zero k

I’m currently reading the book Zero K by Don DeLillo.  A lit professor back at West Chester University introduced me to DeLillo’s work.  It was a semester where I’d discover him, Paul Auster and Martin Amis, a trilogy of authors I still read whenever the inspiration tank is running low.

Zero K is the story of a family led by a wealthy patriarch. He develops the technology to make cryogenic resurrection a possibility. The patriarch calls his son to his compound, the base of the cryogenic facility, for the day his stepmother will be frozen.

The father tells his son that he’s decided to be frozen himself, to kill himself the day she goes in.  After a heated conversation, the son walks out of his office.  The next morning he finds his father a mess and in mourning.

He asks him why he didn’t go through with it.  The father replies:

“It was our conversation yesterday.  You said, if I do it, I reduce you.”

In one sentence, DeLillo captures the essence of being a parent and traveling a spiritual journey.

A photo by Maarten van den Heuvel. unsplash.com/photos/MM5rpMpC9k4

When children come, we find ourselves balancing their needs with our own. I posted last time about my cousin, still waiting a heart transplant at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital down in Philly.  My aunt is staying there, living at the hospital in daily anticipation.

My aunt has spent her career as a nurse still, years after retirement, substituting in local school districts.  She put in her time enough to have a place at the Delaware beaches and, yet, she’s here keeping vigil in my cousin’s room.

So many years had passed in both of their lives, good times and turbulent times, and tonight they sit together one strengthened by the other. The parent refusing to reduce the child by walking away.

Some of us, looking back, see walking away as a necessary part of growing up.

The house of our families had broken down enough to destroy any chance that we’d trust again. We keep everyone at a distance. We live in our stress, sitting in quiet times with racing minds and pounding pulses.

As men, we internalize.

I was taking Alka-Seltzer at fifteen.

Even with our preconceptions, God tells us the same message.  We are meant for greater things. We are meant for a life of adventure, danger, creation, thrills, victory, and stories grand enough to glorify the one that spoke the Universe into being.

God tells us the same thing.

Even when everyone else has walked away, turned their back, stopped calling and blanked us in silence. Even when darkness seems liquid and thick enough to fill a room.  Even when hope is four letters without meaning.

God will not walk away.

Without God, we are reduced to the fumes of our humanity.  With God, we burn in the flame of perfect love.

Whether in a hospital room, putting our kids to sleep, holding hands on the couch, or walking down a fall forest trail, we are never alone.

Tonight, I pray you find peace. Find faith as a verb and not a noun and hear your calling to so much more.

 

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Chapter 4

This post is part in a series of rough draft chapters of a novel in progress.  You’ll find Chapter 1, Chapter 2, and Chapter 3 by clicking on the links here. I wanted to push things out into a little different direction here with an addition to the plot.  Enjoy!

SOUTH

 

The bulletin came over the computers a little after 2:30 in the morning.

Charlie Reynolds sat on the balcony of the Reynolds Observatory.  The telescope looked like something out of a movie, located on a hillside ten miles from the old University of North Carolina. Reynolds himself was an alumnus, coasting through the science program since the building had his name on the front.  Montgomery Reynolds, one of the founders and key members of the Manhattan Project, split his fortune between the university and his only son.

The steeple of the district church glowed in the distance, sending a blue shaft of light into the night sky.  He took a pull from his cigarette, cursed his luck, and flicked it over the side of the wall.  His supply was dwindling and the “criminals” of the new order weren’t established enough.  He had tried to find more, driven for days around North and South Carolina, and came up empty.  A half carton waited in his desk.

He squeezed the tension from the back of his neck.

His cell phone vibrated on the concrete and he picked it up. An alert he didn’t recognize showed on the screen. A tornado had been spotted to the west, moving quickly towards the area.  All residents were advised to get inside. He put the phone back on the ground.

Clear sky. No wind. No emergency sirens, if they even worked anymore.

It had to be a fluke.

He shut his eyes and yawned, thinking about the bedroom he had built-in the lower floor of the observatory. He’d taken many a sorority girl to see the sights, literal and figurative.

The bed called.

It would be a short journey and he could be sleeping in minutes.  He inhaled, reaching for the final cigarette in the pack and felt it skitter away from his hand.

“You’ve got to be kidding me.”

He stood to chase it just as the pack fell over the side of the railing.  A gust of wind pushed hard enough to send his shoulder into the railing and he cringed. Thunder crashed and the stars disappeared as the storm system arrived. The top of a funnel cloud formed over the observatory. He needed to warn people, get the word out somehow.

The sirens remained silent.

He reached for his phone and the world went white.

