Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Third shifts, first drafts (pretty much a monologue, for now)


I started constantly thinking about dying in the first grade.
A kid who sat in the back row of my homeroom class stopped showing up one day. There was no official announcement or counseling or anything back then, so it was a mystery when Daniel Rodus stopped being at school. After gossiping with each other and repeating the scuttlebutt from our parents, my classmates and I heard he died drinking purple poison by accident – he thought it was Kool Aid.
Our teacher dropped her lesson book and her voice cracked as she told us he was not coming back.
I have never been nervous about death. I researched it. I studied all the possible causes, probable and improbable, and made sure I knew how to be saved in every religion. I started always wearing black in middle school, to greet the Grim Reaper on his terms.

When my first cat, Rodus, died I realized I didn’t know enough about him to give him to death properly. I didn’t want that happening when I died, so I started documenting myself, with pictures and journals, and putting phrases about me in other people’s mouths.
I spent hours interviewing people who knew they were going to die – well, hell, we all know we are going to die, why not wrap our heads around it and plan for it - we plan for careers and families and retirements.

After I finished my Master’s degree in Mortuary Science from the Univ. of Minnesota I got my dream job in the city morgue watching the dead bodies overnight. I learned a lot about grief and fake grief, anger and hidden joy, and how people ignore the amount of dead bodies that go into the system each day. Thousands of bodies come into a county morgue each year - and those are only the officially processed suspect, unnamed or unclaimed ones.
I try to see all the dead bodies that pass through here. I look into each of their eyes, imagining what their last words were. That’s how I started my latest Death project - writing my last words.

I may not say my last words for 40 years, but I may say them tomorrow. I don’t wanna sound stupid, or be misheard or misunderstood or not even heard. I wanna sound poetic, respectful, thoughtful, not foolish or in a rush. I am gonna have the perfect last words written out and ready to go, memorized and practiced, and I will utter them with amazing grace and it will be the sparkle on my dark trip beyond, never to come back – probably never to come back anyway.

Lots of quotes from dying people seem bewildered or childlike, some are angry or happy - it depends on who surrounds you, I guess. I want my last words to start a party. My words will inspire a grand reflection and realization of beauty and loss and the future for those around me at the time that I run out of blood, or my lung collapses, or I’m trapped in a burning car, or slowly crushed by a circus elephant or trash compacter, or whatever. I may put them on a voice recorder and just press play on it if I need to, to sound right and give the situation the appropriate gravitas - I need to make a note to buy a voice recorder and carry it around.
However, most of my last words seem rigid and boring like a college professor or a financial planner. I have so many drafts, and barely any of them are fun – the best I can get is wistful with a tad melancholy.
My favorite last line, that I just wrote, the current perfect combination of nouns and verbs and emotions and memories to start a celebration, is this (


Thursday, October 16, 2014

Flash Fiction Challenge 2: The Jealous Moon

Genre: Ghost Story
Location: A rooftop terrace
Object: A ladder

The Jealous Moon
A man plays chess nightly with an ethereal visitor, until the Moon has something to say about it.

The Jealous Moon
I bring out the old wooden ladder, unsuitable for use, and stand it on my rooftop terrace. The air
is moist, but there will be no rain in California. The moon is bright and I am in no hurry, gin at
3 a.m. is not a thing to be rushed. I sip it, lick my lips and watch the ice battle in my glass, as I
gently encourage it.

I inhale deeply, sucking in the stale night air, and set the glass on the bar. The ghost is late

I have no move on the chess board to ponder. I undid the ghost with a wicked endgame last
week, tonight I’m setting up a new game; it’s perfect, eerie, still, with a harsh heat and a huge
moon. We will play for hours, maybe finishing half a game between my gin and our discussions.
I take the chess board from behind the bar and set it on the coffee table, which is flanked by two
uncomfortable new-agey chairs my wife bought. The wind blows, warm and heavy, and I walk
to the edge of the terrace. I lean against the railing, watching the lights twinkling, listening for
hearts breaking, across Los Angeles.

