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How Do You Write a Life?
by Mike Dormuth



1 man

1 woman

For best results: Fold ingredients on a soft, shallow mattress with silk sheets. Add: sweet words, pants of desire, sighs of expectation. Do this with a soft touch until batter is heated. Mix the warm, damp mixture long and hard. Stir and shake vigorously until seed separates from the pistil. Add one egg. Bake in oven for nine months or until done.

TO BEGIN one must create a narrator with a distinct voice and point of view with which to tell the story. The narrator may be a character directly involved in the action of the story or an outsider; an all-seeing, all-knowing entity who doesn't have a physical role in the story. You sure could spin a yam, couldn't you, Dad? Yeah, you had more bullshit than the gut barrels of a slaughterhouse. In either case, the narrator will affect the reader's relationship with the story.

You were quite the baker, weren't you, Dad? Seven little buns for you to tear in half, chew up, and spit out just so you could do it over and over again.

HOW MANY narrators are there in real life? Is there an all-encompassing narrator who remains hidden, refusing to judge or intervene in any way, shape, or form? Can a mere writer be capable of creating such a narrator? Did I go through 12 years of Catholic school, while you haven't been to church in 20 years, just to hear you tell your tales from all possible perspectives while I still ponder these questions? Still, I can't control the creation of this story. The pattern has already been set and played for me because this is the story of my life. I can only say what I know.

MY EARLIEST memory is not the sting on my ass, nor the shock of brightness and wet cold that greets one upon initial introduction to the world. Nor is it suckling milk at body temperature while surrounded by the warmth of motherly flesh. No, my first memory is neither cold nor warm. It is hot; filled with heat, hot, searing, boiling heat that bums and bubbles the skin until it resembles the top of a broiled cheese sandwich.

I am four years old standing with my brother, Jim, in front of the tall white stove. He is three. He was always your favourite if there was such a thing. I am a foot taller than he is even though we are only a year apart. Suppertime is near. My mother is boiling

perogies, which are to be our meat, bread, and vegetable for the day, sans the meat. She sits in the living-room watching soaps while supper cooks. Jim and I gaze up at the boiling pot. Jim is chattering about wanting to help. We both reach up for the pot at the same time and then it happens.

It happens in slow motion, like it does in my mind over and over again. The weight of the full pot, combined with Jim's bony hip pressed against my leg, causes me to lose my grip on the handle and the pot tips over. The water in the pot, milky from the perogy dough, pours out in a sure, hazy waterfall, bubbling in mid-air from the heat, falling, falling, then landing with a wet slap on my brother. A slap so complete that he'd never have hair on that spot atop his head again and no woman would run her hands over the unevenness of his back, or kiss his rippled neck. I'm certain that Jim ran from the room shrieking, although I didn't hear him, the ringing in my ears being too loud. I must have scared you bad, Jim being your favourite and all, yet you didn't kill me that day.

Every picture tells a story, don't it?

Really, how do you write a life?



1 father

1 family

sardine-and-onion sandwiches

gallons and gallons of alcohol

Take one small to medium-sized man, spine removed. Stuff with sardine-and-onion sandwiches. Add two heaping handfuls of anger, a dash of physical strength, 150 pounds of desire to harm, and just the smallest pinch of the will to live. Pour into a melting pot of poverty. Add two small boys, an infant girl, and a fear-filled woman. Generously add alcohol until man grows. Let stand alone, if possible. Usually good for three to 10 hours. Great for leftovers; just add more alcohol.

TO HAVE a good story there should be tension in every scene. Think of the scene as a positive, as in an electrical charge. If the scene begins with a positive it should end with a negative. Ambiguity should also enter into a scene. Don't answer every question. Rather than say "they were married and lived happily ever after," say, "they were married." You know, just like when you "work late" drinking and hitting on the closest barfly who'll listen to your stories. You know ambiguity. I mean, Mom never knew how those work nights ended, did she?

I was about seven years old the first time I came home after dark. The day had been great, with my buddy Cyrus and me playing on some folded-up tent trailers outside of Woolco. We hopped from trailer to trailer, the summer heat sticking our shirts to our backs. Little boys sweat. Some sweat bullets. Isn't that what you always said, "You'll sweat bullets, boy," isn't it? Night fell before we knew it. Cyrus and I ran home; he because of hunger, me because of fear.

My dad met me at the front door of our townhouse. His eyes blazed fire, crackling anger, hazy like an electric log in a fake fireplace. In a flash he reached and found my hair. I could feet my feet leave the floor, my body hanging as he dragged, carried me into the kitchen. My mother sat crying at the kitchen table. The last thing I remember seeing before everything began to spin was my mother's tears rolling from two swollen black eyes that looked past me at my dad.

