Mind Fields: Fish In Or Out Of Water

Mind Fields

We’re just like the fish; we don’t know what water is. But the element in which we swim, the element that is impossible for us to recognize, is stress. 

You may think you know you’re stressed. This isn’t the kind of stress I’m talking about. We have become denizens of a culture that is actually a Torture Machine. It drives us insane by presenting demands so complex as to be impossible to  achieve. Every day, it issues orders to our nervous systems. Turn on your left blinker. Pay your insurance premium. Pick up your kids’ school uniforms. Don’t forget the doctor’s appointment. Where’d you put the McFarland file? Where are the paper clips? Why is this milk sour? Screw it; not worth my time, flush it down the sink. Are the dogs’ vaccinations up to date?

Do I have the receipts for my tax audit?

Why am I always left with the feeling that I’ve forgotten to do a homework assignment? Who is this screaming at me, right next to my ear so that it hurts?

The Antifa people are scurvy hippies. Our government is letting people steal on a massive scale. My bank account only exists long enough for the auto-payments to hit, and it’s gone and I’ve got nothing left to spend.

I think I’m going crazy. I don’t have any sexual desire at all. The last time I felt truly alive was… when? Have I ever felt truly alive? I truly don’t think so.

There’s nothing to look forward to. My old age will merely be a time when insurance machines squeeze the remaining dollars from my estate, leaving my kids with nothing. Zero. The globe is warming up. It’s true. The waters are creeping on shore, slowly. The future is a tsunami.

OUR SOCIETY IS A TORTURE MACHINE, so complex that it takes a genius to maneuver its daily routine. It tortures by its relentless pressure. We don’t need Stalin or Hitler. We have modern life in Amerika. See that guy with the cardboard sign sitting at the parking lot exit? “Will work for food.” He isn’t a pathetic loser. He’s you or me or someone we know who just cracked under the pressure and opted to sit in the TIME OUT box in front of everyone. He couldn’t take the complexity any more.  Now he’s doing better. He has a shoe box where his money piles up. He’s doing better than I am! Could I take sitting in the TIME OUT box in front of everyone? I don’t think so. I’m not tough enough.

Life has always been complex, but not like this… Hunting, gathering, fighting off raiders, that was easy stuff compared to this. The modern Torture Machine can’t be dodged. Your assignment is late! Punishment will be swift and merciless! Your interest will rise, your credit will be cut.

The injustice of it! I’m choking on injustice. I can’t breathe! Give me a cigarette. Where are all these voices coming from? Let me turn off the radio.

The off switch doesn’t work. The voices are coming from my pocket.  It’s my Z-Phone. It doesn’t have an OFF switch. The argument continues, shouting everywhere, lies compound in blatant and shameless huckstering. Everything is a trick. Even the tricks we know to be tricks conceal more subtle tricks. Those Antif types are going to burn down Manhattan in a giant riot. Quick, we’d better launch a pre-emptive pogrom, mow them down before they find out where we’ve stashed the money.

The fish don’t recognize the sea. The people don’t recognize the element that dominates our lives. I will coin a term for it: Phobagonovia. Phobe-ago-NOVE-ee-yah. It causes us to curl up inside our homes with the giant TV playing football games and scripted “reality” shows where people are abused by their in-laws. Phobagonovia. We are afraid of new experiences. The Torture Machine has implanted this condition in our nervous systems. We are afraid of relating to one another openly, of crying in front of strangers, of expressing feelings easily, of hugging or kissing spontaneously, lest we be inappropriate, our strait jacket is “Appropriate”, we haven’t a clue how to dance in a circle while deeply in love with members of a clan, to sing ancient songs, to sit around a fire feeling wonderful under the stars. That doesn’t mean we want to go backwards. We want to invent new communities. We are dying of Phobagonovia. Our neck ties are cutting off our breath. Our high heels are warping our skeletons. The future is over.  Donald Trump will be reborn as a talking pig that can only sputter nonsense. The people of his remote village will laugh at him holding their sides with mirth. They will postpone the time to eat him. He’s so strange that people come from villages far away to throw him pieces of rubbish. His time will come, at last.

When the chief takes the first bite, he will spit it out.

“We laughed too long,” he will say. “This fat talking pig tastes like shit.”

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Feral Tenderness

Arthur Rosch is a novelist, musician, photographer and poet. His works are funny, memorable and often compelling. One reviewer said “He’s wicked and feisty, but when he gets you by the guts, he never lets go.” Listeners to his music have compared him to Frank Zappa, Tom Waits, Randy Newman or Mose Allison. These comparisons are flattering but deceptive. Rosch is a stylist, a complete original. His material ranges from sly wit to gripping political commentary.

Arthur was born in the heart of Illinois and grew up in the western suburbs of St. Louis. In his teens he discovered his creative potential while hoping to please a girl. Though she left the scene, Arthur’s creativity stayed behind. In his early twenties he moved to San Francisco and took part in the thriving arts scene. His first literary sale was to Playboy Magazine. The piece went on to receive Playboy’s “Best Story of the Year” award. Arthur also has writing credits in Exquisite Corpse, Shutterbug, eDigital, and Cat Fancy Magazine. He has written five novels, a memoir and a large collection of poetry. His autobiographical novel, Confessions Of An Honest Man won the Honorable Mention award from Writer’s Digest in 2016.

More of his work can be found at www.artrosh.com

Photos at https://500px.com/p/artsdigiphoto?view=photos

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Words to Live By – For Dora

For Dora

It’s been tough around the house this month. My mother-in-law passed away after a long battle with liver disease. She’d been having severe problems for months, but as my wife said a few nights ago, we always thought we had more time with her.

I haven’t felt like writing. Even typing up a blog post like this is draining. Writing is a bit of a safe haven for me. Easily tumbling down the rabbit hole, so to speak, laying aside my heartaches and disappointments, entering worlds of my own design, inhabiting people who don’t really exist.

Dora was a writer herself, and a voracious reader, too. I stayed with my wife and her family a lot in the days I was first starting to tinker with short stories. Because Dora was enthusiastic and willing, I often asked her to read my fist drafts. Her comments were always complimentary, because it wasn’t in her nature to poke holes in something her kids had poured their hearts and souls into.

Her kid, that’s what I was. The family has two daughters, and both were married within a year of each other. Dora never differentiated between the four of us, or at least, she tried her best not to. If everyone was gathering in the same place, it was about the kids and whether or not we’d eaten, her kids and how we were getting along in life, the importance of the kids’ enjoyment of holidays, birthdays, work promotions, collegiate successes.

I have no bad memories of her. Truly, anything contentious between us didn’t live long enough to become an issue. She was always patient and friendly with me. I loved reading her yearly Christmas poems, which she sent to the entire extended family. Never missed a year or an opportunity to fret over one or two words. I liked that about her, a certain willingness to own what she’d created. She never tried to publish anything professionally, but the rest of the family agrees she should have.

Marriage, as it turns out, can be one hell of a rollercoaster ride. My wife and I will be celebrating our twelfth anniversary in September. Most of our friends have been married a far shorter time, which means we can dispense wisdom without pretense. Our marriage has been anything but perfect. Thwarted expectations, mental health issues, a lost house, lost job, grad school, which was pretty tough for me, because I do tend to have a sensitive mindset, things can set me off easily.

I have guilt over whether Dora knew how much I appreciated her, because I doubt I ever communicated it properly. I know my wife and father-in-law are suffering, but the truth is they’re both stronger than I am. There’s been so much in the last year to cause us all grief and misery. No shame shaking your fist at the bumpy ride behind and ahead of us. There’s nowhere else for me to be, nothing else I’d rather be doing. Dora was a presence in this house, this family. She was a pillar, holding things up in that matronly way that looks easy but can’t possibly be effortless. Life will be different now. Better or worse, I don’t know, but different for sure.

I can help my wife by making calls, figuring out logistics, being a shoulder to cry on. I’m not perfect, but then neither was Dora. Sometimes I expect her still to be here, watching movies or making dinner, reading, chatting, clipping digital coupons. One of the last things she did for me was to read the first novel I self-published. She loved it, told my wife I was talented and that I was never to give up.

