Monday, May 16, 2016

Time Out

When I began writing these weekly essays which you so kindly accept, I did it as a way to encourage my own writing discipline. It isn’t enough, sometimes, to set a goal of so many words a day or a week. Sometimes you need to actually complete something on a schedule, as a way of keeping the blood flowing, as it were. I’ve been doing it now for the better part of five years and have built a rather large collection of these short exercises we call a "blog." (I don’t like the term, but there it is). Somewhere along the way meeting my own deadline has become less than fun, and writing, for me, has always been something I have to do, want to do, love doing and get pleasure from. But now it’s time to take a time out.

I have several major writing projects I have put aside, always hoping to get back to them and get them on their way to a more permanent format. It isn’t happening. There are too many words I need to organize, you see, and I’m just not getting there. I need some time.

So for the foreseeable future, I will limit myself to reviewing the collection found on this site, looking to complete a publishable whole, something like the essays found in my 2010 book, Mixed Freight: Checking Life’s Baggage. As a short form, essays fit my need to put something I have to say in front of as many readers as I can. Sometimes the whole essay comes to me complete, title and all. It often happens when I’m walking alone in the woods, climbing one of the trails on the ridges that define our mountain farm, or performing some physical task such as driving or mowing or doing maintenance things on equipment a place like ours demands.

There is another longer work in progress, as well. Two, actually. Make that four. One is a collection of short stories or character studies that I have been polishing over the years. There is also a novel, a longer work about families, and at least two science fiction plots I’ve been playing with. In other words, I have more stories ahead than behind, that need my attention if I’m ever going to send them on their way. My list grows, rather than shrinks, even as I write this explanation of why I need a time out.

This site calls to me still, and I’m sure there will be something I feel I have to share from time to time, but not on a regular basis. I do appreciate comments and knowing that I am reaching readers, so if there is something I just have to say, I’ll drop a note in your inbox. You are always welcome to return the favor.

In the meantime, there are all the previous entries on this site. Feel free to re-read them and perhaps offer a comment when you feel the urge.

Time Out begins today. Thank you.

Sunday, May 8, 2016


 About celebrity: I think we celebrate the wrong things.

In the last few weeks months, we’ve read obituaries of people with famous names; famous for being famous, in some cases. The ones I don’t know about are mostly stars of some pop culture specialty: contemporary music, artists who have "thrown away the rules" of some art form or entertainment skill. Usually they receive kudos for "changing the way we hear/see/think about music, or painting or writing or ourselves. We worship at feet of clay, perhaps.

In the city where we lived for many years, there is a museum of art donated perhaps thirty years ago by a very wealthy individual. The collection included paintings, photographs, sculpture, furniture and a lot of other things, some quite ordinary in shape or purpose but unusual in execution or color or material. Almost all were by artists whose names were recognizable, even if the pieces on display were not among those usually associated with the name. They seemed to me to be examples of work nobody else wanted. At about the same time, another donor had given great stone and metal sculptures to be placed on public land. You may well have seen some of the things I mean: things that look at first glance as if they had fallen off the back of a truck and been abandoned. Some call them "art."

We tend to venerate the creators of "pop culture" and give them status beyond their raising, as they say in the south. Someone composes a song that catches the air and flies, and suddenly the lyricist or composer is elevated to someone we all are now supposed to admire. I don’t mean people who use their position to work for the greater good, for society and for some specific part of society. Those people make a difference that is often lasting and worthwhile. They succeed and they give back, going far beyond brightening someone’s day with a song. Pop Culture doesn’t go beyond that very often.

I’m being curmudgeonly, perhaps, showing my advanced age if you will. Still, I think that celebrating the lives of people we know only from some rhythm or acoustic assault on our brains is far too manipulative. Take the current trend of putting a truck-load of flowers at some public place by people who have never met the person being honored. Here is a phenomenon in which strangers metaphorically don sack cloth and ashes, in honor of a stranger with a famous name (and often an unhealthy lifestyle).

There are a few reasons, it seems to me, why we make heros out of entertainers and glorify them with dispensations even when they commit public follies. The first is that their public relations flacks can manipulate us so easily, removing the curse and stain some of these people bring on themselves. Another reason might be that the people who should receive the glamor clamor don’t give us anything to admire, professionally or personally. They simply do what the do, do it well, and go on to the next thing. Such adulation should not be given lightly.

For those whose claim to fame is fame, rather than some lasting, measurable contribution, often accompanied by shouting, foot stomping, screaming and swooning fans, there is the risk that they may take us along on their ride, ending in "sound and fury, signifying nothing."

One of them might even grow up to be president.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Write Place

When we built our house on the side of the mountain we set it so that every room save the pantry, two closets and a bathroom look out over the valley and the mountain on the other side. It was a small house, with only the essential rooms: a "great room," a master suite with the two closets and master bath, and the library, with room (we thought) for our treasured books, and a half-bath primarily so that a sofa bed could turn the library into a guest room. At the time, we had two other houses on the property, one of which was a charming (after my wife finished decorating it) two-over-two cabin we used as a guest house, so our library-cum-guestroom was a kind of after-thought.

An unexpected sequence of events led, before the house was completed, to adding a two-car garage, a workshop, a studio and an office. The office was my special place. After we moved in I discovered that the space I had picked out for my desk and my writing corner was being overtaken by the wall-to-wall bookcases we needed for our books. (I’m in the process of adding shelves in the last un-shelved area of the room now.) So the office became my writing room as well as an office.

At first I wanted enough space for a small desktop and room for my drafting table (which is now in the workshop). The outside wall is mostly window, and the view is very calming and conducive to quiet thinking and creative wordsmithing. The perfect office for me, I thought. Not really. Not today.

In time I built long desktops on two walls, and a flat worktop on a third wall. Then I put in shelves for books that I needed close at hand: dictionaries, books of quotations and other aids writers use. Then shelves for copies of films I had made, books I have written and . . . and a lot of other stuff. What once was a neat, open area without distractions, has become like . . . Well, like every other desk I’ve even had. People who have worked with me over the years will nod in agreement as they recollect the piles of folders, books, miscellaneous papers and everything else that always populated my desk no matter where I worked. I’m organized but messy.

Lately, it seems, I can’t keep ahead of the things that wander into my office, find space on my desktop and work table, even find resting places on the floor under the desk or in front of the under-counter cabinets I built all those years ago. I know what’s in the cabinets, on the shelves, in the drawers. What I don’t know is why. Why I keep the things I keep, why I put things on top of things, why I even think I can work in this cluttered and distracting space.

I keep all of the piles of files and racks of records because they are my history, my research resources, my memory. They are the external backup drives of my long life, of my decades of duty. I call on them sometimes, I draw inspiration, I find comfort in clutter.

Oh, I make attempts to clean up, to rid myself of things I know I don’t need (or even recall why I have them). Not long ago I emptied almost half of my files in the drawers behind me. Years of journals were packed in sealed plastic tubs to be destroyed when I’m no longer here (I can’t do it myself, you see). I could even see the top of my writing desk . . . for a while. Today, I think, I’ll finish the job. I’ll delete the distractions, I’ll dump the detritus, I’ll . . . but I won’t. I know I will not change. Not now. I’ve been at this work too long, worked in this mess forever, evidently find comfort in the distractions. Even finding an essay among the unused words that clutter my notebooks. But I must do something.

Those who can’t discard history are doomed to retain it.