Writing Calisthenics

AvatarA collection of short stories, essays, and exercises to keep my brain from rusting between larger works.

Redemption Hall

On the waydown, they saw a lot they don't remember
And if you asked them how, they couldn't say how they got there.
And if you want them now, you could just pull on the lever
And say, "I'm hung up on gravity".

Modest Mouse - The Waydown, from the EP “The Fruit That Ate Itself”




On the waydown they saw a lot they don't remember, and if you asked them how, they couldn't say how they got there. But I know. Sin is a black hole that centers in the breast, and separates man from God like meat pulled from the bone. These shells of men come in empty and hungry, and we fill them back up with Jesus. We feed them and give them a place to sleep, but their true hunger is for His everlasting love.

Henry's Second Dream


I dream again, this time as disquieting and fragmented as I feel.  It's a masquerade ball; one conjured from my limited knowledge of Napoleonic France.  Color in the room is muted — almost completely black and white.  Shadows stand in incredibly sharp relief.  Men and women hold gruesome masks to their faces as they dance to music that only they can hear.  I'm rooted, unable to move anything except my head as they swirl and step around me.  I'm embarrassed to be centered in this frightening promenade; I know no one, and even without a mask I feel grotesque.  I clearly don't belong.  The women's perfume is overpowering and the powder from the men's wigs burns my eyes.
    Suddenly, the lights go out.  I'm unsurprised though the room seems lit by chandeliers and sconces of tallow candles.  The floor trembles.  There's a muffled clatter from all around me, then men gasp and women scream as the floor shifts, first jerking one direction then another.  There's a cracking sound, a snap that comes from deep within like the face of a glacier sheering off.  I feel it shiver up through the shifting floor, through my legs, my torso, and out through my arms, through my fingertips.
    My feet have been freed and so have my hands.  I realize this only because I feel them move in time to music I can now hear.  My arms and legs glide effortlessly.  The lights slowly return.  The candles lick in blue and orange at first, then feeding on freshly trimmed wicks, bathe the ballroom in a warm, yellow glow.  My arms are covered in champagne colored silk and cuffed with stiff lace.  I look down and my feet are moving to a minuet, shuffling through a vineyard of freshly plucked masks.  I taste honey.
    The masks are off.
    They are off and the faces behind them are smiling, warm, and welcoming.  The depth of their affection warms me.  They look to me and then to their partners as they step together and they beckon me to join them.  I'm confused because I was certain I had joined them in the dance, but I look at my outstretched arms and my heart sinks.
    They're empty.
    I am alone.

The Burden of Things

I've been watching re-runs of the A&E series "Hoarders" on Netflix and it strikes me that we humans have a strange and complex relationship to the things with which we surround ourselves.  My father-in-law was a hoarder so I've taken an interest in this behavior as it seems he may have passed this tendency on to his daughters.  He also suffered from an obsessive compulsion to organize, label, fold, and generally neaten the things he collected.  In doing so, his disorder took on an architectural, almost artistic aspect unlike anything I've ever seen on the A&E series.  What always struck me about his collections though, was the amount of energy they consumed.  I could never quite fathom the justification for the work required to keep emptied bags of low-fat, low-salt, flavored, and buttered bags of microwave popcorn cleaned, folded, and separated in their own neat stacks.

Henry drives home (Excerpt from Chapter 5)

Automobile accidents rarely are.  Sometimes weather or God conspires to throw the unavoidable obstacle in the way, but usually they're caused by someone just being an asshole.  This is exactly the thought that goes through my head as I see a car in the distance barreling toward me in the right lane, trying to pass before his lane ends.

Dangerous Clothing

It's been a decade since I last cared about the way I dressed.  It was a difficult decade, one that lasted much longer than the usual ten years and one I fear may not be over.  They were years marked; scraped bloody then healed over with the fibrous scar of a burn.  They were years of loud and one-sided compromise where the very idea of improvement was trampled underfoot by the grinding endurance required to just stay afloat.      Looking back, it seems less and less of a coincidence that I took up the marathon during this time.  Turning that emotional perseverance into something physical provided evidence of accomplishment I could feel with my hands.  Medals and race bibs were material things that had substance, things that I could hold onto and say with certainty that stamina and persistence produced results.  In a time marked by hopelessness and alienation, running created its own light.
    As I ran, I lost weight, I gained strength, and my body changed, though never enough to overcome the betrayal of premature baldness I'd carried since my teens.  But the more I ran, the further and further the bright spots grew apart: ten miles away this week, twelve miles next, sixteen, twenty.  With each success came even more failures: injury, fatigue, and missed goals.  I pushed harder and broke down more often until I literally could not run any more.  For the first time since I'd started running, I gave up during a race.  As a runner, this is what defines failure: DNF.  Did not finish.

Marvin's Emergency

(Sorry for the absence, but I've been working on this guy for a couple months now.  I wanted to let this stew for a while, but I'd like comments and reviews.)


Long before the age of ten, Marvin knew he was supposed to feel awkward about searching through Tiger Beat in the Osco magazine stand, and he did.  As surreptitiously as any chunky ten year old with a right leg shorter than the left could be, he had walked by the rack: first in one direction to announce his presence to the magazines gathered there, and then again in the other with a furtive glance that would have said to all but the most astute observer, "Oh, hi.  I didn't see you there."
    The look was quick, but studied.  Osco was just over a mile from his house and as Marvin clumped down the sidewalk, past the store window reflections of a short boy dressed in husky black jeans and a polyester red shirt and that one special shoe with a sole like a rubber loaf of bread, he had practiced.  Marvin had a mental list of stores he'd pass on the way: Martinelli's Grocery, Industrial Hardware, Mr. Grecko's shoe repair, the barber shop, Rite Round record store.  He had picked a very specific object from each of their shop windows to act as a surrogate.  Since the thing he'd be looking for on the cover of Tiger Beat could appear in any number of forms, Marvin had made some rules for this game. 
    The items he chose would have to be specific enough to be instantly recognizable: it was a real face he was looking for after all.  The problem was, in the way of fan magazines throughout time, that face might show up in some helpful, recognizable context or it might be part of a fuzzy floating head, cut from a stock studio shot by an overworked intern with unsteady hands.  The items he chose would have to be ambiguous enough to represent the endless combinations he would have to deal with.  It occurred to Marvin that the searching part of such an exercise might be good practice for a fireman hunting for a small boy trapped in a collapsing warehouse with nothing but a description of the boy's clothing to guide him.  The dispassionate coolness he needed to maintain seemed useful only if the rescue was going to appear on TV.

I'm not dead yet

Seriously.  I'm not.  Thanks for your concern though.  I just had some surgery that's knocked me out for a couple weeks.  Once all the pain killers have metabolized I'm sure I'll be back at it again.