To Reach The Green Light At The End Of The Pier
Monday, June 30, 2008
Today, June 30, marks the monthly halfway point of 2008, and because we had Leap Day this year, tomorrow, July 1, will mark the daily halfway point.
It's a time of starting over, or continuation (or both). Here at This Side of Paradise, we plan to be on a new weekday routine of waking at 4:30 a.m. to begin writing. The two long months of Summer, July and August, are opportunity -- for some manic creativity. That's the goal, at least, and now it's in writing. This is my contract, with myself -- and with you as my witness.
Stephanie, my agent, got back to me with nothing but positives about the first 13,000 or so words of the new/revised beginning to Eleanor, so it's full speed ahead to finish revisions on the rest of the novel.
I have all of the outside support I need to meet this challenge (from my fellow writers, to friends -- to you, reading the postings on this long page).
Now it's the interior that I need to work on. The "me." The discipline.
Summer is not usually my most creative time. I much prefer the longer, dark nights of Winter. But inside The Little Room, I've made it as dark as possible, with plenty of indirect light -- from The Spirit House to the constant Gatsby-esque green light that reminds me that everything is possible, however unattainable it might seem at times.
I take inspiration from many things, and many people. Each time you visit This Side of Paradise, you give me strength, and that's as important as the rest of it.
The second half of 2008 pretty much follows the midway point of our end goal of 500 postings for this page. There's lots to come, including more work from our guest writers and artists. And as Eleanor and I evolve together to turn excerpts and pieces and chapters and paragraphs and sentences into something "whole" and "cohesive" and "better than good," you're a part of the journey, too.
Happy New Year! Happy 2008 Part Two! NOW: Let the writing commence.
Sunday, June 29, 2008
a novel by Geoff Schutt
Jay Spain, Eleanor's father:
- Could not think. Couldn’t think. His head hurt. He could not think. It was all that was running through his head, that he couldn’t think rationally. Could not think. Repetition. Human beings don’t change. He was trying to change. Could not think. He was trying to change. He wanted to change. But he could not think straight.
- He had done what he thought he was supposed to do, in the proper order, etcetera, etcetera, blah, blah, blah. He turned eighteen. He fell in love with a beautiful girl. He asked this beautiful girl to marry him. It was a love story, the kind you read about in Scott Fitzgerald novels, exactly like that, unequal love, but a love story just the same, and just as beautiful as a Fitzgerald love story, just as tragic too. The young couple had a little girl. They named her Eleanor.
- He remembered a sunset, when the sky slammed into the earth with such a mighty crash that there were fireworks, and they filled the air like lightning bugs and splashes of colored water.
(A Note: Something odd happened while uploading the artistically enhanced photo of the ribs, side order of homemade macaroni and cheese ... all of my paragraph breaks were dismissed by Blogger. A quirk of the system, or a sign from Jesus of Siberia? Do I see white butterflies outside the window of The Little Room? I think I'll keep the posting this way, the way it turned out. One long paragraph. We'll see how it reads. Remember -- "Motion is a good thing.")
Saturday, June 28, 2008
Friday, June 27, 2008
Anne Lockhart is famous in pop culture circles for her role as Lt. Sheba in the original "Battlestar Galactica" television series. As the second coming of "Battlestar Galactica" winds down to its finale, it's interesting to take a personal time warp back to the late 1970s, when I was a teenager, watching the show, and then in the early 1980s, still in college, but publishing my own magazines covering everything from film to TV, to comic books.
I really didn't know what I was doing, to be honest. All I knew was, I wanted to be a writer, but I wasn't sure yet what kind of writer.
Finally, I decided I wanted to be a "good" writer, and I wanted to write fiction.
That said, back then I wrote a lot of pretty bad stuff, and had the nerve to publish it myself, but so be it. Yes, some of it makes me cringe.
What it taught me was that to be a "good" writer, you have to write every day, find your focus, believe in yourself, and never give up -- or give in.
Publishing my own magazine had some perks, of course. I was given the opportunity to interview people, Anne Lockhart being one of them (as well as by telephone a few months later, her mother -- June Lockhart, everybody's favorite TV Mom ... "Lassie" to "Lost in Space"). The Lockharts, a show business family, are also a gracious family.
Anne Lockhart gave a geeky guy (me) the chance to meet with her at a convention in Cincinnati, and be the journalist I imagined myself as becoming.
Like the Bo Diddley posting a few days back, interviewing celebrities taught me a great deal about people and their dreams (fulfilled or not) and how much the "same" we are as human beings, whether famous or not, whether we have lots of money, or none at all. It remains part of my personal evolution as a writer, and very much a part of the "creative process." The talent and luck it takes to garner even a small amount of fame is no different than the Hortatio Alger quotient of "pluck and luck" to get ahead in life, and to find your contentment.
Anne Lockhart remains active in show business, and seems to be doing quite well. I was surprised (and yes, honored) to find our interview posted on her website. She was doing a lot of episodic television in the early to mid-1980s. In fact, she and her mother had the chance to act together on one episode of "Magnum, P.I."
To Anne Lockhart -- I am grateful that you gave a young struggling writer your time. This now-older, but still struggling writer keeps learning from years-gone-by lessons. (And new lessons as well.) In that sense, I hope I always have a bit of the "struggle" inside of me.
Okay, now let's have some fun, and see how many names you recognize in the list below.
(from Media Sight magazine #4, Winter 1983)
excerpting "Anne Lockhart: From Battlestar Galactica to Knight Rider"
Q: I’m going to read off a list of actors you’ve worked with, and I’d like you to describe them as briefly as possible.
AL: Extremely dedicated, concentrated, and a very giving actor.
