Expectations

They shape us, sometimes sculpting with care, but often chipping away at who we could be. For expectations are born both from within and from without. Left unfettered, expectations will crush a soul, reduce an artist to rubble, and smash the joy we should feel every day.

Our parents start the process… “You go to a good school, get a good job, marry well, have children, and work hard. Go to church on Sundays. We absorb these ideas until they seem to be our own.

Then our peer group kicks in, and they can either help or hinder the process of personal growth. In my case, my friends from school and early adulthood tended to be unconventional. I tried to have it all, marrying a lawyer and writing songs in Nashville and never quite fitting in. Like many writers and artists, I strived for conformity, yearning for acceptance. But as an unknown writer, I was always just on the other side of an invisible door.  I could see the people, smell the food, and hear the music, but I was more spectator than participant. So close,  yet infinitely far.

Artists and creatives who surrender early on my find happiness if they can kill that part of themselves which longs for artistic success. It’s tough to achieve a balance.

We believe, deep in the secret places of our heart, that we are living a certain kind of lie, that there is something else out there in the universe whispering, then shouting, exhorting us to yearn for more. We chaffe against the bonds of the past and the expectations which threaten to confine us. Some of us are lucky enough to shed those shackles, and that is a glorious thing, an awakening of the spirit.

Yet, when we look beyond the borders we have been confined to and set our eyes upon the distant mountaintop, we begin another journey in which our own great expectations do us harm. It’s inevitable.

We dream great dreams and imagine a future of rainbows and unicorns where our art is heard, seen, read, and important. We visualize how things could be and convince ourselves that they not only should be, but that they will be thus because it is our destiny. Ahh, the arrogance of an artist. We must possess some of it, for we dare to believe that someday, somewhere, we will make a difference and that our work will matter. This drive can propel us to great heights, but it can just as easily destroy us.

I write because I must.  My pen touches the page and I and mix color and emotion because I need to pull the swirling tempest of light and darkness out of me and share it with the world.

When I remember this truth, I enjoy the journey toward that lofty peak, savouring the scents and vistas along the way. I am free of expectations and can live, love and laugh in the moment, and the moment is what matters.

I strive to remember, because the moments will only keep slipping away.

Short Story: The Hill

The Hill

I’m not sure what’s real and what isn’t anymore; the dreams started again. I wake most nights coated in sweat with a strangled scream on my lips, and the feeling that I can’t breathe. Maybe the nightmare is reality, and I’m only now sliding back to it after all these years. Perhaps I’m dead, after all. There are times, especially in the dark of the night, when the rain beats down on the roof with the sound of a cascade of pebbles and the branches beyond my window sway and leer in the shadows, when I wonder if I’m not still back there on the hill.
I’ve tried to reach Logan, but he never answers; I wonder if he shares the same dreams, and doesn’t want to talk about it now because it might make what happened then seem more sinister, more real. Like what happened before is going to come back to haunt us again because it can.
Sometimes it’s easier to bury things we cannot vanquish. We made a vow to each other back then, swore we wouldn’t speak of that night again, and we stuck to it. We skirted around it, and if the conversation looked like it was going to get too close and mean, someone would change the subject and make a joke about girls. We didn’t want it to be real, so we decided to make it fantasy. A month later, Logan moved to England with his mother, and I haven’t seen him since.
I was twelve, Logan was eleven, and John was fourteen. We’d been friends all our lives, growing up on the same placid tree-lined cul-de-sac in Jacksonville, Florida. I lost two friends, my childhood, and pieces of my soul that night. Often, the things we bury rise again; when they come for us, there is no where to hide.
Then
I woke up while it was still dark outside, a hollow, flying feeling in my chest, one of excitement and possibility. It was Saturday morning, and there was no school on Monday. Better still, we had a big plan for the day. This was going to be an adventure, not the lame sort of backyard fantasy we usually engaged in, but an actual exploration of parts unknown. I’d prepared the night before, emptying my school backpack of its crumpled papers and unsigned notes, stacking books and binders on my nightstand, replacing them with four Snickers bars, bottled water, a Swiss-Army Knife, one family-sized bag of Ranch Doritos, and a detailed map of the city.
I checked the time on my phone, a recent addition to my collection of home electronics, and the one I liked the most. Because now I could call and text my friends anytime. I sent John a quick text.
“U ready?”
“We’re outside.”
I padded across the wooden floors, putting my shoes on only once I got to the front door. Mom and Dad wanted to sleep in on Saturdays, at least until 7:00. They’d notice me missing, but we had it all planned out. I was at John’s, John was with Logan. Our folks wouldn’t worry, because we did that sort of of thing all the time, and our parents all looked out for us. It wasn’t much of a stretch. We just had to make it home by dark. They would figure someone was watching.
That particular Saturday, though, we were going to travel. We figured that we could maintain an average speed of at least 6 miles per hour on our bikes (we debated this for hours during the days leading up to our excursion.) We had an effective range, therefore, of thirty miles, as long as we still had the stamina to bike home. Five hours in, three to explore, five or six to make it back. 
We pedaled hard along silent streets where trees hung low and porch lights casting a meager glow were the only way to tell the street from the sidewalk. The occasional dog barked, but other than that, the night was still, and my breathing seemed louder than it should have been while the tires ground the road and the chain clicked on my red Mongoose. We pushed east and north, following the route we’d planned across the slumbering city. It was late October, and the air was crisp and clean, and my mottled green Army jacket flapped in the wind behind me.
I marveled at my freedom and innate daring and congratulated myself for venturing so far from home in such pirate fashion. I was a benign Columbus, seeking the new world, or Galileo, pushing the boundaries of the solar system, for I was an explorer at heart and a believer in the idea that boundaries were made to be broken. With the wind in my hair and the sun breaking over downtown, I felt something glorious tugging at my soul. Like I knew something no one else knew, a secret made me smile to myself.
An hour after sunrise, we made it to the highest bridge in the city.
“Holy crap,” John grunted, standing on the pedals, grinding up the steep slope of the Dames Point Bridge.
“I’m gonna stop now,” Logan huffed. “Keep going if you want. I’m walking the rest of the way.”
“I’m pretty tired,” I said. “Let’s walk to the top. This thing is nasty.”
“Wimps,” John snorted. But he got off his bike. I think he was relieved that someone had suggested walking.

