Of Whirlwind Weekends, Everything That Comes With Them, A Biggish Bear, A Smallish Bear, Automatonophobia and the Trouble With Writing Short Stories

To say that this past weekend was a whirlwind one for your old buddy the Madchronicler, AKA Frank Marsh is an understatement. Between Saturday AM and this morning at approximately three or 3:30 when I finally got my youngest minion, AKA Natalie, AKA “Smallish Bear” to sleep I attended a Raspberry Festival, changed a fish tank, did laundry, got a customer in South Carolina out of an after hours jam, took a younger lady out on her first date to see “Monsters University” (that’d be my oldest minion, AKA Cara, AKA “Biggish Bear”), went to Dutch Wonderland, drove home, cleaned up a bucket or two full of puke (Biggish Bear again), did more laundry (puke sheets; BLEAH), watched “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets,” struggled with Smallish Bear to get her to go to sleep until three or 3:30 this AM, got up on roughly three hours of sleep, slammed a Monster Ultra before driving 45 minutes to work and am now drinking Monster Ultra numero dos while I catch up on work/begin writing this blog entry. Thankfully, Daft Punk just came on the radio. I am now grooving to “Get Lucky (Radio Edit)” at my desk while typing these words. My boss stopped in front of my desk and looked at me like I was doing something wrong. I looked him straight in the eyes, smiled and said:

“Been up all night to have fun. Been up all night to have fun. Been up all night to have fun. Been up all night to Get Lucky (Radio Edit).” Which is actually pretty f*cking accurate save for the “getting lucky” part. That’s probably the one thing that didn’t happen to me this weekend. Or did it? I’ll never tell. If I did, Mama Bear, AKA Nicole, AKA Sweetie would likely kick my a**. “I don’t know. It’s a mystery.”

Yet despite all this, only one thing stands out in my mind. Choice “D”: None of the Above. That choice? The Amish statues at Dutch Wonderland. You know the ones I’m talking about, don’t you? An Amish husband and his Amish wife, sitting in front of their Amish hut within which an Amish maid feeds an Amish boy (who looked frighteningly Aryan) next to a room in which an Amish midwife tends to an Amish baby. AND breathe. I’d post a picture of it here but sadly, I don’t have one and I can’t find one online. Mama Bear took a pic of me copping a feel off the Amish wife but she hasn’t posted it yet (I can be REALLY juvenile sometimes). As soon as she does, though, I promise I will amend this blog entry and post it. Until then, you’re just going to have to trust me when I say that it DOES exist, I DID feel it up and it was one of the single freakiest things I’ve ever seen in my almost 38 year existence on this side of the proverbial wormhole of existence.

My fear of inanimate objects like statues has existed for a long time. Long before everyone and their grandmothers/grandfathers saw the Doctor Who episode “Blink” and adopted it. BTW, if you’ve never watched an episode of Doctor Who (something I find sacrilegious) and you’re looking to start, watch “Blink.” No lie: It will freak you the f*ck out. The premise is simple: Statues and gargoyles that are actually an alien species called The Weeping Angels that can only move when you’re not seeing them, i.e. when you’re staring at one of them and you blink and the next thing you know, the f*cking thing is right. Up. In. Your. GRILL, barring it’s stone fangs at you in a silent scream. If they touch you “POW.” See you in the past. They’re sustained through the consumption of life experiences. They touch you, they consume every Raspberry Festival you attended, every fish tank you changed BLAH, BLAH, BLAH every time you sang “Get Lucky” by Daft Punk to your boss while he stood in front of your desk, scowling down at you and banish you to the past where you are forced to live out not your life, but A life. Some succeed. Many just end up growing old and dying alone.   Freaked out yet? Watch the episode. Trust me: You will be. End unannounced parenthetical aside. I now return you to my regular inane ramblings, already in progress.

My fear of inanimate objects like statues and, in my case, MANNEQUINS stems from an episode of the original “The Twilight Zone” that my Biological subjected me to at a very young age. I don’t remember when, but I remember IT perfectly. The episode was called “The After Hours” and in summation? It’s about mannequins coming to life. There’s more to it… A LOT more, and for your viewing pleasure (if you’ve got 20 minutes to kill), here it is. Embedded for your convenience. Both parts, courtesy of my friends at YouTube.

Did you enjoy it? If you watched it, of course. If you didn’t? No worries. I know I’m not the only one in my subjective reality that suffers from an irrational fear of inanimate objects. If you, too, are afflicted by… get ready… Automatonophobia (thank you, Google), there’s no need for you to watch “The After Hours” to understand where I’m coming from. And if you don’t? You’re lucky. The bottom line? I don’t like anything that maintains a lifelike visage while being inanimate. Sh*t, I don’t like anything not human that looks human. And Amish husband and his wife? They fall squarely into this category. So I don’t like them. But sadly? I can’t get them the f*ck out of my head.

As I stood there with my tongue out and my right hand firmly cupped around Amish wife’s firm, fiberglass breast posing for a picture, my mind began racing as it so often does when I am in… well, any situation, really. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: The strangest things inspire me. Amish husband and his wife, along with their entire Amish brood were no exception. Someone said “they look like they’re about to come alive” and in my mind? They did. Cue the short story development process, a process that I am incredibly familiar with, but not one that I am very adept at. In short? I’m not very good at writing short stories.