Q: Gil Gerard
AL: A lot of fun.
Q: Tom Selleck
AL: A charming, nice man; down to Earth and open. He’s not what you read about. He’s a real straight-ahead, friendly guy. He is one of the most pleasant actors I’ve worked with.
Q: Lee Majors
AL: Lee Majors. That was a fun show to do ("Fall Guy"). He is very professional, very dedicated and still has a good sense of humor.
Q: Dirk Benedict
AL: All mischief. And, a very talented actor. He is not always given the opportunity to show what he can really do.
Q: Lorne Greene
Q: David Hasselhoff
AL: He’s great. David also is one of the nicest guys I’ve ever worked with. He’s going through this huge amount of fame right now. It’s something some people can’t really handle, but he’s handling it beautifully. He is prepared for it, he’s ready for it, and he is loving every minute of it. Behind that, he’s not getting obnoxious. He still has time for children and he’s a devoted and talented guy making the best of what he has.
Anne Lockhart's official site can be found at: http://www.annelockhart.com/site/main.htm
"A poem begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a lovesickness. It finds the thought and the thought finds the words."
-- Robert Frost
Robyn, a regular reader of This Side of Paradise, sent me the following blurb about one of the truck drivers she encounters at work. Please note that there's no generalization of truck drivers intended here. You may recall from an earlier posting about my coffeehouse days that a truck driver regular named "Buzz" lent me original Leonard Cohen novels. Buzz really knew his coffee, and his literature.
Robyn writes us, "Not sure if you knew this, but I work at a scale house in a sand and gravel pit. So, I weigh the trucks and give them their tickets. Truck drivers are an interesting lot. We have one who tells us he has a higher IQ than all of us combined. Needless to say, he's an idiot. Yesterday, I told him the story of when my oldest son memorized and recited 'The Road Not Taken' by Robert Frost to me for Mother's Day. The truck driver was not familiar with the poem, so I pulled it up online and he read it. He then proceeded to say Frost was not a good poet because the rhythm was wrong. I quickly put him on ignore."
"Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words."
-- Robert Frost
Begin tangent: There will be idiots in all walks of life who would dismiss anything they hadn't thought of first. And you can like or dislike Robert Frost (we happen to like him here). That's fine.
What we know is -- we don't know everything, or even enough to immediately dismiss anything. We are constantly learning. We have no idea what our IQ is. We want to be dazzled by the words and images. We want to be moved by the music. We never want to shrug off anything or anybody (and sometimes, we daresay that we do, inadvertently perhaps, but it's a fault and we'll work on that). We want to delight in the world like an innocent, and laugh at the simple things, but never at simple people. And also sometimes, we're guessing, we do act like idiots, but we hope we don't act like idiots at the expense of others, for our own (collective) ego.
There are lessons to be learned everywhere, and in everything. There are surprises in everything, too.
"No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader."
-- Robert Frost
You can check out Robyn's blog at: http://robynsart.blogspot.com/. She promises more entries soon. And scroll down the left column for a piece of her artwork -- "Breathe." Thanks, Robyn! -- Geoff & Eleanor
Yes, The Little Room, Atlanta is coming together nicely.
And if you notice closely, there is a small Buddha to the left of The Spirit House, to help the spiritual journey these characters must take. And of course, as its anchor, The Spirit House sits atop a copy of The Great Gatsby, one of several copies (though, alas, no first editions) in our possession.
To the creative spirit(s), everywhere! -- Geoff & Eleanor
Thursday, June 26, 2008
"The very least you can do in your life is to figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under its roof."
-- Barbara Kingsolver
This is what The Spirit House is for -- keeping the characters who aren't quite ready ... safe, inside their hope ... inside their author's hope.
Eleanor says, "It's a great place. We have parties into the night. And we never sleep. We just talk and talk and talk. Once you've been inside, and left, there's no problem. You can always go back to visit your friends. But if our author ever forgets that we're here, that we do exist, then the parties would stop. The talking would stop. There'd be nothing left at all."
Hope is like a beating heart.
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
The tree had everything a real Christmas tree would have. It had ornaments, and colored lights, and even a star for the top. He would have preferred an angel, but a star was okay, because you can follow stars easier than you can follow angels. The tree was pretty much put together, right out of the box, but he found great joy in stringing the lights, and rearranging the ornaments. There was a miniature snowman, and a Santa Claus, and red ribbons. The tree even had miniature presents, wrapped in metallic paper, with the golden ribbon tied up into a bow that allowed it to be hung on the plastic green branches. He put the little tree in the corner of the room. The electrical cord for the lights would only reach so far. He waited, then. Just waited – for hours, until dusk.
At night, without any other light except for the greens and reds and blues and yellows from the Christmas tree, he imagined things to be real. The tree grew in size if he squinted his eyes. The lights blurred into one fantastic gleam of color. If he closed his eyes, there was music. Carols being sung, but not in the room. From outside the window. If he breathed in deeply, he felt the cold draft of blowing snow. If he squeezed his eyes shut, so hard shut, he saw the snow, and footsteps in the snow, and he saw the people, all bundled up in the cold, their breath steamy and warm, and he could hear their voices even clearer, like screams in the middle of the night.
They were like screams. Wasn't that part odd.
It was drafty in the room, and he shivered. He wondered how long those tiny colored lights would last if he kept the tree plugged in – if held Christmas captive, so it couldn’t leave his presence. What if the lights burned out? They would eventually. He could not fathom this idea. He went back to the drugstore. There were two of the $5.99 trees left. He was ready to buy ten or twenty more, as many as he could get, so that when one tree’s lights went out, he would be ready, and he wouldn’t have to lose anything anymore. It was a high-minded idea, a stroke of genius really, to kidnap Christmas. Keeping Christmas safe, "his" Christmas. His personal Christmas.
