Wednesday, April 17, 2013


It’s all in my shoulders. Balled up. Tight. It could be the end of winter. The ache for warm weather. Fishing. Days at the beach. It could be the robins yesterday morning. Their sweet noise waking me just in time to see the first bit of warm light—finally—breaking through the curtains onto S.B., my pretty wife. And how all I wanted was to stay there with her. Run my fingers through her wild hair. Do those things we used to do when we had more time. Before we were WE. When kids wouldn’t walk in. When we didn’t need as much sleep. Yes, it’s probably that. And everything. This box-wine middle-class life of making ends meet so that I raise my kids—not left, not right but with awareness and appreciation so they are thinking. Believing. Knowing when to stand down. When to fight. Like me. Tonight. Wrestling with words. The rain. Not selling as many books as I should. Not writing as much as I could. Because there is debt and deadlines and food and clothes and a leaky water heater and a broken dishwasher and old, single-pane windows breathing cold air. Memories I want to forget. Reminding me that there’s a lot out there. That people have less. That I have more. And that I’ve got it too good to worry about the weight. On my shoulders. Balled up. Tight. Especially now. At the end of winter. With warm weather coming through. The fish ripping upstream. And the light—just right in the morning—breaking through. ~ K.J.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

don't worry

I don’t need sleep when wine’s made its way deep. The sky is high and dark but lit with thousands of bright pin pricks that glint and twinkle and make me believe that if I keep at it—banging away at these fucking keys—things will one day come together. For the better. And even though I need nothing else because I’ve got it all in S.B., Oogie and Little Man, and we are all fed, clothed and safe two blocks from the big lake in the solid old house that that keeps us together, comforted and warm—I always want more. Out of these words. These nights. My restless all-or-nothing life. Because I know—all too well—that time is ticking off. Never to come again. And that what I’m doing—as insignificant as it seems, is the kind of thing that can last. Not because it is mine. Not because I was part of it. But because I believed it. And people have lived it. Time and time again. It is common. Expected. The thing that best-selling novels, prime-time TV and block-buster movies are made of. And it’s in our fiber. Our blood. The bone. Babies born without breath. Wives with silent husbands. Husbands with silent wives. And hungry lovers everywhere. Waiting with heat and sweet smells and promises nobody can keep. But it’s okay. Don’t worry. Men write stories every day and struggle with accepting the greatness they have. They drink too much. Use unnecessary profanity. And elevate themselves far beyond reality. Because they have to. The clock does not wait. Chance is not infinite. And none of this will be coming with us when we’re gone. So, let’s drink. Not sleep. Let the wine go deep as the dark sky finds light—a thousand bright pin pricks at a time—and let’s try to make things better by being our best. Banging away. One key at a time. Thankful for what we have. But aware that the world needs more. Out of words. These nights. Our all-or-nothing life.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

