Monday, May 23, 2016

A Time To Write.







There for a short while I knew a couple of people who thought as long as they knew I was home, it was okay to knock on the door and just come on inside. That isn’t cool. Now that was back before I sported large dogs and honestly, having large dogs will cut a lot of that out. Bert didn’t give a damn if he knew you, you knew me, we knew one another, no, none of that mattered at all to Bert. If you came through the door Bert was going to stand you down. You were going to stop. You were going to show the canine equivalent of an olfactory ID and you were not going to just walk on in. Bert meant it.

I miss that.

Out here in Hickory Head a person has to mean it to come here. I don’t get interrupted very often. When I do it is usually important or at least worth my while, or, at a minimum, worth someone’s while who has come here. That does mean something to me, that someone would drive all the way out here to see me. It means they really want to see me or they need me in some way that is urgent. I’m down with that. I will help my friends.

There’s been about three people on this earth I could tell, “I’m writing” and that those people would just stop and back away. Most people I don’t bother to tell I’m writing because that would lead to me having to explain what I am writing, or why I am writing. I don’t need that. I need to write.

At work, I have sixty minutes of my own time to do with as I please, but I get that full hour to write about once a month. People want to talk, they want to socialize, they want to talk work things, and because I have a position that demands a lot of interaction with human beings I put up with all of this. I can save and close a document in the time it takes someone to pull up, get out of their car, and walk up the steps. I’ve done it a few hundred times.

Back when I was working nightshift for a while I got to write during lunch, and there were a lot of breaks. Some of my best ideas came out of that era of my life, even if I did have to rewrite a lot of it. I like to have at least a couple of hours without distraction to write and it’s easy to see where having a full time job and four dogs and a house and a yard might not yield that on a daily basis. Saturday mornings are the best, with coffee, because if I get up at five then I’ve slept in a little, and I have a couple of hours before the sun is high enough for yardwork and the dogs are still sleepy. If the weather is right, cold and blustery, I can stretch this out for half a day or even longer.

I’ve dated women who didn’t understand my need to write. It’s something that some people miss entirely. Those without a creative outlet can’t see it as what it is. Usually, they put up with it like they would a guy watching football every once in a while, but in the end, noncreative types begin to have a problem with the idea that this writing thing is going to be around for a lot longer than they could realize. Invariably, I get accused of cheating. It seems a little unlikely that a man would, or could, spend that much time doing something that doesn’t involve sports or sex. Yes, I admit it, the whole concept is very strange. But I’m a writer. I write. I do not do very much at all except that.

Writing is hard work. Yes, there are times the words flow and I just zip along, but there’s a lot to keep up with in a story. What are other characters doing while the main characters are doing what they are doing? What’s everyone’s agenda? What time is it? What’s the date? Day or night? When does sexual tension become something physical? There’s a difference between letting a reader know something is going to happen between two people and overplaying it. Sometimes, it’s little things, a touch of a hand, two people agreeing on something, perhaps both of these things, then suddenly, alone in a cabin in the woods where a bear has killed three people, they realize life is short and they are drunk.

Meanwhile, real life is still happening. The phone rings, dogs bark, neighbors have cows that moo and chickens that for unexplainable reasons, crow all night, delivery people arrive with boxes, and clothes do not wash themselves and dogs need love. And girlfriends; don’t call a woman and tell her you’re in the middle of a great sentence, you’ll be an hour or so late.

It’s hard to tell a woman, “Trust me, it was hard enough to talk you into taking your jeans off for me, there’s nearly no chance in hell that I can get two women to do it within the same year, much less at the same time” even if that is closer to the truth than I like. And very few women want to hear something like that and even less, “I write, it is what I do, and when we are not together that is what I am doing.”

The sad truth here is we live in a world that has very little respect for creativity. People play video games, they watch television and binge watch Netflix, but that’s okay. They go to sports events, they sit around and talk about one show or another, but the idea that a person might sit down and create, and take the time to create, and ask they be given the time for this, is downright alien.