He asked the girl at the counter if she had any more of them in back, but she seemed annoyed or disinterested, or else, he was too eager, but whatever the case, she shook her head, No. He made his purchase, then, and smiled at the girl, because the spirit of Christmas should be everywhere.
These two trees, boxed up tidily in cardboard, one tucked under each arm, and he walked, clutching them close. Forget the commercialism. How artificial they were. It said so on the boxes – “artificial.” That was a blatant lie. Nobody can tell you what is artificial and what is something as precious and fragile as your own heartbeat.
If you could take every good Christmas you ever had, from as far back as you can remember, when you were a child all the way through growing up, and then bundle these Christmases together into just one memory, so strong it overwhelms you at first, like an electric shock of awareness, followed by just the warmest feeling you could ever hope to experience –- if you could do this, if you had the chance, well, wouldn’t you?
On those rare occasions when I do experience a good night of deep sleep, I tend to have cinematic dreams -- that is, dreams that are as complex as any fiction I'll be writing. Sometimes I dream in color, sometimes in black and white, but last night, I dreamt in British. It wouldn't be so odd to have everyone else in my dream speaking with a British accent, if that was where my dream was set, but the odd part was me speaking in a British accent as well, and I was still me -- not a character or another version of myself. It all seemed perfectly natural.
Perhaps it's the subconscious influence of today, June 25, being George Orwell's birthday.
Happy Birthday, Mr. Orwell!
From Down and Out in East Atlanta.
"Language ought to be the joint creation of poets and manual workers."
-- George Orwell
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
This is week 26 of 2008 -- the last week of the first half of the year. I'm thinking of what was accomplished, and what was not accomplished -- and most important of all -- what needs to be accomplished during the second half of 2008.
It's a good time for contemplation. It's a good time for celebration, too. Celebrate looking ahead, or behind, or both. Think of this Sunday night as a kind of second New Year's Eve of 2008. I won't say "Happy New Year" yet -- but I'm starting to think it.
A moment, please. Eleanor just handed me the fortune from one of her cookies. There are no lucky numbers, and there's no Chinese word to learn on the reverse side. On the fortune side, it reads:
"Be who you are."
Eleanor asks, "Who am I?" And it is a very good question, this one is.
"Those words from last night's posting, they're mine. I just wanted to let you know. I whispered them into my biographer's ear. I whispered them very softly, even though you might expect me to have raised my voice during parts of it, but I didn't. And now I'm not sure what part of my story the words are from, or who says them -- maybe I say them, or maybe one of the other characters in my life says them. That's the weird thing about thinking way inside your own head, never mind trying to get inside somebody else's head. After a while, you lose track of who says what. But you want to test the boundaries, you know? And if you're going to go way out on a ledge, you want to be sure that anybody else who wants to come with you is really going to -- what did I whisper last night -- make that commitment, to be there, to not abandon you. Because it can be intense, you know, and sometimes you do end up caring too much. I guess that's part of what all of my whispering was about. Maybe I'll do some more whispering later today, or maybe I'll keep my thoughts to myself and let them build up until they just explode. That would be a shock to my biographer, don't you think, if I wasn't whispering, but shouting?" -- Eleanor
Monday, June 23, 2008
a novel by Geoff Schutt
Where is the happy ending? And in that question is everything we’ve been brainwashed with our entire lives. You’ve heard people say it, and perhaps you’ve said it yourself –- that it’s not the destination, but the journey, the there from here. That’s what counts, the journey. But without the happy ending, we lose all of our fairy tales. There’s no closure. We’re just rats racing on a treadmill, getting nowhere. It just keeps on racing, getting nowhere, while all the time, it thinks something different, that by racing faster, it will get somewhere. There to here.
It’s not the journey, believe me. The destination is what you want. You want the happy ending. And right this moment, you are here, nowhere close to there, not yet. But you can take yourself out of the picture and go back to your own life. That’s what I would do. Step back and watch, as if this were a movie or something you could walk away from before the credits are finished rolling. You’re one of those people who stands up with the rest of the crowd and leaves while the credits are rolling, yes? (Or no?) Do I presume too much.
Most of the theatre leaves. There are a few who stick around to see who the grip was, as if that really matters, or the caterer, or for the music credits. But everybody else thinks it’s over and walks out. Where is the happy ending? Does it stop with the final scene, or when the credits finish and the full lights come up while the theatre employees come around with their brooms and garbage bags for the cups of half-drunk soft drinks and popcorn spilled on the seats and the floor.
Is the destination a little bit farther down the road, after the credits are completely done rolling, and the lights are bright, and the theatre is cleaned for the next showing, and you’re outside, in the parking lot? Sunny day, isn’t it, especially after being inside, in the dark for so long. You shield your eyes. But remember, you have already stepped away.
(You’re a voyeur, so you’re watching me. Or maybe I am watching you.)
Where is the happy ending? (We need to keep asking this question, in case we forget where we are.)
As long as you are here, you might as well step back into my spotlight. That’s right. Get inside my head. You can always leave if the going gets too rough. That’s right. You are here. We both are.
Wait -- wait a second. I need to know something. Can I trust you? I let you inside my head, and I can also evict you, back into your own life. We each have power, a say in what happens. How long you can stay. I can’t control your side of things, of course, but I need to know, for my own sake of mind, especially as you’re already inside my head – can I trust you?
Hey, if I sound cynical, forgive me. Trust is just as important for me, and perhaps even more so, than for you, who has no stake in what happens to me. I can be your entertainment, after all. If you decide to stay, you need to make a commitment. You can’t change channels. You can’t walk out on me. I wouldn’t be able to stop you if you did, and that’s why the trust is so important.
