Saturday, June 25, 2011

Closing Chapters

In celebration of Save Bookstores Day I am posting this 5 part chronicle in its entirety. Read it, become a person of interest, sign up for email alerts, share my reviews of Young Adult titles with the readers in your life, and, for the sake of the printed word, buy a book. If we make a blip on the radar of retail book sales today it will prove that it is the readers who have the real muscle in the industry.





Closing Chapters
Reflections on my time as a bookseller

Closing Chapter 1 - Lip Service

photo: Bill West
We’re closing. The death knoll was rung on St. Patty’s Day and outside of the fact that it gave us all a damn good reason to drink nothing positive could come from it… or so I thought.

In the days that followed we festooned the retail space with garish banners that transformed our beloved bookstore into a bargain basement. The signs proclaimed, ‘Everything Must Go!’ which was truth in advertising for it included my entire staff. We were all given one-way tickets to the curb, departure six to eight weeks.

We did our jobs. It’s what we do. It was all part of the work ethic I tried to instill into each of my teammates during the past six years. Even though the task of masking every square inch with signage felt like we were measuring and cutting planks for our own caskets; we toughed it out. We knew no other way.

I had it in my head that I needed to be strong for my staff. I was upbeat, always lending a shoulder to anyone who needed it. I must have appeared delusional to the others, wallowing in the denial pool of Kubler-Ross’ stages of grief. It was what they needed, what I needed.

As the liquidation began I found a comfort level incorporating a script in my mind to use when interacting with the public. It insulated me from the barrage of emotions on the sales floor. “yada yada… no coupons.” “blah blah blah… no checks.” “wink, half-smile… all sales final.” Each word was delivered with the bravado of a bartender barking out last call, “Ya don’t hafta go home but cha can’t stay here!” Insulated, effective… safe.

As I faced customers one-on-one it became harder to divorce myself from the grim reality of the situation. Inevitably the words, “I’m so sorry this store has to close.” I would nod, biting my tongue not to extrapolate on just how true those words were to every one of the soon to be unemployed on the floor. Many, whose faces were not familiar, quickly switched gears. “So when are you closing for good? When are the prices going to lower? Why is everything such a mess?” they would ask while their fellow shoppers trounced about like pirates pillaging a village. I again gave an anesthetized nod of the head and would reply, “We don’t know, don’t know, and…” and concluded our meeting by looking out across the devastation that was once a bookstore, again a measured response.

Then there were the regulars who began the same way, “I’m so sad…” It wasn’t merely a formality, they meant it. They were sorry for us, sorry for themselves, sorry that we lived in a world where the greed of the few can so easily decimate the futures of the many. Mostly they were sorry that they were losing a safe haven. We became a part of their social life, a habit of sorts and going cold turkey was going to be a bitch. Then came the silence; as strong as the space between ex-lovers. Words would not suffice. Assorted small talk would follow closing with the obvious, “It’s a damn shame.”

Near the end of the first weekend a woman came to me. Her eyes were glassy, tears held back. With a fragile warble in her voice she opened up to me how much our store had meant to her. She had met the love of her life amongst the stacks of books, searched for answers and solace during her pregnancy in the parenting and baby board book section, shared with us the upbringing of her children through our story times and numerous kiddie events and watched them grow from learning to read to an independent reader who couldn’t wait for our next Harry Potter extravaganza. Now she had to face telling her children that one of their favorite places would be gone forever. It was a life lesson no parent wanted to teach until a family member passes.

I nodded, thanked her and shared with her that inspiring children to be excited about reading is one of the highlights of the job. You don’t get that spark of fulfillment by meeting your quota of widgets but opening a young child’s eyes to the world of Dahl, L’Engle, Reardon and Rowling makes being a bookseller more than just picking up a paycheck. I invited her to bring her children on by next time so that I could put on my jester hat, strike up the band and give them a jovial goodbye. I closed the conversation with the lightest hand on her shoulder and the calculated and safe closing, “The best we can get from this is a bargain.”

