Martha Graham Quote

There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique, and if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium; and be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is, not how it compares with other expression. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. No artist is pleased. There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.
Martha Graham

The Deer and the Snake

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Cottonmouth photo of one I relocated out of my yard several years ago.

 

Today I saw the twin fawns that I first spotted six or eight weeks ago. They are still hanging out with their Mom, but the spots are gone, and there was another older deer with them. They’re getting wary of humans, and bolted before I could get a good photo of them. But at least I know they made it this far. After they leave their Mom’s side and get off on their own, or with a herd, I won’t know it’s them anymore. It’s very rare when I don’t see at least half a dozen deer, and not uncommon to see a dozen or more.

 

Animals get used to human activity, especially when the humans aren’t shooting at them. It’s against federal law to carry a gun on a federally funded construction site, and not too many guys want to be fired, then arrested, for shooting a deer out of season, at work. Fewer still employers will put up with that sort of behavior. But guys are stupid sometimes, when it comes to guns, and the deer are wary about getting too close. I whistle at the deer, so they’ll get used to the sound I make, and they’ll know it’s me. “Sit still, look pretty” is my tune of choice, and the deer seem to like it.

 

I’m deer watching today, eating my sandwich for lunch, trying to get them to come close enough for a good photo, when I see the snake. There’s a sizable Cottonmouth that hangs around a low place in the woods that’s flooded. I think it’s the same snake because, one, it is big, and two, for a big Cottonmouth, it still has a very distinct pattern, and most do not. The darker color is a deep olive green, and the lighter color is brownish. I think this is one of the most beautiful snakes I’ve seen, and as I ease my phone out of the pocket, two of the guys from the project come to see what progress I’m making with the deer.

 

This ruins the progress I’m making with the deer, and infinitely worse, it means they might try to kill the Cottonmouth, unless I stop them, and if I stop them, it’s going to cause friction. But this is a beautiful snake, and I’m not going to stand around and watch someone beat it to death in front of me. The snake is made entirely of the stealth. The scales of a Cottonmouth are what is known as “keeled” which means there’s a ridge running down the middle of the scale, and this refracts light. Snakes surprise people sometimes because of the way their scales scatter light, and so the snake seems to just appear out of nowhere. You have to see the right kind of light, or the lack of it, to see the snake. To me, the difference between the shadows cast by trees and the dark figure of the snake is clear. Neither of the guys has seen the snake, but the snake’s body language tells me it has seen them. Right now, it’s staying put, pretending to be the shadow of a shadow, and it’s working.

 

Throughout the years, I’ve learned the hard way people will kill snakes for no good reason at all. Toss in the snake is packing and they’ll hurt themselves trying to kill it. My theory is people feel inadequate when they’re in nature, and killing something makes them feel more in control and stronger. Which explains why so many people can’t handle being in the wild. The truth is, the ability to blend in, and survive with the environment, is the only way to live. Yet here they are, talking about shooting deer, even if they are unarmed, and there’s a venomous snake less than six feet away.

 

It’s an act of treason or sorts, a violation of man code, but while they’re standing there talking to me, friendly like, and we’re being social, I send their foreman a text and ask him when we’re going to be ready to pour concrete again. This prods him into looking around and realizing two of his men have wandered off. It gets them both into a little hot water, nothing serious, but he recalls them with a few words about wandering away from the project. I get to wander because I’m inspection, not construction, but my time on the fringe is limited, too. Slowly, ever so slowly, the snake begins to move. It eases back towards the woods, and the water, and I still cannot get a decent photo of it.

 

The temperature is mid-nineties, and the heat index is pushing everything into triple digit heat. The bridge deck’s bare steel skeleton radiates heat, and it becomes an oven. This is where it matters, where what I do makes a difference, and so I endure the heat, and make sure things are as they should be.

“So what in the fuck was that all about?”  the foreman asks.

“What?”

“You text me while those two guys are over there talking to you? They piss you off?” he asks.

“Not especially,” I reply, “but I was trying to get the deer to come closer.”

“Bullshit.”

“What?” I ask.

“You were looking back into the woods when I called them, there a moonshine still out there?” he laughs.

“If there is do you really want to know?” I reply. No one in their right mind walks up on a still in the woods. Oh yeah, it sounds like fun, like getting shot is fun.

