If you like to read, and enjoy quirky, welcome. There are about 30 random things here for you. After you read a short story you may even find some personal comments/insights! The main purpose of creating this blog is for writers. I see so much written about writer's block, and honestly, I don't have it. Occasionally, I write short stories, longer stories, books, plays, one act plays, monologues, and sometimes I even think one is good enough to submit somewhere. Of course, when you submit a story to a magazine that receives 200 stories a month and publishes five, you'd better enjoy the process of writing. I'm not suggesting that I'm a good writer, merely that I can sit down and just start writing.

It is important to write, to constantly be working on your art. If you are constantly plagued by writer's block, perhaps you are being too selective in what you write about. With that in mind, I wanted to share with you some examples of my writing, from someone who can write all the time. Occasionally the topics are a bit strange, but I don't let that slow me down, I love to write and get to a finished product. Hopefully, by looking at some examples, you will say to yourself that phrase that all artists who visit MOMA in NYC say: "Well, I can do this!" That would be good, because you can! One of my posts is about a talking tomato. (You have to be able to do better than that!)

In part I'm trying to get some of my stuff in one place, so keep in mind I never claimed it was going to be an incredible read. You can decide that. I will tell you that occasionally I have a story in me that seems to fit the goal of a publication, and I try to write specifically with that goal in mind. Lately I've been considering publications that publish nonfiction memoirs, so some of the entries you'll find here will have that flavor. Perhaps this is a way to get past writer's block - find a publication looking for something that you'd like to write. It seems like memoir-based publications may be a good place to start, because we're all experts in our own families. I'm using a blog here to share some of the things I've written; the blog format is not ideal, so you need to poke around a little at old posts, to see if you can find a story or something else that may interest you.

Two last items. None of these are finished products. I usually get to a point where I have something written, and then stop. If it is something I may decide to submit for some reason, I'll finish formatting, following the specific rules of the magazine or organization (the rules are alwaysdifferent). If you do see something in here that you may be interested in using, don't hesitate to contact me.

So welcome to my blog. Welcome to my writing. Write, people, write! It feels good.

Please also consider getting a copy of my first book, Saturday Night at Sarah Joy's. All Royalties go to the Hurricane Sandy New Jersey Relief Fund. Please check out the book's blog at:

Thank you!

© 2012 John Allison

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Vocabulary of Space

This story also appears on

They said that it was an unusual case.  Her body was soaked with cancer, and apart from feeling a little tired, she had no symptoms, except for the obvious one, death.  That day, the principal broke the news to me and sent me home where my father was waiting.  I found him, with tears running down his cheeks, eyes beading with emotions.  He was ripping the wallpaper off the living room wall.  He had sprayed hot water on the walls, and was pulling off large sheets with the snap of a matador; he dug his dirty nails into small stubborn stamp-sized pieces that wouldn't budge.  Sadness, frustration, anger, a disoriented sense of loss, they all crept across his face and powered his hands.  He screamed, kicked, and did not stop until every piece of paper lay on the hardwood.  I screamed at him, crying, to stop, to talk, to acknowledge that I was even there, to know that I'd just lost my mother and he'd lost his wife, but my only choice was to sit on the sofa in the center of the room and watch, terrified, trying to understand what was happening to him.  Why was he more important than me?  Some say this is the day that my father, now a single father, "went crazy".  He and I only mentioned it once, and I optimistically called it "a new beginning".  His emotions were tearing a hole, opening a box.  The box was full of personality that gradually crawled out.  He quickly evolved into something different - he became, surprisingly, not a demon, but almost instantly, an artist, and a very creative one.  The box was our living room, and it was explored by us both until the day my dad died. 

My parents were good together, and as I remember, there seemed to be few things they disagreed about.  My father was an easy-going, agreeable factory worker.  Mother, not quite so easy-going, seemed to often have her mind made up on issues, and could usually bring him over to her side.  They hit a surprising point of contention one day when it came to our living room walls.  They had both wanted to get our living room back to a classic look - since it had hardwood floors, a great fireplace, and built in bookcases.  Mom found an intricate and colorful striped wallpaper that she thought would create just the right atmosphere, but he wanted to keep looking.  He clearly struggled to try and keep her happy, while suggesting we keep looking for wallpaper.  He lost the discussion, and put it up for her, but became distant.  Then, she died, and the wallpaper was his one and only target.

Somehow we got through the funeral, and the fact that it was now just the two of us.  He cried like I didn't think he could.  We sat in the living room, which now looked like an abandoned building, and tried to decide how to live without the woman we loved.

Until I went away to college, my father raised me, and raised me well.  I was fortunate.  He was a fun guy to live with - he became, at times, amazingly unpredictable, and was extremely good at it.  Mr. Quiet, Mr. Simple, became Mr. What-the-Fuck(?).