The old man's hands moved under my armpits, lifted my body, spun me a three-quarter turn, then smashed me against cupboard door, then another, then another. I could no longer see my mom. I could feel the blood come rushing from my head, warm and thick like the pool of oil one finds on the top of a car engine with bad gaskets. The blood began to stain the cupboards about the seventh one that greeted me.

The amazing thing is my dad couldn't believe it was he who'd cut me open. He began yelling that I came home hurt, that he'd kill the bastard who did this to me. Groggy and filled with fear, I made up a story about some boys meeting me on the way home and laying a licking on me. Isn't that the way it is though, whenever one of your drunken buddies would pop you one for stealing their beer or trying to rip off a couple of bucks from the top of the bar table? There was always two or three of them, so you told us. Who the bell is telling the truth here, anyway?

How could I accuse my dad? If I did he'd only get madder and say, "Me! I'll give you me!" The beating would continue. At least for now it had stopped. With the instinct from consistently covering my ass I added, "That's why I'm late."

The old man then led me out of the house to search for my attackers. We walked in what I call his gentle rave. His bloodstained hand gripped mine softly with the protectionist love that one feels when family members are threatened. It was the feeling one gets from watching your brother get his ass kicked in a fight or watching your mother's purse get snatched. I felt it too.

My father ranted and cursed while we searched the neighborhood for my fictional attackers. His anger was no longer directed toward me but toward, hopefully for him, someone yet smaller than himself When we happened upon the football field some of the older, more committed boys were still out playing despite the darkness. The tight from the surrounding townhouses felt weakly on the field. Shadows, barely visible above the dark grass, ran about colliding then forming an even larger shadow around the faint white stripes of the football. My dad sauntered onto the field, demanding to know which of those punks had hurt his son. My face flushed red as the back of my head, which still trickled blood down the back of my neck. I squeaked that the guy wasn't there but the old man couldn't hear me over himself. He continued to play the psych game, telling the boys that when he found the son of a bitch he'd ring his neck. The teens, having had about enough of my dad, became belligerent. One was particularly louder than the others. My dad stood toe to toe with the young man while the others gathered round. Then dad hit the guy and all hell broke loose. The rest of the boys, about 10 or so of them, jumped the old man and beat him with their hands and feet. At first I relished the beating, just watching and rubbing the back of my head. It was always something I wanted to do myself, but it wasn't me. Soon, I realized it was others doing the beating and that family-bond thing kicked in. I stood and cried.

I can't picture that.

The collective anger of the boys was soon sated with the realization that apartment tights were clicking on and a crowd was beginning to form. At once they left the old man, instinctively running in every direction. One boy scooped up the football in his haste to leave. My dad and I turned slowly to walk home. The voices of the new arrivals followed us: "Was that Bill Watson? What the hell happened? It's about time somebody did that." My dad said nothing. He was tamed. There'd be no trouble around our house for the next few days, at least until the old man's stitches healed.

A picture is worth a thousand words.

How do you write a life?



1 bearded clam

No preparation is necessary for bearded clams. They are best


raw. Crack open the shell off one bearded clam with your fingers.


THERE is no time to develop character in a short story. Change in character, or building of a character, must be implied or suggested. With character and development the best advice is to write from experience. Make material convincing and accurate. Deal with internal probability. Do not have too many problems for the same character to the point where it is unbelievable to get out of When a problem comes about it is a logical progression in the course of the action. ( Life isn't logical, however; it follows no set pattern that joins one event to the next. Characters are developed over the years, with each meaningful experience playing a role in the development. Sometimes the development is stunted or controlled. Hopefully it all means something in the end.)

WHEN I was 12 a group of us kids would hang around a neighbourhood activity centre. The centre was situated in an apartment in a rowhouse. It consisted of two levels and a basement. Most of us preferred to hang in the basement because the counsellors, at least that's what they called themselves, holed themselves upstairs. The centre was devoid of structured activity, just a place to hang around instead of the street. Sure, once in a while the supposed counsellors had us draw or paint pictures, but that was about it. These pictures would find their way onto the walls of the activity centre. Personally, I thought they were smokescreens to trick the government boys when they came by, or to please the shrink who showed up twice a week. Counsellors split their duties at the centre most unevenly. During the day, when the kids were at school, three or four middle-aged women shuffled about trying to look important. They phoned government agencies, schools, fundraising victims. At four o'clock, as school let out, they'd all come out from their offices, four converted bedrooms, to migrate home or wander off to the strip malt. Now just Dara would be at the centre. Fat, freckled, redheaded Data, with tits the size of couch pillows. It had taken Data 18 years to get her first job of any kind and counselling youth was it.

