Monthly Archives: February 2013

Conversations with Myself, Mini Reviews, and a Challenge

I asked myself:
If you could have been the author of any of your favorite books, which books would you most like to be the author of? And the all important question, why?

After some quick answers the part of me that asked the question said, “no, don’t answer what you think is right. Answer what is true.”

This is what I finally found to be true:

Stephen King’s, “The Dark Tower: Gunslinger”
Why?
This was the work that first stirred me as an adult to dream the impossible. I remember vividly to this day the way that story started, and how I knew it’d never leave my soul. There was a magic in the very first line that completely pulled the audience in, and whispered a promise of bigger and bolder things to come. There was an easy rhythm to the story that seemed purely American, if such a thing exists. There was also this fantastic other world, like a dark and twisted Oz, that King had built. It pulled me in and left me hungry for more. And of course, there is King’s character building.

Clive Barker’s, “Hellbound Heart”
Why?
There was a distinctly poetic voice in the narration of this story, it was visual, it was alluring, and it had an ease of language that any good poetry always seemed to have. It was lean, to the point, and stronger for it. It told a tight story, with strong characters that evoked–no, demanded–a reaction from me as a reader. It haunted me. It raised ugly questions in the deeper, shadowed, part of my mind, and made me really look at things a little closer and a little more differently. There was also a strong sense of atmosphere, of place, of setting. It was like Barker had built a private movie theater in my mind and began to roll the film, burning its presence into my being.

Poppy Z. Brite’s, “Lost Souls”
Why?
My god the beauty in the story tellers voice! This work, like Barker’s is almost one long poem. The language dripped with beauty. And this despite the sometimes jarring and disturbing subject matter. I hardly doubt this was accidental, these wonderful contrasts. And then there’s the one scene built near the middle of the book that I won’t give away in this entry, but how it absolutely haunted me when I had read it. I’m not sure it was a universal haunt but the author had known that terror, simply had to have in order to have built it so well. She wasn’t shy to be honest, to share her truth, and to build something by which to reflect our soul back at us with.

You see the reason I asked myself these questions was to force myself to face a deeper series of truths. What kind of fiction did I want to create? What has affected me? What resonates? What moved me? If I know this, I then have some hope of doing the same to an audience.

So, I ask you to do the same, ask yourself, what three books, movies, paintings, songs, whatever would you like to have created? And why?

Find your truth, find your art, give away your soul. This is what the world needs. This is what you need. And this is where your need and the world’s dance together and create the symphony of your duty as artist, writer, creator of any kind, and asks of you to be honest and to give accordingly.


Don’t Think, Dead Poets, And a Slice of Cheesecake

Today was a good day. Only in Kentucky can the weather go from the upper teens and mid twenties one day to a spiraling almost comfortable mid fifties with sunshine and a pleasant wind the following. The grass was green, the smiles bountiful, and the day productive.

My family came to visit—I wouldn’t be who I am without them, a simple, but very honest truth—they helped me with some things around the apartment, and then we had dinner together, and went out rummaging for odds and ends at a thrift store. Of course I spent my time in the books (I came back with no books, but did find some binders and a new portfolio and some paper, winning).

Tonight, after they left, I sat down to one of my all time favorite movies: Dead Poets Society. It seems that just lately my life has been complimenting my mind, as I have been very reflective on the themes of what it means to be a writer, a reader, and a person striving to live life on purpose. One of the things played out brilliantly in the film was the essence of seizing one’s moments in life. But more than this there was a deeper truth very pertinent for writers. In the words of the late great Bradbury, “Don’t think! Write!” And that, ladies and gentlemen, is exactly what I picked up on when I watched the movie tonight.

There is more than one scene that builds this brilliant theme, but one of the best is when a shy character who up until the moment he was literally forced to center stage by his professor, he barely has said a word or revealed any stirring of life inside his head or soul. He is first told to yawp a barbaric yawp before his classmates and then is told to close his eyes and together he and the professor (through questions, nudging, curiousity, and determination) build a masterful work. What does the professor continue to say over and over? “Don’t think! Say whatever pops into your head. Whatever the first word is, it might even be gibberish, just say it, speak it aloud, say it.”

That is what I’ve been hearing lately from nearly everywhere I turn. My Poetry Professor, youtube, books I’ve been reading, my own deep mind, and intuitions. From everywhere, the deeper drive, and ancient instruction: trust your gut, don’t think, write—speak, cry, paint, play your music, dance, breathe, live, by God Live!—seize your moment and share with the world what only you can, your soul.