“No, really, you got a reason for us not to be over there?” the foreman asks. “I can put a stop to it,”

“Do that,” I say. “And don’t ask why, okay?”

“You got it.” And the man knows that this far out in the woods, whatever it is, he doesn’t want to know, and he doesn’t want his guys messing with something out there. They have a job. It is not in the woods.

 

The Cottonmouth and the deer get a little bit more protection. I get another chance to photo the snake, and the deer. The snake gets a chance to live another day, and maybe have babies in a couple of months. That would explain the girth, actually.

 

If it sounds strange to you for me to go to that much trouble to save a snake, a Cottonmouth at that, you just met me. I get stranger, but at the end of the day, I’m closer to nature for it.

 

Take Care,

Mike

 

 

All You Need to Know About the COVID-19 Response You Can Learn in Traffic

I worked in traffic for over twenty-seven years for the Georgia Department of Transportation. There were many times in my career where I had a lot of be proud of, with the bridges and roads that I helped build. There were times I was nearly hurt, seriously, because of traffic, and usually it was because someone behind the wheel of a car or truck wasn’t paying attention, or was speeding, or was drunk.

2018 was my last full year with the department, and 2017 was the last year I spent most of my time in harm’s way, and on I-75 at that. Night work on I-75 was enough to convince me that getting out while the getting was good might just save my life.

 

Traffic is different these days. People are more determined not to yield the right of way, not to surrender what they consider “their” lane, and they’re more distracted. People have gotten more aggressive, and they’ve gotten a lot more rude. They’ve become dangerously infected with the idea things on the road have to be the way they think they should be, at all costs, and that cost is paid by people like me, and the men and women under my management. In good conscious, I could not tell new people it was worth the risk, because I stopped believing it was. The traveling public became too dangerous to work with anymore.

 

Social media has created the idea that all opinions have real worth, and that worth has to be defended. People have become aggressive about what they believe, and it’s gotten dangerous in many ways. Drivers believe what they read online, and they believe it’s important enough to be engaged online while driving on the Interstate at speeds that can kill in an instant. That’s reality. What someone says that you either agree with or disagree with isn’t worth your life.

 

It sure as hell isn’t worth mine.

 

In the last few years, I’ve witnessed more people blocking traffic by positioning themselves to the left, and behind a slower vehicle on four lane roads. They’ll let other people get clogged up in traffic, back up a dozen cars, and they’ll maneuver so no one can get past them. This is new to me. I’ve never seen it until a few years ago, and to pull something like that on the Interstate is insane. But it speaks to the idea that someone wants to be in control of other people, other people must fall in line with that drive thinks is funny, or give that person power or purpose, I have no idea. I do know it is exceedingly dangerous.

 

Sometimes, on social media, I wonder if some people actually have a point, or an idea, or if they’re just getting in the way of other people because it’s their idea of fun. I asked for a recommendation on FB and got a half a dozen people who tossed out stuff that had nothing to do with what I asked. It wasn’t mean, or malicious, but it was a knee jerk reaction to get in the way because they could.

 

I think social media asks that we respond. We can be creative, or obstructionist, or we can even be angry. But we are trained to respond, not think, or consider, or even simply read and move on.

 

Those emoji buttons aren’t there to express thoughts but to give us some way to respond, and feel like we have made some sort of contribution, like screaming at a character in a television show.

 

When Covid-19 began to creep into the American consciousness, I assumed this would play out like it did in 1919. People would do the right things for the right reasons, and eventually, we would come out on the other side, more united, and stronger. But the dialog was driven by politics, and there were far too many people who say the plague, and the response to it, as political. The deaths and suffering of those who were infected, their families, and those who might succumb to the disease were not relevant. Any action, no matter how small or how large, was met with screaming and hostility, because it wasn’t about life and death, it was about politics, personal or national. It was about opinion and what was repeated in the echo chamber of social media posts. People became even more dangerous to other people than they had been in traffic, and for the very same reasons.

 

Americans have become a splintered collection of self-centered, selfish, uneducated, ignorant, self-righteous and highly opinionated self contained media centers that puke out whatever each of them feels best about, once they hear that two hundred and whatever many characters that can be tossed out in less than twenty seconds of typing.

 

The elderly and the children be damned. Social media is the new family now, and it is driven by nothing more complicated than a chicken pecking at a button that delivers a snack.

