A New Voice for a Familiar Face 

Elan Mudrow’s wonderful new poem, Array, is especially meaningful to me today, as my son and I are visiting my college alma mater. It’s one of several schools he’s considering for his undergraduate education, and touring the campus this morning was a somewhat awkward experience for me.

Three decades from graduation, score years after leaving the town, ten since my last visit — much has changed, mostly for the better (it was heartening to hear that campus meal plans were far more diverse than they were back in my day, and that the journalism school had finally accepted the legitimacy of media outside of print). But for every new building our guide walked past backwards, there was another I recognized from my time; the face of the campus had developed new contours, yet it was unmistakably still the face of that powerful collective intellect which had helped me discover who I was.

Today, though, was about someone who was seeing this land for the first time. Someone who needed to ask his own questions, to derive his own interpretation of the school. I answered his questions as best I could (yes y0u can change your major), but found myself deliberately holding back information about my undergraduate days. Later, on reading Elan’s poem, I understood better why I held back: 

“When I see your face, I recognize it is you, but you have changed. I need to hear your voice.”

Today, I needed to hear the school’s voice speak to my son. So I walked on the outside edge of our tour group, and listened.

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Remembering Sand Creek

Over at Ninefold Evolution, Stephen Mapstone offers a Memorial Day tribute that is not draped in red white and blue. Four stanzas of four-line iambic pentameter, in an abab rhyme scheme — not many poets choose to compose in such a strict format, but Stephen pulls it off well.

As important it is for us to recognize the sacrifice of those who’ve sworn to protect our freedom, it’s also important for us to never forget the horrors committed ostensibly on behalf of that same principle. Remembering the Sand Creek Massacre isn’t about hating your country — it’s an act of cultural honesty.

 

An Engaging Beginning

I reblog poetry quite often, but haven’t done as much with fiction, so upon coming across the introduction to Samantha James’ “In The Eyes Of The Murderess”, the time seemed right to change my habitual behavior. This introduction strikes the right balance of providing enough detail to engage the reader while leaving enough unexplained to create a consistent tone of suspense. Most important, it accomplishes its primary goal of making me anxious to read the next installment.

The Room with a Mind of Its Own

Deidra Alexander just posted an amusing picture of a window located in an odd position. I was immediately reminded of a room I rented for a couple years after my undergraduate days — it was in the attic with plenty of windows, none of which were blocked by bricks.

Long cold nights, long hot days
Beer from a brown cube.
The Sunday imitiation of cheese
From a cold fire of round metal.

Best friend only to its owners runs in the back yard
Around illicit young desire.
The dented horse on the road in front
Draws criminal interest but offers no gain.

Words slush out with little hope
An itch is scratched tentatively.
No progress made, the nobly failed goal
Of the unappreciated intellect.

Friends of truth and light
Raise hands in salvation’s joy.
Letters, calls from fellow occupants of white-washed buildings
Spiced with bemused curiosity.

Rested and restless
The mind submits to another exam, one more application.
Leading out of the room, no less certain of the future
But no longer the watchful prisoner.

Corrections

[This week’s Discover Challenge from The Daily Post is on the topic of Learning.]

Pushing from a left leg too short and underdeveloped to propel his overweight body further than an inch, Butch lunged at Annie, the blade of his weapon pressing into her white-jacketed torso then sliding down to her waist.

“Halt.” Coach Dan stepped forward, from the large area of black tile on the cafeteria floor, to the longthick rectangle of white tile where his two students were sparring. “Annie, did he hit you?”

The athletic teen shook her head, brown pony-tail wagging behind her mask. “Flat.”

“Oh!” Butch lifted the mask off from his chin, exposing eyes wide. “Sorry!”

“Don’t tell me the apology.” Coach Dan extended his open right palm at Butch, his alternative to pointing a finger. “Being sorry helps in no way. Tell me instead what you did wrong, so that we can move to the correction.”

 “Oh!” Butch glanced anxiously between the fencing team coach and team captain. “What I did wrong — didn’t hit with the point, that’s it?”

Mask still concealing her face, Annie looked down, shaking her head. Coach Dan smiled, blinked — “Not hitting with the point was the result, my friend, of at least two mistakes made in the execution of your attack.” His left hand extended out to his side — “Annie, what was one?”

She lifted her mask, exposing her impatient face. “Too close. He started his attack a step closer to me than he should’ve, really.”

“Correct.” The thirty-four-year-old English teacher and volunteer fencing instructor for Bark Bay High School turned his attention towards Butch. “And — what goes first?”

“Oh!” Butch stared up at the high cafeteria ceiling, as if the answer to his coach’s question would suddenly appear. “The tip?”

Annie suppressed a groan, as Coach Dan shook his head, extending his right arm. “Hand. First. You’re lunging then extending — get that hand out first, let it pull your body forward, instead of your body pushing your hand.” He stepped back, nodding at Butch. “Watch your distance, get the hand out. Think you can show me those corrections, my friend?”

“Oh!” The force of Butch’s nodding response brought his mask down over his round face. “You mean, now?”

Annie hummed a laugh, pulled her mask down over her face. “Really no time like the present.”

Some Useful Information

Now that I’ve completed a draft of Chapter 7, thought I’d post some links on previous chapters for my work-in-progress novel, Gray Metal Faces. [Updated 1:03 EDT with Chapter 7 summary]

Each chapter portrays the events in a month of the fencing season, from pre-season organization and planning in September through the state tournament in April, and is told from the perspective of a central character. One or more additional chapters, as well as scenes within the main chapters, may be set several years after the events of the novel.

Chapter Summaries

Chapter One – September

Chapter Two – October

Chapter Three – November

Chapter Four – December

Chapter Five – January

Chapter Six – February

Chapter Seven – March

Character Sketches

Coach Dan

Annie

Double-J

Rex

Rune

Butch

The Bird

Other Bark Bay Fencers

Coaches and Fencers from Other Schools

Setting

Bark Bay

Area around Bark Bay

Fighting Back

Some interesting advice the other day from Olive Ole on how to deal with obnoxious comments and online bullying. Diverting from the “don’t feed the trolls” strategy that most advise, Olive argues for a direct response — Know your bully, learn their weak spot, and use it — which at times seems closer to retribution than self-defense. To her credit, Olive does warn that going all Oulaw Josy Wales on your tormentors can turn victims into perpetrators, and her advice is given with the intent to stop the cycle of abuse rather than escalate the conflict.

As the tenor of my reaction suggests, I feel very ambivalent about this type of response, as revenge has always seemed an inadequate substitute for justice. But then again, justice in the wonderfully uncontrolled environment of the Internet seems comically impossible, and the most effective technique against any form of bullying is to fight back. A troll starved of attention does tend to go away, but sometimes the spell of indifference doesn’t work; while I don’t agree with many of Olive’s tactics, I do see the value in assertive responses to trolls who won’t go away.

The Defeatist

Just downloaded a free Kindle book from Sophie Bowns, “The Defeatist.” The novel begins with a brief prelude that I didn’t find compelling, but the first chapter is complex and taught, and has me hooked. I’ll follow with a more detailed review once I’m finished.

Fargus Larbis

Bill C. Castengera’s Fargus Larbis blog features an ongoing series of posts written in the autobiographical voice of a desperate, anxious writer. (Whether that voice is the blogger’s own, or of a character created by that blogger, is entirely irrelevant.) Those posts would be annoying if they weren’t so damn funny.