Invisible (a short story)

I can be invisible.

No, really. I have proof. We’ll get to that.

I can see myself in the mirror, and other people can see me if they want. You probably could if you wanted to. So I don’t think my invisibility is supernatural. It’s more like out of mind, out of sight.

It hasn’t always been this way, and I don’t just mean that people ignore me at school, though they mostly do. In the halls that’s a good thing. Even as a seventh grader, I’m too tall for ninth graders to stuff me into a locker, but that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t try.

Mostly it’s my sister, Joanie, and her best friend, Charlotte. They’re both three years older than me, so they’re sophomores. They go to high school.

Joanie’s friends get to call her Jo. As for Charlotte, everyone calls her Shar – except me, because I like her real name.

I’m Stefan, but Stef is fine too. I’m an artist.

“I triumph still, if Thou abide with Me” (a reflection)

One of the unsung joys of Christian worship — there may be a pun there, alas — is encountering verses of a beloved hymn which aren’t in the hymnal you happen to use. A double blessing is discovering (or later remembering) them in a time when they are immediately relevant to you, your loved ones, or the state of things around us generally. This week, I was struck by these lines from the well-beloved hymn on Henry Francis Lyte’s text, “Abide with Me”:

I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless;
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness.
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.

I Dreamed You Died Thursday Night (a very short story)

Last Thursday night, I dreamed that you died.

I don’t know you. You don’t know me – and now you probably don’t want to.

But you’re wondering, how did I know it was you?

I know you died because everybody died. Everybody on earth and the handful of people in orbit too.

Maybe the next thing you’re wondering is, how did we all die? And who, if anyone, caused it to happen? (Maybe the Iranians finally got the bomb, and it was a really big bomb – or they started a really big war. But I think not. It seemed to happen faster than that.)

I’ll answer your questions in reverse order.

The how is, I caused it.

Clipped (a very short story)

One barber chair, occupied (by me). One spare, empty. Mirrors everywhere. A damp hair smell, but not hair products; this isn’t a salon. Cut hair on the floor in several hues, mostly white and gray.

Three old guys in padded chairs, waiting. Three identical chairs, empty. No news or sports playing; the four-foot thinscreen on the wall is broken. Its replacement is in the corner, still rolled up in its long, thin Featherwrap™ shipping tube after more than a month.

A fake fireplace, turned off. Fake wood fires seem pointless, when people scarcely remember real ones. A coat rack by the door: two jackets, no hats, one umbrella.

Main Street in the window. Countless e-cars, humming softly as they zoom past, beyond the well-worn sidewalk. A pothole repair robot-truck along the opposite curb, groaning, thumping, gasping, steaming.

A table with magazines, mostly Time: Heritage Edition. Nearly everything else went out of print, what, thirty years ago?

Two Kinds of Christmas, Both Good (an essay)

Here we are, in the shortest days and longest nights of the year. It’s cold and getting colder — a dark season with less life about it, in some ways, than the warmer, greener months. But we don’t hibernate, and most of us don’t fly south for the winter, though by February we may wonder why not. What we have — Christians and non-Christians alike — is the Christmas season.

There are two basic versions of Christmas, sacred and secular. A few people openly oppose both and do their best to erase them from our public life. Some folks embrace one version but not the other, and are either uninterested in or disdainful of the opposite choice.

I’m here to suggest that both versions are good.

Thou, Lord (a poem)

For Max Olsen (1930-2020)**

Thou, Lord, who groaned in agony
When darkness ruled Gethsemane
And daylight mocked on Calvary,
Whose perfect gift has ransomed me,
O turn my wand’ring heart!

Thou, Lord, who spilt thy blood for me
To answer justice’ stern demands,
That sin might keep no claim on me,
Whose grace is graven on thy hands,
O shrive* my selfish heart!

Books I’ve Read Lately (14 of Them)

Lately I’ve been finishing books I started reading in the last year or two — and enjoyed, but left unfinished. Today I’ll tell you about some of those, plus some books I finished more quickly, without leaving them to languish for months or years.

Meanwhile, the poster child for my problem is still unfinished: Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables (first published in 1862). I got about 150 pages in, loved it, and stopped. I recently restarted from the beginning. I’m further in now, but I still have over 1,200 pages to go; it’s the unabridged translation. I’m still loving it, but it’ll be a while before I can report completion.

Among the books I’ve finished, I read some just to read them. Others I read for research, because I’m attempting, as time permits, to learn the art, craft, and business of writing fiction. I enjoyed most of the books I list below in printed form and the rest as audio books.

After I decided this topic might make a fun blog post, I asked myself why I wanted to write it. There was time enough to wonder; some of my writing languishes unfinished for months, like my reading.

On reflection I don’t think my motive is to dazzle you with the breadth and depth of my reading; I know too many people who read far more than I do to be impressed with myself in this way, or to think you’ll be impressed. Besides, if I were trying to impress you, I’d probably exclude at least two or three of the books I’m about to mention. You’ll know which, I think, when you get to them.

It’s more a matter of my enthusiasm for books in general, for some (not all) of these particular books, and for people who read books. When I read a book, I want to talk about it. You’re welcome to join me.

For Latter-day Saints, the Temple Is for Life Outside the Temple (an essay)

Mount Timpanogos Utah Temple. Photo courtesy the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at churchofjesuschrist.org.

These thoughts are primarily for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who generally understand what we do in our temples and why, and how the temple connects to the gospel of Jesus Christ as we understand it. In case that’s not you, and you’d still like to make sense of the following, let’s take a few paragraphs first and try to give you a foothold.

The Temple: Quick Background

In ordinary times Latter-day Saints meet for worship every Sunday, on our Sabbath, in the local chapel. (Sometimes we call it a meetinghouse or simply a church.) There are thousands of them scattered around the world; they are thick on the ground in Utah suburbs and cities and parts of neighboring states. In the rural Idaho village where I spent my teen years, we had one post office, no stoplights — and three large Latter-day Saint meetinghouses, including two on the same road, a mile and a half apart.

We have far fewer temples in the world, only about 200. These are closed on Sundays. A Latter-day Saint will go to the temple for his or her own rites only two or three times in a lifetime.