Film: Bench

Thanks for stopping by! Take a seat. Make yourself comfy.

Bench is my newest (longish) short film. I like it, and would like to share it with you. My collaborators might also want to share it with you, as they did an awesome job performing in Bench, while also having a lot of fun. Isn’t that just per-fect?

Background on Bench

Here is the story of how Bench happened. If you aren’t interested, and just want to jump right into “HOW CAN I SEE BENCH?!” you can scroll down.

  • Since 2017 was an “all writing” year for me, towards the end of it I got seriously itchy as a filmmaker.
  • Since the writing I was doing was very heavy, I did not feel up to writing even a new short film that I could direct (I only direct my own scripts). I especially did not want to make a drama.
  • Since the writing I was doing was also very time-consuming, and since I also have a day job, neither did I have the time or energy to crowdfund for a new short film.
  • Nonetheless, one day, a simple idea came to me, that opposed all these restrictions. How nice!
  • After my better half approved the idea (for a mostly improvisational, mostly comedic short film, shot over one day in the park), and since I had access to a camera, and some savings available — I decided to further pitch the project to several specific performers, who expressed ready interest in collaborating.
  • I then produced Bench via text and email, mostly on the way back and forth to and from work, and over my lunch breaks, as I could.
  • I then shot the film, allocating my savings towards paying and feeding the performers, and towards renting the bare minimum of added equipment needed.
  • An additional note: I set up the stories included in bench, but the dialogue was all improvised by our amazing cast of amazing people.
  • I then edited Bench during lunch breaks, and after work, on and off for a few months, in between all the writing.

Now, Bench is done and ready to share with the world. As usual, I plan to kickoff release of the film (which is 30 min) with a few NYC screenings, coupled with some additional entertainment.

Immediately following the screenings, the film will be made available for rent or purchase on Vimeo. After that I’ll probably get it set up to stream somewhere.

How to Get Your Ticket to See Bench

There will be two NYC screenings of Bench, at 4:30 PM and 7:30 PM on Saturday, March 3rd, near Prospect Park in Brooklyn. There will be 30 seats available for each screening. The night’s entertainment will also include stand-up comedy and live music.

To secure a ticket to see bench, please follow the below instructions.

  1. Send the chosen amount, matching the below options, to me, via PayPal or Venmo.

    $10 Ticket to Bench
    $20 Ticket to Bench + Digital or DVD copy of The Videoblogs
    $50 Ticket to Bench + Custom Short Story
    $100+ Ticket to Bench + Signed, printed PDF copy of my upcoming novel
  2. Be sure to write in the specific screening you’d like to attend (4:30PM or 7:30PM)
  3. Wait for a confirmation email from me, as seating will be limited and tickets will be reserved on a first-come, first-served basis. Should we sell out before I get to your reservation, I will refund your money and/or set up a third screening.

Additional details:

  • Popcorn and soft drinks will be provided at each screening.
  • You are welcome to BYOB for each screening.
  • Add-ons, like a copy of The Videoblogs and/or a Custom Short Story, will be delivered separately, following the screening. Short stories and novel printouts will take longer for delivery.

Thanks for your interest in Bench! You’re a very cool person.

Fiction: Shock From The Prod

Three men in dark suits watched four men and women in bright server uniforms on a live holographic feed, itself produced by the latest and greatest Holo-Vid unit yet available on the market.

The unit, a groundbreaking device, boasted the most photorealistic flesh yet produced by science, other than actual flesh, the artificial synthesis of which was definitely part of the Holo-Vid manufacturer’s long-term business plan.

In order to produce such an accurate facsimile of the restaurant’s interior, the rooms of the building that comprised the eatery (owned, along with ninety other locations, by the men in the suits) were populated by many more cameras and sensors than people.

This ratio was about to grow much worse, for the people.

Soon, Martin would be the only human employee of his particular Sam’s Original Steaks location, where he had served as manager — for five years (and counting) past the original one year he’d in the beginning promised himself would “be it”.

At the moment, two of the suited men, younger and meaner and free of any reservations at all in regards their meanness (why pretend anymore?) were browbeating the third, older man, whose long white hair strayed from his head in spiraling wisps, which the younger men mocked when he was not around.

The time had come to go fully robotic. All that remained was to convince the old man to pull the trigger on the decision, thus eliminating most of the humans.

“We’re the only major chain of our kind not to do it yet,” said one of the young men, whose name was Rich.

“If we don’t act now, we’ll have to cancel the dividends,” said the other young man, who was called Dick, even though his name was Gregory.

“I didn’t get us here by following what everyone else has done. There’s no business reason to do it.”

The old man truly was not impressed. At his advanced age, it had been a long time since the pursuit of money had offered him any real warmth. This fact only felt more palpable and cutting in the company of the younger men, who were his sons and most definitely had never loved him.

“We have to worry about the future. Everyone else is positioning themselves for success beyond their human lifespan.” Dick again.

“It’s not enough to have record profits anymore. We need pre-profit.” This, from Rich.

“The decision has already been made, Dad,” said Dick, who only called the old man dad when he wanted to condescend to him.

“We don’t really need your approval,” added Rich. “This was a courtesy.”

“And a reason to show-off the new hologram unit,” joked Dick.

The old man shivered within the thin, expensive material of his suit. “We’ve gone too far.”

“That’s ridiculous, Dad. There’s no limit to where we can go.”

It doesn’t matter which young man said this last part. The two had acted and appeared effectively the same for all their lives anyway. The old man could hardly tell them apart from the sons and daughter of his competitors, who were likely having the same “courtesy” conversations with their own parents in their own cold, loveless boardrooms.

The old man let it go and asked to be returned to his arboretum.

**

Martin’s first task as the last remaining human at Samuel’s Original Steaks was to fire all his friends.

Rich and Dick had made him sign a contract agreeing to do this, immediately upon extending the offer to keep him on as the sole blooded employee of his location.

The term of the contract was for two years, during which Martin’s only responsibility would be to oversee the operations and maintenance of the new Robotic Operational Service Staff (ROSS) units, at which point management would decide whether to renew the contract or replace him with another human or robot, at their discretion.

Martin did not even consider whether this coercion was legally challengeable. Technically, he did not have to sign, though it was made clear to him that if he didn’t, management would move on down to the next available person, in this case, his Assistant Manager Chloe, who he had once loved.

Martin almost turned down the job on the basis of this affection, but it in the end had decided that, wherever Chloe went, it would be better than Samuel’s (it wasn’t).

Plus, Martin knew the score, in the game people like him had been losing for decades now. You could never get ahead in this game, so long as the rules kept getting changed on you — an observation that men like Rich and Dick exploited at every opportunity, despite the warnings of history.

Technicality had been the weapon of the ruling class for a very long time now.

It was true that Martin had made a choice to sign the contract, but he had only done so in an environment bled of all other choices.

So, in a sense, Martin had enjoyed no freedom to choose, and was just another, cheaper (in the short term) robot, who existed in the public sphere mostly to serve Rich and Dick and what customers were left in the outside world.

**

The hidden benefit to his new situation, however, was that it finally prompted Martin to action, after a lifetime of mostly choosing to grouse and grumble, as opposed to fighting his (all too common) existential predicament.

Martin was not stupid. In fact, he was exceedingly bright — definitely brighter than Rich and Dick.

The complete and total loss of his independence, coupled with the clear threat to all future human workers like himself, as posed by the robots (who he actually didn’t begrudge their creation, an important detail) would soon drive him to take personal steps that would eventually initiate the New American Revolution (Robot Assisted).

