Friday, June 30, 2017

Normal by Warren Ellis: a review


This is a Warren (Transmetropolitan, The Authority, Planetary, Iron Man) Ellis novel about two groups of people who are professional futurists: that is, they are paid to extrapolate where events and technology are headed. They share one difficulty: it’s a business that can make gazing into the abyss feel like it is indeed gazing back at you! And what IS gazing at us? This is the heart of the locked-door mystery that cradles the compact plot, set at a retreat where organizations that appraise the future send their smart people when they become unsettled enough to need a special medical vacation, not unlike rehab. Through the eyes of Adam Dearden, we quickly get familiar with a deep variety of information that makes up the Futurist profession. By the end, we’re unsettled to see what could make a person in that job pretty nervous. There’s something to be said for the detail put into this entertainingly-told, if disquieting, look over the shoulders of those who won’t ignore Tomorrow.

There’s two camps of people at Normal Head, the Oregon facility where we follow new occupant Adam. AS per the back cover:

Foresight strategists: civil futurists who engage in geoengineering, smart cities, avert impending doom
Strategic forecasters: spook futurists who think about geopolitical upheaval and drone warfare and ways to prepare clients for Impending Doom.

Then, you have a man who’s worked both sides of the aisle, but recently broke down after a mysteriously-referenced incident during a peaceful protest in Windhoek, Namibia.
Adam Dearden first has all his technological definitions of himself taken away:
quant band to monitor his EF field activity, respiration- a dozen stats
No Twitter NO Instagram
no phone with 8 different messaging apps
no laptop
And while he learns about Staging, where Normal residents have their choice of books, use of Internet, and more freedom, he’s presently a new resident of the facility, where he finally experiences...quiet.

He soon learns (nothing) about the mystery of Mr. Mansfield, and then stumbles into one centered around a heaving mass of insect life left in Mansfield’s locked room.

Dr. Murgu sympathetically treats Adam and makes prescriptions.
He’s guided physically by Dickson “a great galleon of a man sailing between the archipelago of plastic things in between them.”
He’s befriended by an economist named Clough, then a civil engineer, Lela Charron.
The Director has almost had enough of his job pacifying these intellectuals. His reaction to the disappeared inmate and the freak outs that follow betray his own need for some pills and quiet!

In the Futurist occupation, people theorize about Firechat and blockchain after talking at conferences.
Adam turns out to be reputable for a very dark idea, called Stoop Model. Can you guess why?
it’s almost certainly tied to whatever made him crack up after Windhoek, Namibia. Is he crazy...or just depressed? How delusional is Adam? Or has he simply seen something that went a bridge too far?

One aspect Adam observes: how little quiet, how little hermitage, can be found in the world anymore.
You “can probably get 3G service in chunks of Antarctica.”
But while he’s here at Normal, trying to appreciate nature and some good meds, he has the scary prospect of who is trying to become his new friends. They deal with heavy shit, after all.

Lela’s had to think about 13 million gallons pumped out of New York everyday so the subway can run- overwhelmed by a mere Category One Hurricane Sandy. Considering the way New York’s State of Emergency in its outmoded subways made the news this week, you can see one real problem in Futurism is seeing problems coming that you can’t get anyone to realistically deal with!

How do we manage?
After a post-bug-pile-reveal check-up, Adam somehow gets hijacked gently by a seemingly creepy guy Asher, who takes him to long-time resident Colegrave’s micro-home in Staging. For Colegrave, the future is medieval feudalism. That’s the only panacea to the reckless consequences of democracy, increasingly adrift in the algorithimically-aided lurid gazes of its divided, thoughtless people. He’s a foresight strategist, and this is his conclusion. He wills Adam to get busy solving the locked-room mystery of vanished Mansfield, and report back to him.

“After so long trapped in the micro-home with Colegrave, leaving the capsule felt like being ejected into space.” This is the nicely-worded set up as Dearden walks himself back to the facility.

“There was a forest. There was so much silence. The quiet felt like a huge new country he could wander around within for years without ever meeting its coastlines. A silence the size of the sky.”

