Breathe the Air

“Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.”
― Henry David Thoreau, Walden

The view from the parking lot as I go home from work. Dallas, Texas

Clouds, sky, and steel. There are things of man and things of nature. Sometimes there is beauty in both.

Eating Barbequed Iguana

I’m on a mexican radio
I wish I was in Tiajuana
Eating barbequed iguana
I’d take requests on the telephone
I’m on a wavelength far from home
I feel a hot wind on my shoulder
I dial it in from south of the border
I hear the talking of the dj
Can’t understand just what does he say?
Radio radio…
—- Wall of Voodoo, Mexican Radio

The Tennessee Williams quote on the wall at the Gallier House, Royal Street, French Quarter, New Orleans.

I wrote about this on my Facebook page back in February – but I don’t think a lot of people followed the link.

At any rate, this story started back in 2012, on a trip to New Orleans. I ran into a group at the St. Vincent’s Guest House and soon was involved in a one-day writing marathon – walking around with a handful of folks, scribbling away.

I was inspired by the experience to the point I organized a Writing Marathon or two of my own, here in Dallas.

Then finally, in July of last year, I was able to swing attending the full week-long Writing Marathon Retreat – branching out from the Gallier House to write across the French Quarter and beyond.

One day, the group I had gone with that day stopped for the fixed-price lunch at Antoine’s (highly recommended if you are in New Orleans in the summer). I remembered an incident that had happened in that very restaurant thirty five years earlier. I pulled out my pen and notebook wrote up my memories in the bar.

At the end of each day, there was the option for a few folks to stand up and read from what they had written earlier. I put my name on the list and read the story from Antoine’s. The readings were recorded.

Then, in February, a selection of the recordings were played on KSLU radio.

You can listen to the 2017 readings AT THIS LINK – If you want to skip ahead, my reading is at about the 14:10 point.

If that link doesn’t work – go here – and click on “2017 Writing Marathon.”

People have asked me about the siren at the end of my reading. That isn’t a sound effect – the fire engine actually went by on the street outside, siren blaring, as I finished.

Now I need to get going and register for the 2018 Retreat. So much fun.

Touch of a World That is Older

I feel a hot wind on my shoulder
And the touch of a world that is older
I turn the switch and check the number
I leave it on when in bed I slumber
I hear the rhythms of the music
I buy the product and never use it
I hear the talking of the DJ
Can’t understand just what does he say?
—-Wall of Voodoo, Mexican Radio

Apartment Building, The Cedars, Dallas, Texas

Oblique Strategy: Think of the radio

When I was a kid I was really interested in archaeology. I even joined a local archaeologist club and had a fantasy of going out somewhere and digging crap up. Of course, nothing ever happened. I loved a book about archaeology called Gods Graves and Scholars. I was always fascinated by this photo from Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza - from the book Gods, Graves, and Scholars

Chichen Itza – from the book Gods, Graves, and Scholars

A couple decades or so ago, I found myself in the exact same spot – sort of cool. It turns out that photo was taken from the top of the great pyramid.

Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza

But as far as actual archaeology goes… nada.

Now I’m cleaning out my garage, organizing, sorting and throwing as much stuff away as I can. Finally, I feel like an archaeologist, slowly moving through the detritus of the past, working layer by layer, trying to understand the purpose of things that have been long forgotten.


Marconi antennas at Wellfleet

Marconi antennas at Wellfleet

Creative nonfiction is the use of fictional techniques, such as characterization, conflict, foreshadowing, in the service of a factually accurate narrative. To me, the most important aspect that separates creative nonfiction from, say, journalism or scholarly writing, is the use of scenes. The story is broken up into scenes of varying length and detail, carefully crafted and arranged to affect an emotional result in the reader, while staying strictly within the known facts.

In the many years since In Cold Blood there have been many masters of Creative Nonfiction… Mailer, Wolfe, McPhee spring to my mind immediately… but right now the current master of the genre, in my humble opinion, is Erik Larson.