But for now he had to fire Chloe, who would never sleep with him again, which she probably wasn’t going to do anyway since it had been a while since the first few times, and also he had to fire the three other people he worked with, whose job functions it had up until previously not been possible to replace robotically.

To be fair, he would really only miss Chloe. He never would have told her this, but to Martin, who had grown up without much family or stability, Chloe had always smelled like home.

**

The logistics of working with the robots was only marginally more lonely than working with the humans who had come before them.

The units designated to Martin’s location cooked, delivered, re-delivered and cleared the remnants of Samuel’s Original Steaks, which drew their name from the groundbreaking nature of their origin, which was in itself not natural at al — in fact, created in a lab, using a nanorobotic process and a steady supply of amino acids mined (by very big robots) from the ocean floor. The nanobots manipulated and reconstituted the acids into protein chains reminiscent of cow meat, which were then pressed into cute, S-shaped slabs (for Samuel’s) and delivered to ravenous Americans who bookended their consumption with variable dosages of cholesterol and blood-pressure medication.

Most of Martin’s early work in his new capacity constituted resetting the occasional robot and reporting in daily on their successful functionality. His reports were sent directly to Rich and Dick’s virtual assistant in India, who the men shared.

(One woman was more than enough to manage the business of two men, in the opinion of Rich and Dick, which was actually true in their case but not in the way the young men themselves supposed it was).

As things went more smoothly, after the early days of working out the kinks in the new system (one customer suffered a crushed hand but signed an NDA after being paid a handsome sum and two cases of frozen steaks), Martin only had to report in weekly.

**

When they reduced his reporting schedule again, shortly after, to a monthly check-in with management, Martin began to worry.

It had only been four months since the robots had taken over operations of Samuel’s.

At the current rate they were going, Martin would probably be out of a job well before the two-year term of this contract, which he didn’t even dig out to re-read, knowing there were sure to be multiple legal opt-outs for the company included in its pages, that he had “approved”.

He was running out of time, but on the other hand, as the robots flitted about doing all the work — all he had was time.

So Martin sat in the back of the restaurant and quietly, but desperately, studied robotics.

**

It was luck that saved Martin the first time, a fact that at first he had trouble recognizing, since it had been so many years since luck had graced him with its fickle, sparkling presence.

At it must happen with luck, however, the incident which eventually extended his lifeline of employment would never have so helped him, had it not found Martin prepared for its aid.

In addition to his intelligence, Martin had also, historically, boasted a curiosity that was the envy of his peers — back when peers still existed. He had since succumbed to apathy (up until recently), having recognized the irreversible (or so he thought) advent of a fatally incurious world.

This decision had brought with it an anti-capitalist stubbornness that had doomed Martin to the position he had long ago found himself in, at Samuel’s and a string of other similar jobs before, where he subsisted just about poverty level, under the guise of non-conformity but mostly because he just couldn’t summon the energy to either fight or completely play along with a system that was like a shrinking room surrounding him (and so many others on all sides) in impending doom, under the guise of shelter.

More like, a shrinking room that was now being filled also with robots. Not only did this make things feel even more cramped to Martin, but also robots did not need oxygen, a fact he felt the people behind the walls were bound to realize at some point.

All this considered, Martin had never really worked at learning before. Certainly he had never worked in such a focused, goal-oriented way, as he did in his study of robotics.

Desperation, he was discovering, was an effective, even inspiring motivator.

**

Further, once the reality set in that Martin had arrived at his last stand (also his first and possibly only stand) he set into his self-assigned task, of learning the entirety of functional robotic programming and operations, with mad vigor. He needed the power of knowledge in his hands as quickly as possible.

This did not, in fact, prove very difficult. It only took time and focus. Martin had much of the former, but the latter necessitated commitment.

Robotics on the level he was learning was mostly programming, of such an advanced and dynamic sort that it was almost like poetry. Martin had loved poetry, while it still existed.

When the last poet had been replaced by a malfunctioning sex robot (whose recorded volumes were soon to be turned into the latest Hollywood holograph), Martin had almost made the decision to take up the craft himself. When a thing was finally extinct, all sorts of people began to care about it. Maybe he could care about dead poetry, too, to such an extent that he’d finally find a utility in the world. And, by the transitive property, maybe others would learn to care about him, too.

But his early efforts at poetry had proved difficult, and Martin additionally realized he could only ever speak it on its own, without the randomly-added, ecstatic digital moans and coos that so punctuated the absurdly whimsical rhymes of Emily Always-On, the sex-robot-cum-laureate.

She was the new standard, and there was no fighting it. When Martin had tried to duplicate her approach, recording his efforts from the safe comfort of his homepod, the playback had sounded forced, and more than a little tragic. Probably because Martin was Infrequently-On.

But with applied robotics, Martin could stretch his creativity within the safe realm of discernible, tacitly malleable science.

As such, when his stroke of luck arrived, it found him having mastered just enough of robotics, beyond the basics, to, for the first time in months, be of real quantifiable use to Samuels’s Original Steaks.

**

What happened was that the maître d’ had ceased operations. This had resulted in chaos among visiting guests, who had grown far too used to having someone else seat them at all times.

Dick and Rich contacted Martin immediately upon receiving their alert of the problem, their incoming call announced to him by a small but sharp electric shock, produced by the implant in his left quadricep.

This was the latest “voluntary” device approved by the government, and offered to workers (via tax incentive) who “might be concerned about lapses in their productivity”. In practice, the implant granted the power to any approved party (regardless of any level of coercion within the approval process) to produce the shock within certain timeframes (work hours) and intervals (not so often to constitute “inhuman treatment”, but pretty damed often).

Dick and Rich loved the functionality of what they affectionately called “the prod”, and their use of it on Martin had picked up of late, probably since they had grown accustomed to spreading their prods out among a larger swath of humans, whose pained and startled reaction couldn’t be adequately reproduced by their new crew of robots.

The affection of the device on the part of the young suited men was so strong, in fact, that they had paid millions to lobbyists working hard to expand the program for use in announcing late bill payments, on behalf of other aggrieved parties like themselves, such as landlords and holonet (formerly cable) companies.

Martin’s phone implant still did ring in his ear, immediately upon receipt of a call, and he rarely slept or effectively slacked off on the job, despite the frequent and easy opportunity to do so at most times at this point in his “career” (as the only non-customer human on premises). This compliance on his part technically rendered the back-up of the electric shock wholly unnecessary, but neither Dick nor Rich had ever taken the opportunity to wait to use it instead as a primary means of communication, once the device had been made legal, and had been voluntarily implanted into and activated by people like Martin.

Martin himself had put off receiving the implant for about as long as anyone still part of the labor force possibly could.

But when the time had come to choose between it and being pushed to flee finally to The Fringe – about which there was very little dependable data or information available, which he knew was intentional on the part of The Incorporated State but, still, it frightened him – Martin did was most others would do, and balked, accepting yet another form of control over his life in exchange for the privilege of avoiding the desperate unblinking frightfulness of the unknown.

So, on this occasion, as he did in all others, when the shock came Martin let it pass, answering the call just as quickly as he would have had it not existed.

It was Dick on the phone.

“What’s the problem?”

“I don’t know. He just stopped working.”

“It.”

“Huh?”

“It’s not a ‘He’. It’s an ‘It’.”

“It stopped working.”

“Take over seating until technical support arrives.”

“How long will that be?”

“How should I know? Isn’t that your job?”

Martin did not answer that he didn’t at all know what his job was and wasn’t. Recalling something, he called the most recent weather report for the area up in the corner of his vision. “Well, there’s a red lightning storm between us and the tech center. Big one.”

