How to get published

How To Get Published

I hear quite often from aspiring writers who desperately want to know how to get published. It doesn’t take a magic wand to break into the publishing world but it does take some effort. OK, it takes a whole lot of effort. I’d love to help each one of you in person. However . . . there’s only one of me and there are many of you. Which means I really can’t mentor you all. I’m sure you understand. I do mentor people on occasion, but honestly, neither I nor Tom Clancy nor the pope can help you unless you have done your homework. So first let me sketch out what that homework involves.

Your Homework: I believe strongly that you need three basic things in order to get published:

  • Content — what you have to say
  • Craft — how well you say it
  • Contacts — who you know that you can sell it to

When you have excellent content, excellent craft, and excellent contacts, you will radically improve your chances of getting published. Please remember that there are no guarantees in the publishing world. It’s a tough, tough business. But from what I’ve seen over the last couple of decades, content, craft, and connections are the three things that contribute most to success. If you are short in any of these categories, then you need to work on it until you’re excellent. That’s your homework assignment. Simple, no? Well, keep reading . . .

Content

Developing content is easy. So easy that I never bother to teach it. All you have to do is be a genius with tons of brilliant ideas who reads, reads, reads. Presumably that describes you, approximately, so your next step is to learn the craft of writing. This is less easy, and will take the bulk of your time.

Craft

Becoming a publishable writer is a multi-year project. When a publisher buys your book, they are risking tens of thousands of dollars that you will at least break even. Would you risk that much money on someone who’d only been writing a few weeks? Neither will an editor.

Take a minute right now, please, and read my article Freshman, Sophomore, Junior, Author! It will help you figure out where you are in your career. It will also tell you (in very general terms) what you need to do in order to amp up your craft and your contacts. The rest of this page will have more specific info on how to improve, but you first need to see the forest before we start talking about trees.

Now, if you’ve read the article, you know where you stand. If you’re a Freshman or Sophomore, you probably need to spend some money on a few books. For some sterling advice on which books to buy, see my page Books on Writing. I’m sorry, but it really is easier to read a few books on writing than to figure it all out for yourself. Life is too short to painfully discover the secrets of Scenes and Sequels (see Dwight Swain’s book), or using dialogue to advance conflict while revealing your character (see Sol Stein’s book). Buy the ones you need. Read them. Apply them to your writing. And watch your critique group’s eyes get wide over the next year as you slowly develop your skills.

One thing you’ll need to learn is how to write a scene. This is so important that I’ve got a page here on my site on Writing the Perfect Scene. I hope you find it helpful. It contains some of the tips I’ve given to a number of writers that have proven especially valuable.

Let’s say you’re a Sophomore or Junior or Senior, or even a published novelist. If you’ve got the basics down, I’d like to share with you my own methods for organizing my efforts. I can’t help you be more creative. I’m assuming you already are extraordinarily creative. But maybe you could use a little help in getting it all organized. In that case, let me recommend my Snowflake Method for designing a novel. I use this set of techniques for my own novels and I’m constantly refining my process.

Hundreds of thousands of people have read my Snowflake page over the years. No kidding, hundreds of thousands. People all over the world use the Snowflake Method. You may find that some of my ideas work for you and some don’t. OK, here’s a huge tip — USE THE ONES THAT WORK FOR YOU AND IGNORE THE ONES THAT DON’T. Different people are different. I don’t expect that all my methods will be gold in your grubby paws. But hey — if half my methods work out for you, that’s still an improvement, right? And if you find that it does all miraculously work out and you are suddenly writing better than you ever have before, well . . . be a doll and mention me in the acknowledgments of your Great Lithuanian Novel, OK? I won’t expect any royalties, but a brief mention of my name when you accept your Pulitzer Prize would go a long way to easing my bitterness that you got the prize and I didn’t.

How to Write a Proposal. OK, so at some point you’ve got most of the basic craft skills down and you’ve become a Junior or even a Senior. At that point, you need to learn how to write a proposal. There are several books out there. Seems like a new one comes out every year. I’ve read some of these over the years. They were a bit helpful. But truthfully, I’ve never thought much of the sample proposals they showed. I think the proposals I write are better. You may agree or you may disagree, but you can’t argue with the price. Free.

Click here for a PDF file containing most of the proposal that John Olson and I wrote for our Christy-award-winning novel, Oxygen. Be aware that we were targetting this to Christian publishers. If you’re targetting the general market, there are some obvious changes you’ll want to make in your proposal. Also, because our book is actually in print and we don’t want to spoil all the surprises, we have snipped out roughly the second half of the plot synosis. There’s enough to give you the idea of what a proposal should look like. Our editor told us this was a stellar proposal and sailed through committee. Which is kind of the point of a proposal.

Contacts

There are two main ways to contact editors, if you are part of the Great Unwashed Masses who don’t have an uncle at Random House. You can either meet editors at writers’ conferences, or you can get an agent. One way to meet agents is at writers’ conferences, but you can also just contact them directly (see the usual market guides for contact info), but another way is to get a recommendation from an author who has an agent.

I sometimes recommend an author to agents I know. Please don’t write me asking me to hook you up with an agent, because here is my rule on recommendations: I ONLY recommend authors to an agent if it was my idea. If somebody asks me to set them up with an agent, my answer automatically becomes NO. If you think for five seconds, you’ll see why I have to have a rule like that. Many authors have the same rule.

Be aware that a bad agent is worse than none. A bad agent is defined as “one who does not work well with you”. Some agents work great with one author and terribly with another. You do NOT need an agent to sell your first book, but it does help — if you’ve got the right agent. The wrong agent will just slow you down, so don’t be in any big rush. And I believe that agents who charge reading fees are scammers, so I advise you to just skip those kind and deal with the ones who don’t charge.

How I Broke In To Publishing

Let me put in a plug for writers’ conferences. I spent 8 years polishing my craft and going to a small annual conference in my neighborhood. And selling nothing. I even had an agent, who assured me that it was only a matter of time, yada, yada. Finally, in 1996, after 8 years of misery, I decided to take charge of my career. I decided that I would go to the huge and famous Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference that year and that I would keep going every year until the industry buckled before the extraordinary force of my heartbreaking work of staggering genius, etc., etc. Or until they got sick of me and threw me out.

That was the right decision. By then, I had my writing skills down pretty well, but I had no contacts other than my agent. I went in 1996 and it was great. I went again in 1997 and it was better. Later that year, my agent died. I decided not to get another one. I went to Mount Hermon again in 1998, and that year I met an author on the faculty who saw that I had ten years of craft-development under my belt and I had an astoundingly good proposal. So this author wrote me a letter of recommendation to a few publishers to go atop my proposal and . . . one of them bought the book! That was a nonfiction book, but within months, I also sold my first novel, Transgression, and my career was launched. The editor for that novel, Chip MacGregor, later quit editing and became a powerhouse agent with the largest Christian literary agency, Alive Communications. He was my agent for several years, until he went back to work in a major publishing house.

I continue to go to the Mount Hermon conference every year. It is the very best Christian writing conference in the country (I may be a little biased here, but everyone agrees it is fabulous). My circle of friends–writers, editors, and agents–continues to expand. And I’ve discovered that this writing game is fun! It’s possible to get published, even if you’re a nobody who knows nobody. I did it, and a number of my friends have done it too. You can, if you’re willing to work hard and work smart.

Now you may be thinking that you’ve done everything I suggested and all you need to succeed is for me to mentor you. Oh dear. That may be a problem. Don’t get me wrong. I do mentor a few people. A very few people. Mostly, these are people who are clearly very hard workers, who have good craft, who are TEACHABLE, and most important of all, who are polite. If that describes you, then meet me at the next Mount Hermon conference and let’s talk. Although, if that describes you, and if you actually go to Mount Hermon, you probably won’t need me at all. But I’ll be happy to talk with you anyway. It’s the least I can do. See ya there and let’s celebrate your imminent success!

Other Matters

If you’ve read this far, then you probably know whether you like my whackball way of looking at the world. If you do, then I invite you to sign up for my Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, a free monthly newsletter on the craft and marketing of fiction. Sign up today and get a free 5-day e-course on How To Publish A Novel. There’s a signup form at the upper right corner of this page.

