Yesterday, Today, & Tomorrow

The past, present, and future of Steven Townshend, version 2014

Month: January, 2014

January 29th, 2014 (Metaphors)

Deadly Redly Knife Room by The Townshend
Deadly Redly Knife Room, a photo by The Townshend on Flickr.


When I was nineteen years old I took a poetry class at Ohio University. When I was nineteen years old my ideas about poetry were limited. When I was nineteen years old I admired poetry with a rhyme scheme and a meter because I thought it was cleverer and harder to do than free verse. When I was nineteen years old the poet Mary Oliver came to Ohio University to do a reading and our class was required to go. When I was nineteen years old the last thing I wanted to do was go to a poetry reading by a contemporary poet on a spring evening in Athens; I’d rather be outside on the green, or down in the basement of one of the big brick quads playing games with my friends. When I was nineteen years old I went to Mary Oliver’s reading and stood in the back of the auditorium, but the work was lost on me; two decades later, her work is a complete revelation I can’t believe I missed when she was standing right in front of me.


Failure is my bones. Failure is my blood. Failure is my brain. Failure is my best friend–I know Failure better than I know most people. I spend a lot of time with Failure.

I have another friend. Success. Success visits infrequently, but when success visits she makes a grand entrance. Success is kind of a diva.

Success is kind of a slut too. I’ve caught Success making out with my other friends. Lots of them at once sometimes. Like full on make out. With tongue.

It’s easy to feel jealous. It’s understandable. Sometimes I get so tired of Failure’s company I get up and run toward the house of Success as hard and fast as I can.

Success isn’t home, of course. The doors are locked, the lights are out. I knock on the doors and ring the bell and knock harder, exhausted from my hard run. Who strolls up behind me while I’m banging on the door? You guessed it. My old friend Failure. We walk home together. It’s embarrassing and awkward to explain. Everything with Failure is awkward. We go back to the way we were.

Eventually Success shows up again. She makes her grand entrance and I’m hers again. I drop all my grievances and bask in her warmth. That’s just how it goes.

It’s great having success around. But after a while I feel languid, sluggish. I look out the window and see something just over the horizon. A gleaming. A glimmer like the sea, or the night sky lying on its side, wavering with stars. I want to go there.

Success doesn’t want to go anywhere though. I get up to stretch my legs and walk down the path, but it’s a long lonely journey and I don’t know the way.

Two steps down the road and Failure shows up again, a bag packed with all the necessary supplies for the journey. I know I’d never make it there without him.


I’m in a period of discovery. I’m standing at a crossroads. I’m looking out over a new frontier.

From this vantage point, looking back I can see where my path has twisted an turned. I can still see the impressions of my footprints in places where my past is stamped down from walking in circles, and other places where I sprinted so fast I hardly left a mark. I study the patterns. I make notes. It’s hard not to get lost in such a vast place as the Future. Before I might have thrown caution to the wind and charged on ahead, afraid of losing time. Today I take some time to think on what I’ve learned in hopes that the challenges ahead will seem more familiar, and that the bends and diversions in the path will no longer lead me in circles but toward equally interesting destinations.


American Gods, by Neil Gaiman, and New and Selected Poems, by Mary Oliver.

I read H.P. Lovecraft’s The Shadow Over Innsmouth this week for the first time, after seeing Wildclaw Theatre’s adaptation at the Athenaeum in Chicago. More accurately, I finished reading The Shadow Over Innsmouth, having begun it 20 years ago. I like the story of ‘Shadow,’ but always drift off during Lovecraft’s erudite and mannered telling of it; I like several of his other works a lot more. Apart from switching the protagonist’s gender and a few tiny plot adjustments, Scott T. Barsotti’s stage production was rigorously faithful to the original and (in my opinion) a far more compelling experience than the story as written by Lovecraft.

