On Midnight in the Month of June, On Fiction

At some point I decided this was my main blogging space. This is recent. What happened was I found myself dissatisfied with a return to Tumblr and casting about for a space that would by name and content give me the most latitude to blog what I wanted–personal stuff, true crime, history, weirdness, you name it.

I realized that space was sitting here all along, I’d already established it, and I’d been ignoring it since September of last year because–no lie–I forgot the elaborately complicated password I made to sign in to WordPress.

I know how dumb this is, don’t give me shit about it.

Anyway, I feel like one feature of my decision to focus on this space as my only blog, the place where I’ll put everything (I plan to eventually get a standalone URL, too) should be me giving myself permission to just randomly blog my inner monologue. At least once in a while. Ello is a good space for that too (shut up, it is. I like Ello), but today I’ll say it here.

I’ve been writing poetry and fiction for longer than I’ve been writing nonfiction or journalism. As my paid work has entirely been in blogging/journalism/nonfiction, that’s easy for even me to forget.

And regarding fiction, I’ve developed a concern: what if I’m geared toward short fiction? WHAT IF I’M A SHORT STORY WRITER?

This may sound silly, but it’s a legit concern if you ever want to sell your fiction to anyone.

I mean, I don’t think the short story is dead (I swear I’ve read musings contemplating this very thing in the last few years) but I do think that unless you’re George Saunders (whom I love, and keep your contrary opinion to yourself), short fiction is not the thing that punches a writer’s ticket these days. Everyone wants to be–thinks they are–a novelist.

And hey, I am fairly sure I have a novel in me. But not yet. When I write fiction these days, it’s always short.

Is this a function of having a ferocious case of ADHD? A limited set of functional, fictional, interesting ideas? I don’t know. At least partly, re: ADHD. I don’t think so, re: limited ideas. But I do think this maybe true, for me.

What I also think is that in general, the short story isn’t appreciated these days for its fundamental power, its ability to grab even the most random reader and draw them into an imaginary world.

Many of the stories that hit me hard at an early age were short fiction. One example that always comes quickly to mind when I’m thinking about this stuff: Ray Bradbury’s amazing “At Midnight, in the Month of June.”

I first read the Bradbury story in a collection of horror fiction when I was 12, and it blew me the fuck away. Passages like this:

She stood against the door in the dark. If moonlight could have struck in upon her, she would have shimmered like a small pool of water on a windy night. He felt the fine sapphire jewels come out upon her face, and her face all glittering with brine.

Or this:

He remembered that sometimes when he played hide-and-seek they did not find him at all; he would not let them find him. He said not a word, he stayed so long in the apple tree that he was a white-fleshed apple; he lingered so long in the chestnut tree that he had the hardness and the brown brightness of the autumn nut. And God, how powerful to be undiscovered, how immense it made you, until your arms were branching, growing out in all directions, pulled by the stars and the tidal moon until your secretness enclosed the town and mothered it with your compassion and tolerance. You could do anything in the shadows, anything. If you chose to do it, you could do it. How powerful to sit above the sidewalk and see people pass under, never aware you were there and watching, and might put out an arm to brush their noses with the five-legged spider of your hand and brush their thinking minds with terror.

… Were to me the quintessence of great scene painting. Everything about this story sang of the blue-lit and silent watches of the night, of silence, of madness. I had been that secret boy high in the tree, hiding as the summer night blued then darkened to indigo, studded with stars. Bradbury was painting a portrait of wrath and murder, yet I was reading it and immersed in and sympathetic to the memories and mind of the killer. No matter how psycho crime blog readers once assumed I might be, that’s not me. Yet Bradbury put me there.

That’s magic. And the story is what, maybe 10 pages long?

God. Damn. To me, Bradbury becomes a wizard in those few pages. He invokes the scents, the taste, the light, and the howling vacuum in the soul of his essentially psychopathic protagonist.

So maybe I’m a short story writer, when we’re talking made-up stuff. Maybe that’s my general bent.

If so? If I can get even one story out there one day that in a mere 2000 words does what Ray Bradbury did for me reading his cold poetry of murder for another reader?

Well, fuck yeah. Good enough. Let’s go.

Old Tape

tape
My audition tape, circa 1998. Or 1999. Not sure.

I was always depressed. Often about a woman. Sometimes about my weight. Or just my life. And none of these things were truly that terrible. Depression would’ve come even if all other circumstances had been perfect. It’s genetic, I know that, now.

But I could sing, even if depressed. I might mangle the languages a bit, but I aimed for the intensity. That’s what I identified with when it came to opera. It’s overblown, big, and strange. It’s yearning, impassioned, and sad. I was raised in the south and heard mostly hymns, classic rock and country music before I turned 13. Once I was introduced to opera I felt what it was about. I understood it.