I continued through the shift, insulated from the unruly shoppers. (all I could think of was Peter Lorre in Casablanca, ‘Vultures, vultures, everywhere.’) I charmed the twenty minute line that ran half-way through the cavernous store. “yada yada… blah blah blah… all sales final.” I closed my autotron speech by putting my two palms together before me, so Buddha-esque, and concluded, “… and thank you for your years of loyalty, you will be missed.” I should have stayed on script. Looking across the line my eyes fell upon the same young mother looking up at me. I took a ten and I never take a ten. It was her lip, quivering, that got me.

None of us are safe.

Closing Chapter 2 - Blindsided

photo: Bill West
I didn’t see it coming, not that our store became just another unit number of over two hundred stores shuttering their doors. Sure, we were a profitable store when others wallowed in the red during the recession, so yeah, I was a bit dumbfounded by the news. What took me more by surprise was the importance my bookstore had in my life and the lives of the regulars who frequented it.

I was confident that we would ride the storm of corporate restructure with nary a scratch. I was a veteran of downsizing, having three companies in my career go through the motions. Two companies did the bankruptcy mambo and one avoided having their dance ticket punched. The end result was always the same, me having to again redefine myself.
There was an unintentional cruelty to it this time though. The List was posted online for the world to see. We were not on the list. Huzzah! My team was elated and quickly worked at fluffing down the feathers of our skittish patrons. “It’s because of you that we still are here! “ It was all about the love. Because of the numbers, a product of our customer’s loyalty, we dodged a bullet. Gratitude re-energized the staff.

Then the hammer came down. The landlord of every remaining unit were approached and asked to come to the table to renegotiate the lease. Twenty-eight refused, twenty-eight were slated to be closed. It was business and we were about to get struck with the business end of the stick.

What was I going to do? I was currently being paid 50% less than my last career job, barely enough to pay the bills (welcome to the world of retail). If something didn’t happen and quick I would see my mortgage, already a monkey on my back, slip quickly into foreclosure.  I spent over six years of my life slaving for this company and for what, to be collateral damage of some real estate overlord’s tax write-off? 

All those years wasted… or so I thought.
It would be so easy to hold a pity party my every waking hour if it wasn’t for my staff. Each had their own situations, many far more dire and urgent than mine. I am humbled in their presence not only by their coping mechanisms but how they continued to do their jobs unflinching. Damn, they make me proud.

Our fate hit the news. Customers arrived in droves, heads hung low; emotional husks approaching each and every one of my booksellers to pay their respects. Each day that I made announcements to the shoppers it felt like a Twilight Zone episode where I was the lead character who for reasons unbeknownst to her was doomed to be the director of their own funeral. The wake is 9AM – 10PM, come as you are.

The patrons shared the same emotion we all felt, loss. At first it seemed rude and absurd that they would come up to us with, “I just feel horrible about this store closing.”
Each member of my staff fought back the response, ‘You feel horrible!’  The customers after all were just losing a local haunt, we were losing our livelihoods. I pictured myself in a month or two homeless, galumphing in the rain while playing with a stick and contemplating the moral of Ferdinand the Bull. It was hard to be empathetic.

As they fumbled with their words, it became clear that their sadness wasn’t just self-serving. We had become a fixture in the community, more the spirit of a library than a retail store. We were a part of their lives, the good part. It was here they escaped the day to day grind for a cup of joe, a comfy chair, and a momentary escape into a world of intrigue, romance or heady meandering.

When I was young my mom told me “You can go anywhere between the covers of a book” That was in part an excuse for the family not going on any fancy, shmancy vacations, but as I lived my life no truer words have ever been said to me.

My regulars (or irregulars depending on the given day) took those words to heart as well. They would find a place in the store and prepared to be transported. I would recommend titles based on their likes, more a travel agent than a bookseller. Many would head to the registers to take their new found destinations home. We didn’t sell books, we sold dreams; some escapes, some aspirations, some meditations on or from this thing called life.

Our closing wouldn’t just be another empty storefront, a blight on the landscape of the American dream. It would be the removal of a part of the town square. Each customer (and I mean our customers not the myriad of bargain hunters who never frequented our store in the first place) shared their sadness in their own way while trying to keep a lid on their pent up anger. Then there was the silence, nothing more to say and they would leave to find new treasure in our now depleted stacks.

We cared. We made them feel welcome. We love books and were willing to share that love with them. We sold books and we were good at it. 

