Bodies in the Snow

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The Prize Winners Anthology from the Molotov Cocktail arrived in the mail the other day. My story Bodies in the Snow is included, along with all top-ten finishers from their quarterly flash fiction contests. It’s pretty cool for a writer when a story appears in print, something you can hold and/or um do strange things with (literally have sex with the book) in the bedroom. Or just place it on the bookshelf like a normal person.

I missed the last contest, and I might miss the current one, Flash Doom, but if you write or read weird, dark flash fiction, you should check them out. The Molotov Cocktail contests pay the top three finishers a generous sum of money, and the remaining seven finalists receive a shoutout on social media and whatnot, as well as appearing in print. And the close-but-no-cigar folks also receive a mention. Cool beans. Or cool black beans because I eat a ton of them with my new diet.

If interested, you can order the Prize Winners Anthology here.

 

 

Year of the Rooster

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“I have accepted fear as part of life – specifically the fear of change… I have gone ahead despite the pounding in the heart that says: turn back….”
Erica Jong

As we edge closer to 2017, it’s not difficult to look both ahead and behind, to plan and reflect. The known and unknown.

I don’t usually make resolutions for the new year; I always thought it was a silly endeavor. But last year I chose to quit smoking cigarettes, and why not attempt the impossible on December 31st before the calendar flips? That’s what I did, and it wasn’t impossible because I’m still vaping instead of using combustion and toxins to deal with the absurdity of life. A year without tobacco, a true miracle if you ask me.

Quitting cigarettes and the relentless advice of a friend were the catalysts for massive changes I made in 2016. I was burdened with a hernia for years. I’m not sure why I didn’t get it fixed in the past, depression, fear, and addiction probably all played a role, but I finally had surgery in February. I was in and out of the hospital in three hours, shorter than my typical afternoon nap. It’s nice not to have an unseemly bulge staring up at me. It’s nice to lift something without enduring crippling pain.

“To say goodbye is to die a little.”
Raymond Chandler

No tobacco and no hernia. Huzzah. What next? A significant change in diet was next on the agenda. I’ve written about my new eating habits previously so I won’t bore you with a thousand words about it, but I decided to give up frozen dinners, fast food, sugar, sweets, soda pop, and many other things. I now make a fruit and vegetable smoothie daily. I eat a ton of fish and skinless chicken. I drink more water, pomegranate juice, and chai. I make love to guacamole every single day. As the months peeled away, I realized how passionate I became about making healthier food choices. It was now a vital part of my routine. And after being weighed at the doctor recently due to strep throat, I have officially lost 36 lbs since beginning my diet in March. My stomach is flat. (insert another HUZZAH here).

If only a physical and mental transformation solved everything. Making changes = Utopia. Not really. It’s like a hiker climbing to the top of Mt. Everest, a lifelong dream, only to slip on the descent, tumbling to their death. Or that commercial about the thrill of victory and agony of defeat. That’s how I feel.  I assumed that if I put in the work, I’d reap the rewards. I would be happy, fulfilled, and optimistic. I would walk out the door to angels singing and rainbows laughing in the sky. Not really.

I’m a completely different person than I was five years ago, or even a year ago. I’m proud of the changes I’ve made. I can look in the mirror without cringing at the fraud hiding inside the glass. Simply put, I just feel better, especially in my lungs and soul. But something is still a bit twisted in my mind.

“Men do change, and change comes like a little wind that ruffles the curtains at dawn, and it comes like the stealthy perfume of wildflowers hidden in the grass.”
John Steinbeck

Maybe I’m bent because I lack connection in a world that requires it, thrives on it. Or maybe it’s a lost connection; when a situation abruptly shifts and people reveal themselves and truth gets distorted and you don’t know who to trust, who is genuine and who is a chameleon. Or I’m just a delusional fool. Maybe.

And maybe the questions I have will be answered in 2017. I won’t be as adamant about changes as I was with cigarettes, but I need to keep striving for something greater, something far beyond me.

