Dating has always been in some ways (or perhaps more accurately, for certain people) a bit of game. But now it is something else entirely, a game we play on smartphones or Macbooks in solitary bemusement and without the hope for real human connection. What happens when we lose our desire to find someone right for us in our haste to achieve the highest score? I’ve found myself de-humanizing the faces I come across, reducing them to the basest ideas of attractiveness, personality, or fit. What does that say about me, or is it merely a reflection of the world we now come to accept as inevitably colder than the one in which we once lived? Continue reading
During our last meetup, we went for an extra 10 minute challenge. And this one was abstract. Hilarity ensued.
Micromanaging an anthill.
I see you. You’re the laze-about. Don’t think the others haven’t noticed. They have. They stop talking at the water cooler when you walk through, haven’t you noticed. How worthless you are, they say. You think that they’re actually just standing wordless at the water cooler? How dumb are you? They will literally eat you alive. Usually they would pick you up and throw you from the anthill, block your entrance with ant bouncers. Here they need to just “dispose” of you. I can’t help you. In that plastic cave, you are only acting as like an ant version of Sopranos to me. And let me tell you, you are not a main character.
This guy over here, for example. He’s one of those toughies. Gets shit done. He’s most likely the one who’d do you. He doesn’t feel pain they say. He got the clap, they say, and clapped back at it so hard that it ran off in fear. You’ll die in there, don’t think otherwise, and I will be here to watch it. I’ll be here, hovering like an angel of death. Just waiting for your eventual end.
Lucas Orion Cain
“Move, you little fuckers!” I look through the plastic walls into the tunnels and I’m disgusted at
how slow they are. Little grains of sand. Little disappointments.
“You need to bury your dead.” It said on the box that you bury your dead, but they are just lying
there; upside down with curled legs. This isn’t how it’s supposed to be. This isn’t my farm.
It said to give you drops of water and food pellets. I did that. It said to watch as your queen makes
babies and you make a nursery. You didn’t. That’s why I’m mad. Two weeks in and nothing.
The tunnels follow a zigzag pattern along the enclosure. Those are fine.
“I’m giving you a new crew,” I tell them with contempt in my heart. “Out on the back porch I saw
a bunch of you little fuckers.” I’m their queen now. In a mason jar I collect several hundred black
and brown ants. I pour them into the green and clear cage with a funnel made of paper. These new
ones will be better.
I watch the war begin. With mandibles, they cut through the bodies of the invaders. “Stop!”
“You’re hurting them.” I watch in horror as, one by one, the new recruits are killed. They bury the
bodies. At least they got one thing right.
Productivity remains at enviable levels, but the project managers on the front lines have departed from their orders in ways that suggest either gross incompetence or the more dangers combination of artistic license and naked ambition. The workers themselves churn through earth with singular purpose, but clearly these lines are all wrong. Three of the main passageways have been carved twice as wide as designed, the exhaust vents are all over the map, and the main chamber has no clear traffic flow. It’s a goddamned nightmare, and who’s going to shoulder the blame? You. No one’s going to glimpse this staggering failure and blame the pea-brains at ground level.
You push back the yellow plastic PlaySchool helmet and fog the glass with the embers of rage. Your finger raps the pane with demonstrative toddler authority.
“Move your thorax, bub!”.
The first of two 10 minute challenges from our last meetup:
Write a first person passage from a narrator who has decided to betray a close friend.
Well, that’s rather grim. Let’s see what we came up with
Lucas Orion Cain
I’m gonna eat that whole pie. That one his mom baked. It’s his favorite. A pumpkin pie that came in the mail. How long has it been since he’s seen her? One year? Two? I can’t believe how well it survived in the mail. As I opened the brown box, cutting the strapping tape with a cake fork, I knew I was in too deep. I can see that she used dry ice to keep it fresh as my senses filled with nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon, and many fall days from his youth. I wish my mom was so thoughtful. Instead of care packages filled with memories, my days are filled with hash smoke and regret. Guilt is such a silly emotion. God, I’m hungry. Maybe I should just eat a little and hope he understands. Now it looks like I’m nosy and sneaky. I’ve already committed a federal crime by opening his mail. I agreed to walk his dog today and now this. I brought in his mail. He doesn’t know it’s here. I’ll eat fast. I’ll hide the evidence. He’ll never know. “In for a penny; in for a pound,” I think as I marathon through every last morsel.
I can’t even remember the last time Joseph and I really talked, to begin with. For years we’ve relied on the familiar syncopations of a time-honored give and take more than any deep conversation in the moment. We may see each other every few days, but I wonder how much distance truly separates the two of us, the chasms of choices made and lives devolved in parallel, but divergent. What is it to have known someone all of your life, as we have known each other, while trying to understand the fraying and shifting strands that connect you?
