Albert and The Brain - Finale

The world was dark, and fuzzy blobs wooshed past them at incredible speeds, Bright white blobs, incandescent yellow blobs, fuzzy red blobs that flashed yellow and then green were all just beyond Albert’s perception as they chugged down the road.

“Do you think I’m crazy?” Albert turned to the brain in the front seat of the car, anticipating an answer, yet hoping there wouldn’t be one.

“I don’t know.” Helen sounded exhausted, and Albert tried to determine if her voice was reflecting off the car like it used to from the passengers seat, if her voice was carried up to his ears from her place on the rough leather, or if it was merely echoing off the inside of his own thick skull.

Albert tapped on the brakes, and blinked at the passing signs and lights. He couldn’t make out anything, but he turned anyways. Someone honked, but the road seemed clear. Fuzzy but clear. 

“Do you think I’m real?” The brain asked Albert hesitantly as they sailed toward somewhere.

Albert shifted the car into fourth. If the brain had asked him that just hours before the answer would have been obvious. 

“I don’t know.” Albert said, and exhaled. He took another right.

They arrived at a bridge either by fate or by muscle memory, Albert did not know. It was a long bridge, an ancient bridge, one flanked by bright yellow street lamps arcing into the black sky, peeling into the scattered flickering starlight of a million homes pressed into the hillside across the bay.

He pulled the car over and lifted the parking brake gently. 

“What are we doing?”

“Remember when we were just kids, and we came out here on cold nights.” Albert thought back on it, it had been fifty years since they stopped on that bridge. “We stared at the bay and we wondered what life would be like.”

“Is this the bridge? I thought we went to the eastern bridge…”

“Remember what you promised me?” Albert cut her off.

“That we’d only have two kids instead of three?” She chuckled.

Albert shook his head. “Helen, I’m trying to be serious.”

“Okay, be serious then.” 

“You promised me…” Albert stared out the car window past the bright lights of the bridge to the moonlit bay. Light played with the water, gleaming silver across the windswept waves. “That you wouldn’t die before me.”

The brain was silent, but Albert went on. “I always thought I would go first,” He said. “I was supposed to go first. But it was you.” He unbuckled his seat belt and glanced at the brain. “I’ll never get over that.”

It was just a mushy brain then. Just a gray mass, bobbing there, a little more worse for wear than the day he brought it home. Flecks of flesh peeled off it’s membrane like the whole thing was disintegrating. It looked dustier, browner yet Albert knew every curve, every wrinkle, every discoloration on every lobe. He knew the brain like he used to know Helen’s body, her scars, her folds, the exact location thick black hairs would emerge from her chin. 

This brain didn’t have a mouth, it didn’t have ears or eyes, it was sitting so low in the seat that it couldn’t see out the window even if it wanted to. How did Helen know which bridge they were on, how did she know anything?

A semi rushed past them, rumbling the car, and the disintegrating flaps of brain swayed like the thin transparent cilia of a jellyfish until long after it had gone.

Albert opened his car door and got out.

“What are you doing?” the brain called from the front seat. 

He ran a hand through this thin gray hair as he rounded the car and opened the passenger door. He leaned across the brain and unbuckled her seatbelt, he pulled her into his arms and ambled to the edge of the bridge.

“It’s a beautiful night, isn’t it.” The brain continued in Albert’s embrace. Albert didn’t respond. It was a beautiful night. 

“Helen.” Albert set the brain on the thick stone railing and peered over the edge. Frigid wind whipped him in the face and made him gasp. He looked at the water, deep, dark, black, and so far away it almost looked soft. “I don’t know what’s real anymore.”

“Sure you do.” Helen said, “I’m real, you’re real, this is real.” There was fear in her voice now, a waver of concern that palpitated her words.

“I don’t know.” Albert looked over the edge again. “I think I’m crazy. I think you’re crazy. I think all of this is crazy.”

“You’re not crazy, this is just us, it’s just us!”

“I can’t speak to a brain forever.” Albert pressed his toes between the balusters of the railing and held tightly to a thick suspension wire above him as he leaned over the edge again. The waves and the wind made him want to vomit, and he pulled himself back.

“Sure you can.”

“I can’t.” Albert stroked the glass of the brain and furrowed his brow, “I don’t know what’s real.” He said again.

“This is real!” Helen’s voice was getting higher, more concerned.

“I don’t want to do this.” Albert shook his head. The wind was so strong he could barely hear her. 

“Then don’t.”

“Forgive me Helen.”

He leaned over the edge.

“Albert. Don’t.”

And he thrust the brain off the railing and into the cold night. He watched it tumble for a moment, catching sharp light on it’s shiny metal lid. Then it stopped spinning, it hung in the air like it was flying, and for a moment Albert thought it would fly back to him. 

He could barely hear the splash over the wind, and he certainly couldn’t see it, but Albert knew it was over. He stared over the edge, and tried to catch a glimpse of Helen floating along the bay, but there was nothing, and if there was Albert wouldn’t be able to make it out anyways.

Guilt filled him like a soreness, then mourning, then fear. Helen was gone from his life again, and Albert had killed her, murdered her with his own two hands. Her company, her voice, her breath was gone. And Albert would never be able to forgive himself for that.

He tucked himself back in the car and let himself cry. He let himself cry for the Helen he had lost a year ago, and he let himself cry for the Helen he lost today. He let himself cry out of relief that he abolished the voice, that he wasn’t crazy, and he let himself cry out of fear that maybe he still was. Albert was alone again.

He started the car and wiped his eyes.

“Sure glad we got rid of that thing.” Helen’s voice came out of no where. “It was really starting to cramp our style.”

 

Tell me what you thought of Albert and the Brain at facebook.com/clbrenton

 

C. L. Brenton

Albert and The Brain - Part 5

“Dad,” Annie said “The brain isn’t talking to you.” 

“Sure she is.”

“Dad,” Annie paused counting her words, budgeting them like precious coins. “The brain isn’t Mom.”

“Her names right on the side here.” He turned a finger around the rim of the jar.

“Mom’s dead.” Annie inhaled. She didn’t like saying the words either, they cut her as much as they cut him. Smearing salt into their communal wound.

Albert sunk into the couch and pressed his palms on his forehead. “She talks to me, Annie.” He said to the carpet his shadow darkening the stains on it’s blush oriental flowers. “She keeps me company.” 

“Dad, are you sure that her voice isn’t just… in your head?” He looked up at her, poor sweet Annie, her brow knit so tightly the letter T was chiseled between her eyes.

“No, no sweetheart,” Albert was questioning everything. Why hadn’t he before? He just took it for granted that his dead wife was speaking to him through the brain. He just knew, somehow intrinsically knew that it was true. And now Annie derailed him he wasn’t sure what to believe. “She tells me things I don’t even know about.” He remembered slowly all his reasoning all the logical leaps he made. “Like remember when she went to Turkey? And she brought us back all those evil eye bracelets to ward away spirits. She was telling me where she bought those, the exact bazaar, I could even take you there.”

“Dad.” Tears welled in Annie’s red stained eyes, and she didn’t brush them away. Albert’s heart buckled. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen Annie cry. She was sixteen, maybe, still living at home. She usually let the tears flow with Helen. Helen knew about all the boys, Annie’s mean friends, and the constant battle of growing up, but one night, when Helen and Annie got into a fight, she came crying to Albert, in his workshop. He had never felt more like a father than he had that night. More than on nights throwing the baseball with his sons in the fading light of the street outside their house. More than walking her down the aisle at her wedding. These were requirements, necessities of fatherhood, but that night he was a father in the way that TV fathers are. A friend, a companion, a pal. He let her sip from his beer as they talked, comfortable as old friends, hesitant as new lovers. Now Albert was the one who was making her cry, and there was no Helen here to back him up. 

No Helen. 

The thought pounded into him.

“I’m here sweetheart,” the brain cooed, and Albert wrapped his arm around Annie’s shoulders.

“What’s wrong, honey?” He tried to pretend that it wasn’t his fault, that she was crying for some other reason, some other outside occurrence.

“It was you.” She sniffed, her words quiet and insecure. “You took that trip to turkey with Mom.” She wouldn’t look at him, but Albert stared at her averted eyes. “You bought all the evil eye bracelets and brought them home.”

“That was your mother, I distinctly remember it.” But he didn’t remember it. With the vividness he pictured it could have been him. And all this time he thought…

“The brain is not speaking to you.”

“She is, honey, I’m sure of it.”

“Sure I am.” The brain piped in. Helen’s voice calmed Albert suddenly she was there, and she had been there all along.

