Tuesday, September 30, 2008

in a mood

September 30th, 2008

6:05 PM

S.B. is making supper. Little Man is jumping around, playing. We just got back from a visit to the Westland Mall. Two new shirts for S.B. and one new shirt for me. All of them 70% off. We shop for bargains. Sorta have to since she's the only one bringing dough into this outfit.

Had another interview recently. Nailed it. Felt very good about it. Was 85% sure that I was going to be the next Technical Editor at this particular company. But we all know how that goes. Good feelings and nailing an interview just don't cut it these days. Often times there are other things going on behind the scenes.

Maybe I asked for too much money. There could have been someone with more editing experience. Even could have been someone with an in. In any case, I did not get the job. So, here I will remain. Writing when I can. Taking care of the house. Immersed in this life of Daddy-Day-Care.

It's not a bad gig. I love it. The only problem is wondering how we're going to make it if we have another kid. If we ever want to live a little more freely. And covering our asses if something bad ever happens. What if I drop dead tomorrow? What if one of us gets sick? What if S.B. loses her job?

I suppose we would deal with it. Roll with the punches. Carry on. As we always do. Head up. Moving forward. Staying true.

Boy, we were brought up right.

My folks sacrificing so much. Doing all they could to make sure that no matter how many bad decisions I made, I'd wind up on the right path. And S.B. with incredible parents. Loving, supportive, keep-at-it kind of folks that make me feel honored to be part of her family.

And somehow I know that even though I'm just an unemployed, stay-at-home, wanna-be-writer Dad, things will be okay. S.B. does her part. I do mine. Together, we make a helluva a team. One that puts Bill Gates and Oprah to shame.

Enough of that.

Read more of "Pilgrim's Bay" today. Not sure if it was my frame of mind, or because I'm itching to move on to the next level of my writing career, but I hated that book. Today, I absolutely hated it. Did not feel close to it. Did not like the characters. Did not like the minimalistic style and everyman narrative voice that I've been working so damned hard at for years. Thought it was all pretentious bullshit. And realized why so many agents have turned it down.

But maybe I'm in a mood.

Cold wind blowing up into this upstairs room. Leaves breaking free. Will be a chilly one tonight. But supper will warm me. S.B. and Little Man will by my night light. And I will do everything I can to sleep. So that tomorrow I can rise. Give this life another crack. Make some more marks in time.

~ K.J.

(copyright 2008 by K.J. Stevens)

Monday, September 29, 2008

short and sweet

September 29th, 2008

7:25 AM

Then there are these days. A fine start with cool air. A dew-dropped world. And plenty to be done, but I know that if I don't come here first—get to the writing—nothing will get done right. Any tasks I take on will be done slowly, inaccurately, body going through the motions without the mind on board.

It's good that I know this. That I can tell. That I know when it's time to sit. Reorganize. Sift. Get through the thoughts. Exercise the big muscle. Put this in perspective.

All these things going on.

Enormous collider.

Growing election.

Pills for erections.

Ailments. Cures. Protests.

A cause.

And all we had to do was work the land, feed our bellies, be good to one another, grow strong in spirit, procreate and carry on.

But there are grocery carts with wobbly wheels. People cutting in line.

Fast food to order. Dope to smoke. Beer to drink. Couches, tvs, and PSPs that need attention.

And so it goes in this life. People paying for distraction. Getting high. Getting low. Getting dumb and horny. Doing whatever can be done to avoid the painful realities of bucking up, digging in, peeling away the layers so that Truth can pulse and shine.

After all, this is mankind. We do not wait. We've places to go. Gas to burn. Freedoms to exercise.

The delicate keeping of balance spins on and on. And it's a morning like this—all thought, coolness and dewdrops—that's got me here. Steady and centered. Sure-footed and ready to buck up. Strip away the layers. Carry on.

I'm preachy this morning. Full of myself. And what I want so very much is to knock some sense into this goddamned world. One word at a time. Like a fist you cannot see, but feel—in the dark—coming.

~ K.J.

(copyright © 2008 by K.J. Stevens)

Friday, September 26, 2008


September 26 th , 2008

7:21 AM

Started rereading “Pilgrim's Bay”. Have been away from it long enough to be able to return and read it without being tainted by the intimacy. It's impossible for a writer to create good literature if he's working via detachment. But it's even more difficult for a writer to create good literature if he's too intimate with the words. And so, I find it best to write. Let it sit. Then return. The novel's been available for purchase for some time via LuLu. It's a way I've been doing it for years. No agent to help me out. Rejection letters coming in. Editors chucking my manuscripts in round files across the land. And so, I do it myself. No sense waiting for anybody to tell me whether or not my writing's worthy of print. No sense waiting for someone to believe in it as much as I do. No sense in waiting for a publisher to decide if they can make money off it or not.

That's not what we're in it for.

We're in it—all of us—because of that something tucked away deep. Ticking at the core. We plug away at it. Day after day. Punching in. Punching out. Juggling roles and responsibilities so that we are safe, sane, fed, and keeping at the keepin' on.