If you prefer to first read some back issues of the Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, hop on over to the e-zine archives on my Advanced Fiction Writing web site dedicated solely to teaching the craft of writing fiction.


About The Author

Randy IngermansonRandy Ingermanson is a theoretical physicist and the award-winning author of six novels. He has taught at numerous writing conferences over the years and publishes the free monthly Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, the largest electronic magazine in the world on the craft of writing fiction, with over 14,000 readers.

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The Windows (The Actual Acts) – Paul Hoover Poetry

The Windows (The Actual Acts)

“A real armchair leaning against a real window” di Chirico

 

The world consists of acts.

 

The actual acts; acts result in worlds.

 

Whatever is, is actual.

 

Hypothetical dog chased by a real cat.

 

Things are possible, then they exist.

 

In what respect is an accident a thing?

 

Accidents occur when acts go astray.

 

If an accident occurs in a sentence, is meaning liable?

 

There’s a distant look on possibility’s face.

 

It will never quite exist or become a fact.

 

Never acting is also an action.

 

Which do you prefer, the thing or its state?

 

What objects lack in time, they make up in space.

 

An object is the actual awaiting further action.

 

It can wait a long time.

 

Time is fresh in objects even when they decay.

 

You can’t give one example of time getting old.

 

Every second, new time is arriving.

 

Still, some of us are bored.

 

All that I can imagine is possible for me.

 

But perhaps not actual.

 

Possibility is a source of amusement.

 

Our toys are laid out.

 

But, all too often, we’re unable to act.

 

Inaction is a waste of possibility.

 

Action is a waste of impossibility.

 

Things have hinges; they turn both ways.

 

Which is why doors are magic.

 

The priests of the wall.

 

Why do we say thoughts have direction?

 

“I was thinking along that line.”

 

A series of thoughts is like a chase scene.

 

One thought pushes another over some edge.

 

Time’s job is full-time; there’s no time off.

 

Objects serve for a certain period.

 

Eventually, they fade away.

 

They were steady workers in the vineyards of space.

 

You can’t imagine something, unless you saw it before.

 

A pine tree, for instance.

 

If you never saw a boat, how would you describe it?

 

Showing is telling.

 

Seeing something for the first time requires imagination.

 

You’re learning to see how possible it is.

 

Then it becomes actual.

 

A manta ray gliding through shallow water.

 

Frigate birds on a cliff.

 

Do you see what I’m saying?

 

It’s harder to say what you’re seeing.

 

Possible peach on a possible dish.

 

A school of possible fish.

 

Why do we say “temporal object”?

 

Name one object that exists outside of time.

 

I once gave the gift of a dozen temporal roses.

 

Objects famously take up space.

 

Apparently, they also take up time.

 

Two lovers struggle in bed for the same space and time.

 

There is no freedom for objects with names.

 

They’re stuck being themselves.

 

For example, you can’t rename a thing.

 

It would alter the world too much.

 

What would you call “scissors”?

 

The red dress has a history.

 

A world grew up around it, in which the dress was god.

 

To know an object, you have to know its future.

 

Many objects were in our mouths as children.

 

They tasted square or round, hard or soft.

 

We were seeing with our mouths.

 

You can’t know a thing without knowing its name.

 

When the name changes, so does the thing.

 

A new world spreads before it.

 

All those lost words, of agricultural meaning!

 

The dovecote and the ploughshare.

 

Don’t get your “hackles” up!

 

Names make everything real.

 

Even the imaginary.

 

Nobodaddy.  Uncle Sam.

 

Even in public, objects are private.

 

They hide in plain sight.

 

Their private lives, of course, are none of our business.

 

Objects at the window, gazing out at us.

 

Impossible objects, never to be seen.

 

We name a thing when it acts like the thing.

 

It has its own rhythms and systems.

 

Some systems are transparent.

 

Clocks, for instance.

 

Everyone knows what’s going on in there.

 

Transparency is one of the world’s disguises.

 

We can’t know all of anything.

 

Or even a little of everything.

 

The mind can manage only one thing at a time.

 

The beginning, middle, or end.

 

Can you name a fourth childhood friend?

 

We are not infinite beings.

 

Nor are there infinite objects.

 

Infinity is only a concept, to bring the cosmos near.

 

But the cosmos doesn’t care, and scatters its attentions.

 

Memory presents one thing at a time.

 

It wants to linger there, in time and place.

 

That smell of bread near the bakery.

 

Wearing your husband’s shoes.

 

There’s a thin line between nostalgia and nausea.

 

The plunge is sharp, the past too shallow.

 

Possibility is docile.

 

It’s the actual that cares.

 

If one thing exists, the cosmos isn’t empty.

 

Many things do exist.

 

Therefore, the cosmos isn’t empty.

 

It just feels empty.

 

The words we use are strange.

 

Because they’re so familiar.

 

And states of affairs are constantly passing.

 

We haven’t the time to grieve.

 

Space is all places, the contained and the container.

 

Wherever it goes, space is always at home.

 

It’s our local worlds that are distant.

 

Which is why we carry totems.

 

Something on a key ring.

 

Why am I walking here, on this particular road?

 

What do I represent, the state of my own mind?

 

The possible is poetic but only feebly so.

 

Only the impossible leads to great discoveries.

 

Here is an object of one dimension.

 

It has no physical nature, because it’s a mental object.

 

Here’s an object of two dimensions.

 

It is called a picture.

 

Its trees seem almost real.

 

But we can’t go behind them.

 

Is darkness deeper than light?

 

They seem to go equally far.

 

Infinity means:  farther than we can see.

 

What an awesome concept.

 

But we can only think as far as we can see.

 

An object always has some degree of thickness.

 

This sheet of paper, for instance.

 

Ideas have no dimension, until you write them down.

 

Natural objects are deeply unfamiliar.

 

Water, rocks, and trees.

 

They border on the uncanny.

 

We feel more at home with things we have made.

 

Sofa on the lawn, flat screen TV.

 

Ideas shrink at the thought of an object.

 

At the first distraction, they slip out of being.

 

We have to give them “weight.”

 

No idea comes to us completely.

 

Its second shoe never quite lands.

 

Ideas can take a thousand years to pop into our heads.

 

They come a long way, down through history.

 

But they are soon forgotten.

 

Objects contain their own situation.

 

They’re always showing how possible they are.

 

How do you know the world is round?

 

Because someone has pictured it for you.

 

The less fully drawn, the more beautiful the picture.

 

A single curved line can do the whole job.

 

When an object disappears, its shape remains in place.

 

An apple, for instance.

 

Apples look different in French.

 

They also sound different, when they hit the ground.

 

Even when collapsed, a box remains a box.

 

To what extent is water an object?

 

It runs to find its shape.

 

Then we call it a “body” of water.

 

What object is eternal?

 

Even granite wears down.

 

Fire is not an object.

 

It’s some kind of process, or being.

 

A picture of the sea is something like the sea.

 

No picture is perfect, no object either.

 

Everything is “almost” or “nearly.”

 

Imperfect picture of an imperfect object.

 

The sea is being as authentic as it can.

 

On certain days, the sea is not itself.

 

That is, not as we had imagined.

 

A painting’s first depiction is of itself.

 

Therefore, it can never depart from reality.

 

Are curved lines too passionate?

 

Too personal somehow?

 

No such thing as two identical pictures.

 

Breathtaking difference between two silk-screened Jackies.

 

No such thing as a logical picture.

 

There are no false pictures.

 

There are just pictures.

 

A chair remains true to its image.

 

Some hint of the chair in a nest of abstract lines.

 

Because you were thinking chair.

 

A tree portrays the wind.

 

Cold air portrays warm breath.

 

There’s evidence everywhere.

 

When I say mind, I hear mined.

 

But I know what I’m thinking.

 

What would be unthinkable?

 

An object of no shape is unthinkable.

 

What proof would we have of an imageless world?

 

No logic to the world, just traditional practice.

 

Logic is our invention, like haircuts and dating.

 

First the town, then the sheriff.

 

There are no logical pears.

 

The days of creation must have been a madhouse!

 

But things settled down.

 

How much of my world remains unknown by me?

 

How much of the language?

 

Is my point of view leaking?

 

Also, many things lie hidden.

 

The unprocessed world is the cliff edge of perception.

 

All that is possible is not thinkable.

 

All that is thinkable is not possible.

