Friday, October 31, 2008

happy halloween


12:57 pm

What's been smoldering rose to the surface. It flamed up, but only for a short time. And even though there will be ashes and coals, most of the heat has gone.

I ran what I could out of my system by pulling Little Man around the neighborhood in his wagon. We stopped in front of houses with yards filled with Halloween decorations. Talked about monsters and ghosts. Headstones and cobwebs. Continued on like this for an hour. House to house. With one stop at the park. Then back home. For lunch. A story. A nap.

I gave it another shot a little while ago. Running on the treadmill. Two miles in one place. Staring at the wall of the garage. Now, since the walking and running have taken care of most of it, and Little Man is still tucked away in sleep, I will write the rest of it away.

It's too nice of a day and I'm too fortunate to have this life to get into any tangles. Not with memories. Not with the unknown. Not with anything that's already been said and done. All we have today are fresh feet, fresh fingers, and the perpetual desire to succeed.

As a Dad and husband.

The writer can wait.

Maybe it's just the change of season. The beauty and brutality of a winter that's on its way. Knowing that the big clock is always out there. Ticking off our time. Dwindling our days. And there's not a damn thing I can do about it. Just wake. Do my best. And hope for rest. Yes, there is plenty more. And the important stuff is in all that's passing, but this writing mind has never worked like that and I'm doubtful it ever will. Nothing any good has come out of only good and so that's where my writing thrives.

In anger. Frustration. Selfishness. And loss. In that dark hollow space that rises up late at night and leads me down the hallway. Into empty rooms. Under bright lights. To pull aside the blinds and see a sleeping world all around.

One day, I guess, I'll rest. Maybe in the cemetery. Back home on The Ridge. Or maybe in a place yet to be found. And then, the fight will be gone. All that will remain is the energy I've left. In the cottonwood, the maples, the steeple, the ground. And all of what I've done will continue without me.

In the way S.B. ages with beauty and paints from dreams. Aware of the possibility in falling leaves, crackling fires, the sleeping earth underfoot. All of the small things part of the whole. Meaning, as always, unwavering and true in the shapes and forms that color her world.

In the way Little Man wakes and walks. Moves through this world. Another man, like all men, smoldering beneath the surface. Flaming up. But only rarely and only for a short time. He will know the meaning of ashes and coals. Of pulling a wagon on a windy autumn day. And he will know the importance of keeping feet and fingers fresh. So that he is always prepared. For the silence and patience needed for fighting the toughest tangles and taming the darkest hollow space.

And in all, that's all we can hope for. That even when we aren't our best, when we are quietly shaking apart at the seams, we put a little good into the world. Even if it springs from bad.

Happy Halloween.

~ K.J.

(copyright © 2008 by K.J. Stevens)

Thursday, October 30, 2008

devil's night

Devil's Nights

7:25 am

No devils yet, as it is only morning. But feeling devilish all the same. Autumn cravings kicking in. Beer, bacon and sex. Simple selfish pleasures. That's what I'd like to fit into my day. Bad stuff, I'm told. Things that'll kill ya. But today seems as good a day as any to have a little of what kills. But there's no beer or bacon in the fridge. And sex is something that needs to be scheduled these days.

Ah, the joys of growing older. Staying busy. Losing track of days because they pass through our hands so quickly. But I'm not feeling sentimental. Not feeling like going deep. If anything, I'd like to stay on the surface today. Take things as they come. Try to work away this edginess with a day full of distraction. Which shouldn't be hard. S.B.'s off to work for a thirteen hour day. Little Man will be up soon. And already today I've had to clean up a pile of cat poop from the living room. After I stepped in it, of course.

So, here's a special thank you to you, Cabby, our old senile cat, I appreciate the nuggets of thoughtfulness you left for me this morning. Your little GOOD MORNING to Dear Old Dad. Nothing like waking tired, a little edgy, and putting a foot in crap.

But so goes life. Not a big deal. We clean it up. Carry on. Keep on keepin' .. all, there are people waking this morning with much more dangerous and unsettling steps to be taken. Men, women, and children walking through minefields. Patients waking from coma to find their leg's been removed. Mother's exhausted from hours of labor, only to learn that their baby has not survived. And another father loses his job. Another child abducted. And so our big wide world turns. Around and around. On an invisible axis. The earth placed just right. So that life thrives. Our cycle continues.

But still...there are these days. Feeling heavy. On the edge of something. When all I want is a morning of bacon. An afternoon of beer. And a night with S.B. all to myself. So that we can touch and feel, reconnect and disappear in ways that only married couples can. So that for a little while, it is just us. Two bodies made of dust. Breathing and feeling. Our natural cravings kicking in. So that we can love each other once again.

~ K.J.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

a morning like this

October 29th, 2008

8:32 am

Chloe the dog is at it again. Convinced she will catch a squirrel one day. Tearing across the big backyard, running below a black squirrel that's doing a high-wire act. From pole to pole. Both of them barking. Until the squirrel jumps from pole to tree then down into the neighbor's yard. Taunting Chloe from behind the chain link fence. Chloe sits there. Ears up. Hair on her back bristling. She will have another good day. Out in the yard. On patrol. Later when Ted the cat wakes from his slumber, he will join her. They will work in tandem. One of them sneaking up on squirrels, the other standing guard. They are quite the team, our cat and our dog. It's amazing how much joy they find.

Especially on mornings like this. Another one thick with dying leaves, cold and gray.

Trying very hard to strike a balance today. Childcare and work. Writing and giving my son attention. He is watching television. Satisfied to be on his own for a while. Watching Clifford on PBS Kids and playing with his wooden train set. I feel guilty though. Being in here. Putting fingers to keys, while he is in the living room. But I can't be by his side every minute of the day, and a little television hasn't killed anyone that I know of, so a bit of boob tube in moderation will be my saving grace. And his. I'm sure he gets tired of being with Dear Old Dad all day every day.

Head is still brimming with everything, so this writing will be useless. It's only meaning coming in the form of making room. Helping me to move things around upstairs in the noggin' so that I can get back to the real writing again. But there's no sense in talking about it, writing about it, because doing so only ruins it. And the more it is ruined, the harder it is to get back to it. Do it truly. With love.