You have nothing to lose, except the time you spend inside my head. And I have everything to lose, for caring so much that you're here.
Legend has it that a magical herb blossoms only on this night, June 23, 2008 -- Midsummer's Night Eve (or St. John's Eve). If you find that herb, you will understand the language of trees. I wish each of us luck in our search for the magic tonight.
"And as imagination bodies forth the forms of things unknown, the poet's pen turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothings a local habitation and a name."
-- William Shakespeare
Sunday, June 22, 2008
I was in my very early 20s. This is was the mid-1980s -- a flashback to another time in my life, and a previous chapter in my evolution as a writer. Working for a weekly newspaper (and doing most everything, from writing and editing the stories to taking the photographs, to the layout), I had the chance to meet and interview a lot of people in the entertainment business -- usually on their way up, or way down.
At the time, Jay Leno was still one of the revolving guest hosts for Johnny Carson on "The Tonight Show," and very gracious to me during one of those interviews. I had the feeling that Jay Leno rarely said no to an interview, and not so much for the publicity, because he already had enough of that and was on the verge of superstardom, but because he is truly a nice guy. Tiny Tim (speaking of famous Johnny Carson guests) talked to me at length about the men who lived on the moon. John Sebastian told me about his unplanned acoustic set at Woodstock when the power suddenly went out and somebody who hadn't gone completely "electric" needed to go on stage and play for the crowd. Magician Doug Henning wanted to "wow" me with his words, but also paid homage to his idol, and obsession -- Houdini. Phyllis Diller told me I should stop drinking coffee, and this was before our interview even started. Well, I'm still drinking coffee, and energy drinks -- maybe someday I'll decide to give up caffeine, but not for now.
I didn't get the chance to interview many writers when I worked for the newspaper, "The West Toledo (Ohio) Herald" (still in existence, but a shadow of its former self). But through all of these show business types, I got my pop culture fix, and that comes through today in my fiction. I also learned that the big names, past/present/future in the "business" are people pretty much just like any of us, and I had this young fearlessness about me.
Which brings me to Bo Diddley, one of the few people I interviewed who did intimidate me. Part of this was because of his obvious anger -- not at me, but at the music business and how he felt the business treated him, and other artists like him. But I think that the major reason for intimidation was my own nervousness, having listened to the Bo Diddley beat through the early records of bands like The Animals (released before my time, but that '60s sound is just as relevant today as it ever was).
There was an aura about this man. His presence was like being around greatness, and you felt it.
He was late to the interview. He was playing a small show at The University of Toledo's Student Union. He stopped by a fast food place for some food. Chicken. I noticed that he preferred Burger King over McDonald's, or at least, that's where he got his chicken tenders, and he ate as he answered questions. It made for an awkward interview, because most of it was done standing, or leaning. There were a couple of other people in the room -- a reporter for the university newspaper, and the concert promoter, as I recall. I don't much like the "group" interviews, and this was a small "group" interview, unlike most of my other interviews that were done one-on-one.
I don't think Bo particularly wanted to do the interview, but he gave us his time, and I will be forever grateful that he did. This was before the Bo Diddley/Bo Jackson TV commercials, and long before the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Bo Diddley was another old bluesman, albeit a legend, and he was touring to pay the bills.
Once we got past his venting at the lack of royalties from the record companies and lack of recognition from the big-wigs on the business side in the industry that he complained about all the way until his recent death, Bo Diddley got to talking the blues. That's when the real magic entered the room. He was in his world.
From the interview:
"A lot of people don't understand what the blues is," Diddley remarks. "Blues has been modernized almost to the point where it isn't the blues anymore." Some people say that the blues is too down-beat, he adds, but "that's what it is. We call it graveyard blues."
Diddley says that when a person looks in his refrigerator and there is nothing to eat, that's the blues. And when the landlord knocks on the door for the overdue rent and throws the tenant out into the streets with 15 feet of snow on the ground, that's the blues, too.
Bo finished his meal and needed to get to the stage. He was late for that as well, and a small but adoring crowd was waiting. I had my camera with me and wasn't sure how to ask for a photograph, and I certainly wasn't going to snap pictures with his mouth chewing on chicken tenders. But as he turned to leave the room, I called after him, knowing I had one chance, and said something like, "A picture?"
Bo turned, looked me straight in the eyes, and gave me a thumb up with his right hand. He paused for about two seconds with that thumb up. You had to be quick. The photograph snapped, although a bit shakily, and he was gone.
And that's how I'll remember Bo Diddley.
I'll remember him as the forever-old bluesman, in the same sense we think of Robert Johnson, though Johnson died very young. I'll remember Bo Diddley as a musician who kept playing because it was in his blood -- same reason any artist keeps making art. "I enjoy performing," he said during the interview. He made music when he wasn't being paid properly to make the music. He paid his dues, and kept on paying them, but he also kept playing the blues, until the very end.
Whatever your art medium is, if it's indeed a part of you, like an arm or a leg, you can't ignore it, because it doesn't ignore you. Sometimes it feels really good, and sometimes it hurts like hell.
So "Hey Bo Diddley," thanks for teaching me that you can be angry about whatever -- whether it be money or fame or something else, but if you want to create, you have to keep at it. There's never any thought about giving up, because what it is -- is what you are.
Saturday, June 21, 2008
As a human being – we have an obligation to be relevant, don’t we? Through all of it, the pain and the bad times, and the good times. So that we don’t forget. As in, why we matter. Why I matter. Who I am.
As in, why I have become this – (fill in the blank).
