The Secret Life of Pearls

 

It sits inside the soft dipped U of her throat:

“something white” pried loose from the mouth

of the Australian South Sea and

hung on a gold chain.

 

The alarm of clinking glasses

forces another kiss.

My mother whispers from behind her place card.

Can you imagine how much all this cost?

I drink my champagne

and  imagine the hidden tree fort,

a game for only a girl and a boy,

that He,

(and later she)

insisted all children play.

 

My mother leads a conga line

of  sisters, uncles, nephews and nieces.

She finds Him at the end

closes the circle,

clasps hands to hips.

 

I imagine it expelled onto the white tablecloth,

amongst the origami napkins, the sugared almonds.

I imagine it glistening on the fine bone china,

The thirteen years of nacre.

I imagine the cost.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Writing Outside Your Comfort Zone

 

Today, I read a short story that made me utter, “Damn that was good” at the end. I love finding strong voices that are completely unlike my own style in a setting I know nothing about. 

Eli Cranor’s, “Don’t Know Tough” the 2018 Miller Audio Prize Runner-up for The Missouri Review and won The Robert Watson Literary Prize in The Greensboro Review. 

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Cranor was a football coach for a small highschool in the Ozarks. He writes:

During that time, I came face to face with the desperate lives of some of my most at-risk players. These are the boys I picked up before school, took home after practice, bearing witness to the scars and the pain they fought so hard to hide.

He drew on those experiences in writing “Don’t Know Tough” and the result is a story of a kid so real you want to go out and find him, talk to him, tell him things won’t always be this way.

The audio of Cranor reading “Don’t Know Tough” brings new layers and angles to a story that is already rich and well rounded. Cranor uses dialect perfectly to immerse you completely into Billy’s world, which is as violent and unpredictable as it is heartbreaking.

Still feel the burn on my neck. Told Coach it was a ringworm this morning when he pick me up, but it ain’t. It a cigarette, or at least what a lit cigarette do when it stuck in your neck. Just stared at Him when He did it. No way I was gonna let Him see me hurt, no way. Bit a hole through the side of my cheek, swallowed blood, and just stared at Him. Tasted blood all day.

Tasted it while I sat in Ms. Miller’s class, woke up in algebra tasting it. Drank milk from a cardboard box at lunch and still, I tasted it. But now it eighth period football. Coach already got the boys lined up on either side of the fifty, a crease in between, a small space for running and tackling, for pain.

Which brings me to my comfort zone. I don’t normally use dialect in writing. If I do it is with a light brush because I find it distracts from the story, yet Cranor is able to use dialect to bring the story to life and saturate it with color.

The main character in the story, Billy, refers to his mother’s boyfriend as “Him.” The reader never even is told his real name, a very effective tool to show the reader how Billy feels about “Him” without having to say anything else.

Now for the comfort zone part. A good exercise for writing is to take a story in a style completely unfamiliar and write your own version of it with your own characters and plot. Pay attention to sentence structure, patterns and tone. A good exercise using “Don’t Know Tough” would be to write a scene using dialect in the first person point of view, focusing on using it to bring the scene to life, to immerse the reader into the character’s world instead of distracting from the story, which is often a problem for many writers with dialect. Forcing yourself to pay attention to elements and style you are unfamiliar with is like working out muscles you normally don’t use. You’ll be sore after but stronger the next time you put pen to page. It’s all about adding tools to the arsenal. 

 

 

 

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You Write What You Read

 

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My goal this year is to read a good short story every day. I firmly believe the quality of your writing is only as good as the stories you read. The brain is a machine and when you read, it is filing away unique sentence structures, unexpected metaphors and vivd descriptions for later. When you sit down to write, your brain will auto-suggest whatever is on file. If you only read crap, your library will be scanty and filled with cliches. The more quality literature you read, the larger the arsenal at your dispoal.

 

I started going through Pushcart Prize and stumbled upon this gem by Tina Louise Blevins called, “God of The Ducks” from Gettysburg Review, Autumn 2012. Luckily, you can read it online Here.

Not often does a short story make me laugh or cry, rarely does it do both. The characters are so fleshy and familiar, they seem like relatives. Blevins has that rare ability of  telling  a story about normal people going through everyday circumstances to reveal poignant truths about mortality and ultimate meaning.

“God of the Ducks” was the only work Blevins ever published. At 29 years old, shortly after finishing her MFA, she died. Definitely, a loss to the literary world.

