Archive for June, 2013


Thought #7

I’ve been assigned an editor for one of my writing projects. My first thought: “Wow! They think I’m important enough to have an editor!” My second thought: “Hey! They think I stink and I need an editor!” My third thought: “Ugh, I have an editor.”

fistFourth came this: “This editor deal is not good for the wild at heart. I’ll have to fight for every word, every format, justify every stroke that’s out of line–if I can even get out of line. There will be no more boundary-pushing on the editor’s watch. Quench the fiery spirit and cut the engines, boys! We’re not leaping to the moon anymore, now we’ll hop up and down with a blank smile on our faces and blandly go where everyone has gone before.”

Fifth: “I’ve gone off my rocker.”

Sixth: “They’ve backed me into a corner.”

And finally, I looked up, got up, and smiled. Friends, if we’re going to turn this corner and launch into an adventure, we’ll need to start by saying something like:

“This editor thing should be a cinch. What could possibly go wrong?”

That ought to do it.

~

I wrote a book called Upside Down Kingdom. The good people at Amazon have it.

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Short Story Contest: John Baker

My friend Patrick emailed me on a Sunday a few weeks ago and said he’d just come across an NPR writing contest, and that the deadline was midnight, Eastern Time. The assignment was to write no more than 600 words about a person who finds something and doesn’t want to return it.

I was headed out to dinner with some friends as I got the email. At dinner, I asked my friends for ideas, which made for some fun conversation. When dinner ended, I stayed late to think through a new idea that was forming. Once home, I typed exactly 600 words as fast as I could and sent them off to the contest–submitting about 30 minutes before the deadline. I didn’t win, unless NPR is still trying to organize the parade for my victory party in advance of calling me. I’m sure it’s something like that. Anyway, below is what I wrote. Let me know what you think.

John Baker

“John Baker, Property of Amarkisus Museum” is written on the newest shipment from Cairo. John himself checks in the crates and thoroughly inspects the contents of each container against its travel log, down to the linen roll stuffed inside Crate 6. He unwraps the layers of linen to find a tiny clef in his gloved hands. At this, he nearly faints.crate

But he has worked for twenty-two years as the Amarkisus curator, and he manages to control his demeanor. It couldn’t possibly be the same piece. Its fabled existence made him sure he’d never hear much more of it, nor ever see it in his hand.

Before his assistant Sarah can see what he’s found, he quickly re-wraps it in half of its linen and he tucks it under his jacket.

“We’ll finish up here in the morning,” he tells Sarah, and they secure the room for the night. Not so curiously, he finds only one record of the object in the paperwork, assigned directly to him, and he is careful to stuff that log in his jacket, too.

He doesn’t stop at his usual watering hole for dinner or drinks (this has been his favorite spot to come since his divorce). This night, he and the object and its record go straight back to his tiny, cluttered apartment.

He quickly locks the door behind him, turns on the lights, and checks even the bathroom for intruders before he goes to work. He shakes his head at his caution; of course there’s no one who followed the object.

John opens the wooden cabinet in his study, which for anyone else would be a bedroom/living room. This is the wood cabinet where he keeps the brandy and stacks of dusty research papers. Grabbing the leftmost stack and also the brandy, he slumps into his desk chair. Once plopped, he furiously combs through the stack and finds the article he’s looking for, published in 1954 about a curious tiny object known as the Devil’s Clef. The Clef—there’s an artist rendition, and it looks identical to the tiny object he re-unwraps from the linen—is exactly what it proclaims to be. The Devil himself is said to have cursed the object, making it impossible to melt, forge, or destroy. Anyone who comes in contact with it has but two choices: to keep the object and let it destroy life as they know it, or to give it away, in which case, it destroys the life of the new recipient while granting riches to the giver.

John isn’t sure that he believes this. But then, this object is fabled not to exist, and yet there it lies on his brandy desk. And Cairo was in an ultimate hurry to get rid of it.

John spends a brandy-filled, sleepless night debating what to do. He wants to send the damn thing to his ex-wife. But he thinks of his children, and of all things, sunshine after a rainstorm and his mother telling him not to look directly into the sun.

He can’t stop thinking of these old memories.

In the morning, he goes straight to the bank and opens a safety deposit box. He bequeaths the box to be opened upon his death, which he figures is soon, to a deceased person, thus making the item given by him to no one. He signs the papers, locks the linen-wrapped object away, and walks out of the bank, renewed in the knowledge that he just saved mankind, worthy or not—though, he’ll never believe not. As for himself, he’ll take his chances with whatever comes.

~

Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, available on Amazon.

Friday, June 7, I read for Cracked Walnut at The Salon in Rochester. I’d been racking my brain on what to read, pretty much since the invitation to speak arrived weeks ago. All I knew was that I wanted to put together a lineup that was upbeat and offered inspiration.

I finally deciding on a smattering of things: a verse poem with rhyme (because nobody rhymes anymore), a blog I wrote about children and Moses (someone ahead of me used the F word quite a bit, so at the last minute I figured F-it, if you can say that, I can say Moses), and three excerpts from UDK depicting scenes of restaurant chaos, anxiety of the beaten path with a desire for freedom, and the encouragement of having all the answers already within us. Then I ended with the bottle piece that I’d stared at all day long, trying to get the ending right. The Salon

As I got to the last few lines of the bottle piece, I couldn’t help but close my eyes and let it all come out. I didn’t think of it at the time, but now I remember the delight I get every time I see a musician pour heart and soul into a piece and sing with closed eyes as if it doesn’t matter anymore who is watching or listening; the important part is offering up what you have. As I performed the last lines from memory, I imagined the words bounding off the page and taking flight, like birds leaping from a cliff. It’s a powerful moment of trust when you set something free into the world.

