A Dying Fire

 

I’m thrilled to once again have a story published by the #FlashFlood. Today is National Flash Fiction Day and to celebrate, 144 stories from across the globe were selected to appear on their site every 10 minutes for 24 hours. My tiny story is called A DyingFire. The only requirement was that your tale had to be under 500 words. Any subject allowed. So many writers I’ve either met on social media or admired from afar participated this year. It’s truly an honor to be published alongside all of them.

In a time when it feels as though the bigoted lunatic fringe is winning, and in some ways they probably are, it’s wise to disengage from the endless hateful rhetoric and engage with art and kindness and empathy and hope. Well, at least for a day. Let the talent, passion, and imagination of others transport you to a place that has no negativity, no mental pollution. Reading a story is like going for walk. At the end, you feel satiated and refreshed. Or I do. I used to roll my eyes a bit when my former therapist urged me to walk/exercise. She was emphatic when stating that it could ease the symptoms of depression. She was right. (Thanks, JJ.) Anyway, give all these tales your eyeballs. Prose loves eyeballs. Writers love eyeballs.

You can read my story here

You can read all the stories here

 

Let’s go back in time with my tune selections for this post, yes?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.}

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beautiful Misfit

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In layman’s terms, the goal is for a clinician to be able to take a person in crisis and read him like a book. Even when they have to read between the lines.

 

Recently, I stumbled upon an article in Cincinnati Magazine regarding suicide and the search for a solution of sorts, a way to predict who might be most at risk. With the use of computer programs, video recordings, and actual suicide notes, the scientists, doctors, and researchers hope to identify various word patterns and phrasing that will pinpoint when a person is on the brink of taking his/her own life. To examine and decipher the words of someone having dark thoughts is an intriguing concept, and one with the potential to reduce future suicide attempts. Hopefully, this creative approach proves effective.

I admire the folks mentioned in the article for devoting so much energy and passion into helping those struggling with mental health issues. It’s a fascinating and insightful piece. Also, the title of this post was pulled from the article, it was part of a suicide note when a gentleman referred to himself as a beautiful misfit. A haymaker to my soul.

You can read the article here

 

How can you tell when another human has moved beyond ordinary despair or sadness or frustration or confusion, and in defiance of his body’s biological imperative to survive, is at risk of ending his life?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SOFT IS A CONDITION


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We can spend our lives letting the world tell us who we are. Sane or insane. Saints or sex addicts. Heroes or victims. Letting history tell us how good or bad we are. Letting our past decide our future. Or we can decide for ourselves. And maybe it’s our job to invent something better.

-Chuck Palahniuk, Choke-

 

I’m excited to take part in the National Flash Fiction Day FlashFlood again this year with my story SOFT IS A CONDITION. Roughly 144 stories were published to celebrate the ever-growing popularity of tiny fiction, the kind of tales you can read and finish as you sip a cup of coffee.

So, have your kid accidentally slip inside a gorilla enclosure so all those perfect Facebook parents can seek bloody vengeance, put away your ridiculous assault rifle, and dive into a pool of imagination.

You can read my story here

Sunday Prose 1

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The coffee is swimming in my veins. I’m vaping like a fiend. And I’m bored. What does all this mean? A new feature on Wisp of Smoke! The four of you who read my blog should be stoked! Sunday Prose has left the womb!

Every Sunday I’m going to share three works of flash fiction that impressed me, or moved me, or made me jealous of the writer’s skill. Just damn good writing. Writing that deserves to be seen across multiple platforms. Writing that will linger in the mind. Writing that we can all learn from.

This is not an original concept. An online journal does a Sunday thing; Twitter has a Short Story Sunday etc…but I firmly believe in the power of fiction to transport us to a magical place, a place devoid of real life noise. And I think it’s important to spotlight/share stories, music, and art that delivers something gorgeous and profound into our souls. I might offer a couple of words about each story, but I won’t analyze them. That’s not my bag. I’ll just let you enjoy them and make your own conclusions about what lurks beneath the words.

