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Monday, October 13, 2014

A bird on the face of the Moon, October 9, 2014

Early in the morning of October 9, about eighteen hours after I had photographed that morning's Lunar eclipse, I went out to get photos of the just-past-Full Moon.

I prefer to use a manual setting when I take pictures of the Moon when it is close to Full. The manual setting takes sixty frames per second and creates images that are a bit dim compared to the automatic setting. This reduces the blinding glare of the Moon and allows subtle details that would otherwise be washed out to be visible.Unfortunately, it also puts the camera into a "widescreen" mode that reduces the overall image area to something that some of this Summer's "Super Moons" haven't been able to fit in. So it's very easy to cut off the top or bottom of the Moon in a standard landscape photo.

I was interested in capturing the subtle and not-so-subtle differences in the shadowed regions (on the right in these photos.) I set up the shot as best I could, centered it as well as I could, set the ten second timer, pressed the button, stepped away -  and watched with annoyance as the image on the screen showed that the Moon had slipped slightly out of the frame.

I also noticed something else - a speck that appeared after about five images, moved across the face of the Moon, and disappeared halfway through the shot.

I had captured a bird crossing the face of the Moon.


The Moon is big, really big. But it's quite small in the sky. Even in its extra large "Super Moon" state it still appears barely larger than an aspirin or the eraser at the end of a pencil held at arm's length. Now, look at how small that bird appears against the face of the Moon, and imagine how incredibly tiny it appeared in the sky. And yet I caught it as it flew between me and the Moon!


Photos of birds crossing the face of the Moon are not uncommon, which tells you something about just how many birds there are flying around at night. Still, the odds of getting one crossing your shot as you take pictures of the Moon seem...well, literally astronomical.


This bird appeared in twenty-six of the sixty images in that burst of photos. In most of them it isn't doing anything very interesting. In fact, it seems to be dropping like a rock with its wings either edge-on to the camera or completely folded back against its body. Starting with the first image and ending with the third image above, here is every third image in the sequence. (No wing flapping is apparent between any of these images.)










Sunday, October 12, 2014

An account of the Lunar eclipse of October 8, 2014 and the sunrise that followed

I was going to post this on my Lunar photography blog, Shoot the Moon, but then I decided it would be more appropriate to post it here and link to it from there.


I woke up extra-early on the morning of October 8, 2014. The weather forecast had not been promising the night before, and clouds had been thundering across the face of he Full Moon when I went to sleep a few hours earlier. Still, I dragged myself out of bed, took a shower, made coffee, ate some breakfast, and took a peek outside to see if I could see anything. A red glow in the West suggested that if nothing else, I might get some interesting cloud photographs. I made my lunch, gathered up my gear, walked down to the car, and headed for the Nanticoke-West Nanticoke bridge, where I would have a pretty good view of the Western sky - and maybe the eclipsed Moon.

Threading my way through the pre-dawn traffic in Nanticoke, including taking a detour caused by an ambulance parked outside of the local senior high-rise, I caught occasional glimpses of the Moon. The first seemed shrouded in clouds, but those that followed appeared to be clearer. I parked in the semi-paved lot on the Naticoke side of the bridge, grabbed my coat, a hat, my tripod, and a camera, and walked out until I was over the Susquehanna river.


6:26 AM: The Moon was there! Clouds darted around it, but I could see it.


6:31 AM: My camera was having a hard time focusing on a low-light target at infinity. I played with the settings a bit and realized that the standard Landscape mode would work best in this situation - but only once the eclipse had reached totality. Before then, everything was an unfocused blur. After totality, the Moon brightens up a bit, usually. (There was one that I remember from sometime in the late 1980's when the Moon actually became a dark purplish shade, and hung in the sky like a burned-out cinder. Through binoculars it looked ridiculously three-dimensional, like it was a ball hanging just out of reach.) Clouds were still present, but I decided they added a nice touch.


6:32 AM: I was on the walkway of the bridge, which is several feet wide and separated from the automobile traffic by a thigh-high guardrail. I had my tripod positioned so two of the three legs were touching the guardrail. Even in the hour preceding sunrise there was still quite a bit of traffic on the bridge. In this image, a car drove by just as the shutter opened. The reflected sodium vapor lights on the bridge created an eclipse-colored blur.


6:32 AM.


6:32 AM.


6:34 AM: I tried to establish context for these photos by pulling back to include the nearby disused railroad bridge. The camera did not take kindly to the change of state and lost focus.

The clouds settled in for a bit. I took a few more shots and got some fuzzy images. After a few minutes I heard and felt someone approaching on the bridge from the Nanticoke side. I was wearing a black longcoat but had made sure I was wearing relatively light-colored jeans and a beige baseball cap for contrast and increased visibility. I moved against the guardrail, pressed my tripod against it, and eyed the stranger warily: A stocky redbearded fellow, mid-30's, appeared somewhat unkempt. Could be some homeless guy, could be someone out for a morning constitutional. Could be someone who would want to steal my $400 camera and $30 tripod and sell them for enough money to get his next fix and maybe the one after that. 

"Morning," he said.

"Morning," I grunted back.

He walked past silently, then stopped and looked at my setup. "Whatchu lookin' at?" he asked, looking at the Western horizon.

"The Moon," I said. "Lunar eclipse. Snedeker's been going on about it all week." Joe Snedeker is a local meteorologist whose TV forecasts involve more clowning than actual weather information. But he had actually been talking extensively about the eclipse for most of the last week.

"I don't see it," the stranger said.

"It's - " I looked towards the horizon and the Moon was mostly hidden by clouds. "Aw, heck," I said, and hit the playback button on the camera. I had to go back a bit to find a decent photo. "Here," I said.

"Huh. That's pretty neat," the stranger said. "Well, have a nice day." He resumed his walk across the bridge.


6:43 AM: Nine minutes after the last shot the clouds cleared out for a while. The Moon was now much lower but the context was much easier to capture. Many outlets had been referring to this dramatically as a "Blood Moon" - apparently, that's another term for a total lunar eclipse. Despite the hype, I found this one had a rose-pink hue.


6:44 AM: I zoomed in a bit to capture the Moon as it sank closer to the treetops.


6:46 AM: The "Moon Illusion" in a photo. I pushed my zoom all the way to capture the dawn-faded and mist-shaded eclipsed Moon full size, and then I decided that wasn't a very interesting image. I backed off a bit and dipped the camera to include the trees. Reviewing this picture later I thought "My God, the Moon is HUGE there." It's not. I routinely take pictures of the Moon that fill much more of the image. But in this one you are clearly seeing foreground objects - trees that are less than half a mile away - and you're looking at the Moon in terms of them. Trees are big; the Moon is bigger than trees!


6:46 AM: Clearly, the end was near. The Moon was still well above the horizon, but about to pass below a local obstruction that would block it from view. Fun fact: by this point the Moon might have been much lower on the horizon, but its image was refracted up by the atmosphere. This can - and did - result in a condition called a selenelion, a situation where the setting Full Moon and the rising Sun are 180 degrees apart but both appear in the sky at the same time, due to both of their images being refracted above the horizon.