Take Care,
Mike




Friday, May 20, 2016

Remixed: The Reincarnation of Carah Holley



There was a full moon, or at least there was supposed to be. A storm stalked the low country and the oldest slaves claimed that it would be one to remember, or it would be one that might leave this part of the world forgotten. I often wondered why they kept living, why the slaves didn’t just die of despair or sorrow. They were from a country they would never see again, some were born into chains and would never know anything else, yet still they hung on. The horses, the cows, the chickens that slept in the coop at night, none of these animals knew of any life that might be better than the one they owned, and indeed, would never survive any other life. I used to wonder if in a thousand years, or even in ten thousand years, if the slaves would become truly domesticated, dependent entirely upon the overseers and drivers to goal them into actions that would become automatic as they aged. I knew wild horses would not accept a stallion that had lived with humans. Chickens that left the yard would be eaten before the sun went down. A cow lost in this wet environment would stand in the water and at the top of its voice beseech its succor from freedom.
My overseer, a cruel and compassionless man sent from Baton Rouge by Robert Roundtree, my father-in-law to help me, nay, to take over for me, this plantation, kept the slaves in a constant state of fear and exhaustion.  Pierre Lambert, was his name and he would announce himself in the morning by telling them, “Pierre Lambert is here.” And none of them did anything but what he demanded and never did any of them brain him with a shovel, or hack him to death with a machete. It worked them in the cane fields until at least one of them died of heat exhaustion, by being bitten by one of the venomous serpents, or being beaten to death by the drivers. The drivers were the handpicked slaves that beat them others to get them to work harder and longer, or they themselves would be beaten.

Yet some still sought to escape. Why? To where? What life might an escaped slave find in the swamps of Louisiana? Every once in a while one would leap into the fetid water and splash towards…what? The swamps were endless and life inside the dark waters wore scales and teeth and claws. The locals that dwelled there would bind slaves and return them to Lambert for whiskey or tobacco. How cheap their lives were! For the price of a bottle of whiskey one could be bought back out of the wild. They would always scream and thrash to escape once they realize what was happening to them but there was no escape. Lambert kept a wooden box on top of a huge cypress stump at the edge of the plantation and any slave that tried to escape would die in that box. His legs and arms would extend out of the box while his head was at the lower end of in, enclosed. Fell creatures of the night would come, they had learned to come, and they would pull on the meat off the limbs, and gnaw the bones of the still living slave.

Worse, as if there could be anything more ghastly, the slaves that lived in the hovel with the would be escapee, would be chained to the stump of the man until the body rotted and fell apart. While they worked in the cane they would be forced to carry and drag the body until Lambert was convinced they were terrified past the point of humanity.

And I? I sat in my chair and closed my mind to it all. For seven years I heard the screams, listened to the whips, stepped over the blood, and never once spoke one word against Pierre Lambert. When he brought the production numbers to me and accepted them and he would stand there, smiling as if he loved this part of the job nearly as much as the torture, and I would sit at my desk, filling in the lines of the ledger with black ink that was bought with blood. I think he knew my aversion to slavery. I think he knew that I would have never lived in The South had not my father-in-law sent me here. I think he knew I would leave, and leave in haste, were my wife, Carah, not entombed here, killed in childbirth by my firstborn son, Lankford Waterford Holley who drew no breath of his own, and took the last of the only woman I had ever loved. Where would I go? What would I do? Where else would I find a life where all I had to do was fill in the ledger, listen to the screams of the slaves, and drink the rum we made with the cane.

For six of those seven years my Carah, lay inside of a stone crypt in a cemetery created by slaves dragging woven straw baskets from miles and miles away. Endless lines of slaves had created the foundation of the house where we lived. Endless lines of slaves hauled in the fill dirt and then the wood and the stone. None of these materials were found in the swamp, except the woods we used for boards, and they hacked at trees as big around as a small crowd to clear the land for cane. The plot of land that was to become the hallowed ground for me, my wife, our children, the descendants of generations of our family was bought with the blood and bones of many men.

The war was coming. Robert Roundtree was squeezing the Union of its treasure by making cannons, and I was left to produce as much rum as the South could drink or trade. I sent all my money up the Mississippi, and then overland to Robert, and there it would stay until the war was over, and we would start over again, rich landowners in a broken land. The Union was spreading out, defeating the Southern army in all places, and those who lived near me either went to fight or they escaped as they could. Houses were being burned, plantations were put to the torch, and the slaves were being freed. Not twenty miles away was the nearest burning plantation when I took to drink as if it would be my last. Perhaps I hoped it was.

I awoke to the smell of smoke and the sound of screaming. There was a vision, a dream, a memory that I had gone to the hovels where the slaves were kept, and one by one, I unlocked the chains that had bound them. I counted them, each one of them, as if they were going to be taken out of the ledger, and one by one I freed one hundred and seventy-five men, fifty-two women, and their children, which we never counted until they were old enough to work. I returned to my house and I knew they would first seek out the living quarters of Pierre Lambert, and that is what they did. It was his home that was burning, fiercely, and the slaves had crucified the slave girl he kept as a pet. Lambert screamed as they stripped him naked, poured boiling hot rum into his throat, and then dragged him to the box.

