Archive for category short stories
Most serious writers want to connect with an audience; preferably a big one. You have something to say. You have a story to tell. You want people to read it. One of the best ways to make people want to read your work is to create memorable and relatable central characters. Whether you are writing a short story, screenplay, or a novel, you want your readers to identify with and live the story through your main characters. To do this, you have to create three dimensional characters that live and breathe in your reader’s imagination. I’d like to share with you a method I learned for from professional, published writers.
I started writing in earnest when I began a career in marketing communications. In my early thirties, it became clear to me that writing was the thing I enjoyed doing the most when it came to work. I wrote promotional copy and content for radio and TV ads, brochures, websites, press releases, Power Point® presentations, sales contests and salesperson motivation, and on and on. In my forties, I wrote a few not-so-good short stories. At the age of fifty, I decided to try my hand at writing screenplays. I was scared shitless. Deep down, I really didn’t think I could do it. Some crazy impulse pushed me towards the cliff’s edge and over it into the unknown.
Fortunately, I was old enough to realize I needed help. At fifty, I didn’t have the time or inclination to fall into the traps most beginning fiction writers do. I had already suffered enough scars from learning how to write business communications. I wanted to walk as straight a path as possible in this new world of fiction writing. I knew that mistakes were inevitable. I just wanted to avoid the detours.
Somehow, I found my way to the Online Writers’ Program at UCLA. One of the first things I learned in my online courses was the necessity of building an original and compelling Protagonist and Antagonist plus an interesting cast of supporting characters. Unless you are an incredibly gifted genius, you will need to know your characters thoroughly before you start writing your story. You must know them in detail, including the seminal events that made them who they are today, commonly called their backstory. Why is this necessary? Because if you don’t know who your characters are and what they need and want before you start writing, they will almost certainly be flat, two-dimensional cut outs. At the very least, they won’t be original and interesting.
If you craft your characters carefully and thoughtfully, your story will write itself. Your plot will be character driven, rather than contrived. Your readers will become emotionally attached to your characters.
Okay, I know what you’re thinking: Enough of this baloney. Tell me how to write amazing characters.
There are two methods I can suggest. You can sit down and write everything you know about your character. Hopefully, you’ll fill several pages with your biographical information. If you can do this effectively, more power to you. There’s only one catch: You better know what to include in your character’s bio because, as we’ve said, you have to know your character inside and out. That’s why I prefer the second method, especially if you are new to creating fictional characters.
The second method, which I deveoped from my online courses at UCLA, employs a character template to build your character. I feel it’s better than writing about your characters in an unstructured format because it forces you to answer questions about them that you might try to avoid or just plain leave out. Here’s the template you can use to create central characters with more originality, specificity, and complexity. Filling out the template takes a bit of work, but in the end, I believe it can expand your audience and pave the way to greater writing success.
Build or Figure:
Past/present home life:
David Gittlin has written three feature length screenplays, produced two short films, and published three novels. For more information, please visit www.davidgittlin.com
My father is back. He’s forty-five-years-old. He looks just like himself, except he’s learned not to smoke. He’s learned a lot of things in heaven, not the least of which is how to be a better human being. Ever since he died in 2006, I have thought of my father as Morton rather than my father. As you might have guessed, Morton and I were not exactly bosom buddies before this new version came along.
This new Morton has a beautiful new wife who is not my mom. She’s a brunette, tall, with a model’s figure, and she’s smart and very good at human relations. She has to be to get along with Morton. She doesn’t take abuse from anyone, including Morton. She is a deeply rooted human being who can correct Morton when he gets mean or when he gets too into his work and forgets to be a person. Her name is Jennifer. Her maiden name is Jennifer Ward-Allen. She’s from a mixed Jewish and Irish family, which is odd. Her hair is red and her complexion is fair. She has green eyes. She doesn’t look Jewish, but she is Jewish, which works for Morton. Jennifer exudes an inner as well as an outer beauty. Although I had no problem with my original mother, I sense that this woman is much more caring, present and aware.
Jennifer is divorced from a man who is very successful in the field of Enterprise Software Management. He also dabbles in the production of live stage plays. His name is Arthur Samuelson. To Jennifer’s shock and amazement, Samuelson kept two serious character flaws secret from Jennifer for three and a half years. In addition to his entrpreneurial skills, the man turned out to be a philanderer and a lush. It occurs to me if Jennifer had met and married the old Morton, I don’t think she would have been any happier than she was with Samuelson, but for very different reasons. Morton was definitely not a drunk or a cheater. He had many good qualities, and some others that were much less appealing, but that’s too long a story to tell here. We have to get back to business, as Morton likes to say.
Last week, I went to sleep as a seventy-year-old family man, and woke up as a twenty-five-year-old single man. After recovering from the shock of looking in the mirror, I take stock of my surroundings. I quickly discover that I’m not living in the beautiful home my wife, Bonnie, has made for me. It’s a sterile apartment where I used to live in North Miami. The place has since been torn down and redeveloped into two luxury condo towers, but now it’s back to being an aging complex known as “The Summer Winds Apartments.”
