Category: Experience / Write / Share
Nikolai Gogol’s “Diary of a Madman”
John Bangs – Are Books Bad Medicine?
The Calling – part one
If only foresight were clearer. I would have dropped that photo, distancing myself from what would become a journey of heartbreak, a digging up of bones that would bring ruin. I could have just walked away, leaving her lying there among discarded ephemera. But, unfortunately, that was not the choice I made.
A slate grey sky.
Low clouds veil the sun.
Cold hard winter.
For two days, I have wandered from town to town mentally recreating what was once thriving, now crumbling efforts of society suspended in a lifeless reality – empty shells void of commerce and growth – lay in decay and ruin.
I question my motives. My choices. The pursuit. The illusive purpose I attempt to find. The reason for me to be here. In a nowhere town full of emptiness.
I have a life, career, and family. What do I hope to find among these ruins? What purpose does this adventure hold?
I suppose I search for just that, purpose. Purpose beyond the Dogmatic residual ideas I was born into – the egocentric plight that masses give their lives and deaths for. Meaning beyond the neatly prescribed checklist that society has accepted.
I walk alone among empty storefronts. Vintage stamped on the cornerstones. Masonry monoliths whose layers of facade break away expose yesterday’s attempt at renewal. They rise like headstones – weathering in a forgotten field.
I enter the only store opened, a junk / antique store – more due to my need for respite from the weather rather than a genuine interest in investigating the establishment’s wares. The interior is as void of life as the town that surrounds it. A lonely greying lady greets me upon entering. I return the greeting. Preceding under her watchful eye.
The air is stagnant but warm. Asbestos ceiling tiles stained and missing – create interesting patterns above my head. The floor gives way to my foot – unwilling or unable to return the force needed to accomplish its purpose. Plaster peeling – a general sense of despair radiates from the walls.
A room repurposed to collect the unwanted. A covered collection of discarded wants – the sole purpose of America’s ideology.
Dust-covered doodads, bric-a-brac, and discarded trinkets litter the shelves. Each was positioned in its pose years ago, today sitting unaware of its uselessness. Piles of cloth, clothing, bedsheets, torn, mildewed, and molded scatter across the floor, falling from overflowing boxes.
I navigate through the labyrinth of curiosities, scanning each trinket, quickly determining treasure or trash. Then, pausing to pick through boxes or amuse myself with coffee cup wisdom.
A feeling of loneliness begins to work up from deep inside. I stand among the unwanted, items of no worth, a collection of meaningless creations.
I begin to prepare my mind for a return to the cold loneliness of the outside – a box far in the back corner of this wonderful world of waste finds my fancy. I kneel down and dig through a collection of cut-up magazines and newspapers from decades ago.
Carefully extracting the items, I study each with keen interest. Objects that, at one point in time, were a treasure to its possessor. Brown and browning scrapbook pages stacked without respect, the delicate pulp breaks at the slightest pressure. Hardened yellow residue from tape – evidence of lost memories or purposely trashed ones. I organize my position, to begin the excavation of the discarded artifacts of the early 20th century.
Minutes turn to hours as I rummage.
Stacks build up around me.
I study each clipped photo from a movie magazine or molested Elvis photo, yearbook, or newspaper clipping, with intensity. My nose is overwhelmed with the aged paper; there is a smell hard to describe that only aging paper presents to the olfactory.
I cringe at the folds, the tears, the faded ink and pencil marks. My eyes strain to make out names and notes. The frozen black and white smiles – the still life of yesterdays, clouded photo paper of precious moments. The moments lost to time. Discarded by those who possess no emotional response to the image.
My fingers expel poison oil to the paper with my manipulation and relocation of the lot fracturing the composting compositions. I sympathize with the frailness. Empathize with the realization of being lost.
I shuffle through postcards finding random five by seven-inch prints of forgettable faces. Then my fingertips feel the heavy white stock of the souvenir photo sleeve for the first time. The folder aged well. Corners right. Color faintly yellowed. My excitement piques. A memory from the Persian Room, a place unknown to me, a cocktail lounge at Hotel Sir Francis Drake, San Francisco, its cover corrects my ignorance.