6:47 AM: Going...


6:47 AM: ...going...


6:48 AM: ...going...


6:48 AM: ...going...


6:48 AM: ...going...


6:48 AM: ...OK, we're gonna call it "gone" and move along.

So that was the end of the eclipse for me. Well, I thought I was seeing a bizarre atmospheric effect as the Moon began to peek up over the treetops again, much larger than it had been before. But this turned out to just be a cloud.

And there I was, with a tripod and a camera on a bridge over a river, on a crisp Autumn morning with the Sun rising in the east and some time to kill before I had to head to work. So I hiked out farther onto the bridge to get a better look at the Eastern sky.

I saw this:


6:50 AM: These beams are crepuscular rays - think of them as anti-sunbeams, shadows cast by clouds on the water vapor in the atmosphere.


6:52 AM: The crepuscular rays were strong and clear. A friend in Williamsport got almost the same images, so atmospheric conditions were similar across the area.


6:52 AM.


6:55 AM: Some of the gold-rose hue is leaving the horizon. The Sun will soon clear the trees, but that will be fundamentally uninteresting. Plus, I knew I should head home, review my images, and get to work.

As I walked back towards my car I realized that with such strong, clear crepuscular rays, I might be able to see the rarer phenomenon of anticrepuscular rays, shadows cast by clouds that stretch across the sky and converge on the antisolar point - creating a "dark Sun setting" effect. I turned to the West toward the railroad bridge that had given some context to my images, and...


6:58 AM: Yep.


6:58 AM: Exactly as expected.

I walked back to my car, went home, and got ready to head to work.


Sunday, September 14, 2014

New blog: Shoot the Moon

I've been taking a lot of photos of the Moon lately - mainly because I can. My Nikon Coolpix P520 seems to be optimized for lunar photography, both in closeup shots and in-context landscape shots, so I've been trying to capture as many different images as I can through each cycle. I realized that if I were to post them here they would quickly come to dominate the blog. To avoid that, I've created a new blog where they can be showcased. I'm calling the blog Shoot the Moon, though the "shootthemoon" address was already taken in Blogspot, as was "moonshots." Surprisingly, "mymoonshots" was not, so I snagged it.

Shoot the Moon
http://mymoonshots.blogspot.com/

Check it out!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Vintage: a personal history

The Vintage is closing at the end of August, 2014. It's not the first time it's closed, but it feels like it might be the last.

I first got involved with the Vintage in September, 2011. I was invited to take part in a "bloggers' roundtable" by Rich Howells, who was blogging and working for publication Go Lackawanna.  Back then I would normally have been reticent about such an invitation, but had just started a "say yes to everything" approach to life, so I agreed.

I was a little confused as I was heading up there. I had looked up the address ahead of time, of course, and the place wasn't where I expected it to be.  I remembered reading about the Vintage Theater when it had first opened a few years earlier, in an article in a copy of the Scranton Times someone had left in the break room. The article talked about how a brother and sister were someone was opening a new venue in the old Ritz Theater, a place where my friends and I used to go to see dollar movies in college.  I didn't remember much more, except maybe something about classic films.

In any event I found myself turning left where I would have expected to be turning right - if it hadn't been a one-way street. But there it was, right where the computer map said it would be, at 119 Penn Avenue - several blocks from the old Ritz Theater.

http://nepablogs.blogspot.com/2011/09/nepa-bloggers-roundtable.html
http://nepablogs.blogspot.com/2011/09/nepa-bloggers-roundtable-follow-up.html

(I would later learn that this was the second home for the Vintage Theater, and it had in fact originally been located in the Ritz Theater building.)

As I described in the linked post, the Bloggers' Roundtable was followed immediately by a poetry reading being put on by a group called the Northeastern Pennsylvania Writers' Collective. And the rest, as they say, is history.

http://anothermonkey.blogspot.com/2012/05/northeastern-pennsylvania-writers.html

There's a lot more to the story, of course. I didn't decide to meet with the group until a second encounter a few weeks later:

http://anothermonkey.blogspot.com/2011/10/pages-and-places-book-festival-part-1.html

My work schedule meant I wouldn't be able to attend every meeting, but I attended all that I could. Soon I found myself going up to the Vintage Theater for other events, like the BlueKey Tweetup in December 2011, the first Pecha Kucha night in NEPA in January 2012, and the first Scranton StorySlam in late March 2012. Plus the monthly Third Thursday Open Mic Poetry nights, and the occasional performance or event.

Then, on June 1, 2012, the Vintage Theater closed.

Not for good. We were assured that the Vintage Theater would be coming back someday, in some form. In the meantime the Northeastern Pennsylvania Writers' Collective found itself a new, temporary meeting place at Scranton's Northern Light coffee shop, though our performances were put on hiatus indefinitely.

The Vintage Theater came back a few months later in a new home, the old Manhattan Room bar of the old Hotel Jermyn at 326 Spruce Street. It was rechristened as The Vintage, and for a while shared space with the independently operated Morning Glory cafe. It took a while for the NEPWC to find its footing again, but after a few months of struggling we began presenting poetry to full and nearly-full houses.

And that's where we've been since then. The Vintage has continued on its mission as Scranton's premiere artspace, featuring bands and art exhibits and literary events, plays, a second Pecha Kucha night, and numerous other events.  It's been a popular place, but expensive to run.

This week, Conor O'Brien announced that the Vintage would be closing its doors again at the end of August. This time, for good.

It's not over yet, as I write this. There's a concert this Saturday, August 16. The Last Third Thursday Open Mic Poetry Night is going on next Thursday, August 21. A  music, poetry, and performance art event called velveteen will take place next Saturday, August 23.

On Saturday, August 30, there will be a farewell party. After that, the Vintage will be closed.

The Vintage has been a big part of my life these last three years. I've met a lot of amazing people because of it. Become a part of a community I might otherwise never have known existed. I've grown personally because of the things I've experienced and people I've met because of the Vintage. But now it's over.

So that's that. The Vintage will soon join the long list of places in Scranton that played a big part in the local arts, entertainment, and culture scene, had their time, and went away. Prufrock's. Cafe del Sol. The Test Pattern. Anthology. The Banshee. New Visions.

The Vintage.


Friday, July 18, 2014

I Own the Moon

Many years ago I got a telescope as a Christmas present. It's what's known as a "department store scope", a silver-gray refractor with a small aperture and a variety of overpowered eyepiece lenses. Serious amateurs bemoan the popularity of these scopes as gifts: they are difficult to use, difficult to aim, and produce poor-quality or overly-sensitive images. The frustration that results from trying to use one of these telescopes to see anything tends to convince many aspiring amateur astronomers to take up another hobby.

I made mine work.

