Monterey

Seagulls whitewash the fences.

Hotels rest on platforms above the ocean

lit up like Disneyland, like the pirate ride

right before you’re swept

down to the depths.

 

Everyone is dressed like they’re at a convention.

Tuxedoed waiters balance silver trays of finger sandwiches

to serve strangers that stare in no direction or

down at their khakis, spying hidden rayon napkins

while patio umbrellas paint a monotone mosaic above.

 

Otters afloat on their back, shucking clams on their bellies.

Moon shine renders their sleek bodies down to a shiny

metal-liquid color that almost matches the ocean.

Magical mermaid flippers propel jovial bodies backward

cutting V’s into the water. Leaving seaweed contrails.

 

 

I sit with my back against all that thin cracked glass.

It stretches too far like it is it’s own land mass.

The blue-black waves roll like belly ache

escaping from a smudgy backdrop horizon

only to foam like spittle at a five-star beach.

 

The seabirds stand as sentinels on concrete pillars

and parking meters calling out friend or foe

waiting for the next big fish, or French fry dinner.

The big ones sound like they’ve lost their buddy, “Mike? Mike?”

The little ones puff up like hype men, tiny balloons losing air.

 

A woman in a green beret has binoculars around her neck

And a phone in her hand. She stands next to a sign that says

For public enjoyment, no purchase necessary.

“Is the WiFi free? Is there a password?” she asks the kid

dressed in the casual wealth of privileged youth

 

who shrugs, bored already.

 

 

 

 

It’s Time to Have an Uncomfortable Conversation With You

I wish there were a way I could talk to you. Somehow skirt around all the buzzwords and inflammatory memes. Avoid the phrases that cause you to relegate real events to political discussions, instead of arousing your sleeping sense of indignity at what is crushing the soul of our country and our humanity.  I want to loosen that tight grip you have on your heart, for you are strangling yourself. You are becoming cold and numb. The tighter you clamp your heart shut, the more you are constricting blood flow to your brain. Emotion has to go through your heart to get to your mind. Insight requires migration through your mind and back down to your heart. It is the circulatory system of knowledge. Knowing what is just and what is unreasonable.

You need to be affected by these deaths. You need to be affected by how we have all been failed by the people we put into a role of authority. Those whom wield power must be held to a higher standard. If they choose to accept the role of authority, they also accept scrutiny. They need to be smarter than us, quicker to glean the crux of a situation, and slower to react to heightened emotional provocation. This is a fair expectation—for our people in power to live up to the badge we have given them.  I know you feel resistive but think of all the other areas where you easily conjure up the expectation of justice and fairness: business, money. The government. We all inherently want the system to be scrupulous and unbiased. We want the institutions to work they way we’ve been told they do.

I feel that you, especially, are quite equipped to stand up to this flawed establishment. You are just as skeptical of authority as the ones in which you currently seem unable to commiserate. I even wonder why you aren’t the loudest of all of us: demanding change, reform. Accountability. I wonder why you don’t feel manipulated by the smooth talkers whispering in your ear and pitting you against your people. Yes, your people: Americans. Humans. Perhaps they contribute to your unwillingness to recognize abuse within an institution you hold up as honorable.

What can I say to you that won’t make you defensive? I want to tell you to look at your family. Your children. Envision them getting pulled over and something going horribly wrong. Imagine the phone call informing they are dead. The loss of control. The terror. The inability to change the outcome. It’s not a political thing. It’s not an ideological platform or an agenda or an opinionated debate point. It’s not even who is right or wrong. It’s just you, and your dead child. You can connect to that, right? Take out the rhetoric, and you can relate, right? Can you loosen your opinions, your vice-like grip even a little bit, and let in the shock of bitter loss? I want to believe you can.

I’d like to ask you to empathize. Just a little. Picture living in a community where no one looks like you. A community that has been told to fear you. And you have been told to fear them. Please don’t make arguments or conjectures. Just picture it. Feel uncomfortable, feel anxious about how you are perceived. I wonder if you need to experience this ‘difference’ to find common ground. Proximity can often breed compassion. I don’t know how else to counter the very human urge to believe that one’s opinions about the world are truth. That how things are for you are how they are for everyone. They are not. Acknowledging that on a fundamental level is not betraying your traditions or your politics or your way of life. It is a neutral acknowledgment. It is part of being a real person.

