Morty has gotten dressed up this week to announce the winners of the writing contest. They are....
First Place: "Coping Mechanism" by Adam Padgett
Second Place: "Jolene" by Ethan Willis
Third Place: "Master of the Marshes" by Danny Cove
Once again, thanks to everyone who submitted! The stories themselves will be published next week individually. Congratulations!
Tales from the Other Side
With Uncle Morty
Some of you have been asking about your Uncle Morty’s condition. How? You ask. Why?
No offense, but the flesh-covered are dense, stuck in the material world like flies buried in Jello. I’m not sure I can really explain my condition to you. As to how? It’s complicated, technical and a little boring when you get right down to it. Why?Let’s just say I might have crossed a few metaphysical boundaries here and there while I was embodied. I might have broken a teensy rule or two on the other side too. Anyhoo…my bad luck is your learning experience. I’ve decided to publish a few tidbits of conversations from the other side.
Here begins Morty’s transcription of messages from beyond.
On old age and dying – Francine; disembodied, age 89
“I always thought getting older would be like building a mountain, a mountain of experience and wisdom. By the time you’re eighty, there you’d be at the top, perched like a white-robed guru. Younger generations would ascend the stones of your life to hear your words. The right way to feed babies, to handle a difficult husband, to work, sew, get up and feed the calves in the morning, gather the eggs, still get your pack of rascals on the school bus. Until I was in my forties, I honestly believed there was something solid ahead. Some perch from which reality would seem reasonable and I would know the answers.
The joke was on me. Reality shifted. Not one amongst that lot makes bread, or gathers eggs, none of ‘em would know how to butcher a chicken if their life depended on it. Seems like the babies are a whole new species the way they cater to them now. If you don’t like a husband…leave him. Instead of teaching them, I sometimes envied them. They taught me how to email and fiddle with the TV remote. I realized there was no path. No mountain.
Instead of building a mountain, I pieced a quilt. No pattern. A crazy quilt. And it may not win a prize or fetch $500 like granny’s old wedding ring quilt did when Anne sold it to go back to school after she left Danny, but it was pretty. I have to say it. There was my husband Frank’s old pajama shirt, there was Anne’s Easter dress I made out of that cheap blue calico. That patch on the corner was a piece of the gown Granny wore at the hospital the day before she died. All in all, it wasn’t bad, that quilt. In my old age, I laid myself down on it and touched this bit of flannel, that bit of calico, the linen from the suit that June wanted for graduation.
The babies crawled around the corners of it on the one end and the dead tugged, tugged, tugged at it from the other.
The teenagers, the adults? Those rascals couldn’t care less what you know or what wisdom you have to impart. If you’re lucky they’ll occasionally ask you now and then if you’re comfortable, there on your old quilt. Any rate, you’ve come to realize it doesn’t matter much anyway. Reality is wearing thin. Let them learn their lessons same way you learned yours. Let them piece their own quilts.
Eventually, babies yanking on it from one end, the dead from the other, one day you know for sure there’s nothing under that old quilt but air. And you know which set will win the tug of war. The voice of your dead mother sounds closer in your ear than the babies laughing.
Granny finally says, “Time to get on over here. Wrap that quilt around you and come on. It’s a cold walk over, but we’ve got a place for you at the table and we’re tired of waiting dinner.”
Mortimer Richard Wolcott is, quite frankly, not very forthcoming with his bio. We're not even sure if that's his real name. His work during his embodiments is not something he'll willingly share. However, his deathography is somewhat clear, at least from the time he showed up at Sacred Chickens Farm for a Halloween Party and never left. He is occasionally pressed into service to help write the blog and you can search the archives here for his wisdom.
He enjoys hanging out with cats, the occasional cocktail, and dispensing sarcastic remarks to the living.