Now, he encounters an even higher-ranking resident of staging, Jasmin Bulat- barefoot, wandering, considers herself a dual consciousness with her gut bacteria. She considers herself more respected than Colgrave by organizations out in the world, different ones of which still rely on data they ponder.

A wonderful use of science as metaphor can be found in Jasmin’s passage describing the Cordyceps mushroom that grows in the brains of ants. We learn her views on how our bacterial biome urges us on to exploration and greatness in the stars, where unfortunately we have no way to sustain them.

When Adam crosses the lunch table line, he begins uniting disparate people in conversation. He also inadvertently uncovers the vital missing piece of information everyone needs to really understand Normal.

If the evidence to this short book’s fascinating appeal hasn’t reached you yet, I can only say it’s got black humor, a skimming of deep practical reading framed as intelligent conversations, and a gentle humanity that belies its creator’s blistering use of cursing between its clearly-described, carefully-worded scenes.

Here are some favorite passages in the book’s last third, without giving away a plot you could better enjoy unspoilered:

“Money is the dark unknown god driving us all towards certain bloody doom. A giant formless thing from beyond space with a million genitals. It’s the thing in horror films that you should not directly look at lest you go mad….It’s crushed the world into new shapes and all we want to do is drink its dark, horrible milk because that is the nature of its fucking magic.” (Ellis, 106)

“He knew, from long website essays, that sleeve notes (like from a rare vinyl album) had pretty much gone away by the end of the eighties. Adam searched for a word to describe nostalgia for things you never knew. He was sure there was one...Nostalgia for a word you once knew.

...Sleeve notes were an incredibly important thing, he decided. They came from a time when music had something to say, and was supposed to mean something...It was an intensely civilized thing, the provision of sleeve notes. What was wrong with him, that he’d thought it was okay to live in a world without sleeve notes?”

Sehnsucht. That was the word, wasn’t it? Nostalgia for a distant country to which we have never been, but which nonetheless may be home. An intense yearing for a comforting alien perfection. Lipstick traces with no owner. Adam turned the word over in his head...Another sad futurist, he thought, trying to summon an ideal world from its island moorings in tomorrow. Ridiculous way to live.” (ibid, 126-128)

“Government is barely the tip of the iceberg now. Non-state actors, asymmetrical warfighters, skunkworks, security multi-nationals, who the hell knows. We lost the battle for our streets a long time ago. WE gave them up. Worse: we gave up the ideas and data freely to the people who used them to take our streets from us….It tells us that we quite literally have no idea what is loose in the world and looking at and talking to us, and who it is looking and listening for.” (ibid, 145)

I could certainly go on. If anything, Normal uncovers a few intelligent topics worth further exploration, in characters reflecting the author’s real-life friends and their acquaintances. But I won’t.
Semiautonomous listening devices may be waiting to take my reflections and give the f#%&in' novel away!

-C Lue Disharoon, 6/ 30/ 17

P.s. if that doesn't sound crazy enough, the audio book's read by comedian John Hodgman!

Monday, June 26, 2017

Grandpa's Autograph Book (1939) Sgt. Roy William White

Decades before the coin was termed, “social media” was a very intimate-scale personal affair: phone calls, letters-and one I only uncovered recently: “Autograph Books.” Do you know of them? I don’t necessarily means ones full of the signatures of the famous, though any average person might’ve mused one day their book might contain one or two of those. (Now, you get a “selfie”-we’ll explore early selfies with the famous in a big way in a near-future column about chauffeur Jim Hall.) It’s a small book filled with light-hearted sayings and memories of people you know. The best comparison is a yearbook. As mine were carelessly left to be water-damaged, I see something precious about this common but personal snapshot of one’s young life, and the days gone by it embodies.

I have one owned by my Grandpa White, and it’s mostly filled with classmates, and given the deeply religious culture of his schooling, I anticipate finding encouraging words from preachers, too. June 26th
1917 is his birth date, so if he were alive today, he’d be 100 years old Monday. So our journey today is through a life that began a century ago!

