2020: A Concept Novel

You probably are tired of scrolling through FaceBook anyway. Let’s get started!

Do you get the feeling that 2020 is unraveling like a dystopian science fiction novel? It puts me in the mind of The Day The Earth Stood Still. I’ve been thinking of how I would frame a novel around the readymade plot in which we are all currently living. I’ll share a few of the opening paragraphs of a concept novel-in the style of Charles Dickens-and you can provide feedback in the comment section of what I did wrong, and where my comma splices and run on sentences are, and how there are holes in the plot, and how my idea is a little flat, and the style seems a little stiff and forced. It will be just like a college discussion board! I know you’re going to love it. You probably are tired of scrolling through FaceBook anyway. Let’s get started!

Book the First-Shelter in Place

I. The Period

It depended on who you asked. Some would have said that things couldn’t get any worse, some would have said that they never remembered things being so good. Millionaires were so common place that one might easily overlook the homeless vagrants they dodged each day on the way to work. Each week the restaurant manager threw away almost as much food as the food pantry manager distributed. We were healthier than we had ever been, and we were sicker than we had ever been.

There was a man with straw colored hair and a citrusy complexion in the oval office in Washington, and a man with straw colored hair and a clammy complexion at Number 10 in London. The established conventional press subtly mocked the men who in turn openly mocked the established conventional press. The opposition in America had tried and failed to remove the man with straw colored hair and citrusy complexion from the oval office, and were so set on the next election that little else was done in the way of good or bad on Capitol Hill.

There were debates where everything and nothing was said so loudly that no one heard. There were add campaigns so large that they failed to attract any followers. In United States of America, there was a great clamor for and against a border wall to the South; and in the United Kingdom, there was a great clamor for and against a border with the European mainland; all the while immigrants from everywhere clamored to enter either country at any, and often perilous, cost.

The fact was that we were all so firmly divided on nearly every point upon entering upon the year of our Lord two thousand and twenty that we can only describe the era by use of extremes. The result of the stalemate was that little was done, for better or worse, to alter the situation in the lives of every day people. There existed two worlds that only acknowledged each other through the safety of the internet, and we were all so happy to ignore the present situation that the noisome activities of our contended lives drowned out the sound of a dry cough in China.

March 30, 2014

Six years ago today was a Sunday. It was a dark blustery night. So windy that my hat blew off my head as I was locking up the church for the night. I chased my black fedora down into the retention pond where I sunk my wingtips in ankle deep mud. I walked home. When I say I walked home it gives the story depth, but our house was closer to the church than most of the open parking places at Wal Mart are to the entrance.

It had been a great service that Sunday. One of those blow out services when you need to take your suit to the cleaners. We had been at it all day and it felt good to lay down. I was about to go to sleep when Sarah slapped me in the arm and said,

“We need to go to the hospital, my water just broke.”

We called our friend Sharon who was going to help us in the delivery room. Everyone needs a friend like Sharon.

It was our first baby, so we already had a bag packed with things that the lady teaching the first time parents class at the hospital said we might need.

  • Exercise Ball
  • Pillow
  • Laptop to play soft music
  • Hoodie

Maybe you’re about to have a baby. Maybe you have been to a class at the hospital where they dim the lights and talk in whispers and make you lay down in the floor and breathe together. All you have to do is be able to breathe. Cause she’ll forget. Then she’ll blame you for not reminding her to breathe. Then you’ll tell her how to breathe when the next salvo of contractions come and she’ll jerk on your arm and tell you that your breath stinks cause you went and made yourself a cup of coffee even though you don’t drink coffee but it’s four o’clock in the morning and you feel like a jerk for being tired. So you’ll go brush your teeth, and she’ll forget how to breathe while you’re gone. Anyway, you don’t need no stinking laptop, all you need to do is remember how to breathe.

We were up all night. I thought Sarah was going to pull my arm out of socket a few times. Sarah didn’t want to take any anesthesia.

You can call me a wuss. You can call me a pansy. I don’t really care. Going through labor was one of the most exhausting things I have ever done. By the next afternoon I could have slept on the floor of a truck stop bathroom and been happy to have a place to lay down.

