I hope if you have to travel during Thanksgiving that you drive carefully. If you take public transportation, ride the bus or train with great caution. Remember only you can prevent forest fires. So stay out of the forest! The chipmunks don’t want you there. They and the squirrels plot against you, and the less said about the devious chipmunks, the better.
I intended to write something about Thanksgiving, but most people know the story of the Pilgrims and their long perilous journey across the ocean. Or they pretend to know it because it’s history and they got plenty of that in high school, thank you very much. To tell something new and exciting about the Pilgrims, one would have to do months of hard research and consult learned scholars. Instead, I’m going to use an easier way that is prominent in today’s society, particularly in Congress: I’m going to make it up.
The Pilgrims left Plymouth, England, in 1620, crossed the ocean in the Mayflower, and landed at Plymouth, America, two months later. They left Plymouth and ended up at Plymouth. How disappointing that must have been and a lesson to us all to never venture out expecting the trip to take us to someplace better than we left.
The Pilgrims were fleeing religious persecution from the governments and churches in Europe. The European religious establishment was quite willing to make ashes out of dissenters by burning them at the stake at huge community gatherings. What a happy time was had by all, not including the spoil-sport heretics who complained loudly.
The Pilgrims were led by John Alden or maybe Miles Standish. I’m a little unclear on this. It could have been Flappy Slapdashy. Look it up. On the trip over, several sailors died. This could have been seen as a bad omen, but the Pilgrims didn’t believe in omens. They also didn’t believe in baths. No, this part is true. They thought baths were sinful and should be taken only once a year—say, for instance, when their undergarments were capable of walking to the water by themselves.
Some modern-day scholars have taken this to mean that the Pilgrims were “stinky and dour” people, like Republicans, but at least the latter isn’t true. In 1637, Warwick William “Willie” Wipingnose smiled in public at a Pilgrim gathering. Twice. He was immediately flogged and pilloried, but he did smile. Okay, I’m kidding; he only smiled once. (This leads people to assume the Baptists are directly descended from the Pilgrims due to the decorum of our services, but that isn’t true. We allow smiling AND clapping—as long as it is respectful and quiet and a special occasion. Otherwise, stop it! We don’t come to church to have a good time. Behave!)
Many people are horrified the Pilgrims practiced pillorying, the act of fastening someone in a wooden framework in a public area so the Pilgrims could insult and demean them. You should remember this was long before Facebook and Twitter. The Pilgrims had to make do with what they had. And it was better to be pilloried in the New World than in the Old World. In the latter, they would throw rotten vegetables at the pilloryee. The Pilgrims had no food to spare for such fine sport and had to make do with mud, rocks, and—wait for it—dung. On second thought, it wasn’t better at all.
Besides gathering for pillorying, the Pilgrims held well-attended meetings where they would discuss such matters as starving, religious disputes, starving, who kept writing scarlet letters on the foreheads of sleeping Pilgrims, starving, what exactly was the relationship of Miles Standish to Priscilla Mullens, starving, was John Alden really stalking Priscilla, and, of course, starving.
Why so much talk about starving? you may ask, and let’s assume you did so I can give you the answer. Soon after the Pilgrims arrived in the New World, they discovered, due to bad planning, all the supermarkets were in the Old World. Food got scarce. Several Pilgrims disappeared, but were found in various cooking pots in the Donner home. Everyone laughed in relief. The Donners belched contentedly.
The winter was cold, the wolves were gathering, and the pantry was bare. Disease struck the colony. The colony struck back, but Disease dodged and ran around town, giving the colonists wedgies. That scamp!
Hannibal Donner threw a party and invited all the colonists, but they had grown wise to the Donner family and rose up and cast them out. At least that was the story, and the Pilgrims stuck to it, even though no graves were ever found.
The winter continued, and the colonists continued to starve. But help was just beyond the horizon, or actually just inside the deep, dark woods. Chief…ah...let’s say...Acornugger of the Native American Whatchamacallit Tribe had met the Pilgrims some time ago. He hadn’t liked them, finding them “stinky and dour.” His medicine man Pokeineye had warned him of the white man, saying, “They come in long ships to take our forests and our lands and will drive us before them. Do not let them. Invest in casinos. Sell them plenty of smoking weed.”
For a while, Acornugger led his brave braves against the white men in daring raids, taking tools, clothing, and an entire case of fancy embossed dinner napkins.
Once he—or some other chief, just read on—captured several white men and were putting them to death by bashing in their heads with war clubs. Those wacky Native Americans knew how to party! The last victim was a man named John Smith (possibly not his real name). They pushed Smith down on a tree stump and started to give him a terminal headache when the chief’s daughter Pocahontas threw herself on top of the captive. The chief was overcome by this display of pity and ordered Smith released, although Pocahontas kept insisting she had tripped. (Historians say this story might not be true and the lovely, noble Pocahontas and John Smith were never an item despite what gossipy Priscilla Mullens said.)
Anyway, Chief Acornugger saw that the white people were starving and felt his heart swell with pity, but it turned out to be gas. Instead, Chief Massasoit and the Pokanoket tribe actually brought food to the famished settlers, including corn, fish, lobster, clams, berries, squash, venison, and Pumpkin Spice Twinkies®.
