Please click on the appropriate month in the list on the right.
Date Night 12/18/13
'You guys don't know how much I appreciate you doing this for me,' our friend said.
'No, no, it's alright. We'll make a 'date night' of it,' my wife said.
Date night? I gave my wife one of those 'cocked eyebrow' looks. She didn't see it but our friend did.
Date night. Our friend, call her Jenny, was asking for us to take her for surgery. Stage one ovarian cancer. After her mom died, Jenny was divorced and had no children, my wife and I and two or three friends sort of became Jenny's ersatz family. I knew Jenny for 40 years (she knew where all my skeletons were buried) and my wife knew her for 30.
'Yes, we'll make a night of it,' my wife continued. 'We'll get you there. We'll get you in to surgery. Then we'll go out to eat. Have a few drinks. Come back and see you into your room. We'll make a night of it.'
'Okay, a date night at the hospital. You can call it that, if you want,' Jenny said with a shrug.
Funny is the life of old married folks. The honeymoon passes into the reality of marriage, then into partnership, then into lives separate but together. Then you begin to notice the separateness and look around for what passes for 'common wisdom' to make things better. Common wisdom suggests that a couple needs to click the ol' relationship F5 button. The refresh button. One recommendation; 'date night'. Your relationship started with dating – remind yourself of that starting.
Strange how date night becomes, however. That particular 'rolling stone' gathers a whole lot of moss. After the first one or two, the world presses in and time becomes a factor. Date night comes to be something squeezed in between the important things in life; work, children, exhaustion...
Of a sudden, date night is a well-attended event. Looking for something to do – to decide on what to do. You go to places with friends. You combine date night with catching up with long lost cousins. Obligatory business events (drinks with customers, motivation sessions, and conventions) where associates talk business are date nights.
And always a nice big meal gets tucked beneath the belt and a couple of drinks get swallowed. Then you remember you're old and tired and it's time to go home and climb into ragged, comfortable, jammies – into bed.
Big yawn. Yes, we're ready for bed. The effort is made. 'Refreshing' is found in a good night's sleep. You know, old married folks.
Jenny got delivered to the hospital by early afternoon. They started surgery, finally, by four. They finished cutting on her by eight, out of recovery around ten, and into a room by eleven. My wife and I stole a quick dinner, in a Styrofoam box, at seven. We snuck away to a bar for a quick adult beverage around nine. Those comfy jammies were donned before one a.m.
Jenny did well and they think they got it all.
Date night was over.
A Winter's Tale 12/11/13
The ice came in the night.
First the hoarse, wolf howl, of driven wind
Then the crystalline hiss of hard-bitten hail.
On and on and on it went. On and on.
And, somewhere, a gun fight – I thought.
Loud booming, cracking gunfire and the
Thud of fallen giants.
By all the Winter gods, what?
I drag the blanket with me to the window.
Howl, hiss, boom, crack, and thud.
Earth made ashen by piling sleet.
Gray horizon drawn in, hiding behind blowing mist.
A scraggly black line, the forest and the mystery
A crack, a thud, close by. I see the limb fall.
'Twas the weight if ice breaking the limbs asunder.
Scary, but no longer a mystery.
The front room of my cabin in the woods
Is a bachelor affair, primitive and dusty.
The threadbare rug fights the cold seeping up from the floor.
A TV struggles to pull in its three channels.
Small Franklin stove almost glows keeping the room tepid.
I sit in the only chair, a rocker, heavily clawed up by cats,
Draped tightly under that old wool Army blanket.
Wild, hand cut, cedar Christmas tree glitters in the corner.
The hour is late and the room feels empty.
Lights off, drain the glass of whiskey, stir the stove fire.
To my room and the mattress lying on the floor.
Add some extra blankets – maybe enough of them.
Crawl under them, ball up, pull them tight.
My cats, hiding from the shattering ice noises, come out.
One curls near my tummy, the other in the crook of my legs.
No purring. Howl, hiss, boom, crack, and thud.
Morning. The cats are not happy as I leave the bed.
Burr! I'm not happy either.
Stir the coals. Add some wood. Shiver.
My blackened, battered coffee pot goes on the stove.
Time to wait and shiver and add some more wood.
Gods! Put some more wood in there.
The room seems dingy and bleak in the chill.
Maybe my tree will cheer. Switch on the lights.
A sad little tree, really, cut from the fence line
Down along the dirt road to my cabin,
Crooked, frail, wispy, and smelling of cedar.
A string of 25 lights, many colored paper chain
Cut from the funny papers, topped with a star
Made from aluminum foil. Even that
Heavy enough to droop the top branch.
I sigh sipping my coffee and open the shades.
The world is of ice now a frozen liquid sheen
Bleak and magical at the same time.
Shades of gray from charcoal to off white
Beneath a burnished steel sky.
Down left, the abandoned tiny cabin sagged
As if knowing it rested on lost Indian graves.
Down right, the empty, naked, sheeted highway.
All aglimmer as if made of blown glass.
Nearer, my car stood veiled in rime.
My onions slump under their ice coats.
My yard is a blanket of sleet pellets.
No bird song, no dog bark, no squirrel chatter.
No motor rumble. No nothing.
Winter closed the door – locked it tight.
Even the cats hide. Christmas Eve and alone.
Alone is good. Alone is good. Sure, alone is good.
On goes a favorite Christmas movie.
Christmas cheer sneaks early into the coffee.
More wood goes into the stove.
Some popcorn goes into the microwave.
I fish out a good book and an extra blanket.
I curl up and cuddle up in the chair.
Winter is good. Alone is good.
Alone is good. Alone is good. Sure, alone is good.
A motor and the sounds of tires thumping
In the frozen potholes of my driveway.
Breaks squeal and the motor stops.
Boots stumping on the steps and
Knocking harsh on my door. I untangle
From the blanket and go to let in the cold.
It's Dutch, furtive and glaring and pretty.
It's Dutch, long and tall and standing at my door.
'What under heaven are you doing here?'
'I'm cold – let me in, damn it.'
She risked her life coming here, so I do.
'You're crazy, you know. You could have died.'
'Shut up,' she said stealing my blanket.
She pushed me into my chair and climbed onto my lap.
'I was lonely and cold.' She said pulling up the blanket.
Alone is good. Alone with two is better.
Tis The Season 12/7/13
There is a counterintuitive aspect of much of Eastern philosophy that states something like 'if you look for it, it won't be found – if you grasp for it, it won't be reached'.
I am trying to 'manufacture' something that resembles the Christmas Spirit this year. It's not really happening. I'm not really feeling it.
The house is all decorated and the lights are flickering. The wife is working on all the Season's greeting cards. The party invitations are offered and/or accepted. The liquor cabinet is well stocked – some of it is shared out. The furnace is working and keeping things warm. Hell, my shopping is even done. Is anything seasonal forgotten? I don't think so.
Am I exited? Am I all aglow and cozy?
Sickness, death, and dying stalks the shadows. We do what we can for an old friend fending off stage one (thank the gods) ovarian cancer. A newer friend lost a husband, mother, and aunt within a few months this fall. My father and aunt, the last of seven siblings, count their days in nursing homes. My cousin's wife worry over her father's failing heart. My late mother's only sister, my favorite aunt, struggles and her husband, my favorite uncle, goes day by day. My wife's folks contemplate assisted living. There are more friends and I'm too tired to bring them to mind.
Don't even get me started on the news and the economy.
So, I reach for that warmth and glow. I try all the old tricks. I put a smile on my face so that the whole world may smile with me. I watch all those great old movies. I turn off the news. I pour from that bottle of cheer.
I reach and that is my mistake. What is sought will not be found. Like lost keys, it won't be found until one stops looking.
I should let go. These wondrous old feelings should find me.
Oops! There's one. See, I'm better already.
High-story-cal Lying 11/21/13
Historical fiction. I know it when I read it. I know it when I write it. Don't I?
I know what 'history' is. I think?
Surely, it is the 'facts' of our yesterdays. Facts we can (often) agree upon – usually – maybe. Someone built a structure there. On that day a man (or woman) died. Warriors battled that day. So-and-so wrote a document and we have it in our museum. You know – all that stuff.
We have the baggage that goes with it. The facts slanted by the victors – or losers. The endless debates of historical forces or historical prerogatives; nature or nurture, fate or free will, gods or accidents, capitalists or Marxists. On and on.
For me, however, history is biography. History fascinates me because people make history. They make the wars and fight them. They build the ancient structures. They scratch in the dirt to provide for their families. They live and love and hope and dream. And, thank the gods, some of them record all of these events however inadequately.
Some tell lies about history. They tell stories about those dry cold lists and drippy hot debates. They create historical fictions. And, characters – people not real or composites based on people once existing – with all their foibles and passions their fates or destinies.
I write those. I read those.
"Writing historical fiction is a legitimate use of Multiple Personality disorder."
― Peggy Ullman Bell
Well, I certainly know that difference between the 'personalities' I create are, in fact, created. I know they are not me even if I work out personal angst using them. That said, I also know my historical fictions are a way to debate with many of the 'wise' and the 'wisdoms' inflicting themselves upon my life on a day by day basis.
The chief of these 'wisdoms' that the 'wise' give are the two forces 'fate' and 'destiny'. Is there a difference between the two? Do these forces condemn us to a life of no choice? Can a person's choices alter his or her fate? For that matter, is the freedom of choice only an illusion?
"Character is fate."
― Sylvia Plath
"Destiny is what you are supposed to do in life. Fate is what kicks you in the ass to make you do it."
― Henry Miller
Most of the time in the personal history of my own life I cast my fate to the wind. I allow events to sweep me up and take me whether... In that same history, I met folks that fight their fate to make their own destiny. With more or less success, I might add. I've had more or less success in my own life without much of that same struggle. I guess, then, that my destiny became where the fate of my life blew me.
I put that the same finds itself in the histories and the historical fictions I read and love.
To me there are two immediate examples, the Sharpe series and the Saxon series of Bernard Cornwell. Both main characters are 'fated' to be born in a time and place of epic upheaval. Both make their struggle with 'destiny'. Sharpe fights against his fate to make his own destiny. Uhtred fights for his fated existence in Alfred's court and, at least so far, his personally chosen destiny remains elusive. Fate seems to suck him back in.
In my fictions, I have characters of both of those fate/destiny archetypes. I love both types of individuals – for they become more than characters as they grow in my imagination – they 'become' living things that do much of the writing for me. From them come the conflict and drama in my stories as fate thrusts itself upon them and destiny plays out in their story(s) and their struggles.
Furthermore, history and legend have the same goal; to depict eternal man beneath momentary man."
― Victor Hugo, Ninety-Three
'Tis my characters fate – as it is our fate – to come into the world as it is found. It is their destiny as it is our destiny to love and hope. To want. To act. To fight. To know life. To look back at life and to know that life was lived. All of these, I think, are 'universals' of human kind no matter the place and time of their creation.
Maybe in another post I can explore how 'time' plays upon character in historical fiction. How when a character lives effects the making of the characters destiny. Is the ancient effectively different from the modern character? Does the ancient love, hope, want, act, and fight differently from the modern? Can fate change the nature of the struggle for a character's destiny if a character's tools are stone or steam or data?
Remembering First Love 11/26/13
We all were so glorious back then. All of us bursting forth into the world with the immortal omniscience of youth. What fine figures we cut, long hair flowing, flying in the face of convention and authority, protesting a world we did not make. All our days were heat and passion and discovery. It was a time – it was the time – for my first real love.
And, in its way, it was a time of illusion.
Martha. I remember her eyes. They looked in at my soul. I think she wondered if I was real. She was a senior in high school. I, at twenty, was the older man in her life.
I remember the auburn glow in her brunette hair.
I remember her tall. I remember her being awkward. Much allure in that for I was awkward. I remember her shy. Allure in that too for I was shy.
Martha was a proper, upper middleclass, almost shiny clean, and so very new to the world. Me, a scruffy hippie already becoming jaded to the world's harshness, she swept me up and swept me away. She became my poetry.
I remember most of those folks I ran with. Romantics all. Bearing the crosses of out passions and crusades, playing guitars to the girls in the dark, and certainly writing poetry. Poetry of love and want and hunger. Reams of it.
Martha got more than her fair share. I imaged her face and the warmth of her touch. The words poured forth.
I knew she was going off to college. A dangerous thing for a boy and his first love. I bought her a ring. Only a promise ring. A promise that she would remember me – that's what the poem said.
It was a dinky little thing and it took every dime I could scrape together. If one shined a flashlight on it and looked hard at it, one might see the chip of diamond. Sad really but it was to have her promise to remember me. That was what the poem said.
Martha left for college with that sad little golden band, a stack of my poetry, and that promise to remember me.
I knew something about Martha throughout our relationship that I didn't really mark so lost was I in all my passion and rhyme. Underneath all the entertainment, she enjoyed by the attentions of an 'older man', Martha was a fairly levelheaded girl with a dose of good sense. Why didn't I mark that?
"He thought her beautiful, believed her impeccably wise; dreamed of her, wrote poems to her, which, ignoring the subject, she corrected in red ink."
― Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway
Very quickly, her letters stopped coming. A matter of a few weeks. The last letter mentioned a 'man' she met – just a friend – just a college junior. In the middle of the second month of college, a package came from her zip code. A little box filled with wadded newspaper and nothing else. Wadded newspaper – I didn't get it. Was something forgotten?
I began to gather the wads of paper, you know, for throwing away, when I caught the glitter of something falling to the earth. (Irony.) That stupid thing of promise with its microscopic twinkle of diamond. No note. No nothing.
I think I did something dramatic, something maudlin, with that ring. Maybe I threw it in the ocean or in some vacant lot putting all my angry heartbreak in the gesture. I can't remember.
I found out later that she married that guy. The first one to give her some attention in new world of adulthood that opened up for her.
I wondered if he wrote her poetry.
For years, I carried that heartbreak. For years, all women were measured against my vision of Martha. We were Romantics then – and young.
"This was the boy I loved. A little bit messy. A little bit ruined. A beautiful disaster. Just like me."
― Michelle Hodkin, The Evolution of Mara Dyer
Well, we survive. Most of us do, anyway. I healed. No longer that Romantic or that youth but I survived. The memories faded, the glorious memories. Finally even the more realistic ones. Came the time when the thought of Martha did not rise at all.