Don’t get me wrong: I’ve written plenty. Two dozen or so total, actually. But that’s over the course of what I like to call my “Writing Life” as opposed to my “Non-Writing Life” that pre-dated it, AKA the period of my life in which I dabbled in everything from theater to sports, only to find that I really wasn’t particularly good at anything BUT writing. Okay, so maybe I was pretty good at the whole acting-thing, but sports-wise? My greatest achievement was when I beat Billy Ring (Booyakasha, Billy; RESPECT) in a game of Rough House, AKA basketball without rules, and even that’s debatable: He may have let me win though he always denied it thereafter. Anywhos, two dozen or so short stories over the space of almost two decades does not = An impressive short story output considering how many novels I’ve written, re-written, finished or just started, and how many Dissertations, pieces of Mental Flatulence and blog entries I’ve written.

But I have ideas for them. Often, actually. Like I said before, the strangest things inspire me. Take the Monster Ultra I just cracked. Yes, another one. Numero tres. Three = The maximum allotment of caffeine drinks one is supposed to consume in a 24 hour time period, and I’m drinking my third in 12. I generally only drink a max of two in 24. Survey says? This last one will either get me through the rest of my day or cause me to have a heart attack. I’d prefer the former but in the event of the latter? Well, at least I’ll get to lay down. Every time I drink a Monster Ultra and feel the initial rush of energy that follows, I remember the short story that I wrote back in college when I was popping Vivarin, No-Dose and 357 Magnum like it was going out of style. It was called “Last Will and Testament” and it was about a guy who OD’d on caffeine pills and wrote about it while he was OD’ing. It’s very psychological. It’s not for the faint of heart. And it’s not very good. AT ALL.

You see, my short stories have always been very psychological, i.e. I haven’t written many that were simply stand alone tales. Two stand out in my mind. I recently submitted one–“The Day of Final Departure”–to a short story contest only to have it summarily rejected for being too… for lack of a better phrase, “long winded.” And I’ll admit: It was. But it was meant to act as a prequel to a larger idea which has, summarily, been pushed to the proverbial back burner. Not because of the failure of the story. On the contrary: I actually like it a lot and think it has an emotional core that resonates with the reader (that’d be the exact opposite of what the anthology editor told me, i.e. “it does not have an emotional core and it does not resonate with the reader”). But because CHILDREN OF ENDWORLD has moved to the forefront of my creative universe. The other that stands out in my mind was called “Origin of Couch” and unless you were on the inside of a little email debate between me and my friends entitled “The Couch Chronicles” back in 2006 you’d have no f*cking idea what it’s about so I’m just going to leave it at that. If you want to read the whole chronicle, message me and I’ll forward you a copy. Once I get the two dozen or so people that contributed to it to sign off on it, that is.

Yet the ideas keep coming. Like this most recent one. So why not write it and the handful of other ones that are dancing around in my head right now down? Because… and this is why I think I generally fail at writing short stories, i.e. THE POINT so if you’ve been waiting for it PLEASE pay attention… when I write, I WRITE. I write until my idea is done. Spent. When I’m writing something long like a novel, each chapter is a separate idea: Equal (and sometimes unequal) parts of the greater whole. I can stop and start again because most times? The idea is big enough to contain everything. Blog entries? They’re more like journal writing, i.e. stream of consciousness. I simply write until I get tired, go back, make sure I followed through on my ideas and tidy it up/complete it with a winky emoticon, and a smiley face. It’s how I used to write essays and term papers in school, as well.

But short stories? Short stories are self-contained tales that have a beginning, a middle and an end. They’re written with restraint by people that are able to practice restraint. Those people? I admire the hell out of them because they are able to give you, the reader a literary Amuse Bouche and leave you satisfied. Me? I’m like the guy who only knows how to make chili. I make a killer batch: I’ve perfected my recipe. But it’s all I can do unless I give you chili on a Ritz and try to pass it off as an appetizer. Fact: It’s still f*cking chili, even with a dollop of spray cheese on the top of it. There are many variations to the recipe–spicy, mild, tomato heavy, bean heavy–but it’s still, at it’s emotional core, a flavorful yet saccharine concoction of  about 12 different ingredients and spices. Jesus, talk about wordy. Maybe that editor was right about your old buddy the Madchronicler, AKA Frank Marsh, AKA… Papa Bear? Oh sure. Why the f*ck not?

I guess what it all boils down to is this one, indisputable fact: I’m not the greatest storyteller. I don’t exactly excel at “once upon a times” and “they lived happily ever afters.” I’ve never written a story like “The After Hours” that would appear on a show like “The (original) Twilight Zone.” When it comes to the idea of the formulaic, basic story ark? I don’t do it very well. I don’t rock beginnings, middles and ends the way others do. I’m more of a “story in progress” kind of guy. I like to pick up the action mid-scene: Throw you into the story. For me, exposition can come later. Involvement comes from meeting pre-existing characters with pre-existing back stories and personalities and getting to know them… to love them over time. I’m fascinated with my characters and I like to get in their heads. They’re like real people. Real people? Real people are “stories in progress” when you meet them. Getting to know them and their history is oft times an exhilarating experience. But that’s the disconnect. Me = A pretty good writer (I hope), albeit a bit wordy. Okay, maybe more than a BIT wordy (I’m like Robert Jordan but without a bestseller to my credit). But me = A good storyteller? Um… yeah. Not so much.

