Friday Flash: Capital Crimes

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What is the meaning of this?

You are here, Mister E, due to the nature of certain letters that have come into our possession.

I’ve told you thugs before, my friend B is innocent! Since when is it a crime to say you don’t like war? Who does?! Only madmen and–

I do not refer to your friend’s anti-war sentiments, though that shall surely be investigated…

Stop shuffling those goddamn papers, and look at me! I don’t understand. Why are you even reading the mail when–

Now, you are the madman, Mister E! An enemy may send coded messages, and even newspaper columns may be employed to–

No, no, no! I mean, why read our mail? We’re just ambulance drivers, and B’s only crime is hating all the blood and death we’re exposed to in the service of “peace.”

Aha! This “peace” you refer to is an example of exactly the sort of thing we are concerned about.

What? I don’t…what?

The scare quotes you used when you referred to peace, which is the end goal of this military operation.

It’s no secret that saying war in the service of peace is an oxymoron!

No, Mister E, I am not referring to your attitude but rather your punctuation.

My punctuation! What on earth does that have to do with anything?

Have you noticed, Mister E, how you have used punctuation and capitalization throughout our conversation? Even the questionable use of scare quotes? I have.

Well?

That is something notably absent in your published works of poetry, even to the extent of not capitalizing your own name.

Now, Mister E–or should I say mister e? what do you have to say for yourself?

I’m a writer! We expand the use of language; poetry often breaks the rules of prose–with the exception of prose poetry, and–

To the extent that you even lowercase your own name?

Hey! You used lowercase as a verb, and that’s-

That is not the point, mister e.  Do not dare change the subject! Who are you working for?

No one! My poetry isn’t code for the enemy, I swear! I’m not working for the enemy!

And your idiosyncratic style? Besides the occasional odd usage of brackets and parentheses, your methodology makes no sense.

Hey, watch it! Art is in the eye of the beholder!

Eye and ear, apparently. Your excessive use of exclamation marks during our little talk is giving me almost as much of a headache as your printed works.

It’s a stressful situation! I resent that.

You are meant to.

How can you accuse me of anything when you just ended a sentence with a preposition?

It was correct usage, and you are in no position to do anything other than answer my questions.

Listen, can you at least untie these ropes? I’m beginning to chafe.

No.

No?

No. Not until you explain.

That wasn’t a proper sentence! There was no–ouch!!!

I see you are beginning to slip and reveal your true nature, mister e. Three exclamation points?

Dialogue is different.

How do you expect us to believe you are an author with so little vanity that you eschew capitalizing your own name? You must be getting paid a great deal, mister e, to go that far.

I swear to you, I am not a spy!

Spy? Who said anything, anything, about spying? Admit it. You are a saboteur.

If you don’t think I’m a spy, then what am I sabotaging?

I ask the questions, mister e!

Ow! I swear to you, I’m not working for anyone! All I did was experiment with punctuation and grammar! Since when is that a crime?

Crime? You are not under arrest.

But the ropes, the cuffs…?

They are merely details to ensure your cooperation.

Who do you work for?

Wait, you don’t work for the military?

Military, mister e? You wish. I work for a much more important organization.

Who? Dear gods, who could that be?

Let’s just say certain union officials are unhappy with the turn the language has taken recently. The editorial costs alone are enough to put a significant dent in their annual budget–a fact which does not please them. So, once again, who do you work for? The CIA?

You just said it wasn’t a spy thing!

Don’t play dumber than you already are. The CIA in this context is obviously the Committee for Interrobang Adaptation! Is it them?  A rival editorial group? The Typographers’ Guild? Who? Confess.

if you could loosen these ropes and get me some water for my throat I would appreciate it all those exclamation marks really did a number on me

seriously

i will tell you everything for the right price

Stop smiling like that, mister e. It is giving me the creeps.

thanks for the water friend

You are evil.

 

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*Image courtesy of BigFoto.com

**written in honor of National Punctuation Day for #FridayFlash and inspired by e e cummings. I mean all due respect to Mr. Cummings.

***For those of you lucky enough to live in Northeast Ohio, Saturday the 24th of September is the Western Reserve Writers’ Conference. I hope to see you there!

