Books, Nooks and Hiding Places

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When I was a kid and still today, I loved to find the most obscure, abandoned, neglected book in a library, then look for an equally obscure, abandoned and neglected place to read it. If no such place could be found, hiding under the bedsheets with a flashlight would do nicely. 

There’s something about knowing I’m the only one on earth reading that particular book at that particular time, and feeling that reading it is breathing new life into the words of some long-gone author. I also like to believe that artists somehow know when someone down here is appreciating their work, and they stop whatever they’re doing for a moment and smile. I hope so. 

When I first got on the internet and accepted the fact that it wasn’t a passing fad, and when I first read a book on the Internet, I concluded that a Nook or Kindle device has exactly none of the charm that an old, musty book has. All my fellow book-sniffers will know what I mean.

Have you ever picked up a book from the 1800’s and held your face deep into the inner binding, imagining your smelling not only the book but that time? Some remnant of a Little House on the Prairie-esque scene, with a family gathered around a solid oak table, saying Grace together, the kids peeking at the delicious meal and wishing dad would hurry up. Sure, it’s usually just paper and maybe a little mold, but the mind, like the eyes, has it’s own pareidolia, completing mental pictures and fantasies from very little information.

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Of course, there’s also the charm and romance of wondering who else might have owned the old book, seeing their names and the date written on the first page, or maybe the indentation of some note they wrote on the cover, and playing secret agent by placing paper on it and making it appear with a pencil. Even a mundane note about groceries can be exciting if it’s over a hundred years old.

 

Then there’s the ache. An actual ache I get when I look at those old, deteriorated books and think of all the time, effort and passion that went into writing them, how the writer labored over every line and the book as a whole, and how unfair it is that after so much work, he or she wasn’t magically granted a extra few hundred years of life on earth to enjoy seeing the delight it gave readers. I mean, it’s only fair.

For this reason, I don’t think ebooks will ever completely displace real books. The only “Nook” I’m interested in is the hiding place I read actual books in. But there is hope even for those of us who have succumbed to the ease of internet reading, in the form of obscure and forgotten archived pages deep in the internet’s basement. I usually find them when doing research on some obscure detail of a script. For instance, I found this page today while trying to find out the name of a newspaper in Coloma, California, in 1880, for research on a western TV show. 

https://archive.org/stream/california00giff/california00giff_djvu.txt

And as I knew I was the only one reading that particular page at that particular time, that old feeling came over me again – “This is mine for this moment.” Nerdy, I know. It’s the same feeling I got while exploring an old ruin alone on a lesser-known Greek island, or when I found an out-of-the-way corner deep in the Colosseum in Rome that none of the other tourists were interested in seeing, then settling in there and feeling history engulf me. Of having one thing for one moment in this overcrowded world that is mine alone. The humbleness and lack of importance of the thing (such as that forgotten web page up there) only makes its allure stronger. 

The internet has already become mankind’s greatest storehouse of knowledge. It’s a library with countless caverns, filled with everything human beings have figured out. Old books will always be loaded with charm, just like old houses, old cars, old music and old people, but cold technology can have charm once in a while, too, if we’re sensitive enough to divine it. 

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The Liebster Award

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Thank you, A.J. Reeves, for the nomination for the . . . (insert trumpets here) . . . Liebster Award! (Dang, spellcheck keeps trying to call it The Lobster Award.)

Being new to blogging (at least regularly), it was a nice surprise to win a “major award” (A Christmas Story fans will get the reference).

A.J.’S 11 QUESTIONS FOR ME

1) What movie would be greatly improved if it was made into a musical?

Tombstone. Here, I’ll start writing it now –

DOC
I’m your huckleberry! That’s just my game!

COWBOY
Doc, your awful scary! Live up to your name!
Your name’s holiday so why don’t you try it
instead of shooting us to protect that Wyatt!

DOC
I’ll blast you and say “you’re no daisy at all”
then continue to annoy you as I watch you fall!

2) What inanimate object do you wish you could eliminate from existence?

Cell phones so people can talk to each other again while waiting for haircuts.

 

3) What is the weirdest thing you have seen in someone else’s home?

A lion tacked onto the wall. The lion wasn’t weird. The fact that insecure men need to kill them is.

 

4) What is the most embarrassing thing you have ever worn?

When I was about 21, I bought baby blue corduroy overalls because a girl I was dating liked them. I wore them once then came to my senses.

 

5) What part of a kid’s movie completely scarred you?

When Indian Joe threw the knife at Tom Sawyer in the courtroom.

 

6) If you were arrested with no explanation, what would your friends and family assume you had done?

Got into a fight. I have a black belt and no tolerance for men who curse around children or bully others. It’s a volatile mix.

 

7) What secret conspiracy would you like to start?

Certain flowers have developed the ability to talk and sing, but you must get very close to them to hear because their voices are very soft.

 

8) What mythical creature would improve the world most if it existed?

