13 November, 2017

Rockabilly Billy and the Texas 5, Part 7: Bop A Lena and Madame Bub

  The road stretched and bucked for three full days of driving, and eventually unknotted itself outside of The Place. I knew we was there because of the giant neon sign that called it out for miles in every direction, even to the center of the dark universe: THE PLACE. The signage was so bright the shadow it cast underneath dropped over the building like a long, thick shroud.  The parking lot was empty except for a couple old trucks and broken down fire truck.

You're about to start your education, Pilgrim George. Keep your eyes open and go with the flow. And for fuck's sake kid... Himself stepped out of the car and stretched and I heard a series of pops that sounded like rapid gun fire... don't screw this up. You do this right and you'll have set your boot on the path towards gen-you-ine enlightenment.
 
I followed Bill through the dark shroud covering The Place. Once inside, I saw at once that Dolly, Sue, Tex the younger and Rex were indeed waiting for us. I almost didn't recognize Rex for the sequined dress slit way up to his waist. His handlebar mustache and shovel beard still a dead giveaway, but I had to confess I found it difficult to keep my eyes off the rest of him. I never knowed a man with an hourglass shape that would have shamed Marilyn Monroe.
You keep your eyes and your paws ta yourself, there, Georgie! Rex growled at me and downed her shot. Then she called over to the bar. Another Amaretto straight! Stat! Then she smiled at me. Call me Madame Bub, Darlin'.
 
I followed Madame Bub's painted finger nail to the back of the room, where the bar was. The bartender was a tattooed beauty.. tall dark hair tied back and up, big red lips, and eyes like violet spears that cut through the din and looked right at us. She did not jump to greet us. She smiled a wry smiled, set out 5 shot glasses, and poured 5 neat shots of Kentucky Rye. 

Himself smiled large and howled. Good Lord Lena. You know me and what I like. Then He pointed back at me. This here is my driver, Pilgrim George. He looked at me. You go help here with whatever she needs. Just mind yourself. She doesn't talk. Not a whit. Not a bit. So you stay vigilant and be watchful. This is no time to napping. Then he held up his right and and snapped his fingers. It sounded like two tree limbs snapping. At the sound, Madame Bub, Tex the Younger, simultaneously set into motion and started putting the stage together. Tex the Younger strode over to the soundboard and started his fingers dancing over the knobs and switches, adjusting the stage light and sound levels. Dolly and Sue cat off their coats to expose two slinky sequined dresses similar to Madame Bub's. Madame Bub pulled what looked like a guitar case up from under the table she was sitting at and unlocked it, releasing a sapphire blue electric bass. 
 
Where's Mr. RifRaff? Himself bellowed. Leave it to that squirrelly bastard to be late.
 
He'll be here, Bill,  said Tex the Younger, calling from the sound booth.  You know his clock runs sideways.
 
And backwards, Dolly and Sue said together. He's probably still in tomorrow. 
 
But he'll be here, Madame Bub said with conviction. He'd not miss it for something as silly as time.
 
As I watched the scene unfold, I felt Bop a Lena's violet eyes upon me and could not shake the feeling no matter how much I tried to keep my mind on Julia Dream. Bop a Lena was watching me, waiting. I didn't know what to say to this woman that did not speak, but I felt my feet taking back to the bar.
 
She pushed the first shot from the left at me when I approached the bar. I drank it down without even thinking. Then she turned her back to me, unbuttoned her shirt, and slid the collar down her back to expose lilly white shoulders. she slip it down to her waist to expose brightly colored angel wing tattoos that covered the whole of her back from her shoulder blades to her waist. 
 
I drank down the second shot and looked at her in the bar back mirror. She was watching me in the mirror, smiling a woman's smile. Then she shrugged and the wings jumped off her back and sprung forth like she'd been born part bird. 
 
It was then I thought of the first thing Julia Dream told me: 
 
Ye will meet angels, George. Be kind, but remember - every angel needs a bad man every once in a while.
 
Bop a Lena's wings wrapped around the front of her like cloak and she motioned for me to follow her to the back room. Behind me, Himself was yelling at Madame Bub to get in tune for shit's sake, they have work to do.  I looked back at the stage as I was following Bop a Lena. A giant man with a drum kit had, in the interim, appeared out of nowhere. This, I would later learn, was Mr. RifRaff the Time Jumping Drummer from Butte. Himself had strapped his cherry red Les Paul special on stood akimbo on the stage, eyes closed, waiting for the downbeat.

  

 
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07 November, 2017

Just yesterday morning, Part 3

All things are made bitter, words even / are made to taste like paper, wars gets tossed up / like soldiers used to be/ (in a child's attic) lined up / to be knocked down, as I am... ~ Charles Olson
The life of reality is confused, disorderly, almost always without apparent purpose, whereas in the artist's imaginative life there is purpose. ~ Sherwood Anderson 
Daylight Savings Time, Marriage, Art
Give it about 30 years and no one will even talk about Daylight Savings Time anymore.

Seriously. As annoying as it is, as pointless as it is, and as completely illogical as it is, it will cease to be the topic any real discussion.  
This won't happen because the powers-that-be will suddenly come to their senses and realize that moving the hour hand backwards or forwards doesn't actually extend or shorten the day. As a matter of fact, if anyone talks about hour hands, it will be in the sense of a quaint curiosity. Like jewelry made out of the hair of a dead loved one or the concept of privacy. All things fall into the dust of quaint curiosity shops of the mind -- including curiosity shops -- so seriously, don't put too much stock in the illusion that you're getting an extra hour sleep when we  FALL BACK IN THE FALL.

Don't worry about it. The Internet of Things will do it for us. We won't have to think about Daylight Savings Time because the ability to think about anything -- like the ability to read a clock or have a private thought that can't be described by a meme -- will have disappeared and we will have the IOT (Internet of Things, or, as we'll maybe call it NetStuf) heft the apparent burden of consciousness for us.

But if this Internet of Things... I mean, NetStuf... is so damn dandy, why can't it fix the hole in my ceiling? It can, apparently, predict what kind of advertising I'll respond to based on (really, very) random keyword searches. It can tell me who I was in a past life. It can tell me how I'm probably going to die and -- based just on my Facebook profile picture -- tell me where my ancestors came from. This Internet of Things assures that I'm instantly and permanently connected to countless facts, factoids, fake news, friend updates, new business connections, and scores for everything from the little league game (in languid immobile Summer, anyway) to World Cup Soccer.

But it can't crawl up into the very small and sort of claustrophobic space under the ceiling awning off the attic and repair a hole. It can't climb up on the roof and make any necessary repairs. It's 2017 and there are robots that can vacuum your house while you're gone... not that we can afford one or could even make use of one with three dogs and two cats to either hunt it, stalk it, or asphyxiate it with the endless trails of shed fur.

Ok, I know. I signed up for this life on the margin, right? Making Art out your life isn't easy, nor, I suppose, should it be. Though I'm still unsure of why. And I feel like I've been asking that question a really, really long time.




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06 November, 2017

Rockabilly Billy and the Texas 5, Part 6: The Pilgrim's Process

Stop fighting it, Pilgrim George, Himself. He pushed his keys into my hand. We got to be at The Place three days hence and we cannot linger long here at the foot of the tree.
I asked him what this place was and why we had to get there, and why, on top of that, did Rex and Tex the Younger have to meet us there instead of just going with us. He slapped on the back then reached up and tousled my hair.  Then he told me not to worry and that all my questions would be answered by and by.