 

The possible suffers the actual.

 

Then it becomes a fact.

 

I’m pointed to what I think.

 

Then I’m alone with my thinking.

 

Which of my thoughts are yours?

 

And which are mine alone?

 

Can you point to the beginning?

 

From what direction does the end arrive?

 

Thoughts have no past or future.

 

They’re always “right now.”

 

Reckless thoughts are the first to be heeded.

 

Thinking is shaped by speaking.

 

And writing holds it fast.

 

The world doesn’t care about thinking.

 

It goes on being the world.

 

Meanwhile, the future is changing.

 

Name one thing that remains to be named.

 

First writing, then speech, then thinking , then perception.

 

Last of all, the things worth perceiving.

 

The “shake” of a thought is part of its meaning.

 

The part that slips past understanding.

 

Of which we are most fond.

 

“When” and “what” are of the world.

 

“If” goes in all directions.

 

Truth is as close as our senses.

 

“I could smell him before he arrived.”

 

When you die,  your truths go with you.

 

Wreckage of knowledge, science, mind.

 

What exactly is meant by an “empty sign”?

 

We call them empty when they’re too full.

 

“A horse is a horse” is the zenith of thinking.

 

You can’t go any further, as regards the horse.

 

The horse can go as far as it wishes.

 

But not beyond its name.

 

Beauty isn’t a matter of strangeness.

 

It comes when perception deepens the familiar.

 

The peach is more peach than ever before.

 

Too much perception can dull even a stone.

 

What’s the “base note” of a mirror?

 

How deeply it doubles the world?

 

All, always, infinite, eternal, and never.

 

Why should we trust these words?

 

What if I should say, “The sky is never dark”?

 

Would you try to believe me?

 

Some light is always present.

 

Stars and distant neon.

 

The glow from a swamp.

 

A shrug has meaning in any language.

 

It passes in silence and says the right thing.

 

What if Nietzsche had shrugged?

 

Would the world be any different?

 

Infinity is smaller than it used to be.

 

It’s down to just an “infinitive series.”

 

Poetry never thinks things through.

 

It seizes directly what it needs.

 

Philosophy thinks too much.

 

But has very little to say.

 

Poetry never has to say it’s sorry.

 

All it does is sing and gesture.

 

That’s its wisdom.

 

The wise fool of the arts.

 

Sign language is beautiful in its lack of sound.

 

But pathetic in the size of its effort.

 

Poetry is beautiful for its sound.

 

But pathetic in its pathos.

 

In poetry and music, beauty is in the passing.

 

But its having been played still resonates in the room.

 

A word can’t be false; it’s just doing its job.

 

Here comes that word, simpático, again.

 

A handsome word in its way.

 

Simpatia also.

 

To love such words, do I have to understand them?

 

Each time a word is “played,” it has a new truth.

 

Even in the same situation.

 

The viewer walks with his candle.

 

Darkness behind, darkness ahead.

 

Knowledge faces a dimly lit stage.

 

It seems that the play is ending.

 

It can tell from the tone and rhythm.

 

There are patterns to these things.

 

An engine flares wildly as it runs out of gas.

 

We even have to intuit what we know for certain.

 

What is not murky?

 

Practical knowledge is not murky.

 

How to sharpen a knife is transparent to me.

 

Also the fact that knives need to sharpened.

 

Dull or sharp, a knife couldn’t be clearer.

 

Philosophy, however, requires murky conditions.

 

That’s the whole point.

 

It’s how you play the game.

 

Not how much smoke you clear.

 

The philosophy of fire uses metaphors of water.

 

Can you wrap your mind around that?

 

While time and space are wrapped around you?

 

Which is smarter, quartz or stone?

 

What’s the meaning of this sentence?

 

Philosophy sets no limits on what can be thought.

 

But personal experience does.

 

Thought demands a staging place.

 

Here, there, before, and after.

 

You can’t think your way inside a thing.

 

You can only think near it.

 

Thinking is contained by its world.

 

We are world through and through.

 

What can be shown has already been said.

 

What can be shown need not be said.

 

The told has been shown.

 

What is false is true in its commitment to falseness.

 

What is true is true in its commitment to truth.

 

Therefore, truth conditions rule.

 

No philosophy can proceed without a concept of truth.

 

Just a little eschatology gets it through the day.

 

If the many didn’t exist, would there still be the one?

 

Why isn’t zero an instance of one?

 

One zero plus one zero should be two zeros.

 

Zero is something, and nothing is something.

 

Contradiction is part of the world’s agreement.

 

But you wouldn’t drink black milk.

 

Or put out a fire with your hair.

 

We are as close to truth as a painting of the truth.

 

That is, at a refractory distance.

 

The limits of my language will have to do.

 

The ark inside quark.

 

That strange word, “enfeebled.”

 

I am what I can glean.

 

There are thousands of things we’ve never observed.

 

A new species of clam being eaten by a new species of bird.

 

And there’s no new man to record it.

 

To imagine a world is to clean it.

 

Hard to conceive of a dirty new world.

 

Our imaginary worlds are aging along with our real ones.

 

The limits of the world are new every day.

 

Because the world is shrinking.

 

Poetry exceeds the limits of language.

 

The unknown world is happy about that fact.

 

The syntax of life is birth, life, and death.

 

Life is the verb.

 

Some guesses are educated.

 

But even the educated are guessing.

 

Poetry works by a zero-sum method.

 

Equal pressures of emergence and distance.

 

Attention and  movement, turns when there are turns.

 

Banality is the poetry of no movement at all.

 

It won’t quite die and refuses to give birth.

 

To model consciousness, you have to draw a picture.

 

Yeats’ intersecting, counter-rotating gyres.

 

The rhizomes of Jung and Deleuze.

 

The poetry of chaos has no intersecting lines.

 

The world falls through.

 

Metaphor’s knot may hold too fast.

 

In the logic of poetry, surprises are required.

 

Things powerfully don’t quite fit.

 

The rose itself may be of interest.

 

But poetry is the shadows in its folds.

 

Anomalies hold little interest.

 

They sing a note of weary invention.

 

Not the strange hand but the strangeness of hands.

 

The result should be a surprise to the process.

 

Natural objects aren’t logical.

 

They’re not illogical, either.

 

They’re simply what is given.

 

Nature used to make all the noise.

 

Now it makes what we call silence.

 

If logic is transcendental, our thoughts must be, too.

 

Therefore, logic is not transcendental.

 

On which dirty wings should we fly?

 

A problem in math is stated as a sentence.

 

There’s a syntax and a grammar.

 

Its beauty lies in zero.

 

The dark star of the system.

 

A tape loop models infinity.

 

Renewal and boredom to the nth degree.

 

What’s the word for “nth” in German?

 

Poetry requires a speechless speaker.

 

It speaks from a groundless ground.

 

From the past-future to the future-present.

 

Its pulse is nothing / song.

 

Is logic too emotional to be considered math?

 

They both involve proofs.

 

But not proofs of existence.

 

Existence is proof of itself.

 

You can’t go below rain on a stone.

 

You can’t go above it, either.

 

How would we know if time changed its way of being?

 

What we call time is actually fictive time.

 

We perceive and remember islands of experience.

 

The rest falls away.

 

Time is the stage, memory the actor.

 

Pain comes of a certain coherence.

 

For no visible reason, a person weeps in the street.

 

Especially, for some reason, in New York City.

 

Real time is confined to baseball games.

 

No drama, no coherence.

 

Experience is whatever interest decides it is.

 

And that becomes the story.

 

That business with Charybdis.

 

Not to mention Calypso and Circe.

 

Poetry’s business is to trade in attention.

 

Maximum pleasure from maximum pain.

 

Pain can be funny, when it occurs in others.

 

Pleasure has the tensile strength and wave rhythm of water.

 

There’s a ripple of thought in the spine.

 

Pleasure is the final value.

 

No truth, no pleasure.

 

By the world, we mean the All.

 

Where even the vacancies are present.

 

Nothing less would ever make sense.

 

Perception lends extra value to the world.

 

Poetry lends even more.

 

The tax on it is public inattention.

 

The world’s intentions are pure, because it has none.

 

But there are certain patterns.

 

If a buffalo falls through the ice, nothing can save it.

 

It’s impossible to look behind the given.

