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Book of Firsts,
or My Life as an "Indie",
or the Confessions of an "Indie"
It's my son's fault. The big bully.
My first (published) novel sat on a shelf in my office for years. Years. Long enough to have the electronic files made useless as technology advanced. I mean that. The first copy was a loose stack of paper in a box on the shelf and lay as data strings on a floppy disc. A floppy disc. Most of you are too young to know what that is.
He caught me moping about getting old and letting go of lost dreams one day. I told him about the box of hardcopy over there on the shelf on the left by the "How-to-be-a-writer" Books".
The next thing out of his mouth: "Well, you should get it published."
"Get it published" became his personal crusade. He rode me daily as only a teenager can ride. He followed up on that riding – daily.
It must have been fate for about the time I was warping the manuscript into Word 2007 (a mind destroying exercise for a techno-caveman) amazon started pushing is free "indie" publishing movement.
I went for it. The "submission-for-publication" route's trail already oft trod. Luckier than most, I collected a ream of acceptance letters and rejection letters. My portfolio glowed with some few "published author" bullet points. Rest assured all you envious hopefuls, most of them were paid in copies but some came with checks. Divide net by time and I probably make .007 cents an hour as an author.
I'm old. I don't have the time. I went for it. I became an "indie". According to "amazon" the process was easy-peasy.
Every mistake in the book?
If there was a mistake to make, I made it. Minute one, hour one, day one, every mistake in the book.
I want to tell you, I read and edited my book eighty times at least, eighty, before I submitted my manuscript. Eighty-one would not have helped. Spell check, another forty. Grammar check, more than 20.
Why do the eyes stop seeing?
The thing was rife with errors?
I designed my own cover. Worked it up on Power Point using my own photo of the creek where the book's set piece battle took place and some ancient photos of some of the people I based my characters on. Turned it into a jpeg.
Done is done, right? Wrong. It took two days and six email exchanges to get the thing centered and aligned over at Kindle. More at Createspace.
Why didn't you get help?
Remember, I was a caveman lost in the last century of "rejection slip" wallpaper, snail mail, S.A.S.E's, and waiting for nothing to happen. I did not know help was available. Copy editors were things of publishing houses. Proofreaders – why, proofreading was what co-eds offered in English class if they thought you were cute. I was only dimly aware of Goodreads and Google-plus. I pushed that button and twenty-seven hours later people could buy my book.
So, you're a published author?
Thank you, God, for phone apps and eReaders. For if there is anything worthy of hating these are them. Places such as Kindle and Createspace have things called "Grinders" that grind such things as Word documents, html documents, and .txt files into books. Grinders replace typesetters for good or ill. I suggest ill.
These grinders became the bane of my existence. The "Look Inside" tool on my book's amazon page, all of those preview readers and their respective emulations of ereaders and apps, phone apps. Paperwhites, lap tops, phones, notebooks – even calibre! All of them showed my book's formatting as a big mess. Skewed indentation, awkward guttering (Guttering in a thing. I did not know that. I do now.), obstinate text wrapping, almost random line spacing.
Updates followed updates. Whole weeks of my life gone that I can never get back.
Well, didn't you get help?
Yes, I did.
Their answer; "Well, it looked okay to us. I guess it depends on which ereader emulation you're using."
You're killing me here, guys. I'm getting complaints. How can I sell my books if even the "Look Inside" tool introduces my book as one big mess?
Their answer; "Well, readers can adjust the font size."
I did that. It didn't help.
Well, didn't you ask for help?
Yes, I did. Enough was enough. I engaged a professional editor recommended to me by a writer I respected.
Proofreading and copy editing for content, throw in formatting for Kindle and Createspace for free. Just a couple of grand. (That's about a grand and a half more than I ever expect to make on the book.)
The proofing was great though I found at least 6 misspellings we both missed as did the spell check just two weeks ago.
The content editing? Well, of course, I write magic. Right? Wrong. The editor was mostly right about most of the things. Still, historical fiction was not the editor's most favorite genre. We snapped back and forth about some archaic usage, how much poetic license can be allowed with weather, etc. Anyway, the poor thing really didn't like my book though characterization, voice, pace, etc. were sound. Not great, in the editor's opinion, but sound. Well, liking it wasn't required. I didn't like Dostoevsky – people read him though.