dead bunnies It is seven o'clock. Saturday morning. Elizabeth is beside the bed. Shaking me. “Daddy, there’s another one!” I open my eyes. Stretch. “Another what?” I ask. “Another bunny!” I sit up. Look at her. She is upset. But not in tears like the other two times. “Okay, honey. I’ll take care of it.” She climbs into bed. Snuggles up next to me. “Why does he keep doing it?” she asks. “That’s what cats do, honey. They hunt.” ☼ I am slightly confused as to how it’s come to this. My daughter and I living this new life. Miles away from the city. Drafty old house. Ramshackle church. Renovating. Rebuilding. Adjusting. While Maggie, my wife, rests in a hospital bed. Fed by bagged fluids. Relived by tubes. Healing in medicated sleep. So that some day soon we can all be together and finish this dream. A big two-story house on ten acres to raise a garden and a family. A small country church turned into an art studio and a library. But for now, we are stuck in the middle. Biding our time. Elizabeth is struggling, but doing well. And this is a surprise to me. Not because she has been uprooted from home, school, and her friends, but because she was the one that found her. My wife. Her mother. On the day of the move. Naked in the bathroom. Curled up between the toilet and tub. Blood running from a crack in the back of her skull. I arrived in the midst of the mess. Shower still running hot. Paramedics and police scrambling around in steam. Elizabeth sitting on the edge of the tub. Clutching Chester, our wily tom cat, to her chest. Crying, as Maggie was carried away. ☼ Elizabeth puts her blond shock of curls against my chest, then looks up at me. “But why does he kill the babies, Daddy?” There are answers, but they don’t come. I touch her hair. Kiss her forehead. “Some things are a mystery,” I say. And we sleep. I wake an hour later to find that Elizabeth has moved on to other things. She is on the back deck. Sitting on the steps. Surrounded by paper and crayons. She is looking out over the pond. Drinking apple juice from her favorite cup. It is blue, shaped like the Cookie Monster and so big that she has to hold it with both hands. “Chester!” she calls between drinks, “Chester!” Unlike Elizabeth and I, Chester has adjusted to the change quite nicely. The very first day we pulled into the driveway and Elizabeth opened the car door, Chester sprang out into the yard and started his run. We’ve been here a month and he hasn’t stopped yet. We put out dishes of food and water, but he rarely touches them. These days, we only catch glimpses of him. A flash of gray darting through the grass. A shadow sneaking through the bushes. A tail twitching in the trees. Besides these fleeting moments, the only real signs we have that Chester is still around are the trophies he leaves behind. At first it was feathers found under the deck. Then a field mouse left on the doorstep. But now, we have a body count that’s rising. A robin, a dove. A ground squirrel, a mole. And now, it seems, Chester has found the bunny hole. ☼ I drink a full cup of coffee while I stand there watching Elizabeth, and I survey the list in my head. Refinish the deck. Mow the lawn. Plant the garden. Repaint the church. Shingle the steeple. But today might be the day that Maggie wakes from her sleep. So Elizabeth and I will make the drive. To the hospital. We will sit in the room. Turn on the TV. And we will visit Maggie. For one hour. Until lunch, when Elizabeth and I will walk to Jepetto’s. She will order fried shrimp and mashed potatoes. I will pick at a salad. Force a burger down. And when the check comes, Elizabeth will insist that the waitress box up the leftovers for Mom. We will take the leftovers to the hospital. Nurse Brooke and I will exchange kind smiles. She will take the leftovers from Elizabeth and promise to put them in the refrigerator for safe-keeping. Our visit will last well into the afternoon. There will be more TV. More talking. And finally, I will read a book out loud. To Elizabeth on my lap. And my wife asleep next to me. And for a short while, everything will feel right. The way it’s supposed to be. But all of this is yet to come. For now, I have a bunny to bury. ☼ I take the last shoe box from the closet. Put on my gloves and head for the door. I expect to see something gruesome. Like the other two. One found in the driveway, its head nearly torn from its body. The other on the back deck, missing its front legs and patches of fur. But when I open the door, the bunny isn’t on the step as Elizabeth has said. Instead, Chester has decided to be creative and he has left it next to the steps, under the rosebush. And unlike the others, this one looks all right. No blood. No missing limbs or missing fur. I hear Elizabeth padding around the corner of the house, so I scoop up the bunny and plop him into the box. His body makes a gurgling sound. “Is it time for the funeral?” Elizabeth asks, as she runs up alongside me. I snap on the lid and walk toward the church. “Yes, it’s time.” ☼ Elizabeth has only been to one real funeral. For her grandmother she barely knew. So she believes that every time something dies, we must have a funeral. We have only been in the country a short while, but already we’ve done this several times. Once for each of the bodies that Chester has left behind. And once for a dead deer we saw on the side of the road. All of the small animals are buried on the hill behind the pond. The deer, of course, was left to rot. We don’t have a big enough box for that, Elizabeth said. We’ll just have to say some extra prayers. Our ramshackle church still has all the goods. The congregation split when the pastor married a woman downstate. The members moved on. Formed another church. And everything was left behind. Pews. Bibles. Candles. Robes. And hanging on the wall, against a velvety green curtain, is a big wooden cross. It is under this cross, on the altar, that Elizabeth and I place the shoe box. Elizabeth kneels. Does the Sign of the Cross. I pick up the Bible we’ve used for funerals past. And then we make our way to the front pew. We sit side by side. “What should we say this time?” I ask. “I don’t know,” she says. We sit for a moment in the warm light that slants through the tall stained glass windows. And we say nothing. Flies buzz near the ceiling. And I can hear something in the rafters. Mice, probably. And I wonder if I should leave the church door open for the night, so that Chester can do some more hunting. Elizabeth takes the Bible and begins thumbing through the pages. She will find a passage. One that probably isn’t even related to the task at hand. She will ask me to read it aloud, and that will be our prayer. “Here, Daddy,” Elizabeth says, as she hands me the book. “Read this one.” Her little finger points to one single line. Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed... I read it. We let it sink in. Then I close the book, and I sit and stare at the cross. Imagine myself the head of this tiny congregation. Setting souls to rest. Bringing peace to tiny lives. And I think of how strange it is that we come to these places. Marriage. Children. Pews and hospital beds. Homes away from home. Our days in the city. The country. Together or alone. And of how all of us in some way or another will find a dead bunny on our doorstep one day, and there is nothing we can do but pray, bury it, and move on. “Some things are a mystery,” Elizabeth says, as she reaches to hold my hand. And from atop the altar, inside the shoe box, comes the most delicate scratching sound. (Copyright © 2007 by K.J. Stevens) **If you like this story, please consider buying the book. When you get your copy, message me. We’ll have a drink. Talk a while. And I’ll sign it if you like.**

