To Reach The Green Light At The End Of The Pier
Monday, March 31, 2008
by Cher Bibler
Your ghost stayed behind with me when you left;
slowly she learned to love me as
you never did.
She tells me you were insincere
and I should forget you;
she should know.
But I keep hoping you'll go
past and see me sitting here with
a shadow that looks like you.
If your ghost can learn to love me,
why can't you?
from the novel About Irene, by Cher Bibler,
used with permission from the author
Up before the dawn, back inside The Little Room.
That green glowing light is strong, above and in front of me.
It's dark everywhere else.
A thought for the day:
H.P. Lovecraft: "The most merciless thing in the world ... is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents."
Lovecraft undoubtedly intended this in a different way, but I'll take his words as meaning we've only just begun to explore the inner self. (I dare you to start singing a Carpenter's tune right now. "We've only just begun ...." Okay, take up the dare, let it inside your consciousness.)
I tip my proverbial hat to art, and to all of its possibilities, and I also tip the hat to all of those who read this and are creating something, however large or small, on this last day in March of 2008.
An addendum. Doesn't have to be "art" (in quotes).
Creating "something" (quotemarks intended).
That's a start.
Tell me what you're creating.
Start a dialogue.
I know you're there, so why not speak? (says Eleanor).
"Eleanor was revealing herself to herself, and this she did know, could know, could feel. She wrote down what she was really saying to herself, which was, Don’t deprive me of hope. It’s all I have." -- Geoff
Sunday, March 30, 2008
Zelda Fitzgerald: "Nobody has ever measured, not even poets, how much the heart can hold."
Add to Zelda's words, from today's Writer's Almanac, noting the birthday of Irish writer Sean O'Casey, and quoting his remark: "All the world's a stage, and most of us are desperately unrehearsed."
To my good friend, your guardian angels are with you. And the muses will help to bring what is inside your heart to a new fruition ... in your art, and in your life.
The best way we can overcome the pain we sometimes experience is to transform it into beauty. This beauty, in whatever form, we can keep for ourselves, or give it away, for all the world to see -- for that rest of the world that is indeed so "desperately unrehearsed."
Saturday, March 29, 2008
Sleep deprivation, and the words become blurred, but somehow form themselves into sentences. We'll sleep for a while, and then see what those sentences have created.
"Cada Cabeza Es Un Mundo," my friends.
Friday, March 28, 2008
I have Eleanor on my side, and she's a strong character, as many of you know already.
Now I need to channel her strength. -- Geoff
"All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath."
-F. Scott Fitzgerald,
from an undated letter to his daughter Scottie.
Travel through this art, put sunglasses on, shade this writing while smoking cigarettes,
Put the top down, the ride from the beach is a long one; it’s going to be hot
This scroll is on a roll, this scroll is on a roll, I’m on the road,
I’m back on track with Jack Kerouac.
Deserted, the only house left standing, coming like a carpetbagger with cardboard suitcases, pennies in my pocket, destiny on my mind, a quest, a glass bottom boat, searching like a monk, struggling to dictate the truth, illuminated by light and gold leaf, travel through this art, this scroll is on a roll, this scroll is on a roll, I’m on the road,
I’m back on track with Jack Kerouac.
Letting go of art once admired, treasures are lost at sea, those Spanish doubloons that were found, throw them back, bury them, beneath pirate-raided Caribbean, mosquitoes carrying malaria, there is no bridge to build, travel through this art, this scroll is on a roll, this scroll is on a roll, this scroll is on a roll, I’m on the road,
I’m back on track with Jack Kerouac.
No more coral reefs, pirate thieves, sunken turtle eggs buried beneath sand, no more crabs crawling on my skin, travel through this art, this scroll is on a roll, this scroll is on a roll. I’m on the road and I’m back on track with Jack Kerouac.
All I have is my heart and my hand, to write, the truth, my reality. It becomes clear as blue-green aquamarine, flowing, between Jamaican coasts and Bahamian suns, bubble gum pink flamingoes still walk through my imagination because this scroll is on a roll, this scroll is on a roll. I’m bold and back with Jack Kerouac.
Freeing me of church bells, walls, vesper, novena thoughts, and rosary beads wrapped around my crucified neck from Bible belts, sugar belts, and sun belts, the belt wrapped around my grandfather’s waist. I can still feel the beat, the beat, the beat, because this scroll is on a roll, this scroll is on a roll. I’m on the road,
I’m back on track with Jack Kerouac.
Robert Gibbons is a poet, teacher, and orator from Palm Beach County, Florida. He is a writer living in New York City. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thursday, March 27, 2008
Now the inaccessible is again within eye's reach.
All things are possible, as long as you can see that green light -- that beacon of hope that leads to all of the things you thought you'd lost, to all of the love you thought was forgotten, to all of the ideas and ideals that you pin your future on ... to the spot in your head where the two most creative brain cells meet and explode like a fireworks show into a rainbowed frenzy of new beginnings with every last bit of your "self" intact -- only better. -- Geoff
"If it wasn't for the mist we could see your home across the bay... You always have a green light that burns all night at the end of your dock."- F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby, Chapter 5
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
But as I opened my copy of "The Writer's Almanac" for the morning, I see there are some momentous happenings this day.
1. In 1920, F. Scott Fitzgerald published his first novel, This Side of Paradise, which took its title from a Rupert Brooke poem (excerpted at the left side of this column), and which this thog borrows from both Fitzgerald and Brooke.
2. It's Robert Frost's birthday (1874). We've already written lots about Robert Frost in a previous thog posting, and will again in future postings, I'm sure, so, "Happy Birthday, Robert Frost!"
3. Tennessee Williams was born on this day in 1911.
New Orleans has a spectacular Tennessee Williams festival each year. In 1999 (I think it was 1999), Kim Hunter, one of the original cast members of the Broadway show, "A Streetcar Named Desire," was a special guest. She reprised her role for the film version, as did most of the cast, including Marlon Brando, and won an Academy Award for her work.
During the festival, Kim Hunter stood on a balcony, playing Stella one last time, and anybody could enter a contest to scream up Brando's famous line, or word-that-he-turned-into-a-line: "Stel-la!"
I got up enough nerve to enter, and like every other person in the competition, I dropped to my knees when my number came up, and I opened my arms, and I did my best "Stella" scream. I lost, but that doesn't matter so much. I got to meet Kim Hunter later, and she was so incredibly sweet, and telling stories about the Broadway production of "Streetcar" in particular, about when Brando used to sleep on the stage after rehearsals, staying in character the way that only Brando could do. (Or else he really needed a nap -- we might never know for sure.)
If I should scream today, I'll try to scream my even-better "Stella" in Kim Hunter's memory, and Tennessee Williams' too. My tooth should help that effort to no small effect.
Scott Fitzgerald, Robert Frost, Tennessee Williams: let's do lunch. Actually, I'll sit in the corner, with Stella, or rather, Kim Hunter, and we'll tell stories of grand adventures we've had because of your inspiration.
Save some Anbesol (maximum strength) for me, though. I might need it.
Kim Hunter: "I think it's because it was an emotional story, and emotions come through much stronger in black and white. Color is distracting in a way, it pleases the eye but it doesn't necessarily reach the heart."
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
-- April 20, 2007, Birthday Eve, before April 21.
"I wonder if he still remembers what he wrote last year," Eleanor says.
"Somebody should remind him, and it might as well be me."
"I prayed for this: a modest swatch of land
where I could garden, an ever-flowing spring
close by, and a small patch of woods above
the house. The gods gave all I asked and more.
I pray for nothing more, but that these blessings
last my life's full term."