None of us had ever tried to bike up a hill of any significance. Jacksonville was flat, and this thing was Everest in the winter. Impossible, relentless. I was sweating and out of breath. I climbed off the bike, legs quivering and sweaty under my jeans.
As we neared the top of the bridge, vertigo hit me. The St. John’s River looked like it was miles below. Downtown Jacksonville appeared small in the distance, with the sky-scrapers clustered together off to the south and west. We’d come far.
Cars blew past us, and I noticed some of the drivers giving us dirty looks. A few of them appeared worried. Mostly, though, they ignored us. Since it was early on a Saturday, there wasn’t too much traffic. Still it was dangerous. The bridge was four lanes, and every time a semi went by, I felt the air- wash blast me and threaten to fling me over the low railing.
I paused beside a red bow and fading flowers tied to the metal railing with a string.
“What’s that?” Logan said from behind me.
“Suicide,” John said with authority. “People jump from this bridge every year. Number-one spot here in Jacksonville to end it all.”
 All three of us stopped beside the red ribbon, gazing down. I imagined what that would feel like to fall from here. The seconds of flying, with the water hurtling up at me like a concrete wall and the brown marshes sprawling in the distance. What was the last thing he saw, that sad person who leaped into the great unknown? Did he see his mother’s face, or his son or his wife, there at the end? Did he focus on the towering smokestacks at the utility company’s power plant, falling, falling, rather than the river or the sky? Did he wish he hadn’t taken that last step on the way down, screaming because he figured out that he made a mistake after it was too late?
“I wonder why he did it,” I murmured.
“He was brave,” John said, squinting out at the river, his voice two octaves lower than normal, a bit of gravel in it. “He wanted to see if he could do it. I guess he did.”
I cut my eyes sideways at John. He’d been going through it at home, I knew. He didn’t talk about it much. He tried to make jokes about his dad and mom. Sometimes, though, when he had a new purple bruise on his face, he’d get a far-away look in his eyes while he joked, and you just knew how bad he hurt inside. When it was cool outside, in the spring and the fall, the shouting from inside his house spilled out through open windows and onto the street. Sometimes, police came.
“He was a coward,” I said bravely. 
John snorted. “What do you know about anything?”
“He gave up. You gotta keep on, and eventually it gets better,” I said with earnest. “If you give up, it never gets better.”
John cocked his head sideways and grinned at me, slapping me on the back of the neck. I was struck by how old and wise he looked just then, like he was a big brother visiting for Christmas and he’d already seen the world, been in the Army, gotten married, and had kids of his own. 
“You’re right,” he said. “I’m just messing with you.” But he had that far-away look.
“Let’s go!” Logan howled, already coasting downhill.
“Ya know I’m gonna win,” John said with a sly smile and an exaggerated southern accent, hopping onto his bike with one fluid movement and kicking forward.
We flew down the bridge, and it was glorious. The wind whipped my face and the sun shone golden on the face of the water while I hurtled down the bridge. The smell of the ocean and marsh filled my lungs and I shouted the kind of scream I normally reserved for roller-coasters; this ride was better, though, because it was real, and it was mine. The struggle up was worth every second of the road down. Johnny zipped past Logan during a long lull in traffic, swinging around him and leaning hard into the handlebars, pedaling furiously rather than hitting the brakes.
I hit my brakes every few seconds, because I was going almost as fast as the last car that went by. I whipped around Logan, too, right before he dismounted and decided to walk down. A hundred yards ahead, John put his hands in the air and kept going, no-hands, while the slope of the bridge flattened out.
Johnny stopped ahead and dismounted, waiting for me. My brakes smoked with effort, my entire bike vibrating under me as I slowed.
“Holy crap!” He said.
“Yeah. That was awesome,” I replied, unable to wipe the grin from my face.
“Let’s do that again!”
“We will, on the way back,” I said.
“No, I mean right now. Why not?”
“Well, we’ve still got a long ways to go. That’s a long haul back up.”
“Yeah, but this is the best part. Don’t you think? What’s going to be better than this? We should do this again and go home. Man, that was better than I thought. Freaking amazing.”
“You don’t want to hike the plantation? That’s part of it, you know. See where the slave quarters were. Maybe we’ll see Old Red Eyes.” In local urban legend, “Old Red Eyes” was the ghost of a former slave who’d lived and died at the plantation, a man who’d raped other slaves, and been lynched by fellow slaves for his crimes from a live-oak tree on the grounds. Over the years, many visitors claimed to have seen red eyes glaring at them from the rear-view mirror. We’d discussed the legend and were dying to see for ourselves, though we lacked the resolve to see the grounds at night.
“Not really. I wanted to go on this little trip for the bridge. I couldn’t care less about seeing some dumb made-up ghost. I’ll do it, but I’d rather try that downhill again and go home. You don’t seriously think Logan’s going to make it all the way back, do you? I mean if we keep going? Look at him.”
I glanced back up the bridge.
Logan scrunched his shoulders every time a car passed him, leaning away, seeming to shrink into himself. He might have been crying, but I couldn’t see his face. “He’s tougher than you think,” I said.
John gave me a smirking nod. “All right, man, whatever you say. He’s got more stones than both of us, I’m sure. But he’s gonna whine all the way home, I promise.”
We watched Logan get back onto his bike and coast down the part of the bridge that wasn’t so steep. His eyes were red when he pulled up next to us, and his nose was running.
“Hey,” he said. “That was the coolest. You guys are fast.” His voice cracked and his eyes were wide. “We’re almost there. I can’t wait.”
“Yeah,” John said. “Need some new underwear?”
“Kiss my butt,” Logan said.

Now



The dreams come every night now, and they are getting worse. I can’t focus on writing the novel I’m under contract for, so I’m writing the truth. This manuscript is just for me, a kind of therapy. A journey, I guess. I spoke to my editor and she suggested that I see someone about it, knowing I wouldn’t.
“I call editor,” she said yesterday. She knows I’m eccentric and becoming more so. Felicia probably thinks I’m just performing the author’s equivalent of character-acting. Believing my story so I can tell it right.
I finally spoke to Logan in VR, after pestering him for weeks. He hovered in front of me, wearing an impeccable blue suit and yellow tie, speaking with an equally perfect Oxford accent.
“William,” he said. “It’s great to see you after all these years. Even if it’s not in the flesh.”
“Hey, Logan,” I replied. “I hope this isn’t too weird.”
“No, no, not at all mate. I’ve been very busy, but I’ve always got time for an old friend.” In virtual reality, we faced each other. Behind him, floor to ceiling bookcases lined the walls of an intimate study, a massive wooden desk in front of him, a cracking fire burning in a stone fireplace at his back. We both knew that he wasn’t making time for an old fiend, because we weren’t friends anymore, merely people who once knew each other.
“I guess life’s been good,” I said, smiling at a man I did not know. He was tall, slim and square-jawed. I could see the Logan I’d known when I looked at him now, and I felt a certain kind of pride. Like maybe I’d known all along, and he became what he should have, and I had something to do with it. Which was preposterous.
“Indeed,” Logan said, with a magnanimous sweep of his hands. “I suppose I could say the same for you. I read one of your books.”
“Thanks,” I said.
“So,” Logan said, checking the gold watch on his wrist and arching his eyebrows, “why now, after all these years?”
“I sent a few letters after you moved,” I said.
“Hmm. I never got them. No worries.”
“Have you been having dreams, Logan? Anything strange. I know it sounds crazy, but I’ve got to ask.”
“Not at all. Why?”
“Nothing tugging at you? Memories, visions, anything?”
“We haven’t spoken in decades, but let me tell you something,” Logan said, his voice dropping and becoming ice, like he’d rehearsed this conversation. “I always appreciated your friendship, but I hate the fact that you filled my head with nonsense. It caused me more pain than I’d care to admit. I’m thankful that I moved away from you, because you poisoned everyone around you. Truly, I was hoping you called for another reason; an apology, perhaps.”
“So, wait. You’re telling me you don’t think it happened?”
“Of course it didn’t. And, I know exactly what you mean when you say it. Look, I’m sorry your life isn’t quite what you thought it would be. And I’m sorry about Johnny. That’s how it goes, old chap, though. You can still do something great if you decide to. Your imagination is truly impressive. Always was.”
“So, you weren’t there at the hill? That’s, what, a construct of my mind?”
“Of course.”
“What happened, then, if I made it all up?”
“Kids got hurt. And you made up a good story to explain it. And I believed it, like you did, I suppose, because that was easier than the truth. It took me years of therapy to figure that out.”
“So, you think I’m crazy, now, I guess? You don’t think about it anymore? There’s nothing happening now that makes you wonder whether or not I wasn’t telling a story?”
“Old friend,” Logan smirked, “you really should speak to a mental-health professional. I’d love to chat more, but I’ve got another VR meeting in thirty seconds. Feel free to call again, though.”
The screen went gray, and I yanked the set off my head. I knew we’d never speak again.
Then



