John Kingston

John Kingston resides in Seattle, Washington. His novel, The Portraits of Gods, was released in January 2015 by Anaphora Literary Press.

Feb 192016
 

blurred crowdLast week, while in San Francisco for a writers conference, I was walking with my young daughter on Geary Street near Mason, not far from Union Square, when I noticed him: a towering, disheveled member of the city’s vast legion of homeless people, keeping pace behind me.

I deliberately altered my pace—already considerably slower than the rest of the people who were streaming past since I was holding the hand of my toddler—to let him pass. But instead of disappearing into the upstream swim of pedestrians, he slowed, too. Continue reading »

Nov 282015
 

Gumwall3It was 1993, and the name Lorena Bobbitt single-handedly drove the sales of flower bouquets through the roof. Sultry alligator wrestler-turned-attorney general Janet Reno ordered the deadly raid on the Branch Davidian Religious Sect in Waco, Texas. And the whirring, humming automated residential housing algorithms of Michigan State University matched me up with a snag-toothed, pumpkin-headed man-child from suburban Detroit named Mark (for legal, moral and humanitarian reasons, I won’t print his last name here but I’ll give you a hint: it rhymes quite symmetrically with oh, smell…). Continue reading »

Jun 112015
 

339181-hourglassLast week, I turned 42. In a society as age-centric as our own, you’d think I’d be freaking out about it. After all, the half-century mark is creeping ever closer. The faint etchings of age around my eyes are slowly becoming fault lines. And the old knee injuries of youth have come back to haunt me. It ain’t all bad, though. I’m actually in better shape now than I was 20 years ago. My vision is still 20/15. And when I look at turning 42 as simply having seven 6th birthdays, I trick myself into thinking it’s not such a hard thing to deal with.

Inevitably, however, there comes a day when the lights will go out. When the flame will get snuffed. When—not withstanding a person’s personal religious beliefs—we’ll all be spending the eternity drifting and tumbling through a moist, black void of non-existence. It’s the worst blow of all to the human ego to think of our minds—our consciousness—as nothing more than the mesh of a functioning brain; our bodies simply a bag of tissue and enzymes.

No artist can ever truly explain the drive to create. It’s a maddening, arduous process to sit there before a blank page and try to give some tangible form to artistic expression. Aside from the hours of thinking and ruminating and spelunking deep into the oft-treacherous caverns of the mind comes plenty of self-doubt and second-guessing. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve championed what I thought was the perfect set of paragraphs, only to glance at it the very next day and consider it all just complete garbage. A hobby like golf or stamp collecting would be much easier on the psyche, for sure. But that’s just it: a writer, and I mean one who writes with the desperation of someone trying to take air, doesn’t see writing as merely a hobby. It’s not something you do because you have an hour to spare. It becomes something you must do. A need to be fulfilled. We write to beat the Devil and that’s the point. Whether it’s painting a canvas or writing a song, sculpting a garden or writing a story. It may sound like a stretch but the basic goal of creativity is to compete with the inescapability of our mortality. We long to create something that’s bigger than us. Leave some part of us behind that will, at least in a pragmatic sense, remain timeless. Does that mean that all artists are narcissistic? Who exactly does longevity and timelessness matter most to anyway? The writer, or the reader? On any given day it can be either.

When you nail a sentence, it takes you to euphoric heights. Flub one, and it sends you plummeting to crushing depths. But that’s how it goes. You take the good with the bad. You follow your instincts while not always knowing what the instinct is saying. Because with every valley comes a peak. Ignore the value judgments of others and write only what is truthful. For when you create something you can be proud of, then you’ve already beaten death.

Mar 122015
 

“You don’t have to,” said Marci, with an affect that made it impossible for Davis to know whether it was being uttered out of sincerity, or more as a disclamation to have to reciprocate such favors some day in the future. Either way, it mattered not. It was a small price to pay to shake off any stodgy reservations that his newly appointed division support assistant might have had regarding her assignment to the company’s Topeka branch. Over lunch (she had had the chicken dumpling soup and a salad; he, a chicken cordon bleu sandwich, fries and Sierra Mist), Davis had detailed for her his own odyssey from mailroom clerk in the company’s Boston flagship office, to Administrative Assistant in Danbury, to Administrative Assistant Coordinator and later Client Relations Specialist in Charlotte, to Facility Manager and Administrative Assistant Manager at the Minneapolis branch, before finally landing the Division Supervisor gig in Topeka. Continue reading »