 

Over the last three years or so, I’ve watched people I thought I knew, and thought I respected, become seething bodies of hatred and mistrust, believing conspiracy theories that are downright laughable. These people will attack in mass, and viciously, anyone who dares ask them to cite a source, or to produce an honest source for what they preach.

 

The reaction to the plague, how people drive, and how they treat other people has become a nearly religious event. The right to a lane, the right to an opinion, and the right to treat people poorly is given to them by the Gods of social media, the support of like minded responders, and the never ending belief that if it can be repeated often enough, it must be true.

 

Can we honestly be surprised the Nazis are back? This is their playbook. People are recruiting themselves for the most assertive groups out there and what they actually stand for is totally and utterly irrelevant because it’s the response mechanism, not the philosophy, that counts these days.

 

And it’s getting people killed.

 

Take Care,

Mike

 

Heat and Light

 

 

If you work in a factory making widgets then in eight hours you’ll have some amount of whatever you’re making to put into boxes and ship off to China, or wherever they’re sold. If you mow grass for a living then you can look at a lawn and be satisfied you’ve beheaded enough blades to earn your pay. A highway worker can pave a road and see the results, and be happy the road is smooth.

But writing means nothing more and nothing less than throwing dice where the pips are obscure, and the wager unknown. A day’s worth of writing might mean you merely discovered what part of the plot does not work at all. A finished piece of work may hold no one’s interest. A novel a writer devoted a lifetime into finishing may not sell at all, not one copy, except friends and family, who are just happy it’s over and done with.

 

Accept this. Live it. Take your work, print it out, and burn it, for the heat and light from the flames might be the only useful thing all your devotion to the Muse ever produces.

 

Then realize it doesn’t matter if it’s never loved or appreciated, or printed, or sold, or even seen by another living soul.

 

And get back to writing.

 

Heat and Light.

On The Road: A Book Review

Jack Kerouac’s “On The Road” is widely considered one of the seminal pieces of work on the Beat Generation, and I finally got around to reading the book. It’s a fictionalized account of his cris-cross country travels with a friend of his, Dean, who was Neal Cassady, in reality. Several of the characters in the book are based on real people, but Neal Cassady seems to be the main character.

First off, there’s parts of the book which are wildly vivid in the descriptions of people and landscapes, and moods, but there are also vast passages spent on describing personal poverty, theft, grifting, and the idea there is a counter to that day’s culture. Yet at the same time, as much as Kerouac would like to present a world outside the white picket fences and nine to five jobs that normal people have, he and his could not exist without living off these people to a great extent.

 

Yet there is something here, a warning we did not heed, and Kerouac’s voice ricochets from one coast to another, describing a nation that is changing its identity and losing its soul. This was all occurring after World War II, in 1947 or so, with the people of the country more prosperous, yet somewhat adrift. The war that defined them is now behind them. What to do next?

 

Sal, the character that is the narrator and Kerouac’s voice, takes off with Neal Cassady and bounces around the country, philosophizing and drinking hard. There’s sex and drugs and jazz, and I wonder what would have been written in a day where Kerouac’s sexuality would have been more widely accepted.

 

At the end of the day here, I have to reread this book. I have to tap back into the spirit of the writer, because this is a very well written book, and remember this was a piece created before I was born. The language is different, but not alien. The cultural references are obscure, but not unknown to me, dig? The life of wild drinking and untethered sex, long before HIV or any of the other scary sexually transmitted diseases is a long lost dream. The Golden Age of Jazz began right in front of their eyes, and you have to wonder if anything like that will ever happen again, in any form.

 

In another twist, despite their lives of bouncing around, staggering about from one side of an continent to the other, Kerouac manages to write. He gets published. And he takes enough notes to produce a cohesive work that leaves me mystified. I yearn for a life spent wild and free, but at the end of the book, Sal and Dean part ways, and Sal leaves that life behind.

 

“On The Road” isn’t a book written for the mainstream or even those near the edge. It’s a book written for those of us who have slept in bus stations and under overpasses, for those of us who have set foot on the road with no means of getting to one place to another, but bent of traveling anyway, and we always made our destinations.

 

Take Care,

Mike

 

Sleep? Where!?!?!???

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Sleep has abandoned me, as it is wont to do, and even as I write this I wonder how many times I’ve sat down next to the bed to write instead of sleeping. It was a burden, to write late at night, when I worked for a living, but retirement brings a sort of timelessness to the day which allows writing without the feeling of regret late in the work day. To write or to work? To write or to sleep? To write or do mow the yard, or go out and socialize. There doesn’t seem to be an unclear choice, for as much work as writing might be, it’s less work than the world outside the human mind, no?