There are things I hate about growing up and growing old. I hate it that memories too often are seen for what they are and no longer what they seemed. The reality is that my poetry was crap and now I'm glad I've lost it. The reality is that I was a hopeless dreamer with no prospects – and that it did, in the end, matter.
I hate that clarity that comes from age gives a different picture from the one's I first carried. I was not as glorious a figure as I felt myself. Poor Martha, cute enough if a touch scrawny, was not the beauty portrayed in my poetry. Hell, now I question how much of that auburn hair came from a bottle.
"Love never dies a natural death. It dies because we don't know how to replenish its source. It dies of blindness and errors and betrayals. It dies of illness and wounds; it dies of weariness,
of witherings, of tarnishings."
― Anaïs Nin
I wonder if that boy she married wrote her poetry.
There is an old adage shared to me by an old, jaded, worldly truck driver that picked me up hitchhiking on some lonely road long ago. He picked me up saying he was lonely on the road and would trade a ride for hearing my story. So, I told him but what he really wanted was to tell his story. So, he told me his story. Both tales were sad. Both tales were about women and the baggage they brought with them into our lives.
We figured we could be rich if we could discover a ointment that could get emotional baggage to shed.
When he dropped me off in the emptiness of a nowhere highway near dusk, he gave me this advice:
'Remember son; never play poker with a man called Doc, never eat at a café named Mom's, and never but never tangle up with someone whose troubles are worse than your own.'
Sage advice I seldom followed.
I remember those tangles, those girls, sometimes. I remember their baggage and mine.
I remember K. that big breasted, big hipped, short little thing that so matched my rabid lust. I thank her for all of the exploring she let me do and for the disease she gave me that got me out of the draft for a year and a half. She was older, often divorced, and wanted my youth because hers was gone.
I remember J. that handsome little Dutch girl that was not so little. She was first to go down on her knees before me. Gulp. The things she taught! Back in the 70's J. wandered down from New York State to hide in our small Texas town from something she never admitted to. I thank her for 'gushing' her gratitude when we made love. She was a rebound girl that finally got tired of how sad I was over losing my first wife. She had my baggage to carry. It was too much.
I remember Margie a scrawny orphan girl who thought feeling up was hugging. She took out her bio mom's abandonment on her foster parents with wildly inappropriate behavior. I thank her for her wide-eyed searches into my soul. We met in a bookstore where I worked. Books and lust we shared. She wanted me to steal her from her home. She needed that more than needing me. I steal no daughters.
Way too many other girls with baggage haunt my tattered soul. Maybe we need new baggage to carry.
However, Margie got on my mind when I wrote this poem.
We hear that a rolling stone gathers no moss;
Not so for people rolling through the days of their lives.
I don't know about you but I am one mossy son of a mother.
And, all we gather and bear is so very with us
As we face each of those days.
Alone we enter this world, wide-eyed and fearful.
Alone we leave this world, wide-eyed and fearful.
On day first, yet unburdened in the lightness of being,
We begin to gather all things sensory, sensual, and sentient.
We hold, grasping and avaricious, all these things,
The pleasurable and the painful, as if they were treasure.
Dragging them unto the last of our days.
Alone we enter this world, wide-eyed and fearful.
Alone we leave this world, wide-eyed and fearful.
This gathered moss drags us down into weariness,
That guardedness, showing in our eyes and our mouths
As we greet those we meet and those we want to join.
The home not so safe. The family not so warm.
The disenchantment in the hard knock world.
Alone we enter this world, wide-eyed and fearful.
Alone we leave this world, wide-eyed and fearful.
The embarrassment at the excess of youth.
The stories of love and lovers lost and gone.
Of truth, and hope, and want, and need
All vanished, all stolen, all neglected, amid
The tumult, the tangle, the tarnishing of reality.
Alone we enter this world, wide-eyed and fearful.
Alone we leave this world, wide-eyed and fearful.
And, like dragon Fafnir in his cave, this moss,
This burden, this cursed treasure we keep
Grows scales on the leather of our skin and
Droops our guarded eyelids and snarls our lips.
This burden, this cursed treasure we keep.
Alone we enter this world, wide-eyed and fearful.
Alone we leave this world, wide-eyed and fearful.
This burden making misery of our days.
Tempers our work and our efforts, and
In the end, guides all of our choices.
It deepens our cave and our loneliness.
This burden, this cursed treasure we keep.
Alone we enter this world, wide-eyed and fearful.
Alone we leave this world, wide-eyed and fearful.
We hear that a rolling stone gathers no moss;
Not so for people rolling through the days of their lives.
I don't know about you but I am one mossy son of a mother.
And, all we gather and bear is so very with us
As we face each of those days.
Alone we enter this world, wide-eyed and fearful.
Alone we leave this world, wide-eyed and fearful.
Instead of the baggage we all seem to carry around with us as if it were treasure, the baggage that tempers the way we welcome people or tempers the way we hold people at arm's length, might it be other baggage we could carry.
We could carry the baggage of our first smile, or first blush, or first love. You know, that first love before we managed to let it get away.
We could carry the first magic we witnessed, or the first belly laugh we laughed, or the first fantasy we imagined. You know the first fantasy we imagined before our innocence was lost.
We could carry the first tentative first kiss, or the first thrill of our first caress, or the first explosion of our first orgasm. You know the first exploding orgasm we wish we could have again.
Let us shrug off our old baggage. Let us pick up new baggage – the baggage of all things good in our life.
Monkey Mind 10/16/13
Monkey mind. Monkey, monkey, monkey, monkey mind. Nothing on my mind but monkey mind.
I have monkey mind this day, this week. I have it real bad.
And, as all of you that know what 'monkey mind' is, to have monkey mind means that everything, but everything, is on your mind. Everything, all your thoughts, all hopes and worries and memories, all the time.
Monkey mind came to me from Eastern meditation texts I collected at the beginning of my trek toward 'theVoid' and 'the Middle Way'. I hate to use western terms to tag these things for they mislead, but 'void' and 'middle way' are goals to reach with some practices.
Monkey mind refers to that constant internal dialogue our brains carry on as they sift through all the stimuli they collect as they function to keep us alive day by day. It refers to those agitated times when this dialogue forces itself to the forefront of our consciousness when we have better things we need to be doing.
What chores have I not done today? That woman's ghost, that woman from my past, haunts me again. My deadline nears. Damn Congress! How's my son's job-hunting today? Why isn't this paragraph working? Am I having 'social media' withdrawals? Where's that mouse? I can't believe my wife said that. Hey, M*A*S*H reruns are on. Shut up, cat. I'll feed you in a minute. It's chilly. Now, it's too warm. Is that rain I hear? I need to go for a walk. Malone, you are a lousy son-of-bitch. Get to work. Hey, a football game. Change the channel...
"I am burdened with what the Buddhists call the monkey mind. The thoughts that swing from limb to limb, stopping only to scratch themselves, spit and howl. My
mind swings wildly through time, touching on dozens of ideas a minute, unharnessed and undisciplined. You are, after all, what you think. Your emotions are the slaves to your thoughts, and you are
the slave to your emotions."
- Elizabeth Gilbert
You know, monkey mind. You get it, too. And, right now, monkey mind is ruining my whole week.
A number of 'cures' exist. I can dump what I need to be doing, surrender to my monkey mind, do something to fix all those stupid problems, then watch that TV. I can 'watch my breath' meditating – as if 'making' myself meditate achieves a quieting at all. I can find the magic elixir of 'letting go' – of letting or making all this mental noise finally drift off back into the shadows of my mind where it belongs. Or, I can write a blog post...
Well, here it is!
Now: What chores have I not done today? That woman's ghost, that woman from my past, haunts me again. My deadline nears. Damn Congress! Damn...
"The earth is black in front of the cliff, and no orchids grow.
Creepers crawl in the brown mud by the path.
Where did the birds of yesterday fly?
To what other mountain did the animals go?
Leopards and pythons dislike this ruined spot;
Cranes and snakes avoid the desolation.
My criminal thoughts of those days past
Brought on the disaster of today."
― Wu Cheng'en, Monkey: The Journey to the West
Summer's End - Samhain 10/31/13
This has been a bleak autumn for me. I can't really pin down a particular reason. All the usual ones I suspect and none of them – worms in the soul eating around the edges of consciousness. Ghosts of all my past sins that waft from their graves to haunt me I guess.
The needling of these specters brought home this All Soul's Day eve. Maybe it is then a day to remember, honor, or placate the dead in my life.
As one of my age begins to notice, the dead have become legion. Or, it seems so. This evening, so believed the Celts, these dead are released from the cold grave of the Earth to walk amongst us. Many rituals grew around this event. Some of these rites are a purging. They are ways of allowing the ghosts to be remembered and to complete their business with the living.
Allow me to remember some of my ghosts.
The first of the dead that I remember are those of my parents and grandparents. Great aunts and great uncles that I barely knew treated almost as if they still lived in the room of the funeral home by my Southern Baptist parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles. I tried to puzzle it out.
Were their souls still here attending their own funeral? Were they sleeping within those bodies beneath all the spackle and rouge awaiting the Judgment Day? Were they wafted straight to heaven to sing in the Holy Choir leaving so much cold meat in those caskets?
Whatever lay there creeping me out in that box was not that person. Not any longer.
The second of the dead that I remember are those classmates and cousins that went off to the Vietnam wars. My first cousin, so tender and coveted by my aunt and uncle, that could not take the memories and came back to commit suicide while in a barbiturate induced haze. Seven people died in the other car. The quarterback of my high school who did the patriotic thing. He volunteered for the army instead of going to college. He got both legs blown off. It took him several wasting months to die. What a dirty war that was.
The third dead that I remember are all those beautiful broken souls that died in the drug wars. The cute little seventeen-year-old junkie my friend went with whose parents found her stash. She snatched it, locked herself in the bathroom, and shot it all up as her parents pounded on the door. She had too much heroin in that stash. That idiot vacuum cleaner sales man that I introduced to methamphetamines that jumped in front of the train because the drug culture did not make him popular. My posse member that worked so hard to belong. His mother tried to protect him from us by moving away. He tried to take our lifestyle to small town Texas. The local cops shot him down trying to rob a drugstore.
The forth dead that I remember are the lovely ladies I tried to make better while a psychiatric technician in private mental hospitals. Suicides all. In my vanity I used to take pride in the fact that none died in my hospital when I was on duty. Don't let them loose though. The one that stands out is one of the few multiple-personality patients I saw. I knew eight of her personalities. The doctors said there were more. When she was the sixteen-year-old bulimic, even the wrinkles left the creases of her eyes and mouth. When she was the forty-three-year-old businessman, I swear that even her Adam's apple extended into prominence. Once, when she'd worked hard to be good and take her meds, the doctor gave her back her phone privileges. She called 911 and told them she'd been kidnapped. Try telling a squad of uniformed cops they could not come into the PICU, psychiatric intensive care unit. One of her doctors gave her a weekend pass one time. She drove directly to the nearest Walmart, bought a pistol and ammunition, and put a bullet through the roof of her mouth. Right there in the parking lot.
The fifth dead that I remember die more peacefully. I am of that age now where parents, iconic media stars, and even friends are passing for their ages. My mom. Rock stars. Movie stars. Husbands of old girl friends. Online friends. These people just wear out. The heart fails. Organs fail. I sometimes read where these may be 'good deaths'. I don't believe that. Death is not pretty. Death is not good.
They say we should invite these risen dead to eat with us. We should leave a place for them at out tables. If they can't make it, leave some food out on the stoop for them to enjoy at their leisure. There will be an extra TV tray set before my television tonight. I have an apple to slice and leave on the deck outside.
They say we should put on costumes tonight so that the unhappy spirits will not recognize us. If they don't know us, they will look elsewhere to finish unfinished business. I will wear my Tai Chi suit and samurai sword to greet the trick-or-treaters tonight.
They say we should build bonfires tonight to sacrifice food to share the bounty of the year's work with the gods. I will have a fire. Some of those apple slices will be burned there. Despite the legions of dead, despite my present mood, it's been a good enough year. I can share.
Samhain, or Summer's End, is meant to be a festival of cleansing – of a new start. One remembers those that have gone. One remembers with gratitude the bounty of the year. One reflects on all that will be new in the coming months. I can do that.
Swirly, or the Great and Widening Rift
Here is a second installment of my exploration of just what happened to us and to that loss of intimacy – that rift – that now exists between men and women.
(See my blog archives for August for the initial post.)
You know that wondrous evocative Yin/Yang symbol, that swirling eternal dance of opposites in the tornado-like act of creation. Light and dark, black and white, high and low, front and back, heavens and hells, life and death, material and spiritual, gods and men, all in rolling, spinning, fluid embrace.
Among the 'opposites' included in the churning symbol are the male and the female locked in a 'loving' embrace. Well, it is a hash of opposites, so let's say they are locked in a loving/hating cuddle.
'Men and women, women and men. It will never work.'
Have you sensed the rift, the rending, of the embrace of these universal lovers? I have and I am not alone in this. This tear seems ever widening and a desolate wasteland of desert and thorn appears between them.
I would heal that rift if I could. We are, all of us, less happy and incomplete because of that rift. That emptiness between male and female is among the uncounted polarized rifts afflicting us today. And, like all of the polarizations found today, this rift seems guided by, led by, and vocalized by the worst ends of each extreme. We swim in a sea of discontent labeled with the terms misogyny and misandry. Woman hating and man hating.
All men and women have an equal need for love. When these needs are not fulfilled it is easy to have our feelings hurt, for which we blame our
The female half of my audience knows the term 'misogyny'. They certainly know their share of misogynists. I know them too. But 'misandry'. 'Can't be any such thing, they will say.
Be careful. Take a moment and think. I know some of those women and so do you. The next time you sit with an adult beverage in your hand being regaled with hilarious tales of mistreatment and male stupidity. Remember as you sit amid shrill gales of raucous laughter validating and being validated. Remember the words used. Remember what you laughed at. Remember why you laughed. They are of the same tenor of the jokes and laughter made in the company of men.