We could all use some love about now. The economy struggling. Leadership failing. Morals going down the tubes. Everything acceptable and everything goes these days. Nothing is shocking. Our senses are so deadened it's hard to snap out of it, see a bit of good, and smile.

My Mom sent some pictures to us via the wonders of technology. An email link sent me to a website, and this morning all three of us (Me, Little Man, and S.B.) sat together and watched a slideshow of our trip up north. Mom snapped off fifty-five pictures during our short visit. And though I tend to give her a hard time about always having a camera on hand, I'm glad she took those pictures. Sent them to us. Helped us get a little more mileage out of a visit that we wished could have been longer.

Little Man tossing leaves into the air. Colors of fall all around.

S.B.'s sweet smile. The three of us standing near scarecrows in my childhood front yard.

My Dad and my Mom. The land I started out on. Just a little kid. Running through the fields. Traipsing through the woods. Climbing trees. Wanting that time of being outside, lungs full of clean air, being in the country and quiet, to never end.

But it has. I'm all grown up. Living in the city. Not doing enough to make sure we can get back there. Be safe. Happy. Secure. And it is killing me. All of this trying and not succeeding. All of this waking and hoping, working and writing, with nothing to show for any of it.

It is always just me. A writer past his prime. Plugging away at keys. Still determined to bring a better life to my family by way of words. But never getting close enough. Never being good enough. But never being weakened so that he stops.

Instead, I just keep going. Like a dog. Chasing squirrels. One that does not know how or when to stop. Because I have love. Always on the rise. Pushing me. And I'm amazed at how much joy this world can bring.

In pictures. Without words.

Little Man playing in leaves. Colors all around.

S.B.'s sweet smile.

Our little family.

So needed today. Especially on a morning like this. Another one thick with dying leaves. The creeping cold. And the promise of more gray.

~ K.J.

(copyright © 2008 by K.J. Stevens)

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

road less traveled

October 28th, 2008

7:45 am

Thirty-five years old. At a point in my life where I have some long-term decisions to make. With writing not working out as far as an income is concerned, I need to reconsider my current path. Bills are mounting. The future is wide open. So the decisions I make today need to benefit my family in the long run. It is not the right thing to leave my family poor with only boxes of unpublished manuscripts to sift through. Words can only do so much. And the paper will be more useful for them for starting fires than for anything else. And so, we must let that notion pass. This family deserves more.

All these writing projects. The stories. Books. None of it going anywhere. Writing, for me, might be like gambling, drink, or drugs to others. An addiction. It's gotten me nowhere but deeper into the hole. Looking up. Praying for some great hand to retrieve me.

It's onward now. To the light. Open the blinds to another day. Forget this morning. One stuck between morning and night. Golden leaves rattling in wind gusts. Brown leaves covering the ground. Gray threatening everywhere.

Time to think about work. Real work. A real job. One that provides security. Stability. The necessary evil so that we can survive. But how do we get there? It's a long trip with an English degree. One filled with more potholes and hills than you can imagine. It might be the road less traveled by, but it is a bitch of a road no matter, and it is paved with hard lessons.

So, do we set ourselves to work at another degree? More education? Or do we put ourselves into a low-paying job with the hopes that one day—with hard work and dedication—it will get better. Provide enough of the green stuff so that kids can go to college, Mom and Dad don't have to work until their dead, and we have an egg hidden away just in case we wake one day more hungry than we've ever been?

It is not easy now. None of it. But that's what makes us stronger. This morning, wanting to sit down and get to work on the short story collection, but job searching instead. Applying. Sending resumes. Hoping that someone will see me in all of the words, dates, lines of experience, and give me a shot. Just one chance. To shine.

But that's asking too much. We get what we deserve. What we work for. What we aim at. And today, I need to realign the sights. Aim for another thing. One that is not lost when I sit down here. In this office. The gray threatening everywhere. But me. Moving slowly. Toward the light.

Open the blinds to another day. Forget this morning. This one stuck between morning and night. And it is onward now. Down the bitch of a road. More wasted pages. Piling up. To be left unpublished. For my family. With the hopes that somehow, one day, all of us will be warmed.

~ K.J.

(copyright © 2008 by K.J. Stevens)

Thursday, October 23, 2008

good in this world

October 23rd, 2008

8:29 am

Frost on the grass. On windshield glass. Temperature holding at cold. The low thirties. Little Man made his appearance at 6:45 this morning. S.B. was getting ready for work. I had finished up morning chores, was sipping coffee, and scanning the headlines. More doom and gloom. More ignorance. Stupidity. The kind that makes you wonder if this world will ever right itself. If we will be able to maintain the good that keeps the world in order.

"Good morning, buddy!" I said to Little Man.

"Morning honey!" S.B. shouted to him from the bathroom.

He rubbed his eyes. Dragged his stuffed puppy across the living room. Yawned. Hung his head low.

"Peanut butter toast," he said, not even looking up at me.

"Anything to drink?" I asked.


He climbed up into a chair at the kitchen table. Threw the puppy across the room. I bit my tongue. It was too early for lessons. To remind him not to throw things. It was obvious this was going to be a slow-to-wake morning.

"Peanut butter toast!"

"I'm working on it, buddy."

I had the bread in the toaster. Was getting out the peanut butter, a plate, and a knife.


I got the milk filled his little cup halfway. Walked over and handed it to him.

"No! Milk in cereal!"

The toast popped up.

"I'm sorry, but no. The toast is done. Look," I said, pointing to the toaster.

"No, milk! Milk all done!"

I put the cup into the refrigerator. Slathered enough peanut butter on the toast to keep him quiet for at least two minutes. I stood there drinking my coffee. Scanning more headlines. Watching him. The peanut butter was everywhere. On his fingers, his face. Even on his nose. I peeled a paper towel off the roll and handed it to him. He pulled away from me. Began to whine.

"I know, I know," I said. "You aren't going to want this now because it wasn't your idea, but you're going to need it before too long."

"No paper towel!" he shouted and shoved it away.

