Excerpt: “Holy Mother of Selina Sky”

My sincerest thanks for all the kind words and well wishes from my blogging friends. I needed to get my priorities sorted, particularly with respects to the relationships in my life. I started writing again, in earnest, and managed to salvage the most important relationship I have, other than the one with God. I’ve also started the novel Jeanne Dark, and so far, it’s going well. So, it was a productive respite. I also started a blog that’s not about the writing per se or the photography, but about me and the world. Sometimes you have to take some steps backward to get where you’re trying to go. Here’s to moving forward.

In hopes some of you still enjoy my stories, below is another excerpt from the novelette  “Holy Mother of Selina Sky.” It’s my favorite story to date. It’s the bittersweet tale of a lonely man who becomes the caretaker of a special little girl when her mother abandons her. 

I have no idea who this is, but she was my Selina right away. The story was based on my true encounter with a little girl in a park.

On the Tuesday that life started, I made the first loop around the lake, past the ornamental grasses full of peppery pollen, around the bend to the wildflowers that drew fewer bees each summer, through the roller-coaster twists of an up-and-downhill S-curve, to a dense thicket of trees, over the wooden bridge that covered fetid water that smelled like poo, past the noisy hill where small children played in the neighboring development’s tot lot, and past the grass field where lived an enormous cloud of gnats whose sole function in life was to torment me. I once read that mosquitoes are attracted to Type O blood, my type. I suppose gnats must be too. Past the swarm was a 0.2-mile straightaway along which little old ladies flocked on wooden benches like winter seagulls on the frozen lake, and then to the final straightaway, a downhill obstacle course where I would dip and dodge trying to avoid the gross, green globs of goose guano that perpetually painted the pathway. This was the part I hated the most, even more than the rude children, the swarming bugs, or the fetid lake water. This was where the families were – moms and pops who’d bring their kids to feed stale popcorn or moldy bread to the fowl vermin, despite signs along every turn of the lake admonishing them not to.

In retrospect, I cannot tell you if I was ever aware that I didn’t actually like walking around the lake. Liking a thing wasn’t something that I ever thought about. It was preferable, I believed, to focus on what was required of me. I was like a sharpened pencil. No one ever asks the pencil if it wants to write; they merely sharpen it, wearing it down a bit more each time, and make it do what it should. The way I saw it, I was an excellent pencil. Continue reading “Excerpt: “Holy Mother of Selina Sky””

i go to work


i go to work
some days i flow
soft
like the first
kiss of spring sun
or an untouched creek
i’m gentle, cool and smile
’cause God is there
and you my dear, always
you my dear
but on other days, i rage
in the night
a cry of pain, of cold, of heat lost
but i play it cool
see?
cool like a glass of ice
cool like winter in the south
and cool, like i don’t
hurt

i go to work
and make it flow
and let it cool
cause that’s what God expects
and i type, and weep, in silence
you write my song, my dear, and it’s
you, always you,
for whom i type,
eyes closed, i write your
words, sing the softness
of your strength, only soft for me
you say, as i am only hot for you
and you know,
baby
what magic soft and hot can make

like the flow of a lava-sunday
morning love session
when you clutch our satin sheets
and arch to me, like
when you grab my head
and lose your own
right before … right then…
just then … baby, when

i go to work
and make it flow and
they never know, do they
baby? they never
feel it from me, do they
baby?
so i just, you know,
i play it cool
cool like fritz the
cat cause they
don’t know fritz
baby
cool like a marvin gaye
soundtrack
cool like “t” and it rhymes with
me, cause i play it cool
so they won’t know
baby but you do
you know the saxophonic heat
playing in my gravelly voice or
like a miles davis broken bell
it sings the soundtrack to my burden

my God has left me
a road map with no destination
instead, in bold letters
instructions saying,

“my son
go to work
and make it flow, child
and I gave you more burdens
than them because
you got more work to do
and you know, child
how lazy you gets
so pick up the pen in your
wrong hand and
go to work and
tell them of the days you spent
in a crowd of
no one there
the lion manchild
in a little boy shell
all crunchy nougat and
no sweet inside”

so i go to work,
to make it flow
and let it cool
like the pacific, cool
cool like ike cool
cool like ray letting it do
what it do cool
so cool yo mama
wears her back hair
as a fur coat, cool
bitch
too cool, that kinda cool
cool like
you know, you
know you know you like
it bitch
kinda cool
and your mama did too
and

i go to work
and make it flow
cause it don’t have to rhyme
cause life ain’t a damn poem
life from the bottom
always looks like everywhere
you go is up
and the view from the back
of the pack
is always the same
and smells a lot like ass
so up, i rise,
up, i rise,
and up i rise and
up i rise and
up i rise
and
up
i always rise
because i’ll be
damned if the
enemy will win

see my God
whispered
this song
see
just a one note song
in my left ear
with a stingy melody
and a funky ass backbeat
and God whispered,
singing

“go to work
and win, my child,
and win.”