She would’ve said that regardless of whether she enjoyed reading it or not, but I believed her wholeheartedly anyway. That’s what she meant to me. I was proud to be one of her kids. I’m still proud.

I’ll see you next month in Words to Live By. In the meantime, give someone important a hug. If they’re not a hugger, hug them even harder. Tell them you have my permission.


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative work can be found in God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, Love/Madness/Demon, is available on Amazon now!

Love Madness Demon Cover Final

Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Movies – Video Games – Music – So Much More!


Mind Fields – Why I Started Smoking Again

Mind Fields

After seventeen years of tobacco-free life, I started smoking again.

(Long pause)

Goddammit!

I hate it when I do something SO stupid there’s no excuse for it, SO asinine that the only way to absolve myself is to take a spanking by bending over and backing up into a wall really really fast. 

In 2001 after huge exertion, I quit a three pack-a-day habit.  I am not a cold turkey type of person.  I’m more like a warmed over chicken type of person.  I have to do things in steps.

To quit smoking I used nicotine gum and the patch.  In two months I was down to half a pack a day.  I know, you’re not supposed to smoke and wear the patch.  Tough.  I did.  Then I made a big jump.  I went to a mere two cigarettes a day.  I managed my craving by hiding cigarettes in plastic bags on the side of the road.  I smoked them on my way to and from work.  On Monday morning I bought a pack and spilled sixteen cigarettes into the trash. As I drove the rural twisting road to work I smoked my first cigarette.  Then I paused at my secret stash place, took a baggie from my pocket and deposited the remaining three cigarettes under a bush.  On the way back from work I stopped again and smoked the second cigarette..  On the day following, I stopped at the bag in the morning, took out a cigarette, then stopped again in the evening.  Every other day I would buy a new pack and start the cycle again.  One day a motorist spotted me as I was putting my baggie under the bush.  He drove past, pretending not to see me.  I drove a bit further in the opposite direction and stopped.  I could see the man through the trees.  Sure enough, he was looking around for whatever I had put in the baggie.  I don’t know what he was expecting.  Was he hoping for an ounce of weed or a wad of hundreds wrapped with a rubber band?  He found my bag, and I saw his shoulders slump in disappointment.  The man was obviously a low character.

He lit the cigarette, tentatively at first, to test it.  Maybe there was something “special” about it.  Alas, there was not.  He finished the smoke, (the nerve of the guy!) crushed it underfoot and returned to his car.

 I understood at that moment that I had reached the height of the ridiculous.  It was time to end the farce.  No more cigarettes.  I was done.

It was lovely, being free of tobacco for twenty years.

What drove me back to smoking?  What could be so frustrating, so enraging to cause me to undo that effort, the dedication that I had given to ending my addiction?

I taught a class of rich tenth graders about the marvels of digital photography. 

I had been hired by a private school to teach one semester.  The money was good.  I taught three classes per week.  The head of the board of directors had read an article about my volunteer work with a low-income high school. I had done four years of mentoring.  Working with disadvantaged kids had given me deep satisfaction. They were respectful, hungry and grateful. At the holidays each student made a card for me using a personal photo project. Some of them were lovely. Some of them betrayed an appalling lack of literacy. The students’ basic reading and writing skills hardly existed. I got a photo card from a senior. It had a razor-sharp black and white shot of a street scene. The little girl jumping rope was in mid-air. The old guys loafing in chairs were laughing as clouds of beer-spit hovered before their lips, each globule perfectly stopped like a cluster of stars in space. Some were small white and foamy, some were clear and spherical, some were shaped like flying liquid bullets. This was a real talent in the making. The boy’s scrawled message read like this: “Thang yu m Rosh fore teeshng mu to shit photo”

Then came the offer to teach at “Country Day Academy”. I was thrilled to have a chance to be paid nearly five thousand dollars to teach a semester in a school where every student would have a laptop and a digital camera.

The school was a beautiful facility. It was set in the midst of parklands. There were benches under oak trees, little waterfalls, gentle rolling hills. I saw kids skateboarding along broad walkways, wearing torn jeans and hoodies. Most of the students seemed attached to a cell phone or an Ipod.

I had done my mentoring in a public school built like a prison. It was all fences, high walls and right angles. There was no greenery, no plant life. Trash blew along its paved quadrangles, empty Cheetos bags yawed in the wind. Every year there were a handful of murders among the student body. Memorial posters hung in the corridors:

“Jerry Rodrigues, 2003-2018. We’ll miss you.” 

The posters were enlarged class photos of self-conscious teenagers with bad skin and confused expressions. 

“Nguyen Van Pham, 2004-2019. So Much Promise.”

I felt no fear. Wherever I walked students greeted me.

“Hey Mr. Rosch, how ya doin?”

“Mistah Rosch, ‘wots happenin? Everything’s cool, it’s all good, you know?”

I carried four thousand dollars worth of gear in my photo bag. I never had any trouble at Naked Gun High School.

Now I was in a different environment, an affluent California suburb. I was confident I could ignite a love of photography in some of these kids at “Country Day Academy”.

On the first day of the semester, I arrived at my classroom half an hour early and set up my tools. I had a laptop and my camera gear. The school provided a digital projector so I could show images and procedures on my computer to the entire class. I would have loved a digital projector back at Flying Bullets High School.

Every student was to have a Mac laptop for my class at “Country Day Academy”. The latest and best photo editing software would be installed on each computer. 

There were four rows of long tables with chairs in the classroom. They formed a square that was open at the ends. In the room’s center I had a small table to hold the computer and projector while I spoke. I could stand outside the square and walk around the classroom to reach each student. I could see all twenty four of my students and they could see me.           

I had been told that I could use basic forms of verbal discipline.  There would be no shouting, no cursing and of course no corporal punishment.  To back up my discipline I had the option of sending a student to the principal’s office.  This was a feeble deterrent.  The principal, Mrs. Forster, was as frightening as a stick of cotton candy.  She used “therapy talk”.  “What are your feelings, Trish?.  Why are you acting out?  What can we do to resolve your issues?”

At one o’clock the bell rang to begin fourth-period class. Within five minutes, fifteen of my students had drifted in and taken a seat. They were talking among themselves. They gave me a cursory glance. The boys continued pushing one another and laughing.  Several were immersed in portable video games.  The girls were listening to their Ipods, talking about boys and squealing at supersonic pitch.

By ten after one, another four students had arrived. They took their seats casually and looked around the room.  They were either smirking or looking completely stricken and miserable. 

I still had five missing students. I started the class.

“Hi, I’m Mister Rosch, and this is a class in digital photography. Would each of you answer when I call your name?  I need a while to remember names, but I’ll know you guys soon enough.”

They looked at me as though a giraffe had suddenly materialized in the room, something completely out of place, exotic and impossible to ignore.

A girl wearing a soft white hoodie sat at the end of the rear table.  Her eyes were unfocused.  I knew she was listening to music.  It was so loud I could hear it.  I was amazed that her head didn’t turn to mush.

“Young lady, please take the hood down and turn off the Ipod.”

She didn’t hear me.  I met the eyes of the girl next to her and cocked my head to the right.  The girl poked her neighbor.  The hoodie girl emerged from her trance.  Her neighbor spoke with enough volume to be heard over the music.

“Off the hoodie!  No Ipod,” she yelled, poking her thumb in my direction to fix the blame where it belonged.  The girl’s face emerged from the shadow of the sweat-shirt’s hood.  She was lightly freckled, her hair short and black.  One of her cheeks was distorted by a huge wad of gum being masticated with large chomps of her teeth.  Her mouth opened and closed like that of a lamprey.

“Your name is?” I asked.  .

She removed the chunk of gum and put it into a tissue.  “Stephanie,” she answered.  She placed the gum and tissue in her backpack.

“Stephanie…Stephanie what?”

“Oh..uh.. Stephanie Blarney,” she said, and there was a titter of quiet laughter from the class.

I looked at my roll list and found one Stephanie, last name Hubbard.

I asked the girl in the next seat.  “Is she Stephanie Hubbard?”

“Guess so,” the adjacent girl answered.  She looked to her left.  “Is that your name, Blarney?”

“Yeah,” Stephanie Hubbard grunted.  The white ear buttons of her Ipod dangled from her dainty hand like the eye stalks of an insect she had just squashed.

