Be strong in body, clean in mind, lofty in ideals.
Be strong in body, clean in mind, lofty in ideals.
the experience of the work is inseparable from the place in which the work resides. Apart from that condition, any experience of the work is a deception.”
― Richard Serra
“I wonder if the snow loves the trees and fields, that it kisses them so gently? And then it covers them up snug, you know, with a white quilt; and perhaps it says, “Go to sleep, darlings, till the summer comes again.”
― Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland / Through the Looking-Glass
It was a long drive from Lawrence back to Dallas and we had to leave at six in the morning to insure we made it home in time to watch the Cowboys get beat. It was very cold with most of Saturday’s snow still frozen on the ground.
There was a thick… it couldn’t have been fog because it was too cold – some sort of pea-soup frozen haze… smothering everything. Over an hour later the sun rose unseen over the vast flint-hill plains. The haze slowly lightened into a gray blanket.
We stopped to switch drivers at one of the Kansas Turnpike rest areas, the ones with the oddly shaped water towers.
And I took this photo of one of the few trees within a hundred miles… blurred and obscured by the fog.
“To live meaningful lives we must die, and not return. The one human flaw that you spend your lifetimes distressing over mortality, it’s the one thing that makes you whole.”
—- Number Six, Battlestar Galactica
I’ve been looking for things to watch on my television that I can put on while I ride my spin bike. Something loud and entertaining, something with some quality but not too much, something to make the time go by. I think I’ll re-watch Battlestar Galactica – the 2004 series. It’s streaming on TUBI – for free, with commercials.
I’ve seen it before. A couple of years after it came out, I binge watched it on NETFLIX.
This was when NETFLIX was cool – when they would send you disks in the mail. Your membership would get you three disks and I would order the next three episodes. There was a thrill when those red envelopes appeared in the mailbox and a sense of closure when you sealed them and sent them back.
It was a great way to binge-watch a series. There was a rhythm… three episodes a week or so. It kept you from staying up all night streaming show after show – yet you didn’t have to wait very long either. It was the best.
Now, I watched the original, hokey TV show too. It had its own rhythm – one episode every Sunday night. 1978 – the year I was out of college. I was working in a small city in central Kansas and didn’t really know anybody. I rented the top floor of an old house.
It had been used as a rooming house over the years and my apartment had two bathrooms. One small one had a stand-up shower, which I used every morning. But the other bathroom had a huge, cast-iron, claw-footed bathtub. I used it like an early hot tub.
I had a small black and white television. I’d prop it on the toilet tank, cook a frozen pizza, and fill the tub with hot water. I’d watch Battlestar Galactica from the tub and eat pizza, manipulating the tiny taps with my toes to keep the water hot.
I know it’s hard to believe, but there was a lot of hype about that show. It was only a couple years after Star Wars and space opera special effects were all the rage – even on a tiny black and white portable tube set. It didn’t take long for the gloss to wear off, especially once it became obvious that they were re-using all the special effects shots over and over.
Still, it was a ritual. I’m not sure how many weeks I kept my bath-pizza-television habit going, but it was not the worst time.
Ultimate goal – 50,000 words.
Daily goal – 1,667 words
Goal total so far – 6,667 words
Words written today – 1,722
Words written so far – 7,100 words
Words to goal – +433
“I ain’t a Communist necessarily, but I have been in the red all my life.”
As I committed the other day I am doing Nanowrimo – the National Novel Writing Month this November – writing a 50,000 word (small) novel in a month. Not necessary a good novel, or even a readable novel, but one of 50K words.
This was a tough writing day. Since I was off work, I wanted to really spend some time and maybe double my word count in case I needed a day off this week (which looks awfully busy). But shit happens and a good bit of it did. I managed to write a couple hundred words at lunch and didn’t think I’d be able to get a lot done at night, but I managed to sit down and hammer out my quota.
I’m not to happy with what I wrote, but it is what it is. I wrote the backstory of a new character – I originally intended him to be killed early, but now that I’ve spent so long on his backstory I might keep him around for a while – maybe make him an antagonist. He is a nasty piece of work with an odd name – Prime Meridian.
I started out with the story of how his grandfather, Isaac Meridian, established the start of the family fortune by foreclosing on the misery of the people of the plains during the great depression and the dust bowl. Too much exposition – but this is Nanowrimo, so I keep typing.
Snippet of what I wrote:
Each little town had its own movie theater, city hall, and carefully tended town square. Every weekend there would be picture shows, dances, and even traveling entertainment – tiny circuses, barnstormers, or small concert orchestras – moving from town to town earning what they could – which was usually enough. People would travel from town to town enjoying the times, making friends.
Nobody ever thought the good times would end. Until they did.
