Spare (Ex)change

I spent the week reading plays as part of the artistic committee for a local theater, as well as making a Hogwarts admission letter for my Harry Potter-loving, newly eleven-year-old daughter. So, I have far less new material for you this week than I'd like, but I hope you'll enjoy it nevertheless.

On our way back to the car, as we step from the darkness of the Sister and into the mid-morning light, we pass by one of the balding old townies who sat in front of us the night before. He is leaned against the wall by the door, a far slighter figure than the one I’m used to in that spot, and he is flicking the lid of a Zippo open and shut. It’s monogrammed, the old lighter, and I can’t tell if it’s a generic grim reaper or Charon himself, so I ask Michael.

“Well, actually,” says Michael, but I stop listening after the adverb. I can’t hear anyone say those two words unironically anymore, not after a semester of hearing Taylor and her friends use them as the foundation for their impressions of the single straight boy who, amongst the previous semester’s class of women and gay men and non-binary folk, could not stop himself from preaching the gospel of neglected nuance and unsung subtlety.

“Spare change?” asks the townie, and much to my surprise, Taylor stops and begins to fish through her wallet.

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Every sentence of this latest thing has been hard-won, but I think that might kind of be the point. I'm writing about a guy for whom every sentence is hard-won, so maybe this is method-writing?

At any rate, please enjoy this brief snippet from this week's work:

When she collected her things and started for the door a few minutes later, he followed at a distance, doing his best not to scare her. But as she stepped into the darkened alley out back, he worried over her and was overtaken by the chivalrous desire to offer her his arm.

“But,” I protest, “you had to know nothing was going to happen to her, not yet.”

Taylor glares at me. “There are worse things than death,” she says. “Especially lurking in back alleys, especially for the pretty and the innocent.”

Michael says nothing, letting Taylor’s objection stand in for his, and then he continues. “I resisted the urge,” he says. “I held back. But a moment later, I wished I hadn’t. As I held back beneath the awning, she crossed the narrow expanse of the alley and disappeared into the shadows on the other side.”

He rushed to reach her, he tells us, to rescue her from whatever foul force had taken her from him, but that’s when the truly miraculous thing happened. As he stepped into the shadows himself, it was like the heavy curtains of a proscenium stage parted before him; he was swallowed up then by a whirl of lights strobing from both above and below.

It was like being inside a kaleidoscope, he tells us, only the abstract shapes soon resolved into cubist tableaus, which then quickly sharpened into surrealist nonsense — Michael’s words, not mine — before settling into a series of pop art posters representing critical periods from the whole of Jenna’s life. As he reached his fingers towards one, the kaleidoscope would slow and the one poster would spread out into a half-dozen smaller ones, each representing an even more specific moment. And as he drew his face close to each one of those, it was as if the moment were a filmstrip in a projector that was just sputtering to life. When he drew back, trying to take more of this strange sight in, the memories went still once more.

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The Sequel to the Strumpet's Sister

I changed up my writing routine this week, switching to mornings instead of evenings, and I got back to work on the next chapter of the thing I began sharing with you in January. As you may recall, “The Strumpet’s Sister” ended with modern-day Michael telling us that he had quite a story to tell. Well, here’s the beginning of that yarn. Enjoy!

In the autumn of 1976, in the small hospital of a small Portlandian suburb, Arthur Worthing’s wife was safely delivered of two babies for the price of one. This was one infant more than the young man had bargained for, and indeed one more daughter than he and his new bride were prepared to name. Had the second child been a boy, he would have been Jade. But Arthur's wife, her head swimming in the green haze swept in by the drugs they'd forced upon her, she swore that was not a girl's name. Or not her girl's name — Arthur couldn't be sure, so slurred were the words of this young woman he barely knew, that he'd knocked up on a night where he'd been slurring just as hard as she was now. And so, behind the glass of the nursery window, in neighboring glass bassinets, there slept Melancholy Worthing and her unnamed twin. Around the corner, in the dive bar just opened in the basement of his family's furniture store, sat their father — their father, he thought to himself — huddled into a booth with a textbook on abnormal psychology and tall glass of whatever Cumberland County concoction they had on tap.

“Whatcha reading?” asked a passerby, once Arthur had drained his glass.

Thinking it might be the waiter, and not yet paying heed to the words coming his way, Arthur held up the empty vessel and nodded that yes, he’d like another.

The passerby gave a brief chuckle, and it was only then that Arthur looked up into the older man’s face. It was only then that he examined the tweed jacket and the sensible spectacles and the neatly trimmed beard.

“I’m sorry, sir,” said Arthur. “I thought you were — ”

The passerby laughed again, with more bluster this time. “Sir,” he said, shaking his head. “I guess I do look old enough to be a sir, don’t I?”

“I meant no offense,” said Arthur, closing his book, offering up his full attention as a kind of apology. “It’s been a long day.”

