One Hundred Words A Day
Where’s the Conflict?
That’s the first question she asked, after reading the short story that the woman handed her from across the table. Being used to the routine of our weekly writers' meet up to critique one another, the woman’s submission for the open reading being the last, her writing being a bit tedious and lofty, I began to lose my focus, and the details of her story had failed to pull me through the murk of my blasé mind. The sudden inquiry jolted me upright. “The conflict?”
“It bores the readers because there is no conflict. That’s the hook of any story, the bait to keep your lines interesting. Without it, there would be no fish, rather go home,” said the harsh analyser, looking the woman writer straight into her hazel eyes. “Give this character a few problems, will you, so that it does not look like she lives in a fairy land, unless she’s Barbie, with her beau Ken in tow. Come on, rock it up a bit, you have the great elements of a love story here, but too plain. Unreal!”
That day, I took out my notebook: “Must have conflict.” I have been mulling on the suggestion every day since. Funny, isn’t it, that most of us go through life determined to avoid any conflict. Yet here I am, illuminated for the first time as a novelist, that conflict is the undeniable crux of any good story, the bottom of the boat that carries it, the root that supports its trunk.
It seems, since that day, all I witness about me is the quest for “conflict.” A dentist can only drill if he discovers a tooth decay, which if not treated, will soon “conflict” with the patient’s dentin, leading to further “conflict”, or disagreement between the person, and his tooth. What else is a psychiatrist but a “conflict digger”? Without the fierce competition between the market’s supply and demand, there would be no viable commerce, no product improvement. Capitalism would collapse. Even religions, which deal with the higher intelligence, the greater sphere of life, were born from the conflicts within the human soul.
Conflict, that’s what makes the juice flow, my friends. Blessed are those who know how to profit from it.
The lesson in a Pill
It’s only an oval pill, chalk-like, the size of a coat button. Engraved on it are the minuscule red word Tylenol and a number 500. I know for a fact, millions of people all over the world are taking it this minute, for a reason or two. I know there are people who utterly depend on it, habitually down it, dispense it freely, never let it expire. In Ra’ sweaty palm,
nonetheless, it remains. The boy has been staring at it suspiciously with his goggling eyes, bloodshot with a high fever. I bring him a large cup of Seven Up filled with ice, and coerce him to swallow it quickly and get the business over with. Place it in the back of your tongue, take a large gulp of soda, and tilt your head back to let it run down your throat. It will be over before you know it. It is such an agony to see him struggle with the tiny capsule, to watch him ponder the actions, weighing the consequence, debating silently. Finally, with the courage of a hero, he inhales deeply, looks upward, releases his jaws, and drops the bitter seed in with a gush of soda. “Pah!” He spits into his palm the slimy devil. “I can’t do it. It’s horrible, wouldn’t go through.”
I agree with him. “In my time,” I elaborate, “We used suppository. The pill goes in your butt hole, easily.”
“In where, how?” He cries out, disgusted. “What happens if you need to take it everyday? … You would be scarred for life.”
With a decisive thrust, he pops the pill in and gulps it down. Something must have clicked mentally, and the lesser of two evils is chosen.
I am so touched by the overwhelming response and support that some of you are giving me. I struck out on this path on an impulse, rather suddenly. I do not know where I am going, who I am going to see, what is awaiting me along the strange and many roads that I traverse instinctively, following the stars of my fate. Then there you are holding out both your hands in encouragement, looking me in the eyes with so much faith and hope you almost embarrass me for my bold decisions to knock at your private door.
Many of you have asked how you can contribute in this blog. Some of you express the wish to send me money, as if the dollar bill does contain a road map to help me navigate the difficult journey ahead towards authorship. I thank you for your generosity of spirit and monetary. Here is how you can promote my progress. You can jot in your comments under each post, the comment word is "clickable", or email me your comments if you prefer to keep your communication private. Those of you with a Facebook or Tweeter account can share my blog with your friend list, again, the buttons are little gadgets that act upon your "click", like a light switch, click on, click off. For those who definitely insist on sponsoring my blog financially, the DONATE button is for that purpose. Paypal users can make use of this gadget. It's an automated online ATM all by itself, safe and convenient. Just follow the instructions on screen and your money will be safely directed to my coffer. There, it will accumulate in numbers and strength, to launch me forwards to my greatest destiny.