Men, you do the same. What is said? What is laughed at? Why did you laugh at the dumb blonde, at that bitch at work, at that spouse that got half, at that cold soul that stopped giving it out?
The main difference between men and women is that men are lunatics and women are idiots.
We have those differences no longer celebrated. We have that isolation, that emptiness. And, please God, let us all morn for what has happened to us.
I would heal that rift if I could. History writes of it in countless primary sources, myths, and literature. Bible to Shakespeare to modern political rhetoric. I feel it on the job. I feel it on the streets and in the bars. I see it on the comedy shows. I hear it on the news. It was a cold dead shadow in the houses my girlfriends and spouses where we sat alone together in silence. Could I but find the magic elixir?
I'd be rich if I could find it or could promise it. Countless are the websites that do that. Psychologists, marriage counselors, family therapists, pastors, tantric yoga, they're all there and more. One can learn to heal the rift with the yin and yang of the I Ching. One can search and find through the intervening wasteland guided by the Holy Grail (there are sites that claim possessing it). One can rediscover the 'lost female of the one God' studied in the Kabala. One can become an acolyte of the 'Sacred Courtesan' becoming a woman healer and muse. Many more paths exist.
All one needs is to keep paying the dues, following the steps, saying yes to the upsell, and wanting it all to end.
It is stunning how many good folks make a passable living showing how to heal that rift. Yet, the rift remains.
Many said a time and place existed in a state of perfection before the rift. A time of an innocence of mankind, and womankind, when the swirling symbol of yin and yang turned perfect and pure. A time before the fall when we joined in the loving embrace happy with and in each other. Well, maybe and maybe not.
Maybe once, Father Sun and Mother Earth danced together in naked happy bliss, giving the pleasure of the company of male and female to their joined creation humankind. I found no proof of that Eden. In the end, I think it never was. I think we prefer it that way. Else how will we know who gets to gossip in the kitchen or growl in the den when the game's on.
Sometimes I wonder if men and women really suit each other. Perhaps they should live next door and just visit now and then.
So, the prescription... Is there something to be done? The best one I found is that told by Alan Watts in Nature Man and Woman. We are all, to some degree, broken souls, he states. Broken and carrying the baggage of our history, our culture, and even our biography. The best step to take may be the healing of our individual self. Find that cloister, that meditation pillow, that tree-shadowed mountainside. Look inward. Find a way to fill those inner holes. Find a way to inner strength. In the end, find a way to be strong enough and happy enough with yourself. You will do better if you're cutting that opposite loose. You will do better if that opposite of the yin yang swirl remains absent. You will do so much better when that opposite shows up.
Take time to bless those people you know that have truly met their soul mates. They are rare. Give them a special hug from me.
Until some sign of healing comes, I will sit alone in the dark with you and dream.
My Dear Readers 9/14/13
There once was a reader named Fred
Who never liked a word that I said.
He raved and ranted,
And never recanted.
So, I choked him 'till he was dead.
There once was a reader named Hera
Who noted every coma and error.
Her posted reviews went viral,
Read widely from Edo to Worrall.
Now my lonesome nights know nothing but terror.
Some few take my book from the shelves,
Numbering in twos, or tens, or twelve's.
They say my prose is hardy and hale
And, they're glad they bought it on sale.
The gods bless those wonderful reading elves.
"I think the mystery of art lies in this, that artists' relationship is essentially with their work — not with power, not with profit, not with themselves, not
even with their audience."
― Ursula K. Le Guin
"Never use the word 'audience.' The very idea of a public, unless the poet is writing for money, seems wrong to me. Poets don't have an 'audience': They're
talking to a single person all the time."
― Robert Graves
Though I love and honor each and every one of my gentle readers, I am a writer that writes for himself. I cannot do otherwise it seems. I've tried to write to gain an audience. I've actually written for some publishers and their writer's guidelines. College campuses are littered with the things I've written on assignment. Little of that was fun or fulfilling. Much like Narcissus at his tranquil pool, I see the story I want to write reflecting back at me.
Don't mistake me.
I don't do experimental fiction. I believe in all the universals of human experience. I believe in characters that hunger and want, and doubt. I believe in characters that love and hope and think. Protagonists have flaws and Antagonists know something above absolute evil.
I do not stray far from the principles of authorship. I believe in plot and theme and setting. I believe in beginnings and middles and endings. Stories should flow and characters grow. Characters must be human not superhuman. Even my wizards and heroes know defeat sometimes just as my devils and villains know a victory now and then.
Still, what I write is what I want to write. That said, I confess I flush and glow when I get a reader and a sale.
"Don't dance for the audience, dance for yourself."
― Bob Fosse
"Writing is one of the loneliest of the arts; unlike the actor we have no immediate audience and must wait many long months, even years on occasion, for the
splatter of applause to reach our ears, if indeed we are not damned by total neglect."
― Bryan Forbes
I am not alone in being a writer that writes for himself or herself. I see, in general, two other kinds of writers. There are writers most of them by my count that say they write for their readers. There are writers, brave enough to be honest, that say they write for the money. And, we all work like a hungry two dollar whore on a Monday to please those that plunk their money down.
What kind of readers do we get?
"...but never seek to know the reader's wants. Your whole duty as a writer is to please and satisfy yourself, and the true writer always plays to an audience of
one. Start sniffing the air, or glancing at the Trend Machine, and you are as good as dead, although you may make a nice living."
― E.B. White
"But there's an enormous difference between an audience that's watching you because they can't wait to see what comes next and an audience that's watching you
because they're waiting for you to fail."
― Jodi Picoult
"The worst readers are those who behave like plundering troops: they take away a few things they can use, dirty and confound the remainder, and revile the
― Friedrich Nietzsche
We get all kinds of readers. Most return the love we give in writing our passion with the love they have for the genres they buy. Most have empathy for our vulnerability when we open the vein that bleeds onto our pages. A good many are very demanding and come to our writing with strong preconceived expectations. Some few approach books like an opium addict desperate for more and more of the same that they've read before. A few come to attack, to pick apart, to gleefully watch the train wreck of our prose.
Personally, I sit in stunned and humble gratitude whenever I get a review of many stars or get an email saying someone really liked my blog post. I spin in a downward spiral of stunned writer's block when I get that single star from someone that seemed to have read a different book entirely or shows no sign of reading it at all or throws the thing away because of my spelling or comma misuse. Heaven forbid that someone got bored.
"I'm finding that many G plussers only want entertained, not informed."
"I need you, the reader, to imagine us, for we don't really exist if you don't."
― Vladimir Nabokov
Make A Smile 9/21/13
My cloudy day, today, gave me the blues. Not so yesterday. Tropical rains, thunder, lightning, now that made for a good day. However, what to do about today?
Well, put a smile on your face, whispered my muse.
How do I do that, my beauty? I returned.
Make a joke, why don't you? She breathed.
I just shrugged. She is my muse after all. Hell, it might even help.
"If we couldn't laugh we would all go insane."
― Robert Frost
"Laughter is a powerful way to tap positive emotions"
― Norman Cousins
Norman Cousins, a writer, an activist, and a hopeless optimist, suffered repeated heart attacks and a life-threatening collagen disease. He self-proscribed daily doses of belly laughs to go along with his doctors' regimen. He managed to survive 26 years of heart ailments and 16 year of his 'terminal' collagen disease. He's doctors perplexed and his book about it became required reading in some medical schools.
Might jokes I make cure my simple blues?
"Always laugh when you can, it is cheap medicine."
― George Gordon Byron
"Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand."
― Mark Twain
When cracking wise, comedians advise 'The Formula of Threes'. Two formulas of threes to be exact. Target, Hostility, and Realism. And, Exaggeration, Emotion, and Surprise. Look for them in one-liners, lengthy anecdotes, and a three act theatrical piece. These six criteria are a recipe for humor. Leave one out at your peril.
Humor is criticism cloaked as entertainment and is directed at a specific target. Cartoonist Bill Mauldin says that humor is laughing off a hurt and grinning at misery.
Most comedy is cruel – even hostile – if you think a bit. It may be that the real thrust of humor is using mental agility to fight those things that threaten to defeat me most often.
Humor, good humor, is a paradox. It is the juxtaposition of the reasonable with the unreasonable. The real and the exaggeration. That juxtaposition creates surprise. Without the 'real' there will nothing for to bring it home for me.
"I am thankful for laughter, except when milk comes out of my nose."
― Woody Allen
"Forgive, O Lord, my little jokes on Thee
And I'll forgive Thy great big one on me."
― Robert Frost
Apparently, formulas exist for comedy and joke writing. I'll try a couple. These chosen will be a couple that play with words since I often consider myself something of a wordsmith. I warned myself ahead of time that not all of my jokes might work.
The first formula seems simple enough. Take a simple word and list a few legitimate definitions. Some will have totally different meanings. These can show depth of meanings and hidden meanings. Then play – turn them on their heads.
Let me try the word 'fly'. Among the definitions is the act of soaring through the air.
After a new loving couple enjoyed a wonderful night together, they chose to walk along the Cliffs of Dover in the dawn. A beautiful sight. The boyfriend gestured into the sunrise and said. 'Come fly away with me to the ends of the earth.' The girlfriend gave pause looking into the Channel. She said,' You go first.'
See the author shrug at his muse.
Another definition of 'fly' is that tiny dirty insect.
'Your fly is opened,' she said.
'No he's not,' he said grimly. 'My fly hasn't changed his mind about anything since the day he was born.'
Another word to define is 'cup'. One of its definitions is that of a stoneware container of hot liquids like coffee.
I like my lovers like I like my coffee; hot, steamy, and as sweet as toffee.
If Tequila is Spanish for truth serum then coffee is Sumerian for telling truth early and often.
Or, 'cup': to hold or touch something with one's open hand.
My wife reached over to cup my ample man boob. 'I don't know what you men get out of doing this,' she said. 'but if the one I've got a hold of gets any bigger I'm buying you a bra.' Now, I would want to reach over and cup one of hers but when I do, it gives her a headache.
Other words I might use for this formula include; hit, deck, place, finger, well, window. Surely, many more exist to pick from.
"A joke is a very serious thing."
― Winston Churchill
"Comedy is simply a funny way of being serious"
― Peter Ustinov
Anyway, for better or worse, that's my effort today. My heart is a little lighter for it. Try some yourself. Put some in your writing.
"I'm not offended by all the dumb blonde jokes because I know I'm not dumb - and I'm not blonde either."
― Dolly Parton
"With mirth and laughter let old wrinkles come."
― William Shakespeare
"The gods too are fond of a joke."
Writing? No such thing. 8/4/13
The first piece of great advice I ever got as an author want-to-be was; 'Keep your day job!' Advice any want-to-be should never forget.
The second piece of great advice I got as an author was; 'There is no such thing as writing, there is only rewriting.'
Whenever I have the opportunity to teach English or even Creative Writing, this quote always finds a place in an early class. It always finds a student or two that has challenge in his or her eyes.
So, one of my students, call him Jesse, marched up to the board, all cocky and arrogant, and wrote; 'I hate raisins.'
'I hate raisins.'
A written statement not a rewritten one, yes?
No. There exists a plethora of baggage in the statement; 'I hate raisins'.
Put that sentence in your head. Mull over it. Do you hate raisins? Do you love them? I envision that plump, tartly sweet grape shriveling into that rich brown wrinkled thing. I remember the taste of the sugary, juicy, liquid grape and compare it to the fuller, syrupy taste of raisin. I feel the bright, refreshing burst of grape and compare it to the cloying stickiness of raisin. Flash on my Mom handing me that little red box of raisins when I really wanted candy. It's better for you, son. Flash on that cookie with the coffee colored nodes that I found to be raisins when I expected chocolate.
Actually, were it I to 'write' a sentence, I would write; 'I love raisins'. However, each and every thought and memory mentioned would flow through my mind before I could construct the series of words that spelled out the sentence; 'I love raisins'.
That act of writing is the conversion of all pure thought, all visions, all sensory memory, and all my history with raisins into that sentence. I, in effect, rewrote.
Rewriting what is in our brains and memories is the primary rewriting act. There follows the secondary act – enriching our prose. Explaining ourselves. Plugging in the memories of self or character. Adding the visual and the sensory. Everything that turns statement into authorship.
Next, we take away. We trim the unnecessary. We flush all the extraneous material our editors insist upon. All the things we most love, of course.
Then the prose returns from the publisher and we augment. We add all those things the publisher tells us makes a more exciting read. All the things he/she is correct about.
And, finally, we edit – we proof. We give our writing sense and coherence with what we hope is adequate spelling and accurate grammar and punctuation.
The thing is published and the very last rewrite comes from our readers generous enough to tell us each and every mistake we missed.
There is no writing – there is only rewriting.
The Pub 8/10/13
Foot sore, road weary, thirsty, and haunted by all the joyous ghosts lingering in the shadows of the ruins, I made my way back to the quieter corners of Carlisle. I looked up. Within my gaze was always found that most wondrous British institution. There dangled the sign above the door of the British Pub.
How I did relish those signs in the evenings. Please, may I have a pint of ale I can't buy in the US?
Disclaimer: In what follows, I will extol the joys of Ale and the drinking of it. I am a moderate drinker by nature and, to my good fortune; this has remained true into my advanced age. I encourage no one to acquire new bad habits. Seek moderate habits. Drink responsibly. Drive sober. Stay in school.
I saw ale drinking vessels in museums that date to the ancient kingdom of Ur. You almost can't get any older evidence of the enjoyment of fermented grain. I am told that my ancestors, the Celts, drank beer since the Bronze Age. I envision their smiling faces sipping from skulls or horns in the dark of their round houses as the northern winds howled. Then the roads came.
The Romans brought the roads building them arrow straight until, like a spider's web, they ensnared most all of northwestern Europe, Britain included. Along these roads, the Roman 'tabernae' sprouted. Tabernae offered refreshment to weary travelers like me. The Anglo/Saxons followed. From these wonderful Germanic domestic dwellings, the woman that became known as the 'alewife' hung a green branch from a pole announcing her brew ready for drinking. From these dwellings grew the 'alehouses' where villagers gathered, gossiped, found ways to help each other. Hence evolved the pub.
They became so commonplace that as early as 965 King Edgar decreed laws to regulate them.
