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Category: 5 Things

5 Things on Encounters

by a contributor

from Sean Pravica, author of A PSA About Love:

Everyone has had them: sudden encounters with memorable strangers. Here are five of my own personal favorites. A supporting character in my novel, Stumbling out the Stable, is based on one of these people.

  1. Blonde hair, blue eyes, spoke with a wistfulness that made every word froth over with existential longing. He worked for the Forest Service in Big Sur, a place heralded for its austere and largely unadulterated beauty. He stood in a wooden kiosk at a trailhead, slowly leafing through a National Geographic, surveying pictures of the world’s beauty.

  2. He wore a patchy red and blue jumpsuit. I saw him when I was a child. The first time was from my mother’s car as he stood at a stoplight holding what looked like a child wrapped in a blue blanket. The next day in the next town over, out to breakfast with my mother, I looked up and saw him again, his face nearly messianic in its calm. Now I saw the blue bundle he cradled in his arms was empty.

  3. Some forgettable backlot in downtown Los Angeles. A kind man ambled carefully to my car, in one hand a bucket and in the other a rag, which he held outstretched like a flag designating peace to an unpredictable alien. Two dollars to wash the windshield. I accepted and received some backstory per my request. Unemployed, used to be in construction, built Staples Center, its purple glow peeking over squat buildings behind us.

  4. She was not filling up her car but parked oddly in front of a pump. She was smoking a cigarette and had the window rolled down, so passing by her on the way to the register I asked her to put her cigarette out. She took offense, called my laptop case a purse, and we exchanged words. I paid for gas, and as I came back, she invited me to get in her car and sit with her. So I did. We talked about vague things, and she was friendly but aloof. She had some kind of alcohol in a water bottle that she offered me, telling me I could use it since I was being uptight. I declined. She was looking over a paper throwaway magazine that lists the latest local arrests, complete with mugshots. She called them “knuckleheads,” and betrayed a strange connection to them as she shook her head, a familiarity unspeakable but palpable. I asked her what she did and said she was an entrepreneur, but would not elaborate. I left, and we ended our conversation in peace, and that was much more than I could say for how things started.

  5. I lived in Big Sur for a little while myself. But I did not work in a kiosk, though my job booking room reservations was tremendously unsatisfying. I feeling guilty about the prospect of leaving only a few months after being hired when I happened to meet an older woman at a concert after-party. She was a psychotherapist and we talked about goals and ambition, things owed to others versus things owned to oneself. She had a generous laugh that signaled a deep satisfaction in her own life.

5 Six Word Stories

by a contributor

from Erik Doughty, author of  Moon Men:

  1. Missed bus.  Her too.  We walk.
  2. After prom, his corsage still boxed.
  3. Insurance claim: shoebox under bed.  Denied.
  4. “Love U2.”  “I love you!”  “Um.”
  5. We grew up, old, apart, overnight.

5 Episodes of the Twilight Zone You Need to Watch Right Now

by a contributor

from Alex Sobel, author of Home:

The Twilight Zone is my favorite television show. Created by Rod Serling, who not only gave the show its poetic narration, but also wrote 99 of the 156 episodes, The Twilight Zone was an anthology show that often mixed sci-fi or supernatural elements with well-developed characters, emotional depth, and biting social commentary. It’s a show that when I first saw it when I was little, immediately made me want to be a writer (somewhere I have notebooks with knock-off episodes that 10-year-old me wrote just in case they brought the show back to television). It’s a show that when I see it now, I feel my chest tighten with how much I love every second of it. It’s a show that when I find someone who hasn’t seen it, I immediately insist that they watch it. So with that, here are the episodes that I always start people off with. A list of some of my favorites that showcase the wide range of styles and themes the show was capable of, and will hopefully get those who are Twilight Zone-deficient hooked.

  1. “Walking Distance”
    Two things that people associate with The Twilight Zone are science fiction monsters and twist endings, but “Walking Distance” (in my opinion, the single greatest episode of the series) has neither of those. Just an interesting character who, in less than 30 minutes, is better developed than most shows are capable of in several full seasons of episodes. Martin is a worn out businessman who, when his car breaks down, decides to visit the town that he grew up in. When he gets there, he finds that he’s actually traveled back in time, his parents are still alive, and the town is exactly as it was when he was little. What follows is a reflection on the dangers of nostalgia, the pain that comes from a life of irreversible losses, and the emptiness that is adulthood: and how despite all that, life is still worth living.