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

the burning

If you’ve read Pilgrim’s Bay, you’ll catch on to this. If you haven’t, that’s okay. I hope this stands on its own. It is part of a longer work that I’m putting together as a sequel. Pilgrim’s Bay (if I haven’t already bored you with the story) was picked up by a publisher in London. They love the book. Had me do minor tweaks. Are re-titling it BLACK. It is due out in October of 2013 and will be released in conjunction with a literary festival in London. In the meantime—at the request of the publisher—I am putting together raw video footage of Alpena. In particular, short movie clips of nights out in the local drinking establishments—that will be used by the publisher for a trailer/short film for the book (there’s a bit of drinking in the book). If you’d like to be part of this, let me know. I’ll get hold of you the next time we are out. It is a volunteer gig. Informal. You hang out with us. Have fun. You and your actions get recorded via whatever device we have on hand and you become part of the minimalistic literary world that I’ve somehow become associated with. In any case, I hope that all is well. That you are making a good life. And that you are keeping at this keeping on. ~ K.J. the burning “But you’ll get your head straight, feel good, and you’ll write again,” Tom said. He put another piece of the dark wood onto the fire. Coals shifted. Sparked. Hungry flames lapped at the smooth walnut. “Not on that desk” I said, and I drank the last of the wine from the bottle. Closed my eyes. Could smell the pears. Taste their sweetness as the wine dulled the ache and warmed my gut. “You didn’t have to smash it like this, Aden. It was a nice desk. They don’t make them like this anymore.” Tom dropped one of the legs into the fire. “We spent four hours at Stoney Acres the day we got this wine,” I said. “She loved wine,” Tom said. He opened a bottle from the case that was resting on the picnic table. “She was a good girl,” I said. “Damn fine,” he said. Sitting there under the black Michigan sky had me feeling heavier and more hollow than I had ever been. It had been a bad day. One of the worst a man can have. But I did not want to think about it. I did not want to talk about her, and I did not want to talk about writing. Not now, and not ever again. But I was drunk and Tom was drunk and there is only so much you cannot do when you are drunk, so we kept burning the desk and drinking the Stoney Acres, and we could not stop talking of her. “She had grace,” Tom said. “Always, she had grace.” I knew she’d had it. That she was as strong as beautiful and that she deserved to be painted or written about, but I was not a painter and I had severe doubt that I would write again. Not in the way she had made me write. Tom handed the bottle across the fire to me. “No more pear?” I asked. “Pear is all gone. Now we are on to blackberry,” he said. I took three long sweet swigs from the bottle. “We have a lot of wine to drink.” “I don’t like wine much,” Tom said, “But this is a good night to drink wine. I know how much you loved her and she loved wine and the two of you loved drinking it together.” “We did,” I said. And right then I wanted to throw the bottle across the fire and smash him in the face. It was something I could not help. I loved Tom dearly. Like a brother. But now that it was only Tom with me and the hollowness, there was nothing else to do but want to fight someone. I had already smashed the desk, busted windows, tore the screen door from the porch, but there was still plenty more to break. I loved my wife more than anything. More than drinking and more than Tom and more than fishing. Even more than writing. She was the first thing I had ever loved more than writing, but now she was gone and I did not want to fish, or write, or be with Tom. All I wanted was to drink the rest of the wine. Our wine that we’d purchased on our trip north to Alpena. The wine from the day we spent four hours at Stoney Acres tasting and talking with the owners and walking their facility and tasting more and buying more and buying and buying. But now there was only the goddamned black sky, the flames eating the desk she had found for me at the thrift store—the desk that had helped me write one bad novel, a poetry chapbook, and two decent short story collections—the sound of traffic down Merriman and Ford and the jets flying in and out of Detroit Metro. And Tom. My best friend who I hated for driving all the way from Petoskey to spend the week with me. “Tomorrow, I’ll help you clean up the place,” he said. He opened another bottle. Took a long drink. “There, now we each have our own bottle,” he said. “I like the feeling wine gives,” I said. “It’s different from beer or whiskey. Wine makes me feel warm.” “It’s better than I thought it would be,” he said and he took another drink. “But how is the hangover?” I sat for a moment and was silent. I could not remember what a wine hangover was like. I couldn’t remember what any hangover was like because I hadn’t had one in so long. “I don’t know,” I said. Tom smiled, poked the fire with a broken shovel handle. “We’ll get this all cleaned up,” Tom said, as he looked at the house and around the yard. “Maybe you can do some writing and I’ll mow for you and put on a new door. I’m sure they have plenty of places to buy a door around here.” “Plenty,” I said, and suddenly, I did not hate Tom anymore. I felt sad as hell and thankful that he had made the drive and was the first and only person I’d seen in a week. People had stopped by, pounded the door, the windows, and called. But I did not answer. I did not open the door. I did not get out. And I would not have come out at all if Tom hadn’t stopped by in the middle of the night and opened up the place with the spare key I’d given him over a year ago for safekeeping. “Bet you didn’t expect to see me this morning,” Tom said, as he pushed around the orange coals. “I heard you come in,” I said. “Why didn’t you get up?” he asked. But I could not tell him. I was too ashamed that I was so drunk and so alone that for a few small moments I believed I had only been dreaming, that she was not gone, and that it was my wife that had come home. That she would walk into the bedroom, undress, and get into bed with me so that I could smell her and feel her. But once I heard the footsteps, the long heavy-heeled gait, I knew it was Tom, and I remembered that my wife was gone. Gone now and gone forever, and because I did not believe in God or Heaven or life after death, I knew that we would never be together again. “I thought you were a robber and I was scared.” Tom laughed and laughed hard at this. He was sure that I had never been scared, that I had always been strong, and that if it had been a robber, I would have been up and on him without another thought. But Tom, like everyone else—everyone except my wife—had always had me wrong. Tom laughed more and we drank and the sky seemed to rise higher and higher and soon we were what I had always believed we were—two shadows, drunk again, seeking comfort in mindlessness and fire. The way it had been before I had met her. “It’ll get better,” Tom said. “I know it,” I said. “I’m only grieving now and I’m almost through it. You coming here is the end of the grieving. I need to get back to work.” “But I just got here,” Tom said. “Can’t we have some fun?” “We’ll have fun,” I said. “Tomorrow, we will wake early, get a good big breakfast at the Village Inn and then we’ll hit the town.” “Sounds great,” Tom said. “And while we’re out, I’ll buy you a new door.”