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The Happiest Place on Earth

 

 

As my college friends and I hit our forties, an alarming theme has surfaced. Spouses leaving, many times for a younger model. My friends,  who have beeen married almost a century, suddenly lose their spouse without a warning, as if taken in a car accident, or by a stranger, or a sudden violent act of nature. But why? Why would somebody with a loving spouse and children living in suburbian utopia get up one day and leave? What kind of inner turmoil and conflict goes on inside somebody’s head that leads them to walk away from what they spent close to a century building?

I watch them on social media, taking selfies with their new improved companion models in exotic locations. I also watch my friends who are left behind, struggling to stay above the waterline, to find new jobs, new identities, new meaning in the face of their loss.

I wanted to explore the idea of meaning, happiness, value in life and the lengths people will go to in order to feel alive, even if it means destroying everything and everybody around them in order to attain it. I couldn’t think of  a better place for this to play out than Disney World, where protecting “the magic” from being spoiled translates into millions of dollars every year.

I am a big fan of Flannery O’Connor, and I won’t deny that the ending wasn’t inspired by Enoch in “Wiseblood.”

I put together this 60 second video, reading some of it. Hope you enjoy it. Please select highest HD when viewing.

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Bird’s Nest Soup

 

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I’m being featured in the literary spotlight on Woven Tale Press.

Bird’s Nest Soup was a difficult story to write. I based it off friends’ experiences. Some were daughters, others were mothers. All were hard to listen to.

You can read it Here

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“Bird’s Nest Soup”

My story, “Bird’s Nest Soup,” was just published in The Woven Tale Press literary journal.

Sandra Tyler is an amazing editor and I am honored they accepted my work for publication. You can read it  Here on page 9.

 

Please consider subscribing (it’s free) to this great journal.

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Legalism, Christian Gaslighting and Religious Identity Politics.

Want to know why my generation and younger are leaving the church in droves? Because legalism is like bullshit and we can smell it a mile away.

“You are being divisive, not loving.”

“What will the world think?”

“You are maligning the Word of God.”

“We must present a unified front to a skeptical world.”

These are all things you will hear from Fundamentalist Evangelicals if you dare turn over the rock of their ideology and expose the legalistic rot underneath. They will tell you the problem lies in the hand that turned over the rock for the whole world to see, and not the ugliness it revealed.

Yet they cry, Love does not mean accepting sin, if you love God you obey his law, if anybody dares call them judgmental or unloving in their attacks against what they see as liberalism creeping into the church and culture.

For them, attacks on legalism are attacks on Christianity itself.

Sound familiar? It should. Jesus and Paul spent most of their time battling the same religious identity politics in their day, but Fundamentalists don’t see the analogies between hand washing, circumcision and food rituals and their own codes and rules of behavior. They are so ingrained into their identity as a Christian, they can’t separate them from their faith. They are one and the same. If you aren’t familiar with these codes, here is a brief overview.

Fundamentalist Evangelical rules

1. Go to church–ones in big buildings with more than 10 people and a male pastor that preaches biblical expository preaching. Traditional worship preferred but not a salvation issue…

2. Interact with God in a certain way. Through a physical book of devotions and a prayer list that are to be done daily. Close your eyes when you pray, especially in public and around other church people. Open eyes are disrespectful to God. Closed eyes are respectful. The only exception is when you’re driving or it is an emergency situation or very brief commentary on the state of mankind. Then they should be short and to the point. Lord, help me on this test! Lord, help her turn from her evil ways! Lord, help us get out of this traffic!

3. Dress a certain way This is usually applied only to women and focuses on covering bare skin, because bare female skin is inherently inappropriate. But it can also be applied to males when it comes time to go to church. Certain outfits are more respectful to God than others. Clean, neat clothes are respectful to God. Sloppy, dirty clothes are disrespectful. You can wear sloppy, dirty clothes at home when you pray, but church is where God lives and he likes a clean house. Plus others see you in church and it’s important what other people think. Therefore you should be not sloppy nor dirty clothed.

4. Talk a certain way No swearing. No talking about sex. No talking bad about other Christians unless they are liberal, then it isn’t talking bad but loving rebuke. Do not question the church, your husband, or pastors and elders. No saying ‘mean’ or ‘divisive’ things about other Christians unless they are liberal Christians, wolves in sheep’s clothing, or plain old sinners. Then it is okay because it is loving them via truthful reproach.

5. Entertain yourselves and engage in culture in a certain way. Sanitized art only, preferably with a Christian message. Violence, language, sex, the naked female body (which is inherently inappropriate), gore, and/or the depiction of people in art that don’t follow our rules are not allowed, unless it is in a biblical setting…and even then should be PG-13 at the very most so it won’t rub off on us.

