Bez & Co- April 2022 Issue

Table of Contents:

Introduction • Daniel R. Jones

Poetry-

What It Takes• Linda McCullough Moore
Temptation: The Story • Linda McCullough Moore
Seen Unseen • Linda McCullough Moore
The Blessing of Being • Kathryn Sadakierski
On Sanctification• Daniel R. Jones


Introduction

Springtime often reminds me of a famous Charles Dickens quotation from Great Expectations: “It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade.”

While it’s April now, it’s pretty remarkable that those words hold up over 150 years later, and in a different continent! The weather here in Central Indiana has been prone to its ups and downs, as is common for this cranny of the world. We’ve had 70 degree (Fahrenheit) temperatures and snowfall within the same week.

Even still, spring has been my favorite season for as long as I can remember. Because after the cold, wintry months, it holds the promise of new life and better weather. I’ve always felt it made perfect sense to celebrate Resurrection Sunday in the spring time for this very reason. Christ’s death and resurrection are His followers’ clarion call to hope. And while Jesus reigns supreme, the “summer in the light” has rendered the “winter in the shade” meaningless.

This issue, by and large, centers along the theme of victory: from sin, death, and suffering. In Him, we are a new creation, and I hope that the writing herein reminds you of that.

-DRJ


What It Takes
He made the never sighted, 
birth-blight blinded 
share the seeing. 
But some doubted.  

He stood still, not tippy, 
on the curly waves that made 
the sober sailor dizzy; 
that sure footed on the sea. 
But some did not believe.

And crucified, he hung
by spikes on cruciform,
gave death three days, 
then let five hundred
see him back alive. 
Of that number
some did not believe.

However, he met Nathaniel 
(a.k.a. Bartholomew) and said, 
“I saw you sitting by the fig tree earlier.” 
And Nathaniel/Bartholomew said, 
“You are the Christ, the Son of God,” 
and fell down on his face in worship.

He met an often-married woman 
at the well of Jacob and told her 
common-law not quite the same 
as marriage with the first five men, 
and she goes off to bring salvation 
to the town, “Is this not the Christ. 
He told me everything I ever did.”

On the morning of the Resurrection
before she will be sent to tell the news,
before the angels know, he speaks 
one word, “Mary,” 
and the world is reinvented.

That’s how much we want 
someone to know us. 
That’s how sure we were
it couldn’t be.

Linda McCullough Moore


Temptation: The Story

The enemy appears just past
the six weeks fast, just when you,
gentle reader, have come to like 
the hero or begun to think you might. 

In the story one is called the devil,
angels are not named, 
(I don’t believe they care) and
God goes by the name of Jesus. 

The devil says, “Come here, I want 
to show you something.” He curls 
his finger, squints one eye. “Turn 
the stones to bread,” he says, and tries 
a smile. (A big mistake.)“Throw yourself 
off this cliff here.” “Fall down and worship
me.”(Decidedly no poet, he.)

And Jesus answers, No, and No, and No,
and adds a tad of Jesuit elaboration –
not his first temptation. 

“But I will give you bread and honey, 
wine and dancing girls, protection plans, 
and all the kingdoms of the world. 
Oh yes, and adulation.”
It’s not his first temptation either,
though the sell could still use work. 

“Get thee hence, dog,” the Lord says,
the canine reference mine. Jesus calls him 
Satan. Not a stranger by a long shot, having 
seen him fall from Heaven. (Think skydiving 
from space stations with no parachute,
no atmosphere.) 

And now the sweet part. Angels traipsing 
up the mountain in the wilderness, loaded 
down with food enough for fifty, fasted men, 
and power in the flutter of a single wing 
to drive off every harm on offer, and there 
they worship as the Lord Almighty first 
designed the thing to be. You see. It’s they 
who give him Satan’s offerings,
his proffered three: food/rescue/adoration.

You turn the devil down, 
God cues the angels.
That’s how it works.

Linda McCullough Moore



Seen Unseen

“But God is everywhere,” he says,
a line most often sung by people
who do not have a clue where God is
or might be,

by women who have not tracked him,
laid traps, tricked and pleaded, by men 
who have not hammered at the gates 
of heaven, just to get a glimpse of grace,
much less His face.

“God is everywhere,” says he,
who has not once gone looking for him
in the pagan hours of the night,
in fright so fierce guards quake;
the room tilts round,
your separate parts go flying off
in wild trajectory.
He’s right of course.

God is everywhere.
But he like me

– for variations on the reason –
will miss the sightings. His God fluff,
mine solid stuff. Same difference.

He, his eyes on other prizes,
will mistake Him for a vapor,
(see: everywhere above). A notion.
Not a bad idea, if perhaps
an airy one, wraith insubstantial.

Me, I doubt that I could
pick him out of a line-up,
inasmuch as He refuses 
to resemble such a god 
as I design.

Linda McCullough Moore

Linda McCullough Moore

Linda McCullough Moore is the author of two story collections, a novel, an essay collection and more than 350 shorter published works. She is the winner of the Pushcart Prize, as well as winner and finalist for numerous national awards. Her first story collection was endorsed by Alice Munro, and equally as joyous, she frequently hears from readers who write to say her work makes a difference in their lives. For many years she has mentored award-winning writers of fiction, poetry, and memoir. She is currently completing a novel, Time Out of Mind, and a collection of her poetry. www.lindamcculloughmoore.com


The Blessing of Being

Snowflakes weightlessly fall
Past a cardinal, waiting, unnoticing
On a white-laced branch of tree,
A ruby set on a staff of light.

