The Future: A Poem

I love poetry. Somehow, it allows you to say just what you want to say and nothing more.

The Future

Would that you could see the future,

What would it be that you’d see?

A bright winter day half a year away,

Your unborn child,

Aged ten,

Up in a tree?

 

Would that you could see the future,

Would you cheer it or would it cause groans?

Would you feel the bliss of your betrothed’s impassioned  kiss

Or cry at the year’s-later scene

When  it was cancer’s choice,

Not hers,

To leave you alone?

 

Would that you could see the future,

Would your family be the one you dream of,

As if they were conjured from your mind one lonely night,

Brought to life in that moment by your very sight?

Or is family something we build piece by piece,

And the most important piece is love?

 

Would that you could see the future,

Your future self would say,

“Of course this is the future.

How could it have turned out any other way?”

 

Would that you could see the future,

Your wife and child smiling back.

“We’re waiting for you in the future, dear.

Confidence that you’ll get here?

Oh, honey, for such confidence we do not lack.

Timmy turns ten this Sunday.

He’s excited for the tree house you’ll build.

Meanwhile, your book just found a bestseller list.

Your publisher is absolutely thrilled.”

 

This last one is the future I see,

Beautiful yet incomplete.

The particulars and minutia have yet to set themselves.

But, as far as I’m concerned,

It can’t be beat.

 

I say that not knowing the truth

Of the future that will stand in its place;

Whether its hallmark will be

A warm southern breeze

Or an Alaskan night cold as ice.

No one can know the future.

Would that you could.

It comes down to chance and choice.

But I hope and pray that the true future day

Will somehow be

Just as nice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MY Novel–Even God Makes Mistakes: Chapter 1

With apologies to my longtime readers, I have decided to repost the first chapter of my as yet unpublished novel, for the benefit of my new twitter and Facebook friends! I hope you enjoy what you read here and find inspiration in it!

Each chapter begins with a poem.

I could tell you life is fleeting.

But that’s a truth everyone knows.

It doesn’t bear repeating,

Isn’t worthy of a refrain

Read while a tired body lies in repose.

As it’s a fact that too often shows

How little control we mortals maintain.

-An excerpt from the poem Nothing Is Forever by Madeline Mailer

Chapter 1.

Death, Part 1

            

              Terrence McDonald is 55. The year is 2045.

      

       The TV is on, and I’m on the couch, leaning as far back as I can. My heavy, indecisive brown eyes—their lenses blurred ever since my tumultuous entrance–flutter between open and shut. I am half-watching half-listening to a football game on a Sunday afternoon. Was that the doorbell?

“Who is it?” I call out, expecting to hear my daughter Megan’s voice. These days she is the one person who visits me. The only person who knows I’m making my home in this little oasis fashioned from wood felled by my own hand.

“Terry, it’s Mom. I’m here to help you move.”

       My mom? That’s not possible. She’s…

       Wait, to help me move? Oh, God.

I rise from the couch and glance back at my lifeless body. Five-foot-eight standing up, but now it’s slumped over, grayish-blue. A few stray locks of the black hair my father gave me spill over into my unseeing eyes.

       Shit. I still had more I wanted to do, damn it! Was it my cerebral palsy? We’ve co-existed forever. Has it somehow—in its slow, indirect way—finally done me in?

I turn back around toward the TV, and I see my mom materialize in front of me, a concerned look on her face.

“Are you okay?”

“No, of course not!” I scream. “So is that it? I’m dead. Just like that?”

She doesn’t say anything, but her silence says everything.

“How? How did I die?”

Mom puts her hand on my shoulder like she always did when I was a kid and I was upset and needed some time to calm down. “You don’t remember?”

“No, Mom. If I remembered, why would I ask?”

She is silent for another beat. “If you don’t remember… then it’s probably best if I stay quiet for now. My job is to take you Home.”

“I am home,” I shoot back.

“You don’t understand. Where I’m taking you… this is a different kind of Home. This is the place where you’ll find out what happens next.”

“Is there any way around this? Any way at all?”

These words are as close as I’ve ever come to arguing with my mom. That’s because arguing with her does not come naturally to me. And, considering the life I have, I never thought I’d hear myself plead for it.

“No, Terry. I’m sorry, but there’s not. You know that, if there were a way, I’d tell you what it was. But this has been decided.”