My first concerns as a twenty-five-year-old are for my wife and daughter. Will I ever meet my loyal and devoted wife Bonnie again? If I do, will we have our precious daughter, Danielle? As I contemplate these disturbing eventualities, the phone rings. I go into the galley-sized kitchen to answer it.
“This is your father calling. Remember me?”
“Who is this? You have some nerve calling and impersonating my father. If you are a telemarketer, I’m going to report you to the FTC and the Florida Attorney General’s office, and to any other law enforcement agency that will listen.”
“Calm down, David. It’s really me.”
“How can it be you? You died thirteen years ago.”
“It’s me, son. You kept thinking about the good times we had with the racing stable after we sold the business and you got married. You were wishing for those good times again. You were wishing you could be young again. Well, someone up there must like you, because I’m back, stronger than ever. You remember that Wall-Tex commercial where they used that slogan after they settled the plant workers strike.”
“How can I forget? How can I forget anything we did? But how can this be you? You expect me to believe this is some kind of miracle?”
Morton sighs heavily. “Oy vey, David. Don’t make this harder than it has to be.”
“Okay. If you’re my father, then what was the name of the horse we owned that won the In-Reality Division of the Florida Stallion Stakes?”
“His name was Silver Sunsets.”
“How did he run?”
“He came from dead last at the quarter pole to first place at the wire.”
“Oh my God. It’s really you.”
“Live and in living color, my boy. Now, can we get down to business?”
Morton asks me if I might be interested in doing marketing for his new company.
The company is a custom packaging manufacturer equipped with an expert design team and all of the latest online ordering applications. The company’s potential is worldwide and unlimited. Morton plans to develop a top notch, multi-lingual sales force under one roof using state-of-the-art, virtual training programs. He tells me to be ready to work if I come on board, because, “You know I don’t settle for anything except hitting our goals, and I set high goals, in case you forgot.”
I say, “How could I ever forget.” He says, “Good. Show up to meet this guy at nine at such and such a place.”
I meet Morton’s new Vice President of Marketing and CEO. He has the combined personality of two of my previous bosses, plus, I sense that he’s better at making money than either of them. He just understands what is required to make money. He has the instincts and the knack for it that can’t be taught, just like Morton.
The guy’s name is Guy Pearce, like the actor. He’s thirty-two with brown hair and hazel eyes. Incredibly, he bears a striking resemblance to the actor. When I ask him if he is THE GUY PEARCE, he shakes his head and says, “never heard of the guy, I mean, you know, that Guy.” “Funny,” I say. “You look just like him.” Then I ask him if he’s seen the HBO version of the movie “The Time Machine” starring Pearce. He just stares right through me. This Guy is a no nonsense guy.
Pearce asks me what I’ve been doing. I show him a paperback edition of “Micromium: Clean Energy from Mars.” I show him my website, my blog, the digital book, and the audio book. I show him the other two digital books I’ve written, “Scarlet Ambrosia” and “Three Days to Darkness.” I talk about how I conceived Micromium, wrote it, and created four versions of it. He reads the copy on the back. He asks me what I did in my last job. It seems like the last honest job I had was in a previous incarnation. I don’t tell that to Pearce. I tell him the highlights of Fulfillment Online and Business Cards Online, two proprietary, ground-breaking online ordering applications that I marketed at a direct mail, printing, and fulfillment company my family owned. I tell him I created a mailer that landed more than fifty Fortune Five Hundred Companies as clients. I tell him that I have created just about every type of marketing and communications campaign imaginable at the two previous companies where I worked as marketing director. I conveniently leave out the fact that my previous bosses were instrumental in my success.
He picks up the Micromium full color print edition and tells me, “This right here shows me that you’re qualified to do what this company needs. You can create content and packaging and sell it. That’s marketing A to Z. If you can take direction, then I’m proud to welcome you aboard. Do you want the job? I nod my head. I’m not sure that I want an honest job again, but what the hell. It’s getting lonely writing books that are really tough to sell.
I watch anxiously as Pearce picks up the phone and calls Morton. He says, “I just hired David.” I overhear Morton saying “Good. It’s about time he got back to work.”
I guess the twenty year vacation is over. Now I have a REAL job to get up for every morning. I feel important, valued. That’s what I want. I don’t enjoy being irrelevant. It’s very easy to become irrelevant at my age. Oops, I mean my former age.
I suddenly remember this new edition of Morton telling me as a young boy things like: “When you grow up, you will be in a world much different than the one you’re in now. Everything won’t come easily to you. You’ll have to earn the respect of your peers and your supervisors. You’ll have to earn everything. It won’t be given to you like it is now.
“You can start right now by believing in yourself. You can see that I’ve accomplished something in my life, and I have much more to accomplish. You can accomplish and be a winner too if you believe in yourself. Listen to the things I tell you. What I tell you will always be for your own good. You can trust me and you can trust what I tell you. You don’t always have to agree with me, but I’m asking you to listen first, and then we can discuss things. There will be many situations that come up and they will be learning experiences. We need to talk about them. Don’t be afraid to talk to me. My door will always be open if you need to talk.
“There are winners and losers in this world, David. You want to be a winner. Winners are generally happy people. I’ve never met a happy loser.”
