Early Bloomer | Flash Fiction

After the screams fade and the blood has cooled, there is a uncomfortable moment of moral uncertainty. He is wiping off the knives, trying not to let himself fascinate too long with the rigid stares on their stiffening faces. Doubts crowd. And then the flies. He is always surprised by how quickly the flies are drawn. They live inside, he once read, burgeoning, always just ready to burst out.

That is what he does. The media calls him the Butcher but he is nothing so mean or savage. His study is the careful art of release. First the pleadings. Then the sobs. Then whatever secrets need to be shared. And only finally, the blood.

The news people get it wrong. He is not depraved. He doesn’t act only for the blood and terror. People carry secrets, things they need to confess but don’t know how to begin. He shows them the way. The inspiration of steel and a cruelly sharp blade.

Once they start, they often do not know how to stop. Unburdening themselves of every petty crime, every mean thought, every venal act. Some of these are saints, compulsively lamenting ridiculously small sins. Unbecoming thoughts, moments of uncharitable, unsavory decisions. But more than a few are genuine monsters — molesters, abusers, thieves, perverters of truth. These kinds of people beg the loudest and hardest for mercy. These he opens deeper and wider, letting the blood spill faster.

He works quickly, cleaning up the mess with bottles of bleach bought by the case. He has three wholesale club memberships and twelve deep freezers. He does not eat the bodies. That would be monstrous but one does not always have the time to clean up and bury the bodies. Freezers are a necessity. They are a public health amenity. He is always thinking of the safety of others. How the neighbors would want to know he had taken great precautions to avoid a public health emergency.

The news people were the worst. Always sensationalizing. Always conjecturing on identity and motive. The FBI had the wrong profile and the news people couldn’t keep themselves from sharing it out. A middle aged white man with long white hair and narrow set eyes. Hilarious, really. He was in his late twenties. An early bloomer.

The motives they ascribed. A profound psychological disfunction. A obsessive tendency toward neatness and order. An intolerance for disorder. Wrong, wrong and wrong.

It made him want to laugh except he wanted to cry. And he would scream at the TV when they showed his computer generated face which looked nothing like him. He had written two dozen letters to the local papers explaining how far off they had been and why they so desperately needed him to be a middle-age white man. But he did not mail the letters. That would have been folly. That’s how men like Gaussier and Grundy messed up. They told somebody. They wanted to be caught. Not him. He was doing a great service but he did not seek the credit. The world was improved by the working of his art, which was the careful application of selective release. The world could not understand, indeed, would not need to understand his work to benefit from it.

That is the true nature of real art. It changes the world even when the world does not see it. It changes the artist. It changes the canvas.

And the secrets that are confessed in those hurried, anguished minutes of exsanguation are carried with him as a special burden. A tax he carries for his work. He will carry those last whispers with him to his grave, knowing the world is better for having each part of the story revealed.

Inauguration Day 2017

In a few short hours, Donald Trump will become my president. I have tried to be quiet during the transition, watching, listening and reading. I have been trying to understand what slightly less than half the American electorate saw in Candidate Donald Trump way back in November.

So far, President-elect Trump still seems to be the antithesis of values I was raised to believe were most important.

I was taught to be careful and respectful, to listen and seek understanding before criticizing or making judgment of others.

I was taught to never mock, that name calling and intimidation were signs of a lazy, weak mind.

I was taught self-moderation, to never assume that I was ever completely right or that I could ever completely know what was best in the lives of others.

I was taught to be honest. I was taught that truth and facts exist, and that they matter a lot.

I was taught to value learning, skepticism and honest inquiry. I was taught to value reading, critical thinking and the scientific method — the understanding of the world through careful, objective observation.

I was taught to understand that character matters more than celebrity and that being popular for the mere sake of being popular was a clear sign of a damaged character.

I am worried. History teaches that countries following leaders who say “I alone can save you” are heading for hard times.

I continue to respect the office of President though the person about to assume the presidency gained prominence through proud exercises of disrespect for that office.

Some of my family and friends will be celebrating the fact of Donald Trump’s presidency. That’s fine. I won’t be celebrating.