“Look, I thought the brain would help you in the beginning, it even helped me grieve, to know there was a little bit of mom left in the world. But this has gone too far.”

What was Annie asking? That he get rid of the brain? The brain that still spoke to him, even if it was in his head, she still spoke to him. Albert still felt something when she did.

“Who cares how she’s speaking to me, she is! I can hear her, she’s the only thing that makes me happy anymore! Isn’t that worth something?”

“Not if you’re hearing voices, Dad, not if you’re going mad. You have to see someone. You have to get rid of the brain!”

“I will not!” And he wouldn’t. Even if he was going mad, why couldn’t he just let her go mad in peace? Blissfully naive, happily married, wonderfully codependent on a brain.

“He will not!” Helen called from the jar, “Just listen to her, you spend years raising someone and then just like that you die and they want to get rid of your brain.”

“I know, sweetheart.” He said it out of instinct, calming his lifelong partner next to him. Annie cocked her head and stared at him her face crumbling.

“This is insane.” She said her voice breaking under the weight of her tears “I’m going to call Dr. Aurelias.” Annie crawled over to the phone and waited for a dialtone. Annie was calling Helen’s doctor from when she started to lose it. A doctor of the mind, an expert on brinks and sanity. If Albert was going crazy, he wanted to be the last to know. If this was insanity than he didn’t know what saneness was. A lifetime on pills and lying on smelly leather couches was not what he had planned. Flying on the edge of death for years was not the sort of life he wanted. He would go out with dignity, not like Helen, not like disintegrating veiny bedridden Helen. 

“Hello may I speak with Dr. Aurelias’ on call nurse?”

Albert scooped up the brain and scurried into the garage hoping the old Chevy would start without a lot of fanfare. Annie rushed after him, dragging the cord from the telephone behind her. The engine turned over and sparked quickly. Albert threw the car in reverse and careened down the driveway.

“Dad where are you going?” Annie had dropped the phone on the stairs and chased after him. “Dad! Stop!” She pounded on the hood sobbing. “Daddy! Where are you going?!” 

Albert didn’t know where he was going, but he knew he would be going there with Helen. Albert stared behind him, concentrating on not hitting the neighbor’s fence, or Helens petunias. Helen reminded him of this from the passenger seat, buckled in with great but hurried care.

 “Dad!” Annie screamed and ran after him. Albert waved instinctually as he flicked the car in first and puttered down the street.

Albert and the Brain - Part 4

Once the brain started talking it was hard to get her to shut up. She was in constant conversation with Albert, and, though Albert loved the company, he found it hard to get much else done. Sometimes he would prop a book in front of her to read, but he would have to return every few minutes to turn the page, which wasn’t much of a break if he really thought about it. Sometimes he would play a record on the old phonograph for Helen and he’d come back moments later to her crying, wishing she could dance again. Then Albert would pick her up tenderly and waltz her around the room just like they used to after the kids went to sleep and their song came on the radio. 

It was during this act of tenderness that Annie burst through the front door without knocking. It was early evening, likely not a Sunday, although Albert couldn’t keep track of the days anymore, and Annie was neither expected nor particularly welcome. Albert clutched the brain to his chest and stared at her.

“Dad, thank God you’re okay!” Albert furrowed his brow and tried to calm the pounding in his chest.

“What are you talking about?”

“I’ve been trying to call you for days!”

“No she has not,” Helen’s voice was muffled. Albert pulled her away from his chest and propped her up on the back of the couch.

“The phone never rang.” 

“Well I’ve been calling.” Annie tossed her purse on the console table in the front hallway and made her way through the house mumbling “Where is it… where is it?”

Albert looked at Helen. “We should have never given her a key.”

“She’s our daughter Albie.”

“Funny how children start to turn into your parents.”

“Don’t I know it.” Helen said, but instead of taking comfort in her words, Albert suddenly ached to see her smile.

 

“Dad?!” Albert followed her voice into the family room. 

“What?” He asked from the doorway.

“First of all, your place is a mess.” Albert entered the room and placed the brain on a stack of magazines that covered the coffee table. 

“I’ll clean it up.”

“Second, your phone was unplugged.”

“It was?” Annie pointed at the cable dislodged from the jack in the wall by a fallen book. “Huh, fancy that.”

“Didn’t you notice something was wrong when you hadn’t talked to me in a week? Or… or anyone for that matter?”

“No.”

“Don’t you get lonely?”

“No, he has me!” Helen interjected

“Honey, you’re fine company but it’s not really all that satisfying.”

“Well that’s not very nice…” Annie began, flummoxed at her Father’s brazenness. Then she looked at him. Albert was staring intently at the brain.

“Not Satisfying?” the brain scoffed, “Aren’t you happy I’m back?” Albert rolled his eyes.

“Of course I’m happy, It was just different when I could hug you, when we were a team. Now it’s like we’re on a constant phone call.”

“Dad, who are you talking to?”

Albert glanced back to his daughter. She was looking at him with a look no parent ever wants to see on their child’s face. It was a confounded look, a mix of concern and annoyance, worry and exasperation. 

“Dad? Did you hear me?”

“Yes.” He hesitated filing through all the possible answers. “Your mother.” He said finally, definitively. 

“What are you talking about?”

“I’m talking about your mother, Helen.” Albert looked at Annie sternly. Was she losing it? He couldn’t handle another family member losing their minds.

“Are you talking about the brain? Dad?”

“Yes, I’m talking about the brain. Your mother.” He was starting to get agitated now. Annie comes barging into his life just to judge and annoy?

“What is she going on about?” Helen piped in from the coffee table, “Annie I’m right here.”

“Did you hear that? Annie you have to listen.”

Albert wrapped an arm around Annie’s shoulder’s, pulled her toward the brain and pressed a finger to his lips.

“Annie I’m right here.” Helen shouted. “Annie listen to me, can’t you hear me?”

Albert raised his eyebrows at Annie as if to say see? See what I told you. But Annie just looked dumbfounded. Struck in a way all children are struck when they discover their parents are fallible, squishy human beings who may or may not be going insane.


More next week on Albert and the Braaaaiiiin!!!

Albert and the Brain - Part 3

Albert found himself spending much more time in the living room as the days went on. He would read the paper, fold the laundry, eat his lunch, all in the presence of the brain. He couldn’t quite explain how it made him feel less lonely, how it made him feel like he was leaving Helen out if he didn’t spend his leisure time where she could watch. The brain started to feel to Albert more like his wife reincarnate than an inanimate organ, so when he said “Good morning” to her that Wednesday, he didn’t feel like that much of a fool.

That single good morning led to a nightly goodnight. Which led to an I love you before he went to sleep, which led to Albert carrying the brain up the stairs to his bedroom and placing Helen on the bedside table. He couldn’t bear to think of her spending her nights all alone in that eerie room with the streetlight casting a saccharin orange in the cool dark. Instead she spent the night, near him, the suspension gel refracting the tiny green light on Albert’s radio into waves of aurora borealis on his wall. 

When Albert spoke to the brain, he was sure the brain listened. He had seen it move of it’s own volition so many times now that it neither surprised nor worried him. For Albert, the brain had a personality, for Albert, that personality was Helen. Even when she was alive Albert could predict her reactions before she could think them, and it wasn’t much different in death. 

Albert would sit on the living room floor balling socks and then, after a moment say, “I know, I know you don’t have to say anything.” 

Then, he’d unball the socks, and fold them together like Helen liked. The brain always seemed to nod in approval.

When Annie came by with the kids the next Sunday, she sent them out back and spoke to the brain while Albert fixed them all tuna fish sandwiches. He could hear her from the kitchen, whispering updates and worries that she’d never dare tell him. They were almost like prayers the way she murmured them, running her fingers along the edge of the jar like a rosary.

“We just got Marcus tested, I hope he doesn’t have ADD but at the same time, it would be nice to medicate his behavior once and for all…”

Albert felt himself smile, a sensation he was not at all used to, and a feeling that hadn’t struck him in years became suddenly overwhelming. At that moment, while he made tuna fish sandwiches in the kitchen, watched his grandchildren playing in the yard, and listened to his daughter speaking to her mom in the other room, Albert felt a warm ball of happiness grow in his chest. After that, it was hard to shake.

Albert had a companion in Helen’s brain that he’d never had before. A friend who satisfied all of his needs, and needed very few of her own. He would sit with her for hours and not once would she nag him about the length of his beard, or her need to go shopping to buy a new hat. For Albert, it was the best of marriage without the compromise. For Albert, the arrival of Helen’s brain was the best thing that had happened to him since meeting Helen herself.