The snow, laid out gently
As a baby’s cotton blanket
Cradling this land,
Wiped clean like the white clapboard churches,
Festooned with their evergreen wreaths,
Lining the town commons
Still under the soft string-light glow
Of early winter,
Faint dove-gray skies
Touched by a copper necklace of sun,
Cozily warm as though shining from a tin lantern.

Everything is filled with a quiet importance,
As though, just by being,
Each part of this scene 
Is blessed with beauty,
A holiness of humble spirit,
A benediction of inborn serenity
Encircling all that breathes, and returns
To the heart’s center
Where the power to lead is sparked,
Where the hope burns that draws the stars
Back from the evening’s vestment of dark.

Night sweeps in from the dust of sunset
Like a song fading out on the radio,
Ushering in another tune
Without introduction.
A bunching of pink in the sky
Is still extended earnestly,
Like a rose bouquet
Offered to you
To light your way home,
To the soul of hope where you long to go,
Where dreams and love
Will always belong.

-Kathryn Sadakierski

Kathryn Sadakierski

Kathryn Sadakierski’s writing has appeared in anthologies, magazines, and literary journals around the world, including Agape ReviewCritical ReadEdge of FaithEkstasis MagazineHalfway Down the StairsLiterature TodayNew Jersey English Journal, NewPages BlogNorthern New England ReviewOrigami Poems ProjectSilkworm, Snapdragon: A Journal of Art and HealingSongs of EretzSpillwordsThe Abstract Elephant MagazineToday’s American CatholicToyon Literary Magazine, Yellow Arrow Journal, and elsewhere. In 2020, she was awarded the C. Warren Hollister Non-Fiction Prize. She graduated summa cum laude with a B.A. and M.S. from Bay Path University.


On Sanctification

When I was a kid,
mom offered me a bite
of her rum cake.

But what about the alcohol?
The apotheosis of evil
to a six-year-old evangelical.

It all bakes out, mom said.
By the time its out of the oven
the alcohol is gone.

Not wanting to call “unclean”
what my mother called “clean,”
I took a bite.

Spongy and soft, sugar and oak.
I tasted and saw
the cake was good.

May my life be the same.
Consumed in your Holy Fire
may all my evil cook out.

Daniel R. Jones

Now Accepting Submissions for January Issue!

I’d like to remind everyone else that I’m currently accepting submissions for our Winter 2022 issue! I’m looking for original photography, artwork, short stories, flash fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, and lyric essays! If you have interest, please check out the Submission Guidelines here.

Each submission that is accepted for publication will be paid at the rate of $5 USD. Payment is upon publication. Bez & Co prefers to use PayPal to pay its contributors. If you need alternative accommodations, please let me know upon acceptance of publication, and I will work to find a solution.

I can’t wait to see the entries for the January issue!

-DRJ

Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?

(by Daniel R. Jones)

I thought it’d be prudent to give you a quick update on my writing life. (By the way, if you know where the title of this post is from, we could be friends.)

I’ve had a couple of people reach out to me and ask why the frequency of my posts has diminished in the past year. A few have also asked why I don’t post as many poems as I used to. I appreciate the concern! In truth, I’ve been on a bit of a hiatus from poetry. I’ve still written three or four poems in the past year, but that’s about it.

But why? What gives?

I’ve actually spent the last half of 2020 and the bulk of 2021 honing my skills as a prose writer. I’ve written five different novels, and published them under a pen-name. This has afforded me the opportunity to learn a bit about the craft of fiction-writing, and it’s also given me the chance to learn more about the self-publishing game.

So, why the pen name?

Well, the reason is two-fold.

First, I need that professional distance in order to avoid psyching myself out. Having my name attached to any piece of writing is a little daunting; all the more when it comes to a medium that’s completely foreign to me. By allowing myself to write under a pen-name, I can stave off “impostor syndrome,” just a bit. It helps me to keep my nose to the grindstone and focus on the work.


Secondly, I have to admit, I’m not a novelist. These first five novels I wrote weren’t all that good. I’ve had modest success in terms of sales (just a hair under 200 copies sold, total…all to perfect strangers,) but nothing phenomenal. The reviews have been kind, averaging about 4.5 out of 5 stars. But still, I’m a long way from where I want to be.

During this time, I’ve also read 12 books on the craft and business of fiction writing, and I feel confident that I’ve improved with every new manuscript. I’ve taken a few online courses to get the hang of it all. I’m getting there.

What’s next?

Well, I’m going to continue with this blog, for starters. I’m also going to self-publish a few novels in 2022, and not under a pseudonym. I’ll post on this website once they’re live. I finally feel confident enough in the product to attach my name to it. These books might not be NY Times bestsellers, but I can honestly say they’re the best work I can put forth, right now. I’m hopeful that I’ll continue to build on what I’ve learned and improve at writing prose with each new piece of writing.

Oh, and I’ll definitely get back to writing some poetry, soon. 

Bez & Co- October 2021 Issue

Table of Contents:

Book Recommendation-
Lifting the Veil: Imagination and the Kingdom of God by Malcolm Guite • Daniel R. Jones

Fiction-
The Bullet Maker • Matt Hollingsworth

Poetry
Another Expedition • Debasish Mishra

Visual Art-
Equity’s Decline • Kay Em Ellis


Book Recommendation: Lifting the Veil: Imagination and the Kingdom of God by Malcolm Guite

Judging based on our shared interests, I suppose it was only a matter of time that I found Malcolm Guite. He seems preoccupied with the Numinous. He’s interested in the writings of literary giants such as G.K. Chesterton, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Seamus Heaney. Oh, and he’s really into Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan.