The ruins of slave quarters stretched for more than a mile along the plantation site. Each one was white, bleached with age, roofless, once smooth walls aging and crumbling beneath the Florida sun, the patina walls whispering with evil that erected those structures more than a hundred years ago. A few tourists walked around with pamphlets, muttering to themselves, pointing at this and that, smiling and laughing.
I was shattered.
There were too many. Too many buildings, too many tourists. Too many broken lives. This place tried to be a museum and a memorial, but I felt that it didn’t succeed. Generations of families died and lived on these grounds, stripped of their freedom and living secret lives in these wrecks, finding faith in what they could. There was a stain of evil, a reverberation, an echo clinging to the earth. I felt it in my soul. 
That the original owner was a decent man, as slave holders go, was swallowed by the greater evil perpetrated here. I’d been raised to view slavery as abhorrent, a thing for which there is never an excuse, because it destroyed families and people, and stripping a human of freedom was the same thing as killing him, except worse, because a good man would endure bondage for the sake of his family and children, clinging to a thread of hope for them. 
We walked away, like everyone else did.
Before this land belonged to Zebidiah Kingsley, Timucuan Indians lived here for thousands of years. They were killed off with the arrival of white men even before “Manifest Destiny” was a phrase of justification. 
Vines hung onto the trail, thick and gnarled, the size of my wrist, and spider-webs caught the late-morning sun amidst the shadows, with Golden Orb Weavers the size of my palm hanging in the middle of ornate webs spanning ten feet. Live oak trees shaded the trail, a loving canopy, a tunnel, with Spanish moss weeping long and hanging low. In the scrub, squirrels chattered, birds twittered, and reptiles rustled among dry leaves. The sound of my breathing mixed with the crunch of my sneakers on twigs and the cries of birds, and there was a darkening. 
The forest was dark and unfriendly, and sounds grew muffled; even my breathing didn’t sound the same. It was like I was underwater in a swimming pool, the way that sound gets distorted and seems father away than it is.
That’s when we saw the hill.
It was an anomaly. A sloping mountain rising from the woods that was only a mountain in the way that a landfill looks like natural phenomenon, but is actually Mt. Trashmore. It wasn’t huge in the way of an actual mountain, but it looked vast and scorched and out of place nonetheless.
A wooden sign with hand-written paint in faded red proclaimed “DO NOT ENTER.” The sign hung over an old chain-link fence rusted and beat into the ground.
“Woah,” I said.
“What the hell is that?” John said.
“I think we should leave now,” Logan said, voice cracking. “Go home.”
“I’m tired of following rules,” I said. “Let’s do this. This is a dumb sign, like every other dumb sign. Who cares?” I said that, and I wish I hadn’t.
“Right,” said Johnny. “Let’s do this.”
“No,” said Logan.
“You can wait here, if you want,” I said.

 

Johnny climbed over the fence in one easy move, and I followed him over. Logan huffed behind me, getting his shirt caught on the edges, muttering to himself the whole time.
We wandered into the dark tangled woods beneath the black hill. My arms burned with cuts from Devil’s Shoestring, nasty vines armed with needles which cut the skin and broke off inside, and saw-palmetto which raked wrist and face and drew blood.
We made it to the base of the hill, where the trees and scrub died, charred and crisp until nothing grew. There was an aura of dread about the place, a sense that we were violating something, walking where we should not tread, and there was a thrill in it, a shivering sort of danger which attracts and fascinates and dooms boys and men.
John was the first to reach the base of the hill, and he bounded up, his running shoes crunching on the blasted soil.
“Hey, this is sick,” he exclaimed. “This shouldn’t be here. But it’s awesome!”
I followed him, busting through the last brambles and webs, needing to climb that mountain of darkness because it was there. Adrenaline pumped through me and my heart hammered and the sky and the woods seemed to have a certain clarity, an odd sort of sharpened, jagged and dangerous tint to all of it.
“What are you waiting for?” John howled, scampering up the blasted, scoured hill.
“Maybe we shouldn’t,” Logan whined.
“See you at the top!” I hollered. I stepped onto the black sand, which wasn’t really sand, I saw. It was more like hardened ash. Cascades of it slid down the hill in my wake as I climbed. I slipped a few times, and had to throw my hands out to catch myself. Ahead, John kept climbing up.
The temperature dropped, as though we were on a real mountain and we were approaching the tree-line where the icy wind tore at anything alive.
John was already at the summit, hands on his knees and out of breath. “This is so cool,” he said. “Wait ’till you see this.”
I made it up to the top, clawing at the charred and shifting ground on the last steep bit. John offered me his hand, and I took it, hauling myself up to the apex. We straddled a pyramid, I saw, one with a blunt top.
We waited a few minutes for Logan to catch up. His nose was running and his eyes watered when he climbed the last few feet.
“Wow,” Logan said, attempting a brave smile. “This is too weird.”
“Got that right,” John replied. “This thing shouldn’t be here. Or at least, because it is here, people should know about it. Some kind of historic site, at least. Open to the people. What the hell is it?”
“I have no idea,” I said.
“Maybe some kind of Indian burial ground,” Logan offered. “Or one of those shell mounds, except different from the rest. Is it just me, or is it cold? And what happened to the sky?”
I looked up. The sky was wrong, dark and lowering the way it looked when a thunderstorm was about to unleash buckets of rain, but without the roiling clouds. Instead, we stood beneath a menacing charcoal, like a planetarium were the universe went one artificial color.
“Let’s go,” I said, my voice breaking from more fear than puberty. I felt small.
John, perhaps my hero and certainly the bravest of us, looked terrified. “This ain’t good,” he said. “I’m–” He took one half of one step.
John froze, one Nike shoe suspended above the slope, as though time itself stopped him, like a DVD on pause, like a video game character halted mid-stride because Mom is hollering to turn off the game, and you’d better take out the trash right then. John quit moving in a way that real people don’t quit moving.
He rose from the ground, still with his right-leg extended. He levitated. It couldn’t happen, but it did. Neither of his feet touched the ground, and he drifted up until his shoes were level with my head. His eyes rolled back in his head and just the whites showed and he shimmered with light, stark against the darkening sky.
“What the hell?” Logan screamed.
I probably screamed, too. I’d like to think that I didn’t, but I’m sure I did. I do know this, though: I ran.
I scrambled and slid down the hill, and Logan was right behind me. I ran through the scrub and thorns and webs and the sky was dark. My breathing seemed loud and my heart jackhammered in my chest and I shivered while I crashed through the dark woods.
Logan kept whining and whimpering, and I kept running, heedless of the cuts on my face and tears on my face and blood on my hands and arms.
We stumbled through the woods into a clearing dominated by a brick mansion with boarded-up doors and broken windows, a two-story home with a castle-like minaret.

