28 June, 2018

All along the multiverse/Traversing the Big Empty, Part 3 ( Consequences of a Nation)

[continued from Part 2]

[Somewhere in Satan's Taint, NM]

The absence of etiquette and the abandonment of common sense is what has placed The United States in the position it's in.

Not (just) Republicans. Not (just) Democrats. Something more fundamental in human nature is at work in all of these goings on -- children placed in cages, used as pawns to justify putting their parents in cages, too. The Supreme Court upholds Trumps travel ban and upholds the manipulation tactics of a California-based "pregnancy clinic" that doesn't have to pony up to the truth that they are anti-abortion. Regardless of your stance on abortion, the fact is that the Supreme Court has legalized the absence of transparency... and so has the Trump administration, as a matter of fact. We're being told we're going to be more free... free from those pesky regulations that protect (sort of) public water, help protect (sort of) public wild lands, and help protect the citizens of the United States (sort of) from being the targets of usury and economic piracy.  We're going to be so free because we won't know any difference. We're going to be so free because that's the only information that we will be told. 

And we will eat it up like a quart of Ben & Jerry's.

We'll eat it up because it rings "true" based on all the Neoliberal propaganda we've grown up with. Staunch individualism + capitalism - NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard). We are such a large country, and there's still a lot about it that's beautiful. But we're a large country and as much as we say we're all Americans or whatever, the fact is we are basically clannish, provincial and paranoid. 

One of the things people learn in AA is that alcoholism is, in part, a response to unaddressed fears. My sponsor harps on this all the time. "We're afraid of either losing what we have or not getting what we want."  I want to suggest that this isn't just part of what drives alcoholics, or addicts of any stripe.
This is what has driven our foreign policy since World War II and driven our domestic policy (at least) since the Nixon Administration. And certainly the argument could be made that it was a causal factor in the American Revolution (though it was about taxes, not freedom), the Civil War, and every folly dating back to the crucifixion of Christ. We're scared that someone's going to take away something or we're scared we won't get what we want. 

Don't worry. We're not unique. It's an essentially human condition. We're biologically hardwired for fight or flight. The good news is we are capable of doing better. 

On a related note: 

Remember that toilet problem I mentioned in Part 2? Remember how I said they spent time trying to fix it and put us an hour behind schedule? 

Well the Assistant Conductor just announced that the toilets in Coach 11 are out of commission... because someone put something down there that wasn't supposed to go. Again.

The good news is I'm in coach 13. The bad news is, it could still cause the entire septic system go offline.

Progress is sometimes slower than I would prefer.

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27 June, 2018

All along the multiverse/Traversing the Big Empty, Part 2 ("Foreign Objects" and the San Bernardino Jerk)

[continued from Part 1]

[Northeast of Albuquerque NM, 26 June 2018]

So the thing about traveling by train is that there is at least one other inevitability you must embrace: you will (probably) not be on time. it's not that it can't happen. it's just that the odds are against it. Other than the near guarantee that I'll be within earshot of a crying child on an overnight trip (This is true on buses, trains, and planes. I always carry gun range quality ear plugs, just in case.), the only other thing I can promise is that, at least ONCE on any leg of a train trip, I will overhear someone complain about the train running late.

It's also not uncommon for the same person who complains about the train running late to be a smoker who also complains about not getting enough time to smoke.

The lesson here? If you're contributing to a problem, you're in a good position to be a part of the solution. In the case, shut up and be grateful for what smoke breaks  you get because, seriously, they don't have to. THEY DON'T HAVE TO. They cut a fresh air stop at San Bernardino because someone jerk thought the All Aboard call meant he had time to take his time and finish his cigarette and apparently didn't like it when the train left without him.

What's the take away there, Dear Friends and Readers? It only takes ONE jerk to ruin it for everyone.
Being part of a community -- even a temporary one created because everyone is on the same train -- means there are larger concerns. For example, when some person or persons unknown puts paper towels or other ... to quote Conductor Justin ... "Foreign Objects" down one of the vacuum toilets, it can cause the ALL THE TOILETS ON THE TRAIN NOT TO WORK. That happening can really affect the air quality in an enclosed coach. Larger concerns define -- or impact -- every aspect of travel, from the rule against "foreign objects" to the prohibition of pocket knives on air planes and Greyhound buses, to the limits on baggage size and weight, to [fill in the blank.] Yes, everyone wants to get where they're going. But that means EVERYONE WANTS TO GET WHERE THEY'RE GOING. EVERY ONE.

Contradicting or impeding common purposes -- those things that are bigger than any one of us -- naturally has consequences. The San Bernardino Jerk (as he is forever named) caused the cancellation of a fresh air break. Who ever the person or persons were who tried to flush "foreign objects" down one of the toilets caused a delay in Albuquerque (of all places) for repairs that has put the train a about an hour behind. 

And how will they make this time up? That's right. THEY WILL CUT THE FRESH AIR BREAKS.
It's not rocket science. It's just common sense and... etiquette.