It made no difference now. It was over. The weeks that would follow would just be a long stream of farewells and crowd control.

All my staff and I can do is what we do. My store is well into its second week of liquidation, its stock growing increasingly lean. Still, I can commune with my guests, perhaps pull out of the rubble a small gem to capture their imagination and for a few moments take them away from lower pay, higher prices and an undetermined future.
Perhaps they can find passion in a war torn land, rise out of poverty and abuse by their bootstraps or discover just how cellophane the human experience while contemplating the miracle of the opposible thumb.

Then, for as long as those pages turn, everything will be alright.

Closing Chapter 3 - Madcap
photo: Bill West

“Got mad?”

His eyes were brimming with glee, this perfect devil fallen from my shoulder now before me, full size, confronting me eye-to-eye. The Pigman was a manager cut from the same cloth; loyal to his staff and his local clientele with the uncanny ability to interject levity into the most menial of tasks. Instead of the printed word he hawked B-B-Q and if smoked meat were books his would be on the New York Times bestsellers list.

I paused, then replied with a tone as confused as his, “No, not really.”

I suppose I should be. Our bookstore was closing by no fault of its own. While many of the stores in our district wallowed in the red during the recession, we remained profitable. Heck, it is rumored that Dennis Lehaine announced at a national mystery writer’s convention that we were the best bookstore in the country. When our company decided to celebrate Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight franchise with première edition parties (klieg lights included), they funded three stores; Los Angeles, natch, Ann Arbor, the company’s hometown, a given, and yes, or lowly store on the South Shore.

Was I dismayed? Yes. But mad… ?

While waiting for the best smoked chicken wings this side of Tennessee, I explained to my inquisitor what you may have read already, about being there for the staff and consoling customers. 

“Then ya got mad, huh?” my impish Beelzebub prodded.

“No.” I replied too quickly.

Perhaps I was repressing some pent-up anger that was simmering just below the surface. It’s not like I was moments from turning into a crazed, disgruntled employee, climbing onto one of the library stacks, holding my employees captive until they each purchased a copy of Wicked Appetite by Janet Evanovich and America by Heart by Sarah Palin (both titles which I had an excess of two hundred copies.) Still, for the sake of my mental health and my innocent patrons, I decided to list some of the annoyances I observed during the past two weeks in hope that by doing so, I will ferret out my inner mad woman.

THE STACKS: To the best of our ability we struggled day and night to keep the titles in each section in order, alpha by author, the more tempting titles faced out to attract potential readers. Before, when a customer asked for a certain title, we could strut briskly to its shelf and procure said title as if my magic. We no longer had smoke and mirrors. Due to bargain hunters filling their arms with books only to discard the titles that didn’t make the cut anywhere they happened to be, and the sneaky shoppers who squirreled away titles hoping to unearth their little chestnuts a week later when the discounts increased, the store was a shambles.  The only assistance we could offer was informing the customer that a title might be in house. Then their scavenger hunt would begin. No more hand holding, no more suggestive selling. So much for the magician’s reveal.

 THE QUESTION: Everyone is inquisitive when a store closes, I get it. A series of answers are scripted by the home office which each bookseller is expected to know by rote. One question however eventually comes up in every conversation, “Soo, when are you closing?” Even the loyalist of patrons ask, the tone changing from Sméagol to the Gollum. One of my veteran employees, a good quarter century of bookselling in his rear window, tapped into his anger and inserted a sheet of paper into his lanyard tag. The plastic pocket was reserved for ‘Hello my name is…’ , current promotions and announcements of personal merit. Now it held a sheet of paper with the coarsely scratched words WE DON’T KNOW all in capitols, accented with an exclamation point. The manager in me went ‘No, No No’ but my off-the-clock, soon-to-be-unemployed self went ‘way to go.’ The liquidator was cool with it and so it stayed, dangling from his neck, point made, anger abated.

SIGNAGE: We play by the liquidator’s rules now. Attention to merchandising standards has been thrown to the wind replaced by the tree depleting overkill of posted flyers and garish signage turning the bookstore from a streamline of maple shelves and cover art into an imploded piñata. Old standards served a purpose when we were a bookstore; the current signapalooza has been proven to work for what we are now, a clearing house. It takes a while to understand that you are no longer a bookseller.