"Write about what you're afraid of."
a novel by Geoff Schutt
There was a scene from one of the last times the three of them were together. Her father and her mother and their little girl, Eleanor. The "Tonight Show" was on. One of the girls from "Little House on the Prairie," Melissa Gilbert, all grown up and starring in a made-for-television movie, was telling Jay Leno about her years as Michael Landon's daughter.
Eleanor, on her stomach in front of the TV, her elbows bent so her chin could rest on her upturned palms, turned to look at her father. "How old was Melissa Gilbert when she became a big star?" she asked.
Her father, Jay Spain, shrugged his shoulders.
"I'm being passed over," Eleanor said, sounding very old. "All of the good parts have been taken."
"No they haven't," Jay said. "If you want to be an actress, you'll have plenty of chances for good parts."
But now Eleanor was sitting up. "I'm already an actress," she said. "And I'm already a failure!"
"No, you aren't," Jay said.
"We're all failures!" Eleanor said. "We all are!"
Nina Spain was standing beside the door to the kitchen. She held open her arms for Eleanor but Eleanor ignored her and began to run around the room screaming "Failures! Failures!"
Nina came over the couch and kicked Jay in the leg. "See what you started?" Nina said.
And Eleanor was in the corner, curling up into a tiny ball, her arms wrapped around her legs. "I'll never be a star," she was crying. "I'll never be famous."
Nina, her mother Nina Spain who wasn't a big hot-shot Hollywood TV star, went to her. Nina, her mother, was consoling her. "There's only one Melissa Gilbert," Nina said softly. "And there's only one Eleanor Spain."
a novel by Geoff Schutt
During the twelve to one rush at the Mr. Sirloin, Jay Spain worked the front line. He was a cook. He served up sandwiches and salads. He prepared each plate as a piece of art. He arranged the garnish into funny animal shapes. He was best with the giraffe. He formed the romaine lettuce and parsley into a body and long neck, put a strawberry on top for the head, used a paring knife to make tiny eyes into the fruit.
He pushed the plate onto the pass shelf and made small talk with the waitresses. "Only found in the wild," he said.
He carved a chunk of melon. Personally prepared by #10. The assistant manager came into the kitchen a few minutes later holding the slice of melon with his bare hands. The assistant manager demanded to know who #10 was.
Monday, March 24, 2008
Francis Bacon (1928 - 1992)
Sunday, March 23, 2008
While I figure this out, and find Eleanor's true voice among the commotion, please check out some of the new items in the left-side column.
I've also added an older story, "The Rest of Henry," at the very bottom on the left, while I argue and negotiate and listen to the my muses.
My mood, to be honest, is swinging like a pendulum, but this should be good for the words. The novel is a universe expanding before my eyes, and I need to pick out the stars I like the best, and the planets and moons that hold stable orbits for landing, and the composition of the "better than good." We can accept nothing less.
"I can see the mania, and it is good," Eleanor tells me. I believe it is indeed Eleanor saying these words, so I listen.
I won't be afraid any longer.
Once more, I release myself from fear.
Positive energy and vibes your way,
Have I made them proud, or have I disappointed them?
What emotions do angels possess?
I would guess that if not emotion, understanding.
And if emotion, love and understanding.
So, speaking to my angels, I will try to be "better than good."
And quoting Tiny Tim: "God Bless Us, Everyone!"
Friday, March 21, 2008
When William Faulkner won the Nobel Prize for Literature, he gave a stirring and inspiring speech. What is extraordinary is that he supposedly hated giving speeches. Well, this one is a gem. This speech is available in various recordings -- and it's amazing to hear his voice, delivering the powerful words.
As we now approach Easter Weekend, and the Full Moon shining down from high above, and in this time of rebirth, it's incredible to me that Faulkner's words hold up as well today as they did when he delivered them in 1950.
Even if you know the speech already, it's always good to revisit, and to be reminded of "why we create," and what is most important to remember when we do create.
And now, introducing Mr. William Faulkner:
"I feel that this award was not made to me as a man, but to my work - a life's work in the agony and sweat of the human spirit, not for glory and least of all for profit, but to create out of the materials of the human spirit something which did not exist before. So this award is only mine in trust. It will not be difficult to find a dedication for the money part of it commensurate with the purpose and significance of its origin. But I would like to do the same with the acclaim too, by using this moment as a pinnacle from which I might be listened to by the young men and women already dedicated to the same anguish and travail, among whom is already that one who will some day stand here where I am standing.
"Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only the question: When will I be blown up? Because of this, the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.
"He must learn them again. He must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid; and, teaching himself that, forget it forever, leaving no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, the old universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed - love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice. Until he does so, he labors under a curse. He writes not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, of victories without hope and, worst of all, without pity or compassion. His griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no scars. He writes not of the heart but of the glands.
"Until he relearns these things, he will write as though he stood among and watched the end of man. I decline to accept the end of man. It is easy enough to say that man is immortal simply because he will endure: that when the last dingdong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking. I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet's, the writer's, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet's voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail."
And at this very moment, we must all retire to our respective Little Rooms and write our words, or paint our paintings, or compose our songs.
Now is the time -- to "endure and prevail."
Thursday, March 20, 2008
Everything we see or do is part of the creative process. And even if we're not creating, these same things affect us. Call it "life process," if you want.
There are two stories in the news that have been nagging me. And I'm sure these will show up in my fiction somehow, someday -- when the characters speak, and in how many layers, I never know.
The first story is a sweet one, in my opinion. A man is selling his life on eBay. Why do I call this a "sweet" story? Because this man is giving himself a second chance at life, and he's in full charge of his destiny.
You may have heard about the story already. The man's marriage broke up, and after trying to live without his wife in his home -- well, everything about his "old" life reminds him of her and his heartbreak. So, the winning bidder gets his entire "old life," including a trial run at his job, his house, all of his belongings. In return, the man, who is from Perth, Australia, gets to move on to a new world of his choosing, with enough money in hand for a good start. He could change his name if he wanted to. There's nothing to tie him down.
How many people have ever wanted to simply let go of the past, and start again? Because of the heartbreak element, this makes the news. But I'm happy for the guy, because he's going after contentment, and he's not waiting around for the contentment or happiness to come to him. So, Bravo, for the courage to do so!
There's another story that's been bothering me, though. Haunting me, actually. Okay, get ready, because here I go on my soapbox.
First off, we often see and read stories in the news about murder, and other related, tragic events. But for those people who somehow slip away from us, who go "softly into that dark night," we choose to ignore them, or we have others decide that for us -- the people who would give us the news of the day.
As one news producer told me about a suicide story recently, "That's interesting, but we don't cover suicides. They're too common."
Now maybe the news is afraid of copycat suicides. But we show enough murders, that aren't we afraid of copycat violence? Or are we simply "uncomfortable" with the idea of suicide, and mental illness, or at the very least, somebody who is so despondent that taking one's life is the only option left. It's often said that the person who talks about suicide will never go through with it, while those who keep quiet about their despair -- well, we lose way too many of them.
From a writer's point of view, you can look at any number of suicides in literature, or in the arts at large, for that matter. Call it mental illness, or the madness associated with creativity, or whatever. When we speak of people like Van Gogh, this all receives a kind of romantic twist. We almost love him more because he was so "sick," and killed himself. His paintings seem to hold so much more resonance and feeling and impact.
And look at the rock star suicides.
Well, look at any high profile suicide, and it's sensational at the most, and forgotten at the least.
I asked the same news producer about this. What if the person was high profile enough, would you cover the news then? Of course the answer was "Yes."