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26 June, 2018

All along the multiverse /Traversing the Big Empty, Part 1 (A Nation of Consequences)

[East of Gallup, NM/ 26 June 2018]  
Unless you travel America along the ground, you don't really get a sense of how large a place it is.  Hopping airport to airport does give you a certain view of the size of things. People in transit make for some of the best people watching you can find -- and people watching is very nearly the best free entertainment there is. But crawling over the thin shell of the earth is really the only way to get a sense of size. People who have driven cross country will attest to this. Geography looks a lot less imposing on a map -- or on GPS to use the parlance of these digital times -- than it does in person.
I'm certain I've written somewhere, sometime before... probably on the old American Re:Visionary blog... about how our mode of transportation alters our perception of geography and changes how we look things. If you've ever tried to follow (what used to be) those blue lines on the map -- those two lane state routes that will take you everywhere the interstate does and more -- you begin to get a sense of how the interstate system forever altered not only how we look at this wide country we label The United States., but changed the actual geography... not only because of the landscape that was demolished, altered, or sliced up to make room for interstates, but the towns that cropped up or shriveled up and died because of the shift in traffic patterns.  And if you think this is only a byproduct of the modern transportation age, I would encourage you to look at the long and storied history of the dirty, sacred river the title of this blog refers to: The Ohio River.
Traveling by train (I'm pretty sure I've written before, too) is still by far the most genteel way to travel. What I tend to observe when people have difficulty traveling by train … or mass transit in general, including the old grey dog... is that they bring faulty expectations to the experience. You end up cramped together with people from different backgrounds, different cultures, different biases, different languages. You have to share bathroom facilities. You have to share common areas like the cafĂ© car, the dining car, the observation car, and the aisle. The rules are mostly etiquette and common sense -- though I have traveled enough back and forth across this turtle of a continent that I honestly question whether both etiquette and common sense have become so unfashionable as to be as mythical a concept as "truth, justice, and the American Way."
If you know me moderately well you know my thoughts on the use of laws. If you don't know me that well (and welcome, by the way!) then I will explain by paraphrasing Ammon Hennacy*:
Good people don't need them and bad people don't follow them, so what good are they?
I'll go one step further by quoting myself*:
Etiquette and Fine Art run the world.
One of the things you learn traveling is that laws and statutes mean far less in maintaining a civilized community than simple etiquette. While there are people in world who are consequence driven, I find that eventually people who exist in a consequence-driven frame of mind buckle under the yoke and bit.  On this particular train trip, for example, a guy is about to get tossed off the train in Albuquerque because in spite of all the signage and multiple warnings given, he simply can't wait for a fresh air break to smoke. I mean, I get it. As a smoker, I'm sympathetic to the nicotine urge. And yes, I'm sure it would be healthier to quit, but honestly people who tend to say that 1. have never smoked and  2. have never read any 12 step literature or understand the nature of addiction. In other words... yes, we're addicts.  Move on.
That being said... I also understand there are reasons why smoking is prohibited on trains and buses.  I also understand that the schedule takes priority over my nicotine addiction. This is something I signed on for when I bought my train ticket. It's part of the social contract. That's why, when we do get a fresh air break, I TAKE IT. Even in New Mexico, a state that has never been kind to me. Never. Ever.
We tend to overlook the importance of social contracts because we have decided that it is better to live in a country of prescribed laws than a community of shared understanding. That's because laws are easier. We mark our participation by whether we vote for the yahoos who are supposed to have our interests at heart, not really understanding the fact that the system, by its very nature, either burns out any evidence of actual altruism... if, in fact, politicians can feel something like altruism. We want laws to keep things fair... which is to say, we want laws to ensure that we keep whatever stuff we thing is ours. We want laws to maintain the peace while we stockpile guns for our own personal protection. We want law. But law is consequence driven. Which means, at some point, even the most law abiding citizen will break under the yoke and bit, causing those consequences to kick in.
Which is to say: if all we are is a nation of consequences and not conscious, it's no wonder we're in such trouble.
And we are in trouble. It doesn't take a long train ride to figure that one out.
[Continued in Part 2]



25 June, 2018

A baboon in La La Land



I wonder if the fundamental nature of LA changed when the common vernacular switched from Los Angeles to the monosyllabic "LA."

Granted, numerology HAS fallen out of favor... but then again, this is LA, where you can be everything from a sun worshipper to a vampire, a vapid consumerist to a dirty hippy, and everyone somehow manages to share the same sushi bar. This town is the first place I've ever been that doesn't have a general uniform... something that most people wear that identify them as either part of the living and working community or, well, not. In Lexington in the late 90's, the standard masculine uniform was khaki pants and some shade of green shirt. Keep in mind this isn't something that was at all agreed upon; it simply happened of its own accord, as if men working downtown all went and bought up all the tan pleated pants they could. In larger cities like New York and Chicago, people's status is defined by the winter coat they wear. Lots of gray and black wool and classic lines. Some years long coats are fashionable, but the actual color and fabric changes very little.  Even New Orleans, the most intentionally libertine place I've ever lived, had something like a dress code, though I'm unsure of that is the case now.  It's the same in suburban and rural areas, too. And regionally, clothes are just SLIGHTLY different from region to region... little things like the cut of a collar or the weight of the fabric.

Except for LA -- which I want to distinguish ontologically and existentially from the rest of California.

Some places are more bound by geography than others. Louisville, for example, is always defined by the river. It grew out of the river, organic and disparate like the river itself. Denver has the mountains. Other places are not limited by geography in quite the same way. Indianapolis, for example, can plan, build, and erase with only the limitations of budget and imagination to limit them. Indianapolis, for example, has some of the best urban bike lanes I've ever seen... primarily because they can just remake the sidewalk and the road without having to contend with narrow streets winding between historic architecture. They can just demolish and rebuild. Louisville has deep eddies of history to contend with... some of which it deals with very badly, especially if it has anything to do with the history of anything west of 9th Street.  But I digress.

LA is, in some ways, very much like Indianapolis in that it simply has to erase and rebuild. While there are a few shadows of something like history, the fact is that LA has so much culture, so much that has happened here, that the sheer amount of it has erased a common feel of what this town is like. LA can be anything for anybody at anytime. At any given moment, an endless multiverse of LAs exist simultaneously and within the same geographic boundaries. LA is a painting left out in the rain. All the colors melt and go muddy until there is hardly any of one distinct anything left.

