Head Elsewhere~~Mark Huntley-James

Wherever I am, my head is often elsewhere – a book I’m reading, a film I’ve just watched, and most often completely else, strolling through a story I might try to write. Pay attention, watch what you’re doing, keep your eyes peeled… sorry, no-one in at the moment, please leave a message after the daydream.

This particular train of thought started when I was digging a hole – not metaphorically, but literally, with a spade, moving dirt from A to B, flat ground transformed to lump and matching dip. The aim of the hole digging was planting a tree, but for most of the time my head was elsewhere – not entirely healthy with a sharp-edged tool so close to my toes, and at some point it occurred to me that not only was my attention elsewhere but that this is almost my default state. Doing the laundry, loading the dishwasher, brushing my teeth, or planting a few hundred meters of hedgerow – it doesn’t matter where I am, it’s where my head is that matters.

I am never really alone when my head is elsewhere. Whole worlds open up, wondrous characters drop by for a chat or, on a bad day, the most fantastical bore leans on the door frame to talk me into hell. I could go back to reality, but seriously, is that any better? And what might I miss if I do come back early? Even a fantastical bore has a place in a story, perhaps even a central place depending on the tale. It’s tempting to think that head elsewhere is an essential mindset for being an author, although my suspicion is more that I am an author because my head so readily tours elsewhere.

However, I am not alone in being not alone when I’m on my own… Let me rephrase: I am convinced that I have known similar people over the years. There is a certain look and feel to them – the lights are on, someone is in, but you don’t knock on the door because you just know they are in conference with the aliens, translating Mum’s recipes from the original goblin, or disposing of a body (and there’s always room for a second one). This is only speculation, mind you, because I’ve never dared approach one of these potentially kindred voyagers and pop the question: excuse me, but is that your head, or is it elsewhere?

It’s tempting to think of the strange virtual world of the web as being elsewhere, but it’s not. Online is a different group reality, full of social communities or wild groups shouting at each other in ferocious arguments safe in the knowledge that they don’t have to look each other in the eye. Roving elsewhere, on the other hand, is a solitary exploration, no matter how densely populated elsewhere might be.

The thing about elsewhere is that it’s my fake reality. I like it there and I don’t take guests. Being an author means I that might then write about the places my head has been, either carefully sanitised (cleaned for general consumption and the really nutty bits removed) or in toe-curling detail because I feel like it and want to see eyes go wide, but whether I report it light or heavy no-one ever sees the full scope of my journey.

A few years back, on a drive home from Plymouth, in the dark (my wife was driving) I had an idea. It wasn’t much, but night driving needs concentration and, with no conversation, my head went elsewhere. I kicked the idea around, decided that it was growing on me, and wrote a story, told it to myself while I was elsewhere, edited it in my head, told it again, ran it by a receptive hedgerow. The trouble with having your head elsewhere is that even the worst drivel can sound good, but the next day I wrote it down as well as I could recall, toned down the crazy, changed the names to protect the insolent and won first place in a writing competition. Yay for me, but don’t think for one moment that the published story is really what happened when my head went wandering. It just wrote the bits that made a good story, edited for decency and skipping over the dull bits, and leaving out the embarrassing conversation with… Never mind. That’s for another story.

It’s a private business being elsewhere, full of technicolour wonder and companionship, so absorbing you can get lost for hours, only summoned back by those unstoppable forces of nature such as that cry in the distance the cat is eating your lunch, or the old-fashioned dial-up line back to reality that sends the occasional alert such as spade incoming, move your foot now.

Elsewhere. You can’t beat it, and there is so much to see. You ought to at least visit, perhaps get a season pass, and explore the boundless oddities. If you’ve got a minute I could give you some pointers to the best sights…

Sorry. Have to go. Reality calling. It’s time to put the chickens away.

My head will probably be in some other elsewhere by the time I get back. Maybe see you there. A more interesting you, of course, but that’s the nature of elsewhere.


OMP Admin Note: Mark Huntley-James writes science fiction and fantasy on a small farm in Cornwall, where he lives with his partner and a menagerie of cats, poultry and sheep.

He has two urban fantasy novels out on Kindle – “Hell Of A Deal” (http://relinks.me/B01N94VXBC ) and “The Road To Hell” (relinks.me/B07BJLKFSS ) – and is working on a third.

He can be found online at his blog http://writeedge.blogspot.co.uk, his website (https://sites.google.com/site/markhuntleyjames/), and occasionally on that new-fangled social media.


Our short story anthologies written by over 100 writers have been recently published (links below) with all proceeds being donated to the charity organizations our group supports.