The Pilgrims and Native Americans gathered for a goodwill feast and open slam dance, giving thanks for the food and friendship shared by all. The Pilgrims were so grateful they didn’t steal the land of the Pokanokets until forty-five years later.
And that's the story of the First Thanksgiving. Sort of.
From the forthcoming book Floozy Comes Back by Stephen B. Bagley. Copyright 2017. All rights reserved.
If a woman asks you if you think another woman is pretty, the answer is simply “no.” I don’t care if a multitude of angels are singing the other woman’s name because of her glorious beauty, you say, “No.” If you can convincingly add, “She’s an ugly hag,” things will go even better.
But don’t get cute on this. A friend of mine and his wife went to a cocktail party, and afterwards, as they drove home, his wife casually asked if he thought a woman at the party that they knew from college was pretty.
He immediately said, “No. She has aged so badly.”
“Now, don’t be rude,” his wife said, slightly smiling and resting her hand on his knee.
Warmed by her approval, he stupidly continued, "It’s obvious she’s had her boobs done. They’re so perky and round.”
-- From the forthcoming book Floozy Comes Back, copyright 2017 by Stephen B. Bagley. All rights reserved.
"Pumpkin spice is a powerful movement these days. You can find that spice in lipstick, candles, lotions, body sprays, perfumes, bath salts, shampoos, potpourri, air fresheners, facial tissue, toilet bowl cleaners, deodorant, sachets, dog biscuits, toothpaste, lip balms, and much more. And that doesn’t count all the pies, cakes, coffees, tarts, fried pies, muffins, and other desserts. There’s really something quite uncanny about it. It’s entirely possible that zombies want pumpkin spice brains, and vampires want pumpkin spice blood." -- From the forthcoming Floozy Comes Back by Stephen B. Bagley. Copyright 2017. All rights reserved.
"Many people are horrified the Pilgrims practiced pillorying, the act of fastening someone in a wooden framework in a public area so the Pilgrims could insult and demean them. You should remember this was long before Facebook and Twitter. The Pilgrims had to make do with what they had. And it was better to be pilloried in the New World than in the Old World. In the latter, they would throw rotten vegetables at the pilloryee. The Pilgrims had no food to spare for such fine sport and had to make do with mud, rocks, and—wait for it—dung. On second thought, it wasn’t better at all." -- From the forthcoming Floozy Comes Back by Stephen B. Bagley. Copyright 2017. All rights reserved.
The anthology Blackbirds First Flight featured stories from me and my friends and fellow authors Kent Bass, Wendy Blanton, Gail Henderson, Jean Schara, and Tamara Siler Jones.
To quote Pru Simmons: “Blackbirds First Flight is an anthology of stories and poetry with a dark, sensual twist. The stories run the gambit from thrilling Gothic adventure to modern urban fantasy to fantastic encounters with the macabre. The poetry is uniformly excellent and tells dark stories of its own, many related to mythology.”
Here's some info about the authors, including me:
Stephen B. Bagley wrote Tales from Bethlehem, Murder by Dewey Decimal, Murder by the Acre, Floozy & Other Stories, and EndlesS and co-authored Undying with Gail Henderson. His works have appeared in Writer's Digest, Creations 2014, Creations 2013, Creations 2012, ByLine Magazine, Free Star, Nautilus Magazine, OKMagazine, and other publications. He graduated from Oklahoma State University with a Bachelor of Science in Journalism. He is a member of Oklahoma Writers Federation, Inc. Visit https://stephenbbagley.blogspot.com for more info.
Kent Bass enjoys writing Gothic action/adventure stories. He graduated from Oklahoma State University with a Bachelor of Science in Business and from the University of Oklahoma, with a Master of Science in Accountancy. He and his family live in Dallas, Texas, where he works for the nation’s leading tax software company. Blackbirds First Flight was his first publication.
Wendy Blanton published three fantasy novels, The Dragon’s Lady, Rogue Pawn, and Sword and Scabbard under the pen name Elizabeth Joy with co-author Scott Carman. She has a Bachelor of Applied Science in Business Management from the University of Mount Olive and served in active duty for the United States Air Force for eight years. She is an apprentice bard and tells Celtic folk tales at Scottish Highland Games and other venues. Visit https://wendyblanton.wordpress.com for more info.
Gail Henderson co-authored Undying with Stephen B. Bagley. She collaborated with noted Oklahoma photographer Michael Duncan to produce Bare, a book of poetry and photography. Red Bird Woman, a collection of her poetry, was published in 2013. Her work has appeared in Creations 2014, Creations 2013, Creations 2012, and ByLine Magazine. She holds a Masters of Education in English and Social Studies from East Central University. Visit https://redbirdwoman.blogspot.com for more info.
Tamara Siler Jones is a wife, mom, writer, quilter, and cat-wrangler from rural Iowa. She has numerous novels in print/eBook, including Ghosts in the Snow, winner of the Compton Crook Award for best first novel of the year in the Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror genre; Threads of Malice; Valley of the Soul; SPORE; and the newly released Morgan's Run. Visit http://www.tamara-jones.net for more info.
Jean Schara retired from a 28-year career in the United States Air Force in 2008 and took up residence in Texas. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland University College with a Bachelor of Arts in Professional Writing and of the Troy State University with a Master of Science in Adult Education. She has had several book reviews published in the Air Power Journal and several articles published in Vision: A Resource for Writers. Visit http://pmtoo.jeanschara.com journal for more info.