I expected them to come for me. I knew they knew who I was, and it was my pockets they filled with their agony and enslavement. I staggered to the stairs and nearly fell. I heard the sound of foot fall on the veranda and if they came for me, I knew whatever they chose to do they would do.  But at the door stood an old man, not a slave at all, but one of the locals. Then, as the slaves came up behind him, I realized that it was not an old man at all, but a very old woman.
“You must come with me” she said and it seemed as if the words were difficult, as if spoken by someone unaccustomed to speech.
She led me, and through the slaves that crowded around, and I knew whatever was to happen I would be helpless against it. Lambert’s screams seemed less powerful now. The woman hobbled and used a stick as a cane, and the slaves helped her as if they had known her for a very long time.
“You haven’t laid a hand on anyone here, ever.” The woman spoken suddenly and with more clarity. “Yet in your grief for your wife and son you allowed much evil to befall those who never did you harm. You were the vessel that carried the poison that others had to drink and until this night you never thought to do anything else.”
Lambert moaned anew. His voice rose as he begged to die, for a death he never allowed for others.

“For longer than you or that man you collared these people with, I have helped those who I could, and kept them close to me for this day. Only one in ten have I been able to rescue, no more than that, and we have lay hidden, waiting, and now, by your hand, you have hastened this day.” I then noticed that some of the slaves were dressed as locals, and at night might pass as such.
“Yet, you are not absolved.” The woman croaked as she tried to raise her voice. “I cannot condemn you for the good you did, even if a small act done overlate, but these people must have answer, and those who died before this night will have a reckoning. This is what will befall you tonight; a Reckoning.

They dragged me, and I offered no resistance, for what might I have done, or said? If this was a trial, then it was one a long time in the coming. Fires were set in the house and I knew any army that was near would see it. The fire from Lambert’s house was still burning and his pet was still alive, but now trying to get away from the heat. As the fire from my home rose the mob dragged me into the cemetery and what sort of desecration they planned I feared more than anything I knew.

They pushed the granite lid aside with great effort and I thought they would toss me inside, and it seemed they planned to do so. But the evil I had done to these people lived more strongly than simple murder, or even execution.

“For years these people have been made slaves, made homeless, used as chattel, and their misery had made many a man like you, without trade or skill or sweat, rich beyond your own ability. Tonight, we will give you the task of becoming what you never have been; a human being with a soul. But for the misery you have heaped upon those you have never known, we will cruse you, and this curse will be carried by those you once loved, and this curse will endure until you have might right all you have done.” They took the bones of my wife, still dressed in her finery, and that of my son, still bundled in the blanket in which he died out of the crypt, and then they placed me inside, almost gently.
“Your wife’s spirit and that of your son will go forth and invade those whose nature is most evil. You will follow them and if you can, kill them, but you will never know where they are, and they will never know who you are, only to avoid you. If you kill them both, on the same night, you will all be allowed to return to the earth as it is supposed to be. But as long as those two live they will create harm for those who kept slaves and descendants of those who profited from slaves. Your wife will haunt them, your son will drink their blood, and you will not die, but be born into another generation as they will be. Until you kill them both they will sow sorrow as you have allowed. Until they die they will generate misery as you have allowed.
Your man in the box will be part of this curse. For his soul is to be tormented as if on fire as long as he lives. His only rest will come in killing you, and he will hunt you for each life you both live, until your wife and your son both die.

They closed the lid upon me and a blackness descended upon me.

How does a man gauge his own good? It’s optimistic for most to consider the wealth they give to the church, the poor, to a relative who cannot do business, a friend who needs a hand, perhaps, but it is much harder for a man to face his own evil. The lives that slavery shattered extended well beyond the edges of the swamp. The corrupt ways of Robert Roundtree damaged lives well past the range of his weaponry. And even though I never lifted a hand to a slave or poured molten iron to make a cannon, I felt the evilness of my life filling the crypt. It filled the crypt and suffocated me. I tried to shout but when I opened my mouth more evil poured out, like the fountain that ran in my front yard. Everything I had done since the first day I arrived, or had not done, seemed to wash the entire world in a darkness that burned like the sun but cast only shadows.
“Robert?” it was the quite voice of my wife, Carah. She was speaking to me from outside the tomb, as if she were standing where I had stood so many times, and spoke to her. “Robert, did you know that I am not my father’s daughter? Even he does not know. I was switched with his daughter at birth and since then I have done naught but suffer. This is a curse to you and it is a curse upon the head of our innocent Lankford, but for me, I will enjoy what I am set to do. I have sent Lankford to be raised by the people of the swamp. I will head to New York and kill Robert Roundtree. The Union troops will be here soon, and they will release you, perhaps, and maybe they will kill you. I’m unsure how this will work, but I hope they bury you deep, or burn you where you lie. I would like to think it would be hard to find a woman among the ruins of this nation you helped create, but it is there I will hunt. Good bye, Robert, and good luck in ever finding the two of us together, or unawares.”

And she was gone.

