Sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it? With all the ugliness this year has offered, and with the unceasing drumbeat of anger, fear, and self-righteousness that surrounds us in our polarized culture, it’s hard to remember that even now, there are reasons for gratitude. The year itself has become a bitter punchline — “2020, amirite?”
But while the year has seen suffering, has seen division and anger and lies, those are not the only conditions it has seen, and it’s good to have a day that is dedicated to reminding us of that. In a world driven so often by envy, resentment, and fear, gratitude is an antidote.
A few minutes ago, Mrs. M (having reached a stasis point in the day’s cookery) came down here to the den. and said that she had been in the living room and saw as through fresh eyes how lovely our home is. About a week ago, a couple of young men were in the house, and both of them were struck by how nice the place is. One of them even said to Mrs. M that he hoped to get a good job so that he could one day have a home like ours. I agreed with her, and noted that we’ve done pretty well for a guy one generation out of the projects and a girl who came from rural Appalachia.
Similarly, the Spawn and Main Squeeze are comfortably ensconced in Terpville, having their own celebration up there. While we (and the Squeeze’s folks) do our part to make their lives comfortable, they also make their own lives — as do we all, to a greater or lesser extent. Life has brought us opportunities and resources, some in good ways, others in awful ones. Not all of those have been within our control. But what we did and do with them was and is, And I’m grateful to live in a society that allowed my parents to rise, that has allowed Mrs. M and me to build lives of more comfort and satisfaction than we likely deserve, and for my daughter to build a life that she chooses.
Some of our blessings are material, but not all. I’m grateful for the chance to do what I love, however unlikely it may have seemed along the way. My educational career was checkered, and I have been the beneficiary of second chances along the way. I’m glad I was able to take advantage of them, and that now I can share the works and ideas and skills I love with others. And in my “other” career as a fictioneer, I’m astonishingly grateful for the success I’ve had, the talented and kind people I’ve met, and the belief those folks have shown in me and in my work.
And I’m grateful for y’all — my friends and readers, those I’ve met in person and online, through writing or music or however we’ve become connected. I’m touched that you’re interested in some aspect of my life, and that you keep dropping by.
Yes, there are terrible things in this year, as there are in every year. No one who knows me will accuse me of being a Pangloss or Pollyanna. There will be terrible things next year as well. But there will also be things for which to be grateful, just as there are now. And I’ll be reminded, inshallah, of that on a Thursday next November. But just as Scrooge pledges to keep Christmas in his heart, I hope to keep Thanksgiving in mine as much as I can, for all the years to come. And I hope you can as well.
Mrs. M and I spent the afternoon helping some friends clear out their apartment. Unfortunately, the presence of stairs renders me less useful than I might otherwise be (which admittedly isn’t much to begin with, but is even less with a bum knee.) But today’s work being done, I settled downstairs a few moments ago and realized that while I have been writing lately, it hasn’t been here. So let’s do something about that.
I found myself approaching the recent election with a degree of fatalistic serenity. I knew that I would find myself appalled whoever won, and I was right. I have little patience for the Current Occupant’s efforts to cry foul, but I have no illusion that the nouveau regime will be anything other than a different kind of corrupt venality. Consequently, I find myself rooting for at least a Republican split in the Georgia Senate runoffs, because I remain firm in my belief that gridlock is a feature, not a bug. Now on to more interesting matters. (Well, interesting to me, anyway. We’re all entitled to our hobbies.)
As I said, I’ve been writing of late, having put together a couple of short stories inspired by artworks my dad created. A few days back, Mrs. M was rearranging a downstairs closet, and found a few of Dad’s works I had forgotten about. At least one of them seems to want me to write something, but I’m not sure what yet. Dad primarily did landscapes — he said he couldn’t paint or draw people very well, although at least one painting (which hangs in our foyer) and some of his pen-and-ink works suggest otherwise to me. But some landscapes seem to offer me more stories than others, so we shall see.
On a whim, I submitted one of those stories to a Highly Esteemed Periodical a few weeks back. It was my first submission to this particular HEP in about 30 years. They used to bounce those stories back to me with alacrity. Honestly, the stories deserved no better, and were bad fits besides, but they seemed to return to me so quickly that I suspected an editor actually lurked in the University of Kentucky’s mailroom to prevent the folks at HEP HQ from having to deal with it. Of course, the last time I sent something to HEP, I met the young woman who would eventually become Mrs. M. There are rejections and acceptances in this world, it seems.
In any case, this time I promptly received a form e-mail from HEP acknowledging my submission. However, it also informed me that I would only hear from them again if they were interested in running the story. Fair enough, except they included no time frame. This leaves me wondering how long I should allow the story to languish before I give up on HEP and see if it can find a home elsewhere.
