Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

Marshall answered the questions that Dr. Knapp asked him easily. He should have. They were simple questions. His name. His birthday. Last thing that he remembered before the accident. The only thing that presented a challenge was that while he was answering these questions, he had Rip humming a tune in his head. That was frustrating enough, but the fact that Rip couldn’t carry a tune made it even worse. So when the questions became a little more than rote memorization, Marshall found himself having to concentrate harder and harder. “Have you noticed any sensitivity to light?”

Marshall tried to think over the past few minutes while Rip hummed a Maroon 5 song. “I don’t believe so, ma’am.”

Dr. Knapp smiled. “I don’t think I’m much older than you. You don’t have to call me ‘ma’am’.”

“Pretty smile,” Rip said.

“Yes it is,” Marshall replied without thinking about it beforehand.

“What’s that, Mr. Laken?” the doctor asked.

Marshall mentally cursed Rip’s voice. “I heard that,” the disembodied voice said with a chuckle.

Marshall managed to not respond and instead focused on the doctor. “I was going to say that yes, you are right. We are pretty close in age. So you can call me Marshall, not Mr. Laken.” Dr. Knapp nodded. “Is it alright if I call you Doc?”

Without missing a beat, Dr. Knapp replied, “But then who will be Sneezy or Dopey?”

Marshall laughed a little louder than the joke called for. “You are such a loser,” Rip chimed in.

“Bite me.” Marshall managed not to say that particular remark out loud. “Now let me get through this exam and then I can find out why my best friend that has been dead for six years has become a disembodied voice in my head.”

Dr. Knapp didn’t seem to notice the internal conversation that Marshall was having. “I know. Such a bad joke. I say it so often that it’s just automatic now.” She made a notation on her clipboard. “I’m still concerned that you might have a concussion. Are you having blurred vision, blotches in your vision, or hearing odd noises?”

Just the voice of my dead best friend Marshall thought. “Not that I’ve noticed,” was the reply he gave aloud.

As the doctor looked at him a little dubiously, Rip spoke with a bit of amusement in his tone. “Oh yeah. About that. I’m not Rip, man. And I sure ain’t a delusion. Watch.” Without any sense of control or forewarning, Marshall felt his hand smack his forehead.

Dr. Knapp looked somewhat shocked. “Mr. Laken? Marshall? Are you alright?”

Marshall had a wave of dizziness and nausea wash over him. Only part of it was from his probable concussion. “I’m not sure,” he answered shakily. “Something’s just not right.”


Marshall hadn’t said Rip’s name in several years. Saying it now made him feel a certain uneasiness. Like he had just cursed in front of his grandmother. He wasn’t sure if he really expected to hear a response. Part of him, a pretty big part, was hoping that he wouldn’t. Still, he knew what he had heard, and he was as lost as last year’s Easter egg as to why he had heard it. It was at about this time that the doctor walked into the room. Marshall didn’t even notice. “Mr. Laken?” she asked quietly. Marshall didn’t answer at first. He was still getting over the fact that he had mentioned his dead best friend’s name. “Mr. Laken? Can you hear me?”

Marshall managed to turn towards her. “Im, uh, sorry Doc. What were you asking?” The doctor reached into he lab coat pocket and pulled out a pen light. She alternated shining between Marshall’s eyes. He winced a little from the sudden onslaught of bright light. “Whoah! That hurts.”

The doctor put the pen away. “Good response from both eyes,” she said aloud to no one in particular. “Do you know where you are, Mr. Laken?”

Marshall took a few breaths as he tried to clear the spots from his vision. “I assume I’m in a hospital. I don’t know which one.”

“You’re at East Methodist,” the doctor replied in the same soft voice. “I’m Dr. Knapp. You were brought in here after a collision with a vehicle. You’re going to be alright. You have some lacerations and contusions, and you appear to have a concussion. I need to ask you a few questions, ok?”

Marshall finally cleared the spots from his eyes and looked at the doctor. She was just a few years older than him with short blonde hair and large classes. The glasses couldn’t hide a face that was best described as ‘cute.’ Marshall found himself smiling in spite of himself. “She’s like every girl you had a crush on in school,” he heard Rip’s voice say.