It all happened with horrific speed. The rains stopped. Nobody had understood that the rainy time was the rare exception, not the rule. The land quickly reverted back to what it had always been – a wind-blasted near desert. The crops died and then the soil began to blow. Vast dust clouds began to form as millions of tons of topsoil were blown off barren fields and carried for hundreds of miles.
Walls of dust, moving mountains of dust, shot across the plains, devouring everything in sight. To be hit by this was like walking through a storm of razors. People caught in their own yards would be forced to grope for the doorstep. Cars were forced to a standstill, and no light in the world could penetrate that swirling murk. They lived with the dust, ate it, slept with it, and watched it strip everyone of possessions and the hope of possessions
Over several years, for the month of June, I wrote about a short story that was available online each day of the month…. It seemed like a good idea at the time. My blog readership fell precipitously and nobody seemed to give a damn about what I was doing – which was a surprising amount of work.
Because of this result, I’m going to do it again this year – In September this time… because it is September.
Today’s story, for day 21 – Only Sunshine by Becky Mandelbaum
Read it online here:
Only Sunshine by Becky Mandelbaum
Baby Julia was a baby, but even she understood that she was nothing much in the grand scheme of things. She would never be one of the greats: the rain or the wind or the dirt or the sky. But maybe, just maybe, she could participate in some peripheral way—by touching or tasting or, even better, by eating the celestial thing that she admired most. Why not? All around her, things were consuming other things: caterpillars were munching leaves, the mailbox was ingesting letters, the soil was drinking rain. Not to mention that every night, some invisible glutton took another bite of the moon. Eventually there’d be a new one—full and silver and miraculously intact—but without fail, that anonymous mouth would slowly eat it back down to a measly grain of rice. And then there was her mother who, every day, without fail, put the same plastic spoon in her mouth: pudding, applesauce, mashed peas. So why not this? Why not her and why not today and why not the sun?
—-Becky Mandelbaum, Only Sunshine
The most difficult question I get asked, and I get asked it a lot, is, “Where are you from?”
For most people that’s pretty easy, but I have no idea what to say. The most accurate answer is “nowhere,” but that seems pretty insolent as does “everywhere” which means exactly the same thing. Usually I say, “I’ve lived in Dallas for a long, long time,” which is accurate and probably the best answer. I am from where I live and I live where I’m from.
One place that does hold a claim on me is Kansas. My family is from there. I lived there as a youth whenever my father was on combat tours and couldn’t take his family along. We were stationed in the Northeast corner of the state for a while (on a base and in a town known for its prisons). In high school, for a few months I was a refugee there after being evacuated from a terrible earthquake. I went to college there (since my family was from Kansas, I was granted in-state tuition, which made the decision easy. My nickname for at least the first year or so was “banana boat,” as in “Bill, you are an American, but you act like you fell off the banana boat.”) My first job, for three years, after school was in Kansas.
So the state does have its hooks in me to some extent. But is it home? Nah.
There is no home. I hear stories like, “So and so went to school in Shreveport but after a month she was homesick and came back.” I have no idea what that means. Homesick is an emotion that I have never felt. When I travel I feel as much at home in some bland business hotel as I do in my bed in the house I make payments on. Which is, not at all. Or completely. Which means the same thing.
Today’s author, Becky Mandelbaum, is from Kansas and writes about Kansas (though she no longer lives there). Her book of short stories is called Bad Kansas – which is a pretty compelling title.
I read several of her works online and chose one that doesn’t have any obvious connection to that state. It’s called Only Sunshine and is a bit of magical realism (light on the realism) about an infant that eats the sun. It’s an effective piece – you really feel for the parents of the doomed baby and their futile attempts to stop the thermonuclear fusion.
I enjoyed the delicate tone and the simple story. I’ve been around enough babies to be pretty sure this is how they look at things and they would gobble old sol if they had the chance.
While I was in school, even though I was a chemistry major I tried to slip into as many advanced literature classes as I could, wedging them in between Differential Equations and Physical Chemistry. One that I took was “Literature of the Great Plains.” On the first day the professor apologized, “there isn’t really any great literature written on or about the Great Plains – we will have to make do with what we have.”
One concept is still with me. In the classic Giants in the Earth by O. E. Rölvaag, a women is essentially driven crazy by the sky and the fact that out on the plain, you can lie down, look up, and see nothing except the sky.
Beret had now formed the habit of constantly watching the prairie; out in the open, she would fix her eyes on one point of the sky line–and then, before she knew it, her gaze would have swung around the whole compass; but it was ever, ever the same. . . . Life it held not; a magic ring lay on the horizon, extending upward into the sky; within this circle no living form could enter; it was like the chain inclosing the king’s garden, that prevented it from bearing fruit. . . . How could human beings continue to live here while that magic ring encompassed them? And those who were strong enough to break through were only being enticed still farther to their destruction! . . .
