Words to Live By – Fear, Creativity, and that Pesky Pandemic

Jeff Version_Words to Live By 2

The first Wednesday of every month, writer Jeff Bowles muses on life, creativity, and our collective destinies as makers of cool stuff. You’re a writer, but have you ever thought about how or why? Here are some words to live by.

Fear, Creativity, and that Pesky Pandemic

It goes without saying the world has changed since I wrote the March edition of Words to Live By. Today is April Fools’ Day. Some joke, right? I woke up last night after turning in early. My phone said it was two minutes to midnight, and I thought, who’s going to be the fool tomorrow?

Fear is a funny thing. I think most people often get buried under the pressures, politics, and pleasures of everyday life and tend to ignore their fears, to in essence ignore their own shadow side. Well, lucky you, now none of us has a choice. I imagine these things as waves sweeping across the world. Maybe one moment you feel fine, completely on top of things, and the next you’re hit by crippling fear. Which is why toilet paper and ground beef are so scarce at the supermarket, why some people have parked themselves in front of the news one terrifying hour after another, why incredible boredom strikes and sometimes you can’t help but take it out on the poor sods stuck indoors with you.

Carl Jung, of course, believed in a great collective unconscious, an ocean of emotional and motivational currents that rage below the surface of our conscious minds, connecting us in the most primal sense to everyone else on the planet. It sort of takes the Eastern theological concept of oneness to a new place. Can we feel what others are feeling halfway across the globe? I have to admit, as someone who suffers from severe mental illness, I’ve spent much of the last few years in fear anyway. In some fashion, it makes this whole thing easier. But it also ratchets up the tension already winding away inside me. Because I know I’m not alone, I don’t mind admitting I’ve had a few freakout moments in the last couple weeks. I imagine I’ll have a few more before this whole thing is through. Anyway, what does “being through” even look like? Won’t COVID-19 be with us in some form or another for years to come? And what about the next pandemic, the next war, the next social upheaval? Folks who throw around the word apocalypse don’t seem to understand. Human history has seen the rise and fall of many such apocalypses, it’s just that no one living today has had the misfortune of witnessing one before.

They also didn’t have Twitter during the Bubonic Plague. Imagine if they had. Does our incredible electronic interconnectedness help or hurt us under these circumstances? General awareness, assuming you’re getting accurate information, has never been higher. But neither has the fear, the fear mongering, the spread of a wholly different, much deadlier virus that has been with humanity since the very beginning.

There are ways I’m learning to cope with my fear. Creativity is chief amongst them. If you’re reading this, you’re most likely a writer or some other type of awesome creative person. I’ve heard stories of folks rediscovering their artistic side while under the constraints of lockdown. That’s a magical thing. Think of everyone having heart-to-hearts, making love with each other for the first time (or maybe the first time in months or years), beginning new creative projects, getting their life and living situations in order, or simply parking their butts in front of Netflix for hours on end instead of working themselves half to death, which is the only thing many of us have come to know.

You want my advice for keeping those pesky quarantine blues at bay? Make something cool. Like real cool. Write if you feel like writing, edit something you cooked up last year, paint a portrait of your cat, engage in this new and burgeoning Age of Aquarius in the proper way. Go outside if you live nearby nature, put your bare feet on the ground and soak up some sun. I mean, it’s early April and it may snow or something, but would you rather feel alive or inert at a time like this?

Fear is not necessarily an evil. When it causes us to lose control and rush down to the store to buy an entire stockroom’s worth of frozen peas, okay fine, then maybe it’s gotten out of hand. But fear can also show us the flaws in our lives, the things we wish could be different. Maybe you didn’t know you absolutely loathed your job until you had to work from home and found out … hey, I’d rather just be at home. A situation like this can change people, will change people, and it’ll change them on a global scale. God forbid you or someone you love suffers health consequences because of Coronavirus, but assuming everything is okay in your world otherwise, you might see this little siesta as an opportunity for personal growth. Read a self-help book, take up meditation or yoga, investigate the mysteries of the universe, snuggle someone nice and warm in bed at night, and then wake up and do it all again.

The point is there’s a lot of win in this win/lose scenario. Especially if you’re the creative type. Nowhere in your official I Survived Coronavirus contract, decoder ring, and commemorative t-shirt did it say you had to engage with a shock and terror obsessed media every waking moment, with bathroom breaks, meal breaks, and shopping trips baked in for added texture. In fact, I’d say if you’re a creative person—and especially a writer—it’s your obligation to make something that reflects your mood and the moods of individuals and collectives all over the world. Maybe just journal your feelings at night. That could go a long way toward making you feel better on a day-to-day basis.

Creativity is catharsis. Always was and always will be. I believe in the power of creation even when the world is comparatively stable. This, in perfect harmony and truth, is the only proof you’ll ever need for the existence of salvation. Faith can be enormously powerful in times such as these, and I believe you can place a little of that faith in your own ability to cope simply by being a bit more creative.

Nobody knows when this rollercoaster ride will come to a halt, and most certainly, no one can see what things will look like afterward. Maybe this will be the hardest collective test we’ll have to face as a living global generation. Perhaps there will be harder. Regardless, it’s very true you may not have much control over what transpires now, then, or far in the future. But you can control your own ability to create, and that’s worth its weight in gold.

Stay safe and aware, everybody. Until next month.


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative short stories are collected in Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, Nashville Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, is available on Amazon now!

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Judging for the 2020 W.W.A. Spur Awards

Judging the Spurs

It was a great honor to be asked to be a judge for the Western Writers of America’s 2020 Spur Awards, but I had no idea what I was signing up for. I envisioned hours of luxurious reading in one of my favorite genres, while leisurely sipping wine and taking bubble baths, and once the event opened to entries last August, for a while, a new book came in the mail every day or two and it felt a little bit like Christmas.

