I wrote this for a vocal.media contest sponsored by Moleskine. Write 600-2000 words of fiction that involves unexpectedly coming into $20,000 and a small black notebook. Since I've always loved Moleskine, I thought of trying to pay a subliminal homage to one of the product's most famous devotees. The story was denied entry based on violating their community guideline: "we don’t accept any content that takes a religious stance of any kind, or stories that make assertions about any political, racial, national, or ideological group." I don't really think the story violates that... I would have rather they they had rejected it on the grounds that it reads like something a middle-schooler might have written. But oh well. Figured I'd share it here anyway. I think it's kind of fun. --PGM

The Sower

Having finally got the boy to sleep, he walked to his son’s small desk and unwrapped the brown paper covering the box.

It had been almost impossible not to open it earlier, but he knew if he didn't wait until after bedtime, he would feel compelled to tell the boy everything about the grandfather he would never know--not to mention about himself--and he just wasn’t up to it.

Carefully clicking on the desk lamp and looking back to make sure it hadn’t disturbed the boy, he opened the box to find a small black notebook nested in several stacks of unbent hundred-dollar bills. He flipped through the dog-eared pages and pressed his nose to the inner binding, breathing in the smell of ancient paper--like damp wood and burnt, bitter vanilla--then set it down on the surface of the desk and gathered and counted each bill. Two hundred of them in all. Twenty thousand dollars.

There was an instant of excitement, vaguely familiar, in thinking what sorts of things he could do with that much money. But just as quickly it dissolved with the certainty that he could never spend it.

He picked the notebook up, turned the cover back gently, and began to read the handwriting he had seen so many times before.
Dear Son,

I can’t think of any sort of “by the time you read this…” introduction that isn’t just embarrassing, but… well...

I only hope that the money enclosed captures your attention more than this. I like to think that if I deserve any pat on the back for my parenting skills it’s the fact that I never tried to dictate anything to you. What college you went to (or even if you went to college at all), who you dated, what sort of job you took etc... Just the same, I do insist that the money be earmarked exclusively for the most frivolous use possible. If you are inclined to donate it to a good cause, make a down payment on a house, or, worst of all, invest it or put it in the bank, I will return to haunt you.

I’ll forgive you if you laugh at this, since my track record is admittedly poor when it comes to delivering on promises to spend time with you. But I imagine I’ll have few distractions going forward and you’ll always have my ear from now on.

One specific suggestion I might make: there’s a beautiful little town in the Netherlands called Zundert. And an old bridge there that spans the Weerjis River. One of the most unhappy moments in my life I stood in the center of it looking down at the water. And I tried to comfort myself by saying that one day I would be happy, and I would return to this exact spot. And I actually looked to my side and imagined an older version of myself there, grinning. It comforted me more than I can explain. But I never did return. Lately I’ve tried to convince myself that the man I stood beside was actually you, which is even more comforting.

I know it’s a lousy excuse, but I feel a bit justified in showing myself out this way since my father, as you might know, did the same thing. But I never told you that he also left me quite a large sum, with the same demands of how it be used.

His note to me was much shorter than this one. Only the briefest explanation of his wishes with the words "There thou hast that is thine."

You were very young then and I was up to my ears in debt. I couldn’t begin to imagine just going off on vacation or buying a sports car. Your mother would have killed me. But if nothing else, I wanted to at least honor his wish by not doing something practical with it. So I hid it, swearing I’d figure out some way to get myself to a place where things were comfortable enough that I could blow it all.

As you know, work more or less became my life. At first for the reason given, but then, I think, just from the sort of inertia or habit of doing it so long. In hindsight, it seems like one day, very abruptly, I found myself realizing that I could spend it as I’d been asked to. And I looked around, and you had grown up and gone off to live your own life. And your mother... well, she’d gone off to live hers too. I'll never forget how appropriate it felt that there had been a blackout the night I watched her moving van go. The road had never looked darker; the stars never more brilliant.

So now I hated the money. And I hated my father. I felt so sure that if I could have just used it practically, maybe things would have been different. Even just using a fraction of it for bills, and the rest for a month of travel, you riding my shoulders in some place blindingly sunny like a living memory.

I know it seems awful to now pass on to you the same curse. Don’t think it’s for something so trite as me realizing that my father was right all along and I should have seized the day and squandered the money. My motive is even sillier. As best I can tell, this is what love is. Burdening someone with something they’ll never know what to do with. Something thrilling, and infuriating that can’t be brought into alignment with the realities of daily life, or made any sense of at all. Something that you will never be able to rid yourself of, even when it makes life unbearable.

I know this is a final continuation of me being a terrible father. I used to hate fathers. Not just mine, but the very idea of them. Even as a boy in Sunday School, hearing how Abraham tried to butcher his son... I don’t need to tell you what God did to His.

But as I’ve gotten older I’ve realized the whole point is that it isn’t what the father does. It’s what the son does. We don’t focus on Abraham or even God. We focus on Isaac and Christ. Because you know what they did? They made all their children miserable too.