This isn’t quite beyond the pale, I guess; a leading magazine in my primary genre has a turnaround time that approaches the geological — I had a story bounced there some eleven months after I submitted it, and I’ve known people who waited a full year before getting the news (including at least one acceptance.) I can only suspect that the broadening of the funnel’s mouth brought by electronic submission has clogged the transom over which stories have been submitted. (Always remember — my metaphor mixer has a Puree setting.) Back when a writer had to pay postage and include a SASE to get a rejection, it at least forced a level of earnestness from the author, who was serious enough to pay Uncle Sam’s ante. (As opposed, I guess, to Uncle Sam’s Auntie. I think her name was Nomianism.) This theory may also explain why pay toilets are generally cleaner than the free version. These days, however, it only takes a would-be author a couple of clicks to add his or her horse apple to the editorial Augean Stables. So, slower.
In this regard, I find myself somewhat nostalgic for the prompt rejections I received those decades ago. But hope springing eternal as it does, I find myself willing to give HEP a certain amount of slack before I give up. To continue the allusion to Pope, stories “never are, but always to be accepted.”
And speaking of publishing, certain corners of the reading world were roused this week by J. Michael Straczynski’s announcement that he (as executor of the estates of Harlan and Susan Ellison) is seeing to the completion and publication of The Last Dangerous Visions, the long awaited third installment of the speculative fiction anthologies that Ellison edited. [Side Note: The second installment, Again Dangerous Visions, was my introduction both to Ellison’s work and to adult-level SF. I found it on Dad’s shelf when I was about eight, a year or so after its publication in 1972. How twigs get bent.]
The book is now 46 years overdue. Over those years, some of the stories Ellison accepted were withdrawn and published elsewhere, and others were reverted to the writers. And of course, the genre has developed in different directions (thanks in no small part to the groundbreaking done by the first two DV anthos) over the years, and ideas that were fresh and yes, dangerous, in the early 1970s may be past their expiry dates. Straczynski acknowledges this, and pledges to do the best he can to make things as right as he can for the writers in question. He also notes that some of the genre’s current “heavy hitters” (to use his term) have agreed to contribute work to TLDV.
But the part that made me smile was this one:
The Dangerous Visions books also have a long, rich history of launching new voices and new talents, as well as helping solidify the careers of those on the cusp of larger success. So The Last Dangerous Visions will present stories by a diverse range of young, new writers from around the world who are telling stories that look beyond today’s horizon to what’s on the other side.
In addition, for one day, as the editing process wraps up, one last slot will be opened up for submissions from unknown and unpublished writers. One day, one writer, one new voice, one last chance to make it into The Last Dangerous Visions.
I haven’t written SF in a very long time, but I’m tempted. In any case, I look forward to seeing TLDV next spring.
Another book I plan to read came out in May. It’s Bouton: The Life of a Baseball Original, by Mitchell Nathanson. I’ve mentioned in the past that Jim Bouton was one of the figures of my youth who taught me that it was okay not to fit in, that though being an oddball had its challenges, it also had its own value. Consequently, his book Ball Four is one I read every year or two, and I enjoy it every time. Indeed, last year I loaned my copy to a student of mine, who is both a promising writer and a star pitcher on the Mondoville baseball team. Reason magazine offers a review that seems encouraging, so that’s one for the Christmas list.
I continue to go to the YMCA to walk on the indoor track, putting in about 3-4 hours a week, in installments of 30 minutes to an hour. The length of any particular walk is contingent on how much spare time I have, my level of knee pain, and whether or not I’m bored with the music coming up on my iPod’s shuffle. I usually walk in the middle of the afternoon, when one of the facility’s day care groups is at play on the gym floor below the suspended track.
They appear to have grown used to my routine as well. One kid makes a point of waving to me each day as I make my way around the track. I wave back, or offer a casual salute. I hope it pleases the kid as much as it does me.
Over the course of the past week, I found time to watch Scott Frank’s miniseries version of Walter Tevis’s The Queen’s Gambit. It’s getting rave reviews, and I think for good reason. I’ve never been a serious chess player, but that’s not necessary to enjoy the series. The story is never less than well executed, and a number of shots and sequences in the series are absolutely gorgeous. While the final, climactic episode hit a few too many expected notes, the preceding episodes earned them, and the epilogue was note perfect. Definitely recommended.
I’ll go ahead and wrap things up here with some music. I’ve talked before about my band from my first trip through grad school, The Groovy Kool. We called our style “folkadelic”, but really it was a subgenre commonly referred to as “jangle pop,” owing a great deal to the Beatles and Byrds via early R.E.M. We weren’t that great — some nights, we might not even have been particularly good (depending on who ingested what between sets) — but we spent a few years playing mostly original material with clean hands and composure, and got a little airplay there in the Lexington, KY area.