I read “Isaac’s Storm” a few years ago and was absolutely enthralled. Of course, the fact that I am very familiar with Galveston and the Bolivar Peninsula made the story even more harrowing and effective. For years we vacationed at Crystal Beach on the Bolivar Peninsula and I would imagine the horror of the storm surge inundating the island. I would look at the black iron lighthouse and imagine the poor souls huddling inside as the water rose and the winds howled. I read the book before Hurricane Ike struck and wiped our old vacation haunts off the face of the earth.

Then I read “The Devil in the White City” – which didn’t have the same emotional effect on me – but was actually a better book. It was fascinating in its story (which I knew nothing about) of the fantastic Chicago World’s Fair. This story of man’s best creations on display was contrasted with the darkest depths of human depravity in the parallel story of H.H. Holmes, the country’s “first” serial killer, who set up shop in his “murder castle” constructed only a few blocks from the fair.

The book is mesmerizing.

I went to a lecture by Erik Larson at the Eisemann Center here in Richardson and loved it. He talked a lot about the research he did for his non-fiction. I remember he discussed one sentence in Isaac’s Storm where he described what Isaac Cline saw, heard, and even smelled while he walked from his office to his home the day before the hurricane hit. “People ask me how I know what he experienced on his walk over a hundred years ago,”  He went on to explain that he knew from Cline’s letters he walked home and Larson learned from the maps of the city that there were stables and workshops on the way, and Cline would smell the horses and hear the workers.

It was very impressive.

So now I’ve finished a third Larson non-fiction book, published a few years ago, Thunderstruck. This, like Devil in the White City contrasts a famous accomplishment – Guglielmo Marconi’s successful “invention” of wireless communication, with a horror – Hawley Crippen, the most unlikely of murderers. The two stories are told separately, until the unexpected coincidences of history brought the two together in an unexpected way.

I found the Marconi story the more interesting of the two. The murder was horrific in its details – but the murderer was portrayed as almost a sympathetic character. Marconi was especially interesting in the fact that he didn’t actually invent anything – he never really even understood how radio worked – but he had the single-mindedness, courage, and business acumen to put other people’s inventions to work in a way that made sense and was successful.

And isn’t that the most important thing… really?

Any criticism of the book is merely picking nits. Larson is famous for layering on detail and here, especially in his description of the murderer’s daily life, it piles up pretty thick and gets a little tedious. I would like to have had less information on Crippen’s love life and more on the fantastic, gigantic, wireless installations that Marconi built on both sides of the Atlantic – spending millions of dollars and risking his entire company trying to get Morse code across the sea – never mind that nobody thought it was possible, that undersea cables could already do the job, and Marconi had no idea what he was doing in the first place.

The ultimate irony is that, in an odd way, the murderer was responsible for Marconi’s ultimate success.

So, in short, very good book, put it on your reading list – enjoy yourself and learn something at the same time.

Larson has another book out that I haven’t read – “In The Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and An American Family in Hitler’s Berlin.“ Oh, man, that sounds good, doesn’t it?

Early Marconi Radio

Early Marconi Radio

Radio Paradise



Internet radio is a gift from the gods. I mean it, isn’t it amazing that this music can come out of the ether? And it follows  you around, were ever you go.

I have tried out a thousand Internet radio stations but I keep coming back to one, Radio Paradise. Right now, I’m at the library after work, listening to it on my laptop (yes, very good sound-isolating headphones, of course) trying to get some pages hammered off in one window, radio paradise in another, and this procrastinating tripe in a third.

Day after day, I’ve fallen into the bad habit of coming home from work and collapsing. To try and put that vice to rest, I’m going to stop off at the library on the way home. I guess I can fall asleep at this little cubicle, but at least it will be uncomfortable and I’ll drool and such – can’t snooze too long.

Back to Radio Paradise… over the last few years I have found so much great new music from their programming. It’s a great mix of old and new, popular and obscure (leaning toward the new and obscure) – mostly not too upbeat, but not too downcast either.

I love it when I can play it while I sleep and wake up to some mysterious music pouring and bouncing through the dark room.

At home, I’ve been playing around with the Roku Box and found something really cool. Radio Paradise has a channel on the box and while it plays the music it displays a series of HD still images. You can watch it here on your computer screen – but it is really something nice on a big screen HD television and sound system.

This truly is the best of all possible worlds.