Remote School

Imagine starting a new job.

You have seven different supervisors, in a new building, with new coworkers. The seven different supervisors all give you consistent daily work in seven different areas. Here’s the catch, you will only visit the office twice a week. And you’ll only see the supervisors in person twice a week.

The work is different, more advanced, and fast paced. Your performance review is available daily to see online. There’s no leeway in terms of tasks. If you fail, you fail. If you pass, you pass. Sometimes you can retry a task but once you needed to complete it in 3 minutes because your time with that supervisor was up then (true story).

As an employee you are kinesthetic, you want to move. You are the kind of person with a standing desk, always tapping a pencil as you try to do your job. But, by the way, you can’t during your three other days working at home. Those days are spent staring at a screen. One you get marked absent for if you happen to be late logging on because you were taking four blissful minutes of movement outside.

The days at work are better. You see and make friends. You try to find your place. You think, hey maybe I’m fitting in here. Then at home you wonder. You worry. Maybe a friend didn’t answer a text. Maybe they are busy or, maybe, they don’t really like you as much as you think?

And your mind goes in many different paths as you try to find normalcy, pattern, something to calm the worry. Your first supervisor, he talks for ten minutes and logs off after telling you to do an assignment. The others are shorter. One is longer and she takes every minute of her time to make sure her points are made.

Then you have a lunch break at 10:30 am. By the time your day of remote work is done you have seven new assignments, an assessment coming up, a pair of projects due soon, and you are tired. You sit on the couch as your head spins. You are starving.

Not only do you have to figure this job out, understand how to fracture yourself into seven different pieces and become a subject matter expert in areas you couldn’t give a damn about, you have to do it and discover who you are as a person.

There are times it sinks in. You get angry. You cry. You feel like the world is crashing down. You feel like you’ll never make it. You wish things were simpler. You think about being a kid and spending days at the playground in the summer sun and part of you mourns even thought you don’t know that word yet or why it causes pain deep in your soul.

Your days are a roller coaster. Some you feel confident, you feel like you could take on anything. Some you are scattered and lost. Some, by the seventh period of work, you are done physically, mentally, and emotionally.

You go to bed at night and set your alarm for 6:30 the next morning because the bus will pick you up at 7:15 and it starts over again.

Your dreams, your likes, those things you could see yourself doing, they feel like islands on a misty horizon. You’ve just started to consider a future, years passing, what it means to age and do something as your life. To get there, you have to get through here.

This shell. This premise. This system that everyone is improvising, no matter what they try to sell in emails. This moment where everyone is lost no matter how confident they sound.

Photo by Hoang Loc on Pexels.com

You love The Flash. You’ve watched every episode of Barry Allen’s story. You feel like you know the characters personally. Allen is smart, likeable, handsome enough to have girlfriends that you’d love to find. Most of all, Allen is fast. He can move is a split second. He can escape in a moment. He can take care of trouble, rescue the victim, and defeat the bad guy. So at night you watch The Flash and you dream. You dream of being the hero, the one they all look up to, the one with speed.

And you smile as you imagine it. You put your foot into the ground and you run.

A Letter to Heaven

Two years ago, you went home.  On a dark and cold winter night we drove to the hospital with you and, when we left the next morning, you were gone.  Your mom was a little more than twenty weeks pregnant.  You’d made it half way.

Then you were called home.

I cried when I found out you were coming, not out of joy.  I was scared, to be honest, to meet you.  We never found out your gender but something tells me you were meant to be my little girl.

Your brothers grow each and every day.  Carter is so active and he has a huge heart.  Aiden is so smart. He loves to sit and relax, play his video games and watch his shows. They would have loved you. They still do.

I like to read.  You never found that out, but I’ll tell you because it’s important to me.  I read something yesterday that asked “how would you live if you had 6 months left?”

I thought about this question.

And my mind went to you. You had six months.  So what if I could live inspired, grab that time, know and remember every second of swirling emotion. What if I could see you as an inspiration?

What if I could live these days to make you proud of me.

The world is hard.  It is loud and noisy.  People get distracted.  I like to think the chaos was too much for you and God called you back to heaven because your heart was too pure for this.

Because we struggle.  We suffer. We hurt.  Your mom and I, our hearts were broken when we lost you.  Your brothers, they were so excited to meet you one day.

We’re not perfect, but we were your family.  We are your family.

You will always be in our hearts.

Until the day I see you again, my little girl.

~Your dad

 

Tuxedo

Carter and I were riding in the car this morning.

“They had a meeting with all of fifth grade this week as a reminder about how to act at lunch and in class and with friends,” he says, “this one kid got in trouble a few times for doing things, like real bad things he shouldn’t have.”

An unusually warm February sun shone in the window. I thought about what he said.

Do you know what a gentleman is? I asked.

Not really, he said. I took a breath.

man wearing suit jacket dress shirt and dress pants standing near wall
Photo by W R on Pexels.com

Open doors.

Say please and thank you, loud enough to be heard.

Pull her chair out. Push her chair in.

Ask to hold her hand.

When the time is right, ask to kiss her.

Be a friend. Stand up for the bullied and stand up to the bullies.

Be a leader. Make those around you better.

Talk. Listen. Respect.  Shake hands. Say goodbye. Look people in the eyes.

Stand at the table when people arrive or leave.

Make your word your bond. Tell the truth. Be honest. Mean it.

Be a good man. Be a good friend. Be a good husband. Be a good father.

Be confident.  Give confidence.

Celebrate wins. Learn from losses. Apologize for wrongs. Don’t gloat over rights.

Be humble. Be sympathetic and empathetic.

Does it make sense? I asked.  He nodded. I think, he said.

Me, your father, and your great grandfather were raised to be gentlemen, to be good men.  I expect you and your brother to be the same, I said.

I want both of you to be known as good men.

He smiled.

We drove on into the afternoon.

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.

 

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.

pexels-photo-29970

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?

rivera_si-thumb-550x733-1581021

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