We were somewhat late to that particular party, forming around 1988, but the previous five years had seen a lot of activity in the genre. Bands like Guadalcanal Diary, Let’s Active, and others had become a staple of college radio, and bands in that vein blossomed across the country. The Captured Tracks label has assembled a 28-track compilation called Strum and Thrum: The American Jangle Underground 1983-87. I listened to it this evening, and I think it’s going on my Christmas list.
Here’s the leadoff track, by The Reverbs, a group that did one EP in 1984. One member went on to play in the somewhat better known Velvet Crush. I suppose I’ll know more about them when I get the set. Here are the Reverbs, with “Trusted Woods.”
Fall is edging into Mondoville. A few trees are coloring and the Japanese Camellia in out backyard is blooming. We’re looking at a cool and rainy week, but we may see some sun next weekend. Here’s hoping.
One of the things I’ve learned about my writing is that it goes where it wants to go. Sometimes it takes me further into my novel, but other days it takes me other places. I wrote a short story based on one of my dad’s drawings a couple of weeks ago, and have a strong avenue to a story based on one of his paintings at the moment.
Of course, my usual level of self-doubt leaves me thinking I haven’t done enough, that I’m wasting this gift of time. But on the other hand, given the weirdness of this semester and the usual intrusions of daily life and chores, I wonder if I would even have accomplished what little I may have done without the sabbatical. And it isn’t yet over, after all. Still, I worry.
On the upside, I’ve gotten back to walking in the past few weeks, and put in about four hours on the track at my local Y this week. There’s some satisfaction in that, and I hope I can find it within me to keep doing it when I’m back at my regularly scheduled work.
I’m feeling more zen about it than I was a few years ago. I was obsessing over speed and distances when I was on the treadmill — which helpfully provides users with exactly that sort of information (and things like calories burned as well.) As I’m just ambling around an indoor track these days, all I’m trying to do is keep alternating feet for some X amount of time. A typical walk for me seems to involve targeting, say, 45 minutes, but giving myself permission to quit after 30 if I choose. But by the time I make it to the half-hour, I’ve thus far felt like “Okay — I can do another 15.” And so I do. And Friday, I was even able to add 15 on top of that, because it would bring me to an even four hours on the week. I decided that was enough, and went back home when I was done.
Because we live in an age of measurement (and what they now call “assessment” in my line of work) and data, I again find myself wondering if what I’m doing is worthwhile — how will I know if I’m improving or regressing? But with a gimpy knee and my ever present clumsiness, I should probably just accept that doing it at all is a goal and an end in itself. That’s what I’ll try to keep in mind when I get back to the track tomorrow. Or maybe I’ll just listen to whatever song in playing in my earbuds and check the clock from time to time as I complete a lap.
And speaking of my clumsiness. . .
Last night, around 3 a.m., I got out of bed for the typical reason one does at that hour. But when I returned to bed and sat down in order to lie down. . . well, I missed the bed. I don’t know if I was misdirected by sleepiness or the darkness in the room, but I barely caught the corner at the bed’s foot (I sleep on the “driver’s side”), slipped off and landed on the floor on my back, making sure to bounce my right arm and shoulder off a footstool in the process.
It’s a heck of a note when I can’t even go to bed properly.
I can’t really think of a great deal to add to that, so let’s wrap things up with some music. I’ve mentioned my affection for the work of NYC-based songwriter P.T. Walkley. Because the music business is what it is (by which I mean dreadful), Walkley hasn’t received the critical praise and financial rewards I think he merits. In fact, he makes a living composing music for films, TV shows, and commercials — and good for him, because it’s still music. Still, I’d love to see his songs in wider circulation, because he’s a fine composer and remarkably clever lyricist, with a wry take on contemporary life and love.
I posted a live version of this on Twitter yesterday, but here’s the studio version, and it makes me smile, even when I’m walking.
The weekend was sufficiently gorgeous — sunny, highs in the 60s, with that golden afternoon light I love so much — that I spent a portion of it sitting on the back patio reading, even though there was a Kentucky game on. (I watched the game later, after it was too dark to read outside.) Because I’m the sort of person I am, I found myself reminded of Housman’s “Loveliest of Trees.” The poem is set in spring, not fall, and I’m on the shorter end of his equation, but the idea still applies.
And now it’s Monday morning, and it’s supposed to be a little warmer than the weekend, and warming as the week progresses. But I doubt you’re here to discuss the weather, so let’s catch up a bit, shall we?