However, my editor seems to have dropped off the map. Those "free" formatted manuscripts that appeared in the contract as if part of the paid for service? You tell me. They're not in my inbox.
I guess the lessons here are; don't pay upfront the entire amount to an editor working from home with many pieces of personal business impinging on a workday and try not to pay for editing services to someone living in another country.
I engaged another formatting service. Of course, I paid in full. So, we'll hope. The second edition is coming soon.
Are you ever going to stop whining?
Yes, I am.
The Sentence Copious (or The Sentence Copia-ous)
By Steven D. Malone
God, I hate writing this sentence. I am hating the sentence in my WIP that sparked this essay, too. You will not read that sentence – probably ever.
I am not the kind of writer that agonizes over just the right word, just the right sentence construction, or just the right nuance or just the right thought, in my work. (You may read my work to find that out.) I let it flow. For good or ill, I let it flow then work it over in following drafts.
However, looking at that hated sentence, I had the question begged. What to do about it? What to do with any and all sentences I find myself hating?
The answer, of course, is to create a “Copia” for that sentence.
Surprised? I was surprised when I discovered “Copia” about a week ago.
A loose definition of the Latin word “copia” is an abundant supply of language at one’s finger tips. Something fitting to say (or write) when you need it. Hear expansiveness, amplification, abundance – hear copious.
Scholars I scanned spot “copia” in ancient and medieval texts on rhetoric, most often in Desiderius Erasmus’ work “De duplici copia verborum ac rerum” (“Copia: Foundations of the Abundant Style”) once a very popular book on how to write, speak, and persuade.
The pertinent exercise, for this essay, from Erasmus is the application of different styles upon one particular phrase or sentence. He provided 150 different styles for one particular sentence. The sentence is: "Your letter has delighted me very much" (Tuae literae me magnopere delectarunt). Easier to show than to explain…
Edward Corbett translated some examples into English:
Your epistle has cheered me greatly.
Your note has been the occasion of unusual pleasure for me.
When your letter came, I was seized with an extraordinary pleasure.
What you wrote to me was most delightful.
On reading your letter, I was filled with joy.
Your letter provided me with no little pleasure.
Here are some of mine:
Reading your letter made me smile.
Upon ripping apart the wrapper ‘round your missive, raucous chortling accompanied each nuanced phrase as I recited aloud.
Your letter came and I laughed as I read it.
Your note brought me great pleasure.
Aperi. Curabitur. Protulit. (Opened. Read. Smiled.)
Get the Idea?
The idea was not just to pile up more words. Rather copiousness was about providing options, building stylistic fluency that would allow writers to have a large array of articulations, choosing the most appropriate to fit specific situations and/or specific audiences.
SENTENCES I WORKED ON:
The world of literature is a world where there is no reality except that of the human imagination. – Northrup Frye:
Books limit truth only to man’s dreams.
Literature creates worlds without limits.
Anything, anywhere can be reached or created in the mind of the writer.
Yesterday's kook book becomes tomorrow's standard text. – Northrup Frye
Ancient alchemy is future science.
Last century’s idiocy is tomorrow’s masterpiece
Yesterday’s silliness is tomorrow’s bible.
They say that all nature is alive. – Northrup Frye
I hear the gods and spirits live in every tree and spring.
The wise tell us that Nature houses the gods.
Can princes born in palaces be sensible of the misery of those who dwell in cottages? –Stanisław Leszczyński
Do the rich in his realm know the wretchedness in the hovel of the humble?
Never will the playboy in his penthouse touch the tramp in his hut?
Few rich men come from their mansions to meet the beggars under their bridges.
Richard Nordquist says:
“Why should we, as students and teachers of English, care about copia? Because the exercise still serves a useful purpose: not to promote windy repetition or cleverness for its own sake but to encourage stylistic experimentation and flexibility.”
Effective prose needs to respond to the interests and needs of readers. To achieve that, I need to be ready, as I write my draft, to experiment with words, fiddle with sentence structures, and play with figures of speech. Maybe that will get something done about those hated sentences.
Stanley Fish says:
“People write or speak sentences in order to produce an effect, and the success of a sentence is measured by the degree to which the desired effect has been achieved.”