I went back to my coffee. Prayed for good news on the next page of the Free Press. No such luck.

S.B. came into the room smiling. She looked well-rested. Bright-eyed. It brought a rush of warmth up from my belly and made me smile.

Little Man's face lit up.

"Hi, Mommy!" he cheered.

"Hi, sweetie! You're not giving Daddy a hard time are you?"

He turned and gave me the stink-eye. Peanut butter was on his forehead. I smiled at him. He turned away. Smiled at Mommy.

"No," he said. "Good boy, Momma."

"I sure hope so," S.B. said.

She sat down to eat. I peeked over the top of the paper. Little Man reached for the napkin. Pulled it toward him slowly. Looked at me to make sure I wasn't watching. Wiped his mouth quickly, then shoved the paper towel away.

And even though I'm remaining positive. Biting my tongue. I know that today might be a challenge. But hey, that's what I signed on for. That's why I'm here. Anyone who thinks they are in it for only the fun of it, for all the sweet sloppy kisses and hugs that a kid can muster, is mistaken. You must be able to take the good as well as the bad. Kids aren't rotten. It's only how we treat them. And sometimes they just have bad days. So today, I'm treating him like I would want to be treated. If I woke up rubbing my eyes, tired as hell, dragging myself into the kitchen for another cheery morning.

We got changed into a fresh diaper. Into our big boy clothes. Got Mommy off to work. And right now, he's four pillows deep into a spooky Scooby-Doo adventure. Watching the movie in our bedroom. Laughing, giggling, talking to Scooby and Shaggy as they blunder through another mystery. And it's one of the best sounds in a world.

A little boy. Just laughing.

Not caring much about frost on the grass. Morning chores. That the temperature is holding steady. Near thirty. He's made his appearance. Got hugs and kisses. Peanut butter on toast. And aside from the spookiness of Scooby's Adventure, he is not concerned with headlines, doom and gloom, all of the ignorance and stupidity that we adults perpetuate and replicate. Day after day. Into this world. And as I hear him across the hallway, big belly-laughs rising, I believe that we have a chance. That we will right ourselves. That there will always be good in this world.

~ K.J.

(copyright © 2008 by K.J. Stevens)

Monday, October 20, 2008

wherever you are

October 20th, 2008

1:32 pm

Could have made better decisions. Could have been someplace else. I have regrets. But bad decisions, putting myself in bad spots,and saving up those regrets have brought me here. The best place I've ever known. Our little house with the big yard in the Garden City. With trees shedding leaves. Sunlight enriching colors. And endless possibility carried within the swirling autumn breeze.

And Little Man sleeps. Tucked away in an afternoon nap. Tired from our morning. A bike ride to the park. Four laps around the asphalt track. Then swings and slide. Swings and slide. Until it was time for lunch. The bike ride back home. To peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. A book to read. Substituting his name in place of Max's in the story WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE so that his eyes lit up, face brightened with wide smile, and he was happy. Satisfied. Ready for nap.

"Nap and sleep and wake and see Mommy later," he said, as he pulled the blanket up to his chin. Settled into his pillow.

"Yes, we'll see Mommy later. After you sleep and get a good rest."

"Nap and see Mommy?"

"You nap and we'll see Mommy later. After she's home from work."

"See Mommy work?"

"Kiss, hug," I said.

"Yep. Kiss, hug."

He puckered his lips. Planted one on me. We hugged.

"Goodnight, buddy. Love you. We'll see Mommy later. After nap and after she gets home from work."

"Night, Daddy!"

Down the stairs. Then onto the treadmill. Then down to the floor for push-ups and weights. Then back to my feet to hit the heavy bag. Pounding and pounding and pounding. Banging away at the past. Punching away mistakes and regret with every hook and jab. Muscles getting tighter but feeling lighter by the second. Until it's time to head in. Drink lots of water. Do do the morning dishes. Listen to sports talk radio. Warm leftover coffee. Then come here.

To the keys. The screen. This unknown place that I return to. Again and again. Not for money. Fortune or fame. But only to get it out. So that it does not build up. Go to waste. Become something useless and forgotten. Another mistake. Another regret. Another something I'd wished I'd done. Not for me, but for everyone I've ever known. So that they could come here too. Feel the familiar. Get in touch. Recognize that all moments have led to this.

Wherever you are. In the best place you'll ever know. Little houses with big yards. Gardens the size of cities. Trees and leaves. Sunlight and color. Endless possibility. Swirling in the autumn breeze.

~ K.J.

(copyright © 2008 by K.J. Stevens)

Sunday, October 19, 2008

the lottery

October 19th, 2008

7:31 am

The lottery has not been able to guess our numbers just yet. In fact, in their efforts last night, they were only able to come up with one of them. Number 32. So there'll be no celebrating this morning.

The coffee has brewed. The Free Press has come. Breakfast is not far off from being done. And now, as I write this, Little Man wakes...

7:49 am

Back at it.

Little Man came downstairs. Clutching three stuffed animals. Pajamas soaking wet. He overflowed his diaper again.

I got the sheets off his bed. He's too big for diapers. Only two-and-a-half, but a big kid and so this morning we are trying big-boy underwear. Again. It's certain to be a failure, but failures are small successes. The more times he bombs out in his trousers, the closer he is to using the potty. Anyway...S.B.'s making breakfast. Has Little Man changed and under control. So I get to write. Even if it is only this. Simple man journal writing early on a Sunday morning.

Cold out there today. Icy feel. Everything still. It's a beautiful thing. I could live in a place where it is always like this. Thirty-five degrees in the morning. Sun warming us to a high of sixty-two during the day. Yes, I could. Maybe one day, if we ever win the lottery, find good fortune, make it as a real writer, we'll have an opportunity to live in a place like that. Or have a cottage. Somewhere near the water. Away from the city. Surrounded by trees and crisp clean air. I could be hauling in armloads of firewood right now. Lighting the kindling. Stoking the flames.

But there's no use dreaming too much. Do that and I'll miss out on today. The simple everyday moments that help knit us closer together.

Like this...