First, I’ll share him as I knew, an industrious man who rifled through the same stock of jokes like “Pete and Re-Pete sat on a log” and the two crooks holding up a joint to share with his grand kids while running the community hardware store, as he also cared for his wife in her dementia. He was my neighbor for ten years, and I grew up working his garden with him and our entire small family, busier playing pretend (put to good use as a fiction writer now) than learning his tool-handy practicality in the shed. He canned pressure-cooked vegetables and swapped copious bags of raw veggies with neighbors. Paw Paw drove me past many houses he’d helped insulate in Rome, working in the Hufstetler family business. His last 13 years of working life, he got his American dream, walking from the house he owned in the country across a small road and a wooden plank, hidden in the hickory bushes astride a small ditch, along a path leading past their greenhouse to his very own Shannon Supply Hardware Store (and Dot’s Variety), where he stocked home improvement tools and talked to the community about what needed fixing today.

He taught me to sing “It ain’t gonna rain no more/ well it ain’t gonna rain no more/ how the heck can I wash my neck?/ it ain’t gonna rain no more!” I borrowed its tune for the earliest existing ditty my sister and I made up, for walking our fingers up our dog Brandy’s haunches til she’d snap. He would gear up for a laugh with a sound like a lawnmower trying to start, punctuated by a two-note exclamation of joy! He taught me to whittle wooden missiles to stuff with long grass and spin up into the air, dashing their points into the lawn.

He was the secretary who took the message at Fort Benning that President Woodrow Wilson’s wife had died, as he put his skills to use from Bob Jones University for the U.S. Army during The Big One. That’s contrary to his bloody personal combat atop a cliffside versus five Japanese soldiers, for anyone who heard that tale one day at lunch in second grade. He’d vacation in Pensecola and later, at Fall Creek Falls in Tennessee, and otherwise lived a Christian life that ended each night with Bible readings. He would not have remotely approved of either major Presidential candidate last year, but didn’t seem very political. He enjoyed the Atlanta Braves and TV Programs like The Waltons, 60 Minutes, Lawrence Welk, M*A*S*H and The Price Is Right, a.k.a. Screamin’ Women. He gave us an acre for a penny and helped us finance and improve our first trailer when I was nine. He would greatly approve, in principle, of me writing, as he and Aunt Linda provided me my very first type writer, a relic from her own college years I think, and allowed me to type my comic book plots on the same black number he used for his genealogy pages. He attended Grace Bible Baptist Church his entire adult life, and as detailed in my grandmother Dorothy’s diary, that’s where they met and began dating -at her family’s home- before he was whisked away to New Jersey for basic training at Fort Dix. They married three days after his birthday in 1942!

That diary, shared by my mother Brenda Faye White Disharoon, speaks to an interesting point about our personal effects being left behind after we no longer need them. There’s a chastity to her words and their entire culture that I didn’t realize at the time was not uncommon, but still a bit remarkable for their time. There’s also glimpses of her personal world and friendships, including the one with my grandfather. Sadly, the diary ends before they wed, so I mostly only have stories from the viewpoint of their daughters. My main document from my grandfather was the dry, census-like genealogy he composed throughout his retirement years, appropriate, as it was gleaned from cemeteries and census records.

Nearly one hundred years after he was born, what I imagined to be a cherished personal effect came into my hands: the one document of his relationships with the people he befriended after selling his car and leaving the farm so he could achieve a then-rare college education in Cleveland Tennessee.
Roy William White’s autograph book, its cover a rich forest green that’s nearly blue in sunlight, bound by a string, opens with an floral illustration of baby’s breath framing the words: To Keep My Friends Is My Delight, So In This Book, I Pray You’ll Write. I can tell he was young and excited to have it.
He wrote Bob Jones College and Cleveland, Tenn 1939 in diagonal cursive shooting around both sides of a drawing of a feather in an inkwell beneath the framed quote. It’s Made In The U.S.A.