Before the doctor came in to deliver the baby a nurse asked us if it was ok if a class observed him. So in they came with their clipboards and scrubs. Sarah was pulling my arms off and I was telling her to breathe. Then they told her she could start pushing.

I was crying. Sharon was crying. The nurse was crying. I was speaking in tongues. The medical students were so confused. It was the hardest most beautiful thing that I have ever gone through with my wife. Our relationship changed from merely husband and wife, to mother and father.

We had been on the fence about a middle name. I wanted Amos, Sarah wanted Zane. I said lets wait till we see him to decide.

I looked at that little bundle of joy and thought, “There is no way I’m going through all that work and not naming him after me.”

Wesley Zane Wells
March 31st, 2014

On Fatherhood

“God could have chosen to call himself anything, but he chose father.” -Bishop Nathaniel Wilson

A dear friend recently sent me a text message. “Got any advice for a soon to be father?”

I once heard someone say in jest, “One of the wonderful things about having kids of your own is that now you’ll be able to try out all those things you’ve been wanting to try out on other people’s kids.”

I did not give him this reply, but the casual nature of text messaging allowed me to give him a very brief answer. I told him the best advice I could give was to pray a lot. But I misspelled best because I was busy doing something else. Ordinarily, I would have been satisfied with this answer and moved on, but the question kept bugging me for quite a while.

I finally came up with something I liked a little bit better. “Being a father is one of the best things that ever happened to me. Enjoy every minute. Squeeze that baby every chance you get.”

This response made me feel better in a Hallmark Card sort of way, but I am still not satisfied. Perhaps in part because I want to know the answer myself. More likely though,  it is because I feel a very real weight of responsibility as a father. Fatherhood is not a role in which a man should casually enter. There are fewer roles with more grave responsibility, and it is something that I take very seriously.

 “God could have chosen to call himself anything, but he chose father.”

Bishop Nathaniel Wilson

What does it take to be a father? As simple as it sounds, the first requirement is you have to be a man. There is no substitution. Perhaps another day I will write about being a man.

Aside from being a man, there are quite a few other ingredients that come together to make a father: Love, protection, wisdom, provision, wit, discipline, humor, ingenuity, dedication, patience, knowledge, resolve, and fortitude. This is not an exhaustive list, and I have left out amounts because each father is unique, and learning to balance these elements is what fatherhood is all about. One of the key ingredients is faithfulness, which is what keeps the whole thing together.

Most men will proclaim every one his own goodness: but a faithful man who can find? Proverbs 20:6

Without faithfulness, there is no guarantee that the father, or even the family, will last.

Growing up, I had a healthy fear of my father. A cluttered, messy house never failed to frustrate my dad. Whenever the house was a wreck, he usually started with this speech. “Y’all are killing your momma. Just look at this house.” He would say in exasperation. 

“Let’s go outside so we can see it better.” I smarted off once.

It is only by the grace and mercy of God that I am alive today, because I thought my Dad was going to kill me. He talked to me like a man that day, which was far worse and scarier than the whipping that I received afterward. There are some things that only a father can say to a child. A hardheaded teenage boy may need some verbal encouragement from a father that would send a social worker into lockdown mode.

The role of a father demands hard love, and discipline. The Bible says it much plainer and with greater authority than I can.

He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes. Proverbs 13:24

Fathers must be willing and able to discipline their children. There are some aspects of fatherhood that frankly are not fun. I must confess that knowing when and how to discipline is a something that I have prayed earnestly for wisdom and understanding. I cannot say that it would be easier to not discipline my children. If I really love my children, I will discipline them.

I Corinthians 4:15 For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel.

Fathers are a rare. Fathers are irreplaceable. With a scarcity of fathers in today’s postmodern society, I frequently hear the term Father Figure used by people who did not grow up with a father. Sometimes I hear it from parents who are raising children without a father, many times in reference to a teacher. Webster’s definition for Father Figure is, “A person often of particular power or influence who serves as an emotional substitute for a father.” I’m not certain that there is a substitute for a father. Without discounting the influence of a teacher, there is a role that only a father can fill. Although in context of faith, the scripture indicates that there is a ratio of 10,000 teachers to not many fathers.