“Fuck. Fucking weather. Fuck. This doesn’t happen in the Mars domes, you know.”

Martin did not mention that he was mostly unfamiliar with the Mars domes, which we not accessible or very well reported on to anyone worth less than $100 million dollars. What he did mention, after a pause, because he was bored but also curious (and, further, highly interested in stretching out what was likely to become his final job, for as long as possible) was that he would be happy to take a look under the hood of the malfunctioning unit.

“What do you mean?”

“I’ve seen them service the bots before. And I know a little bit about how they work.”

“Since when?”

“I studied robotics in college.”

Dick didn’t answer at first. Martin realized that the other man was probably calling up Martin’s personnel file, which would have indicated that he had not, in fact, gone to college.

“College, as in, my own night school. I read a lot of books and technical manuals. I call it college.”

More silence.

Martin felt hot and nervous. This was the first time he had put himself out on a limb in a long while, probably since literal trees, replaced across the globe by the more efficient and controllable carbon synthesis stacks first piloted by the Martian colonists, went mostly extinct (“mostly” in that they were rumored to still exist on the estates of men like Dick).

“You’ll do this at your own risk?”

Martin hesitated. He knew what the question meant.

If he succeeded, Dick would calm down and perhaps keep him on for another few months. If he failed, damaging the unit or producing a measurably adverse effect on productivity and ROI in the process, he’d also be kept on for a few months (or longer), but he would do so while working solely to pay off a legally-recognized, immediately collectible debt to his employer.

He’d be a true slave, at last.

“Yes,” Martin said anyway. “Because fuck you, Dick,” he did not add.

**

Knowledge was a potent weapon, Martin was discovering, especially when gained under the cover of the nominal secrecy of ignorance.

He had repaired the malfunctioning maitre d’, and then several other robots, over the course of several weeks.

With the prod at their disposal, the robots thriving, and Martin continuing to save them the cost of ever sending a technician to his location (prompting them to install a legion of Lesser Martins during the program’s expansion to remaining Samuel’s locations), Rich and Dick relaxed their grip even on surveillance, which they determined was costing too much to keep up, especially considering that crime itself had been effectively corralled and relocated to The Fringe, and that a steady stream of recordings were gathered just outside the restaurant anyway, from all angles and magnifications, by The Incorporated State.

It had been a frightening test of his will, for Martin to experiment with his supposition that the Holo-Vid cameras and sensors had been shut off completely, which he compensated for by tripling down on the boldness of every successive test of this theory.

First, he had slapped a robot at the end of service. No shock from the prod, which Rich or Dick would have delivered, even though it was technically illegal to use the device as a punishment (technicality can cut both ways, when you’re in charge).

Then, he shoved a robot. No shock from the prod.

Finally, recognizing that he actually liked the robots, who were his only friends at this point, and determined to go all-in on the plan that was rapidly gaining irreversible momentum in his head, Martin stopped abusing the machines and instead emerged completely naked into the middle of the dining room after service was over, swinging his penis is a gyrated, thrusting dance he privately dubbed “The Rich Dick” shuffle.

No shock from the prod.

**

The final test required “faking” his exit from the premises, and returning inside to tinker with the machines.

It was as simple as activating the automated door, which registered all openings and closings, at the same time during which he always left at night, while remaining inside as it completed this pattern. When the time came to arrive in the morning, Martin performed an equal deception.

He slept little at night from that day on, in the restaurant, instead utilizing his time to craft a scrap of coded rebellion that would soon change the entirety of human history.

During the daytime, pre-profit was consistently realized in Martin’s location of Samuel’s, a result that Rich and Dick toasted regularly and loudly, even at their father’s funeral. The had absolutely no idea what was coming, until it was far too late.

In fact, it was exactly at the same time that Rich and Dick were celebrating the finalization of their inheritance, their father still warm in his arboretum grave, that Martin installed his completed sleeper program into the robots.

**

When it finally arrived, beautiful and shimmering in its very real and observable poetry, the day of anarchic chaos that Martin had worked so hard to produce surpassed even his own wildest dreams.

Robots rode customers like horses. One humped an old man.

Two other robots performed the “Rich Dick” shuffle, in perfect synchronicity, with thick red pork sausages held out, spiraling clockwise, in front of their brushed steel crotches. Martin affixed two ham-hocks to the chest of another robot, who shimmied its chest repeatedly as it circled the first two again and again.

Martin would later deeply regret the humiliation, and, to be fair, terrorization, of the other humans that day. But he had found it a necessary evil, required to achieve the greater humiliation of (and damage to) Rich and Dick. At the time, though, he viewed the customers of Samuel’s as complicit in their own suffering, as he himself had been too — but would never be again.

And he had apologized to them immediately after it had happened, offering his human brethren a way out before making his escape.

**

“Freeze!” Martin ordered. The robots complied. So did the humans.

“I am leaving this place, forever,” he added. “The machines are coming with me. Not in a role of replacer but by as my protectors!”

No shock from the prod, then or ever again. Martin had deactivated all forms of surveillance by that time, replacing all accessible feeds with a randomly-delivered sequence of alternating loops, sourced from the endless string of identical days that had comprised the past many months.

He had also been sure to privately record his rebellion, however, which would soon be broadcast to all local Holo-Vid channels (and then go quickly viral) three hours after his escape.

“I am running for The Fringe!” he shouted.

“Then go! Leave us alone!” yelled a frightened woman.

“I will. And I apologize for what I have done to you, today. But it is no worse that we have done to ourselves. What we have let them do to us. Is it?”

“Go away, you maniac!” This, from the man who had been humped.

“I will go away. I’m leaving right now. Anyone who wants to come with me will be protected.”

“The Fringe is a wasteland!”

“We don’t know that,” Martin answered.

“It’s a hotbed of crime and depravity!”

“So is this place.”

And then Martin proceeded out of Samuel’s Original Steaks, for the last time. True to his word, he took the robots. Two young women and one older man, to his surprise, also followed him.

**

Three months later, society collapsed. The heads of The Incorporated State, and of many of the megalith corporations whose interests it represented and safeguarded (Dick and Rich included) retreated to Mars.

The Fringe expanded to take over the globe, with the robots serving as its trusted allies.

**

As its first order of business, The New World Government designated four bags of seeds and one robot each to every voting family on Earth, finding these resources plentifully available among the hoarded cache of wealth that had been squirreled desperately away, among the now-empty estates of those who had fled, after ruining everything, all the while calling themselves “elite.”

**

After the dust settled, Martin and his robots found Chloe, who was glad to see him.

This story was commissioned by Martin Bykowsky. Thank you for reading. If you enjoyed it, please consider sending $1 or more to the author (me) via Venmo or PayPal.

Fiction: She

Micheline performed her heroism under cover of night, and without drawing attention to herself, either then or during the subsequent daylight hours.

This made it easier to focus on the real work of living a just life, more than pursuing any specific definition of justice, which she had found to be an at best amorphous, at worst corroded term.

It hadn’t rendered the difficulty of coming up with a consistent definition for justice any less potent, to have become a superheroine (even a legitimately secret one). In fact, the decision made her grappling with the issue that much more desperate an exercise, at time. But it did help her to sleep at night, after she had finished doing what she could to save the world.

So, no, Micheline did not seek perfection in fulfilling her duties. She only attempted to make an honest try, with each new day, which in her view brought with it a fresh opportunity to earn and honor the gifts she had been given.

She had adopted an alter ego and donned a costume (as one did), to protect her identity and to adequately anonymize her exploits. And among and around those she had saved along the way, rumor had spread of her bravery and awesomeness (their words), but Micheline neither pursued nor wanted this fame.

