“I wish I could cry.”  He felt like his insides were filled with stones, holding him down, making it impossible to breathe.  If he could just cry like the way he did when he was a little boy, the stones could come out, he would feel hollow inside for a while, but lighter again.  Other than happy moments, he hadn’t been able to cry for years.  He just continued to fill up with those stones.  He could be full of them and sit at the bottom of the ocean.  You can’t crush stone even with the weight and pressure of the entire black ocean rising up above you.

The last time he remembered crying was when he was 17, watching the Fox and the Hound with Suzanne in her basement.  With her parents upstairs, the two of them sat under the same blanket, thin and frayed, smelling a little like cat urine.  They had movie evenings like this before, where usually they passed the time kissing, how many thousands of different ways to kiss as the movie played in the background.  He didn’t even remember which ones they had seen together.  There was something about this movie though that hit him a different way.  Not long after it started, Nick felt something break inside of him.  The tears filled his eyes and a dam burst someplace inside, they kept coming, running down his cheeks.  He couldn’t stop them.  He wept and Suzanne watched him with astonishment, eventually taking him into her arms and just holding him.

“I’m sorry,” he said.  Laughing between tears he apologized and tried to wipe them out.

“There’s no reason to be sorry.  Are you okay?”  She just kept holding him.

“I just can’t stop.”

“You don’t have to.”

That night after the movie was done, he felt so empty, like all the poison of his life up until that point had been drained out of him, like a boil.  Suzanne never mentioned it again unless he brought it up.  For his birthday, she bought him the VHS of the Fox and the Hound, which he never had the courage to play again.  Certainly not alone.  

He never cried like that again.  Not when his grandparents died, not when he had to euthenize three of their dogs when he was married.  The stones started filling him then.  Sometimes his eyes would well up with tears of joy.  Anything random could set it off.  A television commercial or the kids smacking the tv screen when they were toddlers. 

Then there were moments like that Valentine’s Day, when he sat alone on the quad, his back up against a pine tree outside the building where he worked.  It was a clear, mid-February day.  In Colorado, winter takes a break for a few weeks and returns in full fury at the beginning of March.  Usually around Valentine’s, the temperatures climb into the sixties or seventies.  The grass is dead and the color of honey, but insects begin to buzz around. For a few days it feels like a rumor of summer.  

He sat staring into the distance, feeling the weight of so many stones that had gathered in his heart—his marriage, the stress of his job and how it never seemed to be enough, and the debts that kept building, the opportunities for his kids being missed over and over, his solitude, the friends he could no longer talk to without being criticized, the beginning of estrangement from his parents.  A student approached him, walking straight towards him across the grass.  He watched her come closer, figuring she was just another campus crusader.  Oftentimes they stopped to talk with him about Jesus or attending one of their services.  He was still young looking in those days.  His early thirties. They were eager to put butts in pews.

“Hello!” the young lady said when she approached.

“Hi,” he said.  There was a feeling inside that made him wonder if his wife was somehow watching.  She wouldn’t like him talking to a pretty college student.  The girl was blonde, with her hair braided into two long braids.  She wore overalls and rubber rain boots. Yellow with red flowers painted on the sides.  

She sat down across from him and reached into a bag she was carrying.  She handed him a Reeces Peanut Butter cup.  “Happy Valentine’s Day,” she said.  She offered him the candy, which he took reluctantly.

“Thank you,” he said.  He held the candy bar gingerly, like a baby chick.

She beamed and offered her hand to shake, which he took.  Her hand felt small in his palm.  The skin was soft and smooth. He could smell her shampoo. His heart fluttered a little bit.  He couldn’t remember the last time he had touched another adult like this. It felt more like a hug to him than a handshake.  He was touch-starved, alone, and that touch felt like glass cracking all the way up the length of his arm to his chest.

“Thank you,” he said again, feeling tears welling up into his eyes.

“You looked like you needed to be someone’s Valentine.”

She stood up and continued on across the grass, leaving Nick holding that peanut butter cup.  When she was gone, he was still holding the candy and he heard himself sniff.  He let out a single sob and two tears rolled down his face.  He couldn’t tell if they were happy or sad tears.  Maybe one of each.