So I went to dinner with a couple who had just returned from their honeymoon (his second marriage and her third) and they went to an island, which sounded wonderful...white beaches, palm trees, great service, the emerald ocean.
And I said, "Show me your pictures."
The wife glanced at her husband and said, "You wouldn't be interested."
"No, I love vacation photos," I said, which is true. I am a great armchair traveler.
The husband shrugged, messed with his phone, and then handed it to me.
I put on my glasses and looked at the first photo. Then I took my glasses off and handed the phone back as my face and ears began to glow Rudolph red while they laughed.
It turns out that my friends are closet nudists.
I've had some awkward moments in my life, but I do think that is a particularly notable one.
Yes, we have problems as a nation -- and what nation since the dawn of time has not? -- but I'm proud to be an American, blessed to live in this diverse and amazing nation, humbled by the sacrifices of those who have given their lives to keep us free, and excited when looking forward to our future. The naysayers and political pundits like to highlight our shortcomings, conveniently ignoring our past and continuing accomplishments. We truly have changed the face of the world, and although we have made grievous mistakes, we have also been an unrelenting force for freedom and liberty. God has blessed us immensely, and may He continue to do so! Happy Fourth of July!
"Scene from the End of One Story" By Stephen B. Bagley
...This is how one story ended...
Eve walked into Milligan's with her friend Bette, and as always, her eyes searched the restaurant for his shoulders and that ratty leather jacket and his soft worn hat that felt like velvet when she touched it. For seven weeks, she had searched all their places. The coffee shop, the bookstore, the library, the pier, the Seafood Shack. But Jeremy had disappeared from her life.
She didn't know how to live without him, but she was trying to learn how. She took a gym class, went out to movies with Bette and her other friends, and focused on work, turning out reports with an efficiency that even her boss noticed. A couple of guys--Kevin from Sales and Joel from Receivables--asked her out, and she said yes. Nice enough dates, and she had enjoyed them. Kevin even made her laugh, and Joel was sweet. But she kissed them good night at the door.
Bette threaded her way through the crowd, looking for a table. Eve followed, wondering when she would stop feeling that pit in her stomach when she didn't see him. She stumbled and caught herself on the edge of a table. The men seated at it smiled at her. She apologized, backed away, turned toward Bette, and saw Jeremy.
He didn't see her. He stood by a table talking to two other men. The crowd closed between them, and she lost sight of him. For a moment, she paused, feeling her heart beating hard. Then she pushed forward, leaving Bette behind, weaving her way forcefully toward her last chance.
"Jeremy," she said.
He turned and saw her. He started to smile, but it faded away.
"Eve," he said. "How are you?"
"Fine," she said. But that wasn't what she meant to say. She meant to say she was falling to pieces, her heart broke, her life in shambles, but the words wouldn't come.
"Where's Ben?" he asked.
"I don't know," she said. "Back with his wife, I guess. We're not together."
Jeremy nodded. "Sorry to hear that."
"I broke up with him," Eve said, wanting him to understand. "I sent him away. I remembered what you said. 'If he cheats on his wife, why wouldn't he cheat on you?' I should have listened."
"He cheated on you," Jeremy asked with a flash of anger in his voice.
Surely that meant something, she thought. "No, but I realized he would. I realized the love of his life was him." She laughed.
Jeremy took a deep breath. "Well, I'm sorry to hear things didn't work out. It's good to see you. I've got to go. I'm leaving New York in a couple of days. I have a lot of packing still to do. Got a job in Boston."
"Oh," she said. "Boston. Good. Good. Is it one you wanted?"
"It's a job," he said. "I've always liked Boston." He grinned. "Great clam chowder."
She laughed to keep from crying out. He's moved on, she thought. He's moving away.
"It's good to see you," he said. "You look...beautiful." He smiled. "Well, take care. Tell your parents I said hi."
"I will," she said. "You take care. Enjoy that chowder."
And he walked away while she stood in a crowd of strangers and she realized that would be her life--to always be alone in a crowd.
"No!" she said. She took three quick steps and grabbed his arm. "Jeremy, wait."
He turned back, his face surprised. "What?"
She couldn't find the words.
"What, Eve?" he asked again. "I need to go."
"Okay," she said. "Can we talk outside? Just for a minute."
He looked down at the floor. "I don't think that would be a good idea. Don't you think we've hurt each other enough? I can't take any more."
She swallowed. "Just for a minute. I need to tell you a few things. It won't take long."
He took a deep breath. "For a minute."
They found a bench in the tiny park across the street.
"Well," Jeremy said. "What do you want from me, Eve?"
"Nothing," she said, but her heart called her a liar. "I needed to apologize."
"No," he said. "No. I don't want to do this."
"Please," she said. "I just wanted to know how sorry I was. How I would give anything to go back and fix things."
"I know you're not in love with me anymore," she said. "I know we can't go back. And that you don't want to. You've moved on. Good. I'm glad. I want you to be happy." She could feel the tears behind her eyes threatening to overflow. "I wanted you to know I will always want the best for you."
He looked away.
She wiped her eyes. Time to go. Time to walk away. Time to let him walk away. Time to face the bleakness ahead. She needed a few moments to gather her strength.
He stood and took a couple steps away. She wanted to weep, but she didn't. This was the result of her decisions. She had made them, and she would live with them. She had enough courage to do that.