 Now you be sure and take extra special care of this Caddy while you're drivin' it. I like you, Pilgrim George, and think you got it in you to become something spectacular. He stopped to finished lighting the cigarette he just rolled and stuck between his clenched teeth. But that don't mean I won't skin you alive. A man don't need skin to drive.
How a man could drive without skin I didn't know, but I had no intention of finding out. But it was all I could do to keep the Caddy on road. The steering wheel pulled against me and the car bucked and swerved... 'cept it didn't buck and swerve like some broken down jalopy. No, sir. That El Dorado bucked and swerved like a horse that couldn't wait to jump the fence and run. All 12 cylinders were working their best to tear me off that wheel. That didn't seem to bother Himself none, though. He just sat in the passenger seatI tried telling him I didn't know where to go. He grunted and pointed towards the horizon. We're goin' that way, Georgie. Don't go losin' you head.
It didn't take long for the Treetop Bar to disappear in the rear view mirror. I still didn't know exactly why I'd agreed to this or what I'd done to deserve being dragged off my chair, away from my beer. Sure, I said I thought I another Rockabilly Billy show would be an amazing thing. And it's entirely possible that I was talking big to impress the company present -- Dolly and Sue, Rex and Tex the Younger, and Julia Dream.

Julia Dream, my dream boat queen. It hard not to think about that kiss and about the three things she told me -- which, I will recount as present, for posterity, if for no other reason, even if it incurs a little of her wrath. I don't think it will, though. Any reason there was for secrecy has long since passed.

So there I was driving the Caddy and Bill Hisself was sitting in the passenger seat, staring out at the road ahead from under his rhinestone stetson. He never said stop nor go. He never told me to turn or that I ought to expect to turn. The road south just unspooled in front of us like an old cassette tape.

Finally, I asked him how in the hell I was supposed to know where someplace with a generic and uninspired name like The Place, was supposed to be. He chuckled a little and told me to keep driving. 

Are you even going to tell me when we're gonna get there?

Bill clicked his teeth. You got to relax some, Pilgrim George. That there is half your problem. 

My problem?

Even though I kept my eyes on the road and the quickly fading daylight, I felt him turn and stare me down. Yessir, Pilgrim George. You got to relax. 

Now I was tired from the drive and from fighting that Caddy to keep it on the road. And I was thirsty and I hadn't eat since that morning. He dragged me away from my beer, from the comfortable confines of the Treetop Bar, and he dragged me away from Julia Dream. It was with the fading taste of her kiss on my lips that  I lifted my foot off the gas and stomped the break pedal. It like to take all of my weight to make that beast dig in and stop in a giant cloud of dust and rock and road debris.

Goddammit Bill! Now I know you're Himself and all that but I really think you made a mistake in dragging me out like this. I know I talked big, and I'm really sorry, but...

I heard him click his teeth again. He pulled his tobacco pouch out of vest pocket and started to roll another cigarette with his long, strong fingers. Then he shook his head and spoke like he was quoting scripture:

"I have it in commission, to comfort the feeble-minded, and to support the weak. You must needs go along with us; we will wait for you, we will lend you our help, we will deny ourselves of some things, both opinionative and practical, for your sake; we will not enter into doubtful disputations before you, we will be made all things to you, rather than you shall be left behind."


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31 October, 2017

Just yesterday morning, Part 2

But if you're gonna dine with them cannibals/ Sooner or later, darling, you're gonna get eaten . . . ~ Nick Cave
 

cynicism art life risk blog writing
Harold Lloyd, the King of Daredevil Comedy. 1923.
Inspirational quotes are a pain in the ass.

There. I said it.

I know I'm not the only person who feels this way. At least, I HOPE I'm not the only person who feels this way. And I'm not talking about ALL quotes... clearly. I'm talking about those ones that end up in jpegs with sky blue backgrounds with soaring birds or kittens hanging from laundry lines.

If I get told one more time to "Hang in there!" I'm going to punch somebody. And I make a point to not punch people anymore.

If I get told one more nutshell of cracked faux-homespun wisdom about how the squeaky wheel gets the used fryer grease and how the mouse shit in the cream and turned it to butter and climbed out only to get eaten by an emaciated cat, I'm going to steal a bicycle and ride headlong into traffic on I-71.

And this is what happens. All the time. Whether I ask for it or not. And the worst part is, it's not even the people around me. Amanda, who knows me better than anyone, is not one to dollop canned wisdom on anyone, especially me. My daughter, who is young and predisposed because of her youth and necessary optimism* to embrace  inspirational quotes, is kind enough to her old man not to pass them off on me, in spite of the fact that they seem to work for her.

It's true. I can be harsh. I can be acerbic. My second ex-wife accused me of having an antagonistic relationship with the world. She wasn't wrong, but I submit now, as I responded then, that the world started it.**

Even people who are tangentially connected with me have learned to spare me when it comes to canned advice.

I began exuding a derision to such things when I was 17 and my dad died. People offered up heaps of casseroles (which were greatly appreciated) and advice about grief (which was not.) Telling a child burying his father that "everything happens for a reason" is not compelling and does nothing to mitigate the long grieving process. Nor was it productive, as I was told by a particularly stern minister, not to cry. I took that rebuke so to heart that I learned to bury everything. My second ex-wife was so accustomed to me NOT expressing emotion that when I did, she also reacted with a harsh rebuke that seemed like a judgment of my manhood.

People who learn to bury their emotions end up one of a couple of ways: they become killers, they end up drunks, or they end up poets.

I suppose, as the song goes, two out of three ain't bad.

Where I can't seem to escape the endless, monotonous, and just gawd awful string of canned advice and inspirational quotes is... everywhere else.

Our culture is addicted to them. Simple slogans and pedantic jingoism describe what should be well-thought out political positions. We reduce our personalities to lifestyle labels. We hide behind commercials that call us to embrace a soulless materialist replacement for faith or spiritualism. We are told to believe in ourselves and only in ourselves. We are told we are the solution to our own problems. We are told we are enough.

What a load of horse shit.

Because when it becomes clear that we aren't enough, there is no one else to blame when our best
efforts crumble.  We're told we just didn't try hard enough and somehow a cute fucking kitten hanging on a clothes line becomes the overpowering metaphor for our existence. JUST HANG IN THERE becomes a mantra that erases any critical assessment. We're not supposed to think about all this stuff. We're just supposed to HANG IN THERE and let the world happen to us.

It's bad advice. Because sometimes you do your best and it still comes to nothing. Because many times we are not enough and we need a community of peers, a community of faith, or at least two honest bar buddies to tell us when we're screwing up.

And while I reject the faux-glow of inspirational quotes, I have learned that I have to embrace the idea that there's a community around me that I sometimes have to answer to. I've had to learn to embrace the belief that I am not always enough, and that I need help more often than I like to admit.

______________________________________________________________________
*Optimism is the only thing that makes youth bearable and even possible.
** Or, as stated in my self-adopted credo: ego sum non forsit. forsit est orbis terrarum. (I am not the problem. The problem is the world.)