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For better or for worse, parents are the greatest influences on a child’s life. Whether a father is actively fulfilling his role in a child’s life, or neglecting his duty, the child feels the influence, whether positive or negative. It is a sad reality that many people grow up without the presence of a father in their home. Perhaps even worse than a father being absent, is an abusive father being present.

Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world. James 1:27

The Bible uses language that grates the nerves and feelings of modern American culture. Fatherless. It is a sad word. There is an implication that there are two categories of children: sons and daughters, and fatherless. Furthermore, the fatherless are afflicted. Fathers are irreplaceable. Fortunately for the fatherless, there is the church.

I would like to revisit the original question: “Got any advice for a soon to be father?” I do not claim to be an authority on fatherhood, but God did bless me with one of the best fathers that ever lived. That may not be your story. You cannot choose your father, but you can decide what kind of father your children will have. Be the best father that you can be.

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Shakespeare: Poet & Playwright

Truth is independent of belief.

I would like to consider myself a mild mannered man. Someone who exhibits self control. A man of temperance and longsuffering. In short, I strive to be a gentleman. But every once in a while something stokes sufficient righteous indignation in me to take some sort of action. I may not be mad enough to “bust some windows out”, as my father would say, but I am concerned enough to take up my pen.

The matter which has inspired me to write was a discussion board assignment for my Theatre Appreciation class.

Check out the Shakespeare Authorship Coalition’s website under the Activities folder, and read the Declaration.  Based on the information provided, do you think that the man we know as William Shakespeare wrote the plays of Shakespeare?  If no, who do you think may have written the plays? 

Here is the link the text if you are so inclined to read it. If not, suffice it to say that this is a link to an organization that doubts that William Shakespeare wrote the plays ascribed to his name. This is not a new movement, and it’s not really what bothers me. Anyone who is above average will have their critics. As a convinced Christian, I am accustomed to the doubting crowd. Truth is independent of belief. 

This was my response on the discussion board.

I have no problem believing that the man William Shakespeare is the author of the plays and sonnets ascribed to his name. Some of the reasons given for doubting his authorship are absurd. For instance, spelling in the English language was not standardized in Shakespeare’s time, which accounts for the variant spellings of his name. Doubters also point out that Shakespeare was uneducated, or received minimal education at best. This, I believe, is the heart of the controversy: how could an uneducated man from a small town in the country write some of the most highly revered masterpieces of English literature? This testament to the human genius is difficult for many academic minds to comprehend.

Too much attention to textual and source criticism degrades the value of the work of art. We may not know much about the author’s life, but we do know that he had a near perfect understanding of human life, and a mastery of the English language.
For more information on this subject, I would suggest reading Will of the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare by Stephen Greenblatt.

In short, the burden of proof is on the doubters. To date there has been insufficient evidence to dethrone William Shakespeare as a literary genius.

So now you know how I feel about Shakespeare’s authorship. Perhaps I am wrong, probably not. I just believe that ordinary people are capable of doing extraordinary things and being incredibly gifted, even without formal education. Please understand me, I am not against education. This whole article is about something that happened in a college course. Brilliance is not predicated on education. We all know some 

There were only seven other responses to the discussion so far. They were all in doubt of Shakespeare’s credibility, but that isn’t what bothered me. What’s a slobbering hog to a jaybird? What I find alarming is how casually and quickly they came to this conclusion. 

By reading some of their responses I gathered that this was the first time that many of them realized that Shakespeare’s authorship has been in question. It was clear that they had allowed a single article with a decided slant to influence their opinion. Their responses were so casual. Let us remember that this is college discussion board; a rather annoying assignment which very few college students give much thought. 

As an unashamedly fan of the works of William Shakespeare it would be disappointing to find out that he did not author the plays and sonnets which bear his name; but other than cheapening these works of art for me, disproving his authorship has little or no significance in light of the weightier matters of life. My concern is if someone can be swayed so easily on a matter as trivial as the credibility of one of the pillars of English literature, will they be able to find solid ground when it comes to anything of actual importance? Or will they be tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine? 

 

 

 

My First Guitar

When I received my first guitar, I finally found something that I could excel with.