I will focus instead on being grateful that I live in a democratic republic that, however flawed, practices the peaceful transfer of power. I will focus on what I can do to protect and strengthen the values which make that transfer possible so that in four years we can peacefully transfer that power again.

I am still trying to give not-quite-yet-President Trump some benefit of my doubt. His will be a huge job. We all need him to be successful. But success is not only about growing the economy, defeating ISIS and creating jobs. That’s part of it. Success will also be about unifying our country and helping all of us remember and practice our shared values and goals.

And so, on January 20, I continue to watch, to listen and to read. I continue trying to understand.

2017: Make Ready | A Prayer

2016 was a brutal year. 2017 is unlikely to be kinder. I stopped writing for a while because the things about which I was writing no longer seemed very much to matter. I have taken the time to read and watch and listen. I have been seeking patterns inside the noise and confusion that has become my life.

I am working with groundlessness. I am working with uncertainty. I am working with fear. I need to write true things. I need to do things that matter. I have been working toward one goal: focus. I have not found it.

I don’t have any answers aside from this: we have all been swallowed by noise and confusion, but this noise and confusion is not our actual lives. We are still ourselves though our surroundings seem unfamiliar and our families and friends sometimes feel like strangers.

On New Year’s Day 2017, I am still making myself ready.

It has become for us a habit to wish one another a happy new year. I wish that for all of us, but happiness, it seems, is no longer enough. Happiness is not purpose. Happiness comes from purpose. It is a way of way of working and doing and being.

And so, my prayer.

I pray that all lives be enlarged by joy and love and gratitude. I pray enough courage to do the right things. I pray to continue gathering abundant happiness along the way. But, more than all of this, I pray to make a useful life. May my life, my words, my actions help soften the noise and reduce the confusion for someone else.

I am writing with joy. I am writing with love. I am writing with gratitude for you all.

And wishing for each of us a Useful New Year.

America is Already Great. Let’s Keep it That Way.

I stayed up until 2am this morning watching election returns and woke up in a world that feels very unfamiliar to me. I’m not sure what to feel or what I’m meant to be doing.

This tweet from last night says it pretty well:

But the country isn’t all that different. Things haven’t actually changed that much. Yet.

Here’s Nate Silver’s take:

Something to remember: Whatever your feelings about the state of the country right now, it’s fundamentally not that different a place whether the final call is that Clinton has narrowly won or narrowly lost. Add just 1 percent to Clinton’s vote share and take 1 percent away from Trump’s, and she would have won Florida and Pennsylvania, therefore would probably have been on her way to a narrow Electoral College victory.

Apparently, the Canadian Immigration Services website crashed last night from heavy traffic. Last week I joked with my most liberal friends about packing go bags and digging bunkers. That doesn’t feel funny anymore.

I’m not going anywhere. I love this country. I am a product of what is great inside America. You are too. I’m staying because there is urgent, important work to be done.

Too many of us live in fear. We live in fear of violence in our communities. We live in fear of racial persecution. Some of us live in fear of the police and civil authorities. This is wrong. We can’t let this continue.

We urgently need leadership from the best among us. This includes women, people who aren’t white and homosexuals. We should judge people based on the quality of their actions and their ideas. We should find and follow the people with the ability to move us forward. We aren’t there yet.

Diversity makes us stronger. We are a nation that attracts and welcomes immigrants from all parts of the world. We need to keep our doors open to them. The people who move to America from other countries bring with them their best selves, their highest hopes and an eagerness to participate and contribute. When we allow them, they make America stronger and reinforce the world’s belief that America creates opportunity.

Abortion is a terrible thing. Nobody likes abortion. Nobody wants women to have abortions. But, women must remain in control of their own bodies. This is a most basic freedom. Doctors, lawyers and politicians should not be usurping the most personal, vulnerable decision a person can make. Restricting access to abortion and birth control will kill women and children. We should focus instead on increasing access to birth control and providing real support for women faced with impossible choices. We should provide meaningful help for children born into families that are not ready or able to give them a good start.

Oh, and science isn’t a belief system. Science is a systematic way of looking at the world to describe what’s happening based on observable facts. Climate change is happening and no amount of wishful thinking is going to blunt the effects for my daughter and the children in your life that you hold most dear.