This can make it difficult to contend with, especially if you're a history and story junkie like me. Unfair as it is, the LA that exists in my mind is one painted by John Fante, Bukowski, Nathanael West, and Van Halen.  This wasn't the LA I found, exactly. But then again, it was difficult to have what someone might reasonably call the  "LA Experience" when I was either enveloped in MFA Residency work or cloistered in my Culver City (still LA) motel room working on client work. It's not that there weren't social opportunities. There were. But between work needing to be done and the fact that, at 7 months sober, I still don't feel like I can walk into a bar just to say howdy and not ask for a beer and a shot, I found it easier to be a little anti-social.  Or at least, not walk into a bar while in a place -- geographically, ontologically, and existentially -- where all of my anxieties and fears that I used as excuses to drink would be in play and nipping at the back of my brain like a cattle dog.

And it's not that I think LA is devoid of stories. It's just hard to crack the surface without the usual social lubricant. And as much as I enjoyed being in the company of other word junkies, the fact is I don't much trust writers when it comes to embracing an authentic experience of anything. Writers, like alcoholics, are experts at gaming themselves and wrapping themselves in a reality to suit their needs... even if that reality is largely an antagonistic one.  And because LA is truly its own multiverse, created, revised, and deleted with impunity, I have a difficult time feeling anything close to comfortable here. I lumber too large and occupy the space in a bizarre way. I feel permanently awkward here in a way that I don't feel anywhere else.

And yes, I know its in my head. And yes, to a degree perception is reality. But I'm too much the stoic Ohio Valley Boy to ever really accept that all I have to do is blink and shake my head and somehow magically the sensation changes.  Some things just ARE because they are, whether we like them or not.

And geographic cures are bullshit.

I do wonder, though, if numerology isn't at least partially to blame. I wonder if LA would be a different place if it wasn't reduced in the common imagination to LA... and all the odd, shiny stuff that single syllable holds. I wonder if we thought of angels instead of movie stars if somehow, the multiverse would shift and the stories would come into focus.

I'm going to have to come back to find out, though.






04 June, 2018

It's all casual along the dirty, sacred river

Mick Parsons, writing, Louisville, violence
I spied the end of a sex transaction while walking to the coffee shop. As I rounded the corner from my street to the main artery, I saw a young man trying to simultaneously pull up and snap his jeans while walking nonchalantly. He did neither of them very well. The girl he was with was short, blond, and far less concerned about being seen than he was. Then again, her clothes were in place and walking seemed far less of an issue.
The young man noticed me and tried even harder to look like nothing was happening... at one point, even trying to put his arm around the girl, who, to her credit, could have cared less about the appearance of things. They continued to walk together, but it was hard to imagine them being a couple. He was very tall and dressed like an extra from a late-90's gang movie. She was very short by comparison.
And except for his failed attempt to look like she hadn't just serviced him near a busy street corner in between acts of the torrential downpour, I probably wouldn't have noticed were it not for the fact that, at a distance, she looked underage and it was a little early for the street walkers in my part of town to be out and about. 
I'm being unfair, I know. They COULD be in a relationship. But the fact is she was far more interested in her sucker than she was in him -- and in my experience, even a quick oral cop in the late morning between consenting adults will most likely include just a little post-glottal tenderness. 
This wasn't the blog I intended to write today. I had something else in mind, something having to do with this dog issue on my street. One of the houses on my street had a husky tied out without shelter all day yesterday -- a day with weather ranging from hot and sunny to torrential downpour. After trying unsuccessfully to find anyone home --or, at any rate, anyone who was willing to answer the door -- I called the city, which, with its usual bureaucratic ineffectiveness, did not come.  At points the husky was pulling on the VERY short tie out she was on and making that high pitched whine that only Huskies and German Shepards seem to make. 
Casual cruelty and abuse offend me more deeply maybe than intentional cruelty and abuse. At least when someone is intentionally evil, deliberately cruel and abusive, the direct action to correct it seems just. There is an intelligence -- albeit a disturbed one -- at work when cruelty is committed in a deliberate manner. I could even make the case that cruelty in the name of passion -- maybe not deliberate, but focused and full of evil purpose all the same -- is at least understandable, even though it is abhorrent. 
But casual cruelty is not deliberate. It's rooted in ignorance, and the educator in me still likes to think that ignorance can be educated and eradicated. And I know enough about this neighbor in particular to know that there is nothing deliberate in the aforementioned cruel behavior. Some people just don't see dogs -- big dogs especially -- as anything other than a soulless animal, something maybe pretty to look at, but in the end, not human and therefore not entitled to being treated with love and dignity.
At some point in the afternoon, some of the neighborhood kids checked on the Husky. Not long after, she disappeared -- and so I thought maybe either the city came and picked her up -- she would have found a home in no time -- or maybe the owner thought better of his or her cruelty.
The husky was back out early this morning. At an appropriate time I once again walked over to try and talk to someone at the house. Once again, no one was home - or no one answered.  I once again called the city. Sometime later the husky was gone again. And I hope to God that someone came and retrieved her.
There's no accounting for the humanity or lack thereof here along the dirty, sacred river -- or anywhere, really. One of the things I love about living in Louisville is that when you strip it to the bare bones and look at how it functions -- and in some cases, doesn't function -- this town is just that. It's a small town with some tall buildings and the growing pains of a mid-sized Midwestern City in the process of redefining itself. 
But when you look at the bare bones of a place like this, it's hard not to notice that while many of the things that make it a small town still exist, there's a malignancy growing there, too.  Live here long enough and you start to find odd connections between the seemingly disparate people you know because they either went to the same high school or grew up in the same part of town but never knew one another because they were bussed to different schools. Locals give directions based on non-existent landmarks.
But that casual cruelty -- which isn't absent from small towns, either -- grows on the bones and spreads with startling innocuousness. 