Today is the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. Which means the shortest night. Eleanor likes the night best, because while everybody else is sleeping, she can create one world within another world, and so forth -- too many worlds to count after a while, and each of them filled with her own particular and peculiar versions of people -- all of them, however, characters -- or rather, human beings ... with relevance.
Life excerpt, unfinished,
by Geoff Schutt
I’m here to tell you something that maybe you don’t want to hear. Everything you feel –- what you think you’re feeling, no matter how intense the feelings, whether they’re feelings of love or hate, or happiness or depression, or anger, or even forgiveness –- everything needs to be compared. You are not allowed to simply feel. It is not acceptable for you to take what you feel at face or gut value. When you are young, perhaps, you can feel and have it be truth without question –- love, happiness, anger, hatred. You don’t know enough of the world outside of your little box that is you and your family to see otherwise. Later, you need comparison. How much you’ve experienced in life, well, it does make a difference. It allows for comparison. So what you feel, for example, if you think you love that person who’s so perfect right now, you have to remember the other people you’ve loved, and each one of them is going to be different, so it takes some time to sort out these feelings, these comparisons. I will tell you that I believe in love at first sight. I do. But you have to stop the picture right then, the second I believe this, because anything afterward is not going to be as good, and never can be. It can be good, but in a different way. Take the moments, preserve them. Feel – and then stop. Just turn the other cheek, so you can keep the feeling as it was. There will be nothing to diminish it. If you choose to continue, then you must compare. Let me count the ways I love thee as compared to how I have loved before. It needs to be compared. But there’s good news at the end of this rainbow, because if what you have –- what you do feel –- survives the test of comparison, if it is better than anything else, if you have enough experience to make it so, then you’d better stake your life on it. You trap that feeling the same way you’d trap a bear. You don’t let it go. Whatever else happens, you close your eyes and you know, I mean you have to know, as in all capital letters: YOU KNOW. You know that this is it. Love, hate, doesn’t matter. Before you cross the line and make the next move, toward love or hate, just to use those two as examples, you’d better be sure you’re being true not only to what you feel, but also, to yourself. You come first. And if you don’t come first, how well can you really love another person? Or hate another person? Comparison shopping is what it is – you find the best deal, and then, you can’t ever look back. The second you allow your eyes to wander, you’ve lost a part of it. Like an ice sculpture, slowly melting. Don’t let the feeling go. All I am saying is, do your research, and in this case, the way to do your research is by looking deeply into your own self. If you don’t have enough inside, you need to do some more shopping. Apples or bananas – they’re both good for you, but one is red and the other is yellow, and they taste different, and you like one better than the other. Substitute whatever you wish. But please, please do your homework. And then, if you like the apple best of all, don’t let anything stand in your way of getting it. Break every law that would prevent you from reaching it. Break your own heart if you need to, because in the end, it’s worth what you have to give up for that apple. I don’t need to know anything else. I’ve done my comparisons. And one other thing –- you are allowed to change. Contingent on this, that your direction is clear. Look after yourself. Make it good. If you stumble, someone will be there to catch you as you fall. That’s not magic. It’s life and it’s love and it’s so real you can put your fingers around it, and feel it physically, from the inside to the outside. You feel it. This is a recipe, yes. And this is one of those recipes where you need to follow the instructions absolutely. People make things so rough on themselves, because they don’t follow the recipe. They add in substitutions, when they should know better. I know this, because I tried substitutions. Maybe not on purpose, but that doesn’t make a shit's worth of difference. You can regret all you want, feel guilty, whatever your excuse or way to make it work out right in your head is –- you don’t want to regret or feel guilty, or whatever. Stick to the recipe, once you’ve found it, and done your research. Stick to it, and then you can fight for it with your life, because you know it’s worth the fight. That’s all I’m really saying, boiled down to a sentence. Make sure what you’re fighting for is worth the fight. If it is, you have to go all the way. You owe this not only to yourself, but also to everybody else involved. At this juncture, mistakes can be overlooked, forgiveness can be given, but unless you go all the way, whatever you end up with will be lacking in something. And that something might be what comes back to haunt you later. Nobody wants to be haunted. Go all the way. With everything. You have more strength than you realize. If you’re willing to lay down everything for the cause, nothing in this world can or will stop you.
Friday, June 20, 2008
I put out a bowl of strawberries to go with the moon.
"Eleanor," I said, as her biographer. "The only problem I see is that you're looking at everything in reverse. It's backwards."
"But you know what Lillian Hellman said, that people change and forget to tell each other."
"Now you're quoting Lillian Hellman?" I replied, surprised, yes, that Eleanor would be quoting anybody but herself and the people who populate her character world.
"Is that why my mother left me?" Eleanor asked.
I pushed the bowl of strawberries closer to her. It was very late, last night. She put a strawberry in her mouth and gave a weird expression. "Not enough sugar," she said.
I went to look out the window, and indeed, the moon had become a reverse image of itself, but it still looked beautiful, and I was in awe of it.
"The White Butterfly is almost here," I said softly, almost too softly, but I knew that Eleanor would hear me. "Maybe in a week, or two weeks."
Eleanor was smiling.
Thursday, June 19, 2008
"Art is individualism, and individualism is a disturbing and disintegrating force. There lies its immense value. For what it seeks is to disturb monotony of type, slavery of custom, tyranny of habit, and the reduction of man to the level of a machine."
-- Oscar Wilde
Source: The Soul of a Man Under Socialism, 1891
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
What would Chaucer have done? Probably gone to the well, or creek, or river.
We have no water at This Side Of Paradise, which gives life a temporary inconvenience. Strange how this works, that other parts of the country (and world) have too much water, and other spots, too little. How much we take for granted, those of us who are used to clean, running water.
