Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A Cry of Eagles

Every evening we sit under an oak tree by our quiet pond and do our daily turtle watch. Heads pop up, fish leap, herons stalk -- there is always something to watch, and something to say.

A short distance away in the woods someone is firing a repeating pistol.

Tonight, after the murder of children in Newtown, Connecticut, the pond offers no solace, only stillness. Not one turtle, not one fish jump. But on a nearby tree a couple of eagles cry out in protest. Our national bird crying out against our national rights.

Up the road from us a small recording studio moved away and in its place there is now a Guns and Ammo store. This neighborhood isn't even on the mainland. It's on an island. "All the more reason to protect yourself," the blammer might say. Well, anyway, there are more armed households now than before, and from the sound of things, everyone is exercising their right of freedom.

I imagine these guys are innocent, comparatively speaking. Once, a while ago, a third grader whose home I was visiting (after I had visited his school), showed me his father's "secret room."

The room was hidden away behind a bookcase, which, when you pressed a button slid to the side.
I wondered if the boy was showing me a batman cave. But there were no stairs leading down. There was just this secret room, of which the boy was very proud. "Dad had this built," he said, "in case we are ever under attack."

I stared in disbelief at the hundreds of assault weapons mounted on the knotty pine walls. I saw grenades, rocket launchers, machine guns, and every kind of rapid-firing pistol and rifle you might imagine.

The feeling that came over me made me ticklish around the collar. I did not want to be there. Moreover, I did not want to see these weapons, nor have them shown to me by a child with whom I had spent part of the day telling stories. My stories were folklore; this was Hollywood.

"Who does your father think will attack?" I asked.

"The bad guys, the ones who don't believe in freedom."

Under the spreading oak by our small pond, the shooter exercises his constitutional rights.

The eagles have fallen silent. They know they are safe on our 2 1/2 acres of woodland. We have no secret rooms, no guns, no freedoms that do not include the animal world, which is what brought us here in the first place.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Wildman in Thailand

I have known Gregory Pleshaw since the early 80s when I was in my early forties and he was in his early teens, not yet out of middle school in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

I was Greg's 9th grade English teacher one year later. The kids called him Spanky because he looked like that Little Rascal. Greg's eyes were large and so was his appetite for adventure.

He did funny things, like on a camping trip at the end of the school year, when everybody was supposed to be asleep, we heard Greg at midnight yelling, "Let the games begin." It was a long night, I mean, morning.

And it's been a long night into morning knowing Greg as I have for thirty-some years, none of it, not one minute, boring. He is one of the most interesting people I know. Also one of the most talented -- as in the fount of a natural spring that bubbles madly and produces real literature. I wrote about his prodigious talent in my book of stories The American Storybag. I said, if I remember, that Greg was one of the best bloggers in the nation. His new book is Tales From Thailand. Blogs from Greg's bipolar, beat, huntersthompsonesque brain.

He wraps his thoughts fast, he raps them fast too. Part poet, part columnist, part fringes-madman, Greg lights upon subjects as quickly as they enter his frontal lobe. But maybe they don't. Maybe they come piping hot or cold from his "lizard brain" -- that stem that ties us to scales, claws, long tails -- hence, Tales From Thailand, a title with an obvious double meaning.

He lived and worked and prayed and loved and got caught in a pre-revolutionary upheaval and then ran away to India and disappeared into a monastery and was gone a long time.

Tales From Thailand is about feeding hungry ghosts -- and I do not mean this figuratively. In Thailand they actually feed them, and Greg did. He also floated down a river of dragons, and I do not mean this figuratively either. Thai people believe in dragons; they are not Harry Potterish pals, so when Greg, fully clothed and sitting upright in the fast moving green stream of life, went past village after village and stilted house after stilted house, the people ran out hollering for him to get out of the river. . . THE DRAGONS WILL GET YOU!

They didn't though. Nothing gets Greg except his own feverish mind, and you will be gotten by it too if you read his book. It's just out in digital and my wife and I proudly published it with the digital help of our designer Nancy Koucky of NRK Designs. It's only been out a few days. The dew is still upon it.

It's sounds corny to say, "Hey, you've got to read this!" But please do. At 2.99 it's a great deal, and you can read it on your PC, your Mac, your phone, your Nook, Kindle or iPad.  By the time you finish Tales From Thailand, we may have his next one out: Crazy in America. After reading the first one, you may belong in the second one. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Future is the Beginning: The Words and Wisdom of Bob Marley

The Future is the Beginning began as a series of visits back in the early eighties when, as a teacher of creative writing, I took my students to the Bob Marley Museum at 56 Hope Road in Kingston, Jamaica. We walked up the stairs to the second floor and there, in the first open room with big windows that fronted Hope Road, were walls and walls, floor to ceiling, full of Bob Marley’s spoken words. For years we visited Bob's old uptown Kingston home -- he'd brought the ghetto uptown, he once joked.