“I visit mostly for the view,” the ghost says behind me.

I snicker. “Well you don’t visit to learn any chess, that’s for sure,” I say, standing straight but
still looking out over the city.

“I enjoy the game... constant variety and planning,” the ghost says.” “But, I admit I am not the
most expert player.”

“You’re too hard on yourself,” I counsel. “It is good to be aggressive, but don’t let your
opponent capture more pieces than you have captured, always be even, or as close as possible.
Know the value of your pieces and positions. Have you gotten to play with anyone else lately?”

“You are the only one I have played with for the last 200 years,” he says. “I think I played my
best in the 14th century.”

“I am sure you did,” I say, as I move toward the table and begin set up the pieces for our game.
“What was that time like?”

“Ah, the romantic days,” he mumbles, his voice trailing off and a smile appearing across his
gray, vapory face. “It was brighter at night. I could see the whole universe when I looked
skyward. I was in Africa a lot, always searching for writing utensils.”

“Were pens really cool back then?” I ask, as I place my last pawn in its opening position and
begin setting up his pieces.

“A quill and ink from the 14th century would indeed be very cool today, but it was just one of the harder things to find back in those days, so that’s why the Devil chose it. The Devil likes to make
it hard sometimes.”

“But not all the time?” I ask.

“No, sometimes he wants ghosts to find the easiest most boring thing for 700 years straight, just
to frustrate us and bore us to tears. We are just locating whatever is his latest whim. Sometimes
we are limited to one house, and need to find one item, sometimes we can roam the globe and
find a variety of objects,” the ghost says. “He takes pleasure in giving us small tortures. He is a
lot like an uneducated school prankster who gets glee from making someone repeat an awkward
phrase or trip on their shoelaces. You know all this, I have told you.”

“Yes, but you tell it so well,” I say. “I enjoy the stories as much as the chess.”

“I am just glad you bring the ladder out for me every night, so I can accomplish my goal,” the
ghost says. “Ghosts are just scavengers, tortured to have to find things every night, things we
can’t even touch. Oh it does make the Devil laugh. But, at least we have a goal. We know what
the point of our cold, foggy existence is. You sad living bastards don’t even know what to live
for, or what the point is.”

“The point of living is to enjoy a top-shelf gin on a spectacular night, on an expensive rooftop
terrace while fingering the delicate carvings of a fine chess piece, and contemplating,” I say.

“You are a simple man.” the ghost says. “It is good to be simple. It is good to pursue simple joys,
and not pursue simple rage and jealousy. People have been finding more sophisticated ways to
hide their rage and envy every century, but it is still there in way too many people. In some ways
I think society was better when there were feuding families and duels and dictators, even anarchy
and martial law; fear was more apparent and allowed. It could be spotted and dealt with, it was
not buried, smoldering beneath, ready to bite, and always denied.”

“You are a talkative ghost tonight.”

“Sorry. Is it my move?”

“It has been for a while.”

“I apologize. I am vociferous tonight,” the ghost says. “The Devil found out I was coming here
regularly for my scavenger hunts. He is not happy and is sure to punish me in some petty way
and in all likelihood I will not be able to return.”

“But what happened?” I ask, biting my lip to deny my future of lying in the cold bed next to my
wife for the entire night from now on.

“The moon, I suspect. The moon is full of envy. It sits still and lights the sky for beautiful and
despicable actions it can never take part in. It can only watch, with longing,” the ghost says. “I
suspect the moon whispered something to the Devil, and I will be scavenging something else
in another part of the world soon, something hard to find in an area with people who never see
ghosts and never play chess.”

