Of Sabbaticals, Life Changes, Writing and Building a LEGO House

“I’ve been here before.”

William MacNuff, CHILDREN OF ENDWORLD

Good Morning, Afternoon or Evening, fellow denizens of my subjective reality on this side of the proverbial wormhole of existence. You all remember me from the past, if such a concept can and does exist here. Past? Present? Future? All are meaningless in a place where we live from sunrise to sunset. Breathing, eating, sh*tting, f*cking… you know the litany. My last post could have been written a day, a month or a year ago and I would not know the difference. As I have learned over the last 38, almost 39 years of my life, time is relative. The urge to write? To revisit “Random Musings of a Pseudo-Madman Version 2.0” has been there… been here the entire time. But sometimes, friends? Sometimes, you simply need to take a bit of a break. Whether you had planned to or not sometimes such things are necessary.  So in answer to the question “where the hell have you been for the last few months, Frank,” the answer is ‘purty simple: I’ve been on a sabbatical, watching as my life changes in once-unimagined ways around me. I’ve also been building a LEGO house with my minions, but I’ll come back to that later.

Truth be told, I have been busy. Oh yes. Very, very busy. Maybe not in the same ways I was before, but busy nonetheless. In the space between when I last wrote–March 26th, actually: I looked it up–and now I’ve established myself in a new job, celebrated my wife’s thirty I MEAN 29TH Birthday, my youngest minion’s second and my oldest minion’s fifth. I’ve attended more parties and family slash friend functions than I can count, celebrated my sixth Father’s Day (counting when Cara Bear was in utero), watched the Sixers tank, the Flyers lose, the Phillies suck and the ‘Iggles… well? I’m optimistic about them.

I’ve also read. A lot. As of right now, I’ve completed the following books since March: The Stand, all seven “Dark Tower” books, A Dance with Dragons and five of the seven “Foundation” books. I’ve further re-read ENDWORLD in preparation for what I hope will be the final stretch of writing the sequel, CHILDREN OF ENDWORLD which is currently 297 pages to the good en route to roughly 400, give or take a dozen in either direction. I still need to finish “Foundation” and complete my re-read and re-write of CHILDREN thus far. All this is one of two things: Me, bringing you up to speed on meaningless trivia about my less than extraordinary existence or me, trying to convince both you and myself that my almost four month break is justified. Was I successful? I have no freakin’ idea.

Let’s delve a bit deeper into some of the things I mentioned above. First and foremost, my job. I’ve got to be honest with you, friends: When I took it back in November of 2013 and started it in December of the same I had my doubts. Staffing and HR was not an industry I was even slightly familiar with. I’d spent the majority of my working life since turning 11 working in customer service, management and sales. Finding people jobs? It was ‘purty alien to me. But I’ve discovered over the last almost eight months that low and behold, I’m actually pretty gul’darned good at it. My office… my Branch is growing, not at an exponential rate but at a steady one. I’ve tacked on over a K in gross weekly margin since taking over, cycled out one partner and am now working with a new one that seems to “get me” and my approach in ways that the last one didn’t. I’ve got a ton of business in the pipeline and more funneling in daily. In short? My job’s good. Real good. I like it more than I’ve liked a job since my earliest days working for CVSStress. In LEGO terms? “Everything is awesome.” Time for a musical interlude? No. Not yet.

Therein lies Caveat One: I enjoy what I’m doing. I put a lot of energy into my everyday, nine to five not-so mundane, routine existence and have little left “in the tank” post-putting the minions to bed to do anything but sit mindlessly and watch the Phillies suck on a nightly basis. Tonight’s a bit of an exception because I drank a Monster around 3:00 PM and am still kinda’ zooted at 10:05. I’m not sure how long this is going to last but I figured I should try to take advantage of it while I can and bang out a thousand words or so. It helps to keep the instrument, AKA my creative mind going. Watching the Phillies really just kills brain cells here in 2014.

So therein lies one reason, perhaps the biggest reason that I haven’t been writing at the same clip that I was last year at this time. Outside of my job, though? There’s my family. My beloved 29 YEAR OLD WIFE Nicole and my equally beloved but at times insanity inducing minions Cara Bear and Nat-Nat Boo. I’ll not lie (’cause really? What would be the point? Nicole would just call my bullsh*t card anyway): When I was knee-deep in the composition of ENDWORLD, I didn’t devote as much time as I should have to them. What can I say? I was at times consumed. I didn’t ignore them per-say. I didn’t retire to the basement and write for hours while they sat upstairs playing princesses and building LEGO houses, but I did allow myself to get caught up in my imagination. And it caused a bit of a strain on things. And I’m not a fan of strain. I prefer that “everything [be] awesome.” So I’v e endeavored to make it so over the last few months. Do you know what? It’s actually been nice. Relaxing for the most part, albeit occasionally enough to make me want to pull every last one of my f*cking salt and pepper hairs out of my head and beard and scream “why God, why can’t the two of you PLAY NICE” at the top of my lungs until I’m hoarse. But teaching Cara to read? Reading “Potty” and working on Natalie’s ABCs with her? Watching “Naked and Afraid” marathons and the god-awful Phillies with Nicole? Hitting up the park circuit and playing in my backyard? All are nice. Awesome, if you will. Cue up Caveat Two: I enjoy spending time with my girls. Not so bad… after all.

As for the other stuff? My ongoing fascination with sports in this town despite the fact that Cleveland may have a champion before we do again (I’m looking at you, Johnny Football)? My desire to start reading books again, albeit books that I’ve read previously rather than always writing them? All are symptomatic of one thing: My need to take a break. A sabbatical, if you will. The last couple of years have been… well? Kind of crazy, friends. Any of you that have tried to balance a career with a family all while self-publishing and marketing your 19 plus year labor of love, not to mention trying to meet the wholly unexpected (I honestly thought people were going to thing ENDWORLD stunk) demand for the continuation of said labor? I’ll repeat: It’s a lot. So you take a step back and try to put things into perspective. You dial back your life changes and “pick up the pieces and build a LEGO house” and you load that f*cker up with as many what we used to call “safeties,” i.e. cross bars that stabilize it and protect it from the destructive tendencies of your two year old as you can. And then…

Then…

When you’ve recouped the sheer amount of energy you depleted in doing all of the above mentioned things… when you’ve replenished “your tank” then? Then, you step outside one hot and humid, early July night and look at the lightning going off in the distance. You inhale deeply on the cigarette you really shouldn’t be smoking, close your eyes, breath in deeply through your nose and exhale through your mouth and for a moment? For one brief, shining moment you realize something completely unexpected. More unexpected than being good at a job you initially doubted you were qualified for and watching the lowly Phillies win four games in a row against one of the best teams in the NL (take that, Brew Crew). You realize that you’re happy. For once in your life, you are actually not a living and breathing facsimile of a smiley face. Your smile? It’s genuine. ‘Cause “everything is awesome.” Is it time, now?