S.B. sat with me the other night. She was reading the paperback. I was reading the hardcover. We were pleased. Only a quarter of the way into it, but pleased nonetheless. Aden, Jake, and Kali. Living in that small town. Each of them part of the surface and part of the deep. Moved by currents they cannot control.

In any case, if everything feels right when we come to that last page—Aden and Kali together in that cemetery—then I can okay the book so that it is available for wider distribution. And still, there are no guarantees.

But there never are. And banking on things that do not exist will fill pockets with lint and hollow space. It's best for me to write. Write. And write some more. Publish on my own when I feel ready. And then let my babies out into the world. Hoping that I did my best. Raised them well. So that they can reach, touch, and continue on long after I've gone.

The mornings are the only time when I can say it's Fall. The chilled air. Fog. Heavy dew. Birds quieted. That get-things-done-before-snow-flies urgency coursing through my veins. But that feeling burns away with the rising of the sun. The increase in temperature. Every time I wipe sweat from my brow. I feel I'm in between right now. Summer still hanging on. Heating the days. Autumn sweeping in at night. Knocking leaves from trees. Waking us with shivers in the morning. In the past, this was a dangerous time for me. So easy to stay in bed too long. Stay out too late. To sit in a cubicle all day only to sit in a dark, smoky bar all night. Listening to the same guy play the same songs. Drinking the same drinks with the same drinking buddies. Hearing and telling the same sad stories. Over and over again.

Now, there is a foundation. Footing to have and to hold. There is direction. Daily guidance. Real, tangible results from grounded desire. My feet planted firmly on this earth. Mind able to move freely back-and-forth. From the careful juggling of roles and responsibilities to this life of literature. Writing. Words. I don't have those deep pits. The troublesome hollow spaces that I used to find so easily. And now, when I'm in between—with Summer tugging at my heels and Autumn reaching into my gut, I am thankful. For it is a beautiful thing when a man can see the past and present for what they are. To be able to create and maintain a sense of intimacy in the now without forgetting the roots of his foundation that were started in the past.

~ K.J.

(copyright © 2008 by K.J. Stevens)

Thursday, September 18, 2008


September 18th, 2008

2:10 PM

Was here earlier today. A little after seven. Started writing about the day. Cars and planes. Dogs and neighbors. All of them making noise. And I was revved up. On the cusp of a rant about the state of the world and how I'm not the writer I had hoped I'd be. Then Little Man woke up.

Nothing like a two-year old to help a man shift gears.

Gone was the cynicism and woe-is-me bullshit about wanting to be a "real" writer. In their place was Little Man and his hungry belly.

"Cereal!" he said, as he tossed his stuffed puppy and stuffed donkey to the floor.

"Yes, sir," I said.

He climbed up into the chair. Sat at the kitchen table.

"Cereal!" he said again.

"I'm working on it, buddy."

He mumbled something under his breath. Sighed. Then yawned.

I got him all set up. Sat down across from him.

"Did you dream last night?" I asked.

"Yep," he said and nodded his head.

"What did you dream about?"

"Kids, and um..."

He shoveled cereal into his mouth. Chewed. Thought a while.

"Kids and...?" I said.

"Kids, and um, running!"

"Kids were running?"

He chomped more cereal. I waited.

"Kids running, and um..."

I stood up. Started water into the sink to do dishes leftover from last night.

"Were kids chasing you?"

"No, Daddy! Kids running!"

And we left it at that.

I did dishes. He ate cereal. I couldn't help but wonder what it was like to have two-year old dreams. If they were filled with balloons and candy. Ice cream and treats. Kids running everywhere. Laughing. All of them delighted with the simple act of Being.

I rummaged through the soapy water for an elusive knife until I stabbed myself in the hand.

"Shit," I said.

Little Man stopped chewing. I stopped moving. Blood dripped into the bubbles. And I could feel him staring at the back of my head.

I turned around and he was smiling.

"Aw shucks," he corrected me.

"Yes, aw shucks," I said.

It's these moments. The ones with Little Man and S.B. that make me realize what's important. They are my driving force. What keeps me flying straight. Without them I'd be just another cynic from my generation. All fueled up by things that do not matter. Believing that we're all lost and that life is meaningless and that we can do or say whatever we want without consequence. But lucky me, I found them. And they found me.

Every day is not a rose. Each moment is not bliss. But it's the commitment that me and S.B. have made to each other that keeps us here. And keeps us at this.

Staying strong. Growing. Keeping with this keepin' on. In our small house. On our small income. Each of us able to shift gears, regain traction. Recognize the goodness in the simple act of Being.

~ K.J.

(copyright © 2008 by K.J. Stevens)

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

those days

September 17th, 2008

7:23 AM

Tires on pavement. Metal wings up high. People on their way to work and school. Places other than home.

And I'm here. Planted in this chair. Wearing pajamas and a sweater. Listening to the world wake. Sipping coffee. On the sun-rising edge of another day.

There were days I didn't care to wake. Head pounding. Body trying to rid itself of alcohol. Eyes burning. Gut eating itself. Skin and hair stained with second hand smoke.