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LINKS

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The Words No One Wants to Hear

The Words No One Wants to Hear

If you ask almost anyone what is the one thing you don’t want as your diagnosis, a large percentage will say, “Cancer.” In the hospital, we simply referred to it as ‘CA’. Over the years, I’ve watched patients deal with their new diagnosis or the return of the dreaded disease in another part of their body just when they believed they’d won the fight.

It is a fight. A battle against mutated cells generated in our own bodies that overpower our immune systems and sometimes even destroying the body’s ability to build the white blood cells needed to combat diseases. It can hitch a ride using our bloodstream or lymphatic system to travel throughout our bodies.

It is a terrible enemy without mercy attacking young and old alike. I hate cancer. I want to see it made as innocuous as polio is now.

My family has — and is — dealing with cancer. And wouldn’t you think having been a nurse for over 30 years, I’d be immune to its ability to wound my heart and soul. The answer is no. Even in the hospital setting, I remember heading to the bathroom, running water and flushing the toilet repeatedly to hide my sobs when I couldn’t deal with the hurt and pain I’d witnessed moments before.

I’m old enough to remember when people would whisper the word ‘cancer’ as if saying it aloud may bring bad luck. Back in the mid-twentieth century, it was often a death sentence. Today, modern advances in treatments and surgical procedures have reduced mortality rates for many forms of cancer.

It is a good feeling to personally know so many long-term survivors of breast cancer and other cancers among my family and friends. I can only pray I would be as strong and appear as fearless as my loved ones if I would be diagnosed with CA.

This is why I support the One Million Project’s efforts to raise money for Cancer Research UK (CRUK).  Their research has aided in helping develop treatments such as immunotherapy to specifically target cancer cells throughout the body and reduce the ill effects other types of cancer treatments have had on surrounding healthy cells during the treatment process.


OMP Admin Note: Kate McGinn is a writer and OMP Network member – one of a group of networkers who will be blogging on a regular basis on various causes and issues. Kate hopes to spread awareness of the issue of American Veterans returning home to less help than they deserve. EMMAUS is one of the two main charities we are supporting.

Kate McGinn’s fiction can be found on Amazon in the flash fiction series BITE SIZE STORIES (Volume Two) along with five other guest writers and in the One Million Project Fiction Anthology. Her books EXODUS  and WINTER’S ICY CARESS are available on Amazon.

https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B01KUKTYFQ

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Kate-McGinn/e/B01KUKTYFQ/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1473258097&sr=1-2-ent

https://www.katemcginn.com/

No Time Like Now — by Michele Potter

No Time Like Now — by Michele Potter

Well, this week another friend passed away from rotten miserable cancer. I hadn’t seen her for quite a while but kept in contact through social media. A little over a month ago, she notified everyone that she had stage 4 liver cancer. She didn’t ask for anything, as was her usual, just that everyone knew and would think about her.

I wish I had gone to see her and talk to her one more time.

Regrets, we all have a few. For everyone I have known who has passed away too soon, I have regrets: that I didn’t visit, I didn’t do this or that, I made excuses, etc. And now they’re gone, and procrastination won’t help a bit. Too little, too late. And here I am feeling sorry for myself instead of having empathy for her family. Someone kick me, please.

I suppose as I get older (which is a better alternative than not having any more birthdays!), this scenario will play out even more frequently. And, at some point, it will be my turn to share the bad news. I’m hoping to just pass away quietly in my sleep after I reach the 100-year mark, but we don’t always get what we want, do we? Perhaps I should get my affairs in order, so to speak. But then what? Just sit around and wait? No, I don’t think so.

I want to put the word out now. If I suddenly kick off, everyone left will have to set it up. And I don’t want one of those “celebration of life” things sometime down the road. Get right on it, no waiting around. I want a wake, with some party atmosphere—don’t be all solemn, please—because you know I love a good party. Serve some booze, wine and beer are fine, maybe ham sandwiches, too. Don’t forget chips. And music. Not that whiny stuff, something more Led Zeppelin-ish. And for God’s sake, mix it up a bit. Tell jokes. Talk about all the stupid reckless crazy things I did in my life. I wouldn’t mind a few motorcycles in the funeral caravan, either. Someone could even ride mine, I guess.

If there’s time, for example, if I suddenly get stage 4 liver cancer, I will plan it out myself. I’m not terribly afraid of dying, but I am afraid of not living enough. Every single friend or family member that passes away before me is a kick in the stomach; it’s not something that I will ever get used to. At the same time, every single one reminds me that there are still things to do and life to live.

We all have to go sometime. Let’s enjoy the time we have now. If you were thinking of visiting an old friend (like me!), make that a reality, not just a thought. There is no time like the present. Literally.