Oh, yes. It is so time:

Try to get it out of your heads now, friends. Odds are you’ll be singing it in the shower tomorrow morning along with me.

All that… all this said, the question remains: How much longer is this break… this sabbatical that I’m on going to last? Well, guys and gals, the answer to that question lies right here in this blog entry. I wouldn’t be pounding these words out right now, abusing my now-seven year old, trusty laptop (might be time for a replacement soon; any suggestions) if I wasn’t ready to hop back on the proverbial horse, get back in the game or whatever chosen cliche you’d like to use to describe the simple fact that it’s time for me to begin writing again. Earlier tonight, I told Cara my two golden rules for building a LEGO house. The first? Never follow the instructions. And the second? Always build until you run out of pieces. I’ve spent enough time following the instructions, and my desire remains to build and build until such time as I have nothing left “in the tank.” Practice what you preach, Madchronicler, AKA Daddy. Who am I to deny that request?

Now, guys. Not a few months from now but now. I know that everything is awesome enough and the time is right. Nicole has my back. Work is still busy, but has stabilized to the point that I’m not spending every waking moment dwelling on it. My minions can play together when they want to, though more often then not it results in the equivalent of a wrasslin’ match, punctuated by screeching and the occasional growl.

And then? There are you. The people that continue to read my random musings and buy ENDWORLD. The ones that ask me when I’m going to finish CHILDREN OF ENDWORLD because they just can’t wait to see what happens next. All the kind souls that have published reviews of my labor of love on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Goodreads et al. You guys? You deserve to know. And I promise you that in the very near future? You will. Only 100 or so more pages to write and man oh man: It’s going to be f’n crazy. I can promise you that.

That’s all she wrote, peeps. In closing? Let me just say “thank you.” Thank you all for your constant and unwavering support of me and my endeavors. You remain my rock: That which keeps me going. We’ve all been here before, and because time has no significance on this side of the proverbial wormhole of existence there’s always time. Time to live. Time to breath, eat, sleep, f*ck and sh*t.

And there’s always time to build a LEGO house.

Winky emoticon. Smiley Face.

F.

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A Life Less Extraordinary

Once upon a time…

‘Cause all good stories begin as such…

I had an idea. That idea? To write my autobiography and entitle it “A Life Less Extraordinary.” Why? Because quite frankly, my life has been far from legendary. Has it had it’s moments? Certainly. Everyone’s life has ’em. Andy Wharhol called them his “15 minutes of fame.” Every struggling artist–be they a writer, an actor, a painter, a photographer, a musician… whatever–has envisioned their name up in bright, neon lights at some point. Don’t believe me? Ask around. If people are being truthful, I think you’ll find that statement to be 150% accurate.

Some have been successful. Even a few of my contemporaries have. I’ve watched once-associates of mine go on to star in Broadway shows and create album artwork for bands you’ve actually heard of. I even hold the dubious distinction of being loosely-tied to a once politician. A good one, not one of those corrupt bureaucrats that populate DC like vermin…

Oh yes. I went there…

And likely will indefinitely (not something I can control, though I make it a point to vote every single year regardless of how big the election is). But me? Much like Wharhol, I’ve had my “15 minutes of fame.” I am, of course, referring to the self-publication of my debut novel, ENDWORLD last April. It never made it onto any bestseller lists but was I happy with how it performed? Of course I was. A 250 page tome that I wrote when I was 19 to cope with unrequited love ended up being a 447 page epic. And people actually like it. Go fig’!

But outside of that? My life has been pretty darn normal. Less than extraordinary. Hence the title. My idea was to write something for the every man or woman. The people that have dreamed of their 15 minutes but have not yet had them. A rambling piece of long-form, Mental Flatulence that insists to the doubters that it’s okay to be normal. Really. It is. Because we all have a little bit of the extraordinary inside of us. That was the theme… the moral of the story. My story.

Sadly, “A Life Less Extraordinary” seized up at around 100 pages. I made it through my early childhood, through my parents’ separation and divorce and into my high school years but after that? I don’t know. I can’t remember why I stopped (I was flying through it). Maybe that was around the time I decided to re-write ENDWORLD. Or maybe it was the birth of my first and then, my second minion. Whatever the case, I stopped, and have rarely thought about it since.

But…

Lately I’ve been thinking about it a lot. Not in the same capacity as I once did. Quite frankly? I have no desire to write my autobiography at this point in my life. I’m already fictionalizing aspects of my life in The Endworld Series. Why write more? Who the flying f*ck would read it? I’ll pose that question to you my friends, Romans, countrymen and women. Would you? Would you have any interest in reading about a little pear-shaped kid from a broken family who spent the better part of his first 15 years getting picked on? Would you have any interest in reading about that same kid, post-16 through 20-something and his experiences trying to find his ideal, finding it, and then losing it in the space of a couple of weeks? What about what happened to him afterwards: His downward spiral into a toxic existence through which he ended up homeless and living on his friend’s mother’s living room floor? Would you want to read about how he pulled himself back up… how he embraced a career, discovered what “responsibility” is, started dating his Pharmacy Intern, ended up marrying her and having two beautiful little girls with her? “Would you like to know more?”

Well? There isn’t a lot more to tell, sadly. I can embellish it… it’s what I do, but that last paragraph is really it. Save for the lessons I’ve learned through my experiences my life can be summed up in one, tidy “body” paragraph. Or a couple of words. Those words? Less than extraordinary. Which brings me right back to where I started, doesn’t it? I love it when a plan comes together.