Our worldview has darkened. The work ahead is daunting. I am very, very scared.

Its time to close our Facebook and Twitter feeds and actually start talking to one another while being brave enough to look each other in the eyes.

It is time to stop paying so much attention to the carnival of political personalities and start grappling with real issues.

There is a lot of difficult work ahead. We’ve got to focus on that.

If you are able to look me in the eyes and talk with me so we can figure out these things together, then we are on the same team. If you can’t, kindly step aside. We don’t have much time.

America is already great. Let’s remind each other of that in the weeks and months ahead. Let’s work together to keep it that way.

November 9

We need to talk about November 9. In just a few days, Americans will elect a new president and members of Congress. I used to look forward to Election Day and feel proud of our participation in choosing our leaders and helping in some small way set the direction of our country. Today, I feel sick with anxiety, dread and fear. I can’t stop myself from refreshing the 538 Election feeds and trying to discern what the numbers mean. I’m scared. You may be too.

Here’s the thing. You and I may be feeling the same way even while supporting opposite candidates. I support Hillary Clinton and desperately hope she wins on Tuesday. But, I have wasted so much time this election focused solely on my fear of Donald Trump and his message and not enough time articulating what I support in Hillary Clinton. Your doing it too. Its in our Facebook and Twitter feeds. Donald Trump scares me. Hillary Clinton scares you. Everybody is scared.

Our fear makes our world smaller. Many of my friends and family have become strangers to me. People I care about deeply. People I know to be good, thoughtful, caring people. From time to time, that fear becomes anger and those people feel like enemies to me. You may be feeling that too.

We are not enemies.

You and I have wicked problems to solve.We don’t know how to talk about race and gender. We don’t know how to talk about the role legal immigration plays in our country. Too many of us live our lives warped by constant fear of violence at home and abroad. For too many people, hard work and personal sacrifice no longer allows access to the American Dream. Job markets have changed. Despite the growing strength of our economy, access to economic opportunity is unequally distributed. Higher education is broken. Climate change is a real thing that is actually happening. The list goes on.

For the most part in this election, we haven’t been talking about these things. We haven’t allowed ourselves. We haven’t known how.

You and I need to start talking about November 9 because, no matter what happens, we are going to need to find a way to start understanding each other again. Whoever is elected needs to govern. The President alone cannot fix these problems. Congress alone cannot fix these problems. Its us. We’ve got find a way to start fixing these problems.

So I want you know this. I oppose Donald Trump and the vision for our country he represents. But you and I are not enemies. I want to understand you. I want you to understand me. We’ve got to start talking again and trying to find our way forward.

I wish peace and comfort to all of us in the days ahead. Let’s work to help that happen.

May it be so.

The Secret Meaning of Halloween

Last night my daughter asked why Halloween is a thing. I made up some ridiculous explanation about the very human need to celebrate the darkness inside each of us, religious traditions of honoring the dead,  a social custom that reinforces our appreciation for our neighborhoods and then threw in something about psychological relief from pent-up stress.

This morning I realized its really just a way to gather together enough sugar to power through the first few days of NaNoWriMo.

I’m Still Here

A few friends have started asking if I’m still here, still writing. Yes. Thanks for asking. It feels good to be missed.

I haven’t been blogging much because I have been focused on Other Projects. Oh, and the election, which I don’t want to talk about except to say it has been consuming much of my attention. I have been gorging myself on a steady diet of podcasts, news articles and social media posts. The end result has been outrage, crippling anxiety and a sense of impending doom. Perhaps you can relate?

I have a lot to say but have decided to try and keep my mouth shut. Nobody listens anyway. Everybody votes from the gut and then looks for comforting shreds of information to placate their nerves and justify their bias. We are irrational creatures.

I try to channel this weird energy into something productive, like writing an apocalyptic fantasy that arcs across three books about a corrupt king, a broken hearted terrorist, and a orphan daughter who has tremendous powers she cannot possibly begin to understand. You know, the usual remedy.

I have been working steadily and feel good about where the work is heading. But now it is time to ramp things up. I’ve signed up for NaNoWriMo, which means I will need to triple my word count for November which means I will be focused on my Other Projects for a while. I’ll try to post from time to time, but for now just want you to know I’m still here.

