Melancholic Magician (prose poem)

There once was a man with melancholy. A magician, in fact. A failed magician, in many respects, but a magician, nonetheless.

This sad magician sat, every day, with quill in hand at a writing desk, every day convinced that if he were to write down the perfect words, set in the exact order, it’d create a sort of magic rune which could cure him of the chronic anhedonia which plagued him.

At times, he got close. The incantation he set to paper was maybe a word off, when he read it aloud. So he’d tinker with the syntax and diction for a couple weeks, swapping the order of a couple words here; substituting a synonym there.

And those near misses sustained him, staving away his melancholy for a little while.

But because the respite was short-lived, he threw out the would-be healing spells and started fresh, hoping to one day cure his ailment.

On certain days, he’d leave his writing desk, exploring the world outside the four-walls of his study. 

For what if the incantation involved words I haven’t yet learned? he wondered. Signifiers for objects I may not yet know exist?

And the magician aged and his hidebound journals piled up, in the pursuit of the perfect words, set in perfect order.

And you’ve probably guessed, Dear Reader, that this magician is most every poet; that the magician is the writer scrawling on the other end of the page you’re now reading.

This poem, or whatever you call it, is, itself, an attempt at that magic rune.

Shakespeare Came to me in a Dream (short story)

(by Daniel R. Jones)

“I’ve heard thine concerns about English,” he said. “I’m here to show thee the extent of English-speakers’ depravity.”

Level 1- Limbo

He led me to the first layer of perdition. There, I saw the grammar-purists.

“These people aren’t so bad,” I said. “They actually care for the language. What are they here for?”

“Don’t end a sentence with a preposition!” one of the poor souls sneered.

“I see,” I said, as Shakespeare lowered his head solemnly.

Level 2- Heresy

On the second level of the Inferno, I encountered the inverse of Level 1: those with atrocious grammar.

“Well, well, well,” a lost-soul sneered. “I seen you brung us another soul, William.”

I shuddered in horror, and we excused ourselves to Level 3.

Level 3: Greed

In the third circle stood business professionals, spouting off corporate jargon.

“Just so we’re on the same page,” one entrepreneur told another, “this paradigm-shift gives us a win-win, moving forward. That way, we aren’t reinventing the wheel.”

Level 4: Fraud

“The souls in Level 4 use real words, but never correctly,” Shakespeare explained.

“I literally could care less that I’m in hell,” a man exclaimed.

Level 5: Treachery

“What’s so bad about the people in Level 5?” I asked. “They’re happy, at least.”

“They’re smiling because ignorance is bliss,” Shakespeare said. “They use words like ‘awesome sauce’ and pronunciations like ‘skissors.’

“Squeeze me,” a man said as he passed, the listless bovine-look of self-satisfaction in his eyes.

At this point, my ears began to bleed.

Level 6: Gluttony

They say “expresso.”

Enough said.

Level 7- Lust

At this level of hell, we found fad-talkers.

“I’m riding the struggle-bus,” a soul remarked.

“I know, right?” said another. “This level of hell is a hot-mess.”

“THIS,” a third soul said. “Hell used to be lit. Now it’s an epic-fail.”

“This layer is insidious.” the playwright said, turning toward me. “People start saying ‘totes’ and ‘whatevs’ to be funny, but after using these terms so long, they become a part of their lexicon. Before you know it, they’re using ‘cray-cray’ without irony.”

Level 8 -Wrath

Level 8 was filled with souls suffering from the Dunning-Kruger Effect. They have access to a thesaurus, but don’t know how to use it.

They’re also members of the Flat-Earth Society.

Level 9- Violence

“What could be worse than what we’ve seen?” I asked Shakespeare.

Just then, a lost-soul stumbled toward us.

“Supposably, we’re the worst souls in hell, for all intensive purposes,” he said. “But I want to know pacifically what we’ve done wrong. I always went to the libarry when I was alive. I never took books for granite.”

I dropped to my knees and wept. I could smell sulfur in the air as I ground my teeth in indignation.

“It isn’t fair!” I shouted. “Take me from this repulsive place. I swear that I’ll make it my life’s goal to eradicate such senselessness!”

I woke in a cold sweat, reborn in purpose; destined to be an English teacher.

View from the Window (poem)

(by Daniel R. Jones)

Just out the door is a stream that spills downward
into a brass bowl of a pond.
It serves as home to scores of bluegills,
fit for frying, if you can catch and clean as many.

And if you were to head due west 
two and three-quarter miles,
you’d find a farmer leaning against his split rail fence,
looking over some fifty head of cattle.

Nearby, his son is turning in from mucking the stalls.
He stands barefoot on the grass, 
clapping the heels of his work boots together,
deriving strange satisfaction with each dirt clod he loosens.

If you could climb in the cockpit of a crop duster,
southern Indiana would spread out beneath you like a quilt,
with patchwork fields every shade 
of gold and green and brown.

But if any of this is true, I am oblivious to it.
My day was made of spent toner cartridges,
the taste of no. 9 commercial envelopes,
and flickering, fluorescent light.

Seven ways to read more books and hit your New Year’s Resolution this year

With New Year’s Day closing in quickly, many of us have resolved to read more books. For some, this may look like the 52-book challenge (a book a week,) while for others, it might be a modest three books for the entirety of the year.

Whatever your goal is, I thought I’d share my tips on how to stay committed and (hopefully) achieve the resolution you set out to complete:

1.) Mix up your genres.

Most of us read deeply, but how many of us read widely? You may be polishing of your 18th sci-fi novel for the year, but it couldn’t hurt to branch out a little. Not only will this make you a better reader and human being, it’ll also break up the monotony and help you achieve your goal.

2.) Mix up your mediums.

Similar to number one. Variety is the spice of life- it’s a cliche for a reason. So why not shake up your reading routine? Listen to an audiobook while on a long drive, read a few pages of a great business book on your Kindle on the bus, and settle down with a paperback just before bed.

3.) Read two books at once.

This borders on sacrilege for many, but for me, it’s always worked. When you hit a rut in one book, it helps to switch books and keep moving forward (rather than picking up your phone or watching Netflix.) The key is to read two books that are thematically different enough that you don’t confuse the stories in your head.

4.) Create a ritual.

It doesn’t hurt to designate at least some specific time to reading every day. Perhaps you’ll commit to reading one poem before bed. Maybe you’ll assign 15-minutes of your lunch break to cracking open the new bestseller. In any event, create a routine and stick with it.

5.) Don’t be afraid to throw in the towel.

If there’s a book that’s truly abysmal, don’t be afraid to give up on it. A good litmus test for determining whether you should give in can be answered with a simple question: do you dread reading? (Tip number three is good for this!) If you’re actively avoiding reading because the book you’re in is such a slog, it’s okay to move on.

6.) Conversely, occasionally punch above your weight, in the literary sense.

Does Ulysses feel insurmountable to you? Does Moby Dick seem to be a behemoth of a book that you could never read cover-to-cover? Do it anyways. Glean what you can and give yourself permission to not “get” all of it. *No one* actually “gets” all of it.

7.) Don’t compare yourself to others.

It’s best to not view reading as a competition. If you’re reading and thinking deeply about your reading, every book is value-added. So check your ego at the door. Toward that end, if it’s getting in your way, delete your Goodreads account.

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That’s all I’ve got! I hope this list helps someone achieve their resolution in 2020. As always, happy reading!

Paranalysis (poem)

(by Daniel R. Jones)

You couldn’t write, although you tried.
So you arranged your suicide.

You sat there jotting down your note.

You didn’t like the words you wrote.

You knew it somewhere ’round draft four:
Living beats revising more.