Poem: The Old Rebel

Overwhelmed by choices

overwhelmed by heroes

forcefully fed the personality you should be

conforming you since birth

molded by loving hands

that were influenced by foreign touch

neither they know what to be

nor you.

 

But the rebel in the man can’t be fully silenced

at worst, you can still hear its agonizing death

at best, it guides your thoughts

makes you see the lifelessness

the cowardice

the transference of soul.

 

Giving up on the individual

the masses funnel their spirit into one being

hoping that it’ll bring relief

that it’ll make them immortal

Christ, democracy, wealth, white picket fence

whatever distracts the mind

whatever keeps the rebel quiet.

 

The old man swings by himself

the swingset for his granddaughter

the old man thinks by himself

thoughts only for his family

the old man lives by himself

family living elsewhere

the old man hears nothing but the moans,

tired grey eyes,

tortured grey eyes,

squeezing tears out of those grey eyes,

the rebel moans,

wishing he could wipe away his choices as he wipes away the tears.

 

Short Story: The Bus

Recently I experienced my first car accident. It was just an ordinary winter day and the roads were a little slippery from the snowfall the previous night. I was driving downhill towards a set of lights that turned red and I applied the brakes. Everything was normal until my tires locked and I couldn’t stop and I hit the ford pick up truck in front of me. The crash was so slow that the airbags didn’t even go off. The driver of the pick up got out and came by my window with a smile on his face, waving his hand, I could see him mouthing it’s all right but that smile left him when he saw me and I imagined I mirrored the paleness of the snow which surrounded us and he knocked on the window asking if I was okay, his voice muffled by the window pane. I mustn’t have said anything cause he quickly called 911.

I was frozen in place. My knuckles were white from gripping the steering wheel. My heart felt as if it were trapped underneath a layer of ice and it was hammering against the sheet, trying to draw attention to itself while on the other side of the ice, gentle wind blew harmlessly.

The paramedics said I went into shock. They said it happens, it’s the fight or flight response but because I didn’t have anywhere to go, I froze up. They had to get my wife on the phone and once I heard her voice I began to unwind, the frost thawed out and my heart beat slowly settled and I came back to myself. The whole thing was embarrassing. I was sitting in the back of an ambulance with a blanket around my shoulders and a cup of hot chocolate in my hands. I kept on apologizing to everyone but they were all too kind. They suggested I head back home and rest but I had work to do so I kept on going.

Maybe that says something about me that I rather repress what happened than go home and have to face it.

When I got home that evening, my wife asked if I wanted to talk about what happened. I told her not to worry about it. She suggested that maybe I was overworked, stressed out and she said that it’s a good thing Christmas was just a week away. Christmas rung a bell. Maybe the bell was always ringing but I piled on so much other noise on it that I stopped hearing it. But that night I sat down with a pen and paper and thought about that Christmas day when I was eight years old, back when I still lived in India.

Mama tell him to give them back, I said as I tried to get the bus tickets from my brother. The three of us were sitting on a bench waiting for the bus to come.

Mama, mama, mama, my brother mocked me.

I pulled again and he dug his boot into my shin which made me cry out for my mother again.

Stop it you two, she said with quiet anger as the other passengers stood around us. She took the tickets from my brother.

But you said I can hold them, I said.

She ignored me. My brother smiled because I didn’t get what I wanted. He got up and I followed him with my eyes, keeping a track of where he went but all he did was go a few feet from us to kick a rock towards the edge of the road.

Dirt separated where we sat and the road in front of us. Cars and bicycles and rickshaws and trucks and buses passed by in a continuous loop. The smell of manure was heavy and a few people had their noses covered with shawls or handkerchiefs. To the left of us were a couple cows lounging under the trees, their tails whipping away the flies that hovered around them.

How long will it be again? I asked my mother.

Four hours, she said.

A silver Honda honked as it went around an old Fiat that slowly made it’s way up the road, hissing and moaning as a wisp of smoke snaked from the hood of the car. The Honda squeezed back into it’s own lane just in time before the oncoming traffic whipped by, its honking lingered in the air. The normalized danger went unnoticed by everyone but me. That morning, when we went to pick up the tickets, I caught a glimpse of a news story on the TV in the back of the ticket office. It was showing a car accident where a Suzuki had been flatted completely. My brother came and sat down beside me.

I leaned closer to him and asked, are you nervous?

He didn’t reply.

I poked him to get his attention and he swung his arm, striking my hand away.

Mother told us to stop again.

