Category Archives: Writing

Six Years and Slowing

On the "skiddah"

On the “skiddah”

It is March once again, and the anniversary month of this blog which started out as Outside the Box and is now Localista.

I don’t look too fashionable there on the skidder, but let me tell you, I was THRILLED to have a chance to get into the driver’s seat, turn the ignition key, and roll slowly backward, oops! I was maybe in the thing for a minute and a half before I stalled it. Heavy equipment operator is not going to be my next career.

What I did learn from this experience was 1)guys who work in the woods are great storytellers and hard workers and all-around great people and 2)enough about operating a skidder to finish a writing project.

Harvesting in the Maine woods has long been an economic driver for our state, providing jobs and a marketable resource. It is a local sort of job, and even with improvements in equipment, still requires a human brain. Unlike other jobs which are being outsourced to…robots. Check out this article, “Your Job May Soon Be Obsolete Thanks To Robots,”  on AGBeat from the American Genius Network.

Yes, computers are now writing news articles. Egads! Soon they will be writing books, I suppose, cranking them out from synopses and outlines, or maybe just picking and choosing from scenarios, character lists, and possible turning points from specialized plot and narrative computer programs. I’m typing this and thinking, “It’s probably already been done, but I don’t want to go look. I’m scairt!”

So, I’m still doing the localism thing as much as possible, have incorporated it into my life with room left for improvement, as always. Those hiking boots in the photo up there? Got ’em at Reny’s, one of Maine’s independent stores. It was the only size of its kind on the shelves, the only pair of boots in my size, and they fit perfectly. In fact, they were so comfortable with a pair of wool hiking socks I also picked up, I didn’t unlace them all day. The support felt fantastic!

Today I’m wearing a combination outfit–a sweater from Goodwill, a scarf that was a gift, and a pair of pants I bought full-price at Chico’s at the mall. I ate breakfast at a local restaurant, but then I got a cup of Dunkin Donuts coffee. It’s not about perfection. It’s about awareness and small changes and doing the best you can.

Six years later, I’m slowing down but trudging along, one step at a time.

A Comic Book, Apocalypse, and Dolly the Sheep

http://jesusisland.com/

An Interview with Escape From Jesus Island creator, Shawn French.

This is an extended version of an interview I had with French that originally appeared in The Reporter, a weekly newspaper out of Waterboro, Maine.

What would happen if someone cloned Jesus?

This is the question Shawn French–(local)Limerick, Maine writer, filmmaker, stand-up comedian, and comic-book author–asked himself twenty years ago in the parking lot of a movie theater. He had just seen a film that graphically illustrated the unintended and dangerous consequences of attempting to create life from ancient DNA. The year was 1993. The movie, of course, was Jurassic Park.

Now, two decades later, French has just published a horrifically creative answer to his question in the form of a graphic comic book entitled Escape From Jesus Island.

A 1987 graduate of South Portland High School, French spent a few years after high school working as a stand-up comedian and then traveling the country for a decade before moving back to Maine in 2000 with his wife, Sue, and stepchildren, Erica, Kim and Robert. He found creative outlets in a variety of genres–writing for the Windham Independent newspaper, writing film and video-gaming scripts, and working on and acting in a dozen independent films. In 2008, French wrote and directed his own movie, The Wrong House.

He was busy, but some ideas grab hold and just don’t let go. The Jesus clone premise had sunk its claws into French, and he began to seriously research both the subject of cloning and the Book of Revelation in the Bible. Starting out as a film script, the story eventually evolved comic book series which combined French’s story and the graphic artwork of illustrator, Mortimer Glum, the finesse of letterer, Peeter Parkker, and the expertise of editor, Shawn Greenleaf. Thanks to the team, plus a successful Kickstarter campaign, the first issue of Escape From Jesus Island, was published in December 2013.

This week, French agreed to answer some questions about the comic book, the creative process, and the team of people working on the Escape From Jesus Island franchise.

Q: Okay, walk me through this slowly. I’m looking at the Escape From Jesus Island website (http://jesusisland.com). What does ‘original full-color, digitally painted comic books series’ mean for those of us who know nothing about graphic novels/comics? Are these traditional comic books? Or are they graphic novels that are more like soft-cover books?

A: Size and shape are like a traditional, old-school comic book, but comics have come a long ways. Instead of the filmsy, newspaperish stock, we print on a heavy, glossy paper in full-color. To the touch, it feels more like a magazine. I’ll drop one off so you can see.

Illustrator Mortimer Glum digitally paints EFJI. He uses a variety of techniques, most of which I don’t understand at all. I love the end result, though. He built fully poseable 3D models of every major character, as well as a full, digital 3D model of Malsum Island, the setting for Act One (Issues 1-8). We can virtually ‘walk’ through the tunnels, anywhere on the island or even inside some of the hospital. Mortimer uses these models to achieve consistency panel to panel. Like a filmmaker, he can pan the camera to the spot he wants and grab a digital snapshot of a background image as a reference. Then he digitally paints on top of that using a Cintiq tablet. It’s amazing to watch. The guy is magic.

Q: Can you give a brief synopsis of the story? What is Escape From Jesus Island about?

A: EFJI is the story of an attempt to clone Jesus by the ReGen Corporation. Years of failed attempts leave behind scores of near-Jesus mutant freaks before they succeed in creating a set of twins, Jesus and his monstrous brother Yeshua. Christ and Antichrist. The Vatican gets word of Christ’s return and sends in an extraction team just as Yeshua is leading a mutant uprising and things get all kinds of crazy. And that’s just Act One, the first eight issues in a 40-issue series.

Q: And of course the question every writer is asked: Where did this idea come from?