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30 October, 2017

Rockabilly Billy and the Texas 5, Part 5: Hot Coffee, Sweet Tea

It's all settled then! Himself stood and crowed so loud it shook the whole bar. It damn near shook it out of the tree.

Now listen here, Bill,  I said.  I have just a few questions to ask before you drag me off from here on some hair-brained scheme.

He looked it me and his deep blue eyes -- eyes blue like winter wolf -- twinkled from underneath the wide brim of his bedecked shit-kicker hat. For a moment those trickster orbs looked ancient -- deep set and full of primordial cold fire. He looked at me and straight through me. The hairs on the back of my neck stood straight up. And I think he knew it, too, because he smiled, his teeth like shiny razors gleaming under the light that shone in his eyes. 
This here ain't no 'hair-brained scheme' Young Pilgrim. This here is nothing less than a divine epic quest thou hast been plucked up and chosen for. Worry not. It shall not murder thee, but thou mayst die at least twice along the way.

As the words rolled off his tongue, he stepped back, crowed again and slapped me on the arm so hard it popped my shoulder out of joint, making me scream so loud that Dolly and Sue dropped their whiskey shots on the floor.
Sorry about that, Georgie, he said. Sometimes I don't know my own strength. He looked over at Tex the Younger. Take care of it, will ye Tex? I'm good at the breakin' but not at the fixin'.

Tex the Younger nodded like he was annoyed, stood up, and lumbered towards me. I thought for sure he was going to break me worse. When he got to me he reached out with one of his giant chicken killing meat hook hands and snapped my shoulder back into place. He grunted. You'll live,  he grunted. But you may feel it when the rain comes.

Himself snorted and nodded at me. Time to go, Young Pilgrim. He turned to Rex and Tex the Younger. You two meet us at The Place three days hence. And don't be late. And Rex darlin' ... he paused, smiled, and tipped his hat... don't forget your trunk.  Then he looked at Dolly and Sue. And you two know what to do, he growled. Don't make me tell you twice.

Come on ahead, Pilgrim George. Let's slide down the rope and get this thing going. Don't you worry about the tab. It'll keep until your return. If you return. He laughed like he'd just told the funniest joke of any joke ever told in the history of jokes.

Himself Rockabilly Billy pulled me towards the exit and it was all I could do to stay on my feet. As we exited the Treetop Bar, headed for parts unknown, I look back at Julie Dream. Her smile was sad as she raised a shot glass and emptied it in my honor.

That was the first and last time I ever saw Julia Dream take a drink of anything besides hot coffee or sweet tea.

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24 October, 2017

Just yesterday morning, Part 1

You can't fix the weather - you just have to get on with it. - Douglas Adams

home repair fail
Buster Keaton & Virginia Fox. The Electric House (1922)
Sometimes I think I'm cursed by crumbling ceilings. I wake up early in the morning to write and read, to meditate and pray, while the house is silent. At that time of day, before the time-tracking part of my brain, before the you've-got-too-much-shit-to-get-done-today part of my brain, before the mark-my-obligations-off-the-never-ending-list part of my brain kicks in, I swim outside of the clockwork world. Even in the technological age I find there are mechanical underpinnings. This touch and go techno gratification stuff is just a thin skin for Descartes' bastard son -- a wholly mechanical model universe created by monkeys with bigger brains who also think God is monkey but with a machine heart.

And in this swim of mental time space, before the machines clang and the digital clock face on my cell phone reminds me that I'm simply not allowed to exist outside the artificial time loop, I take in the whole of my surroundings. The silence. The sound the dog's paws make on the linoleum floor. The sound of the cat jumping on top of the garbage can by the backdoor to be let out. The feel of the ceiling fan blades cutting the air. The sound of rain outside as the sun starts to come into view.

The leaking roof in the corner of the dining room.

I used to love the sound of the rain. Especially early in the morning or at night when it was time to (finally) sleep. When I was living in a friend's cabin out in Eastern Kentucky, I loved the sound of rain on the tin A-frame roof. The sound was hypnotic. The cadence was meditative. 

Now when I hear the sound of rain, my first thought is: "FUCK! Where will the house leak today?"

I once heard a man wiser than me say that it was a mistake to own anything you have to paint or feed. Most of the time I take that statement with a grain of salt. It's not that I'm all about ownership. Actually, I'm pretty certain my dog only tolerates me because I feed her most of the time, and as such I've never really thought of myself as a "dog owner" as much as I have a "dog person."

The same goes with home ownership. I tend not to think of myself as a homeowner as much as the
dog man
person helping pay the mortgage on a house that will, by and by,be someone else's responsibility. It's better than paying rent, in theory, because someday -- if Amanda and I are very very lucky -- we'll only have to pay property taxes to a municipality that has done nothing in regards to the care or upkeep of this house we call a home.  The bank doesn't help out either, come to think of it. All I do is live here and I'm bound and obligated to keep the yard mowed, see to basic repairs, try not to let it be too much of an eyesore, and take care of the place until the "mort*" part of the "mortgage" kicks in.

That's the deal. And most of the time -- like 88-90 percent of the time -- I'm perfectly fine with this. Life is about impermanence after all, and all we're doing is trying to figure out our purpose and find meaning in what mostly seems like a futile attempt to avoid being the target of rush hour road rage -- someone else's or, God help us, our own.

And I was still ok... until I heard the not so subtle drip of water from the corner of where, when it rains a little too much, water leaks in. We're prepared, of course. We have a bucket there, and towel.  But it is only a short-term fix. The leak is sufficiently bad that I will probably have to find the wherewithal to climb up on the roof -- something I don't excel at. OK, I'm pretty decent at the up part. It's the down part that almost always gives me trouble. It's not that I'm scared of heights. It's that I'm far too aware that Murphy's Law kicks in to triple time whenever I'm doing anything like, say, climbing a ladder, or working under a car, crawling into the creepy space under the ceiling to repair a hole (causing me my first and heretofore only panic attack.)

When Amanda got up a couple of hours later, I was annoyed at the ceiling, annoyed at my inability to either repair it or pay someone on better terms with Murphy to repair it. I'm not entirely sure I've tried to ever explain to her why I feel haunted by leaky roofs.

And I wasn't entirely sure I felt like explaining it then, either.
__________________________________________________________________
* In trying to find the etymological root of the word mortgage, I made the mistake of just typing the word  "mort" into Google. Apparently "mort" does not mean death, but instead is "the note sounded on a horn when the quarry is killed." Now, I know I'm not much of an expert on the sound that horns make while hunters are hunting, but I'm not entirely sure I trust Google Dictionary. 

The good news is that after I went to the trouble of typing in, Boolean style, the words "etymological" and "mortgage", I finally found the proper definition... just in case some of you good looking and clearly intelligent folks didn't know it already.

mortgage (n.)
late 14c., morgage, "conveyance of property as security for a loan or agreement," from Old French morgage (13c.), mort gaige, literally "dead pledge" (replaced in modern French by hypothèque), from mort "dead" (see mortal (adj.)) + gage "pledge" (see wage (n.)). So called because the deal dies either when the debt is paid or when payment fails. Old French mort is from Vulgar Latin *mortus "dead," from Latin mortuus, past participle of mori "to die" (from PIE root *mer- "to rub away, harm," also "to die" and forming words referring to death and to beings subject to death). The -t- restored in English based on Latin.


