dining room clamor
competing conversations
this is family

Thanksgiving haiku

A poem to honor the journey of adoption

Celebrating National Adoption Month with poetry

I have been a father for six years, a gift first given me by my amazing daughter and made possible through  international adoption. My wife and I are also fortunate to have a remarkable son whose life united with ours three years ago.

November is National Adoption Month, and today, specifically, is National Adoption Day in the United States. Personally, this is a day to reflect upon the journey that led to my family, shaping us from disparate and distant parts into the loving collection of odd and beautiful souls that we are.

Adoption is miraculous, but rooted in trauma. A child’s loss. Parents’ pain. Only through our daily actions can we hope to honor that appropriately. Only through love can we revere the loss. It is a lesson we learned well during our nearly four-year wait to meet our daughter. The years were callous, but joy prevailed.

Our Trinity

By Jeremy Podolski

Among the worlds most never see
Where hope unfurled does little else
But dull a pain disguised to those
Who choose the surface and its peace

We hopped from stone to stone on toes
As rushing water snaked beneath
And slogged through mud that seized our legs
To bid us seek a calm repose

For such surrender we rebuffed
Though time pressed fire to our souls
Which turned to vapor in the heat
But ceded nothing as enough

When standing toe to toe with fear
Or God or Beast, with wait increased
The weight of passion also grew
Like gravity steadfast and clear

What map? What lighthouse shone our way?
The miles in our mind were matched
By those on breezes or concrete
The sum of these turned night to day

What wounds do we believe reverse
When choirs in their hymns converse?

A foolish question, to be true
When what was empty overflows
And daily jolts us from routine
To wonder at what love can do

Embracing each like woven reeds
From two and one we honor three
And plant a tree from distant seeds
Among the worlds most never see

Adoption poetry Our Trinity

Short fiction: Rules of Mortality

By Jeremy Podolski

I won’t tell you how I died, and they can’t tell you why. The debriefing, though, was harsh. I expected St. Peter and a handshake, maybe a glass of wine and some beef Wellington, but apparently the dead are far from heaven’s upper class.

Instead, I got the penitentiary treatment, whisked down a gutter gray hallway by two burly escorts whose violent shoves were so frequent that my obedient march looked more like a drunken gallop. By the time we reached a windowless door, stamped with the word “ANOMALIES” in bold silver, I was sore and ready to spit fire.

The door swung open with no more than a glance from the oaf on my right, who thrust me into an unfurnished room that smelled of overheated circuitry. The enclosure was seamless, like the inside of an egg, and not much bigger than a minivan.

“Go to hell!” I yelled, but they were gone before I could turn around.

I dropped hard to the concave floor in a tangle of tawny arms and legs. After minutes that felt like hours camped in blackness behind covered eyes, I raised my lids to notice I was wearing the same dark jeans as the day before. The pair with the cigarette burn on the right thigh and (fishing into the back pocket on the same side) six neatly folded bills – $600 in all.

“Huh,” I said out loud. “I guess you can take it with you.”

I was contemplating possible conversion rates for my liquid assets when I felt the floor – no – the whole room moving. My egg-cell pivoted until it was on end, and I slid like a greasy yolk to the wide bottom. The light, which was already an uncomfortable glare, intensified to the point I shielded my face out of reflex, but it did little good. I could barely stand or see.

The first blow caught me by surprise, knocking me off my unsteady feet and causing an awkward fall that forced my chin into my own knee. Pain like electricity shot through my jaw and reverberated off my clenched teeth. Still blinded, I sensed the hand that reached for me, but I had no evasive maneuver to consider. I only tried to brace myself with an outstretched arm. Around it wrapped long fingers like hot knives that seared my skin down to the nerve endings, and I collapsed to the floor in a heap.

“You are not supposed to be here,” said the owner of the hand still squeezing my forearm like a tourniquet.

Although the pain warped my vision as much as the light, my eyes were beginning to adjust. I stole an upward glance, expecting to see a menacing archangel or a creature born of vengeful imagination. Finding an ordinary-looking man leaning over me was uniquely unsettling.

