DOWN AND OUT IN SAN ANTONIO (Part I)

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A RETROSPECTIVE

Feb. 7, 1962

SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS.  We’d been there a little over a week now, and Barry and I, were no longer exhausted, unbathed, cold, and very nearly broke.  The fact was, we found a two- story home to rent in the very old part of town.  We were now bathed and rested.  The floor heater was rattling through the grates.  We took turns straddling it, so we were no longer cold.  Also, we were no longer nearly broke.  In fact, with the first month’s rent now out of my wallet and tucked, instead,  into the landlady’s apron pocket along with a promissory note that the last month’s rent and a cleaning deposit would also be transferred to her apron pocket in one week (with the arrival of my California Unemployment Check) … we were very, very broke.

Continue reading “DOWN AND OUT IN SAN ANTONIO (Part I)”

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”

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!

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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

 

 

THE BOOK OF GENITALS

Before the beginning,

When there was only God,

He writhed with the pain

Of Heaven and Earth

Within His Belly.

He birth’d and then…

There was the Sun,

Distanced from the Nebula;

And the Sun looked out

From the Nimbus

Of his savage heat

And he saw only the Darkness

That he illuminated;

And he felt the pain

Of his own congestion of Alchemy.

On the first day

Out of necessity, he spewed out Earth,

While he remained Earth’s Heaven.

And Earth, as a remnant

Of the pain of birth,

Circled ever around him,

Desiring the fatal re-union.

The Earth, revolving, desirous of love,

And unable to approach

The love it desired,

Spewed up from its entrails —

Out of its desire —

Man and Woman,

Who would forever remain rooted,

Not out of love,

But out of Law

To its mother, the Earth.

So the Sun established the pattern:

Necessity out of pain.

The Earth established the pattern:

Desire birthing its own necessity.

The Sons and Daughters

Of the Sun’s Earth

Established the pattern of both:

Law, which they defied;

Desire, which they deified.

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!”

 

 

 

CONFESSIONS OF A BLOG JUNKIE : An Alchemy of the Profoundest Intimacy

During the waning hours of last evening, I read Peggy Bechko’s excellent blog, Adding That Novel Punch and when I finished it I was moved to comment on its helpful content.  Now, before you race over to her blog site to test the veracity of my statement, let me head you off at the pass and tell you that you won’t find anything by me there.*  But it wasn’t for want of trying.  I filled the comment box three times, and though I must say the quality of each comment was better than the preceding (which went far, I suppose, in supporting the point of her blog—read it and you’ll see what I mean), the sad fact was that nary a comment got posted.  The good gatekeeper systematically rejected my log on three times with words (and, I will be forgiven for not remembering them exactly) to the effect of “Log on not authorized”—and each time the content **POOF** vanished.  I should say—and will—that I imagine most readers will have already thought, “a person with even a modicum of intelligence would have copied the second post after the first one failed, would certainly have copied the third one (especially as it was the best of the lot) after the second had ethereally imploded.”  In my defense, though, I didn’t think of it ….

So, Peggy, this is in way of apologizing for not leaving a comment on a blog that was truly comment-worthy.  I’ll try to recapture the flavor of my third comment, but you’ll have to take my word for it that the original [third] draft was a true work of genius.

Your blog appealed to the writer not to distance himself from the reader by telling  the reader what the character is feeling instead of letting the character’s behavior express those feelings. Your blog contains so much more, but this is the part on which I choose to focus.

As I studied your post I reflected that when fiction is perfectly executed, little squiggly black marks on white paper move through a direct conduit from the character’s emotional response to the reader’s exactly corresponding emotional affect. No thought intervenes. It is metaphor directly injected, not simile with all its “likes” or “ases”. It allows—no, it causes!—the reader to be that character. However briefly, an alchemy of the profoundest intimacy takes place, as anyone who has experienced it can attest.

Knowing this, I asked myself: “Why do we all, as writers—knowing what is at stake—have to perennially guard against the tendency to distance ourselves from our readers?  Aside from the fact that it’s easier to shovel out a dish of “tell”, I believe the roots travel to a deeper source. In order to directly transfer that level of alchemical intimacy from character to reader, the writer must first experience it in himself …  And the necessary degree of intimacy with the truth of one’s emotions, along with the vulnerability that entails—laying everything out bare—can be (in keeping with the season) pretty spooky. I know it is for me.

There is a nail somewhere in my paragraph that I have failed to hit directly on the head.  I know that! But, I’m going to leave it with shank bent for someone less intellectually challenged to straighten out and drive it home.

*  *  *

 As for me, I’m going to allow that paragraph to be a segue into another blog which nudged me into its presence with the intriguing title, Happy Birthday, Mom … A Remembrance.  The blog is the child of Teresa Cypher,  I use the words “nudged me” advisedly. There is something serendipitous about the fact that her blog wormed its way into my awareness shortly after I had read Peggy Bechko’s posting.

Aside from the fact that two of the readers who left comments spoke directly of the transfer of emotions (“Teresa, this post made me cry,” and, this one: “I can’t see the keyboard for my tears.”), two other comments, with one of them being answered by the blogger, plumb deeper into the mystery of emotional intimacy I’ve been struggling to describe.

The first one observed, “Had to be hard and heart-soothing at the same time to write that entry.”

And, the second: “A very personal post and at first it felt a little ‘intruderish’’ to comment on that.” (Emphasis mine) … to which Teresa replied, “Looking at the post now, it does appear that I was having a conversation with myself.” (Again, Emphasis mine.)

