A story fragment from a dream

I had the most unusual and vivid dream the other night, and promptly wrote this down when I got up. Its not a story, but a fragment of one. I don’t have any idea who the protagonist is, beyond what you can read here, and I have no idea what his story is, or where its headed.

Stories are like that for me. They come on in inexplicable ways, and often the only way I get to discover the plot, is to write them. A bit like reading a mystery that you also happen to be writing. 

I have another story that started from a dream like this. It eventually ended up being The Peaches of Saint Ambrose. Whether this particular story ends up anywhere I don’t know. I’m neck deep in half-finished stories, and need to focus on finishing many of those before starting on this. I just thought it would be fun to show you what I start with. 

And note: this is unedited beyond my simple spell-checker. 


Story Fragment from a dream

It was Christmas time and a friend of my Mum’s was visiting. They had been close mates in University, or so I later learned–I was too young at the time to make such distinctions. All I knew was that he was a fancy Director of several well received plays in London, for which he gathered no small respect from the family, and the servants, and that he was different.

He arrived in the evening, well after dark, for my first recollection of him was of our butler Harold taking off his coat in the entryway, and seeing light snowflakes falling through the open door behind him in the porch light. Mum rushed past us to embrace him warmly, much like she did our father when ever he was away, and then she drug the man into the main room where there was a party going on in his favor. I remember many toasts, and backslaps. Everyone seemed quite proud or happy for him.

Later that evening the Lady’s Maid, Sophie, gathered us up and tucked us into our beds, as our nanny, Mrs. Perkins, was away for the holiday.

The sounds of the party still going on in the distant hall must have lulled me to sleep, for my next memory was the shifting sounds of a lady’s skirts swishing past as someone strode swiftly down our hall. Then my ears detected other noises; a soft voice here, a door creak there, all sounds that were familiar, and yet also somehow wrong.

I got up, putting on my robe and slippers–without any help, something I was quite proud of at the time–and quickly made my way downstairs. I followed the noises to the small courtyard that separated the main house, or the keep as we called it as kids, from the guest quarters. The door to the main guest room, the one we kept for special visitors, was wide open, and outside in the cold air huddled most of the servants. Mixed with them were the dull colored uniforms of the local constable, which I could just make out in the thinly lit night sky about an hour before dawn. It had stopped snowing in the middle of the night, leaving the sky open and clear. Among the people standing there I discovered my mother, with her ungloved hands at her sides in the bitter cold, and her face a white mask. I put my tiny hand inside of hers, feeling the cold of her fingers as she gripped my hand tightly, and lead her through the open door.

I was always a curious child, and when I discovered something of interest, ignored all entreaties from servants and family alike until I had searched out my quarry. This case was no different. Mum had always encouraged me in my little pursuits, much to the chagrin of the staff and of my father, something I was sadly never able to thank her sufficiently for later. This time it proved fortunate for it established a habit in the staff that allowed us to enter the room against the voicing of the servants and the investigators. They were so used to me having “my own way” that they put up little resistance.

Inside we found the rooms clean but in disarray. Uncle Stephen, which is what we called Mum’s friend, must have unpacked only a few things, and then sent the servants back for the night. I saw a half filled wine glass casually set on an end table, a brightly colored ascot discarded nearby. The type of thing that Harold would have made sure was tidied up in the morning before breakfast. Seeing them out like that was more disconcerting than the uniformed investigators asking questions, or the worried faces of the staff.

We walked right by the open door of the bedroom which was filled with people surrounding the bed. Mom clenched my hand at the sight of Stephen’s body covered completely in sheets, but I pulled her on towards the next room. It was there that I found what I was looking for.

The room was a dressing room attached to the main room by a large wooden door, which was fortunately closed at the time. Uncle Stephen’s bags and cases were laid about, some of them still unpacked. What drew my eye was a stack of thin papers, books I was later to find out, laid on top of on of his cases, and neatly wrapped in a bright blue ribbon. Under the ribbon was a small tag reading “for my lovely Kate,” in a small neat hand. I field a shudder in Mum’s hand, but continued on in any event. The ribbon opened with a gentle tug of my free hand and exposed the papers fully. It was a stack of several small books, more like pamphlets in size, on top of a few very large ones. I set the smaller book aside to reveal the larger ones. The first book was a large folio titled A Medieval Tracing Book, the font of which still sticks in my mind of being exemplary of the Art Nouveau period. I opened the cover to discover page after page of die-cut shapes stamped into thick paper, their faint outlines barely visible in the room’s light. There were castles, and fairies, dragons, and knights. I recognized the type of book immediately as they were the kinds of shapes Mum used to cut out of felt for use in our puppet theater. Daisy, Freddy and myself spent many a lovely hour making up grand stories with those shapes and our puppets. It was one of our favorite games. I had often wondered at the source of those shapes, for much as I loved my Mum I recognized even then she did not have the quality of drawing necessary for such marvelous props.