“Stop it!” he snarled under his breath.

“I beg your pardon?” Dr. Knapp asked?

Marshall bit his lip as he realized that he had spoken aloud. “Nothing, doc. Sorry. Ask away.” Marshall heard Rip chuckle at the situation. He knew that he was in big trouble, but had no idea what kind. It was going to be a long day.

Marshall struggled to open his eyes. He wanted to, but it felt like his body was fighting against him. He was feeling almost unimaginable pain in his head and his body felt like he had run a marathon. In the mud. In freezing temperatures. Twice. Whenever he attempted to open his eyes, they involuntarily squinted against the pain. His ears were being assaulted with random electronic beeps, alarms, and buzzing. He was able to force his eyes open, if for no other reason than to find the source of the noise and smash it against a wall. As he did, he found a stage woman uncomfortable close to his face. Marshall’s first instinct was to back away, but he found movement too painful, so he tolerated the intrusion into his personal space. “You’re finally awake,” the woman said with a good natured smile. “I thought you were going to sleep all day.”

Marshall blinked a few times and tried to clear his head. He started to pick out more details of his surroundings. The beeping was coming from somewhere just out of his view. The woman had a name tag hanging from a lanyard. He couldn’t quite make it out, but the clothes she wore looked familiar. He was cold. After a shiver or two he also realized that he was barely wearing anything. In surprise and embarrassment, he crossed his arms over his chest protectively. The strange woman chuckled. “Don’t worry. you ain’t nothin’ I haven’t seen before.” Despite that statement, he saw her reach down and pull a cover up over him. The extra warmth was inviting, comforting. Marshall closed his eyes for a few moments to enjoy the sensation and gather his thoughts.

A few brief memories came flooding back to him. The crippling, suffocating fear. The almost blind walk he took to try to escape it. Then starting to cross the road. After that, he couldn’t recall anything. “Sometimes you are really slow,” he heard a familiar voice say.

“What is that supposed to mean,” Marshall asked.

The woman smiled again. “It means that I’ve been a nurse for a long time. I know the gowns can be a little embarrassing, but I’m so used to it that I don’t even notice any of my patients are wearing them.”

“I wasn’t talking to you,” Marshall replied testily.

The nurse seemed to take the outburst in stride. “Well I’m the only one in here right now, honey. Whatever conversation you were having while you were unconscious is over.”

More pieces started falling together. Marshall finally realized that he was in a hospital room. The woman, his nurse, reached past him and hit a button that silenced one of the annoying alarms. That helped clear out the rest of Marshall’s thoughts. “What happened to me?”

“You’re an early victim of global warming,” the nurse replied, chuckling at her own joke. The look on Marshall’s face made it clear that he didn’t understand. “You were hit by a car,” she explained. “It was an electric car, so you probably didn’t hear it coming. Lucky for you it was at a slow speed.”

“Oh, yeah. What great luck you have,” Marshall heard from the same voice again. He looked around for anyone else in the room. There was no one else. The television wasn’t on, either. Of course, the next room might have their’s on and turned up loudly, so he didn’t bother asking about it.

The nurse checked the I.V. line that Marshall hadn’t even realized he had inserted into his arm and then fluffed his pillow a bit. “I’ll let the doctor know that you are awake. Then she can explain what all happened to you.”

“Thank you,” Marshall replied earnestly. He was still concerned, but knowing that he would be getting some explanation gave a a kernel of hope to hold onto.

The nurse left the room and closed the door. The room was suddenly much more quiet than Marshall was prepared for. Despite the fact that he knew someone would be coming soon to explain things to him, he felt remarkably alone and lost. He was about to reach for the controls for the television on the side of the bed when he heard the voice once again. “Since it’s going to be a few minutes, I reckon that we can use that time to have a little talk.” Marshall looked around the room once again. Convinced that it was the neighbor’s television again, he laid his head back down. “Don’t ignore me, Marshall. It’s rude.”