When the brain actually started speaking to Albert, it didn’t come as a shock. Helen’s voice just rippled back into his life as if it had always been there, as if she had always been speaking to him, but now Albert finally took the time to listen. She would recount long detailed stories about their past, trips Albert never took with her and could not have remembered on his own. She told him she loved him, she complimented his pasta dinners, she suggested he make a side of broccoli. Albert’s very best friend had returned. The woman he knew before illness and Alzheimers, the girl who rode on the handlebars of his bike to the ice-cream parlor, the woman who plucked errant hairs from his eyebrows when they were getting too shaggy.

Here she was, still bearing witness to his life, just as they had promised all those years before. In front of people most of whom were long since dead. What had happened to their brains? Albert wondered as he shelled peanuts on the lawn, his bowl of shells set on the jar’s cool flat top. How permanent was death if you could just exist in a jar full of gelatin?

“Not permanent at all.” Helen said slowly. “I wonder how long I’ll live this time.”

“Maybe forever.” Albert slurped a peanut out of it’s shell “Maybe when I die I can be a brain too, and we can gather dust on a shelf next to each other.”

“Just like life,” Helen said and Albert smiled.

Albert and the Brain - Part 2

Albert and the Brain - Part 2! If you missed part one click here.


The first few days after bringing it home, the brain remained in the front seat of Albert’s car in the garage. Frankly he’d forgotten it was there until he spotted a wedding picture of his wife, and hurried to the garage to pull it out of the big Apex bag. The jar was a little warm, but the brain seemed to be in fine enough shape. As much as a floating brain could be, anyway.

Albert placed the brain on his kitchen table, amidst the piles of bills and coupons, sympathy cards, and old receipts. A catch-all for his life, a sieve for information that constantly got clogged. When Sunday rolled around and the grandchildren were just hours from their weekly visit Albert shoved the whole mess of letters and cards and bills and magazines into the trash and stared at the brain. 

It was a nice brain with deep grooves, and coils of gray almost slightly peach colored rope twisted along the sides. It looked, Albert supposed, like most brains did. Like his brain did. Except this one seemed bigger than normal. He pulled the jar toward him and pressed his nose to the glass. The curve of the jar didn’t seem to be augmenting the brain, either. Albert smiled and he let it linger for a moment more than he normally did.

Helen was small but fierce, dainty but wildly intelligent, so it pleased Albert that her brain was quite a bit bigger than he had imagined. 

He picked the jar up, a heavy sloshy thing, and carried it around the house. He could put it on the television, but it seemed too dangerous for both the TV and the brain. Perhaps the hall table? Too cluttered. By the bathroom sink? Helen always placed freshly cut flowers there, so she must have liked it, sort of. Maybe in the kitchen? Too cannibalistic. He shuffled to the middle of the living room carpet and looked around. His eyes landed on the mantle above the fireplace. Home to other forgotten well loved things, once precious objects, abandoned treasures, Dusty wedding photos, the ashes of his mother and hers, the brass rooster she’d purchased on a long ago trip to Egypt. Albert pushed the urns aside and heaved the jar onto the mantel.  He turned it gently so the brass plate bearing Helen’s name shone front and center. 

He wiped a thick finger across the plate and muttered, “There we go.” He surprised himself with the sound, a voice that hadn’t penetrated the house in days. Was he talking to himself now? They said widowers had a hard time dealing with loneliness, but Albert had been lonely ever since Helen got sick. He didn’t go crazy because of it. He coughed out the lingering tickle in his throat and stomped back into the kitchen.


“Dad!” mirth filled the house, giggles and warm sunlight pushed through the front door. Did anyone bother to knock anymore? Alfred was reading the paper in the living room. Well, pretending to read. The paper was pulled across his lap but he hadn’t read a word in fifteen minutes. He was staring at her, he was staring at the brain floating in goo. He could have sworn he saw it move a half hour ago, he could have sworn it swiveled twenty degrees of it’s own volition, and now it pointed right at him. He’d been staring at it ever since.

“There you are!” Albert folded his paper and placed it next to him on the couch. He heaved himself up and embraced his oldest daughter, Annie. Her kids wrapped themselves around his waist and squeezed.

“Hey Dad, how are you?”

Albert looked up at the brain. Going crazy, probably. “Fine.”

Annie matched his gaze. “What’s that?”

“More like who’s that.”

“Okay.” She said it slowly. Was craziness hereditary?

“Mommy why’s there a brain in a jar up there?”

“Is it halloween?”

Alberts grandchildren approached the fireplace with curiosity.

“No it’s not halloween…” Annie said for lack of a proper explanation.

“That’s your grandmother’s brain.” Albert said as tactfully as possible.

“That’s Nana’s brain?” The older child, Marcus, his white shirt already stained in three spots, balked at it.

“Ew! Why did Nana keep a brain around!” Stacy clung to the trim of her pink skirt and recoiled.

“No honey, that brain was in her head.” Albert tried to explain it gently.

“Dad, could we maybe…”

“No it wasn’t.”

“You have a brain right, sweetheart? And I have a brain?” Stacy nodded. 

“Dad.”

“What? I’m just trying to explain it.” Albert knelt next to Stacy. “You see, when your Nana passed on they took her brain out of her skull to do some studies on it, and then they gave it to me, so I could have a little piece of her here on earth.” Stacy screwed her face into a ball.

“Doesn’t she need her brain in heaven?”

Marcus piped in quickly, “Nana didn’t go to heaven.” He sneered. “She went to that place with double hockey sticks. That’s what Aunt Martha says.”

“Marcus!” Annie finally piped in. “Will both of you go play in the backyard for a few minutes.”

“Mom I’m not done looking at the brain!”

“You can see it later, Stacy, I need to speak to your grandfather.”

The children disappeared from the room, the warmth and the sunlight went with them.

“Am I in trouble?” Albert hunched his shoulders again, a life long pose he took comfort in.

“Dad what is… how did you end up with this? Why would you keep Mom’s brain?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t want the damn thing… They were going to throw it away.”

“What?”

“They said they were going to throw it out with all the other medical waste.”

“So you kept it.”

Albert ran a hand through is thin gray hair. “I guess.”

“This is weird.” Annie took a step toward the brain curiosity overcoming her wariness.

“I know.”

“Well could you put it somewhere the kids won’t see it?”

“They already saw it.” Annie turned toward her father. He had never been a weirdo, just a quiet, introverted, curmudgeon. A lovable one, but still a curmudgeon none-the-less. To keep a brain on the mantle was so unlike him, but grief was a powerful thing. It could unhinge a person.

Albert exhaled and stared at the carpet his hunched shoulders like big gray orbs in his sweater. Annie turned back to the gray mass on the mantle. 

“Kind of big isn’t it?” She ran a single finger over the brass plaque on the jar.

“Helen was smart.” Albert shrugged and tore his gaze away from the carpet. He watched her then, his oldest daughter, thirty-three and the spitting image of Helen when she was that age. Though Helen was still teaching and she had three kids by then. Their two sons took after Albert, but Annie, she was Helen through and through. He tried to picture Helen after her mother died, staring at the yellow urn on that same fireplace mantel. It was so many years ago, but it came back to him in a single snapshot. Her hair curled behind her ear, her eyes red from crying, Albert’s hanky balled up in her left hand, she was the picture of youth then, even in her most trying times, she was always an infallible beauty.

“Hey Mom,” Annie stroked a finger along the glass and in that moment Albert saw the brain give Annie an almost imperceptible nod.

 

C. L. Brenton

Albert and the Brain - Part 1

I'm working on a few short stories now, slightly longer form than what I've been doing, but an important form to master. Albert and the Brain will be a three (or four) part series over the coming weeks. I hope you enjoy it!


When Albert watched it float in that tepid syrupy liquid, it just looked like a brain. How anyone’s entire life could fit inside of it, Albert did not know. Her memories were flighty bits of smoke, her ideas lightening bolts, her smile just a wave of warmth. How could all of her fit inside of any one thing? Let alone that ugly grey jello mold.

He stared at it for a while, the brain. It was suspended behind thick glass, above a small plaque that emblazoned the words Helen Gurgich. He winced at the name. Why did she ever stoop so low and take his? Helen Copeland sounded so much better, but she'd insisted, and Helen always got her way.

"Mr. Gurgich." A man in a speckled lab coat jolted him back to the sterile white room. Albert had forgotten the man was even there staring at him through thin rimmed glasses, wearing what looked like broccoli soup splattered on his wrinkled white lab coat. Albert peered at the name tag on his chest. Associate, it read. What kind of damn name was that? Associate.