A: The original spark of an idea hit just after watching the first Jurassic Park film in 1993. Just, as in, still in the movie theater parking lot. At the time, I was working as a standup comedian and was always on the hunt for comedy material. I wrote a bit that was essentially Jurassic Park, but with murderous packs of Jesus clones in the place of dinosaurs. A remote island testing facility where the Bodies of Christ get loose one stormy night and wreak havoc. The first script was basically a Monty Python sketch.

The story evolved in layers over the years. Because I couldn’t get this Jesus-cloning story idea out of my head, I did a bunch of cloning research and that’s when the story we see now really started to come into shape.

Dolly, the first sheep ever cloned, was attempt number 277. The first 276 were fatally mutated. The realization hit me that if scientists were ever to acquire Christ’s DNA and try to clone him, and you KNOW they would try, they would have to make hundreds of mutant saviors before creating one you could show to the press. I find that equal parts horrifying and hysterical. This
realization was how EFJI turned from a comedy into a horror story.

The next tectonic shift in the story came while spending a full year studying Jesus and Revelation before starting on the comic book scripts. I listened to sermons about the Apocalypse around the clock. I bombarded myself with them, from every possible denomination. It was during this period that I realized EFJI is a story about the Antichrist and the End Days. That the cloning experiment in EFJI results in twins, Jesus and the monstrous Yeshua. Christ and Antichrist emerging from the same womb.

4. I noticed from your bio information that you are also a filmmaker. How do the two interests mesh?

I first wrote Escape From Jesus Island as a film script and I gave serious, serious thought to shooting it as follow-up to The Wrong House, the horror movie I released in 2008. Ultimately, the story was just too big to do it justice on an independent budget. As a comic book, though, there are no cost restraints stopping us from making this as big and bad as it needs to be.

We intend to blur the lines as much as possible between comic book and live action. Many of the primary characters are modeled after actors I trust in Maine. This will allow us to do a Jesus Island character photo shoot with Biddeford photographer Jakk Blood, and a live-action trailer for the comics.

5. Did your background in film help you plot this story? And there are some film terms being used in the marketing aspect, right?

We think of this story as a film or super intense television series. I’m credited in the comic book as director and Mortimer as cinematographer, and we include a cast page. Morty has also done film work, including storyboards, so we both come at this with a cinematic eye. We aren’t using a lot of the super exaggerated angles traditionally seen in comics. The action is framed like we’re shooting it all on camera.

6. You were supposed to be interviewed on CNN’s New Day program, but the segment was canceled. How did you happen to get on CNN’s radar to begin with and why was the segment canceled?

That whole thing was really weird. They approached me out of the blue, wanting me to discuss the comic and backlash on their Faces Of Faith series. Then two weeks in a row, they bumped me on less than a day’s notice, and were kind of nasty about it the second time. The segment had been shifted from producer to producer a couple times and I’m guessing it finally landed on the desk of someone who found it offensive. I can’t figure out any other reason why they would approach me to be on their show and then angrily cancel just hours after confirming. Twice. The funny part is, the focus of the segment was going to be the challenges of distributing an independent comic in the face of backlash from offended people. Then I got backlashed right off the air.

7. The story shares many thematic elements with the Book of Revelation in the Bible. What would you say to someone who accused you of being sacrilegious or disrespectful of Christianity?

The one thing the offended people all seem to have in common is that they haven’t read our comics. They see the title and the Antichrist crucified on the cover and decide they know everything they need to know.

EFJI is essentially the Biblical story of Revelation, using cloning as the catalyst for the prophesied return of Christ and rise of the Antichrist. Many of the things that Biblical scholars say are symbolic, we interpret literally, such as the seven-headed Beast who rises from the sea. We named him Pariah and he is one of our main antagonists.

Oddly, the people who are offended by our comic are the ones who would be most able to catch all the subtle religious references. We have a whole lot of Christians and Catholics among our fans, though. Fortunately, most grownups have the ability to distinguish fantasy from reality and know that a comic book doesn’t pose a credible threat to their belief system.

I get some nasty emails from time to time and doors get randomly slammed in our faces (like with CNN), but it isn’t my responsibility to navigate around the emotional triggers of seven billion people. My job is to tell the most compelling story I can, so I focus on doing that.

To our critics, I would say, “Give me a chance to actually offend you before you get all hot and bothered. We haven’t even gotten to the offensive stuff yet. It’s a 40-issue series. Pace yourselves.”

8. Did you always want to be a writer and filmmaker?

Absolutely. Independent filmmaking really wasn’t a valid option when I was in my 20s. The technology just wasn’t there yet, so I had kind of let that longtime dream go and focus on writing. I’ve never stopped writing stories. I wouldn’t know how to stop. It’s how I process my thoughts. There are two epic stories that I’ve been working on for more than 20 years, building enormous story worlds with the knowledge that I would one day find an outlet to bring the stories to life. Escape From Jesus Island is the first of those stories.

The massive technology leaps in the past 20 years have completely changed independent filmmaking. Now, anyone with the drive and passion to make a film, can. So I of course pounced all over that. I’ve worked on nearly a dozen independent films (mostly playing monster roles) and finally got to write/direct my own movie, 2008’s The Wrong House.

9. The artwork in EFJI is arresting, to say the least! How did you and artist, Mortimer Glum, become collaborators on this project? (And is that his real name?)

Mortimer and I met during post-production on The Wrong House. He’s part of a Portland-based FX group called The Shoggoth Assembly, that handled the practical horror effects in our movie. Morty designed our posters and DVD cover art, which is how we met. We immediately hit it off and I eventually got the courage to pitch the EFJI comics to him. Fortunately, he was hugely into it and we’ve been full-speed ahead ever since.

10. Once you wrote the story and collaborated with Mr. Glum on the artwork, how did EFJI become a published book? Can you talk a little bit about how graphic novels are designed and produced?