I came to the end of my touring each evening, in the middle of a heat wave I did not expect, to benefit from the evolution of alehouse. I found few things like it in the US. Rarely do you find a taproom you can walk to. Rarely will I find someone I know where I can buy a drink. Even less frequently, ale as good to taste as what I found across the pond is on hand. Flavors are rich, multi-dimensional, and layered in the British ales. The beers and ales in the States are only beginning to catch up. At least some of the so-called microbrewers are giving it a try.
So, I'd enter and ask the barkeep for that special draught recommendation – something good, something brewed locally, something I could not get in the states. Most times, the barkeep was a pleasant, and pretty, blonde woman perplexed a bit at my Southern accent even more than at my request. Still, she drew up something nice. I'd take a couple of pints over to the table near the open door to try to catch a breeze. We would sip and review the day.
I made sure to go to a new pub each evening. I would flavor the pubs as I flavored the ales. They are not cut from the same cloth. Most bow to the time honored pub character with tones of rich brown, antique mirrors, handsome taps colorfully showing the brands, and quiet nooks to sit in. Some are more modern and appeal to more modern times. Each offered unique food choices, some traditional and some more modern fusions.
I found no better way to end the day.
Casualties of Intimacy 8/19/13
The first casualty of war is truth.
The first casualty of relationships is intimacy.
Oh, boy! Oh, boy! Steve's going to talk about sex!
Ummm, not so much. Sorry. Still this post is not really for those that hide their faces when people are kissing in the movie or get disgusted when their parents are holding hands on the couch. 'Yew, get a room guys!'
'Intimacy' is that feeling of being in a close personal relationship and belonging together, a familiar and close affective connection to another with a bond born of knowledge and experience of the other. Intimacy requires dialogue, transparency, vulnerability, and reciprocity.
I bet we all thought we had those things, or found them, or earned them, by the first fading of the honeymoon days of our relationships.
Where did those things go? Why did they go? Why did they go so quickly? Why did they stay gone so long?
I've read that the loss of intimacy is born with secrets. Secrets can be and often are weapons, defensive weapons and offensive weapons. We protect our secrets with lies. Lies of commission or of omission.
Usually, I guess, our secrets of self are protective in nature. What we say or don't say or stop saying changes the game by changing the rules. We get what we want. We get out of what we don't want. We might even disguise the thing, to ourselves, with the excuse that we don't have to give the real reason to our intimate therefore sparing feelings. However, our secrets and the lies of omission or commission are weapons. They are used to gain victory.
Confusion to our enemy! Our army stands. The field of battle is ours. The battered enemy retreats to lick its wounds. The day is ours. The prize is ours.
Is it the victory we wanted? We won. We got what we wanted. We didn't get what we did not want.
When did that significant other on our intimate relationship become the enemy? Was it when this other did what was done? Was it when the other wanted what was wanted? Was it when we just wanted a break? Was it when we did what we did or wanted what we wanted?
Who knows? Who cares? We won.
Our other is confused. Our battered other retreats. Our other licks its wounds. Victory is ours. The war, maybe, is over. What we wanted is in hand.
Yeah, now where is that other – that enemy? Where is the voice of the other? Where is that warmth once next to us on the couch? Where is that interest, that support, that touch? Where are the want and the hunger that we once felt from the other? How are those wounds doing? Why are we no longer asked to kiss it and make it well?
Intimacy really is the first casualty, the first easy 'throw away', of the wars of relationships.
Ah, shrug it off fools. We won.
'Second Breakfast' with Ghosts
I sat wondering over my previous post 'Packing 7/14/13 – a sour thing, reactionary and jetlagged. My summer gave me a hobbit's 'second breakfast' of traveling to a new old place complete with awakened genetic memories, ghosts, that great British icon the Pub, and wonderful people.
'Carlisle! Why Carlisle?' they said when I told them where I traveled this summer. 'Well, why the hell not?' I shot back. Apparently, many Brits feel there is little to offer in Carlisle. It's a secret, so don't tell, but I descend from Border Reivers. Border Reivers are Scotsmen that have raided, rustled, plundered, and resisted encroaching British and English from the 13th to the 17th centuries. And, truth be known, their ancestors did similar since the iron age. My ancestors' castle, a brutish ugly tower built for war and only war, lies about 50 miles north of Birdoswald Roman fort near Carlisle. I was drawn to Carlisle much like my ancestors were. I felt their ghosts over that horizon.
Carlisle began as a Roman town called Luguvallium built to provide a market place to supply Legionnaires manning Hadrian's Wall and give them a place to relax and whore. It remained a center of Celtic activity even after the Romans left and the stone works fell into ruin. Celts, Scots, Anglo/Saxons, Vikings, Border Reivers, and finally the various English factions fought for control of the town for all the strategic reasons offered by its location.
Everything quaint and British in its architecture feasts the eyes. Cathedrals, churches, and castles are there offering the breath of ancient ghosts to thrill you. Everyone I met or dealt with was generous, gracious and helpful. The castle's gift shop clerk saw us hurry up to the shop 5 minutes after closing and allowed us 20 minutes to wander the fort alone. Even the local constable was generous and helpful. We got lost and flagged one down for directions. The handsome young man got out of his police van, lights flashing, and spent half an hour visiting and talking about everything under the sun. He even redirected us to get where we wanted to go. Let us not forget the grand comforts of the British pubs and the grand British pints of ale. Those comforts are food for a blog post all their own.
And, Carlisle has much and more to offer the weary traveler. B&Bs abound. Check closely at those along Warwick Street. Ours was called Cornerways. Steve, our gracious and helpful host, keeps a beautiful house and makes a great breakfast. Funny, I did not know pork and beans were a breakfast food. I sensed a lifestyle change coming at breakfast time here at home.
The real reason for making my way toward Carlisle was that genetic memory of my Border Reiver blood. I wanted to stroll Hadrian's Wall basking in the vistas looked upon by my ancestors. Like the haunted, cool, dark places of the castles and Cathedrals, the ghosts of that long Roman ruin raised the hackles and chilled the backs of my arms. Lonely, mighty, and finally futile, the shaped stone traces the contours of the regal hills of north Britain. Somehow, the Wall is both alien and at home in its windswept bed across the landscape. As the Romans did, I looked onto the hills to the north and noted this was where the Caesars decided to draw the ultimate limit of Empire.
Visiting the Roman fort of Birdoswald we stopped at the snack bar to buy food. Footsore and sweating, we looked to the sunny courtyard trying to find some shade. Only one of the picnic tables had space but a couple sat there. We asked to join them. We met Joost and Hilde. They lived in Holland and came to walk Hadrian's Wall. We talked for they were very friendly. Joost, it turns out, read every book I ever read. All of my favorites. He loved history. He loved archeology. Kindred spirits finding each other in a lost and ancient place.
I sat wondering over my previous post 'Packing 7/14/13 – a sour thing, reactionary and jetlagged. My summer gave me a hobbit's 'second breakfast' of traveling to a new old place complete with awakened genetic memories, ghosts, that great British icon the Pub, kindred spirits and kismet.
If you are old enough you may remember certain old movies of the genre 'boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl'. Very often in the last scene the boy and girl look lovingly into each other's eyes, lean close until their mouths almost touch, and the screen explodes in bright and shining, black and white fireworks. Bluntly, most theatergoers jumped to the conclusion that the characters went forth to consummate (in some fashion) their relationship. The end.
However, the fireworks are not the end. I've been around, around, and beyond those fireworks. The fireworks are not the end. They are the beginning.
And, very much like the pleasant drive home after the 4th of July celebration the other night, the skies do finally go dark and the land is shrouded with a smoky gunpowder haze. Not always a bad thing. The kiss happens, the fireworks happen, the consummation happens, and many times we get married.
Some marry for love, some for money, and some for a home. It is not known why men marry.' -Edgar Watson Howe
'We ruined each other by being together. We destroyed each other's dreams.' ― Kate Chisman
The first time I married, I was coming in from the cold. I was growing up. At 28, I wanted the wild days to be mostly over. No more living out of my car. No more eating one meal a day if lucky. Not more outside, no air-conditioned jobs. She was a pretty little thing. I think interpreted what she represented as a marrying kind of love. That first marriage was a disaster. In the 21 months it lasted, I left her 9 times, she left me 7. All we did was argue and consummate.
'After all these years, I see that I was mistaken about Eve in the beginning; it is better to live outside the Garden with her than inside it without her.' ― Mark Twain
"I don't want to be married just to be married. I can't think of anything lonelier than spending the rest of my life with someone I can't talk to, or worse, someone I can't be silent with." ― Mary Ann Shaffer
There may be a secret of a good marriage. I have not discovered it yet. That is despite the fact that my second marriage celebrated its thirtieth year last April. I won't lie. The fireworks come and go. That is not a bad thing. Forever fireworks won't even be background noise after a while. Too much of anything just makes one sore.
If there is a secret, I think it is in the partnership. Spouses must support one another's endeavors – their separate endeavors – as well as the mutual and shared endeavor of making the marriage. In the good times and the bad that partnership, that support, saw through.
I will share with you what is, to me, one of the best testaments to love and marriage you have never read. I stumbled across it when reading a war memoir. A war story. The author, John Masters, told his story of fighting the Japanese during World War Two. Going down that long and tragic road, he met his soul mate.
'I am a great deal older now. I have seen the failure of too many marriages, and warmed my hands before a few glowing successes, and in every case I have thought and examined and wondered, and never found any logic, for marriage is as mysterious as life or fire. I know only that there is no objective existence to it. It cannot be studied from the outside and conclusions drawn, for it lives only inside itself, and what is presented to the observer or the listener bears only the relationship of a distorted shadow to the reality inside. There is only marriage, which is a mystical union, and when the partners to it cease to know that they are one flesh, when the mystical sense goes, there is no marriage. There is instead a practical problem, with a hundred factors pressing on the mind and the emotions. What to do? To pretend, to fight?
To stay, to go. To deaden the senses or quicken them? To think of the children, who must be loved, or think of the mystery, which must be refound, with which there is no love? To die, to live?
All this will be part of the consciousness of some of my readers, to others will be strange, not to be understood, perhaps sinful. In any case, there is no more explaining to be done. Nor can I say more about love for here, too, you know what you know. We loved, and there's an end.'
- John Masters, 'The Road Past Mandalay'
One last, added, list of advice not my own:
'Happily ever after is not a fairy tale. It's a choice.'
'A happy marriage is the union of two good forgivers.'
-Ruth Bell Graham
'A long-lasting marriage is built by two people who believe in -and live by- the solemn promise they made.'
I managed to struggle to the back door. Today, that was an hour's trip from my gluey viscous easy chair. The apparition seen out the window slammed into me like a giant bat. One hundred five degrees flashed, detonated, from the thermometer hanging off the garage. One hundred five!
The afternoon was new born. The temperature climbed from there. A heat you rarely knew before. You know those ancient cast iron irons. Heat one up on your wood stove. Sit it on your head. You know that huge sheet of flank steak they use for fajitas. Sizzle up a couple of huge heavy ones and drape them over your shoulders. You know that griddle where you fry up your bacon. Preheat it. Stand on it. You know that Monday drudge you get after a bad night of bad dreams. Wake up with it. You know that world Atlas shrugged. Carry it. It is that kind of heat.
I stood in that simmering glare seeping in from outside - astonished by the sudden truth of it. The mind killing, soul murdering, spirit smothering, dream defeating, four horsemen of the summer doldrums arrive with vengeance in their hearts.
Remember, doldrums are plural. That is so that no backroom, no shadowed corner, no hidden thing, no secret, is untouched.
When you hate yourself, when you hate your loved ones, when you hate your life, those doldrums are why. When you have no will, when you have no joy, when you have no fix, those doldrums are why.
I managed to drag myself to the backdoor, today. I stood stunned. One hundred five, four horsemen of the doldrums, three unattended chores, two neglected manuscripts, one more lost day, heat.
Know It, Poet 6/22/13
I have an 'efriend' who is a poet. He is a good poet. I told him so once on a post he made online. I also told him the world would never see my poetry. I told him I would never inflict the world with it. He posted back that I was afraid and that I should grow a pair and inflict it upon the world. (You know who you are, AL.)
So, I will do that. But first, I will curse him with some Yeats.
'But I, being poor, have only my dreams; I have spread my dreams under your feet; Tread softly because you tread on my
― W.B. Yeats
'Accursed who brings to light of day the writings I have cast away.'
― W.B. Yeats
(Not really, AL. I love you, man, even though the pair I grew ache and quiver in fear.)
Before you read my stuff, take a minute and think about what 'poetry' is. I dare you. The ancient Chinese talk of 'the ten thousand things' when they described the 'everything' in the universe. It was the biggest number they cared to conceive. Well, when I researched the definition of 'poetry' for this blog post, I found ten thousand definitions. None were exactly the same.
The down and dirty synthesis of my readings is that poetry has sense (words with meaning), it generally has form (verse), it often has image by the way it is artfully displayed on the page, and it has a pared down efficiency or brevity of language to impact its essence and meaning. However, mostly poetry evokes. It ruthlessly pulls emotion from its audience.
Well, I am not sure I did any of this. My poetry is of my youth. To me, poetry is a thing of youth – of youth unsullied by the baggage and scars of maturity. I laid the writing of poetry aside as I laid my youth aside. I no longer have the will to it – the spontaneity or the intuition necessary for the true poet.
Anyway, here it comes. It's not good poetry and it's not shapely. I had a wonderful, beautiful, true blonde, goddess girlfriend in my youth that lent shape to it once. Those papers are gone. I've looked and looked. God knows what trash bin they ended up in. The ones I salvaged were found in an old journal somehow half-hidden among the thousands of books that burden the wall shelves in my office.
My bad poetry (to you AL):
Back then – my favorite subject – poetry on girls and love and heartbreak:
Pretty girls passing by.
See that one. See the other.
See more coming.
A blonde with a butt
A skinny brunette
Sigh. The day is long
I'm too tired to be
Martha – pretty Martha – where have you been
That you come back here to reawaken the haunting.
Martha – pretty Martha – why have you come
And make me so happy to see you?
God! You look so good to me. God! It feels good knowing you're
But, of God, do I laugh?