In short, right up my alley.

In this book, Malcolm Guite takes a look at the intersection of the artist’s imagination and Christendom. Guite himself is a particularly interesting character. He’s a poet, song-writer, and Anglican priest. He holds a PhD from Durham University. So, it’s not surprising that Lifting the Veil scans in a pretty academic tone. Even still, though, his profound and spiritual message is never overpowered by his eloquent words.

The book serves as both an exploration of Christian Art through the ages, as well as a clarion call for creative followers of Christ to “lift the veil” on their own lives, in order to notice the ways that the Lord works in and through the imagination. 

One truth that stood out to me from this book involves the difference between “apprehending” and “comprehending” language. 

On page 27, he writes:

In the gift of faith, and in Christ himself, we glimpse more than we can yet understand, our imagination apprehends more than our reason comprehends. This is not to say that the Gospel is in any way “imaginary” in the dismissive sense of “unreal” or “untrue.” On the contrary it is so real and so true that we need every faculty of mind and body, including imagination, to apprehend it.

Throughout the book, Guite draws from his deep understanding of poetry and the written word to get to the heart of his thesis. The author is clearly well-versed and at home with poetic devices, and his ability to elucidate the complexities of language in well-known pieces of literature is eye-opening. 

At the risk of sounding cheesy, he really “lifted the veil” on several occasions for me. I was able to see connections that I hadn’t previously noticed, both in Scripture and in poetry. If you haven’t already, I highly recommend you pick it up. I hope and pray that reading it will be as serendipitous and as joy-filled for you as it was for me.

-Daniel R. Jones


The Bullet Maker

Peter was seventeen when he first saw the names.

Perhaps they’d always been there and he’d never noticed. Thinking back, he couldn’t remember ever looking closely at a bullet before going to work in the factory.

He thought it was a joke at first. A bullet with your name on it, like the old phrase. But he soon realized that no one else could see them. It was like a superpower, and Peter felt sure that if he’d been clever, he could have thought of a way to use it for the good of the Empire.

But the truth, Peter knew, was that he wasn’t particularly clever, nor strong, nor special in any way other than that he saw the names. He hadn’t even made the draft, though almost all males were required to spend at least a couple years in the military. Rather he was told he could better serve the Empire at home. In other words, the Emperor didn’t need a 50 kg asthmatic in his army.

So here he was, now twenty-one, earning a meager living for his family, pulling levers to operate the press that made bullets. And as he examined them, looking for faults, he would see the names of the people those bullets would kill.

He was surprised, at first, how few bullets actually had names. Fewer than one in a hundred. The rest, he guessed, would miss, finding their final resting places in muddy battlefields, under rubble, beneath sand dunes, or in the trunks of scorched trees. (He could never keep the locations straight for the seemingly endless conflicts the Empire fought.)

Often the names would be foreign, but sometimes he would see Imperial names—Jonathan, Stephen, George. He guessed that these were casualties of friendly fire, and as he examined them, he would cause intentional damage so the bullet wouldn’t fire. The name would disappear, and Peter would send it on its way. Then Peter would smile, happy to have saved a life.

He considered for a while disabling all the bullets with people’s names on them, saving many more lives, but he didn’t do it. Such an act would be treason, and it wasn’t his place to determine which wars and killings were just. Besides, if he stopped an Imperial soldier from killing an enemy, that enemy might instead kill the Imperial soldier. Then Peter would be responsible for the death of one of his countrymen, and he’d been taught that there was no greater crime.

Peter completed his ten-hour shift. It was a payday, and he walked home with the satisfying clink of coins in his wallet. Walking back, he routed himself to avoid the tent cities. His family wasn’t rich by any means, but he felt guilty when he saw the truly poor.

He lived with his parents in a one-story cottage on the outskirts of the city. He’d been engaged until six months ago, and his fiancé, Jennifer, was planning on moving in with him after their wedding. They couldn’t afford their own home on his meager salary and would have had to live together with his parents. 

He’d secretly felt like he didn’t deserve Jennifer. He hadn’t confessed these fears to her, but she must have guessed them, for she would always tell him how much she loved him and how it didn’t matter if they lived in one of the tent cities—she just wanted to be together. She’d said that right until she’d met some rich war hero and fallen in love with him. She’d broken their engagement in a 30-minute conversation, and he hadn’t seen her since, although he hadn’t actually tried to contact her.

He told himself that he was happy for her. That she deserved someone like the war hero. 

He told himself that.

Peter’s parents were happy to see him as always. Their city had fallen on hard times recently, and all three of them worked long hours to afford rent on their cottage. It would have been easier if Jennifer was there. A fourth income would have gone a long way, and unlike them, she had some university education which qualified her for more prestigious jobs.

Peter’s parents were old now, long past when they should have retired, but they still managed to put on a smile when he came home. And they would dine together, grateful for their modest meal. Then, after eating, they would gather by the hearth, basking in the warmth.

As he sat in his room that night, he grabbed a book off his nightstand. It was Jennifer’s. A war novel that she’d loaned him that he’d forgotten to give back. He liked to hold it sometimes, ruffling through the pages. 

Sometimes, Peter wished he could see his own future the way he saw the future of those bullets. Other times, he was glad he couldn’t, because what if his future was sitting at that machine, pulling lever after lever until he died. How would he feel about that?