I’m torn right now, guys and gals. You see, for years I’ve believed that I had something special inside of me. I believed whole-heartedly that I was cut out for more than a mundane, routine existence. Not that my life is 150% mundane. My job is fun and keeps my busy, my minions keep me occupied and more often than not guessing, and my wife? Well, she just keeps me, which is okay by me. But it’s not my name up on a bright, neon marquis the way I envisioned it almost 20 years ago. Despite the fact that it’s not what I initially envisioned, it’s good. I can say that now. I’m relatively content with my life. Relatively. I wish I was writing more. That’s the biggest thing. It’s like a big a** hole in my artist’s soul that I just want to plug so. Damn. BAD. But it’s tough to do that between work, play, Irish Dance practice, repeated viewings of “Frozen,” birthday parties, shoveling, family strife… you get the picture, I’m sure. So the question that I find myself faced with this unseasonably frigid night in late March is…

Drum roll please…

Do I just throw up my hands, say “to heck with it” and accept a less than extraordinary life as my new norm? Would I be selling myself short if I did? I can be “that guy.” You know the one I’m talking about: The guy that’s… well, just normal. It would certainly be less stressful… less “angsty.” I can be that guy but should I? Should I sacrifice that which I’ve always believed I had inside of me? Maybe it’s not there. Maybe I’d be better off simply saying “to hell with it” and being Mister Nine to Five from now on. Don’t worry, folks. If I go that route I promise, I will still finish The Endworld Series. I owe those of you that have read it, enjoyed it and are waiting with baited breath for the continuation of William’s saga that. I might write fewer pieces of Mental Flatulence like this one and scrap my plans for about seven or eight other books post-The Endworld Series but William’s story? I will finish it. I promise.

I honestly don’t know. I’m torn. So I’m reaching out to those of you that know me. Whether via my writing or in person I invite your insight into this conundrum that I find myself faced with presently. Can I be both? I don’t know. I think it’s too much, presently. I’ve got too much other stuff to contend with. I don’t know if I can balance the dreamer with the realist right now. Circumstances won’t allow it. While you weigh the heft of what I just wrote and… I hope… formulate a response or two to it, I’m going to give it a couple of days. I’ve done this in the past and I think that now’s a good time to do it again. The next two days could potentially be very big days for me in my Nine to Five existence. I’m going to see how they go. Then, I’m going to revisit this question on Friday night post-the minions going to sleep. I’ll see how I feel then. But until then, a few acknowledgements.

To both the dreamers and the Nine to Fivers: Booyakasha. Respect. While I’m not 150% pleased with the fact that I can relate to both sides, it’s nice… and slightly maddening to have both perspectives. To my Endworld-ians: Much respect. I love that you really liked ENDWORLD… that you embraced it and continue to badger me about the sequel. FYI: It’s 280 pages long, currently. By my best estimation I’ve got about 100 left to go before draft one is done-sky. To Disney: I loved and continue to love “Frozen” despite my oldest minion’s desire to watch it every time we’re home and my youngest’s constant “singing” of “Let It Go” (which sounds more like “leh ih GO!” but is just so. Damned. CUTE). To my new employer (who shall remain nameless for fear of a reaming out) thank you. Thank you for respecting my contributions, something that my previous employers always had a bit of a problem with. And too my previous employers? Meh. That’s about all I’ve got for you right now. Meh, and good luck with that! You know what I’m talking about.

And last but certainly not least, to those of you that believe you are living a life less extraordinary, you are not alone. I’m with you, 150%. Just because your name isn’t up on a big, bright, neon marquis does not mean you aren’t special. Guess what? You are. That’s the moral of the ongoing story. Whether you’re special to one person or special to thousands, you are a bright, beautiful, magnificent soul on this, and any side of the proverbial wormhole of existence. And you always will be. Never forget that.

Winky emoticon, friends. Smiley face. Have a blessed evening. I’ll be back in a few days.

God, “A God” or the Gods – A Pseudo-Madman’s Take

I had intended on finishing up Part Three of Children of Endworld today but found myself unable to do so. Not for lack of desire: That’s there. But my eyes, and the eyes of many have been glued to developments in the naval yard shooting that happened in DC this AM. If you are unaware of what I am “talking” about please open another window in your web browser and redirect it to either CNN, Fox News or whatever outlet you generally follow. You’ll quickly see what I’m referring to. You can come back to this later. Priorities, priorities.

Are you back? Cool. Welcome.

As is often the case when something like this happens, I keep one eye on the news and one eye on my social media feed since I am always curious to see what other people are thinking about it. In the process of checking the latter I came across a curious Facebook status post in which a friend of mine questioned the existence of God, “a god” or the gods in light of not only this horrific occurrence, but others (i.e. the boardwalk fire in Seaside Heights this past week, the historic flooding transpiring in Colorado. the Aurora movie theater shooting last year and the Sandy Hook tragedy last winter).

I’m not going to quote him/her ’cause… well, I didn’t exactly get their permission and I don’t want to incur their wrath but he/she brings up an interesting point: When a rash of sh*t “goes down” like it has in the recent past here on this side of the proverbial wormhole of existence, what are you supposed to think? Faith can only get you so far. Most people want to see proof: Proof that there is, in fact, a benevolent force that watches over us and guides us through our daily travails. When “stuff” like what I mentioned in the previous paragraph happens, though? It’s hard. Damn hard. I know: I’ve been there and who knows? I may end up there, again though quite frankly (no pun intended), I don’t quite want to.

The above veiled message brought to you by my subconscious. Frank Marsh’s subconscious, sending cryptic messages to people for over 20 years.

Where’s the proof? Twelve dead, one shooter DOA and one more potentially at large in DC, currently. Dozens of schools around the naval yard on lock down; hundred of thousands of people, both employees and neighbors alike scared sh*tless. Dear God: Where the f*ck are you, right now? Is it true what Al Pacino said in “The Devil’s Advocate”–that you’re an “absentee landlord”–or what Piers Anthony described in his Incarnations of Immortality series–God, nothing more than a bored smiley face looking down from above upon the world and not doing anything while his arch nemesis the Devil wreaks havoc?

I don’t know, guys. I honestly don’t. I have about as much proof of God’s existence as you do. But I was raised to believe in His/Her/It’s existence and I cling to that, even now when my entire subjective universe seems to be “flaming out.” It’s not just DC, Seaside, Colorado (times two) or Sandy Hook. It’s North Korea. It’s Syria. It’s Cold War Deuce between the good old U S of A and Russia. I cannot think of a time in my 38 plus years of existence when the world has been this completely and totally f’d up and admittedly? The claim that “the end times are nigh” is starting to feel slightly more relevant than it did a few days, weeks, months and years ago.