 

You’re in no position to judge.

 

But you can speak from behind it, by means of fiction.

 

The wind knots some strings hanging from a clothesline.

 

Did it happen by chance or divine intervention?

 

Tautology is when all the knots are tied.

 

Meaning returns to itself, from all sides of its world.

 

A mouse is finally the mouse it started out to be.

 

Even the mystics would cease their chatter.

 

Many in silence have no special wisdom.

 

They simply have nothing to say.

 

No silence, no song;  no noise, no world.

 

No such thing as a treacherous object.

 

Innocent blood, innocent ax.

 

The world takes up all the room inside a camera.

 

A lot more world spills outside the frame.

 

No world is made of thought alone.

 

Or music alone or painting.

 

No thought is made of world alone.

 

The navigators didn’t invent the new land.

 

They sensed that it was there.

 

Have you ever gazed from a window to see if everything’s still there?

 

And seen your own face in the glass, superimposed on  the view?

 

Consciousness rests among its objects.

 

Which makes the objects restless.

 

It is possible to say, “I no longer recognize the mirror in me.”

 

Or, “The author is the product of the work he produces.”

 

The more illogical it is, the more it’s of interest.

 

Truth is of interest, but it’s hard to explain.

 

You can’t locate its beginning or end.

 

Then the middle goes missing.

 

Truisms come readymade, everything in its place.

 

Not the test of time but the taste of it.

 

Not the taste of good liquor but the cost of it.

 

People who think this much ought to be placed in prison.

 

They’re a danger to themselves and to our soldiers at war.

 

Where’s a speechless speaker for the unspoken world?

 

The Bartleby of our day, to stand in the file room dreaming?

 

When nothing is ordinary, nothing is of interest.

 

Thought is metaphysical when its motive is distance.

 

The everyday brings us closer to existence.

 

The easy gazers are living in a dream.

 

The thinker’s becoming real.

 

Is irony too sentimental?

 

Is its faith in our era waning?

 

Two new words are needed, “enworlded” and “beselved.”

 

To be enworlded is to be beselved.

 

To be beside yourself is to be fully conscious.

 

By the seaside, the beautiful sea.

 

Is it possible then that I’ve misunderstood the question?

Classic Short Story – Willa Cather

Paul’s Case

by Willa Cather (1873-1947)

Word Count: 8970
A Study in Temperament

It was Paul’s afternoon to appear before the faculty of the Pittsburgh High School to account for his various misdemeanors. He had been suspended a week ago, and his father had called at the Principal’s office and confessed his perplexity about his son. Paul entered the faculty room suave and smiling. His clothes were a trifle outgrown, and the tan velvet on the collar of his open overcoat was frayed and worn; but for all that there was something of the dandy about him, and he wore an opal pin in his neatly knotted black four-in-hand, and a red carnation in his buttonhole. This latter adornment the faculty somehow felt was not properly significant of the contrite spirit befitting a boy under the ban of suspension.

Paul was tall for his age and very thin, with high, cramped shoulders and a narrow chest. His eyes were remarkable for a certain hysterical brilliancy, and he continually used them in a conscious, theatrical sort of way, peculiarly offensive in a boy. The pupils were abnormally large, as though he were addicted to belladonna, but there was a glassy glitter about them which that drug does not produce.

When questioned by the Principal as to why he was there Paul stated, politely enough, that he wanted to come back to school. This was a lie, but Paul was quite accustomed to lying; found it, indeed, indispensable for overcoming friction. His teachers were asked to state their respective charges against him, which they did with such a rancor and aggrievedness as evinced that this was not a usual case. Disorder and impertinence were among the offenses named, yet each of his instructors felt that it was scarcely possible to put into words the real cause of the trouble, which lay in a sort of hysterically defiant manner of the boy’s; in the contempt which they all knew he felt for them, and which he seemingly made not the least effort to conceal. Once, when he had been making a synopsis of a paragraph at the blackboard, his English teacher had stepped to his side and attempted to guide his hand. Paul had started back with a shudder and thrust his hands violently behind him. The astonished woman could scarcely have been more hurt and embarrassed had he struck at her. The insult was so involuntary and definitely personal as to be unforgettable. In one way and another he had made all his teachers, men and women alike, conscious of the same feeling of physical aversion. In one class he habitually sat with his hand shading his eyes; in another he always looked out of the window during the recitation; in another he made a running commentary on the lecture, with humorous intention.

His teachers felt this afternoon that his whole attitude was symbolized by his shrug and his flippantly red carnation flower, and they fell upon him without mercy, his English teacher leading the pack. He stood through it smiling, his pale lips parted over his white teeth. (His lips were continually twitching, and be had a habit of raising his eyebrows that was contemptuous and irritating to the last degree.) Older boys than Paul had broken down and shed tears under that baptism of fire, but his set smile did not once desert him, and his only sign of discomfort was the nervous trembling of the fingers that toyed with the buttons of his overcoat, and an occasional jerking of the other hand that held his hat. Paul was always smiling, always glancing about him, seeming to feel that people might be watching him and trying to detect something. This conscious expression, since it was as far as possible from boyish mirthfulness, was usually attributed to insolence or “smartness.”

As the inquisition proceeded one of his instructors repeated an impertinent remark of the boy’s, and the Principal asked him whether he thought that a courteous speech to have made a woman. Paul shrugged his shoulders slightly and his eyebrows twitched.

“I don’t know,” he replied. “I didn’t mean to be polite or impolite, either. I guess it’s a sort of way I have of saying things regardless.”

The Principal, who was a sympathetic man, asked him whether he didn’t think that a way it would be well to get rid of. Paul grinned and said he guessed so. When he was told that he could go he bowed gracefully and went out. His bow was but a repetition of the scandalous red carnation.

His teachers were in despair, and his drawing master voiced the feeling of them all when he declared there was something about the boy which none of them understood. He added: “I don’t really believe that smile of his comes altogether from insolence; there’s something sort of haunted about it. The boy is not strong, for one thing. I happen to know that he was born in Colorado, only a few months before his mother died out there of a long illness. There is something wrong about the fellow.”

The drawing master had come to realize that, in looking at Paul, one saw only his white teeth and the forced animation of his eyes. One warm afternoon the boy had gone to sleep at his drawing board, and his master had noted with amazement what a white, blue-veined face it was; drawn and wrinkled like an old man’s about the eyes, the lips twitching even in his sleep, and stiff with a nervous tension that drew them back from his teeth.

His teachers left the building dissatisfied and unhappy; humiliated to have felt so vindictive toward a mere boy, to have uttered this feeling in cutting terms, and to have set each other on, as it were, in the gruesome game of intemperate reproach. Some of them remembered having seen a miserable street cat set at bay by a ring of tormentors.

As for Paul, he ran down the hill whistling the “Soldiers’ Chorus” from Faust, looking wildly behind him now and then to see whether some of his teachers were not there to writhe under his lightheartedness. As it was now late in the afternoon and Paul was on duty that evening as usher at Carnegie Hall, he decided that he would not go home to supper. When he reached the concert hall the doors were not yet open and, as it was chilly outside, he decided to go up into the picture gallery–always deserted at this hour–where there were some of Raffelli’s gay studies of Paris streets and an airy blue Venetian scene or two that always exhilarated him. He was delighted to find no one in the gallery but the old guard, who sat in one corner, a newspaper on his knee, a black patch over one eye and the other closed. Paul possessed himself of the peace and walked confidently up and down, whistling under his breath. After a while he sat down before a blue Rico and lost himself. When he bethought him to look at his watch, it was after seven o’clock, and he rose with a start and ran downstairs, making a face at Augustus, peering out from the cast room, and an evil gesture at the Venus de Milo as he passed her on the stairway.

When Paul reached the ushers’ dressing room half a dozen boys were there already, and he began excitedly to tumble into his uniform. It was one of the few that at all approached fitting, and Paul thought it very becoming-though he knew that the tight, straight coat accentuated his narrow chest, about which he was exceedingly sensitive. He was always considerably excited while be dressed, twanging all over to the tuning of the strings and the preliminary flourishes of the horns in the music room; but tonight he seemed quite beside himself, and he teased and plagued the boys until, telling him that he was crazy, they put him down on the floor and sat on him.

