Time and Place: Sherman Alexie’s “What You Pawn I Will Redeem” (2003)

Fewer than 500 words.

Spoiler Alert: All story reviews will assume the reader has read the story. Read it for free here.

I am a firm believer in the adage, “Form follows function,” and thus if a device is present in a story, it must serve a good purpose.

Sherman Alexie’s short story, “What You Pawn I Will Redeem,” begins with a time indication—“Noon” (8)—and we soon find that the time structure is vindicated because the plot and climax depend on it. More than three pages go by before the next time indication—“1 p.m.” (12)—shows up. By that time (no pun intended), we’ve nearly forgotten about the time structure. What reminds us of it shortly before this transition, though, is the conflict that has arisen: the main character, a homeless Native American in Washington named Jackson Jackson (sic), must find $999 by noon the next day to purchase his grandmother’s stolen ceremonial regalia from a pawnbroker. Otherwise, the deal’s off (12). The clock is ticking, and the time structure becomes the device driving the story. This lets us ruminate upon Alexie’s second device: place.

Alexie identifies the places, or settings, in which Jackson finds himself within the prose, instead of tacked alongside the time indication. That’s because Jackson moves between a few places within most of the time slots. Time is the story’s driving factor (nothing tenser than a clock counting down!) but place becomes the story’s tapestry.

We see everything from a 7-11, to a pawnbroker’s shop, to an alley, to a newspaper publisher, to a Korean grocery store, to a bar, and back to the pawnbroker’s shop (and I’m sure I missed one or two). That’s a lot to cover in one story! But that’s the life—we assume—of a homeless man. If we tie that to Jackson’s Native American heritage (whose Spokane ancestors lived there thousands of years before [Alexie 8]), we can think of Jackson living out that stereotypical concept of the wandering Indian living off the land, such as the land is now.

Jackson’s story is a time-driven quest through his native land in search of redemption. There are helpers along the way, like the Big Boss at the publishing house and the good cop Officer Williams, but Jackson is his own worst enemy: every dollar that goes in goes right back out; and yet, he never gives up the search.

Finally, time and place collide as Jackson returns to the pawnbroker. We understand that the pawnbroker’s shop might itself be part of the mythos of this Indian’s quest, for it is not where Jackson remembers it, and no one seems to have heard of it (Alexie 27). He wanders and wanders, and then finds it right in the nick of time. But he doesn’t have the money. The pawnbroker accepts $5—a different $5 than Jackson started with (28)—because it wasn’t about the money at all. It was about the quest.

We are often willing to forgive the hero his sins, overlook his self-bloodied soul, and pardon his empty-handedness if, in the end, he arrives at the right time and the right place.

My review: This is my first introduction to Alexie’s work, although I have heard of him before. I appreciated the honesty and clarity with which this story was written. Cultural-driven literature is not my preference (although one could argue that all literature is culture-driven and it only seems not to be when it’s your own culture), but when a writer makes it accessible—that is, when a writer does not rely on guilt to “move” the reader—I truly appreciate it. I enjoyed this story.

Favorite quotes:

  • “I didn’t break hearts into pieces overnight. I broke them slowly and carefully.” (8)
  • “I love the smell of ocean water. Salt always smells like memory.” (13)
  • “‘Just like a man,’ she said. ‘You love money and power more than you love me.’ ¶ ‘It’s true,’ I said. ‘And I’m sorry it’s true.’” (17)

Work Cited

Alexie, Sherman. “What You Pawn I Will Redeem.” The Seagull Reader: Stories. 2nd ed., edited by Joseph Kelly, United States, W.W. Norton, 2008, pp. 8-28.

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Strolling Through a Story: Sarah Orne Jewett’s “The Hiltons’ Holiday” (1895)

Spoiler Alert: All story reviews will assume the reader has read the story. Click here to read the story free.

(A quick note: It is currently December 2018. I wrote this essay back in March 2015 but never published it. For reasons many and various, my blogging dwindled from that time until now. I’m back at it, with several more essays written in that first half of 2015 that will be posted in the coming weeks.)