S.B. was changing Little Man. He was getting worked up about the clothing I'd picked for him. Brown corduroys. Blue tee-shirt. Short-sleeved button up shirt. The pants went on all right. The tee-shirt was okay. But that button shirt...well, the kid hates button shirts.

“No button shirt!” he said.

“But it's such a nice shirt,” S.B. said. “You'll look great. So handsome! Won't he, Daddy?”

I was pouring myself a cup of coffee. Scanning the Free Press' headlines.

“Oh sure, yep," I said. "You'll look great. Nothing better than a button shirt.”

I put down the paper. Took a sip of coffee and watched Little Man and Momma go through this daily ritual.

“No button shirt!” he shouted.

S.B. sighed. Little Man crossed his arms. Both of them turned toward me.

Dear old Dad. Standing there sipping his coffee. Hair sticking up all over the place. Bags under his eyes. Still wearing his goofy red and black plaid pajamas. Ready to do absolutely nothing because today is Sunday. And Sunday means couch, Free Press, football, high calorie, fatty foods, and comfortable clothes. A.K.A....goofy pajamas. If he can pull it off.

But, from the looks on their faces, I knew this wouldn't be the case.

“Daddy button shirt!!” He shrieked with excitement.

I set down my coffee. Headed down the hallway.

“Sure thing,” I said. “Daddy will wear a button shirt.”

“See!” S.B. said, “Daddy loves button shirts!”

And here I sit. A little while later. Dressed up like a big boy. S.B. and Little Man in the kitchen. Laughing. Putting the final touches on breakfast. The sun up over the horizon. Blue-jay outside the window in the apple tree. Three squirrels, one-after-the-other, doing a high-wire act across the cable line. And me, feeling the warmth of another Sunday. Happy. Like we've just won the lottery.

~ K.J.

(copyright 2008 © by K.J. Stevens)

Thursday, October 16, 2008

the threat

October 16th, 2008

7:50 am

Raise the blinds. See the sky. Gray and threatening. Not only rain. But the cold and all that comes after. Plenty of people waking slow today. Wanting to move the body back into bed. But what's the use? The day will go on anyway. And we've all got a better shot at winning, coming out on top, learning along the way, if we're up and at it. Taking the days on no matter the threat of darkness and rain.

Pressure building. The change is in full swing. Not only for the seasons, but for these fingers against these keys. Now, with limbs and leaves falling and colors easing to gray, it's especially important to stay focused. The trick is recognizing that focus often requires distraction. In order to stay on track, one must take a back road once in a while. Vary the routine. Break away from the norm.

It's said an awful lot, but I'll say it more.

It's the little things.

Stealing ten minutes as the day unwinds and evening wraps round to read "Paper Lion". A book I've had for months, but have only read in spurts. One that I can already tell could have been much shorter, but one that I'll continue to chop away at because it is about something I like—football—and written by Plimpton, the old guru of The Paris Review.

An afternoon beer. Like yesterday. Head swelling with worry. Heart pounding urgency. I cracked a can. Poured a glass. Began to relax. Sat down at the desk and before I knew it, I was three pages away from the place I began—just another tired man seeking escape.

Waking on the heels of very little sleep. A night cut short and put into perspective by a two year old. Disgusted with Mommy and Daddy. Screaming, crying, and flailing with fury. Up and angry wanting his way. Until an exhausted Mommy had had enough and pulled a new negotiating skill out of the bag. One that sent all of us to sleep. Happier. Relieved. So that we could wake. Raise the blinds. See the sky. Gray and threatening. But not let it deter us from taking part in another day. One that can easily get away if we are not up and at it. Taking all of it on. No matter the threat of darkness or rain.

Here's to you taking on the day.

~ K.J.

(copyright © 2008 by K.J. Stevens)

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


October 15 th , 2008

3:22 pm

Day started with a promise of sun. But promises are made to be broken and so it is cloudy. Dark. An afternoon of light rain. A little sour today. Fighting off the tireds. Trying not to think too much. But trying not to think too much only makes me think. And what I don't want to do is think. Not now. Not anymore today. Not at all.

Little Man's playing with his wooden train set. Eating one of S.B.'s homemade chocolate chip walnut cookies. Getting the most out of his spooky Sleepy Hollow cartoon. Multitasking the best way a two-year old can. Fun, fun, and more fun.

S.B.'s wrapping up her tough day. Non-stop teaching, hall monitor duty, and lunchroom duty. Doing three jobs but barely getting paid for one. She will be exhausted when she gets home. Filled up and needing to get things out in the open so that she can breathe. So that she can feel better. Relax a little. Sleep. So, I'll get to work on the chicken. Make sure she's got a glass of wine waiting. And it won't be long before all of us will be at the table. Eating supper as a family. The way it's supposed to be.

I'm having an afternoon beer. Wondering when I'll hear back from the company I interviewed with last week. I was sure I'd hear something by now. Good or bad. Yes or no. But so far, I've heard nothing. In the meantime, I've applied for a few more jobs. Started to structure the new short story book. Learned that “Pilgrim's Bay” is now available for purchase through Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

So now, the whoring begins. Time to write an email and send it to my family and friends. Time to make up a few fliers. Maybe post them around town. And time to open myself up to interviews, discussions, whatever is available so that I can somehow put one foot in front of the other and begin carrying the load. Buck up. Stop being a hermit. Get the words out there. Because writing it, publishing it, sending information to people, is not enough. If this thing is ever going to get off the ground I need to live it. Breathe it. Get back to that fire I had years ago, when I was in my 20's, drinking my way through college, but sure that I was going to put my mark on the writing world.

“ You're not Hemingway,” Mulhauser said.

I was standing at the pool table. Drinking a beer. Waiting my turn to shoot pool.

“ And you're not Fitzgerald,” I said.

One of the girls we were shooting with bent over, took her shot, then went over to her friend. They looked at us. Smiled. Talked quietly to each other.

“ And that's not Zelda and that's not Mary,” I said.

“ Fair enough,” Mulhauser said.

He cocked his cigarette to the side of his mouth, leaned down, made a smooth easy stroke. Knocked in two balls.

“ Nice shot,” I said.

“ Thanks, Hem!” he said.

“ No problem, Fitz!”