"Would you like to take it, erm,” He coughed awkwardly, “her with you?

"For what?" Albert shrugged. His gruff nature had always been off-putting to Helen, and had only gotten worse during her five year decline. Albert liked the feeling of it, to be brusque like a rusty toothed edge. He fell into it so easily.

"Some people like the company." The tech said and shrugged as well, though his shrug wasn’t nearly as gruff as Albert’s.

"It's a brain."

"So you don't want it then?"

"No." They both stared at the floating gray blob, Albert stared rather disgustedly, the tech rather scientifically. The latter pulled the jar toward him and unscrewed the large metal top with both hands. "What’ll you do with it?" 

The tech stepped on the foot lever of an orange medical waste can by the table, and watched the lid flap open.

"We usually just dump them with the rest of the medical waste."

"You throw her away?" Associate stared into the trashcan, trying to count the hours he would have to endure before he ate lunch, trying not to count the number of other appointments he had with other bereaved loved ones, as he gave them a simple impossible choice. Brain or no brain. When he was hired for this job, he was told he would be a scientist. He would have a lab coat and a name tag. They didn’t tell him his lab coat and name tag would be shared with three other lab guys depending on the hour. He pursed his lips. 

"I see how it is.” Albert gripped the flat metal table. “You just throw other people's brains in the trash."

“Well do you want to take it?" the lab tech lowered the lever of the trash can slowly.

“I guess I have to.” Albert hunched his shoulders deeper. He could hear Helen’s voice screaming in his ear. You let him just throw my brain away? He recoiled at the thought. "I don't know what I'm going to do with it, but I'll take it.”

"I'll bag it up for you," Associate said and screwed the lid of the jar back on nice and tight. Then he collected a large white paper bag emblazoned with the words Apex Laboratories and placed the jar inside.

"What do most people do with them? The brains?" Albert asked as the tech pushed the bagged brain toward him.

"I don't know exactly.” The tech never knew what people did with them after they walked out the door with their brains. Tossed them in the ocean? That’s what he would probably do. “My mother's ashes are on my fireplace mantle. That's a nice spot…"

Albert nodded and pulled the brain bag off the table.

“Alright." He said feeling the heft of the brain pulling his arm toward the ground.

“Alright" Mr. Associate forced a smile and snapped off his latex gloves. "Have a nice day Mr. Gurgich."

Albert Gurgich pushed open the door and into the sunlight. He tipped his hat forward and squinted. Where is that giddamn car? 

His sixty-seven Chevy, now dull and covered with dust sat right where he left it in the blue lined handicap spot. It had been years since he'd driven it, but he was pleased to find that morning that it ran like a dream. He plopped the brain's bag in the front seat and eased himself behind the wheel. The leather of his bucket seat was cracked in perfect alignment with his behind, and it fit like an old baseball glove. 

Helen would have been wanted this, he thought as he looked at the bag, to be rescued from the trash, right? Though he couldn’t imagine what she would say if his floating brain jar was offered to her if he died first. She would have thrown his brain out in a heartbeat.

He leaned over the center console and peered in the bag staring again at his wife’s unholy vessel, then he reached across the car and yanked the ratty old seat belt around the jar.

How to Force Innovation (Hint, don't force it!)

This is a piece I wrote a while ago for Newsaratti (which by the way shut down, yeah, sucks, I know!) This is still incredibly true and useful for all professions. I'm posting it here mostly to remind myself how to restart when I get stuck, but also because it might help someone else out there too!


Innovation and creativity are the two most valuable things in business and in life. We are constantly solving problems, constantly trying to make our brains pound out new solutions for our changing lives. 

So what happens when you get stuck? When a problem is staring you in the face and you can’t get over the hump. How do you force your brain to be creative? How do you get unstuck, and find a perfect solution?

Look at it upside down.

Or inside out, or backwards. Artists and photographers have known this trick for centuries. When you’ve been staring at one thing for two long it gets muddled in your brain. You can’t even tell if it works anymore, let alone if it’s good. When an artist turns his painting upside down, he can see the relationship between shadows and light, he can see the abstract forms and colors, rather than just a bunch of water lilies on a pond. Find a way to turn your project upside down. Whether you follow your steps from Z to A,  look at it from the consumers perspective, or read each sentence of your proposal from end to beginning, you must change your viewpoint entirely. There, you might find the answer your looking for.

Talk it through with someone outside your group

Laymen are great at helping figure out solutions to problems, and not because they have great ideas. When you explain your problem to someone else two things happen: one, you have to explain your project from start to finish in a way anyone can understand, and two, they ask questions. These two processes combined are incredibly helpful in jump starting creativity. Often times just by explaining the problem to someone outside of your work group, you discover where you went wrong. Maybe you veered off track somewhere, or need to push further in one area, or had an original idea that you never tested and you’re only now remembering it. The layman’s fresh take on your problem could dislodge the mental block you’ve had all along

Input equals output

    Great artists look at a lot of art, great writers read, great inventors study other inventions. The more you look at what other people in your industry are doing the more your brain might say that’s cool, but what if…? No idea is entirely unique. Each invention, each theory, and each innovation is built upon years of good ideas before it. Why disregard everything your competitors are doing when you could just build on it. From store front design, to touch screen technology, to great art, people have built on the innovations of those before. That’s what they’re there for.

Do it at the same time everyday

In his book “On Writing” Steven King talks about training your muse to show up at the same time everyday. He’s not talking about a little sprite that shows up and fills your head with magic,(though he might as well be). He’s saying that your brain is a muscle, and when you train it to be creative, it will be. When you’re creative at the same time of day, everyday, your brain knows when to work, it kicks into action and pumps out ideas. Whether you’re a nighttime innovator, or a morning creator, find a routine and stick to it. The results are powerful.

Do something else

Read a book, listen to a podcast, go to an art museum, color in a coloring book. Do anything that lets your brain run in the background. Ever heard of the shower principle? Your best ideas are prone to come when you’re not thinking about them i.e. In the shower. You have a powerful processor in that skull of yours, give it a while to run in the background while you look at something beautiful, or listen to something interesting. Sometimes those stimuli will spark something you hadn’t thought about before and the answer will come.

In the end innovation isn’t something that can be forced, only nurtured. Pounding your head against the same desk isn’t going to do anything for you. Step back, change course, and get your brain thinking about something new.

 

C. L. Brenton

A Perfect Morning

Another week of hard work and butterflies gone, and I am still immersed in an epic hack up of my novel. It is painful and overwhelming and inspiring and exhausting, but it is worth it, and in the end it will be wonderful.

Enjoy


We live in Stoker’s castle. We are dim and it is colder than we expected. Like a tomb or that place where they heap dead bodies and innocuously call a freezer.

I don’t want to spend another minute in there but he likes the sound of it. He thinks the dripping is evocative and strange, the architecture ornate and gothic, the floor tiles laid perfectly for such an early 13th century extravagance. 

I stare through the barred window and try to convince myself this isn’t a dungeon and this isn’t our tomb. 

I thirst for Sunday mornings, I crave the bouyance of a Wednesday afternoon. I want silence and exuberance, solitude and company, a flood of ideas and a quiet mind. I am a thousand scientific notions - Entropy, chaos, decay, dichotomy.

Sometimes before he wakes up, I sit outside and soak in the morning. The dog flops in the grass, his nose twitching, delighted at the intricate smells of a quiet day. The birds are all a titter, chittering graceful unglorified tunes without reason. Singing made up songs just to sing. Just for the joyful noise of it. 

He wakes and speaks as if nothing matters but the stench of his own words. 

Then it’s too hot, the dog licks his asshole uncomfortably, the skin on my forearms seethes as if they’re on fire. The birds squawk uncontrollably and I imagine our yard as a hellish paradise with no escape. A secret garden drowning in flame.

I think about that as I shiver, and watch him stare at the buttresses flying overhead. He and I are cowards stuck in the middle of the beginning of the end. The scars become us, don’t they? Like tiny little bandaids polka-dotting our cancered skin. 

This way.

He pulls me down another hallway away from the group. Ancient suits of armor are held up by god-knows-what and it’s all I can do not to poke them and see if they’ll just fall down. I follow him to a tapestry beyond a series of stanchions barely barricading the path.

Where?

I whisper, but I don’t really care. I’m just glad to get away from the stink of farts and belly burps that is a group tour in Europe. I walk past the same stone bricks we’ve stared at all morning and I wonder if scar tissue could ever get cancer. If in the end, maybe all we are is a mottled ball of them.