The blender is on tonight. There’s no clear image or scene in my head, nothing coherent, and the imagine of a story, new or old, is blank. This doesn’t mean I can’t write or there isn’t anything at all there, but there’s no sign of a plot, or a storyline. There’s a question in my mind in regard to a character, if I should make her evil, or even more evil, or create her in the image of someone who is as evil as she has to be in order to survive.

Feel like helping? Reba married Seth Johnson, the youngest Johnson son, and yes, there was this idea she married for money and security. She was older than he; she was twenty-three, and he only twenty, but times were desperate. Monsters stalked the human race, nearly to extinction, and the survivors in small county in South Georgia banded together, and formed a camp. They fought off the monsters, survived a coup attempt by the Johnson family, mainly because Reba’s husband had been killed, and she left the family for the second in command of the camp, and warned him of the Johnson’s plans. The Johnson’s are executed, and the camp survives. The fields produce crops, the monsters are vanquished, and life, while hard, is pretty good.

The issue that pops us is everyone knows the Johnson family had their own place for a while. And everyone knows the Johnson’s used slave labor. A few people at the new camp came in with the Johnson’s, but they were locals who simply quit and walked away. There were rumors, persistent rumors, the Johnson’s kidnapped people who came in from out of town, people stranded by the monsters, who were worked until they killed by monsters or starved to death. The locals weren’t treated well at all, but they did survive the experience, and they never saw any of the atrocities that may have, or may have not, went on earlier.

A few months after the execution of the Johnson family, a group of survivors are rescued from a camp in Tallahassee some fifty miles away. They’re nearly starved, dirty, and they were held in their camp as prisoners and slaves. Five of them, four women and one man, are escapees from the Johnson place, from the previous year. They all tell the same story: Reba was one of the people holding them at gunpoint.

What does management do, if anything?

 

If someone showed up and had evidence that a camp member was a murderer, would there be consequences?

You’d have to read the entire story to get a real feel for who is who and how people feel about a lot of things, but at the same time, it’s an interesting subject once existing government, and therefore existing laws, disappear. In a camp with just one hundred people, theft would be nonexistent because everyone would know what belonged to who. And after all, what would be a prized possession in a world where there would be so much just lying around?

 

Take away property crimes, and what’s left is people who would be punished for not working, or getting drunk while on the job. Maybe a fight here and there over a woman’s attention, and that’s where the pressure would really lie. A married couple in the camp has a wife who wants to leave her husband for another man, and the husband doesn’t want her to go. Who grants divorce? On what terms?

 

I invented a character named Daisy Cutter, who before everything ended, was a prostitute. In a camp where there are fewer women than men, does management allow Daisy to stay in business? Can they stop her? And what if she’s carrying some nasty little virus that’s permanent and spreadable?

 

And in the early days of the camp, when food is scarce, work is very hard, and life is exceedingly dangerous, what’s to be done with those too old, or too infirm to work? For the people who are running the camp, those who vote on how much food is allotted to which task and what punishment is handed down for infractions, once a decision is made on a subject, let’s say what to do with someone who is physically unable to work, then precedence takes hold. What to do with someone who is severely injured on the job? What to do with someone who is caught faking an injury?

 

But let’s get down to a personal level here. If Reba in the current time, was in a relationship with a man, and he discovered she helped keep people as slaves, how would he react to this news, if she admitted she did? Would this forever mark her as some sort of criminal, even if management of the camp didn’t punish her? How would her partner feel if he discovered this after Reba became pregnant?

 

We have it easy in our world, mostly. I think that might change sooner than later, but at the same time, it’s not like we live in Syria, or in a place where food is scarce or there’s impending doom, or a virus infecting everyone. Again, that may change, and if it does, I’m not likely to be any more prepared than anyone else. But who knows? Maybe if interdimensional creatures appear and begin wiping out the human race, I’ll be ready.

