On Picking Up Where You Left Off

I sat down, opened my book nearby, and picked up where I left off last. Libraries and mirrors. Next: a cadre of obese men, revolutionaries. Lastly: the Judge, endless desert, sand and bloodshed. Rarely do I find myself picking up right where I left off in a book, but in a place.

There’s a certain singular notion to “What are you reading?” that I’ve abandoned. My answer? “Depends on where I’m sitting.”

I think it was borne of sheer indolence, the habit. I’d left Borges’s Collected Fictions by my bedside, where the short doses of gaúchos, libraries, and labyrinths offered comfort that ceded to philosophical phantasmagoria and slumber.  It hasn’t made it back to my library in a long while, and I think it’s grown to enjoy the nightstand company of my two Bibles (mine and my wife’s — she loses hers) and the Steve Jobs biography by Isaacson.

After one ludicrous workday, I retreated to the ensconce of my wingback chair downstairs and embarked on a new voyage: Peter Carey’s The Fat Man in History. I hadn’t yet had my fill of Borges, but I couldn’t be bothered to detour back to my nightstand and uproot the Argentine’s works. Carey’s edition was (and is) more portable. In two evenings, I churned through the first story-and-a-half. And that was enough: the book took root downstairs as my not-quite-ready-for-bedtime story collection.

In between sitting for work, sitting for leisure, and sitting in bed, I had to travel on business for the first time in ages. Couldn’t dislodge Borges, no. And Carey was just getting settled on the end-table. I was flying west, so I figured I could start a new with a wholesome Western tale: Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. That made for some vivid reading to offset the soporific spells of air travel. I’d close my eyes, remember to adjust my seat to the upright position, and feel my scalp to make sure it was still attached to my head.

The cycle continues. I did end up sitting in bed again, yearning to discover the fate of the kid and Glanton the scalper. Instead, I found him in a Garden of Forking Paths. One of which led to a body lottery in a wingback chair. The other, to another flight, where I revisited those Western sands, strewn with blood and wonder.

A Good Friend Goes the Extra Mile


(photo credit: iceboundseven1 on flickr)

There are friends who tell you how they feel, then there are good friends who go the extra mile to show you.

I’d met with one such friend the other day. One of those random lunches here and there. I don’t normally fess up to the goings-on and going-wrongs in my life, but today I did. The anguish wanted out. I felt bad for inundating my friend with the woes and oh-no’s, but he nodded along and listened. My soul was a little more bare thereafter, and I swear it almost bowled him over into not knowing what to do with me after all that. I didn’t know if I’d spilled too much, or if he’d dismiss my sudden foray into, well, leaning on him as a friend who might understand.

But he did something surprising once I got it all out. He didn’t pick up the tab, he picked up on an idea. A better idea.

“I want to take you somewhere, show you something,” he offered.

We met up at this unimpressive shop shoved into a hole in the wall on a downtown side street. Unmarked and unadvertised.

“Trust me, you should see this.”

What I thought was a dingy thrift shop was instead a collection of rarities that shone upon inspection and introspection. How he knew about this gem when I didn’t — that didn’t matter. But here were things that began unremarkable and became more remarkable as we learned about them. Sheet music drafts from George Gershwin. Notes written by John Coltrane. A microphone used to record Dean Martin.

We went further, seeking out the shop’s other items of note and record. A slide trumpet. A rare twin-didgeridoo. Harmonicas fashioned from silver and gold. A baby-baby grand that stood atop a table in a corner, like a Steinway had met a shrink ray.

“You look at all this,” my friend said, “these things, these instruments, they needed a soul. They need a soul. Don’t forget that.”

He was right. There was a beauty they lacked without someone who could give them that soul.

“You know, I can’t tell you what I think about what you’re going though,” he added. “Let me show you.”

We slipped through a narrow aisle toward an obscured, dimly-lit showcase near the back. Velvet, framed in gold, under glass. He beckoned me to look.

“See that?”

“No,” I whispered, “I don’t see anything.”

“Look closer.”

Sure enough, I peered further and there, just rising out of its surroundings — a dainty speck. This tiny dot-like thing, just a fleck. I could still barely make it out.

“What – what is it?”

He smiled, putting a comforting hand on my shoulder.

“It’s the world’s smallest violin.”

Bus Stop

“Mommy, I want to look at the map.”

“Not now, sweetie,” she said, tracing her finger forth and back across the labyrinth of lines, numbers, colors.

Her daughter unzipped the front pouch of their lone piece of luggage. She tugged at her blanket stuffed inside.

“Can I see the map now?”

“Not right now,” said Mom.

“But why?”

“Because I’ve never had to use one of these before.”



Take a Break…

From reading your writing, not writing.

Memory corrupts by addition, not omission. It fills in gaps and spaces that the fresher mind won’t think to add. Step away, let the narrative get more raw to your eyes. 

That recall will tingle the sense, but your critical, editorial side attacks anew.

Time sharpens the knives toward your own work.

Describe ALL the Things!

Every adjective needs a noun, but not every noun needs an adjective. Or something. It is indeed not a truth universally acknowledged that a powerful noun, object, thing is in need of some equally powerful, poignant, cheesy modifier.

We’re all guilty.

That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.

Dear Writing All Wrong:

I know that you sometimes review writing, and you’re pribably [sic] going to make fun of me for it. That’s OK though, because I don’t think you get a lot of emails because people think you’re too mean. That’s also OK, because you’ll probably point out something I should be working on anyway. Anyway, here’s the first couple of chapters of my book, Unfinished Dawn.


—Jeremy Stark, Westerville, Ohio.

You’re absolutely right. I’ll make fun of you. I am too mean. I don’t get a lot of email. And I’ll point out things you should be working on anyway. Like adjectives and modifiers.

“coiled, razor-sharp, Concertina wire” — Glad you cleared up the confusion here, since Concertina wire comes in a “fluffy bunny” variety.

“smoldering remains and scattered ruins” — Other than ‘and,’ the rest of these words can go.

“He peered grimly through the charcoal ichor of foglike black ephemera.” — This sounds like what a chimney sweep would write about himself to make his work seem interesting.

“He was heavily armed with an AA-12 Automatic shotgun, a potent pair of Glock G26 9mm subcompact pistols, M67 fragmentations grenades strung together like cloves of garlic on his sash, and a custom-designed IMI Tavor TAR-21 assault rifle.” — Too many numbers, clumsy mixed metaphors, weak modifiers (“custom-designed?”).  Are you writing gun-owner fanfic here, or are you going to include a copy of Solider of Fortune for reference?

“The now-cool black clouds of night’s closing pages were turned by the warm, gentle fingers of amberlike dawn’s eager arrival.” — There’s a word for this: sunrise. Use that.

If you’re doing more describing than you are writing, you’re doing it wrong.

Writing All Wrong can be reached via email (WritingAllWrong@me.com) and followed on Twitter (@WritingAllWrong).