Random Photo Prompt

I posted this to my photo blog and wondered what people could do with it. If you’re so inclined, I’d love to see what words (or other art forms) you can make, with this as inspiration. It’s not a great photo, but it’s a pretty cool sign.

No Vacancy Tonight

And if that one doesn’t move you, maybe this one will. If you get bored enough to use one, let me know. Cheers!

My Church Has Bugs

My church is nature. On Sundays, you will find me in communion with God, here, amidst his works. Now some would say that means I am spiritual, but not religious. They would be wrong. Although I believe  in houses of God, I prefer the house God built. With the earth my church, I am forced to treat her as a sacred temple. I don’t throw trash in my church, and although I may swat the occasional vermin, I nurture those God chose to house in his temple.

The earth is my temple
I shall not want
it maketh me to stand straight and notice
to stop to hear the call of the cardinal
Yeah, though I walk through the shadow of the sewers of filth,
I will heed no people
for thou are with me.

Amen

Now I realize that as prayers go, that one sounds a bit misanthropic. In truth, it has little to do with people. Instead, it’s a reminder to trust. I walk in the sun, close my eyes, and try to forget all the things I’ve been taught are impossible. In letting go of what I’ve accepted, hopefully I can take possession of what I’ve been promised.

My church has bugs, but it’s bigger than yours. The roof leaks too.

What LeBron and Jordan Taught Me about Writing (and Life)

Writer’s Note: This is a long post, but it’s about the NBA, Writing, and the Key to Life.

I am a fan of NBA basketball. In fact, it’s fair to say I’ve been a near fanatic for most of my life. I grew up watching the greats: Wilt Chamberlain, Clyde Frazier, Jerry West. I was a fan through the Magic vs. Bird years, and endured, and eventually rooted for Jordan’s Bulls. These days, I watch most every Miami Heat game, while choking down occasional helpings of my hometown team, the Wizards.

This week, sportscasters and writers are aflame with LeBron James’s recent feat: scoring 30 or more points while hitting 60% or greater in six straight games. For all you non-basketball fans, suffice it to say it’s an unheard of level of efficiency.

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So now, laughably, all those same people who were bashing LeBron two years ago are gushing all over him now. Some have even begun the whispers – maybe LeBron is as good as, or (gasp) better than Jordan.

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Now, before you Jordan worshipers douse me in Haterade, let me quickly say I’m not getting into that stupid debate. There is no such thing as a Greatest of All Time (GOAT). The best offensive player in history was Wilt. The best defender was Bill Russell. The winningest NBA baller was Russell with 11 championships – hell, even Robert Horry had 7.

The arguments remind me of those who try and determine who was the best writer of all time (which I wrote about previously). Each of the greatest among us has different gifts, and to attempt to compare one to the other misses the point. No one was as enduring as Shakespeare. Yet, even the Bard never reached the economic heights of J. K. Rowling. Picking Jordan as the GOAT diminishes everyone else whose path to success was different or who played under different circumstances.

Sure, Jordan was arguably the best NBA championship performer of our generation. (I couch it in those terms because I never saw Russell play.) He also had the greatest impact on young players worldwide, and was certainly the most economically successful. So, does this supersede Wilt’s 50 points per game season, or Oscar Robertson’s triple-double (points, rebounds, and assists) season? Not in my opinion. A crate of apples isn’t better than a crate of oranges; it’s just different.

So, what does this have to do with writing? Everything. See, I’ve been pondering why Jordan, who was less heralded than LeBron at age 19, yet achieved the same number of MVPs, reached the same number of NBA Finals as LeBron at this stage of his career, and managed to win 3, while Mr. James has but one. My conclusion: it’s all about coaching.

No, I’m not saying that Jordan was an inferior talent whose brilliant coaches got him over. Instead, I am saying that to achieve greatness, to maximize one’s potential, one has to avail oneself of whatever resources are available. This includes finding mentors, using strategic and tactical resources, and most importantly, doing what they teach you.

43_3108473_0da6677b699ebb81Let’s quickly look at the two players’ paths. Jordan left high school and went to the University of North Carolina, playing under legendary coach Dean Smith. Coach Smith was a brilliant tactician who won 879 games in his career, including two National Championships. Jordan helped win him his first. Jordan was great in college, but no one foresaw what he would become. In part, that was because he played alongside another 1st-ballot Hall of Famer, James Worthy, and a very talented Sam Perkins. After three seasons, Jordan went pro.