I think we’ve been taught too much that giving our soul away is a bad thing, a damnable thing, a deadly thing. And perhaps SELLING it is. But GIVING it? I am not so convinced. When we fall in love, do we not, in some small part at the beginning at least, share our deeper selves, our essence, our passions, our dreams, our hopes, our great joy? You see, I think that maybe, just maybe, art is made of the same substance as soul. We lose ourselves when we pretend that what we are making is art, but instead is some cheap knock off item we really just hope to sell. Not GIVE to the world, not defy the status quo with. God no! Why would we stir up such waters?

But I challenge you, if you wish to make something worth calling your legacy, then by God make something worth calling your legacy. Bleed your soul into that thing, sweat, cry, laugh and joy. That is what you and I have to offer that no one else does: ourselves.

In other news, I currently have a cheesecake cooling in the kitchen, and a great hen thawing out in the sink for a dinner I’m cooking tomorrow. Excited.

 

When I began writing this piece, Lindsey Stirling was playing in the background. I am a huge fan of her work, she makes poetry with her violin.

 

What roles does music play in your writing life? Reading life? Life in general?

 

In what ways can cooking be likened to writing a poem?

 

Don’t think, write.


Choose Your Own Path and a Time Machine

Today was cold. Brutally cold, though it has been colder this year. I just have a horribly low tolerance for freezing my ass off. Also, tonight, as I was driving home, it began to freeze-rain, or sleet. (I also noted that I need new windshield wipers and have a tire with a slow leak, but that’s another story for another day). Oh and prior to driving home, I had supper with friends from Writing group—newest and latest adventure? I tried Goat Meat for the first time tonight. I am in fact a fan.

I made it a point to no longer waste time concerning my reading. For the sake of School, I’ve put off numerous books I wanted to read, sliding them into a “to read” file—which has grown to take up more than a few shelves of space. This simply can not be anymore. So, I’ve decided to start working on my to read file. No matter what assigned readings my degree may call for, I must feed my soul. What does it profit a degree holder (and a writer!) to gain their goals but at the starving of their soul? (OK I stole this from Jesus, but you get my point. (and I hope JC is cool with that, nervous laugh)).

A writer must read!

It was in my Poetry class that we discussed this topic to great length. What books did we love, did we hate, did we passionately (or hatefully) respond to, with zest? What books did we fling forth, and what books did we clutch to our chests?

It worked on me, that discussion. I began to think, what were my book loves? What book took my breath away, how far back was my first breathless moment? And so on, and so on.

I was raised around books. Mom and Dad both always had books nearby. Sometimes the TV went forgotten as the three of us sat close to one another and read. When I was a child it was dinosaurs, science fiction (H.G. Wells and his Time Machine completely captured my heart and soul!), then came the “Choose-your-own-path books (I remember fondly the yellowing pages of those books, some bent and flipped as others had charted their own path through the wild woods of those great pre smart phone era imagination based games of adventure), and then Goosebumps, and upwards and onwards. I read them all. I was lost to my books and happier for it.

There were books of every kind, always around. Mom studied crafts and cooking and home projects, and dad read Westerns, adventures, how-to’s, and home repair, and other “useful” topics.

I remember fondly those forbidden books, though the age escapes me, the ones with the grotesque covers, painted in inky blacks and whites, lurid stories and wicked to the punch titles. They were called “Scary Stories” and it was the bigger kids on the bus that had those books, passing them around, sometimes giving me a sneak peek of what was inside. I can’t remember when I finally got to read one of those books for myself, I know only that I own them all now, and read them over and over.

I remember the great book hunts my mother, my aunt, my grandmother, and myself all would go on to Goodwills, and yardsales. I remember clearly, as I sit here, the back corner of the Goodwill of my youth. There was a jungle of odd smelling clothes between the front of that store and the back. It was there, in the far off corner, isolated from all the proper world beyond, that there was a long section of shelves which held a disorganized and wonderfully cluttered collection of books. I remember it was here I first found those great 1970’s original Choose your own path books. I remember clearly getting one of those books that was about a great fantasy adventure through mountains, and caves, and fighting off great spiders, trolls, monsters, dragons, and how I’d hold one finger at the decision page just to make sure I’d made the right choice. If not, I’d go back and choose differently. I’d gobble these books up, feeding my imagination, loving the richness not so much of the story but the worlds found in between those covers and having some say in their construction.

