When It’s a Mere Story (fake, fake, true)

It is a story, a fib, a lie (if you like). I prefer reading and writing nonfiction (reality), but like any writer, I sometimes make things up and present them as literature. They also surface as fiction or reflections of imagination in my poems.

In my writer’s tool box are words, ideas, experience, knowledge, limited imagination, and scant creativity (I know where to get it), technology (a long list of software and hardware goes here), language, and some ability to read and write. Admitting my shortcomings as a journeyman of letters, I consider every editor I know to be a (god or goddess) helpful resource along with a multitude of other writers, authors, and critics.

I like to work with parable, symbolism, simile, metaphor, allegory and allusion, analogy, and soliloquy in poems and essays. I am talking about verisimilitude (all 14 letters and six syllables), or the appearance of reality or truth. I found that word on a list as I researched this piece.

When it’s not biographical and is just a story, it gets tricky. It’s not the writing. It’s what (WTF) am I talking about? Fiction resides in reality and truth. Fact can likewise be disguised in fiction. Names, dates, situations, and persons are often fictionalized in truth.

I know twins (grandparents) who, as children, were both present at a memorable and emotional family event. They both remember it well. However, when they discuss it, each has a different version of the same event, even though they stood side-by-side as eyewitnesses. Each is telling the truth, but how each one saw it and remembers it is different.

One of my favorite authors is Pat Conroy. Pat wrote autobiographical fiction. His stories were based on his real life: his family, people he knew and loved, his schools, his job as a teacher, and other real events. Indeed, his fiction was based (often heavily) on real life.

Conroy paid a high price in several ways. A lot of people got mad at him. Some fellow writers looked down on his creativity (or lack of) in using real world events and people to write fiction. I like the ties to the real. But that does not mean there was always such an entwinement. Other autobiographical fiction writers include Tim O’Brien, Sylvia Plath, Sandra Cisneros, and many others.

Sometimes I make up a story from a thought or memory, but the reality is only a setting or a trigger. It is not necessarily autobiographical or about current real-life circumstances. It is not a message to someone, not a plot applicable to my personal life, not real at all. Many people assume it is. However, sometimes (often?) it is all of that.

I like the ‘how-to’ memoir book by Tristine Rainer, “Your Life as Story: Discovering the ‘New Autobiography’ and Writing Memoir as Literature.” While one should never intentionally lie (fib?), it may be necessary to fill gaps in events with things that may not be exactly precise, true, and factual.

I have been told that every writer (artist or person) puts part of him- or herself into everything he or she writes. I agree. Still, not everything I write is real, or happened, or is about any real person. It may be about how I feel or what I experience emotionally.

Indeed, it was or is true or partly true, or the true facts as I recall them. Often, for me, my writing is a search for myself – for my truth, my honesty, my story, my interpretation of actual events. Maybe it’s just psycho-babble, but writing seems to be part of me trying to say something about me. I’ve written a memoir. It is unfinished, but I will get back to it.

I wrote a poem about a door. A suggested title was ‘An Ode to Agoraphobia.’ While the poem was not intended to be about any mental condition, after I wrote it, I realized it was clearly about fear of going out into the world. I’ve never had such a fear. When I researched possible submissions, I discovered that some publications only wanted it if I suffered from the malady. I ain’t sayin’ I do when I don’t.

The mag’s policy made sense technically, but it was a true poem about a real emotional or mental state that I can only imagine. I’ve written stories about men committing suicide and people doing all sorts of things I never have or will do. Human behavior, bizarre or normal, is interesting. Fiction and nonfiction rely on interest.

The catch is that when people assume what I write is directly associated with my life, they’re usually correct. People who know me personally would certainly assume autobiographical or nonfictional writing, especially other writers. They know how I work. However, sometimes it is just my overactive Irish blarney oozing onto the page with a bit of imagination peppered with fib to improve the taste.

And that, my dear friends, is the absolute truth.