6. Eat and drink a certain way. No alcohol, or very little. Eat healthy so you can stay thin, especially if you are a woman because that is godlier than being fat. If you are a fat male, that’s ok because most of our male leaders are fat anyway. See rule 5 and rule 3 about how the female body is depicted is much more important than how the male body is depicted.

7. Vote a certain way. Republican. Duh! Democrats are definitely not saved and independents are lukewarm Christians.

8. Think a certain way.

– No doubting of the Church.

-Doubting yourself is okay, especially if you are doubting Fundamentalism.

-Doubting God is okay but only for a ‘season’ and the road must lead you back around to Fundamentalism. Not doubting God EVER is much godlier.

-Embrace all the rules of Fundamentalism, protect Fundamentalism at all costs because this is what God was talking about when he said you would be persecuted for his sake: He was talking about being persecuted for telling the world they have to uphold our rules of behavior in order to show they really love God.

9.Use a certain tone of voice: Rebuke and reproach are Godly, but only when rebuking liberalism or wolves in sheep’s clothing. Some rules are more important than other rules. Christians that don’t follow our most important rules are automatically wolves in sheep’s clothing or false teachers. It is okay to rebuke them loudly in a mean tone. You can also call them names, like ‘Libtard,’ ‘snowflake’ and other creative names that reveal how stupid they are. Because they do that to us. That makes it ok. However, if you absolutely MUST rebuke a fellow Christian, first consider how they follow the rules. If they follow most of the rules, and our most important rules, it is not ok to rebuke them out loud in a mean tone. Non Christians could see this and not want to be a Christian and follow the rules. You must in person, confront them in a whispered hush while simultaneously affirming they are a cherished child of the King, made in his image. Then walk away and forget about it. Never publicly say anything negative about other Christians, because then people won’t want to become Christians and follow the rules.

10. The Golden Rule An attack on one rule follower is an attack on all rule followers. Your tone, speech, and lifestyle must all support the rules or you are not a true rule follower and will be kicked out of our rule following club altogether.

There are different rules and different hierarchies of rules depending on what denomination you go to. Feel free to remind me of those in the comments.

Here’s the problem with all the rules. Jesus didn’t die for rules, for standards of behavior. He died for our sin so that we don’t have to match up to a standard of behavior in order to be considered ‘saved.’ Because we can’t. Ever. If we could then He didn’t need to die in the first place.

All our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. Isaiah 64:6

Stop measuring yourselves and others by the rules listed above. Examine your own heart. Examine it for false piety, for pride in your own ability to keep the rules, for judging others by how they keep the rules. The desire to control our sinful state–to claim a tiny part in our salvation other than simple faith in God and His work on the cross is as old as the Garden of Eden and it resides in all of us.

Jesus said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God.

Did you catch that? Upholding your ability to follow a set of rules or code of behavior as evidence of your salvation is DETESTABLE in the sight of God. The church will applaud you for it, but God knows your heart. If you are more concerned about what your neighbor thinks about you and “the Church” than you are about your neighbor, God knows it. He knows the soundtrack in our heads that goes something like this:

Look at me I don’t watch R rated movies. I don’t drink. I don’t say swear words. I don’t wear or approve of immodest clothing. I do my devotions and pray everyday and make sure I post it on social media. How can people call themselves a Christian and vote Democrat? I go to Church every week and check in on Facebook. I tell everybody else they should do these things too through social media–by sharing articles that say that. All this is evidence that I’m saved because the Bible says, ‘By their fruits you shall know.’ If people really love God they ought to do all these things I do too, because that is evidence they are saved. If you love God then you keep his commandments.”

That is what maligns the name of Christ—legalism— where rule following takes center stage, reducing the crucifixion and resurrection to nothing but background music highlighting the moral fortitude of the super-spiritual in their hero’s journey towards salvation.

We must stop circling the wagons. We must stop treating legalism as anything but a cancer that needs to be cut out of the Church if we want it to survive.

People are drawn to truth, despite themselves. Legalism distorts the truth, disguises it as something that seems noble and pure on the outside—something at face value that will give us life and purpose—but inside it is “full of dead men’s bones.”

It is the underlying obstacle that my characters deal with in Objects of Pleasure and Vessels of Wrath

Legalism, no matter how safe and righteous it feels when you follow it, always ends in spiritual death. It is the true evil that divides the church. It is a true stumbling block to those who believe and a detractor to those who don’t.
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.

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