Reading my e-mail this morning, I read (as I usually do) the daily newsletter from The Dispatch. The newsletter includes links to articles of interest, both within and without the Dispatch‘s own confines. Today they included a link to a wonderfully horrifying article in the Atlantic. Ruth S. Barrett takes a long-form look at the insanity of niche sport parenting in the megabuck ZIP codes of Connecticut. In desperate plays to grease the wheels for their children’s admission to an Ivy or near-Ivy, some parents are obsessed with making their kids recruitable athletes in sports like squash, rowing, and lacrosse.
It’s not a new phenomenon, of course. I grew up playing football with kids in a working-class neighborhood, and there were parents then who pushed the kids in the hope that they might one day take the field at a major college. As the article notes:
In 1988, the University of California sociologist Harry Edwards published an indictment of the “single-minded pursuit of sports” in Black communities. The “tragic” overemphasis on athletics at the expense of school and family, he wrote in Ebony magazine, was leaving “thousands and thousands of Black youths in obsessive pursuit of sports goals foredoomed to elude the vast and overwhelming majority of them.” In a plea to his fellow Black people, Edwards declared, “We can simply no longer permit many among our most competitive and gifted youths to sacrifice a wealth of human potential on the altar of athletic aspiration.”
Now, it seems, the same thing is going on in places like Greenwich and Fairfield County, in what we on the college level tend to call “non-revenue” sports (as opposed to football and basketball). But the article goes on to observe that while the top of the funnel (or meat grinder, if you prefer) is taking in a much larger supply of overserviced kids, the number of places at the top schools remains the same, or even shrinks as schools cut those non-revenue sports.
The situation is insane, and the article reflects that.
Katie Andersen, who runs an Orange County, California–based college-advising company called College Fit, says that among the moral dilemmas the families she works with face is whether to come clean with a college coach about their kids’ multiple concussions. “Parents will be sitting in my office debating whether it makes sense to tell, and I want to scream.” Instead, she tries to play nice: “I say, ‘Can we please step back and think about your child? He’s had three concussions, multiple overuse injuries, multiple surgeries—and he’s playing soccer in college? There’s not even a question of him not playing?’ ”
Ben Prentiss, the go-to strength and conditioning trainer for Fairfield County’s adolescent-athlete set, gets similarly incensed as he talks about the young clients who visit his facility in Stamford. “We’ve rehabilitated high-level rowers who couldn’t walk because of back problems,” he says. “We see herniated disks. Soft-tissue overuse. Overuse patterns in the hip flexors and lower back. These kids are hurting. Meanwhile, the parents have this crazy, beady-eyed look. They’re not even really listening to me.”
When I originally injured my knee playing football (actually, a kid named Raymond Dodson did that for me when he roll blocked me on Election Night, 1976), my pediatrician referred me to Dr. Brant “Pinky” Lipscomb, who was the sports doctor at Vanderbilt U. Both then and now, the idea of being examined by a sports doctor seemed like a major deal for an eleven-year-old. But as I look at the quotation above, something leaps out at me. Mr. Prentiss is described as the “go-to strength and conditioning trainer for Fairfield County’s adolescent-athlete set”. That sentence suggests that Mr. Prentiss, then, is not the only person plying his trade in his area, although he may be the best. In turn, I wondered how many S&C trainers there are in this place, and what that says about the area.
Similarly, when I saw this:
One Greenwich parent told me she believes that, far from being a glide path to the Ivies, lacrosse had actually hurt her older son’s college prospects. As team captain and a straight‑A student with stellar test scores, he would have been a credible applicant to NYU or Columbia—but these schools lack varsity-lacrosse programs, and he’d fallen in love with his sport. “There were eight or 10 strong academic schools we couldn’t even look at, because they didn’t have varsity lacrosse,” she said.
Her kid just completed his freshman year at a not-so-fancy college in the South, and, according to his mom, he’s happy enough. But she feels bitter, and wonders if her younger boy should quit club lacrosse. “The guys who get recruited to the Ivies—it turns out these guys are beasts,” she said. “I saw them at showcases. They were like stallions.”
I wondered if I should take a look at our roster.
So yes, it’s a horror story, and like all good horror stories, there’s a fine scare at the end, which I won’t reveal. But read the article.
I’m continuing to write, and it helps when I receive the encouragement I got yesterday. Robert Lopresti is a writer, and an ace at writing short fiction, particularly mystery fiction. He also has a blog where he mentions stories he particularly likes. I was lucky enough to get a repeat appearance there yesterday, for my recent story “Alt-AC”. Very cool.
Having received a cortisone shot in my arthritic knee recently, I’ve been doing a little bit of walking of late. I’m not worrying about pace or distance — I’m just clomping along for a half-hour or more a few times a week. When I was doing this pretty hard core (for me, anyway) some years back, I used a treadmill at the local Y. I’m still at the Y, but since I still don’t really trust my knee not to buckle, I’m using the indoor track instead. If my knee gives out on the track, I’ll stumble and grab the rail. On the treadmill? Hello, George Jetson.