And “Sentence writers are not copyists; they are selectors.”
William Zinsser says:
“Writing is hard work. A clear sentence is no accident. Very few sentences come out right the first time, or even the third time. Remember this in moments of despair. If you find that writing is hard, it's because it is hard. It's one of the hardest things that people do.”
Tights, Short Skirts, and Jumping Around
‘Twas a dark and quiet night in an empty urban park deep in the downtown of the fourth largest city in the nation. Late night. The skyscrapers slept through their vigil. Passing cops glared at us until they determined we were harmless. Only a few homeless walked the esplanade but only the three of us walked near the chortling pool, myself and the two women. I can’t remember where we’d been. Some club probably where the music played too loud for our adult ears and the wine and ale cost more than our adult wallets wanted to pay.
We enjoyed the night. A blues band probably played. I love the blues. I probably drank imported ale. I love British ale. Out on the sidewalks when the band had enough, we discovered downtown deserted. Downtown belonged to us. We walked. Well, they walked. I strolled. The three of us go out a lot. But, it’s the two women and me, the third, Y-chromosome, arm despite being married to one and knowing the other for over 30 years. The two marched out in front of me chortling and giggling like the fountain in the pool. I followed watching their swaying butts, as was my want, and drank in the humid night air, as was my want.
I knew they plotted and schemed when they walked and giggled. They were dangerous when they did that. That night they pondered places to go that were sophisticated and worldly so they could go there to be sophisticated and worldly. They, the both of them, were that already and they would be sophisticated and worldly playing putt-putt golf or pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey. For them, however, you go somewhere and be somewhere to be sophisticated and worldly. Doing so makes it so.
Then, I heard the ladies say the word “Opera”. No!
“No, my lovelies, no.” I said. “If you go to the Opera, you go alone.”
Not an Opera fan. Can you tell? I can listen to the “soul” of Joe Cocker, the “blues” of Janis Joplin, the once pristine notes of Joan Baez, and tear up. I even remember a cute little soprano that sang in an old movie – I can’t remember if it was the Marx Brother, W. C. Fields, or Laurel and Hardy – but I like the clarity of her voice that I’ve not seen in any Opera I’ve ever suffered through. Get me in front of a “fat lady singing” or a stuffed bearded baritone and you may see my skin crawl. The human voice is NOT a symphonic instrument. It’s all hoot and gargle. Don’t know why. The mother that carried me rolls over in her grave for all the treasure and time she took forcing such things on me – I prefer the gentle tones of nails on a chalk board to an Opera.
They turned back to sway and giggle and wander the dark park with new searches. I heard the word “Ballet”.
“I’d go to the ballet with you,” I said. The turned on me as if I cut cheese in church, mouths agape, eyes wide.
“You like the ballet?” They couldn’t believe those words came out of me.
“Classical music. Girls in tights and short skirts jumping up and down. What’s not to like?”
Hey, relax. I’m a guy and I like symphony music where folks don’t sing.
Before the sun set on the following day, I proudly owned season tickets.
Within a season are two, we sat comfortably dead center on the Luge Deck, the two ladies in their sparkly dresses and pashmina stoles and me with my little 10X binoculars and my dress up shirt. They’re busy being posh and sophisticated and me – I’m just a grinning. I love almost all of the music I hear and the girls do wear tights and short skirts and jump around. I know a lot more about this wondrous art now and appreciate it for what is actually is. I stare in rapped awe at what those folks do. Sometimes I don’t even believe what I’m seeing.
I won’t try to create poetic crap about ballet. I’ll give a mention of a couple of recent ones not like Swan Lake nor the Nutcracker. Not like what you think. Not like what you may be familiar with. These demonstrate sublime acts of creation. They show what a creative mind can do bringing dance and the human form to music. They bring humor and beauty and they stand above and beyond others I’ve seen.
Two I found complete on Youtube. You will be amazed and you will laugh:
One, I have only a snippet, but you will see beauty:
Time worth spending.
I wrote this in 1991 and always hoped to submit it for publication. I did it once but the magazine was for mothers and wrote back that 'this is suitable for publication in the right venue'. In 1991 no such venue existed.