For two weeks, we lived in the disaster area he'd deconstructed.  The wallpaper covered the floor like curled up, dead wallpaper.  He didn't pick it up, and I didn't want to interfere in whatever process he was going through.  Then, in the middle of the evening news one Friday night, he popped up, disappeared into the basement, and returned with a brush and a can of paint.  He would never paint with a roller - claimed it was impersonal. It was his house, and painting with a brush was a good way to get to know every inch of it.  He started to paint the walls white, and after a few hours he told me to go to bed; he'd be up in a minute.  He lied.  He stayed up all night to finish.  When I got up the next morning, it was a dark, cold January AM, and I limped down the stairs, as I did every morning, with one eye open, trying to postpone waking up until the last possible second.  There was someone in the living room!  A man was standing by the door.  My heart stopped.  Then, I realized it was only the figure of a man.  Most of the wallpaper had been cleaned up, but he had taken some pieces and glued them back on the wall to create the profile of a man, standing by the door.  You could see his hand on his cane, and his hat. The shadowy shape looked old.  Dad came down the steps behind me, and broke down, seeing what he had done the night before.

I don't know why, but I didn't ask!  Paper on the wall - fine.  He was going through something very personal and when he could talk, hopefully he would.  Still, it was a very scary time; it was hard to watch unlabeled changes and try to be patient.  Is it best to be patient, or am I just letting my only parent slip farther into some dark crack in the wall?

A man stood by our front door.  Two weeks to the day, again during the news, he calmly got up, scraped the silouette off the wall and finished painting.  We almost had a normal living room, stark white, but closer to normal than we had been for awhile, and we were almost beginning to understand that, after losing Mom, we were going to survive, together.

Then, another creative moment hit.  I'd have appreciated some warning, but they never came.  I'd spent a Friday night at a friend's house, managing to play video games all night.  I came home to find my mother.  A chair was gone from the living room and in it's place, painted on the wall, was Mom in that chair, reading a newspaper.  He could paint!  It had great detail, down to the date on the newspaper - the day after she died.  Since when did he become a painter?  I looked at it, looked at him.  "I was lonely," he shrugged.

Two weeks later, I'm hoping that he decided his creation just wasn't healthy, but for whatever reason the wall-mom was painted over and the room returned to it's new version of "normal" - stark white.

In my school we had to do quite a bit of memorization work in English class, because the head of the English Department was old, and that's what he did in the 1700's.  We had to learn poems and some Shakespeare - an interesting but exhausting selection.  Dad had never heard Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost, but coached me as I went through it, over and over again, trying to burn it into my head. How do people memorize such things?  He always tried to invent ways to help me.  Once again, the time came when he walked away mid-conversation, ran down the basement steps, and returned with a big marker - a brown marker made to touch up scratches in wood furniture or floors.  He handed it to me, pointed to the wall, and said, "Write.  Write big."  Then he started to read to me.  "Whose woods these are I think I know". I stood on the back of our sofa and wrote across the front wall.  "His house is in the village though" almost took me the length of the side wall (now dragging a chair with me to stand on).  Soon I'd circled the room once, like trim along the top of the walls, so I dropped down to a second ring of words, then a third, then forth.  We were suddenly living in Frost.  If I forgot a word or phrase, I'd have to look around for it.  His coaching was done, although he stayed with me as I continued to work.  Eventually, I knew where everything was and could essentially read it off the walls I could picture in my mind.  It was an interesting/crazy/innovative way to learn, but nothing was too much or too crazy if it meant helping me with my school work.  It was a job he took seriously.  We learned the poem together.  It was the first poem he'd ever memorized.  Through junior and senior high, our living room wall was repainted, always white, dozens of times.  We  created an art form in writing and painting on the walls.  We worked to make it beautiful, or at least to look cool.  We worked to make whatever we wrote fill the walls.  We counted letters and words and decided on what letter size would take us from floor to ceiling.  This was more fun than playing kick ball in the house!

I came home one day with a painting I'd done in art.  The teacher had brought in a big roll of brown paper and I pulled off a long piece to do my assignment.  I copied a drawing of Batman and painted a full-size caped crusader.  Dad encouraged me to paint it again, in the living room, which I did, right over some accumulating vocabulary words, which had been the decorations du jour.  Batman in our living room!  So sweet!