This ambiguity gives me comfort, my hand warmed radiant through the cotton at the small of her back. She turns away from the stage, face awash in tavern neon, and smiles a pardon. When she leans in close, I’m sure I don’t have a friend in the world.
I’m in pain. We’ll start there. Let’s not get too far into the blame game without having that on the table. A pained person deserves an audience, whether guilty of future crimes or not. He’s not clean. He’s not unguilty. I’ve got reasons. I love him but loyalty only serves a person so long. We are all selfish, whether seemingly selfless and devoted or not. In the end, we will choose ourselves. And so am I. So will I always. There’s no world where things are perfect. There’s no egalitarian place. That’s a dream, a distraction for those who will eventually find the knife. I will be sure to always be on the hilt side of things. I love him, I must say this again. I must not be misunderstood here. Many lives will go on. I will miss him but I will not dearly miss the leadership. I will not miss the direction of the nation. A new era begins tomorrow. Tonight I will be a demon victor for Rome. Tonight I will send Julius to his tomb, if only to buoy the republic, if only to save us all if not my own soul. The unknowing martyr. Tomorrow’s dead savior.
Our fifth writing challenge is the first time the group jumps from prose to poetry.
The last cup of coffee; unreliable narrator; 1st person; a poem
Sean provided us a great background on different types of unreliable narrators, and a little pep talk to encourage the less-lyrical members that yes, we could in fact successfully write poetry. Let’s see if we have any future in poetry, or if Sean should switch to a career in motivational speaking.
At this point my body is ready to reject the coffee, or at least it’s stopped having any kind of affect on me staying awake.
I imagine my blood replaced withviscous black sludge, my heart pounding to move it through my veins.
Cold and bitter by now, every leachable molecule pulled into the muddy stuff, every bit of caffeine pressed into nectar, into this ultimate cup, this multi-colored polka-dotted mug, this chalice for the end of an era, the beginning of my trudge through the coffee-less Mad Max world out there, the streets haunted by methamphetamine monsters, faces screwed into impossible smiles, they used to hack people’s IDs, now just scramble the crumby streets for some food or a fix, a tenner for passing by their alley hovels, their kingdoms of cardboard. Cars litter the streets, dogs gnaw on gnatty offal in the lawns, red in snout and jaw, lost to the viruses that apprehended our future, given to rabidity, like the rest out here. All but me. I won’t be here long, I guess. I should savor these lasts. This flat, before they find a crack by which to climb through, before I’m overrun, before they turn me to one of them, scabby demons they are. I’ve settled on self-infliction before these eventualities. I’ve settled on finishing these lasts first. The smoke swirls into the air, old tobacco staining my fingers, a small steel flask full of the dirty stuff, stinging the soon-to-expire innards of me, and this last bittersweet cup of coffee.
Starting tomorrow, I’m my own man
Wind whipped and huddled tight against granite
Waiting out the elements and the light change and wave upon wave of harried businessmen
I’m tired of sympathetic looks over the coffee counter from doe eyed baristas
Names like Rozlyn or Janice or Chantel
They pout and shrug at me as I recite the daily order
We’re comrades in demeaning labor, yet separated by the chasm of gratuity
But it ends today, this pumpkin spiced errand
Is my last
I’m a white-hot ball of overeducated repression
And I’m not taking soy chai requests anymore.
Elevator chime and I stride forth to meet my fate
Brad, unseen harpy from accounts payable, blocks my path
I dole out a soy macchiato with water cooler amiability and a jester’s bow
I tell you, next year, I’m leaving this place to see the world.
The following is our first attempt at a timed challenge: ten minutes for each of us to craft a slapdash narrative fit to a specific prompt. Hopefully you can sense the author’s sense of sheer desperation.
Take the following character “descriptions,” and convert each into a paragraph containing only action. Put the character into an everyday situation. let the way your character rips apart lettuce for the salad he is making, or the way she gets her cup of tea, show us what these sentences are trying to tell us:
Ed was crazy, in a good way
– Dinty Moore, Penn State University.”
A van veered six inches in front of the hood, but Ed hardly broke stride in the midst of his story. He
drummed the dashboard with one hand for emphasis or out of some deep-seated need to tactically
appease his personal cocktail of neuroses. In one fell swoop of his right hand he changed radio stations
and tousled my hair playfully, unaware or uncaring of the cacophony of blaring horns and screeching
tires before us. He built his story with an increasingly furious pace, Sam Kennison but without the
downers, and then – abruptly he stopped, punchline half-realized – to roll down the window and ask the
old man in the next lane about his day.