They had been here four months now; to her it seemed like so many generations; in all this time they had seen no strangers except the Indians–nor would they be likely to see any others. . . . Almost imperceptibly, her terror because of the stakes which her husband had burned had faded away and disappeared. . . . They had probably belonged to the Indians, so it did not matter; he had become fast friends with them. . . .
People had never dwelt here, people would never come; never could they find home in this vast, wind-swept void. . . . Yes, they were the only ones who had been bewitched into straying out here! . . . Thus it was with the erring sons of men; they were lost before they knew it; they went astray without being aware; only others could see them as they were. Some were saved, and returned from their wanderings, changed into different people; others never came back. . . . God pity them: others never came back! . . .
At these times, a hopeless depression would take hold of her; she would look around at the circle of the sky line; although it lay so far distant, it seemed threatening to draw in and choke her. . . .
. . . So she grew more taciturn, given to brooding thoughts.
But then the unthinkable took place: some one from outside broke through the magic circle. . . .
Today’s story made me think about Giants in the Earth… I’m not sure why. Maybe the opening line of Rölvaag’s book.
Bright, clear sky over a plain so wide that the rim of the heavens cut down on it around the entire horizon. . . . Bright, clear sky, to-day, to-morrow, and for all time to come.
. . . And sun! And still more sun! It set the heavens afire every morning; it grew with the day to quivering golden light–then softened into all the shades of red and purple as evening fell. . . . Pure colour everywhere. A gust of wind, sweeping across the plain, threw into life waves of yellow and blue and green. Now and then a dead black wave would race over the scene . . . a cloud’s gliding shadow . . . now and then. . . .
Interview with Becky Mandelbaum:
How do you feel about social media to promote your writing, and do you use it?
I usually don’t like using social media to promote my writing. I like to write because writing feels, in many ways, like a rejection of all the technology we’ve come to rely on. A story on paper is so simple. You have the text, the reader, and the exchange. I think bringing other mediums into the picture can ruin that interaction. Of course, it can also enhance it in other, peripheral ways. I’ve liked several of my favorite journals on Facebook, and it’s nice to see what’s going on with those publications.
—-From Midwestern Gothic
“Cherie, keep walking. Shut your eyes. We are headed for the bridge. We are going to cross it.”
― Joyce Carol Oates, After the Wreck, I Picked Myself Up, Spread My Wings, and Flew Away
“They had laughed. They had leaned on each other and laughed until the tears had come, while everything else–the cold, and where he’d go in it–was outside, for a while anyway.”
― Raymond Carver, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love
One of my favorite new places in Dallas is the Cold Beer Company. It’s on the far east side of Deep Ellum, and has been built as the rebirth of an interesting old building. It’s in a good location, has nice outdoor seating, and, of course, a good selection of cold beer.
I rode my bike there and noticed the brick patio entrance. Right in the middle of the paving was a single brick marked “Lawrence, Kansas.” I asked the waitress about that and she said one of the owners went to Kansas University, my alma mater.
“And he likes to talk about it,” she said.
So when he came out of the back I asked him about KU and the waitress was right – he liked to talk about it. He seemed a little sheepish about the brick. “They weren’t supposed to put it right there in the middle.” I’m not sure I believed him.
We talked about Lawrence and the Kansas winters. When I would look around, the waitress and bartender would roll their eyes.
I think they had heard it all before – many times before.
“Destiny guides our fortunes more favorably than we could have expected. Look there, Sancho Panza, my friend, and see those thirty or so wild giants, with whom I intend to do battle and kill each and all of them, so with their stolen booty we can begin to enrich ourselves. This is nobel, righteous warfare, for it is wonderfully useful to God to have such an evil race wiped from the face of the earth.”
“What giants?” Asked Sancho Panza.
“The ones you can see over there,” answered his master, “with the huge arms, some of which are very nearly two leagues long.”
“Now look, your grace,” said Sancho, “what you see over there aren’t giants, but windmills, and what seems to be arms are just their sails, that go around in the wind and turn the millstone.”
“Obviously,” replied Don Quijote, “you don’t know much about adventures.”
― Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Don Quixote
“Wherever forests have not been mowed down, wherever the animal is recessed in their quiet protection, wherever the earth is not bereft of four-footed life – that to the white man is an ‘unbroken wilderness.’
But for us there was no wilderness, nature was not dangerous but hospitable, not forbidding but friendly. Our faith sought the harmony of man with his surroundings; the other sought the dominance of surroundings.
For us, the world was full of beauty; for the other, it was a place to be endured until he went to another world.
But we were wise. We knew that man’s heart, away from nature, becomes hard.”
― Chief Luther Standing Bear