She rose. "I'd better let you go. I'm sorry if I hurt you."
He turned, his face shadowed. "I'm at a place in my life--"
"You don't have to explain," she said. "I understand." She shook her head and wiped her eyes. "We had something lovely, and I broke it. I didn't mean to. But I guess that doesn't mean a thing. I wanted you to know I miss you. Oh how I do."
"Let me finish," he said. "I'm at a place in my life where there are more good-byes than hellos. More people lost than found."
She watched him, almost afraid to breathe.
"Comes with getting older," he said with a short laugh. "You can't imagine how...lost I've felt without you. How empty. But then I saw you with him, and I was angry. It was better to be angry than empty. But now...."
He was silent for longer than she could bear, but she bore it anyway. Please God please, she prayed. Another chance and I won't blow it. Please oh please.
"Too many goodbyes," he said finally. "Not enough hellos. I don't want that for my life. I don't want to tell you goodbye." He looked at her. "Hello. How are you? I missed you. I missed you."
She sobbed and launched herself into his eager arms.
...This is how one story ended and a new one began...
(Copyright 2017 by Stephen B. Bagley. All rights reserved. Thanks for reading.)
(Excerpt from the forthcoming Floozy Comes Back) By Stephen B. Bagley
Bittersweet is that moment when you slap down on an annoying fly on the picnic table and gleefully crush it on your palm and then you realize its guts are on your hand and it probably just finished chowing down on a poop platter thoughtfully provided by the 127 feral cats who haunt the park. So you wipe your hand on your napkin, wishing you had hand sanitizer even though you watched an exposé on Channel 4 showing how sanitizer could easily ignite and you shouldn’t use it near a fireplace or an open flame so it might not be safe since you’re sitting four feet away from the barbeque where they are sacrificing wieners to the flames.
You look back at the table and realize there’s that green-reddish smear from when you crushed Mr. Fly and you don’t want to see that so you move your plate to cover the remains, but the thought of it being there bothers you, and for a moment you think about that Poe story, “The Tell-Tale Heart,” where the murderer has hidden his victim under the floorboards of his house, but then he thinks he hears “the beating of his hideous heart!”
Hardly a nice thing to remember on a nice day like this with the sun shining and your friends laughing beside you, and you blame Mr. Simmons who told that story to your seventh grade English class and gave you nightmares because he did it so convincingly and kept looking at the students with such a mad look that it’s no surprise that he was arrested for public nudity at a zoo and went to prison for five years and the poor flamingoes never recovered and went around looking shell-shocked and losing pink feathers everywhere.
You look back at your plate, which now you can’t do without thinking of the corpse it’s concealing, and pick up your fork to have some of that potato salad that Kathy brought and your mind flashes back to that report Channel 4 did about food-born pathogens and how they lurk in every picnic food which should never sit out for more than a few minutes, otherwise they become something so lethal that they could wipe out entire civilizations, which might be what happened to the people who built Stonehenge. You can imagine them gathering for a rock-raising picnic, and a few hours later, they’re all gasping their last breath like that fly you crushed. But the fly’s death was so fast it probably didn’t have time for a last breath; one moment it’s on the table looking at the feast spread before it, thinking happy thoughts, and then it’s not thinking anything. This makes you feel better because, after all, you gave it a quick, happy death, which is not such a terrible thing, and many people might want such a parting from this life, although how they’d find a giant picnic table is anyone’s guess.
Still, you put the fork back down and pick up your ham sandwich—WITH THE FLY CRUSHING HAND! A hand that’s probably contaminated with the bacteria and viruses that the fly picked up when it dined on the poop of a cat which had escaped from a secret lab conducting research into bio-weapons and this...this innocent picnic is how the zombie apocalypse starts!
With mounting panic, you realize you’re sure thinking about poop at lot at this picnic and now you’re afraid you will always associate picnic with poop and you frantically start thinking of better things that happen at picnics: laughing, games of Frisbee® and softball, splashing in pools, playing games of tag with the grand-children, and once at a college picnic years ago a curvy blonde fellow journalist let you find her in the woods for a bit of friendly necking—wait, that’s not an appropriate thought for now.
You carefully take a bite of the sandwich avoiding the side that touched your palm, and it’s good. Ham, lettuce, tomato, Swiss cheese, mustard, thick wheat bread.... Of course, if you were serious about your low carb diet, you wouldn’t be eating the bread at all. According to the carb commandos, grains are poison, POISON, and maybe that’s what actually wiped out the Stonehenge builders. Between raising multi-ton rocks, they were happily eating bread, French fries, ice cream, white rice, tacos, peach cobbler, potato salad.... Happy, heavy people who one day were felled by heart attacks, diabetes, and dreaded lard-bottom disease. All in all, there are worse ways to go if one has to go.
Which makes you think of an article you read recently in a science magazine about those people who think they don’t have to go and plan to upload their brains into a supercomputer so they can live forever, ignoring the fact that the original person would go ahead and age and die, leaving behind some monstrous thing that only faintly resembled a human, like a Congressman.