Printing in full color is extremely expensive, and we are starving artists, so we started with a Kickstarter campaign, where fans could pledge their financial support for the series in exchange for various perks… signed copies of issues, custom artwork, or even a chance to appear as a character in the series. More than forty of our fans will appear in EFJI in the first eight issues alone.

200 backers contributed nearly $16,000 on Kickstarter to help us get up and running. This allows us to print the first four issues.

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1254797765/escape-from-jesus-island-comic-book-series

The actual production of a comic book was all new territory for our team and we made a lot of rookie mistakes as we were getting our workflow figured out. Editor Shawn Greenleaf was a life saver during this stretch. He handled all the technical details with the printers (Transcontinental in Canada)… and there are a LOT of little things that have to be exactly right or the final product will suffer.

The workflow we have settled into now is basically this…

* I write the script (generally 3-4 issues ahead)

* Mortimer breaks it down into panels on the page and sends me rough versions

* I use those roughs to rewrite the script to perfectly fit the images

* Letterer Peeter Parkker takes the new script and puts the words on the page

* Editor Shawn Greenleaf (based in Seattle) picks apart the artwork, text and anything else he can find a flaw in

* We grumble at him, then fix the stuff he suggests

* We all pick through the pages for any last changes

11. Where do you see this project going?

This is more than a comic book series to us. We’re treating this as a franchise from Day One and striking out in as many directions as possible. Portland sculptor Nicolas Genovese has already created our first two gaming miniatures and is working on a full-size action figure; Portland-based horror FX group The Shoggoth Assembly will be creating some EFJI gory goodies, including character masks; Event Screen Printers in South Portland is working on T-shirts; we have an EFJI board game in the works; and we’re in talks that could lead to EFJI as a full radio drama.

Our crew know a whole lot of amazingly talented people and we have an All Hands On Deck approach to making this series everything it can be.

12. Will you have a booth at any comic book conventions? How has the reception been so far with readers/fans?

We’ll be hitting a lot of conventions in the Northeast this first year and hopefully can expand a bit further in 2015. We first premiered our trailer at Coast City Comicon (South Portland) in 2012 and Mortimer Glum held an art workshop again there in 2013.

Reception from fans and critics has been amazing so far. Clive Barker, a hero of everyone on the Jesus Island team, even checked it out and offered us an official endorsement. http://www.facebook.com/officialclivebarker/posts/422151551226901

It has been a crazy rollercoaster ride already and we’re just getting started.

13. Is there anything else our readers should know about you or EFJI? Where can readers buy the book?

This map shows all the stores currently carrying us and our network is increasing all the time: https://mapsengine.google.com/map/edit?mid=ze8U5uNxcdYA.kSUrLlBpTwO8

Current options in Maine are: Coast City Comics (Portland), The Complex (Scarborough), Game Box (Topsham) and Top Shelf Comics (Bangor)

We’re also available on Amazon (www.amazon.com/Escape-Jesus-Island-Shawn-French/dp/0991186419).

And we sell subscriptions and signed artwork at our online store: http://escapefromjesusisland.bigcartel.com

My Dreams

mullein (2)

My dreams are dandelion seed-fluffs
floating
on random
breezes. Instead,

I want to be
a mullein plant.
Sturdy,
confident,
reaching
in
one
clear
direction.

Social Media as Magic Mirror

mirrormirrorI’ve been thinking so much about the whole social media universe lately. My thoughts are not all sweetness and light. In fact, I’m feeling pretty dark about social media these days. I think it is due for a shakeup!

Here is an example. Have you visited Wattpad.com? I just heard about it a couple weeks ago and decided to check it out. Wattpad is a platform that allows you to post your book or short story or other pieces of writing (read: fan fiction) from your profile. You can follow other writers. You can collect a library. You can create a reading list. It’s pretty cool. It’s also pretty young. In fact, Wattpad.com seems to be a huge collective of many, many young (ages 14-22 I’m guessing) writers, kids who are used to a dynamic of “following” and “following back” that is akin to a smile–something polite and nice to do to make the other person and yourself feel good, but not an actual indication that he or she is actually going to read your work.

Because, how many writers(bloggers/Tweeters/Instagramers/Pinners, etc.) can one person actually read/follow/interact with? Certainly not 700…or even 350 or 200!

I think it is the same with all social media, including Facebook and Instagram and the like. People may “like” you or “follow” you, but it MAY be only a feel-good,reciprocal thing with no real intention of visiting again, or a politeness thing, or maybe even a way of trying to entice you to visit their account in hopes they get one more tick on the counter. Or, less cynically, maybe they stumbled onto your account and liked what they saw enough to give you a “like” or a “follow,” but your posts then become so lost in the avalanche of notifications piling onto the erstwhile follower’s in-box or notification tab that he/she never stumbles back onto your page again.

In this way, your follower number on your social media account(s) becomes nothing more than a meaningless numeral, or at best a tally of notches on your belt. Certainly it is not an indicator of real readership.

I’m told (by young people) that this doesn’t bother them at all. This meaningless number is fine in a world of people who are interested only in self-expression. For them, social media is a magic mirror. The larger the number, the bigger the mirror, but it is still reflecting back only one image. The Self.

I post, therefore I am?

But what about actual communication/community? What about the real spread of ideas?

I’m wondering if the only way this will be sustainable will be people coming together (the way planets formed after the big bang) to create their own worlds within worlds, so to speak. Social circles. We’ve seen the big bang, the social media explosion. It has happened.

Perhaps now people will combine naturally into their smaller social media circles–communicating with each other, reading each other’s posts, commenting, adding to collective knowledge so that an individual piece becomes more of a springboard or topic sentence for the larger “work.” A collective piece of art. If this is how things end up, a blogger with 10,000 followers could not be considered more successful than one with 1000. In fact the one with 100 might be considered MORE successful, especially if those 100 actually read and comment on the work and vice versa. In fact, 100 might be too many.