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25 May, 2018

Memorial Day: For all the Fallen Fathers (and Mothers), Real and Imagined

On leave in Florida. 
I am 45 years old and I'm still coming to terms with the impact my father's death had on my life.
Just when I think I've caught all the ripples and echoes created by the absence of gravity Dad instilled in my life, I end up finding just one more thing. One more ripple. One more echo. And it never stops.
The impact of his death on my life when I was 17 has been and is incalculable. It set into motion virtually all the circumstances that my life now is built upon, from my own fatherhood that has long defined the geography of my life to my writing which has long been the compass I've used to make my way through map I draw with every step I take and every line I write, to the deep anger that drove me towards self-destruction,  the weight of guilt and obligation that tore me away from self-destruction, and the imparted wisdom that eventually drew me back to the greatest love I could ever imagine. 
My father was a complicated man, though I don't think he wanted to be one. Then again, it's possible that men placed on pedestals always look complicated. Through the years of learning more about myself, I've been able to humanize him a little more... especially as I am now the age he was when I was small and  I was in and out of the hospital -- the age he was when he became my hero and the archetype by which I still (whether I mean to or not) judge all would-be heroes, real or imagined.
It also happens that my father was a veteran of two wars (Korea and Vietnam)  that America has
consistently overlooked. I would say that he part of the ignored generation of American Veterans -- but the truth is that our government has historically ignored those who risk life and limb in defense of the ideas embodied in our Constitution and Bill of Rights. Our government breaks bodies and spirits, but it does not buy what it breaks. And while my father was fortunate enough to come back physically intact and mentally steeled, it's impossible for me to say exactly what the impact of his military service was -- which started when he was 17 and continued until he was almost 40.
It's impossible for me to understand the impact it had on him because I have never served and because he died before he felt like he could share those stories with me. 
I feel the absence of those stories almost as acutely as I feel his.
It's also impossible for me to understand the loss felt by sons and daughters whose fathers -- and whose mothers --did not come home alive or in one piece. And although I've long held the opinion that war is a travesty perpetrated by cowards too far removed from the devastation to feel its impacts, as time goes on I find that I see it even in starker terms. War is a sin, and a tragedy with an impact so devastating that it's easier to make more war than it is to examine the impacts.

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20 April, 2018

Kintsukuroi: Or, Being Humpty Dumpty

The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places. ~ Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms

Mick Parsons Dirty Sacred River
Check out more of Beth's work on Instagram
or buy it at AA Clay Studio & Gallery
When I broke the bowl I was pissed. Maybe more pissed than the situation merited, but that probably isn't for me to decide.  

Keep in mind, I'm not one to lose my temper and I'm not inordinately attached to stuff... as a concept. Certain things among the stuff I have has intrinsic meaning, though. And while the bowl hasn't been mine long, it quickly gained the status of useful artifact.

The bowl, along with a sturdy little cup, was a gift from my wife. And if that wasn't enough, both were made by my friend Beth -- one of my oldest friends and one of the few remaining people from the ether of my undergraduate college years who I still talk to.

People trapped in an avoidance culture full of disposable everything dismiss the importance of artifacts. But I've long maintained the importance of certain things of the various stuff I've had over the years. At one point in my life, when all of my earthly possessions could fit in one smallish suitcase and one milk crate (for books... what else) I still had this red coffee mug from Bybee Pottery... a mug I still have and still use.

The glaze has a crack, but I can't let it go. And yes. That's my fidget spinner.

I don't know if the bowl can be repaired, but I hope it can. Amanda reminded me of Kintsukuroi, the Japanese art of repairing bowls and cups with silver or gold. 

In other words, as my wife succinctly pointed out:

If you can't hide it, paint it red.

At the core of her statement is an idea that runs counter to the avoidance culture we live in. We're not supposed to look like we've been through anything. Entire industries have grown that encourage us to hide everything from our age to our relative poverty (thanks to the usury perpetrated by credit card companies and the stupid amount of importance people put on their FICO Score).  Every truly human thing we experience, ranging from absolute happiness to the darkest of grief, is supposed to be tempered, homogenized, and run through a cultural meat grinder that either reduces it something just one person feels or -- maybe worse -- dilutes it into something that needs to be healed by the latest version of New Age hokum.

Living in the midst of an avoidance culture means every experience we have should be neither too happy, too hard, too sad, or too disastrous as to leave a mark. And when it does leave a mark, we should feel shame and hide them accordingly.

Well... to hell with all that.

The Hemingway quote I used is a pretty popular one. You see it in a lot of inspirational memes that are supposed to make people feel better about going through the meat grinder. But it's also cherry-picked... which is the curse of all great writing and proof that there is some truth buried in it that people want to overlook. Here's the rest of the quote:

But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.

The truth here, as I see it, is that we really have two options. We live and suffer breakage -- which means, at some point, we have to find a way to repair the broken spots -- or we die. Finding a way to fix the broken spots doesn't mean we need to cover it up to make other people feel better, though. On the contrary. It is the things that have broken us that we have worked to repair that make us beautiful. It is these things that make us human. And moreover, it is these things that bring out the divinity buried in every person. Our broken points bring us closer to oneness with God.

The beauty of artifacts and of people... especially the broken ones... is that they bear the mark of our having lived through the moment when the break happened.  It means we survived. 







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13 April, 2018

Most days I want to disappear, but physics hasn’t caught up with me yet ( a draft)


Mick Parsons Poetry

The centrifugal force required for a total reality shift
has yet to be proven mathematically outside Schrödinger’s Box.