The first signature dates November 19th, 1939. Dot Edwards of Eastman, Georgia, expresses her joy at writing on the first page, says she’s enjoyed knowing him, wishes him success, and : “Remember our N_ _ _ _ episodes!” What do you think that was? Why the bit of mischievous code? There is at least one earlier date, but for some reason, Dot got the first page. Was there some woo pitched somewhere?

The next one’s the day before, headed with Romans 8:18- it was the practice to have at least one favorite Bible verse, if not several for various occasions- containing a pair of simple cartoon hands, beside an arrow stating: “Remember shorthand!!!” We’ll hear from, as one signer calls it, “fellow sufferers of shorthand class” in this booklet. A saying: “Long may you live, long may you tarry, love who you please but mind who you marry.” (my policy) Humorously, beneath it’s a paragraph that begins: “I must say before I close, I have and am enjoying your friendship very much. You will never know how much I really do appreciate it. It is one of the many things I have here in B.J.C. which is very dear to me. Thanks. May we always know each other. Hazel Flynn I wonder: did they somehow keep touch? There’s a special optimism when we are young and bond with people on the road from home, when we’ve had a memorable time. It’s remarkable how we hope to stay in touch.

Hazel pops up on a second page at the back on 11/18/39, too. It’s reminiscent of grade school humor:
I have always been told never be a pig so I’ll be a hog and use two pages. So: Way back here out of sight, I sign my name just for spite. Yours til the Statue of Liberty does the Black Bottom down the Mississippi River. Hazel Flynn, alias half-pint.

John L. Edwards of Menlo admires Roy’s struggle to come attend school- which required not only selling the car but also a special school loan he worked off, when “so many don’t care”- his diligence, and his ability to stay “in the center of God’s Will.” He hopes when “we’re out in this Old World, separated by hundreds of miles probably, I hope we’ll remain pals in Him.”

After a signature from May, 1940, where most other signatures originate- most likely, his last year there-Holland Thomas in November 1939 also admires his determination. He assures him ‘the best kind of life, Roy, is a humble Christian life consecrated to God.’ The page before simply says: “remember all things in Life are a gamble-except Life in Christ.” I think Lindsay’s last name is Gimble- lots of cursive, a skill I think is no longer commonly taught. Remember BJC is still,and was then, one of the nation’s biggest and most fundamentalist Bible colleges, which is to say it’s a training ground for future church administrators, seminarians, personnel, but also, Christians who want some career education in a religious social setting. True to this, the booklet’s full of Christian messages. OF course, their classmates were also going to see anything signed here, too.

Anne Gasaway tells him she hasn’t known him long but leaves a nice, long message. Paw Paw made sure to attribute her name. Laura Prescott promises to remember him as a kind and thoughtful friend while she was “a ‘measly’ thing in the hospital.” At the end of an even longer signing, she also leaves her address. So does Winston M. Broome, another fellow survivor of Shorthand, who remembers their good times together and signs himself :“Winnie” or “Pluto.” He makes with the witty repartee like no one else, teasing him about having to sign the book, period, much less not letting him use shorthand- “but I loves ya just the same.” Job 2:20.

Daisy Bell P.S.’s Paw Paw to “remember Laura, Hazel and the Broome Mates!” Quite punny.
His actual roommate Bob leaves him a quote from Bob Jones, Sr.- the school’s founder.
Kzrl Keefer’s here, too, offering prayers and wishes for “a mighty fine roommate.” He leaves Isaiah 26:3, his home address, and heads it up with: “When the Outlook is Dark, find the Up Look.”

A Mary Kaye Sanders recalls them sitting at “the table”- a recurrent mention, some type of approved social gathering at a college that didn’t allow mixed genders to visit their segregated dorms-and along with a quote, writes in tiny cursive about how they sat for three weeks at the Table without saying a word to each other. A Marian Sanders remembers that table as much more of a “riot of a good time.”

It’s a pleasant image, is it not: to picture a Heaven where all these friends can find one another again and enjoy Roy White’s birthday party in that timeless place?

