Twiddling Prepositions

Notes on Craft – Part Whatever

Sometimes, in order to remind myself to work on a story, I’ll leave it open on my computer, leave the computer on, and just turn my monitor off. Then, each time I sit down to my keyboard (usually in the early morning while the kids are still asleep and the house is quiet), the story will come on with the monitor and remind me in its patient and high-contrast black and white way that I need to work on it.


If I’m feeling good (if I’ve been struck by some genius idea in the night, for instance) I may write a whole new section, but usually I just play with the handful of the sentences that appear in the frame of my monitor. I might flip one back-to-front, fiddle with the verb, change entered to entering, maybe reorganize a paragraph depending on how the words strike my ear as I read them aloud.


There’s almost an obsession with the flow of the words, the rhythm, the cadence of the writing. Sometimes the result is good. Sometimes other people agree. Sometimes it’s only me, my ear, that is satisfied. But it’s writing just the same and somehow it lets me feel I’m moving the story forward. If only glacially.


10 Minutes

Often I’ll set a timer to 10 minutes, but not start it, yet.

I’ll open a blank document, type the date, and save the document with the date as the file name in a folder. Somewhere.



(My file structure is a little on the wonky side. Where I put each of the files makes sense when I save them there, but later I can’t find anything.)



I’ll click the page,  start the timer, and begin typing.

Sometimes, I’ll get to here.

Sometimes,  I’ll only ge

Christmas Memories, Part I

Author as a YouthAs an adult, it’s tough at Christmas when your ghosts of Christmas Past are drunken, screaming, sometimes punching, parents.

There was one year. I was young. I don’t remember how young, but I woke up Christmas morning and there were no presents under the tree.

And it wasn’t that no presents had been bought, no presents had been wrapped. No, my mom had bought, wrapped, and stacked quite a pile of presents in her closet. (my brother and I had found the key and snooped.)

Yet, Christmas morning there were no presents under the tree. Dad was in a stupor on the kitchen floor and Christmas had to wait while my brother drove mom into town to get stitches.




I’m watching you lay out the photographs tonight. The handful from the other shoe box. Spread them out on the bathroom floor. I don’t know why. I guess it seems right there. We never did agree on some things, like what it was to me. Obsession? Passion? I didn’t then but I see it more from your view now, the progression of it. Maybe why you were worried. Always faster.

Slot car racing with Nicole in the living room of the house in Chesapeake. Nicole grim-faced with new braces. Always faster.

My go kart on its trailer in the driveway. The street race in Indiana. The rain. Always faster.

The formula Vee the next year, slashing through plumes of spray in the wet at Summit Point. Me leaning on the fence on the grid. Smiling in my blue driver’s suit, chatting with other drivers. Waiting our turn to race under a crystal clear sky. Me in the cockpit face-on to the camera. You can’t see but I was smiling inside my helmet.

The car’s sleek body glittering in the summer sun. The blaze orange roll-over bar jutting above my helmeted head.

Roll-over bar…

… I promised never to call it that.

Jim Race 2

Before the Crash

Before the Crash

It’s the accumulation of it, like the odor of a cherished pipe long kept in a white oak desk drawer. Eventually, nothing can cleanse the scent of it from your nostrils.

It’s the irony of the relationship now that causes such dissonance in my mind, the distance between us so evident and in such contrast to the memory of our intimacy.

To the effect that I hear myself asking, “Which is true? What I saw then or what I see now?”

And the question distracts.

A Ghost of Christmas Past

(taking advantage of the seasonal excuse for these kinds of stories.)

Four Kids at Christmas

Christmas shopping growing up was the four of us, my older brother and younger sisters, seated around the kitchen table and our dad stumbling in, dead drunk, tossing a half-empty pack of Raleigh cigarettes at my brother.

“Here. You filthy animals,” he’d say and laugh like it was joke grandpa used to tell him at Christmas, or something. Then he’d curse (“fuck” was always his favorite), drop the Sears Wish Book, and stagger back towards the TV room.