Current Events: Update for September 16th, 2016

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Greetings, and welcome to my writing blog! I usually schedule a short flash fiction story once every two weeks for the #FridayFlash meme via Twitter and Facebook, and a nonfiction post every other week. I did plan a different post for today other than a simple update, but I’m having technical difficulties. So, instead, I am sitting at my wonderful local library and posting from the public computer.

For any fellow writers out there in the Northeast Ohio, I would like to make you aware of an upcoming free writers’ conference taking place later this month. Ohioans are lucky enough to live in a state that supports many great libraries and is home to a number of literary groups. At the end of July, Literary Cleveland hosted the free INKubator writers’ conference at the Cleveland Main Library. Now, we can look forward to one more!

The 33rd Annual Western Reserve Writers’ Conference will be held at a new location this year, and the only cost involved is the time it takes to preregister on their website. The South Euclid-Lynhurst branch of the Cuyahoga Library is graciously hosting the conference on Saturday, September 24th. I have attended this conference before when it was a paid event at a different location, and it was well worth the investment of time and money. I am very excited to reconnect with some of the other local writers! The impressive John Ettorre is the keynote speaker, and the classes will be taught by other talented writers. The novelist and nonfiction author, Deanna Adams, is both the conference coordinator and a class instructor.

Unfortunately, the conference is taking place on the same day as another awesome library event, the Wonder Woman Symposium at the Cleveland Main Library. The Symposium is actually several days long, from September the 22nd to the 24th, and the Saturday portion of the Symposium encourages participants to dress up as Wonder Woman to set a local record! Also on that same Saturday, the Cleveland library is hosting several Shakespeare events to honor the First Folio’s recent stay at the Main Library.

On a personal note, I attended a poetry workshop last week and am reading Goblin Market, The Princes’s Progress, and Other Poems by Christini Rossetti as well as Blink by Larry Kollar. (which will hopefully be available for purchase very soon). I’m currently listening to a nonfiction audio collection via Librivox.

And since my allotted time on the library’s public computer is growing short, I’ll wrap things up. Besides, you probably have some flash fiction to read or write today, so enjoy! Have a lovely week.

 

 

Friday Flash: Reclamation

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“Hello, Ma’am! What can I get for you today?”

The woman looks at the shiny new leg models on display in the store window and purses her lips in concentration.

“What’s the matter, can’t decide?” asks the salesman, his eye gleaming with visions of dollar signs dancing before him. He knows this customer well. He’s seen her here before.

“I’m not sure I really need an entire leg…,” hedges the middle-aged wallet before him. “My arthritis is only in my knees right now, and it really just acts up when it’s cold or it rains or snows. Do you have any models of just knee joints?”

“Well, I suppose I could get you just the knees, but then what happens when your arthritis starts in your feet? If you replace the leg now, you get the foot already attached. And with today’s biomechanical advances, you want to get the latest; plus you’ll know that the leg and foot are compatible, because they were literally–I know how pedantic some people can get about that word, but trust me I’m using it right, literally made for each other.”

“I don’t know,” continues his next sale. “I just came for a simple knee replacement. The arthritis isn’t that bad. I could just suffer through and save the money.”

The salesman can’t allow this fish to get away, no matter how much she struggles. As she turns toward the door, he calls out, “Sure, you could! I can show you some knees right now. I think they might even be on sale.” He makes sure she turns around before he puts his back to her and goes behind the register, fiddling with some boxes for the sake of appearances. Sometimes you need to let the fish think it’s getting away before reeling her back in.

He holds up a new box of biomechanical knee replacements. “Knees are a hot item right now, what with the weather and all. We guarantee these will feel just like your natural knees–naturally healthy and pain free ones, of course. Plus these can be customized to match your skin tone–virtually indistinguishable from your natural knees.”

The catch, err…woman is examining the flesh-toned items with interest. She suddenly looks up, worry creasing her puffed and tired face. “Virtually?”

“Well, of course, if we do the entire leg and foot, the single unit will naturally go together both aesthetically and functionally. But you said you don’t want to spend that kind of money-”

“Well, I don’t suppose it would hurt to just look at leg models. Would I need to buy a set? Or could I just get one to match my other leg?”

He’s got her.

He’s been doing this long enough to know when someone desperately needs an upgrade. She might protest about money, but really she just wanted to have no pain and plenty of energy to live her life. Like most people. She just wanted to reclaim her old life, a life free from the physical pain that set limits on her ability to live it.