I pull away from her. Am I frightened? No, not exactly. But I am… disheartened.

Before I can get too far away, she takes my hand. “Come with me, Terry. I love you.”

It’ s been so long since my mother said those words to me—I love you—that I’d forgotten how true and convincing they sound in her voice, and how much I missed them—and her.

Without warning, we’re not in the cabin anymore, and I find myself in a house so familiar I am comfortable in seconds. The smells are familiar. The floor plan. The art on the walls. This is a replica of the home I shared with my wife, before she got sick and I moved into the cabin.

“See, it’s not so bad,” Mom is saying. “I picked it out and furnished it myself. Just for you.”

It is a nice place. Much nicer than I’m used to these days, that’s for sure. Not that I have anything but a vague idea where we are.

Now that I’ve calmed down some, it isn’t just this new house I’m appraising. I’m also getting my first real good look at Mom in twenty years. Hers is a face looking as youthful today as it appeared in the photograph announcing her entrance into womanhood—taken in her eighteenth year. I remember seeing this picture in a family album decades ago.

“You’ve got all the comforts you’re used to,” Mom explains. “Along with a couple you might have forgotten about.”

“So this is where I’ll be living now?”

The frown on her face hints at the fact that things aren’t that simple. “Well, that depends on your appointment, but I sure hope you will. Your father and I are just down the street.”

“Dad’s here?”

“Yes, he made it.” She smiles.

“My appointment?”

“Everyone has an appointment when they first get here.”

“What happens? Who is the appointment with?”

“I can’t tell you, Terr.” Mom takes a seat in the first of three chairs arranged in front of my large television screen. This is the only liberty she’s taken in the design. The original home had two chairs in front of this television, because two was enough for Mattie and me, but I sense Mom gave me the extra seat in case I should have company over. “Those who have been through their own appointments, like me, are expressly forbidden from sharing any details with newcomers, like you. Each one is different based on the soul and the life it concerns.”

“Ah.” Now I’m nervous. And not just because I get the feeling at this moment that Mom is spouting some section of a well-rehearsed monologue. I wonder if, at this appointment, everything in a person’s life is considered.

“Yes, everything is considered,” Mom says.

I shoot her a confused glance. Did she just read my mind?

“Oh, I’m sorry. We don’t often use spoken words or languages here. I mean, we can. And we will, especially in cases when explanations or announcements need to be delivered to a large number of people. God prefers spoken language Himself. But it’s more common, for those who have been Home a while, to communicate telepathically. I thought that was what you were doing.”

I shake my head.

“Well, in a few days, once you’re feeling acclimated, let me know. You can call me on this.” Mom produces what looks like a cell phone. “That’s a direct line to me and me alone. When you’re ready, I’ll come and pick you up and take you to your appointment.”

“Okay.”

But first, she thinks, get some rest. You look terrible.

I am a little tired, but what do you expect? I’m dead.

“You’re getting the hang of our telepathy already.” She laughs, gives me a hug. “I’ve gotta get back to cook your father’s pot roast, or he might go a little nuts.”

Sounds like Dad. A hungry Carl McDonald means an irritable, hard-to-deal-with Carl McDonald (I was going to say hard-to-live with, but the word doesn’t fit).

Mom pats my shoulder and disappears. This new Home is going to mean some big adjustments for me.

                                   

                      ***

 

       I’m going to guess it’s taken me the better part of three days—spent resting and recuperating from life–to convince myself that I’m really dead and, secondly, that I’m ready to face whatever might be in store for me. I have to guess at how much time has passed because, as it turns out, this new home of mine–furnished by my mom–does not include a clock. Not one. I only discovered this flaw after she departed, so there was no way to readily remedy it. Stores specializing in electronics aren’t plentiful in The Afterlife.

Wait, that’s not true. Maybe they are. I don’t know what lies beyond these four walls yet. I’ve barely moved since I got here. But I am as prepared as I’ll ever be for my personal appointment, so I pull out the cell phone Mom gave me for just this situation. It doesn’t require dialing. My connection to her is immediate.

“Terry?” she says.

“Hi, Mom.”

“You’re ready for your appointment?”

“I guess.”

“Okay.” She pauses, a bit too long for your run-of-the-mill pause. Something’s bothering her. “Okay, I’m glad to hear it.”