#

The next day, Peter returned to the factory, pulling levers and examining bullets. He’d seen quite a few today with names—all foreign—and he was happy that the Empire’s armies were winning. And then he saw something that gave him pause. He lifted the bullet from the conveyor belt, reading it a second, third, and fourth time, though he was certain he’d read it correctly the first.

On the bullet was the name of the soldier that Jennifer had left him for.

Immediately, all the forgiveness he’d thought he had for them was gone, and he found himself, almost without thinking, placing the bullet back on the belt. 

But no, he couldn’t do that, could he? Killing a fellow countryman was a crime. The greatest crime.

But was Peter really killing him? The soldier would be a victim of friendly fire a thousand miles away. No one would even know about this moment. No one would know what he’d done.

Maybe Jennifer would even come back to him. He imagined seeing her at his doorstep, begging forgiveness for having left. He felt tainted.

He couldn’t believe he was considering this. He had thought himself a good person, and he wondered if the guilt would be unbearable. If Peter killed Jennifer’s soldier, maybe he wouldn’t be able to live with himself.

But somehow, he knew he’d be able to. At least, he thought he knew.

But he pictured Jennifer sobbing after hearing the news. Pictured her dressed in black, crying over a casket. And that was something he couldn’t let happen. Before he could think about it further, he damaged the bullet. A dud. The name disappeared and Peter smiled.

Another life saved.

And suddenly, Peter was overwhelmed by the vastness of the world. How many names had he seen on those bullets? How many people with lives just as rich and complex as his own? And here he was in his tiny corner of the universe. This small sliver of creation. And he knew in that moment, that he wanted to make it the best sliver it could be.

Matt Hollingsworth


Matt Hollingsworth is a Christian and a freelance writer/editor from Knoxville, TN. His blog is available at https://jmhollingsworthblog.wordpress.com/


Another Expedition

Rowing past the tides of blinding white
and Leviathan-like large obstacles,
I move on quietly like a breath of air:
from a coherent beginning at the shore
to a smoky panorama of indecision.

Even with the wealth of my skills
and supreme foresight, a gift of Christ,
there comes a time when I wonder,
Will I be home? Or am I lost in 
the sea? Will I reach the end?

Life is threatened yet I hold on
and believe in the strength of the oar—
too small a device for too huge a task—
like Hemingway’s poor Santiago.
But faith buoys me and I gently pass.

Tomorrow, somebody else
would be rowing here,
in this very boat, in this very place,
with the same oar against the same white foam
while I would be off somewhere
rowing past the tides of another sea.

Debasish Mishra


Debasish Mishra, a native of Bhawanipatna, Odisha, India, is the recipient of The Bharat Award for Literature in 2019 and The Reuel International Best Upcoming Poet Prize in 2017. His recent poems have appeared in North Dakota Quarterly, Penumbra, trampset, Star*Line, Enchanted Conversation, Journal of Postcolonial Writing, and elsewhere. His poems are also forthcoming in The Headlight Review and Quadrant. A former banker with United Bank of India, he is presently engaged as a Senior Research Fellow at National Institute of Science Education and Research, HBNI, Bhubaneswar, India.


“Equity’s Decline” by Kay Em Ellis

When Kay’s not writing, you might find her traveling the world. She especially loves hitchhiking through Transylvania, playing guitar outside Notre Dame in Paris, and dropping notes and poems along the riva in Hvar Town. Don’t ask her to take another bumpy, dusty bus ride through the Bolivian desert (she’s on strike), but she’ll be happy to talk to you about her favorite country in the world (Romania). Her devotions have been published by Christian Devotions Ministries, and a list of her writing awards can be found at her website: www.backpackwithkay.com

Check out this short story contest!

Hey there,

I just wanted to take a moment to plug a short story contest being run over by Dan Hankner at Story Unlikely. Dan is a great writer whose work was featured in our July issue. His website at Story Unlikely features thoughtful, humorous, and often profound pieces with an aim toward revitalizing the craft of storytelling.

The contest is offering a $500 prize, as well as publication in the monthly mailer they send out. Honorable mentions receive $25, as well, and their stories will also be published in the monthly mailer. Best of all, Story Unlikely isn’t charging any entry fee for this contest!

Full submission guidelines and contest information can be found here. I’m unaffiliated with Story Unlikely, but I sincerely believe that readers of Bez & Co and readers of Story Unlikely have a lot in common. Feel free to check the contest out and submit an entry! I know that I plan to do so.

-Daniel

Bez & Co- July Issue

Table of Contents:

Poetry-

Still Point• Sarah Law
Slight Visual Inclusion • Sarah Law
Inverted • Tony Deans
Gira Sole • Mary Tarantini
De Nominibus De • Don Thompson

Nonfiction-

The Things We Carry • Dan Hankner

Artwork-

Bliss • Zachary Toombs


Still Point

neither wisdom
nor miracle, this God
in whom you seek it – 

footfall on cobblestones
following spiral or labyrinth
into the centre

(the molten core
the bright abyss
the host, the disc –)

and out again
as though you never made it
beyond the open door

the only mystery is this:
that there is anything at all
that calls us, and anywhere

at all that is our home 
when loss is love’s itinerary – 
following her utterly

into the riven silence, you 
are graced with it – 
the clean bone

the rinsed heart
the rising light,
the known.