I felt such a stirring of my heart at the moment, for I recognized in an instant the mysterious source of our props, and yet held the certain knowledge of their demise–both of which lay within the body of the man cooling in the bed next door. It was a moment of discovery for me that is hard to describe. At once both joyful and yet bittersweet.

It was with this feeling that I closed the cover of the folio and placed the smaller pamphlets on top. A casual glance at these revealed another mystery. Like the folios they were old, their paper yellowed with age, but in otherwise excellent condition. The pamphlets appeared to be small plays by their layout, but the titles eluded me. One was called “A Man Called Dick,” another was, “A Horse in my Mouth.” They were words I recognized, but they did not make sense to my child’s mind. Both were authored by the same man, one Richard A. Johnson. It was a name I did not recognize, nor would I until much later when a ribald comment brought forth the titles to my then adult mind, and I suddenly understood their significance.

I remember placing the pamphlets back on top of the folio, and replacing the ribbon as best I could with only hand. Mum remained next to me, glassy-eyed and silent, watching my every move as from a distant peak. When I lead her outside to the coming dawn I had no idea that Uncle Stephen’s last gift to her would be confiscated by the authorities as pornography, and kept away from the family until they were returned to us, many years after her death.

Perhaps this was the saddest part of all, for I’m quite sure, had she kept these books in our library, she would have chanced upon them in her later years, and they would have filled her eyes with fond memories. And I have no doubt Uncle Stephen would have liked to be remembered in exactly such a way.

On outsiders crossing the wrong lines

…or an alternate explanation as to why Phil Robertson got into trouble.

There are lines in the world that don’t appear on any map. You will not find them in a travel book or a website, but they exist as ways of dividing otherwise comfortably homogenous areas, and if you cross them they can cause you harm.

The first time I can recall crossing one of these lines as an adult was just after I moved down to LA.  My roommate and I decided to got clothes shopping at a store called International Male. For those that don’t know, IM started as a clothing catalog. For all I know there’s still one today. At the time I first noticed it, I thought IM was just a catalog for trendy men. It was only later, when I visited the store in West Hollywood, that I realized there was something more to the store. Perhaps is the was unusually large number of good-looking young men on the streets, perhaps it was the absence of women in the store, but I think what clued me in the most was the giant billboard featuring two attractive men and advertising a gay cruise line. I had one of those, “I think we’re not in Kansas anymore”, moments, and did my best to act cool.

See I grew up in a smaller, more midwestern town. A town where you could openly call someone a faggot, and never be mistaken by your meaning. Nor would anyone stop you because you weren’t being political correct. This is because that was how the town’s social structure worked. There were no jack-booted thugs (presumably with red necks) wandering around making sure everyone was sufficiently homophobic. You didn’t need that. All you had to do was pay attention to those around you, and mimic how they acted. And in that town, at that time, being gay was an insult. In other words, it was politically correct to be homophobic.

And yet in parts of Los Angeles, only a few hundred miles south of Clovis, calling someone a faggot would earn you stares, and social rebuke. Everyone spoke the same language as they did in Clovis, wore (for the most part) the same clothes, but judging by the billboards it was such a different town that it might as well be another country. Just like in Clovis, there were no jack-booted things (presumably in pink satin with shirts reading “fag” on the front) wandering around keeping the PC standards in place. There were just people with slightly differing expectations of social intercourse.

And that the important point here. The lines were drawn by the people. It was the people who chose what was acceptable and what wasn’t. And it was the people who enforced these unwritten rules. There were no signs, there was no way to tell, except by close observation, but there were some places where “faggot” was an insult, and other places were it was only used for irony.

