I’m not sure I’m moving in a right direction here…

I’m still trying to get a handle on this book thing. Normally by now I’ve given up on the project, but I really think there’s something here. Still, I’m kinda floundering. If I could only find where the damned plot is hiding…

7 – “…There is no lamp in all this dark…”

Shadow’s memories, where they existed at all, were mostly vague at best. He knew he’d spent a lot of time lying to himself about much that had gone before, and that the lies themselves were the sort of things he would mostly have chosen to blot out of memory. Exactly how many of his troubles during that long, half-forgotten time he’d brought on himself, he really couldn’t say any more. Mostly, of course, he just didn’t give it any thought but when he did he found himself forced to sift through a rat’s nest of self-justification and self-recrimination. Even while it was all going on, he had never really very clearly known just who was doing what to whom.

There had been phases, eras, each lasting for years and to each of which he’d once given a name. The “Angry Young Man” phase, the “Good Citizen” phase, the “Bad Husband” phase. None of them made for pleasant reflection. How had it all gotten so fucked up? What had he done to bring it all about, what had he done to deserve it? He really didn’t know.

He remembered a woman’s warm smiles, and happy laughter. But he also remembered the same woman’s scorn, anger, rejection. Did he do something to deserve that? Probably he did, because he thought of it all through the filter of his own bewilderment and isolation – his own detachment from it, even at the time. Whatever she’d wanted or needed him to be, he hadn’t been that. He sure hadn’t ever connected with her, that was clear. And he hadn’t ever really…wanted to. Mostly he’d just wished she’d leave him the hell alone. Probably not a great recipe for happy marriage, huh?

But exactly why he’d related to her so badly, he didn’t know. He just couldn’t remember. It didn’t seem like she was such a bad person. Somehow it was all on him. But at the same time he didn’t remember that he’d ever really done anything bad to her. He didn’t screw around on her, he was sure of that. He got mad at her, but he never hit her or abused her – not on purpose. He just…wanted to be left alone.

It was all he’d wanted since he was a kid. He remembered cops in some burg in upstate New York, in Oklahoma, in Georgia – oh, those bastard cops in Valdosta – in Salt Lake City. His young traveling days, as a long-haired, van-driving vagabond, seemed like a guided tour of every “hippie”-hating barney in every small town. Something about him screamed “You can push this one around, so go for it.” And they did, boy. He couldn’t pass through fast enough. He’d only spent one night in jail during that period – that had been the lovely experience in Valdosta – and try as they might they hadn’t found a single seed on him though they’d practically torn the body panels off the van. In the end they’d arrested him for driving through a red light. He spent his night in jail, and the next day the judge had just told him to get out of town. With that instruction, he had been only too happy to comply.

Oh, yeah. Compliance. That was the thing.

Too much, too much. Every experience Shadow had ever had with any sort of authority had taught him to fear it, to hate it. That knowledge had curdled inside him until anyone who ever needed anything from him, other than simple technical service in a job where the duties were reciprocal and impersonal, became a symbol of duties required of him without his consent. All they wanted – all anybody wanted – was compliance, and Shadow didn’t do compliance well. Never had. Somehow that had even applied to his wife. No, not a great strategy for happy marriage at all. He never should have tried it. In the end, no matter what lies he told himself afterward, it wasn’t her fault.

No, Shadow didn’t like to think about the marriage.

He’d had a career once. That was in the “Good Citizen” phase. That could have gone well, because once he was really good at what he did. But he’d ruined that. Couldn’t get along with people. Oh, he got along with his own people well enough, but his problem was worse – he couldn’t get along with customers. A chief engineer, in any company, was a manager – a politician. They accepted your proposal, then changed everything around to where nobody could make a buck working for them. They didn’t really know what they wanted, and didn’t start making decisions about what it wasn’t until they saw the first draft – and that’s when the change orders started, contracts and timelines be damned. And he knew he hadn’t always handled that very well. You don’t tell a customer, “You can have it good, you can have it cheap, or you can have it Tuesday. Pick one.” It doesn’t go well with you when that word gets back to your boss. And a contractor who couldn’t handle customers was an unemployed contractor, no matter how good he was at making product. So he’d gradually stopped having a career.

It had all gotten so fucked up, back when he’d tried to play the game.

Then there was the tax thing. Shadow smiled at the thought. Those memories didn’t have any power to sting him. Oh sure – when the marriage thing and the career thing were both coming off the tracks at the same time, well, that might not have been the very best time he could have picked to piss off the taxman, too. But he’d gotten tired and mad. And when Shadow, or whatever he’d called himself back then, got tired and mad he stopped trying to be reasonable. He stopped complying, and they didn’t like that. They didn’t like that.

Heh. They probably liked it less when he bugged out on them and their damned forms. No, that memory didn’t sting. Fuck’em if they can’t take a joke.

There’d been a phrase for it from out of his professional vocabulary, for what he’d had to do when he couldn’t make money the old-fashioned way any more. Oh yeah – “Core Competencies.” That was it. The stuff you had to know how to do before you could do the stuff they really paid you to do. Like, if you were a delivery driver, you had to be able to drive. You had to be able to back a truck, and use a lift gate, and maybe you had to be able to lift heavy things. Sure. But you also had to be able to read, because road signs use words. Know the difference between left and right – some people really don’t. Maybe be able to use a map. Lots of elementary stuff. So there wasn’t any point in teaching a new delivery driver how to use the latest and greatest lift gate, if it turned out he couldn’t read road signs. He didn’t meet the core competencies, which were mostly things so basic you didn’t even give them any thought till they tripped you up.