All Thing Old needs Fixing
I took mental notes as I pushed the purple Dyson around. Many wall corners are chipped, the Pergo floor connector between the hallway and the living room is partly missing, its broken piece laying on the hallway bookshelf as a stark reminder for the reason of its being there, instead of being an integral part of our floor. My old elephant of a mind retains all of these unpleasant domestic incidents: the day my favorite crystal vase was shattered to pieces by a casual swipe of a careless man's shoulder, the round burning mark in the middle of the beautiful mahogany dining table, the unnecessary washing of the brand new video ipod, and more, much more. The day that the "floor incident" happened, the beloved hubby was all revved up to "rid off the clutter around this place that's been giving me the claustrophobia." Soon said, soon done. Down came all my photo frames, out from the shelves and into the carton boxes lined my books, hutches unhinged stood naked in the living room, miscellaneous knick-knacks filled the various laundry baskets. These were done energetically, feverishly, but randomly, and soon the well-kept home of a twenty years marriage was in disarray, filled with boxes of all sizes amidst keeled-over baskets, displaced furniture, sheetless mattresses.
"What in the world ..." I gasped, coming in from the yard still hot and drenched by the broken sprinklers that I had just repaired.
"Shush, don't say anything. I'll take care of this. This is something I've been wanting to do for a long time. Since we are painting Danny's room, it's best to do it all together."
"We are planning to redo only Danny's room, Shawn, not the entire house. How am I going to start the school year in this state? I have to prepare Danny's lessons, finish my memoir, the stove is working at its whimp, the Odyssey' brakes need work, you can't just tear off the house without planning. It's hard to keep up with the work as it is. Don't you at least have the courtesy to ask me, you know I'm fussy about order."
"You'll see a new order. You'll be amazed, honey, once this place is cleaned up. I'll get rid off most of these junks. You'll not even realize they are gone. Just come give me a hand, Sweet Bonnie."
I swallowed hard, and rolled my eyes at this man that I have chosen to be my life partner, "For better, for worse ... through sickness and in health .." If our marriage vow had been better worded and prepared by real couples, not by some poet, I would have been clearly warned, that I had contracted out my orderly and methodical ways of life to a reckless builder and unlicensed home planner, not to mention his artistic sense as a volunteer interior designer.
"What do you want me for, everything is already everywhere. There is nothing I can contribute to make it worse. And I'm not going to rectify the situation for you one more time."
"Did I even mention about you doing anything? All you have to do is do what I said, easy as one two three. Come push this basket with me. It's kind of flimsy, and I don't want to burst it midway. We're just going to drag it across the hall to the other room. Ready?"
I pushed hard, my hubby dragged with one hand, the other holding on to the overflowing picture frames and ceramic vases jutting out from the basket. Crack, snap, I looked back to see the Pergo transition connector ripped clean off its place.
"Oh shoot!" uttered my other half.
"Don't worry, honey. We'll paint the house, then replace the flooring. No biggie."
My sarcastic remark drove the arrow straight home to the sagging heart of my opponent. He darkened: "I shouldn't have involved you. You're full of malice."
"What do you expect, I came into the house expecting to relax in bed with my book, to see this," I gesticulated, "why don't you sympathize with me for once, once, to recognize your mistake, once, instead of retorting like that, as if I'm the one who has caused this."
The Dyson catches on to the decorative frills of the floor rugs, and shrieks. I quickly cut off the power. I'll have to put that floor transition onto my Remember The Milk's home repair list. Gosh, that list is getting long and nags at me constantly. Nothing has been checked off yet, and Christmas is approaching. Old houses, old cars... like old loves, do need fixing constantly.
"I don't want to live in your shadow, Mom, let me live my life."
I raise my eyebrows at Josh's outbursts, his eyes firing, his fragile frame marking the beginning of manhood- lanky, bony, squarish, but on his small face the vestiges of a little boy still linger, the facial skin still smooth, the angular nose with its nostrils flare out excitedly, two thin lips tremble lightly to betray the violent emotion that ravages him.