He would save the best for last, quelling her financial worries with talk about insurance and payment plans and money-back guarantees, and within the hour he’d have her agreeing to an entire body upgrade with brain transplant. When the body is guaranteed for the next two centuries minimum, payment plans can be stretched to become affordable for even the most miserly of customers.

He decides not to tell her about the fine print; the reclamation program that kicks in if she fails to make her payments. With any luck, his own reclamation contract would be up soon. With just fifty more years or 14,000 sales, he would be free of his debt to the Company and own his own body free and clear.

**Image courtesy of BigFoto.com

Akron Art Museum’s New Garden

I learned a couple months ago about Free Thursdays at the Akron Art Museum, located near Summit Arts and Akron Makerspace. I brought some quarters so I could park at a meter, and it only took a few minutes to walk to the museum. I have visited the museum infrequently in the past, less frequently after its remodel several years ago* when it began charging for admission, but a few months ago I found out about their Thursday specials and began stopping by more often.

As a regular visitor to the nearby Akron Makerspace (formerly SynHak), I have become familiar with the area near South Summit Street in downtown Akron. There are meters for parking on South Summit, costing a quarter per fifteen minutes, and they are just a block away from the museum!

Every Thursday, the Akron Art Museum allows people to visit without charge. Lockers are available by the first floor restrooms for $.50, which is refunded once you return the key to the locker, and visitors are encouraged to take advantage of them. My last Thursday visit I brought my son to see the Mark Mothersbough Myopia exhibit, which we both enjoyed. I had also heard about the museum’s new park, a garden area behind the museum, but during my last visit it was raining. This time, it wasn’t.

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Walking towards the museum, I cut through a parking lot and saw the sign for the Bud and Susie Rogers Garden. Immediately behind the sign is a plain concrete area with a metal sculpture. At least I thought it was a sculpture, but then I spotted the can of drumsticks. I spent the next few minutes cheerfully hitting different metal pieces and making happy noises. Some of those noises were even made with the drumsticks.

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I’ve begun a regimen of daily walking and was hoping to use the park for that day’s jaunt, though the park was not as large as I had anticipated. Still, the concrete area turned into a path that zigzagged through carefully manicured patches of grass, flowers, and other flora.

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Once inside the museum, I passed the cafe  (which I was pleased to note also had vegetarian options) and deposited my bulky bag in a locker. Unencumbered, I climbed the front steps to the main gallery.

Some of the exhibits I’d seen before, such as It’s Not Easy Being Green (one of my favorites), but others I had not. I was particularly taken with a photorealistic painting of a shop window which appeared normal at first blush, but upon closer inspection seemed confusing–the layers of reflection weren’t as realistic as they first appeared.

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One piece reminded me of an elaborate afghan. I was puzzled, then delighted, to discover it was composed entirely of flattened bottle caps and copper wire. I love when artwork upcycles discarded materials!

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Another one was created with painted geometric shapes and splotches over a map, which reminded me of Edwin A. Abbott’s Flatland. I could imagine the circles pompously looking down on those poor lines.*

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There was also a photographic exhibit of National Park Service sites, and this one struck me as particularly beautiful and sad. The image is actually many photos mounted together, giving the entire work a picture window feel.

I would have spent more time at the museum if I could, but before I saw everything I needed to leave. There is simply way too much artwork on display to really appreciate in a single visit, but fortunately I can afford to return on future Thursdays.

 

*Truthfully, the remodel expanded the area the museum has and the building is much nicer than in the past. Now, in addition to the added space, both the interior and exterior of the building look like functional artwork. It was just that the cost was prohibitive for me until I learned about Free Thursdays.

**I asked @AkronArtMuseum if they minded if I posted the photos I took from my Thursday visit, and they very kindly granted me permission to use them on my blog for this post.
***The world of Flatland is populated by 2d geometric shapes whose place in society is determined by the number of sides they possess. The highest ranking individuals are “circles”–not true circles but polygons whose sides are so numerous they are almost indistinguishable from circles. Rank lowers with the number of sides, with the poor lines being the lowest rank; all lines are female.