I need to write more in the following year. Or at least determine what kind of writer I want to be. Average? Mediocre? Do I have the passion and discipline to improve, to take my writing to the next level? I need to exercise next year. I need to be more social. I need to be a better father. I need to stay positive when surrounded by duplicitous people. I need to shed the guilt and shame that clings to me like an accusatory shadow. I need to be less judgmental and more understanding. I need to contribute more in my community. I need to be a kinder, softer human being. I need to take more chances. I need to believe in humanity myself.

“I wanted change and excitement and to shoot off in all directions myself, like the colored arrows from a Fourth of July rocket.”
Sylvia Plath

January 1st, 2017 is like leaving the womb again. Everything is possible. The unknown gives birth to either magic or misfortune, it’s up to us.

My only goal is to enter the new year with an open mind and a willingness to accept and adapt to change and emerge at the end of the new year a more evolved me. A selfless, generous me.

A more handsome humble me.

Divided We Fall

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Donald Trump is going to be the POTUS. Donald Trump. POTUS. How could this possibly happen? How could we elect someone so ridiculously unfit for office?

Here’s who we elected on Tuesday night:

  • A misogynist
  • A racist
  • An unethical cheat
  • A man who hates Muslims
  • A man who mocks those with disabilities
  • A man with zero political experience
  • A reality TV host
  • A man who wants to build a wall to keep out immigrants
  • A pariah

Who voted for him:

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White people elected a narcissistic bigot. How shocking. All across social media all I see is indifference. Folks who, after the election, just say welp, let’s just love one another and respect each other and say kind things to everyone. No. You’re chasing “Likes.” You’re not standing up for anything. You’re not an ally for the voiceless. You won’t be placed on a pedestal because you refuse to take a stance. This is what supposedly “nice people” do, they tell us to look the other way. They tell us to not be angry. They tell us that everything will be just fine if we respect folks with awful, outdated beliefs. They are part of the reason Trump was elected. Evil will always win if people remain silent. Bigotry will always win if people don’t intervene. Our complacency elected a man who is certainly the most unqualified person to ever run for POTUS. Our arrogance allowed the racists and misogynists to win.

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Hillary Clinton was not a flawless candidate, but she was the proper candidate. She doesn’t hate or judge folks based on skin color, country of origin, gender, sexual preferences, or disability. Clinton annihilated Trump in every single debate because she obviously has a clear understanding and nuanced take on foreign and national policy, while he just utters nonsensical stuff like nasty woman, make America great again, and bigly. She was born to lead the same way he was born to profit and discriminate. She was the only choice if you employed a shred of logic and compassion. But we elected a charlatan. A friend of the rich and privileged. An enemy to the poor and forgotten.

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I underestimated how many racists and misogynists were out there just waiting for the right moment to reveal themselves. I was a bit naive to the brewing hatred lurking in white folks in 2016. Trump was the light on the porch; the secret bigots were the bugs flying into his deceitful glow. He won, not because of an avalanche of support, but because of our lack of support for a better candidate. Enough of us did not even vote. Too many of us assumed Clinton would win. Too many of us never challenged the neanderthal outlook of Trump voters. We were silent. We were indifferent and nonchalant. We looked the other way. We got exactly the POTUS we deserved. The blame rests upon our shoulders.

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The kind and supposedly caring folks mean well, I don’t dispute that. But meaning well is safe and unproductive. Meaning well is not an agent of change. Meaning well after electing a monster is rather meaningless. It can be difficult to be outspoken on social media, we might be afraid to offend family or friends. Someone might block us or unfriend us. Who cares? We can’t be deterred by pettiness. Use your voice, scream your views to the digital world. Be persistent. Be heard. Just don’t be a reticent ghost. A mute sheep. That’s how an abomination like Donald Trump gets elected.

I’m angry. I want to be angry. Anger is the only available emotion at the moment. More people should be drunk with anger. If you have a daughter, wife, sister, mother, aunt, black or Hispanic family member, Muslim friend, LGBT co-worker, or disabled relative, you should be angry. How can you not be?

We can’t unring the bell.

We failed.

