Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Fan mail can save your life

This came in the mail today at work, in a small green envelope, written in a steady hand in clear print on lined three-ring notebook paper:

Sunday, September 18, 2005

I’ve always loved writing. My words told what my art work couldn’t. I’m 16 now, a junior in high school, still trying to decide what to do with my life. Writing would be my first choice, but I never thought I’d make it, so I kind of gave up on excelling in it. (Don’t get me wrong, that didn’t stop me from writing.) You can’t stop your stream of consciousness.

One day I found your column. “Listening about our generations,” was the name of the article. The best if I have ever seen it! Now, that article among others are tacked up on my bulletin board. The subjects you write about and the way you write about them is what got me reading. Your articles used to be just a part of my Sunday morning routine. Now they’re an inspiration.

Thank you for showing me that I can be whatever I put my heart into.

As you say …

(Name withheld to protect the minor)


And here’s the column she to which she refers:

Sunday, January 16, 2005

“Listening about our generations”

There came a time when he couldn’t find his CDs until he looked for them in his children’s rooms — often Tori Amos and The Cranberries in the girl’s room, Iggy Pop and David Bowie in the boy’s room. His parents never had this problem, the man thought.

But then something shifted with the seasons, and he recognized a special, strange moment of time, a turning of the slow metronome.

Listen to this, the boy said, and put on a CD by a band called The Killers. My friend Laura loaned it to me, the boy said. Listen to this, he said, and put on a CD by a band called The Postal Service.

Can I borrow your Garden State soundtrack, the old man asked? Can I borrow your Keane? Your Cure? Any friends loan you anything else?

Sure, the boy now buys his own Nirvana — a sign of the old man’s influence? — and he listens to Sinatra, though the man wondered if that’s because of his own sometime Sunday mornings playing old big band platters and jazz or if it’s because of school exposures to stage plays and Guys and Dolls.

And he wondered, where does the parent end and the child begin?

On a recent Saturday morning, the boy came back from a garage sale lugging a cassette carrier filled with a hundred 20-year-old tapes. Among them: Eurythmics, Thompson Twins, Talking Heads, Thomas Dolby, Fun Boy Three, Adam Ant, Elvis Costello, more Bowie and Pop, The Motels, Til Tuesday, Cyndi Lauper, Lene Lovich, The Police.

(So much alike, the boy and the man. The man thought he had better warn the boy about that, but knowing himself he figured the boy would not understand.)

This was music of the old man’s day. He had much of it on vinyl. He could tell stories about these albums and times surrounding them.

So he told stories and thought about how music really is the universal language, though everyone speaks it differently. Some recognize it from a distance, and some know it only subliminally. Others may not play, but they speak it straight from the soul. (“I got soul, but I’m not a soldier,” so the song goes.)

That is — music plays some people like an instrument, evokes emotions and memories, informs their lives. It can be so much a part of them that, even if they can’t carry a tune or pluck a string, it’s inseparable from their personalities.

They need music. They relate it to times in their lives. They feel it deep inside where empty places need to be filled. They use it to get through their days and nights. When they can’t talk, at least they can listen. And sometimes they can listen together and begin to understand.

Or at least borrow each other’s CDs.


Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Wanted to be needed ...

... wanted to be necessary, but became merely ubiquitous.
... wanted to be desired, to be a beloved entertainment, but made of myself a summer rerun, a tired peep show.
It’s one of the laws of television that, if there’s a regular series that you seldom watch or a program you enjoy but have missed for several weeks, then the episode that you tune into on a bored and lonely night will be one that you’ve already seen.

That was me. I was that episode.
Every day.
Familiar, tired, seemingly full of energy but actually a rerun, an electronic ghost repeating its final actions again and again throughout eternity.

Hell as TV Land.

When Dick Van Dyke dies, he’ll go to Nick At Night and spend his hereafter tripping over foot stools. And me ... I'll do what it is I do. Forever.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Word up to my homies:

A friend sent me this list of winning words from the Washington Post's "Mensa Invitational," which asks readers to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or
changing a letter, and supply a new definition. Here some favorites from the list:

Intaxication: Euphoria at getting a tax refund, which lasts until you realize it was your money to start with.

Reintarnation: Coming back to life as a hillbilly

Bozone (n.): The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future.

Cashtration (n.): The act of buying a house, which renders the subject financially impotent for an indefinite period.

Sarchasm: The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn't get it.

Inoculatte: To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.

Hipatitis: Terminal coolness.

Karmageddon: It's like, when everybody is sending off all these really bad vibes, right? And then, like, the Earth explodes and it's like, a serious bummer.