He shot again, but missed.

The other girl stepped up. She was blond. Top heavy. Had a cherub-like face.

“ What are you two talking about?”

“ Don't mind us,” Mulhauser said. “Big K here just likes to make boozy literary references after he's had a couple.”

“ That's right!” she said. “We saw your pictures in the paper. What's the book you wrote?”

I leaned over. Took my shot. Knocked in a ball. Moved to shoot another, but missed the ball completely. Mulhauser gave me a wink.

“ Looks like you girls got a shot to win it here,” he said.

Cherub face leaned over. Rested her boobs on the table. Made a glorious shot. Then followed it up with a nice run. All that was left was the eight ball.

“ We play here twice a week,” she said.

The other girl stepped up. She was short. Thin. Pale and dark haired. But had the prettiest eyes I'd seen up until then.

“ But we never see you guys here,” she said.

Me and Mulhauser looked at each other. I took a drink. Let him do the talking.

“ Usually, we're working. Writing stories. Making contacts. Doing what we can to get this new book, Corvallis Road, out into the world. But tonight we're celebrating. Since the article came out in the university paper, we've been getting a lot of positive feedback. Things are on a roll. Everything seems to be lining up in the cosmos and we're beginning to reap the benefits of our hard work. We...”

He went on talking. But I was watching the blond. She was stretched over the table. Biting her lip. About to miss the eight ball. I could see she was not lined up properly. That she was going to drop her elbow. That the only chance she had was if she hit the ball too hard and it went in another pocket by way of slop. But I didn't say anything. She was doing it her way. Looking confident. Besides, I didn't want to interrupt Mulhauser's bull session.

She shot hard. Missed. The eight ball bounced off two rails and rolled within inches of the side pocket.

“ ...we're planning a little tour this summer. Up north in our hometowns and then swinging down this way to do signings at bigger bookstores. Should be a blast.”

The pale girl was smiling at him. All wound up in his dark eyes and dark hair.

“ It's your shot, Fitz,” I said. “Let's put this one to bed.”

“ I'll end it here in a minute, but first a toast!” he said.

We all raised our glasses.

“ Big K, the honor is yours!”

And I looked around the place at the bottles and glasses, the bodies and smoke, and I felt as if I was writing it all. That all of it was more real than anything that could ever be dreamed up and put to paper. That one day we would make it into a book. Me and Mulhauser. The unknown girls. The drinks. The pool game. The feeling of being lost and found all at once in the middle of a bar.

And it did make it. To pages 19 and 20 of “Pilgrim's Bay”. The novel that took root somewhere back there. In memory. Moments long gone. Faces forgotten. Time drank up and pissed away. And it's here with me now. A thirty-five year old married man. Still writing stories. Reaching out. Keeping at the keeping on because I believe in words. The feeling behind them. And that even if the words are not read, bought and sold, they mean something.

“ To playing the game!” I said.

And I believe it now, as I believed it then. A man must do whatever he can to get in the game. Play as well as he can. Make sure that his efforts are not for him, but for those around him.

So as S.B. drives home and Little Man anticipates her arrival, I thank God that I have something to fight for. People to take care of. A family to call my own.

And on that note, I'm out. Time to get at that chicken.

If you can, please buy my book.

Best to you and yours.

- K.J.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

swinging an ax

October 14th, 2008
2:12 pm

Day started dark, but with all of us feeling good. S.B. happy and geared up for another tough day teaching in a dysfunctional school. Little Man proud of his no-bubba streak. Three nights without a pacifier. Me all filled up on both of them. Sweet S.B. and our growing Little Man. Putting them first puts everything else in perspective. The writing. The bills. The job search.

Waiting to hear back on a part-time position. Would very much like to work for this particular company. The people appear to be genuine, hard-working, and intelligent. The atmosphere is one of opportunity and teamwork. I'd be working with words. Editing. Though it is only part-time, it feels like it's the right fit. I want the job, but realize that competition is stiff. Companies need to do what's best. Not only for the whole of the institution, but also for each of the individuals involved. So, we'll continue waiting and we'll see. One way or the other.

Beating myself up over the writing lately. We've got a new office downstairs. It's all set up. Organized. Ready to help us create. Me with the words. S.B. with the paint. Yet we are not creating much. It's hard after a long day to sit down and think. To dig deep and pull out the necessary guts to make the best work. But it's something that needs to be done. This change of season, the cold taking away time spent outdoors, will be the best remedy for not writing. I don't have writer's block. Have never had writer's block. In fact, I think writer's block is bull. A writer can always write. There is always a choice. The past few days, I've chosen to write very little. And now that I'm back here. Tapping away at the keys. I feel that there's a big run coming. The gate is opening. The images are coming. This next stretch of shortened, darkened days will prove to be productive.

The novel is finally done. Pilgrim's Bay, the book I did a signing for a year ago yesterday, is available through Target and will be available elsewhere very soon. It's very hard to create and maintain a year long buzz for a first novel from an unknown writer. Especially when the unknown writer is the buzzmaker for his first novel. It's not a very good situation and is not doing Pilgrim's Bay justice, but I'm sick of sounding like some prick who's busy tooting his own horn. The book has been self published. It's still available through my site at LULU. But you can also purchase it through this link: TARGET. If you have a moment, an extra $10.50, please give it a read. The giving season isn't far off, so maybe you can give a copy to the reader in your family. Heck, I'll even sign it for you, if you'd like.

Other than that...

Probably due for a trip up north. The colors ought to be in full swing. The air as crisp and clean as it'll get. And honestly, I wouldn't mind swinging an ax. Chopping firewood for my folks. Wielding the chainsaw. Hauling and stacking wood in the shed. That's something I really miss. Something I've done ever since I was a kid, but that I've missed out on the past few years. One day, if we can afford it, I'd like to put a fireplace in this house. Perform the ax wielding ritual here.

And now, I hear Little Man waking upstairs. Out of his bed. Feet padding around. And my writing time has come to an end.