 

Take Care,

Mikeclock

Four-Thirty AM

It’s just after four in the morning and for reasons unknown, sleep has abandoned me. Tis an odd thing, night is, for I can hear the sound of a car, or a truck, out there in the dark, tires whining on the road, and it’s not a noise that is always heard. The acoustics here differ from season to season, temperature to temperature, raining to dry, so it’s not just the very real and very human ability to ignore or to tune out. The pitch of the sound gets higher as the car, or truck, gets closer, then it fades away, someone heading towards Quitman, or perhaps they’ll be home before then. Good to be home at this time of day, or at least somewhere you want to be.

She’s still bothers me, that young woman. She’s still stuck in my mind, still hanging around, and as of yet I haven’t had a chance to put her to fiction. She’s still too real, too immediate, and still unknown. It was 2009, and I was working nights on the Interstate. The shifts were ten hours, at a minimum, and sometimes a lot longer. A four month project had morphed into an eight month project, and the summer nights were getting longer. I was tired, more tired than I realized I could be, but I was driving home, at last, and now, sitting here, I wonder if that night someone heard my truck, and wondered where I was going. I lived twenty-five miles from the office where my truck had to be parked, and that morning, close to the time it is right now, just three and a half miles from home, there was a car in the middle of the road.

Deer wander out into the road, and they get hit by cars, and it’s usually catastrophic for both animal and vehicle. The deer are usually killed, if they’re lucky, and this one was very dead. Its body lay open in the night, steaming in the cooler air, eyes wide open in horror, and the front end of the car looked as bad. But the driver was a young woman. In a different light, she might have been pretty, or cute, or attractive in some way. There was no reason for her not to be, except her eyes. There was something about the way she looked at me, looked at the deer, or maybe she carried something inside that gave her that looked; wide eyed, intense, yet at the same time, there was something else there, rage, wrath, an anger, something I still cannot define, meth maybe, or maybe something else that I’ve never run into.

“You have to get me to Tallahassee,” she said. Those were the first words she spoke, and in my younger days, I might have done it, just to see what would happen. But after a ten hour shift on the interstate, I wasn’t looking for crazy. I told her I would call 911 for her.

“You fucking asshole,” she screams at me, the sound incredibly loud in the night. And pulls her hair back with both hands, stalks back to the car, and then back to me again.

See the flashlight in the photo? It’s like a relic from a different age now, long, large, steel casing, and heavy. Four D cell batteries, like no one uses anymore, add even more mass, and there’s a reason cops once carried these, other than illumination; they make great clubs. Whatever she was on, what she might have been, or whatever she intended, I was pretty sure hitting her in the face with that flashlight would keep her off of me. Think about it. Here’s man who only wants to go home and get some rest, if not sleep. He stops to help a young woman. She’s all strung out or possessed. Suddenly, a man who has never hit a woman in his entire life, is thinking this might be the one chick that does something so weird he’s entering the realm of physical violence with her.

“That close enough,” I tell her, and she stops, and looks at me, as if she just noticed I was there.

“You can tow my car to Tallahassee,” the woman says. Her accent isn’t right. She isn’t Southern, but I can’t nail it down.

“Not about to, ma’am, but I’ll give you a ride into Quitman, or I’ll call 911,” I tell her, but there is no way in hell she’s getting into my truck.

“I’ll pay you when we get there,” and this is a demand, not a request. She’s restless, pacing, tossing her hair out of her eyes, her fingers moving like the fuses of lit firecrackers, and I plant my right foot. This is going to end poorly.

“You need to get me to Tallahassee, motherfucker,” and her voice rises again.

“Look,” I tell her, “two options, I leave you here, or I call 911, and leave you here,” I tell her, “but you see that security light about half a mile on the right? That’s the Andersons. They have three black labs. They’ll kill you if you go up there. Okay?” And I take a couple of steps back.

“Fuck you,” she snarls, but she gets back into her car.

Know when it’s time to go, and then go a minute before that time. I walk back to the truck and pull around her.

I call 911 when I get home, and they tell me they’ve just got a call from her.

 

Chances are, the sound from the tires is someone going home, or maybe going to work. I spent most of my adult life doing that, going to work early, coming back home late, and I hope like hell I’m done with that now. But somewhere out there, are very strange people, and maybe one of them is that young woman, eleven years older now. If she survived herself, and whatever else she was doing, she might be pushing thirty now. Maybe even older. I find myself wondering what she was doing, what drug, what substance, to change her like that, or maybe that was her authentic true self, but I strongly doubt it.

What if she’s looking for me?