You may think differently. Maybe I’m being to hard on myself. Perhaps. But I don’t see it that way. Even if I am being harder on myself than I need to be it’s in my nature to push myself. That said, there are two short stories that are at the forefront of my mind, presently: One new and one old. Both have beginnings, middles and ends, and I vow that over the next few weeks I WILL write them. If for nothing else for the fact that doing so will be a much needed exercise in restraint. I’ve been working on it in CHILDREN, and so far, I’m happy with the results. We shall see if I can parlay that into a standalone, short story or two. In my defense, there is STILL my as-of-yet untitled (because I legally can’t tell you the title without being disqualified) short story that I submitted a few months ago for a fellowship. The results = Pending. I should know a bit more within the next month but until then? The least I can do is try. As that eminent sage of wisdom Yoda once said, “try not. DO. Or do not. There is no try.”

‘Course, being able to devote time to such an exercise while maintaining my pace on CHILDREN (106 pages strong as of last Friday; this weekend kind of threw a monkey wrench into my proverbial “Writing Machine”) is going to be difficult. I’d also rather not sacrifice either this blog, or the ENDWORLD site in the process. It is also contingent on a few of, if not ALL OF the above listed contingencies that occurred over the last three days NOT occurring again. Certain things are, of course, unavoidable. There’s no way to know when Biggish Bear’s going to get dehydrated and get sick despite plying her with an inexhaustible supply of water. She’s just slightly sub-four years old. She dove off our love seat last night, landed on her head and somersaulted over. That’s the bad news (it also might have contributed to her “condition” last evening though she seems fine today). The good? Her form was spectacular. I think there may be a career in it for her. My daughter, the Olympic diver. Just because I sucked at sports doesn’t mean she will, right?

There’s also no way to know when Smallish Bear is going to wake up in the middle of the night and not want to go back to sleep. She is, after all, just barely post-one and given to dramatics, even moreso than I was. On my BEST days as an actOR (emphasis on the “OR”) I couldn’t feign sadness the way she did last night. She parlayed my weeping heart into a three hour long stay of proverbial execution (and by “execution” I mean “bed time”) that ended with her cooing happily to herself in her crib at three or 3:30 this AM and me wondering just how in the hell I was going to function all day on three hours of sleep. Well, I’ve managed. And I’m not dead yet though admittedly, Monster Ultra numero tres is REALLY coursing through my system, presently. It’s like I’m back in college after popping two Vivarin, No-Dose or Magnum 357 again, only I know that the crash tonight is going to be ten times worse. I seriously need to reconsider my caffeine consumption moving forward. 38 does not = 21, on this side of the proverbial wormhole of existence or ANY.

You control what you can. THAT is the way of things, guys. “The way of the Force.” It’s kinda’ like writing a short story, something that I have never been very good at but something that I am going to focus on moving forward (at least for the immediate future): The writer controls the beginning, the middle and the end. He or she controls how wordy it gets and how much of an emotional core it has. He or she also controls how relevant it is or not (inside jokes between a group of two dozen or so friends do NOT sell). He or she is either born with the restraint required to do it right or needs to learn it. Me? I was born with the capacity to write. It’s in my genes (thanks, Biological). But restraint? The capacity to be a storyteller and not just a writer? That is something I’ve been working on for years. I honestly believe I’m finally getting to the point that I can do it. I wouldn’t have published ENDWORLD if I didn’t. But I’ve still got a ways to go until I’m satisfied with it. I may already be more skilled at it than he was, but it’s in my nature to push myself. Because…

Once upon a time, there lived a guy that called himself the Madchronicler, AKA Frank Marsh, AKA Papa Bear. He saw inspiration in everything from a a Daft Punk song to a Doctor Who episode. One day while “functioning” on a limited amount of sleep and under the influence or more caffeine than he had ingested since college, he decided to write a short story about an Amish husband and his wife, how they became statues sitting on a bench at Dutch Wonderland and how SHE–the wife–ended up with some stranger acting like a juvenile and copping a feel of her fiberglass breast. And as for who or what lives happily ever after?

That, guys, is a “story in progress.” Stay tuned for the answer.

Winky emoticon. Smiley face.

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2 thoughts on “Of Whirlwind Weekends, Everything That Comes With Them, A Biggish Bear, A Smallish Bear, Automatonophobia and the Trouble With Writing Short Stories

  1. What you call “the origin of couch” is more commonly known by its proper name: “CouchEvilTue, theEverlasting, theSublime, theWatcherOfTheSeals, theRendererOfSouls, theCorruption, theBetrayerOfHope, theTrueLightOfDark, and its Strange and Glorious Adventure in my Living Room.”

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