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23 October, 2017

Rockabilly Billy and the Texas 5, Part 4: All deals are non-refundable

serial short fiction
Before I could say anything else, Julia Dream was standing next to the table. She smiled down at me, her full lips curled up in a funny little smirk. Here eyes shone like the deepest blue green Gulf waters, taking me in.

Come on with me, Georgie. You heard what The Man said.

I was helpless to resist and unable to find my voice. I wanted to try and explain that there was no need for what I thought was about to happen. I mean, it wasn't that I didn't WANT to. Of course I wanted to. But not like that, like it was some mile marker on The Road to Rhinestone Glory.

You go with her, Kid, He said. You go with her and then we'll hammer out the details.

I let her lead me back behind the bar to the little room where she lived. She opened the door and bid me to follow her in. Her room wasn't no bigger than a medium sized closet, but there was enough space for a narrow bed, a dressing table and mirror, some shelves, a few books, and an old steamer truck. It was the kind that opened up and was a mini chest of drawers, like people took on long boat voyages back when people still traveled by boat for more than just over-priced vacations to foreign port where everyone speaks English and there's a fast food joint on every corner. The trunk was in great shape, too. Like she took pains to keep it clean and in good working order.

She paused in front of the bed. I shuffled in and closed the door behind me. Then I waited.

Then she laughed. You're so funny, Georgie, she said.

How's that? I asked.

She wheeled around on her heels, her hands on her hips, to face me. You're shaking like a rabbit that's about to get jumped by a coyote. You don't need to. What you think is going to happen AIN'T going to happen here.

But I ...

Julia Dream placed her lovely red-tipped forefinger over my lips to silence me. Now Georgie, she chided me. Insulting a woman's intelligence is no way to get to her bed. It wasn't going to happen... not today, at any rate... but still. If you're gonna be traveling with Bill, you need to learn how to act in front of women. She smiled again, and without missing a beat she drew me to her and kissed me. All of her was pushed up against me. Her arms were around my neck. I put my hands on her hips and she swiveled them a little so I'd wrap my arms around her waist.

The kiss lasted for what seemed like hours. Her lips were soft and tasted like strawberry wine. When it finally ended it felt like I'd never breathe right again without her lips on mine.

Oh, Georgie, she said, shaking her head. Where you been hidin' THAT? If I'd a known you kissed like that, I might not have let you run off with Himself. She locked her eyes on me. I could screw you silly, Georgie Boy, she said. I could screw you like you'll never be screwed again.

Then she pulled away and sighed. But not today.

In a fit of kiss-drunk foolishness I opened my mouth and told her everything I'd been carrying around in my heart. I told her I loved her, that all I thought about was her. I told her I'd stay there with her on her narrow bed or I'd sleep in the bar just to be around her. I told her I loved so much it burned me up thinking about what wasn't going happen... and that while I didn't exactly WANT it to happen, I didn't exactly want it NOT to happen either.


Julia Dream just shook her head and rubbed my cheek. You're already promised to Bill, she said. I can't come in between that. But if you go out with him and come back to me... and if you still want me...well, Georgie, I'll make sure you never forget it.

Before I answered she went on. I know what you're thinking. But I haven't had a man in my bed for many a moon. I don't take on lovers lightly, no matter what some of these old hound dogs around here think. 

I wanted to know who her last lover was and how whoever it was could have been so stupid as to leave her in lurch at the Treetop Bar. She shook her head.

Now listen, Georgie, and listen good. I got three things to tell you. They won't make any sense now, but they will. And these things I'm about to tell you are ONLY for you. You got to promise me you won't tell any of them what I'm about to tell you. Do you promise?

I promise.

Do you promise?

I promise.

Do you promise?

I swear, Julia. I won't say word. I promise!

She nodded and told me that I promised three times, which made it three times as sacred and three times as terrible if I was to ever break my promise. Then after she told the three things, she kissed me on the cheek -- there was still just a hint of strawberry wine -- turned me around on my heels and sent me out of her room.

I walked back out into the bar. Rex and Tex the Younger whooped and asked me if that meant I was man.  Dolly and Sue giggled and played with their cocktails. Sue told me I better not have laid the pipe down TOO good, because their drinks were about dry.

Himself told them to shush and he motioned for me to join him again at the table. He admonished me not to worry about them sorry onlookers. The last either Rex or Tex the Younger got it up they were toe up at a leather convention in Waukegan. And he told me not to worry none about Dolly or Sue, either. 'Cause the only reason they ain't screwed Rex and Tex is 'cause their old man taught 'em to sling it outside the family. He smiled at my dropped jaw. I'll tell you that story someday,  Himself said. When you're a little better seasoned.

He slid set of car keys across the table. They were attached to a key chain with two pendants: a crucifix and and a silver lightening bolt. Now before you take them keys, Himself intoned, there's just one thing you have to understand. 

Himself leaned forward and looked me right in the eye. His eyes were pitch black and his voice reverberated down my spine. You take them keys and that's the deal. There's no giving them up until the run is done, no quitting, no second guessing. You take them keys and the deal is made and you are bound by all holy writ and seals until the run is done.

Then he sat back and smiled. By then Julie Dream was back at the bar, only she wasn't looking at me or Bill or anyone else. She went around and refilled everyone's drinks and wiped off the tables. I looked at her, not looking at me, and thought about that kiss and what it felt like to have her body pushed up against mine.

But I could also feel Himself staring at me, waiting. I thought about what Julia said about coming back after and if I still wanted then, well then ok. I reached up for the keys with my right hand, and I asked Himself where we was going first.

If I didn't know better, I could swear I saw a tear trickle down Julia Dream's perfect face.


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17 October, 2017

Perpetual pilgrim, Part 2: exile amor fati

 I am an exile's book. He sent me. ~Ovid

Exile is more than a geographical concept. You can be an exile in your homeland, in your own house, in a room. ~ Mahmoud Darwish 


home and exile
Although I haven't lived in my hometown for better than several years and I rarely go back, I do follow some of the comings and goings there. There's an insatiable fascination about the place for me, in spite of the fact that there's nothing there for me but cemetery stones and geographically bound nostalgia. Think of it as something akin to voyeurism.

Recently on the Facebook page for my hometown's historical society I noticed an event. Five local authors were going to converge on the historical society... the old Grant Building where the library was housed when I was a kid ... to talk about how they became writers.

Each of them, I suppose, had written and published books. I only knew one of the names because other than random and terrible violence and the odd billboard paid for by a local church  proclaiming that Satan had taken over the school board, the only thing my hometown ever made the news for was the fame of the The World Walker. No one remembered him leaving on his trip, but everyone was there for the return, including a parade, a key to the village, and an invitation to speak to high school students about his experience.

Now, although I've made my home a few hours south and on the other side of the dirty, sacred river, the fact is that as much as I have no place or purpose in the place I'm from, I'm a transplant everywhere else. I guess it's fair to say that I haven't made The Big Time. There are no parades or keys to the town with ubiquitous invites to talk to ungrateful high school kids about my accomplishments.

Probably one of the most challenging parts of being a writer isn't actually the writing. That's always been the easier part. I don't believe in writer's block and I reject the idea that creative energy fizzles. It changes channel and sometimes doesn't march with popular tastes and trends, but generally the writers who chase trends end up burning themselves out -- not because their creativity fizzles but because they cut themselves off from it a long time ago and decided to sustain themselves on praise and marketability.