Remaining supplicatory, I growled, probably too defensively: “You think I’m in control? I’m not the goddamn queen bee, here. This isn’t my show.”

“LIES!” His voice projected like a turbine, launching me into the curved wall behind, and I struggled to gain my footing as the room shuddered in the wake of the eruption.

“I don’t think we’re working from the same script,” I said, slowing my speech, trying to strike a compliant tone. “I may have been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Who knows, maybe it was the right place at the wrong time. But shit happened, and I’m here. And, to be honest, I’m starting to think this place is a few heavenly choirs shy of utopia. Where am I really?”

The man clasped his hands at chest level, as if praying.

“Let’s just say you’re on a detour as opposed to… the grand tour,” he said, slightly calmer but still smoldering with concentration.

“Riddles. Beautiful. I suppose that’s why I’m tasting blood instead of gorging on ambrosia or whatever you guys eat up here?”

He took a half-step closer. A surprising hint of lavender wafted from the wide, charcoal lapel of his sharply cut suit.

“Your death was… unexpected,” he said after a palpable pause. “That means protocols were broken. And when protocols are broken, someone is to blame.”

I started circling then, hoping to maintain ownership of my space. “Well, I don’t know who would have the ability or the nerve to sidestep your operation. This is a maximum security outfit. Nobody’s hacking it.”

“True, we are adept at enforcing our rules. Yet, we’ve built our walls around a jungle. So, every now and then a snake,” he stopped to inspect me from head to toe, “may slip between the cracks.”

The temperature of the room was escalating, but not a single bead of sweat formed on the smooth, bronze head of my captor. He simply continued his unabashed stare.

“Whether or not I’m a reptile is debatable, but any crack I slipped through wasn’t of my making,” I said. “I understood I’d be exposed to risk. I didn’t sign on for treachery.”

He grabbed me by the bare shoulders. This time, his hands were cold as ice.

“Then why are you here,” he hissed, “when there is no basis for your demise, no itinerary for your arrival, and no knowledge of your destiny having changed?”

“Listen!” I shouted, whirling out of his grip. “I can’t be the victim AND the villain!”

And I knew, then, that I had him. It wasn’t that my lie was particularly convincing or that it was delivered with indisputable authority. I could just feel the momentum of the confrontation change. I caught a tremor in his steely gaze. A twitch in the muscles of his taut forehead. There was some key connection he failed to grasp, a critical gap in knowledge he could not bridge. He no longer had a choice.

“Go,” he said. And nothing else.

The new corridor I entered appeared endless, but I could tell that it widened as I walked toward a warm light in the distance. I was alone, so I took off my black tank to wrap around the burns on my arm. I doubted they would ever heal in the conventional sense, but I didn’t think I needed to worry about that anymore.

Much of my life had been hijacked by worrying. About others. About myself. About the rules. The worry cripples you, and the rules keep you from ever healing. And you believe that’s just how it is. There is no alternative. That’s life.

But the truth is, despite what they tell you, there is more than one way to get into heaven.

TerribleMinds.com Flash Fiction Opening Line Challenge
This short story is a response to a November 2013 flash fiction challenge posted by Chuck Wendig on his Terrible Minds blog. The opening line of my story was contributed by Allison Rose. Thanks, Allison, wherever you are.

Improve your digital reading experience

Using an RSS reader to save time and read more

Let’s talk techie.

Time constraints pose the biggest roadblock to satisfying the appetite of a ravenous reader. The quicker you can Improve-your-digital-reading-experienceaccess the books, blogs, stories and news that move you, the more time you have to digest and enjoy them. While I always have a book/Kindle on my nightstand, I consume a great number of words per week via blog and RSS feed, so having a convenient and feature-rich feed reader is a critical appliance in my world. The demise of Google Reader caught many by surprise, primarily because its utilization was so high. It’s ubiquity, however, belied its pedestrian presentation and functionality. Reader’s advantage was the Google platform itself, the seamless integration it offered within the Google ecosystem.