I was about to resume roll call when a thin young gentleman appeared.  His skin was conspicuously pimpled, his hair looked like a broom that had served as a target for shotgun practice.  His eyelids were at half mast.  Marijuana vapor rose from his clothing like mist from a rain forest.

As he took a seat I said, “Sir, you’re twenty minutes late.”

He looked up at me and said, “Huh?”

“Twenty minutes,” I said.

“Twenty minutes what?”

“You’re twenty minutes late,” I repeated.  I wasn’t going to get angry.  What would be the point?

“Oh well that’s cool,” he responded. 

“Just take a seat, please.”

The boy looked around for a place of comfort, for a friend, an acquaintance, a safe spot.  He stumbled to and fro until he found a seat that had no neighbor.  His spot was padded with two empties on one side, and an empty on the other. 

Some of the students were laughing at the boy.  Little snorts gusted from their noses.

I continued the roll.  Megan Ballantine.  Anthony Candoli.  Keith Eberhardt.

I had gotten that far when the door opened and a compact black student entered the room.  He was the only black student I had seen on the campus.  He walked with a combination droop and bounce, very loose in his knees.  His hands were held with each index finger pointed out while the other fingers curled into a fist.  His limbs moved with the swaying grooves of the hip hop gangsta.  His head was thrust forward, his elbows jogged, his arms kept criss-crossing his chest. 

He went directly to a seat at the table nearest the door, scooched himself between two friends.  There was a little rally of smacked hands, coded fingertwiddles and muttered incantations of “right on right on”.

When this was done the latter student squared himself to face forward and smiled at me with perfectly false sincerity and charm.  His eyes twinkled with benevolent mockery.

“S’up man?” he asked rhetorically.  “Everything ‘aight?”

I walked to the door and twisted the lock mechanism to the left, and then back to the right.  I did it three more times, loudly, conspicuously.

It was 1:25. 

“I want everyone to know that from now on this door is closed at three minutes after one.  Class begins at one.  You’ll have three minutes grace.  That’s it. I’m cutting you slack..  Don’t even bother coming through the door after that.  Go straight to the principal’s office.”

I repressed my desire to start a “when I was your age” speech.  No good, no good, utterly useless and stupid. 

I booted up the computer. The screen at the front of the room lit up to display its desktop.  I sat in the chair next to the computer and projector.  I moused onto the icon of Photoshop, so I could open the program. 

“There were supposed to be twenty four computers here,” I said to the class at large.  “Does anyone know where those computers might be?”

A hand shot up.  It belonged to a young man with a broad forehead and the faint beginnings of a moustache.  He wore glasses and was dressed neatly in a short -sleeved shirt and belted khaki pants. 

“Your name is?” I began.

“Damian,” he said.  “I think the computers are still being checked out by Jeff in the tech lab.  He’s supposed to bring them here when he’s done.”

There’s always a kid in class who wants to help the teacher.  Sometimes he’s the smart kid, the geek.  Sometimes he’s the kid with the worst grades.  He becomes a helper out of desperation.  I had a feeling that Damian was the-geek.  He spoke with a quick enthusiastic tone.  He knew everything, had all the answers.  I saw several sets of eyes roll upward.  This was the familiar Damian known to the student body.

Damian nudged the boy next to him.  “Bock,” he said confidently, “Why don’t you go down to tech lab and get those laptops, or find out why Jeff hasn’t brought them up ?”

Bock was a chubby frazzle haired person whose shirt buttons weren’t properly aligned.

The division of labor had already been apportioned.  I had one of each, the geek and the helper with the low grade point average.

Without referring to me or looking in my direction, Bock rose from his chair and loped out the door.

“He’ll take care of it, Mr. Rosch,” said Damian with calm familiarity.  “Jeff is notoriously slow.” He pantomimed the act of inhaling marijuana.  The air hissed through his lips.  “He gets the job done but he loses track of time.”

First day problems, I thought.  At least the projector was there, and it worked.

“I’d like to finish calling the roll, so at least I can put some names to faces,” I requested.  I tried to keep my tone calm.

Then a pert little girl wearing denim overalls and a plaid Pendleton raised her hand and waved it like a semaphore.

“Okay,” I said fatalistically.  “What’s your name?”

“Um…I’m Kate…and…um…I need to go to the bathroom.”

“Kate,” I answered, looking conspicuously towards the wall clock. It said 1:30.  “This class is over in twenty minutes.  Can you possibly wait until then?”

“I …um….well…it’s you know…girl problems, a real emergency.” 

What was I going to say?  No, you can’t replace the leaky tampon in your snooch?  I didn’t entirely believe her but I couldn’t be sure.  I made the worst tactical error of the entire semester.

“Kate, just go,” I shook my thumb as if it had a mild burn.  “Please come back here immediately. Don’t dawdle in the hall.”

Kate vanished in a whiff of pleasant soapy odor.  I didn’t see her until the next class, two days later.

Immediately another girl waved her hand in the air.  I held my silence for a couple of minutes.  The girl in her seat kept waving.   I held the silence until the room acquired an uncomfortable muttering edge.  There was a hole where a response should be and no one wanted the hole to continue existing.  Words began to spout from students’ mouths, random words, like “Man,” or “Hey”, or “Jeez.  Finally the girl said, “Fuck, man, I gotta go too!”

I nodded.  Three other girls rose with her, and all of them fled the classroom as if a plague-carrying stink had arisen somewhere in the collective bio-mass.  They were fleeing this stinky death as if it would otherwise stalk them the rest of their short lives.

Vizz!  The door opened and closed.  The class was down to fifteen again.

No sooner had the three girls vanished than a handsome young lad with the look of James Dean entered the room.  The students were suddenly quiet.  This young man, keeping his back to the wall, slid the entire perimeter of the classroom until he found the seat closest to me, the seat at the very end of the table next to the windows.  He stuck out his hand and said, “Woodleigh.  Atherton Woodleigh.”  I shook his hand. 

“Most people call me Lee.  They tried calling me Woody but I cut them up a little and put a stop to that real fucking quick.”  This was delivered with clear sincerity and humility.  It wasn’t a boast.  It was a fact.

I found the name of the sociopath on the roll list and marked it with a check and the time:  1:36.

The conversational volume in the room now grew until it was a general melee.  Everyone was talking. 

I found a phone book under the teacher’s desk near the windows.  I raised it and slammed it down on the desk.

“Goddammit!” I shouted.  “Will you shut up?”

They shut up.  Now they were all watching me.

At that precise moment there was a clatter at the door and it pushed open as if by its own volition.  I saw a long double tiered metal cart forcing its way into the room.  The one called Bock slid past it and took its front end.  He pulled with his back towards the class.  Half his shirt tail hung over rumpled brown pants.  At the other end of the cart, facing me, was a tall man with a long pony tail.  He wore a black leather vest with a Hell’s Angel logo done in elaborate beadwork.

‘Here’s the Macs” Bock said triumphantly. Everyone began to rise from their chairs

“Sit down!” I commanded, and I was obeyed.  “Bock, will you hand out the computers, please?”

The Tech Man, Jeff, said, “Sorry about the lateness, man.  These lops are a little creaky from last semester.  The Essential Theater Arts class used ‘em and those guys don’t care about their gear at all, no way.  Had to reformat every one of ‘em.  Not the kids, I mean.  The computers. You know what a bitch that is?”

Each computer had a number taped to its bottom.  The first student to get a computer was a bulky boy with light curly hair.  He occupied the seat nearest the door.  He looked under the computer and said, “Uh uh, this computer’s bunk, number zero one three six, uh..uh..it crashes every two minutes.” 

He thrust the computer back onto the cart and reached for another.  Jeff slapped his hands away. 

“Ain’t no computer good enough for you, Rick, you do this every time I give you a lop, every fucking time.”

There followed a general rumble as students vied for computers with known reputations.  These laptops weren’t the latest, greatest Mac Powerbooks.  They had less RAM, smaller hard drives, and for two years they’d been in the hands of careless students.  Some had scratches and dings but they still made an impressive pile of laptops. 