After listening to this set of songs the first time through, my first thought was that these would be great as a soundtrack for a couple trying to make their relationship work while dealing with depression or struggling through a break-up. When I looked up the husband and wife duo that are the broken fits, (yes, all lower case) I was pleasantly surprised to see that's exactly what they're aiming for with these songs. Steven and Amanda of the broken fits are advocates for mental health and believe "that an open dialogue can help to remove the stigma of mental illness, and quite possibly save a life." (Quote from their website.) All of these songs have an undercurrent of "this is us, this is how we get past the bad times, this is us surviving and remaining in love," feel to them. Singer-songwriters as wellness advocates. But not gurus: This is the two of them trying to explain how they make it work, through honest expression, with artistic merit, that they may not have all the answers, but this is what works for them, and they're trying just as hard as each and all of us to get by. That they're doing this through their music makes it all the more poignant and beautiful for the rest of us that get to hear their work. (Yes, art is work, in case you didn't know.)
Don't go to your local medium!
Just check your email. Uncle Morty has commissioned Jarad to inform the winners.
We want our winners to give us bio information, a photo or other art work they want to display with the writing, if they so choose, and how they would like to be paid.
We will announce at the end of this month and begin publication of the winning stories!
Why is Morty playing a celebratory fugue? Because we FINALLY know the winners to our first annual fiction contest.
We hate to keep you in suspense, but Jarad will be contacting the winners for their information and preferred payment methods. We will also check to see if the authors have any preferred photos, art work, and bios to go along with their entries.
We should be able to make final announcements on August 30. We will publish first, second, and third place stories on this very site!
Thanks to all our submitters for your weird and wonderful stories!
In the meantime, we'd like to thank friend of the chickens, award winning author, Jeff Weddle, for judging the contest.
He was a Good Father
Written by Mark Borczon
Review by Julie Carpenter
This book is an ode to middle age, to understanding without excusing the mistakes of forbears, to the dawning perception that the path of acquiescence, of having the edges rubbed off is inevitable. Borczon pays tribute to a strange kind of peace, the acceptance of the inevitable, the poetry of honest reflection, even if the view is through a liquor bottle or the haze of exhaustion from hard labor.
Many thanks to Friend of the Chickens, Paul Leach, for taking in the submissions! Paul was our go-between guy who made sure the contest was fair to entrants. Not that Uncle Morty isn't totally impartial...but still...
Paul received your submissions, assigned your entry a number and sent it to our judge, Jeff Weddle. Jeff has no way of knowing who you are, whether you've submitted here before or whether any of us likes, dislikes, or is just kind of meh about you.
When our judge has time to go through our submissions, we will announce the winners! And, Morty wants me to add as a matter of greater importance, dole out the dough.
So good luck to all our entrants. You will be hearing from us soon!
This blog post is an older one, but I've been thinking a lot about narrative and empathy lately. In fact, Jarad, Morty, and I are thinking about doing a series of posts about the intersection of narrative, literature, politics and reality in general. So I decided to repost.
I wrote my master’s thesis on the use of narrative as an argumentative device. I believed then, and still believe, that stories are the best way to convince someone else of your truth, the best way to come to any idea at all of what the truth might be. Stories add layers of complexity.
Narrative allows us to see that every person has choices to make but at the same time they are victims of the choices of other individuals, families, and societies, or even the natural world. Story embraces the paradox of life. Many things can be true at once when you see them in a narrative context. Life is messy and much more like a web than straight line. Stories create empathy and acceptance. Teaching your child to read, especially stories that are written with the perspective of a particular character or characters in mind, not only promotes academic success, but also empathy.
This empathy that we gain from reading should lead to greater understanding of others, but it should also lead to greater understanding of ourselves. To put it more bluntly, after you read a story…you might find that you have traits in common with the villain - as many as you do with the hero. You might BE the villain. The more I write stories, the more I realize that there’s only one place to go fishing for the sins and follies of the characters and that’s in the depths of my own dark heart. Why do I point this out?
Because being a human, I find that this is not the way we (I) like to read stories. For goodness sakes, if Cinderella’s stepmother read the story of Cinderella, she would probably identify with Cinderella. She might take a moment to consider how unfair the story was to stepmothers – maybe, maybe not. But given the kind of person she was, I’ll just bet that she had convinced herself that she was terribly overworked and under appreciated – especially by her horrible step daughter. Bad people don’t always know they’re bad. They’ve spent years convincing themselves that their actions make sense and that they are the victims. Look at any person that’s thoroughly bad. I can guarantee you that they at least started off seeing themselves as reacting to evil not causing it.