Marshall sat straight up. He almost passed out from pain and dizziness, but adrenaline kept him focused. There was no one there, and there were no televisions that he could hear. He thought about the voice that he’d just heard and felt himself shiver again, despite the blanket. It took all of his determination to make himself speak out loud. When he did, his voice cracked and wavered. “Rip?” he asked to the empty room. “It can’t be you. You’re dead.”

Stage Fright Part 4

Posted: June 14, 2018 in Writing
Tags: , , ,

Marshall went down the three flight of stairs at a remarkable speed. He almost knocked over a few of his neighbors on the way down. He managed to mutter a brief apology and he went along with his single-minded goal of getting out of the building. Once at the bottom of the stairs her hurled himself out the door and took a deep, gasping breath of air. It didn’t help him feel any better, but he was at least breathing. Almost without thought, he began walking. He passed right by his car without trying to get in. It wasn’t because he had left his keys in the apartment upstairs, but because he knew that he couldn’t make himself drive anywhere. He continued walking until he had reached the sidewalk and he began an aimless journey down the busy street.

Marshall could not get over how powerful, how visceral this reaction was. He had dealt with a lot of different reactions to situations during his life, from almost indescribable joy to paralyzing fear, but he had always been able to maintain some level of control over himself. Each situation was like a new role to play. He just had to learn the lines. But this. This was unimaginable. There was no chance to learn the lines because he had almost no ability to speak, to see, to think. It wasn’t fear. It wasn’t anxiety. It wasn’t stress or anger or sadness. It was all of those things rolled into one. It was helplessness. The role that he had suddenly been cast for was one of complete and total helplessness. What made it worse was that on an almost subconscious level, he knew that. He knew that he was supposed to be helpless. He even had a good idea of the cause, the source of the helplessness. He also knew that he couldn’t change it. It was a certainty that blinded him to his body’s movements, his need for oxygen, or food, or any of the normal, everyday things that gets a person through the day. He was cut off from the world, and it terrified him on an instinctual level.

It was in this wandering, confused state that Marshall found himself stumbling down the sidewalk, down the block, and to the crosswalk. And it was in this state that he never noticed the small car until he found himself bouncing onto its hood and off of its windshield, hitting the ground with a noticeable thud before falling into merciful unconsciousness. Just before he drifted completely off, he heard a voice, one that he was well familiar with, telling him “When you wake up, we have a lot to talk about.”

Stage Fright Part 3

Posted: June 11, 2018 in Writing
Tags: , , ,

Marshall entered his apartment and sighed. His roommate was already home. He and Allen got along fine. In fact, Allen was one of the reasons that Marshall was no longer having to live at home. While Marshall was getting parts in the theater on a fairly regular basis, it wasn’t exactly making him wealthy. Allen, on the other hand, worked in tech. He wasn’t hurting for money. As a result, he took on the lion’s share of the expenses. He never made Marshall feel bad about it, either. Allen was just a genuinely nice guy. Unfortunately, he also couldn’t take a hint. Marshall knew that as soon as Allen asked him how his audition had gone, it would lead to the same conversation that they had been having for the better part of a year now. “How was the audition?” Allen called out from his bedroom.

Marshall sat his keys on a little table next to the door. “It went pretty well. I’m sure that I’ll get a call-back.”

Allen stepped out of his room and walked down the hall of the small apartment. He was all smiles. He was truly happy for his roommate. That seemed to annoy Marshal more than anything. “I knew it! Man, I’ve told you before that you have so much talent.” Marshall closed his eyes because he knew exactly what was going to be said next. “You should really get into television or movies, man! You know that you could hit it big.”

For what felt like the thousandth time, Marshall explained why he wasn’t taking his friend’s advice. “Acting for television or movies is very different from acting on stage. I just don’t think that it’s for me.”

The argument didn’t faze Allen at all. “Do you know how many shows they film around here? You should audition for a crime drama. You would look perfect as a police detective solving some kind of gruesome murder.”