I remember the first time I saw Saturn through it. I had followed the advice in my astronomy magazines and used the lowest-power eyepiece. I aimed the tube carefully, peered in the eyepiece...and there it was. Tiny, very tiny, but pin-sharp. I could see rings. I think I could even see bands, if I squinted just right. But it was there. This wasn't Saturn in a photograph. This was Saturn, live, real. In my telescope. In my lens. In my eye.

Mine, I thought.

This was my Saturn. Maybe at that moment I was the only person looking at Saturn through a telescope. Probably not, but even if other people were watching, no one else had these photons. These photons had come from the sun, bounced off Saturn, traveled back across space, penetrated the atmosphere, found their way into my telescope and onto my retina, and no one else's. This Saturn was mine.

One of the great frustrations of my early efforts with digital photography was my inability to get a good photo of the Moon. My zoom wasn't strong enough, my image didn't have enough pixels, my camera couldn't adjust for the brightness. At best I could get fuzzy pictures that had some Moon-like features on them.



Earlier this year,courtesy of my job, I became the owner of a new digital camera, a Nikon Coolpix P520. It is my third Coolpix camera, but it has capabilities far beyond the previous two. It has a 42x zoom. This is interesting, not just because of the Douglas Adams connection, but because 42x is a sufficient zoom to result in an image of the Moon that nearly fills the frame. It also has very sophisticated image stabilization and the ability to adapt to different levels of image brightness. It turns out that it is ideally suited to take pictures of the Moon.

May 5, 2014

May 11, 2014

June 7, 2014

July 11, 2014
 
The level of detail is astonishing. And take note: the first three of these photos were taken freehand. At 42x, in Sports (high shutter speed) mode. (The last one was taken using a tripod and 60 frames per second imaging, with brightness and contrast enhanced.)

And these are my images. Mine. My photons, my camera, my lens, my imager. No one else saw exactly these same images. This is my Moon.

So how about you? Wherever you are, unless you live underground, the Moon is visible some time during the month. It is bright enough to penetrate even the most light-polluted urban environments. You almost certainly have a camera, very likely a camera better than mine. What's keeping you from aiming it at the Moon and snapping some photos?

This is what I think of as the Shoot the Moon Challenge: everybody should go out and get some photos of the Moon. Post them online, on your blog or Facebook or Twitter or Instagram or wherever. Share them with the world. Check out other people's images. Hone your skill, improve your photos. Take better images and post them. Whatever you get will be your Moon. Other people will have images of the Moon, but none of them will be the same as yours. None of them will be the same as mine.

So get some photos of the Moon. Share them online. Realize how amazing what you've just done is. Realize that in a sense you now have possession of the Moon - or at least, of the particular set of photons you captured to make your image. You own that set of photons. You own that Moon.

But not these. These are mine. I own these.

I own the Moon.

Saturday, June 07, 2014

Advice to a young poet

I've been involved with the local poetry scene for about two years now, and all that while I've been making some observations, especially of the young poets just doing their first readings. Now, as someone who has possibly been involved in poetry for less time than some of these young poets, it seems preposterous that I should be offering advice. But I have watched some other people providing advice to some of these kids, and some of it seems awful. (The worst seems to be "Say 'fuck' more. Every third line at least. It will make your poetry hip, edgy, and confrontational.") So I thought maybe I would string together my thoughts in one place. But this is very much a work on progress.

The first line has become my personal motto. It also describes what I've been doing for the last two years.


Crash the party. Dance with the prettiest girl in the room. Act like you belong.

You have a voice. Use it.

You have many voices. Find them. Use them, too.

Be brave. Be strong. Be unapologetic. Make damned sure you're heard.

Be unafraid to show vulnerability.

Filling your poem with "Fuck" doesn't make you sound cool. At all.

Be just a poet and you will be broke. (Unless you're writing poems by cats, then you'll be a bestselling author.) There's no shame in being something else AND a poet. Becoming a welder doesn't mean you've given up your dreams. Being a welder who is also a poet is incredibly awesome. Being a poet who is also a welder will strike fear into the hearts of your fellow poets.

Poetry is a lot of things. It has a history. Being your own person doesn't mean you have to reject everything that has come before. There are many styles. Study them. Reject the ones you don't like, embrace the ones you do. Create your own.

It's not all about you. But sometimes it is.

Lots of people will give you advice. Some of it is good. Most of it is crap. The trick is to learn how to discern one from the other.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

A decade of blogging

As of yesterday, May 14, 2014, I have been blogging, off and on, for ten years.

I've seen a lot of changes. I've seen a lot of bloggers come and most of them go again. I've followed the lives of my favorite bloggers for years after they stopped blogging.  I've watched ephemeral applications like Twitter and Facebook largely supplant blogging as a means of people expressing themselves. I've watched those tweets and Facebook posts get buried like pebbles in a landslide.

Another Monkey is still around!



Sunday, May 04, 2014

Broken Windows and Bent Rims: the Pothole theory of economic stimulus

When I was in high school I had to take a social studies elective. I chose Problems of Democracy, a course taught by one of my favorite teachers. It was rumored to be a very easy class, but the subject matter sounded interesting, so I took it.

Among the many topics covered was the decaying infrastructure of the nation. Many of the bridges, roads, and even highways that we use every day were quite old, and most had not received regular maintenance since their construction. Such things were expensive budget items, and the likelihood of catastrophic failure during any given two-year time span was fairly low, so it was easier to do the minimum maintenance necessary to keep traffic and interstate commerce flowing and leave the problems for the future to deal with.

That was thirty years ago. Things haven't changed much since then. We're still kicking the costs down the road - not just for transportation infrastructure, but also for energy infrastructure, gas mains and electrical grids and nuclear power plants which continue to run well beyond their originally intended lifespans.

In economics there's the "Parable of the Broken Window." In summary: from one point of view, a broken window can stimulate economic activity, at least for the people who repair and replace windows. But from another point of view, the money that is used to repair or replace a broken window s not available to be spent on other things. The broken window may result in a small localized benefit, but it results in a net economic loss to the system.

Pennsylvania has huge infrastructure problems. Heavy truck and commuter traffic along the northeastern corridor which cuts through the state coupled with winters which (except for the few years prior to this one) are typically brutal and full of freeze-thaw cycles results in numerous potholes on local streets, parking lots, around train tracks, on bridges, and interstate highways. This winter has been particularly rough for potholes, possibly because of pent-up pothole precursor conditions that never expressed themselves in the past few years, possibly because of the viciousness of this winter's cold, possibly because of past use of inadequate repair materials. And while some "cold patching" has taken place, a concerted repair effort is not planned, according to some reports, until July.

Is there some massive government-industrial conspiracy to keep the roads full of potholes?

