Poetry: The Fire Down Below

The miserable hot last days of summer
back in sixty-four, back at basic, back
before when in green uniform we all wore
black polished brogans, the boots of
airmen basics who were third-class to be
who walked and marched so perfectly in step
to the deep voice and beat of Jody calls
of some long forgotten TI keeping pace,
and cadence with forward; yer left, right,
aeyyepp, heft, leey-eft, sing-it – Basic!

Long ill-fit pants and button starched
shirts and hard desert pith helmets
moving and drilling into hot sticky
sweat dripped-on drill-pad black tar
as rainbows watched and wished
and wondered as we did it with smooth
cool rhythms and rhymes marches
on without red-flag days with a pill of salt
‘smoke ‘em if ya’ got ‘em cigs in socks’
breaks; then drill, drill, drill old rock and roll.

The soft rumble of boots on feet make
the beat of quiet cadence on walk or road,
‘There she was just a-walkin’ down the street’
dress right-dress, road guards out – troops
always marching, walking not talking no-
thinking waiting for me was mo’ kay-pee, not
some “Do wah diddy diddy dum diddy do,”
just hot sweat; sun turning boys to beets
in boxers where scalded butts and balls felt
the pain of the bloody red crotch-rot grow.

Every step became a new miserable pain,
working KP was to waddle legs spread,
just do and do well, never complain,
Save me sergeant from this misery below
down south will never again be all the same,
to march and to walk, maybe to never again go.
Cookie, gimme some nice corn starch, a powder
to bring calm love and peace of thee unto me,
to my family jays, my centering soul,
ending for another day, the fire down below.

Back in the Day

Look both ways, but looking back may be best.
Mind the gaps and smoke ’em if ya got ’em.

My Rookie Year

 

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On March 20, 2016, I published my first blog. The person who taught me the basics has a few names, but she blogs here. She encouraged us to take the A-to-Z blog challenge which kicked off about 12 days later. For 26 of the 30 days of April, I wrote and posted blogs six of every seven days. Every day I was trying to learn to use WordPress, pick a theme, and so much more. It was a ‘drinking from the fire hose’ experience, but I learned quickly.

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I was also supposed to be dealing with beta reads of my 2015 novel, Crew Dogs. That book has been stored on a cool dry bookshelf since I got my last beta feedback from Tara in August.

Many thanks for the advice and encouragement, especially from fellow Crew Dog, Maddox, who read the book through the eyes of a participant and witness to the time, place, events, and people – thanks to everyone. During the year, if I get to where I can allow the memoir time to steep, I want to rewrite Crew Dogs as an autobiographical novel in first person. The story’s there, but I want to work with the plot to make it more visible and clean up some parts. I’ve picked up so many great hints from Cathy Yardley and I hope to apply her advice.

end-of-2016-5Thanks to Tara for teaching me to blog. I am also grateful to my classmate, friend, fellow writer, and blogger, Sue, for suggesting topics and improvements. Sue’s uplifting and spiritually positive blog, An Artist’s Path, is here.

Thanks also to the many other wonderful people who gave me feedback, comments, and encouragement regarding my blog. It was nice for this rookie to hear, “You’re good at that.”

My problem right now is that I’m still suffering whiplash from writing my memoir. I’ll need many months to get that project out of the ass-wipe stage of an early draft.

I wanna give special thanks to my editor and wife, Yolonda. For over 50 years she has read my dribble, typed more than few papers, and simultaneously corrected my atrocious spelling and borderline grammar. She sees these posts before anyone else and patiently cleans up my mess. The only errors you see are the ones I add after she proof reads.

My limitation last April was that I wouldn’t blog about politics or religion. But by June, I was beginning to talk about atheism. As it turned out, the best liked four of my 89 blog posts addressed that subject. The fifth was about aging. I published the most popular post on September 6th, “Respect, Tolerance, and Silence” (read it here).

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Ironically, my first post, “Bloom Later,” (read here) was about memoir. After long consideration, I finally started writing one seven months later. Recently, I’ve published several more posts about that work in semi-progress.

My rooky year was enlightening. I’ve discovered what kind of writing I like to do. In 2017, I want to return to posting twice a week. Finding topic ideas is difficult, so if you have suggestions, let me know.

In January, I’ll return to my Creative Writing group/class. That group may help a bit with topics because Doris, our teacher/facilitator, will provide an essay topic each week. What is interesting about that bunch is our ‘maturity.’ As one of the younger participants, I’m amazed by how skillfully these folks can craft a story and write it well, far into their senior years.

end-of-2016-4When I meet with the SnoValley  Writes writer’s group each Friday, I’m alert for ideas. I have a few stashed somewhere. While they’re not exactly in my lane, they’re not off limits either.