So yeah, for those that don’t know, there are places in the US that have been staked out by homosexuals. Again, they don’t rove the block in well-appointed gangs, but they do enforce their own community standards, and if you happen to cross those standards you can expect to get in trouble.

Which leads me to Phil Robertson, the guy from the show Duck Dynasty. Much ink has been spilled lately over his words in an interview, and his subsequent firing, and rehiring. I don’t have a lot to add to any of what has been said except to say, “so what?” I disagree with his expressed opinion, but I’m also old enough to understand that there and many people who feel the way he does. As a gay friend of mine said, “my skin is thick enough for the Phil Robertson’s of the world.” Indeed, it is.

But in the brouhaha over this incident, I’ve also read a lot about the gays taking over, and making everything PC. I don’t see that either. I think there’s another explanation, a simpler one. One which has the benefit of being easier to prove.

Much like that part of West Hollywood I mentioned, earlier, the city of LA has its own moral code. And while there are places which are exceptions to this rule, most of LA frowns upon homophobia. This goes double for what they call in this town “The Industry”, which is short for the entertainment industry. There’s a reason for this, and it shouldn’t be a surprise for any one near my age.

We all grew up with that special guy in high school who maybe liked musicals a little too much, hung around the drama club, or spoke in a high voice. Or maybe it was that gal who was a bit large for her size and excelled at sports, or wore here hair a little too short. We all knew people like this. You can’t escape this experience in high school. The point is not that these people exist, but what happened to them after high school. You see, a lot of them left their home towns, and moved to the big city. LA, NY, SF, and the like. Places where they would feel more at home, where they’d fit in. Places where knowing all the words to every Rodgers and Hart musical made you a star, not someone to be scorned.

And when these self same people moved to the big city, they needed to get jobs, because, well all those fancy close and trendy haircuts aren’t cheap. Amiright? And have you ever priced a good interior designer? OMG!

So where I work, meaning advertising for The Industry, probably one quarter to one third of the men I work with are gay. Maybe one quarter of the women are as well. Not enough to organize into squads in pink jack-boots, but enough that calling someone a faggot could very easily cost you your job, and would certainly earn you rebuke. Again, this may not be your social standards, but they are mine. They’re not enforced by thugs, but they are enforced all the same.

And this is where I think Phil Robertson caught so much hell. From what I can tell, Phil was merely expressing his own social values, values that honestly come from the place that he lives. Unfortunately for Phil, he doesn’t just work where he lives. A large percent of the people who work to make his show a success live in towns like mine, with social rules like mine. And this, I think, is where the people at A&E got mad. Phil had crossed one of their lines, crossed the unwritten contract that says, “that shalt not act the bigot, unless its against conservative politicians.” In short, he was an outsider who crossed the wrong line, and said faggot when he should have said, Republican.

This, I believe, is an easy mistake to make. Phil can rightly believe his show is an invention of his social structure, and not that of Hollywood’s or New York’s. After all, it is almost entirely shot on location, isn’t it? Except…except, its not just a show from his duck hunting swamps. Its also a show that is edited, advertised, sold, and distributed by people living in gay friendly cities. Moreover, I think Phil should know this too.

Perhaps he does. Perhaps Phil was just doing the red-neck version of using controversy to increase his value right when it was time to renegotiate his salary with the network. Personally, I hope this is the case. I would rather think of Phil Robertson as being calculating and shrewd than your garden variety bigot. But whatever he thinks, I doubt he’ll cross this line again. Or as the old adage goes, “Don’t shit where you eat.” Phil may work in the swamps of Louisiana, but his paycheck comes from an office in New York. And the odds are very likely that his paycheck was cut, ironically, by a faggot.

And that, I think, is the best irony of all.

Lyrics in need of a song

After traveling up to Fresno for a few days to help with my parents who independently found themselves both in the hospital, I came back home to discover my heart feeling like it was ripped open and all my emotions welling on the surface, ready to bubble over at the drop of a hat. Even simple things like driving home on a cloudy day seemed filled with import, and a casual song, or the sight of orange and gold leafs fallen on the ground, will trigger deep emotion.

While I consider myself a sensitive artistic type, this is definitely not my normal method of living. In the past, when my heart was more often found on my sleeve, I used to rely on poetry to help work out what was going on inside. I have pages and pages of poems from my single days, some of the terribly maudlin, and some more prescient, but as an literally form I haven’t attempted poetry in quite a while.