So before I get on with my day’s chores, walking, and writing, why not a bit of music? In the past, I think I’ve mentioned my fondness for the desert/stoner rock band Masters of Reality. The group’s original lineup fragmented after their first album in 1989, with the band’s name being kept by guitarist and songwriter Chris Goss (who has also gone on to become a pretty big deal as a producer.) The band’s other guitarist and songwriter, Tim Harrington, has flown under the radar since then, although he still does music.
In 1991, Harrington (along with MoR drummer Vinnie Ludovico and some other players) formed a group called the Bogeymen. They cut one album and then disintegrated, but it’s an album I like a lot, with a strong psychedelic vibe. I spent a fair amount of time last week with this track on repeat, and I thought I’d share it with you. This is “Get On Home.”
Mrs. M and I have been married for 27 years as of today. We’ve built careers, raised an awesome kid, won, lost, and done the other parts of life through it all. That’s worth celebrating, I think.
I know I’m not an easy person to live with — and if you’re talking about decades, I wonder if anyone is. My dad said on numerous occasions that “The two toughest years of marriage are the first one, and whichever one you happen to be in at the time.” But he and Mom stayed together for 46 years. That’s not a bad target, and I hope Debbie’s patience endures. Love you, girl.
Some things last; others don’t. On Wednesday, we said goodbye to the drum hauler, the green 2003 Kia Sedona that we got during our first year in the Greater Mondoville Area. I hadn’t driven it in months, and probably shouldn’t have been driving it for a while before that. But it gave up the ghost late last year — (in)conveniently enough, just as I pulled it into the garage. Fortunately, we had a spare vehicle, the red 2003 Hyundai Santa Fe that belonged to my folks, and then to the Spawn until we bought her a fresh vehicle for Terpland.
Mrs. M extracted the radio/CD player from the Kia just before the folks from Goodwill came to haul away our 4-wheeled donation, and I relocated the University of Kentucky magnetic decal from the van’s tailgate to the equivalent position on the Santa Fe. Next week, the stereo will be transplanted into the Hyundai as well. The van also had a U of KY license plate that my folks gave me, and it now rests in the garage.
The Santa Fe is wearing out as well, and maybe next year we’ll get a replacement for it — I’m lobbying for a convertible. Still, Mrs. M and I felt a bit of regret watching the van disappear around the corner and out of our lives. We spent a lot of years hauling the Spawn to and from school in that car. We drove it to Northern Kentucky after the murders, and used it to carry home my dad’s artwork. Later, I drove it to my brother’s trial and sentencing. And of course, it carried a lot of band gear.
I’m sure it’ll be scrapped after auction, but I’m glad that we were able to make sure it did some good to the very end.
Over the years, I’ve watched a lot of episodes of the different shows in the Law & Order franchise. I’ve decided that while I still like the police procedural aspects of the shows (and I always got a kick out Fred Thompson’s character), I really have acquired a distaste for the courtroom side of it.
Over and over, we see Jack McCoy and his minions using the unlimited powers (and funding) of the State to bludgeon anyone who gets in their way. How often do we see the team finding ways to spin the laws in order to go after people who aren’t immediate contributors to the crime, on the apparent theory that when something bad has happened, someone needs to be punished? I recognize that Jack McCoy is supposed to be a crusader with a conscience, but these days , he seems to me more like a Javert.
I’ve talked about the Numero record label in previous installments of this blog, and they continue to dig up a remarkable variety of music that fell in the cracks of our popular culture. As part of that, they continue to expose me to music I didn’t know, but am happy to discover.
An example of this happened today. In recent years, Numero has reissued a bunch of tracks that appeared on the Cuca Records family of labels. Cuca, based in Sauk City, Wisconsin, was best known for issuing (on its Soma label) “Mule Skinner Blues” by the Fendermen, which made top 5 in 1960, but they released a wide variety of music from the region, with a particular strength in polka music — it was Wisconsin, after all.
But they also released a fair amount of country music, both on the parent label and on their Top Gun imprint. I checked some of it out today, and found this track, which I think is cool in itself, and could also be updated pretty easily. Of the band, “The Harrison Two”, I know bupkis, but I do know they caught a little lightning in a bottle for two minutes or so. From the B-side of their single, here’s “Run Little Girl.”
So at a few minutes before five this morning Mondoville time, I started another trip around the sun. Unfortunately, the weekend hasn’t gone as I might have hoped — I’ve been laid up with a kidney infection since Friday, and had to make a trip to the ER Friday night/Saturday morning for some IV fluids and antibiotics, and I was given an additional script for a different antibiotic, which I started around noon yesterday. I think I may have begun to feel a bit better early this morning, but I’m still pretty tired and pretty weak. But in the words of Richard Matheson’s The Shrinking Man, “I still exist!” And so do you, friends and readers, so let’s chat a bit, shall we?