Sarah Law


Slight Visual Inclusion

We are more blinkered than the thoroughbreds
racing over ditch & hurdle. Never mind planks,

not even the healthiest retina holds a hundredth
of the rods & cones requisite for full vision.

Every breath is barely caught in mist. Fog’s
our groping synonym for God. That’s the least

of reasons to solicit mercy. Yes, he is just,
& yes, we’re bound by limits. Now, if only

there were a lens, & I, a dull glass plate,
doused in silver citrate & exposed to holiness…

None of this anodyne selfie-stick witness –  
all my hope’s in one strong shot of light.

Sarah Law


Sarah Law

Sarah Law lives in London and is an Associate Lecturer for the Open University. She has poems in The Windhover, St Katherine Review, America, Psaltery & Lyre, Soul-Lit, Heart of Flesh and elsewhere. Her latest collection, Thérèse: Poems is published by Paraclete Press. She edits Amethyst Review, an online journal for new writing engaging with the sacred. Twitter @drsarahlaw


Inverted

I stood in the courtyard, 
I heard the cock crow,
I wept. 

quia non novisset hominem 

The rock upon which the Messiah built the church was,
Weak. 
Cowardly.
Unworthy.
He fled Rome. 

quo vadis

He returned and was crucified,
inverted.
My tongue is boastful and proud, 
it will never deny the faith.

mori tecum non te negabo  

My heart is uncertain,
my soul is unknowing. 
If I had been born in another time,
another place,
would I apostatise? 
I have not seen yet I believe. 
Peter had seen.
If certainty gave him no strength,
then how weak will I be in uncertainty?

alius te cinget et ducet quo non vis

You are strong,
You are forgiving. 
You already know whether I will drink from this cup,
I know not if it will even be offered. 

gloria et nunc et in die aeternitatis

I am unworthy to die like you.
Put my head to the ground,
my feet in the air,
let the world be a blur,
and you always in focus.

Tony Deans


Tony Deans

Tony Deans is a Catholic writer from the United Kingdom. His previously published work has appeared in several magazines including Mystery Weekly Magazine and the Literary Hatchet.


Gira Sole

Turn to the sun, magnificent flower
Show us all the way
There is no shame in primal power
There is no shame in grand display

Docile habits draw us inward
Yellow is thy flame
In my ear you dared to whisper
Summer is your name

Howling wind nor sudden downpour
Dissuade you from your steadfast mission
Stand in thrall – divest – adore
Impetuous devotion

Mary Tarantini


Mary Tarantini

My name is Mary Tarantini. I am a high school English teacher and have been writing poetry for several years. I have a BA degree in English and a MA in Theological Studies. I am also a second-year novice in The Third Order Society of Saint Francis. Some of my poems have been published in our newsletter The Franciscan Times.


De Nominibus Dei

Hash tag He is bone keeper, honey rock, cloud that whispers, latter rain, star namer and accountant who numbers your hairs, whose books always balance, who knows how many beans are in the jar;

paradox juggler, original verb, peacemaker before the Colt .44, holy ghost stun gun, lockpick of every dungeon, hidden hiding place;

plumb bob of the cosmos;

knotter and loosener of knots, legit defender and always pro bono, sting extractor, know-it-all’s nemesis, Gnostic’s conundrum, Nietzsche’s straw man and Sartre’s bugbear;

feeder of hummingbirds and humpback whales, tracer of lost sheep, fence mender, engraver of the Decalog on the head of a pin, who incises galaxies on a hazelnut;

unwinder of whirlwinds, artesian well in a parched land, He is the infallible dowser of dark hearts and denouement of time.

Don Thompson


Don Thompson

Don Thompson has been writing about the San Joaquin Valley for over fifty years, including a dozen or so books and chapbooks, most recently,  The Art of Stone Axes (Broadstone Books). For more info and links to publishers, visit his website at www.don-e-thompson.com.


The Things We Carry

Mr. Flemming drove a Cadillac with gold rims, sported a head full of white hair thanks to a transplant, and held an unrivaled passion for basketball.  His house sat on the edge of the old bus barn (a gravel lot that transformed into additional parking by the time we entered high school), while his modest back yard had been converted to an outdoor basketball court open to all; players on his team, students in his 7th grade math class, complete strangers.

Every day Mr. Flemming would grab a marker and scratch something on the board that had nothing to do with math.  Today he sketched a river, a forest, and the great pyramids.

“Where did all that stone come from?”  Nobody knew the answer, so he continued.  “The Egyptians cut down trees, heaved the stone on the logs and rolled them across the desert.”  He worked the marker like he was drawing a play for a last second buzzer beater, and when he was done the board was so plastered in ink that you could hardly tell its original intent.  He looked at us, excited by the history and brilliance of these ancient people, and said, “Now that’s a game changer!”

Every class began with a random lecture, news article, or explanation about reaction time and 100 car pile-ups.  Sometimes these segments would tarry on so long that the math lesson became an afterthought, and instead of a detailed rundown on how to divide decimals or carry fractions, he concluded with, “Oh yeah, don’t forget to do chapter 6.”  And when you flipped to chapter 6 later that night, you realized in growing dismay that reading was no substitute for verbal instruction.

I was a good student who excelled at math, yet I distinctly recall an internal tremor – ‘We’re halfway through the semester and I haven’t learned a single thing.’

A few weeks later, I sat at my desk and laid my pencil down, having completed the test with 10 minutes to spare.  “If you finish early, I’d suggest checking your work,” Mr. Flemming announced.  I trusted my answers, but there was no harm in a second glance.  I skimmed through and, to my surprise, found numerous errors.  After making the corrections, I noticed Matt Edwards had finished as well and was staring off into wonderland.  Five minutes remained.