I suppose that for the first decade of my conscious life, I merely observed other people do things that they truly enjoyed. My poor vision and depth perception made catching a football or baseball a terrifying ordeal, much to the annoyance of my older brother. My lack of enthusiasm for hunting and fishing puzzled my father. My inclination toward music, but lack of motivation to practice piano perplexed my mother, and frustrated my piano instructors-Yvonne Clinkscales and Pam Roberts. When I received my first guitar, I finally found something that I could excel with.

After two years of playing the broom, I signed up for guitar class at school which finally convinced my parents to buy me a guitar. My Dad told Mom to drive me to Mars Music in Homewood, AL, which was about the same as driving to Mars itself as far as I knew. 

“What kind of guitar are you looking for?” Mom asked as we sat in the stand still traffic on 280.

“Electric.” I said. This would be like asking a child what flavor ice cream they wanted and getting the response, “Red.”

I was completely unfamiliar with the details of guitars, but that didn’t matter. By some miracle, I had convinced my parents to purchase me a guitar and we were on our way to do just that. The people at Mars would know all about guitars.

We got to Mars Music despite the traffic. I had never been in a music store before, and I was mesmerized. As we walked through the door it was like walking into a concert through backstage. The lights were dim in the building save for spotlights on a floor to ceiling wall full of guitars. There was a new exciting smell of fog machines and rented sound equipment. I walked over to the guitar wall and just stared. Now I knew how my brother felt when we went to the sporting goods store and he would just stare at the hunting rifles. This was where I belonged, and I didn’t want to let this feeling go away.

I was still standing there when mom walked up behind me with a sales associate.

“So y’all are looking for a guitar?” He asked. 

“Electric.” I said, still looking at the wall of shiny guitars.

“Let me show you what I recommend for beginners.” He walked us over to the starter packs and point out the Squier Strat. We looked at it. 

“This is everything you need. Rock’n Roll in a box.” He said cheerfully. 

We dug the guitar out of the box and I gave it a couple awkward strums. It felt right in my hands. 

I still had to learn to play it, but having that guitar was a turning point in my life. It did wonders for my self esteem. Until my parents bought me a guitar, I had never really fit anything else I had tried. It took them going out of their way to help me find my way. After all these years, I still have that same guitar. I leave it out in the living room so my son can pick it up and play whenever he feels like it. It would be nice to see him learn how to play, but I’m ok if he doesn’t. I hope that I can find where he fits, even if it means taking him to someone who can steer him in the right direction.  

Assignments

At the time, I did not fully appreciate how much group projects were preparing me for the real world.

There are three school assignments from my childhood that still haunt me. They don’t haunt me in a sense that I lose sleep over them, I just remember them vividly. Did I do my very best? Yes, there is no doubt about that. The real question is did I do right?

Art was one of my favorite classes in elementary school. Holding our thumbs behind our backs, we would walk single file through the maze of halls to Mrs. Newton’s art room in the back of the school. The sun would shine in through the high windows, casting a ray of light made visible by the dusty air. I loved Art.

One day, my class made the trek to the Art room only to find a substitute teacher. In some situations this may have been welcome, but it was a disappointment for Art. The teacher had big blonde hair and wore lots of make up. I’m sure she was stylish at the time, and possibly even now if you are going for the 80’s Country Singer Sweetheart look. As pretty as she may have been, in my seven year old mind it seemed that she wasn’t very aware of what was going on; like she was a sentence, or maybe a paragraph behind the rest of the adults we were accustomed to at school.

“Mrs. Newton left you an assignment.” She said as we all settled into our chairs.

“She wants you to make a picture using letters.”

I completely understood the assignment. Mrs. Newton had shown us examples in a previous class. She held up a picture of an acoustic guitar that a high school student had drawn. At a distance, it looked like an ordinary picture, but upon closer examination you realized the picture was composed of letters, even words, in varying sizes. I thought it was the dumbest thing we had seen so far in art class.

So I sat there for a moment contemplating this outrageous assignment. I could waste my time and labor on a piece that I detested, or I could put my talents to better use and create something from the heart, something worthy of my signature. I drew a battleship. It was a splendid World War II era battleship with more gun turrets than the Yamato. I was proud of it. Even so, I failed the assignment.