My guess is that deep down, you are scared. Scared of guilt and blame. Scared that wounds we were taught in school to think of as healed, might not be. You want to believe that our civil wars are over, and you don’t want to consider that you might be wrong. You’re scared to make room for all the different points of view, because what will that mean for you? Your perspective has been the main perspective for a long time. You haven’t truly been challenged like this before. You haven’t had to experience open hostility or judgment over things you can’t control. Like the color of your skin. Your motives haven’t been questioned so vocally that it has become part of the tapestry of our current cultural mood. But you need this growing pain. People are asking you to recognize the wound; that even if you can’t see it, trust that it is there. Because it is making us ill.

I can’t seem to figure you out. I’m confounded by your refusal to look and see what is happening. I’m often embarrassed, and I’m tempted to write you off and name you hopeless. But maybe that you feel fear is a good step. I say go into that fear. Feel uncomfortable. Be the unfavored group. Allow yourself to see what it is like to be characterized. Maybe it’s just finally your turn.

I’d like to consider you as able to be brave and grow, that you can be touched by the ordeal of others, you can do what I am doing now: trying to understand you. I am trying to see the flawed, yet generally good person that you surely are. I am trying to acknowledge your fears and motivations, trying to be kind and gentle with them. I’m telling you: loosen that death grip on your heart and you will feel a kind of relief. You will watch those videos and cry. You will hear that audio and want to tear your heart out. You will mourn our collective loss and hang your head in our collective despair. Come, and join us.

discover-badge-circle

The Story

“It was a cold, dark night,” he begins, and I stop him right away.

“Wait, wait. Wait.” I say.

“Yes?”

“Are you kidding me? A cold, dark night?” It’s been months since Mark and I parted ways. He called me up late one evening and begged a get-together. Underneath his usual droll tone, I noticed a certain weightiness to his request, so I agreed to meet him.

“Well, it was,” he sniffs, offended. “60 degrees, at most. I had to buy a scarf, even,” he fingers the purple ribbon-like scarf wrapped around his neck. “From one of those tourist traps. Can you imagine?” He rolls his eyes. He doesn’t understand why anyone would live in this city. What a freakin’ dump, he says. He also thinks he’s slumming it if he drops the “g”. “As I was saying…”

“Go on.”

“It was a cold, dark night. So dark, I could see the stars in the sky, even though there was the usual light pollution from downtown. Like tonight.” He pulls out his phone. Scans Facebook. Snorts. “I swear; Maria is going to be one of those crazy cat ladies.” He’s teasing, but there is no mirth on his face. He seems pensive now that he’s started the story. I figure he’s gonna tell me that Robert has proposed, and is worried I might still have feelings. I might.

Ma-ark.”

“Oh fine. Dark and cold, yadda yadda. Robert said he was going to take me to this posh seafood place by the pier. Instead, we wound our way toward the middle of the city until we landed in a cramped alleyway. There were mounds of rubbish everywhere, and I was like, what the hell, Robert? But he just pulls me to his chest and shuts me up with a kiss,” Mark sighs. He stands with his back propped against a street light; his jaw silhouetted against the hazy ocean view. He almost looks like a dapper ship’s captain. Or a pirate. He glances at me. There are circles under his eyes. “Let’s walk,” he says. “Bum me a cigarette.”

“How’d you end up with such a romantic?” I grin, tossing him a smoke. We walk along the boardwalk. Trash from the day’s tourists overflows from the waste baskets scattered along the wood planks.  Soon the beach rats will come and pick through the refuse like grannies at a second-hand store. The skin on Mark’s hands are so pale and white; they almost glow in the dark. “Robert might as well walk around with a royal red cloak and a crown on his perfectly coiffed hairdo; a rose placed between those gleaming Prince Charming teeth.”

Mark doesn’t laugh. “More like a black cape and a widow’s peak,” he says.

“Huh?”

Mark flicks the unlit cigarette out toward the sea. “Nothing,” he says. Frowns. “I guess none of us are ever what we expect each other to be.”