Do I cry with hysterics seeing you?
Seeing you come, wet and rained on
Back into my life if only for an hour
Martha In the Night
The world turns to the corkscrewing.
Motions of Fortune.
They give away the great canal to
A fascist dictator.
The African Solomon has his enemies.
Killed while he sleeps.
Turn – the king's knight lances
His own purse.
Turn – women still get naked
Turn – people still go to jail
For being different.
Real problems, intense importance,
Rising and falling
As time is changing.
And, all that moves me,
All that burns
Is having Martha come to me
In the rain.
Girl At The 24 Hour News Stand
Whew! My heart pumps
And I'm breathless.
I know it sounds weird
But, thank you
For coming out of the night
To buy papers.
Yeah, I know it's strange
But you're so pretty.
Straw gold hair, windblown
By your bicycling.
Blue green eyes wide at looking
At how I look at you.
Unhaltered breasts in yellow knit
Pointy for the cold.
Then you smile – liking the weather.
You smile at my smile and
Bid me a good night.
The night would be better
If you'd stay and talk.
The 24 Hour News Stand
This is a night for prowling.
All the cats are on the prowl
Out on my street, tonight.
The soft-eyed Yankee's out hunting
For another man's comfort –
Another man's money.
Sorry he saw his neighbor
Because he's young and gay
And in a porn store.
The beer-bellied kid, half shaved
Mean with an itch that won't scratch.
A youngster, no longer so young,
Out with his lady,
Flaming 'cause she came to the back room
To see it with him.
Nowhere to go than there
Then to here
Then to the next place.
Something to do, something to see,
Something to talk to
To dull the ceaseless yearning
Rising at each sun's setting.
Speeding and Tea
It's Thursday night and I'm speeding,
Drinking tea and watching pretty girls.
Girl watching goes well
With muggy nights and speed and iced tea.
Girl watching just goes well, period,
As long as you don't
Get too hungry for who you watch
Or get too serious wanting who responds
To your wordy smiles.
Then are the poems of self and loneliness:
See the wart?
The wart is crying.
He's a large wart. Maybe the world's
I'd like to say he cried
The world's largest wart tears
But, he didn't.
They were small cold silent tears.
He cried because warts grow
But, being the world's largest wart
He sat there all alone.
I guess I'm not alone in
Having days like this.
Days like bright shinny awful
Tuesdays that should have, of themselves,
Stayed in bed.
Days where reality and facing it
Only get me further behind.
Where truth is for winners,
Money is that that other people have,
And work only goes to those who have friends –
Hermits need not apply.
Days that scald me.
Days that don't hear me.
Days that can't crown my past
Or show promise of my future.
Bright shinny awful days
And finally, thank God there is a finally, poems about me, a psychiatric technician, and my psychiatric patients.
Sunshine slashes up the room.
The lost souls dream some –
Morning air is subtle
Furrow my sleepy forehead.
Morning flees by too fast.
Hot coffee in hand,
A cigarette burning bright –
My patient's big smile.
Tobacco smoke curls
Over the chill air –
Death smells coming with Winter
Blood on walls and floor
Vacant stares and tears –
Birth and demise of fantasy
Happiness is here
And there, high and low –
But who's got time come Winter.
You're sitting here on the 'Group W' bench
Going crazy. Mutter, mutter, mutter...
You notice that you're crazy
You notice that people notice that you're crazy
You begin to care that these people
Not be embarrassed anymore
By you're crazy anymore, mutter, mutter, mutter...
The End. Done is done.
Now, consider yourself inflicted.
The Devil and his Lady 6/1/13
The Devil and his Lady – A Confessional Character Study from the Sixties.
I had the rare privilege of meeting and getting to know the Devil back in the winter of 1968-69. He is not the man most think he is. He does not look as most think he does. His lady – well, she kind of is and kind of is not what most would expect. I know these facts for I have met the man and his lady.
The Devil, contrary to popular belief, does not come knocking at your door. You go knocking at his. That is how I met him. Way back then my friends and I came to the city on the hunt. We hunted all those things young men hunted in the sixties. Our city friend told us where to go for he had a friend who had a friend who had a friend who knew and each told the other. Then my friend told me.
In this city, the gate of Hell was in a blighted area of town just southwest of the downtown skyline. We walked into it with a creepy, goose-pimply, sense of dread and wonder. Large, blocky, washed-out, tan, apartment buildings seemed to stare back at us, broken out windows and doors black and rigidly empty like the eye sockets and maws of so many skulls. The ponderous hulking neighborhood seemed to smother the sounds of the surrounding city and even smothered the usual Texas breeze. It smelled of old stone, old wood, and old air, a dusty, stale, silent musk. The quiet seemed to whisper; why are you here.
There were people there, denizens really. We felt them more than saw them. They watched. Strangers, intruders maybe, invading. I supposed they wondered if enemies or friends approached. Then the Devil emanated behind us perched on a stone bannister shouldering a ponderous stairway leading up into one of those haunted edifices.
The Devil's name is not Satan or Lucifer. That's bad for business. I'm hazy about the name – my friends, too. But it is John or Frank or something innocuous like Eden or Travis. Why is it that I'm so vague about the name of the Devil?
This man is the Devil and I would learn that soon enough. I expected the stereotype – swarthy, narrow and chiseled face, glare and snarl. It is not the truth. He looks Irish or Nordic with golden hair, like new copper, cut short and with tight curls. His face is round and pleasant looking with full lips smiling pleasantly, pale eyebrows, and a gentle plump nose. A good build, comfortably stocky, with no hint of fat. Of course, his eyes mark him. They are the color of an iceberg but promised trust and cold honesty. His gaze held invitation not avarice.
Then his lady stood with him as if she stood beside him always. Where did she come from? She was not there when first we saw the Devil. I did not think about that until this moment.
The Devil's lady stands, to this day, as the most beautiful woman I've ever seen. Mix Angelina Jolie, Cote De Pablo, and Karina Lombard into a Mexican magnificence that is more of a Castilian courtesan than a Salsa singer. The blackest gossamer hair glistening even in the shade. The blackest gossamer eyes glittering even in the dark. A generous full mouth smiled both welcome and promise. Voluptuous curving body neither skinny nor plump that wasted not a handful of anything important. Long woman's legs that started here and went all the way to the... Well, one of those luscious legs went from here all the way to the floor. The other went from here all the way to a clubbed foot. The Devil marks his property. The ancients believed a clubbed foot was the mark of a Devil's child. That is how I knew him for what he was. That is how I knew what she was. Despite the mark, all of us loved her – worshipped her – in all the unrequited passion possible in young men.
Her name was – what; Isabella, Juanita, Carmen - why is it that I'm so vague about the name of the Devil's lady's name?
The Devil is a provider. He is the provider. Our man, the Devil, provided. He provided anything and everything anyone could want or dream of wanting – anything good, anything bad – just ask. That anything you asked for turned out to be of the highest quality and at the best price. And, truth, no strings attached to that anything – ever. The Devil never, while I knew him, ever came sneaking up behind me to whisper in my ear. One always went to him to whisper into his. I give you my personal guarantee; we pave our own way to Hell.
So, we always came to the Devil's apartment in that skull of a structure seeking our hearts desire. The Devil's lady greeted us at the door with her warm hospitality and warmer promising smile. I remember she always offered green tea and cookies she made as well as other, free, hippie delights. Astute, informed, and witty conversation emanated from her beauty as we basked in her glow and ruminated about war, world affairs, and revolution. Then the Devil arrived to hear our wants and needs just so happening to have each and everything just on hand – at just the right price and at the highest quality. We always left content and completed remembering to look back at the beautiful Devil's lady.
If there is one unchanging universal fact it is that the universe changes. And the world did turn. Rock became acid rock. Marches became protests became riots. Love became hate. Experimentation became addiction. My hair grew and grew. Waitresses refused to serve me. Cops sought me out for car searches. People's stares on the street became glares. My friends began to come home dead from Nam or drug dens or mysterious unknowns. Where did all these enemies come from? I hated no one. I just wanted to live my indulgent life and let you live yours.
It was time to leave the city, return to what we called in east Texas 'behind the pinecone curtain, and chase girls and keg parties. A low profile was best. This I did. In that quiet, my spirit and spirituality found me out again quieting my soul. Allowing me to grow up.
What used to be the haunted neighborhood where the Devil lived is now an elevated freeway though the no man's land below it seems just as haunted. Where the Devil and his lady went I never learned. I am free of him now and it was easier than I expected. I am free of her now though it was harder than expected. Vivid images remain – fleeting things surrounded by shadowy hazes. Why is that so vague?
The One-Eyed King 5/27/13
The One-Eyed King or, what teaching the visually impaired taught me about writing.
In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is King. Well, that's what they say. Once in a parallel universe far, far, away and long, long, ago, the privilege of teaching work skills to blind young men and women fell to me. As with other teaching jobs I did, it was a place of small victories, poignancy, and fulfillment. I was the sighted one but I was not King. I was the teacher but they taught me.
Among all the life lessons they taught me, the lessons in language and writing tempered everything in my life from that time forward.
Blind is as blind does, I guess. All versions of the sight impaired entered my classroom at this city's 'Lighthouse for the Blind' from those with no vision (and sometimes no eyes) to those with some sight to those whose vision could not be corrected by modern science.
We, the sighted staff, once had a meeting with our one truly blind staff member on just what was 'blindness'. Most of us pictured blindness as something like being blindfolded. Our suave, gentle, sophisticated, painstakingly well-dressed, totally blind fellow staff member quickly set us straight.
'I don't see blackness,' he told us and shrugged. 'I don't see sight. I don't see anything. I don't see.'
He went on to explain that he no longer had anything like vision. Nothing there at all, he told us. Well, I know about nothingness. There is not even nothing in nothingness, I've pondered this before (see 'Infinity – Part 1 4/7/13' in my blog's April archive). Some of my students lived in that sightless place that was not even dark.
Others in the class saw enough of a difference of color to keep from walking into walls – if the walls were painted a light enough color. Some had a little space on the back wall of their eyes whose cones and rods functioned enough to make out the shape and color of things. A few wore coke-bottle lenses and saw the world in a blurred hazy fog.
My students were much like all of those 'disadvantaged' or 'disabled' I taught throughout my career. They share one thing. They each have a single-minded, determined, drive to be like (to live their lives like) everyone else. They want to enjoy life. They want to love and be loved. They want to accomplish. They want to work. It was my job to give them the tools to do just that. How?
Picture, if you will, sitting at a work table with four things resting upon it; a three-ring binder with pockets on the inside wall, and three stacks of tabbed section dividers – one stack with top tabs, one with middle tabs, and the last with bottom tabs. I'm glad you can picture that. My students could not. The job is to open the binder, with the pockets correctly placed to be along the lower edge, open the rings, and, insert one each of the dividers onto the rings, and then close it. Your second step will be to stack the loaded binder in an empty box at your feet to the left, pull another binder from a box at your feet to the right and repeat the process. Simple enough, right?
To the blind person, what's right and left, what's front and back, what's upper and lower, what's plastic and cardboard? Touch the objects on your table, one big weird-shaped single thing and three stacks of other big things. What's a stack? Open the big weird-shaped thing. It opens? How? Find the pockets on the inside surface and make sure they open away from you. What? Find the rings. What are rings? Put a finger from each hand into the same ring and pull it apart until it snaps open. Oh, that won't do. Pull on them until they snap apart. No. That's to too hard. Snap apart not break apart. Here, feel this.
Feel this – that's the secret. You have to make them feel it because they sure don't see it. Teaching the blind is definitely a 'hands-on' activity – for the teacher. There will be no showing, no demonstration, and no poster. Every lesson created without reference to image or demonstration. Try that as a 'writing prompt'. Try to explain how to do something without a mention of anything the 'doer' can see. Measure out a half cup of milk. Thread a bolt through two joined metal braces, slip a nut on a bolt, and tighten down the nut until firm. Place a knife, fork, and spoon in the center of a cloth napkin, roll up the napkin folding in the edges, and slip on a napkin ring. Button your shirt placing the buttons in the correct buttonhole. Tell me don't show me. Make me feel it.
The biggest irony of this whole experience was the moment my students finally got it right. They would say; oh, I see now.
See all the puffed up, radiantly proud parents wandering awed by the hoary stone edifice, by the well-tended lawns, by the sun-bathed fountains. See all the glowing, triumphant, robed youth flushed with the last vestige of their childhood's innocence and hope. See all the iridescent pink-faced scholars bedecked in all the trappings of their scholarship and shining with all the years beneath fluorescent bulbs. It is graduation day for my son and his peers. College is over. The fatted calf awaits all the prodigal young astride the threshold of adulthood.
See the conflict of many emotions written on their faces, on my son's face. Pride is there for the job well done. Anxiety, not totally hidden, shows clearly for the future lies just ahead. Embarrassment fights for a place for mothers keep fidgeting with hair, dads can't stop hugging, and friends can see it all. Worry fades in and out for those with no job arranged and for those with new jobs waiting.
Graduation is a rite of passage. It is of the most important rites of passage.
Rites of passage are many and varied in all cultures. They intend to mark the individual's passage from one stage of life to the next as well as to serve as an initiation ceremony marking entrance into that next life phase from birth, puberty, education, marriage, adulthood, and finally even death. These are generally emotionally charged - they are 'life crises'. Name yours; baptisms, bar mitzvahs and confirmations, Quinceañera, school graduation ceremonies, weddings, retirement parties, and funerals.
My personal favorite as an adolescent were the number of 'coming out' or debutant balls held for the high school girls in the very southern and genteel state I grew up in. The girls' parents spent so much money on renting halls, hiring bands, decorating and catering, and empire-style ball gowns. The boys' parents spent on tux and limo rentals. The girls hoped for treatment as very lady-like newly grown women. The boys all schemed for ways to secure and smuggle liquor into the events. I lied about it being all that much of a favorite. I was so ignorant, so white, and such a bad dancer I now cringe thinking about it.
