…AND OTHER ROADBLOCKS IN WRITING!

Tag Archives: religion

Last month (March) I regaled you with my wit, or half of it, at least. (I have plenty more where that came from.) Humor is essential in writing. Especially the self-deprecating kind. It warms up your audience when they sense you’re not holier-than-thou (even if you are.) If you haven’t noticed, I tend to be a wee bit harsh on political ignorance and religious intolerance. So anyway, Me, Myself, and I discussed that all last time, and we would like to present our little offering on a talk with God.

SEEING THE ELEPHANT

© 2016 rev 2018

My University of Florida philosophy professor challenged us to find a way to explain God and religion to various groups of people. This seemed a near-impossible task. Greater minds than mine had sought a perfect answer for eons. I struggled into the wee hours of the night thinning my patience and pounding the keyboard with ideas that fell short of perfection. I’d been sketching out similes and metaphors to no avail when I thought I’d try an Aesopian fable or a perfect parable. I needed something catchy, yet plausible to hook my reader and explain what God is like to both religious and political zealots, because they occasionally wear each other’s hats which do appear similar, being made of the same zealot cloth.

A pot of coffee and a jog around the college dorm eventually failed to keep my head from slowly sinking to my keyboard where my nose landed on the ‘z’ key, rendering a visual interpretation of my state of mind: zzzzzzzzzzz.

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I’d barely had time to relax before being commanded by a powerful voice. “Daniel! Walk down the hall to the elevator. Inside, press the H floor at the top of the panel. Be extremely careful that you do not press the H floor at the bottom of the panel.”

I chuckled, mumbled something unintelligible, and sighed a little drool onto the keyboard.

“DANIEL! NOW. ELEVATOR. H-BUTTON. UP. DO YOU COPY?”

Was that my father? When Mom couldn’t shake me out of bed on school mornings, Dad’s bullhorn barking always shot me up out of bed like I’d had a steel rod shoved up my spine. “Uh, yeah Dad.” I rubbed grit out of my eyes. “Elevator H. Up.

Still groggy, I did as told. Before I could release the button, I was jolted awake by my stomach dropping into my undershorts as a 7g-force got me wherever H was and the doors opened.

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The light blinded me. “Dad?”

“Heh, heh, you might call me that.”

“What’s going on? I can’t see you.”

“Tom Edison? Turn down the lights, will you?”

“Certainly, Father.”

The lights faded to normal. My jaw dropped. I found myself facing…Him! His Eminence, His Holiness, His Holy…mackerel…. God!

“There are no flies in Heaven, but shut your mouth anyway, Daniel. I’m real.” He laughed. “Do you want to pinch me and see if I am real?” He extended an arm.

“Oh, God, no!” I cringed. “Sorry, sorry. Don’t smite me. I meant no offense. It’s just—”

“…an expression. I know. Relax, Daniel, I just want to help with your school project. You’re a decent fellow, just like that Daniel who ended up in the lion’s den a few years back. Had to help him, too. Remember?”

“Uh, well, not really. I read about it, though.”

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“Oh, yeah. That time-and-space thing down there. Well, good for you. Reading is how you learn things. Then, like Solomon, you can figure the best way to do what’s right to help others.” He shifted on his throne and adjusted his scarlet sash. The gold letters read NELSON MANDELA. He answered the question I didn’t ask. “I wear a different one every day for someone here who has led an exemplary life. Tomorrow is ELSIE WELLINGTON Day.”

“I never heard of Elsie Wellington.”

“Nobody has. But I saw her rescue a child from drowning off Brighton Beach. Now, would you please silence your thoughts? They distract me.” I nodded and he continued. “What you should do is simple. Spread the word that I am as blind men find the elephant.”

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I drew and released a calming breath. “Dear God, do you remember Moses?”

“I do, indeed. Pleasant chap. A bit shy at first.”

“Then you remember giving him a speech impediment by sticking a live coal in his mouth?”

“Actually, Gabriel did that. Purely to save the chosen child, you understand.”

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“Um, yeah. Well, I bring him up because I have a speech problem, too.”

He clicked a few things on His computer keyboard. “Just checked your genetic code. No speech impediment there.” With one eyebrow arched to a perfect inverted ‘V’, God stared at me over His glasses.

