavior so unpredictable as to appear random, owing to great sensitivity to small changes in conditions. An example of this is living life in general and coming up against situations that occur therein both expected and unexpected. Like when you get that something isn’t quite right feeling in your gut, when the expected turns out to be not what you expected. Or, when the expected comes but one is not emotionally prepared to deal with it.  And even more when the unexpected comes.

There has been a lot of talk and speculation as to whether or not prayer can have an effect on or is actually even a useful thing to do when a state of chaos has occurred in one’s life and that state of chaos is threatening or has become distress.

Mathematics is the study of numbers, equations, functions and geometric shapes and their relationships.  And it is characterized by the use of strict proofs based on axioms. An axiom or postulate is a premise or starting point of reasoning.  And it is a premise that is so evident, that is accepted to be true without controversy. Then, axioms are both logical and non-logical. Logical axioms are those that are accepted without controversy.  Non-logical axioms are a formal logical expression used in deduction to build a mathematical theory.

To help make that a little easier, let us look to the weather and to butterflies. When the weatherman’s predictions are off, it is not his fault totally.  It is the butterflies that have changed the conditions of his/her report. Yes butterflies!!!  You know, just like when we see them and they fly here and then they fly there.  Up and down,  and just a flapping their little wings. This too, has a name in mathematics and is called the Chaos Theory. The Chaos Theory concerns deterministic systems whose behavior can in principle be predicted. Translation, they can be predictable for a while and then they become random.  So if the weatherman is relying on yesterday’s predictions to make his forecast, he will more than likely miss telling you to take your umbrella with you today. All because this morning a group of butterflies have flapped their wings and have changed the weather picture enormously. And failing to take into account a butterfly flapping its wings in a distant country could result in not being aware of that thunderstorm which appears to have come out of nowhere.

We are made of water, bones and tissues, which carry electrical charges and are the makeup of bioelectrical fields within our bodies. Through the use of mathematical formulas, physicians can place those stickers or electrodes on your body and come out with an actual tracing of the activity of your heart. And, just as the butterfly has the ability to affect the weather, the electromagnetic field of humans produce an electrical field that can be interpreted mathematically and through it have a response on self and others.

And so it is in life, when those situations show up in your life, expected and unexpected: chaos, it seems that something directed from that electromagnetic field should have an effect on that chaos that shows up there. Some call it intentionality and if it is for others, distant intentionality or just simply prayer.

There are studies out there that agree with the fact that prayer can help patients to heal. Below is a link to a physician who himself now believes that prayer can heal.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_IDlvrHIZ4M

And here is a thought. If I came across a snake, I would be thrown in to instant chaos and fear.  On the ground, it can use its massive muscles to overpower you and if it gets it’s fangs in you and it is poisonous, we know what happens next.

But when an eagle encounters a snake, the snake is picked up in its massive claws and taken up into the air where it is powerless. In the air, it is still a snake, but it has been rendered ineffective and harmless as it has no way to execute its normal way of inflicting harm.

That to me is a good example of how prayer can exert a change on the “chaos” that has presented itself in your life. When you close your eyes, the eagle in effect has picked up the snake and lifted him in the air.  You no longer see what the offending chaos is.  And if you take a deep breath and allow yourself to relax, you can exert an effect on the chemical balance in your bio-electric field. Or even if you are not able to take a deep breath, but are able to pray, it won’t be long before your bioelectric field is affected as well. In the natural, for sure, the problem is still there, but praying that problem then becomes the problem of the one you are praying to.

I would be remiss if I did not mention here, that prayer is one of the things that helped me to get through some of the grief from the death of my husband. It lifted it up enough to help me to get to a point to be able to write Stand In Your Anointment – This Too Shall Pass!

Louise Malbon-Reddix is the Author of: Stand In Your Anointment – This Too Shall Pass! Learn more and purchase her book at: http://www.amazon.com/author/louisempc

LIFE AS A STORY… by R.J. Ellory

b A couple of weeks ago I acknowledged my fiftieth birthday. Of course, even though it was acknowledged as something significant, I was merely one day older than I had been the previous day. Such is the way with all birthdays. We annually celebrate the day we showed up, and folks buy you stuff and send you cards and tell you, ‘Thanks for still being here’.