These are the things a father needs to tell his son. These are the sort of things Morton never told me. Hey, I’m not feeling sorry for myself. I’m just sayin’. If you are young and you are reading this, make sure your Dad tells you these things, and if he doesn’t, then remember what I just said. Got it? Good.
I also have new memories of going to the racetrack with Morton to watch the horses run. I remember him teaching me how to read the racing form. In my first life with Morton, I never even knew he went to the racetrack occasionally with my mother. It wasn’t until he started a racing stable and asked me to be a partner in Three G Stable that I learned of Morton’s interest in horses and the the amazing sport of horse racing. Not many people have the opportunity to see the sport from the inside like I did. It’s something I’m extremely grateful for. I’ll always treasure sharing those experiences with my parents and my daughter Danielle. There really was a Three G Stable. I really did go to the barn and the petting zoo with Danielle. We really did have many claiming and allowance winners and stakes winners.
Oops. I’m waxing nostalgic. Gotta get back to business.
The new Morton decides to buy a farm in Ocala to breed, race, and sell thoroughbred race horses. We purchase two freshman sires, one from the Galileo/Saddlers Wells line for turf horses, and one from the Northern Dancer and Mister Prospector cross for dirt horses that can also potentially run on the turf. Both of these Florida Stallions turn out to be leading sires, not just in Florida, but in the Eastern United States including Kentucky. We get offers from Kentucky to buy the two stallions, but we keep them in Florida. We buy well-bred stakes winning mares at auction to breed to our stallions. We keep a few of the offspring to race ourselves. We claim horses to fill out the stable. My love of breeding horses and the sport of racing is rekindled. I enjoy working in the packaging company and what I do with the horses is a labor of love.
We hire Mark Casse to be our trainer. Mark is the son of the legendary Norman Casse, a Florida breeder, owner, and Co-founder of the Ocala Breeder’s Sales Company. Mark is destined to become a world class trainer. At the time we hire him, he is a young man starting out in his career with a reputation as a patient handler with a knack for developing every horse in his care to their fullest potential. I find Mark to be a quiet, humble man with an innate love for his horses. He treats all of them as individuals, and gives them the time and the attention they need to mature into winners.
One of the horses Morton and I breed shows great promise as a yearling. We decide to keep him and race him when he doesn’t reach his reserve at public auction as a two-year-old. He is by Classic Empire out of an Unbridled mare who has already produced two graded stakes winners. We name him “Beautiful Dreamer,” after the title of my second screenplay. We call him “Dreamer” for short.
Dreamer matures slowly. He shows no aptitude for short races in his early training. He wins his first race at a mile and then runs second in the Foolish Pleasure Stakes at Gulfstream Park. It is a prep race for the In-Reality stakes, the biggest race at Gulfstream for Florida-bred two-year-old colts and Geldings. Like Silver Sunsets, Dreamer has a grey coat and wins the In-Reality Stakes. Beautiful Dreamer goes on to run third in the Breeder’s Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs. We put him away at our farm for the winter after the Breeders Cup, and run him back at a mile on the turf in an allowance race in January at Gulfstream Park. He runs second in the race. From there, he runs second in the Fountain of Youth Stakes. Mark encourages us to run in the Florida Derby against the best thoroughbreds stabled on the east coast. We listen to his advice, and Dreamer wins the Florida Derby at the relatively long odds of eleven-to-one. The fact that Dreamer was not one of the favorites in the field is an indication of the high quality of the horses he beat.
The Florida Derby win qualifies Dreamer for a spot in the Kentucky Derby. After huddling with Mark, we decide to enter Dreamer in the mile and a quarter first leg of the Triple Crown. He draws post ten in a full twenty horse field. He’s a horse that possesses tactical speed, but he doesn’t break alertly when the gates open. He’s ridden by Julian Leparoux, an excellent rider, who manages to recover after the bobbled start. “Dreamer” circles wide around horses at the quarter pole turning for home and rallies furiously down the stretch to finish third at odds of seven-to-one. It’s a respectable showing, but we’re disappointed. We now know that Dreamer had a legitimate chance to win the race with a better start. It hurts, but that’s horse racing.
We think about going on to the Preakness Stakes, but decide against it, opting instead to enter the Haskell invitational Stakes for three-year-olds at Monmouth Park. The track comes up muddy on a rainy day. Dreamer stalks the winner all the way around the mile and an eight race, but he can’t get past a clear front runner who is bred for wet tracks and scores at odds of nineteen-to-one. Dreamer goes off second choice in the race at odds of five-to-two. The nine-to-five favorite finishes third.
Should we go for the Grade One Travers Stakes at Saratoga? We decide against it, opting instead to enter Beautiful Dreamer in the Suburban Stakes at Belmont as a Fall prep for the Breeders’ Cup Classic later in November if he does well. Once again, Dreamer finishes second after tracking in fourth place behind a fast pace. Dreamer looks like a winner seventy yards from the wire, but another horse passes him five yards from the wire. We decide that Dreamer is good enough to run in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Mark elects to change riders for the race. First, we ask Jose Ortiz to ride Dreamer in the Classic, but he has another commitment. Then we ask his brother, Irad Ortiz Junior to ride for us. He accepts the mount. He likes our trainer, and he wants to give Mark a chance to put his name down in racing lore. We’re confident that Irad will give us a better chance of winning with his impeccable sense of timing. Irad has had his eye on our horse for a while, and he’s confident that he can move Dreamer up several lengths with the right ride.