So here was the third world's first superstar captured in newsprint. Picture after picture, message after message. The person who wallpapered the room was Neville Garrick, a close friend of Bob Marley’s, a visual artist and Rastaman, who knew what it all meant. That it represented a significant history was clear to Garrick but not to the thousands of yearly visitors from all over the world who came to the Museum.


The words came mainly from newspaper interviews. Pasted directly on four walls and sealed in varnish, the newspapers dated back to the early seventies and, in some instances, the sixties. The visitors who came to this large (and one smaller room) didn't have the time or inclination to actually read the articles, the clippings, the yellowed linotype fading in the hot Kingston sun that filtered through the jalousie window slats.


It was on one of these visitations that I thought -- Bob is so alive here. He's talking to us all on the walls of 56 Hope Road. The people pass, curiosity seekers, going quietly from room to room. But they look and they don't listen. How can we get them to hear what Bob's saying?


That gave me and my daughter, Mariah, an idea. So we asked our friend, Cedella Marley if we might try to put together a collection of her father's interviews that would, quite literally, spring from the wall to pages of a book. First, we would record the clippings, put them on tape, translate the patois, and then arrange them into chapters. What struck me, then as well as now, is that these interviews had not been previously collected into one volume. Many of them were originally published in very small and obscure magazines and ephemeral newspapers that had come and gone long ago.


Cedella liked the idea, and told us to give it a try. So our family went to Kingston for a period of time and Mariah photographed and the two of us translated. The tours came through, as usual, and we were sprawled on the floor or on a ladder, transcribing, translating, recording.  Mariah got photographs of every newspaper and magazine article and I tape-recorded the talking walls of 56 Hope Road, and that is how this book began. Seven years later, we have an off-the-cuff Bob Marley book of aphorisms, wisdom, folk sayings, poetry, and straight talk. It may be a small book. But it covers a large geography. It’s Bob, as he was, as he is, as he will always be, talking to you.



Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Prairie Journey by Frances Bonney Jenner

Fran Jenner's first novel Prairie Journey took her more than six years to write. And probably four years of traveling the California Trail from St Louis to Sacramento. More years went into dreaming this book, thinking about it, hoping she could write it. She never took that for granted but she did have a poetess grandmother, Ida Mae Hudnall, for inspiration, and a name that rings western (Bonney, as in Billy the Kid). Somehow those incidentals inspire writers to write, and keep writing. Ida never gave up; neither did Billy. Fran couldn't either as she slept on the hard cold California Trail while asking herself under a sky chock full of stars . . . is this the way Savannah felt? Is this the way it feels when you are finally a thousand miles from home, your boyfriend is back there and you are just here, and the goldfields beckon and the good earth glares, not with fortunes but graves of those who were not so lucky.

But Fran was lucky. She finished her novel. Here is one little part of this page turning saga of the way West. . .

Split Rock

July 7, 1850

Mr. McAuley paced. Mrs. McAuley prayed. Mother stayed with them, all night, and she prayed too. Mr. McAuley went out again on horseback, at dawn, searching everywhere, begging and calling, but couldn't find a trace of them.

"We can't wait," Captain said. He pulled off his hat with one hand, rubbed his head with the other. "We'll die if we don't cross the Sierras before the snows fall. We waited for Katherine. Our time's used up."

Mrs. McAuley said, "Well, I'm not going, not without my boys." Mr. McAuley shuffled his feet, stared at the ground. "We got no choice. We'll catch you when they turn up."

"I'm sure sorry," Captain said, then started our wagons off towards Split Rock. Far ahead, I could see it, rising tall, it in the distance, its split, cut deep. I looked back as Mrs. McAuley leaned into the wagon, arms around her face, wailing, her body shaking all over. Mr. McAuley staring angry over the prairie. But there wasn't anything out there . . .

Mother read my mind. "Savannah, separating from the wagon train is like a death sentence."

"But, Mother . . . the McAuleys."

It was a while before she said, "Our staying won't bring Billy and Elijah back. It's a hard road . . . and we have no other." She wiped the sweat from her face and her lips tightened. She said, "Sometimes we're full of regrets about what we do, but we do it anyway, cause we can't see any other way."

These words weren't much comfort, so I said nothing. But I wanted to yell it, scream it, throw an almighty tantrum, cause I knew it was wrong to leave the McAuleys and I knew Mother knew it, too.

We might never see them again.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

To plot or not to plot

In talking about writing, William Saroyan once remarked: "What difference does it make what you call it, just so it breathes?"

Following this thread, novelist Richard Brautigan, wrote a raft of novels that reviewers sometimes called Brautigans rather than novels.

The old rules fall away, but one seems to stick.

The importance of plot. Somehow you can't get away from it. For plot is -- if not everything -- all but the kitchen sink. Come to think of it, we shouldn't leave out the kitchen sink either. Especially if it's doing some gruesome gurgling. We may need that gurgle to further the plot.