OMP Admin Note: Michele Potter is a writer and OMP Network member – one of a group of networkers who will be blogging on a regular basis on various causes and issues.

Michele is an incredibly diverse and talented writer who I hope will collect her short stories and make them available on Amazon someday soon. In the meantime, her story PERCEPTIONS is available in the guest author section of the flash fiction anthology BITE SIZE STORIES VOLUME ONE.

https://www.amazon.com/Bite-Size-Stories-Jason-Greenfield-ebook/dp/B01HALHVBW/ref=la_B00CBFLI1W_1_4?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1475095358&sr=1-4

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Bite-Size-Stories-Jason-Greenfield-ebook/dp/B01HALHVBW/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1475095546&sr=1-1

Family Ties or Otherwise

Family Ties or Otherwise

By Michele Potter

Having recently attended two family reunions, I have been thinking about the power of blood ties. I was lucky enough to grow up close to extended family in the Midwest. Picnics in the summer, holiday gatherings, and sleepovers at cousins were all part of my childhood. At the time, I thought everyone had the same kind of experience and completely took my family for granted.

Once out in the world, it came as a bit of a shock that many people, because of distance, dysfunction, separation, or loss, had little or no family. The people I met shared stories that hurt my heart. One girl told me how she had found her father, dead from a self-inflicted gunshot; she said she felt nothing but disgust. Another said her parents’ bitter divorce and long custody battle had effectively made her feel like an orphan.

My family had their differences and disputes, but we always knew deep down that we were there for each other. I remember my teenage years as a perpetual war of wills with my mother, but in the end, we called it a draw.

Through the years, we have lost members, a sad time for gathering together and sharing. At my age, I have attended too many wakes and funerals for people close to me. Where once I considered such rites maudlin and unnecessary, my views have changed. Being the person in the receiving line accepting condolences changes one’s perspective.

I think of all this because a dear family member is dying. Cancer is making its final assault, and his days are numbered. Throughout the long process, he has made every effort to see and talk to everyone, attend reunions, and keep a positive attitude. “There’s always someone worse off,” he often says. I think of the many times I’ve wallowed in the “pity pot” and feel ashamed.

He has stayed with us longer than the doctors predicted, which I believe is due to the support and love from all sides. I cannot imagine coming to the end of one’s life and not having family ties. Recently, he asked me to gather some funny family stories to tell at his funeral. He wants people to laugh.

I hope we can all laugh through the tears.


OMP Admin Note: Michele Potter is a writer and OMP Network member – one of a group of networkers who will be blogging on a regular basis on various causes and issues.

Michele is an incredibly diverse and talented writer who I hope will collect her short stories and make them available on Amazon someday soon. In the meantime her story PERCEPTIONS is available in the guest author section of the flash fiction antholgy BITE SIZE STORIES VOLUME ONE.

https://www.amazon.com/Bite-Size-Stories-Jason-Greenfield-ebook/dp/B01HALHVBW/ref=la_B00CBFLI1W_1_4?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1475095358&sr=1-4

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Bite-Size-Stories-Jason-Greenfield-ebook/dp/B01HALHVBW/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1475095546&sr=1-1

An Exam Called Life

THE LAST EXAM

Up until my high school days, I hated almost all my exams. I hated the competitive ones and I hated the non-competitive ones. I hated them just religiously, without any discrimination. And I hated them because I thought exams were a discrete hammering on a child’s natural intellect. But as the numbers on my age changed, so did my views and beliefs.

Surprisingly over the last three years at college, after sailing through a university level of education and a gruelling series of examinations, almost on my own, I have understood one simple thing; exams are more than just a reality check. Exams are actually the stimulants that trigger your intellect and enhance your ability to cope with the real world. It helps you deal with the insane amounts of difficulties that you face ahead in your life.

My under-graduation is nearing an end. Only a few of months have passed since I have last written an exam and I am anxiously waiting for my results. I don’t even know if I will pass, but trust me, I don’t hate exams as much as I did some years ago, (though I am still not too fond of them).
A clichéd saying in my country goes; “An engineer might not have studied for an entire year, but s/he will still be a master of his subject on the night before an exam!” And I am proud to certify the above statement to the fullest of my beliefs.

It was a rainy night in the serene town of Vellore as monsoons had just touched upon the sea shores in the southern parts of India. I had just one exam left and it was the most difficult one. And I remember calling upon every friend of mine over the phone, inquiring about their progress with the syllabus and irritating them over and over again. I knew I was being moronic but trust me, this is the only anti-depressant available to a student at such a strenuous time. If friends are behind you in the race to complete the syllabus, you man, are safe!
But, I was lagging behind!
I instantly realised that I have to spend another sleepless night or I might completely screw up in the exam the next morning.
I wanted to cry over my fate.
I wanted to go and kill those teachers.
I wanted to run far away.
I wished I had studied this before.