It's not as ridiculous as it sounds. State and local government can see near-term economic savings by postponing repairs - kicking the problem down the road, or even not dealing with it at all in some situations. State and local governments have absolved themselves of responsibility for damage caused to vehicles by potholes: it is, they argue, the responsibility of the driver to be in control of their vehicle at all times. If you hit a pothole, the argument goes, it is either a deliberate act by the driver, or a failure to maintain control of the vehicle by the driver.

So you've hit a pothole.  Bent rims, blown tires, sidewall bubbles, broken shocks, bent arms - numerous things can happen when you hit a pothole. Now you need to get your vehicle repaired. After you get those repairs, you should also get an alignment done to avoid uneven wear to your tires. Of course, that alignment will only hold until you hit your next pothole - probably on the way home from getting the repairs done. As long as there are potholes (and you insist on not being in control of your vehicle, you irresponsible driver!) there will be the potential for more damage and more repairs.

Where does the conspiracy come in? Well, consider: the state government saves money not doing pothole repairs. Repair shops and tire stores see an increase in business. And the state sees an increase in tax revenues from the money being spent on repairs and replacements! Everyone benefits. Except, of course, for the people shelling out the money for the repairs and replacement parts.

A friend once cautioned me that you should never ascribe malicious intent to a situation where basic incompetence explains matters just as well. That may very well be the case. But consider: we live in a state where the governor trumpets the fact that he has saved money by cutting thousands of jobs from the state payroll - that is, he has put thousands of former state employees out of work. A state where the governor pledged not to increase taxes, and kept that promise by increasing and in some cases doubling fees for basic state services like car registration and driver's license renewal. It is not inconceivable that a plan that saves money and increases tax revenue by essentially doing nothing would get a green light.

Is this basic incompetence or malicious intent? Are potholes the "broken windows" of the Pennsylvania economy?

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Upcoming...

I've been neglecting this blog a lot lately, which is sad, especially with my...TENTH?!...blogiversary coming up in a few weeks. Of late this has become mostly a poetry blog, and that's not likely to change soon. My current situation is giving me time for the occasional poem, some photography, and not much else, and poetry is something I can handle financially - mostly. At least for the free poetry readings.

I have a few poems slated to post here. I may put up two versions of each, as they were originally read and as they were revised. The second one is something of a work in progress and may continue to be revised for a while.

I also have a photography challenge to put out there. I don't know if anyone will hear it, but it might be worth putting out. Here's a preview of what it involves.


(Did I mention I have a new camera?)

We just had another Blog Fest this past Friday. While these have become primarily political events rather than primarily blogging events (confusing and misleading any new non-political bloggers looking to socialize with other bloggers in the area), it was good to see the bloggers who were there. (I was only able to be there before the crowd filled in, and after most of it had cleared out because of a previously scheduled poetry commitment.)

More soon, I promise. Other demands on my time at the moment.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Poem: blossom


blossom

I saw a black blossom floating in a bird bath once
it had red and pink petals spreading out in the water
and a long pink stem behind
and, on closer inspection, little feet attached to little legs
and I realized it wasn't a blossom at all
but the back half of a rodent
a mouse, or rat, or (as I would later determine)
a vole, a cute chubby little creature with a fondness for the cocoa hulls
I was using to mulch my blueberries.

It had been going about its vole-ish business one day
when some keen-eyed bird spotted it
a hawk, most likely
and snatched it up to have it for lunch
But the rodent struggled mightily, fighting for its life,
forcing the bird to expend energy just to hold onto this bit of food
and in the end it decided that half a vole was better than none
and it bit the vole in two, flying off with the still-struggling front
and leaving the back to fall into a birdbath
where its guts spread out like red and pink petals in the water
and its tail stretched out like a stem
and it floated there, waiting for me to find it


This poem was first presented at the Kick Out the Bottom Open Voice reading at Embassy Vinyl in Scranton on February 28, 2014. I got the idea to write it at the previous month's event - though, as you'll see, most of it already existed years ago.

I prefaced this by saying "I think I'm starting to get a reputation of something of a love poet. So I've decided to do something different - a poem about nature." Most people laughed, possibly expecting an ode to nature, not something about nature red in tooth and claw and beak and expanding guts.

I knew I had written about this incident previously. It's described in one of my most-commented posts, "The Strange Case of the Headless Rabbit":

...A few years ago I saw my first vole, sort of, in a birdbath. Actually it was half a vole, the back half. I thought it was some sort of strange blossom that had landed in my birdbath, with a short stem and a black bud and a red blossoming flower. The "stem" turned out to be the vole's tail, the black "bud" was its back half, and the red "blossom" was just its guts spreading through the water. Ah, isn't nature lovely?
I figured some bird of prey had swept down and snatched a hapless vole as it scurried across my lawn towards the safety of my garden shed. The vole, a fat mouselike critter, put up a valiant struggle as the bird perched on the birdbath and gathered its strength to carry the rodent off in its beak. Maybe the vole scored some points with its sharp little teeth. (I had a vole bite me once, when I caught one just outside my garden shed and picked it up to study it. Dumb.) The bird, growing annoyed, realizing that it was in danger of losing its meal, and instinctively understanding the rapidly diminishing net energy gain from this food source as it subtracted out the increasing amount of effort being expended to secure the food source, made a snap decision and bit down hard with its powerful beak, cutting the vole in half and ending its struggles. Pleased with its decision, it let the part of the vole that had been outside its beak drop into the birdbath and flew off to consume its meal, or perhaps share it with a mate or its chicks...

That was written on April 22, 2006, and described an incident from several years earlier - possibly as far back as 1998 or so. Sometimes it takes me a long time to work something into a poem!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Poem: Love anyway


Love anyway

You stand there like a clown in a spotlight without a broom
because you love her
more than you can say,
more than you have ever loved anyone else,
more than anyone has ever loved anyone else,
and she does not love you

She loves him
and he has no poetry in his soul

But love her anyway
even if she will never love you

Because the opposite of love is not hate
the opposite of love is not indifference
the opposite of love is resentment
bitterness and anger for being denied that which you know you deserve
that which is given freely to one so undeserving

Love becomes you in a way resentment does not
love is not the answer
love isn't even the question
love simply is

Love her anyway
because you love her
and whether she loves you or not
or continues to love him
him, the one with no poetry in his soul.
you will have loved greatly and grandly and without hope of reward
and the universe will have become a better place for it

So take off the greasepaint
and the shabby hat
forget the broom
step out of the spotlight
put aside the resentment
and love her anyway


This is the fifth version (at least) of this poem. I first read it on January 31, 2014 at the Kick Out the Bottom poetry reading at Embassy Vinyl in Scranton (just a few hours after a major rewrite at work over lunch) and then presented it again on February 20, 2014 at the Third Thursday Open Mic Poetry Night at the Vintage in Scranton, with the line "the opposite of love is not apathy" changed to "the opposite of love is not indifference."

