Jake Sclavus by Stephen Page

This a Short Story and  work of fiction.

Security Guard Badge and Flashlight Stephen Page

Jake Sclavus

by Stephen Page

            My beeper is going off, so I look down to see the number on the display screen.  It’s the grocery store.  I run toward the store, hoping it isn’t anything serious.   This job is generally boring, in fact, deathly boring, but when something exciting happens, it is usually the kind of excitement that sane people try to avoid.  Crossing the large parking lot, I dodge moving cars, scattered shopping carts, and slow‑moving people.  I check to see that my handcuffs are in place on my security belt as I enter the store.  My three‑cell, heavy‑duty flashlight is in my right hand.  The manager of the store tells me there is an “undesirable” walking around, one that has been picked up before on shoplifting charges.  The manager points him out to me and I begin to follow him around.  He hasn’t yet noticed me when he cuts into one of the aisles with some food items in his hand.  When I turn the corner of the aisle, there he is, gulping down a quart of milk.  There is half‑eaten lunchmeat and cheese in his hand.  He has long, matted hair and he is wearing an Army trench coat, old jeans, T‑shirt, and worn‑out tennis shoes‑‑all of which look like they have been worn for several weeks without a washing.   He gapes at me.  A few of his front teeth are missing.  I ask him if he is going to pay for the items, and he says, “Yes.”  I say, “Let’s go then,” and he says, “Fuck you.”  He begins to walk out the door.  I tell him if he walks out the door, I will have to apprehend him.  He says, “You wouldn’t dare.”  I tell the manager to call the police as I follow him out the store.  When we are outside, he turns and bumps me with his chest. I am surprised because his body is hard and wiry, his muscles hard as steel.  A fork has appeared in his right hand, and he is holding it in a menacing manner.  I notice that the sun has gone down and the parking lot has emptied.  There is a slight chill in the air.  The manger comes outside and tells me that the police will not arrive for at least half‑an‑hour.  Then he disappears, ducking quickly back into the store.  I look down at the very sharp fork waving around in the air.  Just then, a police car pulls into the parking lot.  I think they are there to assist me, but it turns out they are headed for the Mexican restaurant located at the other end of the parking lot.  I yell, “Hey!”  They turn their car around and head toward me and the hungry man with the fork in his hand.  They end up arresting him.

*

            I am walking around the parking lot.  I am bored.  My mind is numb from lack of use.  It feels like someone has had it freeze‑dried, or at the very least, cut off its blood supply.  The only part of my brain that is alive is the motor‑function area, and a minute section of the language area that keeps reverberating, “I’m bored, I’m bored, I’m bored.”  It takes absolutely no intelligence to do this kind of work.  I am trying to figure how a person like me ends up with a job like this.

*

            It is near closing time.  Three more minutes and I can lock the doors and go home.  I am lazily staring through the glass doors and out over the parking lot.  Suddenly, a man appears in front of me, on the other side of the glass, his eyes are bloodshot and glassy.  I have to let him in because it isn’t yet closing time.  I open the doors and he just stands there.  It isn’t very cold out, but he is shivering.  “I just seen my friend get killed,” he says.  “Over drugs.”  I feel terrible.  Then I remember I’m on duty.  “Was it here, in this parking lot?”  “No,” he says.  “A few blocks away.”  His eyes stare unfocused on an imaginary spot over my shoulder.  His pupils are dilated.  “He was shot, man.  Three times.  In the gut.  He just lay there and bled all over the ground.”  I look down and notice he has one of his hands in his jacket pocket.  There is a bulge in that pocket, and he is lifting the bulge up, pushing it forward, pointing it toward me.  “Sorry,” I say.  “But it’s near closing time.  I have to lock up.”  I quickly begin to close the doors.  He doesn’t move.  He’s still staring at the imaginary place behind me, still pointing the bulge at me.  He looks like he is ready to cry.  I finally get the doors closed in front of him, lock them, and move off like I have something to do.

*

            I am walking around the parking lot.  My legs are tired and my feet are killing me.  My new shoes are pinching across the tops of my toes and rubbing sore spots on the backs of my heels.  When the eight‑hour shift finally ends, I hobble to my car and drive home.  When I arrive, I take off my shoes and socks and notice the skin is missing on numerous spots around my feet.  I soak my feet in Epsom salts and wince at the pain.  The next day, when I wear tennis shoes, the Sergeant of the Guard chastises me for not having black shoes on.

*

            A commotion breaks out at the far end of the parking lot.  Because of all the cars, I can’t see what it is, but I can hear a lot of shouting.  I follow the noise until I arrive at the scene.  I find a man and a woman arguing.  A few people have gathered to watch.  Nobody is interfering or saying anything, even though the man is moving toward the woman, gesticulating in a manner that is causing her to walk backward.  The man is about six‑foot‑four, and weighs about two hundred and forty pounds; maybe that is why nobody is doing anything.  I check to make sure my battery‑powered zapper is on my belt.  My ever‑present flashlight is swinging in my right hand.  “Please take your argument elsewhere,” I tell them.  They ignore me.  I say it louder.  They still ignore me.  “I want my baby,” the man says.  “If you’re going to leave me, I want my baby.”  “No,” she says.  “I’m taking her to my mother’s.”  By this time the man has the woman backed up to the trunk of a car.  She looks like she wants to crawl backward over the top of the car.  She is not afraid to argue back though, and keeps the emphatic rhetoric going, all the time eyeing his hands.  I walk up next to them and yell, “Take your problems off this parking lot!”  “Stay out of this,” the man says as he turns his face toward me.  That is all the time the woman needs.  In the split‑second it takes the man to turn his attention, the woman ducks under one of his arms and begins running toward an idling car.  Behind the steering wheel is another woman, holding a baby.  The man turns and takes a step in their direction.  I quickly maneuver around him and stop a few steps in front of him.  He looks intent on tearing me limb‑from‑limb.  His eyes are flashing fire.  He steps up to me and towers over me.  I stand my ground.  He looks surprised.  “You’re only doing this because I’m black,” he says.  “No,” I say.  “It’s my job.  I have to do this.”  The car behind me squeals off, carrying with it the two women and the baby.  The man looks over my head and begins to relax.  “She’s a terrible mother,” he says.  He turns and saunters off toward a large four‑by‑four vehicle, gets in, and slowly drives off.  I relax the tight grip I had on my flashlight.

*

            Tonight I am working at the local hospital.  It is near the end of my shift, but my replacement hasn’t arrived yet.  I wait, fifteen minutes, half‑an‑hour, an hour‑and‑a‑half.  It is near midnight.  I call the officer of the day and tell him what happened.  He asks me to work a double shift.  They never pay overtime, but I agree.  I drink another cup of coffee, buy a newspaper and check the want‑ads.

*

            I am working out in the Palomar area, guarding an office building on the midnight shift.  I took this post because I can sit in my car most of the time and study.  I only have to walk around every hour, check the area, and make sure all the office doors are locked.  It is cold here at night.  Whoever said it doesn’t get cold in sunny Southern California never lived away from the coast, and never worked outside at nighttime in the winter.  I have a Volkswagen, so the heater doesn’t work unless I am driving 40 miles an hour.  Since it’s hard to drive around the parking lot at night at 40 miles and hour and study at the same time, I sit in my car and study by flashlight.  The bad light bothers my eyes.  Even when I wear long johns, my legs go numb after ten or fifteen minutes.

*

            I am sleeping soundly when the phone rings.  It is the officer of the day, asking me to come into work.  I look at the clock and notice it has only been six hours since I left my last post.  A headache creeps into my frontal lobes.  My neck tenses up.  I tell him, “Yes,” hang up, and stumble toward the shower.  As the water washes over me, I remember what I studied last year in American history: at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, business owners exploited their workers to every extent possible.  As I make myself coffee, I wonder what happened to the strong labor unions of the 1970’s.  As I drive to work, I look down at the gas needle.  It hovers near the empty mark.  I think about the one-hundred‑fifty dollar paycheck I received for last week’s pay.