The sound of tires are gone now, and in their place is the sound of that night, the engine cooling and creaking, the drip of fluids out of the car’s dead engine, the sound of insects buzzing, and the sound of her footsteps as she paced back and forth. I have to get up and write now. For whatever unknown Demons might have stalked that woman, I know which ones have their claws in me. I have to write. This is where I have to be towed.

Take Care,

Mike

 

 

Writing

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It’s been brought to my attention I’ve neglected my blog. While I once posted at least once a week or so, sometimes more, in the last couple of months there’s been more time spent on writing fiction than posting online. There’s a few things I’ve been working on:

Pine View: The story of a group of survivors in Brooks County Georgia trying to rebuild a society after the human population has been all but wiped out by creatures from another dimension. A tale of hardship, farming, and how things are going to be, if civilization ends. It’s a novel sized story, and I’ve been working on it for a while now.

Laster’s Bridge: A Bluegrass band from Valdosta Georgia heads to Canada to crash a party for the very rich and exclusive, hoping to play one good song in front of a well to do audience. A sudden storm strands them on a bridge, and a bear shows up. Deep in the Canadian wilderness, who can survive in a lonely cabin with few supplies?

Switch: A frat boy with a lot of money and toys, and a penchant for drugging women in order to rape them, gets cursed by a witch. He now has her body and her life, and she had his. How does it feel to be a poor woman in a society ran by men? He’s going to find out, and he isn’t going to like it much.

Then there’s the long range, long term projects that I’ve had around for a while that I won’t get into right now.

 

Overall, I’ve been writing more these days. I’ve been spending less time online than I once did. However, this blog has been operating since 2006, and I guess I ought to keep it updated more than I do.

 

Also, I am experimenting with the old Bondi font. It’s from the 1700’s and you’ll notice the difference right away.

 

To me, writing has been a constant companion. When I was a child, I read many books, as many as I could, and as I grew older I recognized good writing and better writing, versus that which might have been placed to page without any real thought. It’s not easy to write, and it’s hard to write well. Writing is work. It’s an effort to translate thought, smoothly and coherently, into words other human beings might be able to understand in a manner  the writer was attempting to convey.

 

In the beginning, I suspect writing was instructive, or used in accounting. This is the way that is done, or this person had that much barley put into the royal granary. But writing then evolved into this sort of thing, with one person drawing from the human mind words and thoughts that others might understand for its own sake. Writing had become part of the human experience as well as reading. If someone were to sit me down and tell me I could only have one hundred book for the rest of my life, it might take a while to decide which ones, but I could come up with one hundred that would last a lifetime.

When the internet became what it was, early on, I really and truly thought it would be a haven for writers, and those who liked to read. I never foresaw it would become a shouting match for the ignorant and the downright stupid, and popularity depended not so much on skill and content, but volume and noise.

Writing was once a revered skill, practiced and protected, by those who loved it. The keyboard has released many whose handwriting might be less than perfect, my own is barely legible, yet it has also made poor writing easier. It’s made writing errors more acceptable and I cannot help but wonder why. The tools are available to ensure writing is cleanly written, yet there are those who blow right past style and usage in the name of brevity.

When a person sits down to write, they should engage the same sort of intent used in building a bookshelf or a birdhouse, at a minimum. The edges should match, it should be level, and the design should be given some thought. Any fool can nail boards together in a manner than suggests carpentry but can a book rest upon wood and settle there with grace? Can a bird nest and bring forth generations of their kind? Writing should inspire others to read, and to write, and therefore it is very much like a birdhouse, where the egg of the craft is nested.

These days, it’s more popular to write like a drunken five year old with a substance abuse problem. Writing is use to provoke rather than to lead to thought. Writers now try to tell people what they are thinking rather than to lead them to think. Worse, in modern fiction, the leaning is towards so much dialog, most fiction might as well be written as plays. Gone are the vast swaths of text that describe in detail the setting, the scene, the mood, or the journey within the minds of characters.

Yet the New World of the internet is new. There is still time, and still hope, that a tool used as a bludgeon, might yet be refined into a stylus, to begin the new craft in freshly formed clay. There is still the dream of young people escaping not into the world of electronic games, but their own minds, where they might bring forth a generation of writing from the perspectives of those who will inherit the earth.