It is a common assertion among fiction writers that there must be conflict if one dares to write a story. Generally, I agree with this assertion, but it doesn’t always have to be true. Art reaffirms life, and life is not always about conflict. Depending on when and where one grows up, life is more often about simple moments and enjoyable exploration. In her short story, “The Hiltons’ Holiday,” Sarah Orne Jewett demonstrates how a story can be a gentle stroll, rather than a tense clash of values. Yet, despite lacking a plot and a central conflict, it is nevertheless engaging.

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Source: Wikipedia

As plotless as a story can be, “The Hiltons’ Holiday” is, in a sense, nothing more than the title suggests: John Hilton and his daughters go on a holiday. The Hiltons are farmers, including John Hilton, his wife, and his two daughters, Katy and Sarah Ellen. John and his wife sit on their porch one evening talking about their daughters, who are at the new schoolteacher’s home for a fun gathering. John says he wants his daughters to see more of the world than just the farm: “I want ‘em to know the world, an’ not stay right here on the farm like a couple o’ bushes” (Jewett 148). He wants to take them to the nearby town of Topham for a day so they can see a slice of the larger world. His wife agrees and they make plans for the next day. John takes his daughters into town. Along the 17-mile road they traverse via horse-and-wagon, John stops and talks with several neighbors. This makes the girls anxious to get to town, yet the journey itself is exciting: “[Katy] liked to see the strange houses, and the children who belonged to them; it was delightful to find flowers that she knew growing all along the road, no matter how far she went from home” (152). Finally, they arrive in town. They meet old Judge Masterson, a friend of John’s mother when they were children. Meeting a man whom their own father regards highly, the girls are awed. Again, for Katy it is a memorable experience: “For the first time in her life the child had felt the charm of manners; perhaps she owned a kinship between that which made him what he was and the spark of nobleness and purity in her own simple soul” (155). Afterward, the Hiltons visit another friend of John’s, they pick flowers, and they buy candy and a new hat for John in local stores, all of them feeling that “[i]t was a famous day” (155). They return home and regale John’s wife—the daughters’ mother—with tales of the holiday, and the story ends, simply, with life moving on with a pleasant memory behind them and the hope of an exciting future ahead. The story is as plotless and without conflict as any story can be. Yet it is thrilling. How did Jewett make it so?

To answer that question, it is important that we identify this story as what it is, a milieu story. Science fiction and fantasy author Orson Scott Card encourages writers to use the “MICE quotient” to determine what kind of story they will write: Milieu, Idea, Character, or Event (76). All of these types of stories will include elements of the other, but will focus chiefly on the chosen type. A character story, therefore, shows a character’s development, and other elements like ideas or events are designed around that central aspect of the story. If the story is about an event, then the purpose of characters is not necessarily to change (though they might), but to be eyes and ears through which readers can experience the event. A milieu story, however, is not so often used in literary fiction. This story structure focuses on the world of the story: the land, the people, the laws, the culture, etc. A reader wanders through the world for no other reason than to be amazed. Fantasy writers often use this technique. J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, for example, is a milieu story: most of the trilogy is about the characters simply seeing amazing things. The conflict, character development, and events are important and well handled, but the chief purpose of the story is to explore the milieu of Middle Earth. On a far less epic, but no less valid, scale, Jewett hands us a milieu story in “The Hiltons’ Holiday.”

Remember, this story occurs in the late 1800s when Americans were still taming the Wild West. The Hiltons might be farmers who acquired land via the Homestead Act: “Each small homestead looked its best and pleasantest” (Jewett 152). Topham Corners might be one of the many railroad towns that sprung up after the end of the Civil War, where “corners” suggests that several roads lead to it from rural farms. Several pages of the story are dedicated to describing the sights, sounds, smells, and people that the Hiltons encounter during their holiday in Topham Corners: “In the chief business street of Topham a great many country wagons like the Hiltons’ were fastened to posts, and there seemed to our holiday-makers to be a great deal of noise and excitement” (155). It is a town bustling with activity, but does this mean the story is without conflict?