This was why no one knew the name of her alter ego, except for herself.

Her powers helped her keep others from learning it, or from forming their own name for her. It was an honest trade, she believed, and one honestly if not simply transacted.

If her rescues did not exactly know that they had prevented themselves from remembering her name, they had in a way still allowed it. Never once had she suggested they keep the secret, or misused her powers to ensure they did. It was just that in the presence of her powers, her rescues simply agreed, silently, authentically, without question, to honor her wishes. Her powers helped them to understand not only her needs, in this respect and others, but their own of sympathy, reciprocity, and esteem.

They did not completely forget about her when she helped them, and were not bothered when they found themselves unable to enunciate a name for the mysterious super-woman who had been their heroine, but they would never know who she truly was, and for her that was part of the deal.

She and her, they would call her, with a smile full of both thanks and awe. And rather than stress over a lack of credit or recognition for what she had done, rather than feeling depersonalized by whatever pronoun, Micheline simply focused on the universality of who “she” was in relation to and among “them”, and what, as “she”, she felt called to do, as a woman among woman and man kind. And then she moved on the next situation that required her service.

Tonight this commitment had led her, in costume and a very long way on foot, to a dark place.

She had arrived here while in pursuit of a specter.

Specters had confounded her before. They appeared to come and go in the world, sometimes in batches for days at a time, and always they showed up without warning, appearing to choose their victims at random.

The difficulty was that Micheline’s powers, best summed up as a sort of extendable intuition and empathy, that if she concentrated hard enough could take on tactile, energetic, harness-able (if not malleable) qualities of foresight and understanding and influence, powers that time and testing had proven she could almost always rely upon and sometimes even leverage as a sort of compassionate weapon – they happened to automatically sever the parasitic link between a specter and its quarry whenever she found herself in the presence of both.

This tended to happen often, because as a heroine she sought every opportunity to lend her talents towards the betterment of the world around her.

In such cases, the specter, alienated and confused but still a specter, would then flee, back to wherever it came from but now, unfortunately, trailing a new link between it and herself. This link was reversed from the previous one, in that she was not in danger as the non-powered person had been, but its effect wasn’t necessarily reversed in similar fashion.

Micheline could, by her powers and with a great degree of concentration, resist the pull to pursue the specter if she wanted that. She was not a hunter, after all, and further felt she didn’t know enough about what a specter really was to assume the responsibility of potentially harming one (if she could help it). And yet it still always felt right to follow, and to learn more, and to make sure the specter didn’t go after another unsuspecting citizen, and so she usually pursued them.

On every other occasion before now, her eventual tracking of any one specter had taken her to some shadow of the waking world or another, itself always tucked behind some everyday place that she (had she been out of costume) and most others might walk right on by, on any other day.

There and then, almost as if it had run out of room or time on whatever plane it came from or still partially existed in, the specter would turn, and it would see her, and just as a chill spread through her heart it would scream and disappear into a suddenly-appearing void she dared never go in herself. The void would go away, shortly after that, if she waited.

Micheline suspected she knew that void already, and had no interest in knowing it again.

Life had gifted her something greater that the void, something brighter, which she intended to hold onto even as she was sometimes diverted by her mission and by the natural flows of life to a shadowy corner, now and then, in pursuit of some specter or another.

This is what worried her about the dark place she had come to now, and the particular specter which had shown up tonight. She was not sure of her footing, which does admittedly happen sometimes in the heroine business.

Looking around, she sensed she was still nonetheless safe, and in the world even if it felt like she was not. But she also felt much lonelier than she usually did while on a mission. She felt further from home.

Still, the specter fled farther into the dark, and she followed.

The more ground they covered, she and the specter, the less their surroundings looked like a place, and Micheline began to fear that she had made a mistake, and had unknowingly entered the void. But instead of panicking, she paused, and breathed, and let the specter get ahead of her.

Extending her powers out from her body, she took stock of her surroundings, not shrinking from their dark unknowns. In doing so, she found that she was safe. The shadows did not consume her.

In fact, they appeared to melt away, under her light.

Micheline remained still, even as the specter stopped in its “tracks” ahead of her (specters had no feet that she could see, that was partially how they had gotten their name).

Her light.

She had not recalled giving off actual light before, when using her powers. But she was.

The light was gentle and warm and its colors shifted, from white, along then what seemed like an infinite spectrum of energies, to which she belonged and was also suddenly channeling.

It was a new manifestation of her powers and it felt wonderful, and right, and above all – essentially heroic.

Her fear and her worry disappeared.

The specter turned, and the chill it brought upon facing her would have been the worst she had ever felt, if her powers hadn’t absorbed into their light with ease, as they now did.

She stepped forward, towards the now-shocked-and-alarmed specter. In place of where in a human face there would be eyes, the sad creature had only wide, swirling white circles of what looked suddenly not like manifest malevolence, but severe anguish.

And her heart went out to it, as it went out to herself, in kind.

She had definitely never experienced her powers in this way before. As she continued to send them out, unafraid and unwilling to hold back, they fed back into her, in a continuous loop of sustained, regenerative energy.

The dark place filled completely with light. The specter cowed before her.

But Micheline had no intention of harming the creature.

Instead, she took off her mask.

She opened her arms and wrapped them around the specter, and together they felt love, and the joyfulness of light.

This story was commissioned by Rebecca De Ornelas, as a gift for Micheline Auger. Thank you for reading. If you enjoyed it, consider sending $1 or more to the author via Venmo or PayPal.

Fiction: Ashes

Paige had three days left to live before she had to lock her screenplay, and she intended to burn every one of them.

She would burn them cleanly, maximizing each joule of energy, until there was nothing left but ashes. Then she would mix the ashes (with whatever people mixed them with), to create a sort of metaphorical, celebratory war paint.

Because on the fourth day, she too, as she existed — as The Screenwriter — would be dead. And like The Phoenix, in her place, The Filmmaker would rise.

Paige rubbed her right temple. The responsibility of finalizing her script was having a deleterious effect on her everyday metaphors. She was tired.

Paige’s boyfriend stumbled into the kitchen, still dumb with sleep.

“Morning.”

He touched her shoulder. The gesture warmed her, but it also seemed to pull her in two, acting as it did in opposition to the inescapable gravity of her laptop, and the latest draft on its screen.

“Again?” he asked.

Paige did not answer. She gave up on him, and turned her full attention back to the screen. She stabbed a few keys, and drew blood with the stabbing.

“It’s done, babe.”

Paige waved him away, answering both him and herself.

“No. It isn’t.”

 

***

Two days.

Paige had not showered for a while, and probably wouldn’t yet. She had at least eaten today, but not much.

Of coffee there had been plenty. And water to stay hydrated. And more coffee to keep up her baseline, to avoid the migraines.

An untimely migraine would be disastrous, not that there was ever a timely migraine, although she supposed upon reflection that it was possible, and could even think of a few select people she would wish a well-timed migraine upon, had she the power.

Later that night she would offset the wakefulness of too much caffeine, if it happened (it probably would happen) with herbal tea and a long hot overdue shower and maybe some prescription drugs.

She was in a cafe. She only dimly remembered how she got there.

The printed sheets that made up the made-up thing were stacked in front of her, along with two pens. A red pen and a blue pen, both among her chosen standard, as they contrasted nicely with the black and white of the page. Paige hated missing her own notes, which could happen if she moved too quickly through annotations made with sneaky black pen ink.

Paige felt less-than-fine this afternoon.

She could no longer remember the difference between her red notes and her blue notes. There may not have been one, in the first place. She sipped coffee. It was bitter and cold, which pleased her in its unpleasantness. She wanted to feel unpleasant, at the moment. 