FIXTURES: Everything must go! Nothing held back! That means every display, every tool of the trade. The desks, the shelves, even the paperclips were up for grabs. Understandable, it’s what a liquidator does, liquidate. No harm, no foul. Still, rectangles of neon orange stamped with For Sale and an indiscriminate price tagging every square inch of where you spent the majority of your waking hours gnaws at the bottom of your stomach. That was a good six years for me.  The first day price tags were put on my past I exclaimed, “You’re selling my trident!” which I used to help bring Rick Reardon’s words to life. “You’re kidding, my cauldron too!” referring to my mystical bowl where I conjured up countless celebrations of all things Harry. Thankfully my vampire cape and fright wig were at home, now made powerless, no longer able to entertain young and old customers enamored by the sparkling undead. Some things, like my costumes and this store are fixtures, fixtures in this community you can’t put a price on.

THE VOID:  As product dwindles, we consolidate the titles; migrate the remaining stock closer and closer to the front door where it is expected they will past with all-sales-final receipts. Two things happen in result. First, sections move every other day, shrinking like puddles after sun showers. This means the location of a certain category you could walk to in your sleep was no longer there. God forbid if you took a day off. This made it near impossible to guide a customer where a desired book may be hiding. Second, as the categories constrict, they leave the back empty, sanctioned off by yellow caution tape. Walking the back of the store surrounded by bay after empty bay, walls ribbed by vacant shelves, you feel like you are in the belly of a beast. The ghosts of retail past reside there. Each day the hollow grows. One day soon all there will be left is this whale carcass with a padlock in front. I don’t like to go there.
                 -  -  -  -  -
I head home, battled commuters, stopping and starting my way towards my humble abode. I may soon lose that as well as my job if fate doesn’t intervene. The devil’s burning question and this burgeoning list buzzed in my head.
Once home I opened my to-go bag to discover that the tray tipped to one side in my car seat and the hot ‘n sloppy sauce had leaked away from the wings, pooling in the bottom. I let out a series of expletives that would make a longshoreman blush. Coughing through a well of tears I salvaged my guilty snack that I soon would not be able to afford.

At work I wear several hats; bookseller (always first and foremost), manager, teammate, friend, consult, liquidator, confidante, custodian but only in the confines of my home, surrounded by a menagerie of inanimate objects all in need of a good tongue-lashing, will I wear my mad cap.

Closing Chapter 4 - Foot Notes

photo: Bill West
The store’s closing, the date set and the banners up, 10 days left! We fight the inevitability of our situation to no avail. No matter how stellar our performance we can’t alter the demise of our store. There will be no call from the governor; we are a dead store walking.

We do our jobs to the best of our abilities. They have been redefined, we are no longer booksellers. I was the last to come to this realization. Someone would ask about a title long since gone. I would give the customer a thirty second thumbnail recommendation if the title warranted it, tell them where else in the area they may be able to get a copy, even suggestion another title they might be interested in, another title that is just a ghost in these parts.  Some would be appreciative, most merely aggravated that they would not be able to scoff up the title at half price. I would chime in, “Remember a good book is priceless.” That went over well.

Take the long short walk to my sentence with me while I reminisce.

I will miss the staff:
So few have jumped ship, granted food on the table and a roof over the head is a fine motivator but those who have stayed on aren’t merely going through the motions for the sake of a paycheck. Just when I get a case of the ‘why-me’s I am humbled by how they confront all their personal challenges. I have many with young families, some single income, still able to provide for their children on part-time pay, others juggle schedules with their partners always putting their exceptional children first. I have teammates caring for life-partners with the same selfless zeal, others, fragile survivors who don’t even know their own strength just struggling to get by.
I have had formers lawyers, dentists, teachers, students, all sharing two things in common, they were all intelligent and they all made do with what little compensation the job offers. When you interact with a bookseller in a closing store or in one issued a pardon, be respectful. Their pedigree and life experience deserves it. They have more to offer than a dot-com’s fuzzy logic search engine ever will.