That is until today when the idea for a song popped into my head. I got home and typed it up, not really thinking much beyond just trying to keep it simple. I know some of my friends are songwriters. If you’re interested in putting these lyrics to music, please give it a go. With my blessings, for whatever they are worth.


The Goodbye Song

I’ve got four verses to tell you,
all the things you’ve meant to me.
And though the chorus will help out some,
still there’s so much more to see.

The radio’s on and the leaves are falling,
and the clouds have covered up the sky.
I cried for you when they said you were dying,
but I never thought to say goodbye.

I’ve got three verses left to tell you,
about the futures that we had,
How I planned to share them with you,
both the good days and the bad.

The radio’s on and the leaves are falling,
and the clouds have covered up the sky.
I cried for you when they said you were dying,
but I never thought to say goodbye.

I’ve got two verses to tell you,
but the words just come out wrong.
The swirling chaos of my feelings,
are somehow stuck within this song.

The radio’s on and the leaves are falling,
and the clouds have covered up the sky.
I cried for you when they said you were dying,
but I never thought to say goodbye.

It was sunny, when the call came,
now my chest hurts, in the cold rain,
And I’m stuck here in the breakdown,
with no one left to hear this sound.

I’ve got one verse left to tell you,
before they put you in the cold cold ground.
But there’s nothing left to say to you,
you cannot hear a sound.

The radio’s on and the leaves are falling,
and the clouds have covered up the sky.
I cried for you when they said you were dying,
but I never got to say goodbye.

Scrooge is in the House!

I’m about to rant here. If you don’t want to see it, look away.

There’s a WestJet commercial going around FaceBook featuring an elaborate set-up where passengers are asked what they want for Xmas, and then their wishes are fulfilled when they land at their destination. Everyone is wearing blue hats and such. Even the old fart himself, Santa, makes an appearance.

All of this is great except for two things. 1) Its a commercial for an airline. Granted its a smart one, a perfect ad champaign that is well suited for both the holiday and the internet, and 2) This is not a celebration of life, caring, or even happiness. Its a straight up selling of consumerism, albeit dressed up in a fancy blue outfit.

Perhaps I’m old fashioned, perhaps I am WAY off base, but I always thought the gift aspect of Xmas was a way to acknowledge family and friends. You give gifts to those you wish to express a “thank you” to. Sure giving gifts to random strangers is nice, especially if they have a genuine need–I mean nothing say Merry Christmas like giving a legless veteran a wheel chair–but these were not “needy” people, they were regular Joes. In fact one could say they were probably all fairly well off as airline travel is still one of the marks of middle class. You want to help the needy, go to your local bus station. They’re not hard to spot, believe me.

Moreover, they didn’t deserve these gifts. Had they done something–some charity event, helped the poor, worked in a food line at the local YMCA, anything–I’d feel different. But these people got gifts solely because they were at the right place and the right time.

So what we have here are needless gifts being given to a few (relatively) rich strangers for doing nothing. I’m sorry, but that doesn’t strike me as Christmas. That strikes me as rampant consumerism. Apparently nothing says merry Christmas than an over extended credit card.

How about for Christmasy stuff we celebrate, caring. We celebrate giving, especially to the needy or to family and friends. We celebrate the hard work of others, especially the unsung heroes who make all of our lives better. But most of all, lets celebrate the love that we see in each other. Not the happiness we get when we’re given yet another large screen TV.

And I’m not even going to touch the religious aspect except to say that if Christmas is supposed to be about the birth of the Christ, then let us celebrate it with all the joy, reverence, and respect such an occasion deserves.


For far too long Xmas has looked like an episode of “The Price is Right”. Lets put an end to this crap.

Why Feminism is Good for Capitalism

This morning, while driving Trevor to school, we got into a discussion of Sparta vs. Rome. Its a common topic in the Tolladay household, at least among the menfolk, because its an idea that comes up often in the military games that Trevor likes to play.