Maybe that’s the case. Maybe the sub-segment of the population I once called “The Bible Thumping Junkies” are right, though I deign to start interpreting the context of the Book of Revelation as proof that we’re all about to get rapture’d something fierce, even in light of my background over-evaluating everything from Will Shakespeare’s sexual preference to the now-defunct TV series “LOST.” Whenever it happens, it happens. If that’s tomorrow then so be it: I intend to be standing at ground zero, just like I always said I would with my minions on one side of me and my wife on the other. ‘Cause really, who wants to live in the post-apocalypse? Not I and, I hope, not my wife and my minions. If I’m going to be forced by God, “a god” or the gods to “shrug off my mortal coil” then gul’darnit, I want to do so with my loved ones beside me. The afterlife just wouldn’t be the same without Cara’s singing and dancing, Natalie’s laughing and Nicole’s… well, that’s between her and me. Sorry to disappoint.

The above veiled message brought to you by my libido. Frank Marsh’s libido, scaring the f*ck out of the women in his life for over 20 years now.

No. I’m not going to hop on the end of the world bandwagon. Nor am I going to act like nothing is wrong. I can understand my friend’s statement that in times such as these, he/she doubts the existence of “something.” Not necessarily God, “a god” or the gods but “something.” I like that word: Something. ‘Cause you can explain virtually everything that happens on this side of the proverbial wormhole of existence with science–from evolution to life, to death and the universe–but in my experience? There’s really no way to describe how it all or what I like to call “The All” began. Even if you believe that the universe on this, and every side of every wormhole in existence has always existed in some way, shape or form there has to have been a beginning. Or perhaps that’s me trying to impose order on chaos. But it’s what I believe. And that’s really what this all comes down to, guys: Belief. Whether you agree with me or not is irrelevant. If you choose to debate what I’m saying please do so in the “comments” section and I will do my best to respond.

So what do I believe? Simple: I believe that once upon a time, something existed, and said something was a very young, very curious, very lonely something. He/She/It had a knack for creativity… imagination. One day, He/She/It took two possibilities and synthesized them into what He/She/It hoped would be fact. Whammo: The beginning. But little did He/She/It know that what He/She/It had created was at it’s core uncontrollable. So He/She/It did the best that He/She/It could, kind of like me and you and you (yeah, you; don’t look so surprised) trying to control our oft times uncontrollable lives. It made mistakes along the way like we do… it still makes them to this day like we do; He/She/It can’t get everything right which is how we end up with a shooting in DC, a fire in a shore resort north of AC, a flood and another shooting out west and a shooting up north, not to mention a dictator in the Far East that likes basketball and another one in the Middle East that is sitting on a cache of chemical weapons. Did I mention Cold War Deuce? Brought to you by “Hot Shots Part Deux.” Why? ‘Cause I can. And ’cause Charlie Sheen is always winning.

That something? He/She/It is still learning and likely will continue learning long after me, my minions, my wife, all my loved ones and all of you reading this are long gone. Maybe one day He/She/It’ll “figure it out” and what was once eminently changeable will become consistent. But I see no indication that that day is coming any time soon. And maybe by the time it does those two, initial possibilities that He/She/It synthesized into fact will “fizzle” out like some chemical reactions do and the whole shebang will come crashing down. Then? Well, depending on where something is at that point He/She/It will either chose to start over from scratch, or concede defeat and go back to twiddling His/Her/It’s proverbial thumbs in the vast, silent nothingness. Admittedly? There are days where I wish I could do that. Is it wrong of me to believe that on days like today, when the universe on this side of the proverbial wormhole of existence appears ready to explode from one too many “possibilities synthesized into fact,” He/She/It does, as well?

So to my friend who posted what he/she posted on Facebook today I say this: In answer to your question “how do I believe” I don’t know. You just do. Or do not. It’s really up to you. But when you can’t take your eyes off of CNN or Fox News… when the naval yard in DC is on fire and even a historic flood can’t put it out or eradicate the shooter, nay the shooters that terrorized it this AM, a movie theater last summer and an elementary school last winter… when the existence of God, “a god” or the gods seems utterly and completely unfeasible, look into the eyes of your husband/wife like I look in to the eyes of mine; look into the eyes of your own minions… feel the love that you feel for them surging through you and tell me, even as your subjective universe is “flaming out” around you that there isn’t something “out there.” He/She/It exists…

He/She/It’s just still learning.

The above blog post was brought to you by something. Something: Giving Frank Marsh a topic to “talk” about for 38 plus years.

Winky emoticon. Smiley face. And say a prayer for the victims of the DC naval yard shooting, guys. If you don’t pray, spare them a thought. Please. Thank you.

ADDENDUM – The Wandering Seeker

Hello, all. Yes, I’m back. Just call me the “Twice in One Day” Madchronicler. I just got some sad news that I want to share. Why? Because sometimes, you just have to. A couple of months ago I entered a short story in a contest. Long story short? It didn’t win. Me = Bummed.

This is not the first time I did something like this and it failed, but this one? It meant a lot to me. The reward wasn’t exactly amazing and I’m not going to post the contest or any details, herein. But it was very symbolic in ways that maybe I’ll be better able to explicate one day. But not now. Now, I just want to share it with you, because the one thing that I was not allowed to do was “publish” it until such time as it either won, or was rejected. No such constraints, now.

I want to share it with you. Why? A couple of reasons. The first? It’s about one of my daughters, co-starring my wife. And the second? ‘Cause it’s not every day I write a short story. It’s not exactly my cup ‘o tea. But this one? Well, I guess I’ll just let it speak for itself. It’s not long: 1174 words to be exact. And here it is. I call it…

The Wandering Seeker, a Short Story

I am awakened from my slumber by the sound of someone whimpering in the room next to mine. I crawl from beneath my covers, exit my room, arrive at her door and slowly push it open. By the dull glow of the light in her fish tank, I see her sitting bolt upright in her bed with tears upon her cheeks. I make my way toward her and she acknowledges my approach with a forced smile.

“What is it kiddo?” I ask as I sit upon the side of her bed. She immediately secures herself in my embrace.

“I can’t sleep.”

“Why not?”

“I heard something outside.”

“What did you hear?” I ask and tighten my embrace.