Smooth Up In Ya

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I can finally scratch use a BulletBoys song as a blog post title from my bucket list. Though I believe their song is a bit more lurid than what this post is about.

I’m officially on the smoothie train. Choo Choo? As I continue to improve my eating habits, I realized I still wasn’t including enough fruits and vegetables in my diet. The main reason is that I don’t like fruits and vegetables. Or I’m not used to consuming them, as my previous diet consisted of gallons of slop masquerading as a delicious, addictive dinners in boxes and plastic wrap. Frozen pizza or kefir? Corn dogs or watercress? Hot Pockets or chia seeds? The previous me always chose the former because it was easy and I can be a bit lazy at times. And I think when a person struggles mightily with addiction and depression, we tend not to eat properly. We just stuff crap down our throats and head back to the racetrack, the pipe, and/or the couch with the sole intent of killing the hunger without caring about vitamins and minerals and overall nutritional value. Junk in the belly, then a dose of poison for the mind. It’s a lovely way to live if living like a degenerate vagabond sounds fun to you. Anyway, I needed more fruits and vegetables in my diet, so I hopped aboard the smoothie train.

First, let me say that my posts about food/ health are geared more towards folks who have dealt with relentless mental adversity at some point and they have a growing desire to make changes, tiny or massive, in an attempt to begin life again. My advice is quite simple, I’m not offering anything revolutionary or complex, just basic ideas to help a person get started on a new path to a healthier lifestyle. I only write about concepts that have worked for me. I was a notoriously horrible eater my entire life and If I can make adjustments, anyone can. Choo Choo?

I bought a blender. An affordable blender. I’m on a tight budget and I always use research to help me find quality products at a fair price. I settled on the Hamilton Beach Single Serve blender. The reviews were almost universally positive, and at a cost of less than $20.00, I couldn’t resist. You can find this one at Wal-Mart and many other big box stores. This isn’t really a device to use if you’re making smoothies for the entire family. If that’s the case, you should probably spend the extra cash and purchase the highly-regarded Vitamix or something similar. The Hamilton Beach makes a single serving, which is probably why it’s called a single serve blender. One benefit/detriment: When you buy one, the people behind you at the store, as well as the clerk, will know you’re a lonely drifter who finds solace and connection in fruity, blended beverages, and you’re one who eschews the taunt of organic love, not because of enlightened philosophical insight, or the caustic belief that long term relationships breed robotic emotions and monotonous hearts, but because making a smoothie is more appealing than staring at bland walls during the dark night of the soul, when you realize that you mock fated love and all its entanglements because it continues to elude you. So, enjoy buying that single serve blender!

I was now armed with a machine that obliterated things. I briefly thought about blending my mercurial pet, but I wasn’t convinced the Hamilton Beach could pulverize cat bones. And she would most assuredly seek feline vengeance with her other eight lives. No gracias. I also considered dropping a lock of hair from a previous love interest in there, with the hope that I could drink a chilled glass of sweet and sour indifference mixed with coconut shampoo. But that seemed too Ted Bundy-esque. I decided to go with fruits and vegetables.

Through vigorous keyboard pounding, I learned that frozen fruits and vegetables are just as healthy as fresh ones. The difference between the two is almost nonexistent, contrary to the narrative that fresh is always better. When produce is frozen, it occurs at peak ripeness and it retains most of its nutrients and will continue to do so for months in the freezer. Fresh produce loses nutrients each day it sits in the grocery or your refrigerator. Tick Tock. Here is one of many online articles about this subject. You can use whatever you want. I actually do freeze a couple of fresh fruits myself, like bananas and red grapes. Basically, you lay them out on a sheet pan with parchment paper and place them in the freezer for around 4 hours. Then remove and place them in plastic freezer bags. Keep in mind that frozen fruits and vegetables tend to be more budget friendly as well.

The grocery is teeming with frozen produce. I had no idea, to be honest. I ended up choosing a large bag of a fruit medley consisting of strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries. I also purchased bags of frozen kale and spinach. Wait, what? I BOUGHT KALE AND SPINACH. Choo Choo indeed! And being an aspiring hipster doofus, I bought some almond milk. I was wearing skinny jeans and an ironic t-shirt when I bought the almond milk.