When I stepped back from the microphone and opened my eyes, the audience applauded. Otherwise, I have no idea what effect, if any, my reading had. It was all I could do not to say, “Did you see that??” because I felt as if the room were changed. Even if nothing visually had happened, the energy was different, and so was I.

The Bottle Will Find Me…It Always Does

Question: What if the Chief’s daughter is ugly?
I mean, what if you get
to the beautiful island, they let you live
and surf and eat all the shrimp cocktail you can eat,
you design beautiful thatched-roof huts
with sand floors the likes of which
have never been equaled, and the ocean is always
warm and inviting, no sharks,
just dolphins and waves, waves, waves…
and the beautiful woman you were supposed
to have thrown at you is not so beautiful?

What if she’s the slop cook
at the island’s only burger joint?
Or what if she’s beautiful but
has a mean spirit and a cold heart?

Plans are only plans, my friend,
and you’re walking a fine line today.
Sure, this side of paradise
is not so pretty,
why do you think Fitzy wrote that book?

Alright,
I’m letting it go.
That’s all the practicality I have.

So,
on the other hand
dangling in the ocean water,
why the hell not?

Go,
surf the ocean, climb the mountain,
grasp the brass ring, leave all this behind you
and only look forward.
Make no arrangements–break freeDSC01057
from the weight of your things,
let them all go,
forget the job, the car,
the house on the corner lot,
even the piano (you’ll get another one!)—
leave this life all behind you
and seek out the one you were meant to have,
and when you do,
send a postcard or a message
in a bottle
back to me
in some language other than English,
in some language that you just make up on the spot,
or just draw me
a crayon drawing
because I already understand.
~

Special thanks again to Satish Jayaraj for founding and organizing the Cracked Walnut Readings, to C4 and The Salon for hosting the event and being a well-needed gathering place for artists of all kinds, and for all of the talented readers and performers that showed off their stuff that night.

Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, available on Amazon.

resumesOver the weekend, I put together an Art Resume for myself as part of a grant application I’m completing. I’d never done an Art Resume before. I have a variety of resumes, and until recently, I thought everyone did.

So I started asking around, and I found that my friends with “practical” careers have one resume, while my “artsy” friends have multiple. (That’s one distinction, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. One missing piece is whether these friends are comfortable in a job that serves them well or whether they’re still looking. Some of us are always looking. But that’s another blog.)

My list of resumes: The Secretary highlights my office manager experience along with the secretarial and personal assistant work I’ve done. The Bookkeeper talks up my work and knowledge of payroll systems and accounting. The Writers (a whole family of these resumes) focus on the different kinds of writing I’ve done from journalism to fiction. They’re all resumes about me; all include the same employers and the same timelines, just highlighting different skills. Over the years, the Writers are the only ones I thought included anything important.

But this Art Resume is my own artistic Curriculum Vitae, a sprawling list of writing I’ve published, awards and honors I’ve received, talks I’ve given, degrees I’ve completed, and continuing education in all things written, imaginative, travel- and language-based. Unlike the Secretary and Bookkeeper resumes, this one includes anything that feeds the soul. It’s a comma by comma breakdown of lifelong learning, artistic endeavor, broadening of the mind, and taking things in through all senses and turning them into something tangible and creative. Unlike the Writers, which are bullet points of my written work experience employer by employer, this Art Resume is me on paper–not just what I do, but a picture of me as a person, what speaks to me, what drives me. It illustrates heart of what I’m about. stairs

Follow me on this: Since Upside Down Kingdom came out, I get asked more and more about my writing process. Lately, my writing process is something I call Waiting for the Love. I figure out what I have to say, and I say it. When re-reading, sometimes it says exactly what I want the first time. Other times, it’s just words on a page. They’re spelled right, lined up in full sentences, they impart a message, but there’s just no love. Skeleton, no flesh.

So, I leave them and I write something else. I re-visit, minutes or months later, and this time as I write, I feel the excitement, saying something new and relating it to the bony framework I’ve already written. Flesh. Then comes the moment when I ask cliffmyself, “Can I really say this?” This is the moment, regardless of whether I’m writing an Art Resume or a poem or a blog about making reservations at Söntés, where I feel as though showing this piece to another person would leave me exposed. That’s The Love: I love what I’m writing about, CVs and poems and reservations alike, and I can pour my heart into them.

When you ask a poet, by training, to write a technical manual in human-speak, like the Service Training Book I wrote for Söntés Restaurant last year, you get poetic tips along the way, things like “Always smile when you answer the phone. The person on the other end can hear it.” It’s absurd to think you can hear a smile. But with those small words, you instantly know the elevation I’m talking about.

That’s similar to The Love. You know it when you hear it, when you read it, when it walks in the door.

My resumes to this point have all been skeletons. Framework. This new Art Resume,tuscany my little art CV, has not only been a wonderful walk down memory lane, it’s been a walk finally feeling the wind in my hair, smelling the flowers along the way, absorbing the sunshine, and tasting the wine. It’s a portrait of me, with love.

~
Join me this Friday, June 7 at The Salon in Rochester for the Cracked Walnut reading. Doors open at 6:30 p.m.

Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, available on Amazon.

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