I began reading the first entry right off, and kept steadily working my way through them. The inflow trickled off mid-September, although there were a few later entries that didn’t come until November and December. The stack of books were large, but I’ve always been an avid reader and I felt confident that I could manage it easily.

Then, as often happens, life got in the way. I lost two dogs within a month and a half of one another, and in November, had a death in the family, and for a time my life was turned upside down. My work schedule received adjustments and travel arrangements were made for the viewing and services, and writing and school were shoved lower on the list of priorities. Suddenly, everything was up in the air and all my leisurely reading time disappeared like a magician’s rabbit. Abracadabra. Poof!

During the last part of December, I started trying to get back on track and found some reading time to begin trying to catch up on the Spur entries. At this point, the stack of books I had left to read seemed immense, and I began to wonder if maybe I should be worried about getting all of them read in time. I admit, I had to cram at the end and read every night until my eyes wouldn’t stay open, but I managed to read every entry and send in my judging choices before the deadline.

It was harder than I thought it would be to be a Spurs judge. Not because I ended up playing catch-up on the reading, but because there were some many really excellent stories submitted to the western romance category, and I had to narrow it down to the top five. Making the choices as to which were best was really tough. The opportunity to read some of the best westerns of 2019 made it worth every struggle. It was great!

I took my role as a Spur judge seriously. While reading I noted things like how well-crafted the story was, how prominent the elements of western and romance were in the story, how historically accurate the story was, and how well the story captured and held my interest, to base my choices on. Now that the winners have been announced, I am able to provide you with brief reviews of the ones that were my own personal favorites. All of the books reviewed below I found to be well written and historically accurate to their time period, and each would receive a five quill rating in my regular book reviews. They were my top picks and they include the winner in the romance category and one of the finalists.

 


MollyfarMollyfar, by Bonnie Hobbs: This is one of those stories that is just a fun read. It has strong western elements in a classic romance tale, but the unique and interesting characters are what carry the story.

Sometimes in the old west you had to grow up fast, and life wasn’t always kind, especially to members of the female persuasion. Molly finds herself on her own in the west at a young age, at a time when the choices for a girl on her own were very limited. She’s on her way to becoming a soiled dove for a life of squalor when she meets Wade and it’s love at first sight. Wade vows take care of Molly, so there will be no need for her to go down that road, but he is young and there are several obstacles preventing him from following through. Then Molly met Heeshe, the new amorphidite brothel owner and they saved each other, but there was always a place in her heart for Wade, if she could only admit it and let herself surrender to him.

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This New DayThis New Day, by Harlan Hague: This book made Finalist. It has the strong western element of a true pioneer tale with a sweet romance that just feels right. The story line draws the reader in and doesn’t let go.  It made me cry.

When Molly’s husband dies, there’s nothing left to go back to. They sold up all their worldly goods to make the trek across the mountains to Oregon, and she is determined to complete the journey with her two children. She meets hardship and heart ache along the way, and Micah, a mysterious rugged rider, who turns up just at the right moment to save her from Jeb, an unsavory member of their party, who has had his eye on Molly and grown tired of just watching. Soon Micah is riding with she and the children, and bedding down near their wagon at night, working his way into the children’s hearts, as well as her own, but she has to wonder where he goes when he rides off for days and then, reappears. She has doubts as to whether she is strong enough to make it at times, but soon finds she doesn’t want to make it without Micah.

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The Express BrideThe Express Bride, by Kimberly Woodhouse: This story has western and romance elements that are prominent. Likable characters make you care, and a fun and playful story line makes you want to keep reading. Jaquelin (Jack) is a strong, gritty female protagonist, who you can’t help but like.

Since her father died, Jack has run the Pony Express station in his stead. And why shouldn’t she? Even if she had to mislead to corporation heads a little, implying that she was male by signing her letter Jack instead of Jacquelin, she knows the workings inside and out, and the riders all like her and look to her with respect. Then Elijah Johnson looking for a mystery woman from the past arrives, along with a U.S. Treasury agent, Mr. Crowell, enlisted to help uncover a suspected conterfeiting ring operating in the area. As she unravels the mystery surrounding her own past, she ponders who she is, and who she wants to be, and struggles with the nagging feeling that Elijah Johnson may hold the key to revealing the truth.

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The Outlaw's LetterThe Outlaw’s Letter, by Angela Reines: A classic romance story with a strong western element and a hint of mystery. Good, solid story line that is everything a romance should be.

Harriette “Hetty” Osgood is just school teacher in Kiowa Wells, but when a dying man stumbles into her school house, she vows to deliver a letter to his brother, Grant Davis. Dressed as a boy for safer travel, she sets off on an adventure to find Davis, and crosses paths with Conover Boggs, who she sent to prison in the past, and would like nothing more than a chance to make her pay. Boggs catches up with her just as she catches up with Grant Davis, who has ridden with Boggs in the past. To save them both, they claim to be married to fool Boggs. They have little choice but to help one another, but Grant is on a quest to clear his name and leave his past behind him. Could they each be what the other is really looking for?

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A Slip on Golden StairsA Slip on Golden Stairs,  by Joanne Sundell: I actually reviewed this book before I was asked to be a judge. You can see my original review of this book here.

This paranormal western romance is really two romances, one in the present and one in the past, in one tragic searches for both love and riches. Sundell does an excellent job of weaving the past into the present in a tragic and heartfelt tale of lost love and possibilities.

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The Yeggma's ApprinticeThe Yeggman’s Apprentice, by C.K. Crigger: Winner of the western romance category. Great characters and a captivating plot that draws you in and keeps you reading. Light natural flowing romance within a western setting and a truly enjoyable read. 