Monday, February 25, 2013

an early rut

With time running out like this, it’s silly—fucking ridiculous really—to worry about anything besides the gut. And instincts. This early rut. That’s got me thinking, writing, and drinking. Stevens martinis on a Monday night. And for some reason, I want to fight. For my kids tomorrow. My wife today. And I want to wake without sleeping. To blood in my mouth. Shredded knuckles. Another bout. The rounds cut short because always, I lasted longer than the other guy. But time has brought me here. Home. To S.B. Oogie. And Little Man. Our 100-year-old house. Cozy and quiet. Grandparents close. Northern Michigan. Where—without lessons—I teach my kids to be fearless. Thoughtful. Kind. To recognize much. Want little. Protect the roots. Do more. And to know that it is okay to fight. For things you believe in. People you love. For ideas that are greater than what’s offered behind these walls. In this small town. But I am only a man. Whirling through space. On a big ball of dirt. Living a safer life than I deserve. And with time running out like this, it’s silly—ridiculous really—to worry about anything at all. Because my instincts are stronger than ever. This rut has got me by the balls. And all of this thinking, the writing, the drinking—is exactly what’s been eating at every man in this town. ~ K.J.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

stories for the world

Need the MFA. A clock without time. Or a million dollar grant and unlimited wine, so I can write stories for the world. Or maybe, just you. I’ve always sensed your listening. But every hack with a keyboard and an idea is a writer these days. And all of them have something important to say. Gun control. Gay marriage. North Korea and nukes. And all I want is to write about Dad and his boots and the metal shavings they brought home. To me, little flecks of gold. Bits of the mystery that took Dad away. Day after day. Year after year. And somehow, got me here. Entering writing contests. Submitting to agents and magazines. Going unseen. But doing what I can to keep at this keepin’ on while I collect silence and rejection letters. Just a man. A husband. The Dad. Knowing he’s gone too far to ever turn back. It’s been thirty-five years since I picked metal shavings from the linoleum. The short green carpet. Dad’s boots. And it’s been twenty years of writing and not publishing— or self publishing, which is useless. And it has been late nights. Early mornings. Four-hours-a-day during my single years. Stitches of sleepless nights during my married years. And even though there’s never been any great compensation for pulling words from my guts and slapping them to the page, I wouldn’t change a thing. I’m not Hemingway. Nicholas Sparks. Or E.L. James. Not John Grisham. Danielle Steel. Or Sylvia Day. I am my Dad. In the machine shop. My mom at the bus stop. The kid in hard-earned hand-me-downs trying to hide his reduced lunch ticket. Confused about why anyone would tease him at all. Aren’t we all just kids? Trying to get along? Not worrying about degrees or time or guns. Love, money, or hate. Don’t we just want to be heard? Make stories for the world. Or maybe, just you. So our kids can sleep. Soundly, in this hundred-year old house. With our metal shavings tucked away under their pillows. Like gold. Or seeds of dreams to come. ~ K.J.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

warmer things

February in Michigan. And cold white light fights to brighten the room. It’s no wonder so many of us turn. To warmer things. Blankets on the couch. Heavy food. Sweet drink. Warm bodies at night. So that at least, for a while, things are right. Snow out there. Moisture so heavy in the air it’s like breathing water. And maybe that’s what I need today. To take a deep breath. Let the lungs fill up. With liquid. Like it used to be. So long ago. Nothing demanded. Nothing to do, but simply be. But this is only a writer. Bursting at the creative seams. Needing so much to get out. And find you. In a dark, cozy bar. At the bottom of a bottle. The rim of a glass. You. Everywhere I look. So that I’m reminded of what it is we have. At home. In our little house. In the town that always sleeps. With my books. Your paintings. And this…the coming together. In these small keys. The most beautiful thing. Us, with our broken feathers. Weathered wings. Perched together in the soul. Bigger than Hope. More profound than Truth. Beyond the red hearts, dark chocolate, and diamonds that some mistake for Love. We have risen from the dark. Together this cold February day. Into the cold white light. And it is you, my sweet. That brightens this old boy’s room. It’s no wonder I’ve turned to such warmer things. ~ K.J.