Are you amped up? Are you delirious with curiosity? Are you lusting for prose? Did you stop reading this post after the first sentence? Let’s do this!

Consequence by Elizabeth Deanna Morris Lakes (Smokelong Quarterly)
Beautiful, tragic and a direct punch to the gut.

The Carnival Man by Pete Stevens (Knee-jerk Magazine)
So detailed. Smile or frown at the end? Fantastic writing.

A Family In The Last Half Of The Twentieth Century by Jeff Esterholm (Cheap Pop)
So damn original. And it makes the reader feel something deeply. Strong writing.

And I can’t post anything without including some tunes. The Suuns are a band you need to listen to. Creative, strange, and smart, their music crawls inside your bones and stays there.

Baseball Is Upon Us

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Opening Day looms on the periphery of all digital calendars. “Hope springs eternal” will be uttered by every baseball junkie across the country as their team, a contender or pretender, begins anew with the opportunity to chase that elusive bejewelled beast, a World Series ring. Years of futility will be flushed away with the first pitch, probably a heater on the outer edge of the plate. Or a wicked bender that paints the black and buckles the knees. Fans of perennial playoff juggernauts (Giants, Cardinals Tom Brady) will once again expect greatness from their team.

In early April, nobody is in last place, 20 games behind. In early April, the aging veteran outfielder who has lost a step or three still believes he can halt Father Time. In early April, we will wear our ball caps, our overpriced jerseys, our feverish pinstriped pride, and plop down in the cheap seats, at the local sports tavern, on our faithful couch, and root root root for the home team. In early April, the past becomes meaningless; all failures and disappointments are incinerated by a reborn sun. Yesterday is a sad song; the present/future is a tune with unicorn notes, rainbow lyrics and a beat as sickly sweet as a strawberry milkshake. In early April, not unlike overcoming addiction, recovering from a busted relationship, or undergoing a spiritual revival deep within, we get to start over. We are allowed to slide into new, unblemished skin. Our hearts will pump vibrant, virginal blood. [Insert additional purple prose and dramatic verbiage that begins with V here]

Soon, the first swing of a new season will wreck the air with a ferocious unspooling of hope. Grab your mammoth soft pretzels/hot dogs/gnocchi with sage-butter sauce, draft your fantasy teams, stock up on some stellar craft beer, stare lovingly at every image of Bryce Harper you can find on the internet, and most importantly, remember to enjoy and embrace the journey. In early April, maple bats will tap on metal cleats, cowhide will snap with an aggressive hello, and life, as ugly and dark as it can be at times, will rise up in all its beautiful splendor once again. Baseball is knocking. Can you hear it?

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Bryce Harper: AKA my future pet, masseuse, lover, therapist, sous chef?


This still gives me goosebumps. Decades of waiting for a playoff berth. Decades of still believing in early April. In 2012 the Nats (formerly my beloved Expos) made the postseason. And then in game 4, with the Nats on the verge of being eliminated from the playoffs, Jayson “Werthquake” Werth became a legend. I ran through the house like a deranged, orgasmic leopard. I yelled weird and provocative things at the walls. I got my twerk on. And I understood how baseball is so much more than just a game. For one brief moment on an electric October night, the wrinkles were smoothed over, my stomach was flat again, and I tumbled oh so willingly into my younger days. I was that teenage boy in the backyard, well-oiled glove in hand, grass stains on my school jeans, pretending I was Tim Raines, Rod Carew, Sandy Koufax, or Nolan Ryan. A bleached mental snapshot of a time when we listened to games on the radio, jacked up on orange soda, NERDS candy, and pulsating hormones. A time when we could be and/or achieve whatever we wanted, no matter how outlandish, how seemingly impossible. A time that faded far too quickly.

Baseball is upon us.

Hope springs eternal.

Go Nats!


Pretty sure he’s singing about baseball. Right? RIGHT?!?!