All of it the end result of another exercise in fun.

The kind I don't care to have anymore. Gathered with drinking buddies. At The Owl or Courtyard. Knocking back beer and shots. Always, it seemed, operating under the influence. Stuck in some fantasy world. As if I expected F. Scott or Hemingway to sidle up next to me. Have a seat. Buy us a round. Key us in on all of it. Let us know that what we were doing was okay. Normal. Necessary. That what we were doing was building stamina. Because the world, as beautiful as she is, breaks everyone. And if a person can be stronger at the broken places, it makes perfect sense to walk around as numb as possible so that the cracks and fissures start without recognition or regret. So that pain from self-inflicted injury is worn like a red badge of courage.

But that's not how we thought. We couldn't understand it. Not then.

Trying to evaluate the outside world when you are tucked so deeply inside yourself is difficult. And nothing was difficult then. There was only selfishness and half-assed ideas about what it did or did not mean to be big fish in a little pond. To live without knowing what it meant to live at all. And so, we could have not known difficulty. Because for us, it did not exist. There was no apple to eat. No tree dangling knowledge. God knows, if there had been, we would have plucked the fruit, axed the tree and made a fire. So there was no knowledge. Only drunk talk. Inebriated hope. And boys believing they were men because they could drink, fight when necessary, and fuck at will.

Those days, I'm happy to say, are gone.

There are those lingering feelings. The kind that take so very long to fade. Those that are not good, but familiar and what you have always known, so part of you is there and will always be there. But you can break free. And you should expect more. Something different. Because you will be able to look back and see the past for all it was and is. Days gone. Experience gained. Love lost. Lessons learned. More often than not, the hard way. And before you know it, the idea of drinking buddies, fighting, and fucking at will are memories. All of them poured and mixed into a bitter tasting cocktail that you can no longer swallow.

Instead, you will wake sober and closer to being whole. Planted in a chair or a seat. In a car. On a plane. A bus or a train. And you will be at home in this world. Wherever you are. Because you can hear it. The sun rising. As you sit and breathe and are thankful for the edge of another day.

~ K.J.

(copyright © 2008 by K.J. Stevens)

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

stretch of day

September 16th, 2008

7:25 AM

Will get at short stories later. For now, it's moving fingers enough to keep the noggin' awake. Was a rough night. Even a rougher morning. But everyone's got it rough and lots have it worse so there's no use bellyaching when there's a whole stretch of day waiting to be discovered.

Temperature dropping. Leaves shaking. Squirrels bulking up. All of it feeding the creativity so that desire will not rest. And we fight for balance. Enough good to outweigh the bad. Keep the teeter-totter level. Ducks in a row. Gut full and satisfied so that it will not eat itself.

Hunger is a very dangerous thing if taken in high doses.

But most people don't hunger much at all, so I am thankful.

Served up breakfast for Little Man and S.B.. Little Man at about 5:45 because he couldn't sleep. S.B. a little before 7:00 after she was done washing up and dressing for work. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Can set the tone for each moment thereafter. For Little Man it was cereal. Four bowls with milk. For S.B. it was sliced hardboiled egg with cheese and turkey ham on a toasted and buttered English muffin.

A pretty good start, I hope.

Cool air, dew, and leftover puddles for S.B. as she walks to school. Warm pajamas, a blanket, and Baby Mozart for Little Man.

And I wonder what she thinks. Step after step. Across the busy street. Into a quieter place. Through a sleeping neighborhood. Mourning doves. Black squirrels. Dogs barking from behind big picture windows and backyards. Tom cats rushing home.

Lesson plans. Unruly children. Art. Discipline. Cranky kid. Cranky husband. Old cat. Parents up north. Friends south. Dreams. Reality. Bills. Paycheck.

And I wonder what he thinks.

Music. Bear. Yawn. Shadows on the wall. Stuffed puppy. Apple juice. Trucks and cars. Bubbas and books.

And I don't know what to think. Some mornings. Sticking it out, pushing through, even though I never feel fully refreshed. Awake. Satisfied with what it is I'm doing.

"I have to think about what it is I'm doing instead of thinking about what I want to do."

I said that last night. Staring through the darkness. At the ceiling.

"That's right," said S.B.. "Think about what you do."

And it wasn't long before she was breathing slowly and deeply. Her right hand under my leg. Twitching. Fighting until sleep won her over. Tugged her away. Into dreams.

I wish I could have gone. That her hand would have clamped down tight. Dug fingernails into my thigh. And taken me. But I stayed there. In bed. Like I always do. Wrestling with things unseen. Listening to words that only I can hear.

Tick, tick, tick, Stevens. Time is running out.

All these pages. These words. Characters pushed into the sheets. But all of it slipping away. Wasted—never knowing the comfort of covers—and into the hollow space.

Cold here in this chair. Doves calling. White light pushing through the blinds. Dew dropping. And time not waiting one second more for any of us. To rise. Shake off the tireds. Because everyone's got it rough. Once in a while. And lots have it worse. So there's no use bellyaching when there's a whole stretch of day waiting to be discovered.

