Natural Conversation

When is she coming?

“As soon as she arrives,” I tell the seashells.

Will we control her again?

“Don’t be silly — we cannot control anything,” I remind the sponges.

Then how can we be sure she’ll do as we wish?

“Do you look at her as she manicures us?” I ask the driftwood. “There is joy in her face.”

But what makes her work so hard on our behalf?

I sigh at their lack of understanding. “Because it’s in her nature.”

PHOTO PROMPT © Sandra Crook

Friday Fictioneers is a weekly flash fiction contest that’s a whole mess of fun

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One Man’s Garbage

Gabfrab writes an irregularly recurring series of first-person tales about a homeless hedonist in Austin Texas. His latest story is about a racoonish search for food that, shall we say, doesn’t come out right. The ending reminded me of my youthful days assembling models of rocket ships in my family’s basement; took me years to realize why working with rubber cement made me feel so content.

Recharging the future

As the number of electric vehicles and other battery-operated machines increases, one significant question remains largely unanswered — what will happen to these batteries after they are no longer usable?

There’s general agreement that batteries, with their efficient yet toxic mix of minerals and chemicals, are not good candidates for landfills. Ideas are being pursued to re-use car batteries as stationary energy sources for charging stations and low-power devices such as street lights, but even optimistic estimates grant another decade or two of use for the batteries. Harvesting the battery components is certainly possible, although there is debate over the cost effectiveness of this process. In other words, by around 2030 there could be an enormous amount of batteries that will be neither usable nor disposal.

Or perhaps not. Industrialists, who tend to look at the profitability rather than environmental impacts of issues, see the income potential in the battery disposal/recycling market, if for no other reason than having plenty of material on hand. And while national governments in recent years have backed away from alternative energy investment, voters remain committed to the technology. My gut feeling is that within four or five years, innovative solutions will be developed to lessen, although not eliminate, the impact these dying batteries will have on the environment and the economy. This is one of the more significant technological challenges of our time, but I’m optimistic a solution will be found.

Review: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Call it the Principle of Uncommon Cognomen. If a book or movie (or in this case, both) has an unusual name, there can be no middle ground — it will either be as embarrassing as its title, or cool enough to justify its unique appellation.

Fortunately, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is a solid film. Based on a 2008 historical novel, the movie takes place during the 1940s on the island of Guernsey, located in the English Channel and occupied by Germany in the second world war. Juliet Ashton, a writer who achieved fame during the war, visits the island and its oddly named literary society in 1946 after being contacted by one of its members. Ashton learns the society served as a resistance to the Germans, and discovers a secret the society would rather not have her reveal.

The film works on a number of levels. As historical fiction, it sheds light on an obscure theater of World War II, and creates empathy for the island residents who chose not to evacuate in advance of the Germans. Ashton, adroitly played by Lily Adams, is an engaging character who functions well as the audience’s guide to Guernsey and its mysteries. She also struggles with her recent engagement, and while the audience can see the resolution to this storyline early in the second act, Adams is a strong enough actress to make this part of the film seem genuine.

The film was released in theaters in Great Britain, but evidently believing American audiences were adverse to characters speaking in British accents, it is only available on Netflix in the United States. That’s a shame, because the wide shots of the Guernsey coastline are best appreciated on a large silver screen. But even when restricted to the narrower width of your home television screen, “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” demonstrates that a film with the most unusual of titles can still be unusually good.

Peril

A recent story from Derek Alan Wilkerson demonstrates the peril of writing from a child’s perspective. The narrator attempts to convey thoughts from just before his fourth birthday, but instead of that kid’s voice, we hear the opinions of a cynical and not terribly insightful adult. A third-person narrative might have worked better.

Friday Fictioneers: Dividendings

The top of the coffee table was clear on the the day I retired, and the detritus it’s collected represent the dividend of my new freedom. But the scotch is almost empty, my friends and their cigarettes have worn out their welcome, and the sight of candy now makes me nauseous. I’ve enjoyed these past couple of months, but I’m ready to get busy end, and say goodbye to the dividends of my retirement.

I don’t always participate in Friday Fictioneers, but I always enjoy the experience.

Don’t be a fool

The following post should be entirely unnecessary, as its message is obvious, the equivalent of statements such as Look both ways before crossing a street, or Diversify your retirement portfolio, or Twitter sucks.

But a friend of mine, whose intellect I respect, today went on Facebook (which also sucks) and posted a quote that can be proven, with less than five minutes of Internet research, to be false.