The Kraken, because the world never runs out of bad guys we could unleash it on.

 

9) You’re a mad scientist, what scientific experiment would you run if money and ethics weren’t an issue?

Cell rejuvenation experimentation to extend human life indefinitely. I just can’t get used to this death thing.

 

10) What’s the most imaginative insult you can come up with?

I like to stay with simple and direct insults. For instance, if someone is yelling at me, I’ll usually say, without movement or change in facial expression “you’ve been eating onions” or “your mouthwash ain’t makin’ it”, inspired by two of my heroes – Bugs Bunny and Clint Eastwood, respectively.

11) If you were wrongfully put into an insane asylum, how would you convince them that you’re actually sane and not just pretending to be sane?

I would ask them to take a test with me and compare scores. Whoever scores lowest is the crazy one.

 

11 RANDOM FACTS ABOUT MYSELF

  1. I read to my daughter every night and enjoy her kid books as much as she does.
  2. I am the most annoying dad in the world, but the kids enjoy it.
  3. I revel in innocence, mine and theirs.
  4. As a kid, I would purposely dress nicer when my mother took me to department stores so I could stand in display areas and pretend to be a mannequin, then scare people when they got close to me.
  5. I always stick my tongue out slightly when making a peanut butter sandwich.
  6. I love Brazilian, Greek and French songs even though I don’t understand a word of it.
  7. I once slept in a cave at the foot of the Acropolis in Athens.
  8. I like the artificial smell of bananas and strawberries more than I like bananas and strawberries.
  9. I gaze at light refractions and rainbow glints, trying to see secret, hidden worlds.
  10. I harbor wild west-like thoughts of violence against evil criminal types.
  11. I choose friends based on their sense of humor and lack of ego more than social standing.

MY QUESTIONS TO MY NOMINEES: (As you can see, I’m big on why’s.)

  1. What’s your favorite scent and why?
  2. What’s the craziest thing you believe in and why? (Bigfoot, aliens, Loch Ness Monster, etc.)
  3. Describe the plot of a TV show you’d like to see.
  4. What would you say to your seven-year old self if you could talk to him/her?
  5. What was your happiest day and why?
  6. What is standing in the way of your happiness now, if anything?
  7. What is your favorite song and why?
  8. What is your favorite book and why?
  9. What is your favorite poem and why?
  10. What is your favorite painting and why?
  11. What fact or personal experience gives you the most faith that God exists?

RULES:

  1. Acknowledge the blog who nominated you and display the award.
  2. Answer the 11 questions the blogger gives you.
  3. Give 11 random facts about yourself.
  4. Nominate 11 blogs (with under 200 followers).
  5. Notify these blogs of the nomination.
  6. Give them 11 questions to answer.

His response – https://milesofpagesblog.wordpress.com/2017/08/04/liebster-award/

Nominations:

https://amanpan.blog

http://littlefears.co.uk

https://wordpress.com/read/feeds/50166732

https://dirtyscifibuddha.com

https://milesofpagesblog.wordpress.com

https://bensbitterblog.com

https://wordpress.com/read/feeds/62618666

https://bookemjanoblog.wordpress.com

http://adamharkus.com

https://sarainlalaland.wordpress.com

https://abravemess.wordpress.com

https://www.facebook.com/Vegetarianrecipesbypooja/

https://lifesfinewhine.wordpress.com/about-2/

Two Worlds (poem) – Childhood and Charlottesville

Here’s one of my first attempts at poetry, written during my (overly) dramatic and (unnecessarily) tumultuous late teens or early twenties. Looking back, I realize it wasn’t just a choice between serenity and strife. In fact, life always fluctuates between the two. It’s how we handle the episodes of strife that matters most. Wayne Dyer said we all need to have an “insular Tahiti” – a place inside ourselves the world can’t touch. Otherwise, pain will invade us completely and overwhelm our ability to cope or even imagine being happy again, like thinking a storm will last forever and the sun will never shine again.

As a kid, I loved a toy called the 3D View-Master.

I didn’t have video games or an iPhone. We only had a couple of TV channels, and except for afternoons and Saturday mornings, only adult shows were on, so we kids back then were much more easily entertained. I would crawl inside those View-Master slide worlds and live there, so much so that my mind today is a panoply of the idyllic scenes the geniuses behind this toy created. My childhood wasn’t perfect so this escapism was a blessing and a relief. I suspect the mental vacations into the View-Master slide worlds must have been even stronger for kids living in worse circumstances than I did. The fantasy inside the little binoculars versus the real world they were born into.

I’ll be using 3D View-Master slides in part to illustrate this poem. Enjoy!

Two Worlds

Two worlds have I known along the path of this life –
one of serenity, the other of strife.

The first world I knew was a magical place
of warm smiles and laughter and kind-hearted grace.

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Of meadows and tulips, wood shoes and white blouses.
Of bread trails and bonnets and gingerbread houses.