In a structural sense, yes, there is absolutely no conflict in the story. In an historical sense, however, no: consider what it takes for these farmers to take a holiday. Consider John’s thoughts on the matter, even though it was his idea: “The magnitude of the plan for taking a whole day of pleasure confronted him seriously” (Jewett 150). Before they left, John awoke before five in the morning and milked the cows, at the very least taking care of that chore. Then he comes up with at least three “excuses” to go into town: get a new straw hat, buy a new farm hoe, and buy some turnip seeds for planting. Finally, the Hiltons must journey 17 miles over dirt trails via horse and wagon, a time-consuming part of their day; of course, later, they must also travel 17 miles home. So, the underlying conflict of this story is easy to forget, but important to remember: it was no simple thing back then to take a holiday. But John felt it was important for his daughters. Though they might be content on the farm, he says, “I don’t know’s bein’ contented is all there is to look for in a child. Ambition’s somethin’ to me” (148). It works, too: Katy, whom we might say is the central focus of the story, is awed by Topham Academy, where her grandmother went to school and where, John tells her, she might go to school one day as well; Judge Masterson charms Katy; and the girls enjoy the pleasures the town has to offer. Jewett helps us feel their excitement as they enjoy their holiday. By the story’s end, we’re inclined to agree with Mrs. Hilton, who says, “You an’ the little girls have had a great time. They was full o’ wonder to me about everythin’, and I expect they’ll talk about it for a week. I guess we was right about havin’ ‘em see somethin’ more o’ the world” (158). That’s it. That’s the story’s purpose and theme, carried with never an ounce of plot or real conflict. And it was delightful.

It is true that, generally, stories need conflict to be worth reading. However, it is also true that, sometimes, we need to stop and smell the flowers, and relish in a world all its own, a world to which we are new, which shines brightly and smells sweetly, and in which men are “honest as daylight” (Jewett 149). Settling America’s Western frontier was one of the most challenging events in human history, yet even then, there were simple pleasures to enjoy. Let’s be like Katy: let’s see the world with fresh eyes full of ambition.

My review: I was surprised at how much I enjoyed such a plotless, carefree story. It helped to remember the difficulties those pioneers faced on a daily basis, so one has to bring in one’s own knowledge of history and circumstance to recreate fully the setting of this story (remember playing Oregon Trail as a kid?). Jewett built excitement in the reader by showing how excited the characters were. She uses a lot of dialogue to develop her characters, which was appropriate. I hope to encounter more stories like this in the future, where I can simply relax and relish in the joy of a beautiful place well described—but I hope such stories are few and far between, because, after all, I prefer plot and conflict.

Favorite quotes:

  • “Dark woods stood all about the old Hilton farmhouse, save down the hill, westward, where lay the shadowy fields which John Hilton, and his father before him, had cleared and tilled with much toil—the small fields to which they had given the industry and even affection of their honest lives.” (145-6)
  • “The little dog sat apart, and barked as if it fell entirely upon him to voice the general excitement.” (151)
  • “There was a tone in her father’s voice [as he told a familiar story] that drew Katy’s heart toward him with new affection. She dimly understood, but Susan Ellen was less interested. They had often heard this story before, but to one child it was always new and to the other old.” (153)
  • “‘The best of young folks is, they remind us of the old ones.’” (156)
  • “They did not know why their father was so pleased with [their portrait]; they would not know until age had dowered them with the riches of association and remembrance.” (157)

Works Cited

Card, Orson Scott. How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy. Cincinnati: Writer’s Digest, 2001. Print.

Jewett, Sarah Orne. “The Hiltons’ Holiday.” The Treasury of American Short Stories: Classic Works by the Masters. Ed. Nancy Sullivan. United States: Dorset, 1981. 145-58. Print.

 

Post written by Christopher Chinchilla; edited by Cyndi Sabo.

 

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“Days Off” Are Days Off Your Life

The assertion, “I’ve earned a day off,” destroys dreams. I don’t exaggerate.