WHAT'S A FATHER TO DO?
By Steven Malone
Bang, there I was, near the stirrups watching my wife's grand struggle. Terry was a heroine that day. My son, Colin, entered the world with a calm grace very different from the hungry squalling of the babies on the Lamaze films. His bright but sleepy eyes roved around with a serious curiosity. His skin was clean and pink and without the mess or purple color of birth.
I was in love, possessed, with a squirmy tiny piece of life from the first. Later, I learned there is a word for that. They call it engrossment and most men catch it. I wanted to hold Colin, to feed him, to change him, to clean him. I wanted to affect him – to elicit a sign that he knew I was alive. That he knew I was his father.
Most of those duties worked. Colin knew I was alive even if he didn't know what a father was. Terry seemed more than happy to hand her son over to me long and often. However, there were times when Colin was upset and daddy just wasn't going to help. Colin cried and cried despite my hugs, my cooing, and my holding the bottle to his mouth. He wanted his mother. Only she could calm him. I'd be terribly jealous then, though I love my wife very much. I wanted my son to find comfort in me, too.
I'm a pretty easy-going man. Life is too short. But some things touch a button and I go after them. This was one I would go after. I didn't want to be jealous of my wife. I wanted the recognition – the affection – of my three month old son.
So, I turned to my handy baby maintenance and repair manual. You know the one: diapering instructions, solutions to sleepless nights, developmental milestones – the book with the answer to all your questions. It didn't answer my questions. The single entry under jealousy concerned jealousy that fathers feel toward their infants for the attention they receive from mother. Terry is good at sharing out her attention. I was not afraid of losing her totally to my boy. I would have to research further.
The next stop is the local university library – the multistoried edifice crammed with acres and acres of information. I knew the place well because I'm a perennial student. Whole banks of shelves held books about your favorite state – nation state or psychological state. There are shelves and shelves of books on everything from the history of food to the atomic structure of facial tissue. I took off the university certain they would have one for me.
The friendly librarian looked at me funny. No one asked about being a father before. He pointed me toward the computerized card catalogue.
I found hundreds of volumes of infant care and child development. Some concern was shown over a father jealous of the attention a wife gives to her baby. None was shown over how jealous I was that my baby often preferred his mother to me.
That was only natural to have the feelings a father feels, they said. A father should live with it. Well, not this father. Maybe I needed lessons in fathering. There might be something I could do.
The next trip to the shelves was much shorter. There weren't twenty titles on, by, or about fathers. These books fell into three categories. The first group was general infant care with a father's slant. I got the idea that they were lessons for father on how to mother. They were long on what to do when mom was away.
Another group sought to define the new social roles of fathers. Fathers appear to be in bad shape. The major thrust explored absentee fathers, workaholic fathers, alcoholic fathers, step fathers, abusive fathers, homosexual fathers, geriatric fathers, and custody battles.
The third group, just a couple of titles, was about the New Age father. There is not much new about this father. The authors' wanted to bring back very primitive mythologies and initiation rites. The writers believe modern males lost their true manhood with the industrialization of society. We are incomplete and will not be whole again unless we go back to this mythos. The physical or psychological initiation apparently marks the transition to adulthood.
I did not find myself in these books. I dated single mothers and I baby sat as a teen. So, I do pretty good at changing diapers, mixing formulas, bathing baby and all chores often considered 'woman's work'. I am neither absent, addicted, abusive nor gay, and our marriage is solid. Colin is too young to initiate either symbolically or physically. I don't think I'd do that anyway, at least not with premeditation.
Some of the books, however, speculated that fathers represented – again symbolically – the world outside the close and closed universe of infant and mother. Father may serve as a bridge for babies as they begin to separate from mothers and become individuals.
'Of course, none of them said anything about what I can do to help this process,' I told my wife that night as I handed my crying son to her. Colin quickly quieted and turned a beautiful smile toward me, as if to say, 'see who's got me now.'
'Well, where did they get all of this?'
'They usually had a chapter reviewing clinical studies on how families behave when they interest with the baby.'
'Did you find those studies?'
'You might try it. If nothing else, it might make you feel better. Anyway, your son loves you. He doesn't always cry,' she said ever tolerant and sympathetic.