“Matt,” I whispered.  Matt was a friend, and I didn’t want him to miss any of these tricky little questions either.  “Check your work – I would’ve missed five if I didn’t.”

Matt turned towards me.  “What?”

Not desiring to raise my voice during a test, I decided to hand signal.  “I would have missed five questions,” I repeated, holding up the number five.  Looking back, I can see my error, of course; a foolish, well-meaning blunder, but we were kids, mind you, kids.

“Danny and Mathew!” shouted Mr. Flemming.  I’d heard him yell at others before, but that was reserved for the bad kids, of which we were not.  “Flip your papers over and see me after class!”

We did as instructed, still not catching on until the bell rang and we approached his desk.

“I will not tolerate cheating in my class!”  A quiet rage burned in his voice – the magma of the proud bubbling just below the surface, threatening to blow when authority was questioned.  To us, however, it was an unexpected slap in the face.  

“We–we didn’t cheat!” we protested.

“Oh please!”

“But I was—” I attempted.

“I don’t want to hear it!  Don’t ever let me catch you little punks cheating in my class again, now get the hell out of here!”

Had an older version of me been standing there, I would’ve bristled at his arrogance instead of cower.  I would’ve met this man’s gaze, swept aside his dismissal like some Jedi mind trick and laid down a clean dose of reality.  But that’s not the me that stood there.  Although my mind was sharp for a 12-year-old, my confidence hadn’t yet blossomed, and my command of words and ability to argue hadn’t even sprouted wings.  We walked out of the class on the verge of tears, shocked and unable to even articulate what had just transpired.

The next class Mr. Flemming announced everyone’s test scores out loud, as was his way.  “Danny, 95%, minus 10% because he was caught cheating.”  He shook his head and tsked.  “Too bad, this could’ve been an A.”  I grabbed my paper and returned to my seat without rebuttal.

Up until this point I held a neutral position on Mr. Flemming, but now I began to see just how polarizing he could be.  Some of his students loved him, some of them despised him.  My neighborhood friends (mostly older) joked about his unorthodox handling of troublemakers, while another neighbor (whose mom he was dating) professed hating his guts.  Adults would remark about his achievements on the court and talent in putting together a winning team, while I once overheard two of his fellow teachers, appalled by how he treated his students.

I continued to handily pass his class – as everyone did – despite retaining nothing of value.  This exchange struck me as blithely unjust, and I wondered at what point this symbiotic arrangement would catch up to us (it did the following year when I re-learned everything that was lost in 7th grade).  But before that could happen, poor luck drove me headlong into one more episode with our math teacher.

The padlock on my locker broke.  I remember fiddling with it, but it refused to latch.  I felt a brief taste of panic – a minute remained before class began, and my locker was now exposed to the world.  Frustrated, I left the defective hunk of metal dangling through the ring and crossed my fingers, planning to fix or replace it after school when I had more time.  When the following period ended, I returned to the scene, but the padlock was now missing.  I flung open the locker and rummaged, hoping a good Samaritan had stashed it somewhere inside, but no, it was gone.

So was my math book.

A sick dread washed over me.  I’d heard of other kids losing their books, then acquiring new ones to the sum of $40.  I didn’t have $40.  I didn’t even have a job thanks to child labor laws (“Come back when you turn 14,” said the manager at Subway).  My parents certainly didn’t have extra change lying around – things were tight, and the idea of making them cough up a chunk of dough because some jerk stole my book because my stupid lock broke was like vomit on the breath.

I sighed a heavy sigh, held my head low, and dragged my feet into Mr. Flemming’s classroom.

“I lost my book,” I confessed.

I can’t recall to you the look on his face, only the details of the thinly carpeted floor.  His voice sounded annoyed, like a master who tires of continually instructing a dumb dog.  He rose from his chair, moved to a cabinet, then hurled a textbook at me.  It landed on his desk; I jumped.  I expected it to be a loaner, but I was wrong. 

“Found it laying outside your locker.”  I picked it up – despite some additional damage, it was mine.  “I don’t understand how you could just leave it lying in the hallway.  How irresponsible can you be?”

I thought about telling him the truth but knew the effort to be moot.  He returned to his desk and didn’t waste a second glance at me.  “Here’s a novel idea; maybe take care of it this time.  Wouldn’t that be a game changer?”

I walked out of his room, his wrongful indictment barely a blip on my radar.  I didn’t have to buy a new book – that’s all that mattered.

The year ended; I moved onto the 8th grade while Mr. Flemming moved out of town.  In the 20 years since, I haven’t given him much thought until the other day, when I happened across a post on Facebook.  I don’t know the severity or details of his lung disease, I don’t know whether he will live another 20 years or die tomorrow – all I know is but a flash of the man’s life, a glimpse of who he was two decades ago.  Was Bill Flemming a lousy teacher?  Maybe.  A jackass?  Probably.  Any worse than you and I?

No.

The disease that plagues Mr. Flemming is the same that courses through all our veins – it is the sickness that sundered the world, the deceit that destroys our bodies, the cancer hidden behind one crisp bite of an apple.  I can only imagine what’s going through his mind, coming face to face with his own mortality.  But here’s the plot twist, dear reader – this story wasn’t written about Bill Flemming’s mortality.

It was written about yours.