Funny the things we forget, when we never take time to sit down and remember, isn’t it?

 

Tonight, by my bedside table, in my stack of current reads:

Bradbury collections of Short Stories (October Country, Illustrated Man) also his nonfiction piece (The Art and Zen in the Craft of Writing) which I keep there even though I’ve read it.

Also in that little wire basket is Neil Gaiman’s collection of short stories (Smoke and Mirrors).

Just beside me on the bed is the long piece I’m reading, Poppy Z. Brite’s, Drawing Blood (I was left breathless on page twenty, so soon in, and so deeply moved by emotion, shock, terror, repulsion and necessity).

 

What sits beside you tonight? Which author’s voice will whisper softly to your hungry soul, feeding you what stories, what words, what magic, what poetry, what wonderful things?

 

 

Question to myself:

Why do you fear sitting down to write plainly the happenings of your nonfiction and very real life?

 

 


List Your Way to Truth

Recently went on a writing splurge. It was great. Then this weekend it all kind of stopped. Scared the shit out of me, where did all my voices go? I can’t be the only writer to have this kind of problem, can I? No, of course not, but being a writer means in part feeling as though you’re kind of all alone in the world. I’ve been at this (and rejected) enough to know what I’m talking about.

So, what do I do to get myself going again?

The options are pretty simple it would seem, I could give up, start over, reevaluate or push through.

Actually looking at that, I realize I have two options, giving up or not. I recently confided in a friend that not writing would be the same as not living, so, I guess the choice is made for me. I like living a little too much to not continue at this.

What got me going on the big writing kick off was a Ray Bradbury article, ”Run Fast, Stand Still, or, The Thing at the Top of the Stairs, or, New Ghosts From Old Minds,” Something about what he was saying – and how he was saying it more than anything – resonated with me. I felt his words seep into my soul, and a great new freedom came over me. Suddenly I no longer felt restrained, I felt simply loose and able to chase whatever came along with the full vigor of my younger writer self. The big suggestion that did this?

Lists.

Bradbury suggested making lists of nouns and gave some examples of his own:

“The Lake. The Night. The Crickets. The Ravine. The Attic. The Basement. The Trapdoor. The Baby. The Crowd. The Night Train. The Foghorn. The Scythe. The Carnival. The Carousel. The Dwarf. The Mirror Maze. The Skeleton,” (Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing, Page 17).

I can’t really remember now why, but something about his lists teased me into trying my own. So, I sat down and began to type away. One word bursts, period, pause, reflect, continue. That’s how it went. It wasn’t writing a story, it was something else, something beautiful, something different. And then I saw it clearly. It was the something I had been getting so damned close to all these years now and hadn’t ever fully went into. For Bradbury it was when he wrote about his “Ravine,” for me, I wrote a short story called “Lucinda’s Gift” a while back and really took a liking to it (that’s another story for another time perhaps).

That night of lists started to show me something, something I had teased in “Lucinda’s Gift” but had never fully and with knowledge, explored. The deepest truth of all, is the truth I personally bring to the table. It’s so common sense we might easily overlook it, but, what this means is simply this: What do you remember from your childhood, early twenties, last great romance, last great affair, steamy passionate night with a stranger, or horrible bad decision? What Does Home feel like in your memory? What colors stand out, what about YOUR home is different than anyone else’s? That’s the truth I had been getting at and hadn’t ever knew it.

Once I saw this, something about fiction changed for me. I wasn’t worried anymore about being a Horror writer, or a genre writer, I was only worried about chasing down the memory, the truth, the unique things I knew and no one else did. The first word (actually I chose to make titles, sometimes one word but more often tight little descriptive sentences, it’s whatever works for you) on my list I began to play with was, “The Spring House in the Woods.” This was the memory of a Spring house my grandfather had built back in the woods near my family home. I’d went there a couple times as an adult and heard Dad talk about it plenty, it wasn’t just any spring house either, it was the only one in the wide world with my Grandfather’s name carved in the wall. It still stands there, and it is a personal truth that is mine and mine alone. So I did the first honest thing of my writing career, I started to write down that memory.

Soon the voices came, the imagination stirred, the what if’s kicked in and I simply obeyed. I said to hell with plot, I said screw it to any idea of what made a good story or a bad, I just listened to my mind, I smiled big, and I wrote. By God, I wrote.

