I Wish I Could Quit You, Thomas Hardy

    I am in love with Thomas Hardy–and from that love, a conundrum is born.
    It all began with “Far From the Madding Crowd”. I’ll be honest, the guy had me at hello:

        When Farmer Oak smiled, the corners of his mouth spread
    till they were within an unimportant distance of his ears, his
    eyes were reduced to chinks, and diverging wrinkles appeared
    round them, extending upon his countenance like the rays in a
    rudimentary sketch of the rising sun.

    That, ladies and gents, is the opening paragraph. Note that it is one sentence–five lines long. Naughty little thing, isn’t he?
    The affair continues as I read, “Tess of the D’urbervilles”. In this–dare I say masterpiece?–each sentence is a poem of it’s own. I almost feel foolish going anywhere near the stuff. Bloggery? Are you kidding? Thomas would never approve.
    The complex characters, even those in existence for but a page or two, possess unique, detailed, constantly undulating perspectives. Their musings, which often contradict their actions, seamlessly guide the story along, without dragging it through a thick fog of rambling introspection.
    Hardy employs whimsical, animated prose; the words dance off the page like cartoons, yet the severity of his subject matter remains intact.
    Beneath this colorful rhythm hides a deceptive subtlety. Much of what happens is left to reader interpretation–particularly the important, plot-changing events. Clues are there, and plenty of them. Only they are hidden; sprinkled throughout like Easter eggs.
    My literacy drive is all revved-up. I’ve discovered a nasty little fetish for big, wordy sentences–long as the page itself and infested with semi-colons. I don’t care if it isn’t natural, dammit!
    I have this tendency, you see–I rush into relationships. If a literary love affair so much as hints at longevity, I immediately devour the writer’s entire bibliography. These discoveries are rare, but when they do happen, they happen hard. My apologies, John Irving; Mr. Hardy and I need some alone time.
    How did this love, so intense I shelved “A Widow for One Year” until “Tess” can be finished, give birth to a baby conundrum? In all honesty–and I mean this in the truest way possible–it’s not him; it’s me.
    My re-writes are taking too long, and the number of miniscule adjustments I make to each sentence has reached record highs. I’m sorry to be blunt, but I just don’t have time for all that drama.
    I tried to convince myself that nothing was wrong; told myself I was just insecure around literary deities. I took a little “me” time, to sort things out, and I’ve since come to realize the full complexity of the situation. Naturally, understanding has only led to harder questions. Aww, the baby conundrum is growing so fast!
    Hardy’s sentences, so flourishing with language never uttered in conversation (even in the late 1800’s), are making my prose look fat. My initial drafts are weighed down by such high syllable counts, I’ve been forced to punch an extra hole in my belt. What’s worse, I’m holding myself back. With handcuffs fastened to my wrists, navigating a creative flow becomes quite a struggle.
    Hey, I’d love to be a full-time writer. If I had all day, none of this would be a problem. However, as it stands, I have a very limiting schedule. If the opportunity to work on the book comes around, then use of that moment needs to be effective as possible. I’m talking maximum efficiency, here.
    So what’s a guy to do? Read machinery instruction manuals all day? I’d really rather not, because

        WARNING! Prose may look like this.
        ADVERTENCIA! Prosa pudin lucir como esta.
        Varning! Prosa kan se likt denna.
        警告! 散文如下所示:。

Published in: on April 7, 2011 at 5:31 am  Comments (3)  
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Everything is Medium: Little Michael and Big Ben

    Since the beginning of 2011, digital photographer Chris Schatz has been hard at work on his ambitious new project, “One Photograph a Day”. From the first day of the year to the last, Chris is going to take one photograph for each of those days and post it on his blog.
    I am excited to announce I will be collaborating with Mr. Schatz on his effort. For one in every five of his daily photographs, I will write a short story inspired by the image. The stories, and the pictures, will be posted on both of our blogs.
    For more of Chris Schatz’ photography, including photos from the project I have not written about, check out his blog.
    I hope you enjoy The Bloggery of Michael J. Coene’s collaborative effort with Christopher Schatz, “Everything is Medium: Literary Interpretations, One Photograph a Day!”