Wilke thinks her first solo job in Butte, Montana will be a piece of cake. Simply, lift the ledgers for the designated accounts from the bank safe for the client. What could be easier? But things quickly go awry when she finds there are two sets of ledgers and they don’t tally. Suddenly, she finds herself being pursued by the shady lawyers who hired her uncle, who will go as far as murder to cover their tracks. When Hixson rides her back to her hotel on his motorbike, they discover her uncle dead, Wilke finds herself on her own and in need of getting out of town with the falsified documents.

Hix agrees to help her, but gets more than he bargains for, when the shady lawyer’s henchman is waiting at the train station. Wilke isn’t sure she can trust Hix, there are several signs that he might have a shady past and could be an outlaw, but she doesn’t have much of a choice. Hix has reasons of his own for wanting to get out of  Montana, but he finds that Wilke is full of surprises, as they try to evade the bad guys.

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Nightmare With Tracfone

Art's Visual Media Review2

I am preparing a review of “Better Call Saul” but I’m not finished.  Instead I will relate an experience that I had with a cell phone provider, I.E. Tracfone.  Consider it a public service:

 

Nightmare With Tracfone

“God damn it!” I shouted into the cell phone. “I’m done with you, asshole, done done done! Go Fuck yourself, you motherfucker!” My wife stared at me in total shock. I hadn’t blown up like that in decades. If ever: in fact, I don’t remember the last time I lost my temper. Well, yes I do but that was fifty years ago and I was enraged with a particular girl. That’s a long time to go without blowing my cool. I did not, however, keep my head this week. Not after dealing with my cell phone carrier, i.e: Tracfone.. It may be that their service people are coached to present a hostile front to customers asking for refunds. After three days of agony dealing with Tracfone employees I ended the encounter screaming into my phone,

I can’t remember being as angry as I was now with this asshole fuck-turd Tracfone employee who was probably twenty six, living in a shitty condo somewhere in Reseda or Toluca Park. I don’t really assign blame to this hapless cubicle worker. I have compassion. I know I’m living a better life than he is. This essay is my revenge on Tracfone and a cautionary tale to anyone who has a mishap with a cell phone carrier.

I’ve used Tracfone for years without problems and the advantage of Tracfone is that they’re cheap. Like 90- days- with -unlimited -calls – for thirty – bucks cheap. I could keep going for months at ten bucks a month, and so I did, for seven years. Then I lost my phone. It was gone. No searching could retrieve it. The finder-app said it was on Third Street in Santa Rosa. I did a couple of drive-by searches. Alas, the phone was gone. I needed a new one. Everyone needs a cell phone. What if there’s an emergency in your 1998 Jeep Cherokee with the rattling fan belt? What if you can’t text your lover, your spouse, your kids, your granma? Phones possess dramatic intensity. This is the twenty first century! Phones are highly charged emotional extensions. They carry family, friendship, love, sex, money….all kinds of drama.

And I had lost mine. I needed a new one, quickly. I got on the Tracfone website and ordered a modest but decently cool phone costing $131.09. Then I waited. I expected delivery in no more than two days. Everything comes immediately these days. Drones drop your shit on your porch five minutes after you order. UPS robots open your back door and leave it on the couch by five o’clock. Things really move! But the phone didn’t arrive. And I waited yet another two days, still there was no phone. I needed a phone. Doesn’t everyone? Does life proceed without cell phones? Clearly it doesn’t. So, I tried again with Tracfone. I needed a phone, asap. I ordered a hundred dollar phone and asked Tracfone to expedite the shipping. I tried to order the drone service but Tracfone isn’t up to speed in that way. I did the next best thing: overnight shipping. I received that phone the next day. Where was the first phone? The one that costs $131.09. No one knew. I had never received a confirmation e-mail, a fact that should have raised a red flag. Of course, in this world we walk through a forest of red flags daily, so it meant nothing. Three weeks later there was a knock on the door, and a Fedex driver handed me a box. I accepted the box. I shouldn’t have. But I did, and therein lies this whole agonizing tale. It was, of course, the missing phone. I didn’t need a phone anymore. I took it down to the post office, paid fifteen bucks to ship it back to Tracfone. It was received by Tracfone in two days and I asked for a refund of $131.09. According to the phone agent, I should receive my refund within three to five work days.

I used the new phone for a while. Let’s give it a name. Call it Stylo 4. Then one morning I awoke to a seemingly normal day. It turned abnormal as soon as I tried to make a call with Stylo 4. I dialed a number and a neutral female voice said “Your device has been de-activated. If you wish to speak to Tracfone, please stay on the line.” So I held, and shortly had the Tracfone robot and went through three sets of identifications and options until I finally said that word, “Other”, which means that non of my problems were addressed by the previous robot. So I got another, more senior, robot.  Again, after enduring the list of options, I uttered that loaded word, “Other”. I waited another ten minutes, then, finally, I got an agent.

Why has my phone been de-activated? The agent asked for the ID number or the EIMI identification code for the phone. I read it off the little red booklet, then I double checked the phone itself. The numbers matched.The Tracfone employee stated, quite simply, “That’s the phone that you returned to us.”

Huh? I’m holding this phone in my hand, I explained. I’m reading the EIMI number from this phone.

“We’re sorry, sir, but that’s the phone you returned to us.”

“No,” I said calmly, “it’s clearly not the phone I sent to you. I never opened the box on the other phone, the one you sent to me, the one that took three weeks to arrive, the one that cost $131.09 and is slated for refund directly into my bank account. I already had another phone, that I bought from you, Tracfone, for about a hundred bucks.”