That’s what I learned.

And you know what? I started this essay/journal feeling the blues a little, but look at this, I just did the same thing all over again. I said to hell with the rules and listened to my inner voice and wrote this through to completion. That’s what writing is about, discovery, pushing through, growing. Never stop growing, because when you do, you’re fungus food folks.

Moral of the story? Be you, write truth, to hell with the rules (once you know what they are to abandon them of course).


The Hanging

The young man gazed into the eyes of the condemned man standing on the back of the wagon, hands tied behind his back, his sagging gut hanging over his black belt, his beard grandfatherly—black with splotches of white, and though not very long, it was thick and heavy. The young man looked earnestly into the condemned man’s eyes, wondering if he truly had it within himself to go through with what was about to take place before him.

Two other men climbed up on the wagon beside the condemned man, one was holding the long noose end of the rope that had already been secured to a high branch in the tree that might have been pretty in a different setting. The other man had some cloth he was wrapping around the prisoner’s neck—comforting the dying.

The young man thought for some long moments, what must it feel like to be there, in that other one’s position? Hands behind your back, the fast pace of your heart racing to its final great rhythms, it’s sad sad song a funeral march to the solution of the greatest mystery in humanity: what comes after? What strength did it take in a man to not buck, to not resist, to not break free and run as far and fast as one could when standing in such a position as the big man before him. How was it he didn’t look more frightened? Especially if he were guilty of even half of which the others had claimed.

The young man looked about the crowd he was standing in. He considered their faces, who they were when they weren’t executioners, and practitioners of death? He saw John Clemmens, the saddleback doctor that went around to at least three counties in rain, shine, or snow, and was happy to be paid in a hot meal. Standing not far from him was the motherly Sunday school teacher Marion Rutless, or Mrs. Rutless as so many in the community had known her—she had always been the surest figure of posterity, regality, and Christianity before. And yet here she was, in the death mob. Across the way, just opposite where the young man stood, were more faces, prominent figures, good men, good women, and even some children.

At their epicenter the death roll was drumming down. There was a hushed silence to the crowd, it was heavy, making its own darker atmosphere that contrasted the grey but happy day they stood in. Cold air cut through their mass, making more than a few hands grip shoulders, rub vigorously, or to just stand mule strong and shiver. It was really about to happen, the young man thought. They were really going to go through with it.

He watched, not helping himself, gazing deep into those brown eyes of the condemned wondering what secrets they held. Yet he was afraid to look for too long, what if the man’s essence, the man’s evil (if what they said were true), or some other piece or part of the man’s being stuck to the young man once the wagon was rolled away and he was left to kick? What if corruption of soul was a contagion worse than fevers, chills, or other such sicknesses?

“Our father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name…” the condemned man began to pray.

“To hell with you! Should’a been praying long time ago!” one of the onlookers said. He shook his fist and spat brown tobacco on the ugly dirt at his worn out boots.

“…thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” the condemned man prayed.

Mrs. Rutless looked down, her head slowly, methodically, ticked like a shaky handed time piece. She was having some internal conflict for what everyone in the crowd knew was at their doorstep. Some leaned in, their eyes hungry for the lust of death and snuffing out of life, others leaned back, eyes wide, shock filled, unsure.

“Fess your sins before your community, and God a’mighty?” one of the men standing at the side of the condemned man’s sides asked.

“I do not fear death, I am too great for death, too great for all of you,” The prisoner said, his great belly shaking as he made his bold claims, and once his eyes quivered with nervous uncertainty. “Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…”

The two men at the prisoner’s side had hopped down off the wagon and went to the horse at its front.

“…I shall fear…”

One of the men slapped the horse hard and yelled, it took off with a damning speed. The wagon rolled out beneath the prisoner’s feet, throwing him off balance and leaving him with a great drop. For one long horrible drawn out moment he hung frozen in the air, an angel in heaven just prior to rebellion and being cast out. And then he plummeted in sickly sweet fluidity until the rope caught, gave a jerk and yanked him just slightly back up. There was a devilish snapping sound that went through the cold steadfast crowd.

The young man had never turned away. He felt sick with himself for being in the audience, for standing still watching, for saying nothing, doing nothing. Where once a man stood, now there was only the reminder of a life that had been, swinging from the tree like a twisted Christmas ornament in Hell. The prisoner was unnaturally still, no feet kicking, no hint of life, not even when the rope gave way and broke.