Mrs. M has taken good care of me through this process, and made sure that I had gifts to open this afternoon. They include a memoir by Bruce McCulloch of the Kids in the Hall, and The Red Right Hand, Joel Townsley Rogers’s classic mystery novel, which I haven’t previously read. I also received the Criterion edition of David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr., and a CD collection of Irwin Chusid’s outsider music compendium, Songs in the Key of Z. As some of my collection of T-shirts have had to be retired, I’ve now been restocked, with shirts featuring the art of Wally Wood, a University of Kentucky logo, and the cover of Jim Thompson’s The Killer Inside Me, which I appreciate both as a fan of Thompson’s and as someone who shares a birthday with him. (I was born on Thompson’s 59th birthday, which I have to admit I appreciate more than the fact that I share that birthdate with Shaun Cassidy, Meat Loaf, and Mike Schmidt.)
Meanwhile, on the Book of Faces, I’m (as always) pleasantly touched by the birthday wishes I’ve received from the various people in my life. Roommates, classmates, teammates, and bandmates, and a panoply of others — I’m grateful to you all for having taken even a few seconds out of your day to drop by.
Facebook may have some unexpected benefit as well. I’ve made no secret of the fact that I faced my share of bullying and harassment when I was in school. And in the course of my sleeplessness and fever over the last couple of nights, a particularly malignant character from my middle and high school years popped into my mind.
Since I hadn’t much else to do other than lie around alternating chills and profuse sweating, I decided to find out what became of that guy.
And I couldn’t find him. I searched around, but no luck. Then I remembered he had a brother — also a schmuck, but less of one than my tormentor. So I found that guy, and thus discovered that I had misremembered his brother the asshole’s name.
And that made me happy, because I realized that despite the hassles he gave me, he didn’t even make enough of an impression on me to get his name right.
So screw you, bully — I won after all.
I think I’ll wrap things up for now, and so I’ll offer my traditional musical closer.
I wasn’t a big Stones fan as a kid, or even as a teenager — even then, I preferred the early stuff to the material that they were releasing contemporarily with me. But when I got to college, I took a film class, and one of the movies we watched was Shoot the Moon, by Alan Parker (who checked out not long ago). During a makeout scene, the soundtrack included a Stones song I hadn’t previously known, and it’s stuck with me over the years. So I’ll share it with you today.
Welcome to autumn. Today is what the season is supposed to look like in this part of the world, although it’ll be a while before most of the leaves turn. The temperature is around 70 degrees and the afternoon light has taken on a golden cast. I’m comfortably ensconced in the den downstairs, and Mrs. M is probably working out at the Mondoville Y. I’m wrestling with fictioneering, but realized I’ve been away from here for a while, so here we go.
I was eligible to donate blood again, so I made my trip to the bloodmobile yesterday afternoon. The bus was parked at a local auto dealership, and I was hoping it was “donate and get a free convertible” day, but no such luck. After doing the usual check-in thing, the staffer asked me if I’d be willing to make a double red cell donation. “We’ve just installed the aphresis machines on some of the buses, and we’ve got a really urgent need for the red cells,” she explained. Because I have an odd blood type (It’s B-negative, matching my disposition), I’m apparently in pretty high demand. I mentioned that I had donated platelets before, and she told me this would likely be quicker. “We just need to make sure your hemoglobin count is high enough.”
“Oh, it will be,” I said. “I eat so much red meat that I probably should clank when I walk.” Indeed, I was good to go, and within a couple of minutes, I was hooked up to the machine. The procedure went without incident; in fact, the phlebotomist said that my donation went as quickly as any she could remember. Which was fine by me — I’m still no fan of needles, and I likely never will be.
“We’ve been trying to get people to do the double red all day,” the phlebotomist told me, “but people either didn’t think they had the time or were just skittish about the whole thing.” A nice aspect of the process is that red cell donations can be put into service quickly — whole blood donations often must be separated into components (red cells, plasma, and platelets), but my donation was essentially pre-sorted.
As the process was winding up, the phlebotomist told me something else. Her little boy apparently requires fairly frequent infusions of red cells, and so she was always especially happy when donors agree to go through the process. “I’m just glad to be able to do it,” I said. Then I got my snack and a couple of gift cards (not enough for a convertible, alas, but still welcome) and got on with my day. The only downside for me was that I now have to wait 16 weeks, rather than the usual 8, before I’m eligible to give again.