The biggest challenge for me has always been the subject of tradition... literary or otherwise. Although I don't remember much from when my thesis defense*, I do remember Dr. Glenn Colburn asking me where I would place myself in the canon of American Literary Tradition. I don't even remember exactly what I said because I was a bit taken aback by the question. I managed to write a collection of integrated (hopefully) poems and short stories. It was probably incredibly abstract and most likely total failure. My graduate advisor asked me once if I thought it would end up being publishable. My answer was that it probably was not at all publishable, because there was no way to categorize it in any way that literary agents and the publishing world would or could understand, or in such a way that agents and publishers could excise their percentages from sales.

I'm still pretty good with that. And I'm still pretty good with probably being a little too left of center for poets and a little to right of center for fiction writers. But it does sometimes nag at me that I grew up in  place that so assiduously tried to erase its history that I've been running all over the place for 30 years or more trying to find one, only to keep running into one inescapable fact: there is no such thing as adopting a literary root. Either you're born with one, or you cobble your own from the flotsam and jetsam of experience. It's that or it's creative death.

I guess it's OK that they didn't invite me, being as I'm not as news worthy as a guy who tried to rob a bank with a pocket knife (in my graduating class.) I suppose it's OK that I still can't answer the question of where I am in the scope of American letters because I'm not a Louisville writer or a Kentucky writer or, really, an Ohio writer... or even a Bethel, Ohio writer.

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16 October, 2017

Rockabilly Billy and the Texas 5, Part 3: The Road to Rhinestone Glory

 Well, I'm no musician, and I told him so. He didn't seem all that concerned about it.

We got all the musical talent we need. But what we lack is exactly the bill you'll fill, Georgie.

Julia Dream smiled and licked her ruby red lips. I was so shocked at Bill's invitation and his dauntless confidence that I had a role to play that I didn't notice that she was smiling at me in a totally different light. Rex and Tex the Younger and Dolly and Sue were up on their feet, up in arms about him inviting me along at all. I can't say I blamed them. After all, I was just some green kid who'd climbed up and wandered into the bar and gone ga-ga for the bartender. To be honest, the Treetop Bar was the farthest I'd ever traveled in my entire life.

When I asked Himself what it was he thought I could do, he told me he needed a driver. But, He said, it's more than just driving.

When you drive for a hard driving rockabilly band,  He said,  you're a driver. You're a roadie. You're security. Sometimes you're an entertainment wrangler. 

 Himself leaned forward and pointed his bottle of Sioux City Sarsaparilla. He smiled and his teeth shone like razors. I ain't gonna lie, Georgie. I won't ever lie and I'll never steer you wrong. There's all kinds of romantic bullshit out there about being on the road with a band. Some of it's true. Some of it's shine. But you'll figure that out for yourself. If you've got the balls to drive a 1959 Caddy Eldorado with more horses than Pancho Villa.

Everyone in the bar -- Rex and Tex the Younger, Dolly, Sue, and Julia Dream -- were all looking at me. Himself took a big swig and drained his sarsaparilla.  It was like he knew before I could chicken shit out and say no.

Get him ready, Julia. Times burning on both ends and the road to rhinestone glory waits for no one.




  

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10 October, 2017

Perpetual pilgrim, Part 1: introduction to the off-the-road edition

God is at home, it's we who have gone out for a walk.~ Meister Eckhart

Home life is no more natural to us than a cage is natural to a cockatoo. ~ George Bernard Shaw

Lately my goal has been to try and apply the basic rules of the road to my everyday life.

It's not that I'm going to be out and about anytime soon... work and other responsibilities make this impossible... but it occurs to me that I've been living like the things I did out on the road had no relation to how I was living my life now. The problem is that in my most natural state, my mindset is that of a permanent traveler. It's not that I don't love the home I have with Amanda and Stella and Will; but I also know that as much as I love home... home as family, home as a place I'm comfortable... I'm not, in my natural state, much of a homebody. Yes, I like to maintain my space a certain way. When I travel I'm a tediously organized packer, too. So really, it's less about being domesticated and more about the aforementioned particularness ... whether home is on my back or four walls and a roof that needs to be re-shingled.

But I think part of my problem has been that I've still been trying to tackle this domestic bliss stuff the way I was socialized to by small town culture, by television, by mentors and heroes -- none of whom ever suggested, even remotely, that I orta do things the way they do things.**

In trying to figure out how to do this stuff  My Way, the only conclusion I've come to is that I have to live at home the way I live out on the road. Certainly there are some modifications. But overall, it's more about spacial awareness than a shift in awareness. Or, that's what I'm going with now.

My road rules went through multiple drafts and notions, but they boil down to something like this:

  1. Read and write everyday.
  2. Be aware of your surroundings.
  3. Leave things as nice or nicer than you found them.
  4. Etiquette makes society, not the other way around.
  5. Be grateful when things are good. They won't always be.
  6. Keep your head up when things are bad. They will be more often than not.Show appreciation and articulate love. Daily.
This isn't always easy, though I often think it should be. With four adults, three dogs, and two cats living under one roof, sometimes it feels like it's a little hard breathe. And I LOVE these people. But generally, if I keep my art at the center*** and tether myself to being essentially humane and focus on trying to be the best husband, father, and father-in-law that I can be, I believe I'm doing my part in helping maintain our conglomerated family unit.

Even if it's not altogether natural feeling sometimes.


___________________________________________________________________________
* No less than every girlfriend I've ever had and two ex-wives have pointed out/accused that I have an antagonistic relationship with the world. But clearly, the world started it.
**All of them actually said the contrary, on multiple times. A wise mentor will never tell you to do what they do, exactly how they do it. That's how you tell the difference between a mentor who has your best interests at heart and a megalomaniac who's interested in feeding his ego.
*** There's a reason why "Read and write everyday" is the first rule.


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09 October, 2017

Rockabilly Billy and the Texas 5, Part 2: Skinny Jim

 [If you missed the first part, read it here]


Everyone spent what seemed like forever giving me shit for blushing. Wasn't my fault, and like I said, Julia Dream knew the effect she had on me. I was just about to finish my beer and leave when the bell above the bar rang. The sound of it caused everyone to stop whatever they was doing.

Tex the Younger whistled long and low, and Rex had to pick his slack jaw off the floor twice. Dolly and Sue squealed and ran off to the restroom, squawking about putting their faces in the event that such an auspicious occasion might actually occur.

Julia Dream looked straight at me. Well now you gone and done it, Georgie. She smiled. You're something of a surprise, aren't you?

What exactly did I do?

She pointed to the old bell with one perfectly manicured finger. That bell there only rings when Himself is coming up. Julia turned around and looked at the bottles stocked on the back bar.  She put her hands on her hips like she was deep in thought. We're gonna run out. She sighed and turned back around towards me. I don't know that I got enough in the back, either. Dammit.

She smiled like she wasn't too worried about it though, so I repeated my question.


He musta heard ya, she said.

Who?

She giggled. You're a little thick, aren'tcha Georgie? Himself. Rockabilly Billy. That's his bell. He'll be up here anytime.


Tex the Younger finally found his ability to speak. You remember the LAST time he showed up here?

