Sunday, May 7, 2017

My Grizzly Bear Ate Your Honor Student.





This all got started yesterday when the conversation drifted into the idea that we live in a world of self created realities. This is nothing new when you think about it because it is one of the things that separate us from the rest of the animals. Money is nearly universally accepted in the human world and it’s even gotten to the point where money is even more imaginary, and perhaps therefore more powerful than ever. Once, gold was traded for goods and services, but the value of gold came and went. Money these days is fairly stable. You know you can pay your bills online and never see a person, never see the money itself, yet you firmly believe in the system that keeps your lights on and the music playing on your computer. But the money is imaginary. It doesn’t really exist. Moreover, even when we did have our money in our pockets, it was a shared reality. The paper bills have an agreed value that nearly all humans invest in believing.


When I was in the Army two other men and I shared a room with three beds and a bathroom. There wasn’t a lot of squabbling or arguing because we simply did not have a choice in our living arrangements. Once out of service I had roommates but where there was more freedom to move or stay, there was also more conflict. The two realities that I shared with two different cultures dictated how I reacted to people who lived with me.


We share realities with everyone we know and everyone we interact with in our lives. We’re trustful of the people who serve us food in restaurants and we mistrust strangers in dark places. Women live in a different reality than do men. Women have to be more careful as to where they go when they are alone whereas I am very rarely in the company of other humans. I often wonder if I was a woman would I seek out the company of other humans for protection or would I simply adjust my lifestyle and carry a firearm?


All of this so far has been to set up an idea that I have about my reality versus the reality that others have. Sure, I do live in the world where I stop at red lights, pay taxes, don’t scratch my private parts in public, and wear clothes to work. I greet my co-workers, ask about their weekend and their kids, and I function throughout the day, reasonably so, and get paid. Yet whatever else might be going on in the realities of other people, most of what I think about doesn’t exist. At any given time I’ve got about three writing projects going. These projects all involve fictional people who have names, occupations, genders, and some of them will die horrible deaths. Some will be eaten by bears. No, really, they will.


Imagine you work in an office with seven people. The stratification begins with gender, age, length of time at the job, occupational position, race, if others share the same religion or go to the same church, sports teams, fishing, hunting, or even if there is a sexual attraction between two people, or more than two people for that matter. Yet all of this is based in realities shared by most other people. To be the only Muslim in an office, or the only person who keeps venomous snakes, or the only person who writes fiction, is to be a little more than a little different.


Here’s the part that’s really got me thinking; I suspect that if you were the only Muslim or the only writer in an office and no one knew about it, you would still be different from everyone else and they could, in some way, sense this difference. I don’t talk about writing and I never write in the office, yet at some level what I think about during the day as opposed to what everyone else is thinking about is radically different. While there’s some commonality in people who have kids in school, and perhaps the same school, even if they don’t talk about it it’s still a gravitational pull in future conversations, but there isn’t any way I can talk to people about writing even if I wanted to do so.

“My kid hit a home run today at school”
“I had three members of a rock band get eaten by a bear last night”


Cue crickets.



I’ve learned to listen patiently when someone is telling me about something one of their kids did at school, but I don't have kids. They are not part of my reality.  When someone tells me one of their kids played sick to stay at home and intercepted a letter from the school detailing some disciplinary problem the kid had, what I start thinking about is a kid staying home from school and using his neighbor’s computer to threaten the president and have the poor man arrested by the Secret Service. The kid wants to use the man’s pool and the man won’t let him so the kid is…

“…and I have no idea where he gets it from.”

Oops. I kind of wandered away from the conversation there for a minute or seven. I’m this way about hunting, fishing, cars, trucks, shopping for things having to do with hunting, fishing, or cars or trucks, religion, politics, blood sugar conversations, and grandchildren. Don't get me wrong here. I do care about children and I do care deeply about their lives. But as a non child person it doesn't run as deeply as it does in parents. 



The realities of the normal, kids and spouse, and school, and hunting and fishing, and NASCAR affect the people who live those lives. It creates a bedrock of interest that is a shared reality. My reality is centered around creating fictional characters and twisting the lives of these people so it’s an interesting read. And I suspect it gets deeper as it goes along. I’m willing to bet if you get ten people in a room and one of them is a writer or a poet or a painter, it won’t be long before that person is doing a detailed inspection of the house plants or talking to the cat.