*

            Sometime around three in the morning, on one of my rounds at the Palomar office building, around the back, next to one of the dumpsters, where the smell of rotting lunch scraps and ink‑smeared photocopy paper mingles with the night air, I find a man sleeping on the ground.  He is wrapped up in a dirty Army‑surplus sleeping bag.  He is snoring.  With my foot, I tap the end of the sleeping bag where his feet are.  It takes me three or four nudges to wake him.  “You’re going to have to leave,” I say.  “No one is allowed on these premises at night.”  “Man, do you know who God is?” he asks.  “I’m sorry, but you’re going to have to leave.”  “Do you go to church, man?”  “Look, you have to leave the area.”  “I didn’t think you went to church.  Otherwise you wouldn’t be kicking me out of here.”  I wait as he slowly stands and rolls up his sleeping bag, grumbling all the time about God and church.  I watch as he picks up pieces of food from the ground, wraps them in a greasy piece of typing paper, and deposits the package in his pocket.  I follow him until he walks off the parking lot.  “Go to church, man,” he says as he walks away.

*

I got this job, finally.  After six months of checking the want‑ads, making phone calls, driving around, pounding the pavement, filling out apps, and getting drunk every evening, I got this job.

Quarto cvr w Jake Sclavus copy

This story first published on Quarto, the literary magazine of Columbia University.

 

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“Another Week Begins” by Stephen Page

madswirl logo black background

Another Week Begins

By Stephen Page

When Jonathan turns off the highway the mud

in the road is a foot deep.  He clicks his vehicle

into 4-wheel drive and creeps forward in first gear

so not to slide into one of the ditches.  The white gates

of his ranch are open, El Misionero standing next

them.  He rolls his window down and sighs.  The air

smells green.  Green.  Green.

He drives to his office and talks with his capataz,

then they climb in the ranch pickup to go see a calf

cadaver.  It was born early that morning with a curled-

neck deformity, and unable to reach its mother’s tit

or the water trough, it just stumbled around awhile and fell

on its side.  The gauchos had skinned it and the vultures picked

it mostly clean, the eyes plucked out, the tongue sliced in half,

bits of intestine lying next to the spine, the heart and lungs mush

under the gristly ribs.

They drive to the Yellow House casco to see a pony cadaver.

Apparently, last night it leaped the fence around the

swimming pool and fell in the water. It lay on its side

on the grass where the yardkeeper placed it, its legs

stiff in the curled positions of swimming, yellow froth

tubed out of its nostrils.  It was only three-weeks old.

Jonathan goes for a long walk, alone—he admires

the greening grass, the knee-high wheat, the sprouting corn,

the blooming chamomile, the calves and ponies leaping about

pastures spotted white with egrets.

He hears bees buzzing, mockingbirds singing—

and he keeps walking, walking; walking

past the pastures, past the Wood,

until he enters a fallow field.

As he approaches a small marsh

a flock of black ibis lift

and cloud away.

*this poem first published on madswirl

http://madswirl.com/poetry/2018/02/another-week-begins/

Editor’s note:

Like any week, we walk through cadavers to stand free. – mh clay

on Mad Swirl Another Week Begins

I wanted to title this “Monday, Monday,” but that sounded so familiar as to have already been used.

Riding the Wind by Stephen Page

The story you are about to read is a work of fiction.

Riding the Wind

by Stephen Page

Quarto cover w Riding the Wind original copyJuan was driving his pick-up, I was on the passenger side, and Isabel was in the back seat. The stick shift rattled between Juan and me. Juan had met us at the international airport in Montevideo and was taking us to his farm near the sea, a vacation that Isabel had pestered me into taking after three months of rattling on about how nice it would be for me to finally visit her home country and meet her oldest and dearest friend. The first thing I had noticed about Juan’s truck, besides the winch on the back, was its dull, dark green color. The first thing Juan noticed about me, by the way he looked me up‑and‑down at the airport, was my clothes‑‑an Army jacket, Hawaiian shirt, blue jeans and white tennis shoes‑‑the same easy‑going style that Isabel always said a man in his late thirties was too old to wear.

The back seat was a small pad bolted to the front seats, and it was barely big enough for one adult, maybe two children, yet the way Isabel was sitting closer to Juan’s side of the cab, she made it look larger. She was leaning so that her left elbow was resting on the back of Juan’s seat, her forearm pressing against his shoulder. They spoke English at first, but when I tried to jump into the conversation, they fell into their native language, Spanish. I was just learning to speak Spanish, and had only memorized a few nouns and phrases. Isabel’s vocal tones rose and fell. Juan occasionally regarded me out of the corner of his eye and laughed.   I glared at Isabel. Blood rushed to my face. I turned and looked out the passenger side window and watched some cows as they looked dumbly at our passing vehicle. The long lines of trees used as windbreaks between the plots of farm land were losing the last of their brown, curling leaves. I felt the onset of a headache and squeezed my thighs with my hands, imagining I was holding onto someone’s throat.

When we arrived at Juan’s farm, I was still staring out the window. I had been thinking about the conversation that Isabel and I had a few months back, when she first told me about Juan. “He moved away from the city and settled on the land he inherited from his father,” she said. “Built his own house, with his own two hands. Bought a few cows and now he’s got a whole herd. Plowed up half of the land and planted beans, right before the bean market skyrocketed. Wait ‘til you see his house,” she said. “It’s beautiful. He works wonderfully with his hands.”

Juan’s house was finished on the outside with oak‑wood slats, and on the north side there was a spacious sun room faced in large rectangular glass panels. Inside, the sun room blended smoothly into the living room.   The furniture was rustic but rich‑‑large hand‑carved wooden furniture that reeked of Spanish colonialism. Above the fireplace, there was a painting of an elderly man who had a J.P. Morgan stare. At the bottom of the picture was a gold engraved plaque that read, Soltero Juan Ladrón de Guerra. “My Grandfather,” said Juan. On the mantel in front of and next to the painting was a bronze statue of a conquistador. Above a desk on the far side of the room was a coat of arms. Hanging on all the walls were horse whips and riding crops.

Juan said we could have his room upstairs, since it had a larger bed, and he would take the guest room at the end of the hallway under the stairs. While I set our suitcases in the bedroom, next to an antique four poster bed, I noticed Isabel casually take a candy from a jar on the nightstand.

Juan started to grill us lunch. “From one of my steers,” he said. “Cured by a neighbor of mine.”   He seared the slab of beef on a grill he had placed over the fireplace. Isabel went into the kitchen to get something, and Juan followed her, giving me instructions to “Keep an eye on the meat.” Instead, I followed them, trying to pick up a few words of their conversation. They glanced at me then back at each other.

We sat down at the kitchen table while Isabel and Juan kept yakking away in Spanish. Isabel sat between Juan and me, her body twisted in his direction as she spoke. My headache was turning into a full‑fledged migraine. Juan got up to check on the meat and Isabel got up to get the plates. I reached for the large wooden pepper shaker that sat in the middle of the table and felt the heft of its weight as Isabel laid out the plates.   She laid my plate last. “Why don’t you ever help?” she whispered at me.

