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Touch books 3/2/14
I love the touch of books. I love to hold them feeling their heft in my hand. I love the way the weight of them rests on my lap. I love the touch of them as my fingers turn and my hand presses the pages as I read. A visceral thing that is sensual and tactile. One of the first real sentient pleasures given me after my weaning.
There is more to it, however. Isn't there always? I not only want the touch of them. Like any good lover I want the way books touch me. Touch me they have. Touch me they do.
I was born a reader. Few childhood memories come without something readable near. I think that the chief function of those earlier books, as those of today, was to take me far away from 'near'. Far away from the bland and the familiar. For a small town boy from south Texas and northwest Louisiana far away meant mountains and adventure. No mountains, no adventure, showed out my window.
However, there was Heidi - Johanna Spyri.
Heidi by Johanna Spyri is a strong early memory. I can't remember that 'Classics lite' version I kept for so long, read and reread a hundred times. Go figure why. Boys teased me that it was a girl's book. Maybe so. I loved her adventures in the mountains with her reluctant Grandfather. And, I cried. And, I did not care that it was a girl's book.
Banner in the Sky by James Ramsey Ullman (and his various versions: The Third Man on the Mountain, and The White Tower).Men's reading for sure. Boy conquers mountain. But, the boy lost his father on that mountain so still I managed to cry.
You gotta cry for orphans – you just do. So I guess these early readings taught me to cry for something else than the beltings I got for being bad. Spare not the rod, huh dad?
Next came the readings of men. Thank my next door neighbor for that. That and my very first electric razor he gave me for a birthday years ahead of actually having a beard. The guy moved shortly after giving that razor. A day after he left his house I played 'get shot and roll down the hill', out in my back yard and I spied books piled in his abandoned garbage cans.
Here was treasure. Pounds and pounds of grown up books. Like 'film noir' these were piles of 'lit. noir'. Men's detective stories and men's adventures. Grizzled, burly, worldly heroes always looking for a reason to skip shaving that day and ready to be at the right place at the wrong time. Curly headed women with big soft chests always looking for reasons to climb out of their shirts and needing burly worldly men to help them find treasure or lost lovers. I was probably 12 when I dug through those bins. I'm probably due some therapy...
Three TV stations broadcast in the town of my youth. Each Saturday at least one ran an adventure movie in the early morning before my Mom sent me outside to play. Many Saturdays some Tarzan movie showed. Johnny Weissmueller's famous yell rang through my neighborhood. When pushed from the house on those days I ended up some tree trying to imitate him. Some bookstore just a trolley ride downtown carried the whole set in cheap hardback bindings. I saved my Kennedy half dollar allowance for weeks at a time and bought each book one at a time.
Edgar Rice Burroughs and men's adventure books. I was a lonely, four-eyed, car-less, young man. These books taught me two things: how to be alone and there was a much bigger world outside of the narrow confines of American South. Oh yeah, that and there might be women in the world that found excuses to climb out of their shirts.
'That's some catch – that Catch 22.' And, it was too. I caught Catch 22 in high school. I caught it from a friend I admired as being very mature and worldly. I was neither. He told me Catch 22 is a 'must read'. He said I would find 'the truth' in its pages. The skewed timeline threw me somewhat but the author, Joseph Heller, kept me giggling. It enlightened me, too.
Catch 22 taught me that maybe, just maybe, the world did not work exactly as I was taught in high school civics class in 1966. Viet Nam, Kent State, Richard Nixon, Civil Rights movements, other things, came along to reinforce the many 'truths' I found (IMHO) in the pages of Heller's book.
I think I mentioned some lonely, four-eyed, young man. That boy stood around staring at the Drama department's bulletin board late one afternoon during his first semester dreaming of being discovered and looking lost.
'You look lost,' a guy said.
Yes I was I admitted to the guy. He told me his name was Jimmy. Jimmy sort of adopted me that day. I consider Jimmy one of the folks that helped me grow up. He was my 'in' to the sixties radical groups – or what passed for them in that small southern college town. A few other groups of the subcultures rife in America in the late sixties became mine for the taking thanks to my new friend.
Before, dear reader, thought runs rampant know that we of the sixties were Renaissance men and women. As we explored sensation we explored thought, and poetry, and literature.