Often Trevor runs across young men who have been exposed to the movie 300 and assume that Spartans were The Best Warriors EVR! This is a natural assumption, but fails once you start to look for other societal indicators besides martial prowess. Our shorthand for this argument is to ask about the many monuments left standing in the ancient city of Sparta. “What,” you respond with sarcasm, “there aren’t any?” Any classist worth her salt will tell you that the Spartans used to say, “The walls of Sparta are its young men.” Indeed they were, which is why if you go there today your find a bunch of farmland and a few small archeological digs, while if you go to Rome you literally have to watch you feet to keep from tripping over ancient stuff.

All that was on my drive to school. When I got home I read this rather marvelous blog post by Kelly Barnhill about feminism. Suddenly the two ideas smashed into my head like peanut butter and chocolate, the result of which I submit below.

For starters, lets go back to ancient Rome and Sparta. Most people don’t know this but ancient Sparta fielded such an excellent army precisely because it maintained so many slaves. Sparta was the only Greek Polis to field a professional army for precisely this reason. The other city states, with the exception of the Athenian navy which was itself an oddity, simply did not have the extra resources to pay for a long-standing army. This is because armies are expensive. You have to pay a man to stand around and train all day. And most importantly, to not do other work like farm work. Every other solider in Greece was a farmer first, and a solider second. Sometimes a distant second. This was because Greece at that time was relatively poor. There simply was not enough cash on hand to pay for professional soldiers, except on the rare occasion when you needed to hire mercenaries. Sparta by-passed this trouble by subjecting thousands of Greeks and forcing them to work for their Polis. That’s right, the Greeks known most for “fighting for their freedom” didn’t actually practice freedom at home.

But this is a post about Capitalism not slavery, right? So let me get to that.

See slavery has its own sets of economic conditions, ones that are easy to read about in that other place we often encounter slavery, the American South prior to the Civil War. Sparta and the American South both experienced a common limitation of slavery. They found that it is difficult to maximize ones profit when the people doing the work are doing so against their will. Which is to say, capitalism works better when the workers are motivated.

I know, pretty straight forward, right? I mean everyone gets this, at least everyone who was raised in a capitalistic society like ours. The carrot is better than the stick, or as Teri likes to say, you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar. This is also the reason why in Rome one finds thousands of monuments, while in Sparta one finds grazing sheep. Give the citizens a choice and you gain vast amounts of wealth. Give them no choice and you gain very little.

But there’s another side to this that often gets missed. If capitalism works better when the workers are motivated, it works better still if they have some capital to invest. This is the great lesson of the last century. Countries all over Europe and here in America, passed laws that allowed workers to earn more wages, and invest more capital. (just in case you’re not getting it, I’m talking about unions here) And when they did, low and behold, their national economies took off. This is because all those middle class families invested small amounts of their capital back into their communities, and all those small investments, when multiplied by thousands and thousands of families, added up to some serious wealth. Not only did the rich get wealthier, the middle class did as well. And everyone benefited.

And right there is the issue in a nutshell. The more people you have in a system that have capital to invest, the more that system will prosper. The bigger the carrot, the larger the cart.

Which is were I come to feminism. See I dig feminism as an ideal, but really its not my main approach. I look at it like this. If we, as a country, can harness more individuals to the capitalist cart, then the faster it will go, and the more it can pull. More individuals means everyone: Men, women, black, white, straight, gay, etc. And the more “everyones” we have pulling, the better off we all are.

In short, capitalism offers a good reason to be a feminist, because it is the best and easiest way to benefit more people in our society.

A fist full of ideas

I was going over my computer, cleaning things up while I was waiting for a very large file to upload, and I noticed my writing program (Nisus Writer Express) had about 20 files open. Part of the way I work is to leave open files of stories or ideas so that I run across them every time I start the program. As a system its a bit chaotic, but its helps me remember the odd idea. But 20 is a bit more than I need, and it was starting to clog up my screen space. So I started going through them, and you know what? There’s some really cool ideas on my computer just waiting for me to have time to flesh them out. Like a time traveling princess who becomes an ambassador, or the geek guy whose first date with a hot girl ends with piles of dead zombies. Its funny how quickly I forget.

I’m still working on my middle grade novel, Order the Goddess of Small Machines. I got in a few chapters yesterday. I’m up to 17 I think. I doubt it will get over 25, so I’m on the home stretch. Alas, rereading the beginning the other day proved to me that the first few chapters need some serious clean-up. Once I get through that I’m thinking of putting it up here a chapter at a time. What do you think?