Life will progress -- and this too, the lack of water for one day or five (that's the estimate) -- is again ... part of the "process." Writers and other artists have fared with much less, so we aren't complaining, but rather, taking this all in for future use.
Tuesday, and a new day -- Eleanor still has not opened her fortune cookie. She's waiting for The Little Room (Atlanta) to be finished, and The Spirit House lit up. "It has to be done," she says. "Plus, you caught me mid-sentence in Pittsburgh." And yes, I realize that I did do just that. We need to finish the sentence, and move on to a new paragraph. Also, characters are "in waiting." The typewriter in my head is beginning its clickety-clack.
UPDATE June 19, 2008: Our water service has been restored. After bathing in a shallow creek for a couple of days and getting our Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn (as well as "Little House on the Prairie") kicks, we are most pleased to see the water flow again. Thank you, Rain Dogs (and, accordingly, Tom Waits' songs, played into the clear sky at noise level 10 for 18 hours each day, which surely encouraged the water company to respond quickly).
Monday, June 16, 2008
It's the 16th of June, and any devout James Joyce reader knows what day this is: "Happy Bloomsday!"
Time to get that pint of Guinness and shot of Jameson and celebrate the words, and especially words that go against the status quo. Like James Joyce or not, he broke new ground, and that helps all of us, as artists.
Today's The Writer's Almanac (American Public Media) notes, "Joyceans all over the world celebrate the day in 1904 that the events of Ulysses take place on. It's named for the novel's protagonist, Leopold Bloom. Joyce chose June 16, 1904, as the setting for the novel, to commemorate the day he went on his first date with Nora Barnacle, his future wife."
Via The Writer's Almanac (and public domain), Molly's soliloquy from the Penelope chapter of Ulysses:
by James Joyce
"Molly's soliloquy ends, 'O and the sea the sea crimson sometimes like fire and the glorious sunsets and the figtrees in the Alameda gardens yes and all the queer little streets and pink and blue and yellow houses and the rosegardens and the jessamine and geraniums and cactuses and Gibralter as a girl where I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Morrish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.'"
Work on the new Little Room continues, and it seems fitting to borrow once more from James Joyce's words, albeit in an entirely different context from the above, but with just as much feeling: "... His heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes."
This is a day for "hearts going like mad," and the process of creating, and Little Rooms, wherever you are, wherever you create -- wherever your personal "safe place" is. Make it a good one.
Sunday, June 15, 2008
We have reached our destination -- 700 miles later. Our new home. We are writing these words on a borrowed signal, so we must be brief. There is much work to be done to prepare the new Little Room for occupancy by Eleanor and the other characters. At this moment, the room is blue -- a good color, but we need our green light. Soon we'll have our own signal and can give a longer update. Thanks for sticking around, and Eleanor is saving a fortune cookie for later. She promises to share. There could be lucky numbers. We are sleep deprived. 700 miles later, we feel somewhat disjointed. Some of our sentences are out of order. It's like putting a puzzle back together again that was not completed to begin with, except, this time with a different image, so it's all about finding the familiar.
Thursday, June 12, 2008
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
The Pittsburgh Little Room is now empty. The green light has been safely guarded and placed into secure surroundings as we continue the journey toward the next Little Room.
If you have a green light in your own life, protect it with all you have. It is indeed the hope that will carry you onward, from one place to the next, with the helping hands of your guardian angels and other creative spirits and muses.
Saturday, we shall be creating the new Little Room. Endings always produce new beginnings, so there's no small amount of excitement in this. The 28 days of "creative rehab" did us well. (The entire journey, which ended Sunday, June 8, 2008 is documented below, day by day for those who are new to This Side of Paradise -- "scroll down," and you'll be caught up in no time).
"Stay with us," Eleanor is saying, "even if you do not hear us calling in the night."
The glow of the light will will indeed be our guide, and we'll be posting when we can during the coming days.
"Stay with us and we will stay with you, and there will be no question of our loyalty to the words and to the creative spirit and to just plain being able to talk and think and be together no matter how may miles are between us," Eleanor says. "It'll be a promise of solidarity, for you and us. We won't give up on you, ever, and you promise never to give up on us. I have so much to say that I have to gather my own thoughts before I can even tell them to my biographer. It's so good to be free of The Spirit House. But there are others still inside, other characters who are my friends, and I need to set them free, too. See, I have a mission now! Besides my own story. They need to find their stories, same as I found mine. They need to shout and make all kinds of noise, same as I did. They want to be noticed. I won't let my friends down, the same way I won't let you down."
The green light is indeed magical, even in temporary lock-down.
"God Bless Our Little Rooms, Everywhere!" Eleanor says with delight, sounding something very much like Tiny Tim from A Christmas Carol.She's moving around so fast, it's almost as if she's trying to fly, and I suppose that's what she's doing -- testing the limitations of her new freedom, this freedom of moving into a living world of readers and books -- and all of these words, with every one of the words counting for something.
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
As we continue to prepare to move The Little Room from Pittsburgh to Atlanta, we're pleased to feature another guest writer on This Side of Paradise.
Michael K. Gause has been a regular reader for some time now, and his slice of fiction-meets-reality, below, blends perfectly with the James Dickey quote in the previous posting. If you enjoy Michael's distinctive style and his smart, visual approach to the words, be sure to check out his website. Thanks, Michael, for providing This Side of Paradise with something that's both a little bit different, and yet, what this Thog is all about -- the "creative process." It's what we see (and absorb) -- along what we "choose to see," combined with what we choose "to believe," and yes, finally -- how we take all of these observations and experiences with us as we head back to our respective Little Rooms and turn them into something we can call art.