Nothing ever is born or dies, but is changed in some way, perhaps unrecognizable, yet it still exists, if nowhere else but the human mind. Reading will always be with us, certainly, but it has to change and be changed, by the idea that thought can be critical and must be. Writing, forever altered by the screen, will evolve also, in what form I cannot guess, but perhaps there will be a Renaissance of sorts, where there are great books written, and read, for an audience suddenly hungry for intelligent thought.

Take Care,

Mike

 

 

 

 

Abernathy

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Someone I once met bought a huge roll top desk for five hundred bucks at an estate sale. Took four grown men to get it out of the house, and back into his. The thing was a monster, a small cottage could have been built out of the wood in that desk. I’ve always wanted one, but at the same time, I’m not sure a desk, any desk, is worth five hundred dollars. No, I tend to drift towards going to estate sales at homes that might have a hardback copy of “Dune” in great condition. Or a box full of paperbacks for a dollar.

I’ve tried, really, truly, I’ve tried to stop collecting books, ever since 2006, when I gave about three thousand of them away. I had stacks of books all over the damn house, and finally released them back into the wild, giving them all to the Brooks County Library. But I’m drawn to books. They are the only source of manmade magic to believe in. Everywhere there’s a journey there’s a search for books. Who cares what a woman looks like, really, if she’s read the right books. If you can sit across from a woman at a table and she tells you that “Stranger in a Strange Land” changed her life, you can go anywhere with her, and be happy.

The hand painted sign read, “Estate Sale”, and who paints a sign for an estate sale, and that’s enough for me to go in. All of the stuff  on the screened in porch, which is dipping forward just enough to tell, and there isn’t much of what there is. Clothes, that will be eventually donated, a stack of vinyl records, mostly very old R&B and gospel, and a collection of kitchen knickknacks litter the porch. There’s a pair of boots older than I was at the time. A worn copy of some book without a cover has a tag on it reading “5 cents” and it is time to go.

There’s a suit, and the material looks good, really good, and I stop to examine it. It’s old, very old, thin, and it had seen its better days decades ago.

“Abernathy,” the man sitting in a chair at the door says, and for a moment I didn’t realize he was speaking to me.

“Oh?” I encourage him. I shouldn’t, but why not?

“His mama named him that, wanted him to be a preacher, but it never took,” the man tells me. “She bought him that suit when he got out of high school. Gave him that suit and a bible and told him that God would speak to him.”

“Did God speak to him?” I ask.

“If’n he did, Ab didn’t hear, and if he heard he didn’t listen, Ab liked to play drums but the drums didn’t like Ab,” and the man laughed. “Didn’t have a musical nut in his sack.”

“How old was he?”

“Ab lived to be eighty, but mostly he died ten years before that,” the man stood up and stretched, keeping on hand on the door jamb to balance. “because them doctors had him doped up on pills and things. Ab couldn’t remember his own name, forgot about music, he weren’t never no good but he sho liked to listen. Had him a band he played in once, and they never was good enough to charge money. Background noise, something to hear, but nothing to listen to a’tall, is how I called’em.”  The man sat down and stared at the wooden floor. He could hear the music now, through much younger ears, and even though it wasn’t great music, or even good music, it was something that glued his past together.

“They played in this very house, had all the drums jammed in so tight Ab could hardly move, not that it hurt’im none. They played loud, and we drank to help, and it did some, and he always wore that suit. Made him look like he was gonna go to a funeral for the music, I said that one night, and everybody laughed so hard Ab stopped playing, and he never picked up a stick again. Never wore it again, that suit, never put it back on. Took his drums, and all that shit that went with it, to the pawn shop, and drank it away in less than a week.”  The man stared back into the house now, and I could hear it; terribly play music played far too loud, for drunk friends who were just trying to find an excuse to be there.

“Folks kidded Ab, they were mean about it, and said he once got arrested for playing music too loud, but the judge had heard Ab play, and said it wasn’t music,” the man laughed hard at that, and slapped his knee. “Ab took it hard, he did, he ain’t played a lick since that night, and he ain’t listened to no music like he once did. But the day he died his ex come over and played them records over there one by one, until Ab passed. Then she put’em down where she found’em and she walked out, again, and didn’t never come back no more.” The man stopped speaking for a while, and looked up, to see if I was still there.

“Good woman, Dorothy Ann was. Ab and her had two young’ens and they didn’t grow up to be preachers either. Both dead before they was old enough to drive. Wild things, went off and stole a car, wrecked it and burned. Dot’Ann done left after that. Came back to see Ab die, but it was more than that. She saw the last of her babies that day, too, both of’em spittin’ image of their daddy.” The man was staring at the warped and twisted porch wood now. It was time for me to leave, and I knew it.