“Crying,” she says, her voice muffled by my nightshirt.

“Crying? Well, that’s nothing to be afraid of. It’s probably just the Wandering Seeker.”

“The who?”

“The Wandering Seeker,” I repeat, “didn’t Mommy or I ever tell you about him?”

“No.”

“Well,” I say, “lie down, and I’ll tell you his story.”

“Is it a scary story?”

“Not very. And I promise that it has a happy ending.”

“Okay,” she says. She lies down, crawls back beneath her covers and wraps my once-teddy bear in her arms. I clear my throat and gaze out her window. The shade is up, and the full moon is rising over the trees beyond it.

I remember.

“The biggest question that people ask is why does the Wandering Seeker cry?”

She tilts her head inquisitively, “Why does he, Daddy?”

“You’ll find out,” I answer, “when I’m done, okay?”

“Okay,” she says.

I nod. “Once upon a time, there was a man who wandered the world… the worlds looking for answers to his questions.”

“What did he look like?”

“His face changed. Most days it would have a beard upon it, but other days it wouldn’t. Despite the changes, though, one thing remained constant.”

“What?”

“His eyes,” I say, “his eyes were deep blue.”

She smiles, and holds her teddy bear closer, “Was he a nice man?”

“He was,” I say, “but he could also be mean. Being mean was his way of keeping himself safe. But his intentions were always good.”

“That’s good,” she says.

“And he was,” I continue, “for the most part. But he made mistakes and was afraid of making them again. He had lots of cuts and bruises, too, and he was looking for the one thing that would make them all better.”

“A band aid?”

“The right sized one,” I say, “but the cuts and bruises? They hurt. And because they hurt, he cried. Just like you do when you fall down and scrape your knee. It wasn’t like falling down, though. It was a different kind of hurt. You see, he hurt up here”—I gesture to my head—“and here”—I gesture to my heart—“and those are the worst kinds of hurt. He cried because he didn’t have a Daddy to come into his room and comfort him. He cried because he didn’t have a little girl to tell his stories too.”

“A little girl like me?”

“Exactly like you,” I answer, and plant a kiss upon her forehead, “he wandered the world, telling his stories to the people he encountered.  His travels… his search for the answers took him many different places, and he met many different people along the way.”

“Where did he go?”

“All over. He visited worlds made of chrome and steel, and he saw the love that blossomed within them. He traveled from one world to the one right next door searching for paradise. His wanderings took him back through his own past, and he did battle with it over and over again.”

Wow,” she says.

“That’s what I said when I first heard the story, too. And he had many adventures beyond those. He learned from each one, and grew each time. Despite his adventures, though? He still hurt. Yet finally…”

I pause, and she glances at me curiously, “What, Daddy?”

“Well,” I continue, “the day came when he knew he had to end his travels. That day he realized that a peaceful life was better than the one he’d been living.”

She cocks her head and looks at me askance, “What’s ‘peaceful?’”

“Good question,” I respond.

“I get it from you.”

I smile, “The best way to describe peaceful is happy. You see, the Wandering Seeker realized that he could never really be happy traveling the world… the worlds alone. One day, he was standing alone on a beach. He gazed at the ocean, and he realized that true happiness would only come from settling down and putting his wanderings behind him. In time, he found what he was looking for. He found the right sized band aid. He settled down. He doesn’t wander any longer.”

“Then why do I hear him?”

“You only hear an echo of him,” I answer, “He’s not really out there anymore. Not in body. In dreams, though? He’s still searching. Still seeking happiness. Answers. The places that he went? He revisits them when he can, but he now knows that there’s a difference between fantasy and reality. Now that he has responsibilities, he knows that he needs to focus on them and not his dreams. But that echo? It’ll always remain, crying on nights like tonight, because all of his experiences? They affect him, even now.”

“Is he a ghost?” she inquires, her eyes opening widely and a shade of her previous fear reentering her voice.

“No,” I say, “there are no ghosts, sweetheart. Ghosts are created by people to scare little girls. But they aren’t real. They’re fantasy, too. Not reality.”

“That’s good,” she says, smiles and re-closes her eyes.

“It is,” I conclude, “and that? That’s the story of the Wandering Seeker. Do you understand?”

She opens her deep, brown eyes and gazes into mine, “I think so. But Daddy?”

“Yeah, kiddo?” I reply with a sniffle.

“Why are you crying?”

Surprised, I raise my hand to my cheek. It comes away wet. I glance at the tears that sparkle upon it in the burgeoning moonlight. Somewhere beyond my daughter’s window, I hear the distant sobbing of the Wandering Seeker. I smile. Without another word, I kiss her upon her forehead.

“Another good question,” I answer.

She smiles, “Will you tell me someday?”

I nod. “I will. I promise that I’ll tell you all of the Wandering Seeker’s stories one day.”

“Okay,” she says, “I love you Daddy.”

“I love you too,” I say. She curls up beneath her coverlet, hugs her teddy bear close and closes her eyes one, final time. Per her slow and methodical breathing I understand that she is asleep. I stand from her bed and exit her room. I reenter mine and make my way quietly over to my bed. I crawl back into it. Instinctively, my wife shifts and her arm falls over my chest. I kiss the moonlight that dapples there.

Dream or reality, I embrace the contentment.

Short, maybe sweet and definitely contrite. What can I say? They only gave me 1200 words to work with. Oh, well. I did the best that I could. No worries. This, too, shall pass. I hope you enjoyed it. Have a good night ladies and gents. Hug your little ones closely, and keep your ears opened for the Wandering Seeker. There will always be a little part of him out there.

Out here.

Winky emoticon. Smiley Face.

On Being An Artist Extraordinaire (Pronounced “Ar-teest”)

Last evening, something pretty awesome happened in my subjective reality on this side of the proverbial wormhole of existence. Yes, I said “awesome.” What can I say? I am a child of the 80’s and back then, awesome was arguably the most used superlative (runners-up: Gnarly, rad (as in “radical”) and excellent). We–as in Nicole, Cara, Natalie and I–were fully engrossed in our nightly routine: In our PJs and “settled” with the Good Night Show on in the background. Nicole and Cara were playing tic-tac-toe, i.e. Cara’s new, favorite game. They were doing so on her new, Barbie Doodler when Natalie… the best way I can describe it is “toddled up.”