Somewhat calmed by his suppression, Paul dashed out to the front of the house to seat the early comers. He was a model usher; gracious and smiling he ran up and down the aisles; nothing was too much trouble for him; he carried messages and brought programs as though it were his greatest pleasure in life, and all the people in his section thought him a charming boy, feeling that he remembered and admired them. As the house filled, he grew more and more vivacious and animated, and the color came to his cheeks and lips. It was very much as though this were a great reception and Paul were the host. just as the musicians came out to take their places, his English teacher arrived with checks for the seats which a prominent manufacturer had taken for the season. She betrayed some embarrassment when she handed Paul the tickets, and a hauteur which subsequently made her feel very foolish. Paul was startled for a moment, and had the feeling of wanting to put her out; what business had she here among all these fine people and gay colors? He looked her over and decided that she was not appropriately dressed and must be a fool to sit downstairs in such togs. The tickets had probably been sent her out of kindness, he reflected as he put down a seat for her, and she had about as much right to sit there as he had.

When the symphony began Paul sank into one of the rear seats with a long sigh of relief, and lost himself as he had done before the Rico. It was not that symphonies, as such, meant anything in particular to Paul, but the first sigh of the instruments seemed to free some hilarious and potent spirit within him; something that struggled there like the genie in the bottle found by the Arab fisherman. He felt a sudden zest of life; the lights danced before his eyes and the concert hall blazed into unimaginable splendor. When the soprano soloist came on Paul forgot even the nastiness of his teacher’s being there and gave himself up to the peculiar stimulus such personages always had for him. The soloist chanced to be a German woman, by no means in her first youth, and the mother of many children; but she wore an elaborate gown and a tiara, and above all she had that indefinable air of achievement, that world-shine upon her, which, in Paul’s eyes, made her a veritable queen of Romance.

After a concert was over Paul was always irritable and wretched until he got to sleep, and tonight he was even more than usually restless. He had the feeling of not being able to let down, of its being impossible to give up this delicious excitement which was the only thing that could be called living at all. During the last number he withdrew and, after hastily changing his clothes in the dressing room, slipped out to the side door where the soprano’s carriage stood. Here he began pacing rapidly up and down the walk, waiting to see her come out.

Over yonder, the Schenley, in its vacant stretch, loomed big and square through the fine rain, the windows of its twelve stories glowing like those of a lighted cardboard house under a Christmas tree. All the actors and singers of the better class stayed there when they were in the city, and a number of the big manufacturers of the place lived there in the winter. Paul had often hung about the hotel, watching the people go in and out, longing to enter and leave schoolmasters and dull care behind him forever.

At last the singer came out, accompanied by the conductor, who helped her into her carriage and closed the door with a cordial auf wiedersehen which set Paul to wondering whether she were not an old sweetheart of his. Paul followed the carriage over to the hotel, walking so rapidly as not to be far from the entrance when the singer alighted, and disappeared behind the swinging glass doors that were opened by a Negro in a tall hat and a long coat. In the moment that the door was ajar it seemed to Paul that he, too, entered. He seemed to feel himself go after her up the steps, into the warm, lighted building, into an exotic, tropical world of shiny, glistening surfaces and basking ease. He reflected upon the mysterious dishes that were brought into the dining room, the green bottles in buckets of ice, as he had seen them in the supper party pictures of the Sunday World supplement. A quick gust of wind brought the rain down with sudden vehemence, and Paul was startled to find that he was still outside in the slush of the gravel driveway; that his boots were letting in the water and his scanty overcoat was clinging wet about him; that the lights in front of the concert hall were out and that the rain was driving in sheets between him and the orange glow of the windows above him. There it was, what be wanted–tangibly before him, like the fairy world of a Christmas pantomime–but mocking spirits stood guard at the doors, and, as the rain beat in his face, Paul wondered whether he were destined always to shiver in the black night outside, looking up at it.

He turned and walked reluctantly toward the car tracks. The end had to come sometime; his father in his nightclothes at the top of the stairs, explanations that did not explain, hastily improvised fictions that were forever tripping him up, his upstairs room and its horrible yellow wallpaper, the creaking bureau with the greasy plush collarbox, and over his painted wooden bed the pictures of George Washington and John Calvin, and the framed motto, “Feed my Lambs,” which had been worked in red worsted by his mother.

Half an hour later Paul alighted from his car and went slowly down one of the side streets off the main thoroughfare. It was a highly respectable street, where all the houses were exactly alike, and where businessmen of moderate means begot and reared large families of children, all of whom went to Sabbath school and learned the shorter catechism, and were interested in arithmetic; all of whom were as exactly alike as their homes, and of a piece with the monotony in which they lived. Paul never went up Cordelia Street without a shudder of loathing. His home was next to the house of the Cumberland minister. He approached it tonight with the nerveless sense of defeat, the hopeless feeling of sinking back forever into ugliness and commonness that he had always had when he came home. The moment he turned into Cordelia Street he felt the waters close above his head. After each of these orgies of living he experienced all the physical depression which follows a debauch; the loathing of respectable beds, of common food, of a house penetrated by kitchen odors; a shuddering repulsion for the flavorless, colorless mass of everyday existence; a morbid desire for cool things and soft lights and fresh flowers.

The nearer he approached the house, the more absolutely unequal Paul felt to the sight of it all: his ugly sleeping chamber; the cold bathroom with the grimy zinc tub, the cracked mirror, the dripping spiggots; his father, at the top of the stairs, his hairy legs sticking out from his nightshirt, his feet thrust into carpet slippers. He was so much later than usual that there would certainly be inquiries and reproaches. Paul stopped short before the door. He felt that he could not be accosted by his father tonight; that he could not toss again on that miserable bed. He would not go in. He would tell his father that he had no carfare and it was raining so hard he had gone home with one of the boys and stayed all night.

Meanwhile, he was wet and cold. He went around to the back of the house and tried one of the basement windows, found it open, raised it cautiously, and scrambled down the cellar wall to the floor. There he stood, holding his breath, terrified by the noise he had made, but the floor above him was silent, and there was no creak on the stairs. He found a soapbox, and carried it over to the soft ring of light that streamed from the furnace door, and sat down. He was horribly afraid of rats, so he did not try to sleep, but sat looking distrustfully at the dark, still terrified lest he might have awakened his father. In such reactions, after one of the experiences which made days and nights out of the dreary blanks of the calendar, when his senses were deadened, Paul’s head was always singularly clear. Suppose his father had heard him getting in at the window and had come down and shot him for a burglar? Then, again, suppose his father had come down, pistol in hand, and he had cried out in time to save himself, and his father had been horrified to think how nearly he had killed him? Then, again, suppose a day should come when his father would remember that night, and wish there had been no warning cry to stay his hand? With this last supposition Paul entertained himself until daybreak.

The following Sunday was fine; the sodden November chill was broken by the last flash of autumnal summer. In the morning Paul had to go to church and Sabbath school, as always. On seasonable Sunday afternoons the burghers of Cordelia Street always sat out on their front stoops and talked to their neighbors on the next stoop, or called to those across the street in neighborly fashion. The men usually sat on gay cushions placed upon the steps that led down to the sidewalk, while the women, in their Sunday “waists,” sat in rockers on the cramped porches, pretending to be greatly at their ease. The children played in the streets; there were so many of them that the place resembled the recreation grounds of a kindergarten. The men on the steps–all in their shirt sleeves, their vests unbuttoned–sat with their legs well apart, their stomachs comfortably protruding, and talked of the prices of things, or told anecdotes of the sagacity of their various chiefs and overlords. They occasionally looked over the multitude of squabbling children, listened affectionately to their high-pitched, nasal voices, smiling to see their own proclivities reproduced in their offspring, and interspersed their legends of the iron kings with remarks about their sons’ progress at school, their grades in arithmetic, and the amounts they had saved in their toy banks.

On this last Sunday of November Paul sat all the afternoon on the lowest step of his stoop, staring into the street, while his sisters, in their rockers, were talking to the minister’s daughters next door about how many shirtwaists they had made in the last week, and bow many waffles someone had eaten at the last church supper. When the weather was warm, and his father was in a particularly jovial frame of mind, the girls made lemonade, which was always brought out in a red-glass pitcher, ornamented with forget-me-nots in blue enamel. This the girls thought very fine, and the neighbors always joked about the suspicious color of the pitcher.