The street is shaking, but no connection has been made
between the rukus and the fallen cake in the oven.

Missiles will fall any day now. Or not.
The ogre with his pinky on the button is taciturn

like the stories of tired old Brahman
who do not believe cockroaches carry the souls of evil men.

Waiting on illumination is a time waster for fidgety types.

Prayers like breath fall from my lips on these days
when there is no wisdom found in all the same old oracles.

Some afternoons I dream of South Dakota and of compasses without direction.
People are so used to the flood waters that no one measures anymore.

The river is full of toxic ash. Bloated bodies that failed evolutionary regression
are coughed up at the base of bridges, get caught in steam boat paddles.

We’ve told all the ghost stories there are to tell.
Now all we have are these tales we tell as we live them

hoping the audience doesn’t judge when the ending goes awry
and the moral is not an uplifting one.

In the end, it is the shaking that does us in.


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30 March, 2018

Darkness as the absence, not the opposite of light (For Smiley) - A Draft

Mick Parsons Poetry

 My father, I think,
wanted to be a deliberate man.

On days when the boil in my blood near overflows
I imagine what the sensation must feel like.

These ill-humors do no one any good.

Do I blame the rain? Should I pray for the sun?
Would Heaven part for the prayers
of yet another more sinner?

Ghosts of a stern religious past
cast my lot in with theirs –
resigned, at last, to darkness.

At least there is no rain.

I think of my father.
I hope for the sun.

The floor is dirty
and dishes to be done
and obligations to fulfill
between now and moonrise

when all our dead fathers rattle their chains
and bade us revenge
this murder most foul.

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23 March, 2018

Rockabilly Billy and the Texas 5, Part 9: The Painted Woman

Mick Parsons Fiction
I let her lead the way up the stairs and while we were walking she hummed this funny little tune to herself, and every time I tried talking to her, she just kept shimmying up the stairs and humming that little tune.

That was one hell of a show, wasn't it? I didn't think Ol' Bill still had it in him.

She didn't answer, but as she reached the top of her stairs she started to undo the belt that held her dress together. When she crossed the threshold of her room, she let the dress fall to the floor. The dim candle light of her room cast shadows and light over every curve and crevice of her body, which was covered from collarbone to toe with ornate tattoos. When she turned to face me she giggled.

My my my. She sure was right. You certainly are a shy boy.

The protests started to form in my mouth, wanting to know just who the hell she'd talked to about me and what did she mean shy, I weren't afraid of no naked woman no matter how... beautiful she was because my heart belonged to the most beautiful woman of them all and there wasn't nothing she could do to change  that.

Bop a Lena smiled and shook her head. She walked back towards me -- I hadn't stepped beyond the threshold yet -- and walked out of her shoes. We don't have time for you to be shy, Georgie Boy. We each have our charge and our responsibilities. I have things I must tell you. But those things come with a price.

When she got close enough she reached out and took hold of my belt and pulled me through the doorway and into her room. Then she pushed herself on me. There wasn't an inch of her I couldn't feel through the thin fabric my clothes seemed to be made of. Bop a Lena kissed my neck and nibbled my right ear. Then she sighed and looked me straight in the eye.

She's put her mark on you, Bop a Lena said. I can smell it. But that doesn't change things. I have things to tell you, Pilgrim George. And I, like the Ferryman and like Ol' Bill himself, requires a toll.

I didn't know what she was talking about? Himself didn't say anything about a toll. And no one said anything about owing Bop a Lena anything.

If it's a question of  paying for our rooms,  I said, trying to back out of the room, I'm sure Bill has taken care of it. And if he hasn't I can find out.

Tsk tsk tsk. This isn't about money, Boy. What I have to tell you, I can only tell hand to hand, foot to foot, and skin to skin. She knew that when she sent you to me. No money gets exchanged here. That's Madam Bub's realm -- the realm of cash and petty flesh and pretty pats of (what some men take for) wisdom. 

This -- she gestured around the room, which contained only a dressing table with washing bowl and pitcher and a full sized bed -- this is the realm of soul and energy, of light and dark, of life and death. And what I have to give you has a price, Pilgrim. She sighed and looked me up and down. But because she left her mark on you, I make you this promise -- the part I take you will be able to get back, if you want it. 

She leaned in and kissed me on lips, undoing my belt and shoving me onto her bed. You can have it back... if you want it.

But, she said, climbing on top of me, you may not want it back. Not after tonight.

Lena, I said, trying to get in a word while I still had the ability to speak.

Don't call me Lena, she said. That's just a name I borrowed for here. Call me Leda. And you, Pilgrim George, will be my swan.
PD-US




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02 March, 2018

Something like the face of (draft)


Ignore the monsters in the shadows.

Life is not like your childhood cartoons,
and that is not a cape on your back.

The stories in the papers are all true –
in as much as any of them can be.
But don’t imagine for one moment
those monsters are the real evil.

Go looking for monsters to kill
and they will all have the same face:
something like the face of your father,
something like the face of your mother.

The beasts you should fight --
if that really was a cape on your back --

wear expensive suits
and sit in the front pew on Sunday,

smiling while you pray penitent prayers
knowing they have made you afraid of the dark.
when real evil sleeps in the sun.



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24 February, 2018

Every day is a title fight: the last round

Everyday is a title fight, Mick Parsons
I haven't felt like blogging lately, at least in the vein that I normally do in this space. That's not to say I haven't been writing, because I have. And it's also not to say that there's lack of things to  expound upon and I haven't developed a case of apathy for the general state of the world. But I am aware that just having a blog, a slightly above average vocabulary, and a need to string words together just to feel like I'm not wasting space on the planet are not enough to drive me to comb through all of the comb-worthy things happening in the world to lay out my opinion on them. 

