Friday Fictioneers: Cheers

PHOTO PROMPT © Liz Young

By the time Lester had emptied the beer bottle, he’d wandered into a large field, no trash can or any other receptacle in sight. With a dismissive shrug and an unspoken apology to nature, he tossed the bottle aside. An unexpected thunk stopped him, and he walked over to the sound’s source.

The bottle deflected off the decapitated head of a mannequin. A tree branch lay across the mannequin’s shattered face; without understanding why, Lester picked up the bottle and rested it on the face, adjusting the branch to secure the placement.

Lester stood, belched, and laughed. “Cheers, mate.”

Every week, Rochelle Wisof-Fields hosts Friday Fictinoneers, where the objective is to write a complete story in 100 words or less in response to a photograph. I encourage you to learn more about Friday Fictioneers and view other responses to this week’s prompt.

4 – 8 – 15 – 16 – 23 – 42

After a three-month hiatus, Ana Spoke has resumed posting to her blog today. Explaining she “was too busy getting married and starting my new job” to blog, Ana never did lose her literary ambition, although she struggled mightily to get back into her writing.

The difficulty Ana faced in re-starting speaks powerfully to a dilemma that’s been coming for some time. About five years ago, I was writing sporadically in this blog, and wasn’t happy with what I was posting. I had read from several bloggers that the key was to make a committment of some fashion — number of posts per week, word count, completing a story each month, whatever — and stick to it. Many suggested that posting each day was the key, and for whatever reason that committment was the most appealing to me. Not sure of the exact date, although I do know it was the day after my younger son’s bar mitzvah (I could look it up, as if that mattered) — I told myself I was going to post something, every day, in this blog, starting that day until… whenever.

I’m now wondering if whenever’s day has finally come.

At times, the show’s title perfectly described its audience

It’s not that the thrill is gone; I still love writing, and blogging, as much as ever. But this daily obligation has me feeling like Desmond Hume from the television show “Lost”, tasked with entering six numbers (4, 8, 15, 16, 23, and 42) into a computer terminal every 108 minutes (I’ll save you the work — the six numbers add up to 108). Desmond was told this sequence of numbers had a supernatural power, and entering those numbers was the only way to prevent a catastrophic event. “Lost” was a cult phenomenon in its day, and its fans spent a good deal of time and energy speculating on some of the show’s recurring motifs, particularly those six numbers (hey guys, astrology has 12 houses and 9 planets — guess what number you get when they’re multiplied!). Posting on online message boards, speaking at conventions, and giving interviews to fawning entertainment writers, the show’s writers would frequently drop hints at the numbers’ significance, but after the show ended in 2010, they admitted most of show’s motifs had no hidden meaning. Those numbers had been chosen pretty much at random, and served as nothing more than a useful plot device, what the detective novelists would call a red herring. In other words, Desmond had been entering those numbers for absolutely no reason.

The decision to post every day was the right call five years ago, as I don’t think I could have produced as much as I have if I didn’t have that disciplined motivation. But there’s been too many obligatory posts the past several weeks, and I don’t see the value in keeping the streak going any longer. My Christian readers will likely say that I’ve made an idol out of my daily obligation — and they’re likely to be correct.

But as I contemplate stepping away, I think of Ana’s struggle to resume writing. Let’s say tomorrow, Wednesday, I decide not to post. What’s going to motivate me to post on Thursday? Or any other day this week? Next week? The rest of the month?

If you’ve managed to wade through the preceding 500+ words, I’m now asking a favor. What advice do you have for blogging consistently, but not daily? What tactics do you employ to keep posting regularly? I don’t want to be like poor Desmond any longer, but right now I’m at a loss in my search for a different way of being diligent.

Voices in a Tough Time

This is a difficult season for people suffering from depression. It’s dark when we rise, dark on the drive home, the weekends wet and gray. Winter seems to have begun ages ago, with no promise of relenting. There’s never a good time of year for depression, but times like these are worse than usual.

I’m actually having a better February than I’ve had in years past. Maybe it’s because of the fairly mild weather (only had to use the snow blower four times so far); maybe it’s the enthusiasm I feel about my writing; maybe my abstinence from alcohol in January has given me an advantage over my darker moods; maybe regular exercise has kept the endorphin flowing; maybe I’m giddy that one of my favorite professional sports teams has just won a championship (no, I can’t be that shallow… can I?… maybe I can). It’s probably a combination of all those elements, some of which I can control, others not so much. Whatever the reasons, I accept this bounty with gratitude, and will fight like hell to keep feeling this way.

For many people, communication can be a powerful tool in combating depression. In that spirit, I want to share posts from bloggers who write powerfully about this subject. I’ve shared posts from each of these blogs previously, and do so again because their work continues to deserve recognition:

  • Depression can manifest itself as an almost physical presence, and few other writers can convey this sensation more acutely than Megan at The Manic Years

  • lilypup’s blog provides an honest journal of an entire family suffering from emotional disorders. It can be a heart-wrenching read at times, but lilypup never asks for the reader’s sympathy — only their understanding.
  • Depression Comix never makes fun of depression, but does find space for humor in the lives of people who suffer from the disease

 

The Passive/Aggressive Despot

Mark Aldrich, The Gad About Town, posts regular updates on journalists imprisoned for simply doing their job, such as the Egyptian photojournalist Shawkan. His post today focuses on the United States, and the Donald Trump administration’s attacks on media credibility. I find a lot of wisdom in the following excerpt:

Autocrats in our current era will not march into newspaper offices and destroy printing presses, as they did once upon a time; they will simply shame and harass them into silence. They will cajole their credulous supporters into not believing credible evidence and into a resistance of critical independent thinking.