The bus came with a sticker of a Pepsi advert on its side. An actor, Salman Khan, was drinking the Pepsi or had just finished drinking it. He flashed a smile at everyone but his teeth were painted with specks of dirt.

Mama you said I could give them the ticket.

Mother sighed and handed them to me. I immediately showed my brother that I got them and he tried to punch me in the shoulder but I moved quickly to the other side of my mother.

The bus doors opened in a mechanical fashion as if it were just going through the motions and it made a yawing sound, tired of working. The conductor wore a grey jumper and a fuzzy maroon toque which made my brother and I laugh. His brow glistened from the grease and sweat. The other people quickly formed a line and the three of us fell into place. I stayed close to mother, sheltered by her hip. My brother led the three of us and I felt as if I should be like that too. I edged my way by my brothers’ side.

You think it’ll be fun, I asked him.

I don’t know.

Mama said they play a movie now. What movie do you think it’ll be?

Probably some boring one.

You think so?

He didn’t reply. He was older than me by three years and this was his first time too. I wanted to ask him if he was nervous again but I didn’t. He was like me but he was older so I followed him.

We stopped in front of the conductor. I handed him the tickets. He looked at the for a quick second and then nodded, giving the tickets back and motioning us through.

We followed my brother in.

Go to the back, mother said.

All the seats were painted blue and you could see the white plastic underneath the peeling paint on most of the chairs. There was a red and black cushion placed atop the seats and particles of dust shot in the air when you sat down on it. The bus smelled like the deep part of the attic where you keep all your old photo albums and luggage that you don’t use. That area which is best of hiding when you play hide and go seek.

My brother picked out the seats and began to scoot inside, going to the window seat.

I quickly turned to mother, you said I could have the window seat, I said.

Does it matter, she asked.

You said I could have it.

Let your brother have the window seat, she said in a tired voice.

My brother looked to protest but before he could mother raised her hand and I knew I had won. He threw himself onto the middle seat.

As I walked by him he stuck out his leg and tried to trip me but I knew that was coming and I stepped over it. I smiled at him, letting him know I won. When I sat down he leaned over and pinched me under my arm where mother couldn’t see. I cried out to her but she ignored the two of us.

I looked out of the window, rubbing my arm. It was like a school bus, I told myself. I had been in plenty of those. Every morning at eight I waited for the bus outside my house along with my brother. I rode the same bus back in the afternoon. So twice a day…for…I tried to count how many times I had ridden the bus in the past five years but I ended up settling on a lot. The door closed and the bus started, jerking us all back. The windows opened slightly at the top to allow the air to circulate.

Mother was right. There was a television at the top corner of the bus, straight ahead. It played a bootleg movie that was still in theatres. You could see the silhouettes of the heads of the people in the movie theatre watching the movie and occasional a shadow stood up and sat down. My brother was right too. It was boring.

How much longer, I asked my mother.

Almost halfway done.

So two more hours?

More or less.

My brother was asleep. His head tilted back, his mouth slightly open, arms crossed over his chest. I tried not to laugh. Apart from the occasional fit of cough from one of the older passengers, there had been the usual sound of the movie playing and people snoring. I had played my game most of the ride. Trees lined both sides of the road and their shadow fell upon the road. The objective was to not let the shadow hit the bus. Whenever the bus approached the shadow I would unclench my teeth, separating the bottom row from the top and imagined the bus jumping over the shadow and when it cleared it I would clench my teeth again which meant that the bus came back down on the road. Then, once more I waited for the next opportunity to jump. I always played this game on the school bus. I was concentrating on the road, my teeth clenched, when a truck rushed past us, almost grazing the side of the bus and I stopped playing that game.

The bus was slowing down. I asked mother what was happening. She told me not to worry. The bus came to a stop at the side of the road.

Mother asked If I needed to use the bathroom and I shook my head. I did need to go but for some reason I felt as if I left the bus it might leave me and I would be left alone on the side of the road. I stood up and leaned over my brother to see where everyone was going. There was a restaurant on the other side of the road.

My brother woke up and he elbowed me in the chest and told me to get off of him. I sat down rubbing my chest. He saw that mother was not here.

I told him not to worry, mama will be back soon. She just went outside.

He stood up to leave as well.

I called his name and told him to sit down. Mama said to stay here and don’t go anywhere.

Mama said—

He left.