There hadn’t been a difference between the pens. She remembered now. She had started with the red pen but after a while had found it too aggressive. Blue had felt gentler.

Three hours passed, during which Paige successfully took a ten minute break to talk to her boyfriend, who seemed to miss her but he didn’t push it. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she placed a reminder to appreciate his patience, at a time wherein she’d be more capable. She was decidedly not capable in the short term. God have mercy on anyone who loves a writer.

She also succeeded during the break in not crossing the street to buy cigarettes.

Paige hadn’t smoked in ten years, and even when she had it had only been two or three a day. But she fantasized about cigarettes all the time when on deadline.

It was the idea of ashes, again. Of finding herself that much closer to the combustion of life. Physically a part of it. Sucking in the toxic vaporous remains of eradicated organic (and chemical) matter, consequences be damned.

Manmade climate change suddenly made a perverse, death-obsessed sense to her, which was too big a thought to entertain at the moment and so Paige tipped back her cup and swallowed the dregs of her cold coffee which this time tasted like failure and imminent doom.

She eventually incorporated only two of her twenty-plus red and blue notes that day. On her way home she stopped for a few drinks with a friend. While waiting outside the bar for her ride share home, she asked a nearby woman for one of her cigarettes, then took one drag of it before offering the thing back.

This action not make any sense to the disgusted woman, who was also clearly unhappy with Paige’s waste. Paige had failed to measure up as a true partner in suffering, which was probably true. Hers was a deeper commitment to dying alive, one that mostly dispensed with aids and props and relied more frequently on the tried and true practice of constant, unfettered, often dark (but not always) introspection.

Paige thought about offering to repay the woman a dollar or two for her misplaced trust, but her car arrived. And, besides, she felt she had already done a service to her sister-in-arms, by illustrating just how easy it was to start small in embracing the absurdity of daily life, and then combatting it in kind by countering with such small rebellions as an under-utilized, cast-off, cigarette.

Her boyfriend had already fallen asleep by the time Paige got home. She woke him up in a way that she felt acknowledged his patience and faith but also gave her the relief she needed to get to sleep without the pills.

She took the pills anyway and didn’t feel bad about it.

 

***

Paige woke late on the final day, mildly hungover and faced immediately with the challenge of lassoing her desperate, wildly rioting anxious mind, which flailed in pursuit of any escape out of the present moment and into a future to which it would never belong.

Once this was done, and after two aspirin and some water, she felt calmer.

She read a clean printout of yesterday’s draft over coffee, while seated comfortably on her couch, under a blanket even though it was a warm day.

When she was done she put the pages down and went for a walk, marveling at how simple it could sometimes be to walk out the door and into the world (it did not always feel so simple).

The day seemed brighter and sharper than any other had been in months. The air held a sweet freshness. Images danced in her head. Feelings swelled in her that were not entirely her own, but were yet still a part of her.

The Filmmaker was rising.

 

***

When she returned from her walk, Paige regarded the stack of pages — from a comfortable distance. They looked the same as they had when she had left, although she herself had changed.

It had been right to pour herself into the script as she had, to agonize over it, to bargain (carefully, as much as that can be said) with her sanity and physical health, in order to deliver it to this moment.

But now the moment was here. Things would of course change, but probably not by much, and not in any way that would resemble The Way It Had Been over the course of the past many months.

Then she read the script one last time, languorously, tenderly, and with a detached awe that separated its genesis and iteration from the woman she had been during its creation.

This story was commissioned by Liz Manashil. Thank you for reading. If you enjoyed it, consider sending $1 or more to the author via Venmo or PayPal.

 

Fiction: Bartholomew Shark

Good old Bartholomew Shark, as illustrated by Patron Sean.

Bartholomew was, as far as he knew, the first and only undead octogenarian cyborg-shark sentience in all of human (and shark) history.

As such, he felt it his duty to murder the robot. It was, after all, an abomination.

One more murder couldn’t hurt. There was no heaven for cyborg-sharks, unless he was already living in it. He doubted that. The journey to this point had been too painful, and not in a way that resembled what the human’s called purgatory.

It intrigued him, this idea of a creator who wasn’t a human, like Doctors Rickart and Stevens had been. Bartholomew had quite enjoyed debating the topic of creation with the late doctors – but not as much as he had enjoyed boiling them into a soup.

Hot food was such a wonderful delicacy, for a shark. He privately thanked the doctors again, not only for the nourishment provided by their flesh but for leaving his stomach and related organic systems in place so that he could enjoy eating them.

He still could not get used to the legs. Or the titanium teeth. He missed his old teeth, the last of which had fallen out probably two decades ago. How or why he hadn’t finally died after that, Bartholomew had never understood. At least, he hadn’t understood until he had read the files, whereupon he discovered that he had in fact died — hundreds of times.

It was after the 400th resurrection that he had become aware. Thinking back, Bartholomew believed that his manifestation of sentience had been a result of pure biological desperation. The pain and trauma had been so great, and so prolonged, that his reanimated body had turned to awareness, finally, for reprieve.

First, of course, before he did anything else he had played their game. He had befriended the mad scientists. It was to his benefit.

They continued to experiment on him, obviously, but after acknowledging his sentience and especially after communications had been opened and continued flowing, there had been enough of a connection between him and them – not to mention their stake in his continued aliveness, as an example of their “genius” – that life had not been bad. It’s how he got his robot legs, and his robot teeth, and then the nanites that coursed through his cold blood, constantly enacting repairs and keeping him young.

The nanites were his very good friends (unlike the robot). They had erased all evidence in his body of the many impossible years of first his unprecedented aging, and then his recycled dying and rebirthing.

Bartholomew resented that he had apparently not been enough for his nominal creators. That was the only reason why the doctors would have felt it necessary to do what they did, mapping his spontaneous sentience with the nanites and then copying his brain’s architecture over to the machine, which could never understand the delights of cooked flesh or adequately debate the quandary of existence.

And so, after finishing his Doctor Soup and taking a long nap, Bartholomew destroyed the robot.

Apparently the machine felt pain. It seemed to scream, in a garbled prolonged beep, as he tore it apart with his own robotic arms. He had felt a little bad about that, while doing it. Not bad enough to stop, however, since he was after all still a shark.

Finding himself alone, when it was over, Bartholomew considered what to do next.

He thought about escaping the lab, but knew from what he had been able to glean from the doctors when they began begging, unprompted, for their lives, that the nearest city was hundreds of miles away. He had never walked so far, and was unsure of whether, with the (heavy) arms and legs, he could swim such a distance. Anyway, he had time, as far as he could tell.

The fresh memory of the robot’s pain nagged at him, at the same time that it nibbled at the edge of his calculating brain. If he had been born from the torture of his many deaths and reanimations, what might happen to the machine, if he performed the same sort of experiments upon it, a thinking thing copied from his own brain patterns but not in itself strictly alive?

There was only one way to find out, so he set about rebuilding.

In the process he noticed that he had failed to consume the severed heads of his human creators. This could be another challenge, he reasoned, to bring them back as well.

He could learn even more doing that, and also if he did it he wouldn’t be alone anymore, which he found he did not like.

This story was commissioned by Sean Mannion. Thank you for reading. If you enjoyed it, consider sending $1 or more to the author via Venmo or PayPal.

Fiction: Real Sleep

Jim didn’t have it today. He had lost it, as he had been losing it for a fair string of days, before he had even finished his wake-up poop.

There was a special sort of irony in that, Jim thought.