By now, everyone else is finished or finishing their plate of food and either getting seconds or thirds or deciding they’d better stop, and you have barely touched your food, which might make them think you’re on your second or third place when you’ve barely eaten enough to keep a fly alive...that fly again. Sigh. Now you’re regretting you killed the thing. Maybe you should have shooed it away, thus not incurring a Karmic debt. But you don’t believe in reincarnation anyway since you’re Baptist, and if it were true, then you’d only be releasing the soul trapped in the fly to move up into a better body, like maybe a boil weevil or a rodent. Unless it had been a bad fly, and then it would drop down in worth and become a telemarketer.
They’re cutting the watermelon now. You like watermelon and can easily make yourself sick eating too much given half a chance, but watermelon is basically sugar water held together by a fibrous matrix and loaded with carbs. You mentally add watermelon to the diet of the Stonehenge builders while taking a plate—a small plate—of the melon, vowing to yourself that you will walk several miles and burn off that sugar before it has time to damage your body even though you insisted the picnic was close to a parking lot because you didn’t want to walk.
The watermelon has seeds—the best ones do, in your opinion—and one of the black seeds moves! It’s another FLY! But you wave it off and examine the melon flesh closely, like you could see germs, and take your life into your teeth and hungrily devour the fruit.
It’s the end of the picnic, and it would hardly look right for you keep eating, so you regretfully drop your plate and cup in the trash, and stop at Delicias Mexican Restaurant on the way home for chips, dip, and a platter of enchiladas.
(Excerpt from the forthcoming Floozy Comes Back. Copyright 2017 by Stephen B. Bagley. All rights reserved. Please do not copy without explicit permission from the author and publisher. Thank you for reading.)
Over the years, I've written a lot of poetry, so much so that sometimes I forget a poem and rediscover it after several years in my journal. I found this one the other day. I changed a few words, but overall, I left it as it was. Funny thing is that I don't even remember who--if anyone--I was writing about.
If Only By Stephen B. Bagley
If only I could stop loving you
my life would be better now
in more ways than I can imagine.
If only I could forget
the taste of your lips,
your face as you slept,
those blue, happy eyes,
the silly way you smiled,
I wouldn't feel so empty now.
If only I could stop hurting
when I recall those days
of loving and laughing
and yes even fighting,
crying, and arguing--
I wouldn't run from love now.
If only I knew you, too,
had regrets when you
think of me--if ever
you do--and missed
me and our flawed love,
I could finally begin to heal.
If only you read these words
I'd know you'd finally know
I still carry the memory of us
and it's breaking my back
because you lack the courage
to share this heavy burden.
In more ways than I can imagine
my life would better now
if only I could stop loving you.
(Copyright 2017 by Stephen B. Bagley. All rights reserved. Thank you for reading.)
I once had a friend who was a survivalist. Let's call him Jacob, because that was his name. He had five years of food, a couple of months of water, guns and ammo, medical supplies, etc. Built a nice cabin in the woods with solar power and a windmill, although he still needed an electric line for all his power needs.
All through the Bush years, Jacob complained about how the government was trying to become a dictatorship. He foamed at the mouth when the Patriot Act was passed. He could actually recite the Act and give you point by point how it was taking away our civil liberties.
I thought perhaps he would calm down when Obama was elected, but no, he was even more up in arms. The National Health Plan, you see, would allow the government to embed nanobots into our brains and control us.
Then Trump got elected, and while I hoped Jacob would finally be reasonable, he was not. In fact, he claimed Trump was a tool of the Illuminati and would betray all those who elected him to further their goals of world domination.
Well, after that, I had no choice. I reported him to the Thought Police, and they picked him up yesterday. I will get a share of his goods after the officials take their percentage. It should be enough to bribe the Controllers so they will upgrade my nanobots to less painful ones.
I am proud and happy just as you are. We're not allowed to be anything else.
(Copyright 2017 by Stephen B. Bagley. All rights reserved.)
Chilly, rainy day currently. We were forecast clear, sunny skies. No such luck. We needed the rain, of course, and it's not freezing, so the blooming and budding plants and trees are okay. Still, it's depressing. I enjoy such days in the fall, but in the spring, they feel sad.
Rainy days are generally depressing. Humans are--for the most part--creatures of sunlight. We're made to walk in the day and sleep in the night. We lived that way for thousands of years; only now are we up all hours. We may be losing undefined things by choosing our 24 hour day. Despite our desire to do more, live more, enjoy more, make more...we are doing less and feeling more frantic about it as the years--and our lives--speed by.
Sometimes, I think the greatest gift would be to slow down time, to live each hour as a day, to have enough time for walks in the park, enjoying the sun and wind while sitting on a stone bench, to feel the light on our faces like a benediction.
Time doesn't do that, though. Life goes on despite our attempts to hold on to each precious moment. Eventually, we live our lives in our memories. And then we don't. Other people take up the memories that become family stories and tales of times past until they are gone, too.
My point? Be happy now. Live in the present. Let all those "mores" care for themselves. Don't let your life not be lived. Walk in the sunshine now with me, even on rainy, cloudy days, and we will live life well.
Strangers in an old cemetery a few miles from my house.
Thought I might take photos...that the spring sun might illuminate a particular stone or give a halo to an old weathered angel.
Instead I carried my camera and walked among the rows of graves. Stopping to read a date or name. My feet crunched on old brown leaves. The few trees were mostly bare except for a row of bedraggled evergreens along one side of the cemetery.
And I thought about life and how it goes so fast. How we can't hold our dead no matter how much we try, no matter how much we cry, they slip away when we're not looking.