As long-time readers will remember, I started giving blood a few years ago as a way to commemorate my dad’s birthday; he had donated a gallon or so before his first go-round with the big C put him on the ineligible list. Yesterday’s donation brought me to the three-gallon mark over the last four-and-a-third years. My only regret about the process is that it took me so long to suck up the courage to do it that first time, but as I said, I really don’t like needles. But I’m glad to be able to do some good.
I’ve read that dentists are reporting higher incidences of bruxism in the patients they’re seeing, and a number of them suspect it’s connected to the general level of stress these days. This has been an issue for me for years, and along with a crowded lower jaw, has been the source for quite a few of my dental issues in the past few years. (Orthodontia was one of the luxuries my family couldn’t afford when I was younger. It catches up.)
Right now, I think it’s manifesting in the form of some TMJ pain, so I’ve gone back to wearing a night guard when I go to bed. The thing always reminds me of the mouthpiece I had to wear when I played football as a kid, and occasionally causes me to dream that I have an enormous wad of chewing gum in my mouth, and I wake up trying unsuccessfully to pull the gum out, a chunk at a time.
The trick, I guess, is to find balance.
Up in Terpville, the Spawn and Main Squeeze continue to prosper, taking their courses and such online. Down here, Mrs. M has a group of kids in her classroom on Mondays and Thursdays, a different group on Tuesdays and Fridays, and does everything virtually on Wednesdays. Meanwhile, I have a strong suspicion that the house next door (where the Blocks stayed last fall) is now being used for quarantined college students. Yesterday, I received a preliminary schedule for my teaching duties in January and Spring term — unless there’s a dramatic change, I’ll likely be teaching those online. While I greatly prefer the classroom, as a middle-aged fat guy, I’m in an elevated risk group, so I plan to play it safe. Fortunately, my chair and the Dean are quite accommodating about all this, but I do miss my spot at the front of the room.
Meanwhile, I have a birthday approaching — I’ll hit the double nickels on Sunday, and since it’s one of those zero-or-five birthdays, I find myself taking a little bit of stock. For example, I just (as in within the last 90 seconds) realized that I’ll be the age William Goldman was when he published his final novel. When my dad was my age, I was already 32, and the Spawn had just turned one. And my birth was closer to the Taft administration than it is to the present day.
Ah, the things one notices. Dammit.
Well, it’s nearly dinnertime, so I’d better wrap things up, and why not with some music? I posted this on Facebook a few days ago, but I think I’ll put it here as well. I’ve mentioned my fondness for loud, fast, and dumb 70s hard rock, the genre that some folks call “Bonehead.” Well, Ted Nugent isn’t necessarily the patron saint of Bonehead rock, but at the very least, he’s Bonehead-adjacent. It seemed like nearly every teen cover band I ran across in the Cincinnati burbs did a version of Ted’s “Cat Scratch Fever,” and I could generally count on hearing “Stranglehold” on any given Friday late night on WEBN.
But my favorite Ted track was this one, from the not-really-slide guitar to the lyrics “the Indian and the buffalo existed hand in hand” (which had to be awkward, I think. Of course, I didn’t know buffalo had wings back then either.) and the “Oh mah Gawd” interjection before we finally get to the song’s title. Even now, all these years later, it makes me smile. And of course I’m going to use the live version, the same one I’d play at WTLX during my undergrad years. Get your bonehead on!
Those of us of a certain age will remember that TV and radio stations weren’t always 24/7 enterprises. Typically, a station would begin and end its broadcast day with the National Anthem, and many of them would offer a sermonette in close proximity. A member of the clergy — I don’t recall ever seeing a non-Christian minister, but they may have appeared in non-Bible Belt cities — would talk for a few minutes about a passage of scripture and offer a brief prayer.
Frequent readers may recall that I tend to contribute to the College’s devotional series during Advent and Lent. Given the current weirdness, the campus pastor asked some of us to contribute our own versions of a sermonette. While the past devotionals were recorded and played on a local radio station, these pieces are being recorded on video and posted online.
I was asked to do my bit for this week, I recorded it on Friday, and you can watch it here if you like. If you prefer simply to read it yourself (which spares you from having to look at me)? Well, here you go.
Even for those of us in the literature business, some poems – and some poets – are easier to understand than others. For example, when I was in my late teens, I discovered a 19th-Century English poet and Catholic priest named Gerard Manley Hopkins. I didn’t like his work; I couldn’t make sense of it. But enough people I trusted told me there was something happening there, so I went back to it from time to time, and now I think I have more of a handle on why he was so great. In fact, I think his work is so amazing that I want to share it. This is a poem he wrote called “God’s Grandeur.”
The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
What Hopkins was telling us was pretty straightforward, really: God’s glory is everywhere we might look, but we don’t look often enough or hard enough. We get so caught up in the work we do, in the repetition of our days – we “have trod, have trod, have trod.” We forget to notice how wonderful and beautiful the world can be, and what a gift it is to live in this world. It’s easy to get distracted, or even to be ungrateful.