I had been mentoring on the other side of the bay at Drawn Dagger High School.  There was one computer per fifteen students and that computer ran with Windows 95 and might crash every time it tried to digest a large photo file.  There were three printers in the photography room, ancient Hewlett Packards that printed only black and white.  By dint of my own efforts soliciting photographers I had attracted six good but obsolete digital cameras, four or five monitors and a very old copy of pirated Photoshop. The software wouldn’t install properly on half the computers.  I had gotten some refurbished Epson color printers but there wasn’t money for the ink. The teacher and I pooled our own funds and bought some ink. 

This wrangling at “Country Day Academy” over Mac Laptops was too much for me.  I felt as if someone had opened my chest and tied a square knot in my esophagus, then put it back inside me.  Now I was expected to swallow. 

I couldn’t swallow this.  I couldn’t.

Every day was like the first day.  Some were worse.  A few were better.  Mostly, they were like this: chaos, petty wrangling, disappearances to the bathroom without return, lateness accompanied by staggering indifference.  There were rolled eyes, concealed music players, giggling, fights, reading comic books, animal noises and farts.

I tried really hard but I couldn’t help feeling that I’d failed in some obvious way.  If I had been a better teacher I could have controlled these kids.  I had two students who cared.  One was mister geek, Damian.  He had it all down.  Technically he knew the subject better than I did.  He needed counsel in the creative side but at least he cared.  There was a girl named Lizzie.  She was a big country girl with long straight reddish hair.  She worked hard.  She didn’t know anything, but she wanted to know.  She worked, and she learned.  Her photography was dreadful!  Her photos looked like very poor snapshots.  How could a person who learned what she had learned, worked as she had worked, still be incapable of making good images?

Some people have it, and some don’t.

I had promised that the student who showed the most progress would win a nice digital camera.  It was a donation from other photographers.  Liz won the camera.  Damian didn’t need it.  He already had a good digital camera and would probably end up at Harvard in a couple of years.

I projected the material on the screen while the students sneaked around in the dimmed classroom, plotting ways to disrupt their own educations.  Their literacy was no better than that at Murder Incorporated High School.  There was a difference. The kids at Murder Inc were trying but lacked the opportunity.  The kids at “Country Day Academy” had the opportunity but were trying not to.

I assigned essays.  I spoke about the work of historic geniuses like Steichen and Halsman.  I showed presentations of images on the screen.  I assigned homework.  I asked the students to read up on Diane Arbus and Henri Cartier-Bresson.  The latter was a French photographer who shot witty and profound black and white photos.  He used a Leica, a small camera with which he could catch the spontaneity of Paris street scenes.  I asked the class to turn in essays on the great Frenchman.

This was the one that sent me to buy a pack of cigarettes.  This “essay” was scrawled on half of a torn piece of lined notebook paper in handwriting worthy of a four year old. My student had written the following: “Henry Carter Beast was a great photographer.  He was a genius.  He took a lot of pictures.  They were all in black and white.  They had some greys too I think.”

That was three years ago.  I haven’t been able to stop smoking.  I don’t buy tobacco.  I have a friend, a retired lawyer, who has some farm land in North Carolina.  He’s a tobacco connoisseur.  He loves to play with blends, tweaking this and that, walking through his curing sheds inhaling every fragrance.  I’m a member of his research team.  He sends me a pound bag every few weeks.  I make the cigarettes on a machine.  The tobacco is without additives or adulterants.  It’s a long way from Marlboros.  That doesn’t change the fact that I am, again, a tobacco addict.  I don’t smoke nearly as much as I did before.  A few cigs a day.  I stopped once.  I know I can stop again.

Goddammit!

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Arthur Rosch is a novelist, musician, photographer and poet. His works are funny, memorable and often compelling. One reviewer said “He’s wicked and feisty, but when he gets you by the guts, he never lets go.” Listeners to his music have compared him to Frank Zappa, Tom Waits, Randy Newman or Mose Allison. These comparisons are flattering but deceptive. Rosch is a stylist, a complete original. His material ranges from sly wit to gripping political commentary.

Arthur was born in the heart of Illinois and grew up in the western suburbs of St. Louis. In his teens he discovered his creative potential while hoping to please a girl. Though she left the scene, Arthur’s creativity stayed behind. In his early twenties he moved to San Francisco and took part in the thriving arts scene. His first literary sale was to Playboy Magazine. The piece went on to receive Playboy’s “Best Story of the Year” award. Arthur also has writing credits in Exquisite Corpse, Shutterbug, eDigital, and Cat Fancy Magazine. He has written five novels, a memoir and a large collection of poetry and photography, Feral Tenderness. His autobiographical novel, Confessions Of An Honest Man won the Honorable Mention award from Writer’s Digest in 2016.

Visit Arthur’s blog, Write Out of My Head.

See Arthur’s Photography here: https://500px.com/p/artsdigiphoto?view=photos

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Want to be sure not to miss any of Art’s “Mind Fields” segments? Subscribe to Writing to be Read for e-mail notifications whenever new content is posted or follow WtbR on WordPress. If you find it interesting or just entertaining, please share.


“Mind Fields”- Suits

Mind Fields

I hate men’s suits. The only suit I would ever wear would be a Zoot Suit, a satire of a suit, with fifty pockets and a banana hanging out of every one, with four ties, one atop another, each with a picture of a naked woman or a flamboyant bird. I would wear a gigantic brimmed hat with a snakeskin band, and polished, pointed shoes with tassles. 

Suits are the uniform of businessmen. They are utilitarian, bland and full of pockets. Suits are the devolution of steel-plated armor, they are about protection and concealment. In these concealed pockets are contained handguns, business cards, appointment books, cell phones, credit cards, cash, condoms and keys.

Traditional Suit

Suits are the symbol of aggressive competition, but are actually disguises of said competition because their function is to be soothing and conformist.

There’s a lot of hogwash these days about reading ancient Samurai books or other pieces of oriental philosophy and applying them to the modern business world. Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War,” or Miyamoto Musashi’s “The Five Rings.”  This equation between the ancient world of the warrior and the modern businessman is a bit of a stretch, spurious indeed. Sun Tzu and Musashi were men of subtlety. Their books are subtle works about archetypal activities, War and Competition. These activities are bred into the human psyche.  I have no problem with soldiers and their uniforms, ceremonies, codes of honor and elaborate etiquette. I have a problem with cunning masquerading as subtlety. Subtlety is never destructive. Cunning is frequently destructive. The men who wear suits have mistaken destructive cunning for philosophical depth, and are hoping to imbibe some of this depth by reading ancient books by men of deep intuition, learning and skill.

The utilitarian suit with its meaningless tie and its muted colors is a sad descendant of the flowing sleeves and pantaloons of ancient warriors, the lacy cravat, the jeweled scabbard and its adornments. 

Self expression, adornment, wildness and color are innate to the human soul. We’re in deep trouble when such natural outlets are discouraged. The hippies let adornment, eccentricity and flamboyance become a way of life. This trend can never be suppressed: it emerges in contemporary young people as tattooing, body piercing, hair coloring, all time-honored ways of adorning and decorating one’s own body as an expression of individualism. 


“Mind Fields” – Weight Loss: Fact Or Fiction

Weight Loss: The Fiction of Being Skinny

Mind Fields

I estimate that each of my legs weighs sixty pounds. That leaves a hundred pounds for the rest of my body. My head probably weights twenty, which leaves eighty for the arms and torso. My belly, that piece of me that surprised me totally when it arrived in the years between forty and forty five, my belly must take up sixty pounds of that remaining eighty. It’s a classic middle-aged man’s belly. It is true, I eat too much and most of that eating is done in bed. Every night of my entire life I have munched or crunched something as I read myself to sleep.

Snack Foods

My theory is that I am seeking a substitute for breast milk. My early days on this planet were not a paradise of blissful bonding between  mother and child. My father tells me that I had night terrors. I tell him that if I was terrified of anything, it was my mother. 

During my futile attempts to rid myself of this belly, I’ve done ten kinds of abdominal exercises, hundreds of reps daily, for months and months on end. My belly didn’t get smaller. It got bigger. 