Of blind mice and windmills and Little Jack Horner.
Of Winnie and Tigger and the tree at Pooh Corner.

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Of fun-loving pirates and billowing sails.
Of serpents and mermaids and friendly, blue whales.

My young eyes saw the world as a sweet, gentle place
without hatred or killing over nation or race.
There was no better or worse, only different from me
and it made life enticing, a grand mystery!

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I remember gazing in wonder, unexamined and pure,
at the indigo sky. Oh, the thoughts it allured!
So many places someday I would see!
So many people to share it with me!

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But the wind-spinning freedom which was my young world
grew shrouded in darkness as adult years unfurled.
And the strangest thing is I never noticed peace die.
I just knew it was gone and I didn’t know why.

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Thus began the long years of searching for answers,
questioning poets, musicians and dancers,
politicians and teachers, gurus and sages,
spending my youth between dusty pages
to recapture a feeling, stolen or lost,
and hold it again, no matter the cost.

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Many years have passed now. I’ve grown old and gray
and I watch the games that my grandchildren play.
I can hardly recall how my youthful heart yearned
and I won’t bore you with stories of the lessons I’ve learned.

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But I will tell you this – joy isn’t somewhere “out there.”
It cannot be studied or found anywhere.
It’s something you’ll either let in or you won’t,
something you give to yourself or you don’t.

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Do you hear what I’m saying? All the searching’s for naught!
All that you need, you’ve already got.
There will surely be pain. That’s life’s one guarantee.
But how much we suffer – that’s up to you, and to me.

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Post-Script: Not to end on a negative note, but as I was looking for photos to illustrate this, the domestic terror attack in Charlottesville yesterday was heavy on my mind. Maybe that’s why I chose this poem to post today. Nobody starts out hating. May we all retain the joy and appreciation of differences we had as children, and create an America we can be prouder of. 

 

Is Faith Strengthened by Tests?

My journey with faith has been labyrinthine, to say the least. I believed unquestioningly as a child, when I would recite The Lord’s Prayer with my mother at bedtime every night. But as the years passed and I encountered atheistic college professors, read books by atheist philosophers like Bertrand Russell, and saw horrific things happen to good, God-fearing people enough, the pristine beauty of my early faith was chipped away at until barely anything was left of it. I’m currently working to build it back. Like innocence, I don’t know if the natural hue of youth can ever be fully restored. I have seen too much. But I think we can access that original faith, and innocence, which to me are very similar. It comes in fragments and moments, like savoring something sweet carried on the wind from far away until it dissipates again. But oh, the majesty of that moment, when we remember how pure it was, how sure we felt that good would be rewarded and evil would be punished, how comforting it was to know our prayers were heard and taken seriously. 

I had this conversation today on Facebook with a friend. I was at our local church/preschool to turn in my three-year old’s registration papers when I saw this – the community library exchange box with a book about zombies and another about witches (Roald Dahl’s The Witches.)

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I thought it was funny so I posted it on Facebook. This is the conversation that ensued.

Friend: It doesn’t hurt to learn something new.
Me: I can’t agree with you on that one. Some things are better left unlearned. Innocence needs to be protected sometimes, even in adults. Although I will say one’s faith should be so strong, he can watch any movie, read any book, and walk with the biggest sinners in the world, and still have his faith completely intact afterward. Faith should withstand any test. The questions are do we want to put our faith through all that unnecessarily, or taint our souls more than life already does? Things seen and heard cannot be unseen and unheard. Nobody who wants to live would put poison in their body, but most of us will carelessly poison our minds in the name of worldly knowledge. I used to like gory horror films, but after I saw actual horrors in the world, I didn’t like them as much. I feel better when my mind is clean.
What do you think? Is faith strengthened by tests, or should we keep our minds and spirits pure? Does watching a horror film or reading a horror story invite dark spirits into our lives? Does anything return to us void, or does everything we do have consequences one way or another – spiritually or psychologically?

The Illusion of Control

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An elderly, divorced woman lives across the street from me. In the ten years we’ve lived here, she has never said hello or even looked over, not even at our two girls, who are three and six years old. I can understand adults not trusting other adults, but it takes a special kind of misery to be unfriendly to children. Fortunately, they don’t care. Neither do I really. The only time I get upset is when someone is blatantly rude to my kids. If someone is nasty to me, I’ll let karma take care of them. If they’re nasty to my kids, I become karma.

My family and I get along with all of our other neighbors. In fact, they’re more like family to us. We watch their houses and pets when they’re on vacation, and they do the same for us. We buy each other gifts on holidays, etc. So in such a friendly neighborhood, this lady really stands out. I was oddly comforted the other day when I found out that her strangeness was not limited to me and mine. One would think everybody would want to be courteous to neighbors because they’re the ones who are going to call the cops if they see someone climbing in their window. (Or not.) But, sadly, that is not always the case.