I sat alone gripping the metal railing in front of me, trying to look outside the window to see where my brother was going, I wanted to go after him but mama said to stay put and I wanted to go find mama and let her know that he left and that we should find him because what if the bus left without him but I told myself It wouldn’t, it wouldn’t leave, I repeated it over and over but the other thought stayed firm, It might leave, It might leave now, without him and without mama, It could, some of the people had returned and took their seats and I was still alone with the fear growing in my heart I felt it itching in my throat as the conductor came back and I wanted to go up and tell him not to leave but I couldn’t move because mama said not to, he was talking to the bus driver and as the noise grew in the bus, the more noticeable the lack of sound of my brother and mother became and the more alone I felt, I saw the conductor looking, counting the people, I tried to draw attention to the two empty seats beside me and I wanted to ask him where the bathroom was, the feeling reaching deep inside of me and the thought of it made my ears burn and I wished the windows would open some more as I felt my body shaking but didn’t know if that was from inside myself or from the motor of the bus, which had just started up again, and my feet wrestled to be in top position as I felt the need to cry.

An older man came up the steps and the conductor helped him. Behind him was my mother and I stopped shaking. Behind her was my brother, drinking from a juice box, holding a bag of chips in his other hand and I sat back, letting go of the railing. I looked out of the window as if I had been doing so the entire time.

Mother came and sat in the middle seat. She opened her purse and took out a juice box for me and she was smiling. She always brought the same lemonade flavour. I could smell the fruity lotion from her hands as I took the juice from her. I took it without giving away what had just been in my head. She also placed a bag of chips on my lap and then leaned back in her chair, watching the movie as the bus got back on the road.

I tried not to think about the thoughts I just had but they kept creeping back into my mind like thoughts always did, especially the bad kind, the kind which kept imagining what will happen at night if the closet door was left open. I wanted to stop thinking and thinking about that made my ears burn again. I was older now. I should be more like my brother.

My brother watched the television screen, gently rocking back and forth with the rhythm of the moving vehicle. I had finished my food and washed it down with the juice box. I placed my head against the cool window and watched my breath fog the glass. The sirens grew louder at once and an ambulance went past us and the sirens died away.

When I woke up it took me a moment to realize the silence that lay inside the bus. It was almost crushing if anyone spoke it would bring it crashing down upon us and I knew this instinctually for when I awoke I grabbed my mother’s arm and asked her with my eyes what happened and she slowly shook her head.

We were no longer moving. My brother was gripping the metal railing in front of him with one hand. Outside the only thing that was still unconcerned were the leaves of the trees. They kept going with the gentle wind. The uneasiness inside the bus made me want to move around. I felt the same whenever I took a test at school. The quietness of classrooms always made me more nervous as if everyone could hear or sense the little boy in me. I wasn’t a little boy anymore, I reminded myself.

I heard then the squeaking of metal chain. In the quietness, it spoke loudly. An old man, with a checkered shawl wrapped around his shoulder and head, rode his bicycle down the side of the road. He was hovering slightly above his seat and he was not looking ahead of him but rather at the inch of concrete directly in front of the rubber tires. I still remember those unblinking eyes. He disappeared.

The bus door opened. A family of three walked up the steps and the conductor did not bother checking their tickets. In fact he looked to be frozen in his chair. The family stood still for a second at the front of the bus, like new school children waiting to be told where to sit by the teacher. The father’s face resembled the colour of his white shirt which was neatly tucked into his trousers except for this one part at his right hip which was coming out as if he had been leaning to the other side for too long. The mother was holding the daughter’s hand and she was looking straight ahead but not looking. My mother put an arm around my shoulders. The daughter’s open jacket showed a pretty blue dress, the kind you wore in school plays. Her hair was done in the style of a ponytail which was held together was a butterfly pin. The mother held the daughter tightly. Both her hands were gripping the daughter’s shoulders as if she let go, the little girl will float away like some balloon at a fair. I noticed then the tears from the mothers’ eyes. Even they fell in silence. The father put his hand on his wives back and motioned her to go to the backseat. The three of them were in unison as they walked down the aisle, heads turned to watch them from the back. When they passed us my brother stared at the ground and so did I. My mother kept her arm around me. There was something haunting about them. It was as if we feared to look at them because whatever haunted them could haunt us too.

People made room for them in the back. Giving them plenty of space as if they were also aware of the haunting thing that accompanied them. The mother sat in the corner and then the daughter and the father beside her. The father leaned in towards his daughter and wife and kept a tight hold onto them. I could see the part of his shirt that was wrinkled.