As with most of my poems, this came from several sources. I originally came up with the line "I love you and you love him and he has no poetry in his soul" back in November of 2013, but didn't take it anywhere. In early January I tried to come up with the saddest image I could think of that could be used as the basis of a poem, and I thought of the old Emmett Kelly Jr. "sweeping up the spotlight" routine. For those who don't know, Emmett Kelly Jr. was a very famous hobo clown back in the 1970's who would end his performances with a bit in which he used a broom to sweep up the spotlight. Sometimes this was played for laughs, as he would chase multiple spotlights across the stage as they grew and shrank, appeared and disappeared. But sometimes this was played for pure pathos: he would sweep at the edges of the spotlight, making it smaller and smaller, until it finally disappeared and the show was over. This made me cry when I was a kid. How much sadder, I thought, if he went out to do this routine and realized he had forgotten his broom?

So I pictured a pathetic, lovelorn sap, standing there broken-hearted, hoping to garner some sympathy for his plight, realizing he had screwed up his opportunity to do this and just looked like even more of a fool.

Good, good. But where was this going? What did I want to say?

Poems in the "Waaah, my heart is broken, life sucks" genre are a dime a dozen. Less than that: go to most poetry open mics and you won't even have to pay a dime to hear numerous poems with this same message. If every person who ever had their heart broken gave in to misery and despair and just curled up and died, the human race would be in immediate danger of extinction. But most people get over it. The pain dulls, they move on, maybe they find some sort of happiness with someone else. Well, hooray for that, but was that really what I wanted to say? "Ehhh, you'll get over it?"

No. I realized I had something else to say. If you really love somebody - love them on a level beyond just wanting to get laid, beyond infatuation or lust, but really love them - then it almost doesn't matter if they love you in return. Your feelings for them aren't conditioned on reciprocation. Your love exists on a level the best word for which would be Platonic - if that word were not already being used to refer to another type of relationship entirely. And this is dangerous territory, because it sounds like its delusional, or steeped in denial, or simply stalker-ish. But it isn't intended as any of these things. The message is simply: if you truly love someone and they don't love you in return, you love them anyway - and go on with your life. Don't wallow in darkness and misery and despair, writing bad poetry about how your suffering is beyond anything anyone else can understand. Love them anyway, and get on with it. 

And so I wrote this.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

"If I had the time to write about every little thing that happened in my life..."

"If I had the time to write about every little thing that happened in my life, I wouldn't." That was the opinion of blogging expressed by a friend of a friend about ten years ago. That was before Twitter and Facebook came along end encouraged people to engage in a degraded sort of blogging, a running commentary and series of "lookit this!" presentations.  (Ultimately the person who made this statement had a nervous breakdown. I'm not saying the two things are related, but...)

So I guess this is going to be another one of those "Where I've been / What I've been doing" posts that have taken the place of a lot of the blogging I used to do. Only it won't be like them, because I'm going to be leaving out most of the details. One of the reasons I haven't been blogging is because much of the stuff I've been doing has had me intimately involved in someone else's personal life, in a way that neither of us is really comfortable talking about yet. Facebook has a relationship status of "It's Complicated," and the two of us would be the prime example of that status - if she weren't already seeing someone else. To give you an example: Yesterday was Valentine's Day, and I spent several hours after work with her - helping her shop for Valentine's Day stuff for her boyfriend. She saved a bundle on chocolates thanks to a coupon I had for Barnes and Noble, and his homemade Valentine's Day feast was made in cookware provided by me. So, yeah, it's complicated.

And it's not just that. That's just the part I can talk about. There was other stuff going on, stuff that made me glad she has a boyfriend to help her and watch over her when I'm not around. We've decided that when everything is over and the dust has settled, we'll write out an account of some sort. I'm thinking that opera would be the best format: huge, preposterous themes, heroes, villains, a young, plucky, tragic heroine, her handsome but arrogant suitor, the well-intended but buffoonish older fellow, reversals of fortune, death... What else could possibly contain all that? Even the driest and most objective version of the story could easily be dismissed, to poach a phrase from Shakespeare, as an improbable fiction.

Her life has settled into a new normal in recent weeks, in part because of a horrible and vile event I can't talk about. This has taken some of the pressure off of me. For a long while I was seeing her two or three times a week, sometimes more, usually from immediately after work until after midnight - meaning that I would be getting home and into bed at best by 1:00 in the morning, to wake up at my scheduled time of 5:15 or so. (Did I mention she was living very close to where I used to work, back when I had a high-paying job in the DVD industry that made it possible to afford the gas for such a commute?) But because of what happened a few weeks ago, it's not absolutely necessary that I be there two or three times a week, and because of a reduction in the obligations she has, obligations which pass on to me as her personal driver, my visit time is considerably shorter - as is my commute. Plus she's now in a new living situation which presents her with the opportunity to take advantage of living within a supporting community - but also poses a new set of hazards to her well-being. A guardian demon's work is never done.

Poetry reading at the Vintage, January 16, 2014. Photo by Carlton Farnbaugh.

I'm still writing poetry. I presented one of my best works so far (in my opinion) at an event in Scranton on January 31, and plan to present it (with minor revisions) at the Third Thursday Poetry Night at the Vintage in Scranton this Thursday, February 28. The Vintage is located at 326 Spruce Street in Scranton; doors open/signups begin at 8:00 PM, poetry begins at 8:30 PM. All are welcome to read or listen, and admission is free, though donations to the Vintage are encouraged.

Reading at the fourth edition of the Kick Out the Bottom open voice poetry reading at
Embassy Vinyl in Scranton, January 31, 2014. Photo by Charwonica Dziwozony.
Usually my blogging takes a dip in the Winter months as the usual hibernation reaction / seasonal affective disorder kicks in. This year I can't really blame that. All the other stuff I've been doing has actually helped keep me going through these months, even as it has reduced my time and freedom to post. Still, I can't promise that I will be resuming anything close to my old blog-a-day schedule anytime soon. You will occasionally see new posts from me at the other blogs listed on the sidebar, so you can know I'm still around, even if you don't follow me on Facebook or anything like that. I do hope to come back to blogging. I just don't know when.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Poem: Ex nihilo

This is a poem written especially for the second edition of the Kick Out the Bottom Open Voice Poetry Reading, held the last Friday of every month at Embassy Vinyl, 352 Adams Avenue, Scranton. Sign-ups begin at 6:45 and readings begin at 7:00. Standing room only, bring your own chair. Limited to thirteen slots, which fill up fast, so show up early if you'd like to read! 

Writing is the perfect art for people without much in the way of resources. Pen and paper are desirable, and having a word processor and printer are ideal, but you can compose an epic tale or a great poem entirely in your head and carry it in your memory. You can write words in dirt with your finger - heck, Jesus did that (in an apocryphal tale which does not appear in any copies of scripture until a certain point in history, and then appears consistently, in what may have been an early bit of fanfiction; see Bart Ehrman's books for more information.) 