Look both ways in fact and fiction.
Let reality peek into the gaps of light in everything.

Essay: Thanklessness

Gratitude

Some say it’s the least felt of human emotions. That may be. It seems to be the feeling least written about from a mental health professional perspective. And yet, I’ve read that grateful people are happy people. Are they happy because they’re grateful, or vice versa? I should know because I consider myself one of them.

I am uneasy when people thank me for my military service. While there were days I would not want to repeat; some of those memories are among my best. It was my career – my profession. If people were silently grateful, I’d manage. I used to humbly balk at such comments, but I soon learned to say thank you and move on.

I was walking down a street in Crystal City, VA (just outside of Washington, D.C) with a US Marine Corps colonel. We were headed for a meeting. He was in his uniform, but I wore civilian clothes. As we were waiting to cross the street, an attractive young lady walked up and shook his hand as she thanked him for his service.

After she left, he said, “Since being married, I no longer know how to handle situations like that.”

I replied, “Next time, introduce your Air Force friend and I will take it from there.”

The value of gratitude to our overall mental health is well known. I know of no self-help book that suggests being thankless. Everything from gratitude lists to National Holidays inspire us to be reflective of those things and people we feel have improved our lives.

A Memory

My favorite gratitude story involves the son of my wife’s sister. She had six boys, of which Scott was the youngest. Whenever we visited his family, I would find time to play with Scott. Be it baseball, football, basketball, or some other similar endeavor, Scott and I interacted and played – just the two of us. It never occurred to me, as the youngest boy, Scott’s five older brothers had better things to do. And his father, a borderline workaholic, had been worn down by the first five boys.

Eventually, Scott grew up, got married, and graduated from Texas University. He and Sarah had two lovely daughters. I enjoyed my time with him and never gave it another thought after we had both moved on with life.

Scott matured into a handsome, well-liked, and friendly man. Everyone liked him, despite his reputation as a clever prankster.

On a visit with Scott and his family, he asked to speak with me alone. After we retreated to a private area, he said, “I want to thank you for all those times you played ball with me when I was a kid. No one else did that and I have never forgotten. It meant a lot to me. Thank you.”

By being me and playing with some kid, I created memories for him. Now, my memory is of his expression of gratitude. Within a year, Scott had died of a congenital heart problem. When I learned of that, my first thought was of our chat.

‘Thankless’ Employment

I’ve had some experiences with work-type situations some people call “thankless jobs.” While I understand what they mean, I can never get my brain around what a ‘thankless’ job is.

As an additional part of my real job, I once volunteered to be a Facility Manager for a large building where several hundred people worked. I was paid nothing extra.

A few months into the building job (which my wife titled Permanent Latrine Orderly [PLO], from the movie No Time for Sergeants), I realized that all my voice mail messages were either new problems, or comments about on-going issues related to the building, not my real job. I liked the challenges and the idea that my efforts made a better place for people to work for nine hours or more each day.

I also enjoyed the times people expressed their gratitude to me for doing such a ‘thankless’ job. Even with that irony, I also liked when people sent emails to my boss telling him how much they appreciated what I did. He let me know. One day he introduced me to some visiting VIP as his Facility Manager rather than my real job title. Was that a slip-up, or was it because he most appreciated my building caretaker duties? Thankless? I think not!

Thankfully Happy Few

I admit, as Harvey McKay titled a chapter in How to Swim with the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive, gratitude is (or may be) ‘the least felt of all human emotions.’ But I also know when we think about it, we are usually grateful.

It’s not a perfect world. We have a fair share of ingrates and thankless souls wandering around. But thankless is the other side of what we ought to be, and most of us seem to know it.

I further admit knowing some who fear happiness. They are normal when complaining or worrying. In those cases, we either simply wait for it, or we speed things up by asking, “How are you doing?”

Their answer is, “Well, let me tell you about it….”