The Woman in the Water | Flash Fiction

There was no way he could ever unsee the woman’s body floating at the top of the pond. No amount of mental health copays or bourbon shots squirreled through his novice, flyweight stomach would ever wrest the image far from his mind.

The fact that she was beautiful made it all the worse. Not that beauty in women was a thing he cared much about. Beautiful women never gave him the benefit of their glance or a free moment of idle conversation. He preferred women who were clever or hard working or talented in some useful way. Those women might happen to be beautiful as well but when they were ignoring him on a bus or avoiding him on an elevator or simply floating on a pond, you could never know if they were talented or hard working or clever just by looking.

The beauty of her had made it made awful because it had made her more real. She had been someone, recently. She was missing from the pattern of other people’s lives, but some of those people would not realize it yet. Not enough time had passed for the most terrible truths to settle in. She had not floated long enough to become a bloated, waterlogged pond treasure. She might be a missing person but she might not yet be presumed dead.

But she was. Dead. And Andy was drinking enough to blind himself and split his head as he stumbled across the treacherous path of his living room, the sofa and upright lamp and coffee table all in conspiracy to rap his ankles and pull him down. He fell three times on his way to the bathroom and then realized he had pissed himself well and good long before he reached the toilet.

He lay on the bathroom floor, looking up at the ceiling, trying not to see the memory of the way her face had looked up in that same way. Trying not to imagine what it had been like for her to gaze up through the tangled branches of the bog with flies laying eggs on your eyeballs.

He rolled and puked, his guts clenched against emptiness. Congratulating himself for remembering to roll over. That’s how Jimi Hendrix died. And Mama Cass. And Attila the Hun.

Random facts.

The police had questioned him for many hours. They came back several times, each time with the same questions or slight variations on the same questions asked in different tones of voice and at different speeds. Sometimes the tall guy asked the questions. Sometimes it was the lady. Sometimes the bald dude with the mustache that reminded him of walrus brush. They came at him from all angles, sometimes friendly, understanding, sometimes annoyed and curt.

They were interested in knowing exactly how he had found her. What he had been doing in those deep woods by that lonely pond on that overcast autumn day.

And the fact that he had been taking a walk in the woods, a long walk, because he was the kind of person who enjoyed taking long walks in the woods did not seem to satisfy them. No one does that kind of thing anymore, they told him. Which he kind of believed. Who among the people he had met would chance wandering out far enough to risk losing their precious cell phone signal and LTE internet connection? How could they post pictures of the wondrous things they might encounter? Who would be ready to like and retweet and pin their Instagram feeds?

This was why beautiful women avoided him. His mind had become strange. It was a thing he was only vaguely attuned to when he was in adolescence but now it was even more pronounced. He was weird. It was a thing so real and so true. His weirdness was an island he had made himself so far from shore that no one could see a way to bring him back.

But this was unproductive. The woman in the water had been dead but she looked as if she were only sleeping. Lost in deep repose. Her dreaming deep and dark and rich as the swamp shore loam.

He waited for the nausea to pass. Eventually it did.

And then, the familiar knock on his open front door. He groaned as he sat up, pulled himself to his feet.

He looked at himself in the bathroom mirror, and he did not like what he saw.

A filthy, slovenly, wasteful old man. A hermit. A recluse. A suspect.

More knocks at the open front door. Persistent.

He washed his face. Tried on another smile. Practiced saying slowly, “I’m just the kind of guy who likes to take a walk in the woods.”

He adjusted the smile until he was satisfied. Then, he left the bathroom and called out, “ Come in. The door’s open.”

And then he was standing back in the living room, aware of the overturned furniture, the path of his catastrophic collisions. Two uniformed officers standing at the doorway.

“Come in. Come in,” he said in his most inviting way. “I’ve been expecting you all day.”

Heroic Measures | Flash Fiction

Room 137 of the hospital’s Critical Care Unit is the loneliest place on earth. Life is precarious. All life tenuous. No where is that more evident than the small glass box filled with mechanical tubes, wires and diagnostic panels. The small, patient wheeze of the machine that breathes for her husband. The submarine ping measuring each frail heartbeat with a corresponding digital blip traversing the bedside panel like a steady, robotic sine wave.