Juan brought in the meat. “This is the cut we call ‘tapa,’” he said. “Do you want a cut from the large end, where it is tender and juicy, or do you want a cut from the small end where it is tough and hard, the part the real men eat.” Isabel watched for my reaction. Juan smiled at me. I narrowed my eyes and ordered a piece that the real men eat.   Even though they were still speaking Spanish, I could tell that the conversation had turned to the subject of Laura, Isabel’s daughter by a former marriage. Laura was an beautiful, agitated bundle of post‑adolescent hormones that deftly managed, at least once a day, to get either Isabel angry at me, or me angry at Isabel. She had elected to stay home with the housekeeper, cook, gardener, and private tutor to study for her college entrance exams while we went on vacation. I can’t say I was disappointed.

“Juan was there when Laura was born,” Isabel said in English.

“Yes. I called her the little princess,” Juan said.

“That’s exactly what I always say,” I exclaimed. “She’s like a princess. And Isabel is like a queen.”

“Where does that leave you?” Juan said. “Are you the servant?”

This time I looked at Isabel for her reaction. She was staring down at her plate, watching her knife cut through a fat piece of meat. Juan laughed. I glared at him and abruptly pushed myself from the table. I went outside and had a smoke on the back porch. This was going to be the last time, I thought to myself.

I noticed Juan had a barn a hundred feet or so from the house. Funny I hadn’t seen it when we came in, it being so obvious, mansion sized and faced flat cement gray with two immense bright green front doors. The doors were shut and high above them was an open hay‑loft window. I crushed my cigarette out with the sole of my shoe. Next to the front doors and leaning against the wall of the barn was a pitchfork. Just as I was going to walk over to it, Isabel came outside. She took my hand. “Let’s go take a nap,” she said.

“I’m not tired.”

“The bed is very big and comfortable,” she said, pressing her breasts into my arm, “And Juan has some errands to run. We have the entire afternoon to ourselves.”

I followed her back into the house. Juan was cleaning the fireplace as we went up the stairs. He watched Isabel’s backside as she walked in front of me.

When I woke up, I was alone. I opened the bedroom window and saw them walking toward the truck. They had their backs to me and Juan had his arm around her neck while Isabel rested her head upon his shoulder. They were walking slowly and Juan seemed to be speaking rather softly. I flew down the stairs and stepped out the back door just as they were arriving at the truck. I let the screen door slam shut.

“My love,” Isabel said as she skipped towards me. Her blouse was open to the fourth button. I stared intently at Juan. He was mocking me with his eyes.

“You are awake,” he said.

“Yes, I am. And it seems to be just in time.”

“Oh, you mean to come with us,” Isabel said. “We were just going to pick up Juan’s kids. They live only ten minutes away.”

“That’s okay,” Juan said. “I can go alone. There’s coffee on the fireplace if you want some.”   He got in his truck and drove off, the winch on the back rattling and bobbing back and forth.

“Love, are you okay? You have a terrible look on your face.”

I lit a cigarette. “Where were you going?”

“To pick up his kids, I told you.”

“Why didn’t you wake me?”

“You were sleeping so well. Besides, Juan needed to speak. He feels comfortable speaking to me. We’re old friends, you know that. He wanted to talk about his divorce. Hey, wait a minute, what are you insinuating?”   She put her hands on her hips. I could see her bra and cleavage.

“Why didn’t he invite both of us to go with him?”

“Because there are three kids and the cab would be full. You’re being ridiculous.” She slipped inside the back door. I stayed on the porch and finished my smoke. Then I went for a walk.

After a walk around the barn, where I noticed the front doors were padlocked, I went back inside the house. Isabel was lying on a hammock in the sun room. I poured myself a cup of coffee and sat on the sofa. She leaned over and looked at me. The back door opened and three kids piled in, howling and yelling. They ranged in ages from three to eight.

“Lets go to the beach,” Juan said.

“It’s almost winter,” I said. “Don’t you think it’s a bit nippy for a swim?”

“We’re not going to swim, just have a picnic. The waves are beautiful to see crashing on the shore this time of year. They’re about five or six feet tall.”

The kids were running around the house and jumping up and down on the sofa. “Isn’t it going to be crowded in the cab?” I asked.

“Well, I have a suggestion. Isabel says you like to ride motorcycles.” My mind escaped to thoughts of my Harley‑‑that red and white Knucklehead that occasionally freed me from the stagnation of my marriage. He continued, “Well, I have a motocross bike. You can follow us. If you wear a sweater under your coat you’ll be fine.”

The road was overgrown with grass, but if I stayed in the wheel ruts, it was easy to ride on. I actually started to feel good after a mile or two. The sun was out, the wind was in my face, the briskness of the air incredibly invigorating. I started singing a song by Steppenwolf. “Get your motor running, head out on the highway, looking for adventure, in what ever comes our way. . . Born to be wi‑ii‑ii‑ii‑ld.   Born to be . . .”

After a meal of chicken sandwiches and red wine, and an afternoon of watching the kids build sand castles, then watching the sand castles get destroyed by the crashing waves, we headed back. Since I knew the way, I ventured out in front of the truck. I lost sight of them over some rolling hills, but I didn’t care, I had my freedom again‑‑the open road, the scenery passing by, the wind combing my hair and caressing my body through my clothes. When I saw the house loom up ahead of me, I slowed down.   I looked over my shoulder. I slowed down some more. I stopped. I rode to the top of a knoll and scanned the road to the beach. The truck was nowhere to be seen. I rode all the way back to the beach. Nothing. I returned to the house at full throttle. When I arrived, the sun was setting.

Around midnight, I heard the truck pull up and the doors slam shut. I went to the back porch with my hand around the neck of a bottle of bourbon I had found in the kitchen.

“Mi amor, how are you?” Isabel asked me. “Sorry, we had a flat tire.” Her hair was mussed.

“I went back to find you.”

Juan interrupted, “Sorry Jim, we took a different route. To drop off the kids.”

I lit a cigarette.

“Let’s go to bed, love,” Isabel said to me. “It’s late.” She put her hand over mine, the one that gripped the whiskey bottle.

In the bedroom I confronted her. “Did the flat tire happen before or after you dropped off the kids?”

She looked at me condescendingly. “Your petty jealousies belittle you. You have no right to speak to me like that. Juan is my friend. Whatever fantasy you’ve concocted in your mind is purely fictional. Besides, you know how I feel about infidelity.”

“Yeah, I know how you feel about infidelity. The same way you always feel about it.   The way you feel about it every time we go on a vacation together. The way you feel about it every time we meet someone new. Even the way you feel about it with all of our friends back home.” She stormed out of the room. I picked up the jar of candy and smashed it on the floor.

I sat on the bed and looked at the grass stains on my tennis shoes. After a few moments, I got up, went down the stairs, through the living room, and into the kitchen. I couldn’t find Isabel or Juan, so I walked, quite quickly, under the stairs and into the hallway that led to the guest room. I found the door closed. I pressed my ear to the door. Silence. Too much silence. A light shone from under the door and onto my feet. A double shadow passed by the light. I grabbed the door knob and drove my shoulder into the door, bursting into the room.

No one was there. A window a few feet from the unmade bed was open a couple of inches and its curtain fluttered in the breeze. The lamp between the bed and the window was on and the curtain periodically passed in front of it.

I paused for a moment, then went through the kitchen and out the back door. The moon was full and the sky was clear, giving the outdoors the appearance of a silvery low‑lit day. I could see the hills I had ridden upon earlier that day. A cold wind was blowing. The wild grass in the field next to the house rippled in the breeze. The main doors to the barn stood slightly ajar, and I watched as a white owl circled the barn twice then entered through the hay‑loft window. I glanced at the pitchfork where now it leaned within arm’s reach against the side of the house. The truck, its exterior looking black and shiny, its chrome bumpers reflecting the moon, sat pointed in the direction of the road that led to the airport. The skin on the back of my neck burned and my scalp tingled as I stepped off the porch and walked up to the driver’s side. Its keys dangled brightly in the ignition. I looked again at the dark slit made by the opening of the barn doors, over at the pitchfork, around at the hills, the wild grass, the road. The wind picked up and whistled in my ears.