Meanwhile, my father, stepmother and I are having the time of our lives with this horse. This year, Gulfstream Park is hosting the Breeders’ Cup races for the first time in twenty years. It makes it much easier on our horse. Dreamer is familiar with the track because he is based at Gulfstream and trains there. He also doesn’t have to travel, which for many horses can be an energy-draining and disconcerting experience. Horses get nervous when their routines are interrupted, and they don’t like being crampted up in unfamiliar spaces. After hundreds of years of inbreeding, thoroughbreds still have their deeply ingrained instinct to run at the first signs of danger. It’s hard to run from danger in the cargo hold of a jet plane.
Finally, Breeders’ Cup Day dawns bright and sunny with no rain in the forecast. We’re relieved, because we don’t want to be wired on a wet track by a freak front runner like what happened in the Haskell. Dreamer has been training brilliantly for the race. Our trainer, Mark, says he’s in peak form. Dreamer is the fourth choice in a fourteen-horse field behind two heavy favorites and another highly regarded horse owned by John Magnier, the super-rich founder of Ladbrokes, a chain of sports betting parlors in England. We have our work cut out for us. Mark is his usual quiet and calm self. He’s never been much of a talker, but we can tell that he’s excited about the race and our chances. He can’t wait to get Dreamer in the gate.
We watch and bet the races, having fun and forgetting about the big race. It’s an interesting day with favorites and long shots winning and placing throughout the card. The European horses win most of the turf races while the American horses generally prevail on the dirt. The Breeders’ Cup racing card is probably the most fun card to bet all year. The fields are big and almost every horse in each race has a chance to win because they’re all so good. So, I like to get creative, which usually results in me losing my butt. Still, it’s fun.
At five-thirty, we leave our seats and a courtesy golf cart designated exclusively for the Breeders’ Cup owners transports us to the barn where beautiful Dreamer is waiting. He’s happy to see us. His big head bobs up and down and his front hoof paws the straw in the bed of his stall. Carefully opening the stall door, Mark attaches a chain to Dreamer’s halter and leads him out. He stands before us at attention, his gray coat dappled, radiating energy and health. He knows it’s time to race, and somehow, I sense that Dreamer knows that what he’s about to do is special. Horses are creatures of habit, and Dreamer know it’s later in the day than he’s ever run before. His eyes dart from Mark to Morton and to me, as if he’s asking for an explanation of what’s going on. Mark places a reassuring hand on Dreamer’s shoulder, and I stroke his flank gently to let him know everything is alright. Mark says something into Dreamer’s ear. He flicks it forward to listen. Whatever Mark said, it calms Dreamer down immediately. He’s ready to do whatever is asked of him.
We accompany Dreamer and Mark all the way from the barn to the saddling enclosure where Mark will saddle and prepare Dreamer for the race. The crowd in the stands and on the grounds has swelled to over one hundred thousand people. Police officers patrol the saddling enclosure looking for possible trouble and to make sure the onlookers stay behind the ropes and temporary fences where they belong. I feel very important to be one of the relatively few people on the other side of the barriers. Dreamer is taking in all of the excitement like a pro. I sense that he has his mind on running, and somehow, he knows the horses that he’ll be competing against are better than most of the ones he’s faced before. He looks down and shakes his head and long silvery mane, as if to shake out any last remaining knots of tension. Mark strokes Dreamer’s shoulder and head to keep him calm and relaxed.
Irad Ortiz enters the enclosure. He shakes our hands. We wish him luck. He gives Dreamer a few reassuring pats on the shoulder. The horse immediately feels at ease with Irad. Irad has been aboard Dreamer to breeze him five eights of a mile a week before the race to get acquainted. The two of them are a team now, as if they’ve known each other for years. The call comes for “riders up.” Mark has already spoken to Irad about the race earlier in the day to give him his riding instructions. Now, all he has to do is to give Irad a leg up and tell him to “have a good trip.” Irad expertly guides Dreamer away. We watch them disappear into the tunnel leading to the racetrack. Mark gives us a thumbs up. He likes to watch the races by himself when he saddles a horse, so we go our separate ways back to the owner’s box and Mark to his observation post.
The horses for the Breeders’ Cup Classic file by the stands in the post parade. There are fourteen horses in the race. Dreamer has post position seven. His post position gives Irad an excellent opportunity to settle Dreamer optimally going into the first turn of the mile and a quarter race. The major objective for Irad is to secure a good stalking position without going wide. All of the jockeys will be trying to save as much horse as they can going around the first turn and up the backstretch. If the horse is a front runner, the jockey will be trying to slow the pace down as much as possible. The other jockeys have to be alert to the pace and settle their horses accordingly. If the pace is slow, the horses that run from mid pack and beyond will have to stay closer than they normally would if the pace is honest. The first half of the race is just as important as the last half. A jockey’s mistake in judgement can cost a horse all chances of winning before they reach the half-mile pole.