~ K.J.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

these days

October 9th, 2008

7:28 AM

Another morning started on The Ridge. Dad's been up for two hours already. He's made coffee. Taken care of the dogs. Got the paper. Hauled in armloads of firewood. Taken out the trash. Driven to work and started his shift. He's probably well into his day of programming his machine, drilling holes in big steel plates, breathing in dirty shop air. Earning a living to make ends meet. Something he's been doing for 37 years.

An incredible feat these days. So much time, dedication, sweat, blood and energy given. A lot of life spent working at one place. But up north that's the way it goes. Young men got into decent-paying, hard labor early. They had mouths to feed. Houses and cars to pay for. And they earned and saved because credit was something they didn't believe in. Pay as you go. That was the motto. And so, men like my Dad worked off their asses at jobs that beat them to death. The lumber mill. Paper mill. Steel mill and quarry. Today, there is the steel mill and the quarry. But they are fading fast. Unable to keep up and thrive in the global economy because of inept leadership and shortsightedness. Things that are not the fault of the men doing the actual work.


I receive an email from my Dad.

"Things are really slow at the Funny Farm and next year looks even worse. You would think a place with all the knowledge, space, know-how and fancy new machinery would take in more work than just relying on the few customers that they have left. Probably never see retirement from that place. 10-11-08 will be 37 years...wasted."

He's right. The Funny Farm, as he calls it is doing what other businesses are doing. I know because prior to moving to the metro Detroit area, I worked up north at a manufacturing company that was slowing in sales and going through a restructuring process. Their new organizational tactics were aimed at retaining, and catering to, their best big-dollar customers, while giving new, smaller customers less attention. The upper management, of course, would argue this point. Mostly to cover their asses. And they would most likely say, Every customer is important to us here at ABC Manfucturing. While that may be true, it isn't as true as it used to be.

But men like my Dad are still showing up every day. Putting in the same time, dedication and effort, but they are losing their jobs. Losing faith. Feeling little satisfaction in the fact that they've spent most of their lives working for a company that doesn't seem to give a rip about what their workers think. I guess that's bound to happen in a place divided into the Haves and the Have-nots. In a place that believes in trickle-down economics. Where the crumbs of the rich fall to the poor. If there are any crumbs left at all the way those with power and money seem to gobble up as much as they can. More than they need.

Maybe it's time all of us went on strike. Yes, we've worked hard. Put in our time. Done more than what's ever been expected of us. And so, it's time for a little retirement. We kick back, ration what we have, learn to fend for ourselves, and refuse to participate in this upside-down world until those in power and in charge start listening to us. They're the ones that have messed it up. They are the ones that have us in this mess. They are the ones leaving us hollow and empty at the end of the day.

Yes, each of us are responsible for our own. We must take responsibility for our action and inaction and do the best we can. But what can we do when our best is not enough? When all we've worked for disappears because of the greed and disconnectedness of the people at the top?

Maybe we need a do-over. Clean the credit slate. Balance the citizen accounts. Let people keep what they've earned, but also let those that have been busting their asses with nothing to show start from zero. Begin again. No freebies, no hand-outs, but help to those who've help make this country great. Not a great superpower. Not a great wealthy nation. But a great place to live. Where freedoms can be exercised. Where people care about one another. Where we are thankful for being able to wake, feel the sun, and start another day.

Fantasy, I know. But what's a writer to do?

Dad's still at it. Moving around hundred pound steel plates. Drilling. Programming. Drilling some more. Looking forward to lunch, no doubt. His big fifteen minute reward during an eight hour day. He will eat quickly. Call my Mom. Ask her how about her day.

Is the wood stove still going?

The dogs behaving?

She will tell him. Fill him in. And the sound of her voice, and knowing that all is well on The Ridge, will comfort him. Be just what a man needs to get him through the day and get him home. Because even on these days when our jobs and leaders are leaving us dried up and empty, we still have the courage to keep on keepin' on.

~ K.J.

(copyright © 2008 by K.J. Stevens)

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

sweet bounty

October 8th, 2008

7:46 AM

There are mornings I wake and all I want is to get right at the stories, but today is not one of them. Today we have rain, warm winds and pasty white skies. We have our coffee. We're still in our pajamas. And the house is silent. The logical thing to do would be to work on one of the many writing projects that I have started. But instead, I'm here. Entering into another day in this life with the intention of clearing my head. It does not feel like it needs to be cleared, but when I am pushed by silence like this, I must move ahead with it. See where it takes me.

We will trick-or-treat this year. Take Little Man on his first spooky-fun excursion. If we visit a handful of houses in the neighborhood, he will be satisfied. All of it will be new and exciting, but there's always that chance of him being overwhelmed as well. We want this to be a happy time for him. So me and S.B. will set out a plan beforehand. Nothing intricate. No definite details, but we will put together a loose-fitting plan that should eliminate most of the pitfalls that can occur when toting a costumed kid around in the dark.

Little Man will be a dinosaur. He's been practicing his roar for weeks. It will come in handy when he stands at that door, says TRICK OR TREAT, then roars at the people as they greet us with treats. Should net him a fine haul. be a kid again.

Though I went trick-or-treating many times as a kid, I only remember going once. And it was was the last time I ever went. I was a ghoulish looking creature. A combination of Dracula meets zombie, meets someone who's been beaten with a bat. I'm not sure what my Mom's intention was, but all I know is that my Dad couldn't stand to look at me.

"Oh boy," he said, as he turned away from me.

Mom was putting on the final touches. A long, deep cut slashing my cheek. She giggled.

"You like it, Dad?"

"It's horrible," he said. "I can't stand seeing you like that."

"It's not real, Dad. Sheesh!"

But that was the reaction I got from most people as me and my brothers (the clown and the werewolf) traveled sidewalks, stood at doorsteps, and crossed lawns.

"Oh my!" one teenage girl said. Her tiny boobs shoved together and popping up over the top of a tight black dress.

"What are you?" asked the clown.

"I'm Elvira!" she said, as she spread her arms in grand fashion, twirled round, and smiled a sinful grin.

"Cool," said the werewolf.

"And what is she?" Elvira asked, pointing at me.

"She?" I said.

My brothers laughed.

"He..." my mom said, "is a zombified vampire that's back from the dead to suck the blood of young teenage girls dressed too scantily for trick or treating."