Jan 252015
 

TP“Snuffleupagus always kinda freaked me out,” Atkins said, looking out the restaurant window to the street where a cop had just pulled over a guy in a gray Nissan. “Not him, per se. I think it was his entrance music. That sort of dragging, swaying, shambling music that seemed to strike-up out of nowhere. Think about how unsettling it’d be to think that some shaggy, over-medicated, mastodon-ish creature could just appear out of nowhere and address you with this apparent, soul-tingling kind of disinterest. If you watch closely, you can almost guarantee that the other characters had the same oh shit kind of feeling about Snuffleupagus, too. They all kind of stand there for a second with these blank expressions and for just a moment, it’s like they feel some sort of mortal dread to see him standing there. Good old Gordon always had a way of seguing any awkward situation into something that seemed somehow relevant and all-inclusive. It seemed like he could defuse any situation.”

“Man, it was Tiny Tim, for me. Jesus, man. I mean, what the fuck…? That buzzing mosquito falsetto voice. Long, stringy sea-hag hair. There was just something about him that made me feel like I had been, I don’t know, victimized by him in some past life. Like I somehow knew what it felt like to have his hot, rancid breath panting on the back of my neck. Christ.”

“Tiptoe through the Tulips.”

“Nevermind Tiptoe through the Tulips. Ever hear his cover of The Doors’ People are Strange? Or that one song, “Little Girl”? Where he wants to know where some little girl is sleeping and then asks her if it’s in some trees or some shit?”

Each turned to watch the cop as he was walking back to his patrol car with the motorist’s license and vehicle paperwork in hand.

“That guy looks pissed,” Atkins remarked.

“The cop?”

“No, the driver.”

“I don’t know…Tiny Tim, man. And that Dating Game killer guy looked just like him. Some freaky dudes in this world, man.”

“Here’s one for ya: Edward Muscare. Ever heard of him?”

Roberts shook his head.

“Edward Muscare…Oh, Pretty Woman. Google it, you’ll see.”

When the cop returned to the Nissan, each tried to determine if the driver, based on his facial expression, was getting a ticket, but the cop was blocking their view of him.

Yet another one of those things they’d never know the answer to.

Jan 012015
 

SpamBeing relatively new to the whole blogging thing, I’m still trying to navigate my way around the WordPress landscape. Despite the patient helpfulness of my friend and fellow Redwoods colleague, Laura Wilkinson Hedgecock, I still can’t figure out the difference between an “SSO” and an “SEO”. To me, “Users Ultra” sounds like a brand of condoms, and a “Plugin” sounds like something you’d order from an Adam & Eve catalog.

One thing I’ve figured out: you receive upwards of a billion spam messages a day in your spam filter. Some of them are pretty lame, like the tenacious pitches on how to make $1700 a day from home, or how I can buy a new pair of Air Jordans for $75 (written in mostly indecipherable English). Others, however, appear quite complementary. Even if they’re not specific to me, they still warm my cold, December heart.

Nevertheless, I have to remind myself that each of these messages were originally banged out on a keyboard by a pair of tender, caring human hands. With this mind, I’ve agreed to respond to some of them.

 

onlinecigarettestoreus wants to know:

onlinecigarettestoreus.com/x
antonionoma@mail.ru
62.210.83.64

“Great looking website. Assume you did a bunch of ace discount cigarettes your own html coding.”

Yeah, I considered that; just didn’t seem like the right time.

 

Here’s one from scsuhuskies:
scsuhuskies.com/prada.aspx?pid=17961-purchase-Pra…x
mozkxvestxf@gmail.com
98.143.144.143

“saffiano leather for sale”

You better not be joking…

 

Gay porn writes:

gay pornh8vn.com/xawqlgm@gmail.com 77.81.105.38

“Excellent post. I was checking constantly this blog and I am impressed! Very helpful info particularly the closing phase I deal with such info much. I was seeking this certain information for a very lengthy time. Thank you and best of luck.”

I’m glad you enjoyed the post, gay. I’ve actually had quite a few people remark on the closing phase section as well. I’m just sorry that it took so much time for you to find it. Check back next week when I’ll be providing some helpful tips on farcy garages and kedge tarhood.

 

And then there’s this writer’s two-cents:

Marcelo
Engeecon.com/mathematics/x
marcelo_layman@gmail.com
64.182.17.60

“Have you ever thought about including a little bit more than just your articles?
I mean, what you say is fundamental and all. You could give yourself redirection.
However just imagine if you added some great photos or video clips to give your posts more,
“pop”! Your content is excellent but with pics and videos, this website could definitely be one of the best in its field.
Amazing blog!”

-Solid advice, coming from a guy who can’t even spell ‘red erection’ correctly.