“Would you please read the number again, sir.” I did so.

“Sir, that is the phone that you returned to us, according to the EIMI number.”

“There’s some mistake here. Can I speak to your supervisor?” Then I made a random hand movement, accidentally touched a number on the dial pad, and was disconnected. I had to start over again. I began with the first robot, then the senior robot, punching number after number. I asked for an agent, then a supervisor, and I arrived at the same deadlock at which I had arrived before. Tracfone is telling me that I returned the very phone upon which I was presently speaking.

“Does it occur to you that this is flagrantly impossible and that perhaps there’s been a mistake at your end?”

“Sir, your refund will be deposited in your account within thirty days.”

“Thirty days? I thought it was three to five days.”

“Your account has been marked and referred to our dispute department. Are you trying to obtain a free phone?”

I was shocked. “Of course not. Forget the refund for now, OK?. Please, just re-activate my phone number because I’m an elderly man suffering from Recalcitrant Plebny, Mono-Amine Insufficiency and a serious case of Portofino.”

Must I continue? I don’t want to. I spent nearly three days on the phone with Tracfone (the only number with which I could connect) and got nothing, no re-activation, a delayed refund and a black mark against my name. I think the black mark happened because after so many hours of going around and around I lost my temper and shouted “I’m sick of you assholes, I’m done I’m done, so Fuck You!”

Then I went to Walmart and purchased a Samsung A10e, a nice little phone. I’m signed up with Sprint and I’m paying $45 a month for the privilege of no longer dealing with the morons at Tracfone. I call them morons but I think that they’re just following company policy, to whit: Obfuscate, delay, confuse, deny, denigrate, de-activate.

That’s my cautionary Tracfone tale. Does any of this sound familiar? Is the world crazy? Of course it is.

For a further take on the basic humor and craziness of cell phones, go to my essay, “Total Cell Phone Ban” Click here: Complete Cell Phone Ban Coming Soon


A Midwesterner by birth, Arthur Rosch migrated to the West Coast just in time to be a hippie but discovered that he was more connected to the Beatnik generation. He hearkened back to an Old School world of jazz, poetry, painting and photography. In the Eighties he received Playboy Magazine’s Best Short Story Award for a comic view of a planet where there are six genders. The timing was not good.  His life was falling apart as he struggled with addiction and depression. He experienced the reality of the streets for more than a decade. Putting himself back together was the defining experience of his life. It wasn’t easy. It did, however, nurture his literary soul. He has a passion for astronomy, photography, history, psychology and the weird puzzle of human experience. He is currently a certified Seniors Peer Counselor in Sonoma County, California. Come visit his blogs and photo sites. www.artrosch.com and http://bit.ly/2uyxZbv


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Words to Live By – Sex, Love, Warfare, and Death

Jeff Version_Words to Live By 2

The first Wednesday of every month, writer Jeff Bowles muses on life, creativity, and our collective destinies as makers of cool stuff. You’re a writer, but have you ever thought about how or why? Here are some words to live by.

Sex, Love, Warfare, and Death

People will fool you if you let them. Consumers especially. Consider the old marketing adage coined by Steve Jobs, “A lot of the time, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” Every single morning, especially with the elections coming up, I turn on the news to get a glimpse of my world. The media skews reality so badly it sometimes seems pathological, but hey, let’s face it, if I really wanted raw unbiased information, I wouldn’t get it from CNN, Fox News, or MSNBC.

Coronavirus is about to go pandemic. That’s scary, which means the news will deliver it to me at accelerated intervals. Donald Trump tweeted something nasty again—big surprise there—and I’ll hear about it at the top of the hour, every hour. A new celebrity sex scandal? I eat those up, because, well, I’m a human being and gossip about sex somehow makes me feel like an active participant. It really isn’t the media’s fault, of course. They only sell what I’m willing to buy. Whatever else it may have become in the modern era, the news business has always understood our psychology far better than we do.

No matter how old we get, how wizened, educated, experienced, or jaded, there are but a few key elements we demand like clockwork from our stories: sex, love, warfare, and death. The news is a storytelling racket, after all, no different from books, movies, or anything else worth binging till our eyes bleed. Broadcasting the truth (or something designed to look like a reasonable facsimile thereof) is supposed to carry with it an added degree of responsibility, but if you find yourself screaming at the anchorman for his disastrous manipulation of the facts, don’t blame his boss or parent company. We are who we are. Humans possess a higher mind, higher aspirations and beliefs, altruism, compassion, faith, family unity, a virtuous sense of community. But we have a lower mind, too, a famously inconvenient and uncompromising wilderness of dim subconscious junk, and any storyteller worth her salt knows to engage us there first and foremost.

Think about your favorite stories. Every single one of them, I’ll bet, contains some degree of sex, love, warfare, or death. Now, your all-time top ten may not include all four at once, and maybe one or two of those elements, more or less to the point, is dressed up to resemble something else entirely. But they are there. 50 Shades of Grey wasn’t a pop culture phenomenon because it was a good book, and War and Peace would’ve sold far fewer copies historically if Tolstoy had simply called it Peace. I know what you’re thinking. This is all pretty cynical, Jeff. Surely people aren’t so basic as that. Why yes we are, and don’t call me Shirley. Anyway, it’s not cynicism. It just might be helpful to know what you’re up against before you decide to tell your next story.

