Healing through story

Tag: International Writing Program (Page 1 of 2)

shortfiction24 – reduce by half

Credit: edf.org

The nations of the world have been slow to act on climate change. What if they took a giant step, almost overnight?

What I’m Writing

This week I share with you a writing exercise I did several years ago for an online course from The University of Iowa’s International Writing Program. The assignment was to make a fictitious news statement look true. I wrote an imagined in-studio conversation between a host and two guest commentators for a nightly news program about G-7 actions on climate change. (The story is NOT inspired by any popular superhero films.) I hope you enjoy it.

Reduce by Half

Bob Gillen

Good evening and thanks for joining us this hour. I’m Nicki McNally. I’ve said before that the time of slow news days on Fridays is long gone. Today’s news will exceed even your wildest imagination.

We reported exclusively on this show last night that the G-7 called an emergency meeting. As we speak, they are together in an undisclosed location in Switzerland. Our sources tell us they are discussing climate change.

Apparently the G-7 are so serious about this meeting that they invited Russia to join them on a temporary basis. So, the G-8.

Well, that was last night’s news. Tonight our sources tell us, again exclusively, that the eight nations have today decided on a course of action. A shocking course. Earth-shattering, if I may be allowed a pun.

After a marathon day of meetings, the G-8 have moved quickly beyond the what and why of climate change. Our sources tell us that today they addressed the how. Their conclusion – the earth must reduce its population by half if we are to survive the current crisis.

You heard me correctly. Reduce the earth’s population by half. And the G-8 believe that this needs to be done within the next two years. Two years.

I pause for a moment to let that sink in.

All gone within 24 months.

Our planet is inhabited by about 7.7 billion people. Half that would be roughly 3.8 billion people. All gone within 24 months.

In this almost unimaginable recommendation, the G-8 are bypassing the United Nations. Bypassing all other countries, including India and China. Disregarding NPOs around the world. With this decision the G-8 have assumed control over the climate crisis. Up for discussion now is their proposal for how this will be achieved.

We have with us in the studio tonight climate expert Jon Greenleaf. Jon, this is enormous. What’s your initial take on this?

Thanks, Nicki. Enormous is an understatement. Here are only a few of the issues facing the G-8. How do we eliminate 3.8 billion people from the earth? In two years?

Who will be eliminated? We are not talking about genocide here. This is above race and ethnicity. This is planet-wide.

Let me run through a handful of bullet points for your consideration.

First, no one disputes the necessity of the action. Our planet is dying. We are killing it.

Next, there is the issue of the hubris, if you will, of only eight nations making this decision. Granted, the eight – Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States, and now Russia – represent 58% of global net worth. They are considered to be advanced economies.

Next, who will be designated for reduction? Do we do half of every nation on earth? Do we target entire areas on the globe?

The objective is to leave large areas of the earth to regenerate on their own. 

Now, the how. The methodology. Are we talking euthanasia? Eugenics? Sterilization is far too slow. What about asking for volunteers? Perhaps paying their surviving members a stipend. Maybe a lotto. Everyone on earth is assigned a computer-generated number. Odd numbers stay, even numbers are subject to reduction.

Who will enforce this action?

A further point – who will enforce this action? It could easily result in military action, at least with several nations. Will North Korea, for example, comply willingly with this?

Let me interrupt you, Jon. I’m thinking, what of the ethics of this? The moral implications? Think of the reaction of the world’s religions.

Indeed, Nicki. Say the world successfully carries this out somehow. It will impact economies as well. Losing half the residents of the United States, for example, could eliminate millions of jobs. I should say, eliminate people filling the jobs. Who will continue to maintain agriculture, financial institutions, education? Granted, the need for food and education could be less with all those people gone. But globally, it’s a huge issue.

What of taxes? The tax base could be cut in half. In every nation in the world. Fewer resources for services, police and fire protection, defense.

What of the talent base? The resources available to us now. The creative minds. The engineering folks. Computer systems.

And there is a huge logistical issue. Where and how will we bury 3.8 billion bodies? Can we do cremation on such a large scale? Bodies cannot easily be transported to large-scale disposal sites. 

Thank you, Jon, for your insights. Jon Greenleaf, climate change expert.

I am reeling. Of course, no one will dispute the crisis, the need for immediate action.

I have here with me another climate expert. James Walker. James, talk to us.

Thanks for having me, Nicki. This is radical beyond belief. If we began to work on climate change today, it would take many years to see a difference. Carbon emissions, glacier melting, rising ocean levels, storms, fires. Reversals will take years, decades. Sure, we can begin to change these, if globally we agree to a course of action. Yet the world’s population keeps growing. The chances of making a significant impact are honestly slim.

The solution to reduce the world’s population by half is radical. To add to Jon’s points, how do we decide who goes? Do we do it by nation? Are some nations less important than others? Could we do this by continent? Free up an entire continent for re-growth?

And in terms of impact, how do we do this without harming the flora and fauna of the earth? Can we eliminate all those humans and leave animals and plant growth unscathed?

James, my producers are telling me to take a one-minute break. Stay with me, please, for more discussion.

Please stay with us. What a day this is. So much to talk about.


Mannequin Monday: Reborn


Only Dead Fish Swim with the Current

An apt quote from Ernest Hemingway. When I focused my blog on short fiction well over a year ago, I had thought the title “Mannequin Monday” was a clever takeoff on “Manic Monday.” Every week words would drape the bare mannequin, clothing it in story. I added quirky mannequin photos to supplement each post. I have certainly enjoyed posting to it weekly. But “Mannequin Monday” has evolved into an ill-fitting name.