The crowd gasped and stepped back. The great man lay lifeless at the foot of the little hill beside the tree.

“Leave ‘em be,” said one of the men that had been on the wagon before. “If he still got life, let it leak out of him slow. Maybe there’ll be some justice in his suffering here before them Hell fires take his rotten soul.”

“Amen,” someone said in the crowd.

They stood together as one body, one group for long moments, simply watching. The air thick and heavy with what they had done. Death clung to each of them in a black tarry presence that was not physical and yet was completely undeniable. They stood together even as the day grew colder and a great snow started to fall.

Finally they broke, not all at once, but one at a time, and scattered back to the lives they had put on hold to see to the death of the one that had sinned against their community. Life would go on, or so the many in that crowd had thought.


Song of my Spirit

My shrine is a Sunday dinner

My Holy Song the sound of family laughter and forks clanging

My holy communion in the long talks we share

And Walking Dead Marathons

The most sacred thing

Is the smile of those I love

The whisper of God’s voice

Is in the sound of the creek out behind the house

I grew up in—where porch swings sing country melodies

 

This is my religion

The sound of the winds in the tree tops during winter

The smell of rain in the spring

The early morning dew weighing down bright green blades of grass

God’s face smiles from a sunset rolling behind hilltops

His promise of protection in the half wink of a crescent moon

Shining out against whatever darkness there may be

 

This is my faith

The sound of dogs barking their greeting when I visit

The smell of wood burning smoke from chimneys

Dad in the yard grinning and waving as I pull up

The old fort I played in as a child—leaning with age

The trees that roll down the hill to say hello

Mom in the house cooking, cleaning, smiling, knitting

Aunt Trish and Uncle Billy joining us for dinner

The riddles said with a laugh

 

This is my hope

Grandma cussing worse with age

The mule from my neighbor’s field whinnying out her salutation

The smell of the bluegrass in the dog days of summer

The sound of tires following the road

The small church I preached in—resigned from—that has been there

The way everything looks yellow in the early dusk of September

When the sun sets

 

God’s spirit is in the hummingbirds

Buzzing and chirping their little laughter, profanity, anger

Darting one way and then another

Dancing and daring for a drink of red nectar—sugar, water, dye

 

God is not a fixture on a church steeple

Is not a book held sacred

Is not a ten point lesson plan

Is not a yard stick to smack people with

Or a sword, guillotine, or rack to kill, maim and hurt

 

 

God is Love

Is life

Is joy

Is vibrancy

Is in the pushing up of a single blade of grass—

Through rock, soil, sky

God is not our limitation

God is in the infinite depths of the mind, the universe,

God is the seed the farmer plants—

The hope the farmer has when watching the sky

The great stalk of corn rising, promising to feed, to sustain

The hope that drives us, the dare that emboldens us

 

God has one great home—

Our world around us, our hope within us, our friends, our family

Worship God in the joy of a single breath

Whomever God whatever God may be to you, in you, for you, of you


In the Underworld, A Song

 

He was just a man

But was he?

Sitting there in the subway

His long golden hair

Danced in the artificial wind

Of the Cement Jungle’s underworld

Where on each side of our island of stone

Subway cars rolled by in violent force

Stealing people from one place

And inspiring them to another

Then the man presumably homeless

With clean features and normal look

Parted a smile that ripped my soul

And to this day I have never forgot

The crazy jags of those crooked teeth

And Cheshire cat eyes

Now looking on me

In me

And those long bony fingers of his

Strumming the guitar he once had on his back

As he took a seat in the dead center

Of this underworld where my friends and I waited

The rushing command of people everywhere

And yet it was only he and I

And the song he began to strum

What terror in such perfect ordinariness

Was it his condition, his smile, his unnatural eyes?

Or was it something more I sensed

Some hint of a past full of violence

His fingers danced upon the strings

And out came the song I remember never hearing his voice sing

“Hotel California”

His lips moved but the sounds of the city stole his words

And though I have forgotten much of that trip to New York

I have never forgotten the presumably homeless man

With golden hair and unsettling eyes

In the underworld of that city

And the song he chose to play

Begging for a buck

Begging for attention

And how he got one but not the other

He stays in my imagination still

Was he a man?

Or a monster in human flesh

I am grateful to have not found out


%d bloggers like this: