mmerriam: (Default)

Originally published at Michael Merriam. Please leave any comments there.

I enter Uptown Transit Station and discover what appears to be a homeless couple having sex on–and wrapped up in–a pile of old coats and rags on the floor of the transit center. Nearby is a large backpack, a pair of bags from a local fast food place, and a pair of heavy boots. Another backpack is under the woman’s head, like a pillow.

They look to be in their late twenties or early thirties and what little I can see of them looks like they could both use a shower. They both have ragged, uncombed greasy hair on their heads. The beard on his thin face is long and scraggly. Her face is round and pale. While they are completely covered by the coats and rags and bits of old blankets, he is obviously between her legs, thrusting and grunting softly. She is silent, her knees raised, eyes closed. There is a smile on her lightly flushed face.

Startled, I look away. They are, after all, having a private moment, even if it is in a public place. I join the rest of the transit users waiting for their buses and going about their business as if a homeless couple isn’t copulating a few feet away. People are talking on their phones, talking to each other, talking about the buses and where they are heading and who they are seeing and what they are having for dinner tonight. A dozen mundane conversations continue on with the low murmur of love-making as a musical undercurrent in the background. I wonder if I should call the St. Stephen’s Street Team to come and talk to them. It’s cold and they obviously have nowhere to go or they wouldn’t be having sex in the transit center. They are probably both homeless and mentally ill.

Meanwhile, outside the station a large, powerfully built older gentleman using one of those 4-wheeled rolling stability walkers–a rollator I think it is called–is talking to the people getting on and off the busses. He has a big, booming voice and for the last several minutes he has been asking people if they believe they are square with the world, because the angels see all and want to take the good people to dinner. To Outback and Appleby’s and Perkins and Denny’s. For a burger. Or a steak. Or hash browns. Apparently the angels like American Cuisine. Either satisfied that everyone outside would soon be having a Grand Slam with the angels, or else needing to get in from the bitter cold, he enters the transit station.

Rollator Dude: “Um-hum I see you. I see you all. See through your soft flesh and brittle bones to the burning flames under your skin. I see you.”

Random Transit Rider: “I see you too, brother.”

Rollator Dude: “I’m sure you do. Mmm-hmm. Right through all of you.” (Pauses as he notices the couple having sex) “What is This! What is This! Fornicating in public!”

At this point I reach for my phone, figuring I might need to call the police.

Woman Having Sex: “Hey, Stan.”

I look over. They are still having sex, the man thrusting harder and grunting softly. She is smiling up at Stan, who has ambled toward them with his rolling walker. I look away again, but keep an ear on things.

Stan (Rollator Dude): “Hey, O-Live-E-a. I see you Johnny-John, I see you and hey, Johnny-John, you keep tapping that sweet thing, man. You make your lady happy and maybe later I can tap that as well, umm-hmm. What do think O-Live-E-a? If Johnny-John don’t have no mind.”

Olivia (Woman Having Sex): “I don’t know Stan. Can we come stay with you for a few days?”

Stan: “You know I can’t let no one live with me. I can’t lose my place O-Live-E-a.”

Olivia: (Makes a small little pleased noise) “Just until we find something, Stan.”

Stan suddenly goes off on a long rant about how he is a bank robber who robs banks and gets away with it because he is the best bank robber at robbing banks.

Olivia: “Stan? Stan! Can we come stay with you?”

Stan: “You guys could come over and use my shower. That should be worth something.”

Olivia: “I’m not fucking you for just a shower.” (Pause. Little gasp) “But maybe we can work something else out.”

New Voice: “I keep telling them they can live with me. I’ve got a nice place. Clean. No one cares if people stay with me as long as they’re quiet and don’t smoke crack.”

Olivia: “Yeah, but I know what you want.”

Johnny-John (Guy Having Sex): (Grunt) “I don’t mind.” (Grunt) “Tim’s nice to me.” (Grunt) “I don’t mind at all.” (Grunt-grunt) “Tim makes it not hurt.” (Grunt) “He’s always nice and gentle.”

Olivia: “I just want a shower. I just want a shower.” (Pause. Gasp.) “You’re a good guy Tim. I just—” (Gasp)

Tim walks toward them. I glance over. They are still having sex. Olivia’s right leg has come out from under the coats and towels. She still has on her shoes and socks. Her skin is very pale and her calf is very thin. I look away as Johnny continues to thrust into her. Around us people come and go, keep talking about normal stuff and playing on their phones. Newcomers to the station walk in, pause as they see the couple, then go on about their business. Stan starts talking about how he works for the CIA/FBI/Police and is in disguise. Tim says he is in disguise too. Stan says he can right through Tim, right to his soul, right into his brain. Right through Tim’s life all the way to the womb, all the way back.

Olivia: “Stan? Can we use your shower?” (She is starting to sound a little breathless)

Stan: “Oh. yeah. Come on over. I’ve got a crockpot full of pulled pork and a case of Hamms. We can eat and fuck and shower and have a laugh.”

Tim: “Yeah. Yeah.” (Starts to hum. Stops humming) “Guys! Guys! Cops! No, wait, it’s a taxi. You guys can live with me. We can all live together. I’ve got a clean place.”

Olivia: “Stan. Stan, when does your bus get here? What bus, Stan?”

Stan: “The 23. Whenever it comes.” (Short digression about rare steak and raccoons and how the raccoons will come and steal a man’s steak right off the grill) “Whenever, O-Live-E-a.”

Olivia: “What time does the 23 come?” (No one answers) “When is the fucking 23 going to be here?”

Me: (Looks at the board) “You’ve got 16 minutes.”

Olivia: “Damn it, Johnny, finish up. We’ve got to go. A shower, Johnny. And hot food.”

Johnny: (Grunt) “We’ve got a few more minutes.” (Grunt) “We’ve got time.”

Olivia: “A shower, Johnny! I want a fucking shower.”

Stan: “Here. Here. Let me cover you up. Let me cover you. It ain’t decent, you showing all that leg to these people. All these strangers with their lights. All these strangers watching and wanting and wishing and licking their lips.”

I glance over as Stan kneels down and covers Olivia’s bare leg with a coat. Johnny continues to thrust. Stan stands back up

Stan: “Fornicating! In Public!”

Olivia: “I’m getting that shower.”

The Number 12 bus arrives and I start for the door.

Me: “The 23 will be here in 13 minutes.”

Olivia: (Gasps in ecstasy. Groans. Hums. Sneezes.) “Fuck, Johnny. Come and get off me. I need to put on my pants. A shower, Johnny. A shower and a hot meal. I’m not missing that fucking bus because of you.”

I walk out of the station and board the #12. I stop at Trader Joe’s and buy goat cheese and catch another bus home.

mmerriam: (Default)

Originally published at Michael Merriam. Please leave any comments there.

I climb aboard the #17 at Uptown Station. We’re sitting there stopped because the bus is running early and as we wait, a man in his twenties climbs aboard, does that thing where he starts going through all his pockets looking for money.

“Hey! Hey! Someone got fifty cents? I need fifty cents!”

Finally, someone in the back offers him the fifty cents. He pays, gets a transfer, and sits in the seat across the aisle from me. The bus starts rolling up Hennepin and I can feel him looking at me.

“Hey! Hey, blind guy! Hey, blind guy. Hey, blind guy, what you got in your backpack, blind guy?”

Now, I don’t want to conjecture that this gentleman had nefarious intentions. Perhaps he was just curious. Perhaps. But I doubt it.

“Hey, blind guy, what you got in your backpack?”

So I turn to him and say, “A laptop that stopped working in 2004, four rolls of pennies, a bag of dirty socks, the severed mummified head of Jimmy Hoffa, and one very angry weasel.”

Long, long pause.

“You’re shitting me, man.”

“The weasel’s name is Tim.”

“You’re a crazy man! You’re crazy!”

And he moved to the back of the bus and I never heard from or saw him again.

mmerriam: (Default)

Originally published at Michael Merriam. Please leave any comments there.

This is the time of day when I typically try to write. I’ve finished my medical billing work for the day, I have the place to myself, and I’ve finished as much housework as I can stand. I’m mostly ready for tomorrow’s business meeting. Once I have finished dinner, I usually settle in and do a little artist work.
 
Not tonight. Tonight I just don’t have it in me. Probably not tomorrow night either or anytime this weekend.
 
But maybe by Monday. At some point next week for sure. Because creating art is what I do and right now, I think we will need art. To amuse. To entertain. To distract.
 
In the end, that’s why I do this. I do it for the people who read my stories, or see my shows, or listen to my tales. That’s my job. To entertain. To provide amusement or distraction at the end of a tough day.
 
Stories helped me when I was younger, got me through some dark times. Saved my life. If I do the same for just one other person – give them a little brightness, entertain them, help them get through this life in any way, then I’ve succeeded as an artist.
mmerriam: (Streetcar)
I’m riding the buses to meet some friends for cocktails and snacks after a long and kind of not-so-great Saturday at work. I take my typical #12 Bus to Uptown and get on the #23 at Hennepin and Lagoon, out in front of the Uptown Theater. This is the longest stretch I have to ride, so I settle in read email on my phone for the next half hour.

She gets on near the Uptown Animal Clinic. Late 20s or early 30s. Red hair, black knee-length dress, boots. She looks like she’s heading for a night on the town, to be honest. She has a purse over her shoulder, but is clutching a small drawstring bag in her hand. She scans the bus, which is mostly empty, then walks to where I am sitting behind the back door, settles next to me, puts her head on my shoulder and sniffs.

“I had to put my cat down last week. These are her ashes,” she says softly.

“I’m sorry. I am so sorry for your loss. “I’m Michael, by the way.”

She sniffs a couple of more times, but doesn't say another word, just sits next to me with her head on my shoulder, clutching the little drawstring bag that must hold the ashes of her pet. As we near 38th and Portland she pulls the cord for a stop and gets off. I watch her walk down 38th until the bus pulls too far ahead.

I don’t know who you are, miss. But I’m sorry for your loss.

Originally posted at michaelmerriam.net. You can comment here or there.
mmerriam: (Type)
2013. Yeah. That was a thing that happened.

On some levels it was a tough year. My raw writing metrics were the lowest since about 2005. I had the lowest raw word count for the year since I got serious about writing in 2002. On some levels it was a down year for writing.

The numbers, however, tell a tale of a great year as a writer and storyteller:

I was Guest of Honor at CoreCon V. Blog reports here:
Friday
Saturday
Sunday

Sold 2 novels and 4 reprint short stories for publication. Published 1 novel, 1 short story collection, and 4 short stories (all in anthologies.)

Gave 7 public literary readings. Gave 3 writing-related interviews. Participated on 11 panels at conventions and gave 6 presentations for various organizations. Did a little publishing consulting. Appeared at 9 conventions and festivals.

Appeared in 2 music videos. Competed in Story Slam MN! Grand Slam and told multiple times at local story slam events. Hosted the Ghost Stories track and told 3 stories as part of Storyfest Minnesota. Performed 3 stories for KFAI radio.

Helped judge the Geek Partnership Society Writing Contest. Participated in photo shoots for Tim Cooper's War for the Oaks Reader's Series. Was active in the Minnesota Speculative Fiction Writers, Volunteered for MN Fringe Festival, and was active in my Writers Group.

The thing I'm the most proud of is getting my process as an artist smoothed out and working again. I'd been struggling for the last year or so, and in the last 6 months of 2013 I felt like I found my footing. I finished the first draft of a couple of things I'm pretty pleased with, especially since some of the stuff from earlier in the year as Not Up To Standards.

I wrote sparingly and sporadically in my blog this year, focusing more on steering the fiction writing back on track while working on improving as a storyteller. I did make a post about the changing writing process, which I'm pretty pleased with, An Ever Evolving Process and a post about finding my way back to being the writer I want to be in The Power of Story

What's in store for 2014? I'm not sure. I'm working on a scriptwriting project for a local theatre company. I've got more novellas in my Gaslight and Grimoires series ready to go. I'm working on a one-man show for either Minnesota Fringe Festival or to produce myself. I have finished novels to polish and market. I've got a long list of ideas and partial works-in-progress. I'm trying to pick the next novel project, with an eye toward something that might get me back into the Big Publishing Houses as an author.

What are your plans for 2014?
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Originally posted at michaelmerriam.net. You can comment here or there.

Lost

Jul. 15th, 2013 01:34 pm
mmerriam: (Blind)
"Look Out!"

My wife, as I nearly crashed our Mazda into a cluster of orange traffic barrels.

I was lost. I had taken a wrong exit onto an unfamiliar bit of highway, one I couldn't drive from memory, careening barely controlled through that favorite of Minnesota seasons – road construction. At night. In the rain. With four people's lives in my hands. I was behind the wheel of our car long past the time my blind ass had any business still driving.

Angry with myself, the world, the Minnesota Department of Transportation, and the unfairness of my deteriorating condition, I pulled off at the next exit and turned the wheel over to my wife. That time.

"Stop!"

My wife again, as I almost plowed into a half-dozen fashionable young women who had no idea they had nearly all perished at the hands of a sensible car driven by a blind idiot. Her warning allowed me to hit the brakes, averting what would have a tragedy with mere seconds to spare.

This time I wasn't lost: though I was at 50th and France, which for us was pretty close. This time, I kept driving, trying to hide my shaking hands and pounding heart – I kept driving... all the way to the retina center.

At the clinic, things did not go well. I could tell it wasn't going well by the way the nice optician was reacting. “You’re doing great! Doing great!” she kept repeating over and over. I was not doing great. In fact, it became painfully obvious during the exam that things were worse than I had thought. I suppose you learn little tricks to compensate for vision loss, but it’s more difficult to fool sophisticated diagnostic techniques.

But I would not accept my disability. I kept talking to my wife about how we needed to buy a second car. When the doctor inquired if I had any question, I didn't want to ask, but the look on my beloved's face—and the fact that she was making steering wheel motions—was too much to ignore. I asked the doctor how much longer I would be able to drive.

He looked horrified. "I think that it is very important that you do not."

And that was the end. My wife drove us home. On the way, she made me read a street sign. A large street sign. The kind that hangs over the highway. I stuck my head out of the window of the car and as it passed directly over my head, I managed to read out Duluth Street. The state sent a polite letter, revoking my license. I had lost the ability and the privilege to operate a motor vehicle. Public transportation and my butt in the passenger seat was my new reality.

It sucked, but I had to make the transition. I refused to become one of the many disabled people who shut themselves away, hide from the world. And any time I started to get frustrated on long bus rides, I would remember a terrifying encounter at my local grocery store.

I was walking to the store and found myself following this sweet looking little old lady, who had just climbed out of her HUGE Buick. I'm talking a small boat. So I follow her into the store and she stops, peers at another woman just inside the door, gets right up in this woman's face, peers, squints and finally says, "Lois, is that you?"

The loss of mobility and independence was frightening and difficult, but handing in the keys was best thing that could have happened to me. I was no longer lost on roads I was attempting to drive by memory or by following the taillights in front of me. I was no long a danger to myself, to my passengers, and to the general public at large. I was no longer afraid that someone was going to die because I was too scared and too proud to do what was smart and safe.

In the end, the only thing I really lost was my fear of the darkness stalking me and the changes it would bring. And all that fear, well, that's not too much to have lost, now is it?

Originally posted at michaelmerriam.net. You can comment here or there.
mmerriam: (Stories)
This is a story about becoming lost, and finding your way back home.

#


I climbed aboard the #21 bus after another long shift at the day job auditing loan applications for the stupidly wealthy to bring in more money for the insanely rich shareholders of the banking concern I work for, in the faint hope that they will toss me enough spare change to pay my mortgage, which my employer holds. You know, working for the company store and all that.

So.

I'm sitting on the bus in the first front facing seat, desperate to avoid the gimp seats again, though I don't even know why. Maybe my anger and frustration at what I am and what I'm becoming is spilling over. Anyway, I'm on one of the new hybrid buses, so when it stops and puts down the ramp for a wheelchair, because of the seat configuration I don't need to move. I sit there thinking about how tired I am. Thinking about all the things I need to do when I get home, none of which are writing or even writing/storytelling career related.

Thinking about how I'm not really a writer anymore. Writers write, after all. And I haven't been writing -- really writing -- for a long time.

You know, useless thoughts about self and all that.

As the wheelchair ramp returns to the top of its journey, I look up. My white cane is open and we chipped up gimps tend to acknowledge each other in the language of sidelong glances, slow nods, subtle smiles.

And two of my characters get on the bus. Zoe and Robert from Rainfall. S&S

Go ahead and read it. I'll wait.

I watch as they settle, my breaths coming hard, head pounding, eyes stinging as they fill with tears. For one wild moment I think about fleeing out the backdoor of the bus.

#


Here's the thing; I haven't been writing much in the last year. Very little, in fact. This has me thinking hard about my career as a writer and artist. I've been studying the arc of the thing. I was contemplating stopping, putting away the words. I would finish rewriting and polishing the completed works I had on file, find homes for my unsold pieces, meet my remaining deadlines, and fulfill any outstanding contracts.

And then be done. Set it down, put it away, buy some sensible shoes, and shirts, and trousers, get a sensible job like a good sensible American worker-citizen. God Bless the Apple Pie.

#


So Beloved Spouse has been watching Bull Durham. There is this scene where Susan Sarandon's character Annie realizes that Kevin Costner's character Crash Davis is about to break the minor league home run record. She wants to make a big deal of it and call the Sporting News, seeing it as a milestone. He doesn't. He considers being the All-Time Minor League Home Run King a dubious honor.

I completely understand. Everyone who plays wants to go to The Show—whether that show is Major League Baseball or Big Time Publishing in New York or London.

I've been a hell of a minor league author for a long time. A small-press / semi-pro All-Star. Like Crash Davis, I've even spent a little time in The Show, but I didn't stay there and I've never been able to duplicate it. I told someone once – to keep using the baseball analogy – not everyone gets to be Hank Aaron. Some of us have to be Roger Metzger.

Or the fictional Crash Davis.

And after more than a decade, I wasn't sure I wanted to keep slogging away in the small press.

#


I'm going to stop here for a moment and engage in a small digression, okay?

I am not denigrating or disparaging small press book publishers and semi-pro magazines. All of my small press publishers have been fantastic and Very Good To Me as a writer. And most small press publishers are in the business because they love books and the written word. I would NEVER give up my experiences in the small press. But any writer worth his pen and word processor wants to reach the widest range of readers possible, and the Big Publishers have the money and clout to make this happen. For a small press author, I sell really well, but to reach a national audience, you need the power of the big publishers. I learned this during my time with Harlequin's Carina Press imprint, when I got my taste of the Big Leagues. End of digression.

#


One of the problems with being an author, unless maybe you are a big-name N.Y. Times Bestseller, is that you really don’t get much in the way of audience/reader feedback. You have to take it on faith that you are reaching an audience. I've been working on the stage as a spoken word performer and storyteller, and you get immediate audience feedback. You know right away if the audience likes what you're doing. If you know you've reached the audience, if you know they care, if you feel like you've reached them…

I talked all this out with my wife and she pointed out that I've been changing my focus as an artist – more stage work – storytelling and play writing. She's right, and I have found some success on the local stage as a storyteller. But my primary identity is as a prose fiction writer. I was getting some good writing done on those occasions when we were traveling or at conventions. In fact, most of my writing was being done in hotel rooms and not much of anywhere else. I'd get good momentum coming out the conventions, feel good about my writing, but I couldn't sustain it.

Writing was about to become just one more damned thing I had failed at.

I've been a musician; a bassist in a rock-a-billy band. It was fun for a while, but I got tired of being paid poorly to play in crappy bars and third-rate night clubs. I stopped playing, except at the hobbyist level.

I've been an actor, mostly under and sometimes unpaid in small theatre. And sometimes community theatre. I stopped doing that as well.

There are other perfectly good reasons why I left those pursuits behind. And I mourned them a little, but mostly when I drop those as career pursuits, I felt relief.

The thought that I would no longer be a working writer made me sad and sick. The idea that I had failed as writer left me feeling -- well, I was in a bad place. Other, wiser peers tried to remind me that I had accomplished a lot, things other writers could well be envious of and aspiring to. I'd published two novels, three single-title novellas, ninety pieces of short fiction and poetry. My first novel was a top pick for Readings in Lesbian & Bisexual Women's Fiction and one of my novellas was long-listed for the Nebula. I had been Author Guest at a major regional science fiction convention and an invited participant at two others. When regarded from the outside, my career looked pretty freaking fabulous and other writers would love to be in the position I'm in. I can acknowledge that.

But I wasn't writing. And when I was, I wasn't even making barista pay. I had convinced myself that being a writer was a lovely dream, but it was obvious that I was never going to reach a point where I could make the minimal money I needed to make for writing to be viable. And the less I was writing, the harder it became to get back to it and the more critical I was of what little work I was getting done. I wasn't writing up to the level I felt –knew – I should be.

Like Crash Davis, I had a good set of skills and a love of what I was doing, but not enough skill or talent to make the permanent leap into the Big Leagues. I got there for a time, but couldn't make it stick. I could nurture it in others, helping mentor other emerging writers as they made their first big-time pro sales and moved on to the major publishers—like I now knew I never would. And I found I wasn't jealous of them, or even angry that they were making the sales I could not. I was just sad and tired; resigned that for me, as a writer, this was as good as it was going to get.

Resignation quickly became exhaustion. I'd made a good run, had some successes, but I wasn't writing anymore. I was a cog in a giant corporation, nothing more. Between that full-time job and the part-time job of being disabled, I didn't have the energy to carry on as an artist. Like I said earlier, it seemed like it was time to put it away, hang on to my a sensible cog-job like a good sensible American worker with a mortgage and bills all that other American Dream stuff. God Bless the Liberty Bell.

I was done.

I was done, until two of my characters climbed and wheeled onto my bus.

#


The man was almost an exact duplicate of how I pictured Robert to be. Dark hair, slight build, missing his legs below the knees. He was in an old-style wheelchair. The woman pushing him was tiny, probably little more than 4'10", if that. She was also slight of build; slender and willowy. Her hair was dyed the color of autumn leaves; red and orange and yellow. She settled him into the proper spot and set the restraints that hold the wheelchair in place with practiced ease. I caught her eye for a moment and she smiled before settling in his lap, arms around his neck. They leaned into each other, exchanging smiles, quiet laughs, and subtle touches as the bus rolled away from the curb and continued on its route.

I was unprepared for the wave of emotions. I actually bit through the inside of my lip so that I did not burst into tears. I couldn't stop looking at them even though I was pretty sure I was about to have a full blown panic attack. It physically hurt to see these two strangers who might have been my characters in another life/world/dimension. When the bus reached Uptown Station -- its final stop -- I exited out the back and fled. I couldn't face them. But there was no point in trying to get away, because it wasn't this young couple, or even Robert and Zoe, I was trying to get away from.

I couldn't face myself.

#


Charles de Lint once said, "We are all made of stories," and I sincerely believe what he said is true. We are all made of stories. We all have our own story. Life is nothing more than one big story, and I believe—I have to believe—in the power of story. This is why movies like Big Fish, Stranger Than Fiction, and Ink resonate with me so much when so little visual entertainment does; they are all at their core about the power of story.

I had forgotten that. Or at least had let it be drowned out by the less important things. I had lost my way, become too caught up in the numbers game, worrying about money, about conforming to societal expectation concerning what is really worthwhile work, about my imaginary position in an imaginary hierarchy of writers, about marketing and blogging and being public, and about not ever being able to break through to the big-time despite being fairly well-respected by my peers. About wanting to be SFWA qualified even though I never ever plan to join SFWA. I got too involved in the Internet Noise Machine: Fiction Writers Edition. It wasn't so much impostor syndrome as it was just a feeling of general failure, of not being good enough. Of being barely minor league with no chance of ever being more.

I lost faith in the power of story.

And so the Story came to find me. It climbed onto a creaky, battered city bus and settled in front of me. Presented itself in unambiguous terms. Without speaking it said, "Michael, don't forget me." It made me remember.

It made me remember why I write. It made me remember the Power of Story. What I do isn't about publishing, and sales figures and money {And for those of you who sneer at this statement: fuck you. Sure, I want to get paid and I need to get paid and I understand the business of writing, but that is not what being a writer is about in the end, and if you think it is, you've lost a little piece of your soul}.

I write because at the end of the day, I'm a storyteller and an entertainer and I don't know how to be anything else. I write for the tired worker who comes home and wants to be transported to another world. I write for the kid who needs those words worse than water as they try to figure out their place in the world. I write for the desperate and depressed and battered and forgotten and lost who need a respite and an escape, even it is for a few bare minutes.

I write for people just like you. And just like me. Because I've been all of those things above, and I can tell you, brothers and sisters, the written word saved my life more than once. Some author whom I never meet wrote a story and the power of it carried me through, got me from one day to the next -- from one story to the next -- helped me become the person I am today. If I can do the same for someone else, then it’s all worth it. I may never know if I have touched a reader, made their day brighter, helped them in some small way, but I have to have faith that I will. That I have.

That I do.

#


Thank you, young couple who were the literal living incarnations of Robert and Zoe; thank you for letting your story intersect with mine, even if you can never be aware of the impact it had on me. Thank you for helping me get back on track, for helping me find what I had lost, for reminding me of what I am in a way I could not ignore.

Thank you for renewing my faith in the Power of Story. I won't forget again.

I promise to go forward and -- to the best of my ability -- create awesome stories.

Originally posted at michaelmerriam.net. You can comment here or there.

On The Air

Feb. 13th, 2013 06:30 pm
mmerriam: (Michael - Radio)
This is your head's up that, according to the producer of FreshWords, my short (as in 5 minutes) story slam piece "Where's George?" will air tomorrow on KFAI 90.3FM Minneapolis and 106.7FM St. Paul (or streaming at http://kfai.org/) "somewhere around 7:10am."

I hope you get a chance to listen and enjoy!

Bus Tales

May. 31st, 2012 09:00 am
mmerriam: (Streetcar)
Every morning I commute by bus to St. Paul. Anyone who has ridden public transportation can tell you stories. I've posted some here over the years. I think I'll start posting them again.

Today, on the 94B Express from Minneapolis to St.Paul, I settled into a seat next to the window, folded my mobility cane, and relaxed in anticipation of the usually uneventful ride (we like uneventful rides, as opposed to the bus catching on fire, which happened a few years ago). One of the regular riders, a late-thirties woman who gets off one stop before me, sat down next to me. We nodded and exchanged quiet good mornings, then she pulled out her Kindle and I closed my eyes to get a light doze in on the bus (I've learned the art of dozing on the bus and not missing my stop) since I had a crummy night's sleep last night. I had already dozed on the 665 Express to Minneapolis.

I guess she had the same idea, because part way to St. Paul as the bus went into a curve, she slumped over onto my shoulder. I opened my eyes and found her obviously asleep (I could tell by the slight snore and utterly relaxed posture). I've had this happen before, but still.

So very quietly I say, "Miss? Miss?"

To which she snorts, rolls my direction, grabs my arm, and snuggles down closer to me. Not one to go about wantonly sleeping with strange women on buses, I reached out with one finger and gave her a gentle tap on the shoulder.

"Miss." I give a slightly harder tap. "Miss."

She jerks awake, eyes opened wide, startled. Realizing what has happened, she blushes, sits up straight and begins to nervously smooth her clothes. "Sorry," she mumbles.

"It's okay," I say. "Just, you know."

We ride in silence for a few minutes, then as she reaches across me to pull the cord to ask the driver to stop, she give me a small smile. "At least I didn't drool."

We both laugh softly, and she exits the bus.
mmerriam: (Kimiko - Science)
I am thrilled to announce that my space opera novelette “Memory” has been recorded for the Beam Me Up! Podcast.

Part One
Part Two

Enjoy!
mmerriam: (Kimiko - Science)
I am thrilled to announce that my space opera novelette “Memory” has been recorded for the Beam Me Up! Podcast.

Part One
Part Two

Enjoy!
mmerriam: (Default)
I have an interest in abandoned, derelict places.

When I was younger, I loved finding my way into old buildings. When I was younger, it was a combination of the thrill of exploration combined with the inherent danger of being in a decaying structure. Add in the adrenaline-pumping fear of being caught, and it was a wonder I didn't end up in more old building.

When I was a pre-teen and early in my teenage years, we lived in a tiny little rural town, Oney, Oklahoma. The town's official name was Albert, because that was what it said on the post office, but the original name of the town was Oney. The school was Oney school and all the old-timers called the town Oney. Albert existed only for governmental purposes.

It was a town in decline. Serious decline. The railroad had not only stopped running trains there decades before, but had torn up the tracks themselves and taken them away. The population was small (around 150 people at that time) and there were plenty of old buildings from the village's better days standing around empty: an old grocery store, a tiny movie theater, the old bank, what we thought might have been a jail. On the property my family owned stood the abandoned cotton gin and mill and its adjacent office. I found my way into all of them, exploring with a handful of other adventurous boys and girls.

As I grew older, my thoughts became less about the thrill and adventure aspect and more about exploration and remembrance. I developed a sense of these empty building having actually been places where people lived, worked, and loved. I could feel the echo of those lives in the empty corridors and graffiti covered walls.

As I became older still, I grew less adventurous, stopped wandering into old places. Failing eyesight and a sure sense of my own mortality tempered my love of exploring these lost structures. Instead I turned to the internet and followed other explorers in their photographs and videos.

What interests me now is the history of a place. What was it? Why did it fall into ruin? Who were the people who worked or lived there? What must they think to see this place abandoned? Now it is about remembrance. These places meant something to people, to the community, to history. They deserved to be remembered.

Like I said earlier, Oney is small place. I lived there (off and on) from 1974 to 1980, doing most of my elementary school and all of junior high in that little town. The school was one of those solid brick structures built by the WPA in the late 1930s or early 1940s. It was not air-conditioned, and was hot during the late summer and early fall months, but it did have big windows and doors, so it had good air circulation. The classes were small; no more than a dozen of us in a class at anytime and sometimes a class might be as small as six kids. Budget cuts and dropping class sizes finally caught up to the little town, and the state closed the school, rolling it into the larger Binger school district. The last class left Oney school in 1991.

I knew this, of course. I had worked at the 3M plant in Weatherford with some old schoolmates from Oney. I knew the school was closed. I knew it was gone. This isn't something rare out in rural Oklahoma. The land is dotted with little school buildings (and sometimes entire multi-building campuses) that have closed and been left to rot.

At some point the main building was torn down, probably for safety issues. This seems a mercy to me. But the gymnasium is still standing. I suspect there was a plan to use it was a community center, and somehow those plans, (like so many plans and dreams in small-town Oklahoma) fell through. Recently, someone I know on Facebook entered the old gym and took some pictures, and there it was, a piece of my childhood, a piece of my history, standing forlorn, decaying slowly on the Oklahoma prairie.

I was unprepared for how sad this made me feel. It was like looking at old friend who had fallen on times so hard there was no return. And there is no return for this place. The best thing that could happen to it would be for someone to come along with a bulldozer and level it. I suspect this how the old-timers felt about all those old empty and ruined buildings I loved exploring as a kid.

I was struck by the fact that, not only is it part of my history, but I am a part of its history, however small. I played basketball in that building, went to school assemblies, plays, and banquets in that building, had an 8th grade graduation and dance in that building. The blue paint on the rusting handrails may be chipped and faded, graffiti may be painted on the concrete bleachers, the ghosts of basketball goals may be broken bits that lurk at either end, and the old parquet floor rotted and covered in fallen bits of ceiling, but I know these things in my soul and remember them as they were.

I am a part of that old building's memories. Its history.

I am one of the ghosts of that place.

There will come a day when that building is no more, either knocked down by man or carved up and reclaimed by nature and the land. I know that this is simply the way of things. Buildings come and go. People come and go. Everything dies, in the end.

But I will remember that place as it was, and it will always be a place where people lived and worked and learned and played and loved and were.

And someday, when I am no more, I will take that memory with me, and we shall both be ghosts...
mmerriam: (Default)
I have an interest in abandoned, derelict places.

When I was younger, I loved finding my way into old buildings. When I was younger, it was a combination of the thrill of exploration combined with the inherent danger of being in a decaying structure. Add in the adrenaline-pumping fear of being caught, and it was a wonder I didn't end up in more old building.

When I was a pre-teen and early in my teenage years, we lived in a tiny little rural town, Oney, Oklahoma. The town's official name was Albert, because that was what it said on the post office, but the original name of the town was Oney. The school was Oney school and all the old-timers called the town Oney. Albert existed only for governmental purposes.

It was a town in decline. Serious decline. The railroad had not only stopped running trains there decades before, but had torn up the tracks themselves and taken them away. The population was small (around 150 people at that time) and there were plenty of old buildings from the village's better days standing around empty: an old grocery store, a tiny movie theater, the old bank, what we thought might have been a jail. On the property my family owned stood the abandoned cotton gin and mill and its adjacent office. I found my way into all of them, exploring with a handful of other adventurous boys and girls.

As I grew older, my thoughts became less about the thrill and adventure aspect and more about exploration and remembrance. I developed a sense of these empty building having actually been places where people lived, worked, and loved. I could feel the echo of those lives in the empty corridors and graffiti covered walls.

As I became older still, I grew less adventurous, stopped wandering into old places. Failing eyesight and a sure sense of my own mortality tempered my love of exploring these lost structures. Instead I turned to the internet and followed other explorers in their photographs and videos.

What interests me now is the history of a place. What was it? Why did it fall into ruin? Who were the people who worked or lived there? What must they think to see this place abandoned? Now it is about remembrance. These places meant something to people, to the community, to history. They deserved to be remembered.

Like I said earlier, Oney is small place. I lived there (off and on) from 1974 to 1980, doing most of my elementary school and all of junior high in that little town. The school was one of those solid brick structures built by the WPA in the late 1930s or early 1940s. It was not air-conditioned, and was hot during the late summer and early fall months, but it did have big windows and doors, so it had good air circulation. The classes were small; no more than a dozen of us in a class at anytime and sometimes a class might be as small as six kids. Budget cuts and dropping class sizes finally caught up to the little town, and the state closed the school, rolling it into the larger Binger school district. The last class left Oney school in 1991.

I knew this, of course. I had worked at the 3M plant in Weatherford with some old schoolmates from Oney. I knew the school was closed. I knew it was gone. This isn't something rare out in rural Oklahoma. The land is dotted with little school buildings (and sometimes entire multi-building campuses) that have closed and been left to rot.

At some point the main building was torn down, probably for safety issues. This seems a mercy to me. But the gymnasium is still standing. I suspect there was a plan to use it was a community center, and somehow those plans, (like so many plans and dreams in small-town Oklahoma) fell through. Recently, someone I know on Facebook entered the old gym and took some pictures, and there it was, a piece of my childhood, a piece of my history, standing forlorn, decaying slowly on the Oklahoma prairie.

I was unprepared for how sad this made me feel. It was like looking at old friend who had fallen on times so hard there was no return. And there is no return for this place. The best thing that could happen to it would be for someone to come along with a bulldozer and level it. I suspect this how the old-timers felt about all those old empty and ruined buildings I loved exploring as a kid.

I was struck by the fact that, not only is it part of my history, but I am a part of its history, however small. I played basketball in that building, went to school assemblies, plays, and banquets in that building, had an 8th grade graduation and dance in that building. The blue paint on the rusting handrails may be chipped and faded, graffiti may be painted on the concrete bleachers, the ghosts of basketball goals may be broken bits that lurk at either end, and the old parquet floor rotted and covered in fallen bits of ceiling, but I know these things in my soul and remember them as they were.

I am a part of that old building's memories. Its history.

I am one of the ghosts of that place.

There will come a day when that building is no more, either knocked down by man or carved up and reclaimed by nature and the land. I know that this is simply the way of things. Buildings come and go. People come and go. Everything dies, in the end.

But I will remember that place as it was, and it will always be a place where people lived and worked and learned and played and loved and were.

And someday, when I am no more, I will take that memory with me, and we shall both be ghosts...
mmerriam: (Default)
Rija's Tale is still chugging along. I'm out of the middle and moving toward the end. Mostly I need to figure out who lives, who dies, and how wide a swath of destruction I end up with.

Right now I'm juggling action versus romance while trying to keep the (somewhat thin) plot moving along. That said, I have notes to go back and sprinkle more plot (and sub-plot) into the story.

This isn't the most sophisticated novel I've ever put together, but it is a solid action novel with an interesting protagonist. This novel is stronger on character than anything else, but character is my strength. The next novel is going to be plot-driven instead of character driven.

Rija's Tale

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
This is my absolute final schedule for Minicon. I forgot about the MinnSpec reading, so I'm overbooked. We're not staying at the hotel this year, and were not going to be at the con until later on Friday, probably around 7:00 pm or so. We'll be there all day on Saturday and most of the day on Sunday. I'll try to blog about the convention in the evenings. I'd take the laptop with me and blog at the con, but Shiba is a big old moose of a machine, really more of a desktop replacement than something easily portable.

Humor With An Edge: Mixing The Silly With the Profound
Saturday, 10:00 a.m. -- Krushenko's
Michael Merriam(m), Karl Schroeder, Rob Callahan, Greg L. Johnson

What is it about the writings of humorists (like Terry Pratchett) that allows them to work on controversial issues that other writers won't touch? Does humor give more license for subversion? What about depth? How does humor allow writers to strike deep emotional chords with their readers?
---------------
Reading:
Saturday 4:00 pm -- Veranda 1

I'll be reading something in support of Shimmers & Shadows, and maybe something new.
---------------
Minnesota Speculative Fiction Writers Meetup
Saturday 5:30 -- Krushenko's
Michael Merriam (host)

Welcome to Minnesota Speculative Fiction Writers (aka MinnSpec)! Come learn about this valuable resource for local aspiring science fiction and fantasy writers.
----------------
MinnSpec Rapid-Fire Reading
Saturday 7:00 pm – Veranda 1

Members of the Minnesota Speculative Fiction Writers give short (5 - 10 minutes) readings of their works.
-----------------
Breaking into publishing in the 21st Century
Sunday 10:00 am -- Veranda 3/4
Michael Merriam(m), Karl Schroeder, Scott McCoy, Rob Callahan, Rick Brignall

An update of the perennially popular "Publishing 101" topic. What do you as a new writer need to know to get your big break? How is the process changing with the advent of printing on demand, audio books, and the paperback publishing industry in a state of freefall? Last year's advice on how to break into the business may already be obsolete.
---------------------
Social Contract: What Negative Emotions is it OK to Evoke in Your Readers?
Sunday 11:30 -- Veranda 3/4
Phyllis Eisenstein(m), Michael Merriam, Rob Callahan, Scott McCoy, Pamela Dean