Writers have the unique ability to weave realities from nothing. In hearing a poem or story you may be deeply touched by the meaning, or caught up in events. You may become upset at the fate of a character, a character who never existed except in words strung together by the author, and in the image those words created in your mind. This is an amazing thing. It has always seemed to me that creators partake in some aspect of the divine in their creation, whether it is in building a material object, creating a work of art, or conceiving a child. But it is writers and poets who truly create these things from nothing, nothing more than words and sounds, immaterial things which we have had to invent a means to represent. This creation from nothing most closely mirrors the divine act of creation.

Ex nihilo

We are liars and thieves
weaving realities truer than truth
from lines pilfered from ancient epics
and last week's comic books

We steal from the gods themselves
Not, like Prometheus, something as small and simple as fire
We steal their power, claim for ourselves
their divine purview to create from nothing

We fuck with our fingers
on keyboards, or gripping pens
that inseminate paper with ink
throbbing words that penetrate brains

the smell of good cognac, served slightly warm
sharkskin suits and cigarettes rolling down trolley aisles
droplets of water that drip down thighs and cause listeners to nearly break their own arms
windshields with the stories of our lives written on them in dents and spiderwebs of cracks

These are our creations
these are our children, born of furtive trysts
and well-planned couplings
and we show them off, proud parents
knowing that ours are the cutest and the smartest and the strongest
and everyone else's are just a little bit funny-looking

Tasteless

I have a cold. This shouldn't be a big deal, but it is.

I've had colds before. If you seek medical treatment for a cold, the saying goes, it will be gone in about seven days, but if you leave it untreated, it will clear itself up in a week or so. I've been self-medicating with Robitussin, chicken soup, and the occasional tea/lemon juice/honey/alcohol concoction. The first hint of a symptom was last Friday, when I stepped out of a mall and into my car and had a coughing fit. I found myself in an extremely stressful situation Monday evening, which knocked me for a loop. By Tuesday I was starting to feel more obviously sickly, but I had the day off from work and paid little heed. Wednesday was another day off and I treated it as a sick day. By Thanksgiving I was really getting there, and spent most of the day at work sucking cough drops and trying not to frighten the few people who called in. The most blatant symptom came as I left work and headed out to pick up a friend to go out for Thanksgiving dinner, a friend who would otherwise be alone. I knew I wouldn't have time to stop home and freshen up after work, so I had packed some after shave in the car. I sprayed it on my wrists and rubbed it on my neck, just below the bend in the jaw under the ears, and I noticed that it had no smell. I sniffed my wrists directly and - nothing. Dammit. the cold temperatures in the car must have somehow...I dunno, deactivated the molecules of scent, or bound them to the alcohol that was refusing to evaporate, or....something?

I picked up my friend a half-hour later than planned, thanks to a last-minute call at work. We ran off to make a visit to a hospital, our umpteenth in the past few weeks. But this was the first time I stayed completely out of the room, since now there was no denying that I was sick, and the person we were visiting would not respond well to getting what I had.  We then sped off to the restaurant where we had planned our Thanksgiving feast. It was less crowded than I expected, with a few other couples, a few happy families, and one woman who sat alone and stared into the middle distance. I ordered the Thanksgiving special and my friend, who informed me that she hates turkey, ordered a steak. My friend excused herself from the table after we ordered, and while she was away the server brought out my coffee. I sniffed at it after I added creamer and sugar and smelled nothing. Drinking it, I tasted nothing at all, as though I were drinking slightly thickened hot water.

When my friend returned to the table I asked her to smell the coffee to confirm that it had no aroma. She sniffed at it and said it smelled like coffee.

Uh-oh.

Our dinners came out. Mine tasted fine: turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes with walnuts, green beans, cranberry relish. But the coffee continued to taste like hot water.

The next night I was with this same friend after a poetry reading. I had trimmed my planned three-shorts-and-a-long to a single long piece, which I shouted out as best I could with a voice that had mostly vanished overnight. She made us tea, a special cookies and cream team to which she added some little gingerbread cookies. I smelled - something, though I couldn't place it. I drank the tea and ate the cookies, and neither had much taste to me. I found one more bit floating at the bottom of the mug, and happily scooped it out with the spoon. I put it in my mouth and bit down. It tasted like the cookies, but had a weird texture - almost like canvas.

I realized I was eating the tea bag, and removed it from my mouth as nonchalantly as possible.

I know I still had a sense of smell late Wednesday evening. It disappeared sometime Thursday, and hasn't been back since. I tasted some key lime pie yesterday - sour tastes seem to be fine, but any of the many "tastes" that rely primarily on smell are still absent. I smelled the coffee I made this morning, and the fresh jar as I opened it, but the coffee had little taste to it.

I think I'm on the tail end of this.

I should have been isolating myself this past week, but I've been a selfish bastard about my precious traces of a social life, and have probably exposed dozens of people to what I've got. I've been keeping out of the house as much as possible, but even so may have managed to infect one or more family members. I'm hoping not. But that's cold season for you.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Holiday Reruns: The Littlest Turkey!

The return of a beloved classic, touching the hearts of dozens since 2005! Gather around the children and leave them with emotional trauma that will take years of expensive therapy to overcome! IT'S TIME FOR THE LITTLEST TURKEY!

(First published in one post on November 24, 2005.)


THE LITTLEST TURKEY
by
D.B. Echo

Once upon a time there was a farm where turkeys lived. All of them were young and plump, big and strong and proud. All of them except one. He was smaller than all the other turkeys. He was called the Littlest Turkey.
The Littlest Turkey wanted to run and play with the other turkeys, but they didn't want to play with him. "Go away, Littlest Turkey," they would say. "Come back when you've gotten bigger."

But the Littlest Turkey was sure he was as big as he was going to get. He tried to eat as much as he could, but he never seemed to get as big and plump as the other turkeys. And he knew that unless he got big and plump like the other turkeys, he would never get to go to the Laughter House.

The Laughter House was a wonderful place. The Littlest Turkey had never been in there. He knew that only the big and plump turkeys would get to go inside the Laughter House. He had seen them go in once, and had heard their squawks and gobbles of laughter for a little while. It must be wonderful in there, the Littlest Turkey thought. All those turkeys go in to laugh, and none of them had ever come out again. How much fun they must be having!

The Littlest Turkey decided that, big and plump or not, he would get into the Laughter House the next time they let the turkeys in.

*********

THE LITTLEST TURKEY

Part 2
by
D.B. Echo

The weather started getting cooler, and the leaves on the trees started to change colors. All the turkeys knew that soon it would be time for the biggest holiday of the year, Turkey Day.
"Just before Turkey Day is when they take the big and plump turkeys into the Laughter House," thought the Littlest Turkey. "But this time I'm going to get in there, too!"

It wasn't long before the big day came. All of the big and plump turkeys lined up to go into the Laughter House. The Littlest Turkey waited near the entrance of the Laughter House, then squeezed in between two very big and plump turkeys. No one noticed him because he was so little.