Dreamer is prancing on his toes with his head held high as he passes us in the post parade. Mark has obviously done the most anyone can do to prepare Dreamer for the race. Now, the rest is up to the horse. Dreamer is a solid fourth choice at odds of five-to- one. Morton bets a hundred on him on the nose—typical Morton. I bet twenty on Dreamer to win. I know that Mark never bets on the horses he trains. It’s a good habit. Many lesser trainers bet on their horses because they think they will make a big score and they need the money. Sometimes they make that big score, but it’s just not a classy thing to do. The top trainers don’t do it.
Ten minutes later, the horses have warmed up and are entering the starting gate. Mark has instructed Irad to do a minimal prep for the race, just a slow, short gallop to get his legs and muscles loose. We watch the loading through binoculars. The horse in slot six is acting up, delaying the start. We can see Irad stroking Dreamer’s mane to keep him from getting upset by the unruly horse next door. Finally, all of the horses are loaded. We wait nervously for the starter to open the gates. It seems like an eternity, then the gates spring open and the horses explode out of the gate with pent up energy. The number five horse from England veers in and knocks the four horse off stride. Irad deftly guides Dreamer away from the trouble. The rest of the field sorts itself out naturally after the troubled break.
Due to the mishap, Dreamer runs third in the fourteen-horse field, closer to the pace than he normally likes to be. Irad lets him settle back into fourth, but the bulky field is tightly bunched behind the two horses battling for the lead. The number four and ten horses cut out the first quarter in twenty-three seconds flat, which is fast for the mile and a quarter distance. The number ten horse backs off and lets the four horse have the lead. They go the half in forty-seven and one fifth seconds, a more reasonable pace. Irad keeps Dreamer poised in fourth place. As the horses reach the three-quarter pole, the number ten horse moves up to challenge the four horse for the lead again. The pace quickens. Irad stays put as other horses pass him on the outside. I grow concerned that Dreamer will not be up to the challenge of running against the best horses in the world. In my imagination, I see Dreamer floundering on the rail and falling behind as the serious run for the finish line begins.
The front runners reach the quarter pole in one minute ten and four fifths seconds. It’s an honest pace for horses of this caliber. Now, Dreamer starts to move up on the rail as the horses turn for home. Irad is taking the shortest distance home. The danger of another horse blocking him looms. It’s a risky move that Irad attempts, but he has no other choice. He will lose too much ground if he tries to go around horses. Irad has one of the best clocks in his head of any jockey alive. I know that his timing is impeccable, but the rail in front of him is suddenly blocked by the tiring front runners which are slowing and shortening their strides. Irad has to make a move; now or never.
Irad angles Dreamer off of the rail. I see another horse rushing up behind Dreamer vying for the same lane to the wire. Irad taps Dreamer on the shoulder with his whip and the horse responds with a burst of acceleration, beating another horse to the three-path.
Dreamer blows by the faltering front runners and opens a clear lead down the homestretch. With a similar explosion of speed, I watch the number one horse, named Bal Harbour Boss, burst out of the pack in mid-stretch. It gobbles up ground from behind Dreamer with every stride. The fast-closing “Boss” reaches Dreamer’s flank on the inside and they run in tandem, neck and neck to the wire. As Dreamer and his adversary pound to the wire lengths in front of the rest of the field, I expect Bal Harbour Boss to tire because it has had to cover more ground with a wide ride outside of horses up the backstretch all the way to the quarter pole. Except the damn horse is resolute. It won’t give an inch.
The hundred thousand plus throng of spectators bellows so loud that it feels like the ground is shaking and an earthquake is coming. The Jockeys urge their mounts onward. The race announcer’s voice crescendos as Dreamer and Bal Harbour Boss bob heads to the finish line. Photo finish. I can’t tell if Dreamer got his head up in time. It’s impossible to tell with the naked eye which horse has won the race. So much is on the line. The first-place purse is worth three million dollars. The winning horse will command a high stud fee. And then, there’s the thrill, prestige, and satisfaction of winning one of the biggest races in the world.
Morton is white as we wait for the results to be posted. I give him a hug and tell him. “No matter what, we proved that Dreamer has the genes and the heart of a champion.” Morton says nothing. He stands there, white as a sheet. I know what he’s thinking. Second place is “nowheresville” in Morton’s vocabulary.
The results flash on the tote board in the infield. The number one is posted on top of Dreamer’s number seven. Morton slumps. We’ve lost. We’ve been nosed of the win. Then a red square appears around the two top numbers. Next to it, the words “DEAD HEAT” flash in red. It’s a tie. Beautiful Dreamer is a co-champion with Bal Harbour Boss. I hug Morton. I hug my stepmother. We are delirious. Sharing the top honors beats the hell out of losing. The dead heat is the first in Breeders’ Cup Classic history.
We meet Mark in the winners’ circle. I can tell that he’s beside himself. He doesn’t show emotion easily, but he’s obviously overcome by the biggest achievement of his training career. The winners’ ceremony is a long one because both horses and their entourages have to be photographed. I hug Mark. I hug Irad Ortiz. They are both slightly taken aback by my display of emotion, but I can tell they understand. Mark and the Jockey are both ecstatic, albeit a bit more quietly.