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

giving way

The small, slow flakes falling. Steady outside the window. The world - this small town - bright and white under the dark, gray sky. A pane of glass separating me from where I am and where I wish to be. Outside. In it. Pushing through knee-deep snow. Feeling the cold. Hearing the crow. Smelling the frozen February air. The still evergreens. Me - just wanting to be - everything. All of these days. Spent. Earned. Gifted. And yet we lock ourselves up. Live these roles. Maintain these images. So that somewhere someone is pleased. Not you. Not me. But somebody else. Driven by things we don’t want or need, but that we end up working for. Day in and day out. Every day of this life. All I have are these words. Letters strung together. Like flakes in the sky. It is not enough. I know. It is not enough proof. Not enough truth. Not enough love. But it is all I have and it is all I can give. I don’t know how this ends up. How long we’ll keep going. How many days we’ll sit inside, on the wrong side of the glass, aching. But I feel - deep down - that our time is coming. That tonight we’ll sleep. Dream. Find the rest we need, so that tomorrow we can wake and try again. More breaths. Another chance. At last, we’ll reach - touch the glass - and it will give way.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

draft excerpt from SADIE

draft excerpt from the new novel temporarily titled SADIE Starlings—a mad whirling rush—move as one and peck, peck, peck at the last of the brown apples frozen on the tree. They are a blast of black. Out of nowhere. And leave as suddenly as they appeared. Chickadees and blue jays scratch for sunflower seeds. Kick and scatter the cheap stuff to the ground. But the pigeons bobbing and weaving through the snow don’t care. They’re after anything. Gobbling it up. And their size shows it. I think of them plucked. Gutted. Sautéed with mushrooms and onions and butter in a big, cast iron pan. Not because I’m hungry, but because it is ten minutes to noon on a Thursday and I’ve been drinking. Dewar’s on the rocks. And I’m trying my damndest to strike some balance. Keep me on track. I haven’t seen my daughter in two weeks. My agent, Greta has spent the last two nights with me on the island. And in three days the divorce is final. There is too much going on to write. There is too much going on not to write. All I want to do is grab the shotgun, bundle up, and walk the woods. Follow rabbit tracks. Spook birds. But getting out and about only gets me farther away from the words. I don’t know of any place on the island to hunt. And I have a deadline to meet. The book must be completed by the end of the month. In fifteen days. And even though I can see the ending, I’m not sure how to get there. And when a writer is so set on making it to where he needs to be, there is nothing he can do or not do that will help him or stop him from getting there. And so, he drinks. Fucks his agent. And drinks. And buys a house on Mackinac Island and tells himself that he will not leave the island until the house is paid for or someone dies. And the worst part about it is that he knows the next book will be good and because of that it will not sell. Be widely read. Or pay for the house. And so he will have to write another and another and he is sure that dying is something he will not see for years—no matter how hard he tries—and so leaving the island will be the result of learning that someone he has known and possibly loved has died. ~ copyright 2013 by K.J. Stevens