We talk about Kurt Cobain. But we don't talk about people like Vicki Van Meter, or people who have even less of a public profile than Vicki Van Meter.
Your might remember the story of Vicki Van Meter from the early 1990s. She was just a little girl then, but she was already fulfilling big dreams. She piloted a plane across the United States when she was only 11 years old, and then, at age 12, she flew from the United States to Europe. She was a role model for young people who dreamed big, and didn't want to wait for age requirements to set in. They wanted to make it happen right now, and so they did.
On Sunday, March 16, 2008, Vicki Van Meter shot and killed herself. She was 26 years old. According to wire service reports, she was battling depression, but people within her family thought she was "dealing with it." Apparently not.
After one of her early ground-breaking flights, Vicki said, "If you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything."
At the time, she was thinking about becoming an astronaut.
But something happened along the way. By the time she killed herself, she wasn't in the public eye. She was just another person out there, another human being -- one of those people who has an "interesting story," but hey, we don't care enough to cover suicides. She wasn't famous anymore. Too bad.
Come on -- isn't every single last human being worth the effort? Especially those we might save, by telling the stories of others we were too late to save? It seems common sense to me, but I'm the artist type, and I do have my down days. Am I so much more sensitive to a story like Vicki Van Meter's than any so-called "normal, well-adjusted" person out there?
I ask too many questions to expect an easy answer.
An aside here. After nearly every school shooting or mass murder, we hear the media talk about the person who somehow didn't get the helped he or she needed. Wow, we should have seen this coming. We should have paid attention. We could have prevented this! (Self-righteous to say so after the fact, in my opinion.)
Put it another way -- we should have paid attention if the person kills other people. But, hey -- if the person "only" kills the "self," it's just not newsworthy. Too many of those suicides, and besides, the idea of suicide makes us squirm a bit. Keep it behind closed doors, in the shadows.
In life, Vicki Van Meter was a role model. In death, she was neglected, not a big enough name to make the news.
If we REALLY want to close the cracks that people fall into, why don't we start paying attention. Why don't we get the word out. No question marks here -- just periods. Why . Don't . We . Pay . Attention .
Kurt Cobain's music and story still sells, and it should. He was a great artist. But there are a whole lot of Vicki Van Meters in the world who just need someone's ear, and help. And we should, as a society, be ashamed that we don't want to listen. I mean, if we did want to hear about Vicki Van Meter and others like her, wouldn't the news actually be reporting -- the news, I wonder. And news of real significance, meaning, in a way that could help others.
Saving our own lives, actually.
I sure hope that Vicki has found her peace. And I also hope, especially being an artist with lots of ambition, that anybody who is hurting out there has somebody who will listen, before it's too late.
Be reminded of this, however. Sometimes it means listening to silence, and having the insight or intuition to make an effort to understand. Before it's too late.
by Cher Bibler
An old woman dances for
coins. The square is busy,
it's easter sunday and we are
at a booth on the street
eating sopas, watching little
crowds gather around her.
How few seem to give anything,
how small her take.
Tourists drift past and laugh,
she's a pretty funny sight, I know.
Where does she come from?
What brings her here?
Do they ask that?
The sun is relentless,
we are under a canopy,
safe haven of a sort,
money to pay for our food,
a house to go back to,
enough to feel guilty about.
She has a big radio
and wears work boots and short shots,
like a strange go-go dancer.
She's in front of a pharmacy,
the druggists watch and
nod their heads to the beat.
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
this seems like an ideal poem to revisit.
I tip my hat to Emily Dickinson,
from my Little Room -- Geoff
"Hope Is The Thing With Feathers"
included in Complete Poems (1924)
by Emily Dickinson
HOPE is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,
And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.
I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
-- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
"M" is a good friend of mine. She is my "silent champion," and I am hers. Every person should have at least one silent champion in life. Sure, we need the people who will root us on in full public cheer, but we also need that person who is behind the scenes, visible only to us, who is not related to us other than in friendship ... and who has agreed that through thick and thin, she or he will always be there for us.
"M" is that person for me. I am that person for "M."
About a year ago, "M" and I stumbled upon an amazing discovery. It's called "Yesday." Each and every Wednesday, instead of attempting to get over some hump or hurdle in the work week, there is a new alternative. We've kept this very important discovery a secret until now, and for very good reason. We wanted to be sure. We have conducted test after test to see if "Yesday" is an acceptable alternative to "Wednesday." And in fact, if you look at the word "Wednesday," you'll find all of the letters for "Yes."
Clearly, this is no coincidence.
So, after this year of putting "Yesday" to the test, we now bring it into the open, for all to share. (I am writing this on the Eve of "Yesday," and I'm already feeling the tug of something good.)
One day a week, we should push all negativity aside. And this is the theme of "Yesday" -- that instead of saying, "No," you and others -- in a collective consciousness, or in a quiet corner -- proclaim in loud voice or whisper, "Yes."
Yes -- we believe anything positive can happen.
Yes -- we believe in dreams, and that they are possible.
Yes -- we believe that the person down the hall from us or next door or across the street is smiling or laughing at this very moment.
Yes -- we believe in good cheer (which can include wine and cheese, or any other libation or variation thereof ... with or without alcohol, though as Ben Franklin said about beer, it proves that God loves us)
Yes -- we believe in a world of hope.
Yes -- we believe in each other, to the end.
"Yesday" is a new and extremely user-friendly holiday that does not disrupt life or work in any way. It simply means that we ignore the word "No."
This Wednesday, give it a try. Make it "Yesday." You'll find that you have increased energy levels. Your ability to create will go through the roof, so be sure to warn the muses that you'll be flying. Your smile will be infectious. Your laughter will bring joy to others, and as the Grinch found out, your heart may even grow a few sizes.
Too many people "work for the weekend." Why not settle back and enjoy the middle of the week. Say "Yes" to "Yesday." And remember, if you have anything except "Yes" to say or think, you should, in all politeness, say or think nothing at all.
To "M," my silent champion: a simple but heartfelt Thank You, for three-plus years (and counting) of friendship, and of knowing the possibilities of "Yes."
Thursday is the first day of Spring, and Friday, March 21, we have the Full Moon (officially full at 2:40 p.m. ET, according to the Farmers' Almanac). This leaves Wednesday, March 19, as a kind of transition, from old to new, from Winter to the Eve of Spring -- all a kind of rebirth.
My friend Jason passed along the poem, "Do not stand at my grave and weep." It resonates with him, he says, because it puts his thoughts into words about his father's passing in early 2007.
(below, from the Wikipedia entry about Mary Frye, who's attributed as its author)
An early version, printed by others on postcards:
Do not stand at my grave and weep;
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning's hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die.
Her later confirmed version:
Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there, I do not sleep.
I am in a thousand winds that blow,
I am the softly falling snow.
I am the gentle showers of rain,
I am the fields of ripening grain.
I am in the morning hush,
I am in the graceful rush
Of beautiful birds in circling flight,
I am the starshine of the night.
I am in the flowers that bloom,
I am in a quiet room.
I am in the birds that sing,
I am in each lovely thing.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there. I did not die.
Today, Mary Frye's words resonate with me, as well, as we leave the longer, dark nights, and each new day becomes gradually filled with more light.
The 2008 Penny, Thomas Wolfe & O. Henry
I walked to the grocery store this morning, and my change included four shiny 2008 pennies. I anxiously wait for the newly minted pennies. I keep track of the date I find my first penny recognizing the New Year, and each year, it seems to be getting later and later. Today, March 18, 2008 -- mark that one down. Yes, four shiny new 2008 pennies.