The sight of Beautiful Dreamer wearing the Breeders Cup Champion yellow garland of flowers will be forever etched in my memory. Sharing a moment like this with signicant others goes beyond any feeling I can describe. I can’t remember anything immediately after the race. I’m just somewhere else, and it’s a very good place to be. The next thing I know, I’m driving to a restaurant in North Miami for a victory dinner.
After several hours of intense celebrating with my father and Jennifer at an excellent Italian restaurant named Il Tulipano, I return to my humble one bedroom apartment and stumble into bed. I’m asleep in seconds from the sheer exhaustion of a long day filled to the brim with exciting moments. When I wake up, I’m back home with my wife, seventy-years-old again. My first reaction is bitter disappointment, but then I realize that I have my wife and daughter back again. I remember what my father said at dinner in Il Tulipano, another ghost of the past that has disappeared and moved on. With his wine glass raised, my father said: “We’re fortunate to have won this race, but what’s most important is that we’re together and we care about one another.” My father’s words remind me to appreciate the people who are with me now.
Was it all a dream, or did it really happen? I decide it was just a glimpse, like in the movie “Family Man” with Nicolas Cage, Tea Leoni, and Don Cheadle. An angel has given me a glimpse of what my life actually was and might have been, like Don Cheadle did for Nicolas Cage in the movie. Yeah, that’s what it was; a beautiful dream that became real for a few fleeting moments in time; a precious glimpse I will always remember with an uplifting feeling of love.
This past week I attended a seminar presented by Saniel Bonder titled “The Sun in Your Heart is Rising–Activating Your Embodied Awakening, Wholeness, and Unique Purpose.” Nine people attended the five-day event at Kripalu Yoga Center in western Massachusetts. One of the exercises in the seminar is called “Heart Seat Share.” Each person in the group speaks for seven minutes about what is going on in their lives and their process of awakening with time allotted for feedback from the teacher and group members. I decided to write my heart share down and read it to the group.
Here I am. It’s my time to share. Please excuse me if I repeat some of the things I said in the small group. Wait a minute. I really don’t want to repeat myself. Why don’t I just check in with myself to see what’s happening. I can go deeper if I write this all down.
I imagine myself walking down a long flight of steps in my throat. I arrive on the first floor of my chest cavity.*
Leaving the first floor stairwell, I encounter a winding corridor with abrupt ups and downs spaced randomly for no apparent reason, maybe just to keep things interesting. Fortunately, I’m walking along a single corridor with no doorways or branches where I have to choose which way to go. I just need to put one foot in front of the other and have faith that these very same feet are taking me to a place I want to go.
Finally, I see a doorway in the distance. The overhead lighting becomes increasingly bright as I reach my destination. It’s a plain, wooden door, not a wrought iron gate, no carvings in the wood or lettering, not even a white coat of paint. I wonder why the door isn’t more elaborate. I’d certainly make it so if I were writing a story. But this is sharing. I don’t have to impress anyone with my incredible powers of imagination. I simply have to say how it is.
I grab the plain brass handle on the plain wooden door, turn it, and nothing happens. The door is firmly locked. I knock a few times and wait. Seconds go by and then a full minute. No response.
“Anybody home?” I call out.
Total silence. Not even the sound of air-conditioning.
“You know, I’ve come a long way to get here. The least you can do is answer the door.”
I’ve traveled this way many times before. I’ve come to realize this place is the door to my heart. No big discovery, no unique metaphor, just the plain old door to my heart.
I’ve been told by numerous teachers that someone or something dwells deep within the recesses of that heart. I’ve always believed this to be true. I never doubted it. Yet here I am, standing here like an idiot, all by myself. I’ve heard some vague rumblings from time to time from the other side of the door. I’ve had a few inklings, maybe even heard a few burblings, but that’s about it.
“This is getting embarrassing,” I say to the door. “I’m here in front of the class, and I need to sound halfway intelligent. Can you please give me some material to work with?”
“Like what?” a voice says from the other side of the door in a slightly irritated tone.
I almost fall down in place. These two words are more than I’ve heard in thirty years. It’s a clear, unmistakable, somewhat irritated voice. I quickly regroup before the voice loses interest. I must take advantage of this opportunity. I have to get right to the point. I imagine whoever is speaking to me is quite busy. I’m not even going to imagine if it has a shape. I can’t risk wasting its time.
“Okay,” I begin. “Can you tell me why we haven’t met yet?”
“It’s a very long story all having to do with you that we can’t get into now because it would exceed your share time.”
“Okay, okay. Well, then, can you tell me when it might be possible for us to meet.”
“I really can’t believe you haven’t figured this out yet,” the voice answers wearily. “I suppose I’ll have to spell it out for you.”
There is a long pause before the voice speaks again.
“You aren’t ready to meet me. And PUHLEASE, don’t ask me when you’ll be ready.
“You’ll be ready when you’re ready.”
“I feel like I’m getting ready,” I say like a little boy holding out a shiny apple for the teacher.
“Good. Keep it up. Let me give you one word of advice: Patience. Everything is timing. Have you heard that one?”
“Then practice it.
I wait for more words of wisdom. There are none forthcoming.
“Is that it?