 But the Union troops did arrive, and they sought to despoil the grave of a rich plantation owner and found me quite alive inside the tomb. They did torment me and they did beat me, strip me naked, and they set me along the road with others like me, who had lost everything. But I had lost my soul. I would spend decades, and this thought stopped me, maybe longer, trying to reclaim it. In front of me was the woman I loved and my son, who I had to kill. Behind me, somewhere, was the soulless form of Lambert, who hunted me as I hunted them.

I looked up at the full moon and realized that just two days had passed. Eternity was going to last a very long time.


end





Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Make Peace With Your Madness.








At some point in a person’s life there has to be a reconciliation between the way reality has been presented to them by the various cultural institutions and the way life actually is. For the most part, I think a lot of people go through their lives as actors in a play. They are supposed to believe so they pretend to believe. They are supposed to be good parents so they do those things other people think will be considered good parenting. They are supposed to watch the same television programs as their friends do so they can have something to talk about whenever they’re alone together and realize they have nothing to talk about.

A friend of mine died recently. At age fifty-eight he ran away from his old life, his family, his children, and everyone who knew him. He had met a woman online, told her that he was looking to get away from himself and she let him move in with her, a thousand miles away from all he had ever known. He moved to a town where he was no one to anyone, a stranger among strangers, and he took a job stocking shelves in a retail store at night. He returned to his one true love, drinking, and in the space of just six months drank himself into ill health, and finally, to death.

The woman he had moved in with wasn’t entirely happy with his death but it was a relief to her. She didn’t claim his body so he was cremated and the ashes were simply dumped at a site near a lake where a local church provides a ceremony for those people without a circle of family and friends who show concern for the final curtain’s fall.  The audience had walked out a long time ago.

The woman knew his name and knew where he was from and through social media discovered his oldest daughter. “Hi, I’m from a thousand miles away and I think the guy I shacked up with was your father. He’s dead. His ashes were tossed out of a paper box into a lake were the fishing is really great.”  Add friend/ ignore.

The wonderful thing about social media is a person can either become part of a larger whole or become who they really are, and maybe both, and maybe even both at the same time. It’s a place a person can make peace with their madness. Or go to war with it.

I went to a yard sale last Saturday in an upscale neighborhood that has its own security and its rules about yard sales, too. Once a year, they permit people to sell stuff from their yards and it’s an odd thing; there are million dollar homes there and tiny yards. Everything is tidy. Everything is neat. All the grass is the same height in all the tiny lawns and all the domesticated plants that flower at the same time are trimmed back to the same degree. The squirrels have the same haircut and even the birds fly in formation. And this is exactly what I talking about here; none of this stuff found in the nice neighborhood is real. None of it exists without the idea that this is how things are supposed to be, as agreed to, by everyone willing to live like this.

Not that there’s anything wrong with living like this, if you can live like this.


Perhaps, and I am more than willing to concede this point, it is better to not make peace with your madness but to pave over it. Maybe it’s better to medicate it, to simply bore it to death, and play your part in the theater of the grass grown the same height and the children all dressed in the same clothes, and the tidy tiny trimmed lawns. If a pine cone hits the ground, dash out and collect it for the garbage truck so it can be taken to a landfill somewhere. Trees now produce trash that is to be picked up in plastic bags, all on a certain day of the week.

Is it any wonder there are no polymaths produced in this environment? In the dizzying array of white noise and sameness how could anything greater than this be grown here? The better part of each family’s effort and treasure is sunken deep into the idea that this is the end all to living. Is it any wonder that at age fifty-eight, a man might run away from his sanity to discover his own madness waiting for him at the edge of life?

You think this fatalistic? Do you consider my words fey? Is it death to rail against the white noise and static of sameness in life or is it death to accept this monochromatic world without risk of the lawn covenant’s palette? Can the human mind prosper in a world where everything is decided within a narrow range of possibilities?

The choking fog of society cannot be lived without. We must have doctors and builders and those who produce food,  and as we make acceptations for those who are deeply sane we move further and further away from those who are trying not to make peace with their madness, but rather are trying to mount it, and ride the upon it on the wind. The abstract artist who is also a landlord cannot speak of the world of swirled colors or violently splattered paint to a tenant whose job it is to keep all plants butchered at the same elevation. The man who oversees a construction project cannot speak of his work with a pen to a man whose life is happily spent operating a shovel. There is a distance between the worlds that neither side can comprehend.

I will also concede, happily, that I might be wrong about this, also.

No matter which way the pressure lies; you cannot receive the anesthesia of the world where pine cones are trash any more than you can surrender to the bottle or the pill, for neither is a good substitute for living. Find a place to live and let others do the same.

Make peace with your madness. In the end, it is the only thing that is truly yours.

Take Care,
Mike