And worse still, the orderly transit of nurses who no longer even bother enforcing visiting hour limits or pretending her husband’s care is anything more than mere watch keeping. And the faithful way of the custodian who visits twice each day to sweep this immaculate room and remove the already empty trashcan. And the way the custodial staff can not look her in the eye. Even they know what is very plainly evident. Her husband, Mark, was victim of awful circumstance and there was nothing more to be done. Her husband Mark had a bad heart, and he had come here to die.

It was a four day vigil. The crippling expense of it. The exhaustion of waiting for miracles that stubbornly refused to arrive. The chaplin who made the rounds every afternoon and every evening and seemed, each time, genuinely surprised to find them still lingering there. He had prayed but the words were just words. They went nowhere, failing to escape even the closeted curtained space of this little medical unit.

And on the fourth day, she thinks to pull out Mark’s cell phone to find the number of a longtime friend, to tell the news. But when she turns the cell on, the text messages arrive, landing like a plague of flies.





She drops the phone. It is a living, offensive thing. Her heart and mind swirling as she puts the plain text of the text into view.


But yes.

The messages are there when she picks up the phone.


This was the deepest kind of shock. She stares at her husband, the unmoving weight of his body, still athletic and seeming fit despite the extremis of wires and leads and intubation tubes.

Not fair. This fine, good, decent man who she has loved her entire adult life, grown up together, raised two kids, worked for charities, helped the neighbors. Good, decent husband. Good, decent wife.

And she knows without knowing there had been much, much more to the story of their life.

Who was she? How long had he known her? How long had this been happening?

A maelstrom of question that would have no answers.

And she looks to the phone, hoping to find some name or other clue about the hidden depths of her husband’s secret life. No name. Just a phone number. And scrolling back, no further texts. The history had been dumped, purged clean.

And that was the creeping horror of it. Exhausted from her four day vigil, hungry and tired and feeling diminished. Now needing to have the most difficult conversation of their marriage only to find herself with half an unanswered conversation with a stranger on her husband’s phone.

She sits there, contemplating her next act when the doctor comes in. He enters the room with practiced determination. It is meant to be an act of comfort, this air of focused purpose when there is absolutely nothing left to be done.

“We need to talk about your husband’s wishes. He isn’t likely to recover. We don’t have to decide anything right now but we need to be ready.”

She looks down at the phone, trying to see the stranger on the other end.


She nods, tries to smile through the yawning sickness that has become her whole life. “I know,” she tells him. “Heroic measures.”

Anger is Useful.

I need to get political with you for just a minute. Stay with me. I’m not going to try to sell you something at the end. I just need to be heard.

I was raised in a loving, supportive family that taught me temperance is the greatest virtue. Somehow temperance has become avoidance of anger and an inability to talk about the most difficult things. I have become allergic to anger.

Sometimes anger is the only appropriate response. Anger has to be okay. Anger has to useful.

Jesus was angry. Martin Luther King was angry. Gandhi was angry.

Their anger was useful because they used it.

I am angrier than I have ever been in my entire life.

Our country is broken. I don’t need one more person to tell me it is broken because we have a black, liberal president or because gay people can get married or because transgender people suddenly need a place to pee or because another government official misused her email and tried to lie about it.

Our country is broken because we have been fighting the wrong wars in the wrong places for the wrong reasons.

Our country is broken because some police officers are afraid of black men and are using the authority we have lent to kill them.

Our country is broken because a black man targets and kills white police officers as an act of political speech.

Our country is broken because we answer the spreading problem of gun violence with more guns and an inability to study the problem as a social health issue.

Our country is broken because we can’t talk about income disparity as something that has more to do with accidents of race and geography than it is has to do with the willingness and ability of a person to do useful, meaningful work.

This isn’t a Republican/Democrat thing.

Most of our leaders are failing us. Some of them don’t want to help. Some of them don’t know how.

We have got to stop talking about other people needing to fix our problems. They can’t and they won’t.

This anger I feel is useful, but if I don’t start using this anger someone else is going to use it or me. If I allow someone else to use my anger, they are most likely to be using it against me.

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