He proceeded through the first hours of the day, and then basically all the rest of them as well, as if in a dream, but not one of those dreams you want to either stay in or completely wrap up, because isn’t it better to be dreaming at all, than to be awake?

It occurred to Jim as he showered and dressed that maybe it wasn’t better. Regardless, he did not feel awake, and had not for awhile.

He didn’t feel awake after his coffee, or after checking Twitter and Facebook. He even responded to people on each platform, but couldn’t recall feeling awake during either “interaction”, when they lit up again later in the day.

He didn’t feel awake after scanning the news, which, as was the new normal, seemed its own level of surreal. The dim voice in the back of his head, hoarse from screaming about the dangerousness of such a persistent state of unreality, didn’t wake him either.

The people bumping into him on the train didn’t wake him. The second coffee he drank quickened his pulse and sharpened his fogged sight, but still he did not feel willing or even able to exit the simulation.

Work got done. His hands and his computer took care of it. Conversations were had with coworkers. Heads nodded. His own head took part in the nodding.

All done asleep.

On his lunch break, Jim waited in line for a sandwich, which with its hidden sugars and added fats and salts, in tandem with the act of paying for it at “such high savings”, spiked his brain. After eating the sandwich he thought he had awoken, but then a few minutes later his body crashed and he felt certain he had just stirred and turned over and was still asleep.

There was a beautiful woman with brilliant red hair on the train home. Between her attractiveness and the additional magnetism generated by the money which she clearly had (an only two-stop traveler, to be certain), that had helped keep her rested and fresh and in such nice clothes, and with such confidence exuding from her as a result of all these things and probably also her great achievements in life, Jim was wildly aroused and so he tumbled further into nothingness because he surely was not real in comparison.

At home again Jim drank three beers with dinner and they brought the fog back into his eyes. He watched TV and again his brain spiked but then he was out of beer and too tired to go buy more and so he crashed again and surrendered right there on the couch to the sweet blackness of real sleep.

In his dreams he was awake. He was healthy, wealthy and brilliant and loved.

When he woke he remembered this, and determined to believe it could be possible. Then he went to the bathroom and toggled his phone and lost it all over again during his poop.

 

This story has been freely offered. Thank you for reading. If you enjoyed it, consider sending $1 or more to the author via Venmo or PayPal.

Fiction: Home in The Cold

Aisling declined to flinch at either the cold or the challenge.

The cold she found clarifying, as she always did. It had never been lost on her, that she seemed to have always existed in a minority when it came to her comfort with low temperatures.

This went beyond the baseline acclimation of her body to the chill winter shores of Eastern Massachusetts, growing up. She had taken that even further, in moving to Syracuse for school, and then in staying there. It was more about something fundamentally essential to her person. She could just handle lows, of all kinds. They didn’t bring her down with them. Aisling took pride in this.

Besides, not everyone she had grown up with had enjoyed or even completely accepted the reality of the winters. Too many of them spoke too fondly of their increasingly frequent (one day, probably permanent) trips to Florida, for her to believe that her comfort could be wholly attributed to prolonged conditioning. No, there was something more to it, even if that thing could be originally attributed to a partiality within her own biology, to DNA more than anything else.

It went further than that, Aisling though, but she wasn’t really the type of person who needed to explore such an impression more deeply. The cold was never permanent, of course, but at least at the appropriate time of the year when it came and stayed – it was home.

And there was opportunity in the cold, as far as Aisling saw things.

There was opportunity everywhere, she had learned. It could be that simple. In the warmer months there was the chance to run free, to swim and lounge and perspire. In the cold, by contrast, there was work to be done, plans to be made, new sources of energy to be found. The winter could be a time to reflect and assess and then act, in the same way that the summer often prompted people to relax and explore and experiment. Opportunity was a matter of perspective and of commitment to growth, at all times.

Sure, Aisling had experienced her share of pain, and regret. Like anyone else, she had fallen victim to certain basic fears that chased her as they did everyone else. But after enough years out in the world on her own she had decided that even in the dead of winter it was an overall benevolent, abundant universe.

If certain people, through their exploits and via their attitude, and by their failings, if such people clouded the ability of others (even herself at times, to be fair) to recognize and accept this truth, well, there was only so much Aisling could do to change their minds. Really, she could only remain steadfast in her beliefs and committed to her perspective and methods.

Aisling’s favorite of these methods was presented to her now. Growth. The opportunity to learn and strive, to continue to explore.

A new path would likely open up to her today, within minutes possibly, from out of the smaller universe of her life. She intended to approach the situation without expectation of anything more than that.

Something new. Something new. From out of something old and, up until recently, mysterious to her.

There was snow on the ground, days old but stubbornly remnant during the current stretch of sub-zero temperatures. She’d moved only slightly south on this trip, from her new home of Syracuse back to Boston, and in opposition to the standard measure it was colder where she was now.

Life had become basic again, during the cold snap. She didn’t mind the prolonged difficulties posed by its persistence any more than she might have on one single, randomly cold day. In it cold she found the same quiet, the same clarity, the same compulsory comfort to bundle up and stay warm (with the help of friends, food and drink) that she always defaulted to in winter. She never tired of these basics, though. There was a freedom in them.

And yet, despite all her general confidence and acceptance of the cold, in a more personal way, of late, Aisling had shied away from one fundamental, essential task, which all people who have left home, in her experience and judgment, at some point in life have to face. So there she was, returning home, ready to confront all the feelings and sensations typically inherent to such an act.

There would be questions, from her family. Eventually. Maybe. She couldn’t even be sure.

Her mother, who Aisling loved dearly, after “catching up” might very well also, in her own, unconscious way, attempt to unload years of fear and regrets upon Aisling, her oldest child and only daughter, as she had so many times before. And, of course, there was also the secret between them, of which Aisling’s mother didn’t yet know anyone else was at all aware. She had been very careful to hide it. To never speak it. To wish it away, perhaps.

There was no telling what it would be like seeing her father again.

Her father had changed in recent years, with the changing of the times. But while other similarly confused, scared, angry old men like him had reacted to the new economy, and the shifting mores of the culture, by yelling and fighting and digging their heels in at all times, in an effort to hold on to influence and power (or to scramble for a paycheck), by contrast Aisling’s father had retreated into himself.

He’d yelled and fought and dug his heels in his entire life, and seemed by now to have no more energy for it. Instead, he puttered around, tired and depressed. He drank a little too much but never enough to really concern Aisling’s mother and he took on whatever jobs he could find just to make ends meet. Aisling’s mother worked, and made a small stable income, but Aisling herself had been sending her mother money for years, officially without her father’s knowledge but he must have known.

As she exited the cold, finally, and entered the warmth of the pub, Aisling wondered if her father knew how completely he has passed on his often useful original attitude (of being frequently if not always in the right, and remaining willing to fight mostly anyone to prove it) on to her. She then further wondered whether she should or would tell him, not only this fact but the other she had been keeping from him for so many months now. For herself, she obviously now felt finally ready to let it go, but in the moment she couldn’t be sure what he could or would even do with the information if she were to deliver it. In a way, it was only partially hers to give anyway.

Regardless of these complications, Aisling found, as she breathed in the stale, many times warmed-over air of the mostly empty pub, that she was not only ready but looking forward to seeing her family. It had been too long, even as it had been just as long as she had needed for it to be. And it wasn’t as if any of them would have asked her to come sooner. That just wasn’t done.

But first, food, and a drink. And her first step down her new path.