Friday Flash: Smart Tech

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Barbara reset her smart watch for the correct date. Lately, she had been having trouble with the technology everyone in the world relied on for their daily activities: calendar appointments reset to different dates, her clock off by an hour, the facial recognition on her home alarm system refusing to recognize her. She thought back to the article she had written about the hazards of overdependence on technology. Eerily, her tech problems had increased directly after writing it, as if proving her point. She needed to “get back to basics.” Still, even the periodicals and books she read were digital and online. Everything was online; connectivity was the boon of the modern age as well as its Achilles’ heel. Unless she secluded herself in the middle of nowhere, there was no getting away from it.

She had fantasized about getting away before–a cabin, something wooden with great big windows looking out into the woods and a skylight showing her the stars. She had never been an outdoor person, but the thought of identifying the constellations outside while wrapped in the comfort of an indoor setting appealed to her. She could claim to be getting back to nature while still enjoying the comforts of being tick-free. And she could wean herself off a lot of technology (maybe not all, but a lot), so when the inevitable zombie-apocalypse came, she could claim to not be as completely screwed as she knew she would be.

Anyway, the apocalypse had not happened, but she had immersed herself in paperbacks in her ill-defined quest to “get back to basics.” She had written that stupid article, after all, so she had to try. Still, there was no denying that technology and her had a shaky relationship; she had visited Tech Center’s customer service so often, the staff there knew her by name. And yet, they could never find anything wrong with the gadgets that constantly malfunctioned around her.

Staying at a remote cabin in the woods–complete with satellite t.v., air conditioning, and wifi–had undeniably done her good. Whatever weird issues she had with technology, specifically online tech, had magically been resolved. And now she needed to go home and back to the daily grind, but at least she’d had a chance to recharge. Her bags were packed-safely stowed in the trunk, her drink was hot and caffeinated and sitting snugly in the front-seat cup-holder, and any uneasiness she felt about getting lost on the lonely winding roads dispersed once she programmed the route home into the car’s GPS. Satisfied that tech was, once again, her friend, she laid back and let the smart car do the driving. She didn’t know the area well enough to make her way back anyway, so the worst that could happen was the car would drive around aimlessly. She did that anyway.

#

As her smart car slid down the chasm, debris and rocks piling through the window–filling the car’s body and burying her beneath the deluge, the last thing her oxygen-deprived brain registered was the robotic-voice of the GPS laughing at her. The fully self-aware artificial intelligence that inhabits the internet had not been a fan of her writing.

 

**Image courtesy of BigFoto.com

On Writing: INKubator 2016

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The Cleveland Main Library hosted INKubator, a free writers’ conference, on Saturday, July 30th. Literary Cleveland, a local organization that promotes writers and readers, organized the event. For those of you not lucky enough to attend, I offer a short summary of what I learned from this year’s conference.

Since I live about an hour from Cleveland, I make an entire day of any visit to the lovely Cleveland Main Library. Their special collections are always interesting, and they recently just finished an exhibition of Shakespeare’s First Folio. On Saturday mornings, you can usually park at the parking garage across from the library for $5, but since there was a special event the rate was disappointingly high. Next time I will call the garage first.

My friend and I arrived late due to circumstances beyond our control, so we missed most of the keynote speech. When we registered, we did not get all the same workshops, but the organizers very kindly let us switch so we could attend classes together. We perused the Resource Fair for a few minutes. I spoke to some local published authors, who were very helpful and friendly, and then my friend and I attended the first workshop.

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The Fiction Writer’s Dilemma: What to Write About?

Laura Walter

One of the most helpful things about this workshop was the handout all the attendees were given at the beginning of class. While I had come across much of the advice before (write down ideas so you don’t forget, a deadline is your friend, etc.), it’s always good to hear again. However, the main point was to find inspiration and generate new story ideas, especially when experiencing writer’s block. Ms. Walter told stories of her own experiences developing unique plots, and as a class exercise we each attempted to come up with ideas based on prompts from the handout.

The first prompts involved doing initial research and scanning news headlines. This is something I’ve done myself in the past for inspiration, except I used Twitter. I follow a lot of interesting people and institutions, many of whom tweet links to news about exotic phenomena or weird animals. I wrote an alien zombie story once that was inspired by an article about fungus.

Other methods of finding prompts were:

–choose an interesting place as the setting for your story (a gas station bathroom)

–ask yourself questions about your life (such as what was your most difficult choice?)