For instance, her neighbor two doors over is a retired fireman. My wife calls him a “cuddly grouch” to his face because he pretends to be grouchy but really isn’t. He always laughs. He picks on me with firehouse humor constantly and is delighted when I fire back. But I found out the day his dog died that he’s a softy on the inside. First of all, it was a Bichon Frise,  probably the least masculine dog in the world. He was destroyed for weeks when it died. He walked that dog every morning. Anyway, the point is, he’s a very kind man.

The strange neighbor, knowing how kind he is, asked him to take her garbage cans out on trash day because she was going on a business trip. She probably knew better than to ask me. When she came home, not only did she not thank him, she chewed him out for putting her trash cans back in “the wrong order.” There’s a black one for trash, a blue one for recyclables, and a green one for garden waste. He was apparently supposed to memorize what order they were in. She was actually livid about it, even though she left no instructions regarding trash can order. 

Clearly this lady has an OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) or three, but I think many of us are guilty of this kind of behavior, albeit in smaller ways. I know I am. If we have a real problem in the major areas of life – relationships, money, career, health, parenting, etc. – and feel like we’re out of control, we fixate on smaller things that are controllable.

I once saw a guy freak out about not having enough whipped cream on his latte at Starbucks. Not just, “Hey, can you put a little more whipped cream on this for me, pal?” No, no, no. It was, “Is there a goddamn whipped cream shortage or something? What’s wrong with you?” I would be willing to bet big money that his life was out of control in some other way. But that latte was controllable. He could get that right. Others obsess about their lawns, or parking their cars in the same spot, the same way every day, or being obsessively neat. 

The government is also guilty of low-level OCD’s. They can’t stop gang violence, drug trafficking or street crime, but dang it, they can drive those smokers into the ocean! That’s something they CAN do, then they won’t feel so impotent about that other stuff, and people may actually stay off their backs a little about wasted tax dollars.

Fortunately for my conscience, I’ve never been unfriendly to my “mean neighbor.” After all, she may be buried in pain about events in her life and I’m only seeing the symptoms. When we first moved in, another senior widow who lives next door seemed unfriendly and would sometimes yell over the fence about minor noises. At first, we dreaded the years ahead, but we kept saying hello and inviting her over for dinner until she said yes. Over time, we unearthed a great personality and learned that she was just sad, not mean at all. Her husband passed shortly before we moved here, and her son lives out of state so she was probably just very lonely. I’m proud to say we have alleviated that loneliness considerably, and she filled a terrible void for my wife when her mother died suddenly of a massive stroke at the age of 52 eight years ago. She loves our kids like they’re her own grandkids, and she and I even have the same sometimes scandalous sense of humor. We visit back and forth constantly. What seems like grumpiness is often just sadness in disguise I hope the same thing happens someday with the lady across the street, but so far, she has left me hanging when I’ve waved to her. She doesn’t even look over. I find it pretty humorous usually.

Not to play junior psychologist here, but it seems to me that my neighbor would feel a lot better if she rose up against her own inner tyrant and put the damn trash cans in the wrong order on purpose, if she accepted the fact that life is messy and always will be. If she would have surrendered to that immutable fact earlier, her marriage might have worked out. A house should be clean enough to be healthy, and messy enough to be happy.  So should a mind. 

There are things we can and should control, and things we can’t. Christians say, “Let go and let God.” Alcoholics say, “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” That philosophy is so old and overused, it has become a cliché, but cliché’s become cliché’s for a very good reason – because they’re absolutely true. 

I once started to get upset with my girls when I discovered them digging a hole in the middle of the front lawn because the X on their “treasure map” (the one they just drew) said the treasure was “RIGHT THERE!” I almost yelled, “No! Stop! What are you doing? You’re ruining the lawn!” But I didn’t. I took a deep breath and remembered I’m raising children, not grass. I even helped them dig the hole in the new lawn I had just planted. And when they weren’t looking, I went and found an old brass box in my office I knew they hadn’t seen yet, loaded it with coins and covered it with dirt in the hole so they’d have actual treasure to find. The look on their faces when they discovered it was worth fifty holes in the lawn.

So tomorrow, I’ll keep my girls from doing backflips off the roof, but I’ll let them run as fast as they want to, while praying they don’t fall and chip a tooth. I’ll do my best with my career but probably won’t get half as much done by the end of the day as I wanted to, as usual. Then I’ll comfort myself with the knowledge that I did something – moved a little closer to the goal – which is better than nothing. I’ll straighten up the house and be okay with the fact that it will be a mess again a few hours later. 

Besides, even if I did get all my ducks in a row, they’d just wander off again anyway. I mean, because, you know, they’re ducks.

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To Rhyme or Not To Rhyme

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A war has been raging for decades. It’s a war we don’t hear about on the news. Like religion and politics, it isn’t discussed in civilized company. This war is not fought with guns and bombs, it’s fought with pens. It is the horrible, ghastly war between . . . rhymers and non-rhymers. The iambic pentameter crowd versus the free verse crowd. No prisoners are taken and no mercy is shown by either side.