My personal beliefs go a great deal further than the current body I inhabit.
I am of the unshakeable view that Man is not a body. Man does not have a soul or a spirit. He is one.

I think that Man – as a spiritual identity – has been around for a very long time.

Tying in with age-old Buddhist beliefs, Man occupies a body as a driver occupies a car. The body is a vehicle for the spirit, and nothing more.

The intelligence, wit, ideas, thoughts, creativity, personality, likes and dislikes of the individual are the individual themselves. They are him or her. They are the spirit. They are not the body or the brain.

Some ‘mental’ studies have gone off the rails due to the fact that ‘mental’, ‘emotional’ and ‘spiritual’ traumas have been afforded a physical cause (from the brain), thus efforts to operate or shock or drug someone ‘better’ have been undertaken. They are addressing the wrong source of the problem. I am of the view that the brain does not think or create or decide or remember anything. When the body dies the brain dies, but the person is still there.

So, you are born, at least physically. I think that you – as a spirit – have come from somewhere. I think that you bring a great deal of information and baggage with you. I think you have lived earlier lives, and have possessed earlier identities. Sometimes, rarely, little bits of those earlier lives are left intact, hence children can remember things for which we really have no explanation. We tell them it’s imagination, but it isn’t. I think it’s actually very hurtful for a child to be told that he is imagining things that he or she can actually remember. It’s the same to be told you’re a liar when you’re not. Even in adulthood, some of those memories reappear – unexpectedly, inadvertently – and we call them déjà vu or intuition or perception. Sometimes we just know things and we have absolutely no explanation for why we know them. Sometimes we experience love at first sight or an instant dislike, and these things – I believe – cannot be explained in purely physical terms.

Anyway, I digress. I am just putting the significance of a fiftieth birthday in perspective. I hear people say, ‘Enjoy yourself…you only live once’, and I kind of agree. You only live once, sure…it just happens to go on forever. Your physical age and the limitations you place upon yourself have more to do with what other people think you’re capable of, rather than your own self-belief.

I am assured that this is true by the sheer number of comments I have received from others regarding how they think I should be behaving now that I am ‘middle-aged’.

You’ll be taking it a little easier now, won’t you? is akin to being told, So, don’t you think it’s about time you prepared yourself for an early death?

I am fifty. So what?

I am reminded of the Hunter S. Thompson quote, ‘Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn-out, and loudly proclaiming, ‘Wow! What a ride!’ and I concur.

It has been said that banality and conformity are the suburbs of Hell. I concur on that point, too.

My brother and I speak frequently. We are entirely different characters. He is content to live the life that he is living. He is happy to work, to read, to enjoy a glass of wine and a good dinner. As far as I can observe, he is very easily pleased. Perhaps too easily pleased. He does not feel any sense of urgency to break down the gates and storm the palace. He does not feel some sense of inherent frustration that life moves far, far too slowly. Conversations with him make me wonder whether my desire to do all I can and do it now and at twice the speed is more a curse than a blessing.

I have just published a book in the UK. I am releasing two books in France this year, another in Holland, others in numerous and varied countries around the world. I am also seeing the release of a graphic novel based on a trilogy of short stories I wrote a while back. We have a couple of film adaptations in the pipeline, the band is going on the road, I am writing a second album, and I am preparing myself for some extensive and exhaustive European tours to promote both the books and the music. I have undertaken evening classes in two different subjects, and am trying to keep my guitar studies at two hours per day. I am writing a new book for 2016 at a rate of fifteen thousand words a week, and I am asking myself,

‘What else can I do?’

This is my nature. This is who I am.

Krishnamurti said, ‘A life of comparison is a life of misery’. That is also a curse of mine. I see things happening elsewhere and I want to be part of them. I see levels of accomplishment that exceed my own by a great deal, and I get angry with myself for not having worked harder.

People ask me, ‘Aren’t you going to take some time off?’ and they know that the answer is inherent in the question. I don’t have time to take any time off. Time off to do what? Sunbathe?

I don’t do holidays. Don’t much care for them. I don’t need time to wind down. I don’t get wound up. Yes, I get frustrated and dismayed by the seeming lethargy of others. I am staggered at the sheer amount of environmental inertia I have to overcome in order to get anything done on this ridiculous planet, but I don’t think those things cause me sufficient stress to warrant doing anything other than soldiering on.