How much of a social contract do writers have with their readers? What about making past memories come back painfully?
~~~~~~~~~~

Neil Clarke has a movement to save the Semiprozine Hugo.

I'm in support if this, not just because all my sales have been to semiprozines, but because I think semipro fiction magazines are actually publishing some of the best stuff around. Sure, they can also publish total crap, but so can the big boys, and I think the smaller magazine provide a better platform for experiential work, work that is a little out on the fringe, work that pushes the envelope, and works by writers who are cutting their teeth and learning their chops.

If the fact the Locus has dominated this category over the years is the problem, maybe it should be divided into fiction and non-fiction sub-categories. I think that should be the case for all the magazine-based Hugos.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
I've been trying to read more short fiction, getting some reading done in the nooks and crannies of my day. I've got two pieces I want to recommend.

Haxan by Kenneth Mark Hoover moves at a slow, lanquid pace, building tension and suspense. The story is throw-back to short fiction of the American West, and reads a bit like Elmore Leonard back when he was writing this sort of thing, with a light, mysterious fantastical element. Having grown up on the westerns of Leonard, L'Amour, Brand, and Grey, and the fantasy stories of Moore, Leiber, and Vance, this is my kind of story, and Hoover gets the details right.

Gone Daddy Gone, Josh Rountree's tale of surfers, guitars, and nature spirits, struck a chord in me because it the kind of story I would write if I had that much skill, and it ends as any good fairy tale should. Recommended.
mmerriam: (Default)
I just wanted to let everyone know that I have some stories up at Anthology Builder. I've been thinking about putting together an anthology made up of people on my flist, and another made up of local Minnesota writers. If you haven't thought about adding your stories to Anthology Builder's site, you should. Any new source of revenue from an old story is a good thing, and it gives your friends a chance to buy stories by you and by other friends and have it on their bookshelf to enjoy forever.

Each of the three stories I have on the Anthology Builder site are also featured in my own short story collection,Shimmers & Shadows, of which I have several copies sitting around the house, looking forlorn. I expect to find homes for them when the convention season in the Twin Cities starts, but if you'd like a copy now, drop me an email.

I also want to point out that [livejournal.com profile] neutronjockey is looking for stories for his Pet Rescue/Humane Society Anthology. This is a non-paying market, but the proceeds from sales go to the above charity, so if you are--like me--a writer with little cash to donate, but a desire to help this cause, here is good way to do it. Click the link for the guidelines.

There will be a non-pimpage post this weekend. For now, I need decide on nominations for the Rhysling Awards, and then get ready for dinner out with friends tonight.

Cheers!
mmerriam: (Devil Skwerl)
"Now That's Comedy!"

Besides housework, I'm also do some around the house repair and one-time projects today (because as our other friend Red Green, would say: "If the woman can't find you handsome, they should at least find you handy."), one of which was to do some cleaning on the outside of the townhouse, where we had a gift left by a visiting bird on the side of the building.

I pulled out the garden hose and, realizing that I'd left this particular spray nozzle on the hose and outside all winter, went to the garage for a different nozzle, one I had stored properly and felt I could trust.

So I screw the thing onto the hose, and the hose onto the outside faucet and I turn the whole thing on.

Apparently this nozzle (one of those adjustable sprayers) had given it up over winter, despite my best efforts. Water shot out from everywhere, in all directions, pretty much soaking me. I turned it all back off and looked at the nozzle in disgust.

Now, in retrospect, I should have stopped there.

Instead, I decided to try the other nozzle. This was a much worse drenching than with the previous one. I reached down to turn off the faucet.

And the knob comes off in my hand.

So I'm trying to get it back on so I can turn the (seriously cold) water off, and I can't quite manage it. I toss the hose toward the rock garden and squat down and get the handle back on enough to turn off the water.

That hose rose up from the rock garden like some kind of deranged water-spitting viper, flailing and flinging water everywhere until at last I managed to get the stupid knob back in place and turn off the water. So now I'm standing on my patio, sopping wet, panting slightly, and shivering.

That's when I heard the laughter.

I turn and look up the hill to find Platinum and Fuchsia-hair girl, who lives in the townhouse above and across from us (and has revert back to being a blonde), standing inside her fence laughing hysterically. I turn around and glare and she runs back inside, howling her fool head off the whole time.

Dignity? Whatever. Like I have any of that left.

But I did clean up the outside of the townhouse, and I fixed the faucet knob, and the leak in the bathroom, and cleaned the fireplace, and finished the laundry, and maybe finally fixed the noisy freezer fan, and did all the housework I planned for today, so it's all good.

Tomorrow I will tackle other projects, so stay tuned!
mmerriam: (Devil Skwerl)
"Now That's Comedy!"

Besides housework, I'm also do some around the house repair and one-time projects today (because as our other friend Red Green, would say: "If the woman can't find you handsome, they should at least find you handy."), one of which was to do some cleaning on the outside of the townhouse, where we had a gift left by a visiting bird on the side of the building.

I pulled out the garden hose and, realizing that I'd left this particular spray nozzle on the hose and outside all winter, went to the garage for a different nozzle, one I had stored properly and felt I could trust.

So I screw the thing onto the hose, and the hose onto the outside faucet and I turn the whole thing on.

Apparently this nozzle (one of those adjustable sprayers) had given it up over winter, despite my best efforts. Water shot out from everywhere, in all directions, pretty much soaking me. I turned it all back off and looked at the nozzle in disgust.

Now, in retrospect, I should have stopped there.

Instead, I decided to try the other nozzle. This was a much worse drenching than with the previous one. I reached down to turn off the faucet.

And the knob comes off in my hand.

So I'm trying to get it back on so I can turn the (seriously cold) water off, and I can't quite manage it. I toss the hose toward the rock garden and squat down and get the handle back on enough to turn off the water.

That hose rose up from the rock garden like some kind of deranged water-spitting viper, flailing and flinging water everywhere until at last I managed to get the stupid knob back in place and turn off the water. So now I'm standing on my patio, sopping wet, panting slightly, and shivering.

That's when I heard the laughter.

I turn and look up the hill to find Platinum and Fuchsia-hair girl, who lives in the townhouse above and across from us (and has revert back to being a blonde), standing inside her fence laughing hysterically. I turn around and glare and she runs back inside, howling her fool head off the whole time.

Dignity? Whatever. Like I have any of that left.

But I did clean up the outside of the townhouse, and I fixed the faucet knob, and the leak in the bathroom, and cleaned the fireplace, and finished the laundry, and maybe finally fixed the noisy freezer fan, and did all the housework I planned for today, so it's all good.

Tomorrow I will tackle other projects, so stay tuned!
mmerriam: (Sitting Lynx)
I sat at the kitchen table working on the laptop. My brain has started thinking in and about stories again, considering new pieces, looking at different angles for works in progress, considering characters and plots and theme and tone. It's a bit like having a beloved friend return from a long trip where they were incommunicado.

Except it's doing it at bed-time, which is a bit of a frustration.

Last night I pulled out the notebook and hand-wrote four pages of outline and notes for the ever expanding Fey and Mage story. But now I have an ending in sight, something I can write toward, though I've all ready moved away from the outline I wrote last night.

But I digress.

I sat at the kitchen table, typing out the outline I had written last night. I have the windows closed and the AC running, mostly because the sun is hitting the house and warming it a little too much for my taste. I can hear voices outside, but that's nothing new, I live in a townhome complex and we have a lot of children and teenagers. I ignore the voices outside and go on working.

Until I hear a high-pitched yell, a solid thump on the dining room window, and an elaborate string of curse words. Our dining room window, which is four feet off the floor, is also level with the ground outside. The cursing increases in volume, speed, and complexity. I decide to get up and investigate.

I open pull open the shades and find myself face to face (well, there's a glass window between us, but still) with a young woman, somewhere between sixteen and eighteen years old if I'm any judge. Pretty face, platinum shoulder length hair with about two inches of fuchsia at the ends. Nose piercing, multiple piecings in the ear I can see. She's holding her arm and letting fly the worst of the English language, in a manner that would make a sailor pale and back away.