The bus jolted in motion. The television started once more but the conductor turned the sound down. People’s heads turned towards the windows as we went past the scene. The back end of the bus came in view and soon after, too soon, the front. The bus had been compressed as if it’s inside had been taken apart, accordion-like it stood, with its shattered glass sparkling on the ground, it looked so pretty, the sun glinting off the glass, fallen stars, hints of the setting sun painted upon certain glass pieces which had been stained by blood. Where the front of the bus ended, the front of the truck started and my mother made me look away.

I looked back and I saw them too. The white cloths covering something on the side of the road. So many white cloths covering the same thing. The image of the flashing lights from the ambulances engrained in the darkness of my eyelids when I closed my eyes. Those people were, but I was, and am still. The family was still but they were not anymore. I was and I felt a part of me was not for whatever haunted the family had come onto me, at least a small part of it was in me. The cloth peacefully fluttered with the wind and above them, the leaves of the trees still moved, unconcerned and above it, all the sun was so wonderful.

After all these years that thing that had haunted them showed itself. It had latched on to me and it lay dormant inside me until that day when I got into an accident. I had hoped that by writing about it, it’ll leave me but I still feel it inside of me. A part of me was covered in those white sheets as well.

Poem: Man-Child

You mature,

but child-like, you stay,

no longer afraid of the darkroom,

but still scared of the unknown,

comfort and safety, you crave like a babe and his blanket,

following the steps of others, not wanting to go your own way,

just as a boy holds the hand of his father to cross the road,

at first, slave to your father’s words,

for the ease of following is greater than of leading oneself,

follow the words of your father,

become a man,

then as a man, follow the words of your new father,

your boss, your company, your government, your nation, your ideology, anything and everything that makes you subservient,

anything and everything that takes responsibility away from your hands and puts it in another’s,

anything and everything that stops you from facing the absurd life,

that whispers safety in your ear, that tells you “it’ll be alright,” “everything will be fine,”

that gives you permission to think, act and speak,

now you can play the victim,

now you can play innocent,

play the child,

shielded, cowering at the hip of your mother, fetal position, your protective leader moving for you, your group becomes your mouth and you repeat after it:

“I am free,”

but in chains, those words lose their charm, their meaning, their glow,

but show your soft skin and be proud, smooth cheek, not a scar on your person,

the shape of a man,

mistaken for one,

think that you are,

but all the while, the behavior resembles a child,

the man-child born every day,

societies pawn, like clock-work, the conveyor belt of children,

all one has to do to see it,

look at your own reflection, into your eyes,

do it before the father calls.

Poem: Wannabe Hero

The babe is raised on heroic tales,

taught words like courage, to be brave, to be bold,

watching the men in capes,

imagining flight, imagining strength, imagining the roar of the cheering crowd,

but with age,

the thought of heroism is drained,

like a bullet to the gut,

droplets of blood wet the clothes and floor around you,

each containing the childish imaginations,

scarred and hardened,

the skin becomes,

thoughts turn from heroism to the everyday struggle,

from God-like to mortal,

from creator to pawn,

yet the desire never dies,

leaking out in daydreams and at night,

those moments where you yearn for greatness,

to show the heroic shade that you are capable of,

each passing moment that hero withers,

and you settle for the fact that you being alive is a heroic action,

but,

death claimed you long ago,

when you decided to grow up.


Youtube: Learned Living

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/learned_living/

Poem: Electric Self-Help

Article: Stoic Lesson: Aim For Internal Growth

Short Story: Everything Work’s Itself Out

Poem: Ten Years

Ten years ago I thought I understood it all, life and everything in it, the steps in front of me felt so real, concrete-like, a path which could sustain my weight but the very first step showed the cracked foundation upon which my hopes were built on, the child-like dreams up in smoke, trying to bottle them back up in order to give it another go, happy to do so for the youth was with me, the naivety of which keeps the blood flowing and the body warm from just the possibilities,

Ten years later the same hopes rummage through my head, gluing together the wreckage of my life in order to make sense of it all otherwise, I know I’ll senselessly go down under and finally have some relief but before I can earn that, I gotta do something worthy of it and so I gathered the broken, the cracked, the splintered, the fragmented pieces of myself and form a happy, smiling face, tape it all together and show that I was here, I existed,

Ten years from now I hope that I’m not hoping any longer, that all those hopes lead somewhere, that the darkness was elevated from the light of a beacon, that the beacon wasn’t false, that the falsity didn’t break me too bad, that I still had the strength to crawl in the darkness finding the bits and pieces, that I had the courage to put it all back together and that I can take another step still.