I saw a wonderful tee-shirt slogan yesterday. It simply stated, ‘I can hardly contain my apathy’. Joke aside, it made me laugh because I have run into that with other people time and again over the past few weeks.

However, I do my utmost to stay calm, to keep things in perspective, and to appreciate that others – just like my brother – have different attitudes, and thus different goals.

And so, in reaching fifty, I consider that I have been around long enough to get things more right than wrong. I have made a good bunch of mistakes and learned some lessons, and when I repeat those mistakes it’s simply because I have not learned well enough.

I think growing older merely gives you a perspective on priorities. We can all remember the exams and tests we took in school, how important they were, how much they mattered. We can all remember past relationships where the emotions you felt seemed to be the most powerful and overwhelming things you could ever experience. We can all remember moments of outrage, anger, even hatred toward someone or something that seemed all-consuming. We don’t feel those same emotions now. Not because they weren’t valid emotions at the time, but because the significance of those experiences has now been evaluated and prioritized against the greater picture.

I have reached a point where I feel that there is some vague picture behind me. That picture is borne out of fifty years of thinking and feeling, of doing and not doing, of making mistakes, learning lessons, reading, writing, living life. I have reached a point where the fifty years behind me seems nothing more than a wealth of experience upon which to base my actions for the next twenty or thirty or forty years, and I intend to use everything I have learned to accomplish more in every future year than has been accomplished in any five or ten years of the past.

Maybe I am over-optimistic, but what’s wrong with that?

However, I think the one thing I have to learn more than anything else – and perhaps it may be the most necessary lesson of all – is that everyone is different, and they each have their own individual viewpoints about what is and is not important. Expecting others to think the way you yourself do is not only injurious to others, it’s also injurious to yourself. You start resenting people, disliking them even, and then you discover that you are on your own. Society is a social thing, and we all belong to a society whether we wish to or not.

In this light, perhaps the one lesson I have learned more than all others concerns the importance of people. Life is people. If you don’t have time for people, then you don’t have time for life. Maybe the real motivation for any life should be to positively affect the lives of as many other people as you can before you die.

I am not afraid of dying. Afraid is too strong a word, but I do think about time and how much is left and what I can get done before I have to start over with a new name and a new body. That will be a different game, more than likely with a different purpose and motivation, and that – in itself – is something intriguing.

The enemy of life is not death. Death is merely a deadline you can’t avoid, no matter when it happens.

Maybe the Supreme Being, whoever or whatever that may be, is nothing more than an editor.

You’ve written enough. That story is complete. Time to start a new one.
Maybe the real challenge is writing a life that inspires, motivates and challenges others.

Maybe the real challenge is writing a life that matters, not only while you’re here, but in the legacy you leave behind.

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British novelist and musician Roger Ellory may be fifty, but he is young of spirit. Find his books at http://www.amazon.com/R.J.-Ellory/e/B002IVGFJO

Life is a Beach: A True Story by Patricia Dusenbury

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I married a man who had always wanted to live by the sea, and in 1995 George and I moved to North Carolina’s Cape Fear Coast. Our front yard ended where a saltwater creek flowed into the Intracoastal Waterway. A mile of marshland and ever-shifting islands of sand dunes separated us from the Atlantic Ocean. It was one of the most beautiful places I’d ever seen, and it was our front yard.

The house was built for the view with living quarters upstairs and bedrooms downstairs. It needed work, which meant we could afford it, and there was enough room for all our children and their children to visit at the same time. It was a lovely spot and a nice house, but, after five years, we moved away. Too many visitors. We enjoyed seeing friends and family, but we hadn’t considered the uninvited guests.

Bertha arrived over the 1996 July 4th weekend. A category one hurricane has maximum sustained winds of 75 to 90 miles an hour, enough to keep the tourists at home, but Hurricane Bertha was more exciting than frightening. People threw parties; we danced in the rain.

Fran came for the Labor Day weekend. She was a more powerful storm, and the state ordered evacuation of low-lying and coastal areas. But we lived in a brick house, built into a hill thirty feet above sea level, and we had a generator hard-wired into the house circuits. It wouldn’t run more than the well, the refrigerator and a few lights and fans, but we could cook on a charcoal grill. We’d be fine. We decided to stay.