Today Paul’s father sat on the top step, talking to a young man who shifted a restless baby from knee to knee. He happened to be the young man who was daily held up to Paul as a model, and after whom it was his father’s dearest hope that he would pattern. This young man was of a ruddy complexion, with a compressed, red mouth, and faded, nearsighted eyes, over which he wore thick spectacles, with gold bows that curved about his ears. He was clerk to one of the magnates of a great steel corporation, and was looked upon in Cordelia Street as a young man with a future. There was a story that, some five years ago–he was now barely twenty-six–he had been a trifle dissipated, but in order to curb his appetites and save the loss of time and strength that a sowing of wild oats might have entailed, he had taken his chief’s advice, oft reiterated to his employees, and at twenty- one had married the first woman whom he could persuade to share his fortunes. She happened to be an angular schoolmistress, much older than he, who also wore thick glasses, and who had now borne him four children, all nearsighted, like herself.

The young man was relating how his chief, now cruising in the Mediterranean, kept in touch with all the details of the business, arranging his office hours on his yacht just as though he were at home, and “knocking off work enough to keep two stenographers busy.” His father told, in turn, the plan his corporation was considering, of putting in an electric railway plant in Cairo. Paul snapped his teeth; he had an awful apprehension that they might spoil it all before he got there. Yet he rather liked to hear these legends of the iron kings that were told and retold on Sundays and holidays; these stories of palaces in Venice, yachts on the Mediterranean, and high play at Monte Carlo appealed to his fancy, and he was interested in the triumphs of these cash boys who had become famous, though he had no mind for the cash-boy stage.

After supper was over and he had helped to dry the dishes, Paul nervously asked his father whether he could go to George’s to get some help in his geometry, and still more nervously asked for carfare. This latter request he had to repeat, as his father, on principle, did not like to hear requests for money, whether much or little. He asked Paul whether he could not go to some boy who lived nearer, and told him that he ought not to leave his schoolwork until Sunday; but he gave him the dime. He was not a poor man, but he had a worthy ambition to come up in the world. His only reason for allowing Paul to usher was that he thought a boy ought to be earning a little.

Paul bounded upstairs, scrubbed the greasy odor of the dishwater from his hands with the ill-smelling soap he hated, and then shook over his fingers a few drops of violet water from the bottle he kept hidden in his drawer. He left the house with his geometry conspicuously under his arm, and the moment he got out of Cordelia Street and boarded a downtown car, he shook off the lethargy of two deadening days and began to live again.

The leading juvenile of the permanent stock company which played at one of the downtown theaters was an acquaintance of Paul’s, and the boy had been invited to drop in at the Sunday-night rehearsals whenever he could. For more than a year Paul had spent every available moment loitering about Charley Edwards’s dressing room. He had won a place among Edwards’s following not only because the young actor, who could not afford to employ a dresser, often found him useful, but because he recognized in Paul something akin to what churchmen term “vocation.”

It was at the theater and at Carnegie Hall that Paul really lived; the rest was but a sleep and a forgetting. This was Paul’s fairy tale, and it had for him all the allurement of a secret love. The moment he inhaled the gassy, painty, dusty odor behind the scenes, he breathed like a prisoner set free, and felt within him the possibility of doing or saying splendid, brilliant, poetic things. The moment the cracked orchestra beat out the overture from Martha, or jerked at the serenade from Rigoletto, all stupid and ugly things slid from him, and his senses were deliciously, yet delicately fired.

Perhaps it was because, in Paul’s world, the natural nearly always wore the guise of ugliness, that a certain element of artificiality seemed to him necessary in beauty. Perhaps it was because his experience of life elsewhere was so full of Sabbath- school picnics, petty economies, wholesome advice as to how to succeed in life, and the inescapable odors of cooking, that he found this existence so alluring, these smartly clad men and women so attractive, that he was so moved by these starry apple orchards that bloomed perennially under the limelight.

It would be difficult to put it strongly enough how convincingly the stage entrance of that theater was for Paul the actual portal of Romance. Certainly none of the company ever suspected it, least of all Charley Edwards. It was very like the old stories that used to float about London of fabulously rich Jews, who had subterranean halls there, with palms, and fountains, and soft lamps and richly appareled women who never saw the disenchanting light of London day. So, in the midst of that smoke-palled city, enamored of figures and grimy toil, Paul had his secret temple, his wishing carpet, his bit of blue-and- white Mediterranean shore bathed in perpetual sunshine.

Several of Paul’s teachers had a theory that his imagination had been perverted by garish fiction, but the truth was that he scarcely ever read at all. The books at home were not such as would either tempt or corrupt a youthful mind, and as for reading the novels that some of his friends urged upon him–well, he got what he wanted much more quickly from music; any sort of music, from an orchestra to a barrel organ. He needed only the spark, the indescribable thrill that made his imagination master of his senses, and he could make plots and pictures enough of his own. It was equally true that he was not stagestruck-not, at any rate, in the usual acceptation of that expression. He had no desire to become an actor, any more than he had to become a musician. He felt no necessity to do any of these things; what he wanted was to see, to be in the atmosphere, float on the wave of it, to be carried out, blue league after blue league, away from everything.

After a night behind the scenes Paul found the schoolroom more than ever repulsive; the bare floors and naked walls; the prosy men who never wore frock coats, or violets in their buttonholes; the women with their dull gowns, shrill voices, and pitiful seriousness about prepositions that govern the dative. He could not bear to have the other pupils think, for a moment, that he took these people seriously; he must convey to them that he considered it all trivial, and was there only by way of a jest, anyway. He had autographed pictures of all the members of the stock company which he showed his classmates, telling them the most incredible stories of his familiarity with these people, of his acquaintance with the soloists who came to Carnegie Hall, his suppers with them and the flowers he sent them. When these stories lost their effect, and his audience grew listless, he became desperate and would bid all the boys good-by, announcing that he was going to travel for a while; going to Naples, to Venice, to Egypt. Then, next Monday, he would slip back, conscious and nervously smiling; his sister was ill, and he should have to defer his voyage until spring.

Matters went steadily worse with Paul at school. In the itch to let his instructors know how heartily he despised them and their homilies, and how thoroughly he was appreciated elsewhere, he mentioned once or twice that he had no time to fool with theorems; adding–with a twitch of the eyebrows and a touch of that nervous bravado which so perplexed them–that he was helping the people down at the stock company; they were old friends of his.

The upshot of the matter was that the Principal went to Paul’s father, and Paul was taken out of school and put to work. The manager at Carnegie Hall was told to get another usher in his stead; the doorkeeper at the theater was warned not to admit him to the house; and Charley Edwards remorsefully promised the boy’s father not to see him again.

The members of the stock company were vastly amused when some of Paul’s stories reached them–especially the women. They were hardworking women, most of them supporting indigent husbands or brothers, and they laughed rather bitterly at having stirred the boy to such fervid and florid inventions. They agreed with the faculty and with his father that Paul’s was a bad case.

The eastbound train was plowing through a January snowstorm; the dull dawn was beginning to show gray when the engine whistled a mile out of Newark. Paul started up from the seat where he had lain curled in uneasy slumber, rubbed the breath-misted window glass with his hand, and peered out. The snow was whirling in curling eddies above the white bottom lands, and the drifts lay already deep in the fields and along the fences, while here and there the long dead grass and dried weed stalks protruded black above it. Lights shone from the scattered houses, and a gang of laborers who stood beside the track waved their lanterns.

Paul had slept very little, and he felt grimy and uncomfortable. He had made the all-night journey in a day coach, partly because he was ashamed, dressed as he was, to go into a Pullman, and partly because he was afraid of being seen there by some Pittsburgh businessman, who might have noticed him in Denny & Carson’s office. When the whistle awoke him, he clutched quickly at his breast pocket, glancing about him with an uncertain smile. But the little, clay-bespattered Italians were still sleeping, the slatternly women across the aisle were in open-mouthed oblivion, and even the crumby, crying babies were for the nonce stilled. Paul settled back to struggle with his impatience as best he could.