At different times in my life, I’ve managed to get myself onto a good personal schedule. My current schedule looks like this (you can breeze over it, no hard feelings!):

  • Wake at 2:30 a.m.
  • Let the dogs out, make coffee
  • Morning Pages (inspired by Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way)
  • Cook and eat a light breakfast (a banana, two strips of bacon, 1/3 cup of egg whites)
  • Meditate (3 to 5 minutes using the Headspace app)
  • Creative writing
  • Exercise (30 minutes)
  • Walk (listen to an inspiring or motivational audiobook, currently Grit by Angela Duckworth) (30 minutes)
  • Say hi to my wife and baby (they’re usually up by then, about 6:30 a.m.)
  • Fire up my laptop and get to work on volunteer stuff (I volunteer with the Young Marines)
  • Babysit my daughter (wife leaves to work about 8:30 a.m.)
  • Baby’s first nap about 10:30 a.m. (I meditate for 15 minutes, then work on my blog)
  • Baby’s up, we play, I do dishes
  • I take baby somewhere (grocery shopping, the park, etc.)
  • Baby’s second nap about 3:30 p.m. (I continue blogging)
  • Baby’s up, we play
  • I cook dinner
  • Wife is home (about 5:30 p.m.)
  • We eat dinner together at the dinner table, talk about our day
  • I get ready for bed and lie down by 6 p.m. (earlier if possible)
20180517 Me and Baby
Successful Daddy-Baby grocery shopping trip! (Easy ladies, I’m taken.)

I’ve been on that schedule (with minor adjustments) for more than two weeks now. It is awesome! My wife is so understanding. Although we spend less time together overall, the time we spend is of higher quality. We chat about our day and we play with our baby together.

Some mornings, though, I wake up tired. At 2:30 a.m., it’s particularly tempting to think, “I’ll just push the alarm out one hour…maybe two.” What would it affect? I don’t have to clock in. I just should be up (around 8 a.m.) to watch the baby when my wife leaves for work. But all that other stuff…writing, exercising, volunteering? I can skip that. I’m tired.

I’ve earned a day off.

Those fateful words have ended many previous, excellent schedules I’ve put in place in the past. Schedules that have produced a happier, healthier “me” in which I learn, grow as a person, and, well, shrink as a person, too, as those unwanted pounds have melted away (I once went from 250 to 180 lbs on such a schedule…as of now, I’m back up to 240 lbs).

After seeing years of my life dwindle away, wondering what could have been had I just stuck to that schedule, I’m fed up. I’ve done great things, but I could have done much—much—more.

Now, every morning, when I’m tired, I remind myself:

I’ve earned a day on.

I remind myself that I’ve worked hard in past days, and weeks, and (soon) months to earn this new day to be awesome again.

Sure, sick days are useful. Vacation days are important. Just use them wisely: as needed for sick days, or by planning vacation in advance, including what you’ll do (or not do) on those days.

Don’t look forward to days off. Every day should be a day on.

Why *The Grapes of Wrath* is worth the read

The Grapes of Wrath is now my third favorite book, behind first The Fountainhead and then Atlas Shrugged. To be clear, I do not agree with or support the politics or philosophy espoused in The Grapes of Wrath which is decidedly collectivist in nature (i.e., communist and altruistic). However, the humanity in the book is astounding. I quote from this edition’s dust jacket:

[The book’s] power and importance do not lie in its political insight but in its intense humanity, its grasp of the spirit of an entire people traversing a wilderness, its kindliness, its humor, and its bitter indignation. (back flap)

Setting aside its politics, the book itself is beautifully devised and written.

The book’s language is wonderful. Steinbeck narrates in clean, descriptive, and heart-wrenching prose, while his characters speak in gritty dialects that make you feel like you’re right there with them. He manages to convey important ideas in very simple language without it feeling phony; quite the opposite, it feels truer, more plainly sincere and human, than anything ever has.

The book’s plot is not quite a plot, which is a purposeful progression of events driven by the values of its protagonist (paraphrased from Ayn Rand’s The Art of Fiction.) Instead, the book’s protagonists are pushed from behind, from one struggle to the next, where the survival of each struggle is a triumph, but the triumph is undercut by the next struggle. Still, though they are pushed from behind, they are also value-driven, and their values are life, productive work, and family. The constant battle for survival and the overwhelming odds the Joad family faces can make for an exhausting read emotionally…but that only draws you deeper into the narrative, for you feel the exhaustion the Joads feel. While that might not sound pleasant, if you think of it in terms of a novel’s ability to bring you into the story, this novel delivers more than any I have ever read.

Finally, the very last scene is one of the most beautifully melodramatic scenes I’ve ever read in literature. I closed the book with my heart pounding, not sure if I was feeling indignant, triumphant, relieved, or simply, simply, hopeful.