There’ s so many more, especially from May, 1940. I think their entire outlook on life was very different than you often find today, from a much less worldly people.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this peek into one man’s book of memories of simpler times. Thanks for hanging on to it...and happy birthday, Paw Paw.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Musical Musings For Mama

I found the 2014 adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s “Into The Woods” on TNT after work Friday night. Enchanting songs. My wife especially enjoyed the way the fairy tales stitched together. We were half an hour into it- I picked it up right around Depp’s first cameo – when first, I missed my Mom, and then, it hit me that who I really missed was Mama Vickie. Fanciful creatures in a musical? If she never saw this before she died last year, it’s too bad, because they made it for people like her.

It’s been noted she didn’t particularly carry a tune, not even in a bucket, but when she was enjoying herself, she never let that stop her from singing along. She particularly enjoyed a great musical: Seven Brides For Seven Brothers, Oklahoma, 1776, Sound Of Music, Grease- even that Sgt. Pepper’s thing, which is not heralded as a great musical, had a place in her heart. You don’t encounter musicals in film nearly so much as when she was young, though Glee has opened the door to a variation on the form that reaches a lot of Millenials. But isn’t it nice when you find something that suddenly brings back a loved one as though she’s sitting right there with you in the room?
I know this was especially strong for my wife, who shares the central characters’ desire for a baby, and maybe in James Corden’s baker, I saw a little of myself, uncertain if I’d be a wonderful parent, in light of the life I’ve built along the long wait. But I’d never say it was because my own father wasn’t terrific- the passing years showed me that clearly, he’d taken “how to be a good dad” and pretty well plucked it out of the ethers. Skating rinks and camping trips may not sound like fairy tale elements, but the love of fun found in my childhood’s no fiction!

I thought Sondheim’s use of heartfelt melody to carry a clever use of words in telling a story in rhyme, marvelous. I can’t match his eloquence at the moment. All I want to convey is a feeling that relies so primarily on experience, I can scarcely hope to match it.

But since Vickie passed away on the first day of summer, her words- her stories about family and her girlhood days, to say nothing of a nice dose of down-to-earth insight- have come back to me many times. Maybe the best thing I can say is how I only had the little flash of how sad it is that she’s not up and breathing, with her poor labored heart, to catch Meryl Streep playing an endearingly fun witch, the sympathetically over-protective parent with enough magic to work her will and teach that rude baker and his wife a lesson. We’d returned from our own fairy tale adventure in California, aware we really should spend time with our family before Life- or Death- butted no regrets there.

No, most of the time, I just remember her honesty, her support, her tenderness- how much she loved us, and everyone she held dear, and how feel how much fun we had doing the few things left she felt she could do in her last two years. She loved her kids unconditionally, accepting them when they made life choices others couldn’t comprehend. Even if Angela Dawn’s closely-held pendant was wrenched from its rightful place, it remained long enough to serve as an anchor in her uniquely-observed grief, wherein such a spirit as her mother’s would never part that breast. Mama Vick’s love spent Christmas day with us; her presence will trundle by the grove candles this Midsummer’s Eve, her funny doings and sayings will brighten our smiles in the season to come. The lady left not a dirge, but a clever song, to give you feels and sweet memories of childhood, barefoot life on the country road and walks to places beside oceans she never saw, before the sun, rising and setting as ever.
No one’s truly lost, if you know how to find them!

She would say now and then she always wished her birth certificate said “Victoria,” as that was much more how she thought of her true self- with a little more romance and dignity than “Vickie” conveyed. I didn’t sense a moment open to me reading this at her funeral, but the words did reach those who loved her best, and they’re hers to share as we remember her with you.

In honor of our great friend today, let her name be ‘Victoria’. She told several of us, she always wished she had been named Victoria; it was her mother’s original intention! Her helpful big sis, Debra, gave the birth certificate name as “Vickie Jane,” as humble as could be imagined. But she would tell you, she was no plain ol’ Jane. In glory, she radiates like the queen she is. “Victoria” if you please.