Now pause for a moment and let that sink in – imagine we’re sitting in class.  It’s quiet but for the sound of pencils scratching paper and a box fan humming in a window.  Afternoon sunlight drifts in from the west, and you look up.  Everyone is engrossed in a test, but you and I have finished early, and I’m whispering this story to you with 10 minutes to spare.  Your back is to me – you were barely listening, but this is where I divulge something that makes you turn.

“My dad passed away the day after Christmas,” I tell you. “Five months ago.”

“What?” you say.

I don’t want to raise my voice, so I decide to signal.  “It was five months ago,” I repeat, forming the number on my hand.  This time there is no teacher to interject – no fabrication or alternative reality where we move forward with whatever falsehood we want to believe.  There is just the truth of it, left to sink or swim in our souls.

Now close your eyes, let the classroom fade; no more tests, no more grades, no more struggles.  There is a book bigger than any math book, locked away and kept hidden from thugs who seek to damage and destroy and leave them abandoned at the foot of lockers.  This book is so great and important that all the works of men compiled aren’t but a speck of excrement in comparison.  

My dad’s name is written in this book.

And you know what, dear reader?  So is mine.  But the ending is unknown to me, and I cannot say whether yours has been etched alongside ours.  This book is not a book of records; no matter how many tests you’ve aced, dollars you’ve made, good deeds you’ve done or varsity games you’ve won – these feats won’t account for one scratch on one page.

Open your eyes and look towards the writing on the wall; the Egyptians labored to haul stone out of the valleys and into the pyramids.  You can relate to this.  The burdens you’ve carried may not have been dug out of mountains or pushed across deserts, but you’ve carried them, and you carry them still.  Yet here’s a novel idea; what if all that laboring was in vain?  What if someone had already come down and done the heavy lifting for you?  What if all you had to do was believe the words that were spoken to you?

Wouldn’t that be a game changer?

Dan Hankner


Dan Hankner

Dan Hankner began penning stories about himself and his idiot friends as a teenager.  Now, masquerading as an adult, he lives in Davenport, Iowa with his wife and three children, working as an electrician for his own company, 12 Stones Electric.  Dan’s work has appeared in places like Downstate Story, SQ Mag, Bending Genres, and others.  If you’d like to read more of Dan’s writing, he sends out a new story every month, visit his website www.storyunlikely.com and sign up.


“Bliss” by Zachary Toombs

Zachary Toombs

Zachary Toombs is a published writer and artist from Winter Park. His works have been featured in various venues such as Freedom Fiction, Against the Grain Magazine, Mad Swirl, City. River. Tree., and more. Check out his artwork and other pieces of fiction at his website, zacharytoombs.com.

Motivation is a Mechanism in your Brain

(by Daniel R. Jones)

If I had a dime for every time I heard someone weasel their way out of the creative life by saying they don’t “feel inspired,” I could quit my day job. Others will go days, weeks, or even months without picking up their pencil to work on a new drawing.

If you are comfortable with this lack of production, that’s entirely acceptable. For most, there is no moral imperative to keep creating artwork. We often place unrealistic stress on ourselves to “produce,” and the goal of this blog post is certainly not to shame others for their lack of consistency.

But at times, most of us find that we do wish we were more motivated. We hem and haw and wait for the moment that inspiration will strike. This, however, is a fundamental misunderstanding of motivation.

Most people think that the chain of events that leads to the accomplishment of something goes like this:

Motivation>Task>Task>Task>Completion

Since the first domino never falls, they don’t begin their first task, and they make no headway in their creative life.

We tend to think of motivation as an abstract concept, like that of the Muse. In reality, we can easily dupe our brain into providing “motivation” through simple physiology.

The neurotransmitter most associated with motivation in the brain is dopamine. Simply put, when your brain needs to get things done, signaling of dopamine occurs, and you feel the compulsion to complete a task. This is why people all across the world guzzle coffee each morning, desperately trying to tap into this physiological reaction in the brain.

Endogenous dopamine, (that is, dopamine naturally occurring in the brain,) can actually be utilized in a much simpler way. Numerous studies have shown that ticking a task off your To-Do List, no matter how simple or trivial, activates this neurotransmitter.

In much the same way that strength-training tells your brain that it needs to grow more muscle, completing a task tells your brain that you’ll need more dopamine.

So, in actuality, the chain of events that leads to productivity goes like this:

Task>Motivation>Task>Motivation>Task>Completion

Have you ever wondered why on some days, you’ll get into a rhythm and clean your whole house in a whirlwind, while on other days, you can barely muster up the strength to do anything but watch TV on your couch?

This is why.

It’s the same rationale that leads countless self-help experts to advise people to start their day with the simple act of making their bed. These “gurus” know that by accomplishing one menial task, you’re cascading a series of events in your brain that will likely lead to the completion of many more.

So, what’s the secret? An incredibly simple one: any time you’re feeling unmotivated, complete one miniscule task, and give yourself permission for that to be the end of it. Tell yourself, “I’ll just sharpen my pencils to prepare them for the next time I’m ready to draw,” or “I’ll open up my Word Processor and just jot down three ideas for a short story.”

Before you know it, you’ll be halfway through drawing or writing your next masterpiece.

Anything Worth Doing is Worth Doing Poorly

(by Daniel R. Jones)

A shop-worn adage you’ve probably heard countless times states “Anything that’s worth doing is worth doing well.”

But recently, I came across a counterintuitive twist on the aphorism: 

“Anything that’s worth doing, is worth doing poorly.”

The application on this iteration is a little more difficult to parse out. Why would you want to do something poorly? 