Dec 182014
 

 

heaven or hellNotwithstanding the potential of turning this into one massive passion-fueled, rolling tumbleweed of theological debate and discussion, I think the question is fair and quite simple: When you die and (assuming) you go to heaven, what will you look like?

I’m not much for writing about what happens after death; only the slow, steady, agonizing, degenerative, angst-filled crawl toward its destination. But as a writer, there occasionally comes a time when I might feel a pang of interest in dipping my toe into a storyline about a character or two whose story continues even after that heavy dark curtain has been dropped.

Case Study #1:

“Steve”; a 28 year-old slightly overweight white male of average height.

Steve owns a 2005 Yamaha YZF-R1 “crotch rocket” that he likes to take for rides along the planes and twists of Old Beatty Ford Road in North Carolina. One late afternoon in May, while crossing into the intersection of Phaniel Church Road, Steve encounters a UPS truck. Its driver, being temporarily blinded by the bright and low-hanging sun, pulls into Steve’s path of travel, causing Steve to slam into the side of the truck.

A local media team descends upon the crash site. The community rallies around Steve’s family to express their love and support. Despite the doctors’ wonder and amazement at Steve’s strength and endurance for having initially survived the crash in the first place, they try rationalizing for his family that due to his extensive injuries and his no-hope-for-recovery comatose state, consideration should be given for disconnecting him from the ventilator. Steve’s brother and sister agree to it. Steve’s mother on the other hand – a devoutly pious evangelical woman – curses the doctor for even suggesting it. Hence comes a contentious, 15-year odyssey in Steve’s life where the matter of his life and death inches its way along into the upper echelons of the judicial system. Ultimately, the US Supreme Court rules in favor of Steve’s siblings and the ventilator is disconnected soon thereafter.

In his life, Steve’s withered, vestigial and severely atrophied body “lived” to the age of 43.

When Steve arrives in heaven, is he 28, or 43?

Hell's waiting room, or your typical line at the DMV?

Hell’s waiting room, or your typical line at the DMV?

Case Study #2:

“Emily”; a 56 year-old black female and retired teacher.

Children can be cruel, as evidenced by the sometimes vicious and demeaning verbal abuse they can slosh at those with even the slightest of imperfections. A pair of pesky keloids on her left earlobe has destined Emily to such an existence. But despite this, she flourished in her role as a teacher at Shreveport Central High School where she taught tenth grade English and Math. She had married her high school sweetheart, “Daniel”, fresh out of college and together they had a boy they had named after Daniel’s father, Eric.

Despite her husband’s constant reassurances, Emily’s keloids had remained a constant source of embarrassment and frustration for her. Doctors had given her a statistically high probability that surgical intervention would only exacerbate her condition and expand the keloid growth. As a result, Emily had no choice but to resign herself to absorbing the occasional taunts of “cocoa puff”, and “Goober earring”.

One day, after having just started a load of laundry, Emily was climbing the basement stairs when she dropped dead of a heart attack.

When she was shown to her celestial cottage on the sparkling Eustelean Glens overlooking the mystical, mermaid-swelled waters of Lake Absentia, she couldn’t help but be curious about something.

Slowly, Emily eased herself in front of the mirror…

Keloid, or no keloid?

Quick Case Study #3:

Husband dies at 47. Wife goes on to live until the age of 92. Do either get to choose the age in which to spend their eternity? Taking it further, let’s say the guy liked himself best at 24; chiseled body, six-pack abs. Full head of hair. The woman, meanwhile, had come to appreciate the glow and wisdom of her 60’s. Will their age gap cause a paparazzi-sized sensation? Divorce…is it even an option?

Look, it’s not that I expect everyone to be walking around heaven looking like porn stars. But if the motivation for wanting to vanquish our imperfections and become our most “perfect” self in our earthly form is simply to increase our odds of getting laid, who’s to say that a part of that doesn’t carry over into our “heavenly state”? The second circle of hell in Dante’s Inferno just so happens to center around “carnal malefactors”, after all.

Before...

Before…

All I’m saying is that it would help me greatly as a writer to be able to wrap my head around this minor issue of physical appearance as it relates to the afterlife.

Such considerations seem moot in a place like hell, where we’re all just a pile of screaming, burning feces shat from the foul, hemorrhoidal ass of Satan, himself.

...after

…after

A logician tasked with conducting an analysis of this issue might very well conclude that heaven is comprised of differences; of choices. Using this logic, would it be safe to say that hell means being the same as everyone else?

It would be for me.