“I’m a writer,” I said. “I often speak in metaphors. Uh—maybe too often.”

“I know. I’ve read your stuff. That’s okay. I’m used to it.” God shook His head. “Oh, those ancient prophets and their parables and metaphors and similes. I think there would have been a lot less bloodshed down the centuries, and I’d be much better understood today, had they been plain talkers.”

“That’s sort of what I’m getting around to,” I said. “I feel like Gulliver, stranded in a frightening land of mental midgets always on the edge of war over what or who You are, what or whose side You’re on.”

God frowned. “Gulliver? Mental midgets?” He waggled his index finger at me. “That’s another simile. I’m counting. Get back to Moses, please,” He sighed his impatience and settled back in His golden throne.

“Okay, okay. I have a-uh-mental speech impediment. When I think I’m going to get beat up or ridiculed for saying what I think, what I’ve learned, what history tells us —I stumble, I mumble, it all comes out jumbled whenever I am attacked.”

“Stumble, mumble, jumble? You write poetry, too?” He clicked His keypad, scanned the screen and then laughed. “Aha! Stick to prose, kid.” He looked at me. “Why don’t you practice what you’ll tell others about me. Now. Here.”

“For You?” My heart double-timed. “T-Tell You about You?”

“Sure.” He snapped His fingers and a host of angels surrounded Him. “Just think of us as Heavenly Toastmasters. Go for it.”

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“I-um-I have a message from God…”

God held His hand up. “Hold it. Scratch that unless you’re in the Bible Belt. It will work there. Start with what your assignment is about. Sex and politicians, right?”

“Uh, no, Sir. Explaining You to sects. S-e-c-t-s. Religious sects. And politicians.”

“With words? Humph. Sounds like you could use a few well-placed lightning bolts instead.” He pushed back in His throne and waved a hand. “Go on.”

I nodded, took a deep breath, and tried a different approach.

“The story of the Blind Men and the Elephant is said to have its origin in India, and is told in various ways. The essence is that several blind men were brought to an elephant and asked to determine what they believed the creature looked like by touching it.

“Aha! Good.” God grinned, and the Toastmasters nodded approval.

Encouraged, I forged ahead with my tale. “The first blind man felt the tail and said the elephant was like a rope.africa-african-animal-ass-57460.jpeg

 

 

“The second stroked the trunk and assumed the creature was akin to a tree branch.

“The third touched a leg and declared the elephant similar to a pillar.

“The fourth disagreed, for rubbing his hand along the tusk had convinced him an elephant is much the same as a solid pipe.elephant-tusk-ivory-animal-53125.jpeg

“The fifth, his hands spanning the side of the belly, said the elephant was identical to a wall. The sixth, fingering the ear, announced, ‘The others are so very wrong! The elephant is like an umbrella, a plant leaf, or perhaps, a fan.’

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“A wise man passing by heard the argument, scanned the elephant from head to tail and said they were all partly right because the elephant contains all of those features.” Winded, I paused and smiled at the assembly.

“So-o-o?” God rumbled. “Summary, please.”

“So, my friends, because we see from different perspectives, that does not mean that one belief is completely right and the other is completely wrong. God is the whole elephant that none of us can see. And no matter how loudly one bellows that he holds the only true view of God, remember—he may be holding only the elephant’s tail.”

“Or pulling my leg!” God guffawed, which tickled the angels to titters and giggles, which grew to hearty laughter, and ended in a harmonious sigh. “Perfect! Not that I like being compared to an elephant, mind you, but there wasn’t a stumble, mumble or jumble in the whole thing,” He said.

I grimaced and shrugged. “Well, it’s pretty easy when you’ve got God and a bunch of angels on your side. It’s a lot different on Earth.”

His warm smile said He was about to tell me what I should have known all along. “Daniel, my child, in whatever you do that is noble and good, I am always in your heart and by your side.” He winked at me and added, “And I’ll also be by your professor’s side when he grades your report.” His eyebrow shot up. “With a few lightning bolts within reach, just in case.”