~ K.J.

(copyright © 2008 by K.J. Stevens)

Saturday, September 13, 2008


September 13th, 2008

8:38 AM

Woke driven by ripples of hunger and sex. But dogs were pacing in the bedroom. S.B. was still shaking off the tireds. And there's always the chance Little Man will spring open our door. Popping in like some little jack-in-the-box.

One desire down. One to go.

Went into the kitchen. Stomach grumbling. Thought about fried eggs and toast and bacon. Looked at the clock. Little Man had faked us out. He was still in bed. I thought better of banging around pots and pans. Headed upstairs.

So, here I am. A rainy Saturday morning. At the keyboard. Stuck between writing and organizing writing. Obviously, I've decided to write. A few moments ago, however, I was going through old writing. Journal entries, poetry, short stories, unfinished business. Trying to put them in appropriate folders. There's a lot. And that's just this one hard drive. There's another hard drive filled with writing. But it crashed about a year ago. And as far as I can tell, three years of writing went down the tubes. Then there are the floppy disks. Compact disks. And boxes of paper. Thousands of pages. All I can be sure of is that I better work at it now or there'll be even more of a mess. More words lost. More time unaccounted for.

So, with sex reduced to a slight tingle in the nether-region and S.B. downstairs with Little Man in charge of breakfast, it's old Stevens. At it again. Hungry and still wrestling with the age old struggle. To write, or to write about writing?

The bitch about writing (and trying to write well) is that it takes time. Patience. It took me about five years to write "Pilgrim's Bay". Granted, I didn't know I was writing a novel at the outset. I felt like I was LIVING a novel, but what I was really doing was writing short stories. I was drinking a lot. Staying out late. Working full time. But I always made time for writing. And I kept at it. Story after story. Honing each one. Stripping them down. Defining the narrative voice. Until I had a group of stories that shared a theme, characters, a place. Then, I set to work putting them all together. I had to fill in the missing time. Create connections. Write the ending. And I had to do it all without it coming off as filler and forced connectivity. The ending was always in my head. I'd written it without paper and pen, without the keyboard, hundreds of times. It took the act of putting all the others parts together for me to realize that the ending in my head was the one for "Pilgrim's Bay".

And there you have it. Something you've worked your ass of on for years. A piece of yourself. Of everything and everyone you have known up until that point in your life. The book is you. It is something you are proud of, but it is not something you feel you can shove down people's throats, share with strangers, and you certainly cannot expect anything of it. You know you will sell copies to friends and family. To the few die hards that have stuck with you over the years. But as much as you want fame and fortune, for professors to peg your book as REQUIRED READING for the courses they teach, you know that it is unlikely. A chance in a bazillion. Like throwing change into a wishing well. Waiting up for Santa Claus. Hoping to catch a glimpse of the Tooth Fairy.

There is nothing else to do, but know that you've done your best. There are other stories to write. Novels to live. Pages waiting for ink. The keys. And there is no reason to stop now. In it so deep. Pulling people under. Pushing people up. Splashing pennies into the ocean. Hoping your ripple will last.

At least a little while.

~ K.J.

(copyright 2008 by K.J. Stevens)

Friday, September 12, 2008

feeling it

September 12th, 2008

7:35 AM

Ready to get into another one. Not sure how far to go. Not feeling it this morning. Would like to read, watch movies, get down on my hands and knees and play trucks with the Little Man. But there are things to do. We need to push past the end-of-week laziness. Pick up. Get to work. Get things done.

And this is part of it. Like it or not.

Published in Fragile Arts Quarterly. An up-and-coming publication that is quite beautiful with its focus on art as well as literature. It is available for purchase HERE. But don't fret, you don't have to actually purchase it and experience the joy of having the living breathing paper and ink in your hand.

You can download it for free.

That's right. Absolutely free. At the same link. It does take a while for it to download (lots of artistic images), but you wait in line at stores. In traffic. Sit through commercials. There's no reason why you can't click on a link and wait for a download. Maybe something will strike your fancy. My story won't. If anything it will dampen your spirits. Bring you down a notch. But you are more than welcome to read it anyway. And drop me a line. A few of you have already read it. Most of you have not.

Why, oh why?

Little Lauren Conrad from MTV's show "THE HILLS" can ink a deal with HarperCollins, but here I am. In the upstairs room. Fingers still wailing away at the keys. Looking out the window. Raindrops everywhere. Crickets still singing for mates. But our song is not to be heard. For whatever reason. Just not yet.

It is about working hard. Working well. Hitting the soft spots. Breaking through. But it's also about who you know. When you know them. And how much you are willing to give. And give. And give.

I have the latter under control. It's the former...all of the former that needs my concentration.

But it's not that easy. I'm listening for little footsteps padding down the hallway.

"DADDY!" he'll yell.

Which is the best way for him to wake up. He likes coming to find me. Does not like me coming to find him. Sometimes, if I'm the first to say good morning, he'll turn and walk back to his room. Shut the door. Get back into bed.