The Suspense of Loneliness cover

Riding the Wind, as published in Quarto

Riding the Wind, as anthologized in The Suspense of Loneliness

This is a work of fiction. All people, places, and events in the story are fictitious.

You can also find this story on a Quarto website on page 27

“Reading Aloud for his Grandson” by Stephen Page

RiverLit

Steve lake fishing John and Deb's booat may 2015Reading Aloud for his Grandson” by Stephen Page

as published on RiverLit

read poem here: Reading Aloud for his Grandson

HBS

Stephen Page as Executive Editor at Quarto


Issue cover with Stephen Page as Executive Editor.

Quart issue 33. 

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The Courts-martial of Lance Corporal Jones

imageAs Published on The Whistling Fire Continue reading “The Courts-martial of Lance Corporal Jones”

Stephen Page interviewed by Cailtlin O’Neil

pwmarch_april2007The Writer’s Triangle
 By Caitlin O’Neil

 

Triangulated
By Caitlin O’Neil | Poets & Writers Magazine, March/April

Until I was invited to appear on a panel about life in the “toxic triangle,” I had no idea that I was in the writer’s equivalent of the plane-swallowing waters off the coast of Bermuda. I did know, only too well, how, during the year since I had left my full-time job as a public television producer and become a freelance writer, my furtive early mornings spent writing before work had given way to long afternoons puzzling over money, freelance assignments, and a growing sense of isolation. Alas, I was in the dreaded triangle, I just hadn’t quite realized it.

The term refers to the metaphorical vortex writers get pulled into while trying to balance making a living and being committed to their literary lives. Adapting the concept from a book about depression by Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, writer and psychologist Susan Schnur, put the panel together for an event to be held at Grub Street, an independent writing center in Boston that offers high-quality workshops, events and professional development opportunities for writers of all levels, last February. Schnur outlines the problem succinctly: If a writer is earning enough money, she doesn’t have enough time to write. If a writer has enough time to write, she’s broke. If a writer is cut off from people and money-generating work in order to write, she’s depressed and isolated.

“I came up with the concept by watching fifty writers do exactly what I do-continually try out new recipes for getting the issues of time/money/isolation right,” Schnur explains. “One constantly tries this, then that, but it’s almost impossible to get right.” It’s the trap Dorothy Parker must have had in mind when she wrote: “The writer’s way is rough and lonely, and who would choose it while there are vacancies in more gracious professions, such as, say, cleaning ferryboats?”

The response to Schnur’s panel invitation was overwhelming. She’d struck a nerve among the sixty or so members of The Writers’ Room in Boston’s financial district who share communal work space-and, apparently, a secret. Sitting in neighboring cubicles, we silently harbored anxiety, depression, and self-doubt-not about our writing, but about how our writing fits into our lives.

We finally brought these internal dialogues into the open one Saturday morning last spring, at the Grub Street writing center on Boston Common. Along with my co-panelists- nonfiction author Amy Sutherland, freelance journalist Paul Goldsmith, and a poet/professor Rebecca Morgan Frank-we laid bare our word-borne neuroses, challenges, and afflictions. Sutherland had clenched her teeth so hard as she pounded out her latest book that she’d needed thousands of dollars of dental work. She worked herself into such a frenzy that her husband, she explained, “would come in the door and he’d say my eyes would be going two different directions. I would have fangs and steam coming out of my ears. He would just grab The New Yorker and run to the bathroom and disappear for an hour, and I’d be back to talking to the dogs.”

Goldsmith had taken up smoking and gone to a shrink. “I was smoking a pack a day, burning through cigarettes,” he admitted. “I wound up having a panic attack where I actually thought I was having heart trouble, and then when you go to the doctor and he said, ‘You just need to get out more.’”
Frank was so busy teaching at four different schools that she never slept, let alone wrote. “I fantasize all the time about having time just to write,” she said.
Then there was me: overjoyed to have finished a novel but missing my old colleagues and the security of a full-time job.

Our stories were only the beginning. The writers in the audience eagerly shared questions and problems of their own. Should I quit my job? What about kids? How do you balance paying writing and the writing you love? By the end of the morning, our panel had morphed into a confessional. Here at last were others who understood the anxiety over an elusive book contract or an article that never materializes, over the bank account that is a carefully orchestrated fugue of debits and transfers, and the pressure of all those lonely hours.

While every professional these days seems to have trouble finding a balance between work and life, the writer’s dilemma is more nuanced: to find a balance between the work one loves and the work that pays (and then try to find time for family or leisure too). The problem has long been endemic to the literary life. Wallace Stevens worked at an insurance lawyer, heading to the office each morning, penning poems between contracts. More common than the literary success of a Michael Chabon or Stephen King is the life of writers who toil, in obscurity and often in isolation, balancing the creative urge to write and the pragmatic need to make a living.

Fiction writer Cort McMeel knows this well. A full-time commodity trader in Baltimore, Maryland, by day, McMeel writes at night and on weekends.
“Trading is great in so many ways because you work fewer hours than most jobs and earn a great living,” he says. It sure beats my advertising copywriting gig where I had beer jingles dancing around in my head at night and was too burned out creatively to write during those precious night time hours.”

Stealing hours outside of a full-time job is grueling, however, and leaves little time for anything else-from eating to sleeping to being with your kids. “My wife and child are a great boon and joy,” McMeel says, ” but they, of course, take up time that the jealous mistress Muse requires. There is never enough time to write all the ideas in my head.”

With his writing time truncated, he finds it nearly impossible to produce long, in-depth fiction. “My work is completely structured around time. It’s 100 percent short stories because of child and work responsibilities,” says McMeel, who also found time to launch a new crime magazine called Murdaland last September. “The dedication it takes for sustained concentration is a whole lot tougher with youngin’s, whereas you can work up the discipline to write a good self-contained short story in two, six hour stints.” Nothing but pure love could compel someone to make such sacrifices.

Most writers, of course, dream of finding a way to write full-time, and many embark upon it even if that means credit card debt, lack of insurance, or constant hustle to find freelance work. But even when a fellowship or book advance adequately funds the dream, many writers find that having so much time isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

An anonymous writer in Boston was so happy to have a university grant that gave him all day, every day, to write that he excluded everything else: family, social engagements, food, fresh air, and exercise. “I had this feeling that I didn’t want to waste a single moment of this stretch of time that I was extremely fortunate to have.” So while he was able to write much more than he would have with a full-time job, he says, when “I got around people, I realized how isolated and depressed I was feeling.”

After long stretches at his desk, Stephen Page, a poet living in Buenos Ares, experiences bouts of isolation and “pain too,” he says, “like something has been ripped out of me.” To counteract the feeling, he makes time to be with his family “no matter what. Evenings with my spouse, and family get-togethers on Sundays.”

“Everyone focuses so much on writing, as if that’s all you need in life, but that’s a fallacy,” says writer and psychologist Schnur. “You can’t have a productive life if no one is in it but you.”

Page also relies on other forms of work, which he finds essential for his well-being. A cattle rancher and a teacher, he turns to poet Gary Snyder for inspiration. “He never quit his day job,” says Page, who has taught for many years to pay the bills but who nevertheless relies on credit cards, eats sandwiches for meals, and wears old shoes. But he also welcomes teaching as a chance to forge connections that can seem like lifelines on days when loneliness is lurking. “Teaching is a passion of mine,” says the poet. “I feel it’s necessary to pass on knowledge and influence people to stay curious all their lives.”

William Giraldi, a prose writer and fiction editor for the journal AGNI at Boston University, agrees. “Teaching is the perfect job for a writer. I cherish my teaching job because I worked construction out in the sun and snow for a year,” he says. “Even if I could support myself writing, I would continue to teach. No matter how important writing is to your life, you can’t do it all day long.”