He unwrapped the candy and took a bite. Maybe the girl was an angel, he thought, and he could keep the gift she had given him safe inside himself.  The chocolate and peanut butter were the best and freshest he had ever tasted.

Nick thought about last year when he and Holly would stay up late texting each other.  He was still nursing the wounds of the end of his last relationship: Kate. Love in the Time of Covid was the working title of that story. Over the years, he and Holly had their run of flirtations when either of them was single or in close proximity at least, but mostly they talked about things. Hopes. Burdens.  Dreams.  The 500 miles between them were a deterrent for romance, though nothing was impossible. He had always thought she was pretty. Curly hair and heart-shaped face which always seemed to carry that sweet smirky-smile.

When Kate left, Holly was the first person he told.  He didn’t know why.  He just had to reach out to someone as his heart was shattering into pieces.  They hadn’t talked for months other than the occasional hello or checking in on each other.  He liked her posts on Instagram and Facebook too and watched her daughters grow and the sweet smile she always wore. Summer under lock down passed easily when they filled the nights with long conversations. They listened to each other about everything. They never flinched.

“Have you ever read the book, Wild by Cheryl Strayed?” Nick asked her one night.

“Yes!  I love that book!” Holly said.

“I just started reading it again.  I read it at the beginning of my divorce.”

“It is incredible.”

“She’s just so honest.  Raw,” he said.

“And that scene on the beach—“

“Oh jeez,” he said.  “I know what you mean.  I like the movie and the book equally but for different reasons.”

“Oh yeah?  Please tell me,” she said.

“That whole area is beautiful, but you never see that in the book.  Just the journey of discovery in herself.  The movie at least shows us the scenery.”

They decided to read the book again together and when they were done, a few weeks later, they watched the movie.  They texted back and forth as the movie played, talking about each scene as though they were there.  That was a moment Nick’s tears were happy.

In the nights he was reading the book, it was hard to get through it as quickly as Holly had been reading.  He had to stop and scribble down notes of what he was feeling, putting into words the things he wanted for his own story which were demanding to be told.  Cutting as deep as he could.  Sometimes he felt himself on the verge of tears.  This time sad tears.  Something deep inside coming up that he could do nothing to stop.  Like a whale rising from the deep blue towards the surface, about to take a breath.

A year later, Holly was gone as well.  Their paths diverged, with each of them going where the other could not follow. Her absence left another weight in his chest.  Another stone to pull him under.

He watched Wild again, alone.  Trying to feel the way he felt when they watched it together.  A completely different person now than he was even a year ago, when they were both starting out on an amazing journey together as close friends. Then something more. Back when she let him in. Back when she was pretty instead of beautiful. Now he took his place among many others and she lost sight of who he was. Maybe even herself. Now he was just another in a long list of names to be forgotten. He knew well how it felt to be lost.

He remembered how deeply that movie cut him.  How he wished he could write anything that honest.  How the nights reading that book (one of the only ones that he read more than once) were often start and stop, with him reading a chapter or a few pages and drawing the courage from that to write from places so deep that it was better than crying.  Cathartic.  

He sat down again to write.  The words fell into the pages of that leather bound notebook she had given him, scratched out onto the heavy gauge paper in scribbles of black ink, manifesting what his heart told him.  He couldn’t cry anymore.  Never again would it be like that night of watching the Fox and the Hound half a lifetime ago.  His tears were the ink from his pen now, falling onto those empty pages.  

Gradually, he felt the weight of the stones begin to lighten.

Copyright 2021 Clinton A. Harris


Bona Fiscalia

The first time I heard this expression was when I saw Katee Sackhoff at a convention. She had just finished her role as Starbuck on Battlestar Galactica and people were asking her about her tattoos. One of them she described with a hitch in her voice which implied that it was extremely personal and telling. She told of the tattoo which said, “Bona Fiscalia.” Public Property.

In being in the public view, she said, she had a responsibility to being an example to others, good or bad, whether she wanted to be or not.

The reason I bring this up is because my writing here, as well as my travel site have the disadvantage of giving people an idea of who I am. By now, anybody should know that the art doesn’t necessarily embody the artist. But my words on my blogs are continually used to represent me, arm-chair psychoanalize, and are constantly being used out of context against me.