Talk about rejection. Not inking the deal. But I still work at it with him. Our mornings are getting more and more routine. I wake early, get S.B. off to work, then write until I hear those feet. Once I hear them, I start downstairs. Once we meet in the living room, I judge by his demeanor how to proceed. Some mornings, I say nothing. I get his cereal ready, set it on the table, then he comes running.

"Hi, Daddy!"

And he hugs me.

Other mornings, I'll kneel down so we are eye-to-eye and ask him, how was sleep?, and he'll look away. Cover his face. Once in a while, he'll hug me.

He is not a morning person. Which is just fine. And each morning is different.

Yesterday, he was cheery. Bright-eyed. Carrying his stuffed puppy down the hallway, singing a morning song. And he hugged me and kissed me and wanted to watch PBS.

"PBS kids?" he asked.

"Sure thing," I said. And I got his cereal ready. Some apple juice. Watched as he ate and drank and watched TV. An animated series about a group of kids that go around solving problems by making sentences out of various words. It's actually pretty good.

Not sure which Little Man will greet me this morning. Doesn't matter. I love each one of them. Some days just take more work than others.

With all that said, I'm ready to get into another one. Not sure how far I'll go, but I'm starting to feel it this morning. I'd like to read, watch movies, get down on my hands and knees and play trucks with Little Man. Because even though there's work to be done, it's not the work we'll remember. It's the playing that we've done that will get tucked away and saved for a rainy day.

It won't be the stories. The publications. Inking deals.

It will not be about the people that have or have not read the writing.

It is and always will be about my wife, S.B. and our Little Man.

~ K.J.

(copyright © 2008 by K.J. Stevens)

Thursday, September 11, 2008


September 11th, 2008
7:29 AM

We all know what today is so there's no use saying it. Sometimes that's best. To keep quiet. Reflect in one's own way without it being scripted, directed, organized by someone else.

It was a horrible day. Planes into buildings and the ground. Bodies out of windows. Lives altered in one fell swoop. Like a tsunami. An earthquake. Any large scale natural disaster. Only it wasn't natural.

It was made by man.

But maybe it was natural.

The way we treat each other. Human to human in this world. Nothing surprises me anymore. People doing all they can to differentiate themselves from other people. When all we have to do is recognize our commonality.

We wake and rise. Breathe. We eat and drink. We sleep. More alike at the core than we can realize. Than we can admit. Because we're busy allowing our humanity to be washed away. By dogma. Superstition. Ignorance.

But that's too much to handle so early in the morning. And old Stevens is only filled with generalizations. More questions than answers. Silly hope.
It is always so much more than words.

And it's refreshing this morning. The chilled air. Hot cup of coffee. And I'm amazed that I'm fortunate enough to have another crack at it. That I woke up next to S.B., to dogs wagging their tails, and to great promise radiating in the clear blue sky.

It's a gift. All of this. And it's up to us if we want to be grateful receivers. If we want to take this day and give our best. Not only to ourselves and our families, but to everyone. Because when you give your best and give it with humility, you are doing what was intended. Following the roots, the lesson, the guidance that was given to you long ago.

If we could only strip away the layers. Return to the place that exists deep. Before planes and buildings. These man made things that do not last. We'd see.

There is only this.


Enamored with the simple act of communicating.

Striving to understand.

~ K.J.

(copyright 2008 by K.J. Stevens)

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

balance of the world

September 10th, 2008
7:37 AM

Bring on the cold. Put people in layers. Bundle them up. Keep them inside. Put ice under their feet. Snow between their legs. Make them work for movement. Steady themselves. Slow down and take care.
Because that's what we need.

More care.

Tired of thieves and rapists. Molesters and murderers. Sick of rich, white collar criminals. Had enough of laziness and ignorance. Chips on shoulders. And the insane sense of entitlement that people have.

Really tired of people living on the surface. Not making an effort to dig a little deeper. Know a little more. Better themselves. Take care of their families. Look out for someone else besides number one.

But bitching about it makes me just as bad. Writing about it makes me even worse.
There are more important things to do. Better ways to channel energy. Ways to influence the positive/negative balance of this world.

And so, that's what I'll do.

Socks and pajamas last night. Tucked deep into bed. Out and in dreamland for most of the night. Heavy sleep filled with images.
Sex in a basement of rising water.

Unloaded handguns.

Running an extension cord from the inside of my old elementary school to bus 87-E. Driven by Mrs. Kelly. One that I used to ride when I was a kid.

Fights. Me in the middle. Pounding fists into strangers. Men coming at me. One after another. Feeling shredded and exhausted after the last man fell and it was only me. Just another beaten man.

Returning after a long trip. To S.B..holding her. Being happy to be home. Feeling guilty about having left at all.

Just like Dorothy said.

There's no place like home.

On a cold Wednesday morning. Chores done. Coffee hot. Stomach growling for something more. Eggs and sausage. Grapefruit for a chaser.

But when Little Man wakes, he'll want cereal with milk. And an edible, cinnamon flavored straw. We'll sit at the table. I'll watch him, listen to him, and try to figure out what it is I can and cannot say or do. More often than not, he's a slow-waker. Moody. A little like me.