That spry little tom boy still lived on in Victoria’s eyes, to the summer solstice day she peacefully closed them last. She told me stories of Raiford, Mildred, Debra, Randy, Barry, Ronald and all the grandparents and all the brothers and sisters, that made me her family, too. But her heart, full of all those beautiful ideals that seem so unpopular to the cynics of late, made many, many people part of her family, and if you were really her friend, you know her family was her diverse and moving work of art.

As we drove home under the first full moon without her tied to this plane alone, I reflected how,
in our loss, we are not so alone. Somewhere, others were asked to give to Time and Death the dearest sacrifice that had come to fruition. To lose a life long companion, to lose a wife, to lose a mother, to lose a family member-this is the lot of humanity.

But never say Victoria wasn’t unique! Her cheery way of making up jingles about whatever she was doing at the moment, unabashed around her house, her smoking bluntness; her utter authenticity and disregard for airs or pretense, her desire to make everyone in her family’s life better any way she could, in prayer or deed, and her invaluable discernment of people’s character- all these I will miss, but am so much the better for having known such a beautiful, true person.

She never took back her unconditionally given love. She was quick to share her candy and loved a hearty laugh. She loved babies. She even correctly dreamed predictions of their genders. She loved sleep, where much more gets done that you might realize- for there, you dream. The true motives of people fascinated her; she loved an honest question as much as an honest answer, and had an unlimited supply of both. She spent much of her final years enjoying the memories she’d piled up so vigorously, comfort to pains that piled up equally so. She was forgetful. She was a voice of Reason.

She loved a good vampire story, a true ghost story, a love story of any kind, and Dark Shadows for being all three! She enjoyed the macabre, and game shows, and her kitty, Cap. She loved Loretta, real country music, and trips to different places. When she didn’t feel put on the spot, she could break out a gospel harmony that could melt your heart. She was a smash to party with. She stood up for herself, without ever taking herself disproportionately serious. She wore herself out, cheer leading.

She adored singing any of her favorite songs with Poppa, as if they’d just come out on the radio. She laughed with Chris and hung out after work on the bed with Dixie and talked to Angie in the mornings; she helped raise three beautiful grand children with Anna, and she learned the undying nature of love with precious Joy. She worried sometimes til it hurt, found contentedness in a frosty Coke or little piece of candy; shared a lot of delicious home cooked meals; and dreamed of a lot of fun things that stayed dreams. She hated cleaning the house and waiting on her husband in the car. If you washed her dishes without asking, her love and respect were yours. They took in a LOT of strays, so long as their kids loved them. She lived until she could simply hug and kiss no more. But if you look in your heart, her words will leave you never.

Victoria knew some of the saddest, and happiest, days, any person could know, but kept faith in the way of her heart without surrender. In that way, she achieved a victory that Death can never take away, for her love lives still in you, and me, and in places yet unimagined. Cheer up!
Today is Queen Victoria’s Day. 6/24/16

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Vacation With My Dad- the real Iron Man

I’m reading Warren Ellis’ novel Normal, whose theme is the troubles that arise when one looks into the future for a living. They acquire a problem known as “abyss gaze:” the difficulties of attempting to watch trends converge towards future outcomes involve seeing trouble ahead, with no comfort of the familiarity of the past. Most fictional glimpses of the future take us to dystopian settings, parables of those problems. Even when one wishes to benefit humanity with vision, the place wherein vision is created is a “safe spot,” where one has creative control (barring a partner or assignment parameters). Around that plank into the unknown, there’s much uncertainty. Yes, the past envelopes uncomfortable, even miserable troubles, but nostalgia affirms knowledge, familiarity-the choice of dwelling on what turned out to be exciting, pleasing, involving. Choose the past of your choice- it’s an exercise where we can feel confident we know the answers. With its information on occurrences good, ill, mixed, it’s a place where we can piece together a life that makes more sense, today.