But while many derive inspiration from teaching, or turn to it for its flexibility and steady income, such positions are often not very lucrative and demand an enormous time commitment. Writers can spend so much time cobbling together enough teaching gigs to pay the bills that they’re left with no time to do the work that the teaching was meant to support in the first place.

McMeel believes that writers should steer clear of academia. Instead “get out in the world and mix it up, get your hands dirty, get your ass kicked a little bit,” he says. “Adults who have been in jobs that require risk are way more likely to have stories of failure and glory and betrayal and redemption than young adults in high school and college.”

On this point, Page agrees. “I think to round out your writing, you need to be bigger than yourself, to help people achieve what they want in life, support them, and understand them. Hopefully, it will all come back to you.”
Schnur says that this is the biggest issue for writers: “to realize that all the stuff that goes into getting to their desks is as important as what they actually do once they’re at their desks.”

We live in a culture that doesn’t always “take seriously or value [a writers] profound need to write,” she says, adding that for many of us, “writing is as necessary as eating and sleeping.”

That is why so many writers learn to set the alarm for an hour earlier, steal an hour between classes, or earn a sabbatical after years of hard work. It’s not self-discipline but love, noted Annie Dilliard, who said writing “is like rearing children-willpower has very little to do with it.”
Giraldi puts it this way: “If you tell me you’re trying to find time to write, that’s like saying ‘I’m trying to work it out with my husband.’ You can’t try; you have to make it happen.”

Like other forms of love-marriage, parenthood-writing is about deep commitment. Balances are negotiated, sacrifices are made, but in the end it is necessity that dictates what gets done. “Writers don’t chose the task of writing,” says Giraldi. “It chooses them.”

And like any relationship, the bargain goes both ways. You, too, must chose writing, by setting aside the time, money, and energy it takes to stay committed.
“You have to be willing to spend serious time-as serious as that of the writing itself-teasing apart what you need in order to get writing,” says Schnur, whether that means a babysitter, an editor, or a workspace.  “It’s a recipe,” she says, “that you need to be constantly adjusting.”

This article appeared in Poets and Writers and was written by  CaitlinO'Neil copyCaitlin O’Neil

The Psychologist and the Foreign Language Teacher By Wilga M. Rivers

ThePsychologistAndTheForeignLanguageTeacherCvrHardcover: 220 pages
Publisher: Univ of Chicago Pr (Tx); 1St Edition edition (June 1964)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0226720950
ISBN-13: 978-0226720951
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Review by S. M. Page
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Halfway through the second chapter of The Psychologist and the Foreign Language Teacher, I began having flashbacks.  Putting on a coat and tie.  Walking to class on a clear bright day, carrying a briefcase.  Walking to class on a rainy day, whistling, holding an umbrella.  Entering the classroom and being called “Prof” and “Teach.”  The scent of chalk-dust, the sound of books opening and pens scribbling.  The satisfaction I feel when I am helping somebody learn something and I see the look on their face when they realize they have learned something.  The cortical sensation I get from stimulating conversation with my advanced students.  Having students come up to me after a class and saying, “thanks.”  I haven’t taught in two-and-a-half years, but I realize how much I miss it.  The book is intelligently written and the “audio-lingual” method is clearly outlined and explained.  She is correct in believing that the translation method does not work well.  It makes the student lazy and creates too many steps in the neural pathways.  The only comment I would make to the author is that the drilling method is only appropriate for the beginner student.  I taught many methods, Berlitz style drilling, grammar methods, and natural-speaking methods.  The latter seems to work the best, but only on the post-beginner levels.  After the first few months the drilling becomes unnatural and a bore.  She does bring up a lot of clever points, most notably:
Language is speech . . .Language is a set of habits . . . Teach the language, not about the language . . . listening, speaking, reading, and writing.  These four skills must be learned “in that order” (that is the way children learn). . . mastery of the skills must be accompanied by familiarity with the culture the language represents, as well as a larger view of life resulting from the realization that there are many cultures and value systems, some far different from our own . . . Learning to make responses in situations which simulate “real-life” communication situations . . . When language is in action, there is always a speaker.  He is always somewhere, speaking to someone, about something . . . and word-lists pairing foreign-language words with “equivalents” in the native language should not be used for teaching purposes.
The book is a technical but good read, and I would recommend it to anyone teaching a foreign language.
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S. M. teaching Engilsh2No one knows where S. M. Page came from or where he is going, but it rumored he likes Motown music, and that he is part Shawnee and part Apache.  It is also reported that he was recently been seen riding his Harley through a mountain pass, wandering a patch of woods with a notebook in his hand, sitting on a beach watching a sunrise, entering a movie theater with his wife, walking his son to school, cheering in the stands of a football match, teaching English to employees in a South American corporate bank, and standing on a stage playing bass in a rock-n-roll band.
originally posted on Fox Chase Review

 

Fox Chase Review

ThePsychologistAndTheForeignLanguageTeacherCvrHardcover: 220 pages
Publisher: Univ of Chicago Pr (Tx); 1St Edition edition (June 1964)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0226720950
ISBN-13: 978-0226720951
.
 .
Review by S. M. Page
 .
Halfway through the second chapter of The Psychologist and the Foreign Language Teacher, I began having flashbacks.  Putting on a coat and tie.  Walking to class on a clear bright day, carrying a briefcase.  Walking to class on a rainy day, whistling, holding an umbrella.  Entering the classroom and being called “Prof” and “Teach.”  The scent of chalk-dust, the sound of books opening and pens scribbling.  The satisfaction I feel when I am helping somebody learn something and I see the look on their face when they realize they have learned something.  The cortical sensation I get from stimulating conversation with my advanced students.  Having students come up to me after a class and saying, “thanks.”  I haven’t taught in two-and-a-half…

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Stephen Page Interviewed by Fox Chase Review

Fox Chase Review header

Read an Stephen Page interview conducted by g emil reutter and  Diane Sahms-Guarnieri at FCR: https://foxchasereview.wordpress.com/2014/06/25/10-questions-for-stephen-page/ Diane Sahms-Guarnieri

10 Questions for Stephen Page

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Stephen Page is from Detroit, Michigan. He is the author ofThe Timbre of Sand and Still Dandelions. He holds two AA’s from Palomar College, a BA from Columbia University and an MFA from Bennington College. His critical essays have appeared regularly in the Buenos Aires Herald and the Fox Chase Review. He is the recipient of The Jess Cloud Memorial Prize, a Writer-in-Residence from the Montana Artists Refuge, a Full Fellowship from the Vermont Studio Center, an Imagination Grant from Cleveland State University, and an Arvon Foundation Ltd. Grant. . You can find him at:http://stephenmpage.wordpress.com/.  His poetry appears in The Fox Chase Review at these links: http://www.foxchasereview.org/12SU/StephenPage.html  and http://www.foxchasereview.org/11WS/StephenPage.html

Interview with g emil reutter

The Interview 

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GER: So how does a guy from Detroit end up becoming a cattle rancher in Argentina?

SP: Well, I’m not ranching anymore. I was. Loved it. That part of my life is temporarily over.  I will tell you, however, how I came to Argentina.  The story started when I was a child. Some of my earliest happy memories are of my family vacations. Several times, all summer long, my family would pile in the station wagon and head out on the road.  We would take about twenty short vacations a year.  Sometimes just for the weekend.  We would head up north in Michigan, or down to Florida, or Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, North Carolina.  Mostly visiting family.  I loved the feeling of being on the road.  Nothing behind you, only that which is ahead of you—Kerouac said something like that.  I loved looking at the scenery as it passed by.  Most of my extended family lived in rural or sparsely populated nature-filled areas. I remember farmland, lakes, rivers, large patches of woodlands. I loved walking for miles on dirt roads, along animal trails, trudging through swamps, crossing rivers, swimming across lakes. My parents were good caretakers, and I feel lucky that they gave me such an adventurous childhood. I also had two good-natured sisters who were easy-going travelling companions.

