Saturday, March 10, 2012

BEWARE THE IDES OF MARCH



Note: Our colleague, brilliant writer Timothy Hallinan announces that  the Kindle version of his novel THE BONE POLISHER is free on Amazon, for a limited time only. Check it out at http://amzn.to/A6K9kj

Note: the following post is rated D for Dark and I for Irreverent. If it gives you the creeps, you may skip to the usual dessert of 55-word stories at the end. But I hope you’re not afraid of the dark.

BEWARE THE IDES OF MARCH

The concept of fate is essential to storytelling and fiction writing. And one thing to know, one rule to follow or disobey at your own peril is: Dire predictions come true.

This is true in drama: Chekhov told us that when a rifle is hanging over the fireplace in Act One, that rifle must go off before the final curtain comes down. And when rifles are discharged on stage, someone’s going to get hurt.

The rule works in movies, too. If a character you love starts to cough from some illness, you’d better get out the Kleenex, because chances are that character won’t live long enough to read the credits.

Fate was essential to Greek tragedy. When an oracle tells King Laius that his infant son will one day kill him, he and his wife cripple the child and leave him to die on a mountaintop. Does the infanticide work? No way. The kid grows up, comes back to town, and unwittingly kills his dad and I won’t say what he does to his mom.

In the fairy tale, when the spiteful fairy godmother predicts that the infant princess Briar Rose will, on her sixteenth birthday, prick her finger on a spinning wheel and fall asleep for a hundred years, there’s no point in the King’s ordering that all the spinning wheels in town be burned. He’s be better off shopping for a good mattress.

And when the soothsayer advises Julius Caesar to beware the ides of March, he’s not really telling Caesar to call in sick on the fifteenth. What he’s saying is, “Dude. Better get your affairs in order, because come the sixteenth, you’ll no longer be wearing sandals.”

So it’s pointless to try to outsmart fate. The house always wins. To buck fate is to engage in hubris, and the penalty for hubris is always a most unwelcome irony. The so-called Higher Power named Fate shrugs and thunders, “Told ya so.” Of course in real life we can’t help fighting to survive (as we usually should); and because our fiction is about the human condition, our characters are likely to try to beat the odds, even if all they can hope for is a temporary respite.

I guess the lesson to be learned from the knowledge that Old Bony always collects is this: Make the most of what time we have left. And that’s he human condition in a nutshell.

 Here are a few stories about the announcement of things to come:

My Name’s Larry, and I...
I used to be an alcoholic. Booze was all I lived for.
Then one fateful day, my marriage broke up, I lost my job, and I got in a horrible automobile accident.
I haven’t had a drink since that day. That day changed me forever.
I don’t miss the alcohol. I just miss being alive.


Injury to Insult
“You’re foolish to insult a witch,” I scolded.
“You’re no witch.”
“You think not?”
“Prove it,” he sneered.
So I unlaced my bodice.
His jaw dropped.
His eyes fell.
His heart sank.
I kicked his heart, his eyes, and his jaw under the bed, then said to the rest of him, “I rest my case.”


…And Have  Nice Day
Folks, this is your captain speaking. We’re experiencing some difficulty with three of our engines, and we’re going to have to lose some weight.
So I have volunteered to take the parachute and jump. Automatic pilot should keep you flying for a while, and eventually you’ll...land. Sort of.
Enjoy the rest of your flight.







17 comments:

  1. Oh, I LOVE these, John! Every one has a real surprise ending. God, they're SO much fun to read.

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    1. thanks so much, Beth. They're fun to write, too!

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  2. I really enjoyed your post even though I'm just a tad nervous now about the 15th. :)
    My favorite of the shorts this week is the last one. I'm a nervous flyer to begin with but now. . . .

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    2. Pat, I think that dire predictions and unlucky days can be ignored in real life. At least I hope so!

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  3. Thanks for this, John. As for your 55-worders, they're great as usual. I assigned these to one of my workshop groups. They had to write at least two, as many as four, on topics that came up during the class and/or love.

    I received some amazing shorties from them, and kept copies. Some time soon I'll send you a few of my favorites,

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    1. I look forward to reading those, Eileen.

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  4. I am not superstitious, but I will be flying out on the 13th, to DC so maybe that's a good one. Anyways, when it is your time than its your time. John, I really enjoyed this post. Keep them coming, and I'll keep reading (lol). Augie

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    1. Thanks a lot, Augie. Glad you enjoy them.

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  5. You've convinced me, John. I'm going to live it up big time between now and the 15th since I may not live to see the 16th.

    And your double nickel stories were delicious as usual.

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    1. Great response, Earl. Live now, die later.

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  6. Great stories, as always. Love the surprise endings.

    We're flying to Austin TX on the 15th.

    Marilyn

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    1. Have a good flight, Marilyn. Austin's a fine town.

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  7. Great post, John. Although I must say, "fate" is not always "fate" -- depends on who's doing the prognosticating and why. Another interesting writing (and life) twist.

    Keep 'em coming, you're very witty, John!

    Madeline

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  8. Madeline, I think you're right about fate depending on the motives of the prognosticator. When Johnny Mercer wrote "So en garde! Who knows what the fates have in store from their vast imperious sky..." he was using the line for seduction.

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  9. You are the best! I'm grinning, my head is nodding. Man alive (pun intended) did I choose right those years ago when I responded to your ad in a writer's mag. You are not just entertaining but inspiring. The R-Ides of March have always been a gift to me. First date with now hubby, second date followed two days later; picnic in a park two days later! Now we Need to squeak thru the 17th - our 55th Anniversary! I chose right then too.

    Madelyn

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  10. Madelyn, how lovely to hear from you! thanks for your kind words, and hearty congratulations to you and Ezra!

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