There’s nothing wrong with having an attitude of gratitude and it may even lead to a healthier and happier life. Yet, I’ve known some very happy, but cantankerous old farts who relish the chip on their shoulder. Good for them.

The only thankless jobs are the ones we don’t want. People have been treated for long term depression, only to find relief with a job change. It happens.

And the only thankless people are the poor souls who may be struggling with their own sorrows, problems, or demons.

And isn’t happiness what we ultimately want? I think so.

©Bill Reynolds 11/26/2018

Look both ways for health and happiness. Mind the gaps. They may harbor traps.

Poetry: Ich hatt’ Alte Kameraden

 

Goodbye my old friends. You’ll be missed.
But we have no ways to keep you all
held together. Your time has passed.

We all get old. If we’re lucky, we live
purpose driven lives of building memories. Yet,
wear and tear take an unrecoverable toll.

For so many years, you’ve held it together for me.
All nights and all days, when I called, you provided
me with comfort, support, and security.

You took beatings on hot days, the soakings
of untold rain and freezing weather in three states,
absorbing blows and poundings meant for me.

You guided my way on many paths of life,
through dust or mud, up ragged hills, through raging
flood waters of life, you gave your self for me.

Now your hollow dismembered carcass must go.
Leaving only podophilic memories for soles
to recall in gratitude for your long support.

We have harvested your organs, internal and external,
hoping to preserve your memory and to provide
transplants for younger, stronger soles soon to follow.

Were we a military unit, we would give you a medal
for valor and service. Governments would give you
citations for long dedicated self-sacrifice.

Thank you for your service. Old sneakers never die.
They just wear away in a soft squeaky whimper.
My feet, toes, and ankles salute you both: Comrades!

(21 foot-stomp salute!)

Bill Reynolds 10/18/18

Run through the jungle looking both ways and minding foot gaps, slips, and trips.

Song Lyric Sunday – Found

Helen’s song lyric prompt for today is find or found.

Hanging out with teenage friends at Lombardelli’s Pizza place back in the day, I recall Richie Cramer tormenting his girl friend at the time by singing this song. But Richie changed some of the lyrics to her name, Rita Hill. I found my thrill on Rita Hill.

The original Fats Domino song, indeed a sad lost-love song to an unnamed person, addressed a place: Blueberry Hill, where Fats found his thrill.

A founding original artist of R&R or R&B, and a 1950s icon, Fats died a year ago this month at 89 rockin’ years young.

Blueberry Hill

Fats Domino

I found my thrill
On Blueberry Hill
On Blueberry Hill
When I found you

The moon stood still
On Blueberry Hill
And lingered until
My dream came true

The wind in the willow played
Love’s sweet melody
But all of those vows you made
Were never to be

Though we’re apart
You’re part of me still
For you were my thrill
On Blueberry Hill

The wind in the willow played
Love’s sweet melody
But all of those vows you made
Were never to be

Though we’re apart
You’re part of me still
For you were my thrill
On Blueberry Hill

(Songwriters: A. Lewis / Larry Stock / V. Rose)

The video, a 2007 rendition of the song by Elton John, adds timelessness to this memorable oldy tune.

 

Look both ways and mind the gap on Sad Song Hill.

If ya wanna play SLS, here’s the link:
https://helenswordsoflife.com/2018/10/06/song-lyric-sunday-theme-for-10-7-18/

 

 

 

 

Essay: God do what?

While I say I don’t pray, I kind of do – accidentally. A believer might consider my praying to be blasphemy, but so is embracing atheism or agnosticism. As with so many words, blasphemy is only a thing if god exists (like sin), and it is only bad if you happen to believe in god (Satanists not withstanding).
No god = no blasphemy, no sin, no hell – make sense?

I have a few old habits and knee jerk reactions I’ve tried to shed without success. Two phrases I use too often are God damnit! and God bless you. In both cases, I am apparently invoking the supernatural to my wishes. But since intent matters, in the case of god damning, few of us mean it. In the blessing case, it is an old version of universal well-wishing when people coughed or sneezed. It goes back to the bubonic plague days in Europe. How well did that work?