            When I was fifteen or so, I ran away from home (not to escape anything in particular, at least nothing I could conceive at that age).  I was walking home after visiting a friend’s house and I got this idea in my head to go somewhere, anywhere . . . no definite destination in mind, just go.  As the sun was setting I was standing on the side of I-75, watching the smokestacks of factories turn yellow then orange then red, and I stuck out my thumb.  I didn’t get very far, only down to Cincinnati, when I realized I was hungry.  I crossed the highway divider and hitchhiked back home.  I slipped the key into the lock on the front door of my home as the sun was rising.

StephenOnHarley4

As a young man, with my driver’s license, every Friday when I had my weekly cash pay stuffed in my pocket, I would jump in my car and drive, sometimes to visit family, sometime just to be “out there.” Away.  Gone.  Free.  Traveling is like having wings, even in a car. I really found my wings when I bought my Harley. Riding a Harley has no other feeling like it in this world. It has a distinct vibration and rumble. On an open road, with no traffic, there is just you, the bike, the wind, and the scenery around you. You have a panoramic view of your surroundings—especially if you ride without a helmet (kids, please don’t do that!). 

Once, I had a union job, cutting steel, and after I worked there for one year, the foreman came up to me on a Friday afternoon, and said, “You,” he paused, looking me in the eye, then pointing at me with a greasy finger, “are on vacation.” “What?” I asked, thinking I was fired. “You get a week’s paid vacation for your first year on this job. We need you to take the time now while the work is slow.”  “Thanks,” I muttered, thinking ‘where will I go, what will I do?’  That night I fell asleep watching a movie called Easy Rider. I woke up early the next morning and packed a sleeping bag and some clothes in a sea bag my cousin J had given me, threw the bag over my shoulder, and headed out the door. As I was stepping off the front porch, my cousin T (who was sharing rent with me in an old farm house on the edges of Detroit) asked, “where are you going?”  “To New Orleans.” “How will you get there?” “I don’t know, I guess I’ll hitchhike (I was in-between owning vehicles at the time) . . . Or maybe I’ll go downtown to the bus terminal and take a bus.” She looked at me and smiled, then said, “At least let me drive you to the station.”  So, I ended up hanging out on Bourbon Street for a couple of nights, seeing the Rolling Stones play live, taking a train up to Jackson, Mississippi, then hitchhiking though Arkansas, Texas, north to Colorado, onto North Dakota, then turning east to back towards Detroit.  I arrived home Sunday evening, eight and a half days later, just in time to eat dinner, sleep a bit, wake up early the next morning and go back to work.  I took a lot of trips like that, either hitchhiking, in my car, or on my bike—I was always travelling, going somewhere, anywhere, just away, on my way to “There. There. Somewhere. Anywhere but here.”

After a few years of factory jobs, 7-11 midnight shifts, gas-station jobs, bowling-alley jobs, landscaping jobs, restaurant jobs—I decided I had to leave the Detroit scene.  Get away. Far, far away.  I landed a job that allowed me globe-circling travel. Out of seven years in this occupation, I spent fifty-two months overseas. Man, I saw a lot of the world. I ended up one day in Kenya, on a photo safari, and inside the same tour bus I was in was this exotic green-eyed goddess of a women. I noticed that every time I looked at her, she was looking at me, and every time she looked at me, I was looking at her.  We fell in love. She was, and is, Argentine.  Here I am.

GER: You have said that teaching is a passion of yours. Tell us why and how the interaction with students contributes to your own development as a writer?

SP:  I love teaching because it is a way of sharing, sharing knowledge, a way of helping others.  The best way teaching literature helped my development as a writer was that I was able to restudy the masters, analyze good writing and show others how to read well. To read carefully. To “read,” not just read. To understand the techniques of literature the masters use and/or used well—i.e. foreshadowing, metaphor, symbolism . . . saying something without saying something. 

stephen-out-reading-on-ranchGER: Many have said writing is a lonely art. You have said you have experienced bouts of isolation.  How do you break out from these bouts?

SP:  Most writers write in a room with the door closed, the phone turned off. I do. If a writer has to write in a room with family around, the writer usually has a spouse, family member, friend, or an employee take care of the family while he or she writes. Some writers write in a café. I also do that often. I know a few cafés that have vibrant creative energy and when I sit down at a table and lean over my journal or computer to write, the conversations of the other patrons just become white noise. In a sense, all writing is done in isolation. A writer has to know this, be ready for it, and, in some cases, have a disposition that does not mind being alone with itself for a while. I break out of my bouts of isolation by having an understanding wife, a circle of friends, and an extended family who understand my need to be alone a while and are always there for me when I open my (metaphorical and literal) door to socialize.  

stilldandelionsbookcoverphotosmall-copytimbreGER: You have published two collections,Timbre of Sand and Still Dandelions. Share with us the development of the collections?

SP:  My first collection of poems, The Timbre of Sand, was inspired by the exotic green-eyed woman, and started with my first love letters to her, after the safari was over.  I wrote those letters while I was still traveling around for my employers and she was living in Argentina.  About a year after the safari, I resigned from my travel-required occupation, moved to Argentina, and started to attend college. At university, I realized I loved literature and writing so much I made that my major, and I started to write short stories and poems.  Then, one day, I was skimming over some of the early letters I wrote my wife (by then we were living together and shared rings) and I realized the epistolaries had poetic potential. I started a collection of poems dedicated to her, and as I began it I thought, ‘what better love poem is there than a sonnet.’  So I started a collection of sonnets. But being a bit of an originally minded rebellious person, I decided to contemporize the sonnet. I kept the line relations, the stanzas, the meter, the assonance, alliteration, and internal rhyme that Shakespearian and Petrarchan sonnets have, but I eliminated the end rhyme (or at least freed my self of having to end rhyme).  I had a few of them published separately in small presses, and then a small publisher in NY picked them up and printed them as a book.

My second collection of poems, Still Dandelions, was inspired by my love for nature. Even as a child, on my vacations and short trips with my family, I felt a oneness with nature, a connection to it all, a passageway through nature to the beyond, the Universe, the Everything, the One.  I lived in New York for a while and was lucky enough to live near a park that was spread out over hundreds of square acres. It had trails leading through the trees, up and down hills, down to the Hudson.  There was a garden in the center of the park that was tended year-round by city employees, so if there was a mild winter, some plant or another was in bloom all year round. If there was a harsh winter, something was in bloom at least ten months of the year. The garden attracted bees, other insects, birds.  And the woodland always had some miracle of life happening, even in winter—lichen growing, moss, early tree buds, cardinals and sparrows gathering in groups on the snow, a squirrel leaping about to dig where it hid a nut last autumn, a hawk or eagle gliding around then swooping low, looking for a meal.  There was the bite of the cold, the rush of a snow flurry, the pelting of hail on my face. There was also the singing of birds in spring, the green-skied vortex of an approaching storm, the stinging rain, the wilting heat of summer, the sawing of the cicada, the myriad-color leaves of autumn. I started a collection of poems about nature, the oneness I felt with it, and I thought, ‘what better way to share this oneness I feel than to honor Bash­o and write a collection of haiku.’ I took some liberties with the form to make it my own, but in doing so, as I did with the sonnets, I realized that writing in form is an act of discipline that all writers should learn in order to become original later. A good haiku is not an easy thing to master and takes a bit of practice.  A great haiku is even harder to master.  “A haiku is, or a haiku isn’t,” I think Kerouac or Snyder said.  A haiku is not just a 5-7-5 syllabic poem (the English version of a haiku).  If anyone would like to acquire a better understanding of haiku, I recommend reading Haiku Moment, edited by Bruce Ross.  A haiku captures the Oneness, the feeling of connection to the natural world . . . it could happen while hearing a flap of a birdwing, a bee buzzing by.  A haiku captures this moment of oneness with the world, the loss of the self—and this usually happens in a second, or even less.  The epiphany comes immediately afterwards—and if the experiencer of the Oneness is a writer, he or she writes the experience down in a concise form (to coincide with the briefness of the “moment”) in order to remember it and share it with readers. There again, like my first book, I had many of the poems published separately in lit mags, then another small publisher in NY printed the collection as a book.