That evening, Hurricane Fran made landfall as a strong category three with winds approaching 130 mph and higher gusts. We sat in the living room, watching the storm approach, until a tree bounced off the roof. We decided to stay downstairs. Hours passed and the wind kept roaring. We couldn’t talk without yelling, and it was too noisy to sleep. As time passed, fear morphed into boredom. When the eye came through, we ventured out.

Moonlight revealed a changed world. The marshes and the islands that used to separate us from the Atlantic were gone. Ocean waves crashed halfway up our yard and left behind remnants of other people’s houses. We stared, awestruck, at sections of kitchen cabinets, one with the sink still installed, chunks of walls, doors and windows. Behind us, on the landside, tall pines lay scattered like matchsticks. A big tree had gone through a neighbor’s house.

George went over to see if they were okay and returned with them in tow. They joined us downstairs. The mom tried to comfort her frightened children, who eventually cried themselves to sleep, and we all thanked God no one had been hurt.

The back end of the hurricane wasn’t as bad as the front, but we’d been hit hard. The government declared us a disaster area. The Red Cross converted the local school into a shelter where they fed and housed people whose homes were too damaged to occupy. Three days after the storm had passed, the Marines knocked on the door and asked how we were doing.

Wind had blown off all the shingles from our roof on the waterside, and we’d suffered some water damage upstairs, but nothing we couldn’t live with for a while. Our generator worked, and we had enough fuel. All in all, we felt lucky. Two weeks later, power was restored, and life began returning to normal.

Cape Fear enjoyed a respite in 1997, and 1998 brought only Bonnie, a weak category two, nothing hardened veterans couldn’t handle. Besides, anything Bonnie could have knocked over had been destroyed by Fran. We – and everyone else on the water – lost our dock once again, but that’s a hazard of coastal life.

In August of 1999, Dennis, another category two, slapped us with hurricane strength winds and then lost strength but stayed, dousing us with days of rain. Flooding turned the Wilmington area into an island. The waters had barely receded when, two weeks later, Floyd came up the Atlantic Coast, scaring everyone.

His predicted landfall began in Florida, but he slammed the Bahamas instead. Then, he moved up the east coast, precipitating one of the largest evacuations in US history. We were in the Charlotte airport, on our way home from visiting my father in Arizona, when forecasters made their “final” prediction. Floyd would make landfall in Charleston SC within a few hours.

We flew on to Wilmington, drove home and went to bed. Next morning, the ringing phone woke me.

“Why haven’t you left?” my mother-in-law said.

“Excuse me?” I tried to push the sleep out of my voice. “We got in late last night.”

“I suggest you get out of bed and turn on the TV. “

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Charleston had gotten lucky. Floyd had stalled, strengthened to a category four and turned north. He was headed right at us.

No one in his right mind stays for a four, but you can’t just walk away. For the next two hours, George and I scrambled. We boarded up the windows and doors on the waterside. We brought in the outdoor furniture that hurricane winds would turn into unguided missiles. We pulled our boats out of the water, and filled them with water from the hose, so they wouldn’t blow away. (Small boats) By the time we finished, it was too late to leave.

Thanks to ground still saturated from Dennis, flooding had already begun. The roads north and west of us were underwater and impassable. The TV had not yet gone out, and we watched weather radar of tornadoes dancing back and forth across the road leading south. On the east was the Atlantic and the approaching Floyd. That moment we decided to move. Not right away – we were going downstairs to hunker down, but when it was over and the floodwaters had receded.

Bio

Patricia Dusenbury was one of those children who snuck a flashlight into bed and read mystery stories under the covers ‘til the wee small hours.  After a career as an economist, she has returned to her mysteries, now writing as well as reading. Uncial Press e-published A Perfect Victim in 2013 and Secrets, Lies & Homicide in 2014. A House of Her Own is scheduled for release on October 16, 2015, The heroine of these books rehabs old houses, something Pat learned about as she and her husband rehabbed a series of houses – while living in them. This blog is a true story about the nicest house they ever owned – and why they moved away.  patriciadusenbury.com

Caribbean Time Capsule By Eduardo Cervino

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Nothing lends a movie historical perspective like vehicles strewn along the street. An elegant horse-drawn carriage, a western stagecoach, or a few iconic American cars traveling across the screen allows our minds to time-travel.