Stranger Than Fiction

I have a cat that jumps at a blank piece of wall space. Over and over again he jumps at it. I’ve checked the wall for marks and dust, I’ve washed it down, but there’s nothing. He doesn’t care. he returns to the same blank piece of wall and leaps repeatedly at it. Barks at it sometimes (he barks). The place isn’t old enough to have ghosts, let alone ghosts that live outside the wall 3 stories up. Maybe I should hang a picture there that he can appreciate.


January 22nd, 2014 (Quiet)

Winter at Morse

Morse in winter.


Friday I took the day off work to drive Elizabeth to the hospital. Afterward, we drove around town and treated ourselves to all the places that have long lines on the weekends but nobody’s there at 3 in the afternoon. Hot Doug’s. Jenni’s Splendid Ice Cream. There are so many things to appreciate in this city if only you can take the time to appreciate them. 

Whenever the city digs its nails in, it’s worth taking a day off to explore the place while other people are occupied at work. Without the traffic and the competition, the city always feels peaceful and quiet on weekdays–outside of rush hour and outside the Loop. These days help to appreciate how beautiful it is, how much there is to do, how richly cultured it really is.


After a few days abroad the bitter, gusting cold returned and brought with it a fresh load of snow. A couple little stories that I didn’t properly feed yesterday are begging for sustenance today. I’m a bad story parent though, and feel like starting another story to distract me from the ugly, noisy ones.


As old friends leave town to start their new lives in the West, we’ll celebrate the time we’ve had together and throw them a party. Their departure will leave a void we can never really fulfill, except we’ll spend more time with other friends new and old. Nothing stays the same, and that’s as much a blessing as a sorrow.


Spike Jonze’s new one, Her. I’d anticipated it from the first trailer. It was everything I hoped it would be and more, and I’ll bet it’s my favorite film I see all year. It was exactly my kind of movie.

Stranger Than Fiction

Our Internet died on Friday, but the next appointment we could get for a technician to fix it was on Tuesday. It’s amazing how much of our lives seem to revolve around a technology over which we have so little control.

January 15th, 2014 (Snow Cats)

Lake Freeze
The winter shore.


While Elizabeth participated in the  Winter Wonderland Workshop last week, I sorted through some files and made a to-do list of projects I’d like to take on in the near future. If you’re ever in St. Charles, Illinois the Arcedium Coffee House is one of the best coffee shops I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting. The baristas are masters of their craft. Unfortunately, freezing rain on top of the ice made for hazardous conditions at the workshop this year and Elizabeth slipped on black ice, fell, and broke her wrist after only the first day of fight classes. Heartbreaking.


I’m taking a close look at some work I’ve had on the back burner for a while and juggling mundane real life tasks. I’m reminding myself to let go of things that don’t matter and pay more attention to people and things that do. This requires regular upkeep.


This weekend, we’re spending some quality time with one of my oldest friends and creative collaborators before his family moves to Tucson, Arizona. In our 20-year friendship we’ve lived in the same place for most of that time, from Athens, OH to Chicago, IL. We’ve been roommates from time to time. We grew up together. Played games together. We learned from one another. In the coming year both our lives and social circles will transition.


Finished the first Wild Cards book this week, as well as my friend Seth Chambers’s novella, In Her Eyes, recently published in the Magazine of Fantasy & Science-Fiction. Currently reading The Illustrated Man, by Ray Bradbury, and Astro City, by Kurt Busiek. 

Stranger Than Fiction

Stress and anxiety kept me up late the day before a long drive. Exhausted, I took a day off work and slept in. The snow still covered everything, so I walked to the lake to get a picture. When I reached the end of the street, something rustled in the tall dead grass beneath the steps leading down to the beach, and a black, fuzzy creature scampered out across the snow. Another followed it, and then another, and they ran off into the brush between the street and the beach. I thought they were skunks or raccoons. I took another step and three or four more emerged, rustling from somewhere beneath the street. One followed the others into the brush but the rest stopped and huddled in the snow and looked back at me, shaggy black cats with eyes like old limes, stark against the deep white snow.