Well, you wouldn’t. But that’s exactly the point.

Consider the following scenario: you accidentally snooze past your 6 a.m. alarm. You look at the clock and it’s 6:45 a.m. You’d planned on running a mile and getting some weight training in. But because you’ve overslept, you only have 45 minutes before you need to hop in the shower, not the hour and a half you’d allocated for working out.

“Forget it,” you think. “Even if I started now, I wouldn’t be able to get a full workout in. I’ll just sleep a little longer and pick it back up tomorrow.”

But if working out is worth doing, it’s worth doing it poorly. Which is to say, if you can’t go on a mile run and a one-hour weightlifting session, it’s still better to do some HIIT exercises for 15 minutes and lift weights for half an hour. Beats doing nothing, right? Better to do something poorly than not at all.

And yet, we constantly go to war with ourselves, allowing our self-defeating tendencies to win out:

-You had a donut in the break room, so the diet starts tomorrow.
-You broke down and bummed a cigarette after swearing you’d quit, so this whole day is a wash.
-You’ve only got 15-minutes to work on that foreign language you’re studying, so what’s the point?

What if, in every area, we took to heart the adage that “if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing poorly?”

I believe that artists, a group who have a proclivity toward perfectionism, are among those who would best be served by taking this advice. 

You’ve got an idea for a painting, but you’re worried your lack of technical mastery will overshadow your artistic vision. Oh well, paint it poorly.

You enjoy writing, but you don’t think you can write the Great American Novel just yet. Too bad. Start anyway.  

You love the idea of playing guitar, but you’re middle-aged so you’d be very behindNo excuses; take the lessons.

At the end of the day, the only way toward mastery of anything is to begin. Once you start, you’ll likely do things poorly for a while. But anything worth doing is worth doing poorly, so get to work.

Five Quick Tips to Beat Writer’s Block

(by Daniel R. Jones)

I’m convinced every living writer has at least one shared experience: staring at a blinking cursor on a word processor, entirely unsure of how to proceed. And although writer’s block might be the plight of every wordsmith, there are a few tips and tricks that help to keep it at bay. Here are five techniques I’ve recently put into practice to stop procrastinating and start writing:

1. Practice Mindfulness Meditation to eliminate “White-Room Syndrome”

White-Room Syndrome occurs when you haven’t added enough sensory detail to help your reader adequately imagine a scene’s setting. Instead, it gives off the impression that all the action and dialogue is occurring in a “white room.” It’s important to note that in terms of description, quality beats quantity. You don’t need to pad your chapter with blocky purple prose and lush description. Instead, your description should match the content of your book. Consider, for instance, the sparse, austere description employed in The Road by Cormac McCarthy. In such a novel, a Tolkien-esque description of flora and fauna would hardly be appropriate.

In order to combat white-room syndrome, writers can utilize a pretty simple trick. Prior to writing, immerse yourself in a 15-minute mindfulness-meditation session. When you’ve tuned your brain to soak up all sensory input, you’ll be better able to draw on your five senses and write compelling settings. This can be easily coupled with the next exercise, which is to… 

2. Shower, as it’s a Poor Man’s Sensory Deprivation Tank

Have you ever noticed you strike upon some of your best ideas while in the shower? Did you ever stop to wonder why that is? The concept here is simple. The shower acts as a sort of poor man’s sensory deprivation tank, drawing out your inner-thoughts more easily. While showering, your eyes are typically shut (or at least they have access to the unexciting images of a tiled wall,) your tactile senses are stimulated by the hypnotic drizzle spouting from your showerhead, and the running water creates a steady white-noise that drowns out conversations or the television in the other room.  

The net effect of being in a shower is that you’re keeping all of your senses busy with a static input. This allows you to focus inward, and can greatly improve your creative powers. When you’ve turned down the dial on all of your senses, so to speak, the volume of your mind is turned up and your brain can go out and play.

3. Create “Stand-ins” for Characters

If you’ve got a great concept for a scene, but you haven’t yet fleshed out your characters, an easy way to commit that scene to paper is by using a “character stand-in.” Get a rough approximation of the type of person your character is, and then substitute the closest analogue you can find from fiction. You can always go back and add nuance later.

Need an unflappable leader who eschews the rules for your suspense thriller? Pretend Captain Kirk from Star Trek is facing the same problems as your main character, and make him react accordingly. Do you want the protagonist of your Rom-Com to be a man who uses humor as a defense mechanism? Write the first chapter from the perspective of Chandler Bing from Friends.  You get the idea.

4. Use Word Association (with music)

Simple word association has been a staple in my writing arsenal for years. If I am truly at a loss as to where to begin writing, I put on some music, pace around, and let my brain off its leash. You can do this by either latching on to a lyric and “giving the horse its head” when it comes to your thoughts, or you can literally sit in front of a word-processor and type in stream-of-consciousness everything that comes into your brain. Personally, I find that physical movement helps loosen up my thought patterns, but your mileage may vary.

5. Try Word Sprints

This is an idea that first appeared to me in 5,000 Words Per Hour by Chris Fox. As the name of said book implies, Chris’ creative output is astronomical. The idea here is simple: you set a timer, sit down to write, and don’t allow yourself to stop or become distracted until after the alarm has sounded. This exercise is absolutely a numbers game: by measuring how many words you write, you can set lofty goals as you gradually increase your word-count. In his book, Chris delves into alternative methods to up the ante, such as using dictation softwarebut these are optional.