He didn’t so much flail as flop around gracefully. As Ed drank, his chest billowed out balloon-like, the biggest thing you’ve ever seen and then that wonderfully impossible smile, the beer dripping off his chin. He gawked at the other contestants with pleasure. He was some impossible creature. He crashed another beer to the table and gleefully grasped for the next, devouring the very soul of the thing. Empties littered his workspace. This is his home, he lives here, he will die here. He delivered another to his impossible stomach in a few seconds. The other men gave sidelong glances of fear. They had no chance. His face was a roiling bag of ecstatic worms.
Recently, we’ve started making this writing endeavor a little more personal by finally making space in our hectic lives for some good old-fashioned writing meet-ups (you’ve been warned, coffee shops and pubs of Seattle). As a part of these little informal gatherings, we’ll be taking on little group writing exercises based off of set prompts. In the spirit of sharing, rightly or wrongly, we’ll publish the result here. We’re calling this series “Write Club”, and we’ll likely invite our vast readership to weigh in and give feedback on each piece. So here we go.
Write the paragraph that would appear in a piece of fiction just before the discovery of a body. You might perhaps describe the character’s approach to the body he will find, or the location, or both. The purpose of the exercise is to develop the technique of at once attracting the reader toward the paragraph to follow, making him want to skip ahead, and holding him on the paragraph by virtue of its interest. Without the ability to write such foreplay paragraphs, one can never achieve real suspense.
– John Gardner, The Art of Fiction
Reggie’s head was a mess of crossed wires. Getting home was the only thing he could think of, the only fully-formed thought on his mind. The air smelled of blown-out matches and cantaloupe. His car door made a dull click as he closed it, breaking a dreadful silence infecting the air around him. No-one stirred. The neighbors had put their lights out. It felt like everyone had been sucked into the sky but him, like those crazy people talked about beating old books against their hands like gavels. 2AM never felt so lonely. He walked in measured gait, breathing in each moment like a year, expecting for everything to fall out from under him at any step. The concrete steps were scuffed with black smears, like a calligraphy pen, thick then thin, a single line leading upwards. That’s odd. How have I never noticed that. He thought simple things like this. Focus changes with perspective. There are a million things you will never have the opportunity to see, but they’ll always be just in front of you. The bar work did this to him, he thinks. He’ll never get his focus back, never get back those years sacrificed to all those worthless drunks. The door was ajar, maybe broken. Adrenaline gushed through him, sobered his corroded mind. Now what. Always something. The knob was broken. Pieces in a pile. He walked through, slowly, became a stealthy thing out of the movies. He thought he heard a low moan down the hall, but it could just be his blood pulsing through his ears, auditory hallucinations. The air inside was stifling, metallic and dusty. He could taste it on his tongue. Foreboding. He tiptoed to the bedroom down the hall. The door opened with sluggish effort. He inhaled, eyes widened, the tears salting the back of his throat.
Sean, Bonus post
Gary felt free suddenly. He’d never had to break it off with a girl before, had barely gotten the chance to ask one out for a drink, his relationships being born out of the wet mouths of late-night house party beers and dying with the same lack of clarity. Linda was different, on both ends of the thing. Began and ended with proper formality, a nice meal to bookend it all. But the end is the end, he thought, and how much does it really matter if it was Colonel Mustard in the study with the crowbar? He breathed in the humid air, staring up the the fog-blurred streetlights, and exhaled dramatically. It felt great. He thought about the fresh cold six pack he had waiting in the fridge, imagined the crisp sound of escaping carbonation, that first taste. The streets were nearly empty, a few phone-lit faces walking past. The fog gave everything an eery presentation, amorphous shadows and vague swarms of light. And something up ahead, about thirty feet, swinging. Gary began to feel like he was arriving at the beginning of a Poe story.
Carol was sure this elevator hated her. It usually sped it’s way up to the thirty second floor where she worked far faster than she wanted it to but on this day when she was trying her hardest to be the first one in, it crawled as if it too had barely woken up. It had been a long time since Carol was the first one into the office- really since that asshole Jed was promoted over her, but today she was ready to prove she deserved it more. She had a big account on the ropes and was giving a final presentation. She’d been working on it for ages and meant to put in some extra time last night but she accepted a happy hour request at the last minute that turned into her calling Leon, something that brought her forehead and mouth into a scrunched up scowl as she thought about it. She released it by telling herself she’d allow herself time to be pissed about it later. Carol was brought back to reality with an unusual shudder of the elevator and a flickering of the pale unnatural lights. As the indicator flicked from thirty to thirty one Carol thought she smelled smoke and for a minute her anxiety driven brain had convinced her she was having a stroke. When the door opened Carol’s eye was caught by the dangling light fixture over the near center of the cubicle farm and the several missing ceiling panels surrounding it, the twisted crumpled ceiling grid reaching down like vines in some corporate themed jungle. It wasn’t until the the light flicker of flame contrasted against the empty cavern that appeared where the ceiling used to be and the smoke passed in front of the dim lights left on for safety in the distance that her brain finally let go of that silly stroke idea.