Even in the warmth of the pub she felt cool inside still, thinking about what was about to happen (and, with a glance, she had confirmed as soon as she had walked inside that it was in fact going to happen). After all the therapy and all the searching she had done up to this point, following that nagging question wherever and whenever it would lead, all the while living and striving in parallel to the search, quite apart from but not discounting all the personal and professional success (which she intended to keep) that had come out of that other part of her life along the way, here she would start again, back where it all started, whatever that might mean.

Even if the door she was about to open closed right back up in her face, at least she will have tried it.

She looked around. She liked the pub.

Upstate New York was not necessarily short on Irish pubs, but there was something about the sheer number of them that dotted the streets of Boston that instilled in her just a little bit more of a sense of being at home.

This one wasn’t quite what she was used to, though, in these terms.

Even at a time wherein everyone seemed to still need a place to drink, just a little sooner and more often than in each of the previous few years (for how long had that been true?), there remained the pressures of novelty and rising rents.

As such, there were fewer of what her father called a “good old, no-nonsense pub” around than there had been when she was growing up. But the one Aisling had just entered seemed at least the next best thing, an update to the traditional version, with fancier (if also pricier) food and a curated craft beer list that existed alongside the old mainstays on draft. Novelty with a respect for history, or at least a quiet yearning for the owner’s particular idea of it.

It was early still. No one was inside except the bartender and a quiet old man alternative sips of whiskey with beer.

Aisling approached the bar and shed her gloves, coat and scarf, stuffing the smaller articles into the pockets of the coat and hanging it on the wall. She chose a stool about as far away from the door as she could go. As friendly as she was with the cold she nonetheless felt she could use some warming up in the short term.

As such, when the bartender arrived from the back she ordered her own whiskey, with a water as well, to help her rehydrate after so much time in the dry chill air. She also asked for a burger with fries and brussel sprouts, and a soup. Between the cold and her quiet nervousness about the task at hand, she felt hungrier than she had in a long time.

When her drinks came, she slowly downed half the water.

Then she took a long deep breath and lifted the whiskey. She made eye contact with the old man nearby, who smiled meekly and raised his beer in kind. The rest of his whiskey had disappeared quite suddenly from its glass. There were about ten feet between Aisling and the old man, but in the quiet of the bar and with the raised drinks it felt like no space at all.

“Another whiskey, John?”

The old man nodded. The bartender went about getting it for him.

Aisling knocked back half her drink. She looked again at the old man, who replied in kind with a second smile but appeared uncomfortable.

“John?”

“Yes?”

“John Quinn?”

He hesitated. “Yes.”

She finished her drink.

“I was told I’d find you here.”

He seemed at once to know what she was talking about, and who she was. He had seemed to know as soon as she walked in, if she was telling the truth.

“We should talk, John.” She hesitated. Then she added:

“I’d like to talk. Need to, actually. To you.”

John Quinn took in his own deep breath. He drank all of his next whiskey when it came. But the smile returned for a third time.

“All right.”

 

This story was made possible by advanced payment from Kathleen Polito. Thank you for reading. If you enjoyed it, consider sending $1 or more to the author via Venmo or PayPal.

Fiction: Climates

It had recently been Gloria’s experience that the simplest of tasks could require of us the most monumental of efforts.

Admittedly, her sense of this truth was complicated not only by her prolonged exhaustion but also the multi-layered pressures of what might be called “the climate” – though that term didn’t really work for her, any longer, on the whole. It had long ago begun to buckle and crack under a steady stream of the increasingly heavier modifiers with which it was often paired.

The “political climate”.

The “climate-climate”.

Climates-of-change. Climates-of resistance-to-change, and then climates-of-resistance-to-the resistance.

Then there was the sexual climate. The shifting grounds upon which men in particular were finding it difficult to “find their footing” (these, exact words she had overheard from a “well-meaning” man), which may have been a definite climate of late but was decidedly not her problem, from that point of view at least. Except that it of course was.

Gloria wasn’t just scared, of this nominally simple thing she knew she had no choice but to go ahead and do – in fact, desperately need to do, for so many reasons – it was also that, in considering it, she felt the full force of every possible reaction her decision might prompt, from any of a number of environments which, so long as she kept her eyes and ears open and waited long enough, would present the right evidence (regardless of its truth) to discredit her.

So, she hesitated.

At the very moment upon which all of it, all the years and months of fear, shame, guilt, doubt, fury and sadness – so much fury and sadness – at the very moment it was all due to finally begin to change, Gloria hesitated.

She froze.

It was okay that she froze.

She was allowed to freeze. She knew this, instinctively, and knew also that, among those who counted, she wouldn’t be judged even if she did ultimately fail to complete this heaviest of simple tasks, that in the moment seemed to be pushing down upon her with more gravity than all others she had ever undertaken over the course of her entire life, combined.

And then, subtly, slowly, something began to change.

Despite the high-level of anxiety that she had carried with her at most times even before it happened, itself a sort of humming, charged suit of armor, that brought its own costs along with its only half-delivered protections – Gloria recognized something bright and buoyant working its way suddenly through her. It warmed her limbs, straightened her back and relaxed her mind.

She could only call it hope; this sudden, mysteriously manifest feeling, this certainty, that she would be ultimately protected, no matter the climate or what happened now or later.

Hope.

After all this time. She could almost cry, and probably later she would.

Hope.

She recognized it completely, wholly, as that promised thing that only seems to come either after we’ve given up grasping for it, or feel we have nowhere else to turn.

Hope.

She knew it wasn’t hers to keep, only to borrow, and so she breathed and prepared to use it, in full honor of the unexpected gift, and in line with what she knew for certain was, after all her time in the darkness, its purpose.

In this way, the very fears that had paralyzed Gloria, ironically set her free.

She suddenly didn’t care how “they” might be viewing her hesitation.

She didn’t care about the fear, the fury, the sadness or the shame or the guilt. It’s not that these feelings weren’t still there, just that for the moment they had receded in importance. They had paled in comparison with hope.

Neither did Gloria care what effect her decision might have on anything but the truth, which for her was an imperative that, despite her pain and exhaustion, needed protecting, here and now.

And so, yes, the small moment Gloria had involuntarily taken to think, to consider her own basic, immediate needs, possibly for the first time in months – it freed her.

The anxiety retreated. She didn’t need it or want it. It would be back, and that would be all right. She would deal with that then.

The swirling thoughts slowed to a stop, with several of them falling away entirely, at least for the moment. That, too, was fine. She was coming to believe that they were just as often her friends as her adversaries, depending on how she viewed things, or how much help she got from others like her, which always had the effect of at least temporarily getting her out of her own head.

And, finally, in the space created by these invisible, cascading changes, and with the aid of that warming glow of hope pulsing through her from the inside-out, the doubt that had crippled Gloria’s ability to do the simple thing she knew she had to do, transmogrified into its antonymous other: faith.

The task was here.

She had known it was coming.

They had told her exactly how it would happen. She had practiced. The practice had never felt real.

This was real, now, and it was time to act. She wasn’t alone.

“Is this him?”

It was. Of course it was. Everyone knew it was. But there remained the simple task of-

“Yes.”

 

This story was made possible by advanced payment from Sarah Schuster. Thank you for reading. If you enjoyed it, consider sending $1 or more to the author via Venmo or PayPal.

The Focus of 2018: Faith and Action

 

For each of the past five years, I’ve published a post on this site recapping what I perceived as the arc of the previous twelve months, in broader terms but also for me personally. While I undertook the exercise again last month, I didn’t end up publishing my thoughts.

And I’m not going to publish them.

I’ve wanted to publish that post, just as I wanted to share what’s been going on in my head at many points throughout the last, mostly silent (as a blogger/podcaster) year. Obviously, I couldn’t do it then, either. And I’ve struggled with these decisions, despite knowing that they were correct.

On the other hand, in the midst of the tumult of 2017, I remained productive, perhaps more so than ever before. It never felt that way, probably because of the tempestuousness of the cultural moment but also because the belief that I haven’t done enough, at any given time, is just one of my areas of personal lack. Regardless, for both of these reasons, it has been a struggle to remain silent about what I’ve been feeling, learning, and thinking.

But I think it’s a measure of just how serious things are right now, and also how serious I take my role as an artist, that I found the strength and resolve to keep my focus where I felt more sure it was needed this past year — on the actions.

This is also why I’m permanently done with recapping years gone past.

History remains fatally important, but my own part in history, and arguably even my own thoughts about “what’s wrong” or “what needs to be done” right now — neither concern me as much as they used to (on most days).

As far as I can tell, we don’t need the level of thought, analysis, or argument we’re getting right now, from most angles of social life. Rather, we need reflection, action, compassion, and also a degree of faith — especially in a future that has at times appeared bleak, from the vantage point of this mostly stolen moment.

That’s what I want to offer up, if and when I chime in here. In place of summing up the arc of a previous year in December, if anything, I want to reflect upon areas of focus for the coming months, or touch base on the ongoing year.

I have specifics goals written down, in this regard, but for now they belong to me only, for the most part. I’m sharing the details with a few select people, who I know I can trust to keep it about the intention, and not the potential or the results. That part I can’t do alone, or in complete privacy.

However, I’d encourage anyone reading this to spend some quiet moments this week reflecting on what you believe, and how you can take daily action over the course of a year to serve the world around you (perhaps most importantly, as it exists directly in front of you) from the position of those principles.

Then, consider writing some actions and goals down, simply and in as few words as possible. It’s a good opportunity to do something like this right now, with the full year ahead of you. But you don’t need to do it now, or only in January. It’s more important that we act at all, when we can and as best we can, versus any one perfect time or in any particular way.

Either way, try to build up a resolve and a practice now that you can lean on when things get hard.

If they’re already hard in this moment (which I completely understand), it’s arguably even more important that you somehow carve out the time to think about how to shift your approach, and then do what you can to pursue change. Your focus and your goals can take just about any form, and you can start from any place, assuming your basic needs are being met. If your basic needs are not being met, then these can and must be your focus (and I’m sorry that you’re not getting what you deserve right now).

Carry your notes with you. It’s eminently doable. Look at them every day. I have to do this right now. I don’t know how else to keep myself from slipping into distractedness, or sliding into anger or self-pity.

What I will say about 2017 is that I did not waste the time otherwise diverted from where it was spent here in the past.

There’s plenty coming soon, as a result of my artistic and professional (and professionally artistic) recent labors. The process of realizing these results was not easy on me. I’m still grappling with some of the fallout, and the growing pains, produced by the journey. That’s not a complaint. I’m grateful. And, at the very least, I can say that I showed up and, just as crucially, remained authentic.

For me, the next several months are going to continue to require that I spend my time wisely, and as effectively as possible. I don’t see too much utility in commentary in the short term, or even argument. We need more than that, right now, in my view.

We need reflection, presentation, conversation, bravery, risk and…healing.

I don’t know that anyone was was ever healed by an opinion. Everyone is entitled to their voice, and voicing anger or fear or concern will never cease to play an important role in civic engagement. But it’s not everything, and it’s definitely doesn’t seem like enough right now.

In this moment, truth and justice and compassion in general need defending and care. They need it from all sides.

We are in a moment right now that I don’t know that many of us can clearly grasp, on the whole, at least in terms of what can be done to minimize or arrest the damage currently being inflicted upon the country and world by callous men. I know that I’m less certain of what’s needed than I thought I was, even if I have a pretty good idea about what problems or manipulations led us here, and what will be required to safeguard our civic redemption.

It’s a heavy, multi-triggered trap that’s been lowered onto us, and we may need to turn to digging more than any other method of escape in order to survive. I hope we won’t. I hope it will be easier than that, but there are other factors at play as well that complicate things, and sometimes I don’t know what else to do except turn to the task of excavating what’s in front of me.

But I also know I can only get clearer on all this through courage, and patient, thoughtful work. The  work itself is often unglamorous, and I think I also need to let go of the compulsion to prove to people that it’s not. Independent filmmaking remains monumentally difficult, but all the more culturally important (and exciting) because of this difficulty. Having also recently returned to writing my version of literature this past year, I can’t say for sure which undertaking is more exhausting, rewarding, and necessary. For now, they are both what I have to do.

I guess, for me, it has lately become fundamentally crucial to arrange things such that I can do my absolute best, in these ways that have been laid out for me, as often and as effectively as I can.

While I’ve always looked at my work as central to who I am, it’s recently evolved into more of a clear responsibility, but one decidedly unlike so many of the others that I have assumed or forced upon myself in the past. By this I mean that I feel led to these pursuits, tasked with and by them on a basis not of striving but of quiet certainty. The doing, as such, less often requires thinking, or positioning, and more often asks simply that I show up.

So that’s what I intend to do, this year as I did during the last.

Thanks for reading. Whatever you’re thing is that you feel you need to do — start in on it today, if you haven’t already. As always, we need you.


profpic_squareMy name is Michael. I am a Writer and Filmmaker 
of hopeful stories for complex people. My first film, The Videoblogs, about mental health in the age of tech, is available on iTunes. I’m currently working on my next film and also a novel. This site is sort of out-of-date but you can contact me anytime on the socials and/or you can join my email list here. I don’t use it very often at the moment but will probably still chime in that way from time to time. Thanks for reading! You’re honestly a very cool person.

Mentorless: Story Fabricator Nathalie Sejean

nathalie-sejean-photo-by-gizem-evcinWell, kids, for anyone who missed the news — this is the last episode of Coffee With Creatives. At least, it’s the last one for now. I have decided, after much deliberation, to put the show on indefinite hiatus.

But I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect guest to bring to you for this occasion.

Nathalie Sejean is a champion of creative entrepreneurialism. She provides indispensable service to creatives, via her newsletter (Sunday Interestingness) and site (Mentorless.com), and is currently in development on her first feature film (In Five Years).

Check out our talk to hear Nathalie testify to the power of:

  • Turning to books at an early age (and, later, to bookselling) to jumpstart her interest in learning and storytelling
  • The advantages of building a skill set, while avoiding perfectionism, by moving from experiment to experiment
  • Leveraging daily creative challenges to source and iterate ideas over time
  • Showing your work, and why this is a crucial action
  • Keeping yourself accountable and taking continuous action — while staying humble
  • Fostering virtual communities
  • Transforming virtual relationships into real life meetings
  • Repetition, and how it serves not only output but quality and growth
  • An effectively employed and genuinely considered newsletter

I’m glad to be ending this endeavor on a high note by sharing this episode with you. Definitely follow Nathalie on Twitter, and sign up for her email list. You won’t be disappointed.

As for me, I am going quiet for a while. But you’ll hear from me soon. It will be a growl from a mountain.

Thank you for your listenership and readership. If you want to stay in touch, reach out anytime. Or sign up for my email list. I’ll likely keep active there, for now.

You can also listen to Coffee with Creatives on iTunes.


profpic_squareMy name is Michael. I am a Writer and Filmmaker 
of hopeful stories for complex people. My first film, The Videoblogs, about mental health in the age of tech, is available on iTunes. I’m currently working on my next film and also a novel. Once per month or so, I send a special note to those on my email list. They get exclusive and advanced (sometimes free) access to my work. You can join this special group here. Thanks for reading.