Since I speak fluent profanity, I don’t blurt out the damning one very often. I’ve always been more of an f- or s-word guy. Yet, if someone near me sneezes, I usually have god blessed them before their next breath or sneeze. I’ve been doing that most of my life. When I don’t say something, I feel like an ass. I need to use gesundheit or one of the other secular phrases from around the world, of which there are many. This sounds like fun.

‘Thank you for covering your mouth and I wish you good health. Live long and prosper.’ (Vulcan Salute)

I used to pray often and for many people, but I didn’t pray for everything. I didn’t pray for rain to start or stop, or for any other change to the weather. I never prayed for bad events, personal wealth, or my own health. I don’t know why, but all that seems in bad taste. Likewise, I would never have prayed for anything bad to happen to any other person, unless you count the god-damning of nouns.

I carried a notebook where I kept notes of who to pray for and why. Seriously. People would ask me to pray for them or for some other person. If I didn’t write it down, I’d forget. Weekly, I would go late at night to a chapel room at our church for what is called perpetual adoration, and there I’d pray in the actual presence of the body and blood of JC (Holy Eucharist). That’s why it was there.

God was literally several feet away in a gold sunburst thingy called a monstrance, behind a tiny piece of glass, in the ‘actual’ form of the body and blood of Christ. He and I were alone most of the time. If what the Church proffered was true, I prayed a lot of folks straight to heaven – big IF. That was then. I still carry a notebook, but not for the same reason.

I’ve often prayed for dead people. That is customary for Catholics. Most Catholic parishes have a Book of the Dead which contains the names of the deceased loved ones we prayed for on All Souls Day (November 1st). It’s called praying for the ‘repose of the soul of’ the people we assumed might be in Purgatory; not in heaven yet. That’s how they say it. The repose part was to get them to heaven. A good thing, right? Just an odd way to say it.

Yep. Praying for other people, especially dead ones, was my favorite. Most of my other praying was reading (often aloud) from prayer books; prayers of adoration, love, or general holy stuff. I had my favorites and I still like what some prayers say. Like this poem by Mary Oliver:

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?

— From “The summer day”;
New and Selected Poems 1992

I am sure that many protestants thought the real presence deal was bull shit. Maybe they were envious. The last time I prayed and was serious about it was about nine years ago.

When people say they will pray for me, I am unsure how to gratefully and gracefully decline the offer. I was diagnosed with cancer. People unaware of my atheism would offer to pray for me. If I requested a pass, they ignored me. So, I just said thank you and moved on.

Some who know of my unbelief would offer to pray, but then would backtrack. I would thank them and explain I understood the intent. I used to pray. I know why people do it.

 Lori Arnold’s (McFarlane) memoir, The Last Petal Falling, talks of her experience regarding prayer. That helped me realize I should be more diligent to replace prayer with action, honest love, or the offer, how can I help?

I usually don’t care what others do. Read a book, contemplate their navel, drink scotch, listen to disco music, meditate, or pray. I think one of those is wasted time, but that’s for others to decide. It’s not my business. Even if others pray for me. It’s okay. If that’s their thing, have at it. However, there is one well-intended prayer I would adamantly decline, if asked.

I hope no one wastes their time praying that god forces me, or any atheist, back to religion. It’s hard to explain, but that’s insulting. It is asking their god to take away my free will. If someone believes in god, I accept that as their belief and I’m ok with that opinion. May they cheerfully return the acceptance.

This kind of ‘praying’ usually involves more famous atheists. For whatever reason and given all the dumb-shit stuff there is wrong in the world to pray for, or all the people who are in need, especially the children; why so many people find it necessary to pray that an atheist will come to the opposite conclusion is mind boggling. I understand why some may wish and hope for change for loved ones. But it is still wrong.