"Freddie and the Baby King of Norway"
by Michael K. Gause
I could see his smile from behind as he hopped the last step and waddled his nonexistent ass into the bar. He was an orb of fat and back hair atop a small square of plaid boxers. A single scoop of tired jokes and b.o., I immediately wanted to call Freddie. Bulging through his once manly mane, Freddie approached the only decent looking girl in the place, who was seated close to the door facing inward to convey that old simple secret, "I am not easy. You have to talk to me first." He gave her neck a friendly squeeze more about his ability to get away with such a move than a gesture of friendship. He took up his pole position at the bar earned over the last month, paid for in half-paid tabs and requisite last call promisings, and tried to make her smile.
In my hometown in TN this ubiquitous move is found in year two of any Player's curriculum. After the paralysis before the fear of paralysis in the face of certain virginity (final exam, year one), it becomes all about the offense maneuver, judging tactics and timing. There are lateral moves that call for motion toward the confident ex-cheerleader (and subsets thereof, dependent upon her marital status, financial success and lasting popularity in the community she has no intention of leaving). A more linear advance can be made on those out of their element. With proper timing and tempo she can be laughing beside you despite your overbite and only three more drinks from eyes hard shut and gripping the door handle.
And then there are guys like Freddie. His is an effective confidence born of indifference, of admission of one's inexorably frozen fate. It is bravery before the barrel of a gun, discovering time and time again that some bullets are only deadly if you believe their bullshit. Most just hurt, and that's nothing but another tic come game time.
The resort bar is named Baby King Haakon's Bar and Grille (I couldn't make this up) having what to do with the local mythos of infant kings saved by Thorish half-brothers, epic descents down a mountain just outside the video arcade, peppered now with more mortal, but still impressive, boogie boarders. Here in the bar, it's a strange kind of beat down VFW and ecru collared visitor center. Some have ventured far to seek the firework marketing of a winter's fun pinnacled in chance adventure, family-gathered R&R tinged with the implied hope of a carnal backslide. Others are simply locals from the nearby town of Cable who have saved paycheck drippings for a chance to show spouse and kiddies Daddy ain't as bad as he sounds at midnight. More often than not the weekend ends up hair-splitting declarations of success, failure, and satisfaction wall-mounted over shag.
I envied something in Freddie's gait, the gleam in his eye as he walked in the door. The happiness of seeing his people already at the helm, his throne, already warmed with the game. Not that being the one to pop the evening's cherry would have gotten him down. No, Freddie was the kind of returning band camp senior who relished that role too, took a repeated pride in being the one who got things going down here on the best part of the first floor by the arcade (Burn Out Champ two years running), where the real fun is should you drag yourself all the way down the hall, to Cable, to pay to play in the snow. The Packers were on, so that's all she wrote. The place was Hrothgar's mead hall after good defense of the realm, songs and swears swelling into the loyalty of small town souls to their chosen guilds.
Almost medieval, just outside the urban glow of some bigger, real city.
Telemark Resort, Cable, WI
Michael K. Gause writes in Minnesota. His first self-published chapbook, The Tequila Chronicles, received honorable mention in The Carbon Based Mistake’s 2004 Art Exchange Program Contest. His second, I Want To Look Like Henry Bataille, was published in 2006 by Little Poem Press and to his knowledge hasn’t won squat. He continually works on projects he swears one day to finish. His website is located at www.thedayonfire.com.
"Freddie and the Baby King of Norway" is copyright 2008 by Michael K. Gause.
Monday, June 9, 2008
During the past six years, The Little Room has traveled about, in different forms and appearances, but always filled with the very essence of the creative spirit, from Toledo, Ohio to Asheville, North Carolina, and then to Chicago, and, as I write this, Pittsburgh.
Next stop, Atlanta. (Thank you, Atlanta, for having us!)
I've gone from being a "Northern writer" to a "Southern writer," and then back again. As geography tends to place us into neat little categories, I guess I'll be a Southern writer again -- though at heart, I'm a Midwestern boy, and that's where my sensibility is, and where Eleanor's story takes place.
This said, having lived in the South once already (Asheville, the so-called "Paris of the South") and moving South again provides me with a kind of fractured "East of the Mississippi" view of the United States, so I try to take in everything. Ultimately, we are affected by our surroundings -- and this is the very reason for The Little Room, a la Virgina Woolf's Room, though turned up in volume, perhaps, a few notches.
It's also the reason, I suppose, for This Side of Paradise -- a Little Room on the page, from within a Little Room.
The 28-day period of "creative rehab" that ended yesterday was essential for grounding me, giving me foundation, and helping me set the course for the next step in the physical journey, while keeping all of the creative spirits alive and well and focused. So many visitors stopped by during those four weeks -- many from postings on craigslist and elsewhere, and word of mouth -- it's been amazing, this response, and although unexpected -- most welcomed.
Here's what's coming -- during the next week or two, the postings will come in bursts, as I have or don't have Internet access. Creation will continue all the while.
1. If you are visiting via a craigslist posting and want to see what happens to This Side of Paradise (we have an end goal of 500 posts on this one long Kerouac-ian page, and then we'll decide on the next project), please be sure to bookmark us, or otherwise keep the Thog (this blog for thinkers) address handy. Those ads expire, but we'll keep on going.
2. I have two novels in the works, with Eleanor at front and center, first in line. Some of her new pages will be sent to my agent in California today. The rest of the novel, which has been in the works for 18 years, as noted in one or two of the many postings below (my thanks to Flaubert's example of long years of writing, and of never giving up!), will follow those pages in due time -- but not before they're ready, and "better than good."
As much as I want the "commerce" side, I'm also aware that some 400,000 different books were published just last year in the United States alone, according to industry statistics. After 18 years, we don't want to be "remaindered" before our time. Eleanor will guide me.