I know a lot of people would rather discard pennies entirely. In fact, at Wal-Mart parking lots especially, people seem to be doing just that -- I always seem to find a lot of pennies there. Not one or two mistakenly dropped, but sometimes a dozen at a time. It's like a graveyard for pennies.
When I lived in Asheville, North Carolina, and visited the graves of Thomas Wolfe and O. Henry at Riverside Cemetery, I was always amazed by what people would leave on the headstones. Thomas Wolfe had a mix of coins, and once I found a postcard with a paragraph excerpt from Look Homeward, Angel. Occasionally, a young woman would be at the Wolfe family plot, writing in a little notebook. And flowers -- people still leave the single roses in honor or memory.
O. Henry intrigued me more. Always pennies at his resting place. Sometimes I'd count the pennies to see if they added up to sixty cents, as a kind of echo of the opening lines from his classic story, "The Gift of the Magi:"
"One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies. Pennies saved one and two at a time ...."
Or it could be that people leave O. Henry pennies because he died poor, despite great fame with his stories. I've heard that he didn't want to be buried in his hometown of Asheville, but instead in New York City. He set most of his stories elsewhere, unlike Thomas Wolfe. But Asheville celebrates both of these writers, and Riverside Cemetery is absolutely gorgeous, surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Pennies carry stories with them, but they have a habit of keeping these closely guarded. What's on the surface -- the mint year -- is all the pennies give up about where they've been, or who's orphaned them. If I pick up a penny from the ground, it has a new home, at least for a while. But where else can we easily find a coin with our birth year on it, and be able to say, "This is my lucky penny!" I sure wish that a penny could speak in a language I'd understand, and tell me about its journey -- the good times, and the not-so-good times. All of it. I'd be a good listener.
I'm kind of sad to see Winter leave us. I do my best writing during those long, dark nights, when the world is asleep and quiet. I create my own world, and then, through my characters, worlds within worlds.
The other day, I finished reading Jean-Dominique Bauby's The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. Maybe this has something to do with my pensive mood, too.
Or perhaps, just as the seasons change, we have our moments of introspection, to get us ready for that which is to come, and to think back on what's just passed.
"I am in a quiet room.
I am in the birds that sing,
I am in each lovely thing.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there."
A metaphor, just as Jean-Dominique Bauby's sweet words offer up such beauty and wisdom, and at the same time, you already know the ending. The tension is still there, though. You can read the last sentence first, and it won't ruin any of the rest of the book. In his final words, in the book at least, Bauby writes that he, too, is pensive.
In my Little Room, with another chapter of Eleanor in my head, ready to be given birth, I have my 2008 pennies. I am thinking about the moon, and how bright it is already, and how extraordinary it will look on Friday especially. Good Friday, lit up, so day runs into night ....
And leaving behind Winter for Spring.
What will happen three hours from now, singing Richard Condon's words from the beginning of this mesh of tangents and thinking? I'm feeling quite at ease, and yet, there is some pull, some of that tension, because I have work to do, words to write, and sometimes -- sometimes my fingers don't go fast enough. Sometimes it's me, just trying to catch up.
Eleanor will save me, yes she will, and she will also make sure I do not fall on my way to Page 43.
Monday, March 17, 2008
"They straightened out the Mississippi River in places,
to make room for houses and livable acreage.
Occasionally the river floods these places ...
but in fact it is not flooding; it is remembering....
All water has a perfect memory and is forever trying to get back to where it was.
"Writers are like that:
remembering where we were,
what valley we ran through,
what the banks were like,
the light that was there
and the route back to our original place."
Sunday, March 16, 2008
I've been visiting my parents this past week at their home in Florida. Just recently, my Dad has started to write poetry. Every writer's style is different, and I've been trying to decide which "poetic age" my Dad belongs with -- his words read like those of another era, another time long ago. Maybe it's a mix of Victorian, with a touch of Rupert Brooke. In any case, he's forging his own way through the creative process and is coming up with some inspiring material.
For me, as his son, it's one way to get inside his head, to find out how he thinks, though he's never been a particularly private person with his emotions. And like father, like son, I tend to wear my heart in plain view. Call me sentimental, but I'd rather feel openly than try to hide who I am. And that said, this life's journey of self-discovery is another piece of the "process." The variations on theme of "who am I" -- well, we could talk all night, and into the day, and keep going until somebody fell over from complete exhaustion.
One of the things my Dad and I like to do is fish. Not that we're any good at fishing. I should speak for myself -- but then again, when we fish, we do about the same. Maybe it's the simple bamboo poles we use, and the old-fashioned worms we get from this run-down shack about 15 minutes from the house. You can get a good supply of worms and your refreshments at the same time -- orange pop, some peanuts, a candy bar.... Along the front of the shack, where the sun hits at high noon, are faded Polaroid pictures of people (mostly men) holding up extraordinary catches. I just shake my head. I'd rather not be a faded Polaroid picture.
We went fishing this week, and it was a typical day. I caught a very large branch that kept my hook (along with the worm). We barely had a nibble of anything else. And then, when we tried a different fishing hole, and in this one, we could see foot-long bass swimming right close to shore -- well, they didn't go for the worms much. Actually at all. It was as though the worms were burlesque dancers, so the fish swam close and enjoyed the show. We should've charged admission, but I'm not familiar with the exchange rate of fish currency to the dollar.
Kind of poetic in itself, this was. One lake is surrounded by seclusion. We're alone with nature. But there are no fish at all, or, instead, they're out far beyond the reach of a bamboo pole. And the other lake is at Hole 18 of a golf course, with fish-a-plenty, and golf balls whizzing by our heads until somebody in a gold cart drives up and tells us the fishing is off limits, anyway.
My Dad let the worms go, and later felt bad about it. The boy next door said he collects worms. I don't know what this means, exactly. Maybe he's a mad scientist of a boy who carries out these extensive experiments with worms in his basement. Or maybe he just has a worm garden, and tends his worm the same way a farmer might tend his chickens.
When my Dad started writing poetry, we, as a family, we were all for it. He'd been talking about writing for years, but was always busy with one job or another, and bringing up three kids, and getting ready for our 12-round fights (of which, there have been two, and so far, it's a tie -- we both won, twice).
The latest batch of poems my Dad brought out are among his best yet. He has common themes he uses, as most writers and artists do. He writes about facing death, but also about the beauty he sees most everywhere he looks. He writes about the people he loves who are no longer with us (and notice I kept that in present tense). My father writes about living angels. Maybe that's the most accurate and simplest of descriptions. He writes about angels, who are very much alive and breathing. And his angels take many forms.
We like to fish because it's a quiet time that we can spend together. We don't expect to catch anything big. You can't really, with a bamboo pole. But we talk, and then we're quiet. We're listening to the breeze, and the birds, and other sounds we can't make out exactly (except that a golf ball has a peculiar swoosh about it, zipping close to your head).
The poetics of fishing, and of fishing with my Dad -- well, to use a word a friend gave me not long ago, this is a time of solidarity. We may be father and son, or son and father, but the age difference is suddenly gone. We're just two guys with some fresh worms and a few simple provisions, and our talk is talk about the sky, or some little splash in the water out a little deeper than we'd care to go, or we talk about life in general. It doesn't seem too profound when it's happening, but add it all up, and fishing is its own poetry. It can be quiet at times, and usually is for us, but it can also be loud and obnoxious, or it can be funny, and at times, a little sad (when you catch a tree limb, for example, and the extra hooks and line are a mile's walk away in the parked car).
Fishing with my Dad is very much like the poetry he writes. I'm inside it, and a witness to it at the same time. And occasionally, I am subject matter. But usually, it's an observation about a single day, and what happens on that single day, and what thoughts go through your head from waking to sleep, to dreams. It's that single day, repeated over and over. It's a good day. Sometimes, it's the best day.
