“Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried, Grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel,” the bumbling Lord Polonius in Shakespeare’s play “Hamlet” tells his son Laertes in a rant of advice often repeated since as sage and sound. But who wants to be grappled with a metal belt? Neither is friendship a luxury cruise liner where one might go shopping for a friend. A rowboat, maybe, lost on some stormy night on some stormy sea in some stormy argument, a crew of two with only one oar. A lack of friends may be associated with loneliness, and one is often never so lonely as when part of a crowd in which one can find no partner. Acquaintances and neighbors are often confused with friends when they are not. Likewise, parents, children, and siblings, when impressed as friends are often the first to jump ship. A friend at court can hardly be trusted, neither is one’s cohort a circle of friends. A friend in need is not free. To simply like is not necessarily to befriend. What is the focus point of a circle of friends? One’s spouse must not be mistaken for one’s friend, nor one’s friend mistaken for one’s spouse. Friendship is not a vessel, unless it is a ship of fools.
What can be said of cliche that has not been said? Sadness, too, floods the sensorium. Snorkeling along face underwater, sadness cannot talk, and hears only its own sorrowful breath. Cliche will sleep deep and wait out winter and will rise up again come spring, already gone to seed before the yellow narcissus awakes.
And so on, as before, in a roundabout way, using more words to say nothing than necessary. But we find merriment, on the merry-go-round, meandering and anfractuous both getting somewhere and going nowhere. Caution, of course, for those for whom the ambiguities (the zigzags, the waffle rabbits) are not pleasant but tortuous. For their sake, we shall here and now come directly to the point, dash it – The point is this: if the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, we shall always opt for the longest distance, which is a roundabout, since we’ve little interest in ever getting to the point, having just abandoned one.
However on you go on you must, with the headbutt. The hug and kiss. The head back. The ha, ha, ha. The la-de-da. The the-the-thes. The I, I, I. Not to mention the you you you. How to say new, anew, renew, using the same old word weary world weary words. Free now but, free form plot, rising action leveled, it’s a flat world after all, free from quantum. Perhaps if you tried a new template, picked a different font size, striking typography, add some color, perhaps a pic or two. Invite others to comment. Don’t be absurd. Must travel light, if must travel. The fewer words the better. Must not go far. Fewer said, fewer dead. What stopped you, then? You mean what started me up again? The same old story, impossibly wordless, still telling. Mew, mew, mew.
Land of to have and have not, mostly have not, like most lands where guns come before butter and both wind up on the black market, where compulsory works for some but not necessarily for others, where chance is every character’s antagonist, where you’re on your own but rarely left alone, until it’s obvious you’ve played out every option, then you are let to go, and you can’t go on, but go on you must. Also paradisiacal home to amateur myth, where you mighta had class, were it not that, in every failure’s telling, everything is thrown, from bronze, silver, and golden rings to bad apples, rotten tomatoes, and remaindered books. Where one is born into simplicity but immediately starts to complicate matters, thickening the plot by making decisions great and small. But it’s never too late to start singing, as long as what you sing is instrumental, no lyrics. So we come to this, not an end, but a new beginning, a fresh start, an unheard song, not of diminishing returns, like the musical chairs game, but of growth born of compassion and humility, where you give up your seat to someone else, happy to be standing, happier still to be moving, happiest when ignoring the bored gods, those gods of pencil tails, gods of implanted teeth. Gods of the chaste and gods of the meek, gods of the shy and gods of the bold. Gods of yes, maybe, and no. Gods of marrow and morrow, of deep pockets and short-sheets. Gods of horror and jubilee. Gods of theft, and gods of trash. Gods abroad and gods stayed home. Gods blowing in the wind and contained within. Gods of youth and muscle and gods of old and wrinkled. Gods of hello and gods of so long. And god of gods, who never grows old, oldest of all, god of lead and god of gold.
“So long!” is episode 81, the last episode of Inventories, a novel written in serial format at The Coming of the Toads, with daily installments from 27 July 2020 through 15 Oct 2020.