Pettis stamped heavily up the front wooden staircase to the building, oblivious to their state of disrepair. Jimmy eyed the rotting steps, resembling a birthday cake misshapen by hours in the sun, and chose his footpath more carefully. Pettis, working hard to bury any appearance of nerves, glowered down from the rotting platform. He turned to the rusted steel door and rapped the surface three times with closed fist. The metal reverberated hollow, echoing off into the unseen distance of the warehouse. Jimmy took a step back to the edge of the platform and looked up and down the decaying brick façade. He shivered in the midnight chill. “Christ, Anthony,“ he muttered, “Why in the hell would Mike T call, middle of the goddamn night, and ask to meet him in this graveyard?”.
Kyle had been working the Bainbridge run for six months now, and the familiarity was beginning to poison his ability to create lives for the people he saw day in and day out. They’d begun to greet him by name, smile and wave and ask him about his life. By the laws of polite reciprocation he in turn learned many of their names and the outlines of who they were in the world.
It shattered the roles he’d so carefully created for them. And while outwardly he smiled and waved back and teased the Gundersons about the rust spot on their rear passenger door they’d never fix, beneath that amiable façade he felt the familiar sensation of depression slowly enveloping him, like a bank of thick fog wrapping around Wing Point to swallow him whole.
He enjoyed days working on the passenger deck the most, reveling in that moment when he lowered the mechanical gangplank and threw open the gate. The passengers rushing forth like immigrants into a wondrous new land fill of promise. Each morning he set them loose upon the city, eyes dazed with the remnants of last night’s dreams, fingers curled tight around coffee cups and umbrella handles. Continue reading
“Please”, she moaned, “oh please can you help me? Just a few dollars, please!”
He was halfway past her already, city-living armor a mile thick.
“I’m not a tourist, you know,” he glowered, “I’ve seen you before, and I know your routine!”
Confusing self-righteous for right.
Her crocodile tears stopped flowing, left to dry on her cheeks until the next white couple exited the restaurant.
An ill-fitting ugly smile in reply.
As if her affected pain could not possibly be a sad veneer covering a much deeper, more personal ache beneath.
She wore her layer of false weariness like a windbreaker. Resilient enough to repel the disgust of every indifferent passerby, but paper thin, leaving her cold beneath.
For the second time this winter, I’ve woken with a woman tangled in my sheets and a blanket of snow covering the world outside. Both events are rare enough in my experience, and unexpected in each individual case, that I can’t help but start to believe that they’re intimately linked. Then again, I am a narcissist. Still, the coincidence is enough that I’m starting to become concerned that every future drop on the barometer will lead directly to a much more local rise.
We walk down the hill through the thaw, she’s still in her evening heels. Children are sledding down the steep driveway of a side street, their parents trying to help them savor the last fleeting moments of winter fun before the snow melts and the reality of another long, damp winter settles back in. Continue reading
This begins simply, as a way for us to express ourselves.
I’d like to say that together we’re beginning a special journey, but the truth is I have no idea what this little project will ever amount to. In the end, that’s the kind of uncertainty every writer faces when he or she sets pen to page (or fingers to keyboard, or even thumbs to smartphone, I suppose) at the outset of a new work. At the very least, here we will face that unknown together.
In my most ambitious moments, I’d pretend that the ultimate goal was to somehow craft a layered, evolving portrait of our shared home. A collective vision with room for contradictions and inconsistencies, fitting for a city that displays multiple personalities depending on where, and how, you look.
Sometimes a start is all we ever get
– Junot Diaz
In truth, my wishes for this collection are much more modest. I hope that these posts give us an outlet to express ourselves, to be challenged and excited with new points of view and by taking the kinds of risks that often only come when stakes are raised. I hope that by working together on this project we will each find ways to make one another stronger writers, more connected both with our material and our audience (if, in fact, one exists). And I hope that at the end of it all, the common threads of “place” will be real, compelling, and meaningful.
You can expect everything from short stories to literary nonfiction. You may find some prose poetry. We may dabble, from time to time, in other forms of expressing our thoughts and opinions. We will not, under any circumstances, post listicles. I can all but guarantee at least one post on the subject of public transportation. In my heart of hearts, I hope it is a piece of fiction told from the point of view of a scarred and weary bus seat.