In Fifth grade, Mrs. McManus instructed us to draw a word in a way that enhanced the definition of the word. I was assigned the word “Fat”. Someone who had followed the instructions for the assignment would have drawn the letters F, A, and T with fat rolls. Once again, I fully understood the assignment, but I felt that this was a waste of my artistic ability: I drew a fat man in a tank top and Bermuda shorts. It was magnificent. Not only did I fail the assignment, I realized that my teacher thought I had not understood the assignment.

I took a class called Media Arts in High School, because I had already taken all of the other art classes. Mr. Williamson assigned us a stop motion film group project-which sounds like a good indie rock band name. For the most part, I’ve always loathed group projects. At the time, I did not fully appreciate how much group projects were preparing me for the real world. The idea of a stop motion film was very inspiring, but we utterly failed at creating an interesting plot. There were three characters: A comedian, an old man, and a chef with an unidentifiable foreign accent. In the film the old man is sitting in the audience listening to the comedian try to tell jokes. The old man mumbles a response at each joke before finally ordering a pizza from the chef.

To our credit, the artwork was good. I think we still made an exceptional grade, but we wouldn’t have won- nay, even been nominated for- an Academy Award in the short film category. For some reason, this assignment still bothers me the most. From time to time, I come up with better plot ideas and I think back to that project.

In a sense, life is about following instructions and working with people. There are some areas in my life that I wouldn’t dream of not following instructions; principally, my faith. On the other hand, I have often scoffed at any attempt to set boundaries on creativity. Furthermore, I have a hard time completing an assignment that fails to inspire me, but if I find the work inspiring I’m hardly ever satisfied with my efforts.

Doris McDaniel

She wore pearls and drove a Cadillac; a great big gold Cadillac.

Mrs. Doris McDaniel spoke with an old Southern accent. An accent not easily imitated even by Southerners; Hollywood always gets it wrong. She dropped her R’s which made her sound like 19th century southern aristocracy. She also wore pearls and drove a Cadillac; a great big gold Cadillac. This certainly encouraged my childhood idea that Mrs. McDaniel had descended from royal stock. I thought she was the richest woman in Shelby County. She may also have been the sweetest.

Already in her 70’s when I was a child, she still owned and ran an old store right in the middle of Vincent. Prime real estate which set the halfway mark for the Christmas Parades. I don’t know how long she had the store, it was just always there. Kind of like her: a fixture in the town. As long I could remember, she kept odd hours at the store. People knew the store was open if her Cadillac was parked out front. The store was the only place in Vincent where you could buy a set of snow skis. It was like a permanent indoor yard sale. I think she kept the store open just to get out of the house, and to see people. People always made her smile. I think people came in to see her too. They certainly weren’t looking for snow skis.

Mrs. McDaniel was Jared and Creed’s grandmother. They called her Granny Mac. She would watch them sometimes during the summer. Whenever we got a little rowdy, she would say things like, “Oh my! Boys, that’s not nice.” She had a way of sort gasping the “Oh my”, and stretching “Boys” out to have an extra syllable. Even so, I never saw her lose her composure: She was a lady.

We would hang out at her store sometimes; stopping in to say hello and to feel the air conditioning for a moment. It was usually a checkpoint before we went gallivanting down the railroad tracks. She was always happy to see us, or anyone else that came in. She treated everyone that came into her store the same way.

The last time I saw her I was an adult. “My, my, my! Look how you’ve grown.” She said energetically. I had never noticed how petite she was until I was grown.

I introduced my wife. “How are are you hon?” She reached in for a hug.

“She is beautiful Zane.” She had a way of throwing an extra syllable in my name too.

Mrs. Doris McDaniel passed away on January 11th, 2020 at the age of 95.

If you ever drive through the town of Vincent, Alabama, you’ll probably take the old parade route: Highway 231. You’ll know you’re in town once the speed limit drops to 35 miles per hour, but you really aren’t downtown until you drive under the railroad overpass. The Christmas Tree will be on your left and Florey St with all the municipal offices on your right. There is a building on the right with a big sign that reads Doris McDaniel. Just know that one of the sweetest ladies that ever lived used to run that old store.

If that sign isn’t still there, it ought to be.

My wife and I window shopping at Mrs. McDaniel’s store.