Creativity affects a person’s ability to live in the reality shared by other people. I doubt it is as always pronounced as it is with me, but it still exists. The human mind accepts shared reality as a cultural norm and those whose realties are used in some art form cannot easily share the process of creation. We can only share the results.


Take Care,

Mike

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Summons







There’s a scene in the movie, “The Devil’s Advocate” where one character is asking another if he’s good under pressure. Can you, the man asks, “summon it at will” your talent and skills? I’ve always liked that movie and that scene in particular. I’ve always claimed that I can write anywhere at any time, if I only have a keyboard on which to tap and a computer to save the files to somewhere. That may seem a lot to some, but look at what it takes for a sculptor to do the art he or she practices. I suspect someone who carves stone has much larger problems working than I can dream of having.

It is work, you know. When I write I look back over each sentence and wonder if I have missed anything. Did I leave a word out somewhere? Should I have used a different word? Is my meaning there or is it lost? But unlike the piano player, I can always go back and edit my work, even after it has been released into the wild. The wrong note at the wrong time in a concert and that’s all anyone will remember. Yet I still have it better than the artist of the keys. My work sits and waits for me and it will be in the form you now see. A musician might play a song and unless it is written down the air will take it away never to be heard again. The music of ancient Sumer is gone forever but thanks to clay tablets and cuneiform we can still read what they were writing about four thousand years ago.


I would love to know what they sang about four thousand years ago and if there was a torch song that a writer wrote and a singer sang that stopped hearts and moistened eyes like Adele’s “Hello”. We never pause in our efforts to wonder what it took to get us to where we are, and who it was that laid the foundations of art before us.


Someone I once knew went to school with Tom Petty and my friend said most people thought Petty was a loser because all he did was play his guitar under a tree and sing. Petty went on to have a successful career and I think the tree okay, too. The time spent in practice, be it with an instrument or a keyboard is not wasted time. Writing about writing, is still writing.


At times I will sit down with no idea at all what I will write about and this is one of those days. I have a killer who needs resolution with her killing, I have a Demon that needs a host, I have a bell ringer who needs to be heard, and I have an odd story about Worf that I have no idea why, but came to me in a dream. Don’t sweat it if you have no idea who Worf is. That was so 90’s.


But all of this is still work. It requires a great deal of effort and time and thought. It still takes what it takes and the amount of time I spend writing something is usually a fraction of the time it takes rewriting it. And rewriting it. And rewriting it. The one thing that forced me away from PCs and into getting a Mac was time. The time to took to recover writing from machines that died with alacrity was draining me. I can afford to take a hit when it comes to money but I will never get that time back. It all came down to how important was writing to me? This is the answer.


It’s a great thing to have a great machine but that still leaves the question open:  Can you summon it at will? Can you open that vein and bleed? Can you step out and fly when pushed? Can you sit down and write even when there doesn’t seem to be anything at all there? Can you keep it going even when you’re tried and you haven’t slept well since Hillary was first lady the first time? The answer to that will always be one of effort. If you make the effort you can. If you try to write, and put the letters into words and the words into sentences and the sentences are somewhat related then suddenly you have a paragraph. Put enough of those in one place and you have a page. It may be work but there are only twenty-six letters to consider. Six of them are vowels. Writing is like the hardest game of Scabble you’ve ever played and you’re doing it alone, or with a Stri-ped Dog farting softly beside you. And your writing will be a lot like the dog’s farts, you know. You’re the one putting the stuff in and you have no one but yourself to blame for what comes out. That’s what this is all about really. What are you putting into it? What are you getting out? If you feed your dog stuff that’s not going to come out smelling the way you’d like I recommend a different diet. If you’re struggling to write then I suggest more effort. I’ve heard people say you can’t force yourself to write but why in the hell are you even putting your hands on a pen if force is something you ever have to use?


You and your Muse may disagree upon what you’re writing or what you should be writing, but as long as you are working you are writing and as long as you are writing you are working. Summon it at will. Make it come to you and ride it wherever it may take you. Whatever else may be, you’re going to get better at what you do as long as you keep doing it, and you keeping loving the process. Or at least the outcome. The process is work, real work, and that is what you have to Summon at will.