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Banned Books Week Celebrating the Freedom to Read: Sept. 21-27, 2014

check it

Banned Books Week

Celebrating the Freedom to Read: Sept. 21-27, 2014



Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Stealing songs and souls

Flash Fiction Challenge #1 2014
Group 17
Genre: Historical Fiction
Location: An Interrogation room
Object: A handwritten invitation
1,000 Word Limit
Author: Mike Hammer

 Stealing songs and souls 
By Mike Hammer 

Courtney had been in police stations before, locked up for drugs and drunkenness and disorderly conduct, and B&E and shoplifting and slappin’ bitches, but she had never been ‘in the box’ before. She pushed up her bra, proudly displayed her chest and looked unfazed as the officer escorted her into the tiny room – concrete walls, a single table, 3 chairs and the famous one-sided window were all there; she held her breath, sat down and exhaled slowly – where she would wait for the detectives.

She had been on the edge for so long, trying to be mastermind, to be Head Bitch In Charge, trying to control everyone and everything, so maybe it was time to take a break. Let the cops charge her, ride it out and disappear. She was never good at disappearing tho, even if she wasn’t the center of attention she was around the fringes of it.

“Ms. Love,” the first detective through the door greeted her. He held a manila folder, with her doom.
“Ms. Love,” repeated the second detective.

Love, ha. Is that why she killed Kurt? Was it for love, so he wouldn’t leave her because she loved him too much? Was love always the reason when she poisoned and punched and paraded naked?

“Why am I here?” she asked the Junior G Men as they pulled out their chairs and sat across from her.

“Just routine Ms. Love, we always interview loved ones after someone commits suicide,” said the first detective. “We have no reason to suspect you of killing your husband.”
“Are you sure,” the second detective asked the first. “She has a history of violence, she had a P.I. following Kurt, she threatened her first husband, she allegedly offered to pay multiple people to kill Kurt. I am not so sure Ms. Love isn’t facing the gas chamber.”

“Kurt killed himself,” Love said, icy, dismissive, only 3 days after Kurt’s body was found, full of Heroin with a shotgun wound to the head, in the greenhouse above their garage - a garage they had hung out in, kissed, undressed, made love, fucked furiously and fought in. “He left a note. Read it. I’m leaving.”

Love stood up to walk out at the second detective stood up and shoved her back in the chair.

“You can leave when we tell you to leave,” her spat at her.
“If you wanted to get your hands on me you just had to ask detective,” Courtney responded, pulling down her shirt and revealing her breast. “There are more than a few cops who with give you a statement about my fantastic dick sucking skills.”

“Did you kill you husband Ms. Love?” asked the first detective.
“I loved Kurt Cobain,” she said soft, to herself, a mourner, a former groupie, testifying at a memorial.
“That isn’t what I asked,” the first detective said.

“He left a damn suicide note, I didn’t so shit, asshole,” Love barked.

“I know you got a lot of money from HOLE and showing your titties off in magazines and in film and on stage and I know you could hire a hit man to kill Kurt while you were out of town,” the second detective said. “You could get him waxed before he divorced you, you evil doping, whoring ball and chain.”
“He did call you a doping, whoring cunt in one of his notes,” the first detective said.
“Yeah, that was the more bitter angry aggressive note,” the second detective said as he opened the folder on the desk. Inside the folder Courtney recognized the handwritten invitation Kurt had gotten from Greg Sage. Kurt idolized Greg. In 2 weeks Kurt was supposed to go to Portland to record with Greg, some real old bluesy stuff, full of emotion, no gimmicks, no trendy lines and catchphrases, just heartbreak. Kurt was so excited. It was the last coherent thing he talked about before she shot that dickless cunt “The handwriting experts haven’t compared the notes yet, but lots of killers have tried to put fake suicide notes into the scene, and they always get caught. Did you know that Ms. Love?”

“I don’t know anything,” Love said. “Except my husband is dead and I am grieving.”
“You don’t sound real broken up,” the first detective said.