I felt my heart warm, my face radiate joy, and renewed courage straighten my body. “Thank you! I’ll remember that, Sir,” I called as I caught the day’s last elevator trip down to Earth. As the doors shut on a final glimpse of His radiant face, I thought, Whoa! An interview with God! Now who’s going to be teacher’s pet?

***

I hope you’ll try as I do to see others’ opinions, religious or political, as part of the whole process to reconciliation, mediation, and agreeable compromise for the good of all. If we bring our puzzle pieces to the table and work them together, we may one day see the whole elephant! Or donkey. Or giraffe…who sees clearly above and beyond the common fray around him. I vote for the giraffe as the symbol of working as one to restore humankind’s growth through simple common courtesy, a thing as endangered as the white rhino species.

Any argument here? Can I get an “AMEN!”?

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Once home from communion with kindred spirits at Unity, I emptied the dishwasher. Classical ‘meditation’ music lifted my thoughts above lifting dinnerware and flatware from the racks, to how they move on with their jobs. That’s when (1) as a writer my abilities with similes and metaphors sprang into action, or (2) my Muse said, “Hey, look at it this way…” or, (3) God said, “There’s a lesson here.” Whereupon I said, “Yeah, but nobody will listen to me.” Whereupon He said, as He often does through My Husband, “Never assume!”

Dismiss my writing abilities if you will, grimace at the thought of my Muse, but you’d better think twice about ignoring Him and My Husband. There IS a lesson here. And you do well to never assume! You see, each piece in that dishwasher had cooperated with the others to serve tasty meals and desserts. How great that they supplied our needs!

Had forks, knives, and spoons rebelled and shut down the kitchen, we would have resorted to fingers, or drinking lumpy soup from a cup. (Nasty, potentially hazardous.) Had the crockery cracked and shut down the works, flatware would have been chasing food all over the tabletop. (Not pretty. Not sanitary.) And drinks? Well, hot coffee in my cupped hands is not my first choice. With or without cream and sugar.

So, when they get nasty, what do we do? We put them all in one little shower room and lock them in until the crap is washed away, and they are ready to get back to business. And, voila! They become our servants again.

Now, this little creative marble rolling around in my spacious cranium (think pinball machine) bumped into another idea. Hey, Genius! That’s sort of like politics, isn’t it?

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Wow! Yeah! But where do we get a dishwasher big enough for Washington? And we’ll need one for voters. They’re all covered with that crap called ‘baggage.’

Details, Genius, details. We’ll figure it out.

No moss gathers on my marbles! The next one kept rolling until it hit on still another subject that carries a lot of baggage. Hey, Genius! That’s sort of like religion, isn’t it?

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Well, that just set all the pinball machine’s bells ringing and lights flashing, didn’t it? Like politics, religion has had its share of quacks and fakers, abusers and misusers, hasn’t it? Thanks a lot for that idea! I can see condemnation—not commendation—excommunication, shunning, and fatwas flying my way now.

Details, Genius. Mere details. You’ll have it all figured out by the time your next post rolls around. Remember that little short story you wrote? The one that could apply equally to politics and religion? You might want to share that.

Oh, sure. Not that anyone will listen.

Never assume!


…or maybe not. You know me, right? The title was a clever way (if I do say so myself) of warning you as to what I am about to expound on. Short Fiction.

A woman once waved me off, saying, “I never read short stories. I like to get lost in a novel.” So I told her to get lost. Had she given my work a moment’s consideration, she might have reconsidered. Or, I could have sold her a first draft edition of my short stories with a guarantee she’d get lost in them. I often do. But that’s why first drafts are followed by second, third, and as many drafts as necessary to cut and polish a rough stone into a sparkling gem.

Another thing. There are times and places that make it nearly impossible to get lost in a novel. The bathroom, for instance. Enough said about that. Offices of doctors, dentists, lawyers—bank and supermarket lines all are examples of great short story reading areas. You can’t get lost in the novel because you’re always wondering if you’re going to be called next and if you’ll have enough time to get your stuff together without looking like a klutz. I’ve tried that. I fumble my book or glasses or pens or everything, and end up (literally) picking them off the floor. Later, under no pressure, I reread the chapter. Carrying a short story anthology with you is more efficient, beneficial and potentially less embarrassing. Sure, carrying a Kindle is cool, but real readers know that an old-fashioned book won’t run out of battery power at the height of passion, leaving you—uh—let down.