When he turns to me, I see it in his eyes. Then I taste it on his lips. And somehow, the hellfire and the frigid halls become one entire life. Somehow, as my heart beat slows, the stone brick hallway folds into our kiss. All of it lingers, and then slips away like a morning.

 

C. L. Brenton

How to write a story (Five simple, no brainer tips)

As I go to author talks, seminars and tutor writing at my local high school, I am amassing a wealth of very simple, boiled down tips for story writing that I wish someone had taught me when I first started. Whether you're considering writing a memoir at the end of your life, or you're starting your storied journey at the beginning, I hope these tips help you as they have informed my own process.

Exploring Emotional Honesty

Think about the most emotional experiences in your life: children are born, people die, you get mugged, robbed, raped, your house burns down. Now I don't blame you if you don't want to write about those experiences, but you would be missing out if you didn't use them.

People love reality shows for a reason. They love loooking into other people's lives and imagining how they live. Have you ever been sucked into someone's facebook feed you barely know, or become fascinated with the comings and goings of your mysterious neighbor? Humans are intensely curious about other humans, and your life experience is unique from any one else's. That is what you're selling. These are the meaty emotions you have to farm. The more honest you can be about your own emotional life, the more engaging your story will be. Period.

Just Write it

Write your story as fast as you can. No one said you have to write it in order (though I wrote a novel out of order once and it was a huge pain to piece together later.)  Write about your emotional moments, write about a specific moment and twist it slightly to make it more interesting. Maybe in your emotional birth story your baby comes out as an alien instead. How would that change that emotional story? Whether you're writing westerns or scifi, romance or upmarket fic, honesty sells. Remember, honesty does not necessarily mean accuracy. You can be honest without being truthful.

Be the Reader

As you write, pretend you're reading the story instead of writing it. What do you the reader expect to happen? What do you want to happen? Let that inform you as you go. Chances are, you've been subconciously dropping hints along the way, and you don't want to disappoint the reader once you have them flipping pages to see what happens next. Remember the cardinal rule of story telling: Don't show the gun in the first act if you don't plan to use it in the third.

When (not if) you get stuck, ask yourself two questions: What does my character want? And how is this going to end? Both questions can help drive the story forward, and help you make better decisions.

Plot is Just a Game

There's this game I used to play on long road trips called Fortunately/Unfortunately. One player starts a story with a plot item - once upon a time there was a polar bear. The next person starts the next sentence with the word unfortunately. (Unfortunately he was very fat.) The next person starts with the word fortunately. (Fortunately all the ladies loved a fat polar bear.) And on and on until you reach a conclusion. Usually you'll want to determine the number of sentences you'll write before you come to a conclusion so your story doesn't trail on forever.

If you play this game with yourself and your own storyline, you'll have a pretty good plot outline to start with. Your character will struggle through adversity, get little wins, and come out a hero.

Talent = Practice/Time

Your first story won't be amazing, nor will your second, and nor will your third. If you're at all concious, you'll realize this. This will disappoint you. Good. Be disappointed. It will push you forward.

Keep writing, and keep editing your work (more on editing soon). One day (with practice) you'll be a better writer, and that version of you can go through all your unpublished work and edit (or rewrite) the concepts you love into something new. 

Writing is learning and growth, and above all it's a journey. Having a finished book is not as satisfying as the work that goes into writing every single day. There is always another book to write, and the next one, we always promise ourselves, will be better.

 

P.S. It usually is.

When Instructed

When I was at Jury Duty last week I ate lunch in the beautiful gardens behind the Walt Disney Concert Hall. A young couple was having their wedding photographs taken there, and I sketched their portrait in words. Enjoy!


Mirthless and faceless they only touch when instructed. Her nails are still wet, his tuxedo is too new it itches. Her long white dress must be carried along side her as if she were surrounded by and floating in a white puffy cloud.

Dad videotapes the whole affair on an old camcorder. He wants to remember every piece of today, from the way the blue fountain shoots out sunlight instead of water, how his wife holds the bouquet of pink haphazardly as if she were an incompetent hand maiden, a bored complacent intern.

They think they have resigned to nothing but they have resigned to everything. The photographer babbles on in Chinese. He places her creamy hands around his bronzed neck, and they don’t smile. He doesn’t touch her unless instructed.

The photographer poses her fingers one by one. This is true love, he thinks, fingers like this, neck like this, now tilt your head and smile. Smile at him. He presses a chipped nail, he moves dad filming a flower by the root of a tree out of the shot.

Click click click.

Instinct takes over when a silky white petal falls in her hair and he delicately removes it. The light shifts, a breeze presses the long spines of branches out of the way, and ruffles the poised leaves. 

The photographer corrals the bride and groom, this way, this way. 

Mom places the bouquet back in her daughter’s hands and scoops up the folds of her dress exposing her cherry blossom legs that blend right in with her small shoes.

They are mirthless and robotic. They don’t smile unless instructed, move unless instructed, laugh, bend, fight, lust unless instructed. They don’t hold hands, yet they move carefully.

We have to return that suit in good shape 

You have to have that dress for the rest of your life.

Dad films the way the light reflects off an impossibly tall glass building, he films the leather ruffle on her unscuffed shoes, he films mom bundling up the folds of her dress, the fountain again, the way it shoots out sunlight instead of water. They are eerily silent, eerily somber for such a beautiful day, a beautiful time, and a beautiful place.

The photographer runs up ahead and captures the nothing of this moment. They will treasure it forever, it will hang in the tapestry of their lives for eternity. Sometimes she will wish to go back there, sometimes he will wish it never happened at all.

Her pearls catch on something, a zipper maybe, a button, they pause. Mom lets the white fluff of her dress pour back to the ground and she delicately unhooks them and presses the pearls back to her neck.

Click click click.

Dainty elegant fingers scoop up the folds of her dress, and they walk along again as if she were floating in and surrounded by a cloud.

The awe of a white gown and a black tux follows them through the expanse of quaffed gardens.

Behind them, laughter fills the void in their wake. Families wander through with their own cameras, their own love, their own mirth, and they touch each other whether they’re instructed to or not.

 

C. L. Brenton

I do. I do.

I am beginning to understand my path as a writer, and what I want my work to stand for. I am perpetually searching for humanity in all things, farming emotional nuggets from moments and memories distant and near. 

I wish I could say where each piece draws its inspiration, but the answer is a lot of places. My work is not autobiographical but "patho-biographical." It pinpoints, perhaps, an emotional pulse in a lifetime of relationships, reading, and understanding.

I am grateful to have an outlet for weekly expression that I can share, and you can read. The rest of my life is spent toiling away on novels, such an internal endeavor, it's hard to mark my progress in any meaningful way. The work itself is satisfying, but there is no immediate response.

I hope you enjoy my meanderings, I certainly enjoy pulling words out of my journal each week to share them with you.


I do. I do.

 

I do not care about pressed napkins, dusted pianos or three course meals. But you do, so I do. You do not care about harmonies, staccato rhythm, or poetry. But I do. I do.

You cannot say a million things and I cannot say a million more. We tiptoe across each other like lovers in the nighttime. Like poets uttering only innuendo, only metaphor. But we are not lovers and we are not poets.

I was born of you and you were born of me. An umbilical cord stretches across states and time zones connecting two bodies, each puppets puppeteered by the other.

I do not care about quilted toilet paper, matching upholstery or crystal stemware, but you do, so I do. You don’t care about lines on a canvas, the difference between dawn and dusk, or cheeseburgers that taste even better when you eat them in the car. But I do. I do.

You are a frustrating reminder that you can’t love exactly everything about any one person. You have to pick what you love. Discard the rest. Even though your daggers are sharper than the rest. Even though they stay with me like a cloud of gnats, biting over and over until I get used to their perpetual sting.

You are the crate and barrel to my thrift store cacophony, you are the dust free, grout-less tile, matching pillow case nightmare to my rug-free, scratched paint, sweaty dream.

What do you want but for the rest of us to be like you? What do you want but for the mess to stay outside, and the dreams to stay gray and in bed where they belong? 

We are led leveled and hard boned and different. We are different but on a spectrum from A to Zed, from high to lowest of low we are the same. We are from the same street corner. Literally. We read the same books, we dated the same man, we loved the same movies, we cried the same tears.

We grew up together, even if I’m not entirely sure I know what that means. Now, there are not enough seats on your prim couch for one more me, and there is not enough wild in my world for one more you.

I sink back into pillows and you perch on a thin wire frame. And because you care about pressed napkins and euro shams and curtains that close, I do. I do.

If I Had

Forget love, it’s lust that I’m after. Forget Time. I always forget time anyways. If I had one million threads they still wouldn’t fill up the internet, If I had the right nose, I still wouldn’t be on TV.