Poem: The Death Tolls

There is never true silence,

always seeking some distraction,

those who seek, find it,

occupying the time with noise,

filling the head with all this junk,

so that when you do find yourself alone,

you have to sift through all this trash,

just enough time to get some noise going,

perhaps even ask someone how they’re doing.

 

While you see it’s face everywhere,

in the news,

in the movies,

in the music,

in the book,

paradoxically exposing yourself to it, and

hoping to forget it,

acting as if each movement isn’t commanded by it.

 

The fear of it,

of reality,

the unknown that lies in the core,

the gift of Adam,

the knowledge accompanied by your awakening,

the companion to your consciousness,

the one that remembers your vulnerability,

your wounds and your pains,

turn up the music so you can drown the rapidly increasing heartbeat of the counterpart to life,

known by all but kept quiet,

afraid to hear it, afraid to listen to it,

the bell tolls,

the reminder that is silenced by all the noise,

underneath the silence,

the death tolls ring.



Youtube: Learned Living

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/learned_living/

Poem: The Many Yous

Article: Indirect Battle Strategy and How It Can Help Us Overcome Our Own Obstacles

Short Story: Everything Work’s Itself Out

Reflections: Practical Reminders When Editing Your Fiction

The book Self-Editing for Fiction Writers has plenty of practical advice and exercises for editing fiction. The following are the reminders that stuck with me after reading the book. It should be noted that these aren’t as black or white as they may seem. Ultimately, the right balance is required in a story.

  1. Look out for over narration. Scenes can be harder to write which is why people slip into narrating a story rather than unpacking it. By merely summarizing some instance you can take away from the engagement of your story. Scenes are generally more engaging and they do a better job of bringing a story to life because you have to include specific details, dialogues, and characters in a scene. Good way to go about implementing this is by identifying those blocks/pages of texts and seeing if they can be broken up into smaller scenes or dialogue.
  2. Remember to Resist the Urge to Explain (R.U.E.). When it comes to your character’s emotions, make sure you aren’t just explaining them to the reader. The reader should be able to understand the emotions through action and dialogue. So, if you do your job correctly, you can simply cut away any explanation of a character’s emotions and not lose anything.
  3. Show the character. Unpack the characters’ personality through his actions, reactions, interior monologue, and dialogue. Or, if you have to describe the personality, let it come from the point of view or dialogue of another character who tells us his/her opinion of the character. Or let the personality come through the attitude of the character by describing something from the viewpoint of the character.
  4. Speaking of viewpoint, keep in mind what the character will notice and what will go unacknowledged. An 80-year-old man notices different things than an 8-year-old girl. For the 80-year-old, the falling snow may be a nuisance but for an 8-year-old it might be pleasant and fun. However, if there is no emotion attached to what the character is seeing, then your writing is emotionally detached, which only works if you’re aiming for an emotionally detached story.
  5. Well written dialogue should erase a lot of explanation. The dialogue itself should let the reader know that a character is astonished or scared. The reader shouldn’t need to read the descriptive tag. In fact, the best thing you can do for your dialogue is to never explain it.
  6. Be conscious of the beats in your text. For a tense dialogue scene, fewer beats the better. However, beats also allow you to ground your story. They can unpack setting and character traits/habits which allows the reader to use their imagination.
  7. Read your story out loud. By reading out loud you get the sense of the rhythm of your story, especially your dialogue. You can hear where the pauses should be, where some action is required, where there is too much talking and so on.
  8. Be aware of repetition. You don’t want your sentences to convey the same info or your paragraphs to establish the same traits or have multiple characters fulfilling the same role. Repetition can take away from your story.

Two Things That Have Made My Fiction Writing Easier

Stephen King Writing Tip: Build Your Toolbox

Writing/Life Advice: Don’t Get Overwhelmed

Vladimir Nabakov On What Makes A Great Writer

Tell Your Truth Through Writing

Vladimir Nabokov & Storytelling Techniques

Neil Gaiman & Generating Story Ideas

Writing Advice From William Faulkner

Haruki Murakami On Writing

Charles Bukowski & The Use Of Conflict In Storytelling

Ernest Hemingway On What To Write About

Simple Writing Advice From Stephen King


Youtube: Learned Living

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/learned_living/

Poem: The Many Yous

Article: Indirect Battle Strategy and How It Can Help Us Overcome Our Own Obstacles

Short Story: Everything Work’s Itself Out