This could have something to do with the fact that I just turned 45, or with the fact that I recently got my 90 day chip from AA. 

AA, disease, Dante, sponsor, Virgil
From Inferno, Canto 29, engraving by Gustav Dore'
Part of the process, other than being able to sit in a room of other People Like Me and say "Hi, my name's Mick and I'm an alcoholic" is examining both the impacts and causal relationship of drinking in your life. It's taken me forever -- 90 days, actually -- to get a sponsor I trust enough to let be my sponsor... which is to say, I found someone whose experience and opinions I trust so that I can release myself into the life-long process called sobriety. 

My sponsor is the Virgil to my Dante in this journey. And yes, being in the process of maintaining my sobriety feels more like a circle of hell than a ring of paradise these days. Even though I've been really productive lately in my professional life and doing a pretty okay job of keeping my house in order, the fact it there isn't a day that I don't obsess over drinking... even if I'm just obsessing over not drinking.  

When you're not in recovery, or if you're not one of the 10% of the population with this particular allergy to alcohol, it sounds absurd. I know that. I also know it sounds equally absurd that as I am engaged in the process of my sobriety, I know that relapse is built into the disease. 

As Virgil says... my sponsor, that is ... it's never a question of IF we will relapse. It's a question of when. 

In last two weeks, two people I care about very much, people in my recovery community, have relapsed. They both struggle hard with their addictions... for them it's drugs and not booze, but the disease is fundamentally the same. The most recent of them relapsed on his 90th day of sobriety. It's hard for me not to think about that in terms of the dumb luck that's kept me sober for 90 days. Dumb luck or faith, depending on what day it is, how I feel, and how I feel about myself. Today it feels like dumb luck. Tomorrow, with any luck, I'll still be sober and feel differently about it.

Part of being sober means I feel things differently... which is to say more. One of the reasons I drink is that I get really worn out on feeling things. Working in homeless outreach and seeing what people go through, or what they put themselves through, or what they have no control over, hurts my heart. It makes me angry when politicians and some so-called religious folk dismiss, ignore, and erase the suffering of people. School shootings make me scared for my friends who are teachers, for kids, and for their parents. That people place the need to own a death machine over the lives of children enrages me. That Kentucky's governor can only dismiss violence by blaming video games, only to commit economic violence upon teachers and students in the name of a balanced budget deepens my mistrust of governments, of institutions, and of people in positions of power. 

There's so much to write about, but I'm not convinced that being one more blogger in the blogosphere makes a damn bit of difference. I'm not sure this is a time for bloggers. But I know it is a time for poets and artists. That's one arena where the fight is and that's where I'm going to be... and yes, some of it will get posted here. It's not like I'm going anywhere. I'm just shifting my process and step work to something more productive.

I've written before that everyday is a title fight. And it is. I've written before about fighting my demons, and I'm sure I'll write more. But no one talks about the fact that we end up fighting our angels, too. And contrary to popular belief, angels and demons aren't always on opposing sides. Sometimes they tag team. And sometimes faith wins. Other times it's dumb luck. Because we're just people, and flawed, though, it's sometimes damn hard to tell the difference.


But the fight goes on, anyway.

024.Jacob Wrestles with the Angel.jpg
By Gustav Dore'





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23 February, 2018

Ethel's Frankie - a short dog fiction (draft)

Mick Parsons, Fiction

Ethel knew there was just something not right about the boy, and she could never quite lay her finger on what it was. He ran around like boys were supposed to. Growing up, he played sports and did ok in school. He wasn’t going to be a scholar or anything like that, but he wasn’t simple, either. 

But dogs didn’t like him. And smaller children at church seemed scared of him, although he was always polite to everyone as far as she had noticed. Bessie, her friend at Wednesday bible study, told her she was looking at him as an extension of his father. There was always something wrong with Big Frank, and when her Stacy took up with him it was all Ethel could do to keep her faith that it would work out in God’s good time. Even after Big Frank disappeared, her Stacy was never the same. In and out of detox and rehab facilities in the city. In and out of jail. It about broke Ethel’s heart and mortified her at the same time when Stacy called from the police station after being picked up for solicitation at that big truck stop on just off the interstate. It made her think about all the men in town and wondered how many of them Stacy had allowed to use her like a cheap sock. The police wouldn’t tell her who the man was she got caught with, only that she was the only one arrested. 

Leave it to a man to get away after getting what man always wants, she thought.

So, when Bessie told her she was heaping the sins of the parents on the head of her Frankie-boy, she tried to take it to heart. She really did. And for a time, it all seemed all right. 

And then all the cats started disappearing. And then Ethel found where the bones were buried behind the compost bin.

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16 February, 2018

2 Poems: of journeys and nightmares (draft)

Mick Parsons, poetry, journey, prayer, peace, grace, love

Everything feels more


Better men than me have walked this way.

If there is forgiveness to be had
first I must drop this old, bloody dagger.

Late winter bird songs 
no longer hold any secrets for me,

and the dog refuses to translate.

Erase the ash from your forehead
and be made whole.

There is no room for your squeamish social mores here.
These visions are not prophetic,

and the cat playing at your feet
is not a sign of contrition.

The dog interrupts my prayers to go outside
and chase down starlings

because dogs know instinctively
that grace does not come from over-thinking.

It makes each step a pain, like dancing on broken glass


I never thought I deserved it.

Even now, in the light of a day like this,
the first whisper of Spring,
it is difficult to accept 
the inherent grace of this hour.