One of the most prayer-group-prayed-for persons in US history was the late Christopher Hitchens. He was a famous writer and atheist of celebrity status who often debated with religious people. These people needed to find something better to do with their time than to pray for atheists (agnostics, free thinkers, skeptics) to stop believing as we do. It is insulting and demeaning. I will personally never recant my atheism. Never. Ok, if god physically shows up, I will. But not due to prayers.

How would a believer feel if atheists prayed for them to apostatize? What if we asked their god to turn them into atheists? How would that sit? Admittedly, a believer would see it as a damning petition. In a way, when people pray for us to recant, it’s the same thing; that we’re damned to hell simply for what we think.

I have a right to believe what I think truth to be. It’s unnecessary for anyone to respect what I believe (or don’t), but at least in quid pro quo fashion, one should give the nod to my right to believe it. Praying to take away that right, or doing so in the practice of one’s religion, is an attempt to take away an inalienable freedom: my right to think.

Some religious folks have the piety to keep their religion to themselves, but too many don’t. In many cases, that would be against their religion. If they must do something, they should follow the many religious who do something useful. If one knocks on my door, I may ask them to read my tract and come over to my way of thinking. Many do.

Look both ways and allow others the dignity to do the same.
Think. It’s free and helpful if you don’t over do.
Mind the gaps.

Un-shunned, But Out

Several people suggested that my experience with religion may have moved me to embrace atheism. I don’t deny the experience. But, religion was not responsible for my conclusion that no gods exist.

I was born not knowing. Somebody told me there was a god and I trusted they knew what they were talking about. As a child, I ‘believed’ in god because I believed who told me. For shorter periods of time I also believed in Santa Clause and the tooth fairy. I was also convinced monsters existed even though no one told me they did. I never saw a god, Santa, or the tooth fairy. I was sure I saw the monsters, and some lived under my bed.

I was initially told that all these entities existed except for the monsters, but they were the only ones I reacted to and lost sleep over.

I was emphatically told by my parents that there were no monsters and no ghosts. I was agnostic about the ghosts, having seen Casper cartoons. But no monsters? Bull shit! I knew what I saw was real! I began to have doubts about parental honesty.

Eventually, I unwillingly figured out the deal with Santa and the tooth fairy. I also gave up on the monsters, or perhaps they tired of me. Maybe the tooth fairy turned them into dust bunnies.

I figured out the god thingy last, around age fourteen. I was never dumb enough to tell anyone, even friends, that I no longer was buying the eternal life package. My father was the type of Irish-Catholic coal miner who would have attempted to pound belief into me. Besides, the religion thing worked to my social advantage. I often wonder how many of us practice religion for some social advantage or for financial gain, but don’t buy it either.

When my Catholic parish learned that I was an active participant in the protestant Episcopal church down the street, it pissed them off. That pleased me. If I could in some way return the ‘love,’ my parish seemed to have toward me, I was all for that.

Not so much with my parents, who were more upset. Those poor folks had a real shit-head difficult lad to raise, so church was the least of their concerns. Yet, I heard my mother say, “It may not be Catholic, but at least he has a religion.” I did not. But, if she was accepting, I wasn’t going to change it.

The church down the street was a playground of youthful debauchery. I was one of several Catholic teens (boys and girls) who participated in their youth group. My motivation for participation was likely untoward and had nothing to do with religion or god. That was then.

Now, my overall philosophy is a moving target that even I find difficult to corral and define. So, I stole this idea of a three-legged stool from somewhere. One of the legs of the stool is god, which is why the damn thing keeps falling over. Any god or gods get to share one leg and no more. The leg is there, but it’s symbolic. You could call it atheism, but not exactly.

Religion, which I define as the rules regarding humans dealing with gods, is the second leg of the stool. Religion and god relate but are not the same. The religion leg casts an unfavorable shadow upon the god leg. As splintered and twisted as it is, religion exists.