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A hand, cold and soft, lay on his forehead. He opened his eyes to see the night sky, clear again. The atmosphere, though, crackled with electricity. He leaned forward to a shot of pain and pressure.  The figure kneeling before him blurred into focus.

It started as a swirling wind of matter like its own universe somehow centered on the balcony two feet away. He squinted and it settled to the most beautiful woman he had ever seen.

Her hair was black, cascading in a viscous mass around her head.  Her eyes were almond brown and, for a moment, he was lost. Colors moved and changed inside them. She wore a slate grey business suit.

He attempted to look at her body but couldn’t move.

“Don’t be afraid.” The words seemed to come from the air.  Her voice was the sound of ringing bells. He opened his mouth but nothing came. “Charles, I have a message for you from the Lord.”

He tried again to speak and felt his throat tighten as if a pair of hands constricted against it.

“Silence.”

His breath cut off completely and he thrashed on the ground pulling at the invisible hands around his neck.

“You will tell a story to change this world.  Your journey starts at dawn.”

Blackness came at the corners of his vision. He tried to stay awake.

“I will see you again soon.”

Thunder crashed. The funnel cloud appeared where she had stood moments before. His ears popped with pressure and he screamed, finally able to pull in breath and shut his eyes.

In the span of heartbeats, all was calm again.

He stood, head spinning, waiting until he could walk. The elevator ride almost made him vomit.  He crawled to the bed and fell into a deep sleep.

 

The room was dark. It shouldn’t have been dark, not with the large window across from the bed.  They had built it to overlook sunrise to the east as a natural alarm clock. His throat was dry, his arms and legs sore.  He rolled over and felt for the light, flipping the switch.

Nothing changed.

He sat up in bed, forcing his eyes open.  The room remained dark.

What happened?

He scrambled to the floor just as the phone started to ring and vibrate on the side table. It took a minute to find it with roaming hands.

“Who is it?”

“Charles, why do you persecute me?”

The voice cut deep into his heart.  It was the woman, the thing or whatever it was, from the night before.

“What? What happened to me? Who the hell is this?”

“Go into town and you will receive your instructions there.” The call ended. He threw the phone and listened to it crash against the wall.

If only his parents were still alive. They would know what to do. He wouldn’t be stuck in this monstrosity of a building by himself.

Somehow, he was blind.

Blind.

He tried to imagine what was around him but the images were fleeting. The only constant figure was the woman and the storm.  She did this, somehow.  He needed to take inventory and figure out a way to get in town and go where?

The tears came before he could stop them and they puddled at his feet.

 

 

Weekend Inspiration-Lessons from the Past

After a beautiful morning of taking Aiden to the playground, I decided to look to the past for some Weekend Inspiration:

I had grandparents that could, and parents that can cook and I remember many nights with the smell of fresh pasta and sauce on the stove. Now that I have kids, I traded in tradition for ease more than once and this lesson rings in my ears every night at dinner:

LOS ANGELES

Taken from a letter my mother wrote me before I went to college.  We had a cat at the time, so the original was “pet a cat and you’ll feel better.” I think it applies to all pets and is a great reminder for the darker nights of the soul:

when you are down

I was shy growing up, to a fault.  Maybe it was the only child thing where I’d grown used to being by myself.  Now, looking back, I’d tell my self to:

strike up more

Every summer we would take a vacation as a family. As I grew from playing in the sand to walking with Val and finally watching my kids play in the sand, this is clear:

Some of your best memories will be made

 

Have a great weekend!

~Matt

 

A Bike Ride and The Storm

I stood on the playground as Carter rode circles around me on his bike, a skill he had just acquired and accomplished without the use of training wheels.  I thought back to growing up, when a bike was the only way to get around.  Our home town was situated on the side of a hill.  Going down was great.  Going across was okay, but I could take it.

I’d avoid going up hill at all costs.

Carter pulled his bike to the side and hopped off.

The playground is with his elementary school.  Someone had thrown hundreds of sheets of colored paper in the dumpster next to where I’d parked. Storm clouds gathered to the west and, as we watched, the wind picked up a sheet of white paper and blew it to Carter’s feet.

He had found a small pencil on the ground and sat down, drawing shapes and figures on the paper.  I sat across from him as he worked, hand moving in loops and swirls, green eyes checking to see if I was watching.

It was a vast difference from the night before.

broken-rust-bike-bicycle

An instance had grown to a conflict, to emotions and words, anger and tears.

“What are you drawing?” I asked.

It was the shape of an animal with four backward L feet.

“A turtle,” Carter said.

“What’s his name?”

“Mister M.” He drew a big M on the turtle to make his point.

A second piece of paper blew out of the dumpster, danced on the wind, and landed next to me. I grabbed it and passed it over to Carter.  We traded papers.