When he arrived at the Jersey City station he hurried through his breakfast, manifestly ill at ease and keeping a sharp eye about him. After he reached the Twenty-third Street station, he consulted a cabman and had himself driven to a men’s-furnishings establishment that was just opening for the day. He spent upward of two hours there, buying with endless reconsidering and great care. His new street suit he put on in the fitting room; the frock coat and dress clothes he had bundled into the cab with his linen. Then he drove to a hatter’s and a shoe house. His next errand was at Tiffany’s, where he selected his silver and a new scarf pin. He would not wait to have his silver marked, he said. Lastly, he stopped at a trunk shop on Broadway and had his purchases packed into various traveling bags.

It was a little after one o’clock when he drove up to the Waldorf, and after settling with the cabman, went into the office. He registered from Washington; said his mother and father had been abroad, and that he had come down to await the arrival of their steamer. He told his story plausibly and had no trouble, since he volunteered to pay for them in advance, in engaging his rooms; a sleeping room, sitting room, and bath.

Not once, but a hundred times, Paul had planned this entry into New York. He had gone over every detail of it with Charley Edwards, and in his scrapbook at home there were pages of description about New York hotels, cut from the Sunday papers. When he was shown to his sitting room on the eighth floor he saw at a glance that everything was as it should be; there was but one detail in his mental picture that the place did not realize, so he rang for the bellboy and sent him down for flowers. He moved about nervously until the boy returned, putting away his new linen and fingering it delightedly as he did so. When the flowers came he put them hastily into water, and then tumbled into a hot bath. Presently he came out of his white bathroom, resplendent in his new silk underwear, and playing with the tassels of his red robe. The snow was whirling so fiercely outside his windows that he could scarcely see across the street, but within the air was deliciously soft and fragrant. He put the violets and jonquils on the taboret beside the couch, and threw himself down, with a long sigh, covering himself with a Roman blanket. He was thoroughly tired; he had been in such haste, he had stood up to such a strain, covered so much ground in the last twenty-four hours, that he wanted to think how it had all come about. Lulled by the sound of the wind, the warm air, and the cool fragrance of the flowers, he sank into deep, drowsy retrospection.

It had been wonderfully simple; when they had shut him out of the theater and concert hall, when they had taken away his bone, the whole thing was virtually determined. The rest was a mere matter of opportunity. The only thing that at all surprised him was his own courage-for he realized well enough that he had always been tormented by fear, a sort of apprehensive dread that, of late years, as the meshes of the lies he had told closed about him, had been pulling the muscles of his body tighter and tighter. Until now he could not remember the time when he had not been dreading something. Even when he was a little boy it was always there–behind him, or before, or on either side. There had always been the shadowed corner, the dark place into which he dared not look, but from which something seemed always to be watching him–and Paul had done things that were not pretty to watch, he knew.

But now he had a curious sense of relief, as though he had at last thrown down the gauntlet to the thing in the corner.

Yet it was but a day since he had been sulking in the traces; but yesterday afternoon that he had been sent to the bank with Denny & Carson’s deposit, as usual–but this time he was instructed to leave the book to be balanced. There was above two thousand dollars in checks, and nearly a thousand in the bank notes which he had taken from the book and quietly transferred to his pocket. At the bank he had made out a new deposit slip. His nerves had been steady enough to permit of his returning to the office, where he had finished his work and asked for a full day’s holiday tomorrow, Saturday, giving a perfectly reasonable pretext. The bankbook, he knew, would not be returned before Monday or Tuesday, and his father would be out of town for the next week. From the time he slipped the bank notes into his pocket until he boarded the night train for New York, he had not known a moment’s hesitation. It was not the first time Paul had steered through treacherous waters.

How astonishingly easy it had all been; here he was, the thing done; and this time there would be no awakening, no figure at the top of the stairs. He watched the snowflakes whirling by his window until he fell asleep.

When he awoke, it was three o’clock in the afternoon. He bounded up with a start; half of one of his precious days gone already! He spent more than an hour in dressing, watching every stage of his toilet carefully in the mirror. Everything was quite perfect; he was exactly the kind of boy he had always wanted to be.

When he went downstairs Paul took a carriage and drove up Fifth Avenue toward the Park. The snow had somewhat abated; carriages and tradesmen’s wagons were hurrying soundlessly to and fro in the winter twilight; boys in woolen mufflers were shoveling off the doorsteps; the avenue stages made fine spots of color against the white street. Here and there on the corners were stands, with whole flower gardens blooming under glass cases, against the sides of which the snowflakes stuck and melted; violets, roses, carnations, lilies of the valley–somehow vastly more lovely and alluring that they blossomed thus unnaturally in the snow. The Park itself was a wonderful stage winterpiece.

When he returned, the pause of the twilight had ceased and the tune of the streets had changed. The snow was falling faster, lights streamed from the hotels that reared their dozen stories fearlessly up into the storm, defying the raging Atlantic winds. A long, black stream of carriages poured down the avenue, intersected here and there by other streams, tending horizontally. There were a score of cabs about the entrance of his hotel, and his driver had to wait. Boys in livery were running in and out of the awning stretched across the sidewalk, up and down the red velvet carpet laid from the door to the street. Above, about, within it all was the rumble and roar, the hurry and toss of thousands of human beings as hot for pleasure as himself, and on every side of him towered the glaring affirmation of the omnipotence of wealth.

The boy set his teeth and drew his shoulders together in a spasm of realization; the plot of all dramas, the text of all romances, the nerve-stuff of all sensations was whirling about him like the snowflakes. He burnt like a faggot in a tempest.

When Paul went down to dinner the music of the orchestra came floating up the elevator shaft to greet him. His head whirled as he stepped into the thronged corridor, and he sank back into one of the chairs against the wall to get his breath. The lights, the chatter, the perfumes, the bewildering medley of color–he had, for a moment, the feeling of not being able to stand it. But only for a moment; these were his own people, he told himself. He went slowly about the corridors, through the writing rooms, smoking rooms, reception rooms, as though he were exploring the chambers of an enchanted palace, built and peopled for him alone.

When he reached the dining room he sat down at a table near a window. The flowers, the white linen, the many-colored wineglasses, the gay toilettes of the women, the low popping of corks, the undulating repetitions of the Blue Danube from the orchestra, all flooded Paul’s dream with bewildering radiance. When the roseate tinge of his champagne was added–that cold, precious, bubbling stuff that creamed and foamed in his glass– Paul wondered that there were honest men in the world at all. This was what all the world was fighting for, he reflected; this was what all the struggle was about. He doubted the reality of his past. Had he ever known a place called Cordelia Street, a place where fagged-looking businessmen got on the early car; mere rivets in a machine they seemed to Paul,–sickening men, with combings of children’s hair always hanging to their coats, and the smell of cooking in their clothes. Cordelia Street–Ah, that belonged to another time and country; had he not always been thus, had he not sat here night after night, from as far back as he could remember, looking pensively over just such shimmering textures and slowly twirling the stem of a glass like this one between his thumb and middle finger? He rather thought he had.

He was not in the least abashed or lonely. He had no especial desire to meet or to know any of these people; all he demanded was the right to look on and conjecture, to watch the pageant. The mere stage properties were all he contended for. Nor was he lonely later in the evening, in his lodge at the Metropolitan. He was now entirely rid of his nervous misgivings, of his forced aggressiveness, of the imperative desire to show himself different from his surroundings. He felt now that his surroundings explained him. Nobody questioned the purple; he had only to wear it passively. He had only to glance down at his attire to reassure himself that here it would be impossible for anyone to humiliate him.

He found it hard to leave his beautiful sitting room to go to bed that night, and sat long watching the raging storm from his turret window. When he went to sleep it was with the lights turned on in his bedroom; partly because of his old timidity, and partly so that, if he should wake in the night, there would be no wretched moment of doubt, no horrible suspicion of yellow wallpaper, or of Washington and Calvin above his bed.

Sunday morning the city was practically snowbound. Paul breakfasted late, and in the afternoon he fell in with a wild San Francisco boy, a freshman at Yale, who said he had run down for a “little flyer” over Sunday. The young man offered to show Paul the night side of the town, and the two boys went out together after dinner, not returning to the hotel until seven o’clock the next morning. They had started out in the confiding warmth of a champagne friendship, but their parting in the elevator was singularly cool. The freshman pulled himself together to make his train, and Paul went to bed. He awoke at two o’clock in the afternoon, very thirsty and dizzy, and rang for icewater, coffee, and the Pittsburgh papers.