By Workshop 5 I was workshop weary, having just come out of Workshop 4 more uncertain than ever about Sylvie’s 5 W’s of writing, not to mention the H: Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How. How to write. And why. And all the rest. I liked the folks in Workshop, but I wasn’t sure they had the 5 W’s or the H down anymore than I did, nor did Soto seem to, in spite of his credentials. From a young age he had wanted not simply to write but to be a writer, not necessarily a published writer, for just about anybody brought up on phonics could accomplish that, but a published writer of significance. He didn’t just want to play baseball (sandlot, or city softball league); he wanted to play shortstop for the LA Dodgers, or pitch closer for the New York Yankees, or announce play by play for the Yomiuri Giants (the first two being poetry, the other prose). Early success had not spoiled him, and he was lucky to escape injury, and he believed in himself and made it to the big leagues, if not at short or closer, the bullpen bench, success enough to sign his autograph to baseballs for kids before the game for a few years. And now he was calling play by play on the radio in writing workshops. But the workshop itself wasn’t writing, it was talking about writing – not at all the same thing; eating a hotdog with a beer in the outfield stands isn’t playing baseball. But it wasn’t that the talking of writing wasn’t helpful. It was. But it didn’t alter the fundamentals of confusion, of mistaking desire for touch. And then it came to me. Put down the pen, close the laptop, save the paper for the birdcage, the little notebook for grocery lists, things to do, reminders. I didn’t want to be a writer. What I really wanted to do was play baseball.
“Play Ball” is episode 80 of Inventories, a Novel in Progress in Serial Format at The Coming of the Toads.
Universe alive meaning what, Joyce talking again, a twitch of his head my way as I came in late to Workshop 3, the others already seated, each now having found their preferred place, on the couch, or in one of the overstuffed chairs, the easier to remember names, Soto said, the personality of the chair, the seat revealing the person. Joyce seemed to prefer the straight hardback chair in the corner by the bookcase. From there he could look out the window down the street or pay attention to the circle of writers working on their craft, honing their craft. Honing, to hone, was a word I noticed came up frequently in Workshop, like robust, another one of Workshop’s key words. And craft. I hadn’t realized what a craft writing could be. A robust honing of craft, I thought. A honing of robust craft. A craft of robust honing. Words have meaning, Joyce, excited now, head tics my way impatient I’ve not sat down yet, but where had I put my pocket notebook. Don’t tell me I forgot it. Words have meaning, Joyce said, stretching the long e as far as it could go. You people don’t seem to feel that, and a deep quiet settled, writers staring at the floor, backs rigid. To be part of a people, even if mistaken, surely something to that, I thought, stopped fumbling around looking for my notebook and sat down, now part of the silence. Then someone’s stomach gurgled, a rumbling burble audible around the room. Oh, my, Penelope said, patting her hand on her tummy, organics, and everyone laughed. I have some apple, Virginia said, did you not eat before class? I haven’t eaten all day, Penelope said. I’m on a roll. Quiet again, as we seemed to contemplate the meaning of Penelope’s fast. Then Matilda with a suppressed burp, and she begged Workshop’s pardon. Then came a big bang. It wasn’t me. Was it a mistake? Excuse me, Sam said, be right back, and he got up and left the room, Joyce staring out the window at a shout in the street. The minutes ticked quietly and reliably by, the room now a vacuum, the writers floating out of their chairs, weightless, bumping into one another, like pool balls, bouncing off the cushions, changing trajectory. Nothing dead, Sam said, reclaiming his seat. Inert, perhaps, but the organ, so persistent, shells another life. Inaction impossible, Sam continued, something in his voice a simple invitation to listen. The whole, Sam said, this thing, this idea, near and far, all organ, all organic, sprawling sleeping energy here and there, nothing inorganic possible, all alive, on the move, on the make, daresay, and of dark matter, we have sleep, as one life spills into another.
“Organ Tics” is episode 79 of Inventories, a Novel in Progress in Serial Format at The Coming of the Toads.