Here’s what you’re up against. You are a human being attempting to entertain, enlighten, provoke, or otherwise affect on an emotional level other human beings, a species of meat-bodied, highly intelligent yet conflicted primates with a long, glorious history of blood for blood, sex for pleasure, and a penchant for looking for love in all the wrong places. Just so you know I’m not biased, I also believe each of us has a soul and a sovereign and divine spiritual destiny. To my mind, we’re a perfectly perfected, haphazard merger of things both high and low. It’s just that sometimes higher things can seem lowly and lower things can get us really, really, really, awesomely freaking high. There’s no shame in it, at least there shouldn’t be. You’re a warm body and an isolate personality. You get lonely sometimes, have to eat, sleep, and contend with day-to-day living. I also happen to believe in God and the unified consciousness of all things. Good thing, too. It helps to remember my mantras while I’m stuck in traffic, barely suppressing the urge to hop out and punch the guy sexting his girlfriend in the Hyundai next to me.

Have you ever read a really boring novel and thought, there needs to be more conflict, more romance, just a touch more daring and danger? I have, I do, all the time, especially when I’m reading something written by a beginner. Novice writers often confuse circumstance for story. These things aren’t mathematical, you aren’t working an equation, and outlining your latest plot to within an inch of its life will only render the storytelling equivalent of procedural asphyxiation. If artificial intelligence ever takes over the world, it won’t be writing stories. Not good ones, anyway.

Because we’re not synthetic lifeforms, you may every so often encounter people with beating hearts, barely controlled primal urges, a whole host of neuroses (both subtle and extravagant), and oh yeah, a crippling sense of self-doubt and self-limitation, stemming from one very basic fact: we’re all going to die, and there’s not a single thing any of us can do about it.

We care about sex because the survival of our species depends on it. We care about love and tragedy because they tend to define our most guarded, significant moments. And when it comes to warfare, we’ve all gotten a taste. What’s the difference between arguing with your neighbor for playing his music too loud and desiring to invade a foreign country because you don’t like the way they’ve been eying your stuff? A matter of degree is no matter at all, as it turns out. The trouble with reality as we know it is that we as individuals are just so damn, well, individualized. Relating to others in empathetic and wholly loving terms sometimes requires feats of superhuman strength, especially because I’m so terribly separate from you, and you’re so terribly separate from me, and I have my own needs, desires, limitations, and personal wounds to contend with.

But that doesn’t mean we’re alone. We aren’t, not one of us. It also doesn’t mean the stories we tell, the stories we love, have to be manufactured to meet primal criteria and primal criteria alone. The warmth and splendor of our experience is only equal to the depths of despair and loneliness we may encounter. That’s just the way it is. Life is a roller-coaster ride, and truth be told, we wouldn’t have it any other way. As The Beatles put it, in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make. How much love have you made recently? Was it worth writing about? If so, why the hell are you reading some stupid blog post? Jot it down. Hurry! Hurry! Before it disowns you and moves to upstate Antarctica!

Sometimes fiction writers neglect their own experience in favor of concocting synthetic lives, synthetic characters, synthetic prose. I imagine to some the old chestnut, write what you know, seems like a bad idea. It isn’t. You’ll have to trust me on this. Your experience is equally significant as mine, as hers, as his, which is to say, both significant and insignificant as dirt. But that’s okay. In fact, it’s the way things are supposed to be. In the course of any given lifetime, fortunes will change hands, lovers will dispose us or face our disposal, babies will cry, enemies and friends will be made, laughs will be had, tragedies endured, and at the end of it all, we’ll have to give the whole shebang back and pretend it was some kind of season finale to a sleeper hit show the network neglected to renew. It seems unfair, but immortality is reserved for vampires, Highlanders, homogenous national virtues, and other mythical beasts. It is precisely our temporal nature that enables the existence of storytelling in the first place. The people who remind us of our limits, who console us, make us feel understood, the ones who tempt us or frighten us or leave us hanging, we call them storytellers, and we honor their place in our lives.

Every single day is story unfolding, and every individual you encounter is a supreme co-author of yours. It is entirely possible to acknowledge these things about ourselves, these dark and dirty, foible-filled things, and to still enjoy the hell out of each waking moment. More than possible. Perhaps mandatory, because hating your life is just a way of saying you love it with all your heart. The real miracle, the fact that any of us are here at all, necessitates our uncompromising need to build the biggest, most luxurious sandcastles, and then to watch helplessly as the tide swallows them whole. This is the essence of storytelling. It’s the essence of life. All things must pass. All things must pass away. Just remember that the next time you sit down to write. You’d better entertain me, wow me, seduce me, or otherwise completely jack up my mood, because if you don’t, I’m putting your book down and turning on the news.

Oh look, Trump just tweeted about Coronavirus, Joe Biden, the Chinese economy, Russian election meddling, Nancy Pelosi, Roger Stone, his persecution at the hands of our political system, and he managed to use the term fake news a total of seven times. That’s got to be some kind of record. What a storyteller! Guess I’m watching CNN all morning again.

It’s in the bloodstream, you see, always was and always will be. And thank goodness for that. No need to make America great again, Mr. President. Or the rest of the human race, for that matter. We’re all pretty great already. I mean, we invented War and Peace and 50 Shades of Grey, and we haven’t even learned to conquer death yet. Bet there’s a good story in there somewhere. You should totally write it, dude, before someone else beats you to it.

Talk at you next month, everybody! Have a good one. 🙂


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative short stories are collected in Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, Nashville Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, is available on Amazon now!