 

The place was old and abandoned, and the cracked bricks crumbled from the walls. A murder of crows lined the roof top, cackling and jumping with nervous energy, and the air was cold beneath a sunless sky.
“Araggah! Help! Logan screamed.” Or maybe, it was me.
We plunged around the house, and kept running through the woods. And we wound up in front of that house again.
“NO!” Logan said.
“Keep running,” I said, cold and terrified.
We kept coming back to the house. I don’t know how many times it really happened. At least three times, we returned. It seemed like a hundred, a thousand, an eternity spent in hell. I was out of my head, because nothing made any sense.
The last time, though, the door to the house was open. I remember that much. Every time before, the door was boarded shut with plywood and two-by-fours. And then, we came back up the slope, the door hung open. I ran inside, and I’ll never know why I did that. Maybe, because I’d already gone around so many times, I had to do something different.
I stumbled through the house in the dark. I saw crude paintings on the walls in the anemic light, stick-figures scrawled red in violent poses, primitive skulls and images of human sacrifice. I felt the darkness pressing close and mean and I swear there were candles in that house, too, burning slow in the corners amidst the rubble and sagging timbers, and walls oozing blood.
I ran out the back door, the only place that seemed to offer hope. On the far-side of the house, three coffins, wooden and rotten, lay on the ground. I screamed then; I’m sure of that memory. I stood before them, and the woods around me were gone. The house behind me no longer existed. There were the coffins, and there was me.
I spun around, and Logan was gone, too. It was just me and the boxes. No sound, no light beyond the diffuse gray. I stumbled away, my steps awkward and thoughtless, and came back to the coffins. I tried over and over again to leave, yet I returned.
I stopped, finally, panting and quivering with fear. I opened one of the coffins. My friend Logan lay there inside, looking peaceful and wearing the clothes I’d seen him in the last time I saw him. 
I didn’t know what to do. I cried, there in the woods with the wrong sky and the coffins and the wet-spot on my pants. I prayed. I ran again, and came back to the coffins, although this time, one of them was open, and Logan was in it, looking like he was sleeping, like I’d left him.
I opened the next coffin, feeling like I had no choice. Like a video game where you have to unlock the door to move on to the next level. The second coffin was empty. There was only one way out.
I walked to the third coffin, and I pulled off the lid, the smell of rotten wood and corruption strong in the frozen air.
I saw myself, dead and pale, lying stiff against the wood.
My eyes flew open. Not my own eyes, but the eyes of the corpse who was me, yet not-me, eyes white and uncaring. The corpse lashed out and gripped my arm with the quickness of a snake, fierce and strong, and it pulled me into the darkness.
When I opened my eyes again, blue lights flashed and radios squawked and people were yelling at me. That’s how I remember it. No one believed me then, and I’m not sure I believe it anymore, either. They never found Johnny. He was gone.

Now



I’m going back. I left my friend there on that hill. I never saw him again, and folks made me believe I’d lost my mind, convinced me that monsters don’t exist and that it’s better to forget than remember. Sometimes it’s easier to burry what we cannot vanquish, yet often we find strength in the truth.
Maybe Johnny’s living in Malibu and living the good life now, and he simply ran away from home that day because he couldn’t take any more bruises. That’s what the police decided, and even my own folks didn’t believe my story. Johnny’s childhood was stolen from him before we left that morning years ago, and mine ended that day in the darkness.
Who know’s what I’ll find? Perhaps I’ll come back to that scorched hill and see myself again, and this time, everything will be different, and the truth will set me free.
End

War on Solar in the Sunshine State

sunset

Why does Florida rank behind the rest of the country in solar production?

Politics and greed, two all too common bedfellows.

Florida ranks third in the nation for potential rooftop solar output, yet comes in a dismal 16th in actual production.  “It defies logic,” says former Governor Charlie Christ. “It’s absolutely absurd.” Northeastern states like New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts are ahead of the Sunshine State when it comes to rooftop solar, despite snow and cloud cover.

Follow The Money

The utilities in Florida have waged a systemic campaign against rooftop solar because they view it as a threat to their monopoly on power. Investor-owned utilities (IOUs) rack up staggering profits from coal, gas, and nuclear power. They make money through infrastructure projects and rate increases, and to protect their profit margins, wield tremendous power in Tallahassee among our state lawmakers. “The power companies hold sway here, and the consumers are at their mercy,” said state representative Dwight Dudley, the ranking Democrat on the energy subcommittee in the Florida State House.

Florida Power and Light, which proposed a 24% rate hike to the Public Utilities Commission this year, generated $1.65 BILLION in PROFIT  last year for its shareholders. The oil and gas industries, which are heavily subsidized by the federal government, are pouring millions of dollars into Florida to thwart the growth of rooftop solar, aligning themselves with the utility companies.

Former Republican legislator Nancy Argenziano, who chaired the Public Utilities Commission until 2010 stated this: “The legislature is owned by utilities. To me, it’s extremely corrupt. The legislature takes millions from utilities, who make billions from the decisions of the PSC. They get what they pay for.”

Every year, the utilities spend millions of dollars on paid lobbyists to whisper in the ears of our legislators. They hold a carrot and a stick, because in addition to the money spent on lobbying, the utilities also spend millions each year on campaign contributions. Since 2007, utilities spent more than $12 million on lobbying, delivering an average of one lobbyist for every two legislators.

More money flows to legislators through PACs, funded by oil, coal, and natural gas interests.  Energy magnates the Koch Brothers funnel dollars through various shadowy organizations, where the dark money can be spent without public scrutiny in order to slow the growth of solar in Florida.

In a display of unparalleled greed and deception, the utilities responded to the grassroots campaign mounted by the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy by outspending them and counterattacking.

vote no on 1

Vote No On One!

Last year, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy assembled an impressive and diverse coalition of forces in an effort to make solar more viable in Florida. From Tea Party voices like Debbie Dooley, who helped to found the party, to green organizations like the Sierra Club, the SACE sought to place an initiative on the ballot that would protect rooftop solar in the sunshine state.

The utilities redoubled their efforts, and introduced an initiative of their own. Slickly marketed and blatantly deceptive, the “smart solar” amendment gives more power to the utilities, masquerading as a “green” initiative, while being funded by dirty coal. Investor-owned utilities spent $4 million on the campaign. 60 Plus, a seniors group which got more than $15 million from the Koch donor network, ponied up more than $1 million. They confused petition-signers and even adopted similar language to that of the SACE campaign, ending with deceptive wording which will ultimately appear on the ballot in November.

Should the amendment pass, the utilities will have free reign to hit solar customers with high fees, monthly charges, and up-front costs. And that is exactly what they will do.

Pulling at heart-strings

One manipulative argument from the utilities is that solar customers are unfairly subsidized by those who do not have solar, and that this results in an unfair tax upon low-income families.

This is part of the bait-and-switch campaign the utilities have waged in Florida and in other parts of the country.

First of all, the energy produced from oil, natural gas, and pet-coke is already heavily subsidized by the federal government.  The utilities begin with an unfair advantage, and ignore the fact that the energy they produce would cost more if the playing field were level.

Second, the value of energy from rooftop solar gets devalued by the utilities. A recent study by Arizona’s largest utility found that the value of solar is actually 50% more than the costs associated with it. When homeowners install solar on their roof, they are paying for the cost of the panels, not the utility. The excess power that flows back into the grid comes with no other hidden costs like power-plant upgrades, disposal fees, shipping costs, and environmental upgrades. Furthermore, the increased power leads to greater capacity for the utility, including peak usage times. Finally, rooftop solar leads to greater grid security in the event of an outage.

Subsidies for solar are dwarfed by those for oil and natural gas, which reveals that the argument made by utilities is a bold-faced lie. If utilities were so concerned about the welfare of their customers, they wouldn’t be posting billions in profits, doling out huge bonuses to executives, and increasing rates for everyone.

Moving Forward

Utilities must come to grips with the fact that a business model formed a century ago is outdated now, and face the fact that over the next 50 years, renewable energy will change the paradigm of monopoly.  In Florida, solar has suffered from the political attacks waged largely by conservatives who are in the pockets of utilities, but that perception is changing rapidly. Many conservatives are shifting their attitudes toward solar, not out of concern for the environment, but because solar gives citizens the ability to become energy independent, and because it is a sound financial investment.

Rooftop solar is a choice many people make to invest in their future, and we should have the freedom to exercise that choice. The oil companies and utilities don’t want you to be able to choose to go solar because they are afraid to lose their monopoly.