When I got home, I made my first ever smoothie. It was divine. Tart and refreshing, it was like drinking a frosty, liquid unicorn. And the bitter taste of kale was obscured by the luscious fruit. So good. Ridiculously good. I added a splash of water to thin the smoothie out a bit. I make them too thick pretty much every single time. I do not add a sweetener of any kind. Nor do I use fruit juice. Almond milk, fruit, vegetable = delicious. I also make a pumpkin smoothie. I use pure pumpkin, frozen bananas, pumpkin spice, almond milk, and a touch of vanilla extract. Pumpkin is basically a super food, which was news to me. Just make sure the can only includes “pumpkin,” and nothing else. That goes for other products too, like “peanuts” should be the only ingredient in peanut butter and so on. You can experiment with various recipes as well. I recently began playing around with peaches, red grapes, apples, and spinach in a smoothie. You can do whatever you want. The goal is to incorporate nutrient-rich foods into your diet any way possible, and smoothies are an efficient delivery mechanism for that purpose. If you want more smoothie recipes, you can check out the videos of the Domestic Geek on YouTube.

An app called ShopWell has also helped me at the grocery. You can use the app to scan barcodes on food products and it will give each item a score from 0 to 100, as long as it’s in the database. I use it often. Fooducate is another solid app that gives you nutritional information on a vast amount of products. EWG is another site that uses food scores and whatnot.

I’ve also recently been intrigued by aromatherapy. The use of certain aromas to soothe the mind and whatnot seems to be a legitimate practice that is lauded by many, and continues to gain traction in a world where we are constantly searching for a personal pool of serenity. I bought an ultrasonic diffuser and essential oils. I currently use lemongrass, peppermint, and grapefruit. The living room smells wonderful and maybe it’s helping my mood, time will tell. doTERRA, Edens Garden, and Young Living are three respected essential oil companies if you’re interested in learning more. You can also watch videos by the Healing Cave Lady on YouTube. She is knowledgeable and passionate about essential oils and diffusers. She knows her stuff. I also made a couple of reed diffusers using small glass bottles, bamboo skewers, and scented oil. I use one in the bathroom and the other in the kitchen. I’m brand new to aromatherapy, so I’m still learning. It’s only been like two weeks or so.

There is no magic bullet to combat depression. But therapy, medication, healthy food choices, sunshine, exercise, and aromatherapy all have the ability to help in various ways. Try one, try all. Acceptance = Quitting. Persistence = Trying.

The most formidable opponent of change is ourselves. Our attitude. Our expectations. Our flimsy confidence. Our irrational fear. The first step when attempting any type of physical or mental transformation is to start small and only take on what you feel comfortable with. You won’t wake up tomorrow a new person because you drank your first smoothie or ate a salad for lunch. The goal is to let healthier food choices become part of your daily routine. This can happen slowly, you don’t have to change everything overnight. Day by day and meal by meal, you can gradually make improvements in what you choose to put inside your body. And at some point, you’ll wake up and realize, damn, I’m kinda proud of myself. I didn’t eat junk food all month. I’m on the right path.

Improved health is only a blender away. Get that smoothie up in ya.

 

{The draft of this post was finished before the election results. I’m gutted at the moment. I shared my views a bit on Twitter and Facebook, but let me say that I’ve never been more disappointed in my fellow Americans as I am right now. The bigots and misogynists won. We elected a man who talked about grabbing women by the pussy. We elected a man who wants to build a wall to keep immigrants out. We elected a monster. A reality TV host. I’m sickened by the uninformed, shady Trump voters who set this country back 50 years. What fruit, vegetable, or essential oil can remedy this? America is a dumpster fire.}

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Deep-Six

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“I’ve had so many knives stuck into me, when they hand me a flower I can’t quite make out what it is. It takes time.”
― Charles Bukowski

We spend our lives discarding things until there’s nothing left to toss away. We are the snake perpetually shedding its skin. Friendships, lovers, addiction, food, morals, children, pride, money, memories, ethics, kindness, and rage. Hours to days to years to decades, a lifetime of erasing who we are, who we were. Who we don’t want to be anymore.