How many blog posts do YOU read in one day? How many do you comment on? And do you read the comments of other followers?

I predict there will be a weeding out frenzy soon as we come to realize we are all just hanging our posts/work on a wall and gazing into the mirror 99% of the time. Or maybe I’m just getting too cynical.

And to that end, I’m going to do some housekeeping. It is time to officially pare down my “following” and “friends” and “likes” lists. If I’m not really and truly interested in investing my time in a social media site, I’m going to delete it. Please do the same here. I won’t take it personally. In fact, I’ll applaud you.

And to my real, constant readers out there…thank you. I appreciate your taking the time to read and respond in the little time you have in your day for such activities.

Get Bent, Ayn Rand, or How Sharknado Saved My Sanity

Note from Localista: The best part of social media, including blogging, is for me the exchange of ideas. Here is a counterpoint to my ATLAS SHRUGGED blog post. Kirstie is a funny and astute writer. Enjoy!

Copy-cat Highlighting on Kindle

A Flamingo Shade of Grey

A Flamingo Shade of Grey

Dear Reader:

Just going to write a quick post about a certain human behavior I found myself noticing while reading books and articles on a Kindle. You know how you are skimming along on your electronic device, your mind filling with images and ideas, caught up in a story-line or argument, and all of a sudden there is a dotted, lighter-gray line underscoring a particular sentence or paragraph?

Well, this line indicates a “highlight.” Not YOUR highlight. Someone else’s highlight. And all the copy-cats who followed suit. Somehow Kindle keeps track of these highlights and reports directly to each reader a helpful note telling her just how many fellow-readers have highlighted that particular sentence, phrase, or paragraph.

Now here’s my question: Why do so many people end up highlighting the very same phrases? Is it because these thoughts are so obviously important that everyone decides, on their own initiative, to highlight them? Or do many people highlight a passage simply because OTHER people have already highlighted it? I suspect the latter answer falls closer to the truth, and it is just another weird indication of the sheeple-like behavior of most humans.

Memes–an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person through a culture–have always been an aspect of being human. We used to spread ideas via storytelling and then via letters and books and magazines and newspapers. Even as we moved to the written story versus the oral, we were still able to experience the story in our own private heads, think our own private thoughts, and draw our own private conclusions about what we thought was important. Maybe we’d talk about what we read. Maybe we’d jot a private note in the margin. Maybe we’d share that book with a friend who happened upon those margin notes. But did that person underline your underline in his own pen and then pass it along to yet another friend who underlined it in her pen and so forth? Um, no.

What we are talking about here goes so far beyond your college roommate’s yellow highlighter in last semester’s American Literature textbook that you bought from her because you’d like not to spend $500 on something that will be obsolete by spring semester the following year. Now that we have technologies that allow us to share everything with everyone electronically, so that even the once-private reading experience has become hive-like, herd-like, the question arises once again. Are we people, or are we sheeple?

This morning, for example, I began reading short story by Jennifer Weiner entitled Swim. It’s a good short story, well-crafted, interesting characters, great internal conflict. I’m reading along, minding my own mind when, POW! A phrase with 68 (not much compared to some books I’ve read, but I’ll get to that) highlights. This must be a rip-roaring great sentence, I thought.

So I read it.

“…making my heart beat like a little girl who’s gotten just what she wanted for her birthday.”

I blinked. Really? Sixty-eight people thought that phrase was highlight-worthy on their own initiative? I growled at my Kindle and startled the dog. “No stinkin’ way!”

Here’s what I think happened. One person highlighted it, someone else saw someone highlighted it and so highlighted it as well, and then a third followed, then a fourth, and then twenty. I actually found myself compelled to drag my finger across the words and click “highlight” in the pop-up box myself, as if some weird internal synoptic hard-wiring connected a vestigial sheeple-lobe in my brain to my right index finger with nary a stop in the actual thought-processing centers in the frontal lobes.

And then I DID highlight it, just to see if the number of highlighters changed from 68 to 69. It has now. Experiment complete. Let’s see if I can un-highlight it. Yup. Just drag finger and hit delete. Voila!

Have I highlighted other books and articles I’ve read in Kindle? Yes, particularly for non-fiction stuff I want to go back and read again or wish to quote. These are my own highlights, though, irrespective of whether or not anyone else got a tingle of “aha!” while reading the passage. Do I hope other people see my highlights and chose to highlight it, too? Should I go back and look and see what kind of influence I’ve made in the world with my fancy-smancy highlighting skills? Shudder. That the thought even occurred to me sets off warning lights and danger sirens.

This is all beginning to feel a little bit too much like Facebook and how some people actually analyze how many “likes” their friends get on posted photos and shares–as if that is some indication of that person’s popularity or likeableness or something. Not to mention Klout–social media that calculates your influence on the social-media culture. I signed up for that for about a week, just to see what it was all about. Then I got outa’ there. What, exactly, was the point?

(This post is turning out to be anything but “quick.” Sorry about that! I didn’t realize I had this much to say on the topic, which is kinda part of the fun of writing, isn’t it? It’s a new discovery each and every time.)

But back to the egregious example of copy-cat highlighting. After resisting for as long as I could, I gave in and bought Fifty Shades of Grey on Kindle. I really didn’t think it would be any good, and it wasn’t great. However, I readily admit that I was curious about why this erotic novel sold so spectacularly well, spawned a slew of copy-cat novels, re-invented a genre which now fills entire shelf-displays in bookstores, and has even been picked up for a movie adaptation. Pretty good stuff for the author, I have to admit. She must have done something right. I wanted to see if I could find out how she did it.