 

America needs a Reformation

church and flag

Religion and politics have been wrapped around one another for thousands of years. From a purely political standpoint, religion was frequently used as a means to control the populace and consolidate power.This was true of the Egyptians, the Aztecs, the Romans and Jews. As Christianity spread throughout the world, first through the travels of the early Apostles, and later by the growing Catholic Church, the teachings of Christ were often subverted and forgotten. The masses did not understand the simplest tenets of their own beliefs, for services were held in a language they did not understand and read from Bibles they could not read.

When Martin Luther published his famous The Ninety-five theses in 1519, he sparked a reformation, and shook the world to its foundation. With the invention of the printing press, believers had access to translations of the Bible for the first time, and the Catholic Church lost its monopoly on the faithful. In many ways, the reformation was about returning to the past, rediscovering something  true and old, rather than finding something new.

The core of the reformation was the primacy of the cross,  placing faith above works, and Justification by grace, which is not earned, but rather comes from God himself. The reformation focused on the teachings of Jesus rather than the laws of men. This, too was later twisted for political ends, with the rise of nationalism throughout Europe.

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Christianity in America needs a reformation

As the 2016 election looms, the Christian vote becomes crucial in determining who the next President of the United States will be. Once again, politics and religion are interwoven, and with consequences which will reverberate around the globe. Christians in the United States are not as homogeneous as the Catholic Church was, but over the last forty years the evangelical movement has morphed into a political beast which equates belief and faith with a clear political agenda. It’s an agenda that is often blatantly contradictory to what Jesus taught.

As the younger generation leave churches across the country in droves and membership dwindles,  prominent church leaders scratch their heads and bemoan the intrusion of humanism and secularism, point fingers at liberals, and grow more conservative. Rather than turning to the cross, they instead turn to politics.

Here are a few important ideas that seem to have vanished from the collective Christian mind in America:

Judge not

You, therefore have no excuse, you who pass judgement upon someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgement do the same things.” (Romans 2:1)

With the absurd debate over transgender bathrooms and gay-rights all over the news, Christians seem oddly focused upon codifying their judgements, and howling insults and hate from the pulpit and the rooftop. This is not only contradictory to what the New Testament teaches, but it also serves to drive a wedge between believers. It is a terrible stumbling block for many. Hypocrisy and judgment will kill belief as surely as the plague, and the church in the U.S. is ravished by these things.

Humility

“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 14:11)

Jesus taught much about humility. Not the kind of humility that we should take pride in and use as a weapon, but actual humility. Somehow, Christians still line up behind leaders, both religious and political, who exalt themselves every day. From the T.V. preachers with fleets of jets to Donald Trump, Christians get behind these clowns in spite of the obvious contradictions between what they profess, what they do, and what they actually believe.

“Woe unto you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all the other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone. Woe to you Pharisees, because you love the most important seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces.” (Luke 11:42-43)

By focusing on law, men turn from the truth. Laws are of man, while God is God. Yet here in America, we have reverted back to the same sort of legalistic thinking which led Jesus to revile the Pharisees. Law becomes subversive to faith, eroding it, undermining it, ultimately destroying it.

Jesus preached charity

“One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Mark 10:21)

“What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? (Matthew 16:26)

In the United States, where success is conflated with goodness, this idea of charity has been engulfed by the religion of capitalism. Prominent church leaders and politicians have made the claim that God invented capitalism, which has nothing to do with Christ. Worse, the poor are paid lip-service on Sunday morning, then demonized throughout the week, called lazy, freeloaders, and nastier things by talking heads on the news. Folks ought to re-read the Sermon on the Mount, and then the rest of the Gospels.

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While there is nothing wrong with wanting a limited government, this demonization of the poor has taken on tones that would make Jesus weep, and many Christians speak this sort of hate with their own mouths.

Jesus taught love

At the heart of Christian belief is love. Love is the greatest commandment.

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. ” (Matthew 22:37)

We have forgotten this, it seems, in America. We routinely see hateful speech coming from those who sit in pews every Sunday, from those who preach at the pulpit, and from leaders who sway voters because they make the claim that they are Christian.

While Jesus spent most of his time with outcasts, criminals, and prostitutes, in churches all across this country there is the spirit of judgement, exclusion and hate, rather than that of acceptance and love.

Conclusion

Since the rise of the “Moral Majority” in 1979, the Christian Right has become a potent political force in the United States, with the majority of Christians identifying with the Republican Party.

Now that Donald Trump is the presumptive GOP nominee, it’s time for Christians to re-examine their faith as it pertains to politics. Because Trump’s entire existence on this planet has been defined by greed, hate, infidelity, arrogance, and lies.

Regardless of the outcome of this Presidential election, the church across America needs to solve the problem at its core. The only way to do that is to turn back to the words of Christ.

 

 

America Never Stopped Being Great…and here’s why.

Breaking-Light-in-Lamar-ValleyThe sky is not falling. Despite the ongoing narrative from many politicians who capitalize on fear and anger, America is still a great nation. We are bombarded by posts on social media and on the evening news claiming that the country is in free-fall. That we have squandered the light which made us a beacon of hope to the world. Nonsense.

We have plenty of problems, and I write  often about them. In spite of our flaws and our divisions, the United States remains great and will continue to be unless we allow ourselves to succumb to the self-fulfilling prophecy these political clowns and talking heads are perpetuating. In terms of opportunity, ideals, economy, resources, and global power, the U.S. is yet a “city on a hill” which far surpasses the hopes of even our visionary founding fathers.

Why is everyone so angry and afraid?

Scroll through your news feed on any social media site. “We have gone off the rails,” Trump howls. “God’s judgement is upon us,” Cruz wails. “When a million people stand up and fight, they win,” Bernie extols. But Sharia Law is not coming, our guns aren’t being confiscated, Mexicans aren’t streaming across the borders raping and pillaging in hordes, and FEMA won’t stick you into a death camp. The gloom and doom makes you want to build a bunker and start stockpiling seeds food for the coming apocalypse.

The trouble is, this insidious mentality has crept into our national psyche in a way that endangers the future. This fear-based thinking ignores reality, overshadows the things that are true and good all around us. So here are some things to remember.

Ideals

Democracy works. America began the “great experiment,” and despite the absurd Presidential election we are watching, the Republic is still the best thing going. The division of power between the branches of government functions as it was designed to, and the Constitution remains intact. Yes, there are issues, and Congress and the Executive branch often don’t get along. That’s by design.

The U.S. continues to champion  human rights and democratic ideals around the world, and while there is some hypocrisy there, the truth is undeniable that the U.S. does much good in the world. When there is a terrible tsunami, earthquake, or genocide, the world still turns to the United States.

We have come far as a country. Black people are no longer considered 3/4 of a person and aren’t chattel; we have a black president. Women can vote, and we might have a woman in the Oval Office within the next decade. We have made great strides in the war on poverty and gay rights. Freedom of religion, the arguably single most important founding principle upon which our nation was built, is still protected.

Economy

The United States has by far the most powerful in the world and this will continue to be true for the foreseeable future. Employment is up, the national debt is down, and we may well see a balanced budget again soon. Listening to the politicians, you’d think that the U.S. ranked just above Afghanistan in terms of GDP.

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Resources

Our national resources made this country the envy of the world. Of course, our greatest resource is our people. We are a melting pot, and still attract the best and brightest from around the globe. In terms of sheer natural resources, the U.S. continues to be at the forefront, coming in at #2 behind only Russia. Forest, coal, water, oil, and natural gas are tremendous national assets. The U.S. is ahead of Russia with its ability to exploit these resources, and will do more to protect and manage them.