I guess even the most basic lessons need reiteration.

Nope — he didn’t say it

Let’s start with a different quote, one that I have to refute about twice a year. I’m no fan of The Fraud, and I’m more than a little disgusted with the GOP’s response to his regime, but I’ll never be satisfied with the tease of dishonesty, no matter how much it may flatter. This quote needs to go away, forever, although I’m pretty certain it will continue showing up in my Facebook feed from time to time, like a recurring outbreak of a dormant virus.

She didn’t say this either

Time to move on to today’s subject, a less egregious distortion but still a deliberate lie. For those who don’t know her, Brooke Baldwin is a journalist for the American news network CNN. In 2015, during a live interview on the subject of police training, she made the following statement:

A lot of young people — and I love our nation’s veterans, but some of them are coming back from war, they don’t know the communities, and they’re ready to do battle.

Baldwin was criticized for this remark about veterans, and the following day she apologized, on air as well as online. To summarize: she made an error, acknowledged her mistake, and issued an apology. Sorry folks — nothing more to see here.

But then, three years later… “Don’t hire veterans!” And five minutes of my life lost to research, and another hour writing this post.

It’s not that I’m against paraphrasing, but enclosing a misleading paraphrase in quotes is inexcusable. Let me walk through an example, using a famous aphorism that’s entirely appropriate for today’s subject:

Now THIS, he actually said

“You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.”

Abraham Lincoln

Let’s paraphrase the quote as follows:

 

Not entirely accurate, but close enough

Abraham Lincoln believed Americans were gullible.

You could argue this strays from Lincoln’s intended meaning (for one thing, he doesn’t specifically address his countrymen), but there’s still a close enough connection to his original words to justify the paraphrase. And by not using quotation marks, the paraphraser acknowledges going beyond Lincoln’s words to make a related, but not identical, comment.

Now let’s take it to the extreme that’s become the norm these days, and the place my friend went today by forwarding the Brooke Baldwin fake quote — distort the original words beyond recognition, and give the fabrication an unwarranted air of authenticity by using quotation marks:

I’m going to hell for this, aren’t I?

“Americans are a bunch of fucking idiots.”

Abraham Lincoln

I didn’t enjoy calling out my friend today, but I also believed I wouldn’t be doing her any favor by letting her foolish mistake (five minutes of research! really!) go unchallenged. Truth matters, and by playing loose with accuracy for the sake of bolstering our arguments — and by forwarding quotes that can be easily proven to be fake — we only serve to embarrass ourselves.

Review: Cleveland Neighborhood Guidebook

This collection of essays from Belt Publishing travels the diverse range of communities within and adjacent to Cleveland, a city with a legacy that elicits both pride and remorse. Its septuagenarian residents can recall a time when Cleveland was considered one of America’s top ten cities, and the city’s broad thoroughfares retain evidence of a municipality designed to accommodate over a million people. But like many cities in the Great Lakes region, Cleveland relied on industries that began cratering fifty years ago; civic unrest in the 1960s hit the city particularly hard, and when interstate highways opened the doors to the suburbs, the city’s population fell to levels not seen since 1900.

To their credit, the editors of Cleveland Neighborhood Guidebook decided not to overlook the devastation caused by the city’s depopulation. The anthology includes a frightening account of one young couple’s disastrous attempt to settle in a crime-stricken neighborhood, and there are a few odes to industrial sections that are little more than ghost towns. Mixed in with these sobering tales are a few too many panegyrics to areas where urban pioneers have established thriving communities; written in a voice resembling an over-enthusiastic Chamber of Commerce spokesperson. Given the typically distorted view of Cleveland in the media, such ebullience is understandable, even if if makes for poor writing, but fortunately there’s more than enough quality work in the anthology to overcome its occasional flaws.

If you’re not a current or former resident of northeast Ohio, this book probably isn’t for you — the essays rely on a civic memory that a reader from outside the area simply won’t have. But if you’re looking to gain more knowledge of the city of Cleveland, this book will be insightful.

***

This review is a milestone of sorts. Last December, I attended a holiday party for a Cleveland literary group and was fortunate enough to win a raffle for six books from local authors. I vowed that evening to review each of those works, and over the past several months I’ve blogged about a bildungsroman, an autobiography about a harrowing crime, a detective novel, a collection of plays and monologues, another novel that deserved to be better than it turned it — and with today’s review, I’ve completed my obligation. Fortunately, I attended a book swap last week for the same group, and was able to exchange most of those books for a new collection, which will be the source for future reviews.