Sam Perkins, Michael Jordan, and Coach Dean Smith
Sam Perkins, Michael Jordan, and Coach Dean Smith

We all know what happened next: He developed into a brilliant offensive (and defensive) weapon, and won six NBA titles, the first coming a year after new coach Phil Jackson arrived. Jordan won all six titles playing with 1st-ballot Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen, and the last three with Hall of Famer Dennis Rodman. Does the pattern sound familiar? We’ll get to that later.

Teams carry each other
Teams carry each other

The rest is history. By the time he retired everyone (but me) agreed he was the NBA’s GOAT. (I still like Wilt. And Magic. And The Big O. And Kareem. And …)

LeBron took a different path. He was decreed the Second Coming of Jordan while still in high school. urlHe forwent college, going straight to the NBA, along with enormous endorsement contracts. He carried played for the Cleveland Cavaliers for seven years, taking them to the Finals once, before making The Decision to join Batman Dwyane Wade, as the Heat’s new Superman. (There ain’t no Robin.) Now, in year 3 of his stint with the Heatles, LeBron has become that which everyone always thought he would be, back when he was a teenager.

So, what’s the lesson here, you ask? Well, let’s compare:

–       Jordan left high school and honed his craft under the tutelage of a master coach. Dean Smith taught him the game, and Did Not allow Jordan to use his athleticism to the detriment of developing other skills. In effect, he pushed him out of his comfort zone.

–       Jordan improved his game year by year, as LeBron has done. However, he began to win titles when he 1) teamed up with another All-Star performer (Pippen) playing under probably the best basketball coach of all time.

–       LeBron, by contrast, missed the 3 years of being coached up by a master teacher. Instead, he jumped straight to the pros, where he was expected to be the alpha dog, the main attraction, and the only real superstar.

–       LeBron’s coach in Cleveland was good, but not great, and certainly no Phil Jackson. Throughout his career, LeBron had been admonished (by critics) to develop a post-up game (playing close to the basket where his size and quickness gives him an advantage), and to develop a consistent jump shot. He resisted both. Since he was the alpha dog, no one made him.

–       He finally paid attention to history and began to recreate what Jordan had: finding two Hall of Fame caliber teammates and a better coach. More importantly, he worked in the offseason to improve his jump shot, and took private coaching from Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon to improve his low-post game. In effect, he finally used his resources and accepted coaching.

The result? No one has seen anyone make basketball look so easy before. We don’t know how good the man will be, and that’s the entire fun of it.

Let’s step back now, and apply these lessons learned to writing, or to any endeavor you may be undertaking.

1. Learn the fundamentals. Both LeBron and Jordan have a single thing in common beyond working harder than everyone else: they made few mistakes on the court. Both are students of the game, and applied what they learned. If you’re not dead, you haven’t finished mastering the fundamentals. (If you are dead, stop haunting my blog, you ghost-ass bitch.)

2. Coaching makes a difference. Jordan never won a title playing under less than a Hall of Fame coach, despite his talent. Why? Success is hard. If it weren’t it would mean nothing. Those 3 years of college LeBron missed probably did more to limit him than any opponent. Imagine LeBron in Cleveland after being forced to learn to play power forward as well as he did point guard. He would have entered the league the player he is becoming only now.

3.  Step out of the comfort zone  – I promise you that both players were forced out of theirs. Dean Smith didn’t play alley oop ball to the exclusion of all else. Phil worked his offense, irrespective of who had to sacrifice to make it work. LeBron made his historical 30-point, 60% run playing the power forward game he had steadfastly refused to play his whole career. You cannot grow without stretching.

4. Get Good Teammates – For writers that means find artists, marketers, agents, publishers, editors, critics. GOAT or no, Jordan won no titles without Pippen. LeBron won none without D-Wade (who won none without Shaquille O’Neal or LeBron). Writing takes an inordinate amount of individual effort. Publishing, however, is a team sport. You will not win it alone.

5. Ignore Haters, but listen to critics – this one will determine whether you succeed or fail, in my opinion. Coming out of college, the NBA draft thought Sam Bowie would be better than Jordan. Sam Who? When LeBron left Cleveland, haters said he would never win a championship. They said if he won one, no one would credit him because it would be Wade’s team. LeBron was Robin; D-Wade was Batman. When the Heat won the title, nobody said either thing. Haters don’t study history. If they had, they would have noticed LeBron was following the Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson model of playing with Hall of Famers. Lone Wolves don’t win titles. However, critics also said LeBron needed to play the low post and shoot more consistently. Year 1 with the Heat, he didn’t. They lost. Year 2, he did; they won.

6. Don’t measure success with numbers – Robert Horry won more titles than Jordan. Pippen won as many. Udonis Haslem has twice as many championship rings as LeBron. Give yourself permission to measure your success by achieving whatever it is you set out to achieve.

See, the lesson here is simple. Basketball is the key to understanding the universe. That’s why God made the planets round. We’re all part of the game. Life is a team sport. Play it to win.