Ars longa, vita brevis

Ars longa, vita brevis.”  Anyone who has been writing seriously for any time at all would agree that the Greeks hit the mark imagesCAXME1FXon this one.  “Art is long.”  And, given all the inconsistencies, stumbling blocks, bad breaks … and the self doubt to which all else contribute while the writer is struggling to learn his art—indeed, “life is short.”

Perhaps in the heroic quest of safeguarding one’s own unique voice in the pursuit of his art by shunning writing courses or self-help manuals, the writer runs the risk of reinventing the wheel again and again and again until he finally runs out of precious time, or the flame of enthusiasm, which are one and the same. Continue reading “Ars longa, vita brevis”

CHRISTMAS CARD AND THE LIBRARY

Librarygift card

 

 

 

I went to the library today.  My son, David, works there.  I went there to deliver a Christmas card to him.  No need to go back and reread the sentence.  It was today.  It was a Christmas card.  There’s a story there.  I’ll tell it to you if you like.  That was not the intent of this blog, though—telling the story, I mean—but life is complex.  That’s why I don’t often write in simple sentences.  To meet life’s complexities head-on, and write about them, I often write in compound sentences, sometimes complex sentences.

But the story … okay: 

Last Christmas we gifted many of our loved ones cash or gift cards.  David was one.  We bought him a fifty-dollar movie gift card.  He loves movies and since they were going through a financial rough patch, this gave him an opportunity to go to a movie without feeling like he was taking food off the family table.

Not too long ago, my wife and I heard on the grapevine (actually, the grapevine was my other son, Joe, who also loves movies), that the brothers went to the Marketplace Theater where David pulled out his gift card to pay for his ticket.

The teenager in the booth ran it through the scanner and put her mouth to the hole in the glass:  “That’ll be nine-dollars and fifty cents,” she said, around her chewing gum.

David said, “Yeah, go ahead and use the card.”

“You used the card,” she said.  “Fifty cents worth.”

Of course he told her the card was for fifty dollars, to which she retorted, “No.  Fifty cents.”

David’s a pretty mildly tempered person, but he was getting a bit heated at this point.  “Why would anyone buy a gift card for fifty cents?  Do you even sell gift cards for fifty cents?”

“No,” she replied and popped her gum.

That happened sometime in January.  Joe told us about it, I believe, in May.  I don’t remember how it came up, but it was a rather oblique reference, as I recall.  It was probably, by agreement between the brothers, that we weren’t to hear about it at all, but it somehow just happened.

My wife and I talked about it.  I mean, it wasn’t our fault.  We paid for a fifty dollar gift card.  It was the movie theater’s fault.  Specifically, it was the fault of the person who sold us the card.  But it was David who had really lost out.

So, last night my wife dug out a Christmas card from the drawer.  At the bottom of the greeting she wrote, “Merry Christmas all over again,” and tucked in two twenties and a ten.

And, I took it to him today.

Well … that’s the story, but it’s not the blog post I had intended.

What I really wanted to tell you was this:  As I was walking across the library parking lot, clutching the Christmas card, I found myself flowing forward with a river of library patrons, most of whose arms were loaded down with books.  One backpack so filled with books that the wearer was forced to walk in an awkwardly erect posture, threatening to fall over backwards, which conjured up images of a turtle on his back, unable to right himself.  Children skipping, laughing out of sheer joy, screaming, well, because they were children; parents exhorting, “Now you remember you whisper when you go inside.”  A little boy talking in excited tones to his sister, ” … and I’m gonna get me a book about horses and I’ll ask mama if I …” and his thin voice blends in with, and is blanketed by, other voices and noises and celebration.

Difficult to pin down, hard to put your finger on … this community of festivity, this carnival of expectation; hope—the possible unwrapping of a mystery inside those walls, between the hard, musty covers of a book plucked randomly from one of the thousand of shelves, the voice in the book, that one voice that says with precision and certitude what you have been forever feeling, but thinking you were alone, and lonely, in the feeling of it.  But, here you find a friend, a confederate, a confidant, here—here in this book, taken from that shelf within the whispering walls of the Library.

And I am being swept along, thinking about this and almost trip over a young man, hoisting in his arms a mountainfalling books of books, one of which slides down the slope and while he bends to pick it up two more fall, and making a wild grasp for all of them the entire mountain collapses.