Short Fiction is fun. It’s sort of like religion. Every time you turn around, there’s a new one. Or a freakier, funnier, or more intriguing spinoff than the last. For example, you can neither pin down the exact nature and number of angels, nor get a solid word count for what a short story is. The genre’s arguably-accepted word count ranges from 1,000 to 20,000. Always check the guidelines for the contest or periodical you intend to enter or query. Their number of angels on the head of a pin may differ from yours.

Fewer than 1,000 words is called short short story or flash fiction. “For Sale, Baby Shoes, Never Worn,” created a wrenching story image attributed to Ernest Hemingway. However, in 1921, a columnist wrote that a classified ad, “Baby Carriage for sale, never used,” exemplified the plot of a story, and his example, it is believed, may have given rise to the Hemingway tale.

Sometimes the challenge comes in a number of sentences or lines. Here’s an old five-sentence story I entered in an online challenge:

WAVES  

(Five Sentence Fiction)     Virginia Nygard  6/23/15

I sit in the dust outside Mabel’s Beauty Parlor while Mama sits inside getting a Marcel wave.

She come out so beautiful I bet the stars will hide in shame tonight…just like me.

Picking her way ‘cross the wooden sidewalk, she pats my head, kisses my cheek and then sashays to the shiny Ford Model A, just panting at the curb for her.

Mr. James Windsor Whitehorn don’t never come ‘cross the tracks unless he come to pick up Mama for doing the town like he say.

I know what you be doing, my eyes say whilst I wave them away into the night.

 

So, writers, stretch your mental muscle and play with various kinds of short fiction while you’re working on The Great American Novel. It could be your bread-and-butter while you’re waiting for the Great Ka-ching!

And you out there afflicted with Short-Attention Span Syndrome, Short Fiction might be the short fix you’re seeking!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


When I was a kid in Bridgeport, Connecticut, my dad and I were Brooklyn Dodger fans to the core. We bucked the tide of Yankee fans riding along with the winners. In retrospect, I wondered if their choice of hero worship reflected a need in themselves to bask in the glow of winners: The team I align myself with is a winner, ergo, I am a winner.

Well, what did that say about my dad, my mom, and me? Were we losers because our beloved Dodgers hadn’t won a series in our lifetimes?

Slap my face for even thinking that. After their mother died, my dad and his two brothers moved from orphanage to orphanage wherever Grandpa’s work on government ships took him. What they learned was Family First, self-sufficiency, and holding out against the odds. Tenacity.

My mom and her two sisters, the youngest of ten surviving children, left school at age sixteen to join the work force, as had their brothers before them. Savings accumulated by my maternal grandfather, a feed-and-grain businessman, dwindled, requiring every able hand to take on work to keep the family together. Self-sacrifice. Cooperation. Persistence.

In 1955, I was in the driveway waiting for my dad to come home from work. We spied each other, and the hullabaloo began. Me, shouting at the top of my lungs, wearing my Dodgers’ cap, waving my Dodger pennants, and my dad endlessly honking the horn and shouting back. The Boys of Summer had finally won the World Series! Tenacity. Self-sacrifice. Cooperation. Persistence. It all paid off.

After my beloved Dodgers dodged Brooklyn for less-green pastures in L.A., I lost interest. They abandoned their loyal fans and their heritage as trolley dodgers for monetary gain. From then on, I watched sports in general degrade into huge money-making machines with little loyalty to their family of fans

When I heard that Chicago-Cleveland Series tickets this year went for as high as $1,500 plus, I was struck by how pervasive GREED is in our society. It pollutes everything from sports, TV, movies, theater, politics, and some unscrupulous sects of religion. Money is god in our culture.

Still, I had no hesitation in rooting for the Chicago Cubs. No World Series win in 108 years? Bring it on! That’s my kind of team! Down three-to-one in the series and they WIN the @#$%& thing! Woo-hoo! My kind of guys! Tenacity, self-sacrifice, cooperation, persistence.

“Okay,” you ask, “so what has all this got to do with writing?”

Duh! Really? Do I have to spell it out for you? Stop reading this, START WRITING and DON’T GIVE UP!