GER: Your literary criticisms have appeared in many publications, including here at FCR. What inspired you on this course and what are the benefits to you as a writer?

SP:  That goes back to when I was child again. Another one of my earliest memories is that of reading. I read a lot while I was growing up. I would often share books, Dr. Seuss and such, with friends and family. We would discuss the passages and rhymes and meaning (I didn’t realize this was analysis at the time).  As a teenager I was always deciphering Rock-and-Roll lyrics with friends—what does that object in that song signify, what is the double meaning in this word, how does the title coincide with the content, how many symbols are in that that stanza and why are they there? Then as a literature/writing student at Palomar College, Columbia University, and Bennington College, I was able to employ my love of analysis and set my thoughts on paper. This love of analysis benefited me as a writer because I was again, like in teaching later, able to understand how the great writers used, and use, techniques of literature. 

GER: You have read your poetry at various venues in Argentina. How important is it for you to read your work in public and what affect does it have on your writing?

SP:  I stared a writing group almost as soon as I arrived in Argentina. I thought it would be a good way to help writers help each other. We read our stuff aloud to each other.  Later I started a poetry reading group, as a means of sharing literature with others.  Once I was invited to read my poems aloud at an annual Buenos Aires International Book Fair.  Reading a book alone is a solitary pleasure, a gift from the writer to the reader one book at a time.  Reading aloud to an audience is a public event, a gift shared with more than one person in linear time.  I discovered by reading my own stuff aloud, especially while I practiced reading aloud to myself, I caught the glitches in the lines, the skips in the meter, the loss of the music I thought was there.  Thus, by reading aloud, or preparing to read aloud, I was better able to edit my work.

Stephen Page reading at the Ernesto Sabato Foundation  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3b-5YrHXe-U

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GER: Your fiction and poetry have appeared widely in the small and electronic press. How do you deal with the submission process and how important is to you as a writer to be published?

SP:  Writing and submitting are two completely different processes. They use different halves of the brain, different sections of the cortex. Synapses fire differently.  In one process you are a creator—in the other you are a publicist, a promoter, a hand shaker, a delver, a researcher. Every writer should be able to have a secretary edit, another to submit, a publisher, and a promoter to get the work known.  That way the writer could spend all of his or her time on his or her writing.  Use the cerebrum only for creating.  Anyone in any one of the arts may draw parallels with this. Currently, with the revolution of eBooks, many writers need not only to be a creator, they need to be their own editor, their own publicist, and in many cases, their own publisher.  In any event, I handle the submission process by dividing part of my “writing” time each day into parts—part for creating, part for editing, and part for submitting.

Writing is immensely more important to me than publishing. Writing is the part I love, the fun part, the part I want to do—the part I need to do.  Publishing, however, is a pat on my back, and it is one way I can share with others.  I do love sharing.

StephenPage (1)GER: You have said you turn to Gary Snyder for inspiration. Tell us why and what other writers inspire your work?

SP:  Yes, I turn to Gary Snyder because of his love of travel and his love of nature, (which I can relate to). I also admire his ability to write well. Snyder spent years meditating in Asia and studying Oriental forms of poetry. Judging by his writing, I think he felt the Oneness, the losing of the self that I feel. I often turn to Mary Oliver and Louise Glück for that same reason—for their apparent awareness of the Oneness (and for their quality of writing). I also turn to other writers and reread their books once in a while because they write well and capture the drama of human interaction, the strife of life, the struggles of relations and love—like Neruda, Cross, Hemingway, Machado, Vallejo, Borges, Plath.

GER: You have quoted Matthew Arnold, “Life is not having or getting, but of being and becoming”. Why this quote and can you expand upon it?

SP:  It is easy to become a materialist.  Materialism is something innate in all of us and is developed one way or the other depending on our socialization. Historically, we humans—modern Homo sapiens and early humanoids—especially in societies or groups, have almost always measured success by what we own, be it property, possessions, exchange (or even worse, other human beings). What we have or what we are getting—even when we were hunter-gatherers and vying over territory (not just for survival but to feel that a section of land is ours).

Today, we are brought up in a consumeristic world. We are driven, from the time we are children, to want to have things, to get more, to buy a new football, a new jump rope, a new car every year, a superfluous piece of jewelry . . . to be rich, to live in a big house, to own land, to wear new clothes styled in the latest fashion. More often than not we are striving to own more than what we need to survive healthily.  I think Sixto Rodriguez said it best when he sang, “You measure your wealth by the things that you hold . . .”

Very few people are taught to seek spirituality, and not just religion, which is societally subjectivized (and there is nothing wrong with religion)—I mean pureness of the soul (if that is what you want to call it, a “soul”—this experience we all have of existence). Not the egotistical sense of existence—the I—but the Oneness. Not many people are taught too meditate, to walk alone in the woods—or participate in any other method that allows zoning into the Oneness.  We, as adults, should work harder at teaching children how to be One with the Universe (the universe as we currently imagine it).  We need to teach our children respect for land and nature, not only for their spiritual health, but also for their physical health.  We also need to teach the kids how to be better people, how to share, how to be good to others, how to be calm in stressful situations.  We need teach them to be rich in spirit, generosity, and kindness.

As for each of ourselves, we need to make conscious efforts every day to become a better person than we were the day before, a better human being, a more humane entity that functions well in society and becomes one with the One.

StephenPage

GER: What projects are you currently working on?

SP: Oh, I have at least 10 projects I am working on.  Some are stories and some are poems I am compiling or fitting together into meaningful, coherent collections. Some are separate pieces of writing I am editing. Also, I am writing a new book

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April 12, 2014 007-g emil reutter lives and writes in the Fox Chase neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pa. (USA)

http://gereutter.wordpress.com/

 

 

fox chase review Coffee cup

 

 

 

 

 

Story, “Jake Sclavus,” by Stephen Page

Jake Sclavus 

by Stephen Page

Security Guard Badge and Flashlight Stephen PageMy beeper is going off, so I look down to see the number on the display screen. It’s the grocery store. I run toward the store, hoping it isn’t anything serious.   This job is generally boring, in fact, deathly boring, but when something exciting happens, it is usually the kind of excitement that sane people try to avoid. Crossing the large parking lot, I dodge moving cars, scattered shopping carts, and slow-moving people. I check to see that my handcuffs are in place on my security belt as I enter the store. My three-cell, heavy-duty flashlight is in my right hand. The manager of the store tells me there is an “undesirable” walking around, one that has been picked up before on shoplifting charges. The manager points him out to me and I begin to follow him around. He hasn’t yet noticed me when he cuts into one of the aisles with some food items in his hand. When I turn the corner of the aisle, there he is, gulping down a quart of milk. There is half-eaten lunch meat and cheese in his hand. He has long, matted hair and he is wearing an Army trench coat, old jeans, T-shirt, and worn-out tennis shoes–all of which look like they have been worn for several weeks without a washing.   He gapes at me. A few of his front teeth are missing. I ask him if he is going to pay for the items, and he says, “Yes.” I say, “Let’s go then,” and he says, “Fuck you.” He begins to walk out the door. I tell him if he walks out the door, I will have to apprehend him. He says, “You wouldn’t dare.” I tell the manager to call the police as I follow him out the store. When we are outside, he turns and bumps me with his chest. I am surprised because his body is hard and wiry, his muscles hard as steel. A fork has appeared in his right hand, and he is holding it in a menacing manner. I notice that the sun has gone down and the parking lot has emptied. There is a slight chill in the air. The manger comes outside and tells me that the police will not arrive for at least half-an-hour. Then he disappears, ducking quickly back into the store. I look down at the very sharp fork waving around in the air. Just then, a police car pulls into the parking lot. I think they are there to assist me, but it turns out they are headed for the Mexican restaurant located at the other end of the parking lot. I yell, “Hey!” They turn their car around and head toward me and the hungry man with the fork in his hand. They end up arresting him.