When tourists land in Cuba, they enter a pictorial time capsule, where life has stood still for fifty years.

Havana is a living car museum. A 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air rolls by, followed by a 1957 Cadillac convertible, or a 1950 Mercury. Much older cars still roll the streets of Havana. Any of them might be freshly painted and flashy, like those in American collections. Others can barely hold their own weight. All still faithfully serve their owners’ needs due to inexhaustible Cuban ingenuity.

The streets are almost empty by American standards. Gone are the traffic jams that Cubans like me remember from the pre-Revolutionary 1950s decade.

A time capsule is buried so future generations can peek into the past and gain insight as they admire the official documents, coins, newspapers, and the like preserved inside. Havana is a different type of time capsule, a gigantic one you do not open. Instead, you enter it and observe people moving about you, like actors in a tropical adaptation of the German movie, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligary.

How charming! Tourists might say.

And there they go in one of those classic vehicles now serving as a taxi to visit the Cathedral Plaza, the first one built on the American continent, or eat in restaurants that a majority of Cubans can’t afford.

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They might stay in the mostly European-built new hotels or in old ones from the era of Meyer Lansky and his crime syndicate. Bed-and-breakfasts now flourish around the city, maintained by Cuban families desperate to earn dollars, the only currency with real value on the island. The Cuban peso has become valueless.

If the tourist is a man alone, chances are he is coming to enjoy the darker aspect of Havana. Prostitution is once again rampant for the same reasons that at the end of WWII, women and young men in Italy and Berlin traded sex for chocolates

City streets around the world are movie sets. They reflect the country’s history and folklore, while behind the façades each dweller is the star of their own distinctive play.

In Cuba, as in most countries under dictatorial control, the drama inside each home is the same: constant worry about survival, lack of food, and mistrust of one another. Despair about the future and lack of conveniences we, the Cubans outside the island, take for granted.

Families are stuck in the 1950s. Their refrigerators are falling apart, their furniture is old. Their houses’ interiors are dilapidated, unpainted for years, moldy. What is worse, roofs are in danger of collapsing on their heads.

The exceptions, of course, are those families of politically connected individuals, whose remuneration is not measured in terms of productivity to society but political loyalty. They have been allowed to confiscate the furnished mansions or ranches the old aristocracy left behind.

 Habana Malecon

In recent months, a great portion of the city became inundated. Water rose to waist height. Fourteen hundred buildings were terribly damaged and a few of them collapsed. For the unlucky residents, life took a turn for the worse. Repairing those homes in today’s Cuban workers’ paradise, with its systemic lack of construction materials, would be like a fairytale coming true.

These floods are a relatively new development in Havana; the enormous area in question includes the large neighborhoods of Old Town Havana, El Cerro, and Centro Havana. The residents had never seen this climate-related phenomenon before.

To Cubans, “climate change” is a reality, not a political football.

The city’s infrastructure, mostly abandoned by the government for the last fifty years, is a disaster. To repair it would cost billions of dollars. Until recently, electricity was constantly failing, and blackouts were a normal occurrence. This problem has been alleviated somewhat.

The potable water system is so old that neighborhoods like the one where I used to live receive water for a few hours during the night and people must store it for daytime use. Contamination is a continuous worry. A very small percentage of the people have access to the Internet.

Havana is a shadow of its former glory. The island population has more than doubled since 1959, while the nation’s mismanaged resources have dwindled. The only prosperous institution is the military.

Cubans are resourceful by nature. They make jokes out of tragedy and laugh when others would be crying. However, these survival strategies mask a sad existence tourists do not see, and the taxi driver will not show them. Why spoil a vacation?

Some tourists come to Havana imbued by romantic leftist political beliefs, and they will not submit to the stress of analyzing their cognitive dissonance.

To those I offer the following to consider. One third of the world population lives in extreme poverty, as defined by an income of less that $2 a day for a 20-day work month.

The United States has a monthly average of $3,200. The rest of the industrialized countries’ incomes vary. Some are higher, some are lower but all are at least 100 times the average Cuban income of  $20, yes, twenty dollars per month. A medical doctor in Havana makes $25. I know this firsthand, as some dear relatives of mine are medical doctors.