Yesterday, he surprised me after his nap.

He'd only slept about an hour and a half. Came stomping down the hallway. Dragging his stuffed puppy.

“What are you doing up?”

He looked at me. Put his little fists to his eyes. Moved them around. And he said,
“Couldn't sleep!”

The “couldn't” was not perfect, but it was there. And it was obvious from the little fists rubbing his eyes and the incredulous frustration on his face that he simply could not sleep. I asked him what he dreamed of. If he saw anything when he closed his eyes. He said, “Kids!”

“Nice kids, or mean kids?”

“Nice kids,” he said.

“That's good,” I said.

Then he moved to the couch. Settled into the cushion, and he said, “Apple juice! Nemo!”

So I poured him a cup of apple juice. Fired up “Finding Nemo”, and hoped it was possible that always, when he could not sleep, it was because he was dreaming of nice kids. Craving apple juice. Wanting to see and memorize every scene of a Disney movie.

But I know that won't happen. That he'll grow more and more every day. That there'll be plenty of opportunity for his roots to hit bad spots. Shoddy soil. Bugs. Rock. But those are the breaks. The chances you take when you love and care.

Like I do this cold morning.

S.B. bundled up. Walking to work. Carrying part of me with her.

Little Man tucked deep into bed. Clutching his stuffed puppy. Finishing up dreams.

All of us about to contribute to the day. Make a difference in the positive/negative balance of this world.

~ K.J.

(copyright © 2008 by K.J. Stevens)

Monday, September 8, 2008

yard work

September 8th, 2008
7:29 AM

Blue jays waking up the neighborhood. Loud squawks from treetops. Sounding through crisp morning air. Autumn heavy in the bones this morning. Feels like jeans, work boots, and flannel sleeves today. But it is only morning. The big hot dot will rise high enough to burn off the dew, heat the pavement, and before long it'll be another warm one in the Garden City.

Yard work this weekend. Transplanting rosebushes. Trimming and cutting down trees and vines. All three of us working together. Satisfied with helping one another. Little Man carrying leaves, small branches and sticks to the compost pile. S.B. wielding a hand saw and snips. Me digging deep around the big rosebush. Battling thorns and rock hard ground. Then into the thickest part of the vines and trees. Those growing along, on top of, and through the chain link fence. Cutting and sawing. Pulling and removing as much of it as possible without damaging the fence or getting debris in the neighbor's yard.

“You never liked doing this before,” said S.B.. “Why now?”

She was snapping branches of a felled tree. Breaking them down to fit in our fire pit. Her long thin arms tan and strong in the late afternoon sunlight.

“I've always liked doing it. I just haven't.”

“I know. I remember the end story in Landscaping.”

I smiled. Was happy that something I'd written had touched her enough so that she remembered. Especially now. Us together. Working on a yard of our own.

“Good old Landscaping,” I said. “Yep, when I lived alone at my old place, I didn't care much for doing this sort of thing.”

“You wrote how you let everything go wild. Let Nature take its course.”

I pulled off my gloves. Wiped the sweat from my forehead.

“Now, it matters. I like doing it. For you, for us. When I lived alone, I didn't care if the lawn was kept up, if the driveway was plowed. Now, I does. I have people to take care of. I don't want them slipping and falling on ice. Don't want them getting eaten alive by mosquitoes living in tall grass.”

She smiled. Went back to the branches. I looked around the yard. Dogs sniffing around the fence line. Cat sleeping under a tree. Little Man putting sticks into a pile.

Finally, I thought. Finally, I am here.

It's the best place I've ever been. So much possibility. For all of us.

The big sun higher now. Blue jays joined by sparrows. Dew glistening. Neighborhood waking and alive. Another blessed day in the Garden City.

~ K.J.

(copyright © 2008 by K.J. Stevens)

Saturday, September 6, 2008

pretty good, after all

September 6th, 2008
6:55 AM

This is only a stopping place. And we've not even stopped. I suppose, it's better to call it a camping spot along the way. At camp, there are things to do. Work to get done. Things that need attention. The basics. Shelter, water, fire, food. And that's what we focus on here. At our little bungalow in the Garden City.

At camp, there's relaxation. Time for reflection. Moments spent with family or friends. Commitments and obligations remain, but there is extra time given to play and share stories. Again, we have that here.

One thing that a campsite doesn't usually have are passenger planes growling through the sky. One after another. All day and all night.

Air traffic has been heavy the past few days. We are less than ten miles from the airport. Just like hundreds of other families. And unless you're very good at tuning things out, you can never really forget the planes. They are always here. Gaining altitude. Tearing apart the sky. I wonder how many other people are up right now. Thinking about, writing about, cursing the planes.

Still, I would not trade our little house and big yard for anything. Not right now. We need this place. Want this place. It's a fine starter home. One that we worked hard to get. One that we aim to keep. Have as our home base. For as long as we need.

Though anything can happen and a person cannot script how life will turn out, I don't believe we'll be here for the rest of our lives. We've moved from a low-income condo development to a not-so-low-income blue collar neighborhood, but there's still room for improvement. Upward mobility is what this country is all about. And little by little, we're doing our best, not only to maintain, but to improve our situation.