“Yes, David. I must say you’re doing quite nicely. THE SUN IS ACTUALLY RISING IN YOUR HEART. Hang in there. You ain’t seen nuthin’ yet.”
*The first floor of my chest cavity is actually the highest floor in relation to my feet. The floors numbers increase as you take each flight of stairs down, which is the opposite case in most buildings.
**The construction of an elevator is underway. Please pardon our dust and debris while we make this a better living space for your comfort, convenience, and safety.
***Photo by http://www.thisarchitecture.com
The words resounded against the dripping walls. “Shut up. Shut up. Shut up.”
Blood trickled from the corners of Trevor Hartigan’s mouth. His awareness flickered from the pain coursing through his broken fingertips to the oppressive heat in the room, to the crooked expression on the interrogator’s ugly face.
“If you lie to me again, you’ll beg me to kill you after what I do next,” the Confessor snarled, baring his nicotine-stained teeth.
Trevor’s spine ached from about a half-hour of confinement lashed to a straight-backed wooden chair. The duct tape wrapped tightly around his upper body dug into his back and chafed the skin on his abdomen. It seemed he had been sitting in this tiny dungeon for hours. He cursed himself for whatever carelessness had landed him in this predicament. He suspected it was the girl. He had let down his guard in a moment of weakness. Blanca had to be one of their spies. He worshipped her, had asked for her hand in marriage, and she had betrayed him.
He focused on the gap between his tormentor’s chipped front teeth. The gap reminded him of a missing board in a white picket fence. He imagined crawling through the hole in the fence to freedom.
“Save your energy and kill me now,” Trevor said in a low voice.
The pain in his body only served to sharpen his mind and resolve. He carefully hid this fact with every word out of his mouth, every subtle gesture. He had to convince the Confessor he was telling the truth.
“I’m a professional, Hartigan. I’ve seen every trick in the book.” The Confessor picked up a scalpel from a row of surgical knives glinting on a steel tray next to Trevor. “You’ll tell me what I need to know or I’ll cut out your eye. I want the names of your confederates.”
Beads of sweat ran from Trevor’s forehead. He blinked reflexively to keep the moisture from stinging his eyes.
“I’m a loyal citizen of the Conglomerate, Brother Confessor. I’ve been falsely accused by inferior minds jealous of my position.”
“You are a traitor and a fool, Hartigan. You enjoyed wealth and privilege as the Conglomerate’s Master Architect. You had the opportunity to design buildings that would have lasted for centuries. Your fame would have spread around the world. You threw it all away when the girl convinced you to join the resistance.”
The Confessor ripped off his cowl. His head began to transform into the head of a Praying Mantis. Long, spindly legs sprouted underneath the Confessor’s navy blue robe. The garment burst apart as the insect grew taller. The roof of the room suddenly blasted skyward, as if it were the second stage of a rocket.
Trevor was so terrified his heart nearly stopped beating. Blanca had told him the resistance knew very little about the aliens due to the group’s limited resources. Trevor imagined no amount of training or preliminary briefing could have prepared him for what was happening before his bleary eyes.
The Confessor-turned-insect continued to grow past the height of the former ceiling. Trevor stared upwards just as the giant creature’s claw reached down to pluck him out of the cell, chair and all. He turned away, unable to look at the monster’s bulging eyes and chewing mandibles. He felt certain the Mantis was preparing to eat him alive.
Looking down from the twenty-foot high vantage point in the giant insect’s grasp, Trevor saw a honeycomb of cells on the ground similar to the one he had occupied seconds ago. On either side, a straight rock face soared hundreds of feet from a makeshift pine wood floor. It was hard to make out more details in the bluish-gray light emanating from a source somewhere above them.
Trevor figured the interrogation installation had been carved out of a massive cavern somewhere underneath the city. A huge construction crane positioned in the middle of the complex plucked the triangle-shaped roof off another interrogation cell with its multi-story steel arm. Another poor soul was about to be scared further out of his or her wits, it appeared.
Trevor thought of Blanca again. It was impossible to keep her out of his mind for more than a few minutes since the time he had met her. How could she have done this to him?
“The girl isn’t a double-agent, as you suspect,” the giant Mantis said. She will be arrested soon after she leads us to more members of the resistance.
How could the creature know he was thinking of Blanca?
“To answer your question, I can read a human mind when I get in the same room as one. Your thoughts during our session have revealed most of the useful information you have to offer. This final stage of the interrogation process makes any remaining secrets as easy to suck up as fresh meat off a dry bone.”
All of the nerve-endings in Trevor’s body went numb. “I’m glad Blanca showed me I was working for a race of alien monsters instead of what I thought was a multi-national energy corporation.”
“You are the monster,” the Mantis said. “The Conglomerate will soon be well established in every country of this world as more of us arrive. In ten years, it will no longer be necessary for us to transform into human form. The human race will cease to exist.”
Trevor heard his bones cracking as the creature’s claw closed around him.
“Shut up.” The harsh voice came from far away.
Trevor’s eyes opened. The first thing he saw was the gray ceiling of his solitary jail cell. He rolled off the bunk bed and sank to his knees on the cold concrete floor. The smell of disinfectant and urine filled his nostrils. He moaned.