“What’s wrong? You’re gonna pick me up, right?”

“I was planning on it, but it looks like your Grandpa Jack needs to be picked up today.”

“Oh, you mean he’s-”

“Yep.”

“I’m sorry, Mom. Boy, he lived forever, didn’t he?”

She laughs. “Pretty darn close. I’m just glad he got to go out the way he wanted; peacefully, in his sleep. Anyway, your dad and I have to be there for him, but I’m sending your old friend Charlie out to you. He’ll get you where you need to go, no problem.”

Charlie. How nice it will be to see him again. It’s been a long time. This isn’t the only thought I have upon hearing Charlie will be here soon, but it’s the only thought I feel comfortable sharing, in case Mom can read my thoughts through the phone as easily as she could standing in the same room.

“Okay, thanks. Tell Grandpa Jack I say hi.”

“I will. And you call me when you and Charlie get to your appointment. Otherwise, you’ll have me worried.”

“Sure thing.”

We hang up, and I wait. There’s the sound of tires churning gravel and then a knock at the door twenty minutes later… I think. I answer it.

“Charlie Ewell’s limousine service.” He smiles and nods his head toward a jet-black vehicle closely related to a town car that’s parked nearby.

I step back. Blink. Once. Twice. He’s still there. My mind doesn’t know how to make sense of this.

It really is Charlie. Well, of course it is. Mom told you he was on the way. Yet despite my mom’s assurance, there is this part of me that snickers at most religions, labels them NOT FOR ME, and I never warmed all the way up to the idea of Heaven. Therefor, even after seeing her again, I doubted that my old friend Charlie would show up. You’re telling me Charlie will be here! Charlie? Yeah, right.

Just like I couldn’t bring myself to argue with her—Charlie can’t possibly be on his way, Mom!–I can’t deny it now.

       “It’s you,” I say.

“Sure it’s me,” Charlie says, as though he’s just shown up to my most recent—and last?–birthday party, cheer on his face, a gift in his hand.

“Like, really you.”

“Yeah. It’s really me.”

       “How?”

“I know it’s a lot to take in when you’re new,” he says, “or when you’ve just come back. I was so glad when your mom called and asked me if I would pick you up. I’ve missed you so much.”

“Same here,” I admit. The initial shock of seeing Charlie is ebbing slowly, like adrenaline leeching out of my bloodstream after an earthquake.

“It’s so good to see you, Charlie.” We enfold each other in a backslapping, how-have-you-been hug.

When we’re apart again, he says, “And you, Terry. It’s just now dawning on me how odd this circumstance is.”

“True. But under what other circumstances would we see each other?”

“Good point. In one of your dreams, maybe. You ready to get going?”

“Sure. Is there a set time we have to be there? My mom always said it’s better to be early than late, no matter what the occasion.”

He throws his car keys in the air, catches them, as we make our way down my temporary home’s front steps.

“Don’t worry about time anymore,” he reveals. “Time is a human invention. It is seldom kept here.”

“That would explain the lack of clocks.”

“Which always throws newcomers off. And don’t be nervous. Sure, no one who’s been through an appointment can tell you what your appointment will be like. That’s because appointments are unique to each soul, but they aren’t to be feared. Your appointment is a place where you will get the chance to ask questions and learn.” Charlie flashes a quick grin. He opens one of the back doors for me, and I see that in the car rides an elegant woman. “Terrence McDonald, this is my wife, Patty Ewell.”

Patty turns in her seat, puts out her hand. “It truly is a pleasure to meet you, Terrence. I’ve heard a lot about you.”

I give her my hand, as is customary, but can find no words. I’ve never met Patty before. She passed away the night I made Charlie’s acquaintance.

The Lost Art Of Loyalty

This is a story. It is fictional. Any resemblance to actual people, while intended as an honor, is not intended as a re-telling of any event that has actually taken place, or ever will. It is a piece speculating on how a writer might find a second novel in among his musings, and a reminder to remember why a writer writes, in the first place.

We must find that agent and that publisher, in our writing journey, who will be as loyal to us–and to our first book, be it a mega-seller or a modest performer–as to our last.

The book was a big hit. It was after it hit, the sound reverberating through the “book world”, that several media outlets clambered to know what he’d do next. A sequal? A new novel whose characters have only minimal ties to the characters people grew to so love? they speculated.