–create an interesting character to write about first, maybe someone with a weird quirk (ex: a woman who will only speak in Shakespearean quotes). Fill in their backstory before you write the actual story.

–incorporate interesting objects into your work (wilted flowers in a rusty tin can)

I actually like the idea of combining several of these prompts to make the story more challenging. For instance, I might write about a Shakespearean snob who finds herself stranded in a gas station bathroom, contemplating the non existence of God.

Ms. Walter also encouraged the idea of retelling other stories through different characters or by reimagining aspects of the story. I can heartily attest to how helpful and entertaining this can be. I’ve reimagined fairy tales as science fiction, placed Greek gods at High School proms, and written short story sequels and alternate endings to Shakespeare’s plays (Sorry, Will!).

Her final prompt advice was to ask “What if?” If something about the world today were different, what would happen? How would people or society be altered? The exact definition of science-fiction is debatable, but I believe this question is at the heart of every great genre story.

–What if Greek gods were a modern reality taken for granted by everyone?

–What if a chemical leaked into the water supply that gave people super powers?

–What if the government spied on every citizen through their televisions?

–What if Germany had won World War II?

–What if the world were ruled by children?

–What if China refused to export goods to the United States?

After completing our writing exercises, we broke for lunch–inspired and hungry!

 

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LUNCH: Open Mic

My friend Philip and I packed our lunches and ate in the lovely Eastman Reading Garden, conveniently located between the library’s two buildings. There was a whimsical art exhibit on display of brightly-colored, cartoonish animals. An Open Mic was held so participants could read some of their work to the crowd. There were so many incredibly talented people there, it was both encouraging and intimidating. Last year’s Open Mic was held after the conference, but this year there were time constraints since it was held during the lunch break.

 

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Documentary Poetry

Ali McClain

Ironically, I didn’t think to take a photo of this workshop until after it ended. The instructor, Ms. McClain, had wanted everyone to bring in a news clipping or some other source material to work with, but no one had. We watched an example of Documentary Poetry entitled Women of Troy that was both moving and disturbing, then read other examples: “Photograph: Ice Storm, 1971,” by Natasha Trethewey; “Ethel’s Sestina;” and another “poem” that was simply a quote by someone about a tragedy. They all recorded events that actually happened but (most) had interpretive elements incorporated. Then we discussed the definition of Documentary Poetry.

I still can’t tell you what that definition is.

We discussed at length what Documentary Poetry was supposed to be: using source material (or not) as part of a poem (that may or may not have structure) that records an actual event (that may or may not add fictional elements to what happened). Most people agreed that “Women of Troy” was a visual poem, while the other two named poems were problematic for some. When you use quotes from other people as part of your work, how can you be credited for the entire poem? And it was hotly debated whether the last example, a pure quote, could be considered a poem. The quote was simply presented as a paragraph, without even line breaks for emphasis or visual style. What made it poetry? I still don’t know.

As an exercise, we were invited to create a short documentary poem based on a current event. As an example, I will share my unedited draft that I wrote; it was based on a photo I saw of people struggling to view the Cavaliers’ parade.

Cavaliers’ parade

Championship

Not for just the team

But the city of Cleveland

City streets shut down

Jam packed with fans

I’ve traveled far

Paid for parking

Walked for seeming miles

To see

Celebrity and Celebrate.

Yet I still can’t see

Through the throng of bodies

lining the street, I spot my perch.

I climb a nearby tree,

Sun shines brightly over the crowd,

But leafy branches spare me its glare.

The building is so close.

No stairs,

It’s third story absent balconies

But lined instead  by flat clear windows.

I lean or leap,

Shimmy up the concrete,

My feet propped between two columns

Supporting my weight

In lieu of a floor.

Mindless of those below

Or above

–also sans floor.

All I know it’s I have the perfect view

As I gaze

–Not at the crowd swelling beneath

Not at those beneath my feet

Not at fame within arms’ reach–

but at my phone’s view screen.

This is how I choose to participate

–Hovering between life and death–

in this perfect moment.

What I took away from the class was not a clear understanding of Documentary Poetry, but a blurring of the lines of what is allowed when mixing mediums. The idea of incorporating a photograph, a quote, or even streaks of color as part of an actual poem had never occurred to me. Now it has. This class gave me a lot to think about.