I can’t recommend it highly enough. Even if you hate its politics and philosophy, you can’t reasonably deny its power as a work of enduring literature.

What do you think of The Grapes of Wrath?

View all my reviews on Goodreads

Quick review of *The Catcher in the Rye*

I read The Catcher in the Rye in one day, my 32nd birthday, and loved it. In many ways, it hardly has the makings of a book I’d appreciate. It has no plot and no ending to speak of, and its main character, who whines and calls people phony throughout the book, provides nothing to fill the void, so to speak. But there is a subtle genius to the book’s structure. It has to be this way for it to have the right impact: for it to infuriate you and, at the same time, make you examine people and yourself more closely.

Forgive me if you consider what I’ve said to be “spoilers.” I don’t, because before I read it, this is similar to what my sister, Amie, told me…except she hated the book for the very reasons I loved it. Anyway, it didn’t spoil the book for me; instead, it made me more conscious of it as I read it. I do not enjoy plotless novels and whiny characters, but The Catcher in the Rye is the exception to the rule.

What do you think of The Catcher in the Rye?

View all my reviews on Goodreads

Being young, “a thing all by itself”

Earlier this morning, I was reading John Steinbeck’s novel The Grapes of Wrath and this caught my eye:

When you’re young, ever’thing that happens is a thing all by itself. It’s a lonely thing.

On Facebook, I said:

It struck home with my memories of childhood and teens. Everything did seem to happen as an isolated incident, as if the fate of my life hung in every moment…whether a girl said yes or no when I asked her out, whether first period science went well and whether sixth period math would be overwhelming again, on and on. It’s not tragic, really. I think the loneliness of youth is part of what makes us wise when we get older…wise in some ways, at least, as in the ability to appreciate both pain and joy, solitude and society.

20160119 Being young, a thing all by itselfWhen I think about my teenage years, I remember how disconnected everything felt. My world ended if a girl said no to a date. My world swelled if she said yes, or if class was fun. I felt at home in English with Mr. Roe, where my ideas had some weight, but I felt like an island in Geometry, where everything was happening five steps ahead of my mind’s ability to comprehend (my fault more than anything, really), and I prayed the teacher didn’t call on me where I sat in the back. Every day was a roller coaster, and the ups, downs, loops, starts, and stops each seemed like my entire world for the exact moment it was happening.

Probably not every teen felt like this. For reasons I won’t go into now, I know I was an emotionally unbalanced teen beyond the norms of teen angst (as in, deemed so by counselors). I’m sure that heightened my experiences of lonely frustration.

Still, with strife came wisdom…though on a delay of several years. I appreciate solitude more now, but I don’t cling to it quite as much as when I was a teenager. I value society now, far more than I did—than I could—as a teenager. Back then, everything was “a thing all by itself.”

Now the ups, downs, and loops are all connected. Not always a smooth ride on the roller coaster, but it feels like a complete ride, one that I can gauge the joy and horror of by seeing what’s ahead or remembering what’s behind.

Life may be up, down, and around, with sudden stops and starts—but with the adult wisdom that comes from teenage strife, the perception of life becomes more balanced, and the roller coaster feels more like a straight road, such that each jerking motion isn’t the world-ending calamity it once was.

Thanks for reading. Do you feel very different from your teenage self? In what ways? If you’re a teen, do you feel like you’re in a whirlwind, or do things seem calm in your life?


20151221 The Woman Alone - SavannahBy Christopher Chinchilla, an adventure set in the savannahs of Africa…

Available now for Kindle and in paperback

Ghastly!

20160111 GhastlyTwo images recently inspired new stories for me. Both images are ghastly—at least, to my usually tempered sensibilities. The stories do not use these images for the sake of being ghastly, but instead serve legitimate thematic purposes. Still, they shocked me, and I wondered if I’d be able to write them. Additionally, I wondered if I should write them. Do I want to put such tragic images into the world, even if they serve legitimate purposes?

Ultimately, I decided I would be able to write them (though it might take a lot of editing to write them well, since they go against my nature), and that, yes, I should put the images out there, because they serve legitimate purposes.