“She’s not broken up man, she’s happy,” the second detective said. “Kurt was gonna leave her, he wrote half her fucking songs, he supplied her with drugs and fame and a family, what would she do without him? I think she did some shitty heroin with him, got him so high he couldn’t move then took a shotgun to his head, that’s what I think.”
“Do you get paid to think up crazy shit?” Love asked.
“I do, I do, mostly ‘cause people do a lot of crazy shit. I get to think like them, get inside their jealous, pathetic, selfish minds. I get to pretend I’m forgetting about my daughter, jonesin’ for a fix and abusing people who love me,” the second cop answered. “It’s scary inside your head isn’t it Courtney?”
“You can’t get inside my head, you fucking cop,” she replied, cold, menacing.

“Oh, I had you wrong. You sound like a sweet girl,” the first cop said. “Why don’t you help us out then, explain to us why a we should believe a crazy, druggie hooker like you?

“You gonna let me leave yet?” Love asked.
“You gonna tell us if you wrote that suicide not we found a couple inches from the inside of Kurt’s head? How about the second note we found in his wallet?” asked the first cop.
“She’s not gonna tell us shit,” the second cop said. “She isn’t interested in finding out why her husband was killed.”

“Kurt killed himself,” Courtney yelled.
“Why would he do that?” the first detective said. “Why would a famous young man with a famous band and millions of dollars kill himself?”
“For love.”

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Interview with Christina Haviland, director of “Jekyll & Hyde: The Musical”

I have been working with a local arts center lately and this is an interview I conducted with one of the directors for the new production. Interview with Christina Haviland, director of “Jekyll & Hyde: The Musical” Christina Haviland has been working with Olmsted Performing Arts (OPA) since 2003, she is a director and scenic artist. She attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and has worked as an actor in California, Colorado and Ohio. Haviland has been set designer for several Northeast Ohio theaters and productions and is a director for Main Stage and Classic productions at OPA. Read below to see some of her insights into theater, directing and why “Jekyll & Hyde: The Musical” at OPA is a must see production. What draws you to theatre and directing? The stories that connect us as humans is primarily what I go to when I think of why I do this. To be able to create something, and to have others share in the experience (whether actors or audience) is rewarding beyond measure. For me, theater is about how we are similar, it sheds that light for us in a unique way. That is beautiful. How does a director prepare for his or her part? Everyone is different, some like to research by watching other productions, I do a little of that from time to time, but most of my preparation comes from reading the script and then ruminating on the theme, or overall tone. Sometimes, I will read books the play was based on. I’ll also watch films or plays similar to the one I’m working on, but not exactly the same. I listen to music that reminds me of the show, I’ll visit places the show takes place in - anything that will spark vision. Once I do that, generally inspirations strikes afterward, but when I least expect it. When you read play what do you see and hear in your head? What I love is the fact that often, I connect with subtext as I’m reading a script. Some stage direction is very clear, I try to stay true to it, but I also don't want my shows to look like every other version of the show done other places. What I do is look for the tone, for underlying motivation of characters and play with that. Color… I’m not sure why, and it's hard to explain but I "see colors"… it sets the tone for the direction of the show- I don't do it, it sort of takes off on its own. Sometimes my unorthodox style creates beauty. Sometimes it doesn't come to fruition the way it has in my mind, the execution fails and has to be changed on stage. Do you try to make plays you direct look or feel a certain way? What is your goal as director? Every show has to be "true" to itself so, yes, all of them look and feel a certain way - but that "way" isn't the same as the last one. My goal is singular, in that it is always to connect to the audience Is it more exciting to be a part of the first professional production at Olmsted Performing Arts or more intimidating? Why? I’m terrified and I’m thrilled - terrified, not because I undervalue our work here, but because, it’s a huge calling and privilege, thrilled because I truly love this place. What we have grown here, is unique and I’m beyond excited to share that with others who love theater as much as me. What surprised you about directing Jekyll & Hyde? I wasn't fully prepared for the darkness of this show. It’s asking me to go to a place, that I don't necessarily want to go, but it's my job, to help fulfill the image and to tell the story. It's strange that we can connect with the shadow on so many levels. Also, I have to give HUGE respect to the actors here, this show is so physically demanding, especially on the leads. I knew it was challenging going in - but I had no idea it was such a "monster" on so many levels. What have you learned directing Jekyll & Hyde? As a director and human, I have learned, when tacking a show like this, to clear my schedule. I will next time for certain. Also, I have learned that vulnerability isn't well understood by all us. I have rarely felt this exposed for my shortcomings, but it has brought a lot of knowledge I can carry with me - growth for certain. What will audience members learn and appreciate when watching Jekyll & Hyde? I don't think you can watch this show without deeply appreciating the music. I can’t really be the judge of what others will learn there are many valuable themes in this show. What I can say is I believe they will appreciate details in every aspect of the show, set design, staging, fights, costumes, and in the story. Ultimately, for me, the commonality of the story lies in this: Jekyll believes he is doing the right thing for humanity, but really he is exorcizing his own hurt, he becomes so singular in his task he causes massive damages to those he loves. There are times we "believe" we are doing the right thing, but we cause a lot of pain for others too. It's a difficult lesson, but aren't they all.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Poetry Month at Cuyahoga County