 

End.

Cold

Back a few years ago, we had a period of cold weather that lasted for about a month. The pond had ice on it every day, at least in the parts shaded by trees, the pipe in the pump house burst, and it was ungodly cold all the damn time.  This week, we’ve had three days of freezing weather, twenty-eight degrees as a low, and it looks like that’s it for the month of January, 2020. The gnats are back, the mosquitoes were really bad last week, and there’s grass high enough to mow in the yard right now.

The middle of last May was incredibly hot. Not just warm, but triple digit heat in the day, high humidity, and night that were unbearable without AC.

 

I woke up at four this morning, couldn’t get back to sleep, and decided to get up, and write. Since I retired, there’s been this reoccurring theme from some people that we humans have to have a schedule, and we have to have a routine, because that’s the sort of animals we are. But I haven’t one in over three months, and I’m not looking for one, either. I like the idea of getting out of bed when I can’t sleep and writing. I’m not late for a damn thing, am I?

 

If I don’t go out with the dogs they’ll U turn, and pretend they peed on the grass, and right after they eat they’ll really have to go. So I go out, in freezing weather, to make sure they pee. They’re all curled up tight and sleeping again right now. But the stars were incredible in the cold early morning darkness, and an orange crescent moon was slung low in the southern sky, barely awake. I couldn’t get a decent photo of it, I wish I had either the equipment or the knowledge for such work, but I rather hone my writing skills than learn photography this morning. The urge to write right now seems urgent.

 

Decades ago, a few years before I took the job that I would retire from, I worked as a circulation manager for the Valdosta Daily Times. One night I was riding with one of the carriers and saw the moon, a low slung crescent in the night sky, and that was all that mattered at the moment, to see the moon. It’s important to pay attention to what the moon is doing, what the moon is saying at the moment, and acknowledge that everyone on Earth who has ever lived, and had the gift of sight, has seen the same moon. It’s a commonality of humanity. It should be. We should all take time to moon gaze, and it see it as an undying memorial to our endurance. The same magic that early humans felt, long before we landed there, I feel when I look at the slightly orange crescent caught in the branches of the trees around the pond. The magic seeped into my bones as a child and never left me. I feel sorry for those people who never look up, never stop and stare, and never feel the moon.

 

The crescent will be smaller tomorrow morning. It’s waning, and soon will be a sliver, or a smile, depending on the position. There will be nights of near total darkness and the stars will shine brightly, then the moon will return, again. It matters not at all if I am here to see it, for many more people who stood and enjoyed the view are not here.

 

Yesterday, I noticed it was six in the afternoon, and not quite yet dark. The days are getting longer, and they have been since the last part of December, but only now has it become noticeable. The sun is also rising further south than before, and now, after enjoying the sunlight reflecting off the moon, I see the eastern sky begin to brighten somewhat. Out in the ocean, on some boat, someone is watching the sunrise, but I must wait awhile yet.

 

For some reason, I cannot explain to you, a memory summoned to the surface, of a young woman I knew, who liked being in relationships, but also liked cheating. Her boyfriend caught her, confronted her, and she denied it, knowing as long as he didn’t actually see her doing anything, deny, deny, deny. They were in bed having this conversation, and he held her down, handcuffed her hands behind her back, duct taped her feet together, and then tossed her into the trunk of her car. At that point, she was truly afraid he was going to kill her. He took her out in the country, went down a field road, and dumped her on the ground, and drove away. It was below freezing and no matter how loud she screamed, no one came.

An hour so later, he came back, brought her clothes with him, uncuffed and untied her, and he drove her to the police station and got out of the car, and told her he was walking home. She sat there a while, then picked him up, and they stayed together for years after that.

 

One night she told me that while she was in the field, her naked body lying on the freezing ground, and she was wondering which worst case scenario might occur and cause her untimely death, she looked up at the sky and realized the moon was new, and the stars overhead looked incredible. And for a brief moment in her life, despite the fact that truly believed she was going to die, in one fashion or another, she realized that in that one moment, she defined her ability to rise above her own mortality.

 

I had never had anyone tell me anything more perfectly beautiful in my life.

 

Take Care,

Mike