Rex nodded. Damn near toppled the tree. Took a week to clean the place proper AND I had to carry his boney ass back down, drive him home, and pour the bastard into bed. And you know what he said to me?

Julia Dream shook her head. What'd he say?

He said I was I was too ugly to be a woman but that he'd give it try if got a fifth of Johnny Walker Black and a paper bag.

Confused and wanting to distract the conversation from the impending doom everyone thought I brought down on the Treetop Bar, I inquired as to the purpose of the paper bag.


Julia Dream laughed out loud. For his head, most likely. When he's drunk enough Himself could screw a tree and leave it a pile a sawdust.

I didn't want to know how Julia Dream knew that. It hurt my heart a little to think of her acting like some love starved groupie and I was starting to regret suggesting that a show was a good idea. Not that I thought Himself had actually heard me. But everyone else seemed to.


That was mean of him to say, Rex went on. Just damn cruel. That was back in my cabaret days. Rex's eyes went all dreamy for a second. I performed in drag under the name Priscilla Divina Moreau. I could wail through my rendition of "The Atchison, Topeka, and the Santa Fe".  And I was beautiful. Wasn't I beautiful. Tex?

Tex the Younger nodded. You sure was.

Damn right I was. I used to get plenty of phone numbers from people in the audience who couldn't tell. Men AND women. Ain't that right Tex?

Tex the Younger nodded again. Sure is. It fooled me.

Sue and Dolly rolled out of the Lady's Lounge dolled up like it was Saturday night. It's a good thing you put that bitch Priscilla to rest, Dolly cackled. She was making it hard for the real women around here to get any action.

Speak for yourself, said Julia Dream. She looked straight at me, licked her lips a little, and smiled. I get more offers than a respectable woman can take seriously. Hell, if I took up half of them, I'd spend all day and night on my back.

Then you're doing it wrong! Sue broke in and started laughing.

Just then the door swung up so hard that it shook the wall and Himself walked in. There ain't no such thing as doing wrong! Either you're doing it or you ain't. 

Julia Dream smiled wide and waved, jumped over the bar. She met him mid-floor and gave him a big hug.

How's tricks darlin? Damn, Honey. You still know how to show a man you care. You're gonna cave my chest in with those things.

She asked him what he was drinking and did he want his usual.

Not today. You got any Sioux City Sarsaparilla back there? 

The bar erupted into a shocked silence. Julia Dream smiled. I think I got some in the back. She turned towards me, smiled wide, and winked.

Dolly and Sue ran up and hugged him next. He kissed them both, squeezed them close and buried his nose in Sue cleavage. She squealed even louder and turned bright red.

Sorry, Darlin',  he said. I just wanted to make sure you still smelled like cotton candy.

He acknowledged Tex the Younger with a nod. How's the old man? Still kicking it with Redheaded Kate in Coalinga Junction? Tex the Younger nodded in return. Well you be sure and give them my regards. Especially Redheaded Kate. Then he looked over at Rex. Priscilla! You have an off day? Rex blushed and didn't say anything at all, but hid coquettish-like behind his beer.

Then he lumbered over and sat my table. Julia Dream brought him bottle of ice cold sarsaparilla.

You Georgie? 

I answered that I was.

You sure do take after your Granddaddy. 

What?

Sure! Didn't anyone ever tell you that before?

I answered that in fact, no one had ever said I vaguely resembled anyone in my family. As a matter of fact, it had long been a family joke that I didn't favor any of my relatives and so I must have been left on the step in an empty fried chicken bucket when I was a baby.

Well shit fire! Hell, son you're even named after him. Don't you know who he was?

I never met him, I said.

James George. His friends called him Georgie. Women called him Jimmy. Eddie Cochran wrote a song about him. You ever hear Skinny Jim?

Julia Dream cackled and smiled wide. Are you serious Bill? He's related to Skinny Jim?

A regular spittin' image! He looked over at Julia Dream. Probably in more ways than one, I'd bet. He looked at me. I can't believe nobody ever told you. You're practically Rockabilly aristocracy. Skinny Jim was the only guy who ever stole a girl from me. He smiled. It was alright though. She looked a lot like Priscilla back there.

That was first time I ever heard Julia Dream coo like she was melting from the inside out.

NOW YOU HOLD ON THERE BILL...

Rex was up on his feet and about to give Himself a piece of his mind. Bill smiled and motioned for Rex to sit back down. Relax, Priscilla. Don't tie your stage garter in a knot. 

Listen he said, turning back towards me. I need a driver kid. You game?

For what?

He smiled wide. For the last ride of Rockabilly Billy and the Texas 5.


[Another installment will drop on Monday 10/16. Please feel free to subscribe to my email list to get this in your email box before it posts.]
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03 October, 2017

Junktique Memory Palace, part 2: a place for everything and everything everywhere

 Do not encumber your mind with useless thoughts. What good does it do to brood on the past or anticipate the future? Remain in the simplicity of the present moment. ~ Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche

Finally I am coming to the conclusion that my highest ambition is to be what I already I am. ~Thomas Merton


In his 20's a smart man -- if he learns anything at all -- learns to embrace failure as an educational experience as well as the importance of reflection. During his 30's, a smart man ... if he's paying any attention at all ... begins to understand the space -- physically, metaphysically, spiritually, and ontologically --  he takes up in the world.

By the time he reaches his mid-40's -- whether he's smart or not -- a man stumbles upon who he is in the world, regardless of whether he's aware of the space(s) he occupies or not.

And if there is anything about me that's true, it's this: I've always been particular about how I inhabit my living space.

It's not that I'm a neat freak. At least, I don't think I'm a neat freak. I mean... no. No, I am NOT a neat freak.

But I DO tend to think of it as working really hard in order to be lazy. I always put my keys in the same place. I always put glasses in the same place. I recognize two basic categories of things:

  1. stuff, and 
  2. stuff-without-a-home. 

As I wrote about in a previous blog, my spaces -- mental or otherwise -- are filled with things from which I derive a certain amount of comfort. The way I do things and how I organize things makes total and complete sense to me. By way of an example -

We own this lovely fruit bowl. I believe it was a wedding gift. I won't describe it, so, for the sake of illustration, picture a fruit bowl you would find lovely. Because we tend to eat a lot of fruit and vegetables, we have a small table in the kitchen that has become the Spot Where Produce Lives. After we go shopping, the table sort of looks like one of those Thanksgiving cornucopias exploded. We're very fortunate that we're able to eat healthy in spite of eternally operating on a feast and famine budget.  But because of our sometimes bountiful amount of fruits and veggies -- and because my daughter is a vegan and so we tend to have a lot of rabbit lettuce type things on hand -- that lovely bowl was buried, never to be seen.

Yes, I knew it was there. But I didn't like that a lovely little bowl -- a very thoughtful wedding present at that -- wasn't in a place where I could see it at a glance.

So I moved the bowl. I moved it next to the toaster on the short side of the kitchen sink.

This created no small amount of controversy with my daughter, who -- like me -- is someone who likes to have things organized and in place... 

for the most part.

I'm certain she often looks at it and ponders moving back to the exploded cornucopia table. My wife, who has the wisdom to stay out of such odd and ultimately pointless conundrums, simply says "Well, that's where it lives now."


