I love the blank page…

It happens quite often, and I hope it never stops,
that pang of jealously that I want to feel
when I’m reading someone else’s work,
someone else’s words,
someone else’s words that I didn’t write,
and I catch myself wondering if I could,
if I could do something like that, somehow,
because I love the way these words go
and I need that on my page – the page I write;

there’s a theory, a bad theory that lies,
that it’s something that I just need to find,
or let out, or is inside me somewhere,
and no jealously is needed, no jealousy is
called for, because this is no competition
and we are all players in a bigger story
where all words are borrowed, all pages already
filled, and creativity is the lie;

but when I turn the page there’s nothing there,
until a small child bends to pluck a dandelion,
building a priceless bouquet, and
the dog keeps chasing the squirrel but never catches it,
and you start calling your children’s names into empty rooms,
sometimes at night when you sleep less than you should but
not for lack of trying, and try to remember when you
finished the things you started – like life,
and the page fills up, and then another, and another
where there was nothing there moments ago, no thoughts,
no stories, no words, and you wish to remember
the jealously that made you love the page.

Another Christmas story ruined…

Misremembering Christmas

It probably started with a story of
orphans on Christmas in a perpetually
cold European city somewhere in
Albania; they each received just one gift
on Christmas Eve and it was always something needed but not wanted until one year the heroine received an array of
colored pencils which she treasured
because she dreamed of becoming
an artist, but the nuns woke the orphans
early on Christmas morning and
told them it was their turn to give to
those even poorer, so along with
their own breakfasts to offer they
trekked to a wooded hovel to bless
gypsy children with food and presents
undeserved; the gypsy children
were subdued, I think I recall,
unaccustomed to grace and the
orphan sacrificing her one treasure
was nonplussed and altruistically
virtuous and that bothered me
immensely so I chose to misremember
and in my version the desperately
poor gypsy child hastily and tastelessly
ate the orphan’s breakfast and had those
colored pencils tossed on a dying
fire to keep it lit on a cold Christmas
morning, and the gypsy child couldn’t
care less about the colored pencils
and our orphan girl wept because
she couldn’t understand how the need
for a fire outweighed her selfish dream
while the nuns scolded her tears as they
marched the orphans away under the
shroud of another graceless Christmas morn.

We don’t understand what we don’t understand…

The Nelsons - Ozzie & Harriet, David & Rickey. DESERET NEWS MORNING ARCHIVES

The Nelsons – Ozzie & Harriet, David & Rickey.
DESERET NEWS MORNING ARCHIVES

Maladaptive Adaptive

We don’t understand normal anymore,
don’t understand what’s happened, before
we’ve became the new black, the new average,
and maladaptive became all one could salvage.

Making-do and not expecting too much,
a reasonable way to cope – a sacred crutch;
lest any be forced to act out of compulsion,
a violation of will leading to convulsion.

The mushroom cloud of the family,
looms large on the horizon of the latchkey;
and any invocation of is dripping with guilt,
a poor rendering of the intricate human quilt.

This was not always our social affinity,
but an industrial product of economic viability;
accommodative adaptivity in a pragmatic vein,
we collect round the character campaign.

From Ozzie and Harriet, Ward and June,
to the village it takes to raise this tune;
we’re better off not asking too much of any
for disappointment weighs upon all heavy.

How to…

time lifeIt dates back to the 1960s and a Time Life series of ‘how to’ books which became wildly popular – how to unclog a drain, hammer a nail, fix a squeaky door hinge, install a garbage disposal, build a deck. And we bought them all. The How-To craze had begun and we were all for it.

Soon ‘how to’ became self-help and do-it-yourself merged with challenges, campaigns and that e-mail spam which promises everything from a firmer butt to millions from an African royal official (if we share our bank information).

There are tens of thousands of books with ‘How to’ in the title. Many are still concerned with good, old fashioned repairs like repairing a Briggs and Stratton engine, but most are about how to do more ordinary, everyday things like live better, accomplish more, sleep sounder or organize everything.

Today we call ‘how to’ the promised land of a #lifehack.

We’re not talking about becoming experts in life, maybe on life and that’s what’s become of us. What we’re all after is sensible enough. It’s where we all get to eventually, some later than others but everyone eventually…we’re all trying to survive life. ‘How-to’ stuff isn’t much about electric current or refrigeration repair. It is more about reconfiguring spaces, reclaiming your days, weekends, weeks and thereby reclaiming yourself. And the best part is that it doesn’t matter if what you wind up with doesn’t even come close to a certain plan, a received design or perceived goal. The activity itself is open-ended and prohibits failure (the only failure is not to have tried at all). If schools without failure are simply those institutions of baby-sitting we used to call colleges and universities, then ‘how-to’ and ‘for dummies’ literature is for a life without failure where the only disappointment is going through life without trying to be your real self (whatever the hell that may be).