Why was I exercising my six-pack this way? What myth did I buy into? If I wanted to get rid of my belly, I should have done absolutely nothing. I should have, with the wisdom of hindsight, accepted the fact that this belly is here to stay, it’s a natural by product of aging. It just IS, and why is that so horrible? Why is everyone buying gizmos, electronic abdominal muscle stimulators? Why do they buy gimmicks with names like Abbacizers, Sixpackalongs, Abhancers? Why do people hang from bars and pull themselves up and back, up and back, or lay tilted on long boards, going up and back, up and back? There’s more than a little insanity in this vain pursuit. The obsession with the six pack is about vanity and its monster shadow, insecurity. Our culture pumps its toxic load of media venom into our collective psychic bloodstream, so that we feel inadequate if our bodies don’t adhere to some contemporary ideal of beauty. For the moment, that ideal has become horrifically thin; it forms the ironic counterpoint to the visible reality that Americans have gotten chronically fat.

We’re a culture with a lot of food. There’s never been a civilization in the history of the world with more food. It’s hardly surprising that everyone eats a lot, gets fat and the ideal of beauty is to have arms and legs so thin that you have to walk around storm drains lest you slip through the bars and get washed out to sea.

I wish we could weigh thoughts just as we weigh butter, or scrap metal. How much would my daily output of body-shame weigh? How many pounds, kilos, ounces, grams would every thought weigh, those thoughts that go, “Oh I wish this belly would flatten out, it makes me feel so unattractive, so grotesque?”

Beneath the veneer of our society a drumbeat of subliminal command roars like an underground subway train. It’s saying, rhythmically, “hate your body hate your body hate your body hate your body.” Chugga chugga chugga chugga.

People who are at war with their bodies spend money on ridiculous products. Teeth whiteners! When did this obsession come along? Who cares about teeth whiteners? People who use them look ridiculous. There’s a blinding beam of Cheshire Cat grin every time they open their mouths, a light so blatantly artificial that it obscures the rest of the face with its message: “I am insecure and hopelessly vain.  I use teeth whiteners.”

Recently I heard a radio spiel about a product that reduces shadows under the eyes. Oh my god, here we go again!  The script describes the grotesque anatomical process behind eye shadows: a horrific network of bloated capillaries spreads beneath your eyes until they burst forth to spill a dark disgusting goo of congealing blood, thus producing bruised tissue, thus producing embarrassing and unsightly morning-after shadows, hanging and spreading and sagging until they’re the size of wrinkled leather saddle bags beneath your optical sockets.

Eeeeeeww! How humiliating! Burst blood vessels, bruises, discoloration? Wrinkled leather saddle bags beneath my eyes? I can’t have that! 

This is how to create a market for a useless product. People will start fixating on their fatigue-shadows, examining the mirror for any hint of darkening skin. The stuff will sell like crazy, as another reason to hate one’s body darkens the horizon of the national psyche. This insanity is all about money. People who hate themselves spend more money, spend compulsively, to cover their unhappiness. It serves the interests of marketers to create a social condition in which self hatred becomes the paradigm.

I have to ask myself the question, “Which is worse, being overweight, or being guilty, stressed and ashamed of being overweight?” Which damages my health more? I think it’s the latter. I think that stressing and hating my body is more toxic than glugging down three milkshakes a day.

How many ridiculous weight-loss products bloat the bandwidth of the media empires? How many bogus concoctions feed on the fervent wish that one can lose pounds and become shapely without any effort?

I have invented my own product to add to this glut for gluttons: “Thindremeä!” Here’s the commercial, presented by a blandly attractive blonde woman in front of a red- white- blue studio set enhanced by computer graphics showing fat bodies and thin bodies arranged for before/after comparison.

“Do you dream of going to sleep fat and waking up thin? Now your dreams can come true! Two tablets of clinically proven Thindreme before bed will melt the pounds away as you sleep! The more you sleep the thinner you will get. This new miracle compound acts upon the metabolism of your slumbering body and converts fat cells using the principle of DCE, or Dynamic Caloric Extrapolation. It is a proven fact that Rapid Eye Movement sleep is an untapped source of caloric output. In other words, REM sleep is exercise! Thindreme has come along to utilize this remarkable opportunity. The more you dream, the more weight you lose! Within four to six weeks you can emerge a brand new person, thin, sexy, appealing, without any effort on your part! Forget about diet, exercise, lifestyle. You don’t need will power. Thindreme does it for you! Now you can be the man or woman of your dreams! If you order in the next ten minutes, Thindreme will double your order, and at no extra cost, will give you this free nose hair trimmer. And there’s more! We will also add to your order this stylish miniature folding piano! So pick up the phone, and order now! And remember, Thindreme is Clinically Proven.” *

(Now, the disclaimer is read quietly and quickly:)

*Thindreme (wackazone hydrochloride) can produce side effects in a significant minority of users, including blurred vision, stuttered speech, nausea, excess ear wax, demonic visions, spastic extremities, impotence, frigidity, memory loss, extreme body odor, blurted expletives, colorful flatulence, Fixed Eye Syndrome, increased hair growth on the lower back, muscle cramp, constipation, diarrhea, logorrhea, Recalcitrant Plebny, and black facial warts. If dreaming does not occur, possible weight gain is indicated.

            A Product of ExCon Industries”

          
I’ve given up trying to rid myself of this belly. I know that a group of cannibals would find me delicious. My bicycle thighs would be a Kentucky Fried delight, the most giant Crispy ever to appear in a cannibal’s bucket. 

When I compare my life to the living hell in which I see that most people exist, I feel grateful for the good life that I have. My relationship with my partner has its sick elements, to be sure, its ‘enablings’ and ‘codependencies’ (how I love this modern language of the heart’s twisted pathways). We don’t fight. If something starts to fester between us, it will come out in a talk, a gentle but firm confrontation where our fears are expressed and laid to rest.

This was supposed to be about my belly, but I can’t write about that part of my personal real estate without including all kinds of other things in my life. My belly doesn’t exist in a vacuum, it isn’t just floating around in space, a belly, without connection to the rest of the universe. My belly may be causing storms on Neptune, for as we have recently discovered, everything has a connection to everything else. It’s the Butterfly Effect. Or in this case, The Belly Effect.

 My belly is a dominating presence in my life. I, who spent my youth being thin and sinewy, looking like a Hindu holy man from the hippie trail in Nepal, am now somewhat imprisoned by this entity who sits astride the center of my body. It goes everywhere with me. My vanity is not the main actor in this dismay. My vanity went out about the same time as my hair. Well, that’s not exactly true. I am concerned with how I appear to other people. The problem is, I know that the one person least qualified to judge how I appear to other people is myself. And that is a universal law. You, who think you look thus and thus to the outside world, are completely deluded. When you look in the mirror, the information you receive is so utterly tainted by your needs and dreams that you might as well be looking at a stranger. I wish people would understand this.

            YOU DO NOT KNOW WHAT YOU LOOK LIKE. YOU NEVER WILL.

There are so many ingredients that go into an appearance that are invisible to the owner of a human body, that said owner should just give up. Photographs lie for many reasons. Photos capture one two hundredth of a second, and in that two hundredth of a second, an expression may be crossing your face that is otherwise invisible, so quickly do the facial muscles change with the passing of emotion. That’s why we often look odd in pictures. Videotape is in some ways even worse. I don’t know a single soul who doesn’t cringe when viewing his or herself on video. Its distortions are insidious but nonetheless real.

I say this to my fellow humans: do your best to be hygienic, wear clothes that are comfortable and that please you, and let your nature emerge, because that’s what happens anyway. Your appearance is determined by your nature. The way you look is about energy, not physical features.

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Feral Tenderness

Arthur Rosch is a novelist, musician, photographer and poet. His works are funny, memorable and often compelling. One reviewer said “He’s wicked and feisty, but when he gets you by the guts, he never lets go.” Listeners to his music have compared him to Frank Zappa, Tom Waits, Randy Newman or Mose Allison. These comparisons are flattering but deceptive. Rosch is a stylist, a complete original. His material ranges from sly wit to gripping political commentary.