Each workshop should feature a theme, Joyce declared at the beginning of Workshop 2, but Solo bristled no, keep organic with the works in progress showing the way, lighting a path of discussion. Yeah, Matilda said, I just want some response, anything, comment, you know? Writing is wandering alone in a wilderness, Joyce labored on, somewhat aphoristically, and the writing workshop is bumping into others in that backwoods. All lost, Virginia quipped, or I thought it was a quip, but I was the only one to crack a one off barking smile, and Virginia gave me a puzzled look as if to say we are not in this together, but that was just my read, which could have been off by a mile of woodland. We were, for Workshop 2, to have come up with 500 words describing our project, and another 500 words of our project, typed onto a single sheet of paper, which we passed to our left, reading and commenting in written notes, in the margins, on those passed to us, and passing them on, until our page circled back around home, and we read silently the comments written for us, scribbled in margins, side top and bottom and overflowing to the backside of the page, some, that is, others I noted had fewer notes. We then took a break, allowing us to count to ten, as it were, Solo said, before reacting. The comments could be signed or not, but I signed all of mine, no worries, trying to be helpful, focussing on how the writing made me feel. Oh, feelings, Joyce scoffed. We were breaking up now, talking in pairs or across the table. Yes, Anais came to my defence, sentience, taste and touch and smell. Nonsense, Joyce snuffed, we can’t taste words. These you might be able to, Djuna said, holding up the ink drawing that accompanied her and Hilda’s submission. Sam was the first to put his page down and move toward break, followed by Penelope. Others checked their phone for whatever, news from the sitter, texts from the other, posts from friends on the outside, out of the wilderness area. I went out to the sidewalk and breathed deeply of a fall breeze kicking up a mushroom thickness into the air, thinking of heading over to the pub for a quick beer before the second half of Workshop 2, but Anais stopped me, saying she had counted my words and noted there were exactly 250 each of both analysis and project. Had I counted them? Did I know that I’d come in right on but half the assignment money? 250 words was about the max I could fit onto one page of my pocket notebook, and that’s writing crimped. Besides, it’s only one workshop behind us and here we are supposed to fork out 1,000 words? Did you count your words, Anais asked again. Sure, why not? We watched a bus stop then went back inside. I did feel like I was probably a few words short.
“Workshop #2” is episode 78 of Inventories, a Novel in Progress in Serial Format at The Coming of the Toads.
Anais was the first to go, of the nine of us, in the writing workshop, to introduce ourselves, briefly, Solo said (no need to ramble – we could save that for our writing), and share something of the project we’d be working on. Anais lived on a houseboat down on the Willamette and was working on memoir. Sam was a bartender working on drama. Hilda and Djuna were adjunct instructors, poets both, and partners, and they were now working together on a graphic novel, Hilda doing the writing and Djuna the drawing. Matilda was a student and waitress working on a novel. Joyce was a personal essayist and declined to say anything more of himself. Then it came my turn, and I did a show and tell, held out my little pocket notebook and said I wanted to fill it with words, but I wasn’t at all sure which ones. No one laughed. Tough crowd. Penelope was writing a novel, worked at a printing shop, supported two kids and an effete husband. Virginia was a single mom, counselor at a non-profit, working on memoir. Solo then talked for awhile about workshop etiquette and about expectations and assumptions and how preconceived ideas can ruin both writing and reading. Some of what Solo said Anais said she found liberating. We were out on the sidewalk taking a break from the workshop. Anais I guessed was in her 40’s, dark eyes buried in bushy eyebrows and thick wavy black hair she kept pushing back behind her ears, to both see and hear better I assumed. She asked me if I was joking about the little pocket notebook being my writing project.
“Workshop #1” is episode 77 of Inventories, a Novel in Progress in Serial Format at The Coming of the Toads.