Take Care,

Mike

Friday, May 5, 2017

Schaal





It’s something to consider, the idea that some people were born with the yearning to write, or paint, or sculpt, or take photographs. Imagine the one of the greatest photographers of all time, Ansel Adams, and how he would have lived his life if he had been born five hundred years earlier. Could he have found some other medium from which to launch his soul? Or would be have gone through life looking at distant mountains and felt…something? What if Di Vinci would have been born three thousand years ago? Or Einstein in the Stone Age? Is it that the mind molded itself to the times or the times molded the mind?

Reading was always a very natural act for me. I loved reading as a child and devoured books as if they were oxygen to someone trapped in space. Of course, my handwriting was simply terrible, and it still is, but back in the late sixties, in South Georgia, bad handwriting was one of those things that simply screwed a child. There was no redemption for anyone with bad handwriting. It was one of the three “R’s” so right from the start I had failed on third of the requirements of grade school. The public school system was a savage place back then and kids who could not do well in one area or another were ostracized, humiliated, paddled with boards, and made an example out of. The practice of public disgrace extended all the back to a child’s home. The school system in general, and the teachers in particular, were infallible. If they claimed you were lazy then you were lazy. If they claimed you had a bad attitude then you had a bad attitude. Teachers were the final arbiters of a child’s intellectual state of mind, and the final arbiters of a child’s emotional state of mind, too. Parents sat and nodded their heads and accepted the judgement passed upon their offspring and the child was condemned.

I was struggling, drowning, falling deeper and deeper into despair in grade school. Not yet eight years old, I felt as if I had totally failed in life and would never succeed. If being hit with a paddle made a child smarter or improve a child’s handwriting I would have been putting rockets together by the third grade and learning calligraphy. Why no one seemed to realize that humiliation and pain wasn’t working I will never know. It would seem as if the adults in the situation would have gotten together and come up with something better. I will always wonder why they kept in place for so many years a practice that did very little but push me further and further down into a dark hell of a life.

I can’t remember what grade I was in but it was far enough along for us to be using cursive, which I truly hated, and it was early enough for us to be learning to spell simple words. Spelling, to me, was simply an extension of writing, and writing was hell. But finally, there came along a test I knew I could pass. We came to the words that all had OO in them, like Book, and school, and cool, and look. This was going to be the test that helped salvage my school year and get me out of the hole I was in. It would give my parents a sigh of relief. It would improve my standing in the classroom. It was going to be the one test I could count on passing, maybe I would even ace it, and I went into the test nearly gleeful. There were twenty words with OO in them and more than the majority of them were easy, four lettered words I had known since I started reading at age four. If I did well on this test I could watch television again, or go outside and play with the other kids, and I would get hit anymore, at least for one week, and after the test I was ecstatic. Even if I had missed the hard words there were still enough easy ones so I was going to do well. The weight was lifted. The bonds were cast aside. I felt as if I was part of the worlds again and part of the family again. The next day the teacher handed the tests back out and I had made a zero. I hadn’t gotten even one word right. Each and every word on the page was marked through with a big red X that looked angry and condemning. Zero. Not. One. Right. Nearly everyone had made 100 on the test and no one else had so totally screwed it up as I did. I had misspelled “Look” and “Cool” and “Book” and “Fool” and “Tool”.  It was as if I had been shipped off to an alien world and nothing made sense. The words all looked as if they were spelled correctly to me. “Book” looked fine to me. There was a B there were two O’s and there was a K. I remember the teacher hauling me up and class and paddling me for making a zero. I remember the other kids looking at me as if they couldn’t understand why or how such a thing was possible, and I couldn’t articulate what I was seeing or feeling because it didn’t make sense at all.

The teacher used the cheapest of shots, the very basest of arguments, and very lowest of the lows and told me, “You know very well what you did wrong” and I had no idea, really. I took the test home and my parents were stunned. All the words were spelled correctly. They said so. They agreed with me over the teacher, which never happened. They called her on the phone and I thought for once I would be vindicated, exonerated, freed from shame, and maybe even apologized to for how I was treated. But it was not to be. The teacher claimed that all my OO words looked, to her, as if I had spelled them with aa instead. Laak, Baak, Caak, and Taal, is what she saw. She didn’t see a single O anywhere. My parents folded under the weight of Teacher Infallibility and the zero stood.


I’ve often wondered what might have happened if they had stood up to her and made her change that grade. I wonder what would have happened if they had gone down to the school and defended me in public. But the teacher came to class the next day knowing she would do anything to me she wanted to do and there was nothing I could do about it.

Take Care,

Mike