Jimmy let me see his copy of The Fellow Ship of the Ring, book the first of The Lord of the Rings. Gods, I loved those books. If ever there existed a book that took me to places I had never been or made me feel things I had never felt, it is The Lord of the Rings.
I every true sense, Tolkien's tome taught me the meanings of friendship, loyalty, courage. Not many of those kinds of lessons down in North Louisiana. I grew up the more through the next years and learned how to apply those lessons. And, how to deal better with enemies, betrayal, and cowardice, finding their way to my door.
I felt, sometime in those years, that I had to graduate Sunday School. No one at the churches I attended seemed eager to do that for me. I didn't understand. It's not like I dropped a lot of change in the tithe tray. I could only memorize so many verses. I could only sit through so many hundreds of sermons. I graduated myself. I let my spiritually go dormant.
Boredom is the true mother of all new things. On a boring day I ventured into my local used bookstore and stumbled across Cloud-Hidden, Whereabouts Unknown: A Mountain Journal by Alan Watts. Loved the blurb and loved the cover art. Mister Watts, a defrocked priest, was a Buddhist and a wondrous explainer of things.
Doors to many places opened for me after reading that collection of essays.
Mister Watts loosened me up enough to consider buying The White Goddess by Robert Graves.
These two authors taught me how to better think about the nature of Myth and the nature of God.
A book. A great book. What makes a great book? What criteria does a reader use to measure that? I'm afraid my criteria would only be personal not universal. Did it change me? How? Did it teach me? What? Would I read it again and again? Why?
Mostly, to me, a great book must touch me. It must change me. It must dance a dance of temptation to make me hunger to reread it – to discover more of its secrets.
Girl Porn 2/23/14
Oh, God, I knew that sound. I knew that tone. My wife had been looking at 'girl porn' – again. I buried my face deeper into my book.
'Honey?' Sweeter now but more emphasis.
I turned up the TV.
'What, love?' I capitulate.
'I want you to do something for me,' she said.
I remain silent. I wait.
'The Center is having its Home Show this weekend. I want you to go with me.'
Damn! I heard the 'ka-ching' sound our savings account makes when 10 thousand dollars drops from it. I heard the echo of so many less-than-subtle hints dropped here and there around the house.
The boy graduated. All of this winter's funerals are done (I pray to all the many gods). Most of my inheritance is secured. Royalty checks now lay in the account. All that money just sits there smoldering in the bank. All thought of all that money just sits smoldering in her frontal lobe.
It is time. Time for our house to have its bi-decade infusion of tens of thousands of dollars. Things have been the same around here for far too long. If you doubt that fact just ask her.
So, where is the 'girl porn'? The TV? The newspaper? It doesn't really matter. She's got the itch and I'm only the husband.
I bow to the inevitability.
The venue is in a great edifice, The Berry Center, originally dedicated to the sacred Texas religion of high school football at the cost of $73 million dollars. This mammoth hall rests next to 12,000 seat football stadium and is open for events such as Cirque du Soleil, The Nut Cracker Ballet, The Mom Expo, The CFISD Spelling Bee, rock concerts, children's inoculations, book and crafts fairs, as well as school graduations and the sacrosanct football games. Of course, all of these are second only to 'The Home Show' just ask any woman in the suburban waste lands within the surrounding 50 miles.
They are all there, husbands in tow, within moments of opening, discount coupon in hand.
This year's prime project, for us, is redoing the master bath. New shower. New tub. No tile – not any more. Less glass. A bloody bench to sit on for leg shaving. And, that's just to begin.
As if fate came down and sat on us, the very first booth in the very first sector held stone shower inserts fit for Caesar. Of course, the bastards placed a tall, swarthy, tattooed, and confident, salesman just dying to make eye contact with moneyed, middle-aged, professional women with husbands in tow. He, they, saw her coming. Like I said, girl porn.
I had to admit, those things were for royal bathing make no mistake. Brochures dropped into totes, business cards exchanged.
Keep it a secret but I really like home shows. Eye candy even for me. And, the freebies – oh, boy, the freebies!