He was scared. Sure, readers had loved his book–his baby, had treated it with the kind of reverence he could only have dreamed of previously, before anyone knew his name–but what if they detested his next effort? What would his next effort be? Despite the speculation, he had no idea. He didn’t like any of the ideas occupying his mind right now. No wonder Harper Lee never wrote another book, he thought. I don’t blame her.

He called his best friend for advice. Since childhood, Luke had always been that guy, the guy he trusted to tell it to him straight, even if straight wasn’t the answer he wanted to hear. Often, it was the one he needed. Am I freaking out for no good reason? he wondered, to pass the time as the phone rang.

“Hey, dude, what’s up?” A second-ring answer.

Yep, that’s Luke. Glad I called. And happy to help, if I need a hand. Which, in a figurative sense, I do right now more than ever.

“I’ve finally got everything I’ve ever wanted,” he explained, despensing with any preamble. “Readers. A real publisher. So why aren’t I…?” He searched for the word, couldn’t find it.

“Happy?” Luke ventured.

“No, that’s not it. I’m happy. I’m just not…”

“Content?”

“Yeah. When I was a kid, I knew I was going to be a writer. We both did. I struggled like hell to get there. But I finally did. So, now that I’ve got what I wanted all those years ago, why aren’t I content?”

“How long has it been since we hung out? You and I?” Luke asked, after a pause.

“I don’t know,” the author said, not liking the taste of that truth on his tongue.

“Six months. It’s been six months, dude. Now, you know me. I’m never gonna begrudge you your dream, and I know you wouldn’t begrudge me mine. But what was it you said to me when we were kids? You said, and I quote, ‘If I ever lose sight of why I write, you be sure to let me know, okay?’ Today, I’m letting you know.”

“I’m sorry that we haven’t hung out in a while. But we both got busy. You have to admit that.”

Luke gave an mm-hmmm in acknowlesgement.

“And then my book hit. And, just like that, the roller-coaster started. I finally had the chance to prove all those people who ever doubted me were dead-wrong.”

“I’m your best friend, man,” Luke said. “So you can go half a year and not talk to me if you want–I hope you won’t, from now on; I hope you’re back to stay–and our friendship won’t change. But there are two things you need to remember.

“Your book may be big right now, bud,  but in the end it’s just a book. It’s just a story printed on pages bound between covers. A humble piece of art. It may have struck a chord wit the public, but that chime, as so many others before it, will fade.”

“What’s the second thing I need to remember?” The author wanted to change the subject, in any way he could.

“That the people who believed in you from the start, before the agent, the publisher, the readers, the book signings, the whatever-else–I’m talking about your brothers and your sister, your parents, your girlfriend, me–we didn’t need your book to sell to have your talent confirmed to us. We knew it was there and it was real all along. You used to be someone who believed in loyalty and humility…”

“I think I still am that person…” I hope, anyway.

“Someone who had a fire in his belly to be great. And now… sure, your book’s big, but are you the great man you always wanted to be? I’d be willing to bet you’re not there yet. Because, somewhere deep inside, you’re worried that you were just a flash in the pan. That that one book might be all you’ll ever do. And that worry is frightening your talent, so that it doesn’t want to show itself. It doesn’t want to give you anything more. And you waited so long to call me… because you didn’t want me to confirm what you already feared you knew.

“Now, it’s time for your talent to stop being afraid of what it might accomplish, and it’s time for you to stop being afraid of your talent.  It’s there to help you, if you’ll let it. You’re a writer, no matter how many books that publisher of yours asks you for. Who cares if they don’t like your next book, as long as you like it? You’re a writer because you want to be a writer, and no one can take that designation away from you  but you.

“But, more than that, you’ve always tried your best to be humble and loyal. That effort isn’t lost on the people who appreciate you most. Don’t let that guy get lost in all that you’re doing now. And, just because loyalty is a lost art in business,  that  doesn’t mean it should be a lost art in life.”

“Now, how about we meet up for lunch?” Luke finishes. “Giving my friends advice makes me hungry.”

“Let me do that for you. It’ll be easier.”

We have one goal today. Let us analyze the above emboldened title, and maybe through this analysis we can discover why getting published means so much to me.