Picture this, if you will: Curly, crazy hair. chubby cheeks, a pair of “Heal the World” PJs and a bottle hanging out of her mouth. Always smiling, unless you take her last bottle away from her or try to put her to bed before she’s ready. I’d post a picture of her herein but I’m leery of plastering my kids’ faces all over the internet and always have been. Anywhos, she “toddles up” to Nicole and Cara, grabs the pencil that you draw on the doodler with in her right hand, holds it almost as well as I hold a pen, and starts… well, doodling.

It wasn’t anything too out of the ordinary: Just some scribbling, punctuated by the occasionally triumphant “anh!” or “Hodor!” Yes, I wrote Hodor. I swear that Natalie’s taken to saying that, recently. If you are a fan of either the Game of Thrones television series or books then you understand the significance. If not? Well, my wife thinks she’s trying to say “what’s that” and it comes out sounding like “Hodor” but me? Come on. The kid has a dragon named Smaug and saw the Lord of the Rings movies for the first time when she was two months old. Ya’ think I’m trying to instill my interests in her at an early age? Survey says: Undoubtedly.

But I was visibly shocked. I couldn’t believe it. We couldn’t even get Cara to hold a crayon pre-turning two and even then, she wasn’t really interested. But Natalie? Fourteen months young and counting and she’s already holding a “pencil” perfectly and understands what to do with it. I immediately went into the playroom which adjoins and generally overflows into our living room, got a crayon and a pad of paper, came back into the room, sat down on the floor with both, motioned Natalie over (she came), and handed her the crayon. What did she do? She sat down on the floor, the nipple of her bottle still clamped between her teeth, and started scribbling. Scribble. “Anh!” Scribble some more. “Hodor!”

I was so gul’darned proud. This went on for about five more minutes before she lost interest and started attempting to eat the crayon which I quickly stopped. Thereafter she went back to her “ba-ba” and Wibbly Pig and all returned to normal. But for just one singular moment in whatever passes for time ’round these parts, an entire future passed before my eyes. The too-be-told story of Natalie Marsh, Artist (pronounced phonetically as “Ar-teest”) Extraordinaire.

It’s no secret to anyone that knows me and knows Nicole that Cara almost immediately adopted her mother’s personality. She’s analytically inclined (as much as a four year old can be), well-spoken, can already count to 70 (with a little bit of help) and knows how to add and subtract using props, i.e. fingers or Cheerios. She knew how to spell her name shortly after she turned three and was able to write it by three and a half (though she’s still having difficulty with her “R’s.” Hey, “R’s” not an easy letter to master!). But numbers? Numbers are her passion. Much like my wife, who as you may or may not know is a pharmacist (sarcasm fully intended; if you don’t know that by now then you’re not reading the right “Random Musings”). I’m not bragging guys, i.e. my kid is smarter than your kid. I would never do that. I’m just stating the facts. “Just the facts, sir. Just the facts.”

But what about me? What about my characteristics? Save for a slightly twisted sense of humor–she’s fond of making a special trip to sit and “toot” on Daddy’s leg before laughing like a loon and walking away–an expansive imagination and a penchant for over-dramatics, she’s about 70% Nicole and 30% me. Which is fine. I will never complain. Nicole’s my wife and Cara’s my daughter, and I love her… love them implicitly.

But Natalie? It’s like she adopted her Daddy’s personality from day one. She’s stubborn, knows what she wants, gets emotional when she doesn’t get it, loves hugs, fancies a good drink (milk, in her case, Scotch in mine) and now? Now, she’s showing an early, artistic penchant. And this? To have a child that has the potential to not just be yours but to be like you? It’s the most awesome, gnarly, rad and excellent thing that can possibly happen to a parent.

Nicole’s taking the minions out to Target, today, to get Natalie her own crayons. “My First Crayola Washable Crayons” and if you have toddlers and haven’t tried them yet please: Try ’em. I’ll even link them for you HERE. Let me know what you think. And I’ll be sure to keep you abreast of Natalie’s burgeoning career as an artist (again, pronounced “ar-teest”) moving forward.

I could speculate on where Natalie might go from here. I could come up with a whole scenario involving her being an artistic prodigy: About her rising up through the ranks of that particular society and having her first gallery showing at age 10. I could. Heck, what parent doesn’t envision a successful life for their minions? I could even postulate about a collaboration with her dad one day in which she illustrates something that he wrote. I see a picture in my mind of me, older, grayer and hopefully thinner, standing next to her with her crazy, curly hair, each of us holding up a book that I wrote and she created the cover for. That, guys? That’s a pleasant vision.

I know I’m a dreamer. It’s who I am, who I was and who I’ll always be. I want the fantasy. You know, the one that I envisioned years ago after eating a really bad bowl of New England Clam Chowder, back when I lived somewhere between Indianapolis, Indiana and Abington, Pennsylvania and no one lived anyplace else. You don’t? Okay. I promise that one day in the near future I’ll tell you more about it. But this isn’t about my dream for me. It’s about my kids. And I’m allowed to dream about my kids and their lives 10, 20 years from now, aren’t I? Of course I am. It’s part of being a parent. I believe in supporting them in whatever they choose to do. After all, that was what my mother did for me regardless of her own, personal biases towards certain careers that I considered. Booyakasha, Mom-Mom Minnie: RESPECT.

But for me, this isn’t about Natalie’s burgeoning career as the next Salvador Dali. Heck, she might abandon her new crayons all together next week. It’s about one of my girls showing an inclination toward the type of person that I am, however briefly. Not that showing an inclination toward Nicole is or would be a bad thing. Quite the contrary: I think it’s great that Cara’s so much like her Mommy and if Natalie ends up being the same? Awesome, gnarly, rad and excellent. But I take a great deal of pride in even the remotest possibility that one day, Natalie might be an “ar-teest” extraordinaire like her Daddy is, or wants to be (whether I am or am not I leave for you to decide).

But I would caution her the same thing that people cautioned me for years. That path? It’s not lined with rubies and emeralds, i.e. it’s not always profitable or socially acceptable. It’s a struggle for a long time. Heck, it still is. Just because I published a book and it’s sold modestly well up until this point doesn’t mean that I’m a successful author. Heck, I haven’t even broken even yet though I’m pretty close. I’m closer to relevancy than I was before, when ENDWORLD – A Novel was little more than a file on my old HP 286 with the monochrome screen. But it’s not my career. Not yet, at least. But I’m one step closer to it being so than I was a couple of years ago and that? That is a comforting thought. For me and, I hope, for my wife and my minions.