The competition was held at a theater in New Haven, Connecticut, in early spring. I’d recorded the audition tape months before. They took long enough to get back to me, I later wondered if I was just the least bad choice left to round out the competing singers to ten. But maybe that was my depression talking. Or being from the south. In spite of the presence of my first wife, who had a worldly and cosmopolitan air I felt I lacked (and who in hindsight was enormously gracious in going with me–our marriage was by then pretty rocky), I felt like a rube the moment we ferried across the Sound from Long Island to Connecticut.

I felt like a rube entering the theater and meeting the other singers. Every singer except for me had an established career. There was a tall bass who was a legitimate star in his native Taiwan. A tenor named Chuck who is today a staple in European and NYC opera houses. He’d already done Mozart roles with the New York City Opera. A soprano who’d won the Metropolitan Opera National Council final competition. I’d only ever won the first round of that.

The other singers were, to a person, friendly and personable. I particularly liked my fellow tenor. Tenors compete hard onstage, but we always get each other backstage, if we set that aside. In the world of classical voice, being a tenor can be very strange.

My ego wanted to surge at learning I had the most humble career of anyone there, at the time (I would go on to do roles with the Atlanta Opera and some good concert work–but it took a few years). It seemed promising. But I think the depression that was already hovering had begun to descend.

I’ve talked with other singers–other performers in general–and it’s often hard to recall anything that happens once you walk on stage. I recall nothing about that competition in New Haven. The light, perhaps. I did my best, but the dark anchor had already pulled me down.

My wife was frank but not unkind when I asked about it after. You just sounded under-powered.

One of the things I’d always had was sheer vocal power. I could project. Over 80-piece orchestras, 60-voice choirs, you name it. That day, I gave an anemic, careful performance. My wife said she heard someone behind her remark I had a nice voice, it just wasn’t very strong.

In the end I couldn’t truly be ashamed of how I’d done. The judges seemed to consider me in the middle of the field, fifth out of the ten in quality.

One of the judges was opera great Licia Albanese. One of the very first opera records I ever owned as a teen was a La Boheme she’d recorded as Musetta, with perhaps my favorite great tenor, Jüssi Björling, playing Rodolfo. I do recall what she said to me after.

You sing ‘Nessun dorma,’ said the old diva, you are not yet a Calaf. Not yet.

I received a modest, runner-up award check–I can’t recall the amount but it might have been $150–and my wife and I headed back to the ferry. Then we were on Long Island, at the small Ronkonkoma Airport. We were very low on funds by then, and there was no way to cash the check there. Our flight was to be the first out the following morning–the airport shut down at midnight, and flights began departure around 7 a.m. the next day.

We didn’t have enough money already in the bank for a motel.

We slept in the airport. At least I think my wife slept. I stretched out, the suit bag holding my rental tuxedo under my head, and listened to the muzak.

I remember scrounging change for peanut butter crackers from a vending machine around 5 a.m.

I don’t think I slept. No, no sleep at all.

Air Puppets

Not long ago I went a bit mad and began making weird slow-motion GIFs of air puppets (or “sky dancers”). My friend Ceil, in a delirium born of illness, collected them all on Storify for some reason.

I did this because I am a strange man and I find strange things funny. Looking at them all in one place, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed seeing them. So here you go. And thank you, Ceil, really.

[View the story “Steve Huff’s Air Puppets” on Storify]

Daddy

dadgrandcanyon
My father, Bob Huff, at the Grand Canyon in 1968. Pretty sure this was a selfie.

He always wanted me to be tougher than I am. Physically tough. Not the fat, bookish boy I was, but lean and as strong as my shoulders–inherited from him–implied I could be.

More than that, I knew he wanted me to be mentally tough. Not so quick to emotion, not so easy with tears. He wanted at least one of his sons to learn to be cool in an emergency, level-headed, in charge. He wanted this so once I wasn’t under his roof anymore, he wouldn’t feel the need to worry about me. I know he always has, even though after I turned 18, he rarely said a word.

I’ve tried. I’m in okay shape for a 47-year-old man born and raised in the south, eating southern cooking most of my life. I lost 100 pounds between age 43 and now and kept it off and most days feel better physically than not. I’m still prone to severe bouts of depression, but at some point in adulthood I discovered there were times I was great in an emergency. I could maintain my cool and save the freakout for later–a pretty handy skill to have. At some point I also discovered I could survive the bouts of the blues. It took getting help and patiently riding out internal storms, but the clouds have usually lifted, eventually.