Dec 122014
 

The Rock
3:39 am

A sad sort of nostalgia haunts me as I stand outside my old elementary school. As a kid, I used to get this schizophrenic notion that certain places only existed when I was present there to observe them. How could you ever actually prove otherwise? Summerfield was one such place. The idea that my school still retained its tangibility even in the thin hours of night when no one was around seemed foreign and distant; as foreign and distant as the concept of death.

Of course, I believed a lot of things back then. I believed that if I could manage to stay awake until midnight, I’d be able to hear the bells of Big Ben chiming all the way from London. I believed that one day I might just be able to bend the laws of physics and learn how to fly. A notoriously weird kid, from the time I could first talk I didn’t just tell everyone that I was from Neptune, I believed it. Continue reading »

Nov 292014
 

Welcome to Flint 

Just like hipsters and Scientology, the city of Flint is one of those things that’s easy to make fun of. Often referred to as “America’s murder capital”, it saw 66 murders in 2012, tying with its all-time high from just two years before. Not too shabby when you consider that equates to 65 murders per 100,000 people, a figure that tops that of Detroit or even Chicago. Continue reading »

Nov 042014
 

 

exlaxI like to write early. And by early, I mean that knife-edge, where-does-the-night-end-and-the-morning-begin? ass-crack-of-dawn kind of early where everyone’s still asleep and the house is quiet and even the dogs look as though they’re trying to sleep off the remnants of a ruff night (har har…get it?). The smell of coffee wafts through the house and it’s the time of day when I’m at my least self-critical. Early in the morning, everything seems in place. Distractions are limited. All I can hope for is that once I finally sit down at my laptop, my expectations don’t go slamming head-on into a wall.

I once had an idea for a novella about a long-haul truck driver who, at day’s end and by the glow of a map light in his sleeper cabin, commits himself to writing a poem a day. Its working title was Road Scholar and I’d kept detailed notes on everything from semi-truck mechanics and nomenclature to radio jargon and trucker lifestyle (with two subsections devoted entirely to trucker gastronomy and lot lizards). I’d given my salty dog protagonist a Kris Kristofferson-look and had even sketched out a limited backstory that included a dishonorable discharge from military service for having killed the pimp of a Laotian prostitute.

flower between rocks

It was a sure thing. Something easy and fun. The intellectual equivalent of ordering-in. But in those precious, waning hours of early morning silence and concentration, I found myself barely able to squeeze out even a few sentences. The same thing happened the next day, and the day after that. Weeks passed, and nary a page came and before long I had all but aborted the project.

I suspect that, like most writers, the turbine that generates my creativity comes from some precinct of my unconscious; a place that can never be charted or mapped by even the most sensitive of neuro-imaging instruments. It can be an ornery and complicated thing. A frigid lover. And you have to ready yourself to accept that inspiration might just reject you when you’re most ready for it, only to come pounding down the door of your unconsciousness at 3 am when you should be asleep.

Personally, routine is what seems to be the best companion for writing (I like to write in the morning…rarely do I ever write past noon). But on a bad day, when I’ve squandered my time with self-doubt (which is the inevitable by-product of non-performance), I find myself feeling as if it’s necessary to work past my “normal business hours” until I can find just one sentence I feel good about ending the day with. Perhaps it’s no different than a gambler at a blackjack table who feels he’ll win it all back if he just hangs in there. It doesn’t help, of course, when you compare yourself to other established writers who seem capable of churning out one work after another with little to no effort. In a swelled and euphoric state, you may produce a good six or seven pages of what might seem keepable material one day only to scrap it all the next; perhaps no different than bedding someone one night only to regret it the next morning.

Inspiration can strike at any time.

Inspiration can strike at any time. Have your coffee ready.

Consider horror maestro Stephen King who was, at one time, contracted to produce three books a year. Norman Mailer’s series of child support payment books were written quick and haphazardously just to keep the Friend of the Court off his ass. Literary jokester David Foster Wallace once famously said of John Updike that “…he’s never had a single, unpublished thought.” Each writer I’ve just mentioned have themselves struggled with productive droughts. Yet, between the three of them, the words produced would probably rival the number of stars in our galaxy.

So, is it still possible then to plod through and produce volumes of passable material in a relatively short time? I guess the answer is subjective. If you think what you’ve written isn’t entirely shit, then it shouldn’t matter how much time or effort you’ve put into it, which brings me to my own self-evaluation. I can’t help but wonder sometimes if I acquiesce too much to the ebb and flow of inspiration to begin with. Perhaps the advice should be to just ram through any future creative roadblocks and keep…writing.

That’s the thing about advice, though. It’s much easier to give, than follow.

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