Water features burble. The world's sharpest knives glitter. Light fixtures glow. Ceiling fans spin. Air filters filter. Rare coffees scent. Pitchmen tout. Experts lecture. Plants grow. Massagers vibrate. Hammocks swing. Dips and soups taste. Temptations abound.
By the end, our totes sagged with other tote bags, ball point pens, wine bottle openers, magnets and magnetic clips, filter samples (each imprinted with local business logos), local honey, Texas pressed olive oil, granite cleaners, pet odor treatments, organic corn chips, dipping bread, soup and muffin and dip mixes. Don't even begin to count the business cards and flyers.
'Thanks for going with me,' she said with a smile filled with gratitude. 'It was a lot more fun with you going. Really.'
Yeah, really. She figures that my going made it easier to pry funds from the savings account. I don't let her know it but I really do feel that it's her money too – that it's her house too. I figure she'll not give me too much trouble when my vacation just happens to begin the day the workmen start destroying the house.
Writing is hard 2/11/14
Hi ho, hi ho, it's off to work I go.
A work in progress just so you may know.
The thing just refuses to write itself.
Won't just let me leave it sit on the shelf...
I am so not a poet.
And, as a general rule I avoid trying to write about writing. My shelves groan from the weight of writers writing about just that. From Aristotle, to Twain, to John Gardner, to Robert Graves, to Joseph Conrad, their tomes read and reread. Combine that with the several years Writer and Writer's Digest stacked on my floor. People much better than I with something substantial to offer that I can't add to.
It's been years since I've read anything really new about good writing and writing well. I can turn a phrase or re-spin a strategy but it's all told elsewhere and often told better.
I admit to a brave new world. Twitter, blogging, website, none of these existed when I traded in my Corona for my first computer. God bless the 'backspace' key! Hell, my first typewriter had no electrical cord dangling from its bottom. And, until recently, I transcribed first drafts of smeared ink onto blank paper or a blank screen.
I admit to new things coming out about writing for these venues. But, these are about effective use of one's voice in these venues. It is not about good writing and what good writing is – or is not.
To me, the essence of good writing is good talking. It's rhetoric. Go to Aristotle. Go to the Roman orators. Follow that trail forward to learn how to effect readers through language.
Comb through my years of writer's magazines. Find something new about writing sentences or paragraphs. Find something new about plotting. Find something new about form or persuasion. I dare you.
Writing is hard. That's what I have to say about writing. Writing is something I imagine is like war. The writer suffers endless bouts of boredom followed by gut-wrenching, paranoid, terrified worry. The writer suffers the loneliness only artists and castaways may know. The writer waits the judgment of strangers as the condemned waits for the gallows. Not like the condemned, however, he suffers to live haunted by those judgments while the next WIP gestates.
Poor writer. Boohoo. This is the payment for those instant long lightning flashes, those blissful orgasms of creation.
I cannot stop though. I'm a junkie. Quitting Marlboro Longs, quitting meth, was easier. Those stories. Those characters. Requited love, pure and complete, keeps me at it. Those dreams in the night, those created people, they whisper sweetly to me as I lay beneath the covers. So much truer, so much fuller than real life.
Writing is hard. I cannot stop.
Is there anything...? 2/4/14
"I'm so sorry for your loss. If there is anything I can do..." I found myself saying before I could stop it.
There is nothing I can do. I know that. I knew it before I said it. I knew it because I listened to that statement in no less than four funerals in the last two months. Funerals of family and of close friends all. A statement made to me by close and caring friends and relatives made with the best of intentions. I heard it said and said it myself in each and every funeral I've ever attended.
I've said it and I meant it. I said it to people I know and love. I said it because I would do anything to ease their pain, their sadness. I would do anything to make their day and their future days easier. Anything.
Once someone said that to a friend of mine. She blew a gasket and the poor soul that made the offer was treated to a long, loud, and ugly rant. Nothing, it seemed, anyone could do that would help ease the pain of loss for that poor woman. And, she was tired of hearing from anyone that thought they could do something about it.
Well, I don't think I'd blow up. The "If there is anything I can do..." comments came to me from generous-hearted folks that I love. True, there was nothing anyone could do about the pain. There was little enough they could do to make my day easier. But, I remembered my friend's rant. I reminded myself to try to not say that at other funerals.