Its existence here seems unexplainable -this item – out of place in a town as forgotten as the Lindisfarne Gospels or the Khmer Empire.
I open the fold.
The left, void of writing, the right, a photo, a couple at a cocktail table, Vintage World War II era. He sat to her left. An airman, bars across his chest below his left lapel – late into the war? A celebrated soldier who now wears his valor on his uniform? Stoic in his presence. Finely trimmed mustache, an homage to Erroll Flynn – a style that dates him, even in the late 1940s. The edges of his lips straight, smile pursed slightly – presenting an air of indifference. His face is intense yet forgettable.
She, to his right, radiating a bright glow, evident even in the black and white photo. Her smile, forced, visual tension in her cheeks, her jaw clenched, locking down a brilliant yet forced smile. Her head tilted toward the right, away from the soldier, increasing the distance between the couple. Her eyes cast down cut to the right – as if this were a candid shot – a random photo.
It was not – it was a keepsake that was kept. It was a moment in a cocktail lounge in San Francisco, while the world, at war, found time to revel in the peaceful moments that joyous camaraderie empowered by libations offered, a quick snap of the shutter, a burst of light, an image delivered in a quick-flash that, unbeknownst to me at the time, would change my life.
I close the folder and study the image on the front cover – Persian Room San Francisco – I peek again at the photo – ponder the couple’s situation; something has connected me to this baryta paper image.
The heater kicks on, pushing out stale, dry heat onto the fragile memories surrounding me – pulling from them the moisture of life – I rescue my photo from the Persian Room from becoming a mummified memory – collect my find. I purchase the picture with little small talk, pull up my collar, and exit into the cold February air.
George Orwell’s “Books vs. Cigarettes” –
After the Show
We fling ourselves into the pickup truck’s bed; caked mud fractures from my sunburnt calf, reminding me of the early morning rain and mudslides out on the lawn. We lay supine, smoking cigarettes in our soured clothes, matted hair blows across our eyes, as the skyline flanks our peripheral, our minds race along as the truck rumbles through the city.
Eyes sting with wind, sweat, salt—Memories, subdued by dehydration, labors to catalog the day’s rewards. Earlier, our counter-culture collective huddled together through rain, played joyfully in the mud, ran amuck, danced around fires, spilled blood, bonded in the chaos of adolescence.
The carelessly tossed cigarette expells a rapture of illumination as it dances across the pavement.
My heart beats to the day’s rhythm. My temples pulsate—an auditory impregnation of my body has occurred.
Today the left of center gathered as a community; cults of sub-culture received without judgment wandered throughout themselves, strolling without care to the soundtrack of their attitude.
City light fades. We have no concept of time, only light and dark. Yet, today we loved and lived, each sense was touched, and all who shared common interests expressed a bounty of emotion.
Our senses now suspend, unknowing our subconscious’s feeble attempt to possess the piqued expressions of this day forever.
We ride along, staring into the night’s sky. Silent, we prepare to return to the isolation of our homes where only memories and Memorex will deliver us.
Christopher Morley’s “On Doors”
Lost Essays – Episode Three – E.B. White – “Good-bye to Forty-eighth Street”
Cynthia Gomez – Classroom L,G,T,B,Q Grouping
The following contains parts of an interview conducted by Rouge Teacher magazine. The material is used with permission from the editor, Thomas Watts.
The only thing progressive about Martin City, Kansas is the slot machines at the local casino until Sylvia Gomez accepted the job as a seventh-grade teacher at Martin City Middle School.
Martin City, a town with a population that does not reach the elevation of the county courthouse, has, for years, existed in quiet comfort.
Sylvia is not new to teaching, although she is new to Martin City. She has an extensive record of excellent rapport with parents, students, cohorts, administration, and the public.
Relocating to Martin City was not her choice; her partner Margaret’s parents passing, Martin City locals, was the catalyst that found Cynthia in this not-so-familiar location.
“Margaret and I had discussed moving out of the urban sprawl; we just did not realize it would happen so fast or could have ever imagined the events that would bring us here,” Cynthia stated in a recent interview.
“The sudden and tragic passing of my wife’s parents undoubtedly tore at all our being. She (Margaret) felt that it would be a benefit to return to Martin City, to find closure.”
She continued in the interview to discuss how the couple fell in love with the area and community.
“At first, I was leery of being an openly married lesbian couple.” However, she explains that soon that apprehension subsided, and the couple felt right at home.
“It felt like we belonged, and as soon as the teaching position opened up at the middle school school, I truly felt that this was the best decision we had ever made.”
Cynthia proved to be an excellent teacher, and her students and the community’s response to her were highly positive.
“We were ecstatic to have her on board.” exclaimed the principal of Martin City Middle School, Douglas Chase Elms. “We all loved her from the first day. I will confess that I was apprehensive, with regards to Cynthia and Margaret’s inclusion, but will admit that all openly welcomed the couple.”
While the personal choices of the couple might not have created a ripple in the community, Cynthia’s classroom procedures would soon prove to be a bit much.
“Teachers, myself included, create groups in the classroom. These groups could be for an activity, a game, or specialized instruction. Teachers sometimes count off the students or draw straws; there are countless ways to create in class groups.”
“I wanted this group creation to mean something, to teach something. So I began grouping children by LGBT?.” She states with pride.
“It was solely an attempt at classroom organization. My tables were labeled L, G, B, T, and ?.”
Cynthia admits, “I wanted to start a discussion; I wanted to be a conduit of progressive ideas.”
She confesses that this confused the children at first, and her students asked many questions. “Similar to other topics people truly don’t understand, after the knowledge is in place, the silliness and bias fade away.”
The children did have questions.
“I would address each question with honesty and remained non-biased in my answers; soon, the students found this grouping not odd but part of the classroom sphere. In only a couple of days, it was another part of their vast, diverse world.
The students soon understood that members of the L, G, B, Q,? community was no different than them, individuals who loved and learned, achieved and supported each other with dignity and respect.”
“I knew I could use this opportunity to increase the students understanding and knowledge about their peers, themselves, and with the world outside of Martin City.”
Her classroom actions soon found their way to the public forum.
“Synthia, initially, was not transparent,” Elms stated, “but once the stakeholders witnessed the results, we understood her motives, we were sold on her plan.
“She took and opportunity, what could have been an empty moment in her classroom, and turned it into a valuable lesson.” Elms proudly admits.
Elms stated, “We have all grown since Cynthia has arrived and allowed us to find that labels we were ignorant to what these labels represented, that we, as a campus limited ourselves with our ignorance.”
Cynthia admits that her rouge behavior was out of place in such a conservative campus but went on to say, “It is not for every teacher, campus, or district, but I knew, in my heart, that Martin City was ready to grow and understand others.”
“I had no idea how much support I would receive from my peers and parents. An overwhelming feeling of tolerance permeates on the campus; this feeling finding its way into the children’s homes and soon to the town at large.
Currently, her ideas are gaining national attention.
“I am getting email daily from other teachers and administrators who would like to find ways to teach acceptance and tolerance on their campuses; I am humbled to have created a ripple that I hope soon will become a wave.”
The Blues + Van Gogh = Everything you know.
I top off the tank under the watchful eye of a fellow pumper. Like every other station in every other town along every other road, that one person is always there, always ready to start that conversation, “I had a Harley.”
“Oh yeah?” I respond.
“’85 FXSB,” he states.
“Damn,” I reply.
“My buddy and I went coast to coast in ’88, over 4000 miles in two weeks.”
“Really, that’s wild.”
Securing the gas cap, I mount the machine and switch the ignition to on.
“Where you headed?” he asks.
He shifts his head and furrows his brow – “What the hell is in Mississippi?”
I hit the starter and allow the bike to help bring an end to the conversation; with a raised voice, I proclaim – “Spirit!”
I rumble down the road, east out of the hills of Arkansas, looking to find my way across the Mississippi River and into the lowlands of the Delta, with his question still in my mind.
What the hell is in Mississippi?