“How oddly introspective of you,” I joke. I reach over to pat his cheek and pull my hand back quickly. “Jeez, you are freezing!”

Mark stops to look down at me. He stares into my eyes until I  feel woozy and uncomfortable. He clamps his fingers around my elbow. “You’re right. Come. I know where we can go,” he says, pushing me to the left, away from the ocean and into the city. He strides with sudden urgency, and the change in pace makes me light-headed, buzzy. “Okay,” I say, giggling in a way that sounds unfamiliar to my ears. “Lead the way, Oh captain, my captain!”

“That’s a mourning poem,” he tells me, as the road we follow twists and turns until I’m not sure where we are anymore. “Lincoln’s assassination.” His nails dig into my skin. They are pointy and long, too long.

“I’ve never been to this part of the city,” I say, trying to pull my arm away. But Mark holds tight, steering me in front of him like a captive. We come to an alley full of clutter and trash and the most abhorrent stench. Mark stops me short. I can sense his lips close to the nape of my neck. “Your story….” I say. My voice is thick and dreamy. “You didn’t finish your story….”

“Yes?” He says, and I cannot feel his breath on my skin.

“A dark and cold night?” I ask. My eyes tear up. Through blurred vision, a form approaches. It wears a cape.

“Yes?” He says.

“The ending?” I whisper.

“Yes,” he says.

Yes.

 

Dermatitis Wars

The war was over. Lotion, cortisone and Vaseline tubes lay crumpled and spent along the bathroom sink. A shrunken tar soap bar fizzled suds futilely by the drain.  Triumphant dot-like lesions marched up my abdomen and claimed my navel. A new era of flaky skin had begun.

 

 

 

Both Hands

I hold the softest part of you with both hands.
Will you hold this part of me with both hands?

He threw himself off the bridge today.
I hide my shame with both hands.

Standing in the rain, do you remember what you said?
Look them straight in the eye. Don’t cry. Use both hands.

the waves of grief seep deep and bitter into my skin
the grains of sand fall quick and slow through both hands

These are my fingers: crooked and bent in perpetual fists.
You were a one-armed man in a world made for both hands.

 

 

 

 

 

Forming a Writing Habit in 6 Easy Steps: Carnanan Smithee is Here to Help

If you want to find the perfect system for producing the best words, don’t listen to other people. They’ll just feed you a lot of words. I say, don’t eat them! I have even tastier words right here, and I’m willing to put them on a tiny, rectangular plate and serve them to you on a table made of pallet boards and metal pipes, like at the cool café you take your parents to make them feel uncomfortable. Smithee is more than glad to make you uncomfortable and also show you the one true way to form a habit out of that dastardliest of drugs: writing. So listen. And listen carefully:

ONE:

When I write, I load my fingers with the finest fake Cuban cigar I can find at BevMo and sip a glass of scotch on the rocks. Oh, I don’t smoke cigars. And I drink chardonnay, not scotch. And writing isn’t really about smoking cigars or fancy drinks, either. It’s about giving the impression to all whom might be looking through your window that you are a very serious writer currently lost in deep thought. When I am feeling especially writerly, I’ll don a deerstalker cap to accentuate my spectacles, tobacco pipe, and big, big brain. If you’re too dim to remember anything else, at least remember always to dress for the story you want to write.

TWO:

Stop writing all your junk longhand on pieces of college-ruled binder paper like a school girl with a crush on her P.E. teacher. Oh, I know all the hacks who count say to do this. I say, hogwash! Have you ever seen a computer? Buy one! You can type to your heart’s delight and then edit everything when you realize you suck. Can you do that if you write your book on a piece of paper? No! There is absolutely no way to change anything once you’ve committed ink to paper, so just stay away from that bad mojo at all cost. Most importantly, when you are out and about and your brain stumbles like a drunkard on your next big idea, remember never to write it down anywhere unless it’s on a computer.