I thought about those who have left us and how I miss them. My grandparents, my parents, aunts and uncles, cousins...my baby brother.... My mother was so sharp, so smart, she would see right through your soul, and my father loved to laugh and loved to make me laugh. All those losses. Is that why we're ready to go at the end of our lives? Do the losses pile on until our spirit is ready to fly, to escape the burdens of sorrow? Or maybe we're just ready to meet them again. Maybe we're tired of not being with them. Maybe we're tired of this earth.
I sat down in an old concrete bench beside an empty tree.
Across the rows, I saw a robin. A mockingbird called. I watched a lonely cloud make its way across the pale blue sky. And I felt the stillness settle into me, the quiet calm that I call peace for the lack of a better word. I stopped thinking for a while, stopping imagining, stopped remembering.
For a few moments, the horizon held me. That beckoning sky. The endless heavens beyond.
Then I took a deep breath of the cool wind. I smiled for no particular reason other than it felt better than not smiling. I stood, walked back to my car, and drove back to my life.
(Copyright 2017 by Stephen B. Bagley. All rights reserved.)
I got involved in an interesting discussion with some other writers the other day -- WAIT! Don't go away. This discussion involved SEX! I thought that would peak your interest -- about SEX in books. I had struggled through a book recently that featured fairly explicit SEX and had wondered out-loud what made that book "literature" and not just plain porn. (Names changed to protect me.)
"Because the sex was integral to the story," said Writer Aromance. "It wasn't just thrown in to titillate. It revealed the characters."
"Yes, it revealed they liked sex," Writer Begenre said. "But doesn't everyone? Sex scenes are put in books to increase sales. And give lonely writers a thrill."
"Are there any more cookies?" asked Writer Cookbookins. "I only got one."
"I don't read books with explicit sex," Writer Divine said. "In fact, I'm quite happy to read about a sweet kiss and then a sunset."
"Today's readers want more than that," Aromance said. "They want to feel the characters' passion. They want to experience the hot, steamy moments, the indescribable sensations." Aromance panted, head rolling slightly, eyelids fluttering. "They want details. Oh yes! YES!!!"
The rest of the group moved their chairs away from Aromance.
"Isn't reading a sex scene the same as renting a porn movie?" Begenre said. "Just because they're not watching a sexual encounter with their eyes and instead 'watching' it in their minds, doesn't mean that it's not for the same purpose."
"Well, I don't read romances for that!" Aromance said, scooting over to join them again. "I want to read about true love, and sex just happens to be part of it. We need to turn the air-conditioning on."
"There were enough cookies for two apiece," Cookbookins said, looking around. "Someone had to have three."
"True love is more than just sex," Divine said. "It's a marriage of spirits, of souls reaching out to each other."
"Those souls come with various pieces of plumbing attached," Begenre said. "I think fading off into a sunset leaves the reader hanging."
"Some things are better left to the imagination," Divine said with a sniff. "It totally kills the romance when a writer starts describing ... er ... how the pipes fit into the joints."
"We're going to run that plumbing metaphor into the ground," Begenre said.
"I blame TV," Writer Eongo said. "People have become accustomed to seeing everything right before them. They don't exercise their minds. So they can't even imagine people having sex!"
"You know, I brought those cookies to share," Cookbookins said. "I think it's a shame that someone is so greedy that he or she deprived another writer of their cookie."
"Eongo has a point," Divine said. "What's wrong with letting the reader know that the characters have had sex, but not showing the sex? When two characters make love, that's one thing, but when we invite the reader along, that's an orgy."
"Not really an orgy," Begenre said. "Or least I don't think that's one. It's been a long time since my college days." The others looked at Begenre. "I heard about them back then," Begenre hastily added. "But I think a good case could be made for it being voyeurism."
"I love ocean ones," Farawa said dreamily.
The other writers regarded the elderly writer carefully.
"I guess readers' tastes are just varied," Divine said. "Some people like to read inspirational, morally uplifting books while others prefer filth and gutter-life."
A long pause ensued.
"Hmm, I hate to agree," Aromance said. "But she's basically right. Readers' tastes vary. Some people like stuffy, boring, moralistic, and simple books while others like to read about a complicated, adult, intelligent world view that reflects contemporary life."
A longer pause.
Divine smiled too brightly. "Perhaps we should discuss this afterwards, dear."
"Oh, let's, sweetie," Aromance said, smiling just as brightly.
"I brought cookies because I thought that would be easier to divide," Cookbookins said. "When I brought pie last time, someone took nearly half of it."
"To return to the original question, I think intent has a lot to do with it," Begenre said. "If a writer is writing the sex scene and the whole point is to simply give the reader a sexual thrill, then maybe it strays into the ... let's not say porn, but the titillation arena. But if the scene is for character development and illumination, it's firmly in the literature arena."
The clock chimed nine, and that was all the time we had. They filed out, leaving Farawa and me. She gathered up her large purse and her notebooks. I smiled at her and asked, "How was that third cookie?"
She winked at me. "Delicious."
(Copyright 2017 Stephen B. Bagley. All rights reserved.)
She had waited all evening. Waiting for the time to be right. Or a miracle. But he stood on the other side of the room. He never walked her way. And she knew he left in the morning for New York. This night was her last chance, but her last chance for what? She didn't know. She couldn't begin to hope, but she knew the perfect words she wanted to hear.
Most everyone else was dancing. Hopping up and down to a manic pop single, but the beat of her heart took all her attention as it drummed a rhythm of fear and hope.
All the way through high school and college, the time had never been right. She had been with Kent and then with Richard. He had been with Laurie, Joanne, and Jenny. But now they were both unattached. What kept this from being the time?
How long was she supposed to wait to hear those perfect words? Or had their time already passed? She knew some things got lost. People grew up. Passions faded. A fire couldn't smolder forever.
They had exchanged glances. Significant, perhaps, but nothing more. They had never been close friends, just friends of friends. They had kissed once in a gazebo in a summer rainstorm, but his cell phone had rang. Joanne was looking for him. Richard was looking for her. She ran all the way back to her cousin's house, soaked to the skin and spent the rest of the vacation suffering from a cold and hiding in her room. He tried to call her several times, but she never took his calls. They hadn't spoken since.
Another song started, more frantic than the last one, but she couldn't hear it over the slow drum in her chest.
Somehow she pulled away from the wall. Somehow she took a step and then another. Four steps, and she reached in the middle of the room. If this had been a movie, he would have met her halfway, but it wasn't. Among the dancers she was alone.
The next step was the hardest. But the rest were easy. She reached him, put out her hand, touched his shoulder.
He turned, his ready smile fading as he saw her.
She couldn't wait anymore. Now. Now before her courage failed her.
She pulled his face to hers and kissed him.
If it had been a movie, he would have laughed and kissed her endlessly. He would have said, "I love you," the perfect words she wanted.
But he didn't.
He looked at her for a long moment.
Panic filled her. This wasn't a movie. This was real life, and their time had passed. She was a fool.
But then he reached out and crushed her against him.
He said, "What took you so long? I've been waiting forever."
As it turned out, those words were perfect, too.
(Copyright 2017 by Stephen B. Bagley. All rights reserved.)
If I could, I would seduce you
into poetry. I would run
feathery words over the bare
shoulders of your muse, touch gently
the moist secret places of your
metaphors, delicately brush
your lips with similes and plunge
rhythm and rhyme into your soul.
I would take you past the threshold
where passion and structure meet, where
one image means the difference
between indifference and glory.
If I could, I would do these things
and do them long and do them well
until when you heard poetry,
you would gasp, don’t stop oh don’t stop.
Excerpt from Undying by Stephen B. Bagley & Gail Henderson.
Ran into a few hitches with Floozy Comes Back. Should have expected them. However, it looks like I will have to push the publication date back to June or July. Maybe the end of May, but I think it unlikely at this point. Just don't think the editing and proofing can be done as well as the necessary new material produced.
Also, graphic selection is going slowly. I used my favorites with the first book, and now I have to find new favorites. In this case, the millions of selections available really slow down the process. Wish I had illustrator skills and talent. Of course, that would something else for me to do! My plate has spilled onto the table and showering on the floor.
But that's the life of indie author. Wouldn't have it any other way. Or would I? Is that possible?
Anyway, by the end of March, I should have a handle on the publication date. Will let you know then. Now...have a good week! God loves you, and I like you. Well, most of you.
Ordinarily at this time of year, I make a few disparaging remarks about Valentine’s Day, or "Passover" as I call in my house, but never within earshot of any of my Jewish friends as they do get the joke, but they don’t think it’s funny, and I hate it when they get all Samson on me.
But this year, I’ve decided to direct our attention to that clothing-challenged archer who wings around shooting people with arrows to make them fall in love with people guaranteed to ruin their lives. I don’t understand Cupid.
Oh sure, I get the metaphor that love is like a sharp weapon that pierces your spleen and makes you hemorrhage to death while your loved one runs off with your best friend, but beyond the obvious, what’s up with him?
He's strange. Has little tiny wings on his back.He flies around more naked than the birds who at least have feathers. He has nothing to protect him from the elements. (People thought that the mythmakers were saying Cupid carried a quiver, but actually they were saying he shivered.)
Supposedly, Cupid was the son of Venus (Goddess of Love) and Mars (God of Candy Bars). That's the accepted story, but other myths say he was the son of Heaven and Earth, Venus and Vulcan, Night and Ether, Venus and Mercury, Strife and Zephyr, and Venus by herself. The point of this is Venus got around, and the Renaissance mythographer Natale Conti says Cupid's parentage was uncertain. (Conti would go on to have a short-lived career in the Renaissance version of the Maury Povich show.)
It wasn’t until Cupid was in school that he learned his parents were mythical and didn’t exist. The other school children used to mock him by saying, “Your daddy's a myther; your mama's a mythssus." At this point, he took up the bow and arrow, but the school counselor disarmed him and sent him to military school where he was ignored because no one wants to look at a naked person all the time.
Not that his life was all bitter solitude. In fact, while carrying out one of his mother’s bizarre revenge schemes—Venus had depths of crazy that even my ex-girlfriends don’t have—he met and stalked a beautiful woman by the name of Psyche, who was a soul sister. (That’s a clever joke because Psyche is Greek for “soul.” Get it? Ha ha.... Well, fine. You try making jokes about love gods and see how easy it is.) He stalked her because he accidentally nicked himself with one of his arrows; there's some sort of lesson in that, but let's not take the time to figure it out.