Let me segue for a moment to explain what I mean by “legitimate purposes.” In my view, presenting a ghastly image for the sake of being ghastly is inappropriate in any art form. This is why I don’t enjoy most horror or action films. Regarding action, for example, if Jason Statham is the main star, I know it’s a movie with action for action’s sake, and thus, it’s crap. Some people will say, “Well, it’s just mindless fun.” Well, not for me. I’ve never had mindless fun, and I don’t think it’s possible except for mindless people. Regarding horror, I consider Saw to be a movie that (barely) uses horror for legitimate themes—for example, the movie questions how much we value our own lives, and whether anyone has the right to challenge us in that regard by hurting us (they don’t). However, the Saw sequels are generally horror for horror’s sake, and thus, crap. I’m sure I’ve offended a few people here. Feel free to argue the value of horror/action for its own sake in the comments and I’ll read them.

Returning to my main purpose for this post, the epiphany I came to was this: a writer should tap into the extremes of his sensibilities.

I’m fairly levelheaded. But every now and then I find myself enjoying something shocking, because it balances right on the line of what I can appreciate versus what makes me sick to consider. Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein and the movie Pan’s Labyrinth are examples. Sometimes, my own ideas are like that. The two stories I recently conceived would be my first forays into the ghastly fringes of my otherwise tempered nature.

I think a writer should, from time to time, dare to write his own extremes. Don’t let a legitimate story go to waste because it has a horrific or explicit element. Dare yourself to write it and to publish it. You can always return to center, and you need not go beyond your own extremes… Just, every now and then, take a walk along the fringes.

Have you ever shocked yourself with something you’ve written? Is it an experience you would like to repeat, or are you glad it’s done and gone?

What’s the best way to write?

First, let me say, Happy New Year!

Writers have long debated whether it is better to write by hand, by typewriter, or by word processor. Some insist that handwriting is the way to go, as it allows the writer to connect more closely with his work, to create his story in a slow, deliberate manner. Others swear by word processing, claiming it lets the writer get his thoughts out almost as quick as he has them; it is especially useful, therefore, when the muse strikes. Still others enjoy the compromise of the typewriter, which is faster than handwriting, but slower than a word processor, and thus allows for speed and deliberateness in tandem.

In my experience, older writers or writers of thick literary fiction prefer handwriting; younger writers (usually of popular detective, paranormal, or science fiction) prefer word processors; and bearded hipsters prefer typewriters (infer whatever you’d like from that). Then, of course, there are those who switch between two or all of these depending on what they’re writing or how the mood strikes them.

As for me, I’m still experimenting.

Initial notes for my first published short story. Read “Coffee in the Afternoon” for free, as published by Fabula Argentea Magazine in July 2014

My initial brainstorming and plotting always takes the form of handwritten notes, for which Moleskines are wonderfully suitable. Lately, though, my actual writing of the story occurs on word processor. About a year ago, I surmised that my writing is just about the same whether I write by hand or by typing.

Now though, about a year later, I’ve also seen that typing lets me get sloppy if I’m not paying close attention. Usually I can tidy it up in editing, but it’s a hassle and takes the proper enjoyment out of editing, like moments of stillness during a rollercoaster ride.

Handwriting, on the other hand, doesn’t allow for sloppiness. Either I’m paying close attention, or I’m not writing; I can’t play fast-and-loose with a pen in my hand. That’s why I will probably always brainstorm and plot with pen and paper, no matter what method I end up choosing to write the story afterward.

Next week, I’ll share a bit of inspiration I received on this subject when I visited The Steinbeck House in Salinas, California. A little fact I learned about John Steinbeck made me reconsider (again) what method of writing—by hand or word processor—is better for me. In the meantime, what are your thoughts on these methods? Do you prefer one method to the others? Do you move between them depending on what you’re writing? Do tell!

Blood at Christmas

20151228 Blood at ChristmasSome think that family is simply defined as being blood-related, and “you do anything for blood.” Others say that family begins with blood, but eventually relies on people’s character, such that a friend might become family while a father becomes an acquaintance. I am of the latter conviction. Since Christmas has just passed, I thought I’d reflect on what makes family, and see if you have anything to add to that reflection.

The conviction that “we should do anything for blood” is flawed. It demands sacrificing yourself for people who don’t necessarily deserve it. If your sibling is a wreck, you stand beside him anyway. If your parents crush your spirits, you still help them when they need it, especially as they get older. Sure, the friend who has been by your side through trials and tribulations deserves your loyalty, too, but no one deserves loyalty more than blood family.