I know that in all likelihood, you’ll refuse to do as I ask, and I’m sorry. But I think if one is going to be incapable of accepting what is both offered and demanded, it’s better to realize it as soon as possible. Not so that you can save yourself from a life of pain, but so you can spare those around you that might someday be inclined to make offers and demands.

I know that the worst of all this is that it leaves you rootless, liable to be scorched and withered by the sun (I did take some good things from Sunday School). But you can't blame the sower, much less the seed.

I’ll close now and give myself the last indulgence of pretending you might have been on the bridge with me. Might be on it again. Might have always been on it.

Your father, March 1947

Ditto, August 1978

Ditto, April 1995
He drew a long breath before taking a pen from his pocket and jotting something out beneath the final line.

Then, replacing the book carefully in the box atop the spread of ancient, dusty bills, he redid the wrapping, offered a last glance at his sleeping son, clicked off the desk lamp and stepped out through the doorway, leaving it open a crack so that if the boy woke frightened and lonesome in the dark, some light from the hallway might bleed through.
Citizen Kane, a masterpiece, is sadly inaccessible to modern audiences so I tried to bring it up-to-date.
Adulting: Day 2

Managed to get up with the alarm at 6:30am today after being successful yesterday at sticking to my schedule. Was a bit disappointed that doing so didn't fill me with any greater sense of satisfaction, but I suppose that's to be expected. In any attempt to put one's life more in line with what one wishes it looked like, the real satisfaction is probably more the lack of dissatisfaction than any daily reward.

I did encounter the recurring and underlying issue right away though when deciding whether to take a shower. I didn't feel particularly inclined to. Knowing I won't see anyone today, and having a completely sedentary lifestyle, it's hard to justify a daily shower. I wound up Googling whether daily showers are beneficial and found a medical report that said no; that if anything, daily showers can remove the oil and bacteria that are meant to be a part of our immune system, and dry out our skin. I had a laugh when the doctor who wrote the piece concluded "Of course, if you're like me, you'll never want to give up your daily shower..." since there's enough of a stigma that he felt the need to make sure every reader knew "but I shower daily, obviously."

But so much of the trouble with routine does seem to boil down to daily questioning every aspect of it. Do I need to shower? Do I need to put on decent cloths? Do I need to wake up early? Do I need to start working at 9? 

Inevitably the answer to any single question is often "no", but in removing any piece of routine, the whole thing becomes very precarious.

Just the same, I passed on the shower.
Cannes: A depressed man sees a therapist. But he's not the only one who needs help... | David - YouTube
» Subscribe for the world's best short films: http://sub2.omele.to» Get some merch: http://shop.omele.toDavid is used with permission from Zach Woods and Sal...
I've always imagined that my best life would be predicated on a strict routine. Yet it's usually eluded me. There was a brief period a couple weeks ago where I at least forced myself to floss and exercise every night but even that quickly fell by the wayside. It hasn't helped that without a standard 9-5 job, and in isolation where there's no subtle pressure to match sleeping schedules, I've drifted into staying awake until 3am. I suppose there isn't anything inherently wrong with that, except I have a very hard time doing anything productive once the sun has set. If I can't get a reasonably early start, it feels futile to even bother.

So last night, I wrote down a detailed list. Awake at 6:30, coffee, cereal, shower, shave, teeth, prayer/devotion, clean kitchen, go to the dump, replace smoke alarm battery. I did manage to get up with the alarm at 6:30, quite an accomplishment since I wasn't asleep until well past 3. But felt so tired as I managed to check everything off the morning list, I had a hard time imagining I'd be productive for my planned work. But with the first items all checked off, apart from showering/shaving/teeth, I let myself lie down for a bit and watched a short film called David and felt reasonably well rested by the time I got in the shower around 8:45am.

Sitting down now to start on the task list of work items for the 9-5 shift at 9:30, which isn't too terribly tardy, and hoping that I can end the day with some sense of satisfaction and accomplishment, and go to sleep tired at a reasonable time, and feel inclined to do it all again tomorrow.

Having so strict a routine seems like an impossible fantasy after 35 years of wanting it but proving incapable, but hopefully the poem that once caught my attention in a book of Religious Verse I inherited from my grandfather can be believed:

Have we not all, amid life’s petty strife,
Some pure ideal of a noble life
That once seemed possible? Did we not hear
The flutter of its wings, and feel it near,
And just within our reach? It was. And yet
We lost it in this daily jar and fret,
And now live idle in a vague regret;
But still our place is kept, and it will wait,
Ready for us to fill it, soon or late.
No star is ever lost we once have seen,
We always may be what we might have been.
Since good, tho’ only thought, has life and breath,
God’s life—can always be redeemed from death;
And evil, in its nature, is decay,
And any hour can blot it all away;
The hopes that, lost, in some far distance seem.
May be the truer life, and this the dream.
Happy 9th birthday. I love you more every day.
Happy 62nd birthday. I love you more every day.
I hate when people reply to things "Are you me?"
Anyway, here's "Somewhere Only We Know".
Got on a kick of trying to learn new songs on the piano.
Wanted to see if I could learn this song on piano.