If you have read a blog, you need to understand that this is not a diary. This is a narrative. This is storytelling. In much the same way that JRR Tolkien wrote about hobbits and dragons or Stephen King writes about murderers and the supernatural. I wonder if today, people who cannot distinguish a story from reality should really be allowed to walk the streets unsupervised.

Yet this keeps coming back to bite me in the ass. Writing is therapuedic–if anything just to make sense of the world–but in many of the things I write, I am also telling a story. A story, which I hope resonnates with someone else who has had similar experiences. Because one of the things about the human condition is that we are social animals. I know that when I have gone through some of my hardest times, it would have just been nice to have read someone else’s story and know that I wasn’t alone. That someone else had gone through hell too.

That, my dear readers, is how we got literature in the first place. It’s also what made freedom of speech the First Amendment of our constitution. Freedom of expression is crucial to liberty. Not only on the large scale with government, but also in our interpersonal relationships.

So for anyone to think that by cherry picking what I write here or anywhere else is some shortcut into my true thoughts and beliefs, they need to take a fucking literature class or something. I am becoming more and more aware that my life, everytime I write about it, or an analog of my experiences, or just flat out create content comes under scrutiny. Especially by those who are incapable of divorcing literal meaning from a story, or just accepting that I’m not always going to agree with them. What I write has no more reflection on my mental state than Stephen King’s or Jo Rowling’s does. If anyone thinks I have delusions of grandeur in comparing myself with these authors, let me state that I picked two examples I think just about everyone has heard of. Because those who lose the tone on these might not know what a book is if I got any more obscure in listing authors.

These are the same kinds of people who try to cash in expired coupons and demand to speak to the manager. These are the same kinds of people who text in theatres. Cut others off in traffic. Kick puppies when people aren’t looking. The same kind of people who only shop at Trader Joes and ask if the coffee beans at Starbucks were humanely sourced.

So I can either stop writing…which for a writer is actually awful for their mental health. Not to mention pretty much against my rights to pursue life, liberty, and happiness. Or I can ignore them and continue to write, even when someone squawks or completely misses the point of something that I have written. Both suck. Because for some reason people just can’t keep scrolling if they don’t like something I have said. Instead, they fixate on it and obsess over it. Honestly, I would block them from reading it if I could, because it doesn’t sound healthy.

Just a reminder. Katee Sackhoff isn’t really a spaceship pilot, there aren’t clowns in the sewers who turn into big spiders, nobody is going to send an owl to your kid to recruit him for wizard school, and even though I live in a small town in the mountains, I can assure you it is better than any city I have lived in, which have been choked with crime, where homeless people live in the parks, and you can check a website to see what sex offenders have been registered on your block.

For now, I guess I’m just public property.

So much time on my hands

“I haven’t posted here in a while” might be the words that are the death knell for a lot of blogs, podscasts, YouTube channels, and other creative content.  It is the holiday season, and among a dozen other excuses, I have to say that there is no one good reason that I haven’t posted here in a while, other than I just haven’t had a lot to write about.  That doesn’t mean I am out of ideas, but more that I have had to change the focus of why I write.

It certainly isn’t for “likes.”

I still have no idea how people monetize their sites.  My attempt to get an Amazon account went with a six month probationary period not even getting me the three sales from linked content that I needed in order to qualify.  My web-traffic is pretty low, except from Russia and China, which I suspect might just be spamming attempts.  In other words, not a lot of people are reading it.

That shouldn’t be the reason for writing things, though it is nice to think that whether it is a book, an essay, an article, or a blog, people are reading and hopefully enjoying what you have to say. If you are writing for attention, to get likes, to get affirmation, or try to get people to like you as a person, you probably need to reassess why you are doing it.

Recharging the batteries

Lately I have been listening to a lot of podcasts.  The ones with creative people were the most interesting, since it allows you to see what their creative process is, especially in a field as insular as writing.  Not long ago, before Twitter and Facebook obliterated the blogging communities, a lot of us got together on sites such as LiveJournal, Blogger, and even WordPress.  There were online forums as well.  I used to frequen the Baen’s Bar and Asimov’s Forum almost obsessively, but it wasn’t just memes.  We wouldn’t have known what the hell memes are.