    Sometimes, friends became as such for the competition; their relationship fueled entirely by one’s motivation to best the other. So long as balance was restored in the end, the struggle would continue to go on forever. Such was the case of two friends named Ben and Mike, or–as the neighborhood said–Big Ben and Little Michael.
    Big Ben and Little Michael were opposites in many ways. Big Ben always wore a pair of thin spectacles, even while sleeping; Little Michael read paperback novels from four feet away, without straining his eyes. Big Ben had camped seventy-three times, not including practice stints in his backyard; Little Michael had difficulty breathing at the slightest incline of altitude, and he was loathe to the concept of a mosquito. Big Ben was an amateur tumbler who did not make end’s meet; Little Michael was a poet who did make end’s meet–but that was all he made.
    Little Michael was a short man–remarkably so–and a thick pelt of fur cursed all parts of his person, no matter if the area was standard or simply inexplicable. He also brandished a pair of wicked green eyes, and wielded them well. Long nights spent writing in his journal by candlelight had burdened his eyelids with purple sacs like ink stains, but he felt confident this only enhanced what he called his “poet’s aura”.
    Big Ben’s skin, wrapped taut around his hulking frame, was perfectly smooth, to the degree that when a person accidentally rubbed against his arm, a squeaking sound like that of a bathtub was produced. The optics he claimed as his birthright were light blue, and had been described more than once as “the color of skies and water”. Not the least bit prone to insomnia, Big Ben’s protective lids were as stain-free as the rest of him was hairless.
    When it came to women, both Big Ben and Little Michael were meek and insecure. Big Ben worried he occupied too much space, and that his wide fists lacked reasonable motor skills. He also had terrible posture, being so tall, and the resulting gait made him look a bit like a newborn sasquatch.
    Little Michael usually felt invisible around the opposite sex. He spoke too loudly–thinking they probably couldn’t see him down there– and once he finally had their attention, was rendered mute by an acute awareness of his resemblance to Frodo Baggins.
    At the end of the night, after many broken beer mugs and boisterous attempts at haiku, Big Ben and Little Michael declared a temporary truce. Little Michael removed his leather-bound journal, engraved with the initials L.M., from his back pocket, and ordered a glass of ice water from the bar. Big Ben walked over to the pool table in the adjacent room to use the chalk, which dotted the green landscape of the billiard, advertising a serious lack of care on behalf of the ownership.
    As Big Ben busily applied powder onto his palms, Little Michael sat down upon a stool, and began to read from his journal. He chose the poems at random, not allowing reason to infect the process. His voice, previously squeaky with the anxiety of improvisation, was now unearthed as if from an ancient tomb. Enchanted by the delicacy and bravura with which his words were composed, the women moved to him, their eyes wide and attentive as they formed a clustered circle on the floor around the stool.
    Big Ben, sensing Little Michael had the population sufficiently in thrall, stretched his back one last time, noisily cracking his spine. Then, he abruptly took to the floor, as if momentum was inherent to standing still. His long limbs became spring-loaded machines. He bounced and flipped about the billiards room–punch fronts off the floor, onto the pool table, into a handspring that morphed like mercury into a cartwheel before he hit the floor again, converting into a back tuck, and so forth. He made tumbling look logical.
    The phenomenon resulting from this strange collaboration of courting techniques, was a certain division of demographics. The energetic women–the ones who enjoyed dancing and exercise, rapid conversation and demanding careers in business–these ladies snapped to attention at the first sound of Big Ben’s exertion. With little reluctance, they abandoned the furry poet, and happily exchanged him for the smooth tumbler.
    The women who remained comfortably cross-legged on the floor, who ignored all sounds of male physical exertion and in fact consciously tuned such things out, were the cozy women–ladies who loved fireplaces and puzzles, paper crafts and flourishing home gardens. These ladies preferred the poetry, and the fur.
    At friendship’s end, weaknesses have become strengths, and strengths have become weaknesses. Little Michael and Big Ben have leaned on each other this way for years, and will continue to do so until the right woman comes around, eager enough to tolerate the position. Forever will be the pattern, when clashes coincide among friends, in healthy competition.

Little Michael and Big Ben

Published in: on April 5, 2011 at 4:07 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Speaking With Authority

    The rear window of the car in front of me boasted the following…

    “Never, Never, NEVER Shake a Baby.”