All kidding aside, I like them both, but only if both are ultimately understandable. “Ultimately” meaning after two readings. If the poem is so abstract that only the writer gets it, the writer failed, not the reader.

The free verse army says rhyming poetry is childish and unsophisticated, largely as a result of syrupy poems in Hallmark greeting cards. And let’s face it, they usually are. It’s hard to rhyme well (without sounding like a nursery rhyme) and tell a good story that accesses emotion.

The rhyming crowd argues that it takes as much or more talent to write a meaningful, emotionally impactful poem that also rhymes and has meter, structure and rhythm than it does to write one that has none of that. To them, criticizing rhyming poetry is like saying Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Robert Frost and even Shakespeare (who wrote a heck of a lot of sonnets) were a bunch of nincompoops.

Here’s a good example of a rhyming, emotionally moving poem. The story behind it is almost as good as the poem itself.

A friend of mine found it at the bottom of an old box in his parents’ garage. He asked his dad about it. He said the author was a man named Vernon Watson, who performed in theaters around London in the 1930’s and 40’s. He would sing, dance, tell stories and recite poems. A little bit of everything. The audience would start out laughing and end up crying, or vice-versa. He performed under the name Nosmo King, and thought up that name one night while looking at a “No Smoking” sign in one of the theaters. Here it is. I dare you not to get choked up.

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Providence

Have you ever been broke? Just broke to the wide?
With what you stand up in and nothing beside?
Living on scraps the best part of the week
When you can get them, and with nowhere to sleep?

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I’ve been like that on a cold winter’s night
When the streets were deserted and nothing in sight
But a slow-moving bobby whose job is to see
That the public’s protected from fellows like me.
Who get put inside to answer in court
Why they’re wandering around without means of support.

It always strikes me as a queer sort of joke –
To pick on a man just because he is broke.
Do they think he enjoys wandering around in the rain,
Soaked to the skin with a dull, aching pain
Through his stomach, forgetting his last decent meal
And just praying for the time when he’s too numb to feel.
Life isn’t worth much when you get to that state –
Of just waiting to die and nowhere to wait.

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I remember the time, it’s a long while ago,
When I stood on a bridge with the river below.
The last food I’d had was two days before
And I never expected I’d need anymore.
That night was the worst that ever I’d known,
With a dirty, wet fog that chilled to the bone.
I set my teeth hard and I set down my heel
On the rail that my hands were too perished to feel
When a sniveling pup came out of the fog
And whimpered at me, just a scrap of a dog.
Bedraggled and dirty, like me, just a wreck,
With  a sad, little face on his poor, scraggy neck.

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A few seconds more and I would have died
But he licked my hand and I just sat down and cried.
I wrapped up the poor little chap in my coat
And carried him off with a lump in my throat.
I took him along to the one place I knew
Where they’d give him a bed and a biscuit or two.

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They didn’t seem keen on taking him in
But the sergeant-in-charge gave a bit of a grin
When I told him, “The dog could do with a meal.”
He said, “I’ll fix him up, but how do you feel?”
It may be perhaps that the sergeant had seen
the state I was in, I wasn’t too clean.
The hunger and cold that I’d suffered all day
Exhausted my limits and I fainted away.

Well, they fed me and slept me gave me two bob.
The following day, they found me a job.
I’ve worked ever since and I’ve put a bit by.
I’m comfortable now and I don’t want to die.
I’ve a nice, little house in a quiet, little street
With a decent-sized garden that’s always kept neat.
I’ve worked there a lot when I’ve had time to spare
And I’m so proud of one little corner that’s there,
With the pick of my flowers ‘round a little old stone,
That stands in a corner, all on its own.
It bears an inscription, not very grand.
The letters are crooked, but you’ll understand –
That I wasn’t too steady, I couldn’t quite see,
At the time that I carved it, quite recently.

These are the words I carved on the stone –
“Here lies my friend when I was alone.
Hopeless and friendless, just lost in a fog,
God saved my life with the help of a dog.”

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~ Vernon Watson AKA Nosmo King, 1930

 

11. Homeless

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The photo of the dog’s tombstone was actually made by a friend of mine as a prop for a filmed version of this poem we made. (I played the homeless man.) The words on the stone are a little different because I wrote it from memory and didn’t have this – – –

A YouTube video uploaded by someone who had one of Vernon’s old 78’s. (For you youngsters, 78’s were vinyl LP’s that pre-dated 33’s and 45’s.) His diction and delivery is very heightened and melodramatic, as was the style of the time. His voice reminds me of Boris Karloff’s quite a bit. Oddly, the version I have also has a few more lines than Nosmo’s recorded version. Enjoy!

End of the Road (love poem)

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I once walked through a forest,
deep and cool and wild,
filled with awe and wonder
as if I were just a child.