And I stop and help him.  I pick up a one volume Works of Balzac, a Strunk and White’s Elements of Style, and a paperback western novel.  He lifts a huge tome entitled the Essential Dictionary of Music Notation, and a few more paperbacks.  Enormous green eyes stare up at me through coke-bottle-lenses and he thanks me.

I continue on, thinking about all this and what it is urging me to remember.  And, then I do remember.  I remember something I had read, or seen on TV, or heard …something that was from a respected source that told us we were, mentally, becoming a nation of pablum ingestors.  We have lost our intellectual teeth and are growing incapable of thinking on our own.  A dangerous thought: other people thinking for us!  Books being replaced by television; outdoor activities by video games.

We’ve all heard the naysayers.

How many aspiring writers have given up in the face of such cultural inevitability?  I remember thinking back then, “What’s the bloody use in writing! Who will be there to read it, anyway?”

Today, with Christmas card in hand, caught in the flow and flood of this army of cultural dissenters, I hear and see, and, yes—I feel: the alphabet is hearty, the squiggles and squams of punctuation still function, words, almighty slippery, wriggling, palpitating words, still have meaning thanks to this army, thanks to this marvelous, beautiful army converging in to burst through the door and into the mystery world inside the whispering walls.

OFFICE REFLECTIONS (Waiting For the Ringing)

I can reflect back over thirty years sitting in this office, staring out across the parking lot at the traffic whizzing up and down Columbus Avenue, each car coming from someplace and going someplace else.  There was never anything personal or special or memorable about the occupants of those cars, and I’m sure if any one of them happened to glance over at my office, he would have found nothing particularly personal, special or memorable about its occupant either.  Had one’s eyes locked on mine at that precise moment he passed and if I just happened to lock my eyes on his at that same fragment-in-time—well that might have had all the potential of being a Hollywood moment!

But, over a quarter century that never happened.

Looking back, each year, and for that matter, each day of every year was pretty much like all the other days and years.

Across Columbus Avenue there used to be a two acre parcel of vacant tumbleweed-clogged land, endowed with its own special charm and populated with kit-foxes (which are an endangered species, and are a fineable and/or jail-able offence to even accidentally kill), and ground-squirrels, that anyone can kill and often does.  At the far end of the parcel are groves of dense, nameless trees.  Behind them is a stream, a tributary really, of the mighty Killer Kern River, riverso named because of the number of people who lose their life to it every summer, and where, up-river, at its most violently churning part, a sign is posted that reads: Stay Out/Stay Alive  But, alas!  They don’t.  And, they don’t.

In the interest of accuracy let me explain that from my chair you can’t actually see the tributary to the Mighty Killer Kern behind the groves of trees.  But, I know it’s there, just as I know it’s part of its mama, the Mighty Killer Kern, and, where, up-river there is a sign Stay Out/Stay Alive.  I know all that is there, even though I can’t see it from here—and I thought you might like to know it’s there, too—both what’s visible and what’s not.

Also, in the interest of further accuracy, I’ll add that from my chair—and, for that matter—from any chair from any office on this side of Columbus Avenue you can’t see the groves of trees, anymore, except what is allowed to peek from between the second and third of the four apartment buildings, and looking suspiciously like a clump of spinach wedged between teeth.

It all happened about seven months ago.  An enterprising Bakersfield soul, after the mayor cut a ribbon with a humungous pair of scissors, turned his men loose on the field to remove rocks and tumbleweeds, to relocate the kit-foxes and gas the holes of the ground squirrels.  Afterwards, they planted a brand new crop of apartment seeds in threeoffice to apartments 260 neat rows of four and over the months I watched them grow until they were fully ripe and ready to open up and harvest cash for the owner.

Please don’t think I am angry and protesting progress.  I’m just a writer who is trying to find a balance between clinging to the truth of his life while creating fresh and interesting ways to keep his readers awake and moving left-to right across the page.  In the course of doing this, I’d like to say I told the truth as I perceived it—although one piece of mistruth I’m blushing about is that the contractor’s men gassed the ground-squirrels.  I don’t know how they got rid of them, only that they were there in masses before.  I haven’t seen one in the last month.

You may wonder what difference any of this makes anyway: the cars, the fields, the trees, the hidden streams, and the Killer Kern, progress, the apartments and the mystery of the missing ground squirrels.  In the grand theme of life what is any of this but disjointed and uneventful subplot?

Subplot … I wonder myself.  Thirty years.  All subplot!