I stepped toward her. Growled. She moved back.

"Oh dear," Elvira said. And she bounced away to the next house.

"Mom, why did Elvira call me a she?" I asked.

She laughed.

"I'm not sure. I guess the non-living look androgynous to some folks."

"What?" I asked.

"Nevermind, honey. It's just the way your hair's slicked back, the cape, and the lighting. Let's get some more candy."

So we knocked on doors. Rang doorbells. Filled our bags. But all the while, I was stuck in that moment with Elvira.

She? I thought.

Strange how things stick with a person throughout life. I can't remember how much candy we got. Don't remember trick-or-treating any other time. But I remember that night. I suppose it had to do with being on the verge of adolescence myself. Being ten or twelve, whatever age I was, and struggling with awkwardness. Wanting still to be a kid, but also wanting to grab Elvira by the hand, run away into the night, and share our sweets.

As it turned out, I did in fact go trick-or-treating again. But these times were spent as an observer. Sitting in the car with my Dad. Moving slowly along the road, keeping an eye on Mom and my brothers, seeing everything from afar. Pumpkins and ghosts. Cobwebs and cornstalks. Black cats and skeletons. And kids everywhere. Running, walking, tripping and falling. Candy in bags slung over shoulders. Everyone pretending to be someone else, at least for one night. And me and Dad on the outside. Being ourselves. Watching it all.

Me and S.B. will be full participants this Halloween. I'm not sure we'll be costumed, but we are certainly going to be walking our boy from door to door. Keeping an eye out for nefarious characters. Razor blade candy. And tripping hazards in his path. Most likely, the biggest problem will be other kids. Pushing and shoving. No manners or concerns for others. Obsessed with only one thing—getting candy. Their right. What they believe they are entitled to. What they deserve. Which is fine. They are kids after all. Even if they are dressed as creatures, ghouls, goblins, and adults.

But Halloween is weeks off. Me and Little Man still have decorating to do. And with the way it's rainy and warm today, trick-or-treating seems like an impossibility. An event far off. On the horizon. That one can consider, but never really know until he is there. Like now. Me, smack dab in the middle of raising a boy. Remembering how it used to be. Knowing that it really isn't that different now. Costumes have changed. There's a bigger variety of candy. But the core of the thing is still the same. It's about dressing up. Putting one foot in front of the other. Heading off into the unknown. Trying door after door after door with the hope that all of this moving ahead will get us closer to the sweetest of bounties.

~ K.J.

(copyright 2008 by K.J. Stevens)

Tuesday, October 7, 2008


ctober 7th, 2008

7:21 AM

Forty-two degrees. Time to make sure things are air-tight and insulated before the winds pick up, icy rains fall, and snow covers the ground. The big change is not far off. I wouldn't be surprised if we have snow for Halloween. So today, it'll be flannel shirt and jeans. Work boots and gloves. And I'll make one more run at it. Caulking crevices. Checking door jambs. Inspecting windows.

It's about protecting what we have. Doing what we can to make things better.

It's all sentimental domesticated talk, but that's where we are these days. A man, a woman, a child. Two dogs. Two cats. All of us smack dab in the middle of creating and maintaining a family.

There are other things, but they are part of it as well. And what I've discovered is that having my own family provides the base necessary for other endeavors. For becoming a better writer, a better son, brother, a better man. But I suppose I should clarify. It is not only a matter of a man having his own family, defined by a series of roles and relationships. It is about a man being an integral part of his family. Owning up to his responsibilities, digging in, and seeing how good he can get.

There are several factors involved. Patience, trust, expectation, and the biggie—Love. But they sorta come along with the whole package as you set yourself on course, put others before yourself, and get to work.

And the work includes many tasks, projects, daily to-dos that you would never have believed you would be doing. Some of them are more fun and engaging than others.

Sex, for instance. That's something that comes naturally, but also requires a little work. There are scheduling issues, mood issues, kids-popping-into-your-bedroom issues. But once you exercise patience, and a little understanding, you will discover that when the right moment does strike and bodies and minds are in tune, amazing things can happen. It is different when you are married, but it is better, and it takes on more meaning. Or it should anyway. If it doesn't it's because other needs are not being met. And without balance things can quickly go awry. Soon it is a case of back-to-back sleeping. No goodnight kisses, or sweet dreams, honey. And resentment begins to build.

Conversation. Though it is perfectly normal to sit together and really have nothing to say, I have discovered that it's important to ask questions. And it is as simple as how was your day? You feeling all right? But it is also more than that. There is the listening. Not only listening, but hearing. Words are not always the best indicators of emotion. There are facial expressions. Tone of voice. Mannerisms. A whole world of context that must be considered. It's easy to fall into the routine of short answers, direct questions, and a life of hello and goodbye. Conversation without real thought or real feeling. And of course, this type of routine communication is necessary. It is needed in order to be able to function in normal every day situations. You can't over analyze your wife's tone of voice or actions when she's trying to make her way through carts and bodies in a busy grocery store and she asks for the second time, Hello! Do you want Colby Jack or Pepper Jack!? And when you are slow to answer she grabs one, does a three-point toss into the cart, shoves over an old lady, then continues to the milk and eggs. Don't over analyze that. It is what it is. A busy grocery store. Ignorant people everywhere. And it's frustrating. Especially with a two-year old and a meat-and-beer crazed husband in tow. Just take deep breaths. Exercise patience. And be prepared. Skim milk and large eggs, I thought to myself as I helped the old lady back to her walker. Skim milk and large eggs.

One thing that I've particularly enjoyed about being married is that as cliché and politically incorrect as it may sound, I'm the man of the house. I get to do things that I didn't know I had the strength, patience, or endurance to do.


"Can you move these rocks, honey?" she says to me.

We are doing minor landscaping, but want to do it right. Putting down plastic sheeting underneath redwood chips and around mums. All around the flower bed are a dozen boulders the size of small cars.

"Sure thing," I say. And one by one, I'm tearing rocks from the ground like the Incredible Hulk. Holding them up enough so that she can slide the sheeting underneath.
"You're awfully strong, today," she says.