Thursday, January 24, 2013

making it through

All of us made it through. Another day of going our separate ways. Little Man to first grade. S.B. to Gallery 109. Oogie to child care. And me—tucked away in a cubicle—doing my best even though I know my best should be spent home. With family. At the keys. Writing stories. But most of the time what I know matters very little and so I listen to others. Do what’s asked. Do what I’m told. Make sure that—above all—we are able to stretch far enough to make ends meet. So at the end of the day all of us can be together. In our old house. Eat supper. Keep warm. Like tonight. I’d just poured a glass of wine. Was ready to get at the keys. Had walked into the living room to kiss S.B. just in case she went to bed before me. And there was my boy. Looking too big for his Sponge Bob pajamas. Out of bed even though he’d already been tucked in. Read to. Gone through the nightly ritual. He was talking to S.B. “Why don’t you ever remember to check on me in my room?” he said. “I check on you every night,” said S.B., “But you’re always sleeping.” “You do?” Little Man said. And he smiled. “Yes, she does,” I said. “And I do too. Every night. Only it’s always very late and you’re gone away in dreams.” “Why do you check on me so late?” he asked. “Daddy doesn’t sleep,” said S.B. “He walks around the house at night looking out windows. Checking locks. And watching us sleep.” “Is that true?” he asked. “It is,” I said. “But don’t you get tired?” “Sometimes,” I said. “But it’s normal for Dads not to sleep.” He hugged S.B. Hugged me. Went back with great peace of mind to his room. And there was my wife. Sweet S.B. Rosy-cheeked. Hair pulled back. Wearing my old, green, long-sleeved shirt. Somehow looking more and more beautiful every minute of every day so that lately all I want to do is kiss her. Hug her. Ger her alone. In the bedroom. The bathroom. The den. And she, unfortunately, inexplicably cannot understand this crazy late January desire. I set my wine on the end table. Leaned into her. Kissed her neck. Took a deep breath. Wished we could just have more time. “He’s in bed. She’s watching a movie. I’m going to write,” I said. “Okay, honey.” She kissed my cheek. “Go make us some money,” she said. But before I go to the kitchen to top off my wine and sit in the breakfast nook to work on the novel, I stop in my daughter’s room. She is stretched out on her belly. Watching Madagascar. “You ready for me to tuck you in?” I ask. She looked at me. Hugged her zebra. “No, but you can lay with me and snuggle,” she said. She pulled back the covers. “You can set your wine over there,” she said and pointed to her kitchen set. “And you can watch Madagascar and snuggle with me.” There is nothing else for a man to do, but put off writing a little while longer. Set his wine on the tiny stove top. Stuff himself into a tiny bed. Snuggle. Watch Madagascar. And wonder what it will be like in a few hours after all of them have gone to bed and he is fighting the tireds because he’s worked on the novel. Written a blog. Had another glass of wine. And he is moving closer to that part in the night where he cannot sleep. And he paces the old hardwood floors. Not because he is sad. Not because of stress. Not because of anything at all except that he loves this. Checking on his boy. Blankets pulled tight to his chin. Peeking in on his daughter. Stuffed animals piled all around her. Standing in the bedroom doorway. His wife asleep. Hugging his pillow. Wearing his old shirt. And the moon breaking through the parted curtains. Lighting him with perspective. Happiness. Because all of them are doing it. Their best. To make it through. ~ K.J.

