Zephyr 98 Archive

Archive for the ‘writing’ Category

Man On The Street Moments

Statistics would show that, like a long string of heads or tails-only coin flips, there’s nothing special about encountering a series of off kilter or even seemingly sinister moments after a dry spell of mundane normality. Closer observation would probably show that we swim in all manner of circumstances constantly and swap our observational and perceptual filters like flips of the coin.

These events took place during a recent sunny day along a 5 block span of Portland’s Pearl district. I’m pretty sure that I’m the only common thread. I jotted them here in first person because it worked for me during the writing.

* * *

Outside Powell’s NW entrance, a 40ish man in worn jeans, t-shirt, sneakers, and puffy leather cap stands gripping the handle of his shopping cart and staring at a young tree growing from a hole in the pavement. As I pass, he plucks off his cap and glares at me.

“Do you think it’s funny? Because there’s a breeze? Because it feels good on your skin?”

He shouts, “It’s not, and it NEVER WAS!”

“There are millions of leaves,” he mutters.

He replaces his cap and returns to the tree.

Three blocks down I follow a trail of dried blood for half a block to a brick wall where the trail ends or begins. There’s about a 8 foot overhang here where homeless sometimes shelter from the sun or rain. The space is empty today.

Outside the door to the office, two girls stand at the parking meter, one fishing for coins and narrating in rough language while the other is texting and nodding like she’s taking dictation. “I told that girl, bitch, I said, bitch, don’t tell me that *you* *don’t* *know* what I mean, you going to fucking die, bitch. Haha, she don’t fucking believe me.”

Inside the office, there’s a human-sized wooden crate open and standing on end, with the name “Natalie” taped to the front. I don’t think that Natalie knows the girl outside, but I head upstairs just to make sure.


An alternate explanation is that Natalie, a prodigious and often brilliant worker, simply wore out and was sent to the factory for maintenance and upgrades.

Above, I intentionally did not describe the physical appearance of the two girls at the parking meter, but will say that neither was African-American.

There’s a good exercise here for me to review these minimalist scenes and figure out descriptive bits that would help readers visualize them better. Then I wouldn’t need notes like “BTW, they weren’t African American girls, just in case that’s where your biases led you, and if they did, well shame on you.”


and if that’s poor grammar, well, I’m on a short leash today.  But the posts referenced below are worth reading by anyone who writes (fiction, at least):

Earlier this summer a science/speculative fiction writing workshop was held in India that sounds exciting and a wonderful model for something similar in the US (though as an even more multi-cultural melange than the sessions held in Kanpur).

Two of the sessions founding feathers (Vandana Singh and Anil Menon) describe their experiences starting here and here. Read Vandana’s first–there’s more background; then jump on Mr Menon’s wild ride.

Read em and pluck your eyes out with envy, or, better, your heartstrings with desire to participate in something as rich here in the states (that doesn’t cost a fortune, that is as much about writing as a state of awareness as craft, etc.).

Maybe there are workshops like this in the US–I haven’t seen or heard of them, though. Maybe that’s the problem–they are here but there’s not enough publicity.

Since I was in my early 20’s (& maybe earlier), I’ve dreamed of our family’s old country home at least twice a year, returning to discover dimensions and qualities and inhabitants that I never found in my 3 dimensional childhood. That home keeps creeping into my writing–sometimes more as a personality or quality than a physical place.

We sold the house when I was 12, after my parents divorced, and moved into the city. 4 years ago (in the physical world) I stopped by on the way back from a country wedding, just to see the changes–something I’ve done every few years when I’m out that way. This time, the changes were shocking and more surreal than any I experienced in Slumberland. I’ll write about them in a future post–it was unsettling in a Ballardian post-apocalyptic way that I can’t describe in a few sentences.

Some dreams stick and don’t need to be journaled–especially those with recurring themes or unique dreams that include sensory experiences like the taste of perfect bread (real dream–a teaching dream) or one’s murder (real dream and thankfully only once, although I did get a small award for the story it inspired).

Today’s title*

Leathers in Mozambique: An Adventure Story for Boys, by Edward M. Chrystie

Hodder and Stoughton., London, 1959

Three white guys with big guns in the jungle, the pith-helmeted, querulous-looking one in back clearly waiting to get picked off first.

Clearly the search for the kidnapped girl who would become the magician’s assistant–or, maybe the magician! (Who says the magician has to be a man–more interesting story opportunities otherwise.) Of course, the search is taking place in the wrong place, following a false clue. (She’s been taken into the desert: see the other entries tagged “Title a Day.”)

Resisting (not completely) all jokes about them just looking for a good leathers bar and not really hoping to find the girl.

*From the book of eye opening titles, Scouts in Bondage and other violations of literary propriety, ed. Michael Bell.

Today’s title*

Girls’ Interests: The Vereston Annuals series

D.L.M.S., London, 1937

The front cover shows two cherry cheeked clean young ladies in pith helmets, bright and appropriate simple dresses, white stockings and shoes on holiday in a Middle Eastern bazaar, guardedly curious about the play of a dark but twinkle-eyed snake charmer and his swaying cobra. Their backup is a gent in casual naval officer’s whites old enough to be their father. Everyone in the bazaar, merchants, customers, mystery woman on the cover spine, is watching them.

The girl on the right, who is being held slightly back by her companion, will grow up to become the magician’s assistant. The snake charmer will help her escape from kidnappers and teach her what he knows about magic and illusion while they are trapped in a cave during a sandstorm. (See the other entries tagged “Title a Day” for the magician reference.)

*From the book of eye opening titles, Scouts in Bondage and other violations of literary propriety, ed. Michael Bell.

Today’s title*

Invisible Dick, by Frank Topham

DC Thomson & Co. Ltd, London, 1931

The front cover shows a bicycle speeding away down a country road from a surprised bobby while being chased by a dog. The invisible rider is wearing only a cap and shoes. Part of the TOC is shown; chapters include Dick Finds It, The Vanishing Helmet, Porker Puzzled, Ghosts and Ghosts, P.C. Brett, Crow Pie, and Wizzing the Wizard.

This is likely a somewhat ribald story from the magician’s younger days. (See the other entries tagged “Title a Day” for the magician reference.)

*From the book of eye opening titles, Scouts in Bondage and other violations of literary propriety, ed. Michael Bell.

A title a day* helps keep the doldrums away.


Book of Blank Maps, with Instructions

Foulsham & Co., Ltd, London, Undated

Note: Price is One Shilling and Sixpence net

Landscapes that appear before you (or somewhere in the world) as you map them? Perhaps this is how the magician magically transports people or animals (such as nuns or tigers?) onstage in front of a disbelieving audience? Can he use each map more than once, without risk? What happens when he runs out of blank maps? Can he change them? Are they inhabited?

Or is it a metaphor for a human heart (or hearts), following a tragedy?

*From the book of eye opening titles, Scouts in Bondage and other violations of literary propriety, ed. Michael Bell.