"I want you safe, Josh. Your education is all you have to protect your future. You're not staying inside anybody's shadow. I ... We are guiding you towards the sun, your bright future. Six more months of hard work, Josh, and your whole life will be set."
"Set, you mean ... stifled?" mumbled my son, ready to retreat from another futile confrontation.
"Liberated, I mean. Either you work now to secure the rest of your life, to be your own boss, to be free of worries, or take it easy now, and enslaving yourself for life, working for somebody with your eyes on the clock. For what, Josh, for mere subsistence, for a mortgage that never would be paid off. For ..."
"Stop, Mom. You are dramatizing again. There are other kinds of life, not everyone is doctor and lawyer, you know."
"Josh, one door at a time. We're not talking ten years away, we're talking now. Now, your job as a student is to get good grades and apply to good schools. My job is to tell you that you are not doing it."
"You just leave me alone, and I'll be just fine. Stop lecturing me."
"Well .... Don't you walk away from me. You come back here until I finish. Josh, you hear me, Josh!"
The house shook at the impact of the door against its frame. I was left with my sentence hanging, anguishing for an explanation for this failure to communicate. It has come to this, an impasse between two minds, a generation gap, a collapse of ideals. I was left to search frantically inward for the shadow of our broken dream, caught somewhere on our last glorious flight pursuing excellence, perhaps hidden in someone else's top drawer. Where do we go from here, on whose wings do we escape this pain, this doubt, this cynical view of life, this insecurity that holds us hostage in our untried world? When will we be free of our own shadows, to rise up despite repeated failures, to return facing the sun with a conviction that failure happens only to those who have the courage to try?
Merry and her Tough Foe
In the first few years after we met, I always assumed that Merry was such because she had lived almost in total isolation, in the coastal town of Caen, having for companies only the querulous seagulls and the hardy descendants of the ferocious Normands. Where she took residence was once the fiefdom of William the Conquerors and his Viking relatives. She gave birth to her sons in a hospital that looks out to the desolate seacoast of Normandy, from which the Allied had landed and from which a fierce battle was fought, destroying most of Caen. The love that Merry had hoped from her marriage was quickly chilled by the icy windstorms bearing down from the open sea. Even when she could converse with someone, back then, she felt unsatisfied. How could she compete with the eternal murmurs of the waves in the background, the shrill cries of the swooping white birds, the constant "ding ding" interruption of the door chime each time a customer walk through? From the disrupted talk, Merry looked up and quickly assumed a benign and courteous smile, her chain of thoughts fragmented that instant. It was then by habit and necessity that Merry learned to resume her dialogue in mid-air, linking together pieces that were neither heads nor tails.
Merry speaks like a court transcriber tapping at 120-words per minute, blindly, quickly, mindlessly. She chases after her vaporous thoughts and catches the elusive shape of an idea to fling it out triumphantly, joyous at the magical transformation of her mind's abstract objects into waves of uninterrupted sounds, which she can share with someone else, which she can part from the recesses of her musings. Only then she becomes peaceful, content. She have given what she had longed to give, a piece of her mind, an opinion, her part of the story.
Merry's unsatiated desire for speech did not lessen even when Merry packed up and left Caen. It accentuated at the boundless opportunities Merry had with living on the same continent as her siblings, us. Although French is no longer useful in this side of the ocean, far from the Norman Vikings, Merry's verbal enthusiasm did not dampen. It took one week for Merry to find back all the nuances of her mother tongue to participate, to dominate, in any social gatherings.
It has never crossed Merry's mind that having a flexible tongue she would one day struggle with any particular language. Sure, Merry was mildly encumbered by her newly acquired English. When she could not find the words to express herself fully, Merry gesticulated and filled in the blank space of her sentence with another Latin language, assuming that the similarity in the words' appellation would make up for her strange pronunciation. Anyway, Merry was constantly the speaker, so there was no time for the listener(s) to squeeze in to demand further clarifications, but to look on captivated by Merry's passionate voice and her wild gestures. Sometimes, in her feverish babbles, Merry absentmindedly held on tightly to both hands of her "prisoner in speech" until the person frightfully extracted them out to be disengaged. Even then, Merry did not relent easily.