Decafalon (n.): The grueling event of getting through the day consuming only things that are good for you.

Glibido: All talk and no action.

Dopeler effect: The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.

Arachnoleptic fit (n.): The frantic dance performed just after you've accidentally walked through a spider web.

Beelzebug (n.): Satan in the form of a mosquito, that gets into your bedroom at three in the morning and cannot be cast out.

Caterpallor (n.): The color you turn after finding half a worm in the fruit you're eating.

And the pick of the literature:

Ignoranus: A person who's both stupid and an asshole.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Sunday, May 15, 2005

This is Prose, not Poetry

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Let's be sincere...

This is prose,
not poetry, but
let’s be sincere

The truth will out, but do we take the time to note it, and will we recognize it when we see it? I ask because it’s a question of vision.

Sure it is. Follow me here, if you will.

See, I have this thing about roadside billboards that have been left to the weather —the paper withered and lacerated, mixed messages from sundry times melding into unintended meanings, rust and wood showing through. It appears flat but betrays secret depth.

And I wonder (sometimes, for no apparent reason, I wonder things like this) if maybe people are like these billboards torn by time, maintaining their shapes while hinting at the secrets hidden under layers of paper, ink and glue.

Sure they are.

See? Scratch the surface. People, too, camouflage enigmas under the cover of happy colors and bright slogans. Mysteries are concealed beneath their skin, forgotten layers that sometimes push through of their own accord, and other times are torn free by mere circumstance, memory or wild catastrophe.

Water-softened and sun-dried, the weathered membrane peels back. Real lives squirm under the onionskins we turn to show the world, the smiles like billboards by which we advertise something that maybe never truly was — reality now revealed by juxtaposition with that which lay secluded just beneath, that which would not (or could not) remain buried.

This is the viscera, the rawness poets ache to glimpse, the honesty Kerouac was seeking when, in Book of Blues, he wrote, “I mean / This is prose / Not poetry / But I want / To be sincere.”

But what does it mean, this contrasted with that — the before and the after, both fading together in the sun-bright face of the now?

The rusted backboard, the termite-eaten and time-rotted wood. The bleached paper and spotted ink that make up a person’s past? The half-messages, now garbled and misunderstood, ghosts of meaning left by those who came before, who passed this way, pressed their designs upon our surfaces, and have since moved on.

All of it, taken at once and jutting above the treeline for all to see?

It is what it is, and we must not make more of it than that. Look quickly, gaze deeply, take it in when you can. Because tomorrow, if not sooner, a new skin will be placed — bright smiles, fashionable slogans, happy colors on fresh paper.

It’s the only way we can survive together, after all.


(The preceding appeared as my Sunday "Undercurrents" column in The News Herald, May 15, 2005, alongside a photo to follow as the next post.)

Sunday, May 08, 2005

One True Thing

Truism: "The best things in life are free."
Proof: Free Comic Book Day.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

...In the Woods...

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In the Woods

In the woods of his youth
In the dream, there are things that chase but never catch

In the doghouse
In the madhouse
In the woods where giants dwell and wolves lurk,
and little girls should not stray alone
even in cloaks of red

In the dreamland
In the nightmare
Under the moon of hunt and harvest
of faery fires lighting oak limbs and glens and lochs of crystal
There the skellyman dances and Little Red prances
and Big Bad smiles, licks chops
and glances over his shoulder, wondering where the hunter is
on this night under the moon in the woods
of the dreamland
of his youth
by the madhouse
in the nightmare
and harvest faery fires

Monday, February 28, 2005


‘Twas the crux of it for him, the Charlatan:
Valium to make the atrocities go down easier.
An infection scavenger employing subtle elegance in his ornate theatre of pain,
mixing nouveau alchemy over jewel-crusted Gypsy skulls,
opulent and grinning.
A devil aura in the void, he was, a monster without qualm or flair.
He died on the Sabbath, en utero, and soul flies gathered,
buzzing, ethereal
like mysterious ash, ambient,
all about, suffocating, permeating,
and within the veins and ventricles.

But she...
She was his unquiet obsession, an artwork, a brushstroke existence
forming a diabolic trinity with the Charlatan and me.
Released by a talisman fossil carried on the carapace of a dungeon moth
— Mephisto’s timeless incarnation, a butterfly built with a skeleton key —
she led her unresurrected messiah into jagged heaven,
spitting vitriol and splitting his sensual shroud.
Industrial heavenly voices merged in the crimson shadows of the machine garden,
and Beauty’s ghost dawned, fantastical, with one cry,
with shoebox memories to snapping, shrieking to pierce the lull…

I recall the vignette: Voltaire menacing Audra;
a recollected affection conjuring bittersweet musings
to the strain of minor chords — eerie, luminous and

Immersed in swirling poetry, their discord was mesmerizing, frenzied.
And in lush quiet descending, their unstructured improvisation was lost
in a bizarre tragedy, a starkly pathetic horror
born of melancholic passions.
Icons reduced to cryptic fragments, synthetic and creeping
through the lyrical whisper of serenity-gone.