He started on a stick figure, paused, and looked at my face.

“Are you drawing me?” I asked.

“Yep,” he said as he colored in a black shirt on my stick torso.

I swallowed.

“I’m sorry about last night,” I said. “We’re going to do better. As a family.”

“It’s okay.” He said.

In a moment, he had shown me grace.  The sun cut through the clouds and he squinted against it.  He finished my stick portrait and handed it to me.

“Keep it,” he said.

I will, Carter.  I will.

~Matt

The Closer

Let me make something clear at the start of this post.  I am not a NY Yankees fan.

Last week I picked up Mariano Rivera’s memoir from Barnes and Noble. The book is titled The Closer. It tells the story of Rivera’s childhood in Panama and his journey into being one of the best closers in baseball history. Regardless of your feelings about the Yankees, you can’t deny the contributions of players like Rivera and Derek Jeter to the game.

He is also a man of deep and profound faith.

Last night I started a chapter where Rivera mentions the Holy Spirit talking to him before a game.  He was riding high in the prime years of his abilities, just having found the cut fastball that would make him famous. Before taking the mound on a hot July night, he had the distinct impression of the following word:

I am one that put you here.

He went on to have one of his worst performances of his career.  He describes it as a wake up call.  Throughout the book, Rivera is humble and thankful.  He believed he was thinking way too highly of himself and God had stepped into even the scales that night.

Sound familiar?

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We have a choice in the midst of struggle. We have a choice in the midst of moments of pain, relief, and joy. Our walk with God is a process.  We read, in James 4:8-

Come near to God and he will come near to you.

Look again at the title of Rivera’s book.  As a baseball fan, I knew the clear meaning.  Rivera was a closer.  He pitched the last inning or two of a game to close the door on the opposition and get a win.

As a follower of Jesus, I see the other meaning.

It is a story of getting closer.  Walking with God through it all.  Tonight know and understand that God has a purpose for your life.  He yearns to break into your reality, to answer your petitions and open the doors of your heart.

It will not be easy but it will be worth it. Draw near. Ask. Seek. Knock and the door will be open. Your field of battle may not be Yankee Stadium.  It may be something even greater. God can use you to change your family, break the bonds of anger, addiction, or mistrust. You can change your workplace, community, and even the world.

You can walk next to someone and give them hope to wake up tomorrow.

The ball is waiting.  Will you take it and get in the game?

~Matt

Mid Week Inspiration and a Free Book

Hope can be found at the intersection of

My name is Matt Shaner. I am a believer, writer, husband, and father. I’ve published thirty short stories, two novellas, and two novels. I’ve completed my MFA in Creative Writing at Fairfield University and I want to help you:

~Find an audience.

~Break the through the “Mainstream” lines that hold back Faith-based stories

~Get your writing taken seriously in traditional or self-publishing environments.

Lazarus Art is a book with four concise and valuable lessons to enhance your writing. Taking inspiration from the Biblical story of Lazarus, it will motivate you to find new life in your creative efforts.

Lazarus Art is available for download for free from Amazon.com. This special is running for the next five days.  It’s the perfect chance to check out my work and share it with anyone you know looking to take their writing to the next level.

Lazarus Art

You can download it by clicking here.

~Matt

Inspiration Week: Day 2

Have the courage to tell your

p356writing.com

My book, Lazarus Art, is available for free for a limited time starting tomorrow.  If you’d enjoy a book that will change your writing life, check it out. If a friend or family member is a writer, it makes a great inspirational gift.  Pick up a copy or two and pass them on!

~Matt

Live Dangerous

I love James Bond. Even growing up and catching the Bond movie marathons on Saturday afternoons. From Connery to Daniel Craig, the character is a classic hero.  He gets the beautiful woman, cool toys, and victory in the end, driving around in the newest Aston Martin. He faces danger on a daily basis.

Then I look in the mirror and realize how far away I am from the tuxedo and Casino Royale.

CRAFT

Are you taking risks?

I’m not talking facing down a bad guy.

What dreams haunt you in the night as your spouse sleeps at your side and the house settles? What conversations are waiting to happen?

What is a dangerous life?

It is being a parent and going the extra mile when you don’t have an ounce of energy left.  It is standing up for a coworker when they face times of trouble.  It is stepping out in faith and radical love that demolishes the walls of race, creed, and orientation.

It is going against the grain, against expectations, and seeing your ideal life play out before you.

There is peace in danger, in movement. There is energy in the flow that draws us forward.

So join the game, sit down at the table, throw on your tuxedo and order your martini shaken, not stirred.

Make a goal of taking a risk this week and see where it takes you.

~Matt