 THREE & FOUR:

Special Smithee Creative Prompt: Drive immediately to the nearest Costco and purchase a package of index cards. Make sure to buy bulk, so you are saving tons of money because you are a broke writer newb. Unwrap the package and then start scribbling whatever words pop into your head on each card. Don’t think, just write. Commit ink to paper. No erasing. The past is pointless! Move forward. Always move forward. Once you have filled out every single card, set it aside. Take some time for yourself. Maybe a bath, or a nice little gardening session. Then head back to your cracked kitchen table and sit on your wobbly chair. Look at what you’ve created. These are your writing prompts. Every time you are writing and get stumped for more than ten seconds, pull a card from the deck and use it to lubricate your brain. You’re welcome! Also, it’s good to keep in mind that I make more money than you.

FIVE:

Schedule. Schedule. Schedule. Some so-called professionals will tell you that you can write whenever you “feel” inspired. What’s all this hippie gobbledygook? Guess what, if that’s true, then you will never write! Feelings are for teeny, tiny, sad little wimpy types. Inspiration doesn’t knock on people’s doors and offer them a giant check with lots of zeroes on it. How can this be? You might be wondering to yourself while you sit there in your snug sweatpants and an unwashed t-shirt. Well, Smithee once waited by the door to get knocked up by inspiration, and it never happened. Now Smithee keeps a rigorous schedule and never strays from it EVER. Here’s the schedule you need to be a successful writer: Wake up. Eat breakfast. Read the newspaper. Write for two hours. Sit down on a chair outside and take a break for one hour. Eat lunch. Read a different newspaper. Write for two hours. Sit on another chair for two hours. Write for two hours. Eat dinner. Sit on another chair for one hour. Drink a cocktail. Write for two hours. Sit on another chair for 1 hour and 45 minutes. Write for two hours. Read a book. Sleep. If you can’t keep this schedule, do not write EVER. Don’t wait for inspiration to knock you up, hippie. Take the initiative to go out there and knock inspiration up.

SIX:

Self-talk. How you talk to yourself is important. If you say the wrong things to yourself, you will not succeed. You will fail. Miserably. Every morning when I wake up, I look at myself in my gold-plated bathroom mirror, and I say the following: “Today is the most important day of your life. Do not fuck this up or you will fail, and there will be no way to recover from it EVER.” Always say this eight times, just in case.

 I hope these pointers have been helpful to all you young, wannabe Smithees out there in internet land! Happy writing to you!

Love Doctor 3

Author Bio: Carnanan Smithee, the world’s Author Auteur, wields their keyboard like a scalpel ready to cut the flesh off words. Born to write, Smithee is doing the unthinkable: writing to write the good write. They are the quintessential Writer’s Writer, impregnating the world with stories and birthing a legacy via C-section. They also have two ferrets and love ginseng lollipops.

 

 

 

 

 

30 Quotes I Overheard at Panera

  • “I went to the Santa Cruz Beach, you know? And I saw one of those—what are they called? Those seals? Yeah! And it like jumped up all over the place and I was like, whoa!”
  • “I love Richard, but he’s in that category.”
  • “You’re supposed to have toast too, aren’t you? Good stuff, I like it.”
  • “It’s not him, it’s not you, it’s both of you. It’s both of your personalities.”
  • “Just go over there and say, ‘I’m sorry, Lord.'”
  • “It came out like peanut brittle, and I was wondering if I cut myself or something.”
  • “It’s gonna take an Italian Villa, yes?”
  • “I notice a lot of the Mexicans are very, very…really good, really good.”
  • “You’re not sleeping with her are ya? You don’t wanna catch a cold.”
  • “You drove from there to here?” “No, I drove from here to there.”
  • “It’s sandwich time again!”
  • “No offense, but my mom is a little more fuckable than your dad.”
  • “There was only one fat person seat—that’s what I call them. But there were two fats in the class. A fat boy and a fat girl. The fat boy was already sitting there, so I had to sit somewhere uncomfortable.”
  • “You gotta look at the numbers. Numbers don’t lie. People constantly lie. But numbers don’t.”
  • “Dude, man, rice is INSANE!!!!!”
  • “My brain is always working. It has never stopped.”
  • “Have you read The Secret? It’s just a fun and silly little read. It’s almost a dumb read.”
  • “At our age, using dildos makes more sense than having sex, right?”
  • “Pray ’til something happens!”
  • “N-E-W. New? New is the strangest word in the whole world!”
  • “The eating disorder in me really wants to be a Vegan.”
  • “I’m like, do you understand WHY I have to be like this sometimes?”
  • “I’ve never been to Hawaii. What’s the point?”
  • “I thought, ‘Uh oh. Right day….wrong place…'”
  • “I’m going to have one beer, and if that doesn’t help, I’m gonna have another.”
  • “She would have a beagle face.”
  • “You wanna close Yosemite? Bad scene! You wanna charge more to get in? Bad scene! Want rich people to pay more? That’s another bad scene!”
  • “Do you know what a “radio shack” is?”
  • “It starts to feel like I always want it, and I want it so bad. By the way, I also feel this way about pastries.”
  • “Sorry, I wasn’t listening—I  was thinking about your mom’s racism.”