When I was a student of architecture in 1950s Havana, my salary as a draftsman was $160, at the time a respectable income. So, Cuba has marched backwards to the alluring rhythms of military anthems, noisy workers May First parades, obligatory attendance at public assemblies, and the wooing of platonic political speeches.

America’s newly developing policy toward Cuba is both welcomed and reviled by Cubans in the US and a large portion of American citizens as well.

Since the policy was made public, Cubans’ attempts to cross the shark-infested Florida Strait have increased by over 100%. By chancing the perilous sea voyage, those Cubans express their lack of confidence about future improvements in their daily lives.

They also are fearful of the US revoking the “wet feet dry feet” benefit only Cubans enjoy, thereby sealing the hole in the imaginary sugar cane curtain surrounding the island.

I predict that once the dust settles, nothing will have changed for the islanders, as long as the geriatric ruling class of the Castro brothers and their sycophants breathe under the majestic swaying royal palms.

Under President Obama’s version of the Cuba detente plan, the only beneficiaries on the island would be the political elite able to suck at the teat of the capitalist cow ninety miles to the north.

In the US, American CEO’s would have another money source to keep filling their already overflowing money pits. Caught in the middle as usual, the Cuban people would continue to live in a Caribbean enactment of George Orwell’s dystopian novella, Animal Farm.

 

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Born in Havana, Cuba, Eduardo Cervino (AKA E.C. Brierfield) lived through General Batista’s dictatorship, Fidel Castro’s revolution, and the period after the revolution from 1959 to 1967. Several attempts to leave Cuba during those eight years failed. In 1967, he moved to Europe and eventually came to the US. His last novel, Crocodile Island, is the story of one such effort. Eduardo is also the author of several other novels and numerous short stories. Please visit www.ecbrierfield.com

 

 

 

Avoid Love at First Draft by Sal Buttaci

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Part 1: The Pre-writing Step
Franklin P. Jones, an American businessman during the Roaring Twenties, once wrote that “Honest criticism is hard to take, particularly from a relative, a friend, an acquaintance, or a stranger.” How true, especially for writers who tend to fall in love with their first drafts. But the hardest criticism regarding their work must come from writers themselves.

 

They need to keep in mind that the craft of writing is a process. The first draft is almost never the final draft. In fact, the first draft is not even the first step in the writing process. If you consider your own published pieces, you would admit they enjoyed an editor’s acceptance because you took the time to ready them for publication. Too often writers tend to attribute first drafts to the inspiration of the literary Muse. In their indebtedness to the Muse, they decide not to revise at all. Big mistake!

 

Let’s back up a bit. Let’s begin the writing process at its logical beginning: the planning stage. Nothing is more frustrating than to invest writing time in a short story or article without knowing how it will develop and where it will finally end. Writing is a trip that requires a road map; without one, writers get sidetracked, stories are weakened, and readers are never fooled by any of it.

 

The enthusiasm which motivated writers in the first place tends to dissipate as roadblocks are encountered. What should have been a straightforward, easy-flowing piece, in the absence of a plan, becomes a wheel-spinning exercise in futility.

 

Short stories fare better when writers spend adequate time at the planning stage. A sequence of the story’s major events will keep writers on track. While these steps can be changed, deleted, or expanded, this sequence affords writers a clearer plot path to follow.

 

Another helpful planning device is the observation chart, which invites authors to gather descriptions of characters and settings. Across the top of the chart are the column headings: Sight, Sound, Touch, Smell, and Taste. Down the left side of the chart are the names of characters and places. One of the secrets of good short story writing is providing readers with crystal-clear imagery. If readers can visualize scenes, the written piece is successful.

 

Serious writers wouldn’t be caught dead without a pocket notepad where they constantly jot down ideas, bits of dialogue, phrases, descriptions –– anything that can be helpful. When writers feel confident about the information they’ve gathered, they can study their pre-writing notes, then cull from them some degree of organizational sense to propel them into the next logical step: The First Draft.

 

Part 2:  Revising That First Draft
If you took a survey of writers and asked them which writing step did they find most pleasurable, I would bet most, if not all, would agree it is the first draft. Pre-writing is slow. Sometimes it take weeks, even months, for everything to come together. A jotting of a word here, a question mark there–the brain is working things out. It is assigning organization to what will become compositional piece.