I woke up out of a sound sleep to write this piece. It was calling to me, and if I hadn’t answered the call it would have kept badgering me until I did. So here I am… doing what I was born to do. Writing.

And now to delve deeper into the meaning of: “Let me do that for you. It’ll be easier.”

My close kinship with cerebral palsy means nothing is easy for me. Not walking up stairs at a football game. (Who doesn’t love the sensation that, with one wrong step, you could fall a long way?). Not tying my shoes (This was such a frustrating enterprise that I didn’t wear a shoe that needed to be tied after age six; that’ll show ’em. I thought). Or frying an egg, or cutting my food. Nothing is easy for me, but to complain is sort of pointless. I am who I am, with the specific set of obstacles granted to me. The same is true for you. We all have our obstacles, and I’ve just determined that, in my case, complaint gets me nowhere.

When I was a kid and wanted to learn how to do something. say tying my shoe or cutting my food, for example, I would go to an adult and ask to be shown the secret that would unlock these abilities.

The response was always the same. The adult would say, “Oh, let me do that for you. It’ll be easier.”

Kid me thought, Sounds good to me. Less work on my part.

Current me thinks, Easier? Easier for whom?

There’s so many things I want to learn how to do. Slowly, I am learning and becoming acclimated to them. They are all simple, routine things everyone knows how to do by the time they are where I am.

But one of the things I want to learn how to do goes deeper than a simple chore. The laundry. Giving my part of the house a proper vacuuming. This is deeper than that.

I want to learn how to stop hearing: “Let me do that for you. It’ll be easier.”

Because what that phrase really means is no.

“Hey, can you show me how to….?” I’d ask an adult.

“Let me do that for you. It’ll be easier.” Essentially, what I’ve always heard when someone says that is equivalent to: No, I don’t have the time to show you all the tricks. But if I do it for you, it’ll get done, and then you’ll stop bugging me.

And it would be easier…. for them. Leaving future me to deal with the reality that there are many things, to this day, that I don’t know how to do.

One of the things that does not fall into that category is writing. I know how to write. And yet, whenever I receive a rejection note from an agent or a publisher, I don’t see the form rejection into which almost no care or thought was placed. In my head, I get that the job of an agent is to find work they can sell. But my heart wins out in times like those, and I see a vision–as clear as if it were happening right in front of me. It’s a vision of someone saying, “You don’t know what you’re doing, and I don’t have the time, the patience, or the resources to help you learn.” The we’ve-all-grown-up version of: “Let me do that for you. It’ll be easier” has transformed into: “Here’s a quick, sharp, awful rejection of the thing you love most in the world. Now get out of my face, and let me get back to doing real work.”

You might say, “Maybe he should look at the business differently. It isn’t like that.”

To that, my dear friend, I would say, “It may not be like that for you. That may not be how you see agenting or publishing. But I have always lived my life with a bit of a chip on my shoulder. If someone tells me no, I want to prove them wrong. If someone shuts me out, I want to prove that I belong… and I will.

Eventually.”

Father’s Day!

Yesterday, my father, brother, and I celebrated my dad’s 32nd Father’s Day. And while, as I’m sure is true with every father and son (who are being honest), we don’t get along all the time, I do always know–and never forget–the lengths to which my dad went to make sure I had as normal a life as possible. All the times he spoke up on my behalf, when I couldn’t speak for myself. The chance he took with an experimental surgery. The time we spent together in that California hospital room. He slept in a chair at the side of my bed, if I remember correctly.

Now the years have done their dance on and around us (That’s true of all of us, isn’t it?). I grew up. He grew hair in his ears (Sorry, Dad. I had to get one little dig in, or I wouldn’t be your son). We love to watch baseball and football together. All the games of both sports. If we can catch a broadcast by the great Vin Scully, we won’t ever pass up the opportunity to hear: “It’s time for Dodger baseball”, but we are true Seattle sports fans (go hawks, go M’s).

We are both writers, too. Together, we work hard to see our own tomes published (at this point, I’d settle for an agent, but to be published is the dream). Dad found his agent (this is his first Father’s Day with an agent!) and is now working hard to not only edit his manuscript but also to help me secure my own representation.

I just wanted to say I know it hasn’t been easy, and life is a constantly evolving set of circumstances, but thank you, Dad, for being one of my best friends, a true confidante, and one of my biggest fans. I hope you know I’m the same for you!