I once stood on a mountain.
Ancient winds flew through my hair.
It seemed the world around me
had become a silent prayer.

But despite the roads I traveled
and all the ground I gained,
this empty place, this darkness
in my spirit, still remained.

I’ve walked a thousand lonely miles
and crossed stormy oceans blue
searching for a feeling
that I’ve found right here with you.

And I could tell a thousand stories
of what the earth, to me, has shown
but all the beauty of this world
falls far short of your own.

For there is no greater wonder
nor peace that I have found
than holding you in darkness
with your heart the only sound.

Your laughter heals my deepest sorrow
and your eyes, so kind and warm,
have become this torn ships refuge
from a bitter, raging storm.

Mark Who? (Versatile Blogger Award)

Blogger award

I’m so new to blogging, I didn’t even know blogger awards existed, so it was a surprise and an honor when I received a message from Kathrin S. at https://mycupofenglishtea.wordpress.com letting me know she had nominated me. Thanks, Kathrin!

I started this blog a few years ago but didn’t really commit to it until recently. Now that I’m in the habit of writing every day, I’m starting to see what all the fuss is about. It’s a great outlet and healthy to get stuff out of our systems regularly, whether venting or celebrating.

One of the requirements for winning this award is talk about myself, which is not usually my favorite thing to do, but here goes –

  1. I’m Mark Rickerby. I’ve been married for ten years and have two daughters, 3 and 6 years old, who remind me constantly to stop writing about life and actually live. I’m pretty sure I learn more from them than they do from me. My life began when they were born. All the things that mattered to me so much before they came along don’t matter anymore. The desire to make them proud of me brings out my best and pushes me beyond the point where I stopped before.
  2. When my first daughter was born, my wife overheard me singing little songs to her to make her laugh, stop crying, fall asleep, etc., and said, “That’s kinda catchy. You should record it.” I think she meant I should record it into a sound file on my phone, but I wanted to do it right so I found a phenomenal composer with a recording studio (Rick Balentine) and a rollicking collaboration ensued. The next thing I knew, I had 15 songs in the bag that seemed to come to me whole, and a CD called Great Big World. Rick arranged backup singers and musicians. It felt like I had hijacked somebody else’s life. I found out in a new way (other than writing) what people meant by “divine inspiration.” But then if my first child didn’t inspire me, what would? Here it is –
  3. I’ve had stories published in 17 Chicken Soup for the Soul books and in magazines like Black Belt, Inside Kung Fu, Nostalgia and Whole Life Times, but it took me forever to trust myself as a writer. Paralysis by analysis and very little trust. I felt like I needed to read every book about writing before I could attempt anything serious. But as Dan Millman wrote, I finally accepted that we don’t need to know everything about the ocean in order to swim in it. I’m trusting the process, seeing where the path takes me, and enjoying life more than ever before.
  4. I spent a lot of time in my twenties traveling the world, to both seek adventure, of course, but also to figure out who I was, as cliche as that sounds. I must have been a young soul because I had no idea for a long time. So, I rode a camel and did a bunch of other distracting things until time and circumstances forced me to stop playing around, confront myself and do the friggin’ work already.14
  5. My parents were born in Belfast, Northern Ireland. I helped my father finish his memoir titled The Other Belfast – An Irish Youth. Here it is –

    He died in December of 2014 after five years with Parkinson’s Disease and Dementia. I’m still wrecked by it.

  6. I’m very happy during the day, but struggle with insomnia. My mind becomes a bad neighborhood at night sometimes, especially since and because of how my dad passed away. As if that weren’t enough, all the love letters he wrote to my mother when they were young were stolen by burglars shortly after he died. I have some dark thoughts about finding them and punishing them worse than the courts did, but I won’t because I don’t like the idea of my daughters seeing me in an orange prison jumpsuit.
  7. My main escape from the sadness and anger caused by the above events are writing and singing. If I didn’t have those outlets (and my wife and daughters), I would most certainly be insane right now.
  8. My favorite book is Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis. Every sentence is a poem. The movie is pretty good, too.670f82f771e1d30f28b1517fedf9bba2
  9. I’m the co-creator and head writer of a western TV show called Big Sky that I and the rest of the team are in the process of pitching to studios right now. I’ve been obsessed with it for years. I feel like I live there and the characters are all close friends of mine. We’re getting a lot of interest and weighing our options. I hope to make an announcement that the show has been picked up soon.15822609_10154224026862215_7309990749250450755_n
  10. I’m ridiculously nostalgic and, as a result, a little neurotic. Freud defined “neurotic” as “wanting the world and others to be as we are rather than as they are.” I have this persistent image in my mind of how the world should be and how people should treat each other, collected and stored deep in my psyche from old movies and TV shows set in places and times when people still had some expectations of each other. (The Andy Griffith Show chief among them.) I battle with it constantly because I know the world is full of people who refuse to accept things the way they are, and they are miserable to the degree that they don’t. It’s not only one of the main reasons for unhappiness, it’s the cause of war. The most extreme current example would be ISIS running around beheading everyone who doesn’t pray, think, dress and live exactly as they do. I just want to be friends with everyone and to see more kindness in the world, so disappointment is inevitable, especially on L.A. freeways.
  11. I revel in and love nature like a baby being cuddled by his mama. There’s nothing I love more than waking in a forest and feeling different consciousnesses greeting the day, especially flowers opening and turning toward the sun. How the heck do they know how to do that? I don’t care how science explains it, that’s thinking.
  12. One of the writings I’m most proud of is a poem called How We Survive that has traveled all over the internet in the twenty years since I wrote it. Every now and then, I Google it to see where it went, like checking to see what a child or old friend has been up to. It’s about the grieving process. I wrote it after my brother died. It has helped a lot of people struggling with grief feel a little better. What better thing can I do as a writer than that?
  13. I started having trouble with faith after losing my brother and only sibling to a drug overdose twenty years ago, but I persist in seeking God everywhere, like in the owl’s eye complete with light reflection on the wing of a butterfly so it can scare off predators. In fact, despite my questions and doubts, 7 of the 17 stories I’ve written for Chicken Soup for the Soul are spiritual. Strange things keep happening to me, as if God is saying, “I’m right here!”
  14. I’m just adding this one so I won’t end on #13. I’m not very superstitious, but why take chances? 🙂