It wasn’t that Marshall hadn’t considered it. He could make a better living and reach a broader audience if he was on television. Yes, it was a different type of acting, but he didn’t mind a challenge. For a moment, he pictured himself as the lead detective in a crime drama. His character using logic and reason to solve a crime that no one else seemed to be able to comprehend. Witty dialogue between him and his partner. Arriving on the crime scene and everyone clearing a path so that he could see the victim, with no clue except maybe a spot of blood…

Marshall’s mind seized up. He realized that he couldn’t draw in a breath. He took every bit of acting talent that he had and used it to keep the panic from reaching his face, his eyes. “I forgot something in my car,” he managed to say before racing out the door, forgetting to grab his car keys from off the table. It didn’t matter anyways. He had no intention of driving anywhere.

Stage Fright Part 2

Posted: June 8, 2018 in Writing
Tags: , , ,

Leaving a theater after an audition was always a bit jarring for Marshall. Leaving the harness of the backstage area for the blinding brightness of the outdoors was almost as dramatic as having to break character and return to being himself. The “real” world didn’t always have more or better things to offer than the “fantasy” world of the stage. Still, he had to live in the real world. It was where he kept all of his stuff.

Squinting against the harsh blaze of the afternoon sun, Marshall climbed into his car and found his sunglasses in the cubby of the console. He put them on and felt a little better. Not only did it dull the sharp rays of the sun, but Marshall didn’t like people being able to see where his attention was focused. Sure, on stage he expected everyone to be watching him. But off stage, he wanted everyone to mind their own business. Let his mind wander to where he wanted it to. Not worry about people expecting him to look one way or another. Let him be in his own place.

The car managed to start and Marshall began the drive home. His apartment was quite a ways from the theater district. He couldn’t have afforded anything closer. The cell phone sitting in the seat next to him began to buzz. He glanced over at the screen and saw who was calling. It was his mother. She was no doubt calling to check on the results of his latest audition. He wanted to tell her, but ignored the phone instead. The conversation would start with questions about the audition, but would inevitably turn to more frustrating subjects. Like the fact that the gap year that he had decided to take had turned into five gap years so far. Some arguments can never be won, unless you choose not to fight them. Marshall dismissed the unspoken fight from his mind as he drove with extreme care down the crowded streets to his apartment, listening to music lightly on the radio as he tried to find a little bit of peace with the day’s events.

Starting something new

Posted: June 6, 2018 in Writing
Tags: , ,

I have been conspicuously absent from blogging and social media for a few months. It has been a very busy few months. I’ve been focusing on my family and job and put things such as this as a lower priority. I think it was a good choice. However, with the coming of the summer I can reorganize my time a bit and make more opportunities for writing and blogging, so I am going to start today. What I think I am going to do this summer is write a short story. I’m going to do it bit by bit, probably a paragraph at a time. And I figure that I will do it on this blog. I have no idea how this story is going to turn out. I am creating it as I go. If you aren’t a writer and ever wondered how the writing process works….this isn’t it! If you are smart you have an idea already, an outline, character profiles, etc. What can I say? I live on the edge! (The fact that I won’t put the car in gear until all seatbelts are buckled, use copious amounts of hand sanitizer, and look both ways twice before crossing the street as evidence to the contrary.) Regardless, here is the beginning of a new story. I’ll be as interested as any of you as to how it finishes!



Marshall looked around and felt pain in his eyes. Grey, he thought. What is the obsession with painting walls grey? It seemed that the backstage walls of every school or community auditorium he had been in were the same mind-numbing shade of grey. Sometimes he wished for a splash of color. Anything. Blue, green, red. Okay, not red. Definitely not red. He shook of the chill that spread across his body for a moment. Now was not the time to be distracted by the past. He had an audition. Time to be focused. Time to feel the words come naturally from his lips as if the were his own original thoughts. Time to lose himself in the story, the flow. Time to become someone else. To become someone else. Sometimes he wondered if that was his goal. Was that what always drew him to the theater? Spending most of his youth with crippling stage fright, Marshall had never examined what suddenly made him not only willing to get on stage, but what made him desire it above all else. It doesn’t matter! he shouted silently to himself. You aren’t Marshall right now. You are Eric. Get out there and live his life for the next five minutes. At that point, Marshall began what he called his “out-of-body experience,” and stepped out onto the stage, no longer in control of his own thoughts and movements, but instead controlled by the script and the character it created.