Being exploited, duped, discriminated against or otherwise victimized is common to the protagonists of stories and movies. There is always something to overcome. We tend to identify with the protagonist of a story. The stories we tell ourselves as a culture often focus on a clear cut narrative, hero versus villain. Along with the hero, the reader or movie goer gets to feel heroic without actually being locked in a tower for years, or being forced to live in the forest with a group of merry men clad in tights, or being tracked down by Russian spies – whatever your choice of hero has to suffer before the big win.
So when we insert ourselves into stories, we tend to insert ourselves right into the shoes of the hero without ever considering the size of our own feet. And that’s not always a bad thing. It’s good to understand someone else’s suffering, good to understand their choices, good to feel their strengths and weaknesses. It’s good to follow along with someone as they make heroic choices. It makes us more empathetic to goodness. But this method of reading is problematic as well.
A very good example of this is religion. Most children who are raised as Christians – I can’t speak to other religions since I have no experience in how other forms of early religious education teaches children to insert themselves into narrative - are taught, implicitly, to identify with the disciples, the women who fed Jesus, the children who came to him, the crowd that ate his miraculous loaves and fishes. They are taught to identify with the heroes like David who bravely killed a giant. The empathetic distance is close when the student is taught or reads a narrative where the protagonist is virtuous, displaying desirable traits.
However, when David’s flaws come into the narrative later, - you know, little things like murdering one of his generals to cover the rape of the man's wife, the empathetic distance moves the reader away from King David, into judgment. The reader sees the story now from the perspective of the prophet Nathan, who clearly delineates David's sins.
Why is this a problem you ask? We want to emulate the traits of heroes, of good people. David bravely fought a giant. Robin Hood bravely fought the Sheriff of Nottingham. Cinderella had to wait patiently mucking the pigs and scrubbing the floors until a prince showed up to relieve her of a life of servitude (yes…she’s a sucky hero...but her circumstances didn't leave her a lot of leeway).
In fact, if you really think about it, the story of David nicely illustrates the point I’m trying to make. David ended up murdering a man to sleep with that man’s wife because he thought of himself as a hero, a king, a mighty warrior. The protagonist. A good person. And good people don’t have to worry about doing bad things. But in the end of the David/Bathsheba narrative David clearly realizes that he is the villain.
The prophet Nathan comes to the King and tells him this story:
A rich man and a poor man lived in the same town. The rich man owned a lot of sheep and cattle, but the poor man had only one little lamb that he had bought and raised. The lamb became a pet for him and his children. He even let it eat from his plate and drink from his cup and sleep on his lap. The lamb was like one of his own children.
One day someone came to visit the rich man, but the rich man didn’t want to kill any of his own sheep or cattle and serve it to the visitor. So he stole the poor man’s little lamb and served it instead.
David was furious with the rich man and said to Nathan, “I swear by the living Lord that the man who did this deserves to die! And because he didn’t have any pity on the poor man, he will have to pay four times what the lamb was worth.”
Nathan responded, "You are that rich man! Now listen to what the Lord God of Israel says to you: “I chose you to be the king of Israel. I kept you safe from Saul and even gave you his house and his wives. I let you rule Israel and Judah, and if that had not been enough, I would have given you much more. Why did you disobey me and do such a horrible thing? You murdered Uriah the Hittite by having the Ammonites kill him, so you could take his wife.
CEV version of the Bible 2nd Samuel 12 1-9
It was upon hearing this story that David realized…he wasn’t the hero at all. He was the villain.
There are times time that the villain should speak most intimately to our hearts. There are times when the value of a story is not in propping up our good feelings about ourselves or making us feel heroic but instructing us in how our actions tyrannize or otherwise afflict those around us.
What if you read the gospels and realize that you are a Pharisee? Someone who has so much confidence in petty acts of religiosity that he actually protests a healing, or people eating when they are hungry? (Has this realization happened to me? Maybe…)
Stories are the best places for us to understand the only evil we can do anything about. Our own. So next time you read think about asking yourself if you’re identifying with the right character. In the meantime, here’s a Mitchell and Webb link with some people who are coming to terms with just that.
Also check out this link to the Slacktivist. Fred Clark does a great blog post about not being on the wrong side of history. It was his post that reminded me about the skit.