How-to books used to be called novels and reading narratives was how most people learned how they might live, how to avoid ruin and peril and despair, how they might survive hard times with nobility and virtue intact, how to do well and how to do better. When narratives and fictions were done poorly they generalized and moralized as directly and bluntly as a step-by-step guide to multiple male orgasms. History books are no better with their god-like noble-izing about why everything happened the way it did (Monday morning quarterbacking and 20/20 hindsight never enjoyed as great an academic justification as history classes). Even history must give way to genealogy; just as poor novels must yield to healthy (and sometimes hard to follow) narratives. In our present climate of reading it has become too hard, too difficult, to novelize and narrate one’s life or to learn from someone else’s life because a story doesn’t prepare a plan for us. If the motto of how-to-ing is measure twice, cut once, then the moral of (good) novels is keep measuring, cut often, and try measuring once just for the thrill of it once-in-a-while. The suspicion from how-to-ers is, of course, that narratives keep measuring and never get to the cutting.

To Be Read S L O W L Y

Don’t you hate
being told how to
read, how to enjoy,
how to be you; it’s like
being told how to
breathe or piss,
both as necessary
and both problematic
eventually, so do
try not to hate
being told to do
the things we will
forget one day soon.

June 28 will always be June 28…

IMG_6114

William Blyer Callahan, 1941 – just 30 years before June 28, 1971

It was a Monday back in 1971 – a steamy, lazy summer’s Monday. My clock read 11:28 AM when I finally stirred to life, and I was left to sleep, I learned, because I would never awaken this way again.

That morning my father died down the hall from my bedroom. Mother, sister and brothers had all been quickly included in the whirlwind of emergency, hopelessness and death, and I turned on my bed like a door turns on its hinges.

So it took me some time to come to grips with the story – twenty, thirty or forty years to put together what had fallen apart, irreparably, that Monday morning, June 28, 1971.

I missed the moment – slept through it literally, like so much of my life it seems. Maybe sleepwalking through life is my best way of coping, maybe it’s just by chance that I was the only one not ‘there’ and maybe my penance is this writing.

William Blyer Callahan (d. June 28, 1971)

Not So Long Ago It Seems

I was just a boy, eleven,
and in so many ways I lost
my innocence that day;
rising after eleven
on my summer vacation
to a house filled
with crying friends
and family hiding their
tears from the boy in
his terrycloth bathrobe;
greeted by my Mom
as all eyes were on us,
on stage, every chin tucked
against chest, every arm
folded, all quiet until
interrupted by the gasp
of a sob; two chairs were
where they never were so
all could see her say that
Daddy was gone, and
I cried because I thought
she was going to say it
was Nana, but it wasn’t
and I didn’t even cry
about the right thing
at first; there were no
more words that I recall
or want to, just dry toast
and weak tea as my first
meal of the rest of my life
without him and I hate
that menu still; it was so
long ago and just like it
happened today because
it did and I’ve never tried to
do anything but remember
this anniversary but
I still don’t know how
to cry about it; I don’t.

Obituaries

It’s called ‘bonus’ or at least is should
because this wasn’t expected, nor
should have been; I’m Irish and male,
for the sake of Saint Patrick, and
I should be dead by now but I’m not
and that makes this a true bonus;
I’ve outlived my own father who
saintedly passed before fifty years,
and all his friends it seems, or so
I read in the obituaries in Sunday’s
Chicago Tribune as I scan the pages
in a sobering ritual of paying homage;
now it’s only a matter of what to do
with these extra days and years.

The Human Race

It’s been a long, long time
since I’ve heard the expression,
‘the human race’ like I once
did from my father who
invoked it in the ‘60’s
vernacular of our one,
global world, nations
united and east and west
divided so clearly
all was known, though
all wasn’t safe. In his own
way I was chided to
behave civilly and not
gad about as an unevolved
Neanderthal  breathing
through his mouth;
the future of the human
race depended upon my
sitting erect, listening
politely in a play at
détente, opening doors
for all types of women,
regardless, and not wasting
food because children
were starving elsewhere.
And there was, apparently,
a membership card to
this human race than
I was continually in
danger of forfeiting
through my mostly slovenly,
sometimes disrespectful,
manners which fell to
my father to supervise
as his role in bettering
said human race
inasmuch as he was able
and I was pliable.