Arthur was born in the heart of Illinois and grew up in the western suburbs of St. Louis. In his teens he discovered his creative potential while hoping to please a girl. Though she left the scene, Arthur’s creativity stayed behind. In his early twenties he moved to San Francisco and took part in the thriving arts scene. His first literary sale was to Playboy Magazine. The piece went on to receive Playboy’s “Best Story of the Year” award. Arthur also has writing credits in Exquisite Corpse, Shutterbug, eDigital, and Cat Fancy Magazine. He has written five novels, a memoir and a large collection of poetry. His autobiographical novel, Confessions Of An Honest Man won the Honorable Mention award from Writer’s Digest in 2016.

More of his work can be found at www.artrosh.com

Photos at https://500px.com/p/artsdigiphoto?view=photos

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Want to be sure not to miss any of Art’s “Mind Fields” segments? Subscribe to Writing to be Read for e-mail notifications whenever new content is posted or follow WtbR on WordPress. If you find it interesting or just entertaining, please share.


Jeff’s Movie Reviews – Coming 2 America

The Once and Future King?

by Jeff Bowles

So let’s say you’re a movie star who’s been part of the popular imagination for forty years. You’re given the opportunity to reprise a role that helped establish your legacy, and let’s be honest, the big parts aren’t exactly pouring in these days. Should you A). Disregard said opportunity, knowing full well it’s very difficult to capture lightning in a bottle, or B). Throw caution to the wind and have a great time making a follow-up to a movie successive generations know and love?

Eddie Murphy appears to have found himself in just such a situation, because when it came time to make a sequel to Coming to America, he didn’t hesitate. Without a doubt, he and the filmmakers would’ve preferred to debut this new movie in theaters, but that’s not an option during a global pandemic. Coming to America 2 (or is that Coming 2 America?) is available exclusively on the Amazon Prime Video streaming service. The original is widely considered one of the best comedies of the ‘80s. It’s sharp, aggressive, honest, romantic, and best of all, silly in all the right ways. A lot of time has passed since its release, yet it still holds up remarkably well. So why not give it a sequel? Why not take all these fan-favorite characters for another spin around the block?

Here’s why. Nostalgia is only as good as the material propping it up. If a film is going to devote most of its comedic resources to nailing the exact same jokes and situations as its predecessor, it’s got to work twice as hard to prove itself worthy of our time. Unfortunately, Coming 2 America proves nothing except the obvious: you can never go home again. Look, you walk into the barbershop and all the characters are played by Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall. Same joke as last time. Still funny, but not as funny as it used to be. Or maybe you go out to listen to a band with a terrible lead singer (also played by Eddie Murphy) and their ridiculous name, Sexual Chocolate, makes you smile. Same joke as last time. Still funny, but…

See the source image

This pattern appears consistently throughout Coming 2 America’s runtime. Even the basic premise amounts to a variation on a well-established theme. This time around Prince Akeem (or rather, King Akeem) must travel to the US in order to meet his illegitimate son. Hijinks ensue, but um, why does it feel so exhausting? It’s like going to see your favorite band and hearing nothing but cover songs. Wesley Snipes, for instance, plays a pretty clear-eyed comedic version of a murderous warlord turned politician, but his presence does nothing to disrupt the flow of same-old, same-old. No sequel has ever ruined a great predecessor. People may say so, but rarely does the supposition hold water. This sequel, in fact, only makes you want to watch the original more. ‘Cause it was killer fun. You know, yay for that original!

A couple other potential pitfalls for audiences looking to recapture thirty-three-year-old magic: there’s no swearing. I mean none. No nudity either. Is that a problem in general? Nope, but the first movie had some serious edge to it, and this thing does not. In essence, it feels like a sequel to a totally different film. There’s also a serious lack of material shot on location. For a film that takes place in Africa and New York City, movie sets are uncommonly common. Incidentally, just a few days after its release, Coming 2 America quickly became the most streamed movie on any platform during the COVID-19 era. Go ahead and look it up, Amazon has a hit on their hands.

Realistically, though, they should’ve had to work just a bit harder to earn it. Watch this movie and see how quickly you forget about it. For my wife and me, the shelf life was two days, two whole days, and then it vanished like an errant spray of Soul Glo hair product in the wind.

Oh no, a callback to the original movie. See? They’ve even got me doing it now!

None of this is to suggest Coming 2 America is little more than a jaded corporate cash grab. Sincerely, the movie appears to have been made with the best of artistic intentions. Word on the street is Eddie Murphy now wants to make another entry in his Beverly Hills Cop franchise. Everything old is new again. Or is it the other way around? Let’s try Casablanca 2, or maybe Citizen Kane: Rosebud’s Revenge. Apocalypse Now, Now. Star Wars Episode … nope, never mind. They did that one already.

Jeff’s Movie Reviews gives Coming 2 America a Six out of Ten.


Love Madness Demon Cover Final

Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative work can be found in God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, Love/Madness/Demon, is available on Amazon now!

Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Movies – Video Games – Music – So Much More!

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Want to be sure not to miss any of “Jeff’s Movie Reviews” segments? Subscribe to Writing to be Read for e-mail notifications whenever new content is posted or follow WtbR on WordPress. If you found it useful or entertaining, please share.


Words to Live By – Where Lie Your Roots?

Jeff Version_Words to Live By 2

The first Wednesday of every month, writer Jeff Bowles muses on life, creativity, and our collective destinies as makers of cool stuff. You’re a writer, but have you ever thought about how or why? Here are some words to live by.

Where Lie Your Roots?

It’s been a slow week for me out here on the Colorado prairie. Not planning to announce any upcoming book or music releases, no urge to get out of the house and see the world again. I assume it’s right where I left it. Such a long time ago! Do they still have fast food out there? Do children still laugh? Asking for a friend.

I did finish the rough draft of a new book the other day. I’ve been working on it for three and a half months, so it was gratifying to finally type THE END. About 70,000 words in total, and guess what else? I wrote it without any preparation, no outline or notes or character sheets or research conducted the hard way. And I like how it’s turned out. Kind of proud of myself, actually. I think it would’ve been a very different book if I’d had no clue how good stories are put together. My family gave that to me, the freedom to ponder and learn and express, regardless of whether or not they figured it would, quote unquote, “Get me somewhere”.

This is at the heart of Words to Live By for this month. Where lie your creative roots? Reaching deep into the nutrient-rich soil, I hope. Have you been making time for inspiration? Have you lately nurtured those people and circumstances essential to your own creative growth? I believe every one of us has common mythic imaginations. Joseph Campbell spoke about it all the time, and so for that matter did Carl Jung. If not for that thick, tangled, extra-nerdy root system of mine, I doubt I’d have had the confidence to improvise a whole book. Think I’m going to call it Emily Greer’s Resurrection Mixtape, which sounds dumb until you realize what it’s about. I’ve documented my writing habits elsewhere on Writing to be Read, but because I developed Schizoaffective Disorder about five or six years ago, I’ve had to lighten my daily workload considerably. For me there’s a fine line between healthy production and the kind of overproduction that only exhausts and triggers me.

Have you ever met a writer who’s lost his or her ability to be a fan of stuff? Like they broke that button a long time ago and never bothered to have it repaired? I’d hate always feeling that way. As long as they keep making movies for nerds, I’ll doubtless keep paying to see them. It was something we always did together, my family and I, the magic of a darkened movie theater, popcorn, candy, soda; complete and total escape into stories bigger than the side of our house! I started borrowing amazing science fiction novels from my brother, started singing for the other kids on the playground, developing that taste for performance. By the time I got to college, I was hooked. My biggest leap forward at that time was to write a full screenplay for one of my theater classes.

“This isn’t bad, Jeff,” my instructor told me near the end of the semester. “You’ve got a knack for writing. You ought to continue developing it.”

So I did. I worked hard, studied hard, and yes, that did include watching movies and TV shows many people at the time considered junk. I knew this stuff was cool then and I’m certain of it now. There are a lot of cultural touchstones to keep track of when you work in genre fiction. I’m a nerd, which means I’m already full of useless trivia. But what about you? In what ways have your experiences with storytelling shaped what you do and the way you do it?

I get much of my writing style from comics. Big surprise there. Comic books are dynamic, bombastic, colorful. They’re also short, which is perfect for a mind like mine. From the likes of Marvel and DC, I learned the value of punch-you-in-the-gut storytelling. Can’t say I took personal instruction at the feet of masters, but just read some of my work and tell me you don’t see far more super than man.