When I was a kid, I used to go with my dad to his workplace once in a while.  On the breakroom wall, someone would usually post some photocopied panel of a newspaper cartoon on the board.  They are relate-able.  They give you a chuckle, usually along the lines of whatever dismal work experience you are having, and then you move on.  That is what 90% of Facebook is these days.

We gave up our online communities for pictures of a lady yelling at a cat.

Junk food for the mind

It seems like any creative outlet gets blocked by something, some vice, some bit of junk food for our brains that wants us to sabotage ourselves instead of achievement.  The internet itself was networking the minds of the world into a global conversation, beyond borders, which quickly turned into a place for free hardcore sex, black market purchasing, and clickbait news sites that essentially destroyed real journalism.

I have been listening to podcasts because the content is so rich, but there is also an awful lot of junk in there too.  Sometimes it is exhausting and actually winds up draining my creativity.  One of the weird things I get from listening to podcasts is how much they remind me of the mentality of people trying to entice you into illegal drugs.  “You should do a podcast!”

Sometimes I have thought about doing one myself and I have had people tell me I should because I have a voice that would be good for it.  I’m not going to totally nix the idea, but really, I don’t have a lot of time on my hands.  If readership on my blog is any indication of what subscribers would be to a podcast or YouTube channel, it seems like an awful lot of work to just talk to myself for an hour or two.

As it stands now, in writing my blog, I am losing momentum.  It is an awful lot of output, production, and content with pretty much zero return to make it worth while.  I still have to work, raise my son, maintain a healthy relationship with my girlfriend, and just have a life in general.  It takes a lot to keep your life together.  My well for content isn’t dry, but I have to create it, edit it (sometimes), and publish it.

Some days, you just run out of steam.  Last night, I took an hour long nap after making dinner.  I needed that damn nap.  If you don’t take care of yourself, you will pay for it later.

So, no podcast.  No YouTube channel.  And really, if my readership here and at was any indication of interest, I really don’t want to spend a lot of time on one of a hundred million podcasts already out there when something I’m fairly good at–writing–isn’t all that well received.

Just busy

I have been told that the key to a successful blog/Instagram/podcast/YouTube/readership in general is creating a steady stream of regular content.  Eventually people will catch on and they will read/watch/absorb, etc.  But as the person creating content, this is not so easy.  Aside from just being busy with life, two jobs, raising a kid, and having experiences to write about, it’s difficult.  I can see why so many people give up.

I’m not really giving up, but I’m not doing it to get rich either.  At this point, I’m not even doing it to supplement my income.  I’m doing it as a compulsive tendency.  The majority of my readers seem to be Russian spam-bots.


Constantly generating content is often thankless, and writing can be such a fickle, gatekeeper controlled venture that I vehemently discourage people from considering it as a livelihood.  God only knows how quickly I would starve to death if I had to rely on writing as my primary income.  Constantly generating content is thankless, and exhausting.  Writing creatively, whether it is a personal blog post, a travelogue entry, or working on my novel are very fulfilling and are the most effective way to keep me sane.

So there is value in that.  More than I could ever attribute to a dollar amount.

Being the Enemy at the Gates

I try to follow leads, I push my writing on social media, and I try to work with connections, but for whatever reason, what I’ve got doesn’t seem to be what a lot of people want.  Emails to editors are unanswered.  Queries might as well be nothing.  And the gatekeepers of social media mean that a socialite in a bikini can get more online presence than anything I write.  Maybe I need to show more skin?

I’ve always sorta felt like an outsider, even with my writing.  I had stacks of rejection letters that were pretty much “Missed it by *that* much.”  Hell, that seems to be how life is sometimes.  It has led to a bad habit of many abandoned, unfinished projects.

It can be maddening, but there’s a part of me that thinks maybe I’m missing something, like one day I will stumble across a button I didn’t know needed to be switched on and my content will be distributed around the world.  Who knows.  Again, writing for other people will drive you crazy.

For now, I will just continue to write for me, and if people like it, they will read it.