Pennies, nobodies, and parents…

coppy-penny-investing111If you like pennies, nobodies, and/or parents (or at least your own mother and/or father), here are a few for you…


Pennies, Pennies Everywhere

Honest Abe is hiding in plain sight,
too insignificant to bother with,
ubiquitous to a fault, a commodity
of commonness and plain speech;
he is become a decimal of taxation
and useless beyond being ignored,
unless discovered heads-up, then
he might be a token of good luck,
but fleeting in the day he’s found;
trying to double-down I’ve tossed
him into a fountain and wished,
collected hundreds and hundreds
in a Mason jar for my life savings
that never amounted to much,
tucked him in my new Bass loafers
purely for decoration, I believe, and
slipped one under the folded hands
of my casketed father back in 1971
and prayed a pure prayer for a
miracle that I’m still waiting on.

 

On This Day

On this day in history
absolutely nothing of consequence
happened, to anyone, anywhere;
no ships sailed, no princes born,
discoveries in science, medicine
just didn’t happen on this day,
yesterday and tomorrow are
filled with life-changing people,
events, battles that turned great
wars into peace, even the subtle
alterations to the fabric of everyday
life made by once anonymous people
which reverberated into time and
made history; remarkable things,
great consequences, overwhelming
tragedies and brave exploits
all happened on other days, just
not today; of course some were born
on this day, babies loved, wanted,
even prepared for, but they remain
nameless to all but their mothers,
unknown to school books and
will never fill-in-the-blank’s of
literacy exams for they just were
and are no more; and the closest thing
to notoriety they’ll enjoy is that on
this day in history they’ve been
written about, sort of.

 

Boredom is cool…

bored spaghetti o'sThe word doesn’t begin to appear in dictionaries until the late 1850’s, and it was first used to describe the influence of industrialization, mechanisms, and technology. Boredom is our problem, exacerbated by the experience of connectivity.

Boredom has three uses: weariness with repetition, leisure time, and alienation resulting from impersonal social existence (a Marxist idea, but still an idea – http://pubs.socialistreviewindex.org.uk/isj79/cox.htm). It’s most closely associated with early adulthood – from high school to early college years, and then it reappears in mid-life crises. And it is most often described as a dissatisfaction with life (as in, the quality of life), Boredom is what we call the feeling that something is missing or we’re missing something.

And boredom is cool… sort of… if you think about it…

David Foster Wallace

When David Foster Wallace wrote about
boredom, he did so in a tedious way – shaking an
angry fist at the storm as it roared around,
daring to be consumed, defiant enough to breathe
in the air of monotony and exhaling the
excitement of crafting a three-page sentence;
immune to tedium but not unawares,
certain it would be unpublishable except for the
reason that he was David Foster Wallace.


Boredom

The word is new,
a product of the industrial revolution,
to capture monotony and
the small-mindedness
which would rule us with reasons to
bemoan our own
passivity, daring others to
divert us with things we’re told
are meaningful, convinced
by others to desire,
and the greatest loss is the will to
choose for ourselves
what will be loved
in the new melancholy of boredom.

Book(s) of life…

M_16ed620f72The address is 150 Deasngate, Manchester, fashioned in late Victorian neo-Gothic style by Basil Champneys. It sits north of Quay and Peter Streets, east of River Irwell, and refuses to be ignored. The stone facade has acquired a bronze depth and its donned with the excessive ornamentation of memory and money (Enriqueta Augustina Rylands devoted the building to her late husband, John, but I know nothing more of their relationship or the quality thereof).

As impressive as it stands, I was not prepared for its heavy, dark and rich interior, and the intimidating closeness of this large space. As a graduate student living on bread and Boddingtons, exploring local archives and repositories of centuries lost and justifiably so, I stopped breathing when I stood in Rylands.

3692_largeSo special and so rare its contents, you were only permitted empty-handed admittance. Pencils and cards dotted tables; chairs were perfectly arranged by the patrons out of respect; reading areas were shared as scholars joined in a high religious service.

This is life, I realized; it’s all here. I don’t need anything more; and time no longer matters.

Book of Life

This is a room in which all of life fits,
soaring arches of stone unearthed and shaped,
draped in heavy, old wood, dark with age
from the Garden of Eden but untouched,
with all of everything bound and shelved,
rows and rows in some divine order
not worth arguing over, only to enjoy,
spaces for reading, seats at tables,
paper but only pencils for taking notes,
shafts of light crisscross and dust dances
in the show of rhythmed, unhurried air,
in perfect quiet only small sounds heard,
a turning page with tender respect,
signs of satisfaction or stifled laughs,
but in the shadowy recess of the isle,
before a skewed chair left untidy
rests an open tome, heavy and solemn,
readerless with tear-stained pages,
unturned.