Speech only became a problem for Merry, poor soul, when she was required to take an oral test, that Merry referred to as her "Tough Foe". "I am given only TWO minutes to complete my thought. Two minutes ... Faster than the time to distill alcohol," Merry claims astonishingly. "What can one say in two minutes, you tell me. It is impossible! By the way, did I tell you about the husband of my neighbor's neighbor's sister. He has a car, an old Toyota. His daughter came home the other day ....."
A Digital Cemetery
It is a sorriest sight: heaps and piles of old computers scrambling amidst outdated and obese monitors. These gawk blatantly at the broken printers which soar in a column almost to the paneled ceiling, towering above the stacks of discarded keyboards. The silent machines cower forlornly, huddling close, as if surviving the abandonment in-group would lessen their pain and fear; as if they are counting on their strength en masse to transition into either a better life or oblivion. If only they can withstand the heat, the dust, the casual tumbles, the time. They have been waiting patiently, looking out the glass windows to the industrial mall beyond, to see cars of all sorts, brands, shapes and colors getting in and out of the gray parking lot. Lately, even the windows are being hidden by the piles and heaps of incoming machines bearing similar names–names that they have long ceased to be proud of. Their names used to be their trophy, displayed with so much pride. Ask them. They were once The Dells, The Hewlett-Packards, The IBMs, etc. Their names alone were worth millions. But look at them now; now used, now obsolete, now slow, now awkward-looking. Their shapes are odd, their faces dull, their innards filthy and loose. Why are they still here, inside this shop, tagged as "PAID", labeled with, "To be repaired." Why are they here, as if to commiserate a glorious past, when their shapes still count, their looks sell well, their worth are based on their intelligent design, their wonderful memory, their multi-tasking skills, their calculation methods, and their effective solutions. Now they are a sorriest lot–gray as tombstones, numerous as tombstones, forgotten as unmarked tombstones. They are here, to bear witness for progress, for the quick automation of life, for the human impatience, for creation and destruction that go hand in hand like two old lovers– hating, yet needing one another.
One Hundred .....
One hundred is a magical number, it seems. A newly inaugurated American president has 100 days to make his mark. A hundred years constitute a century. With one hundred dollars in my pocket, hey, I feel rich. Then yesterday, someone at the writers club remarked: "If you want to be a writer, put down at least 100 words per day."
Writing one hundred words is not a big deal to me. I can ramble on endlessly. But a hundred words per day, every day, that will be a challenge. You see, I do not write for a living, and words alone do not justify my existence in anybody's eyes but God. I need more than words on papers to keep my household going - food on the table, laundry washed and folded, lessons planned for kids and delivered. I found out soon enough to have no illusion about my passionate occupation; the only written words people appreciate are the ones on the dollar bills. Yet, at the rate our economy is going, even "in God we trust", does not convey much meaning. Someone must have blundered initially at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, and had introduced a typo that was too late to revoke. I believe the intended words were "In Gold we trust".
Or was it intentional? Perhaps our Founding Fathers had known long ago that at the rate we are going pursuing Capitalism and the free wheeling markets, we would end up with nothing in our coffers but the trust in God to save us from our final bankruptcy. We may have a hundred good intentions when we designed our economy around the basis of competition and self-regulation, but now looking back we started to question: "Was it the cause of our hundreds problem?"
In my house hung a plaque: "A hundred years from now, it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove...but the world may be different because I was important in the life of a child.” These words by Forest E. Witcraft have been the inspiration for me to devote my life to my children. However, as the children grow and need more space for personal development, I quite felt that the hundred percent attention that I gave them may become too suffocating. It is time to step back, and return to my core passion: writing. Would a hundred words be sufficient to spell out my need to express myself and my search for meanings in this earthly life?
It turns out that one hundred is only the beginning, the first breakthrough of the mental waves .... After that, the clumsy fingers trail far behind the thought surge, while hundreds of ideas spill forth, colliding onto each other waiting to be rearranged onto the screen.
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