Approached with curiosity, history does have its intellectual queries: what became of the Zoroastrian scrolls that influenced Judaism, Christianity, Islam? How were the pyramids and Stonehenge erected? Where was the evolutionary Missing Link? But personal history’s a place where we find roots, identity, motives of our tastes and choices, the comfort of love shown us, examples set. One’s worst days lurk in past shadows, but also, the best times of our lives.

Our society’s evolved mass rituals where we observe the importance of people in our lives, passage of seasons, thanks given, and memories. I have found myself rebelling many times at the expectation I should dwell on such and such a detail simply because American society marked a calendar date! But over time, I’ve come to see these as opportunities to connect, sometimes alongside others- not mandates towards insincere emotion, but milestones for celebration and reflection.

I’ve never had the chance in this life to know fatherhood- a paternally-oriented streak, sure, towards aiding others as a would-be sage or good person might, but no bouncing babies. My own father, for whom I’m named, died several years ago, with all the golden years he’d ever have squeezed into holidays and vacations along a lifetime of hard work. It’d be simple enough to give an indifferent nod to Father’s Day, perhaps some glancing gladness for those who observe and enjoy a holiday to which more people than not give but the barest bit of thoughtfulness. Men traditionally learn not to lean overly much on the emotional outpouring of fealty more often found on Mother’s Day. Fathers have shouldered their lot without much expectation of timely gratitude. There’s planes to catch, bills to pay.

I’m not an overly traditional guy- I fall into that category of people who, when looking towards the future, sees it more in terms of creations I attempt to bring to life. But my Dad endeavored to find his way IN to something like the mainstream- fought to get himself a bit of normalcy. He didn’t grow up very conventionally, but when he stopped partying to stand apart from a pool of confused emotions, he did aspire to convention. He wanted a business that functioned as a recognizable, friendly, reliable part of the community. He attended church and discovered a fundamentalist zeal. He joined the Masons. He went to the spa. He kept up his yard and thought up plans that might put him ahead, give him more choice over his life, but also, provide the security common sense dictated. He did his part in raising his two children with his wife, and with all else done, could be found, spit can at his side, chewing tobacco and watching America’s Team, the Atlanta Braves, in the same comfy chair, all summer long.

The one exception was another nod to familial convention and middle-class normalcy: when the chair would sit empty for a week, usually the one before or after July 4th, and the four of us would pack up and head for the mountains. We’d cross ear-popping Lookout Mountain and four hours of highways.
I let the dogs- and very nearly, the cat- out for the morning, wet grass and fresh earth smells adrift in the coolness of early morning. On the porch, I took in the atmosphere, transported to the outdoors of camping grounds we’d visit from the time I was little. I’d been reading old Tales of Suspense Iron Man stories and chewing over pop culture patriotism, after taking in an unusual amount of national politics news. Iron Man evoked vacation in 1986, in particular. I bought and saved back issues of James Rhodes taking up the Golden Avenger’s guise, along with an Annual (an old summer event) pairing Shellhead with the Man-Thing and star-crossed kids playing outside. I found the latest issue, where the Living Laser sought revenge, at a convenient store not far from Cumberland Mountain campgrounds, so that year, I had Iron Man-a-plenty to occupy my lawn-chair-borne sprawl. I grew up, attached to Iron Man- along with the armor and invention motifs, Tony Stark also was the one mustachioed super hero- like my Dad, who was, after all, my first super hero.

From near as early as my first memory- of asking for Spider-Man to be on my third birthday cake- Mom and Dad had taken Debra and I on vacation nearly every summer. They were fond of camping out, which for years involved driving out to a site in park, spending the afternoon assembling tents and stringing up a canopy, and turning Deb and I loose on our Big Wheels. The burning hot big slide at Cumberland Mountain State Park in Tennessee sticks out in memory- I wouldn’t go down it without my Mom! I recall spinning on the ...what’s that spinning thing with the handles called, not “merry go round” is it, maybe it is...until I was dizzy and nauseous. I remember my crush on Amy, the park Naturalist, and my first encounter with a grand daddy long legs spider.