This—all you patient readers—is what I’ve been leading up to:

old man in chairIn three days I shall—while exhibiting as much drama as I can muster—turn off the lights for the last time.  Bill Cosby did it when his tenure ended.  Mary Tyler Moore did it at the end of hers.  Twenty-million people watched on TV as the room faded to black.

But, I shall be alone, flipping the switch.  And, it’s springtime here in California.  There will be no fade to black, or even gray.  The room will look the same with the switch down as up.

But, perhaps that’s as it should be.  No high drama.  Just subplot.

So, June 1st I shall be retiring from Allstate Insurance Company (By the way, the gentleman in the picture is not me.  We look much alike, but I do not yet need a cane.)

I was a middle aged man of 43 when I hired on.  Allstate did much of what she promised.

She provided me with an office that was toasty in the winter and cool in the summer, a sign above the door with Allstate and Jay Squires on it, an internationally recognizable brand, scads of advertising on the national and local level … and a telephone.  I waited for it to ring.  It rarely did.

After thirty years, I know I’m not leaving Mother Allstate a legacy.  Neither has she left one for me.  We part merely as strangers—occupants of cars and offices.  And, in a way, I suppose that is sad.

But, Saturday I begin a new subplot.  If I have my way, over the years allotted for me, I shall make it a grand subplot on the way to uniting—or reuniting—with its even grander theme.

Re-blog of Barbara Rogan’s Stunning Post

     My April 19th post of THEN & NOW (The Writer’s Life), was a comparison of the writing/submission process THEN (circa the 1930s), with typewritten Mss, manila envelopes, stamps and snailmail … and NOW, with the computer, internet and email.  I was pleased with its reception.  A few days after its introduction, I read a brilliantly written blog post by Barbara Rogan which stands as a kind of counter-point to THEN & NOW in that it gives insight to the publishing business from the other side of the desk, so to speak, and offers thumbnail portraits of some of the great editors and publishers.

     I offer it now as a reblog, for your enjoyment.  After you experience the richness of her prose and the subject, I invite you to check out her latest novel, A Dangerous Fiction

             Please enjoy:

A Dangerous Fiction

The Best Part of Publishing

Posted 9/12/12, by Barbara Rogan

The problem with living in the golden age of anything is that you never know it at the time. It is what it is, that’s all. Only much later, when it’s over, do you realize in retrospect what anextraordinary period it was.

I thought about this the other day when I came across a piece in the New Yorker, “Editors and Publisher” by John McPhee: an affectionate appreciation of his two great New Yorkereditors, William Shawn and Bob Gottlieb, and his publisher, Roger Straus Jr. It occurred to me that I had known and worked with two of these men, Bob Gottlieb when he was editor-in-chief of Knopf, and Roger Straus Jr. during his long tenure at the helm Farrar, Straus and Giroux. I was, at the time, a young literary agent based in Tel Aviv, representing Israeli writers abroad and American and European writers in Israel. I had moved from New York to Tel Aviv at the age of 22, worked for an Israeli publisher for a year, saw a niche into which I might fit, and at the ripe old age of 23 launched the Barbara Rogan Literary Agency.

Read More: 1066 more words

ALMOST CATCHING THE TOSSED GAUNTLET

M’ bud, Seumas Gallacher , tossed me the gauntlet.  wp.me/p2pTaK-rg   He actually tossed five gauntlets to five receivers.  I’m sure the other four caught theirs.  Congrats, but I missed mine!

Steel gauntlet and big toe do not a merry meeting make.

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But … not allowing a throbbing hallux to daunt this fisherman’s challenge, I cast the net of my memory out into the teeming sea of literature and snag my personal five favorite books.

These are the books whose special dog-eared pages can still tease out of me a smile or a tear after the third or thirtieth read.  They might not be the critic’s choices.  They may not be your favs.  But dare you say they are not worthy of inclusion on Jay’s Doggone good Reads bookshelf, I want to cordially invite you to my boat.  I have a dandy little plank I would like you to test out.  Arrrrrrrrg!

imagesCA9SF3RS

So, here goes, dear readers.  The selections are in no particular order.  And, you writers out there … I reserve the right to revise the list after I’ve read your masterpieces.  But, at this moment here are my choices:

A Child’s Christmas in Wales, By Dylan Thomas:  This little book (I’ve seen it under its own covers, but it’s so small it’s usually included with his poems.  But, it deserves its own sovereignty.)  is meant to be read aloud—and in a Welch accent, I might add!  Wanna know what a Welch accent sounds like?  Listen to Dylan Thomas reading A Child’s Christmas in Wales.  http://binged.it/ZbasXw  If you’re like me, after to hear it you’re gonna want to have your own copy.  Why?  So you can read it aloud.  Children especially love hearing it.  I said Thomas’s words are meant to be read aloud.  It’s truer to say they’re meant to be eaten!  Like fine cuisine.  Oh my!  I’ve said it and it feels so good!

 Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates, By Tom Robbins:  In my opinion Robbins is a dangerous writer for a fledgling writer to read.  Just sayin’.  He breaks all the rules with his rendering of characters and plot and breaks them so seamlessly, so easily, so freely and with such astounding craftsmanship that an impressionable writer might easily come under his spell.  I know I did!  After reading this very book, I was a miniature Tom Robbins for my next 300,000, or so, words.  I say “miniature” advisedly.  I could never bring off the outrageous panache of the original.  Mine was always a diluted, “miniature” version.  But, to his favor, only greatness can bring about such an effect!

Look Homeward Angel, By Thomas Wolfe:  I need to remind some of my readers that there are two Thomas Wolfe’s.  There’s the one who wrote in the 50s, 60s and 70s.  Then there’s the real Thomas Wolfe (he says with a wry smile).  The author I’m speaking of was contemporaneous with Hemmingway.  Anyway, I cut my newbie teeth on Thomas Wolfe.  He was a literary steamroller.  There is sheer power in his words and nowhere is that more representative than in Look Homeward Angel.  I’ve heard it said that Wolfe will never be found in the Pantheon of American writers because they lack a certain “finished” quality … and I tend to agree with that assessment.  But the emotional honesty and rawness that’s found in his prose is more a monument to me because of the lack of polish.  Sometimes the excitement in one’s writing can only be spontaneous and polishing dulls its fine edge.   And Besides, Wolfe stood over six-and-a-half feet tall and scrawled his mighty words on a tablet which was laid on top of the refrigerator.  While apocryphal, it’s been said he used to beat his head against the wall to slow the pace of words that bubbled & frothed out of his brain.  You just gotta love that!

 Tropic of Cancer, By Henry Miller:  Lawdy, how naughty I felt reading Tropic of Cancer in the 60s when it was declared to be “non-obscene” by the Supreme Court.  I was about 20 at the time.  Being “non-obscene” didn’t mean I wouldn’t be umbrella’d by a little old lady who watched me leering at the pages in the park, but at least I had no fear of being arrested.  By today’s standards the book would raise nary an eyebrow.  Both the Tropic books were important to me as a living document of life in the 30s and in Paris.  Important literary and art figures wandered in and out of the pages—with their literary and artistic idiosyncrasies.  Also, lest we forget, Henry Miller was not a shallow thinker.  He helped bring sexuality out of the closet and cast it in an almost spiritual light.

The William Saroyan Reader, By William Saroyan:  This is a compendium of some of William Saroyan’s best short stories along with a play, The Time of Your Life that won him the Pulitzer Prize.  He declined the Prize because he believed that “commerce should not judge the arts.”  I admire, so much, the integrity of the man behind the artist.  William Saroyan (I think I’ll call him Bill) lived just up the street from me—well, 70 miles up the street, in Fresno, California, from which his stories derive their inspiration as well as their energy.  Saroyan is sheer joy to read.  His rambling yet organically controlled sentences, his down-to-earth characters who strike such a chord of reality, his settings that scintillate and drag you into the present moment—this is what makes Saroyan one of the most seminal writers in the twentieth century.

And, now, I’m going to wish the following five bloggers better luck than I in gauntlet catching.  This is your assignment if you choose to take it (and, may I say you were chosen because of your high intelligence—to be sure—but also because you’ll do anything to take a day off your present project.  Also, you dread with a dread the world’s never dreaded before of being invited to my boat.)  When you’ve published your five favs make sure it includes at the bottom the five bloggers to whom you are going to toss your gauntlet, spear or grenade.

Without further ado, readers, put your gauntleted hands together for:

Clive Eaton  http://www.cliveeaton.com/

Sonia Medeiros  http://doingthewritething.wordpress.com/

John Betcher     http://www.johnbetcher.com/index.html

Teresa Cypher  http://dreamersloversandstarvoyagers.blogspot.com/

Hamilton C Burger  http://hamiltoncburger.com/Hamilton_s_Blog.php

 

 

A COUPLE O’ POETIC NIBBLES

STEPPING OUT

[A Haiku]

when fog shrouds pier’s end

Christ may bid your walk test Death’s

sweet promised reward

 LOVE RECYCLED

[Not A Haiku]

Love descends –

Cocoons herself

In passion’s ashes,

Longing for her mythic rise

On Phoenix wings.