But amid all of this, a strange realisation took place in me.

I curated a bunch of previous year exam question papers. I called up a few (trustworthy) friends and inquired from them about the important questions that the teacher might have unwantedly spelt out in the last few classes.
Having gathered all these things, I started to prepare, ‘just to pass’.
And I kept on studying, desperate not to fall asleep at any cost.
But life happens.

I woke up at eight in the morning, cursing myself, and found my books lying on the floor while my pen and notebooks were pressed under me. I got up with a jolt and hurriedly began revising all that I had studied the night before and eventually went to write the exam, leaving the burden of my fate on the shoulders of the almighty (though I was not a believer of god back then, hardships and struggles can always do the impossible, they say!).
I came out of the hall, thirty minutes before the exam was actually over and surprisingly I was unimaginably optimistic about the exam. I didn’t know whether I did well or not but I knew one thing. I did my best. I gave in more than I actually could.

It is today that I suddenly realise that exams are an exact analogy of life, scaled down to a hundred and eighty minutes (or however long an exam is). Whatever I did for that exam that day was actually a teaching in disguise. It was a lesson of what I should do again in the future if I faced something deadly in my life.

THE BEAUTIFUL ANALOGY

For anything deadly that might collide head on with me in my life ahead, I should trust my past experiences (curate a bunch of previous year exam question papers).

Then I should call my friends for help or pray to god for the right direction (inquired from them about the important questions that the teacher might have unwantedly spelt out in the last few classes).

My priority should always be to just ‘survive’, (start to prepare ‘just to pass’).

And the last thing I should do is to leave the result in the God’s will (write the exam, leaving the burden of my fate on the shoulders of the almighty).

I am sure I will come out as optimistic as I did in my exam that day.

So you see? Exams are much like those vaccines that we used to get injected with in our childhood. We all know that vaccines of a particular disease are nothing but the disease itself. But this disease instead of harming you actually sets up a system of immunity within your body. It helps your body fight against the real disease which you might face someday.
Actually, exams are just an emergency algorithm to life’s problems.

The Solitary Nature of Writing

I’ve been sitting at my desk since early morning. The sun came up but stays hidden behind the clouds. My back hurts and I’m getting hungry, after too many cups of coffee. I need to stand up and stretch.

But Noah, the protagonist in my story, won’t let me take a break. He is trying to find some closure and I don’t know if he will. His stubbornness is making me crazy. Why are you such a blind fool? I yell at him in my mind. My phone buzzes. Again. Finally, with a great wrenching, I pull myself back into the “real” world. I hate to leave Noah and his problems alone. I’ll be back, I whisper.

The life of a writer favorably compares to that of a hermit. Someone who enjoys spending hours cut off from reality—and other humans—is predisposed to being a writer, in my opinion. The “civilians” in our lives may try to understand our compulsion to create settings, characters, and twisting plots, but most never come to grips with it. Small children, of course, are exempted from being expected to understand.

Is there a way to do both? To write prolifically and maintain an active social and interpersonal life? I admit to often being torn between the two. Although getting words down the way I want is incredibly rewarding, I treasure my time with family and friends. A balancing act is required. Writing is not like other jobs; it can take over one’s life, especially while in the midst of a project. Taking a break means having to review and basically start over on return. And far too often, when I do return, I stare blankly at the screen, finally write a few words, read them, and give up in disgust.

When I first discovered online writing communities, I didn’t think I would get too involved. I’ve never been much of a joiner but thought I could use some exposure. Within an incredibly short time, I was hooked. I read literally hundreds of stories in a variety of genres and writing styles, filled with wit, wonder, and wild imagination. I met people from all walks of life, from around the world; their comments and support of my writing gave me new motivation and joy in the craft.

Now my favorite site is shutting down. Yes, there are other sites where I have been lurking around in the shadows, but I’m not quite ready to commit. It’s too soon. I must grieve for a while first.

In the meantime, I am back to my solitary writing habits: bursts of crazy fluid energy followed by long dry periods of doldrums. At least now I know I’m not the only one who does that.

Lessons learned: Writing is an isolated pursuit, but taking the leap to put one’s self out there can bring many rewards. I feel privileged knowing the people who have devoted time to the One Million Project. And I am honored to write this blog. Even though I pulled my hair out doing it. Thank you and good night.