Lately I've come around to embracing the notion that my need for a certain amount order is simply who I am rather than something I ought to try and subvert. I do think sharing a home with others makes me more thoughtful about the impact my home-for-everything attitude has on other people, because the truth is, there are times when things need to be out of order. If things never change, if things don't move, then sometimes I don't see the need for something to change. And since the only constant in the universe IS change, it's good to be able to roll with it, too.

Just don't move the fruit bowl.

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02 October, 2017

Rockabilly Billy and the Texas Five, part 1: chrome rockets and warm beer

 October 1st

We was at the Treetop Bar. The beer was warm as usual, but cooler than it was outside -- in spite of the altitude and preternatural humidity.

I was sitting there talking with Dolly and Sue, Rex, and Tex -- the younger one -- and Julia Dream. We talked about the heat, about the warm-but-still-cool beer, and the usual kind of things you might think to talk about sitting a top the tallest tree in three three counties and maybe in three states, planted near the Red River at the crossroads of Texas, Arkansas, and Oklahoma.

Julia Dream could just about talk about anything and I'd listen. She knew it, too, and while she didn't take no pleasure in torturing me, she was, at least, aware of the impact she had on me.

Georgie, she'd say. You really need to go find you a nice girl. You tangle with me, you're likely to get spoiled for anyone else. And that would be a shame. You with those pretty blue eyes your momma gave you. You gotta pass them on to a daughter. It's just not proper for a boy like you to have eyes like that.

She worked the bar most days and played the piano and sang most night. The piano was old and out of tune -- no piano tuners would bother to come to The Treetop -- so Julia taught herself to play and taught herself to sing so it didn't sound out of tune.

So we were sitting there talking about whatever we was talking about then someone -- I do believe it was Tex the Younger -- started to complain about the egregious expense of the last music festival he went to.

I don't have no issue with paying musicians,  he said. They earn every penny they scrape together. But you know as well as I do that it's about the promoters. They charge high ticket prices, pay a mere pittance to the talent, and pocket the rest. It's an almighty god forsaken travesty!

 Rex blamed the times. He said it was just to damned difficult to find good music. It ain't like it used to be. Used to be, you could expect that if you showed up at the Treetop on any Saturday night, you'd find somebody playing their guitar or pounding on that piano. Saturdays, the very roots of this here tree used to shake! Now all we got is Julia Dream. And she don't even show her tits to make up for the lack.

The entire company laughed. Julia Dream laughed the loudest. Not in your wildest wet dreams, honey. Then she shook her round, gravity defying tits at the room. These beauties ain't for the likes of you ruffians. She nodded over at Sue, who knew how to carry a tune, and Dolly, who couldn't sing but would -- if pushed -- play a mean drum, and said Get one of them drunk enough and if you're extra specially polite they might just grace you with a little hint of nipple.

Both Dolly and Sue roundly rejected the idea, proclaiming to one and all that they were saving themselves for real men, not the ruffians who hung out at the Treetop.

Rex pointed at me and laughed. But Georgie ain't no ruffian. You all going to deny him?

Aw, Dolly said and walked over and tousled my hair. Georgie is a nice boy. He ain't nothing like you haughty reprobates.

Then she sighed and said all the real rock and roll cowboys was dead had their nuts cut off by commercialization.


All but Rockabilly Billy, Sue echoed.

Just then there was a thundering in the distance. Only it wasn't no thunder. It was the sound of a 1959 Cadillac Eldorado convertible with rocket tail fins and a magic V12 with no top end. We all knew it was Himself, Rockabilly Billy, popping his clutch and digging into Oklahoma dirt.

The mad laughter was also a palpable sign.

Sue got all excited and said Billy was still on a tear and probably wouldn't be worth a damn on stage anyway. Himself had been on tear since Professor Longhair died. He hadn't picked up his guitar nor sang a note since 1980. He stopped in the middle of a show right, declared that Professor Longhair had died, and promptly drank every drop of liquor in the place. No one had heard him sing in recent memory, and the common talk was that he'd drank and drugged the song right out of him.  People lost count of the fans, groupies, and fellow musicians who came by the bar trying to pull Rockabilly Billy out of his tear and put him back on stage.  Like his last show of any memory in Apalachicola. It took two hookers and a considerable amount of effort just to prop him up on a stool with his washboard cherry red Les Paul.

Dolly smiled and laughed so hard her tits jiggled and knocked Sue's beer off the counter. That weren't no dodge, she said. Billy always did favor ladies of the night.

Well a show would be fun, I said. Could all my friends together. A show might coax Rockabilly Billy out of his desert patio home long enough to put on the hell of a show.

They all looked at me like I was crazy... or worse, a tourist.  The only one who didn't look at me that way was Julia Dream. She just smiled. Her eyes twinkled and leaned over to give me partial view of a heart tattoo over her left breast.

Why Georgie, she cooed. I didn't know you had it in you.

I blushed so hard my lips must have looked blue.

[Another installment on Monday 10/9. Subscribe to our email to get the next installment in your email. Please donate below if you enjoyed it! Thanks for reading! - Mick]

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29 September, 2017

Junktique Memory Palace: The solace of certain things / Essay on the Eight of Swords (Draft)

It is not down in any map; true places never are. ~ Herman Melville, Moby-Dick

Is it possible to become ecstatic amid destruction, rejuvenate oneself through cruelty?” ~ Arthur Rimbaud, Illuminations


My memory palace is one, giant flea market.

Which is to say, it's entirely possible that one of the reasons why I tend towards a certain precision -- what my daughter sometimes calls "picky" and my wife lovingly refers to as "being particular" -- about certain things:  like where I leave my keys, how I organize the house, where I'd prefer things are stored and how, and how clean I try to be, is because a large portion of my mental landscape is an odd mix of old stuff, bric-a-brac, used books, dated movies, music, oddly random and seemingly pointed connections between disparate things, several rabbit holes of useless information, and picture memories... a long with a massive card catalog in which I file every useless piece of datum ranging from historical dates to my chili recipe.

NOTE: the greenscape has long since been ruined by cement.
If it helps you imagine, once upon a time I conjured my memory palace as a large library, not unlike the interior of the Camden-Carroll library at Morehead State University.

Which is to say, my memory palace probably resembles the library in that episode of The Twilight Zone in which the poor bastard that just wanted more time to read after the apocalypse ended up breaking his reading glasses.




But, it's my mess, dammit, and I like it that way. Besides, no one rummages around there besides me.

This mess does bleed out into my life in certain ways. While I am, admittedly, particular about the condition of my living space, that's not to say that I'm much of minimalist. It's true, I've whittled down things to what I think I need. But this includes a lot books, random rocks, various mementos and, yes, bric-a-brac, that helps make our house a home.

Every once in a while The Kid will ask if I've actually read all the books in the house, to which I usually replay something to the effect of " Most of them." Truthfully, I never want to run out of books on hand that I haven't read. That way if I owe the public library too much in late fees (which is as inevitable as the sunrise), I can lean on a few books on our shelves until the drought passes.

So why, you may ask, do I keep the books I've already read?

Well let me ask you: Do you never talk to old friends just because you've already talked to them and only make new friends?