Monday, January 14, 2013

not fade away

Set it straight. A little at a time. Even if it takes Monday night. The keys. Wine. Thirty-nine letters to agents. Dismal sales. The push toward forty. Writing better these days than ever before, but so far behind that it’s like I’m 27. Cocky and strong. Trying to break on through to the other side. Take a little piece of her heart. And hers and hers and hers. And burn out instead of fade away. But hey, I’m still alive. And the tick of the clock does not bother me. 10:28. 11:45. 3:00 in the morning. My daughter wakes. Three years old. Blonde hair shocking the air like Einstein. Clutching her stuffed hound. “Will you turn the light on?” she asks. “It’s already on,” I say. “But I can carry you there.” She smiles. Just a bit. Because smiling is hard when you’ve been sleeping eight hours. The floors are cold. And you’re afraid of the dark. “But the light, Daddy.” “It’s already on,” I say again. And I lift her. Slowly. As if this may be the last time. And she hugs me. Puts her face into my neck. And I know that this is where I’m supposed to be. Writing for the world the does not listen. Growing old in this small town. Sitting at the big dining room table. My boy asleep down the hallway. Clutching the book I read to him before bed. My wife asleep in our room just a few feet away. And me awake with things that cannot be understood—not yet, not now, because they must be wrestled out over time with these keys—and my daughter. Awake too. Because she has to pee. “Thank you, Daddy,” she says, as she steps out of the bathroom. Smiles. This time a little wider. “Thank you,” I say. “You’re such a big girl. One day you won’t need Daddy for anything.” She hugs me. The house, so quiet, is just ours. I carry her to her room. “I will need you for the light,” she says. I lay her in bed. She snuggles with the stuffed hound. I tuck her in. “But sometimes the light will already be on,” I say. “But I’ll need you to carry me,” she says. “Not always,” I say. “Oh, Daddy,” she says. “You just don’t understand.” “I guess not,” I say. And kiss her cheek. And she waves. And I wave. And it’s off to this. The same thing I’ve been doing for as long as I can remember, which is the same thing I’ll be doing for as long as it takes. To set it straight. A little at a time. Even if it takes Monday night. The keys. Wine. Thirty-nine letters. Dismal sales. And the push toward forty. With me writing better but so far behind that it’s like I’m 27. Cocky and strong. Dumb as shit. But doing my best. To break on through to the other side. Take a little piece of her heart. And walk that fine line that men sometimes walk when they know there is a good chance that they will burn out before fading away. ~ K.J.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

focused on the now

A morning walk. The four of us holding hands. Past our shop—closed until Spring—then down 2nd Avenue. Sleepy Alpena. Little Man and Oogie chattering. S.B. dreaming aloud. About art, the business, what may be waiting. In five years. A few months. Maybe just over the bridge. Things can change suddenly. Weirdly. Without warning. But I don’t let it—my writer’s mind—get the best of me. Instead of tuning into the mess of movement that plays through continuously like motion pictures somewhere up there behind my eyes, I focus on the now. Big wooden crate in the window of the antique store—we’re into those lately. Puddles—winter today is melting away. Oogie—fidgeting and fidgeting with her gloves. Little Man—getting too far ahead. “Stop!” I say. He is caught up in one-foot-in-front-of-the-other. On the move. And when he is moving, he is much like me. Not thinking, but feeling. The warm sunlight. Lake Huron air. Wide open space that begs a boy to run. “See that?” I ask. He looks at the signal. “Don’t walk,” he says. “Exactly. Just wait a minute and then it will change.” “Count to sixty,” says S.B. I look to Oogie. She smiles. I look to S.B. She smiles. I look at Little Man and he is deep in the counting. He gets to 20 and the light changes. “Hey!” he says. “That wasn’t sixty!” “We got lucky,” says S.B. “We didn’t have to wait a full minute.” On the bridge, we pass a short burly man. He’s in an insulated plaid shirt. Camo baseball cap. Wearing what looks to be safety glasses. He is fishing. No bucket. No tackle box. Just a pole. Line dangling all the way down to the black Thunder Bay River that is filled with jagged white ice floes and happy ducks. I’m not sure what he’s after. If he’s after anything at all. And I know how it is sometimes—when you just want to get out, be near the water, alone—so I don’t say a word. The four of us pass the one of him in complete silence as the river pushes into the lake. Ice melts. The world spins round and we somehow hold fast to this—our place—just a horsefeather away from the 45th parallel. We walk. Little man up front. Me and S.B. side-by-side with Oogie close behind. Another storefront. I see us. A reflection. A family passing by. And I see furniture I like but cannot afford. There is the great theater we need more of. The restaurant we’ve sworn off. And as we pass Fletcher Street Brewery, I say to the kids, “Mommy and Daddy will be dancing there tonight!” “We will?” S.B. asks. The kids laugh. “Sure,” I say, “Depends on how much we drink.” She laughs. Smiles. And it is yet again one of those moments where I wonder how on earth this woman decided to shackle herself to me. A moody, stubborn man that always seems to want more than he has. Cannot function without writing. And fights daily to maintain the balance our family needs. “Let’s run!” I say, and me and Oogie and Little Man run and run and run. When we stop, we all kind of go our separate ways. Little Man moves up the river walk. Far ahead to where Lady Michigan sits when the weather is warm and tourists are ready to spend, spend, spend. Oogie picks up small rocks. Stones. Names the ice floes as they drift by. “A triangle!” she says. “A house! A diamond!” And I stand there, looking at the river. Watching my boy. My girl. Looking back at my wife as she catches up. Slowly. At her own pace. Her curly locks bouncing. That contagious smile. And as the day warms and the river lets loose and the sun brings Spring to January, our town, our life, our choices look perfect. And I am humbled by the fact that things change suddenly. Weirdly. Without warning. And I am hopeful as we move through this motion picture. Living dreams aloud. Focused on the now. ~ K. J.