As successors courted the jilted masses, a few leaders emerged. I gravitated toward the intuitive and elegant interface of Feedly. Four months after Reader’s discontinuation, I’m convinced I picked the right horse. I am able to organize all of the blogs and feeds I follow by category, engage with and share posts via social media and access all of my data on the go through a beautifully designed mobile app.

One of my favorite original features, was a mini toolbar, that detected an RSS feed on any webpage and allowed for one-click subscriptions to my Feedly reader. That was a time-saver, but it was short lived. The toolbar has vanished, and although it is supposed to return, I’m not holding my breath.

The result is that it became decidedly inconvenient to subscribe to new blogs, as it required copying and pasting URLs and navigating away from the page I was reading to access the Feedly Web interface. Now, the point of all of this isn’t to offer a critical review of RSS technology. But as a blogger, I realized (wiping beads of perspiration from brow), that if I am experiencing these frustrations, so to might visitors to my blog. All writers face overwhelming competition for readers’ time. If a barrier exists to your content, you had better destroy the barrier.

So I offer a virtual Mjolnir, with the power to annihilate such obstacles to convenient reads. With so many former Reader users now migrated to Feedly, there is a good chance this will be of use to you. (Feel free to test it on jeremypodolski.com first!)

These are the hacks I have confirmed will do the trick:

For Chrome users

  1. Visit the Chrome Web Store and download the RSS subscription extension by Google.

  2. When using the button, you are able to select a service. Click “manage” and you will see the existing services. Copy the URL “http://cloud.feedly.com/#subscription%2Ffeed%2F%s” to add Feedly as a choice and set it as the default.

For Firefox users

  1. Download the RSS Handler for Feedly from the Mozilla Add-Ons library.

  2. Set to “always use” Feedly to make it your default subscription choice.

For Internet Explorer users

  1. Start using Chrome or Firefox

  2. (Sorry, IE has just never been friendly to dedicated feed handlers beyond its built-in functionality).

Hopefully, with a few minutes invested in a couple of technological tweaks, you’ll be able to spend more time with what’s really important: Reading, reading and reading.

Do you have a favorite feed reader, now that Google Reader is gone? Have you picked up any tips or tricks that add convenience or pleasure to your digital media experience. Let me know in the comments or tweet me @jeremypodolski.

Write like a painter

Improving your approach to creative writing

A blank white page. A blank white canvas. Writers and painters have a common starting point, and some of the principles that produce a beautiful piece of visual art apply to the creation of excellent written work.

Most writers feel ownership over their creative process. There is no single correct way to arrive at a finished written product, but I advise writers to develop a custom blueprint. Creating an outline is perhaps the most tried and true planning method, but its rigidity makes it unsuited for many types of projects. And let’s face it, Roman numerals are so MCMLXXXVI.

Instead, approach your plan as you would a sketch. Imagine you are making light strokes on the canvas, just penciling in the general shape of your article, story, poem or book. Get a sense of size and proportion. Shade in some key features, the elements you expect will become points of emphasis or will advance the action of your story. Remember, it’s in pencil; you can always erase and revise.

Using your sketch as your guide, begin painting the broad strokes of your story. Artists paint in layers, overlapping images and colors to create depth. Similarly, you can build on the foundational layers of your story with added detail. You need to write in three dimensions. Give your characters, your settings and your situations complexity by layering aspects of history, relationship, emotion, and motive that you will reveal in time.

A great painting appears as a doorway into another world, a passage you can seemingly enter. That is a hallmark of great writing as well. Don’t write flat.

Shaping your writing into a finished project requires the addition of fine details and the refining of rough edges. These steps are like adding shadows and highlights to your painting. The contrast serves as context for your story, accentuating your message and amplifying your meaning. Painters must be mindful of their light source because its relationship to the subject determines which details are revealed and which are obscured. A writer’s light source is generated by voice and point of view. Your perspective, or that of your narrator, influences in large part which information and beliefs are illuminated and which remain in the dark.

Finally, you have to know when to put down the brush. Sometimes, the best sentence is the one you don’t write. That, however, shouldn’t be an excuse to write with restraint. You can proceed with creative abandon, since writers have one clear benefit over painters. We can edit. But that’s another art project.