January 8th, 2014 (Cold Bad!)

City Guts


Yesterday it was cold. And the day before that it was colder. The day before that–before the deepest cold settled in–I ventured down to Lake Michigan to capture a video of the winter landscape. But the snowdrifts on the beach were deeper than I expected, and I plunged through them up to the thigh. My thigh–which is higher up than the average thigh. Deep.

I needed to use the camera so I wasn’t wearing gloves, and caught myself with my bare hands. With the wind fierce as it was, by the time I made it to the top of the icy rampart at the edge of the lake I could only withstand a few seconds’ capture of the torpid steel-colored water, undulating in ice-encrusted waves. Before the lake freezes it moves like this, so slow and sluggish, mesmerizing in the rise and fall.  It was something to see.

I ran home, stumbling through (yet more) snowdrifts, and by the time I reached the gate I could no longer feel my fingers. I reached in my coat pocket in search of the keys and felt the vague impressions of solid objects in a mass, but had no sense of their shapes, edges, or teeth. I turned out my pocket in order to get at them, so as to identify the ends by sight, and after a few attempts I aligned the key with the lock and made for the warmth of the garage. The following day the temperatures reached -40 (including the wind chill). I didn’t open the door.

The lesson: “Cold bad.”

Fire bad too, but this we knew (thanks, Frankenstein).


It’s not as cold. A balmy 0 degrees outside the front door this morning. Before that, a cat leapt on my back and chewed on my hair for two minutes. Which I allowed, because I was curious to see where the situation would lead. From this experience I learned absolutely nothing.


The Winter Wonderland Workshop for movement and combat education is my favorite event to attend without participating. While Elizabeth learns how to (safely) brutalize other human beings with fist, broadsword, and <ahem> lightsaber, I get a weekend outside my regular surroundings to write, reflect, and relax.


Downton Abbey. A show at which I alternately gasp, laugh, or weep. At first I didn’t understand why. But I have a hunch it’s because the characters all want things, and the show is about them wanting things, and how much they want things. They want these things so well that I too want these things for them.

One of my friends said she was surprised that I liked that show–but I love it for the same reasons I loved Battlestar Galactica (though there are slightly fewer killer robots in Downton… so far).

Stranger Than Fiction

The setting: frozen apocalyptic urban wasteland.

Saturday night: Did a 180 in an icy intersection.

Sunday: Near-frostbite.

Monday night: A glass globe from a ceiling fan fell 14 feet and shattered on the floor beside me.

2014… Action movie or a horror film?

January 1st, 2014

Anointed Asleep

Buddha waits for spring.


2014 rolls in at the end of a month in which I took care of tasks that had been piling up since August. The fall was busy with freelance writing work, out-of-town guests, and a tornado–which visited the Starbucks where I had stopped to get coffee (I survived).


Had the day off. The wind blasted inland from the lake, driving stinging snowflakes into my eyes beneath the hood of my winter coat. A lady with a dog made for even ground across the basketball courts and through the park while I plodded through what looked like beach sand but turned out to be snowdrifts with sand patterns spun by the wind. Eventually I turned around and walked backwards against the wind, in order to get closer to the lake and the bike path that I soon learned had been completely covered by the snow. I wised up and followed the dog walker’s path over higher ground until at last I made it to the coffee shop (which was closed).


Having had some welcome down time in December, it’s time to get moving on the next project. What will that project be? Fiction? More freelance work? Even I don’t know, except that I’ll be insanely busy again before I can think twice about it. Let’s both stay tuned.


Wild Cards 1 has been collecting digital dust on my iPad ever since I bought it earlier this year. I’ve nearly finished Kurt Busiek’s excellent Astro City series, and in keeping with the superhero theme I’ve been exploring I plan to tear into Wild Cards next.

Stranger Than Fiction

Over the holidays, an alien being imparted me with the supernatural ability to stir-fry. This is the only reasonable explanation.

I’ll do my best to use this gift for the betterment of mankind.