I don't know what we'd do if either of us caught something big. I suppose that even a bamboo pole can get lucky. So I guess I would prefer not catch anything at all, than ruin a perfectly good time with my Dad. You need to take advantage of these experiences. It doesn't have to be fishing, but it is always poetry, assuming you are one of the fortunate. And if you aren't so fortunate with a parent, you certainly can be with a friend.
Writing is a process, as this thog pronounces. Everything we do and dream acts on that process, and then turns it into promise. It's up to us to fulfill the promise.
Thanks, Dad, for not getting us fancy fishing poles and lures and rented boats and all of that extraneous gear. It really would get in the way -- of the true fishing. At least, the fishing that's truth for us -- the poetry of it, I mean.
"Hearts that are great
Are always alone.
They will always give
-- from "Flight," by Richard Schutt
"The poet is nature’s one
High priest, ordained from birth
To give heart:
An everlasting feast to bless
On this Earth."
-- from "Poets," by Richard Schutt
by Cher Bibler
There is no magic
no strings that bind my heart to yours
and yet it's bound
as if by magic
There is no spell that
holds me here and yet as
surely if there were a spell
I cannot leave
No sorcerer's words whispered
in my ear
no herbs and
no colors painted on my brow
And yet I have no power of my own where
Jason Archer, the music man -- a genius with song and performance -- and Geoff Schutt, the scribe, traveled from Pittsburgh toward New York City, then made a sudden right and went down the New Jersey Coast. "The Evan Williams Experience," as this duo was called (despite receiving no commercial backing or official sponsorship from the famous Evan Williams Distillery) followed the famous New Jersey Turnpike, passing many buses filled with happy-go-lucky (?) (yes, that was a question mark) gamblers headed toward Atlantic City.
From Atlantic City, where the busking was sparse, "The Evan Williams Experience" kept traveling, making a stop at the Ocean City, New Jersey Boardwalk, watching the surfers at the end of the season catch the waves at dusk.
And here begins the saga of being "On The Way To Cape May." ("Saga" may be too rich of a word, but we'll let it ride.)
After a few missed turns and a bit of divine busker intervention, the "Experience" found themselves at the famous Triton Tavern, located at the point of nowhere (literally) (okay, figuratively). Here, they played pool with one of the locals, who promptly defeated the tired "artistes," who were basically just in search of a place "to perform."
A drink or so later, Maestro Jason and Scribe Geoff were back on the road, and got in early to Cape May, where they planned to take the ferry to Delaware.
Just the other night, Scribe Geoff attended a performance by Ken McBride "Himself" (yes, that all goes together) in Sanford, Florida. Ken McBride "Himself" asked the audience if anyone had been to Cape May. Turns out that Ken McBride "Himself" (his name has a kind of showbiz ring to it) is a veteran of the Atlantic City casinos with his one-man, song-and-joke extravaganza for going on 20 years now.
Long story made short, he played the newly re-popularized song, "On The Way To Cape May."
The song is often attributed to "unknown author," but according to various sources collected by Wikipedia, "On The Way To Cape May" was written in 1960 by Maurice "Buddy" Nugent (any relation to Ted, we don't know). It's described as a love story and "anthem for the Philadelphia/Delaware Valley and South Jersey Shore area."
The song has been covered by such artists as Cozy Morley, Don Cornell and Daddy Beans (we'd like to hear the Daddy Beans version, though apparently it is Cozy's version that made it to a major record label).
As Wikipedia points out, the song doesn't much get to descriptions of Cape May itself -- it's about the journey, not the destination. (As was the journey of "The Evan Williams Experience," that brought our two aspiring buskers to another Ocean City, this one in Maryland, where they became officially licensed to play their songs and share their words with the hordes of bikers in town for a big rally, and feast on the last vestiges of summer.)
Perhaps it is fitting that our two buskers-in-training didn't know then about the Cape May song, as they settled in on the ferry taking them from the Jersey shore to Delaware.
And perhaps -- perhaps -- it is fitting to discover that such a song exists -- because good material is difficult to find, and "lost-and-found" songs like this one are even more extraordinary. They come from someone's gut and heart, turn into myth, and finally return home -- the journey indeed finally locates a place to rest its head.
We may not head to either of the Ocean Cities next busking tour, but Cape May will remain in our hearts (and repertoire) as the planning begins for the 2008 tour (and potential sponsorship of the Evan Williams Distillery, producer of the finest sour mash anywhere ... if it doesn't burn going down, you're sure as heck not living life right).
Let it be.
After all of this build-up, This Side of Paradise is proud to offer up Bud Nugent's lyrics, for this summer yet to arrive, and for all of the summers past and future -- this "little ditty" that undoubtedly holds sentimental value for legions of folks, a few of whom might have taken that very same ferry with us -- though not on the way to, but away from -- Cape May.
"On The Way To Cape May"
Words and Lyrics by Bud Nugent
You looked so very pretty, when we met in Ocean City,
like someone, oh, so easy to adore.
I sang this little ditty, on our way through Ocean City,
heading south along New Jersey's shore.
On the way to Cape May, I fell in love with you.
On the way to Cape May, I saw my dreams come true.
I was taken by your smile, as we drifted by Sea Isle.
My heart was really gone when we reached Avalon.
On the way to Cape May, Stone Harbor's skies were blue.
We were naming the day when Wildwood came in view.
If you're gonna be my spouse, we'd better head for that Court House
On the way to Cape May,
On the way to Cape May.
Friday, March 14, 2008
-- from Time Magazine, Monday, June 4, 1934
Sylvia Beach was born on today's date, March 14 in 1887, in Baltimore. She would later open Shakespeare & Company in Paris, and publish James Joyce when nobody else could do it the way he envisioned.
"Would You Like To See The Museum?"
By the time of my first trip to Paris, Shakespeare & Company #1 was long since closed, but George Whitman had Shakespeare & Company #2 open. (Visit: http://www.shakespeareandcompany.com/) I'd heard a bit about George Whitman, so I found my way to the famous bookshop in The Latin Quarter, and asked a person working the money if I could meet him. I was sent up a winding, metal staircase (that was officially closed to the general public), and I passed one floor, as I recall, before ending up in George Whitman's kitchen. He was making tea. He was a cranky old man without his tea, and also, I wasn't a pretty young girl (a known fact that George Whitman liked his pretty angels, and would give them safe haven from the world). He gave me a quick once-over and he said, "Would you like to see the museum?" I nodded, and he took me to a room that had walls lined with photograph after photograph of the famous writers associated with the bookshop and The Left Bank. This also seemed to be George Whitman's bedroom -- and his socks, or rather his laundry, were stacked on the neatly made bed. I took a picture of his socks, to make sure I wasn't hallucinating. (For the record, I wasn't.) He left me there and went back to his tea. I did not see him again and found my own way back down, passing numerous writers hunched over large manuscripts that I wondered about -- would these words ever be read by others? But these were working writers, at hard work, working for their muses, and writing for the joy of the words, not for commerce.
If you've watched the film, "Before Sunset," Ethan Hawke's character has returned to Paris, and is promoting his novel (based on the experience of the earlier film story, "Before Sunrise") at Shakespeare & Company. And there is Julie Delpy as Celine, and well -- a long tangent could happen here, but I'll rein myself in.
(dramatic pause) (end pause)
Needless to say, the startling (as it was at the time) sight of George Whitman, preparing his cup of morning tea, and his invitation to see both the "museum" with his unmentioned laundry as an added bonus -- it's one of those moments you look back at in a kind of hazy awe.