So, yes, the writing was pedestrian, the sex scenes were so-so and there were way too many of them for my taste, and now I have my own theory about why women like this book (which I may or may not share in a later post), but there was one aspect of reading this on Kindle that really amused me. I knew the story wasn’t exactly gripping my attention (no matter WHERE Christian Grey was gripping Anastasia at the particular moment) when I began paying more attention to the highlighting.

“My belief is to achieve success in any scheme one has to make oneself master of that scheme, know it inside and out, know every detail…” 1,761 people thought this was highlight-worthy.

“The growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership.” 3,962 highlights.

“A man who acquires the ability to take full possession of his own mind may take possession of anything else to which he is justly entitled.” 8,586 highlights, and who am I reading? E.L. James or Ayn Rand?see Reading Atlas Shrugged in my 40’s

“Oh, f___ the paperwork, he growls. He lunges at me, pushing me against the wall of the elevator.” 2,349.

And so on. The funniest thing is that there is never just a highlight with 50 highlighters or 10. Just thousands. Does Kindle only report the top-scoring highlights of each book or article? Yes. “We combine the highlights of all Kindle customers and identify the passages with the most highlights. The resulting Popular Highlights help readers to focus on passages that are meaningful to the greatest number of people. We show only passages where the highlights of at least three distinct customers overlap, and we do not show which customers made those highlights.” (http://gigaom.com/2010/05/03/amazon-starts-sharing-what-youve-highlighted-on-your-kindle/)

I’m so glad to know that two-thousand people thought Christian pushing Anastasia against the wall of an elevator was wicked important, aren’t you?

What Amazon doesn’t address is why. Why so many people highlight particular passages. Is it based on true personal preference or is there a copy-cat quality?

I will continue to watch with great interest the highlighting trends in Kindle editions. I’m wondering how this feature could be used and abused–both from sharing information about what certain kinds of readers highlight and also from influencing what readers think is important by artificially amping up the supposed highlights (hello: pay or otherwise ask 100 readers to highlight a certain passage thus causing more people to pay attention to certain ideas and to also copy-cat and highlight that passage than would happen organically.)

What do you all think?

Image

I Was Thinking

Photo by Debbie Broderick

I Was Thinking

I was thinking
about how still the air was
and the trees
and how there are
those hot, still days when you are a kid
and time is just a suggestion
and every summer day is forty hours long
and summer is forever.
Then somehow knowing better
and forgetting
and starting to mark time with the best of them.

Go out to the garden. Watch
a dragonfly stir the air
with black net wings like stockings
stretched over filament wire. Smell
bee-balm to see what draws
the bees. Draw
the bees.
Laugh.

Social currency

Waterboro Reporter

Waterboro Reporter

The photo above was provided by the owner/publisher of the newspaper for which I work. The Waterboro Reporter is a locally-owned, weekly community paper that pays me for the articles I write–many about sustainability, local farmers and business people, local non-profit organization, school news, town government and activist groups. The Reporter is, I believe, an important part of the “local circle.” It is a free-to-read newspaper, with printing costs and content (read: writers like me!) costs covered only by advertising dollars, not readers.

I love the idea of currency circulating from one local business to the next local business via paychecks and purchases. This is the essence of a local economy. It also creates a type of social currency: measured only in goodwill and reciprocity.

Here is a real example: Last month, the Reporter sold advertising space to local businesses and printed up some ads that readers were sure to notice as they read the content of the paper. Then the Reporter collected the advertising money from those businesses. Last week, the Reporter sent me a check for my articles. I cashed my check on Saturday and went immediately to the Newfield Farmer’s Market–where I bought close to $25 worth of stuff. Now, if the market then took out an advertisement in the following week’s paper, the local economic circle would be complete! The money would just continue circulating–maybe going to out to a local antique store or the local supermarket–but eventually, hopefully, coming right back around and around and around.

THIS cycle is exactly what I’ve been writing about/advocating for the past four years!

Over the course of a year, with money earned from my writing gig, I’ve bought local maple syrup, a Community Supported Agriculture membership from a local farmer, and an order for a year’s worth of beef from a Limerick neighbor. I’ve shopped at the local supermarket and had countless lunches at local restaurants like the Clipper Merchant Tea House and the Peppermill. I’ve donated money to charitable causes (guess where I went on Saturday afternoon, after the market? The Limerick Historical Society penny auction.)I’ve bought incense,books, toys and other interesting stuff at local gift shops. My love for Plummer’s Hardware and the Limerick Supermarket is well-known.

Much of this I’ve documented here on Localista and shared with my facebook friends and my email list, which is also free publicity for the local businesses I love. In turn, these businesses provide me with excellent customer service and great products.

The money I spend comes from a locally owned paper whose only income–I will stress this again–is advertising. This is a newspaper that has been amazing to publish all the stories I’ve written with a sustainability slant, promoting the kind of “buy local” philosophy I hold dear. The Reporter doesn’t “sell” newspaper coverage. It covers stories we think are interesting and important whether or not an ad is purchased; however, think about that local cycle a minute. Now think some more…

Readers, please shop locally, and if you shop at one of our advertisers, let them know you saw their ad in the paper. Supporting each other, in a local economy, is the foundation of freedom from corporate control. Be part of the circle!

Plain Jane to Pretty Parisienne

Notebook Facelift

Notebook Facelift

Dear Reader:

Since becoming a blogger, my journal-keeping (in an actual journal) activities have degenerated into difficult conceptions, failures to thrive, and sad rippings of pages from notebooks and crumplings of paper thrown into the waste-bin of my office.

Journaling was once a mainstay of my emotional life, an anchor, a place to throw difficulties from my mind onto paper and tuck them away where I never had to look at them again unless by choice. Mostly I want to vomit whenever I re-read my old journals. I recognize their former necessity, but I dislike the results. My journals are not pretty little recaps of my daily life. I call the writing in them emotional diarrhea. Not pretty. Sorry to offend.