“Shut up, goddammit.” The guard appeared on the other side of the bars dressed in a gray shirt and olive pants. His right hand rested on the .38 revolver strapped to his waist.
All of the colors in this hellhole are drab, Trevor thought. It seemed like a lifetime had passed since he had taken to wearing bright colors shortly after meeting Blanca. After a year of dating, they had decided to marry. He had never been happier in his entire life.
“Quiet down and go back to sleep,” the guard said. “You make any more noise an’ I’ll call the shrink back in here to shoot you up with sedatives. You’re gonna’ learn to settle down and do your time quietly, if it takes a fist in the teeth to teach you how. You got that?”
“Yeah,” Trevor croaked.
The guard stepped away. His boots made a hollow echo down the concrete and steel corridor.
They had placed him on suicide watch. He had tried to hang himself with a belt. They stripped his cell of anything he might use to end his life. Padding protected the walls of his eight by ten foot cell. He had no such protection against the recurring nightmares and the memory of the accident. That night replayed in his mind like an endlessly looping horror film.
They had gone out with some friends to celebrate the latest job offer. He remembered Blanca pushing back her silky red hair and laughing gaily all night long. They drank and ate at the South Beach bar and restaurant until two o’clock in the morning. The hours swept by and the drinks went down without Trevor taking much notice. When the time to leave arrived, Trevor was too embarrassed to admit he was higher than a kite.
At first, Trevor thought an animal crossing the road had hit the front tire when he heard the thunk on Blanca’s side of the car. Blanca turned to him, wild-eyed. He had never seen the pedestrian jaywalking across the deserted street. Trevor had been speeding through the residential neighborhood to make it home in time to get a few hours of sleep before his nine A.M. job interview. He never made it to the interview.
The victim was a man in his early thirties, the father of three children. His wife was waiting for him across the street at the front door of their home when the accident occurred. She told the police exactly what happened. The man died from a brain hemorrhage on the way to the hospital.
He had dreamed about a career in architecture from boyhood. After completing Architecture School with honors, he had received job offers from the top firms in Miami. He looked forward to bringing beautiful buildings and bright, creative children into the world with the passion he felt for his work and his soul mate, Blanca.
Now, all he had to look forward to was a fifteen-year prison sentence. After the accident, Blanca wanted no part of him. His future as an Architect looked dim at best. What firm worth its salt would hire an inexperienced, middle-aged man with a felony record?
One careless act. One night of celebration. A single, poor decision. The lives of six people tragically altered forever. If he had the chance, Trevor would gladly change places with the man he had accidentally killed. But now, it was too late for remorse.
Grayson found it hard to breathe. Sweat poured from his forehead, down his crimsoned cheeks, onto the stiff collar of his white shirt.
The cubicles surrounding Grayson in the sprawling call center buzzed with activity.
“This is Grayson Sellers speaking. May I have your contract number please?”
“I only speak English,” Grayson replied.
“Where are you from, Amigo?”
“We’re not supposed to disclose personal information. Please describe your problem so that I can help you.”
“Don’t get excited, hombre. I ‘m just being friendly.
“I appreciate that. The problem is we have to complete a certain number of calls in an hour. If we fall short, we have to have a good explanation. Now, how can I help you?”
“Do you like your work?”
Grayson made no reply. They hadn’t given him a script for a situation like this.
He peered over his cubicle walls in all directions for signs of his supervisor. She was cruising three rows to the south in a bright pink dress and one-inch heels. Despite the low heels, the sturdy woman easily topped six feet. Her keen eyes scanned the room for the slightest hint of operator error.
“To be perfectly honest, I’m not crazy about working here, but the pay is great.”
“I’m a landscape architect—love my customers and they love me. Business is booming like you wouldn’t believe.
“I’m happy for you.” Can we please get to your insurance issue?”
He imagined the explanation for losing control of his temper and the call. The customer was excessively friendly.
“Working indoors is not my gig,” the caller elaborated.
“I get panic attacks.” The words tumbled out of Grayson’s mouth by themselves.
“I feel for you, Hermano.”
He heard heavy footsteps approaching. The supervisor pulled up like an army tank reversing on its treads. “You’re sweating, Sellers. Do you have a fever?”
Grayson dabbed his forehead with a handkerchief. “Just a little summer cold, Mrs. Wilson”
“Be sure to cover your mouth when you sneeze.”
A few rows away, an operator raised her voice. Mrs. Wilson’s head turned like a turret. She clanked away.
Another casualty of the telewars, Grayson thought.
“I could use another good man. Why don’t you call me after your shift?”
“You don’t even know me.”
We’ll talk. Then I’ll know you better.”
It was against the rules to use customer records for anything except work for the company. There was a rule attached to almost everything he did inside these walls.
Against his better judgment, Grayson jotted down the name and phone number on his computer screen.
The call proceeded smoothly to completion.
That night, Grayson dreamed of a plant nursery in South Miami he had visited as a boy. He played tag with his younger sister among acres of Royal Palm trees. He wandered between rows of potted orchids blooming in beautiful pastel colors. He inhaled the rich floral perfume. The warm sun and a cool winter breeze kissed his cheeks.