On a personal note, we're so obsessed with labels -- this generation or that (we've run out of the alphabet, so soon there will be an "A Generation," or "Generation A," I'm sure) -- baby boomers -- and so forth.
But I am without a generation. The date of my birth could fit a couple of different labels, but not neatly, and so, I'd prefer not to have the labels at all. Or if I must have a label, I'll label myself.
I DO like the "Lost Generation" descriptor, even though, as the 1934 issue of Time magazine remarked, it seemed more "mislaid" than actually lost.
Now, if you ask Eleanor, she would certainly wonder about her generation. She would be her own version of a Lost Generation. But a generation by invitation only.
"You are all invited," she says, as you're reading this thog entry, reading it herself over my shoulder. "Please visit me, because blank space is filled with emptiness and lonely moments," she says, looking up.
And, she says, remember this: "Blank space can be something as sweet as silence, or as scary as aloneness." (attribute to Eleanor Spain, if you must quote)
Which brings us to a quote or thought for the day:
"Forget your personal tragedy. We are all bitched from the start and you especially have to be hurt like hell before you can write seriously. But when you get the damned hurt, use it -- don't cheat with it."
-- Ernest Hemingway
"I won't cheat," Eleanor says, and she pleads with her storyteller, "Please don't you cheat either. We DO have a story to complete. And soon."
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
I knew I wanted to be a writer when I was seven years old. Actually, I wanted to be "a writer and a general," because I liked to write and I liked to fight. I don't remember getting into too many fights, and soon after, I decided that being a general wasn't for me. I still fight, but mostly with my words. (The pen is indeed "mightier than the sword," and some people would rather hold up a sword than a pen, but that's a tangent for another day.)
Bob Feller is probably the best-known and most beloved living Cleveland Indian. He'll be 90 years old this year, and he still joins the team at Spring Training and as much as he can during the regular season. The Indians organization, as well as fans, treat him as royalty. It's only fitting. Cleveland has won two World Series titles, in 1920 and 1948. Bob Feller was a member of the 1948 team. He's a Hall-of-Famer. If you want to really see how spectacular of a player he was, based merely on his statistics, go to any baseball website, or book, or talk to a fan who knows more than just the players on this year's team.
Bob Feller was signed to a contract with the Indians as a teenager, and played his entire career with the team. Some people will call him the greatest pitcher of all-time. Those things are difficult to qualify, but no one would dare leave Bob Feller off of an "All-Time Greatest" team.
So, Bob Feller, and writing -- the process. What's the connection?
When I was 16 years old and publishing my own little magazines, I approached Bob Feller at a baseball card show and told him I wanted to interview him. He didn't blink an eye at this brash young kid, and in fact, he said, "Pull up a chair," and I sat right next to him as he answered my questions in between signing autographs for the line of fans on the other side of the table.
I will forever be in debt to Bob Feller for two reasons:
1. He treated me as he would any writer, so therefore, I was a writer.
2. He did not look at me as some geeky kid, but again, as a writer -- so therefore, I was a writer.
The whole writing process -- or even call it the artistic process, well, bottom line is that we need other people, and we need mentors ... but most of all, we need people who choose to believe in us.
What I'm saying is, we need people who believe in us at face value.
"You're a writer? Wonderful." These people will probably never read a word of what we write or otherwise create, but their belief alone gives strength.
An aside ....
I grew up a baseball fan. My favorite team is the Cleveland Indians and always has been. And so, to be 16 years old and have the immortal Bob Feller believe in me -- man, that was something. He wasn't just another person, a stranger. This was THE Bob Feller.
My Dad took me to that baseball card show, and he stood in the background and watched, and I'm not sure what he was thinking, except to say, he and my mother have shown me the same kind of support and unquestioning belief that Bob Feller did that day. "If you want to be a writer -- we love you, and we're on your side." My parents have never once doubted my dream and passion, and for that, I am extremely lucky.
This week, I'm visiting my parents at their home in Florida. We went to see the Indians play a Spring Training game against the Detroit Tigers at Chain of Lakes Park in Winter Haven on Tuesday, March 11. Bob Feller was there. He was signing autographs and talking to people, and still proudly wearing his Indians uniform -- still one of the players after all of these years, as much as he's also a legend who is as down to earth as they come.
Well, I got to shake Bob Feller's hand and talk with him. And I thanked him, for his kindness those years ago when the gangly kid had the momentary courage that came from I don't know where, or just the gall -- not to ask for an autograph, but for something far more valuable: his time, and his attention. And also what I realize now -- that aforementioned "belief."
I was a writer to Bob Feller because I said so.
When Bob Feller was my age, and being signed to his first contract with the Indians, I suppose he felt the same way about baseball. He was a baseball player. He knew it. There was nothing else.
To play baseball at the major league level, or to write fiction and want to make your words something "better than good" -- these are not usual occupations. These are dreams. We have it within our power to make our dreams happen. It's not about how old we are, either. We don't need to be teenagers, or even seven years old, already knowing what we saw in our futures. We can be any age. That's the beauty of being a dreamer.
And it's the beauty of "process," as well.
We set the process in motion and have to do the hard work that follows. Actually, this kind of hard work is more "passion" than anything. We dreamers should all be so fortunate, no matter what we may need to do for a day job, or to simply make ends meet. We should all be so fortunate to find other dreamers who will simply see us for what we say we are.
I think there should be a Hall of Fame for such dreamers. Bob Feller would be in this Hall of Fame, too.
We need to trust people for being what they say they are. We need to encourage them. We need to give them our support.
It's so simple, and still, some people make it difficult. Not the dreamers, but the people who look right through the dreamers as though we were invisible without a business suit, or fancy material things, or lots of money.
To be a dreamer, we need to Believe.
Bob Feller surely did not remember that 16-year-old kid, asking him for an interview. But as I babbled on with my gratitude for that day, he listened, and he seemed pleased.
In fact, and this I am amazed by -- he actually thanked me for what I was saying, at the same time I was thanking him.
Perhaps -- perhaps, dreamers recognize one another. I would like to think so.
Happy Birthday, Jack Kerouac, wherever you are.
“All human beings are also dream beings. Dreaming ties all mankind together.”
“Great things are not accomplished by those who yield to trends and fads and popular opinion.”
And Peace be with you.
P.S. Dave Eggers, Happy Birthday to you as well. The second quote of Kerouac's, above, would seem to fit you well. So -- Cheers!
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
"I'm eating too much. My body is not used to this much food."
"There is only one way to defeat the enemy, and that is to write as well as one can.
The best argument is an undeniably good book."
"We question a country's self-mythology. Perfect town and perfect family are - like Westerns - part of America's mythology, involving notions of past innocence and naïveté. But is it possible for innocence to exist while something heinous transpires elsewhere? What does it take for a country to be rich and prosperous? What does that country do to the world?"
"There are all of these voices, and some, or at least one of them, is speaking truth, and some are just playing with me, speaking nonsense, and the others, or at least one of them, is my very own self-destruct button, and if I pick the wrong voice to listen to, I just might be pushing that button, and the end is the end. But I am a believer that truth must prevail, so I need to listen closely, and pick and choose, and always, always, continue forward. If I look back, the voices are right behind me, racing to see who gets to me first. It's true. Voices do carry."
Monday, March 10, 2008
"Tell me if anything got finished ...." Also Leonardo da Vinci.
So here we are with "The Process" of creating, and Eleanor, once more, looks to me with those incredible eyes of hers, the eyes that get her things, that get her places, that get me, her storyteller, to write for her.