I have re-designed my blog to reflect more accurately my writing interests, my author identity. I now term it shortfiction24

I’ve been a presence on the internet for 12 years. I started with my filmmaker site in late 2009, added a blog about storytelling (now merged into the filmmaker site), then developed my current blog, this one my author site. I’ve also written a handful of non-fiction and fiction books in that time.

In those 12 years I have seen many of my original internet interviewees and connections change their online identities, their site logos, their purposes. Some simply moved from one social media outlet to another. Others have changed careers or even disappeared from the internet. 

For a time I found it puzzling how they all changed, thinking it displayed inconsistency. But recently I am realizing how normal this is. Change is normal. Stuck in a time warp is not.

Maria Popova has re-titled her popular Brain Pickings newsletter, now calling it Marginalian. “Becoming the Marginalian: after 15 years, Brain Pickings reborn.” Popova says that many things in life are beyond our control. “But amid our slender repertoire of agency are the labels we choose for our labors of love — the works of thought and tenderness we make with the whole of who we are.”

an ill-fitting name

She further says, “As we evolve — as we add experiences, impressions, memories, deepening knowledge and self-knowledge to the combinatorial pool from which all creative work springs — what we make evolves accordingly; it must, if we are living widely and wisely enough.” Her realization: Brain Pickings had evolved into “an ill-fitting name.” Time for change, for growth.

I once interviewed a Dutch video journalist named Ruud Elmendorp, who has covered Africa for various news services for many years. Ruud is now beginning a new journey filming from a large ship as it roams the Mediterranean Sea searching for immigrants in need of rescue. He has been posting video and his personal thoughts as he begins this journey, seeking a new purpose.

book cover for Keep It Moving, by Twyla Tharp

Twyla Tharp, in her book Keep It Moving, talks of growing and changing as we age. Of not being stuck in the past. She says, “Your objective is to free yourself to be whatever and whoever you need to be right now.”

I am seeing changes in my own identity and purpose. For years I wrote non-fiction. The move to writing fiction was difficult. Still is. I have now further evolved (at least for the moment!) from writing full length novels to focusing on short fiction. Writing a novel, and then trying to market said novel, is quite difficult. And time-consuming.

I have come to enjoy writing short fiction. Hence the change in my blog from “Mannequin Monday” to shortfiction24. The 24 honors my wife Lynn, born on the 24th of one month, years ago, died on the 24th of another month, in 2020. The image of a cupcake is one of Lynn’s creations, drawn digitally to create a simple greeting card. The cupcake represents a small story bite.

Writing short fiction is, for me, perhaps an outgrowth of writing exercises for the writing courses I have taken in recent years. I’ve worked through three online MOOC courses with the International Writing Program (IWP) of the University of Iowa. Each course involved writing exercises. And I currently belong to a small writing group which is an offshoot of IWP alums. I have also taken a short course in journaling, again with short writing pieces as a daily requirement. 

just keep swimming…

I have evolved through many iterations in my lifetime, yet I believe I have remained rooted in who I am. None of my changes have been total disconnects. As Tharp says, “When making big choices in our lives, the best course is to recognize continuity in our intention. Thus we are neither repudiating nor repeating the past but, rather, respecting it as we move on.”

As Hemingway says, “Only dead fish swim with the current.” And as Disney’s Dory says, “Just keep swimming…swimming.” We keep moving. Always upstream, if we are alive.

My blog shortfiction24 will remain true to its core, storytelling. A new story will appear next week, and every week. And more discussion on storytelling.

I hope you continue to celebrate story with me. Thanks for loving story as I do. Storytelling makes the world go round.


Mannequin Monday – Filling the Void

Mannequin Monday – Filling the Void

What do I give myself to when faced with a wide open day? How do I fill the void? A life shift offers opportunity, unexplored space. What will my story be?

Storytelling makes the world go round. I’m reading News of the World.

And again, I offer you another story bite of my own for this week. “The Playlist.”

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Mannequin Monday – It’s Just as Well

Mannequin Monday – It’s Just as Well

“Show us a world we’ve never seen before.” A sense of place in writing. Not simply setting. A place. A world. Almost a character in itself. This Mannequin Monday finds us working on creating worlds with our words. I visit one of Louise Penny’s novels, The Long Way Home, for descriptors of a unique world.

I include a piece of my own writing. “The Rain is a Thief.” A short story of tragedy – and release – set in a black night of rain.

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Mannequin Monday – Ebony Fingers on White Keys

Mannequin Monday – Ebony Fingers on White Keys

Hi. Welcome back to Mannequin Monday. Our ongoing goal here is dressing the blank form: words, images, clay, paint, movement. This week I will again rely on images to spark creativity.

Today starts with artist and writer Austin Kleon, who continues to inspire me. He recently posted architectural image collages on his blog.

Kleon in turn led me to designer/writer Frank Chimero, who specializes in interactive web design.

And I wrap the weekly post with a writing sample of my own, a writing exercise on haiku. One: Ebony fingers on white keys sprayed wild notes on the air.

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Mannequin Monday – Africa Rasta Hair Salon

Mannequin Monday – Africa Rasta Hair Salon

Another mannequin waiting for someone to dress it. Words, sketches, clay, film, whatever media you choose.

This week features a short story by writer, dramaturge and activist Bibish Marie-Louise Mumbu. And a brief interview with photographer Mark Seliger, done for The Creative Process.

Lastly, a piece of my current writing.

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