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Homeland: An Over(re)view

 

Homeland: An over-review

            Showtime’s National-Security thriller, “Homeland”, is a Monster.  It’s intense, cerebral, nerve-wracking, absorbing and addictive.  It’s just the kind of stuff we like.  Claire Danes is either a genius or the world’s most egregious over-actor since Adolph Hitler.  Her eyes bug out of her head.  She gives Bipolar Disorder a new public face.  Her gaze darts everywhere in fits of paranoia.  Claire is sensing the facts as they are: everyone is out to get her.  Playing CIA analyst Carrie Mathison, she’s in disgrace.  The agency to which she is devoted, the CIA, is also in disgrace, thanks to flubs, fumbles, the 9/11 disaster and political turf wars. Carrie’s the scapegoat.  Everyone in the Intelligence community knows she’s a nut case.  The thing is, she’s a nut case who is RIGHT.  It takes a crazy person to identify the deeper reality.  It takes a slobbering paranoid to fit all the pieces of the puzzle together in ways that no sane person would dare.  This is a new era, a new paradigm.  The Cold War is over.  Hawkish right-wingers have spent the last decade enhancing the power of the Presidency, ditching congressional oversight and accountability.  There is political and moral turmoil. A real President is never mentioned; there is just “The President” and he is kept out of the picture. How do we handle such issues as torture, assassination, domestic surveillance and murder-by-drone? The gloves are off.  We do the expedient thing.  If we have to kill people to save an intelligence operation, we do the killing.  The operation is all-important. 

            There isn’t much ideology in “Homeland”.  The characters are mostly driven by ambition, greed and ego.  Carrie has given up trusting anyone.  She’s fallen in love with Nick Brody (played by Damian Lewis).  She doesn’t trust Brody, she’s “playing” him, but still she loves him.  She suspects that he’s an agent of Iranian Intelligence, and she’s right. Nick Brody has endured eight years of torture by the Taliban.  Now he’s a secret Jihadist.  He’s been “turned” by his captors.  He prays to Allah in his garage, out of sight of his family.  He’s the Trojan Horse who’s going to wear a suicide vest.  He’s going to blow up the political leaders of the U.S.A. in a single fiendish blast.  He’s been elected as a Congressman on the basis of his heroic persona and is now being touted as the Vice Presidential nominee for the next general election.

            “Allahu Akbar” he mutters reverently, bowing into his garage-floor prayer rug.  His sixteen year old daughter, Dana, catches him in the act.

Oops. 

She doesn’t say or do anything.  She’s confused.  She’s scared.   She wants to love her father, the father who’s been gone since she was eight, who was declared dead before his dramatic recovery from the Taliban. 

What do I know? Mandy Patinkin shrugs.

.

            Shouldn’t everyone be suspicious of Nick Brody?  But..but…he was a Marine, he survived eight years of captivity and didn’t break! He looks damn good in that uniform!  Why shouldn’t he run for Congress?  CIA sub-chief Saul Berenson is plenty suspicious.  He’s played by a wooly faced Mandy Patinkin.  He looks like the rabbi who presided over my Bar Mitzvah.  I want him to embrace me in a bear hug, I want him to smell like cigars as his beard scratches my boyhood cheeks.  He seems to be the only CIA officer who believes in Carrie’s crazed perceptions.  He’s her mentor and protector.  We, the audience, want to believe in his integrity.  When he (apparently) succumbs to external pressure and betrays Carrie, it looks like he’s been lost as the story’s only honest character.   Well, Carrie’s honest to a fault but she’s loop-dee-loo manic when she’s off her medications, which is most of the time.  She’s a dedicated operative, her life and her family are the CIA.  She’s on/again off/again with the CIA because she kept her Bipolar Disease a secret.  Yet she’s so valuable, her results so palpable that she’s allowed to remain a kind of house pet with access to most of the deep secrets.  In time she herself becomes one of the CIA’s secrets.  She doesn’t know that she’s a secret, maybe the most important secret of them all.  Well, I told you, she’s crazy!

            Damian Lewis looks like Steve McQueen.  His pursy little mouth is so McQueen.  I know, it’s irrelevant, but it drives me crazy.  I don’t know if he’s that good an actor.  I just don’t know. The important thing is that he’s good enough.  If he’s confused as Nick Brody, he damn well ought to be confused.  He went to war as a gung-ho Marine and was taken prisoner and thrown into a hole.  He spent five years in the hole and then was let out to be manipulated by arch-terrorist Abu Nazir.  It was Stockholm Syndrome with full maple syrup.  Devil-faced Abu Nazir played Good Cop on Nicholas Brody and converted him to Islam.

            How confusing would it be if you came home to a wife, two kids and a nice suburban house, masquerading as a war hero while plotting to become a Martyr to the cause of global Jihad?  Pretty damned confusing.  Damian Lewis plays confused to the point of impenetrability.  We don’t know who he is.  His aberrations are written off to PTSD.  As Congressman Brody he has access to all kinds of people and places.  How lovely for terror chief Abu Nazir, who employs a full-time suicide vest maker: the little tailor who runs a small shop in Gettysburg with a sideline in explosives.

Nick Brody before cleaning up

            “Homeland” is scary because we live in a scary world.  An all-pervasive war is being fought everywhere, invisibly.  It’s a war of computer hackers, Special Ops raids, spies, spooks, moles, rats, safe houses, cover identities, drone strikes, satellite imagery, surveillance at every traffic light and Seven Eleven.  Nothing is too far fetched in today’s world.  By creating a lead character who suffers from Bipolar Disorder, Showtime has pulled the band-aid off the wound.  Ow!  That hurts!  It’s disturbing to contemplate Carrie Mathison running around, defying orders, blowing covers, making extremely risky decisions while her “handlers” in the communications van chew the ends of their fingers with anger and frustration.  “Carrie, stop!  Get back under cover!”  Carrie doesn’t stop.  She’s off her meds.  Her judgment is impaired.  This is the kind of spook in whom our trust resides, the spook who holds the safety of our nation in her agile but deeply warped mind.  

            I don’t recommend watching “Homeland” before bed time.  We do it anyway.  We dream freaky dreams.  