An atmosphere of intrigue descends, dominates, and,
chameleon-like, I relinquish the memory and
dissolve into the cemetery backdrop.
Here, a silken dream glimmers like a beautiful child of love,
poised and yearning.
Smokey danger questions.
Truth simmers in the sparking fragility of new awareness.
Ennui permeates the surrealistic spirit, evoking
a serene sanctuary like a fanciful womb.
It offers a sacrament to the faery realm, yet hidden,
promising transformative release — the visionary myth,
the liquid image charged with ancient delight.
Paralyzed in a unity of times, naked and weightless,
static lyrics charged with a dark edge testify
to their ascension, unexpected —
To the mood, veiled and visceral —
To the hushed isolation, surrendered —
To the hypnotic allusion, recalled and claustrophobic —
To the grave, shared in frustrated harmony..

Friday, February 11, 2005


From a garden of waste ...
... a new world growing

Used to be a garden here, or so he imagines, walking through.

There are houses nearby, standing just beyond a wooden privacy fence, and he imagines that in the decades before the motorcars crawled here to die, people who lived in those houses had planted seeds and raised foodstuffs from the sandy soil of a field where this lot now sprawls.

There, where stacks of trashed Toyotas tower, once tomatoes grew. Ghosts of butterbeans linger under the broken-down Buicks and busted Beetles. Over time, collards by the bunch became corroded Corollas and Corvettes, still heavy with iron.

Where field peas waved, now Fords decompose, a compost heap of post-human waste, of heavy metal and dry-rotted rubber, of vinyl baked by the sun and cracked like a dried lake bottom.

Once, someone moved through green growth and spread Sevin dust from the balled-up end of an old sock, hoping to choke the chiggers and the worm that gnaws. Now the very elements erode. Steel becomes, through the magic of oxygen and entropy, dust.

Rust coats the earth, discolors the sand, swirls in oily eddies of mud and viscous motor fluids where once was upturned loam, hand-pulled weeds, and rows of wooden stakes with empty seed packets attached to mark the seedlings.

He imagines the rust farmer marking his metallic rows with stakes fashioned from gearshifts and signs made of the pristine covers ripped from untouched maintenance booklets taken out of looted glove compartments. Here are planted the Oldsmobiles, the markers would tell him, and this row has smashed Cadillacs sinking into the soft earth.

But this is no simple graveyard. It’s a way station.

People come to pick through the leavings — here a door, a mirror, a bumper, a quarter panel. Larger parts are left for scrap, and the earth inevitably reclaims its own.

Weeds sprout from fenders and root in rotted bucket seats. Saplings push up through gutted engine blocks, seeking sunlight.

He imagines, as he walks through, the trees that will stand here some day being removed, the earth again upturned, and green gardens planted beside the new houses built.

There, where Datsuns now disentegrate — tomatoes and butterbeans, collards and peas.

It’s a dream he has.



(Written for this Sunday's "Undercurrents" column for The News Herald.)

Monday, February 07, 2005


(From the Arturo Fuente Short Story Collection)
She wore a red dress from Paris, hand tailored for her by a little Belgian girl whose Swiss wristwatch kept perfect time.

She drove an Italian automobile with Corinthian leather seats and an engine built by a German man whose Jewish family had hidden in Fascist Italy during the second World War.

She smoked silk-cut tobacco from the Dominican Republic, rolled on papers crafted in Mexico. Her Japanese lighter was filled with butane that had originated in the deserts of the Middle East.

She ate Chinese delicacies with chopsticks and never dropped a grain of yellow rice. She enjoyed Russian caviar on Danish crackers. She sipped purified Amazonian water from a bottle hand-blown in Brazil.

Over her bed hung a Native American dreamcatcher, and it worked. She had only good dreams of happy times, prosperity, pale boys, fine French wines, and dancing to Austrian polkas.

Her right thigh bore the scar left by an allergic reaction she had suffered from a sting by a Portuguese Man-o-War. The scar was shaped like Africa.

She had a Swede’s blonde hair, and green Irish eyes rimmed by Egyptian kohl. She had warm Moroccan skin, and pouting Persian lips, the long and graceful legs of a Russian prima ballerina, and the nimble fingers of a Czechoslovakian pianist.