We here at This Side of Paradise plan to post the work of some guest writers over the coming weeks, so I hope you'll give these artists a warm welcome.
And then it's back to the wild ride of creation -- the every-day creation and "process" with its ups and downs and everything else thrown in. With 297 posts left at This Side of Paradise, that's quite a lot of production, and I anticipate it'll work itself out over the next six or seven months or so.
Again, please continue to follow us, and if this is your first visit, all you need to do is scroll down. There's already plenty of reading to keep you busy for a while. And yes, it is a journey, as much as it meanders at times. (All good journeys meander.)
As for Pittsburgh -- ah sweet beautiful inspiring Pittsburgh, you have grabbed hold of me, and you will stay in my heart always. This is a city of culture, more than an outsider could ever realize. Just walking the streets is like walking the streets of any city with a soul, distinct and honest and "real." You feel the breath in the footsteps. You hear the voices, the many jumbled voices (but some of them with a clear sentence every now and again, so you need to listen closely), and you also hear the music of lives spent in hard work but also with no small measure of love. Pittsburgh -- we won't forget you, and we will return one day.
Now, a word or two from Eleanor, and then a Shakespeare Sonnet (seems fitting enough) to round out this posting....
Eleanor: "You give us belief and strength, just as my biographer says. You don't have to say anything. You don't have to comment. But by being here and reading the words and caring enough to come back again, you make us more alive than we would be otherwise. Someday -- I don't know when -- I'll be a book on your nightstand, or one you carry with you as you travel, or to the beach, or wherever. I can't wait! But until then, this is where I'll be living, and I'll do my best to free the other characters from The Spirit House too, so we can all find our place in the pages, among the words."
Sonnet # 27
by William Shakespeare
Weary with toil, I haste me to my bed,
The dear repose for limbs with travel tired;
But then begins a journey in my head,
To work my mind, when body's work's expired:
For then my thoughts, from far where I abide,
Intend a zealous pilgrimage to thee,
And keep my drooping eyelids open wide,
Looking on darkness which the blind do see
Save that my soul's imaginary sight
Presents thy shadow to my sightless view,
Which, like a jewel hung in ghastly night,
Makes black night beauteous and her old face new.
Lo! thus, by day my limbs, by night my mind,
For thee and for myself no quiet find.
Sunday, June 8, 2008
Yes, we did the whole Fitzgerald legend today. We jumped into fountains, fully clothed and drunk on Champagne that still half-filled our glasses. We dined at fine restaurants -- only the finest of fine of course -- and tipped anyone who looked like a working man or woman with hundred dollar bills that we strategically placed dangling from our pockets. We swore we would meet up in two weeks on the French Riviera. Eleanor began to take ballet lessons, and also decided to paint, as well as write her own novels. Her biographer, a bit too tipsy from the alcohol, promised everyone else their own book as well, to be dedicated to the world! he said. And in the end, the ghost of Gatsby stood in the shadows like a dramatic moment about to happen, and the famous green light lit up the dusk, water lapping at the shoreline of a suddenly present body of water. We swore that we'd be up, bright and early, at work again by 4. Or maybe 5. By 10 at the latest. After breakfast, at least.
It all zipped away in a blink of the eye. We're dreamers, but we were dreaming a myth that was not even our own. We still had our own myth ahead of us to create.
Wherever we live for the rest of our lives, let's make sure we have a Little Room that is way beyond describing in just one sentence, Eleanor said. Or even a paragraph. So marvelous that people have to see it to believe.
And her biographer, woozy from even the suggestion of drink and foolishness, smiled. It has been fun, hasn't it? he said.
But a lot of work, too, Eleanor replied.
Are there any mangoes left, or did you eat them all?
Sorry, Eleanor said sheepishly.
Tomorrow is another day, a new day, her biographer remarked.
Let's not count them anymore, Eleanor said. Let's just live the days, and create, and you can keep writing my story forever, in 10 or 20 volumes maybe. After I grow a little older, I mean. Volume 20 -- me as an old woman somewhere, imagine that!
Eleanor -- , her biographer said quietly. You will never grow old. Even in Volume 20, you will still have your youth.
Wouldn't that be wonderful, Eleanor said. (And then:) Why don't we make it 30 volumes instead?
You're free, Eleanor, her biographer says. You don't have to whisper any longer. You don't have to shout for attention. Unless you want to, of course. You can do anything you want and I will be right there to observe you and write it all down, as you go forward and live your life. And I'll interview you about what you've already experienced, inside The Spirit House. But you don't have to stay there anymore.
I don't feel free, Eleanor says. I thought -- I thought it would feel different.
Is Olive Thomas free? she says, suddenly. Where is Olive?
Eleanor -- she's at peace. She's dead, you know that.
But she's not forgotten, Eleanor says. She's not forgotten and never will be, and I don't know if she's at peace or not, or if she's free or not. How can I know that?
Her biographer is taking notes as well as speaking, but he pauses.
I'm not sure, Eleanor, he says.
This isn't the end of anything, Eleanor remarks. If anything, it's a beginning. You need to find out for me.
But you can do that on your own now, her biographer says.
I -- I don't know how. I'm not used to this, Eleanor says. What do we do next? Where do we go? Are there people we can interview? Can we still go back into time? I could before -- go back into time.
Eleanor walks around the room, stretching her arms, lifting her legs, feeling what it's like to be a character ... but now more than a character -- alive. Like Olive Thomas was once, yes. When none of the movies talked. When mouths moved, but there was only silence. Surely these images must have seemed like characters from a book and not real people -- not even actors.
The imagination is a beautiful thing, to turn silence into sound.