Mindfields: TV Addicts Anonymous

Mind FieldsThere was a time when watching television would make people feel guilty…as if they had nothing better to do. I have something better to do. I can watch better quality TV instead of the ubiquitous TV crapola. These days we have choices in TV-Land. Sometimes my wife and I watch TV all day and all night. I admit to some exaggeration here. I don’t watch TV all day; not any more. There was a time when I was pretty  unmotivated and I watched TV around the clock…and I felt guilty about it. Fortunately that time is passed. I watch TV judiciously, choosing carefully what I expose myself to. There are as many TV universes as there are significant demographics. There are ravening people who feast on Jerry Springer and gentle wine-drinking people who watch PBS-only docs and dramas. I fall somewhere towards the latter. My spouse is more broadminded; she helps me expand my range of experiences. She’s addicted to The Home Shopping Network. We are both addicted to shows about animals and veterinarians.

I’m a keen observer of TV-as-cultural phenomenon. It’s the most powerful thing in the world outside of the Hydrogen Bomb. Television has dominated our experiential landscape since the early fifties and never more so than today. We have emerged into a golden age for television. There’s immense variety, convenience, amazing quality and the television sets have become so smart that they require control like a rowdy drunk at a party. It took me days to figure out how our new device functions. I still haven’t conquered the remote control. I can talk to it and it often responds. I’d be screwed if I couldn’t talk to that thing. It wouldn’t surprise me, if, some day soon, the remote responds with something like “Hey, I’m busy, asshole. Try again later.” I would expect rudeness from a television device. After all, this is the thing that brought us “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.” Sometimes I hear my wife talking in the bedroom. Is she on the phone? No. She’s talking to the remote. Begging, pleading, bargaining with the remote.

We love to binge. That sets the tone of our lives. What will we binge tonight? It’s not easy to find binge-worthy stuff. Thank god for National Geographic, Netflix and Amazon Prime. Between Mrs. Maisel, Dr.Pol and Fleabag we have a good time. Fleabag is the work of actress/director/writer Phoebe Waller-Bridge. When we saw the last episode of Fleabag I shouted “Magnificent!” I don’t always offer such spontaneous accolades. Phoebe plays the character known only as Fleabag. She’s a fairly gorgeous creature in her gawky comical way. She’s maybe too tall, her nose is a little skewed, but these aspects are essential to her character. She would be boring if she had all the beauty conventions. The stories revolve around the Search For Love. Who isn’t searching? This quest is especially powerful in the young. It surges in women who are reaching a certain age, an age when their mothers are asking “When are you going to get married?” Fleabag is precisely that age and her obsessions are pulling her puppet strings. If she weren’t wryly self-aware she’d be suicidal. She is recovering from an awful trauma. Her best friend committed suicide over a breakup. She walked out into traffic and gave up her life. This grief haunts Fleabag and steels her determination to continue living. She too has ended a long relationship. Now she’s thrust into the world of men, those strange groping creatures who don’t understand women. Sound familiar? That’s US! The thing is, Phoebe/Fleabag is funny! Her wit is corrosive yet compassionate. When the two seasons were over we were gasping for more. Alas, Phoebe is moving into new productions. Watch her!

We binged on the two seasons of “You”. It’s gripping, but it’s also repugnant. In the beginning of the series the protagonist, Joe Goldberg, seems to be a likeable fellow. He develops into a monster as the tale unfolds. I’m holding back the spoilers here. The story hangs on Joe’s transformation into something sinister. His obsession is, again, Love. Or, more specifically, Women. The show gives us Joe’s thought processes. The narration is Joe’s self-talk and he has a one track mind.

I must remind my readers that I have a “writer’s rule” that I scrupulously observe. “Is this story worth telling?” I have three criteria that stories should encompass. They should be entertaining, insightful, and, if possible, inspiring. If they can’t reach the level of inspiration they should at least not leave us depressed. We get enough of that shit all around us. After watching every episode of “You” and being entertained, I still have mixed feelings as to whether or not we should have gone through the experience. There are plenty of shows about dark characters. Darkness is important to drama. It’s like death itself. Without death there would be no passion in life. All of life’s tensions and excitement are generated by the clash between light and dark. Is this oversimplified? Perhaps. I’m left with a slightly sour feeling about “You”. If I had eaten Joe Goldberg for dinner, I would have gas and diarrhea in the morning. Watch the series, by all means. It’s very good, well acted, well written…but I’ve warned you. Take some Pepto Bismol to bed, put it on your night table.


A Midwesterner by birth, Arthur Rosch migrated to the West Coast just in time to be a hippie but discovered that he was more connected to the Beatnik generation. He harkened back to an Old School world of jazz, poetry, painting and photography. In the Eighties he received Playboy Magazine’s Best Short Story Award for a comic view of a planet where there are six genders. The timing was not good.  His life was falling apart as he struggled with addiction and depression. He experienced the reality of the streets for more than a decade. Putting himself back together was the defining experience of his life. It wasn’t easy. It did, however, nurture his literary soul. He has a passion for astronomy, photography, history, psychology and the weird puzzle of human experience. He is currently a certified Seniors Peer Counselor in Sonoma County, California. Come visit his blogs and photo sites. www.artrosch.com and http://bit.ly/2uyxZbv


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Words to Live By: The Creator in the Creative

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The first Wednesday of every month, writer Jeff Bowles muses on life, creativity, and our collective destinies as makers of cool stuff. You’re a writer, but have you ever thought about how or why? Here are some words to live by.

The Creator in the Creative

Creativity is a hard thing to nail down. I should know. I’ve tried many times. It’s universal, yet it can also be inconsistent. It’s one of the most primal urges we have, but many people stifle the creative impulse within themselves, which must suit them, but which is really a damn shame, if you ask me.