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions, but I have a few goals for 2017. I want to keep learning how to be a better writer.

In addition to my writing groups, I’ll keep blogging. I want to return to writing my memoir, working on it most days. In April, I’d like to do the A-to-Z blog challenge again. In July, I am considering attending the Pacific Northwest Writers Conference in Seattle.

I don’t even wanna think about the fact that I volunteered to be president of my homeowners association for the next two years, but there’s that. Arg!

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My wish is for 2017 to bring us each more happiness than we need, gratitude for all the good stuff, and the good health to enjoy life. May we have the strength to deal with the challenges of 2017.

Happy New Year!
Keep your hands on the grips and your eyes on the road, but keep lookin’ both ways and mind the gaps.

 

Passionate Disbelief: A Testament to Effort

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It may be just another from there-to-here story, but it is mine.

Officially, I haven’t written in my memoir for about two weeks. Sure, I typed over 50-thousand words for Nano in November, but so what? This isn’t just the telling of any story, it’s the recording of a part of my life. That first whack during Nano (something less than a 1st draft) is like putting primer on the wall before painting or prepping a canvas.

When I tried to make an outline, I ended up with a list of events somewhat out of order. Each time I had a memory or an idea, I quickly added it to the list. I now have a list of 165 items, memories, or events. There are a few duplicates, some ideas aren’t useable, and for some I still have no idea what I was thinking about or why I added it to the list.

I’ve glossed over a few how to write a memoir books. Now I’m slowly reading Your Life as Story by Tristine Rainer. I just finished Writing is My Drink, a memoir by Theo Pauline Nestor. Giving all this thought to autobiographical writing has enlightened me that I prefer non-fiction to fiction. I prefer autobiography to biography, and specifically memoirs. I like history. In fiction, I prefer real life/real world stories to Sci-Fi or fantasy. It’s complicated. I like them all. Anything done well is better than my favorite genre not so well done.

I’m even considering changing last year’s novel to an autobiographical novel, and rewriting it from third to first person. But that’s for later. For now, I want to keep working on this memoir. While I’ve not recently written much in it, I have been working on it. Organizing both it and meh-self has taken a bit of time.

About 80% of my writing is rewriting, and if you know how Nano goes (thou shalt not edit), that effort will require mooch-o rework. It’ll keep me off the streets, out of the bars, and out of most trouble for a while. I enjoy rewriting, editing, correcting, and improving my own work more than writing the first draft. Maybe that’s cuz I don’t have to create (think) and spell simultaneously.

Writers get it.
Writers get it.

I’ll be right here, in my 11×11 spare room. This is my work-space, set up with folding tables that I can take down to turn it back into a bedroom when we have visitors. While I sometimes find other locations to write, I prefer this one. I got all meh stuff around me. And look at these post-it notes behind me. Each one has one or more of the topics contained in my memoir. Those written in pink or orange highlighter are yet to be written. It’s how I’m organizing the thing until I learn Scribner.

A memoir of post it notes
A memoir of post it notes

Below is my view from the chair at my computer. The sock monkey on top is the kind that rolls around and laughs, in case I need a lift, or someone walks in here and asks me what I’m doing. A couple of windows to my right provide an uninspiring view of my neighbor’s rooftop. But I want to know when it’s raining — pluviophile, remember?

The view from my writing nest
The view from my writing nest

Here is a little snippet from my memoir. I was 17, would soon graduate from high school, and was Air Force bound in a few months. Shirley was my sister and Danny’s meh big brudder.

As a senior in high school, my guide and advisor regarding entrance into the military was Shirley’s husband, Jack M. This hard-core, active-duty, career Marine gave me all the advice he could – more than I could assimilate. Jack was a highly decorated First Sergeant (Sergeant Major to be) and a veteran of both WWII and Korea. He would later complete two tours in Viet Nam, and he would resent being denied a third.

Sergeant Major M. was a true warrior. He was the guy you want on your side in a fight, but not necessarily the man you wanted in any situation requiring sensitivity, grace, or political correctness. Despite this, Jack was a boisterous and friendly Italian-American from Ohio who seemed to be liked by everyone.

Jack and Shirley were both Catholics, but were married by a Justice of the Peace because Jack was divorced. Eventually they were married into to the good graces of the Church, which seems strange because they never practiced their religion, or if they did, not for long.

One day Jack and I were browsing through a hardware store so he could tell me what to buy and what was good stuff. This was back when hardware stores had everything or knew where to get it.