We are five people, maybe eight on a good day, engrossed by market creation, consumed by consumerism. 

I love expensive things, because they’re the best.

Capitalist bitch.

It’s as if the internet and feminism and fingertip knowledge never came about. It’s as if coach bags and freedom fighters carry the same things: chapstick, pocketbooks, doctrine, change. 

The pining is a constant circus praised in the sanctuary of Pinterest and television. We are like broken pottery, each commercial a decisive crunch on our brittle integrity. Each dollar we spend a boon to our personal economy — feed your ego price-tags and receipts. Show everyone you have the very best. Body, car, judgement, happiness, children, life. All of it. 

Picture consumerism and selfishness swinging on vines through the jungle trees. 

Picture a department store christmas in a fire ravaged wood. 

Picture your Merceratti Z plowing through the barren monstrosity of an Antarctic plain.

You can’t, can you?

Now picture a fly so small that you only notice it by its elongating shadow, by its rippling wake in the water, by the sound of it knocking against the window glass.

Let me out. 

Let. Me. Out.

When you say you want to move, change, have, better, remember you are speaking with the voice of humanity who has wanted and wanted for centuries. You are not different, and that’s okay. But after all those years of pining and pining for eons for more, why can’t we just stop? 

Can you believe what the Jones’s spent on their pizza oven? 

George just got a raise.

It’s as if money is to be equally envied and scorned. We are blips in a campaign of humanity vs. humanity. Fighting the war between the haves and have nots, between poor and power. But we are all have-nots. We are all poor and powerless. So we all strive for more.

Now you have to figure out if all those years on earth added up to something. If the days of toiling for the capitalist green, fighting your way through the tiers of tyrannical bureaucracy are worth an entire life. Is it happiness that you’re after? Satisfaction? To quash the terrifying thought that maybe it means nothing and you’ve wasted god knows how many years? Go ahead, count. I’ll wait.

If it’s mundanity that you’re after, boy you’ve found it. If it’s depression that you dabble in, join the club. It’s the terrifying truth - life just goes on and on and on. An endless purgatory of parallel disillusionment. Individual toils paired with individual toils, alongside brief and momentary bliss. We hurry past it, eager, so eager to get to the next one day…

It goes by so quickly, and snakes by so slowly. So we fill it with desire to feel important, to feel famous. Your love is not better than mine or his or hers. Your facebook posts quantify nothing. The zeitgeist is a moving target of impossibility.

And though I strive for these things they're not what I'm after, because deep down I know that if I had a million threads I still couldn’t fill up the internet. If I had a bigger kitchen I still wouldn’t be a better mom. If I did a thousand selfless acts, I still couldn’t be Oprah. And if I had the right nose, I still wouldn’t be on tv.

 

 

How The Drunks Ruined Christmas (My Heart is a Battlefield)

My Uncle suggested I write a poem called "How the Drunks Ruined Christmas." In honor of his surgery this past week and everything my family went through this Christmas, here it is. Enjoy.


How The Drunks Ruined Christmas (My Heart is a Battlefield)

My heart is a battlefield when it comes to you. Do you know how many times I’ve thought that? We are at war, but there are no medics, no geneva convention and no treaties. Every hit is below the belt.

Trees curl into nighttime as the sun winks into a magenta moon. It rises above the mangled treetops, icy branches so entwined, yet never touching. So wrapped up but never cozy. Holly clings to our front door. The snow is our fresh new beginning and everything’s beautiful. Until.

Deck the halls and tear down the holly. Fa-la-la-la-la and a bottle of rum.

Ornaments crack, one by one, like bubble wrap in your fist. Clouds of glittered glass spread like angel dust across the floor. And though this may not be the beginning, I am sure it’s not the end. There are scars I can not leave behind. There are holes in this house that we can not fix. 

There is only me standing my ground by the fireplace, and our girls packing god knows what in their suitcases upstairs - ten barbies, three lollipops, one little mermaid costume. All necessities for a life without you.

I’m calling this the last time. You lash out and there is no medicine but no medicine. There is no ice cold shower way out of this. 

Mouths gape with screams so high only the dogs can hear. Feety pajamas double as clothes and we pile into a dark, cold car. There is no saving the presents, the pie, or us. There is only the feeling of thumbs on the soft part of my neck. The smell of your breath. The taste of your words.

No sirens squeal in our direction. No one will save us tonight. Bits of shattered glass cling to my hair. A dog barks. The wind howls. Blood splotches our footprints in the perfect white snow. Your shadow fills the front door. And my heart is a battlefield. 

My love fights a war that it doesn’t want to win.

My love is like a tangerine

This past week has been a whirlwind of old friends and writing. Lots of writing. I'm happy to present a recent piece written in the midst of it all. Enjoy!

It has come to my attention, that the sixth letter of the alphabet is missing on mobile devices as well as some browsers. I can't seem to fix the problem. Just know, for now, that I know how to spell. Sorry!

______________________

My love is like a tangerine. That pucker faced sour and sweet, ripped from the tree, the darkest orange you’ll ever know. 

We are tied like the braid in a horses tail, platted like his mane. Our sandals kick up manure and the heat is waves of glass radiating from the ground. I sip my beer and look at you. A perpetual flora to my grizzled fauna. A sunbeam in brunette.

The dust clogs up my lungs and the smell my nose, and when you grab my hand the taste of it fills my mouth. You pull me along windy trails, I pull you toward the ocean. We are the amber bubbles in my beer, constantly following one another up.

I look up and I think, you must be the sky that’s blue, and I’m the cloud that’s gray. Some people think the cloud makes the sky more beautiful, but not everyone does. 

You sip from my aching beer, and I sip from you. I am the sweet sting of tangerine on your lips and you are the yeast on my tongue. I tell you about the sky and the clouds. I tell you that not everything makes the sky more beautiful. Planes don’t, I say. Cars. Satellites. But clouds. They do.

We are the bow that hangs over the altar. You are the flowers, and I am the leaves. Some people think the green makes the flowers more beautiful, but not everyone does.

You are the twisted knobs of a tree and I am the breeze. You are the creamy expanse of field, and I am the gnarled fence, snaking its way through. You are the rain dripping down the window, and I am the shower steam condensing on the walls. I am the sweet sting of beer on your lips, and you, my love, you are the fizz of tangerine on my tongue.

Bison

I just returned from an epic road trip across the Utah, Colorado, and Arizona. I spent a lot of time in the Minnesota snow (or melting snow) and now I'm back, in beautiful, sunny california, going through everything I wrote out there on the road.

This is one piece I sort of love. Inspired by Southern Utah.

Bison

We're chasing winter and in a day we're caught between summer and snow. It's just a brown assemblage of dots on a skyline. Mundanity bleeding into more mundanity. Rock, river, flora, and fauna all blended on the same palate until each is a murky brown.

Not that it’s not beautiful, it’s beautiful. It’s the sort of beautiful that doesn’t stop because it’s cold, the sort of beautiful that doesn’t fade with age. It’s beauty in change, in sunsets, and old growth, and rainstorms and clouds that sweep across the night sky as if they’re cleaning it. Just doing some routine maintenance ma’am, just dusting the atmosphere.

Change is growth and death and life. I changed you for years but there was no beauty in it. Not like the birth of a million tiny grasses after the first snow melt, not like the way a trickle becomes a river and wedges itself into the heart of a canyon. Pressing deeper and deeper until there is no way in or out. Change is just like love that way, it’s neither optional, nor mandatory.

Sheets of ice skate down a gray river, and I’m more home than I ever was with you. Four wheels pester the road, grasping at nothing on slick smooth glass. We wobble and skid, but the road is straight and empty and we are fine. 

Hawks sidle up to fence posts. Crows gawk and flap down the long stretch of asphalt that divides two farms who’s beginnings and ends are not clearly defined on a map. A cow stops in the middle of the road, two hooves planted on either side of the yellow line, and I wonder if he too is not clearly defined. Standing between two things, two fences, two lives. Stuck in Americana like the rest of us fighting few. He’s all black and I wonder if that means something, until I see the graceful curve of his horns and realize he’s a bison and all my metaphors take off into the nothing of air, into the miles of space between us and another human, into the expanse of highway that hasn’t seen another car in days.