  2. “The Obsolete Man”
    I once read that Rod Serling’s stories often showed how much love he had for people and for humanity as a whole. In no episode is this more present than in “The Obsolete Man.” Burgess Meredith, in one of his four appearances on the show (one of which is arguably the series’ most famous episode, “Time Enough at Last,” which aside from the gut-punch of a twist ending, isn’t really a standout) plays Romney Wordsworth, a librarian (how could he not be with that name?) who, in a totalitarian future, is put on trial for being an obsolete human, the sentence for which is death. The episode consists mostly of dialogue between Wordsworth and Fritz Weaver’s calculated Chancellor, and their verbal sparing reveals the depth of man’s search for meaning, for relevance, for purpose, and what it really means to be obsolete.

  3. “Nick of Time”
    Most people would lean toward William Shatner’s other Twilight Zone appearance, “Terror at 20,000” (another great episode that could have easily been on this list), but for me, “Nick of Time” is better. Shatner’s Don Carter is a superstitious man whose car breaks down (this show loves having broken down cars) on his honeymoon. When he and his new wife stop in a diner, Carter begins to get sucked into the power of the “mystic seer,” a small fortuneteller box that for a penny gives you a slip that appears to predict Carter’s future. The beauty of this episode comes from the ambiguity of whether or not the mystic seer is really revealing the future, or it’s all in Carter’s superstitious head. It forces him to ask the question: if we were able to know our future, would we really want to know?

  4. “Eye of the Beholder”
    It’s a bit of a standard choice, but I couldn’t leave this one out. As I mentioned above, The Twilight Zone is really well known for it’s twist ending, and “Eye of the Beholder” has one hell of a twist. Janet Tyler is a woman living in a totalitarian society (the show also loves its totalitarian societies) who has a face so hideous that, if this final operation doesn’t work, has to be shipped of to a special camp of “people just like her.” If you’re one of the few people who don’t know the ending, I won’t ruin it here, but I’d recommend watching it for yourself.

  5. “It’s a Good Life”
    Because The Twilight Zone is an anthology show, the appeal changes from episode-to-episode. Some have social commentary, some are great character studies, some are fun sci-fi romps, and others, like “It’s a Good Life,” are creepy as hell. Bill Mumy (who in the same year also starred in the episode “Bang! You’re Dead” of another great anthology show, Alfred Hitchcock Presents) plays Anthony Fremont, a young boy who has psychic abilities and uses them to terrorize the adults of his town. The episode is a great comment on how power shouldn’t be given to the irresponsible, but again, it’s really enjoyable because the kid is so damn creepy, turning people and animals into horrific creations or “sending them into the cornfield,” his term for killing them. This episode is also darkly funny, as the adults are forced to be uneasy around the child out of fear. There’s no real closure or twist ending in this one. Just a great episode of my favorite show of all time.

Five Things on Letters

by a contributor

from Jeff Burt, author of Tilting, Faces, and Fires That Burn, Fires That Do Not Burn:

  1. Postal home delivery began during the Civil War when a postmaster decided that mothers and fathers of Union soldiers should know when their sons had died and not have to wait to pick up the notice at the post office, to secure the intimate loss in the privacy of their own homes.  What can electrons convey compared to the height and breadth and length and weight of human sympathy in the dark ink in the ounces of a letter?

  2. I treasure hand-written lines from my grandmother, shaking penmanship in spare words in straight rows down the page, or my wife’s exultant whispers overflowing rows that lose their way much as a dreaming young farmer forgets the line of furrows and wanders off course across the field.

  3. I treasure the smudges of ballpoint ink left when a thought stalled, or the ink of the ribbon faded on the white-white paper my father used.

  4. I treasure the scented notes that my mother used, sympathies, questions, mirth and myth passing one to another with a touch of lilac or lavender.  Joy jumped and skipped across the page.  Sadness looped.

  5. When I slit open the top of the letter, the earnest desire to see what is inside, the thrill of an amateur biologist opening a first carcass or a botanist opening an unknown pod I express in that cut.  I take out the letter and give it air, let it breathe, give it back its life.