I will miss the repartee:
My staff does what they can to entertain one another especially when stress and anxiety rears their ugly heads. No longer will I be able to dole out my trusty chestnuts such as when a customer asks, “Where is humor?” responding, “Humor is where you find it sir” or when a customer asks “Can you show me where self-help is?” chiming in with, “That would defeat the purpose, ma’am.” Some questions from customers are just stultifying such as, “Where is the non-fiction department?” (that is of course is 80% of the store, if  it’s not fiction or, at times, politics and government, it’s non-fiction) or “Is that a Bestseller, I love that author?” 

One of my employees, an encyclopedia of pop culture references has lately come up with this comment after interacting with such a patron. He’ll walk up to me and go, “Hand me the mallet,” specifically an Acme Brand mallet that he can use to pound his own head in feverishly like he was in a Tex Avery cartoon. The violence would be self-inflicted, his frustration momentarily abated. I respond by pulling out an imaginary mallet from behind my back. Me, I have no mallet for my melon.

 I will miss the children:
They have frequented our store during countless book events and story times. Now that we are closing they have come back one final time to stare up at me doe-eyed as if I was The Grinch and they are all Cindy Lou Whos asking me the one question I couldn’t answer, at least not in a manner that would satisfy a child. “Why, why, Santa, why?” One of these emotional stealth bombs approached my most stoic team members and reduced him to jelly within a minute. Some even presented us with homemade cards (one started, ‘Sniff, sniff,sniff.’ How can you read that without welling up?) They fight off bashfulness to tell us how sad they are we are gone. Yes, past tense, for they see already that it is over. The first section to get decimated in the liquidation was the children’s department. There would be no more stimulating their creative imaginations. All that remains is an empty space where stories and silly games unfurled. It now looked like an abandoned playing field that no one gave a Hoot about, prepped for demolition, correction, our community did but the bulldozers still came.

I will miss the authors:

It has been an honor to coddle and nurture their babies as if they were my own. I had to cancel no less than four events after my store’s death notice was issued and it broke my heart. It is so easy for authors to insulate themselves from the public when their name is sold as much as their intellectual properties, its self-preservation, but never have I had a single bad interaction with an author. Hank introduced me to her award winning doppelganger Charlotte McNally with wide-eyed enthusiasm, Her fellow mystery writer Carol McCleary also shared her simpatico with her protagonist, the legendary Nellie Bly. They both shared a similar lesson, not necessarily write what you know, but write what you feel through your characters. It shows in their writing. Dennis Lehaine shared the handwritten draft of his great American novel The Given Day, a manuscript as big as the Gutenberg Bible. Mo Willams taught me how to perform for children like an agitated elephant or a persnickety pigeon. Raffi Yessayan brought me to the mean streets of Boston, Suzanne Collins, guided me through the battle torn dystopia of the heart and countless others all shared their inspirations, not because I was good at hand selling their novels but because it was in them to do so.  They let me in; we talked of craft and method and the life of a writer. Thank you for welcoming me into your circle. I am truly blessed.

I will miss being missed:
It will happen despite good intentions. When this store is no more I will lose the friends I spend most of my days with these last six years. As I allude to in my novel, time can be a bitch and its greatest strength outside of the decrepitating effect it has on everything is its ability to make our past fade. For many that can be a good thing, a healing salve for the brutality of life’s tougher moments. Time though is indiscriminate at what it diminishes. All of you, my friends, employees and patrons alike, will go along with your lives, take a turn around the bend and disappear from view. We may meet once and again, smile, laugh, catch up, then return to our new familiar. 

Absence doesn’t make the heart grow fonder, it turns what’s past to fodder. Harsh, sure, maybe I’m just a little bitter for having to walk closer towards the hole left when everything that was this store is gone.

You should go now. I’ll walk the last steps alone.

Closing Chapter 5 - All Skate

photo: Laura Vona
When I entertained my minions during  one of our many celebrations of the Harry Potter novels I told the crowd manically, “There is magic everywhere!”  I would proceed in a drunken stagger, as a defrocked teacher from Pigpimples School of Wizardry and Refrigeration Maintenance, to create potions (think, volcano in a beaker with baking soda, food coloring and vinegar) and generally make a combustible mess proclaiming the natural miracles all around us. My finale would be a soda rocket ignited indoors.