C. L. Brenton

6 Ways to Motivate Yourself When You're Feeling Unmotivated

Writing is fun. That’s why I do this right? Because it’s fun. The joy gets me through all the revisions, the tough starts, the long, laborious, complicated endings. Sometimes I get stuck, sometimes I get lost along the way, sometimes I get overwhelmed and I feel compelled to plan instead of write, to get lost in google search queries - what does it feel like to freeze to death? Drown? How to survive an airplane crash? And whats that phrase again? Something about horses…? All research for future books I promise myself, all the product of an over active daydream.

Then what happens when you get rejected, or turned down. It happens to everyone but how do you rehabilitate your sensitive little brain. How do you pick yourself up, power through the shit and get back to work? As artists, and humans, we’re in a constant battle with ourselves. We’re constantly trying to make our brains want to do things it doesn’t want to do. Math homework, going to the gym, doing the dishes. How do you motivate yourself to do the big stuff, the stuff you need to do to accomplish your Big Goals?

I hate to write a list, and I hate even more to title this post “6 ways to motivate yourself when you're feeling unmotivated” - but consider it an homage to my latest project with Girl Meets Strong and consider it also entirely glib.

1. A little bit today is a lot tomorrow

My daily writing goal is 2,000 words. It’s not that much and usually takes me about two hours. That means if I want to write a 100,000 word book it will take me fifty days. A few months of editing and wham, bam, thank you ma’am I am done! 

It’s never that easy, of course, but the concept is that simple. Work on something a little bit everyday, and eventually it will be done. I just saw a banjo player last night who built his banjo over the course of two thousand hours and twenty five years. It’s gorgeous, plays beautifully, and is a huge source of pride for him. Can you imagine working twenty five years on a single project? Me neither. But the concept is the same. Work every day, and you’ll be surprised at how quickly you amass words, or paintings, or talent.

2. Don a super hero costume.

So you want to be a writer, an artist, an entrepreneur, a better secretary, draftsman, barista, or astronaut. What does that person wear? It can be cliche if you want, a beret, a suit with a red tie, glasses and a tight bun — but imagine it anyway. When you picture yourself as the best blank that ever lived, what are you wearing? What about when you accept your award for greatest barista ever? Come on, you’ve imagined it. When you’re a guest on Oprah (it’s okay, in your fantasy she can still have a show) what do you look like?

Now wear it. When you’re feeling unmotivated or uninspired put on your costume. Hell wear it even when you are inspired, I don’t care! Bam, you’re an artist. Pow, you’re an entrepreneur. See? It’s just that easy to become an astronaut. So a costume isn’t everything, but it’s a great way to trick your brain, to reinvigorate your dream, to entice excitement back into your world. For me it’s a gray hat and glasses, neither of which I need sitting in my dark office with 20/15 vision. See how long those eagle eyes last me wearing prescription readers and staring at a screen in the dark all day, but they make me feel like a writer damnit. And sometimes that’s just what I need.

3. Power cards

Okay so this is the most hokum new age mumby jumby I get. You can buy this amazing deck of cards on amazon with really great mantras on each. This is not your grandma’s famous quote book, these are deeply insightful powerful phrases that work. Everything I touch is a success. I release all criticism. Even as I write the phrases I can feel the stress melt off me, my breathing get easier. I am deeply fulfilled by all that I do. Ahhhhhhh.

I have four of the sixty-four cards propped up on my desk as I work, and they help. They really do. When they stop filling me with a sense of calm, I change them out. There are some that focus on relationships, family, and body image. Whatever you want to work on as a human in that moment, the cards will help. You can hang them in your bedroom, on your mirror, put them in your desk drawer at work, just make sure you really read them when you pass by. They'll reinvigorate your spirit. It's incredible.

4. You’ll be great. Eventually.

There are no overnight successes, and no child prodigies. There are only people who work very hard for a very long time. The great thing about that is, if you work very hard for a very long time, eventually, you’ll be great! The reality is, every second that you aren’t working, there is someone out there who is. They’re who you need to catch. They’re the ones to beat, that invisible jerk who’s working ten times harder than you. Go on. Run faster.

5. Do exactly what you want to do.

Bash all schedules, don’t look at any lists. Today you get to do exactly what you want to do. I used to think that schedules were the key to my success, and I still try to adhere to some - write every day at the same time, etc. But schedules aren’t everything. You are governed by this big gray mass sloshing around in your head, and this other red sinewy muscle thumping along in your chest. You have to take care of both in order to be successful. Follow your bliss for a day and see where it takes you. It might be just the break through you need.

6. Forgiveness.

You will miss a day. That’s okay. Something in your brain is telling you you need a break, you need to think about this longer, you need to take a walk, see a friend, tackle some things on your never ending real-life list. You’ll get back at it tomorrow, and the next day and the day after that. Forgiving yourself for one slip-up will make you more likely to come back tomorrow.

I once heard this great quote about success in a couple’s vows at a wedding. I wish I could attribute it to someone but here it is anyway:

If you want to succeed at a thing, you must jump in the water, swim as fast as you can, and slowly increase the speed.

Good luck!

C.

An Age For All Humans - First Pages

Remember last week when I said I couldn't remember the last time I was sick? Well, this week, I'm sick. Definitely jinxed that one, huh?

So in honor of Thanksgiving, and my feverish delirium, I proudly present the much anticipated first chapter of my book, An Age for All Humans. I hope you enjoy the sneak preview.

Parental Advisory: Explicit content

 

An Age For All Humans - Chapter One


They call Los Angeles a forty-five minute town, even though it usually takes an hour to get anywhere. It’s something people love to hate about Hollywood. During rush hour you could live five miles away from someone, and it would be faster to jog there than drive. But the sidewalks are all buckled and the smog coats your lungs and cars won’t stop at stop signs, so you’re pretty much signing your death wish. That’s what LA does, makes you sign away most of your life just to live there. 

In LA you can’t walk, and you can’t drive, and god help you if you try to bike someplace, so you get stuck. Stuck in a beige apartment with something someone defined as a balcony, but is really just a floor to ceiling window with a railing across it. Stuck in a relationship that sucks your life dry, stuck jobless, stuck passionless, stuck in the doldrums of poverty and boredom. 

The sun warmed my bare naval as I tipped back my plastic folding chair and propped my feet on the balcony railing. Oli stretched out on the floor next to me, his fuzzy white belly soaking up the spring sun. In LA, spring doesn’t mean anything, because it’s the same temperature all year round. It’s always warm, it’s always stucco, it’s always shiny, and it’s always plastic.

In LA you can disappear. If there’s one thing I like about the city, it’s that. There are so many people and so many cars that if you’re not famous then you’re anonymous. That’s why everyone’s trying so hard to get looked at, so someone will actually notice them for once. So someone might look up from their phones and think, oh my gosh is that… no wait… The up side is that no one notices if you stop at the liquor store for the second time that day to buy another handle of whiskey. And if you’re afraid they will, there’s another liquor store halfway down the next block. If not there, you’ve got the Vons, or the 711 or your neighbor down the hall. Maybe that’s one reason to really love LA, just for it’s plentiful whiskeyness.

My phone dinged, and I set down my handle of makers mark (I’d given up on glasses months ago) and picked my phone up off the spot on my belly.

Be home soon.

Oh great. Bobby’s coming home. I cap my whiskey and hide it in the bottom drawer of my dresser. Time to sober up. That was my life, drink all day, pretend I hadn’t all night. Bobby gets his share of drunk, but that’s usually after five. During the day, I’m on me time, and I get to do whatever I want.

My mom texts,

You coming up tonight?

Tomorrow. I text back

Okay. Play a word. 

I pull open words with friends and drunkenly spell out the word DRUNK. That’s ironic. Or was it? I wish Alanis Morriset had done a better job explaining irony in that song. I liked playing words with my mom, It wasn’t communication at its best, but it beat her calling me up every other day to make sure I’m still alive. And it was nice knowing that she’s still out there in the world too, like a pat on the back just to let me know she’s still there. I lay back on my bed and tried to form my next word.


“Babe?”

Oh, shit. Bobby. Did I fall asleep? 

“Hey.” I sat up sniffing myself maniacally to make sure I didn’t have any alcohol on my breath.

Bobby stepped into the room and kicked off his shoes.

“What are you doing?”

“Just changing, I’m about to go for a run.” I lied.

“Why don’t you change in front of me, nice and slow?” Bobby leaned over and kissed me on my neck, he made his way up to my chin, and then right before he hit my lips I turned away. 

“Bobby.”

“What?”

“I’m not in the mood.”

“Oh you’re never in the mood.” He took off his jacket and tossed it on the bed. “You smell like whiskey.”

“Yeah.” I said passively.

“Where is it?” I pointed to my bottom drawer..

He pulled out the bottle of makers mark and unscrewed the top.