Cuyahoga County Public Library is bringing you 30 days of poetry to celebrate National Poetry Month. Here you’ll find poems to write, poems to read, poetry websites to get to know and poetry books to check out from the library. Here’s what makes this site special: our focus is on the poets and poetry of Northeast Ohio. Check out 30 Days of of Poetry HERE.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Iron Alexander, Iron Home

Iron Alexander was a lot like the Marvel superhero Iron Man, except he was poor, did not have a gorgeous assistant, had no weapons on his body and could not fly. But he could smash anything and he was strong and indestructible and he could beat anything in a fist to fist fight. Iron Alexander tried to fall in love with Iron Man once, but it didn’t work. No matter how Iron Alexander displayed his care and affection and was available and considerate and sweet and charming Iron Man could not shake his old habits of bad relationships. This was Iron Man’s fault, not Iron Alexander’s – Iron Alexander knew that, but it still hurt. When Iron Alexander confronted Iron Man about this they fought, and the battle was heard for miles and recorded on TMZ and the internet. Iron Alexander felt ashamed, he was the best he could be, but Iron Man still didn’t love him. Iron Alexander stopped taking vacations to war zones and private parties where he might see Iron Man. Iron Alexander threw himself into his work. He mostly got jobs digging tunnels in mountains, expanding railroads and such. “Oh my my my, my work is so hard, give me water…” always played in his head. Sam Cooke’s fantastic gentle, intense, heart wrenching and heartfelt rhythm and blues song “Chain Gang” moved him along always, except when he had time off to work on building his home. He built it of iron and the song in his head then was the song “To Build a Home” by The Cinematic Orchestra. He changed the words slightly to make them his own “This is a house built out of IRON/IRON floors, walls and window sills…This is a place I don’t feel alone/This is a place where I feel at home.” In his head was the only place he could escape the sounds of metallic clanging, the sounds of his joints creaking and squeaking, his body banging and clanging. His iron home would be indestructible too, like him. It would live forever, with him. It would always look like the day it was built, just like he always looked the same as the day his iron parents had left him on the doorstep of an orphanage. No other iron kids at the orphanage, no other iron kids anywhere – he looked, all over the world. He was special, unique; he was also alone. He finished his iron home after years, when most of the railroads were made and the mountains were tunneled. Now his sat and waited, on his front porch. He waited for all the wars to end so maybe Iron Man would come to him, although Iron Man was really a man and would never love Iron Alexander, who was really iron. He waited for other iron people, for his iron parents to come home. He waited for someone to truly break his iron heart. He waited for a sweet death he knew would never come.