Sometimes, she looked at me like I wasn’t there.

And sometimes, she looked at me like I was all the world and the sky in which it lolled, like every language issued from the roots of my tongue, and the universe beyond was in my eyes, and I was one of her good and righteous dreams.

She was my American girl.


Thursday, January 27, 2005

A real "real" signing -- and surprises galore...

More notes from a certain leather journal...

The sun goes and cold settles -- the coffee machines hiss and sputter. Voices. Rustling.

I spoke to a group at the library on Thursday (a woman at a nearby table just said "Thursday" at the moment I wrote the word -- how weird is that? -- and now I'm eavesdropping on her conversation; she's talking about a work schedule). Anyway. I'm talking to the group at the library -- and my dad is there, and my Uncle Eddie and Aunt Joan -- a total surprise. They drove in from Century/Pensacola without a warning and found the downtown library on their own and surprised me. It was a wonderful moment and helped make a special night that much better.

The talk went well. People bought books, gave hugs, laughed at all the right places, applauded at all the right places. They asked good questions. One man who said he "left Century 35 years ago" and had never gone back bought a book -- Uncle Eddie had coached him in football. They sat on the back row and told stories. Eddie told him about me throwing pebbles at monkeys at the old zoo in Cantonment or Pensacola or somewhere (I think that's where it was). I don't recall doing that, but I've heard the stories.

We went from there to Po Folks for supper, then to the house for a short tour, then they drove home. I was (and am still) pretty jazzed about the whole thing. George Vickery, the library director, gave a gracious intro, and Norma Hubbard, the president of Friends of the Library, decorated the refreshments table with camelias. Grandma Simmons would have approved. Visitors included Susan Tull, Nicole Barefield, Pat Nease, Marilyn Smith, Adele Head, Jack Saunders -- some names that have shown up in my journal before, having signed the thing at the Pottersville anthology debut. Other well-wishers sent emails.

It was a happy time and went well. I was glad of it and proud. And I was especially proud that Debra and Jessi were there to share it with me. Debra took money while I signed and schmoozed. Jessi checked out a book then came back for the talk. (Nathan was at a play practice and made it back just in time for the big finish; he'd have been there if he could've been.)

But I was especially proud that Dad and Eddie and Joan were there. Words fail. What really can I say? To have them go so far, come so far, just to be there, to be here, for my official debut, my coming out party, my premiere -- to support me, to love me, to give out good money to buy my book -- to be proud of me and happy for me.

Something special indeed.
Thursday, I was a blessed man.


(Originally written @ Books-a-Million, 1-24-05)

Here's the cover to Dazed and Raving

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Starry Night mask for Hospice

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Notes from a leather journal ... Downward Spiral:

Caught the press of time, the weight of unfinished something, of mystery unformed, of the uncreated, that which has not been made real maddens me. It eats at my brain and soul and heart. It saddens me. It demands something of me that can't give.

I am spiraling back into the dark place where I always go because I feel so constrained, so often trapped -- I long to be free to write, to create to make to do to be ... something. Something other. Someone else. Debra knows I am never satisfied and she feels at a loss, feels somehow responsible, like she has failed. I try to tell her that it is me -- that I have failed myself, me, I alone.

I must find my my way, and only I can do so. I stumble through the dark and no one else can lead me out.


(Originally scribbled @ 5:25 p.m., 1-9-05, @ Books-a-Million)

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Notes on my first 'real' signing ... and my first book

(Let me share something from my journal...)

8:10 p.m.
(As Jessi writes on the 'puter and Debra talks on the phone and Nathan listens to music)

It is the evening after my first "real" signing. Sort of. Let me lay it out for you:
Having won some awards for my columns, emboldened thereby, one might imagine, I again requested permission to publish a collection. My boss responded that it was a good idea but again asked who would up-front the money, edit, produce, etc.? A friend said to answer "I will," which I did, and the word was given: Proceed; choose a route. Go forward. I moved, and in a few weeks time, I had books in my hands.

Oh, so strange, the sensations -- to have and to hold, to feel a dream in your fingers. It is not a real thing. The senses revolt. The brain does not accept the evidence of its input. Depression sets in: Is this all there is? Is this it? Really?

And then other people hold it in your presence and tell you how proud of you they are, how proud you must be of yourself, how good the book looks, how nice is the artwork, how favorable the cover copy reads, how nice the typography and so forth. They shake your hand or hug you or kiss your cheek. They toast you.