"What are you doing with my story today?" Eleanor says.
I mention da Vinci's words on Patience.
"Well," says Eleanor. "It's not as though I'm the whole world sitting on your shoulders or anything. You just need to keep going. I want them to know everything. Everything important, I mean."
"What do you consider most important?" I ask.
"The story that's still hiding, because after all of this, you're only just scratching the surface," she responds. "It's kind of annoying. The scratching part -- and not getting where you need to go. It's like you're digging a great big hole, but you're in the wrong spot."
"Maybe you are the whole world on my shoulders right now," I say.
"If that's true -- really true -- then you shouldn't have any problem at all," Eleanor says. "Just keep writing. You'll find me soon enough. The part of me that's everything. But I still think you need to look where you're digging. I mean, don't fall into the wrong spot, or we'll both lose everything."
Also: "There is a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in."
When I was proprietor of a coffeehouse in a small Ohio city (Tiffin), the very first songs I had going on the stereo as we opened were from Leonard Cohen. His first two records, in particular.
The smell of more than 60 varieties of coffee beans seemed to fit just right with Leonard Cohen.
Later on, as the coffeehouse became more popular, a guy came in and heard Cohen on the CD player, tilted his head in amazement, and just stood there for a moment. "Wow, man," he said. "That takes me back." The guy, turns out, drove one of those big semis for a living, so he'd show up every two weeks or so. His name was Buzz. And Buzz had original paperback copies of Leonard Cohen's first two novels. We became friends, and Buzz loaned me the copies to read. I remember that these editions were printed with lurid art on the covers. I don't think the publishers knew exactly what to do with them.
So -- I first knew Leonard Cohen as a singer. And I knew him second as a poet, and third as a novelist. But he was the poet and novelist before his songs took him to New York City in the late 1960s. And it's -- I'll use the word "grand" here -- it's absolutely "grand" that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is inducting Leonard Cohen, a poet and novelist and songwriter and singer, into its rectory of greatness.
This all happens tonight, March 10, 2008. In New York City, which I'm thinking must be kind of nice for Leonard Cohen -- a homecoming, away from home. The ceremony takes place at New York's Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. He will become the first Montrealer in the Hall.
Nothing can "talk" Leonard Cohen better than a Leonard Cohen song. So, we'll get one started, and you find the version you like the best, whether it be from Cohen's own throat, or John Cale's rendition, or Jeff Buckley's, or from anyone else who knows how to play a guitar and sing pure poetry. And you can keep humming the tune all day long.
by Leonard Cohen
Now I've heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you don't really care for music, do you?
It goes like this
The fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah
Your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you
She tied you
To a kitchen chair
She broke your throne, and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah
a novel by Geoff Schutt
But the conversation was over and Eleanor sat back in her seat, feeling more isolated than ever. She was ten years old. She wanted to be grown up, like they were, so she could fight them on their level. She was going to have to fight the way her mother taught her. Don’t take prisoners. Look out for yourself first and only. Anything less than that is just plain convenience.
"It's terrible what some women will do to their families," the next-door neighbor, Lora said, looking straight ahead, as if she were speaking to herself.
Jay, Eleanor's father, turned his head. "We're fine, really we are."
Eleanor, giggling, made fun of his words. "Really we are, fine we are, really," she said.
Jay made the car go fast over the tiny hills. He liked the feeling in his stomach, going over the top like some roller coaster, though this not as scary and he was in control, could slow down or speed up, turn right or left, swerve, make them crash, make them go straight and live. He floored the gas.
Eleanor tapped him on the shoulder. She said she had to pee. Jay slowed down, told her they'd be at the caverns soon, not much longer.
"I'm crossing my legs," Eleanor said. "I can't keep holding it." She pointed at Lora. "It's her fault, because she's so funny. She makes me have to pee."
Jay pulled the car off the road, nearly into a cornfield. "We'll wait for you," he said, and Eleanor ran into the stalks.
"I think you should consider therapy,” Lora said when Eleanor was gone. “It wouldn't be a bad idea. Mothers leave their little girls every day, and that's what therapy is for. That's why it was invented. It happened to me. Well, for me it was my father. But I can't tell you what those years of just being able to talk to a stranger meant to my psyche. You can say anything. Eleanor could say things she'll never say to you."
"You have no business -- ," Jay said.
"She needs help, I'm just saying. I mean, don't listen to me, fine, but hear me -- she needs help, and I want to help."
Lora raised one leg so she could sit sideways and face him. "If I can't do anything else," she said, "I want to help you. I want to be here for you. Let's talk about us if you want."
"Eleanor is just fine." He refused to look at Lora. It was wrong to bring her along. He’d made a mistake. He was lonely. He was in shock. He screwed up.
"I don't mean to be rude," Lora said, "but here I am trying to help you and you're being a real, how shall I say this -- bastard about this."
Jay stepped out of the car. He began to call for Eleanor but Eleanor didn't appear. She'd been gone too long. Lora came beside him and the both of them were calling Eleanor's name. There was nothing.
So, he got back in the car and told Lora to do the same.
"What are you doing?" Lora said, surprised, as Jay eased back onto the road and began driving away. He drove for ten minutes before he turned the car around.
Lora was silent. Jay noticed she was gripping the side of the car, the handle on the door.
He wondered when he had crossed the boundary of being a man in distress to being a man out of control, a madman.
Eleanor was standing by the side of the road. She was right where Jay expected her to be. She was not visibly upset. She was just waiting, and here he was, back to pick her up.
"I was only testing you," Eleanor said, climbing in. "Anyhow, you passed the test," she said.
Then, looking at Lora, Eleanor continued, with a blank stare, "But she'll never pass."
Jay smiled. They were going to be okay, just the two of them. "You're about to get the ride of your life," he said to Lora, and to Eleanor, with a knowing wink: "Open your window. You'll want to feel this one."
Friday, March 7, 2008
Whatever you think of Robert Frost, I don't think anyone can argue with this poem. And I so often concentrate on the last couple of lines that I forget about the rest of the words, and what Frost himself liked most about the poem, which is in the beginning.
In 1923, on this day, "The New Republic" published all of these wonderful words, a poem that Frost would later call his personal favorite. And it's true -- the poem has withstood the test of time, as all good literature must, in order to be read and enjoyed by subsequent generations.
"The Writer's Almanac" commented (and please imagine the voice of Garrison Keillor here): "He later said that he would have liked to print the poem on one page followed by 'Forty pages of footnotes.' He once said the first two lines of the poem, 'Whose woods these are, I think I know, / his house is in the village though,' contained everything he ever knew about how to write."
"Whose woods these are I think I know ...."
So I stop, and I take a moment to take stock of my life, and where I stand within it, and what goals and aspirations I have succeeded at, and which ones I've done a miserable job of -- but everything is still within grasp. Everything. Those promises can still be kept, though there might be a few more miles to walk.
I'm in my Little Room now, getting ready to begin a new day of writing. But I like the pause I've taken, the time to stop, and to look with wonder, before I must set once more on my own personal journey. And in doing so, I wish you strength on your journey, wherever it leads you. -- Geoff
"Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening"
by Robert Frost
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village, though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
Thursday, March 6, 2008
We have reached the higher numbers (three paragraphs just went by skipping rope), and brain cell Number 86, cigarette dangling from his lips like he's Ring Lardner, Jr. or something, is calling for an all-out revision on Chapter 4 (86 the damn thing! 86 it already!), while brain cell Number 152 says, It's just right, leave it alone. I love imperfection. I'm an imperfectionist!