We achieve gain from loss. We sell to buy. Burn to build again. Kill to induce change. Maybe that’s the natural evolution of the mind and heart, the unending desire to slice off parts of us to combat and transform our relentless fatigue. The parts that don’t matter. The diseased parts.

I wonder where all these lost and outdated things go to plead then die. Maybe it’s a surreal hell, a bottomless canyon of lonely gadgets, twisted souls, piles of forgotten intentions, plastic bones, and toxic silence. Humans and inanimate objects united in the suffocating truth of not being needed anymore. Screams buried in ash and shadow. A compass stuck pointing south.

There are times when we should throw something away but can’t find the strength to do so. That same addiction some defeat continues to haunt and harass others. A bored partner who doesn’t feel nor offer love anymore but the other still does and always will, to the detriment of both. The depressed folks who crave simplicity of thought inside a tranquil mind but never find it. There are winners and losers in every situation. When we discard things, the resulting effect will be either pleasure or pain, depending on the value assigned. All shiny objects eventually dull and must be exchanged for something polished, luminous, and unique. It is the cycle of distraction, this compulsion of ours to lose and replace, subtract and add.

The only question to be answered is whether we care about the things we leave behind. Or if we should. Or if we ever did.

Does a snake grieve for old skin on those dark, empty nights in the hole?

 

[This will be my last post for a bit. It’s time to unplug from the online world in an attempt to recharge the creative batteries and whatnot. Plus, I’m just burned out on writing and all things digital and artificial. Keep writing. Keep striving. And you best vote for Clinton. Seriously, Trump is a racist misogynist who would destroy this country. This should be obvious to all.]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

El Niño

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I’ve never been the type of person who gets all that upset when a celebrity/famous person passes away. I didn’t know them, it’s easy to be indifferent when you aren’t connected to someone. I might quote them on social media to show respect and whatnot but I’m not hurting or traumatized. But yesterday’s news shattered me.

José Fernández died in a boating accident. José Fernández, 24 years old. José Fernández, beloved pitcher for the Miami Marlins. José Fernández, who suffered tremendous hardship just to make it to the USA from his birthplace of Cuba. José Fernández, the kid with the electric arm and smile-inducing charm. José Fernández, a superstar.

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The handsome hurler was the kind of pitcher you rooted for even if he was facing your favorite team. His repertoire of pitches was nasty as hell, and his energy and kid-like enthusiasm were infectious. He could wow us with a wicked curveball and make us smile with his endearing goofiness. Even the get-off-my-lawn old-timers were like yeah, that kid’s pretty freaking awesome. He had that rare ability to melt the hardest of baseball souls. José Fernández was the main attraction every time he toed the rubber. We were all mesmerized by his sick strikeouts and his genuine joy for the game. He played baseball the right way.

Yesterday was difficult. I got emotional a few times throughout the day because a man I never met died unexpectedly. He was so young. So talented. So happy. The silly boy inside me will miss him. The jaded adult inside me will miss him. He was unique and awe-inspiring and warm-hearted. He will never be forgotten.

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José Fernández served time in a Cuban prison for attempting to defect to America. He once rescued his mother, who fell overboard during the voyage that ultimately proved successful. He dove into turbulent seas to save his mom. Come on. I can barely save chicken thighs in a Tupperware bowl, and this remarkable human being risked his own life for someone he loved. He was an inspirational and courageous man.

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The baseball world is mourning the loss of a phenom who brought flair and authentic exuberance to the diamond. I can’t fully articulate my thoughts at the moment because this tragic news is so very shocking and sad. But I have been soothed by the responses of fans and other baseball players on Twitter. There is a ton of pain being expressed, as well as some wonderful memories. Baseball will never be quite the same without José Fernández.

Rest in peace, kid.

 

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