The Laughter House was dark inside, and there was a sort of moving sidewalk there that was taking turkeys into another room, where he could hear gobbles and squawks of laughter. One by one the turkeys hopped up to ride the sidewalk. The Littlest Turkey hopped up, too.
The turkey in front of him, whose name was Tom, turned around. "Go away, Littlest Turkey," he said. "Come back when you are bigger."

"Yes, go away," said the turkey behind him, whose name was also Tom. "They do not want little turkeys at the Market. Only big and plump ones."

"No," said the Littlest Turkey. "I want to go to the Market with you." He had never heard of the Market, but he realized that it must be even better than the Laughter House.

A Man spotted the Littlest Turkey. "Go away, Littlest Turkey," he said. "Come back when you are bigger."

"Oh, please, Mr. Man," said the Littlest Turkey. "I do so want to go to the Market with the other turkeys."

"Very well," said the Man. "We've got a quota to meet, anyway."

The Littlest Turkey rode the sidewalk into the other room. He wondered what things would be like at the Market.

*********

THE LITTLEST TURKEY
Conclusion
by
D.B. Echo

The Littlest Turkey was cold. He was colder than he ever remembered being before. But then again, it was hard to remember much since they had chopped his head off.

He was in a case with the other turkeys, the big and plump turkeys. Turkey Day was coming soon, and people were coming to the Market to pick turkeys to take home.

They always seemed to want the big and plump turkeys. One time a little girl had seen him in the case. "Mommy, mommy, look at the little turkey," she said. "I want to take home the littlest turkey."

"No, dear," her mother said. "We are having many people over for Thanksgiving. We need a big, plump turkey."

One by one the other turkeys left the Market to go home with people. Turkey Day was coming soon, and people were taking away more and more of the big and plump turkeys. But no one wanted the Littlest Turkey.
Finally, the day before Turkey Day came, and the Littlest Turkey found himself all alone in the case.

"How sad," he thought. "No one wants to take me home."

It was late in the day, and the Manager was about to close down the Market for the night. Suddenly a Man came into the store.

"I have a coupon," he said, "for a free turkey. Do you have any left?"

"You're in luck," said the Manager. "I have one left." He showed the Man the Littlest Turkey, all alone in the case.

"It's a little small," the Man said. "But I guess beggars can't be choosers. Besides, it's just me and my wife this year. A little turkey might be just what we need."

The Manager took the Littlest Turkey out of the case and traded him to the Man for the coupon he was holding. "Happy Thanksgiving!", he said to the Man.

"I'm not going to be left behind for Turkey Day," thought the Littlest Turkey happily as the Man put him in the trunk of his car. "I'm so happy. But I'm so cold." He rolled around a little as the car pulled out of the parking lot. "I sure hope I'm going someplace warm."

THE END

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The faceless, nameless stranger

It's time for another one of those "where I've been" posts. (It's also time for the reposting of "The Littlest Turkey", which I'll get around to soon.)

I've been busy, delightfully so. I've been spending a lot of time with my writing group, and writing, and going to poetry and prose open mics, and trying and failing to list and publicize all of those events, because there are just so damned many, and what kind of area is Northeastern Pennsylvania where you can run yourself to the point of collapse just going to open mics and poetry readings? Plus I've been allowing myself to develop a personal life beyond the personal life I already had. It may all end in tears someday, but for now I'm having the time of my life. And getting healthier as a consequence; I need to go out and buy some new clothes soon, but in the meantime I guess I'll have to rely more and more on suspenders to keep my too-large pants from falling off.

On Saturday morning I met with my writing group in Scranton. We were all still basking in the afterglow of Thursday's open mic night, the biggest and best and most successful open mic we've had in a long time, or ever, in my brief experience. The group was small but most of us had stuff to read. I read a poem, the new one I had read on Thursday, since KK missed the open mic and I wanted him to hear it. One of our newer members, a published author of hard-boiled crime stories, read the first chapter of his current work. Chaz, the founder of our group, pulled out a bronze bull, wrapped in newspaper, and presented it to me. I was deeply honored to receive this gift. The meeting ended just after three, so I called my mom to tell her I was on my way, but maybe she should get alternate transportation to church so she wouldn't be late. I tossed my phone and my coat and my little blue notebook into the car, carefully secured the bronze bull in the back, and drove off.

I stopped at the first traffic light, the one on Adams and Lackawanna. It seemed to take forever, but eventually turned green. Lucky thing I told her to get a ride to church. I hit another traffic light, this one on Lackawanna, just before the turnoff to 81. In a little bit I would be zooming along at highway speeds, but for now I was stuck at an endless red light, a line of cars behind me. I fiddled with the radio as I waited.

Finally the light turned green, and I immediately heard a banging on my car. Did someone just hit me? But no, it sounded like someone slamming on my car with their hand, and as I turned to my left I realized that that hand probably belonged to the torso that was filling my window.

I rolled down the window a few inches, not wanting to take chances with a random Scranton crazy person, and said "Yes?" Without a word the figure outside of my car removed my black binder from the roof of my car and passed it through the opening in the window. He didn't bend down; I never saw his face. He just handed me the binder and walked away.

I thanked him profusely before I sped off through the green light and around the curve that would lead me to the highway.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Fiction: The Writer's Imp

This story started off as an alternative to punching someone in the face. But it grew to incorporate all the fears, misgivings, and doubts that plague any writer - or anyone. Note some NSFW language toward the end.

The Writer's Imp
copyright 2013, Harold Jenkins

Doug rolled out of bed, hung over and headachey. He trudged to the kitchen, stepped over his beagle Towser, and squeezed past the small folding table and its two chairs. He ignored the assorted monster-branded cereals on the counter,  put a small pot of water on the stove to boil, and started the coffee maker. He pulled the milk and a container of yogurt out of the refrigerator, grabbed a grapefruit out of the fruit bowl, and added a scoop of oats to the boiling water. Leaving the food on the counter next to the stove, he stepped out to get the morning paper.

A few minutes later he poured the coffee, gathered together the bits and pieces of his breakfast, and carried them back to the breakfast table.

The Imp was perched on the back of one of the chairs, eating out of a box of Frankenberry.

"What the hell are you making all that crap for?" he demanded. "This shit's delish. Why'd you buy it if you're not gonna eat it?"

Doug had always wondered if the Imp was average-sized as far as imps go. It would be small as a human, barely four feet tall, though its bald, leering head seemed far too big for its body. Its feet and hands seemed disproportionately large, too, while the little bat wings that poked from its shoulder blades seemed too small to be good for anything. And the less said about the stubby, prehensile worm that lurked on its crotch, the better.

"Oh, I get it," the Imp said, his lips pulling back to show a mouth filled with overlapping, yellowed teeth. "You're trying to eat right. Lose weight. Impress her. Pathetic." He grabbed another fistful of pink cereal. "It won't work. You're old and fat and ugly, and you're not gonna change that. Now, how about getting to work? You haven't written anything in ages."