Later, mom would drive downtown to the outlet to place the order. At least that remaining part of it that dad hadn’t vetoed.

Still, judging by the photo, it didn’t turn out too bad.

Antigodlin Tendencies


Antigodlin Tendencies

There’s a shudder–you hardly even notice it but–the antigodlin demise begins. Things slide askew, tumble together, and money becomes tight.

They argue and her words strike him as angry and strange, “catty-corner,” “wampus-jawed.” She describes her life, their life, as a twisted, collapsing ruin. At one point she stumbles for a word and he interjects, “Askew?”

She smiles at his word choice, the economy of it. She remembers he could always say just the right one or two words to break down her walls and tumble inside. She sighs.

The mortgage wouldn’t get paid this month. They laugh the thin laugh of the doomed and their eyes never meet.


Chalk the Rabbit

** Chalk the Rabbit **

Cynthia brings her hands to her face like a boxer–fists clenched, elbows tight to her sides–and plunges headlong into the thick hedgerow bordering Mr. Truman’s front yard. She stumbles to the ground on the other side, bright green smudges blossoming on the knees of her white-stockings.

On the sidewalk, the boys streak by, sneakers flat-slapping the concrete, a driving back-beat to their chorus of excited shouts. She catches glimpses of them strobing through the hedgerow; a streak of blue denim, a blur of red shirt, a smear of white sock. Then they are gone and the cacophony of color and sound and motion dissipates behind them like a wake.

Cynthia stands and brushes herself off, the fat piece of pink chalk still clenched in her right fist. She imagines her mother scolding her about her stockings then freezes when she hears Mr. Truman’s Doberman growling beside her.

Chalk the Rabbit

Tales of My Youth- Episode 11

Tales of My Youth – Episode 11

Peanut Butter Sandwiches (or, My Early Career in Theater)

I don’t remember much about the first time I was on stage. I was in fourth gradAuthor as a Youth Side-Eyee. It was a play. I remember a picnic scene, eight or nine kids sitting around a table, waiting to eat, and a tray of peanut butter sandwiches for later in the scene. I remember I inexplicably (still to this day, I don’t know why I did it), jumped up from my seat and jammed both hands into the pile of sandwiches on the tray and mashed them into a pulp.

I’d like to be able to report that as I did it, I shouted, “Sic semper tyranus!” But I can’t. Not only did I probably not even remember that from History class. I didn’t have any motive at all. I just jumped up like a petulant nine-year old asshole and mashed a bunch of sandwiches. I remember laughing about the mess as I made it, all the peanut butter jammed between my fingers. It was gross in that great nine-year old boy way!

I probably got the hook on that one. I don’t remember. I imagine I did, and considering the era, it was probably an actual “hook”! This was, after all, a time when teachers still had paddles hanging in their classrooms, some labeled “Board of Education.” And they used them!

And I know it doesn’t justify my behavior during the play. As an adult, as someone having a better understanding of the generally accepted boundaries of right and wrong, I recognize how stupid and annoying what I did was.

It helps, I think, to understand the times, though. The play may have occurred late in the school year, and if it did, it was 1964 and in the shadow of the JFK assassination. I was too young to care about the TV news, but I remember watching the Procession through the Capital. I remember not understanding what was happening, but knowing it wasn’t good.

The next year in Fifth grade–and in retrospect, I’d like to think it was because of her untethered fear reflex at the changes sweeping through the country–my teacher slapped me in the face with a length of black garden hose.

At the time, I felt I deserved a garden hose slap to the face. I was being a complete asshole, slamming down the top to my desk and refusing to speak English to the  teacher, responding to everything she asked me in a made up gibberish language that a classmate and I had invented!

If I had been that teacher, I probably would have slapped me in the face.

And besides, nearly every night at home, dad (or sometimes, mom) would knock mom (or sometimes dad) down the back stairs in a drunken brawl. Some times my older brother had to call  County rescue.

So there was that. I’m pretty sure none of this ever happened to Shakespeare.