I growled, still jealous. But, I returned to the library. This time I searched through professional journals for nurses and psychologists. The professional jargon soon buried me. Dyads, triads, couvade's, coefficients, correlates, pre-Oedipals, salients, and other equally ugly words laced through the graphs, tables, and discussions. There was hope, however.
The articles claim evidence that a father involved with his infant helped the infant be more securely attached to his mother. Not exactly what I was looking for. Father involvement seemed to contribute to baby's learning problem solving skills and in growing a sense of independence. None of the articles showed how this was done nor did they offer any suggestions for helping my child do this. The articles suggested, instead, that the central role of father, for baby, was that of a playmate rather than a caregiver.
Well, he did want to play with me some. I wasn't totally rejected. However, I was still jealous.
Between being a caregiver and peek-a-boo and pick-up-what-baby-drops games, I went on a camping trip with an old friend of mine. Gene is a father of two and a stepfather to a third. I confessed my concern to him. I asked him if I were the only man in the world that had this problem.
'Don't waste too much good worrying time over it,' Gene said. 'No matter what, you'll be like a third arm for a while. Sometimes you'll be a big help. Sometimes you'll get in the way. Besides, by the time he's old enough to do all those things you want to do with him, he won't want to play with his dumb old dad. He'll want to be hanging around with his friends, not playing with his dad.'
Somehow, all of this was incomplete. The advice in some of the books was off base. No satisfaction filled my heart and I was still jealous. Finally, I turned to my Bible for guidance. The concordance, cross-references, and footnotes, led me on an exciting journey through God's plan for our children. Several passages spoke to me, the new father of an infant boy.
Titus 2:6-8. '...encourage the young men to be self-controlled. In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us.'
Proverbs 22:6 'Train a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not turn from it.'
Deuteronomy 6:7. 'Impress them (the 10 Commandments) on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.'
Ephesians 6:4. 'Fathers, do not exasperate your children'.
Colossians 3:21. 'Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.'
Late in the night of many nights, I digested all of these things. Then I acted on them. I tried to be a correct kind of father according to my research. I helped around the house and did my share of the dirtier chores for Colin's upkeep. I played his infant games and celebrated his accomplishments. I watched over him so he could explore his world with both independence and safety.
Time passed – and I think that was the real point. He's nine months old now [at the time, he's in his twenties now] and knows that I am alive. Colin seeks me out when he tip-toes around the house in his walker. He gives me a fantastic smile when I walk into his space. When his mother holds him, he reaches out for me and we all have a happy group hug. When he cries and I pick him up, he is comforted. Of course, I'm still on the outside looking in pretty often. I guess that will be that way until he's old enough to need to borrow the car or a twenty dollar bill from me.
(Author's note: As I said, I wrote this before my son walked. Something must have gone right for he gave few problems on his way to adulthood and each day displays smarts and independence. He's a good kid. I take little credit. Let me paraphrase Bill Cosby; it takes good kids to make good parents. That said, if any of you know someone hiring a recent graduate with a degree in Communications please let me know.)
Walking Down Stream of Consciousness
Went walking again this morning. Fourth day in a row since I've been back at it. I allowed myself a break from it – an indulgence. It's been a long painful winter and I wanted the self-flagellation of avoiding everything good for me – avoiding most things that might have made things better. There has to be, however, a time when enough is enough. The alarm must be set, the shoes put on and the house left. Well, put on pants, too. I wouldn't want to be the cause of embarrassment for the more literal of my readers.
Do not think I walked from the house before daybreak for my health. Do not think I did so for my peace of mind. I did not leave even to stimulate the birth of new creative ideas. I left fleeing from myself. I left fleeing my inner dialogue. I left to stop all thought but how to draw the next breath. That one thing. That one thought.
Walking and I have a strange history together.
I am one of those unique individuals alive today truthfully able to tell my child I walked all the way to and from school rain, sleet or snow. Of course, growing up southern had very little snow and the distance from home to school, only six blocks.
Six blocks but, oh, the anticipation. Being so grown up. Mom and I practiced for week. It was a straight shot, out the back door and through the fence gate then straight up the side road 'til the dead end at my elementary school's rear entrance. What a grown up adventure.