Monday, January 7, 2013

the bitch of it

Work on the novel. Write about a man that’s found his wife cheating. About eating bacon and eggs with his little daughter on the first day of their last long weekend. Write about being a writer—something that everyone has always told you not to do—and do it well enough so that you can show them that anything can be done and is worth doing if you have balls enough to try and do it better than anyone. And drink wine. And sit in the basement. And watch the dog guard her bone from the cats. Her crazy anxiety over protecting a two-foot long Christmas present rawhide. And keep tapping those keys. And listening to the boiler. And staring at the old stone walls while you sit at the old wooden desk and try to figure out how the hell you are going to keep it going and make money at it and take care of your wife and your kids long after you are gone. ∞ “You’ll be known when you’re dead,” Chad said to me one night, not too long ago, at the Black Sheep. “Jesus,” I said. “Thanks.” We sipped our scotch. “I’m serious,” he said. “What you’re doing won’t be understood until you’re dead.” I looked around the place. Tried to take myself away from what he was saying because it was not the kind of thing a man who had written six unsuccessful books wanted to hear. There were three old women in a booth. Laughing. Drinking Manhattans. There was my old Creative Writing teacher, Mr. Bray and his pretty wife at the end of the bar, drinking beer. And then there was us. Me and Chad. Bellied up to the bar. Just before noon on a Friday. I did not want to consider that my writing life could end like this. So-so. A Wikipedia blip in Alpena history. A footnote in some grad student’s paper on minimalism. A tiny notch in the literary bedpost. But the truth of it was—and is—that Chad’s ending was probably just about right. Not because I would be dead. And not because I would be famous. But because if I continued to live by his understanding and my belief—that nothing mattered, that all I really had to do was love my wife and love my kids and put words to paper whenever I could—then my life and theirs would probably be pretty goddamned good. “You are a little right,” I said to him. “And that’s the bitch of it.” We finished the scotch. Ordered more. But we did not talk much more about writing—especially mine—because talking about my writing was, to me, just as bad as reading it aloud to a bunch of strangers. Very much like jerking off in public. All the romance gone. Just trying to make a scene. The meaning missed. Nothing but emptiness. “At least you’re doing it,” he said and he raised his drink. I tapped my glass to his. Thought about Chad. What a good friend he’d always been. And I thought maybe I would write about him one day. That I would share with people how good he was. What a straight-shooter he’d always been. And that it was one of the few times in my life that I wanted to write well about someone I knew. “I am doing it,” I said. “And nobody knows. But the best part of it is that now, I know that for the past twenty years—even though I’ve only been married and a Dad for six—that always, I’ve been writing for S.B. and the kids.” “Goddammit, Stevens,” he said. “Don’t say things like that. You’re not supposed to talk like that. You’re supposed to write it down.” And so we stopped talking about it. Drank a little more. Talked to Paul and Mary Bray. Listened to the old ladies get tipsy. And I thought about working on the novel. Writing about being a writer—something that everyone always told me not to do—so that I could show them it could be done. All it took was practice and believing you had balls bigger than you really did and doing it better than anyone. And drinking wine. And sitting in the basement. And watching the dog guard her bone from the cats. Her crazy anxiety over protecting a two-foot long rawhide Christmas present. And tapping the keys. Over and over and over again. Listening to the boiler. Staring at the old stone walls. Trying to figure out how the hell I’m going to keep it going. Make money. And take care of S.B. and the kids long after I’m gone. ~ K.J.