There were the opposite, negative, types of passages – of initiations inflicted upon our youth. For, in a way, modern society has lost or abandoned the almost mythic and intuitive rites of passage. Or, have bent them out of shape due to secondary agendas. I have to speak for men and boys because it is those experiences I suffered through. Way back when, in the efforts to educate on and reinforce the status quo, these rights of initiation men supported young men in making the tough transitions that life requires. These have largely disappeared and many of us do not or cannot, easily or gracefully, move from childhood to adulthood. Folks smarter than me postulate that this is due to modern society's acceptance of initiation by peers. We see it in the hazing of fraternities, sports teams, military school dorms, even street gangs. We see this in self-initiation behaviors such as rebellion, drug experimentation, and alienation. Some of the negative effects, thinks Robert Bly, of men not having appropriate rites of passage are often a fear of other men, or seeing other men as competitors instead of brothers. I still burn when I remember the struggle to survive middle school bullying and the endless practical jokes of the construction crews I joined.
I know my son experienced these diverse rites of passage. The graduations and the bullying. I hope that he listened closely to his College President's speech that quoted, of all people, George Carlin. Mr. Carlin's wisdom is often not recognized. Let me share some of that quote:
'The paradox of our time in history is that we have taller buildings but shorter tempers, wider Freeways, but narrower viewpoints. We spend more, but have less, we buy more, but enjoy less. We have bigger houses and smaller families; more conveniences, but less time. We have more degrees but less sense; more knowledge, but less judgment; more experts, yet more problems; more medicine, but less wellness...
We have multiplied our possessions, but reduced our values. We talk too much, love too seldom, and hate too often...
We've learned how to make a living, but not a life. We've added years to life not life to years...
We write more, but learn less. We plan more, but accomplish less. We've learned to rush, but not to wait. We build more computers to hold more information, to produce more copies than ever, but we communicate less and less...
Remember, say a kind word to someone who looks up to you in awe, because that little person soon will grow up and leave your side...'
I don't have the better ways to help much in ceremonially making his shift from boy to man. I can educate him, hug him, hope for him. That's about all. I do want him to know that being a man does not mean losing a child's wonder of life.
Soldier On 5/4/13
My father is a stalwart and upright man. Responsible to his duties, loyal to his friends, gentle in his nature. He is a man of strong values and few vices. A hero that I always disappointed because I did not feel I could ever live up to his example nor did I try to.
The last thing I would think would be in his nature was that of a killer.
The war in Germany made him into that. However, that did not come home to me until recently.
My brother and I knew he served. We knew he went to war. He shared very little of it with us. We wanted him to but mostly he avoided our pressing. He told us only a few, only the 'kinda funny' stuff.
Dad disliked the British. We thought he hated the Germans but the British earned his ire as well. He served under Gen. Bradley who he admired for taking great care his men. Gen. Bradley's troops fought next to Montgomery as they advanced across the northern most parts of the front. The Brits, according to Dad, stopped the war once a day for the whole campaign. At 4 p.m., come rain or shine, come hell or high water, the Brits would grind to a halt, stoke up a fire, and make tea. Tea! Now, my Dad didn't begrudge them the tea or the break. The fire smoke, however, drew German artillery. Dad and his men spent those hours pressed to the mud in the bottom of their foxholes while hell rained from the skies. He would hold up his hands fingers spread, turn his head to the side, and make a funny face part disgusted part fearful just as he must have done those many years before. We would see it and hear it in our minds and we would laugh.
In mid-December, 1944, Dad chopped slit trenches in frozen forest mud just north of Aachen. With the usual fog of war, real soupy fog closed him in and the forest shrunk down to a few feet of shadowy, black, leafless threes. He crouched shivering in the trench and feared because somewhere across the valley to his front he listened to the ugly sound of German armor rumbling. Left to right and unseen, the menacing sound went on around the clock for three straight days. They reported it to command. Command told them to disregard the demonstration. It was 1944. Germany no longer owned that much hardware. It was a demonstration to scare them, command said. On the fourth day, the noises stopped. Silence reigned. My daddy shrugged in acceptance. On the fifth day, the Battle of the Bulge began. They listened to the artillery just at midnight about eight miles south. One of his platoon whispered in the darkness, 'happy birthday Ira'. He was twenty-one. He shrugged again. We marveled at how one so young spent that birthday.
Still, these and other stories told passive tales. They did not tell of my gentle upright father the killer. About a year before my mother died and my dad was 88 years old, she brought that home to us.
'Your dad kicked me last night. He woke me up kicking me. Kicking and kicking me,' she said.
She told us that she turned over to have something to say about that. Dad was sound asleep; however, he was running in his sleep. His feet thrashed back and forth. He spoke in his sleep muttering. Then he spoke quite clearly.
'Well, just shoot him,' he said. A moment later his feet stopped thrashing and Dad went still.
We asked Dad what was going on in his dream.
'He was remembering the war,' Mom speculated.
My brother and I speculated too. We figured he took his platoon to battle attacking some objective. One of his men, we speculated, either captured or wounded a German soldier. With no time or enough men to deal with this enemy soldier the attack must be pressed onward, my gentle Dad, the 21-year-old sergeant in a miserable war, must decide what must be done. Not enough time, not enough men, just shoot him.
My Dad, the war hero, the gentle upright man sixty-six years after the event, remained silent.
'I'm crazy,' she said in answer to my question. Let's call her Gail. Gail is a pretty girl, curly brunette hair, bright green eyes, handsome features, and lanky frame. When she came to my ward I thought she was a youngish sixteen year old. She was twenty-four and that was a clue to why she made it over to P.I.C.U. (the Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit). Her answer was valid enough. It was not the question I asked.
Fourteen years I spent as a Psychiatric Technician. Most of those years were spent working with severely ill mental patients. A psychiatric technician is basically a nurse's aide at a mental hospital. It is not a glorious job but I was good at it. Basically, one takes patients' vital signs, attends to their ADL's (activities of daily living) by making sure they are fed and clean, and making sure they get to where they are supposed to be. The major job of a psychiatric technician is, however, to protect the patients from themselves and to protect the staff from the patient if they go postal. The technician is then to perform 'take down'. He or she physically contains the patient, lowers the patient to the ground, and holds the patient immobile until a nurse shows up with a hypodermic needle full of thorazine. Thorazine is an antipsychotic drug and it is a chemical straight jacket in that it takes the violence right out of a patient. I became a psychiatric technician usually assigned to psychiatric intensive care because I tolerated the patients well, I got along with the nurses and doctors well, and I stomached wading in the misery of others for hours upon hours year after year.
'What are you doing here?' That was the question I asked Gail. I meant why are you here in the common room instead of attending your group session like you are supposed to be doing. Still, her response was accurate enough.
'Gail, I've been doing this for ten years,' I said. 'In all those years I have yet to come across 'crazy' as a diagnosis.'
That is a true statement. There are no 'crazy' people in psychiatric hospitals. A person can be depressed, psychotic, bulimic, bipolar, or any of a number of illnesses. Nowhere do they list 'crazy' as a mental illness.
'Well, if I'm not crazy why am I here?' Gail said.
'You are here because you need to take lithium and you don't do it when you're at home.' I said and that was mostly true. That poor and pretty girl who really didn't deserve her situation was crazy as a bed bug. Lithium helped – it was her only help.
'I don't like to take my lithium,' she said. She didn't like to because lithium took away her psychosis and like many with psychotic tendencies, her imaginary world was preferable to the real one.
'Why not? You take your vitamins. For you, lithium is another vitamin,' I said. I'd had this conversation before. Our standing in the empty common room attracted Beth, the charge nurse, and she came up beside us.
'Why does lithium have to be one of my vitamins?' Gail said.
'Well, I have a theory about that,' I began. I saw alarm on Beth's face when I said that. Gail was crazy and I was not a psychiatrist. It was not my place. I quickly reminded Beth and Gail that it was only a theory.
'Tell me,' Gail asked.
'Yeah, Steve, tell us,' echoed Beth. Oh, drat, I thought.
Ever the bold one, I commenced.
To me, at its root, our brain is a pattern searcher alive and awake 24/7. It takes in everything we see, feel, smell, taste, and hear then compares it to everything we know, we remember, we experienced, we learned. It constantly compares each new sense(ation) to all of these inner things searching what needs focusing on and disregarding what is unnecessary. Somewhere in our brain is a thing I compare to a TV camera doing the searching and another thing that must determine the necessary to plot how our organism is to survive. Crucial to this act is lithium a natural occurring element that most of us absorb from our food or water. It might be part of filtering out the unnecessary. Poor pretty Gail, like many other of our patients, cannot do that.
'It's not your fault, Gail,' I said. 'Just like some of us can't metabolize iron or vitamin C, your body can't metabolize lithium. You need to take a supplement.'
I caught relief in the face of Nurse Beth from the corner of my eye.
'Okay, Steve. You had me worried but that's good. I like that,' Beth said. Gail looked like she bought it also.
However, Gail had refused her lithium that day. Her cute green eyes glinted with mischief – not malice, just mischief. Her mouth came open and she leaned over to bite down on a considerable slab of my shoulder.
Oh, Steve, Oh Steve, Oh Steve, went Beth. Arrrrrggggggh, went me. I'll call a code, went the other nurse responding to the noise. The 'Code Green' sounded through the halls outside the locked door. Code Green means anyone on the Code Green team not otherwise occupied come a running! It draws staff like a magnet team members or not. As if ghosts coming out of the walls, nurses began to appear around me. Hands took hold of Gail's arms, her head. Gail's eyes just grinned at me as if we shared the joke.
'Gail, let me go,' I growled as gently and quietly as I could.
As you are supposed to do when a human bulldog had a hold of you, I leaned into her face. It was like leaning into the fog. The whole bunch of us swayed to my right. I straightened up. They straightened up. I leaned. They faded like the fog. We straightened.
'All right,' I hissed from clenched teeth. Gail's eyes grinned. 'All right, let's all just stop. What I need you to do when I lean into her is to press back into my shoulder.'
I could not believe I had to stand there in that bear trap and do a training session about bite release. Weren't we all trained to do that?
'I'm trying to press down on her jaw to force her mouth open so I can roll out of it. You need to help me. Please help me?'
It was as easy as pie. I think even Gail helped. I just rolled my shoulder loose. I spent the next three hours down at the hospital as an E.R. nurse scrubbed my shoulder with every antibiotic cleanser they had and shoving every known germ fighting concoction through a needle into my other shoulder. The nurses spent the next three weeks apologizing for not knowing what to do. I have a perfect impression of each and every one of Gail's teeth in my shoulder, first as purple bruises then as white scar tissue, to this day.
Every Man A King 4/14/13
We are kings now, kings (or queens) in our own home. We are that, in my opinion, because at the center of our throne room is a TV.
That wonderful and evil old Governor of Louisiana, Huey P. Long, promised he would make all the citizens of his state a king in their own homes. Having lived there most of my youth, I found that dream unrealized. That he might even try probably factored in his assassination. For the powerful, there can be few kings. For the powerful, required are many subjects.
However, for a king to stand he must be a gift giver. He must be the provider of spectacle. He must put a chicken in every pot. He must provide bread and circuses. He must do these things because he is the only one who can.
In that most modern form of feudalism, capitalism, we have bonded ourselves to our corporate emperor so that we the sub kings (queens) bring home the bread (read bacon). And, if it didn't come in with the boxes of bed linen, toasters, and toiletries, the day after bringing home the first check we made our way to Best Buy to bring home the spectacle – the TV.
From the earliest of days, most people, warrior, craftsman, and peasant, lived in a compound with a king, chief, or patriarch. In the night, when the work was done all the subjects came into the great hall to share the kings bread and watch the spectacle he provided. The subjects watched warriors brag. They watched bards sing and tell stories. They watched judgments of law and order. They watched jugglers, wrestlers, or mummers vie for gifts from the king. They watched the widowed hag or the shaman make magic or tell the future. They laughed and cried. They oohed and 'awed'. In short, they did all the things we do when we sit before the TV. We are our own king and subject. We now provide all these things to ourselves.
We were among the first in our small south Texas town to own a television. Philco or G.E, I forgot which. That wonder of wonders with the ten-inch screen, that marvelous towering outside antennae, and contorted, snowy, black and white picture. I think we got two stations both from San Antonio. On cloudy nights, we could get a third from Corpus Christie but it showed the same thing we got from San Antonio. The Life of Riley, The Show of Shows, You Bet Your Life. I loved them all. I liked Milton Berle but I had to sneak to watch it because my parents wouldn't let me. He sometimes wore a dress – horrors.
My dad got a promotion and moved us to Louisiana. As he became a kingly gift giver, I ended up with a TV in my own room. It was wonderful. The Honeymooners taught me about 'real life' in the big city. The Phil Silvers Show taught me about honesty. Leave It to Beaver taught me what real parents should be like. With Annette Funicello I got my first crush. My over the back fence neighbor bore the tiniest resemblance to her, shared my devotion because of that, and was my first girlfriend.
Dobie Gillis, Combat, Johnny Carson, Star Trek, as I grew so did my habits. I have a permanent if slight curvature of the spine for laying on my left side before that alter to spectacle.
When I was alone on my own literally derailed by shyness the TV was my friend and confidant.
When I married, my wife brought me Doctor Who and I brought her PBS. I began to hate (not really) my in laws when they came to visit. For I had to watch their favorite shows. Shows I would not otherwise watch. Like I needed another way to lose time I could never reclaim – NCIS, Law and Order, Boston Legal. The TV was what we did when we did not have the money to go out. It was and is the white noise in the background of my life.
For I am King and she is Queen as the TV brings spectacle into our fiefdom.
Infinity – Part One 4/7/13
They told me, when I was young, that you just can't picture or even think about 'infinity'. You can't picture forever. I first heard this is church when the preachers told me that if I wanted to live forever I had to be 'saved'. They next told me that on the schoolyard. I couldn't because my brain just wasn't big enough the stuck up kids said. Well, I was an arrogant son-of-a-bitch back then and to hell with that. I went straight home and contemplated the infinite forever. As I was warned, it was a queasy scary thing to do.
As we do if we are that arrogant, my first image was of me standing on some invisible solid thing staring forward into as black a blackness as I could picture. I did this knowing that if I looked back I would see another blackness equally dark. Further contemplation realized the same darkness to the right, to the left, below me, and above me. There would be no end to it but I tried to see to the end. Maybe I did. Either way I felt, in my arrogance, that I did a fairly good job of picturing infinity – picturing forever.