Yeah. Core competencies. So if he couldn’t run a department that wrote training programs because he couldn’t get along with customers, that was a core competency in which he was deficient, see? Which also meant he didn’t have much of a future as a freelancer, because kissing asses is the very first core competency for a freelancer. Hell, he knew guys who couldn’t type and were better – or at least more successful – freelancers than he was.

Typing. He remembered that was the first thing he wrote on his list of core competencies. He was a really good typist. He knew the basic office apps like the roof of his mouth. He could drive.

So he started working as an office temp. Somebody else might have seen that as a big come-down, but as it turned out it was only the start. The best part of it was that a temp was a contractor, which was reported to the taxman in a whole different way and let him drop off their radar for a while.

But it was really hard for a guy to live in a city on an office temp’s sporadic pay. And anyway, making money wasn’t really his problem. He was sick of everything. Everything had let him down – or maybe he’d let everything down, he really didn’t know.

One thing was for damned sure, and that was that he was sick of cities. He wanted out. And that meant he had to take the professional thing back another couple of notches.

Jobs aren’t hard to come by if you don’t care what you do for a living. But you still have to have something to sell. And that meant going back before all that time he’d spent in offices. He had to get his hands greasy again.

About Joel

You shouldn't ask these questions of a paranoid recluse, you know.
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8 Responses to I’m not sure I’m moving in a right direction here…

  1. Mike says:

    Yep, there’s definitely something there. A large part of my life – you being stalking me?

    I could never do the ass kissing routine that seems to be needed to ‘get on in life’, either.

    That’s probably why I’m so screwed financially now.

    Life’s a bitch and then some politicians kills you. Or sends someone with a clipboard or a uniform to do so on his behalf.

    I’m trying for the ebook/content mill route. The money is crap but if I can increase it over time I can publish everything myself without having to kiss anyone’s ass.

    Shadow, ‘my Shadow’, ought to give it a try. So should you. You’re a better writer than I am, and I’m scraping a few dollars a month from all this ‘making money writing online’ crap.

    If I were massively more productive I could make what I need to live – I’m kinda hampered not so much by writer’s block but stupidity block.

    As Harry Browne said, it’s all about ‘compatibility’. The trouble is I can never find anyone I’m compatible with.

    Just keep honing the story. It reads a little jerky at the moment, you could do with smoothing the flow of it. But I want to read more – not least the solution Shadow comes up with to sort out his life, or as close as he ever can living on a planet with several billion egotistical lunatics, all of whom think you should live your life entirely for their satisfaction.

    I’m not sure whether I’m writing about Shadow, you or me here. I’m off – I’m trying to find a way to avoid being killed by the deranged lunatics of the British ‘welfare state’. Their idea of ‘help’ is to constantly starve me in to submission to their predatory desires, the worthless buggers that they are.

    Never mind, just keep taking one step at a time. That’s all I’m doing. And you either survive or you don’t – there ain’t actually that many options in life. You just keep on keeping on.

    Good luck with the book.

  2. desert fox says:

    It is really fascinating to watch / read your character development. Obviously some parts will make it into the book and some won’t. At this point, it’s just the process that establishes the main protagonist.

    Who knows – maybe in the end it will be the Coyote Chronicles instead of the Shadow Chronicles. Or maybe both. I could go for two books instead of one.

    Hang tough Joel. The plot will probably reveal itself in a flash … when you’re ready.


  3. Anonymous says:

    Hi Joel,

    I like what you are writing. In My life I avoided angering the taxman but then tried a second wife with little success.

    I’ve always thought the plot was hiding in the outline of the story and the better the outline the clearer the plot? That is from the classes I have taken, since I have never written anything, except for the classroom work.

    Anyway, finish what you have stared here and you will have something done and done well.

  4. Anonymous says:

    …shadow had enough of cities so he left and moved to the woods. he found a job, amazingly enough working for the state government in a hospital, and even more interestingly was that the hospital gig rarely involved being in a customer contact situation. he rented a trailer in a pasture where an old crusty rancher from the land down under (who still had the first penny he ever made) ran 400 head of cattle. that old coot was despised by the lazy ass locals because he truly earned every dime he ever made and worked like a dog. damn, shadow liked that old man.

    …but his anger never left. it was shadow’s involvement with co-workers at the hospital (the people who he once thought he could deal with that now snuck up on him) that now angered him. they were lazy small town hicks with no motivation and quite happy to be “country bumpkin po’ folks”, but boy did they know how to milk the system. and that really started to irk shadow. “I got to get further back in the woods” he heard the voice in his head.

    HA! Like Mike said above…”you been stalking me.” Joel?

  5. Anonymous says:

    Who needs some steenkin’ plot? Just put the stories in some sort of chronological order and let it rip. Isn’t the whole point of being a desert hermit that life isn’t scripted for him? It just happens on a day to day basis.

    There’s enough continutiy in the early years stories that explain how he got to the desert(or how each of us got to our own personal hermitages), but after that it’s just how the days interact with him. JMHO. K

  6. Mayberry says:

    I love it! As to my writing, the “plot” just kinda develops as I peck away at the keyboard. Got absolutely no idea where either of my current stories are going…

  7. Ramen Fiend says:

    I’m actually stuck on my book too… I can’t think of anything to write. The Ronin has hit the road again, Mai’s plane crash-landed, and Chicago is burning. My Muse is stuck.

  8. John B says:

    My book’s stuck too, my hero just seems to want to have sex with his neighbors all the time. Doesn’t advance the plot, doesn’t answer the unanswered questions, and I’m beginning to hate the lucky effer.

To the stake with the heretic!