Heh, that’s a good one, more super than man. Going to have to remember that.

Because I write relatively little each morning, I end up with a lot of free time on my hands. I’m also a bit of a homebody, which has only become more pronounced in the days of COVID. What do I do all day long if not to write? Because honestly, ten years ago I’d work for hours on end and never bat an eye. I read comics, of course, and I watch movies I’ve seen a million times before. I’m a huge fan who also writes and occasionally gets paid for what I create. The point is not to elevate my tastes above anyone else’s. I do like some pretty awesome stuff, but that’s subjective. I’d rather you elevate yours over mine. What catches your imagination most? What gets you excited to be creative? Watch Captain America or Batman for the umpteenth time and pretend you’re immune to feeling bored, frustrated, disagreeable. How deep do your roots go?

The things I love charge me up and make my work possible. Do you feel the same about the stuff you love? If there were no Avengers, no Justice League, no Star Wars, I might not have ever become a writer. Thank god I did. It’s been one hell of a fun life so far. 😊

I’ll be back next month with another Words to Live By. Until then, everybody!


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative work can be found in God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, Love/Madness/Demon, is available on Amazon now!

Love Madness Demon Cover Final

Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Movies – Video Games – Music – So Much More!


Feral Tenderness – Just My Opinion

Feral Tenderness Book Blog Tour

Feral Tenderness, by Arthur Rosch, is a poetry and photography collection like no other I’ve ever encountered. I can say this with confidence, because I am the editor and compiler for this book, however it exempts me from posting my opinions of this collection on Amazon. But Writing to be Read is my blog, so I’d like to tell you about this interesting and unique collection of creativity here, taking into account that the author is a friend of mine, so the opinions expressed are likely to be biased. Be that as it may, I’m proud to associate myself with this work of creativity, a collection of poetry and photography worth more than just a casual glance. Arthur’s works need to be savored, like a fine wine, simmered over, like a sweet glaze, and appreciated for their unique and delectable flavors.

As I’ve mentioned on several occassions, Arthur Rosch sees the world in a unique way. Through his creative endeavors, those who care to look are allowed a glimpse of things through his eyes. His photography is amazing. The images that he captures with his lense say so much in a single moment. His poetry, on the other hand, is often a lengthy, social commentary on higher powers, human behavior, or the world at large. Yet, even his short poems seem to have a lot to say.

To illustrate my meaning, the following poem is minimal, yet it speaks volumes. It is my favorite of Arthur’s short snippits of poetry and the only one for which a true companion photo was also available from his photo library for inclusion in the collection.

Dewdrops
Dewdrops on spiderwebs:
sit lightly with life

Little Web

Another of Arthur’s profound poems, “Stars“, declares, in part, (I did mention that some of his poems are rather lengthy, too much so to be reprinted here in full),

” …Stars know what they are.
Stars are alive and individual,
quirky with personality,
often pulsing and drawing
gravity blood, gas and heat,
combining with other stars
combining and mating with other
stars and forming unions of
higher imaginations
in order to serve the Master of Stars… “

Another poem is an expression of nature, as seen through Arthur’s eyes. This one is one of my personal favorites.

Hunted By The Hawk

Make joy from stones.
Make wit from mud,
make humor from blood.
The tiny finch flies crazily,
for the sheer fun of it,
though it knows, each morning,
that it’s hunted by the hawk.
We too, each morning,
are hunted by the hawk.

The cover image for Feral Tenderness also came from Arthur’s photo library. With this photo, I was able to create an awesome cover design, if I do say so myself. We created cover images using several of Arthur’s photos, but in the end, this one grabbed both author’s and publisher’s hearts.

Feral Tenderness Cover

The poetry and photos featured in this collection are so varied in subject matter and tone, that several book promotions with very different appeals seemed applicable to me. I used one of Arthur’s photographs for the background of one of them. Can you guess which one? Let me know in the comments which you like better.

Like this post? Let me know in the comments. You can be sure not to miss any of Writing to be Read’s great content by subscribe to e-mail or following on WordPress. If you found this content helpful or entertaining, please share.


Mind Fields – My Pandemic Peace

Mind Fields

I am a janitor. I have worked at the same medium sized commercial property for thirty years. It is a job made in heaven! The pay is good, and I set my own hours. I never see my boss. We exchange emails and a check arrives monthly. The pandemic has done little to change my lifestyle. Properties tend to fall apart without the basic services supplied by cleaners and contractors. I work part time as a janitor and the other part time I stay home and practice the piano and write. My janitorial work includes maintaining two public restrooms. This requires a maximum of personal protection gear. Mask and gloves combined with frequent washing are keeping me (I hope) safe from infection. 

My spouse is disabled and spends most of her day in bed. I care for her and keep supplies flowing. She suffers from COPD and Rheumatoid Arthritis. My life is not much different from the time before Covid-19. I go out less and I buy at least a week’s supplies so that I don’t have to return to the store and its dangers of exposure. Judging by the basket loads being checked out by my fellow shoppers, we are feeling much the same.

The adaptations to Covid-19 quickly normalize. I see my therapist via Skype or Doxy.me.com.  I would rather see her in person, but seeing her on my computer screen offers a strange and intangible compensation. I can only call it “looseness”, i.e. I am more likely to say something awkward, which, as you may know, is the good stuff when it comes to psychotherapy.  I must speak the uncomfortable truth. In this way, Covid has presented a weird therapeutic gain.

I communicate via computer and attend my weekly Senior Peer Counseling groups via Zoom.  I don’t have to drive! No gasoline, no oil changes, no flat tires. No traffic! I acknowledge the vast suffering that attends this pandemic. I can’t allow my compassion to be blunted by my relative comfort. The plain truth is that Covid-19 has made my life easier.

I have been a Certified Senior Peer Counselor for three years. This effort offers support to those who are over 55 years of age. I now see my clients via all means possible, be they phone, computer, tablet, holograph, astral projection, quantum entanglement, ubiquitous electron transfer, psychic channeling or yelling out the window. Somehow, the process seems to be effective.

A couple of times a week I make my way up and down Highway 101. It’s a fifty mile round trip and sometimes the highways are virtually deserted. It’s kinda spooky! So far, my personal pandemic has been more of a windfall.

I’m 73 years old. Officially, that makes me a senior citizen. I’m active, creative, mobile, flexible, and in good health. If I tell you that this is due to my excellent personal hygiene, I would be gaslighting you with a heavy frosting of irony. I’ve been addicted to heroin, cocaine, alcohol, tobacco and other bad behaviors. I am a paradox. I have faithfully practiced yoga since the age of eighteen. There have been times when I would inject myself with a speedball, smoke several cigarettes and do a sequence of yoga postures within the same hour. I’m not like that anymore. I’ve worn out my addictions through a steady incremental process, aided by psychotherapy. There was no sudden cure, no breakthrough, just years of steady work. I AM, at last, closer to where I want to be. All I have to do is avoid suddenly dropping dead. 

Count to three. I haven’t dropped dead. This means that I have a responsibility to continue writing. My mentor, the incredible KL Booth, urges me to supply essays, poems, and other material to the ongoing work of the web platform Writing To Be Read. This site is a forum for writers and provides essential exposure for those of us who don’t have the proper connections to achieve big time literary fame. 

There is truth to the maxim that “You have to know someone.” There was a time when I did indeed know someone. I knew the fiction editor at Playboy Magazine. Her name was Vicki Chung. I got to know her through a series of flukes that led to my winning Playboy’s award for Best Story Of The Year. After winning that award, I was invited to Playboy’s 25th anniversary banquet in New York City, all expenses paid. A room at the Waldorf was booked for me. The banquet guest list was loaded with influential writers, editors, agents and publishers. I had gone to Nirvana. They had a wall-sized poster illustration of my award winning short story. I was courted by everyone. I returned from New York City with my pockets full of business cards. “Call me when your manuscript is ready.” They all said that. 

A few months later there was a plane crash near Chicago’s Ohare airport. Most of Playboy Magazine’s literary staff was on that plane. My friend Vicki was gone. My connections were gone.