Later, as my philosophies grew, I knew that all the stuff of the universe had to be there too. That would include all of the stars of all of the galaxies of all of the universes that physics could imagine. So, I stuck that into the blackness. Then I learned about all of the mathematics of infinity and the infinity of the large and the infinity of the small. I tried to stick all of those in there also.
Did you know that infinities are equal and are equal in every way? That is what I learned about the 'infinite number of points'. A point in our three, or eleven, dimensional universe is so infinitely small that it takes up no 'space' at all. And, more strangely, there are an infinite number of points between zero inch and one inch that are exactly equal to the total number of points in the entire universe. And, if I add up all the infinite points of one inch with the infinite points in another inch the number you get is exactly the same, exactly equal to the infinite points in the first inch. That number is exactly equal to the infinite number of points on a line extending infinitely in both directions forever. Don't worry, it is just as mind numbing to me too. Infinities are equal to each other and equal to all of them together.
I've heard it said that the number of infinity is the biggest number there is plus one. I've also heard that infinity plus one is exactly equal to the infinity without the plus one. Mathematicians say that to protect their jobs, I think.
Working the math of infinity is much like working the math with zero. Zero plus zero equals zero. Zero times zero equals zero. Infinity plus infinity equals infinity. Infinity times infinity equals infinity. The two are opposites with similar properties mathematically. Anyway, opposites are equal I have learned.
I have come to believe that opposites are equal in my old age. The extreme political left is just as evil and dangerous as the extreme political right. Just ask an old person who lived in Germany in the 1930s as the right wing socialists of Hitler fought it out with the left wing socialists called Communists. The scorching of the sun is just as deadly to me as the chill of absolute zero. People die from good health just as much as people die from disease – none of us get out alive. So, the infinity of the infinite small is just as 'big' as the infinite large.
As there is no edge to the infinite there is not supposed to be an end to forever. This of course brings me to the contemplation of 'nothingness' a supposedly equally hard thing to contemplate much like that infinite darkness I tried at the first. Total absolute emptiness – can there be such a thing to be contemplated?
Well, there had to be something, me, in my contemplation of infinite forever. There also had to be that solid something I stood upon. The fundamental mistake I made was confusing nothing with emptiness. They are not the same it turns out. When there is 'nothing', there is not even 'nothingness'.
The best I can figure from my studies that, in my arrogance, I pursued in my efforts to prove the preachers, the schoolyard kids, and so many teachers wrong, is that fact that nothing and emptiness are not the same thing. Apparently, if one is a big bang believer or even a creationist, when the beginning point of stuff exploded in an orgy of physics or a creative godly idea not only did all the matter of the universe burst forth the very emptiness to contain it in came into being at the same instant. They teach that as the universe expands the space to contain it expands also. There was not even nothing, not even emptiness, before that act of creation.
A Zen master would shrug at my puny efforts as he contemplates a similar thing he calls 'the void'. Actually, in some counterintuitive work of nonworking, he abandons an act of perception for a non-act of some kind of passive perception of stillness and void. He would invite me to come to this place and reassure me. Fear not the still void, he might say, for it is not actually empty and all the Buddha's play there.
I am not amused. I am not satisfied. However, neither am I arrogant any longer. I grovel at the feet of understanding humble and contrite. My finite mind cannot truly grasp at the infinite.
The Ultimate Method
4 1 13
'My friend at school told me that it's only for old people,' she said looking at me with sorrowful innocent eyes.
I had no answer I could give her though I knew the answer. I was teaching her Tai Chi, or trying to. She was the sweetest of teenagers; over-developed physically, under-developed socially and carrying a soul load of baggage. The poor thing needed what I taught to learn focus and calmness, self-confidence and self-esteem, strength and coordination. Tai Chi gave me all of that and more. Unfortunately, the real answer to her statement is that my masters don't generally teach Tai Chi to young people because they lack both the discipline and capacity to learn it – the discipline and capacity that comes from maturity and brain development. Well, I wanted to give her what she could absorb – I wanted to plant a seed.
This year marks my twentieth year as a student of Tai Chi Chuan or Taijiquan. I've heard it called; the ultimate method, the grand ultimate method, the grand ultimate fist, Chinese yoga, Chinese ballet and a hundred other things. I came upon Tai Chi by accident or Tai Chi found me on purpose.
Eastern philosophy began to permeate the 'hippy' cultures most probably from the Beatles incursions into Indian meditation practices. Buddhism began to show up on bookstore shelves about then and I drifted into that seeking the calmness I did not find in 'peace, free love, and psychedelic drugs' as I 'tuned in, turned on, and dropped out'. Zazen, or zen sitting was what I practiced. When I mastered my breath work and finally shed breath counting for just sitting, finding the void came quickly enough. 'Love the void, loved the Middle Path, and I did not feel there was any further place that needed going to.
Then, one day, I stepped out of the middle way down in Mississippi and started showing off to myself. I tried to pick up a box of bricks. Sproing went the back. Three weeks of agony, muscle relaxers, and pain pills followed. For all my sixties experimentation, I really hate relaxers and pain pills. They make me feel awful. I dedicated myself to a life of walking bent over.
By the Tai Chi miracle, an add got placed in the newspaper. Out in the true Southern wilds of Mississippi an 'Acupressure' therapist set up shop. I knew just enough about Chinese medicine to give it a shot. The beautiful man went through some exercises I later learned was Qigong. Then he laid a thumb ever so lightly on a place in my backbone. I felt a wave of release shoot through my whole being. My life with back pain is to this day over. He said Tai Chi had benefits. I was sold.
The next Tai Chi miracle happened. There was a Tai Chi class at a local YMCA. The teacher was a retired Russian military woman from Belarus. She was built like an upside down pyramid and taught ballet at a local college. I've never seen her form since but it was a beginning.
When I moved to Texas, the beginning seemed to have ended. I drove down a street and saw a sign saying: Tai Chi Classes begin Oct. 1st. Hence the third Tai Chi miracle and my third teacher came. My teacher turned out to be a teacher of Brazilian Jujitsu that made extra money with his Tai Chi classes. From there I learned of Chinese Martial Arts 'coms' around the state. These reintroduced me to the Qigong aspects of the Art.
My teachers today are from Taiwan and have a 'Yang Style' lineage back many generations. Lineage is very important in Chinese martial arts but that is for another time.
Tai Chi properly conducted is a lifestyle or should be. It has many aspects. There is Yin/Yang theory of complimentary opposites as put forth in the 'I Ch'ing'. Add to that the Qigong (pronounced 'Chee gong') energy work found in Chinese medicine and Daoist meditation. Finally, include the slow motion kung fu we all know from the TV commercials and call Tai Chi.
I'm really a poor student and my practice is too often haphazard to make my masters happy. However, I do study and I do learn if slowly. As mastering Tai Chi is a journey not a destination that journey is a last and lasting miracle.
The highlight of all these years comes from the masters. They have a thing. After a warm up and some Qi breath exercises they make you stand in a 'horse stance' then raise your arms and hands in a curving position each arm at roughly a 45 0 angle from your sternum with hands just above shoulder level. They come and take hold of your hands. For a time, I thought they were adjusting the hands though they never seemed to change them much if at all. However, several times they let go and said; 'You have good Qi'. I've been told that by a Chinese martial arts Grand Master and a warrior trained in the Shaolin Temple on mainland China. I glowed and now believe I'm at least on the path.
I lost that innocent student to boys and college. Maybe I planted a seed. Maybe Tai Chi will find her in the future. Her life will be better. Mine is.
Nap 3 24 13
And mamma in her 'kerchief and I in my cap
Had just settled down for a long winter's nap.
-Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas
How I do appreciate my nap. Ask anyone that knows me. I love that nap. As grumpy as I am, without that blissful hour (or two) I am not good company. How about you?
I guarantee you I am not the first. The very word nap enters our language as the Old English 'hnappian' and its Chaucerian English 'nappen' where it refers to periods of sleep either long or short. A Middle English translation of Psalm 121 verse 4, 'Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep,' reads as 'Loo, ha shal not nappen ne slepen that kepeth ireal.'
The Romans felt the afternoon nap a necessity not a luxury. The siesta originates in Islamic Law and is found in the Koran. The Spanish word siesta comes from the Latin 'Hora Sexto', the sixth hour from dawn', the midday rest. For them it began as a time for farmers to rest during the hottest part of the day.
Today, air conditioning seems to make naps not needed. Even Spain makes less of it keeping more with northern Europe. This does not mean we do not need a short rest. This need – this biological need – for a short rest applies to all humans. Humans are mammals, like any cat, horse or dog. We are 'biphasic' and need more than one sleep time in each 24-hour period. Natural tiredness occurs about 8 hours after waking like it or not. All mammals nap. Only we among mammals struggle against it. Only we refuse this one break we can get to restore energy levels and productivity.
Many famous people nap.
As a good Texan, my favorite napper is Santa Anna rumored to be at siesta when Sam Houston attacked him at San Jacinto winning Texas independence. My least favorite, of course, is that poor Texan sentinel napping when Santa Anna stormed the Alamo.
The energetic Napoleon Bonaparte could fall asleep at the drop of a hat even before a battle and during artillery barrages.
Stonewall Jackson, like Napoleon, napped by fences, under trees or porches, and while his troops fought McClellan. A Dr. Hunter McGuire says on many long night marches he held Jackson's coattail to keep him on his horse as he napped.
Artist Salvador Dali took one second naps he called 'slumber with a key'. He'd sit in a chair, placed an overturned plate on the floor between his feet, and pressed a key between thumb and forefinger. The moment he slept the key dropped and hit the plate. He awoke 'revived'. Einstein and other inventors and thinkers claim similar napping strategies. The war hero Audie Murphy kept himself from dropping off on guard duty holding a pistol that would drop on his foot waking him in his foxhole.
Winston Churchill's nap was 'non-negotiable'. As a self-professed night owl, Churchill believed naps doubled his productivity. He even kept a bed in the Houses of Parliament.
Ronald Reagan, John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and Bill Clinton all napped in the Whitehouse. John D. Rockefeller napped in his office. Gene Autry napped in his dressing room. TV personality Jenny McCarthy napped. Erin Murphy, 'Bewitched' daughter Tabitha, napped on set. Antonia Will, PhD. Head of Chronobiology napped between appearances on Rosie, Oprah, Letterman and Late Night with Conan O'Brien all on the same day.
Besides keeping me a married man and generally making me better company, the greatest benefit of napping is breaking up a huge bout of writer's block, which is why this piece is getting on my blog.
No day is so bad that it can't be fixed by a nap."
― Carrie Snow
When you can't figure out what to do, it's time for a nap.
― Mason Cooley
Inspiration 3 11 13
Being world-weary and feeling all dried up I went looking for a reboot – for some inspiration. Yeats is good for that. He, to me, is among the writers' poets and carries the spark of what the Celts term 'awen', the gift of the 'breeze' causing poetry to flow from their mouths. This 'breeze' or breath is given from the gods. So, Yeats is a good place to start when looking for that breeze – to have prose flow on to the paper.
He first tells me: 'The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.'
I believe him and wait with the world for those magic things. Recently, my characters whispered that magic in my ears when my senses rang dull by doctors, bankers, and life's grudging business. Sometimes, however, a good movie, a good book, or a dropped comment can do it. Oak trees, sunsets, and thunderstorms do it too.
Breathe in this universal breath and see the magic things.
After that, we can do two things:
'Let us go forth, the tellers of tales, and seize whatever prey the heart long for, and have no fear. Everything exists, everything is true, and the earth is only a little dust under our feet.'
And, make 'the world to be a grassy road before her wandering feet.'
It sounds, of course, deceptively simple. Just seize the story fearlessly and make a world for our characters to tread. The characters, created real enough, should then tell their stories to us. We then dutifully data process the story (they used to say 'transcribe') onto paper or onto computer screen. There is a bit more work involved, I fear.
Yeats has one more point to consider as we work. It is probably the most salient point to me, and the hardest to practice:
'Think like a wise man but communicate in the language of the people.'
All the things we learned about language, sentence structure, and logical argument, and organization come into play here. Keep it simple. Don't use a big word when a simple one will do. Use topic sentences. Don't ramble. When you find something you wrote is grand – strike it out. If it doesn't further the story – strike it out. And, my favorite, there is no such thing as writing there is only rewriting.
I take one final thought in my journey toward inspiration as I near my birthday of advanced years:
'but one loses, as one grows older, something of the lightness of one's dreams; one begins to take life up in both hands, and to care more for the fruit than the flower, and that is no great loss perhaps.'
Let us, as writers, look to the fruit and not always the flower of what we write.
Boomer 3 5 13
My goodness, will you look at the hour? Actually, look at the decade right after looking at my birth certificate. I am a 'Boomer'. I am a product of soldiers coming home from war eager to begin lives. Time, it seems, marched me, and my peers, right into our sixth decade. Our sixth! We are in the middle of dealing with all the business of reaching that sixth decade.
Tom Brokaw, in his amazing book, The Greatest Generation, defined that generation: 'it is, I believe, the greatest generation any society has ever produced because they fought not for recognition, but because it was the right thing to do then they built America into a superpower'. They also built the largest population 'boom' in the history of the world. That's us. Beginning almost exactly nine months after war's end and lasting until 1964, historian Landon Jones said: 'the cry of the baby was heard across the land'. My Dad returned from occupying Eastern Europe in 1946, married in 1947, and nine months and three days later, I was born. By the time it was over, 76.4 million 'baby boomers' graced the face of the nation. We lived, we loved, we rebelled, and then many of us settled down to make our own families. After that, we aged. The passing of generations is a business of the sixth generation.
In our faces and mirrors, the houses and trailers of my friends and family, our banks, our graveyards, even along the sides of our roads, are the signs of this aging. There are signs of change – the only constant in the universe that I see. The signs of change are a business of the sixth decade.
I see a reflection in the mirror. What happened to that baby-faced child? No nips/tucks but I know those that have some. And, God, what is that thing jiggling under my chin? Everyone I know is getting some snow up there. I feel blessed that I still have just enough hair there to hold it. Still, there is less and less. Changes in that reflection are a business of the sixth decade.