As years passed, homework got harder, for both of us, but he'd take the time to learn what I needed to learn - things that he never had known.  He found that he really liked trig.  Another late night paint job.  I offered to help but it seemed to be something he had to do.  The next morning, we had four walls that were a matt black - every boy's dream.  On them were painted definitions of the trig functions, in flat white, like chalk on a board - we used them for almost the entire year, adding the quadratic equation, binomial expansions, permutation and combination equations and infinite series.  It was our reference book when doing homework.  We decided that we needed a name for what we were doing, after finally acknowledging that we were "doing", and settled on "working within the vocabulary of space".  We were very pleased with ourselves.

Need I explain how neighbors and family responded to the walls?  They thought we were not doing well, like two college kids, but the walls were my father's creative outlet, his gift to me, and something that just somehow just had to be, so he could be a family for me.

When I went away to college, I came home to color!  He had painted the walls of the living room a nice rose.  It was good; he was going to be OK.  It seemed like now he could finally relax a bit, and I tried to allow him to do so.

As college took over my life, I never forgot my father, but with new friends, girls, homework, professors, - you know, it consumes you.  I missed him, but more importantly I missed the fact that he was losing weight, and going to doctors, and dealing with things on his own. We talked once a week.  I called him one night to tell him I'd done well in a Calculus exam, but he didn't answer his phone.  All night he didn't answer his phone, so I decided I had to go home.  It was a 3-hour ride, but I had no choice.  When I finally got there, I pulled up behind his car, where he was sitting behind the wheel.  They said he had probably been dead for several hours.  You should have to be older to lose both parents, especially ones as good as mine.  I wasn't ready for this at all.  I didn't return to school that semester until finals week, to pick up my belongings I had left in the dorm, and to tell Records and Registration that I was aware I'd be receiving a set of Incompletes in all of my courses.  I'd called 911 when I found him, and by the time the ambulance crew had taken his stiff, skinny body out of the car, I had begun to learn about what could have happened.  The medic saw the drugstore bag on the car seat and the pills inside told the story.  Almost exactly like my mother, his illness came quickly, but he chose to deal with it in silence.  As the ambulance pulled away, the officer encouraged me to get help from an adult, because I was going to have bills to take care of, a funeral to attend to - I wasn't listening but his list was long and overwhelming. 

Three hours had passed from the time I pulled up to the time the ambulance and police left, and the need to pee was looming large, so I had to go into the house. As I finally walked toward the front door, I pulled out my key, realizing it was now the key to my house - the house where his clothes were, his papers, my mother all over again - ugh.  The living room was beautiful.  Over the rose walls he painted, in white, a letter to me, telling me about life, and how to live responsibly - rules for a good life.  He had become a poet as well.  It was beautiful.  I lived in this house, as I became an adult, for many years.  I never finished college, but that no longer was important.  Living in this house was my priority - my obligation to family.  His thoughts were always right there with me, for me. 

On the mantle was a letter.  He didn't want these words to be on the wall.  The instructions requested that I read the letter then burn it in the fireplace.  He explained how his early life was occasionally a hard one, because his parents were separated and he often was sent to his grandfather's to stay.  Grandpapa was an unhappy man, except when he was beating my father.  Out of the envelope fell a single photo, an old photo, of a man with a cane, wearing a hat, standing by a living room wall.  The sunlight was shining in from a nearby window, casting a shadow on the wall.  I recognized his shadow.  It had stood in our living room for two weeks.  It didn't take long for me to appreciate the rest of the photo.  While black and white, I could tell - grandfather's house - his living room - it was that same wallpaper.  My mother couldn't have known.  He couldn't talk about it; so couldn't ask that it not be in his house.  He tried to keep my mother happy, but it had been gnawing at his heart.

It was clear that, in "celebrating his life" at his death, I had a mission to complete - to put in it's proper place something the two of us shared - the vocabulary of space.  I wanted the funeral to be special, but I let the funeral directors, our pastor, and my lifesaver Uncle Dave take care of that.  I took the time to write a short letter to my father, saying goodbye, thanking him for being a good person and parent, and for giving me a simple, invigorating life that others couldn't have imagined.  The funeral passed, the trip to the cemetery passed, I was drowned by hugging arms from neighbors, cousins, aunts and uncles, who all didn't want to see me handle everything alone.  "I'll be fine, folks, I can do this," I chanted.  After the short ceremony at the gravesite was over, the crowd dispersed.  The worker bees at the cemetery waited patiently in the background for us to leave, ready to lower the sweet maroon casket into the ground and get the dirt back into the hole.  A few twenties, and a photo to confirm my story, and they agreed to disappear for an hour - more than enough time for me to get my stuff from out of my Jeep, so I could paint my goodbye letter onto his casket.  I did it in the chalky flat white paint I'd brought from the basement - his paint.  When I was done, it looked quite a bit like our living room; my living room.  I think it was a good letter.  He'll like it.  It will surely make him smile.

© 2012 John Allison

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