“Not only do these treats have the ability to transform an individual into a maker of fresh, they can, with a little Transformium Sodaruptus, Sharkbait Brew Ha Ha and  Bippity, Boppity, Boo… show us the magic all around us!”   

With a wave of my cape I dropped in the Mentos into the bottle and a geyser of soda reached for the ceiling of our store. Fans go wild! The true magic was that the words of an unemployed woman written in a coffee shop could create such fervor over books.

We have sold much of our bookstores magic to the walls. Fixtures have disappeared as if invisibility cloaks had been draped all over. Still between the empty stacks and the shelves devoid of titles, a little magic remains hidden amongst the dust bunnies.

Our café was a Mecca for the literate and disenfranchised. It was there we had a slew of coffee house events, musicians, poetry slams, author signings; whatever we could dream up to have us stand apart from the run-of-the-mill. It has been reduced to a way station for the last lonely fixtures up for grabs, no magic here save for what the entrepreneurial minds will re-purpose these remnants into.

One of our stellar events that bonded the employees to one another and to our community were poetry/prose reading events we called Borders Bards. While I coined the phrase, all of the credit goes to one employee, Laura Vona. I have refrained from tagging any specific person during these chronicles but here I need to make an exception. Laura was not just an exemplary employee. For as long as I have known her, she has been a force of nature, a Gaelic storm of boundless energy. Her passion for the arts is infectious, her positivity makes my Pollyanna pale in comparison, and she possesses such a selfless dedication to all that is right and good that I wonder at times how we can even see her at all.

The Bards was her baby. I exploited the event, just as I have admittedly all my employees, to bring my novel to fruition, think a writer’s group with an audience needing to be entertained. Laura gathered everyone in the community, from teens to seniors, to read from their hearts. Despite the quality of their craft, the emotional sincerity and courage each brought to the events was nothing short of magic. 

They are but memories now, mostly unpublished, moments lost in this building’s past. Still, the walls resonate those words spoken as well has the words read, purchased and dreamed. I had been too busy in the day to day minutia of closing a store to feel that power. 

That was until I saw it, magic, captured on video like a lumbering ghost, a trick of light and imagination captured in the green incandescence of a ghost hunter’s night vision goggles. Where it came from I know not where. It starts with a static shot of the gutted carcass that is our store just days before the doors would close forever. I was familiar with that backdrop; it brought a lump in my throat, which I swallowed only to have it gnaw at my gut. The camera moved through the empty space, floating on air, providing an ethereal tour through the facility.
Then I heard the sound, breaking the vacated silence. It was familiar, childhood recollections of cavernous halls, sawdust strewn floors and an amplified voice from above announcing, “All skate!”  The chatter of roller skate wheels whispered as they sped up. The sound was as whimsical as the whirr of a hamster wheel. I smiled and continued watching. The visual passes shelf after empty shelf in a giddy stampede. 

Then the caution tape that was wrapped around closed sections of the store came into view. It kept the public from danger and kept thieving hands from giving purchased fixtures a five-fingered discount. ‘Danger, Do Not Pass.’ repeats across its side. The image rushes towards the tape at the far end of the building, full throttle. The message is not heeded and an instant before the screen is enveloped in yellow, the skater ducks beneath and ‘Ta-da!’ we are on the other side. The wheels dance on the floor reclaiming balance, almost applauding the feat and continue to ride in graceful sweeps through the emptiness where our bookselling selves once lived; a jubilant celebration of being in the moment. 

After one more euphoric run around the circumference of the store the video ends facing the door as if challenging the viewer to walk through them. The doubt about the future, the fear of loss, and the challenges on the other side of those doors are stripped of their strength. 

I will look back on my memories of this store and the unbridled whimsy of that video as I move forward with my life. The wheels of inspiration will propel me forward as I stand on one leg, wheels a chatter, my other leg stretched out horizontal behind me, my arms outstretched on both sides as they cut the rush of the air, my face forward and raised high with a smile, always a smile.

Magic!
video

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Dead Men's Tales

This is the epilogue of The Pirates of Lobster Cove. I have been told it sounds like a commencement address and since it has no spoiler alerts for anyone who hasn't read the book, I present it here for all this graduation season. To everyone, good luck on your next adventure! (FYI: GREEN MEMORY occurs in the book as memories that have faded to the point that they don't seem real or can't be recalled. THE CYRKLE is the group of four heroes in the novel and DAMMEDS, well, they are nasty, hungry things that wouldn't be appropriate discussing here.)