Doug ignored the Imp, unfolded the paper, and read it as he ate breakfast. Towser stood up, looked at the Imp warily, then lay down at Doug's feet.

+++++++++++++++++++

"Oh, what the hell is this crap now?" the Imp demanded as the bus headed downtown.  "You're supposed to be meeting your group, didja forget? Or are you just too embarrassed 'cause you haven't written shit in weeks?"

Doug continued to ignore him, swaying slightly as the bus bumped along the road. The other passengers had no difficulty ignoring the Imp, even the one whose head he was sitting on.

"Your group is on the other side of town. What are you doing, going to the farmers' market?"

Doug got off the bus at the farmers' market.  He paused at a few stalls to look at their wares, then slipped into a small shop that sold herbs.

"Sage? Rosemary? Thyme? You forgot parsley, you dope," the Imp said from atop a refrigerated display case. "And how stupid are you? Yarrow's a flower, not an herb, everybody knows that. What are you gonna do, get a reading from the I Ching? The way moves, I could tell ya that much. There. Saved you the trouble."

Doug stepped into a flower shop and told the tiny Korean woman behind the counter what he was looking for. She nodded and brought out a bundle of flowers. After he paid her, she directed him to another shop.

"What the frick are you doing?" the Imp demanded. "Anything but writing, that's what. I been hanging out here 'cause you showed promise, you putz. But you're not gonna get anywhere as a writer if you don't write! You just keep mooning over what's-her-name, half your age and ten times the writer you'll ever be if you keep this up. Now, if you're not going to the group, howabout heading home and getting down to writing?"

The last shop on Doug's list was a junk store of sorts, with a hodgepodge of  stuff from all over Asia. It didn't take long to find a Tibetan brass bowl of the right size. The clerk showed him how to brush it gently with a padded mallet to produce a deep, pleasant tone.

"What is this crap?" the Imp yelled from inside a garbage can. "You better be working on a story, I'll tell you that. Wasting a whole Saturday here! Now, if you're done with your little shopping adventure, how about heading back to the bus so...are you even listening to me? Where are you going?"

Doug walked across the street to a parked Mini Cooper. The driver's window rolled down and a beautiful woman smiled at him broadly.

"What's she doing here?" The Imp was outraged. "I thought she was gonna be in...what, Lancaster or Hershey or something? Wait, you had a conversation with her last night when you were drunk! You know I don't like when you get drunk! What the hell did you two little sneaks talk about last night?"

She passed a small parcel to Doug through the car window. It was wrapped in brown paper and tied with string. Doug took it, leaned down, and kissed her.

"You sick bastard! She's, what, twelve? OK, twenty, whatever, doesn't matter, same thing. You're more than twice her age! What are you, a pedo perv? Sheeut, you're gonna be doing your writing from inside a Federal pound-me-in-the-ass prison! Get away from her before somebody sees the two of you together!"

Doug squeezed her hand, turned around, and headed for the bus stop.

"Better," the Imp said, sitting on the peak of the Bus Stop sign. "Well get home, put all this nonsense behind us, and you can get down to writing again. We'll make you the writer I know you can be!"

++++++++++++++++

Towser barked and wagged his tail as Doug came home. Doug pulled some newly-purchased treats out of his pocket and gave them to him. The dog growled briefly at the Imp, then went back to his treats.

Doug set the packages on the table. He pulled out the bowl, gave it an experimental ping, and produced a rich, deep tone.

He headed into his bedroom and came out with a stack of paper.  Sheets, some loose, some stapled together, some worn with age and heavy use, others fresh as the day they were printed.

He put the paper into the bowl.

He pulled a chair away from the table and set it in the middle of the floor. Tentatively, he stepped onto it.

"What the hell are you doing?" the Imp asked. "You're gonna break your damn fool neck."

Doug pulled the cover off the smoke detector and removed the battery.

"Smooth move, Holmes," the Imp said. "Now you're in violation of the fire code. What would you do if the fire inspector came in here right now? Look like an idiot, that's what, and you'd have some 'splainin to do."

One at a time, Doug removed the batteries from every smoke detector in his house.

"So now what, boy? This ain't gettin' you any closer to writing. Just sit your fat ass down and start writing."

Doug poured a glass of wine and set it on the kitchen table.

"Better. But clear all this crap off the table, and...hey, are those your stories in that bowl?"

Doug took the parcel he had been given and removed the string. He unwrapped the paper to reveal an old book, possibly hand-bound. He set the book aside and began laying the yarrow, rosemary, sage, and thyme out on the wrapping paper. He rolled the whole thing up into a sort of fat cigar and tied the bundle up with the string. He got up from the table, went to a cabinet, and pulled out some matches.

"Wait. What the hell are you doing?" The Imp looked confused. Worried.

Doug sat back down at the table. He opened up the book to a place indicated by a ribbon, read silently for a minute, and set the book aside. He lit the herbal bundle, passed it over the paper-filled bowl three times, and dropped it in.

"WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING?!"

Doug picked up the book again, opened it to the same spot as before, and began mumbling quietly.

"WHAT THE HELL DID THAT LITTLE BITCH GIVE YOU?"

Doug smiled. "It's a hex book, over a century old. Homegrown magic for all sorts of occasions. Including banishing malicious spirits." He continued to read aloud from the book.

The imp's skin had begun to turn gray. "I'M NOT MALICIOUS! I'M HELPFUL!"

Doug looked up again. "You are annoying as hell."

Smoke curled from the bowl but didn't spread through the house. It formed a cloud over and around the Imp.

"STOP IT! STOP THIS RIGHT NOW AND WE'LL PRETEND IT NEVER HAPPENED!" The Imp's skin was charcoal and ash, flaking like the charred paper in the bowl. His eyes were beady and red.

Doug set down the book, smiled at the Imp, then looked into the bowl.

"YOUR WRITING SUCKS!" The Imp shouted. "YOUR CHARACTERS ARE STEREOTYPES, YOUR STORIES ARE TRITE, YOUR POETRY IS HIGH SCHOOL, AND YOU CAN'T WRITE AN ENDING TO SAVE YOUR LIFE!"

"I dispel you," Doug announced, and blew into the bowl.

The ashes stirred slightly and flew into the air. The Imp, shriveled and defeated, let out a final croak.

"I knew I shoulda been a gargoyle."

There was a long, deep sigh. Then Doug was alone in the kitchen with Towser.

Doug sat there for a while, then looked down at the book Kim had brought back from Lancaster. He noticed that he had been reading from a recipe for shoo-fly pie.

He pulled out his phone and dialed Kim.

"It's done. He's gone. Your plan worked." A pause. "You are. That's why I love you." Another pause, then a laugh. "That too. But, hey, I gotta clean up and take a shower. See you for dinner? OK, see you then."

He looked at the mess. Charred flakes of everything he had written while under the direction of the Imp were scattered everywhere.

"Damn, that guy was annoying," Towser said.

"He sure was," Doug agreed.