I failed, of course. The words just tumbled out. It's something you say. It's in the genes, I guess. I'll try harder next time.
Ira E. Malone - Hero
Sorry I have not been able to give your posts much attention the last several days.
My war hero father, the most upright, honest, and gentle man I have ever known, has spent 3 days dying. Early Wednesday night he finally made it. By the nature of his injury I was very glad his life ended. It was not the death he deserved. In fact, though he did have successes and longevity, he rarely got the rewards he actually deserved - he actually earned.
These days my belief system 'believes' the essence of us joins the benevolent and endless universe in a wondrous, humming, vibration that glows through eternity.
Happy humming, Dad.
I'll do better in rejoining the friendship I find here very soon.
Ira E. Malone, Jr. passed away on January 15, 2014, in Houston, Texas, at 91 years of age. Ira was born on December 15, 1922 to Ira and Lilly (Lee) Malone in Beeville, Texas.
As a youth, Ira proudly became an Eagle Scout.
Ira is a decorated veteran serving in Co. B, 405th Regt., 102nd Inf. Dv., 9th Army in WWII from 1944 to 1946. He achieved the rank of Technical Sargent and earned the Bronze Star as well as other awards.
After the war, Ira worked for Union Producing Company, Pennzoil, and Pennzoil Offshore Gas Operators until his retirement.
In retirement, he developed a passion for genealogy, researching his various family lines back to Europe in the earliest American colonial times. He was a member of the Sons of the American Revolution, Sons of 1812, Sons of the Republic of Texas, and Sons of Confederate Veterans.
Ira is survived by his sister Berna Timlin, sons Steven and Larry Malone, grandchildren Colin (Steven) and Nick (Larry), and great granddaughter Amelia, as well as numerous cousins, nephews and nieces. Ira was preceded in death by his wife of 64 years, Virginia Malone.
By A. Long
A loving tribute from a son,
time's run out, day is done.
He calls him father, honest soul,
lived his life, life was full.
Gentle, honest, and upright,
has drifted to eternal light.
War hero has seen his day,
passed into the spirit's way.
Grieve the loss of father, dear,
in the heart, always near.
Death Wish 1/1/14
'We live too long.'
That's my mom talking. She said that to me on more than one occasion. The last time she said it she did not know Death stalked her. Consciously, or unconsciously, she was finishing her business with the world. And, I think she finally tired of dealing with life's business. It took Death a mere 8 months to catch her.
I thought about that statement in the dark of New Year's Eve as the popping and thunder of neighborhood fireworks sounded.
I thought about that because the year, 2013, lived too long. I wanted 2013 to go – to be finished. I wanted the business of the year to be finished – to be gone.
In my life, 2013 stormed through its days. The year filled my life with tragedy and comedy, with elation and despair, with too little beauty and too much ugliness, with elusive hope and lost hope. The future gave unfulfilled promise. The past reared up its foul shadow. And, midnight of 2013 marks the end of a past and the beginning of a future – a milestone – doesn't it?
Milestones planted themselves in my biography this year. I reached my sixty-fifth year as healthy as a forty-year-old and feeling like a 24 year old inside. My marriage managed to achieve its thirtieth anniversary, by all appearances, way too much like other marriages of that length. My one son graduated, still jobless, college. For the first time in my life of wanderlust and restlessness, I left the Continent briefly stepping upon British soil – the land of my ancestors. Milestones marking places of passage on a life's road from back there to up that-a-way.
I wanted that last day of 2013 to be a milestone. I wanted 2013 buried. I wanted a marked place to waft into the state of denial where all the good memories sink into the 'good memory' place and the bad memories spackled over like holes in a wall awaiting new paint.
The year's business goes on, however. Too many works in process each neglected for the sake of a twitch or tweak of another that demanded attention.
Answer me a riddle? How do you set priorities? Your profession – what gets done? Your family and friends – whose needs get met? Your finances – where does the money go? Where does the money come from? Your time – how is it parceled out? By all the gods, why can't any of all of this get done so that the rest can finally get done?
Our problems live too long, also. Twitches and tweaks grow out of them like an insecure, needy, twerpy, little friend fearing to be neglected – wanting attention.