I tried other kinds of journaling for different purposes. “I’m going to write for half and hour every day in a journal and use the notebooks for writing fodder,” I declared to myself ala Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones. Yeah, not so much. Once I started blogging (web-based journal fit for public consumption) and began this thing called Localista (once called Outside the Box) I never looked back.

Until now.

Recent upheaval in my personal life has me hauling down my old journals and searching through them for clues to help make sense of present problems. While reading them, I realize their old familiar raison d’etre might serve me again. I want to keep a personal journal. I want to start today. And I want something pretty on the cover.

may 8 2013 021

I had nothing appropriate, just a stack of plain black and white composition books I picked up for cheap a few years ago at The Store Which Shall Not Be Named while school supply shopping for the Teen. Okay, 33 cents. I caved. This morning I looked at them and shuddered. Ick. Ugly black and white. How did I ever think that would inspire me? I remember having some vision of these notebooks lined up on my shelf, filled with raw material for “real” writing.

Ughh, I thought. I cannot start out with this today. I will go to the store and buy a journal with a pretty cover.
Which will take an hour. And I’m enjoying the peaceful sunny morning with Vivaldi playing on Pandora web radio. And I want to write now. And I’m really not in the mood for delayed gratification. What can I do?

Inspiration struck. I remembered seeing some redecorated composition notebooks at a farmer’s market table last summer. Rummaging through the family art supplies, I found just what I needed. Voila! Parisian-themed craft paper and glue sticks. I love pretty paper in the same way I love pretty fabric and pretty art. I just don’t usually have much actual use for them. This morning, however, I had both the need and the means to create something unique and beautiful. A little gluing, a little folding, a little cutting and here is a pretty and pink Parisienne of a journal, ready for my journaling pleasure.

Inside Cover

Inside Cover

And the craft project was fun, too, appealing visually and physically while the classical music flowed from the computer and the sun shone through the windows and a very large bluejay landed on the window feeder. Ahhh, bliss.

If I ever find a bunch of ugly comp notebooks at a local store like Mardens, I will pick up another bunch. Even for an non-craft person like me, this was fun and a great way to use those pretty papers I’ve had tucked away for years. I’m not sure how the journaling will go. I’m not expected much on the inside. Emotional dysentery and all that. But the cover will be pretty.

Do you keep a journal? What inspires you to write in it?

New Year Short Fiction: THAT WAS YOU

Train Display Portland, ME

Train Display Portland, ME

“Have dinner with me.”

Elizabeth Chapman stopped winding the string of Christmas lights she held in her hands. She fixed her stare, eyebrows raised, on the man in front of her.

Harrison held her gaze for a long moment, sighed, and shrugged.“Just thought I’d ask,” he said.

He struggled to hide his disappointment, she observed. He turned to pick up the stepladder and move it further down the wall of her bookstore. They were taking down the garlands and bows and lights now that it was the middle of January. Liz had been meaning to get to the decorations a week ago, and when Harrison dropped in at the end of the workday, she had maneuvered him into staying and helping her with the chore.

Liz figured her owed her.

The silence tightened around them now, and she laid a hand on Harrison’s arm. She felt the muscle tense for a moment and then relax.

She had lowered half of the overhead lights when the last customer left, and now the bookstore was dim and quiet except for a c.d. playing on the audio system. Oak bookcases, decorative woodwork, and original tin ceilings graced the store. Books filled every nook and cranny—one of several retail spaces carved from a former five and dime store that had once stretched half a block on Main Street in East Mercy.
The c.d. played itself out with a final whisper of flute and acoustic guitar, and the silence made the conversation even more awkward. Liz cleared her throat.

“Harry . . .”

He looked back at her, hoisted the ladder, gave a short laugh. “Never mind,” he said. “I just thought we could grab a bite at the Hacienda. You know, two old friends hanging out. No big deal. Really.”

Liz watched as he slid the metal stepladder into place. He looked solid and dependable in his faded blue jeans and flannel shirt, still as handsome as he’d been in high school. Unfortunately, Harrison wasn’t as dependable as he looked, she thought.

If he had been, they would probably still be married.

He held the ladder and she climbed up to the top to grab the next length of garland and lights. The dull green pieces of artificial evergreen boughs poked her arms and smelled dusty. From the floor, they looked so pretty and fresh. From this close, they showed their true state—old, worn, and flattened. Kinda the way she felt, to be honest.

She sighed. Maybe the mid-winter blues were getting to her already. She unplugged the string of lights from the adjacent section and let the whole thing fall in a heap below the ladder.

“Only two more sections to go,” she said. Thank God. The sooner she and Harrison were done, the better. They had been joking around for much of the time, and now he had to go and ruin it by asking her out to dinner.
She climbed down the ladder, bumping against him at the bottom. “Sorry.” Guilt crept over her—not because she’d bumped into him, but because he’d worked so hard and she’d refused his dinner invitation. Was she being a tad ungrateful?

Guilt-smuilt, she thought. When she’d asked him to help take this stuff down, she hadn’t promised him anything. Why should she feel beholden to him? She was only protecting herself, she thought. And then, who could blame her?

She stepped away from Harry’s solid warmth and questioning eyes, clamped her mouth shut, and looked pointedly toward the last remaining section of garland.

Wordlessly, Harry moved the ladder to the back of the bookstore and angled it over the philosophy section. But he gave her that look. Liz glanced down at her watch. He had been helping her for over two hours without complaint. He was such a good guy, really, and what thanks did she give him? A pat on the arm, and a “good boy, Harry?”

She pinched the bridge of her nose. Don’t give in, she told herself. It would be a mistake. . .

But it was no use. He could always get to her like this. “Okay, I’ll have dinner with you,” she said and added, “but it’s not a date and don’t go getting any ideas. We are strictly friends. Got it?”