The Poetry of List-Making

The Widow

He finishes the sandwich and picks at the plastic plate, looking for leftover bits of chicken and lettuce. His lips move while he reads his phone. Thick black glasses perch on top of his bald head. His cheeks are jowly. A white gold band cuts into his ring finger like barbed wire grown into an old oak tree. He sits alone at the small booth in the corner. It is dinnertime.

Writing Advice From Carnanan Smithee: The Writer’s Writer

 

Love Doctor 3

Smithee Says: “Thise who can’t write, do.”

*thos

*those

 

 

 

 

Hello, I am the world renowned Author Auteur, Carnanan  Smithee ( you may know me from my multitude of amazing ebooks, like: “Luscious Lust and the Bodacious Bust” or “That Scary Time Something Happened!”, among others), and I have some news for you: Just because you write a good story, it doesn’t mean much ado about nothing if you haven’t written a good Intro. Your first paragraph should be as exact and enticing as that last piece of spam you accidentally clicked on because, yeah…it was that good.

You need to establish mood and setting, ASAP. Do not be afraid to go big. Lay it all out there, adjectives, adverbs- just go for it. Remember, readers can be pretty dim, so you have to S P E L  it out for them.

Don’t forget about the rules! The rules are always important. But sometimes you have to break the rules. But you don’t have to waste your time learning rules if you don’t want to. It’ll either come naturally or it won’t. This is very important, whether you follow the rules or break them: Make sure your intro is good. If your intro is bad: People. Will. Just. Know.

So, get out your thinking caps.

Here is an example of a good Intro:

It was a dark and stormy night. The moon lit up the stormy night. But the night was dark still. Still, it was a special night. A night for ghosts and voodoo and merrymaking, and stuff like that. But it was a night for you and me, too. And a night where maybe your Mom might have a heart attack. You know, like that kind of night. An anything-could-happen-tonight type thing. Even sex. And the night had a lot of howling wind. And that made it look like the night was crying. It was a good set up for nighttime intrigue and murder mystery thriller. Like for a moment, the rain stopped and the dark night sky was a killer, and the moon was a bloody eye. So there was a foreboding feel to it all. Then the storm came back, harder than ever. And so it began.

An alternate, more subversive Intro:

The night was dark. The night was moody. There was a feeling in the air that affected the night oh so much, a dark, moody feeling that can only happen in the night. People were walking, as was bound to happen on any regular old night, but this was no “regular” night. This was irregular, like a sandwich cut into three pieces, or a salad with only jicama and sprouts. But who were these people? Where were they going? What kinds of “thoughts” were pervading their tiny, puny human brains? That mattered no more than what the pathetic ants were carrying on their backs, because, at that exact moment in time, fate was at work. And fate is one cruel bitch if you try to stand in her way.

There you have it, folks. Learn a little, why don’t ya?!  Smithee out.

 

 

 

 

 

Sleepy Seeds

I love to watch my animals sleep. I have three of them, two cats and a dog. They all have strong and particular personalities. There’s Seven the cat, who struts through the halls with a John Wayne swagger and a caterwaul made of sand paper and bourbon. But when I find her asleep in her little red house, with her perfect black nose resting on her mitten-white front paws, she looks so delicate it’s heart-breaking.