Jack pointed at some hunting knives in a case, “Yer gunna want a good knife. Your own. Not too long, but you want good balance, feel, and steel that won’t break on bone. In the Marine Corps, everyone has a knife.”

I looked at him, “Jack, do you think I should join the Marine Corps and not the Air Force? It’s not too late to change.”

“Oh Jesus, no. First off, yer Mom would hate me, if not kill me. But I gotta tell ya, Billy. Yer Air Force material. The Marine Corps don’t work out fer kids like you. Shit, the Marine Corps is not for you.”

Jack was right. The Corps had not worked out well for Danny. Why would it for me?

Jack picked up a knife and pointed it at me. “But, this knife here looks like a good one. It’s Solingen steel and I can tell ya, the Krauts make good stuff like this. Feel it and see how it fits ya. How’s the balance?”

Jack bought the knife as a gift for me. It had a straight, one-inch wide, thick steel blade. The handle was black plastic inlaid with a red and white diamond symbol, and a black metal sheath. I soon realized that Marines have many more good uses for knives than Airmen do.

Note: My Air Force career spanned over 45 years; 22 active duty, the rest civilian. In my last job before retirement, I worked on Eglin Air Force Base for a Marine Corps Colonel. I enjoyed telling him this story.

Only you can tell your story.
Just mind the gaps and look both ways.

Nano Rebel – Almost Half Way

memoir-into3I love this memoir or autobiography thingy. Like so much of writing, it’s a pain in the ass and a fantastic experience. This has been a busy week for me, as in doing other things besides writing. Of course, bless their hearts, nothing is harder than dealing with the idiots and morons. But dang! We had an election that shook me to my core – more than politics or other elections have in my lifetime.

Boring PresentationOn Wednesday, I went to a meeting that took too long and annoyed me – don’t they all?

I’ve managed to stay on pace to meet my Nano word count goal, but this week was not as productive as last week. I’m finding that I need to do a lot of research, too much thinking, and much trying to remember details of events I stopped caring about long ago.

Friday morning, I attended a write-in with the SnoValley group. After getting only four sentences written in the first hour, I gave up on a productive morning. Despite repeated comments from Alex that he would not talk politics, I returned from a break to a hot and heavy discussion relating to the political events of the week. Since I’ve been trying to contain my anger, it was not long before I was in rant mode. More wasted time venting, and less productive time writing.

I had one other event on that day, thus Friday was my lowest word count day since Nano launched. I was told that the Friday group wrote more during Nano. ‘twas not so on Veteran’s Day.

Another adventure this week was attending a session on memoir sponsored by the Pacific Northwest Writers Association (PNWA) It was facilitated by Theo Pauline Nestor, a memoirist and author of Writing is My Drink. The class was a productive learning experience for me and I wanted more. It was too short, even though it went a little overtime. From what I learned in that class, I decided to write an Intro to my memoir. Here’s part of it.

Introduction to Passionate Disbelief (Partial)

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To believe, or not to believe? Is that the question? Is it better to suffer with my beliefs as I am told? What good does any of it do? Do I stand behind my beliefs, unpopular or not? Would I be a martyr to my causes and die for my beliefs? Is it possible for me to decide for myself what to believe? If I am to believe anything, do I have the right to demand evidence or proof first?

What do I believe? How did I come to my beliefs? Do we have a complete free will to decide what we believe, or are we programmed? Do genetics play a role? How much does my culture and past life determine what I believe today?

I dislike being asked why. It makes me think and I’m too lazy for thinking.

And yet.

Why? is the best question there is. As children, we ask why repeatedly. As parents, we provide answers to our children, eventually saying, “Cuz I’m (Mom, Dad, your boss), that’s why.” Sometimes we answer why with whatever, just because, it is what it is, why not, the bible tells me so, and my personal favorites, who cares, and I don’t know.

When I was that quality assurance guy, I liked using five whys to determine root causes to problems. It is simply asking why repeatedly for five times, as any three-year old might.

Can I have both an open mind and firm convictions? Is it possible for me tell you why I believe (or don’t) something without trying to convince you that I’m right and you’re wrong? We can both be wrong, but can we both be right?

So many questions. So few answers. Terry Tempest Williams has agreed that her writing is in response to questions (cited in an interview with Scott London on The Politics of Place). She went on to mention Rainer Maria Rilke, who described how questions move us.

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” (From Letters to a Young Poet, 1929)

Exploring my spiritual past is like reverse engineering, or tracing the specific coding that, to some degree, contributed to my conclusions years later. For many questions, I may have followed Rilke and lived into the answer.

memoir-into5Wonder why? Carefully look both ways and mind the gap.