But in the last six lines of the poem (the part that starts with “And for all this”), Hopkins shows us the amazing thing: God keeps giving us that beauty, whether we appreciate it or not, even whether we notice it or not. Even more, God keeps giving us our world – the image Hopkins offers of the bird warming its nest “with warm breast and ah! Bright wings.” So what I’d like to suggest this week is that we pay attention – to Hopkins, to the world’s beauty, to the people around us – each of whom is an image of God, and each of whom is beautiful. Sometimes, when life is busy and days are fearful, those beauties may be as hard to see and understand as Hopkins was when I was a teenager. But if we keep looking, and if we trust, then eventually we may be able to see the glory that was there all along, and God willing, you’ll want to share it.
As I was scanning the Book of Faces this evening, I saw that a former student had posted this (Rough language):
I chuckled, of course, being of the appropriate demographic. In fact, I remembered using that service occasionally when I was a kid in Nashville. (I’ve never really been a wristwatch guy.)
And then, 40+ years after I last dialed it (and I did, in fact, dial it, so long ago was this), the number popped into my head. You know I had to check.
It’s still there. In fact, it also gives the current temperature and a brief weather forecast, which was not the case in the mid-70s. It seems to be sponsored by a pest control service, as callers are treated to a brief message about insect pests, and told to press 1 for a free estimate.
As I’ve mentioned while talking about earlier trips to my birthplace, the city is radically different than it was all those years ago when I lived there. Still, it’s a kick to know that something I had long forgotten about was not something I had indeed forgotten, and that has endured even into our Internet era. And I’m still trying to decide whether the most remarkable part of all this was that the service still exists, or that I was able to recall the number.
It’s a searing afternoon here in Mondoville, currently feeling like about 102 or 103 degrees. Fortunately for me, I’m indoors, and have every intention of staying that way. I’m also putting off working on a short video I have to make tomorrow, but so I can feel like I’m actually doing something, here we are.
I’m continuing to punch away on the book I’m working on this term. I seem to be about 20-25% of the way to where I want to be. BGW was a short novel at 50,000 words; I’m hoping to come up with something more substantial this time. But as is common for many writers, the process has not been without its struggle.
When I wrote BGW, it flowed really naturally. Part of it was that Kenny’s voice was one I knew pretty well, and part of it was probably sheer naivete. Even so, I got bogged down about halfway through, until a suggestion from my guru at the time (the late James Baker Hall) gave me an event that provided the scaffolding to continue to where I wanted to go. [Side note: Jim died 13 days after my folks did, three days after their funeral, and two days after the death of Hobbes, the family cat. Bad week, that.] After that, it was just a case of having days where I could bang out a couple of thousand words or so without getting caught by my boss at the magazine.
This book is not happening with the same fluency. It’s an amateur sleuth mystery (though not a cozy), but it also seems to be really introspective and discursive, driven by my narrator’s character more than by a puzzle or plotline. (Now that I think about it, I could see it as working the same side of the street as Jeff Abbott’s character Jordan Poteet.) This in turn led me to a confidence crisis, so I decided to chat a bit with the Spawn. I bounced what I had off of her, and she managed to convince me that I am in fact on a decent track, and that I shouldn’t punt. It’s nice to have an encouraging, thoughtful reader — especially when you’ve grown her yourself.
Speaking of the Spawn, she and the Main Squeeze are beginning a new semester in Terpville, and both seem happy with their classes thus far. It’s not quite as good as hearing about her day with her in the room, but I’m glad to hear she’s doing well.
On the education front, my employer noted today that our grads carry the least student loan debt of any South Carolina 4-year school, public, or private. We’ve also been recognized in the past for our excellent record in helping our kids attain social mobility. A lot of our kids are first-generation college students, many from disadvantaged backgrounds in this poor, largely rural state. While some of our students could prosper anywhere, many of them require the extra work we have to do in order for them to succeed. Knowing that we’re helping them improve their lives — and the lives of the generations that succeed them — without chaining them to crippling levels of debt is a genuine source of satisfaction.
I need to get back to work, but why not wrap things up with a song. I know almost nothing about the Canadian band (also including members from the UK and Latvia(!)) called the Liverpool Set, but I know they did a couple of pretty cool songs, and apparently did some recording in my home town of Nashville about the time I was born. This was the B-side of their second (and penultimate) single, from rock and roll’s annus mirabilis, 1966. It starts out with an intro cribbed from “Act Naturally” before settling into a nice Byrdsy jangler, penned by the Latvian guy. This is “Change Your Mind.” Who said that longing can’t be upbeat?