Moms can ruin growing up way too often. That first real day of real grown up adventure. I set off satchel in hand. I joined up with some neighborhood friends. But I looked back for that one last glance of boyhood, that first glance of adulthood. And, there was my mother a block back with another mother following me, following us. No adulthood for you her presence said. I seem to remember bawling at her to go home.
I lost that one chance for that one memory. On the second day, full of trepidation, spending the whole walk looking over my shoulder. She didn't follow but that one, that first, grand walk never happened. It was gone.
Walking to school. 'Didn't have to for what we called Junior High. The trolley (not San Francisco trolleys, ours were electric buses that had a big arm on top that connected to an electric line strung above the roads) stopped at the end of the block that took me right to school.
By high school and the time I reached full blown nerd hood, my Mom got as tired of driving me as I got tired of being the kid a mom always brought to school. It was the school all the rich kids went to and I was the kid from across the tracks. They, most of them, got to drive daddy's car. I didn't.
Byrd High School's original name was 'The High School'. An edifice, both beautiful and hoary at the same time, built in the 1920's three stories high and of white-trimmed red brick. Whose cornerstone was laid with full Masonic ceremonies and including a letter from C. E. Byrd; a boll weevil symbolizing problems of the farmer; a bottle of oil, symbolic of the oil business; an ear of corn representing agriculture; coins representing the financial situation, and a Bible. A total representation of the town and the environment where I grew up. It lay 2 ½ miles from my front door.
Down to the end of the block. Cross the busy street where the trolleys are. At the trolley stop is the cemetery. Circle around that on the days you are not brave. Ease into a commercial area with warehouses and near the 6 story skyscraper where Dad worked. Cross those infamous railroad tracks I'm on the wrong side of. Enter into the upper middle class area where my ritzy Baptist church is. Make your way between those well-trimmed homes and the glares from the upper class housewives suspicious of any young man walking through. Find the busy street that goes from downtown to the Parish line.
There's the school. Ooze into it and try to be invisible. Do this while carrying a load of school books, wearing the loafers with the lighting stripe inset you think is so cool, and dodging the Federal suits roaming the grounds protecting the one black kid the year they integrated the town's public schools and businesses. Come rain, come sleet, come dark of dawn...
College came. Its streets were tame. Class in the daylight, the 24 hour coffee shop in the night, the only paths. Or, so I thought. A sophomore adopted my orphan self and walked me into the glories and glooms of the sixties. Tune in, turn on, drop out, and hitchhike across America by highways not unlike Route 66.
Putting my thumb out to the motorized nation became my next walking. I had a love/hate with the lonesomeness of the road. But I walked my thumb, not the kind that stood on the corners waiting. Here's a secret for anyone brave enough to do that these days. You get rides quicker the farther out in nowhere you happen to be.
That kind of walking changes a man. It changed a few women, too. Best and worst drive the ways. The fact that I survived makes all those memories into great adventures and a slight case of PTSD.
Later, when sanity again reigned in my life, I learned another way of walking. I learned the 'Tai Chi walk' as it was called in my new martial arts class. It is so much easier to watch and model than to explain but the Tai Chi walk is the way one places feet and transfers weight through the various forms of Taijiquan.
We walk wrong. Did you know that? Normally most people seem to throw their torso forward as if falling then step their feet forward catching their weight with each step in some headlong flow. Better is to begin by keeping the torso erect, the top of your head in line with the ears, shoulders, and hips. Transfer weight to one foot with the knee slightly bent, extend the non-weight bearing leg touching the heel to the floor then lowering the toes until the foot rests lightly on the floor. Next, in an even flow, transfer the weight to that forward foot. Only when all the weight is on that forward foot does one lift the now non-weight bearing foot bringing it first up to the weight bearing foot then extending it forward with the heel lightly touching the floor and repeat. After some practice, add something. When each heel rests on the floor turn the toe out at a 45 degree angle before transferring the weight. As you shift forward, keeping the torso erect allow it to turn toward that 45 degree angle then transfer the weight. This will make your steps seem to make a 90 degree rotation left and right allowing a solid fighting platform aiding in martial stability. Again, easier to model than to explain.
Walk right in, sit right down, daddy let your mind roll on
Walk right in, sit right down, daddy let your mind roll on
Everybody's talking 'bout a new way of walking
Do you want to lose your mind?