There are mornings –most mornings, still –
I open my eyes and marvel I am not dead
(though my dreams would tell me different)

and I reach for you, amazed in my desperation,
that my mind simply didn’t conjure you
as a defense against this bottomless hole in my chest.

Sweet mirage, warm and soft,
let me drink deep from your waters
as you wipe away these tears.

Let me pray as you breathe life back into me
from your own sacred lips.

This journey wears on me.
The clay packed in my heels is ageless
and makes each step a pain, like dancing on broken glass.

Take your hands, remove these shards
and I shall be healed.

Soothe my nightmares and remind me
one more time
I am allowed to embrace the grace
that has placed me in your arms.

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26 January, 2018

New Fiction: Thus the congregation says

Mick Parsons, fiction, Kentucky
I knew something was wrong when Twila gave me the stink eye outside the student union. Divorces are difficult enough. Being young – too young, I remember my grandmother saying – made it that much more difficult. Having a three-month-old daughter made it even more so. Getting divorced while being married with a three-month-old daughter on a small college campus in Eastern Kentucky pretty much guaranteed that only Sisyphus had a more difficult load to bear.

Perverting common wisdom, a divorce has more than two sides to the story. There’s the usual… what one partner says and what the other partner says. Then there’s what really happened, which tends to be somewhere in the middle. And then there’s what everyone else says. And depending on who it is, where their loyalties lie, what their predilections are, and what their own (inevitably skewed) views on marriage are, there are any number of stories, all of which sound true enough to pass the gossip test regardless of how close to the truth it happens to be.

The usual unofficial morning kaffeklatsch of what was then called the Non-traditional Student Union was congregated in it usual corner spot in the upstairs student cafeteria. Woody, Shyla, Tammy, Jack, Ernie, Barb, Babs, and Shane were all in their usual spots drinking their usual coffee and having the usual conversations – all of which can be boiled down to how most college students have it easy. Marie and I gained entry to this group not so much because of our age, as our ages fell within what is (still) considered the traditional age, but because of our marital and parental status. Young marriages were increasingly less common in the 90’s, even in Eastern Kentucky with its sometimes self-proclaimed penchant for the traditional and the morally unambiguous. Both Barb and Babs, both of whom were products of failed marriages forced by cultural shotgun, applauded our decision not to resort to sin by partaking of marital fruits outside the sanctity of the marriage bed. Tammy, Shyla, and Twila didn’t say that in so many words, but Twila – who was a grandmother with granddaughters who hadn’t headed the words of Jesus since being baptized Old Regular Baptist style in a coal sludge dirty creek at the age of seven – demonstrated her clear approval by speaking often about how she wished her Becky and Sue had inherited some stiffer moral fiber like me and Marie.

Ernie, Shane, and Jack had no opinions on the topic. Or at any rate they didn’t express any openly. Woody asked me once when none of the others were within earshot – with no small amount of incredulity, I might add – how I could saddle myself so young when there was a campus full of beautiful young girls to occupy my time. Jack kept his own counsel about anything that didn’t involve the NCAA and Ernie, who was trying to be a writer, mostly talked politics.

Shane never said anything at all. But since I knew he was the guy Marie was currently fucking, I felt like I knew what his opinion was on the subject of marriage.

The group fell silent when I approached. When I sat down everyone but Ernie and Jack moved their chairs back a little… not like they were making more room but like they were afraid that whatever was wrong with me might rub off.

Ernie eyeballed the women carefully before uttering a neutral welcome.

What’s going on, he asked.

Not a thing. Just waiting between class.

Barb made a harrumphing sound and Babs just shook her head. Jack nodded at me, the way men sometimes do to show solidarity right before the bombs fall and its every man for himself.

I tried making conversation, though I didn’t much feel like it. I wasn’t sleeping and even the copious amount of drinking I was doing wasn’t helping.  Going to class was more an exercise of habit than purpose at that point and my professors treated me with increasing levels of shock, annoyance, or unsympathetic pity. I wasn’t doing anything. But I still made it to class. I was still working, if for no other reason so I could give money to Marie for Rhea. After we split up she moved out of the trailer we shared and in with a friend to help defray expenses. I was staying with friends who would ensure that, if nothing else, there would be beer and tater tots to eat and who could give me a ride to campus.

Barb made another harrumphing sound. You don’t need to be here drinking coffee like you have friends here, she said. You need to go and take care of your daughter.

Babs, Tammy, and Shyla all nodded and vocalized their agreement with Barb. Ernie and Woody shrank back into their chairs. Jack shook his head and kept his eyes on his coffee. Shane sat there rubbernecking and waiting for the actual carnage. It didn’t take long.

You ought to be ashamed of yourself, Barb went on, thoroughly encouraged by the congregation present. Your wife and daughter are living up in some shack with no electricity because you threw them away. And here you sit like you deserve to be around civilized people.

That wasn’t what happened. I knew that. Marie knew that. I’m pretty sure Shane, as amused as he was with the show, knew, too. The only thing that was true was that I left. The arguments and accusations, the yelling and recriminations by both Marie and me weren’t anyone’s business. The misery we’d inflicted on another wasn’t anyone’s business. And it wasn’t anyone else’s business whether Marie or I were screwing anyone else. I wasn’t, but that didn’t matter. It didn’t change the fact that the marriage was over, that my daughter would grow up never knowing her parents as being a married couple. It didn’t matter that nothing in my experience had prepared me for that level of failure – not that anything does, really. But I didn’t even know any kids with divorced parents when I was a kid. My parents were happy. My friends’ parents seemed happy. That was what I expected when I got married, for all of the right reasons. And in spite of what Twila thought, it wasn’t to stave of immoral carnal lust. I was in love… or I thought I was, anyway.