He grinned. “Well, since you asked so graciously…”

“You asked me!”

“Okay, okay, don’t get your panties in a bunch. So, the Hacienda’s alright, right? You’ve always loved Mexican food.”

Oh my god. “No, Harry,” she said, drawing the words out slowly. “You love Mexican food. It gives me heartburn.”
Liz didn’t know whether to be more irritated at the panties reference or that he never remembered her dislike of cumin and hot chili peppers, and that for her tequila was something best avoided.

“But . . . you love margaritas!”

She shook her head “No, Harry. That’s you.”

“Huh.” He tapped the metal ladder and looked puzzled. “I coulda’ sworn. . .”

This was so typical of him, Liz thought. Everything had always been about him, how he felt, what he liked. Apparently what he’d liked was sleeping with other women.

She grabbed the tangled mess of boughs and lights and marched off to the storeroom. Five years had passed since she’d married and divorced the man, but she’d never really get over it completely—the cheating, the embarrassment, the divorce and the wrecked fabric of her heart that had gradually patched itself together into a semblance of something whole.

Somehow they’d become friends again. In a small town like East Mercy, they were bound to run into each other socially, and over the past year or two they somehow had been able to regain their old camaraderie. He made her laugh. He helped out with tasks like dripping faucets and broken windshield wipers on her car. As long as she didn’t think about their marriage, they got along just fine
.
Now he had asked her out to dinner, and something about the invitation struck her as crossing over an invisible line between their good friendship and their disastrous marriage.

Liz knew she should probably go out there and tell him she’d changed her mind. Why confuse things? Irritably, she threw the decorations against a wall and decided to sort them in the morning or, better yet, ask one of her employees to do it. That was one of the perks of owning her business—she got to make the rules. If only it had been that way in her marriage.

A well-worn memory surfaced just then. She and Harrison had been in the middle of the confrontation: he had just confessed to cheating on her not once, not twice, but three times with three different women over the course of their year-long marriage. One-night stands, he claimed. Didn’t mean a thing. . . honest. Honest? Was he kidding?
She’d demanded an explanation. Why had he found it necessary to engage in these sexual encounters? Didn’t she please him in bed? Didn’t he love her? He’d made promises!

He had let her rant and rave for twenty minutes, and then he had said, “I guess it’s because you have such high expectations, Liz. I guess I just wanted to be with someone, even for just an hour or two, who didn’t judge me, didn’t analyze every friggin’look on my face or word out of my mouth.”

She had stared at him, speechless. How dare he turn this around onto her? How dare he make this her fault? She had stomped out of the room and locked herself in the bathroom until she heard the door slam and his truck engine rev and then fade into the night air.

Now, years later and safe in the confines of her storeroom, Liz frowned. She had to admit that she thoroughly enjoyed her role as owner and manager of the Brass Bell Bookstore, making the important decisions, and being in control of her professional life. If she had an idea, she went ahead and tried it. If she knew something had to be done, she did it. Everything about the business was firmly in her control, and she didn’t have to answer to anyone—except her customers and the IRS, she supposed.

Occasionally, she had run into staffing problems when she hired someone who, after the usual month-long learning period, could not manage to follow store procedures properly or whose attitude became sullen or shifty over time. More than once, these employees had accused her of being a control freak or a perfectionist. This was her business, though, and she had found two or three excellent employees who didn’t seem to find her overly demanding.
Still, she recognized that when it came to the bookstore, she expected the staff to follow her rules and procedures precisely and cheerfully. If that was too controlling, well, so be it, she figured.

But, she pondered, not for the first time, what had gone wrong with their marriage. She wouldn’t let Harry comnpletely blame his wandering, um, eye, on her, but what if her attitude had contributed to the breakup of their marriage? It wouldn’t have been the first time they had broken up, or the first time he had accused her of trying to run his life, for that matter.

Back in high school when she and Harry fell in love the first time, she had been so enchanted with the idea of having a boyfriend that she wanted everything to be perfect. She imagined every detail and made sure Harry knew what was expected of him.

They would sip hot chocolate at the diner after football games, she said. They would take long walks in the woods in the summer and carve their initials on a tree, she said. She would wear his class ring, she said. They would share kisses beneath the mistletoe at Christmas. He would buy her jewelry on her birthday and stuffed animals for Valentine’s Day. They would go to the spring prom, and afterward, they would make out down by the lake (he didn’t mind that one, oh no).

And her plans didn’t end there. She decided that they would attend the state university together, graduate in four years, and then get married. They would buy an old house and fix it up and have three or four children. When the kids were young, they would drive a minivan, but later on would trade it in for something sportier. After retirement, they would travel, see the world, and then move to Florida.

At eighteen, she had their life all planned out.

Problem was, Harrison didn’t want to go to college. He wanted to stay in East Mercy and work for his dad in the family ski business. Liz nagged him into applying to the University of Maine anyway, and he was miserable when his acceptance letter arrived, she remembered.

He bought the jewelry and stuffed animals she expected, but she had to remind him to do it every time. She complained when he wanted to spend time with his friends. By the time spring prom had rolled around, he had started flirting with other girls, she’d broken up with him, and she’d spent the evening of the prom watching Carrie and crying into big bowls of chocolate swirl ice-cream.

Now, hidden in the storeroom, Liz sat down against the wall and hugged her knees. She had gotten over him, eventually. She graduated from East Mercy High School, went off to college by herself, met a political science major named Malcolm, married him, and moved to D.C. When that marriage ended after a few years, she’d come home to East Mercy.

Liz started the bookstore with her divorce money, reconnected with family and friends . . . and promptly went to bed with Harrison.