I hope I didn’t get too maudlin there, but then, life is always a grab bag of ups and downs, isn’t it? The trick is to not let the downs make us forget the ups. Thanks for reading.

I’m required to post the rules of the award, too. Here they are –

Rules (for the people below that I nominated)

  • Thank the person who nominated you.
  • Nominate up to 15 bloggers for this award and inform them.
  • Share seven (or more) facts about yourself.
  • Put the logo of Versatile Blogger in your post and display the rules also.

Nominations – In case anyone whose blog I’m following is wondering why I didn’t nominate them, it’s probably because you have a lot of followers already, or at least more than 300. I chose these people below because a) I like the way they write for some reason, and b) their blogs are new and in need of readers like mine.

  1. Marvin Leo
  2. Westerngurl
  3. Michael Goodman
  4. Manuscript Notes
  5. Epiphany 2.0
  6. Angie – Freckled Foolery
  7. Lakeland Walking Tales
  8. The Caffeine Chaser (Justin Groep)
  9. Oregon Dogs
  10. Love Letters to Rock and Roll

Messin’ with Mark – God’s Sitcom. Episode 15 – Harassed in Hawaii, Part 2 – Attack of the Crab Monsters!!!

computer-God

Welcome to episode 15 of Messin’ with Mark, God’s Sitcom!

For those of you who are unfamiliar with this series, let me tell you how it started . . .

When I was very young, Jesus was walking around in His heavenly area up there when he saw his Dad looking down through the clouds, laughing His head off. Curious, he walked over and asked, “What’s up, Pop?”

“Oh, just pranking that Mark kid again,” He replied.

Again?” Jesus asked, “Why are You always picking on him?”

I don’t know. There’s just something about him,” God said. “I mean, look at his face right now.”

Jesus looked down and started to chuckle, then stopped Himself. “Okay, I admit it’s kind of funny, but this is wrong. I mean, You created him. With all due respect, what kind of an example are you setting for the angels? We’re supposed to love and protect humanity, not single one out from all the rest for humiliation.”

God thought for a moment, then looked at Jesus and said, “You’re right. I should stop.” They looked at each other seriously, then said, “Naaaaaaaahhh” and laughed some more.

Jesus suggested that he make a regular show of his pranks on me. They named it Messin’ with Mark. 

Remember Rodney Dangerfield’s bit about getting “no respect” from humans? It’s kind of like that, but on a cosmic level.

So, to today’s episode –

This particular event took place only a few days after the story I posted last week when my then best friend Matt and I were walking across a low, narrow bridge covered with frogs when work trucks began to pass, squashing them and splattering frog parts and/or juice all over us.

As with most of these stories, they are funny now, but not so funny at the time. So sit back, pour yourself a hot toddy, and prepare yourself for a tale so unbelievable, it can only be called . . . 

ATTACK OF THE CRAB MONSTERS!

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Oh, wait a minute, somebody else already used that one.

Anyway, Matt and I had gone to the island of Maui with my parents. We were eighteen so, of course, our thoughts revolved mostly around girls, surfing, tanning, music, girls, beach volleyball, girls, bodybuilding, and girls.

I came home early from the beach one night and was watching an episode of All in the Ohana on the TV, Hawaii’s answer to All in the Family, when Matt came in and said, “I met a girl. She’s coming over. Get out.” After grumbling a bit, I grabbed a blanket and a bottle of wine and went to the beach. 