There’s also Sammy the Love Kitten. “Love Kitten” because she reminds me of Nermal from the Garfield cartoon: an impossibly cute kitten that bullies with her affection. Sammy will be limp as a rag doll in our laps, begging for pets, and then harass Seven around the house when she thinks no one sees. Once curled up on her cat condo, though, she’s different. Her whiskers tremble with fitful dreams, and she peeps like a tiny bird fallen from its nest. Mew? Mew?  She asks her unanswerable questions. It’s a little sad, and a lot adorable.

Newest to our family is Nisa, a gorgeous, three-year-old German Shepherd we adopted and who is intent on herding us with her intense eyes. She is a somber animal; she didn’t even wag her tail the first six months we had her. Serious and alert, Nisa is slow to offer affectionate demonstration, which is probably why her sleeping face slays me so. Soft. Delicate. Almost angelic. Her sleep is deep and peaceful; I can see the sweet puppy she once was before life taught her how to be anxious.

Studying my husband, Aaron, while he sleeps doesn’t fill me with the same affection that my sleeping animals do. The lack of expression of his features disturbs me. It’s as if the thing that makes him him is absent. He’s just a stranger, or a body, a creature. Even worse: a machine, downloading and updating. I ’m being forced to recognize identity is nothing but a construct, that the “Aaron” I know is really a face on the green screen while his brain –the wizard behind the curtain –toggles switches and performs illusions.

I’m a terrible sleeper; I toss and turn most nights, especially when Aaron snores. There are people out there who have said that when their life partners die, they can’t sleep at night because they miss their partner’s snoring. This is hard for me to picture. Aaron’s snoring is half trumpet, and half asphyxiated duck. Unfortunately, it is easy for me to picture him dead, and I spend ample time torturing myself over it. I specifically focus on how I wouldn’t have him around in which to share the experience of his death. I wouldn’t be able to tell him what having your spouse die on you is like.

I don’t think I could survive his death, so I want to die before he dies. It makes me feel guilty, though, that if I get my way, my death will burden him with the loss of a loved one. I have a profound urge to protect him from everything. I prize his sheltered upbringing, complete with a life of little adversity or deep scarring. I don’t want him to know true, haunting pain; probably because I’ve had such a rough go of it. Living with me is as close as he needs to get to how cruel life can be for a person.

Nights are when I am most tuned in to how short life is. Or, better yet, how long death is. I don’t want anyone I know ever to die. The lack of control panics me. The injustice. I conjure the faces of those I love and obsessively hex them with impending death, like a morbid lullaby. To my animals: Someday soon you will die, and I will have to live without you. My husband: You will die and no longer exist. My In-laws: You are going to be dead for eternity! And myself: Life is a conveyor belt to death. You are going to blink out. No more you. When the agonizing recitation finally abates, only then can I fall asleep; hands balled into fists, tear-stained face buried in the pillow, cheeks as red as a toddler exhausted from their tantrum.

I started thinking for a while that I may not be able to prevent death, but there is a way I can lessen how directly it affects me: by loving as little as possible. No love equals no loss. If I didn’t have these cats, this dog, this man at my side, I wouldn’t have to contend with losing them. Then I wouldn’t carry this future hurt. Then I could sleep at night like a normal person. It’s a tempting notion. But I had another thought: what if, instead of loving as little as possible, I love as much as possible? Spread it around. Love far and wide. Feel so much love, for so many, that it thwarts some of the incapacitating pain that death and loss bring?

There is no answer, obviously. I can love. I can not love. Either way, there will be death. And death will always bring out the youngest, simplest, most basic, clichéd emotion in me: “Not fair! Not fair!”

Bad sleeping habits aside, I am a terrific napper. I can nap for an hour mid-day and wake up like I’ve gotten a full night’s rest. There are days where my whole household takes naps together on our giant king size bed. The animals curl up on opposite corners, never leaving quite enough space for Aaron and me. So we stretch out along the edge of the bed, and I spoon him. When he starts to trumpet, usually I curl my feet up and jab them into his back until he stops. But these days I just let him snore. I listen carefully, taking in every snork and slrggg and blrrrrt. Remember this; I tell myself. Someday you may need to miss it.