“Want anymore?” I shook my head and flopped back on the bed. He took a swig and loosened his tie. “Cool.” Then he carried it into the other room like a trophy. All I heard was his ass flopping into our ikea futon, and the tv flick on. I closed my eyes again.


We hadn’t f***ed in over three months, though Bobby would probably say it’d been longer. I still counted that one time after Peter and Arielle’s wedding in January, but since neither of us finished, I can’t imagine he even remembered it. I got mine though every so often, I just wasn’t sure where, or if, he got his. I thought about giving him one last go before I left for a few weeks. My Oma (that’s grandma in german) just had heart surgery, and my mom had asked me if I would live with her and help her recover. Since quitting my job at Aster’s and the whole Ford commercial debacle, I was in no position to pay rent that month. Besides Bobby and I needed a break from each other. I planned on telling him that right before I got in my car and drove away. 

It was the cowards way out, and I knew it. But I don’t see any problem with being a coward. It’s called self preservation. Don’t run towards the bullets, run away. That’s the only way to survive in this world.


C. L. Brenton


Baby, I Was Born This Way

“I can’t remember the last time I had a cold,” I told my friend over dinner the other night.

She looked at me and cocked her head. “That’s because you haven’t been working.” 

But I have been, I have been working, I wanted to scream. Maybe if she had said “You work from home,” it wouldn’t have felt so snide, but she thinks writing means I don’t work at all. And that really bothers me.

Whether it’s painting, drawing, photography, or pottery, people tend to see making art as a leisurely activity. Something one does in their free time to unwind, to escape, to make Christmas gifts for their loved ones. Sure there are hobbyists who do just that, but the work you can buy, or see in a museum, or read on your kindle, has taken years of training and perfecting.

A fan once asked Picasso to draw him something on a paper napkin in a bar. Picasso whipped out his pen and quickly handed the patron a work of art. 

“Four hundred dollars.” Picasso demanded to his admirer's surprise.

“I just watched you make that. It only took you a minute.”

“No,” Picasso replied. “It took me twenty years.”

It’s so easy to see making art as a function of time. Sure, you think, If I had a few months, I could write a novel too. But the truth is, it’s not just one novel, it’s not two, it’s not even years of creative writing classes, reading great literature, or books on plot and grammar. The difference between a hobbyist and a professional is passion, pure and simple. It’s momentum so strong, it would be impossible for the artist to stop making art.

I have been a writer everyday since as long as I can remember. Just ask my mom how many times she had to stomp down the hall to my bedroom when I was in middle school, because I was obsessed with writing on my clunky typewriter. CLICK CLACK CLICKS filled the ears of my sleeping parents and sisters while I lived out my romantic notions of being a writer. 

These days, thanks to Apple, my typing is softer, my writing confined mostly to daylight hours, and my work less covered in whiteout. But the driving force is the same. I live to write, only recently have I begun to tell my friends and family who and what I really am.

After telling a friend about my experience admitting all this to people, he told me that mine was irrefutably a coming out story. When he came out as gay, he experienced all the same placations I did. It’s just a phase, or I wish it was easier for people like you, spread through both our stories like a virus. Though mine was peppered with writing is so therapeutic, isn’t it? and his had the inevitable isn’t there a pill for that?  the judgements were oddly similar. That we had made an undesirable choice, and society would frown upon it. But it’s not a choice. He can no more decide to like women, than I can decide to stop writing. To quote Lady Gaga, something I almost never do, Baby, I was born this way.

I waited, I kept it to myself because I didn’t want to risk derision in my fledgling years. I wanted to prove to myself that I was a writer before I was forced to prove it to anyone else. Now that I've finished a book that I'm proud of, that agents want to read, I’m confident that I am a writer.

It's taken years of hard work to get to this place. I know it will take years more before I'm where I want to be. I know that hard work and passion create talent and drive careers forward. And I know that nothing anyone could say, no matter how well-intentioned, or hurtful, or unsupportive could ever ever make me stop.

 

C. L. Brenton

Into The Woods

In college, whenever I was feeling overwhelmed or just despondent, I would go to the beach, turn off my brain, and then slowly restart. Some people might call this meditating, but I called it my reset button. I just went into nature all by myself, stared at the waves, and then moved forward. It helped me prioritize, helped me put things in perspective.

Now my reset button is a little different. My fiancé and I took up backpacking a few years ago and each successive jaunt into the wilderness resets my life in ways I can’t quite process until it’s over.

Backpacking breaks my life down to it’s core. Every decision is based on where we’ll find water, if we’ll be warm enough, have enough food, be able to sleep. I could spend thirty minutes trying to get a fire started in the rain because at that moment that's the only thing that I care about - Warmth. I perceive more in the woods, the light, the rain, the tracks of deer, coyote, bear. Everything we need is strapped to our backs. Life is survival, and there’s freedom in that. 

Coming home from four days in the wilderness is a relief but it’s also overwhelming. Suddenly water comes out of my kitchen faucet, and I have to unload the dishwasher. E-mails have piled up, people need favors, want me to respond, act, go out. Life avalanches in on us. Life is once again full of lists and tasks, brief conversations about what to do now that the cat is in heat, which insulation is best for our climate, googling solutions to every problem. 

I don’t feel shackled to life, exactly, but I can’t help but feel like hiking fifteen miles a day to find the nearest running creek was a simpler existence. Identifying bear prints, markings, and scat, before finally running across a bear on the trail was a more satisfying experience. Pushing my body towards something, water, miles, a camp site, felt pure. It was cold, sure. Yeah, it hailed on us, but huddled around a camp fire, drinking wine we’d lugged almost twenty miles, that’s the sort of accomplishment that modern life, in all it’s incredible luxuries, just can’t offer.

Here I can write. Here I can be creative, and spontaneous. As we speak a heater is warming my toes, I am simultaneously editing my book and ordering groceries via Instacart. Amazon packages are delivered to my doorstep, and twenty feet away, my phone is alerting me of their arrival. I am cleaner than I’ve been in days, my clothes don’t smell like smoke, and all things considered I’m at peace. The luxuries a twenty first century life affords lets me be a writer, lets me answer any whim of a question in a moment, gives me the freedom to read and the spare time to wonder. But it’s not everything. Being comfortable isn’t everything.

Sometimes you need to turn it all off, and just let your brain be primitive for a moment. When you only care about water, food and sleep, the lists, the people, the wants just disappear.

That’s why I go into the woods. To let my brain take a break. Let her sit back and just survive. Then slowly, like a sunrise, let her reboot into modernity.

 

C. L. Brenton

Readers vs. Writers

If you're anything like me, you have someone you're constantly writing for. Your first reader, your muse, the only person who truly understands you.

For me, that person is my fiancé. He has read everything I've written. He's laughed, he's cried, he's applauded my accomplishments, and taken apostrophes out of more it's than I care to mention. In the beginning it was hard for me to give him any of my work without meticulously pouring through it. I would make sure it was the best it could be so he would only be able to say this is great! Even though he never did (there are always improvements) nor would I truly want him to (because how else would I get any better) I still strove for perfection before handing any manuscript off. 

This is as it should be.

As I've become more comfortable with him reading my work, I've become looser about giving him work-in-progress pieces. I've been churning out so many stories in such a short time, that I'll rush a piece to him just so he can look at it before he goes to work. I depend so much on his opinion that I have come to believe that the faster I get his edits, the faster I'll be done with the story.

The opposite has proven to be true. 

When I get his opinion too early in my process his words get clogged up in mine. I can't see the piece I wrote anymore, I see the piece he wants me to write. I lose my vision, I get caught up in grammar, the spelling, the notes, I get lost along the way.

Writing is a solitary endeavor for a reason. A story can live in your head, boil over and over for years, and you won't know what it all means until you get it out on paper. Even then, it takes draft upon draft to notice the idiosyncrasies, the themes, the delicate undertones you're trying to express. The writer weaves, the reader unravels. 

If the work is not tight to begin with, the reader will pull at its loose threads and tear it apart.

When you hand a reader a manuscript and tell them to edit it, they always will. Even if it's Moby Dick, or The Bell Jar, or A Prodigal Summer. Hand a reader a novel that's bound and published, and say here's my story, chances are, they'll have nothing to say.

Opinions fly at the writer from all directions, and it's the writer's job to decide which ones to consider. Ultimately you have to be content with the piece before it's shared. If you bring another person in too soon, their opinions, good or bad, will hinder your process.

Be true to the story, and satisfy your own eye first. Tighten and rework until your story is perfect. Then and only then should your first reader be allowed to take a peek.

 

C. L. Brenton