On the part of the hotel management, Paul excited no suspicion. There was this to be said for him, that he wore his spoils with dignity and in no way made himself conspicuous. Even under the glow of his wine he was never boisterous, though he found the stuff like a magician’s wand for wonder-building. His chief greediness lay in his ears and eyes, and his excesses were not offensive ones. His dearest pleasures were the gray winter twilights in his sitting room; his quiet enjoyment of his flowers, his clothes, his wide divan, his cigarette, and his sense of power. He could not remember a time when he had felt so at peace with himself. The mere release from the necessity of petty lying, lying every day and every day, restored his self-respect. He had never lied for pleasure, even at school; but to be noticed and admired, to assert his difference from other Cordelia Street boys; and he felt a good deal more manly, more honest, even, now that he had no need for boastful pretensions, now that he could, as his actor friends used to say, “dress the part.” It was characteristic that remorse did not occur to him. His golden days went by without a shadow, and he made each as perfect as he could.

On the eighth day after his arrival in New York he found the whole affair exploited in the Pittsburgh papers, exploited with a wealth of detail which indicated that local news of a sensational nature was at a low ebb. The firm of Denny & Carson announced that the boy’s father had refunded the full amount of the theft and that they had no intention of prosecuting. The Cumberland minister had been interviewed, and expressed his hope of yet reclaiming the motherless lad, and his Sabbath-school teacher declared that she would spare no effort to that end. The rumor had reached Pittsburgh that the boy had been seen in a New York hotel, and his father had gone East to find him and bring him home.

Paul had just come in to dress for dinner; he sank into a chair, weak to the knees, and clasped his head in his hands. It was to be worse than jail, even; the tepid waters of Cordelia Street were to close over him finally and forever. The gray monotony stretched before him in hopeless, unrelieved years; Sabbath school, Young People’s Meeting, the yellow-papered room, the damp dishtowels; it all rushed back upon him with a sickening vividness. He had the old feeling that the orchestra had suddenly stopped, the sinking sensation that the play was over. The sweat broke out on his face, and he sprang to his feet, looked about him with his white, conscious smile, and winked at himself in the mirror, With something of the old childish belief in miracles with which he had so often gone to class, all his lessons unlearned, Paul dressed and dashed whistling down the corridor to the elevator.

He had no sooner entered the dining room and caught the measure of the music than his remembrance was lightened by his old elastic power of claiming the moment, mounting with it, and finding it all-sufficient. The glare and glitter about him, the mere scenic accessories had again, and for the last time, their old potency. He would show himself that he was game, he would finish the thing splendidly. He doubted, more than ever, the existence of Cordelia Street, and for the first time he drank his wine recklessly. Was he not, after all, one of those fortunate beings born to the purple, was he not still himself and in his own place? He drummed a nervous accompaniment to the Pagliacci music and looked about him, telling himself over and over that it had paid.

He reflected drowsily, to the swell of the music and the chill sweetness of his wine, that he might have done it more wisely. He might have caught an outbound steamer and been well out of their clutches before now. But the other side of the world had seemed too far away and too uncertain then; he could not have waited for it; his need had been too sharp. If he had to choose over again, he would do the same thing tomorrow. He looked affectionately about the dining room, now gilded with a soft mist. Ah, it had paid indeed!

Paul was awakened next morning by a painful throbbing in his head and feet. He had thrown himself across the bed without undressing, and had slept with his shoes on. His limbs and hands were lead heavy, and his tongue and throat were parched and burnt. There came upon him one of those fateful attacks of clearheadedness that never occurred except when he was physically exhausted and his nerves hung loose. He lay still, closed his eyes, and let the tide of things wash over him.

His father was in New York; “stopping at some joint or other,” he told himself. The memory of successive summers on the front stoop fell upon him like a weight of black water. He had not a hundred dollars left; and he knew now, more than ever, that money was everything, the wall that stood between all he loathed and all he wanted. The thing was winding itself up; he had thought of that on his first glorious day in New York, and had even provided a way to snap the thread. It lay on his dressing table now; he had got it out last night when he came blindly up from dinner, but the shiny metal hurt his eyes, and he disliked the looks of it.

He rose and moved about with a painful effort, succumbing now and again to attacks of nausea. It was the old depression exaggerated; all the world had become Cordelia Street. Yet somehow he was not afraid of anything, was absolutely calm; perhaps because he had looked into the dark corner at last and knew. It was bad enough, what he saw there, but somehow not so bad as his long fear of it had been. He saw everything clearly now. He had a feeling that he had made the best of it, that he had lived the sort of life he was meant to live, and for half an hour he sat staring at the revolver. But he told himself that was not the way, so he went downstairs and took a cab to the ferry.

When Paul arrived in Newark he got off the train and took another cab, directing the driver to follow the Pennsylvania tracks out of the town. The snow lay heavy on the roadways and had drifted deep in the open fields. Only here and there the dead grass or dried weed stalks projected, singularly black, above it. Once well into the country, Paul dismissed the carriage and walked, floundering along the tracks, his mind a medley of irrelevant things. He seemed to hold in his brain an actual picture of everything he had seen that morning. He remembered every feature of both his drivers, of the toothless old woman from whom he had bought the red flowers in his coat, the agent from whom he had got his ticket, and all of his fellow passengers on the ferry. His mind, unable to cope with vital matters near at hand, worked feverishly and deftly at sorting and grouping these images. They made for him a part of the ugliness of the world, of the ache in his head, and the bitter burning on his tongue. He stooped and put a handful of snow into his mouth as he walked, but that, too, seemed hot. When he reached a little hillside, where the tracks ran through a cut some twenty feet below him, he stopped and sat down.

The carnations in his coat were drooping with the cold, he noticed, their red glory all over. It occurred to him that all the flowers he had seen in the glass cases that first night must have gone the same way, long before this. It was only one splendid breath they had, in spite of their brave mockery at the winter outside the glass; and it was a losing game in the end, it seemed, this revolt against the homilies by which the world is run. Paul took one of the blossoms carefully from his coat and scooped a little hole in the snow, where he covered it up. Then he dozed awhile, from his weak condition, seemingly insensible to the cold.

The sound of an approaching train awoke him, and he started to his feet, remembering only his resolution, and afraid lest he should be too late. He stood watching the approaching locomotive, his teeth chattering, his lips drawn away from them in a frightened smile; once or twice he glanced nervously sidewise, as though he were being watched. When the right moment came, he jumped. As he fell, the folly of his haste occurred to him with merciless clearness, the vastness of what he had left undone. There flashed through his brain, clearer than ever before, the blue of Adriatic water, the yellow of Algerian sands.

He felt something strike his chest, and that his body was being thrown swiftly through the air, on and on, immeasurably far and fast, while his limbs were gently relaxed. Then, because the picture-making mechanism was crushed, the disturbing visions flashed into black, and Paul dropped back into the immense design of things.

Writing Prompts

Use the following sentences to begin: “It’s not the street I usually go down. But for some reason, that day I turned down a different road.”

Develop a character or create a scene in the style of a “film noire”.

Writing the known and the unknown. Close your eyes, let a landscape appear. Allow yourself to view the landscape, taking note of texture and mood. Next, pretend that you have a rose petal in your hand. Feel it between your fingers and give it color and scent. Allow yourself time to make it a realistic experience. Now go back to creating your landscape, again focusing on details and texture. Continue writing about your landscape.

Create a progressive story chain that follows the trail of an object, or begins with the introduction of one character leading into the introduction of another, producing a chain of unrelated events that are linked by one momentary “shared” element.

Write a story about a person who has an obsession with shoes and claims he can predict a person’s future by the shoes they wear.

Write a list of five first and last names. Select one of the names and write about the character.

Dangerous Driving – Charlotte Appleby

9:42 A.M. Seriously?
Just out of bed
Gotta cuppa tea
Down the road
By fifteen feet
A red fiat slips
Off the street
Don’t ask me how
I’m as clueless as you
Friday morning so
Can’t have been drinking
But they crash through
A garden wall and smash
Into the little town house
The window shatters
No surprise there
Driver falls out
Head all a mess
Cheek’s all pale
And he sways
On his feet
As the owners run out
With dressing gowns on
The sirens sound
And the coppers come
In for a right laugh
A right waste of time