Pssst!  You made it this far so why not pop over to the right-hand side bar and subscribe to my FREE newsletter?  Until I get other people to voluntarily rave about it, I’m gonna have to be the first one you’ll read as saying: “Jay’s newsletter’s a hoot!” and “Chock-full of writing tips, it’s information rich, while entertaining and funny!” and “You’re gonna wanna jump aboard before Jay discovers how great it truly is and starts charging a huge subscription fee!”

Where “The Exorcist” Meets “Ghost Busters” — A Review of “The Hauntings of Cold Creek Hollow”

I first met Alexie Aaron on a writer’s website a few years ago.  The book she offered there for reading, The Hauntings of Cold Creek Hollow—well—haunted me.  I remember being moved by her mastery of character-development, pacing and suspense, all culminating in the dramatic impact of her story’s climax.  In a word, I was wowed!

I picked up Hauntings again, just recently, (having bumped into Alexie on Facebook) thinking I would refresh my memory of its plot-line and characters, simply skim through it, preparatory to reviewing it.

So much for intention!

What I didn’t account for was that a really well-written book is just as hard to put down during the second reading as it was the first.

Hauntings is such a book.  Oh, I suppose I could have forced myself to stop reading after the first chapter, then scanned the rest, and written a reasonably decent review.  But—and this is important—I DIDN’T WANT TO QUIT.

The Hauntings of Cold Creek Hollow may not alter your life in a profoundly existential way.  There are enough books and writers out there that profess to do that.  But, thank God, that isn’t this book’s intent.

What it will do, though,—and do it pretty profoundly—is make you RETHINK the wisdom of ever spending a night alone in a cabin in the country!

From my personal perspective, this disturbingly scary story left its imprint on that part of my psyche where exists my first viewing of The Exorcist, right alongside its unlikely neighbor, Ghost Busters.

Both elements exist in Alexie Aaron’s well-crafted novel.  On the one hand, you have an otherworldly horror that crosses over into a kind of Psycho/Spiritual Warfare, culminating with that soul-crushing confrontation between Good and Evil. It is a fine battle—from the literary standpoint— hard-fought by both sides.

On the other hand, you have a couple of really likeable ghosts, seemingly more at home in the more comedy-driven Ghost Busters movie.  These ghosts appear on the surface have no hidden agenda, no axe to grind—well… (well, that’s a kind of inside joke you’ll be privy to when you get into this novel).  But, they are much more than comic relief.

And, somewhere between the one hand and the other the reader is introduced to the lovely, quirky, feisty Mia, our protagonist, who just happens to see dead people and is therefore feared and despised by most of the townspeople.  Oh, you’re gonna love to get to know Mia!

I do want to emphasize, that while this is a serious, and a seriously entertaining, novel, don’t get the impression it’s without humor.  Mrs. Aaron has developed characters that are fully fleshed-out (I’m speaking now of the living characters, but a good case could be made for the otherworldly as well). As with any well-written novel, the humor grows out of her characters and the situations in which the characters find themselves.  You’ll find humor, but you’ll also find the full range of other emotions.  There is romance that can go one way or another—can develop then deteriorate, which  of course does—and, I promise you, the reader’s heart is thu-rumping right in the midst of it.

Then, as you would expect in a story of this nature, there is conflict and violence in spades!.  And, throughout all of it, the reader is dragged by the scruff of his emotional captivity along whichever path of action Mrs. Aaron decides to tug him.

So, join me in the pages of this remarkable novel.  You’ll discover dark corners of terror you may never have explored elsewhere, and you’ll soar to levels of selfless courage to which most can only aspire.  And in the mix you’ll find plenty enough romance and intrigue to carry you right up to the final page of this wonderful journey.

And, lest we forget, there are a couple of ghosts I guarantee you’re gonna fall in love with.

 

Pssst!  You made it this far so why not pop over to the right-hand side bar and subscribe to my FREE newsletter?  Until I get other people to voluntarily rave about it, I’m gonna have to be the first one you’ll read as saying: “Jay’s newsletter’s a hoot!” and “Chock-full of writing tips, it’s information rich, while entertaining and funny!” and “You’re gonna wanna jump aboard before Jay discovers how great it truly is and starts charging a huge subscription fee!”