Bring an artist? You have to work at it daily and when you’re tired of working at it? You have to work at it some more. That’s the only way it ever goes from being a hobby to a career. You’re not always going to be accepted. Quite the contrary: Career-types discount people that write, or draw, or sculpt because of the age-old stereotype of the starving artist. That’s understandable, and that is not, I repeat NOT a knock on people that chose a profession. I married one of those people. Some of my closest compadres are doctors, lawyers et al. I love them and admire them all the more for their accomplishments.

But the idea of the starving artist? It exists. It pervades our society. Some of the greatest “ar-teests” in history were. Van Gogh was a pauper who was never recognized until after he died. Dylan Thomas chose a life of poverty as a “minor artist” because it offered him a different way of living, albeit a way that inspired him. Henry Miller was a Bohemian. I could list other names but to do so would be counterproductive. There are a thousand and one, both known and unknown that meet the classification.

But what the white-collar, career-types despite my respect for them and what they have accomplished in their lives don’t always take into account is that starving artists? They worked and are working just as hard and at times harder than them. Art? It is their career, however un-fulfilling it is monetarily. And the rewards for the ones that stick it out and find eventual success? Relevancy? They are the dream, i.e. the rubies and the emeralds. Not many people can say that they’re living their dream existence on this, or any side of the wormhole but me? Well, I may not be living it now but I still believe that one day, I will. By the grace of a sometimes humorless universe, I still believe in the fantasy that was spawned by a bowl of Bad New England Clam Chowder so many moons ago. And I will continue to work toward it, ’cause it’s what I chose. It’s who I am. Not the whole “me,” but a gul’darned big part of it.

I just talked to Nicole a couple of moments ago. She, Cara and Natalie went to Target despite the torrential rain that has been pounding southeastern Pennsylvania since I woke up this AM. They didn’t have My First Crayola Washable Crayons so instead, Natalie got jumbo ones and Cara got markers to practice not only writing her name and playing tic-tac-toe, but drawing, as well (she actually does a really good face, and a few weeks ago, she drew a whale that I actually recognized as a whale). She–Cara–has taken an interest in drawing houses, lately, and I showed her the rudimentary way to do it: One square, a triangle on top… you know what I’m talking about. Maybe she’s got an artist in her, as well. Maybe Natalie will be the doctor. Maybe they both’ll be white-collar career types or maybe they’ll both be starving artists. Whatever they become in the next 10, 20 years I will love them implicitly, and I look forward to seeing them grow, and develop. And if, one day, my dream of collaborating on a book with one, or both of them comes true?

Well, guys? That would be pretty awesome, gnarly, rad and excellent, all at once.

All together now: “Hodor!”

A Question of Inspiration, Written with a Pensive Frown

I’ve been debating where this blog posts belongs: Here on “Random Musings,” or over on the “ENDWORLD” site? It’s really a toss-up. I’m going to go with choice “A,” otherwise known as the site that I’ve neglected for almost a month. A month? Yep. For those of you that have been waiting patiently for me to take a little break from blogging congratulations: You got it. But now? Now, I’m back. Whether my being back is for the betterment of the blogosphere or not I do not know. I leave that for you, my faithful readers to decide. Whether I’ll be maintaining “Random Musings” more consistently moving forward is also a mystery. I’m knee-deep in CHILDREN OF ENDWORLD, right now. It’s occupying most of my creative mind, presently. At the same time, it is indirectly the reason why I am writing this. Hence my internal strife about where this blog entry belongs. Well sh*t, at least I figured that issue out.

I’d love to say that the going has been smooth, both with CHILDREN and outside of my burgeoning career as an author. But I can’t. The truth is? My life, AKA that thing that I do when I’m not posing as the Madchronicler or an author has been pretty crazy, lately. I’ve been dealing with and I’m still dealing with some serious sh*t. I’m not going to bog this post down with that info, however. Much of it has been resolved and that which hasn’t? Not to disappoint you guys, but it’s a bit too personal, even for “Random Musings.” Never fear, though: I may not be the living and breathing facsimile of a happy face that I normally am at the present time, but I’m not emo, either. I’m somewhere in between. If I were to describe my current state of mind as an emoticon, it would be a colon, followed by a dash, followed by a straight, up/down/north/south line. “Pensive frown” I’ll call it. Is that even a valid emoticon? I have no frackin’ idea. Let’s see.

:-I

Survey says? Well, it didn’t default to an actual emoticon like 🙂 does, but I believe that it properly conveys what I was going for if you look at it sideways. If you look at it upright, it looks like something one of my daughters typed in an attempt to acquire my computer.

Yes, I digress. Apologies. This blog entry isn’t directly about my personal life. It’s about my other life: The life of the writer/author/pseudo-insane, mad chronicler of his own, subjective universe. As a… whatever I just called myself, there are many things that I can overcome. Writer’s block? No problem. I just keep writing until I break through. A proverbial “dead end” in my story? No worries. “Click,” highlight and “Delete.” Start over. Rinse and repeat until it works. A power outage while I’m writing the closing paragraphs of my first novel? First, scream. Then? Scream some more. After a few moments, wait for the power to come back on and rewrite everything that I just lost. But there is one thing that I… one thing that many writers fear (I do not say “all” because I refuse to speak for everyone). That “thing?” A conflict with our muse or muses, i.e. that which inspires us to write.

It is no secret to anyone who has known me that in the past, my muse has been chaos. Bob Dylan once said that “chaos is a friend of mine.” That lyric reflected my life for the longest time. Someone once even called me “The Prophet of Anti-inspiration” (booyakasha, Marine. RESPECT). But over the last decade plus, that characterization has grown less and less significant. One of the reasons why it took me so long to rewrite ENDWORLD – A NOVEL and start rewriting her subsequent sequels is because the originals were birthed in chaos: A stage of my life which I have written about and talked about extensively off the record. For the record? I do not want to go back to that life. EVER. Let me make that abundantly clear. No more needs to be written, or spoken about it.

And I shouldn’t have to. The published version of ENDWORLD and the work in progress versions of CHILDREN and HEAVEN AND ENDWORLD come primarily from a different place. Different muses: Stability, happiness and security. All aspects of my life, now, that did not exist back when we all lived in “Oz” and thereafter, “State Pen” and no one, not even Marine lived anyplace else.