He was still a fun-loving, good-looking man who now managed the family ski business–a small slope with ten trails and a single lift on the outskirts of town. They hooked up one night while drinking tequila shots at the Hacienda Bar & Grill—tequila was always a bad idea, and she should have known that nothing good could come of it.
Four years later, they married. A year after that he admitted to cheating on her. The rest was history, she thought. History repeating itself.

“Hey, you okay in here?” Harrison’s voice interrupted her thoughts. “I’m starved. Let’s go eat.” He had managed to remove the remaining section of lights by himself and carried a big armful over to the pile on the floor. “You just going to leave that stuff?” he said.

She waved a hand around and stood up. “Yeah, I’ll get to it tomorrow I guess.” She pushed aside the feelings of sadness and regret that threatened to ruin the evening. All that was in the past, she reasoned with herself. She couldn’t go back and change what had happened in high-school—or in their marriage. It was better to simply accept the present situation and get on with her life.

The Hacienda was a converted granary overlooking the Black River. Liz admired the view of the narrow floodplain and the frozen river edged with spiked branches of scrub brush. Then she spotted the abandoned train depot sagging forlornly on the other side of a dirt parking lot.

What an eyesore, Liz thought. Something really ought to be done about that depot. Half a dozen ideas for converting the space into something useful popped into her head, but they were quickly squelched by a relentless practicality. Nothing would be done with the building for one reason. East Mercy was dying.

Liz scanned the horizon with tears in her eyes. The old train bed wound toward the river in one direction and back toward her section of town in the other. Downtown rooftops poked up through the tree branches across the street, each familiar and homey. Warmth spread throughout her despite the chill in the air and the sadness in her heart. East Mercy did that to her.

The Hacienda was warm from the fireplace in the main dining room, and Liz relaxed with her second glass of chardonnay, laughing at some silly story Harrison told her about teaching first graders to ski. She studied him, noticing how his hair had begun to recede a little, and that his face was thickening around the jowls. His eyes were still dark and dreamy, though. His mouth still turned up at the corners as he talked. She could see why she had fallen in love with him twice already. She supposed the part of her that was eighteen and the part of her that was thirty loved him still.

He finished his story and smiled, reading something in her eyes or her face. “You are beautiful, Liz. Know that?” He leaned toward her over the table, pushing aside the salt and pepper shakers and taking her hand. “You are still the most beautiful girl I ever married.”

He laughed as she snatched her hand away. “Oh, come on. It was just a joke. You know I love you, always have and always will.”

He took her hand again. He looked serious. “It’s true, you know. We had a good thing, and I know I messed up. If I could change anything in my life, it would be the fact that I hurt you. If I could go back and do it over again, I’d try so much harder to be the kind of man you wanted me to be.”

Her heart thawed enough to let him continue, otherwise she would have told him to shut up and not ruin everything by talking about love. He said, “I love being around you. I think you like being around me, too.” He took a deep breath, his eyes searching hers, his voice earnest and vulnerable. “What do you say we try again, Liz? I want to be with you. What do you say?”

She looked at him, seeing in him the boy he once was and the man he had become. She supposed she did love him, but it was a nostalgic kind of love.

She was thirty-seven—no longer believing that love, marriage, and children were her destiny, or that she and Harrison were fated to be together. You make your own destiny, she thought. You make it up as you go along.

“I already have an old house to fix up, Harry,” she said.

“What?”

She picked up her wine glass, held it. “You remember—we were going to get married, fix up an old house, make four babies, and drive a minivan? At least, that’s what I planned.” She gazed at the golden liquid in her glass as if reading in it the past and the future. “Well, I already own an old house. I want to run my bookstore—not run after four children. And you know what? I really like my Saab.”

“That’s it? You don’t want to try again because you like your car?”

Liz gave him a small smile. “It didn’t work with us. You imagine you want a romantic relationship with me, but it didn’t work before and it won’t work now. We are friends, and I have to tell you, Harry,” she paused for effect. “I love having you as my friend. Who else could I get to climb up on that ladder all afternoon?”

“Funny.” He leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms, regarding her for a moment. “No one would pull down that crappy Christmas garland for you, that’s who. You need me, babe. One more chance. That’s all I’m asking.”

She wanted to argue, but didn’t. Why bother to tell him all over again that he had taken her love, wrung it between his lying, cheating hands like a rag, and tossed it aside without a second thought? Why tell him that he had ruined any chance that she would trust him or any man with her heart again?

“Nope. Sorry.” She spread her hands wide. “It’s friendship or nothing.”

He drove her home. He walked her to the door. He helped her out of her coat, and when she turned around, he encircled her waist with his arms. For a moment she leaned against him, her body remembering the contours of his legs, the solidity of his chest, the smell of his soap and his sweat.

He bent his head to whisper in her ear, “We could make love, at least. It would be good, I promise.”
Desire ran down her spine and pooled inside her, a liquid heat. Yes, it would be good.
And bad. She pulled away. “No. But thanks for dinner.”

He stepped back. “That’s it?”

“That’s it,” she nodded.

“Okay, then goodnight.”

He shut the door behind him.

She went to the kitchen, thinking to make a cup of tea, when she heard him open the door again. She looked over her shoulder.

“You’ll fall in love again someday,” Harry said, poking his head through the doorway. “I hope when you do that he’s a better man than me.”

An arrow of tenderness shot through her heart. She reached out to touch him, but the door closed between them. He blew her a kiss through the glass.

“Thank you, Harry,” she whispered and let her hand fall as she watched him trudge down the snow-lined walkway, slam the door of his truck, and roll away with a tap of his horn. Back to the Hacienda.

She put the kettle on the stove, reached for a bag of peppermint tea. Old habits, she thought. Hard to break, she thought, remembering the feel of him pressed up behind her and the disappointment and relief of it when he pulled away. Yes, truly hard to break, she thought, but not impossible, after all.