The passerby looked down at the book to gain the answer he’d sought for at the beginning. “A long day that ends with abnormal psych must be a long day indeed,” he said. “You studying, or is that a sleep aide of some sort.”

Now Arthur laughed, for the first time since they’d put the second baby in his arms and he’d run the numbers in his head about how two college juniors were going to afford two newborn babies.

The passerby slid into the other side of the booth, looked over toward the bar, and, once he’d grabbed the attention of someone over that way, held up two fingers.

“Thanks,” said Arthur. “But I only had enough for — ”

“I’m buying,” said the passerby.

“Thank you,” said Arthur. “I could use another.”

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Before You Go

This week I share with you part a first attempt at a play about Sarah Silver (the “you” of “Animals,” “The Charity of Ruin,” and “The Whore of Harwich”). It was intended to serve as a bit of connective tissue for an evening of 10-minute plays based on my “Seven Wives of Silver” series and “Animals,” but the rest of the series preferred to remain short stories and wanted no part in being dramatized.

Here's an excerpt:

LORENA: But what’ll the fellas say, Sarah? What’ll the fellas say?

SARAH: They’ve known you since you were a guttersnipe, haven’t they?

LORENA: Yes, m’am. Picked me up in Detroit when I was no more’n eight years old.

SARAH: And you all have seen the elephant by now, haven’t you? The three of you have been through thick and thin.

LORENA: Yes, m’am.

The Prostitute gestures for the Barkeep to bring Lorena a drink.

SARAH: Look: you’re the biggest toad in the puddle, Lorena. They’re not going to think any less of you if you dine upon the commodity of that dirty puzzle over there. I’m sure they’ve each had their fill of her in days gone by. And besides, better you spend one night a sapphist than let some border ruffian from across the street ride you like a bangtail.

LORENA (blushing): I am not the biggest toad…

SARAH: You are so! Don’t sell me a dog, Lorena. Them boys’d be lost without you.

LORENA (with a laugh): “Don’t sell me a dog.” I haven’t heard that one in years. My mother used to say that, before her consumption.

Lorena looks saddened by the memory of her mother as the Barkeep brings her a drink.

BARKEEP: Compliments of your friend over there.

LORENA: Thank you.

BARKEEP: She wonders if you’ve made a decision regarding her proposition.

LORENA (blushing again): I know it’s been most an age now, but I’m still pondering.

BARKEEP: A word of advice: ponder faster, or she’ll be a buttered bun before you get your chance.

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All the Blogs, All Online

The author delivering his college's student commencement address, May 1999.

The author delivering his college's student commencement address, May 1999.

On the tenth of every month, my computer reminds me to balance the budget of my small business and to pay out any royalties that are owed to the contributors I’ve published in Geek Force Five over the years. This month, while checking in on the company that prints hard-copy books for us, I discovered that I’d sold a copy of my own first book, Those Little Bastards — the first in a good, long while.

I shuddered at the thought. It was an involuntary response, something I’ve been conditioned to do by this world where serious creators are expected to look back with disdain on their early work. And I wasn’t happy that I’d felt that way, not at all. Because I’m proud of the kid who put himself out there, who decided those stories were good enough. In fact, in my preface to the 2014 edition of the book I wrote:

The Chris of 2014, the thirty-six-year-old professor of creative writing who is editing this, would like to say something here about how these stories are the work of a much younger man, that he is proud of them but that they are best viewed through a certain lens.

The Chris of 2002, the twenty-four-year-old who put this collection together in the first place, invites Professor Clark to eat shit and die.

I bring this up because it ties directly into my motivation to bring all of my old blogs back online, a project which I completed this week.

I’ve been blogging since January 1999, first on Geocities, then on,, and But since I switched hosting providers and content management systems in 2012, most of my 18 years of material has been offline, unavailable to anyone’s eyes but mine.

Now, some folks might view this as a blessing. I’m sure there’s at least one person out there reading this who is thrilled that their Livejournal is lost to time, or that no one will ever again be able to read — in between all of the ridiculously sparkly animated gifs — their MySpace musings from back in the day. But for me, the absence of all that writing from my Website felt like a betrayal. Enough of a betrayal that I’ve been working for just shy of two years to bring all of my blogs back online.

I am not proud of some of the things I wrote over the years. Some of the things I wrote when I was younger are borderline offensive; some of them are over that line and made me think twice before hitting publish again. But I see value in presenting myself, warts and all.

The writer and professor that I am now, the one who comforted his students when they felt traumatized by an election and who gets more positive feedback on his work than negative — he did not emerge fully formed. Every day — every word — is an evolution. And I hope, as I hope with everything I produce and put out into the world — from a story to a lesson to a podcast — that my students, my fans, my friends and family… I hope that, in the moments when they feel as imperfect and flawed as I so often do, that they can turn to some stupid shit I wrote once upon a time and take comfort in the fact that we’re all fucked up and that all we can do with the time we have left is to try and do better.

(And to make each other smile. Or laugh. Or cry a few tears that we’ve been needing to cry for a good long while.)