*

I am walking around the parking lot. I am bored. My mind is numb from lack of use. It feels like someone has had it freeze-dried, or at the very least, cut off its blood supply. The only part of my brain that is alive is the motor-function area, and a minute section of the language area that keeps reverberating, “I’m bored, I’m bored, I’m bored.” It takes absolutely no intelligence to do this kind of work. I am trying to figure how a person like me ends up with a job like this.

*

It is near closing time. Three more minutes and I can lock the doors and go home. I am lazily staring through the glass doors and out over the parking lot. Suddenly, a man appears in front of me, on the other side of the glass, his eyes are bloodshot and glassy. I have to let him in because it isn’t yet closing time. I open the doors and he just stands there. It isn’t very cold out, but he is shivering. “I just seen my friend get killed,” he says. “Over drugs.” I feel terrible. Then I remember I’m on duty. “Was it here, in this parking lot?” “No,” he says. “A few blocks away.” His eyes stare unfocused on an imaginary spot over my shoulder. His pupils are dilated. “He was shot, man. Three times. In the gut. He just lay there and bled all over the ground.” I look down and notice he has one of his hands in his jacket pocket. There is a bulge in that pocket, and he is lifting the bulge up, pushing it forward, pointing it toward me. “Sorry,” I say. “But it’s near closing time. I have to lock up.” I quickly begin to close the doors. He doesn’t move. He’s still staring at the imaginary place behind me, still pointing the bulge at me. He looks like he is ready to cry. I finally get the doors closed in front of him, lock them, and move off like I have something to do.

*

I am walking around the parking lot. My legs are tired and my feet are killing me. My new shoes are pinching across the tops of my toes and rubbing sore spots on the backs of my heels. When the eight-hour shift finally ends, I hobble to my car and drive home. When I arrive, I take off my shoes and socks and notice the skin is missing on numerous spots around my feet. I soak my feet in Epsom salts and wince at the pain. The next day, when I wear tennis shoes, the Sergeant of the Guard chastises me for not having black shoes on.

*

A commotion breaks out at the far end of the parking lot. Because of all the cars, I can’t see what it is, but I can hear a lot of shouting. I follow the noise until I arrive at the scene. I find a man and a woman arguing. A few people have gathered to watch. Nobody is interfering or saying anything, even though the man is moving toward the woman, gesticulating in a manner that is causing her to walk backward. The man is about six-foot-four, and weighs about two hundred and forty pounds; maybe that is why nobody is doing anything. I check to make sure my battery-powered zapper is on my belt. My ever-present flashlight is swinging in my right hand. “Please take your argument elsewhere,” I tell them. They ignore me. I say it louder. They still ignore me. “I want my baby,” the man says. “If you’re going to leave me, I want my baby.” “No,” she says. “I’m taking her to my mother’s.” By this time the man has the woman backed up to the trunk of a car. She looks like she wants to crawl backward over the top of the car. She is not afraid to argue back though, and keeps the emphatic rhetoric going, all the time eyeing his hands. I walk up next to them and yell, “Take your problems off this parking lot!” “Stay out of this,” the man says as he turns his face toward me. That is all the time the woman needs. In the split-second it takes the man to turn his attention, the woman ducks under one of his arms and begins running toward an idling car. Behind the steering wheel is another woman, holding a baby. The man turns and takes a step in their direction. I quickly maneuver around him and stop a few steps in front of him. He looks intent on tearing me limb-from-limb. His eyes are flashing fire. He steps up to me and towers over me. I stand my ground. He looks surprised. “You’re only doing this because I’m black,” he says. “No,” I say. “It’s my job. I have to do this.” The car behind me squeals off, carrying with it the two women and the baby. The man looks over my head and begins to relax. “She’s a terrible mother,” he says. He turns and saunters off toward a large four-by-four vehicle, gets in, and slowly drives off. I relax the tight grip I had on my flashlight.

*

Tonight I am working at the local hospital. It is near the end of my shift, but my replacement hasn’t arrived yet. I wait, fifteen minutes, half-an-hour, an hour-and-a-half. It is near midnight. I call the officer of the day and tell him what happened. He asks me to work a double shift. They never pay overtime, but I agree. I drink another cup of coffee, buy a newspaper and check the want-ads.

*

I am working out in the Palomar area, guarding an office building on the midnight shift. I took this post because I can sit in my car most of the time and study. I only have to walk around every hour, check the area, and make sure all the office doors are locked. It is cold here at night. Whoever said it doesn’t get cold in sunny Southern California never lived away from the coast, and never worked outside at nighttime in the winter. I have a Volkswagen, so the heater doesn’t work unless I am driving 40 miles an hour. Since it’s hard to drive around the parking lot at night at 40 miles and hour and study at the same time, I sit in my car and study by flashlight. The bad light bothers my eyes. Even when I wear long johns, my legs go numb after ten or fifteen minutes.

*

I am sleeping soundly when the phone rings. It is the officer of the day, asking me to come into work. I look at the clock and notice it has only been six hours since I left my last post. A headache creeps into my frontal lobes. My neck tenses up. I tell him, “Yes,” hang up, and stumble toward the shower. As the water washes over me, I remember what I studied last year in American history: at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, business owners exploited their workers to every extent possible. As I make myself coffee, I wonder what happened to the strong labor unions of the 1970’s. As I drive to work, I look down at the gas needle. It hovers near the empty mark. I think about the one hundred-fifty dollar paycheck I received for last week’s pay.

*

Sometime around three in the morning, on one of my rounds at the Palomar office building, around the back, next to one of the dumpsters, where the smell of rotting lunch scraps and ink-smeared photocopy paper mingles with the night air, I find a man sleeping on the ground. He is wrapped up in a dirty Army-surplus sleeping bag. He is snoring. With my foot, I tap the end of the sleeping bag where his feet are. It takes me three or four nudges to wake him. “You’re going to have to leave,” I say. “No one is allowed on these premises at night.” “Man, do you know who God is?” he asks. “I’m sorry, but you’re going to have to leave.” “Do you go to church, man?” “Look, you have to leave the area.” “I didn’t think you went to church. Otherwise you wouldn’t be kicking me out of here.” I wait as he slowly stands and rolls up his sleeping bag, grumbling all the time about God and church. I watch as he picks up pieces of food from the ground, wraps them in a greasy piece of typing paper, and deposits the package in his pocket. I follow him until he walks off the parking lot. “Go to church, man,” he says as he walks away.

*

I got this job, finally. After six months of checking the want-ads, making phone calls, driving around, pounding the pavement, filling out apps, and getting drunk every evening, I got this job.

 

Story, “Jake Sclavus,” by S.M. Page as published in @columbiaquarto. Flip to page 71. http://issuu.com/quarto/docs/1995

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