Despite the fact that the U.S. is falling behind many western countries in education, the existing brainpower of our populace continues to exert a significant “brain drain” on the rest of the world. Our scientists lead the world in more fields than we can count, and we are on the cutting edge of technology, health-care, and entertainment.

Power

Listening to Donald Trump pound a podium, one could be led to believe that Putin is holding off on invading Europe and the East Coast only because Trump might win. God forbid. We hear about catastrophic cuts to defense and claims that the Obama presidency has weakened our armed forces beyond repair, making us vulnerable to threats real and imagined. The truth is, Russia is aggressive, and so is China. So how does U.S. defense stack up? Note the disparity in spending between the United States and the rest of the world.

bi_graphics_globalfirepower

For those of you who read my work, you may guess that I’m a hawk. I’m certainly for maintaining a robust military. The United States is able to influence global geopolitics because of both its economic and military strength. Our Navy continues to add new ships with staggering technology and capabilities. Our Air Force boasts the most lethal fighter jets and bombers in the sky. Our infantry is the best-trained on the planet, and our special forces operators are the most deadly.

Culture

America gave the world Rock and Roll, Blues and Jazz, Saving Private Ryan, Grapes of Wrath and Born to Run.

Our innovations birthed the internet, the i-Phone, Microsoft, and Tesla. We are risk-takers and explorers, and we’re stubborn. The Protestant work ethic is strong in us, and while our values have evolved with the times, the Christian ideals of God, Country, and Family remain at the core of our national soul.

So the next time you hear someone say that we need to “make America great again,” I hope you will remember these things.

America Divided: Trump and The Next Civil War

abraham cover final

I hoped the GOP would field a candidate that represented the best in the United States. I would have voted for that person, but it looks like we won’t have that option. Trump will win the nomination and leave the majority of the country and the world shaking their collective heads. How did this happen, and what will the consequences be?

Trump appeals to angry Americans who feel threatened, unheard, and disenfranchised, and to these folks The Donald is a beltway outsider willing to say and do whatever it takes to take America back. He is the candidate of insult and outrage, capitalizing on the mistrust of anyone “not quite American.” He wants to build a wall along the southern border and insists that Mexico pay for it and prevent Muslims from entering the country with some magical Muslim detector he will no doubt install at airports around the world. He is quick to attack the poor, pointing a finger at entitlements and insinuating that our economic problems would be solved by eliminating food stamps and medicaid.

The billionaire is a brilliant politician, somehow resonating with families who live paycheck to paycheck, convincing them that he is on their side. It appears that no matter how outrageous, inflammatory, and false his statements are, his double-digit lead will only continue to widen. He is Frankenstein’s monster, birthed by the FOX News propaganda machine, empowered by the Tea Party, which ostensibly believes in less government. Trump beyond the control of the GOP establishment now, and is bashing his way through the countryside.

The Election

Trump will win the GOP nomination. Either Hillary or Sanders will win the Democratic nomination.

In a general election, poll after poll shows either Hillary or Sanders beating trump soundly. Sanders will be able to steal many swing voters and independents, while Hillary will galvanize her base. This outcome is what scares the hell out of me, along with the GOP establishment.

After a long campaign rife with mud-slinging, veiled hatred, and ever increasing vitriol, what happens when the Democrats win? Where does all the outrage go?

Rumors of War

Texas will not go quietly. Petitions have circulated in the Lone Star state to secede from the Union. Remember Jade Helm? The distrust of the federal government runs deep in the south. When the election is over and the Republicans lose again, many citizens will feel that the outcome is unfair, that they have not been heard. More hate groups will spring up, more militias. At some point, Hillary just might get aggressive about gun control. The next President will not be able to heal a nation that fractured years ago.

Texas could sustain itself as a separate country, with its industrial, economic, and agricultural base. Texas has ports for international trade, and of course, oil. If Texas goes, much of the south will go with it.

The next President will have a hard decision to make. Abraham Lincoln chose to go to war to preserve the Union; what will Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders do?

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War

The first Civil War took more than 600,000 American lives. The next war will be worse. We didn’t have nuclear weapons, tanks, fighter jets, or drones in 1862.

Take America Back

We are the nation that invented Rock and Roll, the light bulb, and the internet. America stopped Hitler and put men on the moon. We are innovative, hard working, and decent. The American Dream is more real to the rest of the world than it here within our borders. We are admired for our goodness yet we doubt ourselves and fight one another. The ideals of our founding fathers have been usurped, eroded, and manipulated.

Our great republic is now an oligarchy where elections are bought and sold to the highest bidder. We have been played. We must not succumb to the hate and steady stream of misinformation, but instead fight back with our votes, with acts of kindness, and open conversation with people we disagree with. Rather than howling, we should converse. There is no reason for us to be this polarized.

My next novel, Tears of Abraham is about the coming war, seen through the eyes of heroes, innocents, and villains. I believe in the essential goodness of the American people, and I hope that we can drown out the sound of evil.

 

 

http://www.amazon.com/Sean-T.-Smith/e/B00IKHPGEK

 

America Divided: “We, the sheeple…”

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I mourn for my country as it tears itself apart. We are better than this, and seem to have forgotten. Not since the Civil War has the United States been so torn, and it’s along similar geographic lines. In the wake of the California, Paris, and Planned Parenthood shootings, the vitriolic rhetoric is nastier than ever.

We are under attack

America is under attack from enemies foreign and domestic. ISIS is no joke, no J.V. team, and they are not contained, despite what President Obama has said.  The war on terror, and ISIS in particular needs to be swift and brutal and waged without mercy. Before it’s over, there will be thousands of troops on the ground again because airstrikes will not stop ISIS. Unfortunately, this is only a temporary solution to a problem with roots more than a thousand years old.

The only way to truly stop ISIS and other violent, nasty terror groups long-term is for the Arab nations, and the Imams that dictate religious policy decisions in particular, to put an end to the cries for Jihad and reign in the fundamentalist interpretations of the Koran. Because while there are violent verses, there is also a message of peace in the mix. It’s a question of what people choose to focus on and believe.

Violent fundamentalism is a cancer, and it is spreading. Unfortunately, the U.S. plays into ISIS’s hands by turning a war on terror into a war on Islam. It’s what they want, both by making recruitment easier, and by undermining our collective values as a nation.  That’s how terrorists win.

The threat within

Our own citizens are far more likely to kill us than someone who sneaks into this country. Worse, they are more likely to destroy us as a nation.

Social media makes this worse. Reporting so slanted that it cannot rightfully be called news pours gasoline on the fire. Misinformation and lies abound, with memes designed to incite hatred and violence. People are inspired by fear, and fear sometimes leads to action. The fact that the leading GOP candidates are completely insane illustrates this.

Donald Trump Speaks To GOP Women's Groups

LAS VEGAS, NV – APRIL 28: Chairman and President of the Trump Organization Donald Trump yells ‘you’re fired’ after speaking to several GOP women’s group at the Treasure Island Hotel & Casino April 28, 2011 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Trump has been testing the waters with stops across the nation in recent weeks and has created media waves by questioning whether President Barack Obama was born in the United States. (Photo by David Becker/Getty Images)

Trump is woefully incompetent to lead the nation, his main attraction that he is willing to say anything, whether it is true or not, in order to get media attention. He seems bulletproof, in that he can get away with spouting absurdities and insults; people like this about him. “He says what we’re thinking, but afraid to say.” He is a dick, and people actually respect that about him.

It’s not just Trump, obviously, but his astonishing popularity is indicative of the greater problem: we’ve turned into a hateful people. There is virtually no reasoned discourse, no ability to look at issues from both sides. Whether it’s the Second Amendment, women’s rights, the war on terror, immigration, or health care, each issue is framed in black and white by the media. And people eat it up.