I have tried three times to write what I want to say today and deleted it each time. I have so many things that I want to say but cannot for a list of reasons that is too long for words. Instead, let me simply say these things: Fellow teachers, you are loved and respected more than is ever shown. The voices of the critics are loud, but they become background noise when you have a single parent thank you for the knowledge you have imparted to their child. Parents of children with special needs, you are not alone. Maybe there are support groups in your area, or maybe you are figuring it out as you go along. Just remember that you are doing the best that you can for your child and it’s alright to feel frustrated. It’s a long road and you and your child are mapping out the path together. Writers, being published or getting sales does not make you a writer. The moment that you put pen to paper and converted your thoughts into words, you became a writer. Pride should not come from the success of those words, but from the existence of those words.

We are soon to bring the old year to a close and begin a new one. I do not make New Year’s resolutions. If you could not make yourself do it in the middle of the year, why would you do it at the beginning? I do, however, believe in looking back upon the old year for wisdom that you can bring forward into the new one. So along with what I have already written, I add this wisdom from one of my favorite movies:  “I don’t care what you believe. Just believe it!”

Happy New Year



feature image via letter

Ok. I have to confess this. I’m sure that it will change many people’s opinions of me, but it must be said. I have a fidget spinner. There I said it. Even worse, I gave my child a fidget spinner. I know. I deserve your looks of anger and resentment.

I have to say something else as well. I like my fidget spinner. My son’s fidget spinner helps him be less of a distraction. I keep my fidget spinner close by. It helps me focus. That’s right. My entire family is one of “them.” We are the people that keep these ridiculous types of objects on the market. We are to blame.

The thing about the fidget spinner that amazes me is not how quickly that it took off, or even the backlash against it by parents, educators (my coworkers have given me no end to grief), and the public at large. What amazes me about it is how well it works without doing anything amazing. It just spins. There is nothing profound about it. Still, that simple spinning can do wonders that the most unique or profound objects, thoughts, or writing can never do.

I worry that as a society in general (and writers in particular) we expect everything to be profound. I am extremely guilty of this. Rather than using a blog to just put some thoughts out there and to speak my mind, I feel that every time I put something on my blog that it should teach something important. Everything that I say should make somebody reading it on their computer stop what they are doing and just look off into space for a moment and say, “Whoah!” in their best Bill and Ted voice. Why? What makes me think that everything must be profound? Is it because I think that only the profound ever stand out? I suppose that is why I like my fidget spinner so much. A life lesson learned from something so simplistic that many people hate it, just because it is so simplistic.

So, if you haven’t tried a fidget spinner, go out and get a good one, hold it with two fingers, and give it a spin. Rock it back and forth as it’s spinning. See if you don’t feel the urge to spin it again as it slows down. Most importantly, learn the lesson of the fidget spinner: everything you do or write doesn’t have to be profound. Simplicity has its own appeal. Even if people are talking about how simplistic it is, they are still talking about it!



feature image credit:

Last weekend was a really busy one for me. I started out the day as a mover, taking heavy totes and boxes from one location to another. I quickly shifted to being a soldier during the Vietnam War era. After about 90 minutes I became an MP in WWII patrolling a hanger. Four hours later I was fighting in a nearby field. Two hours after that I was a civilian eating in an Italian restaurant. I repeated the process on Sunday. To say the least, I was worn out by the time I got home Sunday night.

Obviously, one person cannot be all of these things in reality. I was at a reenacting event in which I had to play several roles. It was exhausting for me and a little confusing for some of the people that saw me throughout the day. The problem is that I have read many stories, including by some best selling authors, that seem to have characters like this. Their personalities seem to jump around in a haphazard, almost unpredictable fashion. The characters are always exactly what the situation in the story calls for, but how many people do you know in reality that mold themselves perfectly into the events of the moment? It is confusing for the reader. Be aware of this as you write. It is easy to make your character be exactly what you need when you need it, but does that pull the character out of the realm of plausibility? If so, you may be wearing your readers out by having your characters wear too many hats, helmets, or hairstyles.