I consider such a view of family loyalty to be immoral. It asks a person to be, as the philosopher Ayn Rand puts it throughout her work, a sacrificial animal.

Family is a matter of choice, and loyalty is tied to that choice.

We’re told that children should remain loyal to their parents. Christian theology is especially fond of hammering this into children, as it demands that a child honor his father and mother for no other reason than they are his father and mother. The reverse is true, though. Parents, honor your children, simply because they’re your children. Parents chose to bring the child into the world; the child didn’t choose it. Parents owe loyalty to their children for that reason alone.

Children, however, owe their parents nothing, unless their parents have earned it. “Earning it” doesn’t mean changing diapers or providing food, shelter, and a basic education. These make up the foundation upon which the parent must then build a history of earning their child’s loyalty and respect. The father who crushes his son’s spirits or the mother who clings too tightly to her daughter has not earned these things, despite the number of diapers changed or hours of sleep lost.

Still, parents’ loyalty to their children does not have to be absolute. I’ll discuss this in a future post.

With Christmas behind us, I’m glad to have spent time with my parents, despite the cracks in our relationships. Nevertheless, the cracks remain, and it is no wonder why my best friend feels more like family to me than some of my closest blood relatives do.

There is no easy summation to this post. It barely scratches the surface. How do we earn loyalty, for example? Different people will have different answers to this question. A person will say they have earned loyalty, and their family members will scoff. It’s a lot to consider, but whatever the specifics, the proper foundation is simple.

Family is a matter of choice, not blood.

Family earns loyalty; it does not demand sacrifice.

What do you think?


"In a quiet café, Johnny tells his religiously-oppressive wife, Jessica, that he wants a divorce—and he's taking their daughter, Lily, with him."

For more thoughts on family bonds, check out my short story “Coffee in the Afternoon,” first published in Fabula Argentea in 2014. Read it now for free or get it for Kindle.

 

You accomplished more than you think this year

Being a writer isn’t easy. The truly enjoyable moments have to be earned through consistent work. Unfortunately, I’ve always been a little lazy. I have bouts of passion-powered productivity, and then drop off like a bear in winter.

Given the greater effort I’ve put into my writing career the last two months, though, I expect I’ll be much more productive in 2016. Still, 2015 had its writing triumphs, too. If you’ll indulge me, I’d like to list them.

At first, I wasn’t going to. I thought, “I haven’t done enough to take a victory lap by announcing ‘accomplishments.'” Then, after a few minutes going back and forth, I decided I’m not going to dismiss my own accomplishments like that. Whether it’s been a super productive or embarrassingly lazy year, we all achieved something, and we shouldn’t forget that.

So, here are my writing accomplishments for 2015, such as they are:

1. In February, I wrote and published the prequel to my novella, The Woman Alone, called Susan’s Lover: A Valentine’s Day StoryHardly the “romance” it sounds like, it explores elements of the inner lives of three main characters from the first novella in a way that, I’m not ashamed to say, had me teary-eyed. I learned a lot about myself from writing it.

20151221 The Woman Alone - Savannah2. I released a beautiful new paperback edition of The Woman Alone that features both the novella and its prequel, with an afterword by the woman it’s dedicated to, my mother.

3. I read three new books on the craft of writing, as well as dozens of novels, plays, and short stories. Reading sharpens writing skills.

4. My blog limped along, but a month ago, I committed to writing a new post every Monday, and this is Post #4. Consistency is key to progress!

5. I attended nearly every meetup of the weekly writer’s group that I organized.

6. I wrote several short stories, but I can’t boast any publications this year…because I didn’t submit anything. You can bet that will change in 2016!

7. I returned to my love of writing science fiction and fantasy. I self-published two books in a new fantasy series. (Check out my alter ego, Chris Raiin, and read the first book free.)

20151221 Bachelor's Degree8. Most of all, I completed studies for my Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing and English on December 1st, 2015.  A long journey coming to a close.


I’m glad I wrote these down. Seeing them makes the year behind me shine in new light, and motivates me for the year ahead.

What are some of your achievements this year? I’d love to hear about them!