The girls in the neighbourhood wouldn't hang around the activity centre when Dara was working, which was Sunday through Thursday. I think it was because they couldn't get a word in edgewise on Dara's shift.

Data always hid herself upstairs in her office. The room was devoid of all furnishings except a long legless couch, file cabinet, and telephone. One by one my friends, enemies, and myself would find a reason to make it into Data's office. We'd try to convince each other that there was something important we had to do in there or something we had to pick up. Nobody really said out loud the real reason for going in there. Not as we were going in, anyway.

It was my turn to go into the office. I told the boys I had to help prepare a schedule for the playground basketball league so I'd be a white. A few boys groaned. One told me to fuck off. I walked into the room and closed the door behind me. I locked it shut, as that was Data's rule. Data remained seated on the couch I now stood directly in front of I looked at her carefully. Her face was bright pink, her breasts strained at the green fabric that imprisoned them like two volleyballs in a bag. Her fat legs filled out what looked like an orange potato sack. I never spoke to Dara while in the office. Only closed my eyes. Her voice filled the air while her fingers unzipped me to slide down my pants and underwear. "How is school going? Did you win your ball game today? How's your mom doing?" She'd require no answer, it was all part of the motion. Then it was silent as the hot wetness of her mouth would surround both my penis and hairless sac. I'd often feel myself grow hard in her mouth and she'd suck until I had a liquidless child

orgasm or until she felt I'd had enough. Once in a while she'd make me put my fingers into her. Then later when I'd leave I'd sniff my fingers and their strange fishlike smell.

You're pretty as a picture.



1 dead human being


holy water

tears (optional)

Take one dead human being and place on preparation table.

Remove internal organs and stuff opening with cinnamon for

preservation. Sew opening closed. Best way to preserve human

shell is to bury body six feet underground. Before burying sprinkle

with holy water Place body in casket Seal tightly. Bury. After

three days the spirit will either rise or sink. Either way preservation

is accomplished. Rising spirit is known as angel food, sinking

spirit is devil's food. For best results sprinkle body with

memory daily, then weekly, then monthly, yearly, and eventually

forget altogether Results are eternal.

THE ESSENTIAL point of a story is the meaning of the story. It is the essence that ties all events together. The essential point used to be more commonly known as the moral. Closure is also very important to the end of a story. It is not recommended to leave the reader thinking too hard on what has happened, or a state of confusion (feeling ripped off) will occur. Readers live a sort of life with fiction and die with its last word. Sometimes, though, things are better left implied. Why did you hit me, what did I do wrong? Who the hell is lying here? This is fine as long as the reader has satisfied most expectations. Change at the end of the story may be difficult to accept, so foreshadowing becomes valuable. Foreshadowing is also great for surprise endings. Life, unlike fiction, follows no set pattern or logic. About all life can do is be a series of events that happen, describe character, then eventually come to an end. Death is the ultimate closure.

MYSELF, I am not dead, although I feel as if I might as well be. My wife has long since left me. The kids have grown up. About five years ago I lost my job as a teacher through false accusations and charges of conduct unbecoming of a teacher. The young girl admitted in court that she tied in an attempt to get better grades. I thought she was in love with me. She was always in my classroom studying after hours, or erasing the chalkboard for the janitor, or asking me questions about my family. In class her eyes would intently watch me lecture. She'd smile a crooked smile, smelling her fingers. I haven't worked since.

Part of the reason I wasn't hired back, despite beating the rap, was some bullshit about alcohol affecting my performance. That and it's hard otherwise to have people trust you after your name has been splattered all over the front pages of the town rag. Don't tell me that shit. It did drive me to drink, though. Now I sit and write and drink. Once in a white I'll leave my seedy room in the hotel to go downstairs to drink with the Natives in their bar. Once in a while one of them will call me whitey, or cuff me one, or try to get me to buy them a drink. Big Richard, the bouncer, would stop me on my way to my room wanting to know where the blood came from or who took my money (he could tell I'd been robbed if it was still early on payday and I was leaving the bar relatively sober). In my anger I'd turn to point out the culprit, but I never found the guts to do it. Besides, all those guys are family, Big Richard included. Just one big, not so happy, North American family. Richard would just shake his head and say, "Any time you want to do something about it let me know."

Mostly I just want to live my life out to its conclusion, because right now the stories have lost their appeal and are repeating themselves in blurred passages.

The writing's on the wall and the picture's in the hall.

Right now I eat a sardine-and-onion sandwich and wait.

I guess you can't write a life.


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