5 Recurring Themes I’ve Noticed after Two Decades of Recording My Dreams

by a contributor

from Susan L. Lin, author of Brief Spaces of Light:

  1. Words that are not words in real life. My subconscious loves making up words and proper names and convincing me they are perfectly acceptable for use. For example: “TFTBNT” (an alcoholic drink), “MULC” (a known acronym for My Unlucky Child—what that means, I don’t know), and “shinidying” (a metal device being sold for only 19 cents, according to a newspaper ad).

  2. Large, labyrinthine buildings.   I spend a great deal of time wandering around unfamiliar buildings in my dreams. These buildings are never the same, but they are always huge and populated by elaborate staircases, mysterious doors, and secret passageways. Excessively large bathrooms and elevator cars also make frequent appearances.

  3. The “evil hallway.”  Thankfully I no longer have these dreams, but when I was young, they were a staple. The dreams always involved a simple door at the end of a dark, ominous hallway. People in my life seemed to take turns living in the apartment behind that door. In the dreams, I referred to it as the “evil hallway.”

  4. Light switches that don’t work.  Light switches are never scarce, but they hardly ever work either. In one dream, I found a total of six different switches arranged in an odd circular pattern on the wall. Every single one was useless. I have come to the conclusion that perhaps I watch too many horror films. (But wait, there’s no such thing as too many horror films!)

  5. False memories, and that nagging, elusive feeling of déjà vu.  In a great number of my dreams, I will “recall” events from my childhood that absolutely never happened. The people involved actually existed, and the locations are accurate. But the memories are completely fabricated. And everything that happens in these dreams is always oddly familiar to me somehow, as if something similar has happened before, even though it never has. I find these dreams far more disturbing than even the series of murderous dreams I experienced during my nights of binge-watching Dexter.

Five Lies I Tell Myself Every Day

by a contributor

from Lena Gluck, author of When Asked Why there was Pain in the World, Minimum Wage, and Dalliance:

  1. I’m not going to die, ever. And even if I did for some unfathomable reason, it would be absolutely impossible for it to happen anytime soon. The same goes for anyone I’ve ever met.

  2. I am happiest in life when I am out in nature, at one with the earth. Certainly not when I am eating oversized sandwiches. That would disappoint anyone who ever viewed me highly.

  3. In the infinities of time and space, I’m significant. I’m sure someone saved my post on an internet forum two months ago and returns to it in their darkest moments of doubt.

  4. The reality that most of my thoughts have already been explored by countless other people is a good enough reason to procrastinate writing.

  5. I found the fountain of youth. It tastes like wet peaches and involves ignoring the calendar.

Five Reasons to Read “Billy Budd, Sailor” by Herman Melville

by a contributor

from Donna Vorreyer, author of this week’s Brief Encounter:

  1. Billy. Never has there been a more innocent and likable character undone by an antagonist’s bullying and one fatal flaw: his emotional stutter. Even teenage readers I’ve taught have felt sorry for him, and that’s saying a lot.

  2. Claggart. Evil and jealous and spiteful and vain and morally bankrupt and conflicted and multi-dimensional. But mostly evil, driven nearly mad by Billy’s goodness and attractiveness, both things he can never have.

  3. Melville’s tangents. If you are familiar with Moby Dick, you know these well. In Billy Budd, Sailor, we get an education in mutiny on British ships, the machinery and politics of war (including the contradiction of placing chaplains on warships), naval values, the beauty of old ships, Admiral Nelson’s victories at Trafalgar and in the Nile, and metaphorical ruminations about sanity and insanity using rainbows.

  4. Melville’s long, lovely sentences. Sentences like this, at the moment of Billy’s demise: “At the same moment it chanced that the vapory fleece hanging low in the East was shot through with a soft glory as of the fleece of the Lamb of God seen in mystical vision, and simultaneously therewith, watched by the wedged mass of upturned faces, Billy ascended; and ascending, took the full rose of the dawn.” Sigh.

  5. The phrase “the handsome sailor,” which refers to a person who is ethical, virtuous, upright, beautiful, strong, full of good humor, and adored by others around him. It is rare to find one of these people in the world and, if I do, I always think of this phrase.