Clouds crept over the north beaches and the vintners celebrated the annual crush in fog and rain and wind blowing inland across the coastal ranges and into the interior valleys and bunching up against the big mountains and emptying and running into streams and rivers and lakes as fall developed into a long and wet run-on sentence. Sylvie returned to Central America with her baseball team for fall and winter practice and play. No hard feelings, she said, she had just suddenly come down with an allergic reaction to my company, and when she ran into Pinch who offered her a flight out of Dodge she jumped. That was understandable, my company often giving off toxic pollins venom and dander, and Sylvie loved the sunny outdoors and adventure and felt the fog and fall in the offing, and I left Pinch to his medicine and made my way farther north up the coast and then over into Portland, increasingly hard on the road to maintain any kind of outdoor living or working in the deteriorating weather conditions. I had traded Pinch the yellow Hummer for a more practical and economic wagon I could sleep in and he threw in a bicycle and surfboard and camping and fishing gear to balance out the exchange. The surfboard wasn’t much use in Portland where I took a room in a hostel in the Hawthorne District, but the bicycle was keen and I traded the camping and fishing gear to a couple on their way south for a used Gypsy jazz guitar. And I thought I might kick back and do some writing in the little pocket notebook Sylvie had given me. I joined a workshop at a local writing school, but I wasn’t much interested in plausibility, page turning plots, credibility, memoir type stuff. Still I felt the urge to write, pencil to paper, inky fingers, daily exercise. I was interested in the rules and ways and means of writing only to the extent I could experiment with syntax and grammar and style and, in a word, language. I didn’t have any particular reader in mind, though I hoped Sylvie might be interested in getting her notebook back full of words. And around the same time I started thinking about fate, how Sylvie had said fate is the decisions you make, and about the gods, the old gods, the ones that make mistakes, as humans do too, toys of the gods, lives so full of mistakes and griefs and all the seven deadly sins oozing and piling up like oily rags until spontaneous combustion and rages erupted all around, but it was time to relax, to take it easy, to consider not just the deadly sins but the works of mercy and grace. Easy to say of course for a guy living on an annuity funded by the temporary borrowing of someone else’s capital such that he no longer needs to work, even as work is what, he’s learned in passing, most fulfills him. But the gods these days, one to ten percent of the population, it is estimated, continuing on much as the gods of yesterday, co-mingling with and catching their standard human wannabe-gods unawares in the snares of their own cravings, for attention, for respect, for a nice big piece of the plutocratic prosperous concentric pie, for publication, for a post, for stage time, minutes and hours and days and weeks and months and years of fame, terms of fame, concentric circles, and round and round and round we go, and where we stop, nobody knows, amateurs as we all are, for the wages for being human are nil on the open market.
“The Fall” is episode 76 of Inventories, a Novel in Progress in Serial Format at The Coming of the Toads.
Quickly but gently Pinch said and the three of us downloaded a dozen boxes from the plane into the yellow Hummer. The work done Pinch and I stood between the Hummer and the helicopter and watched the airplane take off and swoop west and over the hills. I was to drive back to the schoolhouse where we would unload the boxes. Pinch would follow me from the air in the helicopter. What about Sylvie, I asked. What about her? She said you’d be a good delivery man. The boxes were all the same, the size of a case of wine, and weighed something like six bottles of wine each, I guessed, but they must have been packed exceptionally well because I didn’t hear any glass as we shifted them from the plane to the Hummer. Unmarked, tightly taped, thick cardboard boxes. Was there a black market for wine? I asked myself. I was on a country road, the helicopter visible, crisscrossing above me, but when the road narrowed and curved and passed under a canopy of trees growing near the river I pulled over and cleanly cut open one of the boxes. Bottles, labels taped to each with handwritten numbers and letters and dates, not commercial labels, but coding that might have been winery production information. I removed one bottle and stuck it under my seat and pulled back onto the road and saw the helicopter again above and ahead of me. At Pinch’s place I pulled into the backyard and he was waiting and we carried the boxes into the covered back porch and he told me to put the bottle I’d taken back in its box. It’s not wine, he said. It’s medicine. You don’t want to drink it. Or talk about it.
“Pick up and Delivery” is episode 75 of Inventories, a Novel in Progress in Serial Format at The Coming of the Toads.