Walk right in, sit right down, daddy let your mind roll on
- Dr. Hook – 'Walk Right In' Lyrics
Only now, as a man of advancing years, do I walk for something that the neighbors think may be for my health. It's not, though. I leave out before dawn. I walk to be a creature of the night and, in the dark, I own the empty world. There is the wind and the breath in my lungs and, for a short time, nothing else.
Busman's Holiday 3/20/14
Dark and dreary. Winter and weather. Death and dying. Chores and change. Enough!
I needed a break. The brain was stale. The well was dry. The pages were blank and getting blanker. I needed to hit the door running and get the hell out of here. No other solution came to mind.
Got the family's permission. Made the reservations. Packed the bags. Gassed the Honda. Kissed goodbye. Drove away.
Day the first.
They call it a 'busman's holiday' because a bus driver, when he goes on vacation, gets on a bus and goes. A writer goes on vacation going somewhere to write.
'Hello. I know I'm a bit early but I have a reservation. Is my room ready,' I say to the desk clerk.
She, already seeming exasperated, stirs up her computer.
'Sorry, Mister Malone. Your room's not ready. Not yet,' she said.
'How long, do you think?'
She shrugs and hums and scrunches up her face. 'An hour, maybe.'
'Busy, huh?' I said. She sighs and nods. 'I noticed, coming in. Lots of traffic and the streets are crowded. What's going on?'
'Well, not only is it Spring Break,' Spring break! I thought that started next week. 'It's also Hell Week.'
'Hell Week, what the hell is that?'
'The bikers are out. They're all over the place.'
'Alright,' I said. 'I'll go find some place to hang around. Where can I find some parking? Maybe free parking?'
'Good luck with that,' she shrugged.
I found an open slot on the back end of town and walked Main Street jostled by the crowd. You couldn't see the sidewalk for the feet. You couldn't get lunch for the waiting lines of tourists. Families crowded the shops. Traffic crowded the streets. Cyclists and outlaw bikers threaded between everything. An hour later I returned to the hotel desk.
'Sorry sir, your rooms not ready.'
'Another hour?' I asked.
She shrugged. 'Maybe two.'
Two it was. But, the room had a balcony with a view of the pool and of a truck repair shop. Top floor, however, so no tromping of family feet over my head. I manage to find a table at a nearby German restaurant for some schnitzel and sour kraut.
Fredericksburg, TX, was founded in 1846, by 120 German immigrants under the 'auspices' of the Society for the Protection of German Immigrants in Texas. The Society's Commissioner General, known as the 'Adelsverein' was Baron Ottfried Hans von Meusebach. Von Meusebach, besides leading German immigrants in the Central Texas hill country, is famous for an 1847 treaty made with several Indian tribes. His treaty is the only such treaty never broken and kept the German settlers at relative peace as most of the rest of Texas seethed and burned in a generation's long feud between Texans and the Comanche tribes.
Many thousand German immigrants made the perilous journey from Indianola (also called 'Carlshaven') port to the rugged hill country suffering sickness, poverty, and starvation to create a land free of religious and political oppression. They named their town Fredericksburg after the chief 'Adelsverein' Prince Ferderick of Prussia. And, the town shows their German roots in its architecture, its food, and most of the present population. That is changing now as the town suffers a new immigration from retired yuppies and modern suburban development.
However, the rich history, the Native American ghostly spirituality from nearby Enchanted Rock, and the regal savage beauty of the Texas Hill Country (among the geologically oldest areas on the surface of the Continent), draw me here.
I left the restaurant for the room, cranked up some coffee, and pulled out my trusty fountain pen.
The brain was stale. The well was dry. The pages were blank and getting blanker. Funny how that works. This was a magic place. Did my muse not make the trip? I made some more coffee. I wanted the flow. I wanted the spark. I made myself write. I hate making myself write. Two scenes I managed to finish. Nothing new. I already knew what I wanted to say in them. Still, one scene each for two WIPs. And, all before I ran out of steam.
Day the second.
Waking from a restless, dream filled, sleep is not fun. Raking the tangles from my hair isn't either.