It was almost dark by the time I got there so I found a nice spot with soft sand, spread out my towel next to a fallen log, and sipped at the wine until I fell asleep. I awoke several hours later in searing pain. Something was pinching my thigh. I sat up but it was so dark, I couldn’t see a thing. As my eyes adjusted, I saw what appeared to be giant rocks distributed in the sand all around me, which was odd because when I arrived there were no rocks anywhere. I stood up and, to my horror, all the rocks stood up, too. They were not rocks. They were crabs. GIANT crabs. And they were getting ready to eat me. The pinch on the thigh was just a test to see if I was good and thoroughly dead.

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They must have been very disappointed when they found out I was alive. One would think that would be enough for them to say, “Oh, well. So much for that. Let’s get home, guys.” But no. My being alive didn’t seem to discourage them at all. They stood their ground as if to say, “No problem. We can wait.”

“But I’m only eighteen,” I told them. “You’ll be waiting a long time.” They looked at each other then took a step toward me as if to say, in their silent, clickity, crab-like way, “That’s not a problem, either. We’ll just hurry the process along a bit.” 

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It was at this point that I decided to demonstrate who was boss to these lowly crustaceans, for I was a human being, damn it, and they would have respect for me or else! I took a big step toward them, kind of like stepping over the line drawn in the sand by a schoolyard bully. But not only did they not retreat into the ocean, they all took another step toward me, in complete unison like a very ugly army.

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This was quite disconcerting for a city boy from Los Angeles. I was a surfer but apparently, California crabs are both tiny and ‘fraidy cats compared to their Hawaiian counterparts. I looked behind me for an escape route but there were dozens of them there, too. I recalled what a karate teacher had told me once – “If you ever get into a fight with more than one guy, always hit the big guy first.” The biggest crab was not hard to spot. He was front and center, obviously the Admiral leading his soldiers to the chow hall, and I was the chow. 

Determined to die a lion and not a lamb, I looked for a weapon and saw a big rock wedged under the log I had been lying next to. I picked it up and unceremoniously dropped it on the Admiral. There was a sickening combo squish/crunch sound and all ten of his legs shot straight out in every direction.

“That was easy!” I thought. If I only had a few hundred more big rocks and they would all stand still, I could finish off the entire platoon.

I was sure this would discourage his army. No luck. They just got more angry and started chasing me around the beach. Apparently, one of them had said, “Hey! He killed Admiral Snappy Claws! Get him!”

Remember that scene in Rocky when Rocky Balboa chases the chicken around? It was kind of like that, except I was the chicken. 

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I finally leapt over them in an athletic display that would have landed me a spot on the Olympic Track-and-Field team if anyone was there to see it. In my memory, those crabs chased me to the edge of the highway, clicking their claws in anger and yelling, “We’ll get you next time, haole boy!” 

Shaken and pale, I returned to the room and knocked the door. Matt yelled, “Come in!” I entered and saw him watching TV alone. The tryst he was hoping for hadn’t panned out, which was just as well for me, because I needed to tell someone about the harrowing experience I had just endured. He didn’t believe a word of it. Then I remembered I had proof of the giant monster crabs – Admiral Snappy Claws stuck under that big ol’ rock!

We went back to the beach and there he was, all alone. His loyal army had deserted him. Maybe they were glad he was dead. Maybe he was a total bastard and they were all fed up with his abuse. Maybe they were just pretending to be mad when I squashed him in case he survived and had them all drawn and quartered for mutiny. In any case, there he lay, his career of eating tourists finally at an end. 

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A year after I returned home from that trip, I got a mysterious post card in the mail. Here it is – 

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Needless to say, I was very impressed with his English skills. One also had to wonder how he mailed that postcard. Did he wait in line at the post office? If so, how did he get through the door? Anyway, as always, I’m sure watching me get chased all over that beach by killer crabs gave God, Jesus and their heavenly host of angels big laughs on that widescreen in heaven.

Years passed and I thought I was over it until a few weeks ago when I broke into a cold sweat while watching Moana with my daughters, thanks to this character –

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Not funny, Disney. And, as always, well played, God. Well played.

One-Word Photo Essays

A friend sent me these photos today in an email. Some of them laid me out emotionally (especially honor, hope and loneliness) and others made me laugh (especially curiosity and relating.)

A photo definitely is worth a thousand words. Do you think the photos below capture the words above them? 

ACCOMPLISHMENT

accomplishment

ADVENTURE

adventure

AWE

awe

BEAUTY

beauty

CARING

caring

COMPANIONSHIP

companionship

CONFUSION

confusion

CONTEMPLATION

contemplation

CONTENTMENT

contentment

CURIOSITY

curiosity

DETERMINATION

determination

EXCITEMENT

unnamed

FRIENDSHIP

friendship

HEROISM

heroism

HONOR

honor

HOPE

hope

LONELINESS

loneliness

LOVE

love

PERSEVERANCE

perseverance

RELATING

relating

SECURITY

excitement

TENACITY

tenacity

WHIMSY

whimsy