Now I don’t want to get all L. Frank Baum on you with some Wizard of Oz moral. What I leave you with is this, once you find a home, be it where you sleep or where you summer with inseparable friends; live there.

In that classic book and film the Good Witch says ‘there’s no place like home’. It was all Technicolor pretty and lollipop sweet. Pay no attention to the terrifying flying monkeys, falling houses and chicks painted green. Take it all in and go along for the ride with every thread of your being invested in the outcome. Go too slow and the fantastic in life will fade. You’ll see the boom mike hovering in shot over a little girl marked for tragedy or the shadow of a set worker dangling from a rope backstage between papier-mâché trees.

There is really only one pirate, time itself. It holds in its possession the ultimate of treasures, the gift of memory. We emulate its piratical actions in hopes of capturing just one more to add to our collection. The pirate, time, is one tough adversary. As we grow older it takes the very gifts it has given, one memory at a time. Ah, but it can be beaten. Hold on to your few green memories that matter most. When you talk to the elderly, many stumble over the day to day but recall the highlights of their past vividly.

That’s the trick, tell your tale. The only thing that differentiates us from other animals is opposable thumbs, the ability to tell stories and free will. May your will allow the tale of your life to be told with your every breath.

May you all find your own Cyrkle. Soak up the sun while it shines and to quote Kurt Vonnegut, “wear sunscreen”. The Hallmark cards speak the truth; home is where the heart is. Not located north of the rib cage, a waiting dinner for dammeds, but where your passions lie. Oh… and stay out of the shadows no matter how much they beckon you to their home.

Think of this as Zen and the Art of Inner Pirate Maintenance. Time is but a fleeting thing, feathers dancing in the faraway. It is a vision let loose, a gull riding the wrath of a Nor’easter, motionless in midair. The turbulence feeds its bliss. The only way to beat this pirate of all pirates is to refute its very power over us; to cherish our past but live fearlessly in the present.

Live for the moment, live in it and don’t try to control where it may lead. Be an active witness and like a sea breeze over a fading sunset, its beauty will take you places your mind can only dream. Be in that moment always.

I wait for the day when I look out over the new day given and get it. After this summer I may know more than most, but it comforts not. The only solace is in the faith that our efforts, however feeble, matter in the grandiose scheme of things. The end to all tales is always the same. All will pass despite good intentions.

Do may be better than try, but try ain’t bad when it’s all you’ve got. In the end it’s just the eternal battle between the devil and the deep blue me.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

50 words

A picture paints a thousand words, a thousand poorly chosen words.

I am a member of 196southshorewriters, and that feeds part of the writer in me, but I am in need of a group that specializes in what I write to share work with as well. I looked into Cape Cod Children's Writers. Although I write primarily Young Adult fiction I thought they still might be kindred spirits.

FYI: They have an event I would like to promote:
One-Day Writer's Workshop on Sat. July 23rd in Sandwich, MA.
Get the deadline and cost at
http://www.capecodchildrenswriters.com/events.html

While sizing up the group I came across an exercise for the writer's group to participate in and, like I have nothing better to do being unemployed, cranking out a novel and reviewing teen literature, thought I would take a stab at it. I have to believe the constraints were intended for young children's stories as opposed to young adults for there was a 50 word limit. Tell a tale in 50 words? It took more than 50 words for Tom Kitten to learn his lesson. What to do?

The topic was My Backyard. I looked at the essential words to be included:
Marshmallow
Sunshine
Scholorship
Honey
Love

Now I am the former college student who received A/Fs on my work until I resubmitted the work with hefty corrections. Typos, like life, happens, but that was all I needed for inspiration.


The letter awaited hungry eyes.

Barbeque was at six, the clock, ticking. 

“Take a moment… read.”

Sunshine congealed the marshmallows into gelatinous ooze.

Sticky hands tore open the envelope.

‘Application declined,’ handwritten beneath, ‘We don’t award scholorships.’

Adding Graham Crackers, chocolate, a drizzle of honey: dessert.

“What is this!?” 

Smoros.”