In my case, that didn't happen at first. No. At first, it was as if nothing at all had happened. Nothing had been accomplished. We did not celebrate. No dinner out. No champagne. No signing "event." My Dad bought the e-book edition and called to say how he wanted me to send him an old journal in my possession, one he'd read about in my collection of columns that he'd like to see donated to the Alger-Sullivan Historical Society. He didn't initially say that he liked the columns (that came after, but it did come; it did). First came the idea that he saw something there that he wanted from me. I didn't agree to give him the old journal.

David Angier bought four copies. Had me sign and personalize them. One he kept, the others were for Xmas gifts. The first one I signed -- my first autographed copy of my first book -- was to Wendi Twilley, a former News Herald reporter. I signed it "For Wendi -- My First." David said it would give her a thrill and make her husband jealous.

Then John Russo bought two copies; one for himself, one for his dad. And Ross Nowling bought one for his wife.

We journeyed home on the weekend of Dec. 10 and Mom bought four copies -- I signed them to her and Frank, Aunt Betty and David Massey, Beverly (mom's friend), and Johnny and Russ (Frank's mom and brother). She promised to mail the check soon.
But here's the great moment: After I signed Mom's books, Grandma Massey broke out the apple cider and poured it into fluted crystal glasses for all of us -- Nate, Jessi, Debra, Joe, Mom and herself -- and we toasted to my book and success, and I toasted to my family and felt the emotion fill me.

Later, at his place, Dad asked me to donate some of my free books to the Historical Society for them to sell to raise money. I told him I was trying to sell them to make back my up-front costs. Sometimes I just don't think he gets me. I did not give him any of my books.

So upon returning to PC, I contacted some of my friends, fans and other contacts to plan a "stealth" signing event for tonight (as this was originally written in my journal) at the Java Bar on Harrison Avenue. Carole Lapensohn and her husband came, as did Michael and Pam Lister, Bette Powell and Emily Cramer. Emily bought three books and gave me a nice pen for signing. Carole, Bette and Michael each bought a copy. It was a very nice, low-key evening.

Bette asked me what I thought of the book and I told her it was growing on me, that I was unsure of it at first. Debra said it was like a postpartem response, but it's also like a slow onset of acceptance of the reality of it. It's real now. I've seen people holding my book, flipping the pages, reading the words. I've seen people treating it like a real book, heard them chuckling at it and grunting at it when it hurt them or touched them.

I've done it. It is done.

To some extent, at least.

I've done it. Begun it.

The book is selling. It's on amazon.com, Barnes-and-Noble.com, Books-a-Million.com, iUniverse.com, and The News Herald, which has already purchased 100 copies. It is in the world now, out of my hands. It has a life beyond me.

I am proud of the work between those covers. There are good words there, and true. Good stories. True thoughts. Some silliness, some pathos, some art.

Welcome to the Dawning of a New Century will follow. I know it will. It's only a matter of time. That will bother some folks, and anger some, and it will please some, and it will confuse some -- and some won't give a good goddamn. That's the way it is.

There will be others after that. I must believe that there will be others. Perhaps Caliban. Many a collection of short stories. Perhaps something else altogether unexpected. Tonight, I can believe.

(12-17-04, from my leather journal...more to follow in coming days, as I relate other stories of Dazed and Raving in the Undercurrents...)

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Behind the Mask...

...I am painting a mask now. It has no eyes, though it has indentations that intimate the positions of eyes, and a rising and falling in the center of the oval face to suggest the placement of a nose, and similar rounded lumps where lips ought to be. It was a blank white plaster slate, yesterday. And today I'm painting it.

It's the third one I've done. The local Hospice organization auctions the masks each year, though mine usually go for the minimum bid, as I understand. Not like the thousands of bucks they get for celebrity masks by people like Courtney Cox and Justin Timberlake. Still, it's nice to be asked, and I take it very seriously.

Three years ago, I did a collage of sorts that incorporated bits of a an Undercurrents column about the space shuttle Columbia that is now part of my book. Two years ago, I did a collage that used bits of hardware, X-shapes and O-shapes, wire and so forth, all painted chrome and silver.

This year, my subject is a version of Van Gogh's The Starry Night. He did several versions of it, and there have been as many knock-offs on computer mouse pads and coffee cups and so forth, and I did a version on glass myself in 2001.

I'm thinking about masks and visions. What they hide, and what they allow us to reveal -- what our art reveals about us -- what our masks reveal that we think remains hidden. Wouldn't you have recognized Robin The Boy Wonder as Dick Grayson? Wouldn't you have known that was Bruce Wayne even in the cowl? Please tell me the black-rimmed glasses and change of hairstyle wouldn't have been enough to make you mistake Superman and Clark Kent for different persons.

What lies beyond the starry night? What visions lurk behind the closed eyes of the mask?