 

Writers have all experienced that surge of creativity as they begin the first draft, which I call “the bridge of sighs” because I know without that first draft I am going nowhere. All those ideas swimming in my head somehow are drawn into a unity that begs recording.

 

While pre-writing is slow, first drafting is frantic. Writers need to get it all down on paper or onto the monitor. As they write, they keep themselves focused on that one objective: to complete the first draft. Nothing else matters except taking the composition from start to finish. In longer works like novels and plays, the focus is the same but on a chapter or a scene of the eventually completed draft. Short stories and poems, on the other hand, can be –– and I believe should be –– written in one sitting!

 

After completing first drafts, writers should put them away for a day or two so that they can return to them with a different eye. I did say writing first drafts is a pleasurable experience. In the act of getting our writing down, we tend to fall in love with what we’ve written. We re-read it and we love it. We might even kid ourselves into believing the first draft can stand on its own without the interference of revision and proofreading.

 

So putting the draft away is akin to putting aside temptation. It doesn’t pay to try and move from creator to critic in one leap. Take a rest. Go read the newspaper. Play “Go Fetch” with your dog. Come back tomorrow or the next day or even next week.

 

When writers do finally come back, they find themselves less attached to the first draft than they were before. Now they can detect a weak beginning, insufficient detail, poorly constructed sentences, empty dialogue, unnecessary or amateurish descriptions, poor choice of words, and a host of other errors that need fixing.

 

Though some writers will insist the pleasure of writing the first draft continues well into the revising stage, I myself do not agree. Admittedly, it is challenging but done properly, it is also hard work. And it takes time and patience to transform the first draft into as perfect a draft as one can make it.

 

During the first drafting, writers create a new reality. They are independent creators who answer only to themselves. Nobody tells the first drafter what to write. There is a delectable sense of freedom at this writing stage. But revising is a different matter.

 

Writers need to add, delete, change and move words, phrases, sentences, and paragraphs, and all the while do so with the reader at their shoulders.

 

Often this reader is the editor of the magazine to whom they intend to submit their work. Ask yourself while you are revising that story, “Does this make sense to the reader? Does the opening sentence hook his interest? Is the reader asking too many questions because I am not clearly telling him what he needs to know at this point? Am I telling what would be hilarious only to me? Have I remembered to add foreshadowing early on in my story so the reader doesn’t reject my resolution? Do I have enough transitional words for my reader to follow my story as it flows smoothly from word to word? Does my story stay on track, hold together, keep the reader’s interest?”

 

Considering those whom you hope will get to read your story, you will improve your chances of getting that story published and widely read.

 

But don’t stop at the revising stage or stop too soon. After you are comfortable with however many revised drafts are necessary, move to the next step in the writing process: proofreading.

 

Nothing annoys an editor more than to receive a well-written manuscript laden with spelling errors, punctuation mistakes, lack of proper capitalization, and even misused verb forms. Does the editor have time to waste proofreading beyond an error or two? I don’t think so. What we send an editor should be neat and without errors.  Our submissions need to make a good impression. Proper format rules need to be adhered to or the editor will suspect we are not professional enough for his or her magazine.

 

When you are finally done writing, compare your final draft–that neat piece of work you are sending out–to your first draft. A world of difference, right? Had you made the mistake of stopping with your first draft, you would have added one more “not-ready-to-be-published piece” to your cardboard-box collection.

 

We may fall in love with first drafts, but it’s rarely a love that endures. Like any good relationship, the one which writers enter into with their writings requires time and hard work. Writers will agree it’s worth it all.

 

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 Salvatore Buttaci is a retired teacher and professor whose work has appeared in The Writer, The New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor,and elsewhere here and abroad. He was the 2007 recipient of the $500 Cyber-wit Poetry Award.

 

Sal Buttaci’s recent flash-fiction collection, 200 Shorts, published by All Things That Matter Press, is  available at  http://www.amazon.com/200-Shorts-ebook/dp/B004YWKI8O/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1369920397&sr=1-2&keywords=200+Shorts

 

 

 

He lives with his wife Sharon in West Virginia.