    I assumed the decal was just another tasteless attempt at comedy in this simple age of one-sentence tee shirts and cryptic vanity tags. However, upon closer inspection of the foreboding font, I realized that the message was, in fact, totally genuine. This person truly wanted all commuters to understand, the result of shaking one’s baby would not be a joyous occasion. A web-address was even provided, in case some poor soul out there needed a more in-depth list of reasons as to why.
    I checked out the bumper, hoping to discover more whimsical words of wisdom just waiting for my eager little eyes. Often people like this had more than one thing to say.
    Much to my disappointment, the dented chrome bumper was bare, save for one lonely sticker–black with a thin blue line running horizontally across the middle, like a flag.
    “Oh,” I thought to myself. “I get it.”
    It was the universal emblem of an off-duty police officer, which I only recognized because a friend who was particularly interested in matters of law enforcement once told me so. I think everybody has a friend like that–they guy who actually sits in his room and listens to what the police are up to, using that awfully official-looking black box. The whole setup seems like it should be illegal, but they assure you it is not.
    Knowledge of the driver’s career had somehow compartmentalized the dimwitted nature of the sticker for me; it seemed appropriate in the hands of a cop. The man was legally permitted to shoot me in the nostrils as much as he liked, yet I held no standard as to his intelligence.
    The inconsistency would not strike me until a few days later. I was in a bit of a rush to get home and, well… I wanted to be doing that. I was speeding, naturally–it really only takes one foot to do so–when a Crown Victoria, all blue, white and angry like a private school bully, came roaring out of the bushes. I screamed, and slowed down dramatically, which I always did around cops. People often said slowing down too harshly made the officer suspicious, but I disagree. Given my thoughts on their taste in decals, I assume they lack the presence of mind to look for cars going too slow and too fast.
    By now, I was actually going below the speed limit, which in retrospect was probably not a good idea. The Crown Victoria growled at my bumper, nipping at my butt and hungry to make it’s presence known. I flicked casual glances to my rearview mirror, while trying to hide the obvious fact that I was checking his sirens for any signs of life. I do not know why any of us bother with this part.
    Just as the blue and red bulbs burst into a chorus of melancholy whales, the mantra crept back into my mind.

    “Never, never, NEVER Shake a Baby!”

    I concluded there was some serious reorganizing to do, in terms of how I looked at law enforcement.
    The officer and I pulled off the highway onto the shoulder, like two happy little ducklings. He stayed in his car, making no effort to conceal that he was doing nothing in there, while I waited for time to start over. I rummaged through my glove compartment, in search of my crumpled registration, all the while becoming more and more paranoid. I quickly became convinced he thought I was digging around for a weapon of mass destruction or something.
    Eventually the man and his sidekick, the Mighty Mustache, climbed out of the Crown Victoria and approached my vehicle. His walk was steady and stoic, almost a little Southern; the entirety of his being was encompassed by the myriad leather compartments of his over-equipped utility belt.
    Were it not for the belt, I felt certain the top and bottom halves of his body would have moved independently of each other.
    The Mighty Mustache–solid, scruffy and black–shuffled into the view of my driver’s side mirror. I looked at it, became instantly tempted to brush the thing away using the bristled end of my ice-scraper, then thought better of it. Disheartened by images of being beaten with the fancy belt, I stopped myself from ridding the police officer of his facial hair.
    “What can I do for you, officer?” I offered, pointlessly.
    “License and registration.”
    I handed over the identification, which was even more crumpled than I had expected.
    “Here ya go!” I said.
    The critter sauntered back to his car, forcing me to wait once more. This second helping of solitary confinement was even more unbearable than the first, as I no longer had any reason to rifle through my stuff.
    Inevitably, eventually, the officer returned. He brandished a bright yellow citation high into the air as if it were evidence, and not the verdict.
    “Thank you,” I said dumbly, as he intoned something about words he had circled with a near-empty cheap blue pen.
    “Drive safely,” he said, by way of dismissal.
    “Never shake a baby!” I pleasantly replied, driving off before the Mighty Mustache was able to respond.
    I concluded, as the wind tossed various receipts and tidbits of scrap paper about the interior of my little grey toaster car, that my perception of law enforcement definitely needed another look. I glanced up at the mirror to examine my sweaty upper-lip.
    Yeah… I could never pull off a mustache.

Published in: on April 4, 2011 at 3:22 am  Leave a Comment  
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Chicken Little Loses His Pen

    I would very much prefer that writers stop condemning the paper book into oblivion. It is not gone yet, and though you, Mister Techno-Writer, may spend all of your time on Twitter, there are plenty of literary folk who do not.
    Recently I joined the Twitter thing, as the need to effectively publicize myself has become more relevant, due to my first novel almost being complete. In browsing various writerly interviews and speeches and blogs and what-have-you, I have noticed a good number of these milquetoasty individuals spend hours at a time denouncing the paper book as obsolete trash.
    Twitter is neat–I get that. It is fast, and writers have adjusted their prose accordingly. But please, do not get caught up in the newness of it all. It is a useful tool, that is used in conjunction with the book, but I sincerely doubt this is the end of the book as we know it. Just keep writing, and stop doomsaying; you are not helping the cause.
    I am almost certain these people, who so vehemently insist that downloadable literature has all ready replaced paperback, are only saying so because their work is not selling. No amount of technology can fix mediocrity, I’m afraid.

Published in: on April 3, 2011 at 10:47 pm  Comments (6)  
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