Gun control

I’m a strong supporter of the 2nd Amendment. That said, the word “regulated” is right there. I fail to see how supporting thorough back ground checks or better enforcement of existing laws is an infringement of this right. No one is coming to get our guns. That’s fear-based paranoia, and it works out well for the multi-billion dollar industry that manufactures firearms and ammunition. Every time there is a mass-shooting, stocks and profits see a huge spike.

This is an American issue, not one of left or right. Yet it’s framed in such a way that the very idea of restrictions on firearms becomes jackboots and Nazis confiscating our guns. Gun restrictions have not led to dramatic drops in gun violence, that’s true. But, the areas with the most guns have the most gun violence. Something needs to be done beyond more people walking around armed.

The looming Civil War

I routinely see people calling for a revolution or secession on social media. My next book, Tears of Abraham, which releases from Post Hill Press in March, is about this very thing. People call themselves patriots with one breath, and demand a revolution with the next. It’s despicable, unpatriotic, and in the end, evil.

The first page of Tears of Abraham:

Often, that which is done cannot be undone. Sometimes a pebble unleashes a landslide; a small object becomes unstoppable, smashing and sliding and gathering momentum until chaos pulverizes everything. When the dust settles, there is a new landscape, crushed and snapped and desolate, which surely the pebble did not intend. The illusion of control can be more destructive than nature itself, when hubris convinces men to believe the lies they tell themselves.

It began with a few powerful men, tinkering and arrogant, manipulating and prodding. Wealth and power, unfettered by wisdom and conscience, smashed the United States of America. History now remembers the conflict as the second American Civil War, although there were many citizens who then fervently believed they were fighting a Revolution.

The first Civil War cost the lives of more than 600,000 people, and was the bloodiest conflict in our country’s history. The second war was worse.

We, the people, are too easily led by fear and hate. We need to talk to each other, not at one another. Listen, and work together to fix what has become broken.  I shudder at the world my children will inherit, and can only pray that we find a way beyond the consuming darkness

.http://www.amazon.com/Tears-Abraham-Sean-T-Smith/dp/1618688197

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Author update: upcoming projects

medieval-knight2016 should be a very interesting year for me! I’ll have my first book in bookstores on March 22 with the release of Tears of Abraham, a novel about the next American Civil War. I hope to generate some press and buzz with this book, as the nation continues to rip itself apart with political vitriol. I hope people read the book and come away with the feeling that we as a nation are better than what we’ve turned into.

I’ve been working hard on Fate of the Fallen, and hope to self-publish this as a series. This novel has been extremely challenging to write because of the scale and the amount of research involved. The main character is an angel with limited abilities, and the novel follows his life, alternating between the past and present. He has been a monk, a gladiator, a crusader, a scholar, and a warrior. In the present, he is trying to prevent the next apocalypse. I’m planning on releasing this book next spring or early summer, and then following it with a series of novellas.

I’m outlining for my next full length novel, and this will be a big departure for me in terms of genre. I’ve been writing “thrillers with heart.” This next book is not a thriller, but straight forward literary fiction. I can’t wait to write it. It’s called Restoration. When  Arthur Glass’s wife asks for a divorce, he purchases a hundred-year-old house in historic Riverside, Florida. He forms a deep friendship with an old lady across the street, who tells him about the history of the house, and importantly, the stories that have unfolded within the walls.

The house has been an orphanage, brothel, speakeasy, and apartment during our nation’s great wars. Love, loss, hope, tragedy and miracles have lived here, and the stories Arthur hears mirror his own character arc, filling a need in him, reminding him of things he has forgotten and also teaching things he has never known.

Chapter One
Endings and Beginnings

Arthur Glass found the old house on Oak Street on the same afternoon his wife informed him that she was pregnant and wanted a divorce. He wasn’t ready for any of it.

He pulled his pick-up truck into the cracked concrete driveway and sat behind the wheel for a moment, gazing at the two story brick home before him, his thoughts a tangle of questions and despair. He needed a place to live, and he’d always liked old houses. He could do something with the place, as long as it had good bones.

How do people do this? How do you move on with your life when your life is destroyed, when everything you love is gone and your soul is peeled away? What is there to move on to? Why?

He picked his way around the overgrown yard, contemplating the exterior of the place. He guessed it was about a hundred years old, as many of the buildings in this part of Jacksonville were. “Historic Riverside,” was its moniker, an eclectic neighborhood where artists, professionals and vagabonds blended together. The streets were lined with majestic live oak trees, Spanish moss hanging down lush and lazy, a certain energy here he’d always liked.

The house sat on a dead end, and behind it was sprawling, shady Boone Park, the yard and park coming seamlessly together. The second floor boasted two columned porches overlooking the street and the park. Oaks, cedars, rose bushes and sago palms giving the grounds a wild, lush feel. Mocking birds twittered among the leaves, and on the steps a surly orange cat bestowed him with a baleful glare.

How did I not see this coming? Who is the father?

He used a credit card to pop the lock on the back door and stepped inside. The smell of mildew and age hit him and he took this in stride. Original hardwood floors, faded and worn creaked under his feet while he wandered from room to room. Plaster walls, some with ragged holes and all in dire need of paint. An old fireplace with a carved wooden mantle in the living room, two small bedrooms, a dining room, and a kitchen that looked like it popped out of Norman Rockwell’s imagination back in the fifties.

He wondered what stories had unfolded here over the years, what whispers these walls overheard.

He walked up a narrow staircase to the second floor, realizing that this was actually an apartment; each floor had a separate entrance. If he’d come here at any different time of day, perhaps things would have been different.
The late afternoon sun streamed through tall windows and filled the living room with golden October light, piercing the veil of decay and obsolescence with a kind of hope and warmth, inviting and serene. He could see this room filled with her canvasses and brushes and colors, alive with her laughter while she painted, dancing to Van Morrison, long dark hair cascading down her shoulders and blue eyes bright with creative mischief and something deeper, a peaceful sort of longing and truth. The way she used to look at him, but hadn’t in years.

She would love this room. Would have, he corrected himself. He had to think that way, and he knew it, but it was too soon and raw. He got it, though. Saw the truth even though it burned and always would and there was no way not to face it, here in that room with perfect light where the things he wished for were translucent dreams transposed onto empty spaces, emotional holograms bereft touch and feel. Delusions of simple grandeur that life boldly stated could never be.

Ghosts of tomorrow, that’s what they looked like to Arthur, and he could see them and it hurt to see.

Love is a contradiction, for it is beauty, promise and light until it turns, and when it turns, it’s quick and mean and dark and deadly and sucks everything in. A black hole birthed like an abomination from what was once a brilliant star, now hungry, relentless and devouring even the light which tries to escape it. Love is destruction. A force of nature implacable and cruel which obliterates what it does not tolerate: objects at rest, and things which have outlived their usefulness.

She says she loves me but isn’t ‘in love’ with me. What does that even mean? God, what happened to us?

Stepping into the room with the gold light spreading on empty spaces sealed his fate, for he knew at that moment that he was going to buy the place.

Love is restoration.

 

Other good news

Children of Wrath and Wrath and Redemption have both been picked up by audible, so they will be available soon in audio format. That’s great news, because Objects of Wrath did pretty well as an audio book.

Also, the entire Wrath trilogy will be distributed by Simon & Schuster next year, meaning that I’ll have the ability to have that in bookstores around the country.http://www.amazon.com/Objects-Wrath-Volume-Sean-Smith/dp/1618682245

 

Free short story: Sand

kelli at the end

Sand

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The ocean this morning is that special blue, deeper than any color can be alone, truer than the sun playing golden on easy waves, warm and inviting. The sweet breeze and the singing feeling in my chest and the taste of salt and life and the way light and shadows dance against a vast horizon are all part of one color.