Later that year my manuscript was stolen. It was the only copy because I was making corrections. At the time I was devastated, but I now know that it was a shit novel, that it was juvenile, pretentious and hopeless. The thief saved me from gruesome embarrassment.

Pandemic? Are we in a pandemic? I think it’s more like a correction, the way the theft of my manuscript was a correction. That sounds cold, but nature doesn’t consider the will of individuals as it operates our planet. Nature does what is best for itself. Covid-19 may be nature’s response to massive overpopulation and utterly depraved management of this stately orb. 

That’s my theory, anyway.

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Feral Tenderness

A Midwesterner by birth, Arthur Rosch migrated to the West Coast just in time to be a hippie but discovered that he was more connected to the Beatnik generation. He harkened back to an Old School world of jazz, poetry, painting and photography. In the Eighties he received Playboy Magazine’s Best Short Story Award for a comic view of a planet where there are six genders. The timing was not good.  His life was falling apart as he struggled with addiction and depression. He experienced the reality of the streets for more than a decade. Putting himself back together was the defining experience of his life. It wasn’t easy. It did, however, nurture his literary soul. He has a passion for astronomy, photography, history, psychology and the weird puzzle of human experience. He is currently a certified Seniors Peer Counselor in Sonoma County, California. Come visit his blogs and photo sites. www.artrosch.com and http://bit.ly/2uyxZbv

Arthur’s books include The Road Has Eyes, The Gods of the Gift, and Confessions of an Honest Man. His lifetime collection of poetry and photography, Feral Tenderness, is soon to be released by WordCrafter Press.

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Words to Live By – Losing My Mind (in Real Life)

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The first Wednesday of every month, writer Jeff Bowles muses on life, creativity, and our collective destinies as makers of cool stuff. You’re a writer, but have you ever thought about how or why? Here are some words to live by.

Losing My Mind (in Real Life)

At three-thirty in the morning, I’m screaming at demons. There’s something inside me, something over which I have very little control, and it’s been at my throat for months. Somehow I’ve convinced myself the voice in my head belongs to a friend from graduate school, that she’s speaking to me telepathically over a great distance. She’s crueler than the person I remember, always mocking and deceiving me, but I don’t do the simple mental math. The voice tells me all sorts of things, and this is the first time I’ve ever been crazy, so I don’t necessarily understand I’m not supposed to listen.

Though I sleep dismally, I call her the very next morning. The real person I mean. I say crazy things, most of which I don’t remember now. A few days later, something even worse happens. An incident with the car in our driveway. My wife, she gets hurt. The voice told me she was trying to kill me, and I believed every word, so I attempted to flee the house and she ended up with six fractured ribs. God, some days are made in Hell. If I close my eyes, even five years later, it’s an easy vision to conjure, and it lays me low every time. This happened, it was real, and I was crazy, crazy, crazy, an animal, a lunatic, someone completely undeserving of justice or fairness or something simple and clean like compassion.

I made a mess of my life, ended up in jail, in court, on a psychiatric ward, and I have had to cope with a version of myself from that time I cannot excuse, someone vulgar and unhinged, someone barely hanging on. I won’t go into details that are still too painful to write in blunt, unadulterated language. The pressures of life had gotten to me, an unexpected barrage of one thing after another, as life is known to dish out. Unexpected health issues, loss of a job, unable to pay the mortgage. No, I’d never heard voices before, but that doesn’t mean I’m worthy of forgiveness. My loved ones keep telling me I should finally let go, be kind to myself on this front, realize people make mistakes, that these things can and do happen and that none of it makes me a bad or dangerous person. I find it difficult to believe what they say. Scratch that, I find it impossible. It’s a miracle no one was killed.

Many prominent creative voices throughout history have commented on the clear and seemingly causal link between mental illness and creative genius, but not every dork with a science fiction and fantasy fetish and a couple of short story sales goes full tilt into lunacy. It’s not in my nature to describe myself in lofty terms. It’s not in my nature to think of myself very fondly at all, and that’s perhaps where dark things like this take root. Whatever creative abilities I’ve been granted and have spent years honing seem to have come at a cost. I knew I had depression at a very young age, but schizophrenia, I didn’t even know what that was.

It’s like this: you can’t trust your thoughts, your senses, your worldly experience. You will hear voices and smell phantom aromas and see things that aren’t there. You’ll think delusional thoughts every once in a while, strange ruminations and lines of logic that make perfect sense at the time they occur. If you’re lucky, medication will help, and counseling will teach you skills you can lean on that boil down to keeping it real, keeping it present, leaning on others if you’re having a truly difficult time distinguishing fantasy from reality. Don’t listen when you think you hear your friend from school. Don’t listen when you think you hear your friend from school. Don’t listen when you think you hear your friend from school.

There were nights I was so terrified I couldn’t imagine surviving till morning. These voices, they torture you in all sorts of creative and intimate ways. They make fun of you in the toilet, in the shower, when you’re dressing in the morning. They con you into driving recklessly in city traffic, convince you your counseling appointment has been canceled, and that in fact, you don’t really need counseling anyway. At some point, the ruse couldn’t sustain, and I finally realized I wasn’t speaking with my friend. Sensibly, tardy as usual, I asked to whom or what I was in fact speaking, in my head, in the room, just out of sight.

It said it wanted to be called Dave. Just Dave. And the more my wife and I used the name as shorthand, the more it seemed appropriate. Dave, like some faceless person who could be anyone or anything at any time. Dave, a personality that might be normal or might be abnormal, just depended on the day. And now when I write, even a simple essay like this one, I feel as though Dave is guiding my fingers over my laptop keyboard.

I can feel him looking out my eyes sometimes. He wiggles my toes and fidgets when I’m barely paying attention. He’s in me, he is me, yet they say he’s not the conscious, aware me. If my id expresses itself thusly, what the hell is wrong with me? Is it any wonder the book I wrote about that insane, scary time depicts Dave as a full-stop demon? Not a biproduct of janky biochemistry or a brain or emotional disorder, but rather something separate and inhuman? Took me two years to write that book. I still can’t stand to read a single word of it.

I wasn’t myself. It must be a constant reminder, or the truth is the person I am today, the person I’ve always believed myself to be, he’s a lie. And this is something I can’t accept. You must take action when your own wounding wounds others. It’s a teaching moment, a failing you can catch like a falling aspen leaf. It was a shot across the bow, an opportunity to reorient myself, look at my life and everything I’ve created and done not as the end-all-be-all, but as a small component of who I am in full. Each and every time Dave speaks to me, I can silently rebuke or ignore him and remind myself what real humility and humanity look like.

They look like the patients at the psych hospital who’d just survived suicide attempts and psychotic episodes. How gentle and caring they seemed. Not like me, strapped to a hospital bed, screaming my head off, trying to cut my wrists in a pretty useless fashion, thinking the Velcro ties would do the trick. Humility and humanity look like the caregivers—yes, even the guards at the county jail—who could’ve condemned me but instead took pity on me, tried to protect and treat me.

Even five years later, I awake sometimes from nightmares. He’s always there, but thankfully, so am I. Watchful, careful, repentant. Honestly, not at all interested in returning to that place ever again. I could’ve lost so much. It all could’ve ended so much worse. My blessings, I do my best to count them, but I know I could do far more. Recovery is a long process, or at least it can be, and it’s a bumpier ride than most people give it credit for being. But I have to go through it. It’s an imperative. Being better to people, hoping one day to learn to be better to myself. Leave the creative stuff aside. In fact, leave everything aside that is surface-level and cheap. Maybe it’s what I came here to do. Maybe it’s what we all came here to do.

If you or anyone you know is suffering severe mental health issues right now, I urge you to seek help. Especially in the middle of this pandemic, it’s a huge issue for many, and we owe it to ourselves, our friends, and our family to treat it with respect. There’s hope, there’s survival, and there is recovery. I’m proof of that. We all deserve to be the best versions of ourselves. All of us. I pray and hope for the best life has to offer, and I pray and hope the same for you as well. Safety, happiness, generosity, and love. Sanity most of all, my friends. Until next month.


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative work can be found in God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, Love/Madness/Demon, is available on Amazon now!

Love Madness Demon Cover Final

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