That mirror sits on the wall of a tolerably nice house. A certain amount of affluence came with our efforts over the years. My poorest friend manages to live with his sister. My next poorest friend owns his own trailer. We all have lots of toys. The toys reflect the benefits of modern technology. It is not the technology of our parents, the Greatest Generation; it is the technology of the Boomers. Rip Stop nylon, DVDs, video games... Toys are a business of this sixth decade.
That mirror reflects my aging. That reflection causes me to reflect. The 'GreatestGeneration' is passing. All of my friends have lost one or both their parents. My mom lies in a sparse lonely graveyard that would remind you of one in a Clint Eastwood western. My cousins buried their father years ago. I have one friend whose mother's ashes sit in a spare bedroom waiting for the day she has time to go where she wants to scatter them. My poorest friend lost both parents and still fights with his sister over the dregs of the small estate. I've lost friends in Vietnam. I've lost friends to the drugs of the sixties. I've lost a friend to the drug war – the police cutting loose after the fool robbed a drug store. Death is a business of the sixth decade.
Medicare reaches out for us. Society ponders taking care of us in our twilight years. The right decries our worth. The left exalts it. Radio stations and commercials play our music. The medical industry sucks away at our discretionary income. We sit around reminiscing and giggling over our 'glory days' as the calendar turns its pages. And still, who is that guy in the mirror dealing with the business of the sixth decade?
Cure 3 1 13
"The cowards never started and the weak died on the way."
Men and women had to be tough to survive on the American Frontier. Not only did they contend with the elements and the bad guys they fought disease. They fought disease any way they could, often in very creative ways.
William Burns Malone, civil war veteran, farmer, and itinerate sheepherder gave his Small Pox and Scarlet Fever cure in the late 1800's. He generously shared his cure. Anything to help for death came easily to the frontier.
From 'DOCTORS, HEALERS, and HEALTH'
The State of Medicine in the Old West:
...reported causes of death included consumption, freezing, fever, pneumonia (these were the four commonest), croup, dropsy, acute diarrhea, cancer, diphtheria, gunshot wounds, cholera, lung fever, bronchitis, fits (the 10 next commonest), suicide by drowning or poisoning, drowning in a well, dysentery, congestion of the brain, spasms, erysipelas, bilious colic, apoplexy, inflammation of the liver, and knife wounds. Ten years later the list was topped by diphtheria and consumption, besides "struck by lightning," St. Vitus' dance, teething(!), "kicked by a horse," gravel, worms, inanition, alcoholism, "struck by a falling body," calculus (presumably not the mathematical kind), scalding, asthma, "gored," sunstroke, hanging (whether official, accidental, or suicidal is unspecified), heart disease, suicide by hanging, endocesditis, "killed by Indians," and "shot while sparking another man's wife."
William, called 'Burns', contributed his dose to an unnamed California newspaper:
"A SMALLPOX CURE"
By W. B. Malone
To the News: I send the following recipe from a California correspondent, which is said to cure for the dreaded contagion, smallpox: 'I herewith append a recipe which has been used to my knowledge in hundreds of cases of smallpox. It will prevent or cure, through the pittings or filling.' When Jenner discovered the cow pox in England the world of science overwhelmed him with fame but when the scientific school of medicine in the world, that of Paris, published this recipe, it passed unheeded. It is as unfailing as fate, and conquers in every instance. It will also cure scarlet fever.
Here is the recipe as I have used it to cure smallpox:
1 gram Sulfate of Zinc
1 gram Digitalis
1/2 teaspoon Sugar
Dissolve in a wine glass of soft water or water which has
been boiled and cooled. Take a teaspoon full every hour.
Either smallpox or scarlet fever will disappear in twelve
hours. For children, the dose must be diminished according
to age. If Countries would compel their Physicians to use
this treatment there would be no need of pesthouses. If you
value your lifer use this recipe."
I'm sorry no date appears on this recipe. I would guess the late 1800's. Smallpox was a deadly disease when it hit the new world. Not only did it kill many whites but it decimated Indian tribes. Burns would appreciate that, in 1994, smallpox has been eradicated from the earth.
(Burn's cure is found in a family history written by his grandson, Ira E. Malone, Jr.)
Strong Women 2/25/13
Strong women play a large part in my historical fiction. I am lucky to have supreme role models in my ancestors and in the women that share my world. They are giants of will and perseverance. They guide me as I create my fiction's characters.
My great-great-great-great grandmother, Rhoda, became a widow in 1815. Her war veteran husband's will, coin and goods, added up to $7. Four young children lived in her cabin. The 1820 US census listed her as a head-of-household. Few women found themselves on that list. When the Choctaw left their 'treaty' land in 1820, Rhoda packed up those children and left for what became Copia County, Mississippi. Again, the Copia County tax rolls listed her as head-of-household, just as rare there. Together they carved out a home in that forested wilderness.
Her son, Ike, married Pretia in Mississippi but by around 1845 they immigrated to the Republic of Texas. By the time of the Civil War, she lived on the edge of settled areas of America. On this frontier, Pretia birthed and raised 11 children. She endured all the travails of frontier life that women lived and survived. She helped found towns, turns a republic into a state, holds on through Reconstruction, resists the depredations of Indians and outlaws, and keeps house under the harshest of conditions.
My wife is also a pioneer. Becoming an adult in the early '70's, she broke a number of glass ceilings, did what was then (and now for that matter) a man's job in a man's world, all while managing her two boy children – me and my son – and being an all-around great human being.
The list is not yet complete. There are all the mom's, dentists, business owners, teachers, writers, nurses, doctors, and others to many to list. They enrich my world and my art.
All of these influence my character creating. In spirit or in truth, they lean over my shoulder as I write correcting me, guiding me, giving me 'real' female characters.
Caution 2 20 13
Caution – Salesman at work.
I tease my wife, the consummate salesperson, with 'Honey, there has been a salesman at work' sometimes. We are watching the tube with some story about some new technology twist on a cell phone app, a new wrinkle remover bean promises us eternal youth, or some ridiculous law tries to placate us because no one enforces one already on the books. Some suit somewhere pitched something to somebody needing cash or power. Now canned copy broadcasts itself into my living room just waiting for me to buy into it. More to need, more to want, more to purchase.
It's marketing. I try not to hate it or listen to it even as I now type on my laptop with its wireless mouse, the flash drive plugged in, the TV on, the cell phone ringing.
However, I am a marketer. I thought I was a writer. I'm not. I'm a marketer. Marketing is using up precious hours of my life that I cannot ever get back.
One thing about marketing, if you are a writer and marketing your own stuff, is that it is all I, I, I, me, me, me (much like this blog post). So, I joined my sixth online writers group today. Six. I go there to pimp my book. Oh, I show interest in the books of others (an easy thing to do – for the most part they are good reads), I discuss interesting topics, I try to drop some good advice to other newbies. I review. But, it's all about pimping in the end. Pimping. Pimping. Pimping.
We are not alone, us writers. There are bunches of us out there. We far outnumber the readers, our potential customers, it seems. The zombies have eaten what readers have not been bombed away by the terrorists. If there are any readers left, they now line up for food at the free kitchen without a dime between them.
However, I must soldier on. Books, no matter how good, do not sell themselves. Caution – there be salesmen here!
New Addictions 2 10 13
'Just been surfing. Now days, it's not at the beach in the sun. I surf in a chair in front of a glowing screen. Fascinating stuff. Google, Goodreads, Face Book, Kindle Boards, Bing, the list can be endless. I research and I communicate. I get attention.
The world is so full of great ideas and great work. The 'internets' is a wonderful gift. Name a subject, an interest. Someone is studies it plumbing the depths, unearthing the secrets. It's been awhile since I've done that kind of work. For me, that research has been in education and mental health. Well, some local history studies in college. I never got the opportunity for archeology. I never had the math skills for physics or cosmology. No real regrets, it gave me lots of good reading to do.
I never really knew what a conversationalist and a gossip I am. (My wife and friends will tell you different.) I perceive myself as shy and sitting quickly in the corner as the world passes by. That is no longer true. I go places on line. I say things on line. And, gosh darn it, people go there too and they say things back. Ideas get bandied about. Opinions get shared. All of that can keep me up late.
Getting attention, that's the worst. That's what is addictive. I speak (write) and people respond. They speak back. It's amazing. It's a treat. What amazing minds all of you have? I am still awed that folks read my posts and the posts spark thought and prompts people to share. Y'all do that for me, also. I am grateful.
It really is terrible. I have to stop myself from feeling neglected on the days when my analytics show a drop in hits. There is too much to do in this world these days. And, the center of that world is not me.
Uh ooh, I feel the draw of the glowing screen. Gotta go check. Who's come to visit? Who wrote?
Blood Work 2 1 13
Growing old can be hell. This will not be one of the more happy blog entries.
I spent the day, again today, with a needle up my arm, watching tubes of empty vacuum filling with dark liquid life's blood. My life's blood, thank you. Seven tubes, today. Seven. This is the third time in 10 days. I am lightheaded from it all.
With my parents illness, my mom's passing, my dad's waning, and this preposterous universal gift of growing old, I have wasted much of allotted life for these last 2 years waiting in waiting rooms. Way too much. Could I never see another waiting room?
You know waiting rooms. They run the gamut yet are all the same. One of mine pretends to comfort with chairs actually padded and a sagging fake leather cover couch, another a pristine sterility of black and silver and echoing quiet, another better suited for arrested criminals awaiting the gestapo and filled with downtrodden half-insured sick people. You are ignored at your seat with a clipboard in your lap others, ill, have handled and with questions whose answers are only known by doctors or lawyers. And, damn, the pen does not work.
The nurses also run the gamut and yet are all the same. Some are friendly. Some are stony. Some nurse you. Some nurse computers, files, and folders. You can never guess which is which for they all wear the same color scrubs.
I am lucky with my doctors. My parents – well not all of the time. The doctors range, tall/short, long/round, white/brown/yellow/black. Their one commonality is that you can guarantee each will have a list of tests and don't care that the same test was given just last week by the previous doctor. Different week, different results. My mom had tests and tests. My dad had tests and tests. My wife had tests and tests. My son had tests and tests. I had tests and tests. The tests come in waves like the deaths of famous people. I cannot wait until we can spend a few months more or less healthy.
It doesn't really matter. I can hate it all I want. I doesn't matter. In the end, none of us get out alive.
Ghosts 1 17 13
Ghosts came to visit me recently – in a strange way. Within two days, I received a newspaper's ghost story and reviewed a novel that was a ghost story. Both dealt with tragedies of justice or war. Both happened as the 19th century turned into the 20th. Both, if closely inspected, grew from the residual horrors of the American civil war. Both echoed out of our architecture. Coincidences enough to get me thinking about the lives of the dead.
The first tells the story of frontier justice meted out to men whose restless souls haunt the building where they were shot down in the night after committing robbery in the west made wild by Reconstruction. That story is posted in the 'Articles' section of this site. The second tells the story of the restless souls of soldiers that haunt the crystal edifice built near the death fields of the battle of South Mountain. My book review of that story is posted in an earlier blog of this site.
I'm not sure what I think about the dead. Is anyone? We have our philosophies and our religious doctrines for our dead. We have places for our dead. The Romans saw their dead in a dim and bitter place underground – an unhappy place. The Vikings have their Valhalla – a place of brawling, feasting, and wenches. Some Chinese burn ghost money so their ancestors can buy things in a place not so different from the land of the living. If I interpret correctly, some Buddhists fell the dead rejoin the universe and vibrate through eternity in a resonant hum. My good Baptist preachers seem kind of split. Sometimes the dead rot in their graves until the resurrection. Sometimes they translate immediately to a place where they sit in awe of the bright shimmer of God. My Mom, dead these many months, saw this heaven as a place of a great choir where she sings this day as she selects wonderful grandchildren souls to give to my son and nephew. Then there are those that, like the two stories, fell the dead hang around to torment the living and wait the finishing of unfinished business.
I remain skeptical. I too am split. I have never seen a ghost but I've lived in a house with a poltergeist. The house resembled something in a Laurel and Hardy movie so I guess it was built in early decades of the 1900's – all flaking paint and gingerbread work. Cabinet doors and kitchen drawers would open and close by themselves. Silverware would be thrown across the room though no one was in the kitchen. Some entity no one could see could be heard pacing from one end of the house to the other. Once I brought a date home. As I took her coat, something made us turn to the bedroom door. As we looked, the doorknob turned a quarter turn, the door opened part way, paused a couple of seconds, the closed itself. Save for the two of us, the house was empty. However, I never felt enmity from the place. I felt that I merely shared the house with something.
I think, after pondering, that we all have it wrong. I give that there is more under heaven than is found in our philosophy. But, I feel that we have misinterpreted. We have committed the mistake of Anthropomorphism. We have given the phenomena a human twist the same way we have turned God into the bearded old man painted on the ceiling of the Chapel. Our heaven and hell look like earth. Our apparitions become people we love or fear.
Whoever God is I do not think he looks like me. Whatever heaven and hell may be I do not think it is earthlike. Whoever the ghosts are I think that we are condemned to evolve them into us.
Still, they came to visit me recently.
Books End? 1 22 13
Do you think we are seeing the last days of the book? Many do. The world of the future, it is said, has only place for the ebook.
If true, I will lament that passing. I love the feel – the heft – of a real book. A book feels good in my hand. It feels good draped across my lap. I like to turn the page with my fingers. I like to flip through the pages with my thumb. I like the look of them stacked on my well-burdened bookshelves. I would miss these things.
No so with the ereader. They are plastic things that I fear to drop. They shatter. Their insides can be scrambled, dark, and dead though their carcass looks perfect. Now, I hate to drop paper books. That ruins the corners or creases the covers. However, I don't fear that. I know what you say – think of all those dead pine trees. Pine trees quilt the East Texas highways around here. I don't fear that. Do you fear the mountainous dumps filled with plastic, heavy metals, and dead batteries?
You hypocrite, you say. I saw your ebook on amazon, you say. Well, you did see it there. Wait. My dead pine tree real book is coming. It arrives soon.
I'd love to read your thoughts. Do you like your Kindle or Nook? Do you like your real book? There's a 'Comment' page here somewhere.
Let me hear from you.