Friends, I challenge anyone to read her post without at the very least getting a lump in your throat, or if you’re an “unliberated” man, perhaps that tickly thing in the solarplexes that warns, wordlessly, “Watch it!  Watch it!  Blink, take a deep breath, think of something else.”

And, now that I think about it, perhaps that unliberated-writer-man I’m talking about is one of the people Peggy Bechko is directing her suggestions to, after all, about not distancing himself from his reader.

*  Interesting dilemma … after saying this, I decided to give it one more try posting a comment on Peggy Bechko’s blog.  You guessed it.  Now, all of paragraph one is sham!

 

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!”

Take a U turn at Near Death

We have a river called the Kern and nicknamed “Killer Kern” that races and roils just north of our city.  There are two signs at the mouth of the canyon, one in English, one in Spanish that simply shows the running count of people who have lost their lives in the Killer Kern.  I Googled it just now, wanting the number.  I found it: (216)  along with the picture.

None of this seems to matter.  No one heeds the warning of the signs. Two or three people die each year, nearly all during the baking Bakersfield summer, when the temps can soar to 110 or higher.  Some bodies are not found until late fall, early winter.  It’s a terrible waste.

The Killer Kern scares the bejesus out of me.  I won’t so much as stick a toe in it for fear of it sucking me in.  I’ve often wondered at what a horrible death drowning in the Killer Kern would be.  None of the 216 will ever tell us.  I’m a writer, but for that I prefer to exercise poetic license.

There is one writer who might take you closer to the experience than you’d prefer to be taken.

On July 30th, I opened Ellie Ann’s Spirit Saturday: Quiet Chaos blog and within the first few powerful words I found myself sucked into what — with just a slight change of venue — could easily have been the Killer Kern.  I lived through it… barely, but with my value system tweaked by her message.

Here, come on it.  The water’s fine….

I never thought I’d die this way. Suffocating, struggling, drowning. The river pushed me deeper into its murky depths and white bubbles exploded around me. The thunderous roar of the rapids sounded muffled, a distant voice. The current whipped my body upside down. Pain shot through my shoulder when I crashed into a rock. I desperately wrenched my body into a fetal position, but not before my head slammed against the river bottom. Darkness and stars of pain filled my vision. I almost succumbed, almost sank into unconsciousness.”     http://ellieannsoderstrom.wordpress.com/2011/07/30/spirit-saturday-quiet-chaos/

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!”

CONFESSIONS OF A BLOG JUNKIE

I’ve had my blog for a couple of months now.  I’d been putting it off for at least that long.  Perhaps twice that long.  I think it was twice that long.  As an insurance agent, if it had been my prospect who was waffling that much over getting a policy, I’d have told him, “You kinda have a hard time making up your mind, don’t you.”

But the difference is it was me having a hard time.  And, I have to live with me, so I try to cut myself a little slack.  I’m generous like that.

So, I attacked the problem logically.  I did a Google search for free blogs.  I admit, I’m not a quick study, so it made perfect sense that if I’m going to have to follow a learning curve, then why should I follow it on my dime?

Right off the bat three serendipitous events occurred in my blogging life:

First, I came across WordPress.  It satisfied two important needs.  If was free, so I figured I could afford to learn as long as I want.  Bad idea …  but it sounded good at the time.! The second need it satisfied was that it had hundreds and hundreds of free themes – backgrounds and column layouts and colors and widgets and snippets and snappets — and, I was in a kind of Disneyland for bloggers.

I spent the first week or two sampling this or that theme, you know,  the all-important red letters on black background, pink on chartreuse, and whether my writing should shriek out in a size 48 font or whether I should have my reader lounge around my blogroom in a precious calligraphic script.  Oh, so many decisions.  But, oh so much time to entertain them, since, by gum!, my blog was free.

Which brings me to my second serendipitous event: Sonia Medeiros.

Let me explain.  I met her, I think, when she retweeted something of mine.  Totally unimportant on the Cosmic level.  Vitally important to me  because she adopted me.  Of course she didn’t know it, still doesn’t know it (well, now she does!)  She has become Mama Medeiros, my blog maven.  It was with her encouragement that I posted my first blog.  There have only been 5 or 6 since then and she has been there for each, with her party horn tooting and party hat cocked at a jaunty angle.

And, then she did something else.  She told me you really must get to know Kristen Lamb, and you’ll do that by reading her books, We Are Not Alone: The Writer’s Guide To Social Media, and Are You There Blog? It’s Me, Writer.  I went to Amazon immediately and bought both.

I needed to read no more than the first page of each to understand that she was to become the third serendipitous event in my blogging life.

Now… two months into my blogging infancy, what have I learned?  I’ve learned to run before I crawl…  What?  What did he say?  Is he dyslexic?  No! Listen to the ladI know him well! Left to his own devises, he would still be building the perfect blog theme and he would keep crawling to its dubious but flashy graduation, Pomping and Circumstancing his way into 2012.

So, throughout my first half-dozen or so flawed blog posts, I’ve had one die-hard regular.  Thanks Mama Sonia!  Oh, and, I followed another of her kernals of advice.  I studied other blogs out there.  And, in the course of following her advice I have officially become the title of this blog.  I have scoured, analyzed, taken apart and put together so many blogs that I think in not too many more months I will be able to offer the world a fairly decent blog of my own.

In the meantime, I will share the blogs I find most appealing, helpful, entertaining, naughty, enlightening, colorful, eloquent and fun … above all, fun.

So won’t you drop by?  And please invite your friends?  And above all, why not turn me on to a blog or two that you especially like?

                                                                   See you in a few…

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!”