Thrill Me: Essay’s on Fiction by Benjamin Percy

I’m undisciplined and lazy, and so long ago I decided I should learn to write by osmosis. I would read—voraciously as is my custom—books on craft, novels, short stories, essays, poetry and the secrets would fill the cracks and crevices of my mind and voila I would be a pro.

Since that day I’ve followed that course and discovered dozens of excellent books and have even absorbed some of the wisdom in them, but reading alone doesn’t do it. One needs to practice the craft, one needs feedback from others, and one needs to persist.

But being undisciplined is like believing you’ll win the lottery and is not often a route to success. I’m currently reading Benjamin Percy’s Thrill Me: Essays on Fiction I’m sure it’s the magic bullet I’ve been looking for, and if not it’s provided insights I haven’t consciously recognized before. I recommend it.

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Trump World

You buy a ticket, you board the bus, and then you discover that you’re on the wrong one. You thought you were going north, but you’re going south. This bus is headed for Trump World. You’d like to get off, but it’s too late, and so you sit back and try and relax, but it’s like reading a Stephen King story you know things are going to get worse.

You arrive in Trump World, and it doesn’t take long—I mean a day or two—and you see lies lining up to be told while contradictions are being served on cornflakes at the White House cafeteria, and conspiracy theories are flowing from the drinking fountains.

Dunning and Kruger are awarding certificates of merit to the White House staff. Raffles award cabinet positions to the highest bidder. And there are the Russians—they’re everywhere—chatting it up with the raffle winners and purchasing condos from the president’s family.

Now you’re back on a bus on our southern border, with Donald driving and honking the horn. Eric and Don Jr. are there shooting coyotes and other critters out the window. While Kelly Anne and Bannon are arguing in the back, Jared and Ivanka are back at the White House watching the store.

And Donald, thinking he’s a rock star, starts singing and the wheels on the bus go round and round, and the others join in, and the wheels go round and round followed by a chorus of lock her up lock her up. They’re laughing, and they’re singing “Ninety-nine bottles of beers on our wall. Ninety-nine bottles of beer. Take one down, pass it around, and Mexico pays for it, pays for it all!”

Donald takes out his phone. He’s tweeting again, and soon his pants are on fire, and the bus is filling with smoke. Flames are growing bigly. Donald pulls to the side of the road jumps out and panics for a moment when he realizes the only water to put out the fire is in the Rio Grande. On the other side of our wall. He jumps out and rolls around in the dirt till the flames die down, and again back on the bus driving, and he’s still tweeting—“just foiled a terrorist plot to destroy your president and America.” And now we’re on a roundabout, and all the exits are off cliffs.

The wheels go round and round, and Mexico pays.

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Four-Leaf Clover

He searched all afternoon for a four-leaf clover and finding it in a glimmer of late afternoon light ripped one leaf off leaving three and good luck for another day.

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Snow

The snow is falling again today, and the walks need shoveling, but summer is just months away and spring mere days. The temperature forecast is sufficient to turn frozen glittering solids to liquid, then vapor, then clouds that move to the east. My snow, that still needs shoveling, is somewhere else.

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Hammers and Stuff

This is a story about too much stuff. I thought to call it hoarding, but that's too disagreeable.

We can't find the hammer. It's not in its designated place, which means it is at the last place it was used or near there, or stolen by someone passing by. Not likely, but we don't have time to look for the hammer and it is needed now. It may be easier to buy another.

Now we have two hammers. Both are claw hammers, one with a hickory handle, the other a composite. The first hammer has been missing for some time and so we say it's lost. We look but don't find it. It's a mystery why we don't find it, stumble upon it, run across it. It's not in its designated spot. The second hammer, we say, has been misplaced.

We don't often use a hammer so it's not a big deal when we can't find either hammer—old hickory or the other—and eventually we buy a third hammer, not another claw but a ball peen that looked enticing on the rack .

This losing and replacing happens with other objects: spatulas and books—ordinary stuff, and so we have duplicates of many things, perhaps even most things.

We really should clean and organize, but instead we sit and accumulate. We're getting older and no longer have the energy we did when we were younger. And so we continue to accumulate. We don't call it hoarding because only crazy people hoard and someday, someone, will have to deal with it but probably not us.

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The Owl

We travelled north. The Great Gray Owl travelled south. With the snow too deep at home, he agreed to meet us halfway. He arrived weeks before us but passed as a stranger for a time.

We arrived in daylight, and though our sleeping patterns were at odds with his, we imagined his dreams of voles too few, and occasioned daylight raids were necessary for his survival.

We saw him, his back to us, in a cottonwood tree, resting, perhaps asleep. We longed for him to turn his face of gray and, with his giant yellow eyes, blink a hello, but most of all, we wanted to see the bow tie tucked beneath his beak and take his picture.

But valuing our own sleep and respecting his we made do with a photo of him, back turned, eyes closed; dreaming, waiting for the sound of dinner bells beneath the snow and the plunge he'd make.

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A Country Besieged

We live in a country besieged, my wife and I. We're stressed, we wake during the night, we're tired.

We watch the TV. People are marching in the streets while others complain about the marchers.

Our so-called president tells us we're in danger from the five million so-called immigrants, who all voted for a so-called nasty woman.

A so-called judge says there are more immigrants that want to come and we'll take them. The so-called president protests in an ungentlemanly way.

We hear alternative facts, and of a massacre in Bowling Green, Kentucky that has slipped history's recording.

My wife wants to turn off the TV, pack her belongings and go. I want the so-called president to pack his belongings and go.

But here we are, still at home, right in the middle of a country besieged.

Inspired by “In a House Besieged” by Lydia Davis

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