But none of that mattered. Just like it didn’t matter that I had just seen Marie and given her money and asked if she needed anything. No, she said, like I insulted her dignity. We don’t need anything from you.

If there was any real justice in this evil world, Barb intoned, someone would take you out to a deserted holler and show you how we treat men that abandon their babies.

The congregation was silent. So was the entire cafeteria. Ernie and Woody refused to look at me. Jack met my eyes briefly and I knew he knew what was what. But he also knew, like I did, that no amount of words would change anything. Sometimes you take your beatings whether you think you deserve it or not.

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24 January, 2018

New Fiction: The Duke of Donuts

Mick Parsons, fiction
Drunks love chocolate. That’s one of the things they don’t tell you before you show up to a meeting. No one told me I should show up early if I wanted to get one of the limited number of chocolate donuts sitting next to the bottom burned coffee on a rickety folding table. Why it is that the people who run those meetings don’t just buy ALL chocolate donuts instead of that those boxes of a dozen mixed that’s always heavy on plain cake ones that taste like stale ass – or worse, the powdered donuts no eats because they don’t want to leave an AA meeting looking like a throwaway extra from an unaired episode of Miami Vice. Like those rolls of Lifesavers candies that are supposed to be a rainbow of flavors but always mysteriously end up being mostly yellow or green.

The first one to talk to me took the last chocolate donut. He also put enough sugar and non-dairy creamer in his coffee to cover any suggestion that it may have once been coffee at all. He smelled like menthol cigarettes and was wearing a hat that identified him as THE PUSSY PATROL. He told me his name was David W. Just like that. Not all of them talk like that. The drunks who have been in recovery for a long time – a decade or more – will just use their full name. It’s not that they’re bragging as much as they’ve been living in the world of recovery for so long that they don’t care who knows. David welcomed me and asked where I’d heard about the Sword of the Ever-Loving Spoonful of Soul AA group.

On the website, I said. It lists all the groups in the city and this one was closest.

That wasn’t strictly true. I intentionally found a meeting on the opposite end of town from my neighborhood in case the language of recovery didn’t stick, and I ended up going to the bar after. At least, I hadn’t ruled it out as a possibility.

David W. talked a little about his sobriety.  75 days and counting, he said. 75 days THIS TIME, he added. Before that, he’d been on the wagon 9 months. No sponsor. No step work. Just white knuckling his way to sobriety until one day, for no particular reason, he just decided to go to his favorite watering hole. He was just going to pay off his tab, which was outstanding and which he decided was part of his recovery. Walk away clean with no debts or grudges, he said, hand to God, that was ALL I had in mind.

And then, he said, it happened. I ran into one of my old buddies and he bought me shot of Jack before I could say no.

I understood. It would have been rude to turn it down. Right?

David W. told me all of this while eating on the last chocolate donut to be had and drinking his over doctored coffee. Whenever I see another guy drinking coffee like that, I think about this old friend of mine from Phoenix who drank his coffee black because, according to whatever font of wisdom he bowed to, that was how John Wayne drank it. By his logic, if that was how John Wayne did it, then by God that was the only to do it. I remember asking him once if it was true that John Wayne died with 22 pounds of undigested steak in his colon. Do you suppose, I asked, if The Duke had been a vegetarian that he wouldn’t have died from not being able shit properly?

I was going to ask David W. about his hat, but they meeting was called to order and everyone took a seat. He hadn’t managed to finish the donut before it was time for the meeting, but rather than sit down and eat the rest of it, he tossed two bites worth in the trash before sitting down.

Somewhere in the literature of AA, it talks about how, when you go to a meeting, that you’ll inevitably hear your own story. I don’t know if that’s strictly true – it wasn’t in my case – but AA meetings, like Catholic Mass, run on a pretty strict time clock. An hour of testimonials and tribulations and out the door. Of course, if you’re new to the meeting they ask you to identify yourself so people can talk to you after the meeting and get to know you better. I identified myself anyway, though I didn’t plan on sticking around to talk to more people.

I spent half the meeting thinking about David W. and the unfinished chocolate donut in the garbage. And while his story seemed alright enough… it’s no new thing for a drunk to fall off the wagon… it didn’t seem right to me that he didn’t finish the damn donut.

The chocolate donut.

The LAST damn chocolate donut.

When the meeting was over and we all held hands and said the Our Father, David W. found me and asked what I thought.

I told him I wondered what The Duke would do. He told me that the Duke might have lived longer and made more movies if he’d found his sobriety.
That may be true, I said. But he would have never liked the coffee.

On my way out I ran into a guy that recognized me from the bar I used to go to. He called himself Larry G in the meeting, though I’d only ever heard him answer to Squiggy.

People were wondering where you’ve been, he said.

What people?

Oh you know. People. Jack and Tom and Sal and Big Sue. Katie thought for sure your old lady killed you.

Does she strike you as the homicidal type?

He laughed uncomfortably and said Well, you know. Not really to ME, exactly. But you know how people talk.

I told him I did.

How long have you been coming to these meetings, I asked.
Oh, about a month.

Does it work?

Larry G. shrugged. I dunno. It gives me stuff to think about.

Well there’s that.

Larry G who usually answered to Squiggy told me to find him at the bar sometime and he’d buy me a beer. Beer don’t count, he said. It’s like in that John Wayne movie. The one where Robert Mitchum played the town drunk. They gave him beer and it weren’t nothing.

Say, I said. Have you heard John Wayne died with 21 pounds of undigested steak in his colon?
Larry G blinked. Then he blinked twice. No, I never heard that. I never heard that at all.

After a few cursory words Larry G wandered off into the darkness. Then I left. On the way home I stopped off at Dunkin Donut and ordered a chocolate donut.

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