Therein lies the rub. Despite a few bumps in the proverbial road these last few weeks IRL, I’m still relatively happy. Compared to how I was back when chaos was a friend of mine I’m incredibly happy. But the portion of CHILDREN that I just started writing yesterday? It is dark. Very dark. It comes directly from that place that I used to exist in, 24/7, perhaps moreso than anything else I have ever written. And for the benefit of the story and the overarching plot-line, I cannot deviate from it. If anything, I need to go even deeper and darker now since The Endworld Series is a lot deeper and a whole heck of a lot darker than the original trilogy was. That may not be evident from what you read/are reading in Book One but trust me: By the time you get to where I am at, presently, any ideas that you had about “hope” despite William’s posturings to the contrary in ENDWORLD will be dead in the water. ‘Cause right now? 160+ pages into CHILDREN? There is none. There is only resignation to the inevitable. And that, unfortunately, is where I’m going to leave it, for now. “Spoilers,” as they say. Thank you once again, Doctor River Song.

So the question plaguing my always plagued mind, presently, is a simple one: How do I tap back into that mentality? How do I once again hold hands with chaos while maintaining the for-the-most-part happy medium that is my life, my muse and my inspiration, currently?  There’s really not an easy answer to that question. When I write, my mind goes places. It becomes the story and the characters that I am writing. Not to the extent that I lose touch with reality, at least not anymore, but to a certain extent, I live through things with them. Their fates aren’t always predetermined, despite treatments and outlines. Look no further than the character in ENDWORLD–and if you read it/are reading it, you know the one I am talking about–that I had planned a future for. That future? It never happened. He/she suffered a much earlier demise than I had initially planned. What can I say? It wasn’t my fault. I don’t write my stories. They write themselves.

Really. No sh*t intended. How many of you just looked up from your computer, your tablet or your mobile device, rolled your eyes and said “yep. That confirms it. He”–meaning me–“is certifiably insane.”

If you think that I am, so be it. I am not going to tell you what to think of me. I’m a big fan of just being me and letting people decide whether they like me or not. In the interest of “just being me” I’m going to continue. If you’ve had enough? If you think I’m cuckoo? No worries. It’s been fun. You have my best wishes moving forward. Booyakasha. RESPECT.

But if you don’t, here’s s’more food for thought. I’ve always seen myself as a vessel: A conduit through which tales are told. I’m going to let you in on a little secret. IMO (and this is a BIG “in my opinion”), every story that ever existed or will exist actually existed pre-being written, somewhere in the proverbial ether of the imagination. It is the writer/author’s job to reach out to it. The story selects the writer/author, and not the other way around (so much for Free Will, huh?). Thereafter, one of two things happens. Either A.) Said story rejects the writer/author’s advances and waits for someone more attractive to some along (an eventuality that was quite common back in my own, personal dark ages), or B.) Said story accepts the author/writer’s invitation, invites he or she… invites you to sit down, and reveals itself to you. There’s really no language to what it reveals. At it’s core, a story is thought: Thoughts, jumbled and without order. Your job… my job as the lucky sonofab*tch that The Endworld Series picked is to take those ideas and give them order. Form. Henceforth, William MacNuff’s story.

There is a danger in this, though. I swear this is not a digression. This past weekend, I saw “Pacific Rim.” Great movie, BTW. I highly recommend it. One of the main concepts of “Pacific Rim” is the idea of “drifting”: Two minds, synchronized and working concordantly to achieve the same end. In the case of the movie, that end was the effective operation of a big, honkin’ robot called a Jaeger. That idea–drifting–holds true in many cases. Husbands and wives employ a form of drifting to manage their household effectively. Children? They employ a form of drifting to drive their parents and thereafter, their substitute teachers batty. And authors? They drift with their story. They become of one mind with it. And therein lies the danger when you get to the part or parts of the tale like the one that I have gotten to: The dark part or parts. In order to properly explicate the story you have been chosen to convey, you need to allow the darkness in. Even if it is completely contrary to who you are 24/7… even if it scoffs at the ideas of stability, happiness and security… even if chaos is your worst enemy, you NEED TO HOLD HANDS WITH IT FOR HOWEVER LONG IT TAKES TO FINISH. How do I tap back into the mentality of my early adulthood and remain a “pensive frown?” Simple: I let it in.

No lie: It is a scary prospect. It is not one that I relish. But there are scary prospects everywhere I turn these days. Just because this one seems so doesn’t mean that I can’t handle it. I believe that I can. I believe that I can go to that place that I need to go and stay firmly routed in my reality on this side of the proverbial wormhole of existence. Fifteen years ago? I would never have said that. But now? I am older. Stronger. Wiser. All the sh*t that has gone down IRL over the last few weeks? It’s helping. The chapter that I just wrote yesterday? Well, let’s just say that it pulsates with a range of emotions and leave it at that. Yet it is the tip of the proverbial iceberg. There is so much more to come and things just spiral deeper, and deeper into sh*t, sh*t and more sh*t. The good news? There’s a light at the end of the tunnel and I’m pretty ciked about writing THAT part. But first, I need to get there. And to get there, I need to invite my old friend chaos over for a spot of whiskey. Maybe a little “Highway 61 Revisited,” too. “Desolation Row” always has been my favorite Bob Dylan song. “They’re selling postcards of the hanging. They’re painting the passports brown. The beauty parlor is filled with sailors. The circus is in town.” But only after the girls have gone to sleep. Because despite my posturings to the contrary, they are not chaos. They are, and always will remain the proverbial light at the end of my life tunnel (as opposed to the above referenced story tunnel). And I love them for that.

Optimally, I’d love to take a couple of days off and just write it until it’s done. But that’s not feasible, despite the fact that my vacation time re-ups next Thursday (yay, August). The idea of just writing is not a feasible one, presently. It hasn’t been for a while. But hey: That’s the life I chose. It’s a challenge. And like every challenge I have ever been faced with, I will rise up and accept it. That’s what Frank Marsh, writer/author/pseudo-insane, mad chronicler of his own subjective reality does. Love me or hate me, hopefully you respect that. Respect me. Booyakasha, my friends.

You guessed it: RESPECT.

:-I

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.