I’d like to expand on Mark’s analysis with the following two comments:

  • Comparisons of Trump to notorious dictators of the past are an ineffective distraction. Journalists in America aren’t going to be arrested (unless they choose to investigate a riot), but they will be subject to a sustained passive/aggressive attack from the President. No direct accusations, but rather a continuous series of suggestions; no call to action, but should some lunatic decide to take the law into his own hands… well, the President never told him to do it, and besides, the victims had it coming to them anyway. Mark doesn’t compare Trump to Hitler, Saddam, or Stalin (the comparison to Egypt’s Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is made to demonstrate parallel tactics), which is wise, for Trump’s brand of maniacal despotism is unique, and needs to be called out and combated on its own terms.
  • Expressing outrage at Trump’s behavior is a waste of time and energy, and I’m glad to see Mark’s post is free of self-righteous indignation. Anger will never get Trump to admit he is wrong, as maniacs are by definition incapable of the self-reflection required to acknowledge error. And while outrage might persuade some of his supporters, a core group will continue to believe in “alternative facts,” no matter how vehemently we present the truth. I also believe Trump and his supporters welcome the outrage, seeing it as yet another distraction from his more nefarious policies, such as his increasing friendship with Vladimir Putin. We can, and must, fight every lie with the truth, every false assumption with logic, every attempt to circumvent the law with all our available resources; outrage does nothing to help in any of these fights.

The current regime is less than a month old, and it’s proving to be just as mendacious as we’d feared. We have not only to chose which battles to fight, but also must take care in how we chose to wage those battles.

Flashing into the Unknown 

Loise Jensen tells us today how responding to flash fiction prompts helped improve her writing. I’ve been using prompt responses to create background material for Gray Metal Faces, tangential vignettes to the novel’s main story. Been happy with most of those projects, but lately I’ve been feeling the urge to broaden my perspective, step outside my comfort zone. Head down an unknown path, and see where it leads. Writing self-contained stories in a 100 words or less, and engaging with other authors on our work — there is value to be found in this challenge.

Super Boor

Super Bowl LI will be played this evening; kickoff should occur some time after the singing of the third or fourth patriotic anthem, the broadcast of a couple dozen overproduced commercials, and the 30 men and 20 minutes required to flip the damn coin. The game represents America at its boorish best — even our most sports-adverse citizens cannot ignore the event, while the rest of the world tolerates our obsession like a kindly yet overbearing relative visiting for the holidays.

I wanted to begin today by reblogging a post about the game that makes no actual mention of American football. Agnes Wright is ready for the halftime show, and shares some recipes for what has become an American tradition.

Clicking a link to the future

Interesting post from Fargus Larbis today about the future of retail merchants. It’s not looking good for brick-and-mortar stores, as online retailers are competing with and often beating them on price, delivery, and service. I’m anxious for the retail professionals who staff and manage these stores; some can perhaps find employment with online retailers, but the trend with both virtualization and automation is for fewer employees. And if people don’t work, they won’t have money to feed into an economy that’s increasingly being driven by consumerism. And if the consumer market dries up… I don’t want to think about what comes next.

The fate of conventional retail stores reminds me of my father,  who worked in retail most of his professional life. He was a department store manager for several years, until one day I came home from grammar school to see him sitting in front of a typewriter at the dining room table. This was highly unusual, so I asked why he was home.

“I quit my job today.” There was neither pleasure nor apprehension in his reply. “I’m writing my resume.” Later that evening, I asked my mother about the meaning of resume, as the word was entirely new to me. Immediately afterwards, my father would respond to questions about why he quit with clipped monosyllables, laced with a tone that invited no follow-up queries. A few years later, as his former employer’s immanent bankruptcy made the news, he finally gave me the full explanation. “The company’s profit margin had been falling for years, and they went and built a high-rise corporate tower in New York.” That building was featured in each story about the bankruptcy. “Upper management was in complete denial, but it was obvious to me that I had to get out when I did.”

Our family struggled for a couple years after my father left that job. He eventually opened a franchise for a national electronics retailer in the rural town where he was born; for years in the mid to late 1970s, his store was the only place in a fifty-mile radius where consumers could purchase electronic and computing devices. He was the first retailer in the area to sell an electronic calculator, a primitive device by today’s standards — it could only perform simple arithmetic, had no memory, and was as large as some of today’s notebook computers — but was such a novelty in our area that people would drive in from miles away just to say this amazing device. It was so popular that he kept it in a safe overnight, to prevent burglary.

My father made a good career for himself in retail, and provided valuable commodities to our small town. There will be fewer stories like my father’s in the years to come (he left the industry entirely in the early 1990s, when he saw the potential for online retailers), and while I hope the tales that replace his will end just as well, I fear we’re in for a good deal of social disruption in the coming years.