I'm not helping much. Sure, I'm saving us thousands of dollars a year in childcare. I'm with Little Man every day, doing what I can to make sure he's healthy, happy, growing toward the sun. Also, I'm doing my best to keep the house in tip-top shape (improving my handyman skills as I go). But I really thought I'd be contributing more to our finances via writing.

I've taken on a few freelance projects, have been sending out my writing, but writing is a fickle business. I've know that for years. And now, writing this at a bit after seven in the morning, I realize I should have known better. Why on earth I've been banking on writing to help me and my family “make it” baffles me.

Sometimes I think I'm like those contestants you see on television. The person trying out for American Idol that certainly has passion and a love for music, but lacks skill and should not be singing at all. Or the really good Karaoke singer you see and hear on a Friday night. They hit most of the notes, they get some of the crowd cheering and singing along, but you just know they'll always be there. Looking for their big break. In some smoky bar. But they'll never get it because talent and passion can only take you so far.

And maybe this is as far as old Stevens will get. Just another guy. Twanging on his acoustic guitar. Covering other artists, doing requests, sharing his best new original work, but always seated in the same places, surrounded by the same faces, signing the same old songs.

That's okay. There are more important things now. Once, writing was my wife. I ate it, drank it, breathed it, sleeped it, dreamed it. Now, I've got a real flesh and blood wife. One that makes me feel happier than I've ever been. Even when it was just me. The single guy living out in the sticks. Owning an old country house, an old church. Living with his dog. Driving his fancy little sports car. Drinking too much. Eating too much. Tipping the scales with extra pounds, selfishness, and building up regret.

And somehow, I thought I was happy. Wanted to believe I was happy. Waking alone. Coming home alone. Sleeping alone. Doing whatever I wanted whenever Iw anted, but always whatever I was doing meant nothing. Was empty. Everything I was doing was aimed at filling the big ache. The hollow spot that was growing inside.
Now, that's changed.

No, I don't have as much time to write. But I have nobody to blame for that besides myself. I could get up earlier, stay up later, weasel in a few more minutes everywhere throughout the day. Simply put, I've been lazy. Living with the notion that someday someone will find me. But the truth is this...Any success I'm not having is because I'm not putting in the effort. There is an agent, editor, publisher, or patron out there that can help me out. Get this writing career off the ground and to the next level. But it's my responsibility to find him. Her. It. That means more time at these keys, searching for places to send my writing. That means more time at these keys, writing through all the crap, so that finally I write something that someone needs.

And at camp, while at this stopping place along the way, we dedicate ourselves to needs. Getting what we can from this earth so that we are warm. Dry. Have just enough of everything. Not only to survive, but to get by on. And from the looks of our cupboards, the refrigerator, the overall state of this little bungalow, I'd say we're doing all right for a teacher, a two-year old, and a stay-at-home-Dad.
Must be pretty good, after all, if I can wake up at first light, as airplanes growl and rumble through the sky, and put my tired fingers to these keys.

Keep on keepin' on.

~ Stevens

(copyright © 2008 by K.J. Stevens)

Thursday, September 4, 2008

our best efforts

September 4th, 2008
7:40 AM

S.B. dressed up for work. Looking beautiful as ever. Coffee mug in hand. Up into the big, old pickup truck. Exhaust rumbling as she eases down the road. Takes a right. Makes her way to school. An Art Teacher, but because of poor planning and inept leadership, she is teaching third grade. She was all prepared to teach art. Has been working hard on lesson plans, fresh ideas, discovering ways to help these kids learn, not only about life, but about the bigger picture. That they are worthy. That
they can reach incredible heights.

Her planning and thinking has not gone to waste. She's been doing her best to make sure that these third graders are starting out on the right foot. Someone has to. The school is not only lacking a third grade teacher (S.B. was told that someone was hired and that they start next week), but it's lacking supplies. Not enough toilet paper. Copy paper. Not enough paper towels for kids to dry their hands.

But the greatest country on earth has spent 872 billion dollars on war efforts. That's in Iraq and Afghanistan. Ever since we decided to go after the axis of evil, we've been doling out money to destroy evildoers and neglecting important matters at home.

Don't get me wrong. National security is important. Without men and women fighting for our freedoms, we wouldn't even get an education. We wouldn't have to worry about if we had enough toilet paper, paper towels, or school supplies. And I wouldn't be able to sit here and write about things without fear of being thrown into prison, taken into a field and shot, or strung up for a public beating.
But what about our internal struggles?

Neighborhoods falling apart. Jobs disappearing. Children wanting and needing guidance, education, and love so that they don't end up lost in this big wide world.

Everyone can be something. Everyone can reach up and chase dreams. But nobody has gone it alone. All of us were born. Cared for. Protected. Provided with the basic neccessities for survival. And most of us were fortunate enough to have continued care, an education, opportunities to rise up and make the most out of ourselves. And some of us, even now, are striving. Doing what we can every day to make this world a better place. By caring for our children. Loving our wives. Sealing cracks around the windows. Planting trees. Reaching out and making a positive impact. Most of the time, without even knowing.

