My Goal for 2018: Focus

Image of a man's hand holding a camera lens in front of a landscape, through which the scene can be seen in focus

Photo by Paul Skorupskas on Unsplash

For the past couple years, I’ve tried to come up with one word or phrase that could capture my focus for the coming year. In 2016, it was “completion.” I wanted to complete the draft of the novel I was working on. And I did that, although in 2017 I ended up setting it aside when it was no longer working. That is somewhat related to my goal for 2017, which was “embrace rejection.” By that, I meant I wanted to submit my work frequently and broadly, with the full knowledge that it would be rejected more often than it was accepted. As it turned out, I could have done a better job of that, but I did my best.

Last year came with its fair share of opportunities and challenges, chief among the latter being depression and time, or rather the lack thereof when it came to time. (I had plenty of depression, thanks very much.) As I may or may not have mentioned, after a couple years of freelancing and living very hand to mouth, I took a full-time job last year. While that came with a lot of benefits—health insurance, steady income, less of a persistent fear that I was going to starve or die—it also meant that from eight thirty to five fifteen every weekday, my time was not my own (and continues to not be my own). I’ve been trying to get a handle on the hours outside of that window, and figuring out how to maximize as much of that time as possible in the service of my writing. This is an ongoing process.

I didn’t make a lot of progress on my major projects last year: a novel, a raft of short stories, a community-based writing project that I’d really like to kickstart. Given all that, the keyword for 2018 was obvious:

Focus.

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Friday Flash Fiction: The Librarian

Another Friday, another flash fiction piece! As mentioned previously, I’m in a Facebook group called Friday Flash Fics. We’re given a photo as a writing prompt, with our flash fiction responses (500 words or less) to the photo posted every Friday.

This one’s a little tamer than most—which may be a good thing. Facebook actually flagged me for the one that went with “Santa Baby.” Prudes. Hopefully this one won’t raise anyone’s ire:

image of a muscular man in a t-shirt that says "Librarian—the hardest part of my job is being nice to people who think they know how to do my job."

(Image credit unknown; if you know, please pass it along so I can give attribution. Thank you!)

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January Flash Fiction Draw: The Artist

So, flash fiction seems to be something I’m getting into. In addition to the Friday Flash Fiction courtesy of the Facebook group I belong to, my friend ’Nathan is also doing a monthly flash fiction draw challenge. The parameters are determined by a random selection of playing cards. Check out this post on his website to get the details about January’s challenge, but the guidelines are:

A fairy tale, involving a tattoo machine, set in a prison.

I wrote this yesterday in my notebook while sitting in one of my favorite hangouts in St. Louis. So, I don’t know how long it is until I type it in here. Also, I took liberties with the guidelines. I think we all reserve the right to do that.

So, without further ado:

January Flash Fiction Draw: The Artist

Once upon a time, there was an artist. He worked in ink, but his canvas was the human body. With his tattoo machine, he engraved in people’s skin their greatest wishes and their deepest desires. And seeing these wishes made visible, the Artist’s clients realized the true purpose of their lives, their short time on this world. His gift to them was clarity.

Until one day, a man came to him, one with a hardened expression and an even harder heart and a body that had already served as the canvas for many other artists, but none of them with the skill and empathy the Artist brought to his work.

And yet, despite the man’s hard exterior, the Artist could see something within him, though it was well hidden.

When he entered the Artist’s studio, he rolled up his sleeve and jabbed a finger at his shoulder.

“Cover this up,” he grumbled.

The Artist took the man’s arm in his hands, his touch gentle as his turned the man’s shoulder toward him. It was a name, this tattoo: Jacob. The man flinched under the Artist’s fingers.

“What would you like to cover it with?” the Artist asked.

“I don’t fucking care.” The man practically flung himself into the Artist’s chair. “Just get rid of it.”

The Artist stared at the man’s profile for a long time, at the hard set of his jaw, the proud angle of his nose, and for a moment he felt something stir in himself. The Artist’s first instinct was to push that feeling down, bury it deep, but…

Wasn’t that exactly what the man in front of him had done?

Picking up the machine, which he often thought of as his brush, the Artist got to work, wiping away rivulets of blood as he etched into the man’s skin his truest desires. He worked tirelessly, an hour flying past, then another. Black ink gave way to color, and his design spread beyond the name the man claimed he wanted to obliterate.

The Artist knew better, though, even if he couldn’t say how he knew. But after two hours, he shut off his machine and rolled his stool away from the man.

All the time the Artist was working, the man had stared straight ahead. Now, though, he looked down at his arm, and his face twisted in anger.

“I told you to cover up that damn name. How come I can still see it?”

The Artist gripped the edge of his stool, bracing for a physical confrontation but praying the man would see first.

“You asked me to cover it up, and I’ve done that. You didn’t ask me to make it invisible.” The man started to protest, but the Artist pressed on. “No one can conceal what’s in your heart, not even me.” Carefully, he lifted up the man’s arm. “But maybe, if you’ll look again…”

As the man looked and the Artist raised his arm higher, the tattoo seemed to shift, though it was clearly the same design as it had been when the Artist finished it. Only now, it became a spray of sunflowers surrounding another name that wasn’t Jacob’s but was woven within it. The man’s own name.

“Who was Jacob to you, Lazlo?” the Artist asked, his voice gentle, and the hard angle’s of the man’s profile softened.

“He died.”

“I’m sorry.”

The man started to say something else, but his voice caught, a gasping choke cutting off words. The artist steadied him with both hands.

“I can’t—”

“You don’t have to,” the Artist said. “Not until you’re ready.”

Happily ever after would come to the man eventually, but that was still a ways off. For now, as Lazlo gave in to his grief, the Artist held him steady with the hope that time would soften the scars.

Friday Flash Fiction: Watch How I Soar

Happy New Year! I hope everyone survived 2017 relatively unscathed. Me, I think my mantra for 2018 might take a page from Selina Kyle: “Four… five… still alive!”

But anyway. It’s Friday, and that means a flash fiction piece. As mentioned previously, I’m in a Facebook group called Friday Flash Fics. We’re given a photo as a writing prompt, with our flash fiction responses (500 words or less) to the photo posted every Friday.

I’m beginning to notice a trend in these photos:

image of shirtless man with tattoos in marijuana boxer shorts

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