And I’ve been thinking about this a lot because both my family and I–I think–fear my capacity for falling apart. Or just being useless. I did the best I could to be strong for my parents when my brother committed suicide, and I may have done better than I thought I did, but I still felt like my sister Sherry shouldered the greater burden. My personal life was chaotic at the time, so I came home to Nashville for my brother’s funeral already heavily burdened with all sorts of bullshit. My internal load was creaking, and my brother’s death almost cracked the undercarriage.

Then about a year later Dad had a stroke, and I did what I could then, too. But it didn’t feel like enough.

Now I’m at a place in my head where I feel like I could help my parents. Be strong for them, and for my sisters. I can’t explain it without going into a lot of bullshit that would be more personal than this already is–I tend to blog about news stuff or history because “personal” blogging makes me uncomfortable–but if I lived close to my family, I think I could help take some of the burden away while Dad copes with his cancer.

Since 2012, I’ve lived over 1000 miles away. A big change from before, when I rarely lived more than a 3-4 hour drive from any close relative.

And I love living here. I have a Tennessee twang and get sentimental about my hometown, Nashville, but something in my temperament was always meant to live in New England. I suspect that part of me is a lot like my father, who had an implied attachment to this region for as long as I could remember. He hated living all his life in the south.

But it’s very far from my folks, from my sisters. And learning that Dad’s cancer wasn’t gone, that he would need radiation, well, it made the distance stretch. I am distracted lately because my brain is trying to ford the distance and find ways to bridge it. To do something. Anything.

My father was never an actual cowboy. The photo above was made at the Grand Canyon in 1968, on a trip out west to see his uncles. He was always a working man and a part-time military man in the National Guard. He was also cool if things felt crazy. His level voice from the front yard as a tornado approached, then waiting to watch it come, until the last moment. Taking groceries to my brother who was in the throes of a psychotic, manic episode as if that was natural. Striding through the hospital cafeteria the morning after my first child was born 2 months premature, solid and energetic as ever, good old Dad–I’d never been more happy to see him and though I was 27, I kept holding his hand like I was 6 again.

My father has always wanted me to be tougher than I am. Now, more than ever, I’m going to try.

The Allegedly Fake Kidnapping Tale of Denise Huskins Gets Weirder and Weirder

Denise Huskins
Denise Huskins

It’s not big and dramatic, and that’s good, but this alleged ‘hoax’ kidnapping of a physical therapist named Denise Huskins is evolving into one of the weirdest news stories you’ll read. And it was already weird.

Especially after this, from the San Francisco Chronicle, published yesterday:

Over the past several days, a person claiming to be one of Huskins’ kidnappers sent The Chronicle a series of e-mails saying the incident was real, and that if police did not publicly apologize to Huskins and Quinn by noon Tuesday, the abductor would be a “direct agent of harm.”

Then the “kidnapper” (I know sarcastic quotes are a tired blogging trope but it’s early and I can’t think of what else to do with that) decided to back off the threats. In emails sent to attorneys for Huskins and her boyfriend, Aaron Quinn, the sender said they would “not attempt any further damage or harm.” The Chronicle reports the writer went on to say they were rescinding their threats because doing “otherwise would disregard and dishonor the one positive thing we learned from this, that it is not some game and real humans are involved.”

If I wasn’t a middle-aged man who feels stupid using emojis or emoticons, I’d insert some kind of side-eye symbol here.

To go much further would lead to quoting the Chronicle more than I want, but a few things are worth noting: the paper reports one email was 9,000 words long. This is significant because if police really want to unravel this strangeness and have suspects in mind, the person who wrote the correspondence gave them a lot to work with, from a psychological point of view. I’d be surprised if some kind of forensic analysis isn’t being done on several levels with the emails alone. Then there’s this–the Chronicle quotes the “kidnappers” as saying “For what it’s worth, what could have ended up as a prolific and dangerous criminal group has disbanded […] and you have Denise Huskins to thank for that.”

Well. Good to know.

Previously, in my experimental Tumblr crime blog.

What’s up?

A fearsome warrior
A fearsome warrior

Y’all, I’ve been meaning to update this blog more, but you know, life just has a way of getting in the way! First there was this new job, then a move, then, voila, I’m living in the Parallel Dimension of the Thumb People and battling genetically-enhanced Shih-Tzu warriors every day! Crazy, right?

So anyway, when I’m not on the lam I’ll be updating my blog again, as often as possible. Gotta go for now, a posse of Shih-Tzus was just spotted crossing the Plains of Peter, Paul and Mary on their draft llamas. F*ckers can move, too! TTFN!