Brain cell Number 216 just chimed in, There's a whole lot of second-hand smoke coming my way. He's on the "K" key. (Thanks Number 216, for forcing me to carefully avoid you while typing "K." There, it happened again.) (What happened again?) (Those paragraphs, skipping rope. Five of them this time. They multiply, and then you cut them out like coupons.)
The brain cells are on overdrive, and whatever their vices (Number 108 is checking out her reflection from the "D" key to the "R" key), they seem to get along well enough, second-hand smoke and vanity aside.
Give me an "E!" cries out brain cell Number 334. Give me an "L!" cries out a drunk brain cell Number 296. And so forth.
They spell out "Eleanor," and Eleanor, you might guess, is pleased.
"Your brain cells are going manic," Eleanor says, "so don't you dare lose this moment."
I won't, I assure her.
Wednesday, March 5, 2008
"Writers aren’t people exactly. Or, if they’re any good, they’re a whole lot of people trying so hard to be one person. It’s like actors, who try so pathetically not to look in mirrors. Who lean backward trying—only to see their faces in the reflecting chandeliers."
F. Scott Fitzgerald, from The Last Tycoon
My 32nd brain cell (to the left of the one attempting to write a peom in the style of Rupert Brooke) (that would be brain cell 34) just jump-frogged over the 31st and the 30th. A remarkable sight. Mark Twain would be proud, those jump-froggers. Brain cell 33 is smoking a cigarette. I didn't know he smoked. I learn about myself every second of every day.
Anyhow, stay tuned! -- Geoff
Postscript: I have no idea why tonight's brain cells are in the lower numbers.
Tuesday, March 4, 2008
Word of the Day: éclat \ah-KLAH\ noun
*2 : dazzling effect : brilliance
Lucky numbers: 1912, 1937, 1938, 1946, 1964, 1967, 1970, 1973, 1982, 1990
Eleanor read the very small type that stretched across both sides of her fortune and thought, "This is so odd." In fact, the fortune looked homemade -- everything was even spelled correctly. She and her father ate Chinese food the night before. Eleanor saved her fortune cookie until today, when she was alone. Now, she just sat and wondered.
Monday, March 3, 2008
a novel by Geoff Schutt
During one of their visits to the museum, Eleanor asked her father an innocent question and words came from his mouth as if they were coming directly from one of the paintings on the wall. "Daddy," Eleanor asked, "why are the paintings so quiet?"
"I'll tell you a secret about the paintings," her father said.
"It was one painter, actually, who started it," he said. "Now this was not a famous painter, and his model was not a particularly beautiful girl. In fact, she was probably too skinny. And her nose, there was no character to her nose. It was a tiny nose. And her hair, her hair was not of any unusual or brilliant color. When the girl smiled, her teeth were straight and small, hardly big enough to reproduce in a painting. So you see, even though he stared at his model for long periods of time, the painter could not regularly turn his gaze to the canvas for fear he would forget the girl's features entirely. This is what you get for not being a famous painter who could attract beautiful models with fabulous visual personalities. But there was something about this girl, something the painter couldn't put a finger on. Something very odd."
Eleanor was smiling, the kind of smile you get by surprise, when you find yourself unexpectedly delighted by something.
"After a while, this is how their routine went," her father continued. "The painter would greet his model at the door. He would ask her if she needed anything before they began. Was she thirsty? Was she hungry? He would then ask her to take her position and disrobe. He would move her arms and legs to the angles he desired and then he would step back to get a clear view of her and he would study her, his arms at his sides, his eyes hardly ever even blinking. She never questioned his ways. She never asked to see what he was painting. After he was through with her for the day, the painter would often come and sit before her, and the two of them would smile as if they had shared some private joke. After some time, he would bid her farewell until the next day. At the door, they would pause for a second, stares locked, his hand brushing her shoulder. The joke, which the model could not be expected to realize, was that because of her plain features, the painter had not been able to complete one single canvas. He was simply going through the motions.
"After a few months passed, it became clear they were falling in love. So they married and then - Oh God, this was the most incredible thing," he said to Eleanor. "Because then something happened. The painter discovered he had no difficulty in painting her portrait. In fact, he painted picture after picture, until they couldn't store all of the paintings anymore. And then he began selling them! Everyone loved the paintings and he became quite famous after all, and his model - his wife - was equally famous. Everyone marveled at his feat -- how he was able to capture such a distinct spark about her -- you could call it her essence -- in his work. They couldn't even describe it. The people only knew what they saw, which was the paintings, and the paintings were so beautiful."
Eleanor's eyes had begun to mist, which was an unusual show of emotion, and her father said, "Do you know what happened?"
But she shook her head. "They would not have found art without love," he said. "They would not have found love without first discovering what was beyond themselves, what they could not put into words. So that is why the paintings are not loud. That's why we stand in front of them sometimes, our mouths hanging open, our heads ready to explode because there's so much we don't know, so much we can't understand."
To which the storyteller responds, "There are so many words, and they're all mixed up, but I promise you -- on my life -- that I will make you proud."
Eleanor says: "I'm impatient, but I trust you. There's no one I trust more."
"I'll risk everything, I will," the storyteller says. "I know I'm not there yet, but I'm closer with each passing hour."
Sunday, March 2, 2008
... spoken by Hector, who teaches "General Studies," as played by Richard Griffiths in "The History Boys" (available on DVD)
Written by Alan Bennett (based on his play) and directed by Nicholas Hytner, "The History Boys" is like "Dead Poets Society" minus all of the Hollywood trappings.
Or one could argue, it's the students from "Dead Poets Society" on crack.
An aside, March 21, 2008: To be fair to "Dead Poets Society," I watched it again, and one theme that I love about both of these films is the idea of non-conformity. Or rather, just thinking for yourself, right or wrong, and following through with head and heart.
With "The History Boys," you have actors you've most likely never heard of in the States. In Finland, the name of the film was changed to "Wild Generation," which is kind of cool in itself, but "The History Boys" remains, finally, the best title of them all, for its simplicity, yes, and innocence that has a whole lot of experience (my apologies to William Blake).
The film is wonderful -- beautiful, actually, and one could also argue, "gorgeous" in the best possible use of that word. It's a film that has enough meat (or hearty vegetables) to stick to your bones in so many respects, long after watching. And it's an absolutely brilliant move to keep the original cast from the play, which moved from London to Broadway, and ultimately to the silver screen. These actors are living the parts, and that shows through every singular performance.
There's a little something for everyone here, including the bit of scandal, and themes from sexuality to the unconditional bonds and understanding of friendship -- and perhaps it's that last piece of acceptance of our friends that really makes "The History Boys" work. Maybe you'll think, this kind of acceptance couldn't happen in the real world, but one would hope that it can, and does.
Of course, the love of literature -- and music -- and even classic film -- well, it all adds up to great material -- to the point of inspiring.
Politicians could learn much from Alan Bennett's script. The "spin" on history is key, as a group of grammar school boys try to gain admission to the prestigious Oxford. How do you accomplish this? Try a lot of creativity with your exam answers. In short, history can be boring, or it can be exciting -- exhilarating even. You choose your own approach. The truth, as well, can be a bland exercise of words on paper, or it can become lively debate.
Are we to blindly accept truth, as written in the history books, or told/taught to us? Not if we intend to learn, and understand the "why," no.
"The History Boys" shows us that we must continually search for our own truths, while being acutely aware of what's so "honest" in those we call our friends, and those we care for, and those we look up to, either because of office or respect.
The truth can be spun, indeed -- but words, the words of the poets, and the lyrics from the best of the songs, and lines from a classic script ... these can never be altered.
Interpretation is allowed, but the words remain the same.
Bravo, you "History Boys!" Bravo!