The books I've read are old friends and fine company. And I like being able to go back and read them, revisit, 

My writing area in the basement -- that I affectionately refer to as The Bunker -- is similarly organized. I have hard and digital files and old journals dating back to the early 90's, when I started journaling. I have records -- the kind that go on record players -- cassettes, CD's books, a shiny brass compass that was a gift from my brother, a skull shaped candle I got for Christmas from my niece. There's a little silver bell with no ringer. A pink magic wand that is the only thing left from my teaching -- a prop from a teacher in-service. A beech wood candle stick I turned on a lathe in Menifee County, Kentucky.

All of these things -- and the others I haven't listed here -- I keep because they, in some way, embody an important memory. It's true I can live without most of them. It's true that I still have the memories even if everything is lost, locked up in my cluttered but somehow manageable by me memory flea market.

The solace of certain things helps when the world leaves me feeling daunted. It's important for me to be able to get lost sometimes, maybe even hide. I don't get out and about like I used to -- which is usually what I'd do if I need to get some mental breathing space. Now I either retreat to The Bunker and write or find some other way to tilt at windmills using the weapon I've been granted -- words

And lately, there's a lot that leaves me daunted. If I draw any comfort from these, the days of Trumplandia, the days of the yoke and the bit, the days of democracy's death rattle, it is in the fact that it will go on whether I take notice or not, that change is perpetual and inevitable. I also draw comfort and strength from the faith I have that even if all I'm doing is taking care of my house full of people, books, and animals and writing like a madman in basement, that maybe it does help bring some measure of grace to the world. If that's all I ever do, then at least it's time well-spent. Art is created in such ways. If I'm lucky.

Essay on the Eight of Swords (Draft)

Transitional dreams portend a seasonal shift:
like the tarot, not all is as they appear.
There is wisdom in The Hanged Man.
Escalators and hotel employees suggest
it will be a long autumn.
Train stations do not suggest travel,
but it’s better to be prepared anyway.
There are signs, and rumors of signs.
You will meet a beautiful hitchhiker.
Do not trust her.
The raggedy man will bring you a message.
Offer him beanie weenies and bottled water.
He will ask for wine, but it’s only a test.
There are no wrong answers,
only more appropriate ones.
But they do offer varying degrees of detail.
Do not be afraid to drink beer with the devil.
He wants your soul, but does not know
you have been spoken for.
The Eight of Swords is still your card.
But you are not bound to that narrative.


 











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11 September, 2017

Sacred Moments in Profane Times: dads, daughters, remembrance as practice / practice as activism

We must make the choices that enable us to fulfill the deepest capacities of our real selves.~ Thomas Merton

We often think of peace as the absence of war, that if powerful countries would reduce their weapon arsenals, we could have peace. But if we look deeply into the weapons, we see our own minds- our own prejudices, fears and ignorance. Even if we transport all the bombs to the moon, the roots of war and the roots of bombs are still there, in our hearts and minds, and sooner or later we will make new bombs. To work for peace is to uproot war from ourselves and from the hearts of men and women. ~Thich Nhat Hanh

My daughter came home one evening after work last week and told me she watched a man get stabbed at the bus stop.

She said a man walked up to another man standing next to her at the bus stop, stabbed him, and ran away. Stabbed him like he was just looking for a place to put his knife away. The police were called. The ambulance came. She told me she thought the man died because when the ambulance left, the lights weren't on and it wasn't in a hurry.

The week started with celebrating her birthday. She turned 23 this year. Most days I'm amazed that I have a child who's old enough to drink. I'm also daily amazed by the way she's choosing to walk through the world.

We celebrated her birthday with a short hike near this waterfall where Amanda and I celebrated our first wedding anniversary. Actually, we celebrated her birthday over the entire long weekend -- her birthday fell on Labor Day this year -- with a vegan chocolate raspberry tart and a meal at a Morels Cafe, a local vegan restaurant known for its "Farby" Sandwich... which is a surprisingly accurate vegan version of an Arby's roast beef sandwich.

Amanda and I aren't vegan, but my daughter is. We end up eating a largely vegetarian diet, but we would do that anyway.

I always enjoy my daughter's birthdays. Because I wasn't the custodial parent when she was growing up, I take special joy in spending them with her now.  I was glad we spent it as a family. When we were at the waterfall, I mostly watched her from a bit of a distance, watched her taking everything in and soaking in her happiness and satisfaction. I enjoy watching her explore and grow into the beautiful person she is -- striving to find the path of her best possible self.

Even if it means eating a (surprisingly convincing and delicious ) vegan roast beef sandwich.

I enjoy the moments with my daughter -- or sometimes, just around her -- as she reaches out, tries to grow in spite of all in the world that would drag her backwards. When she came home from watching a man get stabbed, it was all I could do not to hug her forever. The world is a dangerous place. It's good that she knows this. I just wish she didn't have to.

Remembrance is such a heavy word. When I think of it, the word is burdened with religious connotation... which isn't surprising for a rural small town boy.  Lately, though, I've come to think of remembrance as something more akin to what Buddhists and monks and other Religious have described as practice. This means not limiting my acts of remembrance... my practice... to one day or to specific times. Trappist monk and writer Thomas Merton describes the contemplative life as one in which a person works to make each moment a prayer, each moment a moment in the presence of God. In Sign of Jonas he refers to a monk's life as full of hard work, but also one of peace. A peace that is earned by daily work and by daily devotion.

I'm no monk, and thank Christ for that. I'd be a lousy one. But as I work to keep my writing central -- and what is writing but one form a contemplative life takes in the physical world -- I remind myself that I need to strive in each part of my day, in every aspect of my life, to make each action a kind of prayer. The world isn't designed for this kind of thing, of course. I'm supposed to be about the business of making money and doing my part in the great capitalist machine that's been built up around us. A machine that's choking out the very sound and light of God in the name of power and money.

When I think about how to mediate the world... in the current state of the world... I'm reminded of Thich Nhat Hanh's statement in Living Buddha, Living Christ that it's not simply a matter of choosing whether to be engaged with the world or to have a contemplative life, but deciding how to engage and still have a contemplative life. I've met a lot of people who are engaged.
The tree remembers the shape of the ground.

I tend to struggle, though, when their insistence on engagement -- usually limited by adherence to concepts rather than a clearer reality -- cuts into my contemplative life.  I'm always struggling with where I ought to be -- especially in these days when the New Wave Fascists are in the news, running over protestors, claiming to defend history without realizing -- or caring -- that they are on the wrong side of it.

And while I feel like I've been clear on this point, I'll keep on it for another short paragraph:

If you aren't Antifa, you aren't paying attention. Being Antifa doesn't mean you need to join a group. You don't need to dress in black. You don't need to be a socialist. Or a communist. Or an anarchist. You just need to understand that fascism is bad and is a threat to America and to the Democratic experiment. There's historic precedence for it.

And once you understand that, make it part of your daily practice. Like prayer. Like meditation. Like breathing. Like an old sycamore tree that remembers the shape of the ground washed away by the ebb and flow of water, hold to what matters.

Do this in remembrance of your children. Do this in remembrance of the sacrifices your grandparents made. Do this in remembrance of the remembered and forgotten dead. Do this in remembrance of a world where knives are not sheathed in people at bus stops. Do this in remembrance of the living who should not have to bleed so the war machine can keep spinning. Do this in remembrance of the radical idea that all people are equal.

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