While the non-existence of god is almost a neutral, unemotional, changeable conclusion that came to me from thoughts; my vehement enmity toward all religion, especially the known ‘organized’ faiths, is unwavering and continues to grow as I age and reflect upon what I see and know. If god were to appear before me right now and provide enough proof to roll any skeptic, I would morph to belief in a New York minute, but I would continue to detest religion.

This is where my atheism gets confused with my religious experience. My bitter feelings about religion stem from experience and knowledge. While I am accepting of religious folks and I extend kindness to most believers (and they to me), what they believe I tolerate but don’t respect.

Religious mumbo-jumbo has nothing to do with whether any gods exist. Yet, I remain open to the tiniest of possibilities that something may change my mind. However, throughout history, nothing has ever happened to any human that would convince me otherwise.

What most people seem to believe about god and how to relate or interact with that god is manmade. However, religion has a lot to do with how people act toward each other. Call it morality. Theoretically, that should be good. Historically and practically, it has been otherwise.

The third leg is my spiritual philosophy, which is influenced by the other two legs (no-gods exist, and bad religion). The three legs support the seat, which is my overall philosophy (of life, my world view, reason for…whatever). The analogy isn’t perfect but it works for now.

In a debate Rev Al Sharpton and Christopher Hitchens once struggled to find disagreement because Sharpton kept trying to debate the existence of god (which he admitted he couldn’t prove) while Hitch pointed to problems with scripture, evil, and religion (Hitch admitted he couldn’t prove the non-existence of god). Two separate topics that influence the third philosophical leg of my metaphorical stool.

Atheism is not a religion, a belief system, a philosophy, or anything other than an acceptance of one’s opinion that god might not exist, or probably doesn’t. Atheists have divergent views as do most human groups. Some atheists are nihilist. Most are not. A few atheists go to church. Most do not. Some atheists make room for unscientific things in their opinions and how they live. Others claim that such opinions are not those of true atheists.

It can be confusing. But can’t the same be said of believers? Since I was a child, I was told that TV preachers were nonsense. I still think so. Many believers agree with me. Many believers reject the idea of a virgin birth, others call that heresy. I could go on about divergent religious beliefs, even within a specific religion such as Roman Catholic, Shiite Muslim, or Mahayana Buddhist. Dare I add Southern Baptist or Mormon? But that’s not my point.

While many atheists say that reading scripture will lead to disbelief, I contend that not believing in god is a rational decision not based on religion, dogma, or scripture, even though any of that will support atheism once the no-gods conclusion is reached.

While I claim to be rationally atheist for logical reasons, I think I’m also intrinsically incapable of believing in god without very concrete proof. No religion or religious person; priest, pedophile, or persecutor drove me away from believing in god. I tried to believe. I just couldn’t. Now, I openly don’t. I’m as pleased with that as believers are who foresee their blissful eternity simply because they believe and nothing more. I’m okay with that.

Look both ways in life. Learn from the past. Plan for the future.
Mind the gaps for denial and confusion.

Friday’s Birthday Poems

Party Time at 5

Poem about a birthday

I remember, I remember, oh how
I was turning five and still alive
entering the world of kindergarten.
Grown-up, is what I was now.

Friends came with gifts
names and trinkets long forgotten,
we romped and played and we
yelled and screamed and gamed.

We played on and on into
the reality of life, that secret
so well kept that it was a time
of passage into an elementary world.

© Bill Reynolds 7/27/2018

 

72

I’m now seventy-two –
So, what’s it to you?
‘at depends I suppose
On where my life goes.

Think I’m set in my ways?
that it’s how I stays?
Well, I got news for ya,
I’m still learning, too.

To them’s who’s gone before meh,
I’m glad ya got to know meh.
For if it’s me yer comin’ after,
Drink one to the old bastard master.

© Bill Reynolds 7/27/2018

Again, to the past, look both ways and you’ll last.
Still mind the gap, lest you get an unwanted trip.