The 'free' hotel breakfast is a little better. They have omelets and something that looks like sausage links now – better than the old days of 'Continental' breakfast rolls with sugary fruit compote. The coffee is better, too.
A quick shower then the ergonomic office chair – I sit – I stare. Where is that muse? A walk in the sun often helps. Spending money always helps. I walk in the sun with a wad of money in my pocket.
Fredericksburg is, like all tourist towns these days, great for shopping. It's a great place for wine tastings too. There is a relatively new wine making industry in Texas. Lots of places offer tastings down Main Street. I taste lots of wine this midmorning. Texas wines are getting better. I'm looking for Cabs – you know, for the wife. One tastes like it's mixed with espresso. One tastes of cloves. One tastes like purple grape juice. A couple are good. I buy the one that is a blend of cab and merlot. At another place I find a blend of 3 cabs. It's good, too. I buy a bottle of that one. On the way back I pick up a sandwich. The area is famous for its German styles of sausage and smoked meat. Now, I won't have to go out for supper.
Back to the room and its ergonomic chair. I put on P. J.s and make coffee. Within the hour I've hit a stride and am quite pleased with myself. The muse is still absent but the fountain pen is spouting words. Well, for a while. The weather is nice. I try the balcony.
For the first time, I notice that, behind the truck repair shop and over the barren oaks, are the savagely beautiful Hill Country hills I love so much radiant in the intense Spring sunshine. I notice the huge pool and patio. There are water features, a meander around a cement island, fire features, hot tub, umbrella sprouting tables, the lounge chairs all empty, all shimmering in that sunshine. I also notice the hum – a tremendous, thundering hum. I notice the hum and the chlorine smell. Directly below my window is the pool's pump. Let's say the pool's pump complex for it resembles a chemical plant. I sit, feet propped on the railing, staring at the view or the blank paper as long as I can stand it. The hum was not calming.
I glance at the growing shadows across those distant hills through the glass sliding doors. At least I catch my writing stride again and stop only to eat that smoked beef sandwich.
Day the third.
A cold front blows through overnight. For Texas in March, that means the morning suffers a temperature in the forties, the sun carries no heat, and the wind howls. I can be satisfied with locking myself in and running through a couple of ink cartridges.
Of course, nothing comes. The brain pan dries up as fast as my determination hardens.
I go to free writing. I list and bullet. I mind map and cluster. Quotes sometimes work. I go to 'goodreads' and their quote page. I go to Google quotes. 'Wikiquote'. Web searches next – looking up topics and historical personages about my subjects. Notes are made – for 'future reference'.
The room cleaning crews are next consulted. They have extra coffee packets. A good coffee buzz might be just what the doctor ordered.
Coffee actually works – on my muse anyway. It wakes her up. She asks me to take her out to eat.
We throw on my jacket and we head out in the brisk dusk to find another German restaurant. A different version of schnitzel and kraut this time washed down by some good old German beer.
Muse of the ginger hair and emerald eyes likes that. She stays awake and truly helps me.
I stumble through some fairly nice scenes with my post-Civil War sequel but got stumped on my Dark Age post-Arthur saga. I am in a middle of a feast scene that needs 'original' Bardic poetry and tales. I am neither bard nor poet. Muse whispers in my ear. Google it, my lover, she whispers. I Google 'Taliesin'. Low and behold, some good models appear for me to use.
Day the fourth.
I don't even try on this morning. It's time for a break. Let's do a museum day! Muse warns: stay to the writing themes – avoid the Nimitz WWII museum. That leaves the Pioneer Museum and Ft. Martin Scott. It's Spring Break! Reinactors abound. Weaving, butter churning, blacksmiths, rope making, Civil War medics, retired Texas Rangers. Perfect.
They are all gracious. Creative sparks fire. The juices flow. I take time for BBQ and beans and potato salad. Then it's off to work I go.
It's the best day yet. Fingers hammer the key board. The mouse skids all over the desk. The save button is clicked and clicked. I don't even notice the humming of the pool pump. It's near midnight before the arthritic thumb tell me I must quit.
Day the fifth.
The busman had his holiday. The writer monk had 'sabbathed' his sabbatical. Shower. Pack. Drive. The family is also gracious enough to at least pretend they are glad to have me back. I am content.
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.