Time to Change, conclusion

[With the final installment of the story begun here, I also finally have a title]

“Tell me, Agent Marcel, why have no time jumps into the future been attempted?”

The tall, broad-shouldered woman swallowed. “The technology — ”

” — is the same technology used to jump into the past! We’ve known this for years!” Thorson’s voice reverberated with the strength of a man several decades younger. “What are they telling you cadets during training, that old line about not being able to stabilize the frequency?” She nodded. “But they didn’t tell you a stabilization protocol has already been established, and thoroughly tested.”

Agent Marcel stepped up to the mahogany desk, placed her fingertips on its surface, and leaned towards Thorson. “Someone’s been able to jump into the future?”

The elderly man smirked, shaking his head. “The protocol wasn’t established until after time jumping was banned. The Agency has censored its discovery, even to you chrononauts, because they’ve lost their appetite for further chaos in the time stream. Leaping towards the future, when the Agency is just growing comfortable again with stepping back into the past, is asking too much of that bureaucracy.”

She pointed to the red notebook, which Thorson now held close to his chest. “But by finding this object from the past, and bringing it with me to the present — ” her face registered recognition — “without triggering any of the quantum sensors — ”

“Demonstrates we can place objects into the future, Agent Marcel!” Thorson stood, and in that moment Agent Marcel saw the energy he had seen in him forty-six years ago. “With the success of your mission, we can finally accomplish my real objective — to change the future, not the past. People may look back at history with regret, but when they look ahead, they respond with fear. Think of what can be done, when that fear is eliminated. Instead of storing abundant crops for future use, we can actually push them forward to a time when they can be used; diseases that can’t currently be cured — ”

“This is madness!” Agent Marcel began backing out of the room. “You’re asking for a return to the same chaos that took us years to overcome! The Agency will never approve of your plan.”

“I expect they wouldn’t.” Now that Agent Marcel was a safe distance away, Thorson laid the notebook back on the desk, and sat, folding his hands across this stomach. “Which is why I’m having these pages carbon dated, and why I’ll be broadcasting my discovery to the public. Go ahead and report me to the Agency — once people understand the brilliance of my plan, your superiors will be unable to stop me. You’re only able to control the past, Agency Marcel — the future, is mine to command.”

Without a word, Agent Marcel turned on her heel, and when the protobot hovered over to her she swatted it with the back of her palm. A moment later she was back in her vehicle, driving away from Thorson’s estate and mentally preparing her report to the Commander. She had reached into the past, and brought what she had assumed was a present into today; she would now have to ensure her act did not destroy the safety of the future.

[This concludes “Time to Change.” I’ve always been fascinated by time-travel stories, and this represents an experiment in this genre. What will come of this, only the future knows.]

Legacies

Her foot dangles off the bow of the canoe
and flicks lake water onto the gravelly shore.
For fifteen minutes
I’ve been watching her.

If the stars had any of the curiosity that terrified me that night
they would have wondered why this lad let his dungaree knees
soak in an April mud blackened with the memory of winter
as his friends danced in the warm gymnasium.

Like every night, he dozes uneasily in his recliner,
glasses slipping down his nose.
At any sudden noise — setting my glass down on the table,
the front door opening, a shout from the sports announcer —
his eyes snap open, and he cries out, startled and afraid,
until he sees one of us, and we tell him everything’s fine,
encouraging him to go to bed for crissakes.
Some mornings he wakes up in that chair.

An envelope in my graduate school mail slot,
filled with the two twenties, a five, and three singles
I had left on the table the night before,
storming out of the bar in anger.
I needed a sign to renew my trust in them,
and was disappointed at their passing my narcissistic test.

Her responses were exactly opposite of mine,
eruptions of anger instead of simmering resentment.
We saw the flaws in each other,
and the love we shared allowed us to be each other’s healer.

I hope these young men have acquired
the strength and wisdom necessary
to overcome their fears
and forgive my role in their creation.

Two brown circles, each a quarter inch diameter, every night.
The supplement is half that size, and looked much cooler as a green capsule.
When I forget about not liking to ascend mountains, there’s one other.
For the past two years, I’ve said the same words to two licensed professionals,
but those words have lost no potency in their repetition.

We all become legacies.
But our stories are always changing.