If Cupid wrote a tell-all memoir, he would feature his mother. Here's this story as an example. When Cupid was a little boy, he stole honey from a bee hive, and the bees stung him. He cried and ran to his mother Venus. She laughs and points out he is also small like the bees and he delivers the sting of love so his pain is justice.Then she kicks him back outside. Listen, if that's not movie-of-the-week gold, I don't know what is. Move over, Joan Crawford, there's a new hanger-shaker in town.
Cupid and Psyche had their problems, of course, as any couple does when the man likes to soar around naked shooting people, but eventually they did marry and had a daughter whom they named Voluptas for no good reason. (She was also known as Hedone, which doesn’t seem any better. I can see Venus standing on the celestial porch hollering, “Voluptas Hedone, you get yourself back in this house right now!”) She hated her parents, mostly because her father’s lack of modesty meant she could never have sleepovers at her house. She left home at an early age and lived a wanton life, but no more so than any pop star or Congressman.
Mercifully, Psyche faded from history (or mythistory) at that point. Cupid, however, showed up a few more times, but marriage had changed him. He now carried two set of arrows, one gold-tipped set that brought love, and another lead-tipped set that brought hate. Some scholars think this is a pointed commentary on marriage. Other scholars wonder why we’re talking about this and think we should get a real job. The other scholars are often grumpy.
Anyway, I want you to think about all this when you get a card with Cupid on it. If you do and then find your Valentine’s Day is a bit less happy, then my job is done.
(Excerpt from the forthcoming Floozy Comes Back. Copyright 2017 by Stephen B. Bagley. All rights reserved. Please do not copy without explicit permission from the author and publisher. Thank you for reading.)
I meant to mention this a few days ago, but I officially finished one fourth of Floozy Comes Back. In fact, I have more than one fourth of it done; 72 pages are in place. Need around 200 to make a book. Hoping to get another 10 before the week ends. Today was really productive.
And how does this work? I'm moving columns and articles over. Retyping and editing material, adding to old material, increasing length. Cutting jokes that are dated, and adding new ones.
My plan to to have the writing done by the end of February. Then the editing and graphics selection begins. I have scheduled March for that. If I keep to this schedule, I should publish in May.
Have you seen that show “Naked And Afraid” on the Discovery Channel? It’s a (so-called) reality show where they drop two total strangers—a man and woman—into a harsh wilderness environment with only one item apiece. Neither item is clothing.
You might think this is a recipe for hanky panky or whatever the kids are calling it these days, but after a day or two with the couple being bitten and stung by hordes of hungry insects, sunburning in places the sun really shouldn’t get to, feeling ravenously hungry and desperately thirsty, having their bare skin slashed by vines and plants, limping on feet bleeding from thorns and bruised by rocks—hanky panky is the last thing on their minds. Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised to find the show is sponsored by the Clothing Manufacturers of America after seeing what clothes and shoes protect us from.
Of course, the Discovery Channel blurs what needs to be blurred; you’ve seen more skin at the beach or the lake. And since these are not supermodels, the skin you do see isn’t skin you’d necessarily want to see—if you can follow that.
“Experts” give them a Survival Rating at the start and end of the show. By choosing to participate in such an insane and life-threatening situation, it’s obvious the participants have the survival skills of deranged lemmings and the intelligence to match. I suspect their family trees are more like telephone poles.
There’s a lot of drama as the two discover that they not only have nothing in common with each other, but that they want the other participant dead. And possibly cooked over a slow fire. Because it’s the 10th day and all they have had to eat was a couple of insects and some grass that tasted like...well, grass.
(Read more in the upcoming Floozy Comes Back, copyright 2017 by Stephen B. Bagley. No copying without prior permission from the author and publisher. Thank you for reading.)
What with one thing or another, I didn't talk about Christmas here much. Sort of surprising since Tales from Bethlehem is a Christmas book, and that is the time it receives the most interest. Life, however, had other plans, and I didn't get into the spirit of Christmas until it was almost upon me. Well, that happens sometimes. But Christmas finally worked its usual magic, and soon I was happily singing carols, sending out Christmas cards, and watching concerts and old Christmas movies.
I hate to see the holiday season end. January always seems so much colder and darker after the life and excitement of Christmas. The winter closes in. The temps drop. The skies stay gray. I miss the sun and warmth.
Almost all decorations are down in my house now. Just a few more things to be packed away and placed into storage until December rolls around again. It seems like long time until then, but it will go fast. The days can drag, but the year blurs.
I always plan to somehow keep Christmas in my heart through the year. I bet you do, too. It's easy to say, but hard to do. Maybe this year we will. I will try. Maybe I should reread Tales every month. That might help! Well, it couldn't hurt, now could it?
Tales from Bethlehem
You've heard the story a thousand times: glorious angels, lowly shepherds, brightly shining star, three Wise Men, and wee babe in a manger. But have you ever wondered about everyone else in tiny Bethlehem on that marvel of nights? What did they think? What did they do? How would you have responded?
In these funny and touching tales, you'll meet a stable boy, a serving girl, an honest spy, an astounding clerk, an empty innkeeper, a mighty ship of the desert, and many others as they share their amazing Tales from Bethlehem.
I hope your 2017 is filled with good health, wealthy sufficient for your needs and a few luxuries, solutions to your worries, peace to quiet any anxious thoughts, love unconditional, sweet laughter, and much, much joy!