I believe that a spirit exists in Mississippi. A nonlinear spirit whose growth, like a plant, weaves and meanders in pursuit to find its sustenance, a spirit that accepts that we are of a single existence and our expression is pure when delivered without pretense.
I believe that that spirit exists in the Blues. A dissonant, inharmonious combination of rhythms and harmonies that, born from experiences deeper than my own, create a purer tonal expression.
But that is just my opinion, and who am I to talk about the Blues –
My life is linear.
Currently, right angles make up my order. Straight lines build my home, my relationships, my future. I am comforted by the order or the right angle. It maintains my uninspired infrastructure and keeps well-planned progress moving along.
I exit Arkansas by traversing the mighty river on highway 49.
The Helena Bridge spans nearly a mile and towers high above the water. Since 1961, its rigidness and strength have stood against the power of the current.
Impressive, but its form is soulless in its rivets, iron, and angles.
My destination is Clarksdale, MS. Known by some as the epicenter of the Blues, a town that lays claim to the Crossroads, the mythical intersection where Robert Jonhson sold his soul for a guitar tuning.
I enter into Mississippi, flanked by the fertile lowlands of the Delta and the random casino resort.
Clumps of trees divide the fields.
My machine rumbles, disturbing the peace and tranquility of emptiness; I ponder nonlinear expression in language and art.
An inspiration that is born from a tree’s random pathway of growth creating beauty that poets write about and an artist paints.
Without nerves or muscles, the tree pulls toward the sun, tearing through rock and twisting its form into a joyous tangled mess of life, unique and celebrated.
“I think that I shall never see – A poem as lovely as a tree” – Kilmer wrote.
Van Gogh’s Olive Trees, whose branches pitch dissident into the Yellow Sky, while those with the Alpilles in the Background curve softly, express years of emotion beset by a nonlinear life.
Do straight lines lead to an artist’s success, spiritual success, or is true and pure expression born from chaos?
Was Van Gogh’s style crude, Kilmer too simple, or the Blues not real music?
Or as Whitman stated, the “clearest expression is that which finds no sphere worthy of itself and makes one”
What expressions make the greatest impact or leaves a lasting impression of influence?
Are the Blues the equivalent to Van Gogh?
Blues music, a nonlinear expression, created from inspiration and emotion, not just the systematic and safe practices of major, minor, and modal scale?
Vincent, an artist, self-taught painting from the soul creating abstract that stirs the spirit, was rouge in his expression but subsequently inspired the world after his death.
Robert Johnson, a blues guitarist whose music and presents, arguably, allowed the world to experience the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin, expressed his emotions through the rouge music known as the Blues.
Is Robert Johnson as large of a contributor to the world of art as Van Gogh?
In Clarksdale, I secure my lodging in a shack on the main grounds of The Shack Up Inn. The Shack Up Inn is a collection of unique and eclectic lodgings, holding true to my nonlinear expectations.
My temporary home is the Pine Top shack named after the legendary blues piano man Pine Top Perkins, an individual who knew Robert Johnson and had a left hand that would “roll like thunder.”
An upright piano sits in the corner of the shack in desperate need of a visit to the crossroads.
Clarksdale, Mississippi, ground zero for the blues; I bum around the town and find only a few open joints on this weeknight.
The blues are alive, and I spend a few minutes and dollars on seeing Ike Turner’s cousin’s band play.
A make-shift stage and folding tables transform the abandoned store into a live music venue, and it could not have been more perfect.
Rain begins to fall, and I head back to the shack. Soft rain and road spray wick through my jean and into my boots. The road is dark on the way back to Pine Top’s shack; the shack is darker.
I sit on the porch and look intensely through the rusted screen. The clouds give way, and the rain subsides as my eyes look beyond the field and into the dark foreboding shadows of the trees.
Kilmer used his pen and Van Gogh his brush; those who called the Delta home used their voices.
The music was the medium. The inspiration was the world. The world is the spirit.
The Mississippi morning air is thick and heats up quickly as I top off my tank.
Securing the cap, a gentleman approaches me.
“Nice bike; I had a Harley once.”
“02 Sportster,” he states.
“Damn,” I reply.