"I'm strong every day. I just don't get a chance to prove it."

My back cracks. Shoulders creak. But we move on to the next boulder.


"What's he doing in there?" she calls from the bathroom. She's just got home from work, is changing, washing up for supper, and Little Man is in the fenced backyard playing pull-the-tail-off-Teddy, our big cat. I'm not sure if it's the cat or the kid that she's heard, but I turn away from the potatoes I'm mashing and the burgers on the stove to see Little Man running after the cat with a big stick. I open the window, tell him to stop. He's running full speed, turns to look at me, trips over an invisible something in the yard and takes a header into the ground. The hamburger buns are toasting in the oven, burgers nearly done, and I'm trying to time the potatoes so that everything will be done simultaneously, but all of it has to wait. I run outside, try to pick him up and console him, but our Little Man does not like consoling. And so, he screams at me and begins to run around the yard as if I'm the monster in the closet. Finally, I catch him. When I try to hug him he gives me a smack. We head inside. I set him in a chair at the kitchen table. He screams and wails and swings his arms and legs like a madman. The burgers are well, well done. Buns are toasted black. The mashed potatoes are my saving grace. They turn out well. A couple of hesitant spoonfuls in Little Man's mouth and he's back to normal.

"These are really good potatoes!" my wife says as she smiles.

Boy, that feels good.


When we purchased our home, it had new carpet. The previous owners did a makeover that included a house full of nice, beige, stain-resistant carpet.

"Come here and look at this," my wife said.

We were doing our final walk-through of the home. I was looking under the sink. Checking for leaks. She was in the living room.

"Look!" she said.

She had pulled up a corner of the carpet, the backing, and was tapping the floor underneath.

"Old wood floors," I said.

"No. New hardwood floors!"

Ah, my sweetie. Such an optimist. But, she was right. And after the closing, I spent several twelve hour days doing something I'd never even thought of doing. Refinishing fifty-year old hardwood floors. I banged up knuckles. Ruined a pair of pants, two shirts, and a pair of shorts. Lost the feeling in my arms for two weeks. And inhaled so much dust, dirt, and fumes that I hallucinated and saw old woman standing in the closet of one of the bedrooms.

But I remember going back to our tiny apartment on the last night of floor work. My body aching. Head throbbing. The core of me begging for sleep. I looked in on Little Man. Looked in on my wife. Both were gone away in dream land, resting. I undressed, walked into the bathroom to shower, and found a note taped to the mirror.

I love you honey, it said. Your hard work is appreciated. It won't be long and we'll be in our new home. Together. Enjoying it for years. Thanks for all you do!

And ever since I've been married, I've realized that I'm more capable than ever before. It's not because I have to do anything. My wife is a grown woman who can (and does) handle anything that comes her way. It's just that I recognize the importance of this family. My roles. Responsibilities. And I owe it to my wife and Little Man to make sure that things are air-tight and insulated before the winds pick up, icy rains fall, and snow covers the ground.

The big change is not far off. Not for me. For you. For anyone. So we must protect what we have. Do what we can to communicate. Be strong and patient. So that we may endure. Love long. And work together to make this world better.

~ K.J.

(copyright 2008 by K.J. Stevens)

Thursday, October 2, 2008


October 2nd, 2008

7:51 AM

Autumn cold easing in with deep intent. It's up to us now. To get blood pumping. Stock the shelves. Find fuel. Prepare in whatever ways necessary for winter.

The cycle continues.

Not feeling writerly or literary. Don't feel like participating. But feelings are overcome by necessity and thought. So let's stay focused on what needs to be done.

The novel. The stories. This pounding at the keys. That's what needs to be done. The pounding. The pounding. And pounding some more.

But it helps if we can find other keys. Not the same ones we've used for years. It's easy in writing, as in life, to fall into a dead end routine. One that's full up with going through the motions, spinning the wheels, but never getting anywhere. So we must spice it up. Change the scheme. Step out of the comfort zone and into the unknown.

And the best way to find that place is to push on. Take one more step. Fall into it ass-backwards by keeping at what's been keeping you on.

We must dig, Stevens. Deeper. The surface and the second layer are easily at your disposal, but you need to hit the gut. Get right into the juices. Push the keys with thought that goes beyond feeling. Go where the wild things are.

The night you were sitting in the bar and Jim, an old school friend, came up to you, bought you a beer and told you that Mickey was dead.

"Killed himself," Jim said. "Twelve gauge to the head."

"Who found him?"

"Wife, I guess. If you can call her that. She had already been married twice, had kids with each of them, one with Mickey, and now she was messing around."

"I didn't know that."

"You've been out of the loop," he said.

"Guess now I'm getting back in."

"Probably not the way you wanted to come back."

"Not sure I want to come back at all."

Jim patted me on the back. Went back to shooting pool. I sat there thinking of Mickey.

That conversation has come back to me recently. And that event, the death of Mickey, has somehow pushed its way through me so that now it is work to get done. Gut work. Nasty stuff from the core. All juiced up and half-digested. Beyond the surface and the second level. The heavy stuff that rises up on cold autumn mornings, makes you thankful for being alive and sorry that anyone every has to die.

It's hard being like this. On the edge of a new story. One ripe with darkness and regret. Especially with the sun moving up, lighting the world. And it's even harder when all you want to do is dive in and write your way out for days and days and days, but you can't because all you have are stolen moments here and there. Like this morning. Little Man happy as can be, watching a movie he picked out from the video store last night. Giving me time to write.

I look over and he is smiling. Eyes wide. Amazed at the story before him. And here I am. His old man. In the hard-backed chair. Click-clacking at the keys. Drinking coffee. Always on the edge of sinking out of sight into a world that is not nice or sweet or caring at all.

I don't think it's enough to pray for him. To pray for anyone. But it can't hurt to hope that with all this work and thinking and living to be done, that he'll turn out all right. That there'll never be a time when he cannot buck up. Carry his head high. Move into this world undaunted. Ready for it. Even if the cold of Autumn is easing in. With deep intent. Forcing him to get moving.

~ K.J.

(copyright © 2008 by K.J. Stevens)