I am an artist, feeling what I see, seeing what I feel, and right now in this moment I have discovered a new color. Hope.

Standing in the surf, hard packed sand beneath painted toes and wind tossing my long hair, hope embraces me, a brilliant color and emotion I have yearned to find. There is freedom and forgiveness and exhilaration in it, but it is more than those things, for it is akin to explaining the sunrise to a blind woman or the joy and pain of childbirth to a man. There are some things that only make sense with color and context.
Henry launches himself into a wave, laughing and carefree and seven, bursting with light and potential, and I am filled with joy and gratitude as I gaze upon my son, and for a moment a cloud passes overhead and there is regret mingled with wonder at his resilience and my own.

“Momma, did you see that? That wave almost got me. It didn’t though.”

“I saw, honey. You beat that wave.”
“Look out,” he shouts, grinning with his hands in the air. “Here comes a big one. Get ready.”

Yeah. I know about that.

Behind us, the castle surrenders to the water, walls sliding into the sea, a work of art doomed to memory from its inception because it was built in the only place it could have been with the materials at hand: Hope and love and sand.
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I saw something in him when I first laid eyes on him, and part of me still wonders about that. Doubts my sanity. That’s a man, I thought. Tall and handsome and cocky, a guitar on his back and a searching kind of loneliness in his eyes at the same time. A road trip with some girlfriends to Panama city with a detour to Nashville cast ripples I never could have imagined. Probably we should have gone to the beach.

I’m from a little shithole southern town where everybody knows everybody, even though they never really do. They think they do, and make up lies to fill in the blanks. Don’t get me started. That’s a whole separate ball of wax. It’s part of it, though. Part of why I stayed when I should have left after things went like they did. There is hope now, and for me back then in those hard years between the folds, I saw hope in that guy with a guitar and wounded eyes and silver words.

You work with what you’ve got, and sometimes it’s sand. You build where you can, and if it’s the damn beach, then that’s better for the moment than anywhere else if that’s the only place you think you can build.

Worse, if that’s where you want to make something lasting even though you know better, because there is that thing that you can’t explain to anyone with a brain, including yourself. That love and passion and color and self-delusion wrapping around each other in a heady mix of blue sky and Cinderella and faith and kisses.

There are hotel rooms where people to this day cannot go because of us. We fucked like wild animals and it was glorious, mattresses askew and cushions on the floor and people calling the front desk. It was like that; that was the good part, the beginning, that thing that was real in its own way but painfully elusive in the life I eventually lived. The life we lived for a damn decade.

I wasn’t happy where I was when I met him, raging against the small town and small minds and big egos, and there was this huge man with song and gentle touch. A caress and a look around the eyes that unlocked parts of me I didn’t want to face, but which ignited a tingle and desire and a longing for something I’d almost given up on believing could be real. I wanted to believe. I truly did. I was divorced, he was divorced. I had a boyfriend, he had a girlfriend. We lived 550 miles apart…here we go.

I should go back and slap myself upside the head, but it’s a little late for that. I try to tell my daughters not to make the same mistakes I did, and I pray they hear my plea. They likely haven’t learned the things I wished they would, the right lessons that could have been lived and not said, and it makes me sad still.

That son of a bitch. The man I loved destroyed me and he hurt everyone I loved. There was darkness in me and surrender because I didn’t see anything else.

I am better than that. I remain undefeated, and with the sky true and the ocean sweet, I feel it. He was my enemy, implacable in the way of the tide claiming a castle built upon the sand. He did what he did, hurting and acting and reacting. Hurting me. Harming our family. The tide has no choice, serving the moon, but he made choices the ocean never has. Later, I made choices too. I don’t have many regrets. He can keep those.

The bitterness in my heart devoured me, and that I lay at his feet. That he fell in love with me for a second time when I wasn’t in love with him doesn’t matter anymore. I’d already moved on before I moved on, he just didn’t see it. Truth is often painful but always worth the price, even when it’s paid in heartache.divorce-2

I am a woman, a mother, and an artist, and my past does not define me. I fought like hell to get here to this moment and feel these colors. I earned this ocean and this light. I paid the price with tears and years and parts of me I should never have surrendered.sand3

I hear a laugh behind me, a joyous hearty thing, and I spin, my toes digging in the sand and the sun on my face and smile at the man I love and want to spend the rest of my life with.
He is not the same man I built castles in the sand with.

And that makes all the difference.
2

Dawn comes slow and warm, the surf an easy whisper on the beach. Lying on my back beneath a sand dune, the sky is turning from black to gunmetal gray, becoming something new, painted with swirls of pink and orange until the sun breaks on the horizon. I’ve always loved to watch the sun rise; it’s a wondrous transformation, as darkness surrenders to light. A kind of rebirth which only comes through time.sand2

Endings are really beginnings; I often forget that. I remember it now.

The fresh sea breeze soothes my soul and there is the taste of salt and the coming sun on my lips mingled with peace. The kind of peace you don’t know you need until you find it again and see how much you’ve been missing it.

I am a writer, and I’ve sacrificed much at the altar of love. The love of words, and the love of a woman.

Maybe that’s how it had to be.
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Sometimes when you meet the love of your life you know it right away; that’s how it goes in the movies. It wasn’t like that for me.I didn’t know it until it was too late.

I met her in Nashville years ago, rebounding and hurting and she helped heal me. Made me feel loved and safe. There was a whirlwind romance with this unlikely woman from the deep south with wild hair and blue eyes and a hunger in her I found intensely desirable. Within six months of divorcing my previous wife of many years, I found myself married again, an expectant father and stepfather of two girls, living far from home in a new town.
I wanted to be that guy. I really did. I wanted to believe.

I wasn’t ready to meet her, but it happened the way it did and went to hell from there. I hung on through kids and demons and heart break, inflicting my own upon the way. Resentment grew in that void and bitterness festered. There were actions and reactions until it was impossible to know what was true and what was false. It’s not an uncommon story, and I wish I’d written a better one for my life, mine and her’s.

We hung onto eachother and our children through years of quiet desperation. Clinging to the hope that one day things would change, that light would break through the looming clouds and we would feel that shine on our hearts again. That God would bring purpose and healing to us together, not individually. To our family. That our faith would sustain us.
It happened for me, but it never did for her. I only thought it did.hourglass

On a perfect day right before the blue sky fell, the sun was gold dust glittering on the water and in the air and we were a family. I recall the sense of wonder and glory, savoring that moment with my children in the waves, holding hands with my wife, a deep gratitude and awe in me that things were good. I can wrap those memories around me now and hold them tight

Just because we wish a thing to be true does not make it so.

I defined myself as a father and a husband and an author, and it’s been a process to remake my life and my existence. I will always be a dad, and being away from my boys for any time has wounded both me and them. I’ll always be a writer, too and I embrace that part of me. Words don’t keep you warm at night, though, don’t hold you when you are crushed.

She was my muse and best friend, inspiring me, making me a better man and better author. It’s an anguished thing to loose, knowing that that has faded away. I hope forgiveness finds me. For the moment, there is peace. There is hope in the growing light.

The tide eats the beach and blue waves claim the sand as they have forever, and when the wind blows right and the ocean calms, the sand blows up onto the rolling dunes and the beach is born again.

The sky is bright now and I turn away with a certain wistful sadness; I’ve got pages to write. Later, I’ll come back with my boys and we’ll build a sand castle. The memories will remain long after my footprints are gone, and they will be true and good.

The End

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