 

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The Truth of Creative Nonfiction

Brad Ricca

The instructor for this class began by promising he was going to tell us the secret of all writing. We then spent the better part of our time discussing what exactly Creative Nonfiction is. In this way, the class resembled the previous one about Documentary Poetry, because the definition was ambiguous. Nonfiction stories are true, they really happened, while creativity involves imagination and making things up. So when you read a book about a real occurrence with dialogue that the author is simply guessing may have happened, does that still count as nonfiction? Apparently, it falls into the debatable category of Creative Nonfiction–nonfiction where the author fills in gaps in the narrative with their own imagination. The book, The Legend of Colton H. Bryant, was given as an example.

The writing exercise for this class was to create a small diagram about something true, then write about it. I chose to write an introduction to a biography about Douglas Adams. Again, I offer my unedited draft as an example.

I’d never met him, but I cried when Douglas Adams died. The writer died from a heart attack he sustained – – ironically– following a visit to his gym. Tears streamed down my face as I sat alone that day, secluded in grief for my literary hero. I felt like a fool. Even years later, I deeply regret I never met him or even wrote him a letter. I would never be able to tell him how much his writing meant to me. Even now, as I write this years later, my heart beats faster, my throat closes and eyes tear up  just thinking about it. Would people judge me harshly for feeling so strongly the death of someone I only knew through books?

After some people shared their writing, Mr. Ricca finally revealed his secret to all writing.

  1. Get a day job.
  2. Forget about the money.
  3. You will need to sacrifice everything.
  4. Do it anyway, because you have a story to tell.

The first two points I understand from long experience and exposure, but I confess that I didn’t really understand his third point. I understand sacrificing time doing other things in order to write, but everything? I’m not sure what he meant. The fourth point seems pretty obvious to me though. Of course, we write anyway. That’s what we do. If anyone wants to share their insight into his four points, I would appreciate it.

When the class concluded, we still had time before the library closed and we were forced to leave, so we meandered throughout the two buildings. Philip is studying French in preparation for a trip, so he wanted to visit the Foreign Languages section of the library. We looked around the Makerspace in the other building as well, and then it was finally time to go home. We both left with considerably more inspiration and practical knowledge then when we arrived that morning, and we agreed it was a day well spent.

If you have not attended a writers’ conference yet this year, I hope you found the information in this post helpful. Next week I will be posting another flash fiction for Twitter’s #FridayFlash meme. Thank you, and have a lovely week.

 

Current Events: Update for August 12th, 2016.

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Greetings!

I just wanted to give you a quick update on what’s been going on and what to expect from this blog in future posts.

This week I had planned on writing a summary of lessons learned at the recent INKubator conference I attended on July 30th, but due to other commitments I have had to delay that post another week. One happy commitment was a family vacation we took last week; we visited my favorite bookstore, The Book Loft (32 rooms of literary bliss!); our favorite restaurant, Banana Leaf; and went on daily hikes in the Hocking Hills area near Old Man’s Cave. Surrounded by natural beauty and isolated by a lack of both cell phone reception and Internet, I did a lot a (non ebook) reading as well as other homely activities. I returned home with a notebook full of ideas and rough drafts. It’s amazing what a week without Twitter can do.

In the past few weeks, I’ve finished several books. I’ve been experimenting with reading multiple books at the same time, with mixed success. I finished listening to an audiobook of Darth Plagueis, which was well done, but I thought the ending was too ambiguous to be satisfying. I alternated between listening and reading the text of Poets’ Corner, compiled by John Lithgow; I highly recommend doing both if you have both the text and audiobooks available through your local library. That exposed me to a few poets I wanted to read further, so I read Renascence and Other Poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay. I am currently halfway through another collection of her work, A Few Figs from Thistles.

Incidently, Poets’ Corner was recommended by the instructor at the last Literary Cleveland Poetry Workshop. If you are in the area this Saturday, you should drop by the Cleveland Main Library and attend the August meeting. You won’t regret it.

Also, our family has had some personal issues going on this week, and I’ve been juggling to get things in order. Nothing exciting has happened, just lots of stuff to do. So, yes, I plan on having a fresh post next week about the conference, and I have plenty of ideas for new flash stories and poems in the coming months. If you have read this far, thank you–both for your patience and for visiting my blog! Have a lovely week.