Opening doors for others.


Giving kudos and making improvements instead of complaining and being complacent.
Reading and thinking and participating in whatever ways we're able instead of sitting back and letting others make decisions for us.

Yes, I believe that there's more good in this world than bad. That it's never too late. That even the simplest act of kindness and being considerate of others helps to keep this old rock turning.

But we, as a nation, as human beings with more in common than we want to admit, need to buck up. Be aware. Take responsibility for our actions. Take care of each other. Identify what's truly important in our lives, prioritize, and move ahead in life being humble and aware.

But maybe that's too much to ask.

S.B.'s at school by now. So are the other teachers. Ready and waiting. Another day of patience. Effort. Trying to reach children. Help them learn. Grow. Seize opportunity.

And the parents are rolling into the parking lot.

8:00 am.

Bass pounding.

Rims shiny and spinning.

Bling sparkling in the morning light, as they posture themselves.

Gangsta lean.

Cell phone on the ear.

Dumping off another generation. Unaware that we are losing them. One by one. Despite the best efforts of people waking early, fueling up with coffee, and getting into old pickup trucks, so that maybe, just maybe, we'll lose one less kid. To apathy. Greed. This internal war that keeps on festering.

~ K.J.

(copyright 2008 by K.J. Stevens)

Monday, September 1, 2008


September 1st, 2008
8:02 AM

Internal strength. That's what holds it all together. Keeps us from going haywire. Saying stupid things. Doing stupid things. It's what keeps us from knee-jerk, gut reactions. Allows us to reason. To see or hear a thing, digest it, then choose our reaction.

I know of people that have it. It's a short list. And I'm sure if I spent all day of every day with these people, I'd see that they too cave in sometimes. They break down. Pound their fists. Shed tears. Collapse on the bed seeking refuge in sleep. But what's different about these people is that they do it on their own time. They do what they can so they aren't dragging down those around them.

After all, the world break everyone. Hemingway knew it. I know it. Everyone can feel it if they're willing to pay attention. There's no getting around it. Eventually, we'll all be broken down. But what we need to be mindful of as we move around this place is how we carry ourselves. How we treat others. How we treat the world. We need to do our best to build strength in others by building strength in ourselves. But to be able to do this, we need to recognize that with each crack, every time we say or do the wrong thing, it is an opportunity to build strength. To be strong in those broken places, so that we can carry on. Do better next time.
What's also important to remember is that strength is not built with excuses. We must own up. We cannot let the notion of wrongdoings or mistakes as opportunities for growth give us excuses to do wrong or make mistakes again.

I bitch at people in traffic. People running red lights. Cutting other people off. People swerving in and out of traffic, talking on cell phones, posturing in their “gansta” lean. People tend to piss me off. And it's not only in traffic. It's in stores. On sidewalks. At festivals. Parks. Wherever people are they tend to piss me off. Maybe it's only the bad ones that stand out. Throwing their trash around, talking like thugs, having total disregard for the world around them because for some reason they believe their entitled. That the world owes them something. Anything. Everything.

“That's the way we roll!”

A man exclaimed this proudly to everyone within earshot as he and his family and friends cut in line at the airport. The line was already filled with hundreds of people. Most of them like me and S.B., about to miss a flight because of the airline being understaffed, inefficient, apathetic. But these folks came rolling in, laughing, bragging about how they were up late and had slept in. They made no bones about the fact that they were late to the airport because of choices they had made. And yet, they cut in line, went to the ticket counter, complained to the customer service agent and were allowed to cut out waiting in line altogether. Indeed, there they went. Walking away. A combination of strut and lazy swagger. Ahead of all of us who'd been there for two hours or more.

Because that's the way they roll.

My gut reaction was to bitch about it. Complain. Follow them and beat them with their own luggage. Let their actions taint mine and turn me into a person not much better.

But then I looked at S.B.

Already, we'd been through enough that morning. That week. Month. The year. And as trite as these “rollers” seemed, there was no use letting more bad stuff into our lives. We were just starting out. A few days married. Waiting to leave for our honeymoon. Already missing Little Man. Unsure of what waited for us once we left the ground.

So, I let it alone.

Sure, we missed our flight. Had to make phone calls. Push around plans. Leave a day later. But there was nothing that could be done but buck up and keep on keepin' on.

What will help me now. Moving around this place. Always threatened with breaking. Is that S.B. is there. If not in sight, usually in earshot. And my knee-jerk, gut reactions are not what she needs. They are not what we need. And today, when we are in traffic and someone cuts us off, I will not cuss or yell, or wish that I had a baseball bat to pound through their windshield. Instead, I will look over at S.B., take a deep breath, then look in the rear view mirror. At Little Man. So small and open and in need of a strong man to help show him the way.

And I will smile. Or ask him how he's doing. Maybe just say “hi, buddy”.

Because that's the way we roll.

~ K.J.

(copyright 2008 by K.J. Stevens)