Sometimes, our creativity is like a good friend. At other times, it abandons us completely. In the face of tragedy, trauma, or just a really nasty string of bad luck, who the hell feels like writing anything? It’s hard to make cool stuff when you’re feeling low. But our creativity is never really gone for good.

In some spiritual traditions, the creative drive is an extension of the same lifeforce with which we make babies and raise families. I kind of like that sentiment, because in many ways, the projects we take on, the stories we tell, the art we make, it’s not unlike our very own precious yet finicky offspring. If there is a central intelligence in the universe, a oneness to all things, then certainly creativity is the most primary law residing therein. After all, most people’s concept of God is God, The Creator, not God, That Lazy Dude.

I’ve been creating things my whole life. I like to write songs, like to tell stories, I paint sometimes, and the fact of the matter is I never feel more at peace and connected than when I’m knee-deep in my work. It’s a buzz, really. It keeps me feeling good all day long. It’s also kind of frustrating sometimes, as I’m sure you’ll agree. To write a novel, for instance, requires intense focus and a terrible long-term memory, because if I actually thought about how often I’ve failed, I probably wouldn’t want to write at all.

If not for the unsettled nature of these things, I could live my life inside my art and never leave. Never even peek my head out to see what’s happening in the world. I also don’t have any children, which simplifies things, I suppose. My wife and I had no luck conceiving. As much as 15% of couples have fertility issues, and it makes you wonder about the connection between that essential lifeforce inside us and our ability to propagate on any level. I know that during the worst of our disappointment, I wrote more than I ever had before. Story after story after story. Mostly sad, sometimes nightmarish. It’s funny how your mental and emotional states can seep into your writing.

I had to learn to get good at creation, because for a very long time, it felt like there was nothing else for me. One can almost imagine the cosmos having one or two sloppy first drafts. There were many days I opted to spend time alone, probably because it was painful for me to see my wife in such misery. We were both hurting. We both needed to feel our pain, and then hopefully one day, to heal from it. She really wanted to be a mom, and as it slowly became clear she wouldn’t get that chance, I pursued her in ways I hoped would get through to her, despite her depression and angst. I wrote a lot about fertility. I wrote about miscarriages and frustration and having a life you’re not sure you want anymore. And I have to wonder if I had become a father, would I have worked even half as hard? I needed that energy out of me, needed to express it in some constructive way.

And I guess that’s the point, isn’t it? One little act of creation has the power to shape the world. Some people even believe we have the ability to create our own realities through sheer willpower. In New Age spirituality, they call it the Law of Attraction or the Law of Resonance. The spiritual self-help book The Secret cracked that whole thing open for mass consumption, though the basic metaphysical presumptions behind it are reportedly eons old. What is consciousness? Can you feel it? Manipulate it? Is consciousness conscious in the sense that it walks and talks and blinks and cracks a joke now and then? Or is it patient and observant within us, sleeping yet not asleep, wistful and dreaming while we strut around, the emperors of our little empires?

Many people perceive malleable seams in the fabric of reality. In practical application, sitting down to write a story is not unlike constructing a whole universe from thin air. Making gold from lead, that’s sort of the joy of being alive. At least it is for me. The fires that forge whatever I want, they burn brightly. It’s not such a stretch to imagine an unconscious connection between what I dream and how I live. And some forms of creativity are born in even hotter fires still.

Love, I’m certain, has spurred more creative endeavors than any other human experience. Unrequited love, for sure. I don’t know if you’ve ever felt the sting for someone unavailable or uninterested, but honestly, it makes for fantastic art. Hallelujah, at least it’s good for something, right? There is a kind of sacred triumvirate between the heart, the head, and the drive to create. I love my wife dearly. I love that I am afforded the joy of loving her. I write for her as much as for anything else. It’s a privilege and a wonder.

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We can drive ourselves crazy stewing in our own unexpressed romantic juices. And it’s not like artists aren’t known for craziness, right? Take a van Gogh, lop off the tip of one ear for a woman, and they’ll never let you hear the end of it (pun not intended). It’s a matter of pride for some, carrying that torch. I prefer to carry nothing at all, or at least a slice of pizza or something, but that’s just me.

It begs the question, do we have to be in pain to make good art? Or perhaps in some kind of rapture? Religious art is made in the latter, pop songs and pop books the former. Peak experience is universal, though not in any form universally understood. The creative mind is often also the jealous and overly dramatic mind. Love makes you feel that way. I suppose pain does, too. All the tragedies of the world couldn’t fit into a million books, but don’t think people haven’t tried.

Essentially, creativity is a salve. It’s soothing. It boosts your brain chemistry, all those wonderful joy hormones, and it produces an effect like falling in love. Surely, if there is something of a higher nature in us, our creativity is its first mile marker. If you’re a particularly creative individual—and if you’re reading this article, I figure you must be—then wear it proudly, and don’t forget it’s one of the things that makes you who you are. I wouldn’t even know myself as Jeff Bowles if I couldn’t put the right words down on the page or strike just the right notes on a guitar.

High-mindedness is all well and good, but the truth is you’re human, you’re mortal, and at some point you will not exist in the form you enjoy now. Which makes it even more crucial for you to follow your star and use your talents and your natural spark and intelligence to turn lead into gold. Never underestimate the power of a good mystery. Perhaps it doesn’t matter where our creativity comes from, how it manifests. Maybe it’s enough that we perform the work of our kind, which is to say, the work of the universe itself.

Have you created something great recently? Something you’re really proud of? Share it in the comments section below. And meet me back here same time next month. We’ll have another chat. 😊


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative short stories are collected in Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, Nashville Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, is available on Amazon now!

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Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Movies – Video Games – Music – So Much More!



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