As we got older and ended up squatted on sheets in the back of Dad’s camper-shell-covered truck, Deb and I had a couple of great tapes of Beatles hits and the privacy of our own silly party. Dad upgraded to a camper as he approached forty, a time-saving pop-up which offered a bit more comfort. My grandparents and Aunt Linda also camped with us a couple of times, though they favored Fall Creek Falls close to Cumberland. We’d pull out board games to play until after the plastic owl lights flicked on. We melted marshmallows, roasted hot dogs on sharpened sticks over the campfire, that ancient ritual of Man. We all smelled like Outdoors Off! At least, until Dad and I donned flip flops and walked the path to the bath house with our shower supplies and towels. We’d sit up late beneath the bug zapper, telling family stories and discussing what could fit into the budget of time and money. Nature activity? A movie up in Crossville? Swimming? We’d squeeze in long as Dad had a decent afternoon or three to fold out a chair or hammock and enjoy the woods in peace.

Occasionally it’d occur to me how much more fun Mom and Dad were when they simply had time to relax. Sandwiches guarded against flies had the special seasoning of Togetherness. Dad had never grown up with anything like this with his family, but looking back, the man knew how to make a memory. He made so many good ones for me. I think we thanked him for each one, however cursorily- we were reminded to do so, as part of good up-bringing. With the hassles of the garden, the lawn, home improvements, and at least five days a week or more of the family business, all set aside, you simply had a young man who didn’t ask for a castle- he just wanted, once a year, to go have some fun with his family.
True, it did seem like half the time was spent getting everything from the television set to the camp lights set up for a very temporary home away from home-Mom would say you needed a vacation to get over vacation. But every year, we openly wished it could last just a little bit longer. That’s what would make it all the sweeter next time, he’d say. And we’d go back to our often-bug-spray-fogged house a couple hundred miles on the other side of the mountains, unpack and take a day to set things in order, to start enjoying the fresh perspective we got, getting away. In all its phases, the family never felt closer than in that much-anticipated week. There’s something about the road, making each day new. There’s something about knowing your time together is limited, but relaxing- enjoying it. There’s something about a dad who sacrifices for the good of everyone, no need of ostentatious speech. There’s something quietly heroic about a Dad whose ambition is to create a true family- like ours.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Something STill Inside - Integr8d Soul

I haven't posted here in a while! Let's rectify that! Integr8d Fix has been getting the blogspot love, partly because I've been working on comics professionally, and in that process, I've been writing about comics, for what will soon be a book for which I'm seeking a publisher already!

Music's always been part of this blog, as has a certain way of looking at life. They come together in this piece I'm previewing here for you on our new Audacity program, an experiment to keep us occupied 'til we're back in the studio. I've even updated the lyrics blog, Integr8d Soul on Wordpress, since I've hit this one- and I even put together a prototype book of this column after our friend T.J. Jones died in fall of 2015, so I do have a bond with Be Chill- just been working a lot! But what we'd do on the lyrics blog, I will also do here, without the usual discussion of how it came together, besides saying this and another tune were written a week before Christmas, seeking to catch something beneath the gawdiness and bustle of the true holiday's spirit.

I have had serveral topics and books in mind to discuss of late, so I'll try to add more here soon. And holy cow! All posts over the past two years now have over 1000 hits, so SOMEone's been reading!!!! Wow, I appreciate that.

Something Still Inside Words and Music by Integr8d Soul

Try to give them light they set themselves on fire
They break themselves upon the rock for it’s as they desire

I don’t need to be the best Just need not to be the rest
Whose holidays lead to arrest instead of time they should invest c


Something still inside
could set the world a’right
we could talk of it all night
the better days so far behind
but better ways are on my mind
for those who see that life can shine
So bright

Divine the ways not to offend Divine, the ways that might amend
Hope, our first and only friend Ship of knowing, we would send
Mama’s line where we begin Oh, in the end, there’s life again

Something still inside G C
could set the world a’right
we could talk of it all night
the better days so far behind
but better ways are on my mind
for those who see that life can shine So bright

Excised line from first verse:

what inspiration could divest the ‘what-else-do-you-do’‘s a jest