I open the window as she notices me. For a moment we stare at each other, forty-two year old man and late-teenage alterna-girl.

"Are you going to be okay?" I ask.

"Um, yeah." She looks a bit embarrassed, but in true teenage spirit, she's going to game it out. She flashes me a smile full of perfect teeth before she turns and looks up the small mound that leads down to my window at another young woman. This one has short black hair, is dressed in muted earth tones and wearing heavy boots. "Someone was supposed to roll down the hill with me," Platinum and Fuchsia-haired alternative-grrl says, glaring at the black-haired young woman, who appears to be laughing quietly.

Note: There's a rather large hill/earthen berm that leads down to the south side of our townhome. Kids roll down it all the time in the spring and summer, and in winter small children slide down it on sleds. There is a large electrical box and about three feet of rock garden right outside my window.

Alterna-grrl has apparently rolled all the way into the rock garden. She holds up her arm so she can examine where she has scrapped it up.

"Fuck-shit goddamn!" She looks back at me and gives me a small smile. "Sorry."

I shrug and return the smile. "Don’t worry about it. I just wanted to make sure no one needed an ambulance or anything.

"I'm all right."

"Well, don't come crashing in through my window or anything, okay?"

"Yeah, hey, no problem."

"Good, 'cause I'd hate to have to explain to my wife why some strange woman is lying on our floor, bleeding all over the carpet."

She laughs aloud and stands, hitting her head on the overhang. More colorful language follows. I cringe in sympathy, having hit my head on it once myself. By now her black-haired friend had come down the berm to retrieve her.

"Maybe we should get that looked at," black-haired girl says, leading P&F grrl, who is now rubbing the top of her head, away.

Platinum and Fuchsia-hair alterna-grrl turns and looks at me. "Really, sorry."

"It's all good. Be careful," I say. I close the window as they move up the hill.

I settle down at the laptop and look up, watching them out the window for a few moments. They sit on top of the berm. Black-hair looks at Platinum and Fuchsia-hair's arm, finally kissing her injury. P&F Hair throws back her head and laughs before grabbing Black-hair by the collar of her shirt and yanking her over. They both roll down the hill toward my window, a tangle of limbs, laughing and shrieking. They stop well before the rock garden.

P&F grrl ends up on top the other young woman. They both laugh and then P&F leans down and places her lips on her friend's. The kiss is both gentle and fierce, and I realize that I'm intruding on something private. I reach over and, as they deepen the kiss, wish them well wherever fate may take them, close the window shade, and return to work.
mmerriam: (Sitting Lynx)
I sat at the kitchen table working on the laptop. My brain has started thinking in and about stories again, considering new pieces, looking at different angles for works in progress, considering characters and plots and theme and tone. It's a bit like having a beloved friend return from a long trip where they were incommunicado.

Except it's doing it at bed-time, which is a bit of a frustration.

Last night I pulled out the notebook and hand-wrote four pages of outline and notes for the ever expanding Fey and Mage story. But now I have an ending in sight, something I can write toward, though I've all ready moved away from the outline I wrote last night.

But I digress.

I sat at the kitchen table, typing out the outline I had written last night. I have the windows closed and the AC running, mostly because the sun is hitting the house and warming it a little too much for my taste. I can hear voices outside, but that's nothing new, I live in a townhome complex and we have a lot of children and teenagers. I ignore the voices outside and go on working.

Until I hear a high-pitched yell, a solid thump on the dining room window, and an elaborate string of curse words. Our dining room window, which is four feet off the floor, is also level with the ground outside. The cursing increases in volume, speed, and complexity. I decide to get up and investigate.

I open pull open the shades and find myself face to face (well, there's a glass window between us, but still) with a young woman, somewhere between sixteen and eighteen years old if I'm any judge. Pretty face, platinum shoulder length hair with about two inches of fuchsia at the ends. Nose piercing, multiple piecings in the ear I can see. She's holding her arm and letting fly the worst of the English language, in a manner that would make a sailor pale and back away.

I open the window as she notices me. For a moment we stare at each other, forty-two year old man and late-teenage alterna-girl.

"Are you going to be okay?" I ask.

"Um, yeah." She looks a bit embarrassed, but in true teenage spirit, she's going to game it out. She flashes me a smile full of perfect teeth before she turns and looks up the small mound that leads down to my window at another young woman. This one has short black hair, is dressed in muted earth tones and wearing heavy boots. "Someone was supposed to roll down the hill with me," Platinum and Fuchsia-haired alternative-grrl says, glaring at the black-haired young woman, who appears to be laughing quietly.

Note: There's a rather large hill/earthen berm that leads down to the south side of our townhome. Kids roll down it all the time in the spring and summer, and in winter small children slide down it on sleds. There is a large electrical box and about three feet of rock garden right outside my window.

Alterna-grrl has apparently rolled all the way into the rock garden. She holds up her arm so she can examine where she has scrapped it up.

"Fuck-shit goddamn!" She looks back at me and gives me a small smile. "Sorry."

I shrug and return the smile. "Don’t worry about it. I just wanted to make sure no one needed an ambulance or anything.

"I'm all right."

"Well, don't come crashing in through my window or anything, okay?"

"Yeah, hey, no problem."

"Good, 'cause I'd hate to have to explain to my wife why some strange woman is lying on our floor, bleeding all over the carpet."

She laughs aloud and stands, hitting her head on the overhang. More colorful language follows. I cringe in sympathy, having hit my head on it once myself. By now her black-haired friend had come down the berm to retrieve her.

"Maybe we should get that looked at," black-haired girl says, leading P&F grrl, who is now rubbing the top of her head, away.

Platinum and Fuchsia-hair alterna-grrl turns and looks at me. "Really, sorry."

"It's all good. Be careful," I say. I close the window as they move up the hill.

I settle down at the laptop and look up, watching them out the window for a few moments. They sit on top of the berm. Black-hair looks at Platinum and Fuchsia-hair's arm, finally kissing her injury. P&F Hair throws back her head and laughs before grabbing Black-hair by the collar of her shirt and yanking her over. They both roll down the hill toward my window, a tangle of limbs, laughing and shrieking. They stop well before the rock garden.

P&F grrl ends up on top the other young woman. They both laugh and then P&F leans down and places her lips on her friend's. The kiss is both gentle and fierce, and I realize that I'm intruding on something private. I reach over and, as they deepen the kiss, wish them well wherever fate may take them, close the window shade, and return to work.
mmerriam: (Blind)
To the outside world, I don't always "present" as blind. For instance, when I'm visiting the homes of my friends, I rarely use my cane to navigate, at least after the first couple of visits. Once I've spent some time at their homes, I usually have it memorized and can move about without too much difficulty. I just need to be alert for small moving objects such as children and pets as I walk slowly and carefully.

In public it is another matter. I need to be highly aware of my surroundings, keep my senses alert, and use the cane. Maintaining any semblance of independence depends on my using my training constantly. If I want any freedom in my life, at least when dealing with the outside world, I have to work at it.

Sometimes it's not enough.

Last week I was in the grocery store in downtown Hopkins. I kept veering off into things and one point there was a small collision with an end-cap that resulted in it tipping precariously. Fortunately, nothing was knocked over and nothing was broken. The end result was me standing there, frozen in place.

I could have asked for help. The store is required to provide me with assistance if I need it, but I hate asking. I admit that I'm one of those people who, if you found me at the bottom of a well, my arm caught in a bear-trap, sinking in quicksand, I'd tell you I'm fine. I hate asking for help.

Instead, the floor manager came over and asked if I needed any help. There was nothing for it: I did, and that was that. I ended up with a nice young lady--who turned out to be the manager's daughter--helping me find my groceries. She was good about it, friendly and funny, and helped me find everything I needed. She even helped me find a couple of things I wanted and didn't know they had, like hushpuppy mix.

On the one hand, it was nice to have the help, to have someone go around with me and find the items I needed and to, well, make sure I didn't wreck the store. There was, truthfully, a bit of relief involved.

On the other hand, it was another piece of lost independence. It was another thing I have to let go. It was another adjustment, one I'm not sure how I feel about.

In Peace,
Michael

April 2017

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