Which brings me to Trent Zelazny's new novel, Too Late To Call Texas.

Trent is a plotter not a plodder, and his novels breathe, as Saroyan said they should.

What makes this novelist's stories gripping is that the plot is "everyman in trouble" compounded with what has been called the "irrelevant detail."

Example: a guy driving on a lonely New Mexico road at night finds a cowboy hat on a fence. Curious, (as are we all) the driver stops to check it out. The hat has a hole in the crown. There is a sticky something there, too. Blood? Yes.

One question after another comes up, one after another, in this hell-and-gone masterpiece that might have been called a "yarn" in another era.

I call his novels Trents. Because they all have this similar ring of truth. Something obscure is happening and we don't know what it is, but we want to find out, and do. By then we're at the end of the novel, ka-ching.

Trents thrive on curiosity. The same that killed the cat. His cats are characters, and they do sometimes die for curiosity. But often, the irrelevant details mount up, and one little thing leads to another larger thing, all of them coming down to a greedy, sneaky, dangerous, leaky, eeky thing.

Don't read Trents on an empty stomach -- or a too-full one. When I read them, I tend to eat the same things his characters eat. Huevos rancheros yesterday while I finished Too Late To Call Texas.

If you're a writer, you need to take a look at a whole bunch of Trents.

If you're a reader, you should read them all, eating as you go, but look out for that unforeseen low ledge because it'll knock you off your horse.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Unusual Friends

We recently did a column on unusual animal friends -- our parrot, George and our Great Dane, Zora. They are reluctant friends, really, because Zora accepts George's parrot affection but does not return it so much as permit it.

In the story of Cat and Crow by Lisa Fleming, it's different. 

Moses the crow saves the life of Cassie the kitten -- not once but several times.

True story, well-told, showing how very different creatures overcome their differences -- or perhaps they didn't know they had any. If humans could be more like this we wouldn't have two-party poltical systems. But that is another story . . . .

It's not uncommon to find odd-fellow friends in nature. Animal moms frequently adopt babies from other species. We have seen feral kittens with raccoon babies, and the moms treat the cats as kits. And the kitties end up as cats that wash their food in water.

We once witnessed a very unusual friendship between an 11-year old boy and a newborn fly. They became, one beautiful summer day, "best friends."  But here's the unusual part: the fly refused to leave the boy's forearm. The boy fed the fly sugar water and such and the fly might leave the boy for a second or two, but it always came back and settled on his arm.

This unusual friendship lasted one week. Whereupon the fly got old and died.

There was, in fact, a fly-in funeral. According to the boy, other flies dropped by to pay their last respects.

What is most amazing is that we, as humans, somehow manage to believe that cats and crows and boys and flies live on different planets and have nothing in common.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Floating Stone: 21 Thoughts of Miyazawa Kenji

Just available on

Kenji Miyazawa, one of the greatest modern Zen poets is now considered, "the poet of the Tsunami recovery" by the Japanese. The color photgraphs of Miyazawa country are as remarkable as the poetry itself. Kenji Okuhira traveled all around capturing the visual homeland of Miyazawa. The result is a lovely walk in time and in the mind of one of the most unusual thinkers of the last one hundred years.

This book was a combined effort over many years. Kenji Okuhira's translations and my selection of same began in 1999 and continued off and on until just a year ago when we decided to finally publish the book.

Mina Yamashita, one of the best designers we have ever known, created the eye-catching page layout. Kenji Okuhira's flawless eye for detail, natural landscapes and, most importantly, the mystical way Miyazawa looked at things make this book an unusual visual experience. The text is in English and Japanese with field notes and comments by Kenji Okuhira.

Look for this book on Amazon, Ingram, Barnes and Noble, and your favorite indie bookstore.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Jan Wiener's Own Story

It has been 44 years since Jan handed me a copy of his newly published book, The Assassination of Heydrich.

In the months before, I had seen him writing in longhand in a school notebook and when I asked him what he was writing, he answered, "My life in Europe during World War 2 and the death of Reinhard Heydrich who was known as Hitler's Hangman." I had to admit I had never heard of Heydrich -- but I read Jan's book on the night he gave it to me. I couldn't put it down. It was chillingly brave, noble, painful, eerie, ironic, and sometimes, sparely poetic, just like Jan himself.

Knowing Jan -- for many of us who lived at The Windsor Mountain School in Lenox, Massachusetts -- was a great honor. Equally great is the honor of working on this reprint and update of his classic book. We did very little to it. Zuzana, Jan's wife, added a timeline.
I added a small memoir.

The story of Jan's escape from the Nazis, his amazing railway adventure getting to Italy, and his subsequent imprisonment there all seem like fiction. That he lived to tell the tale and was a navigator for more than thirty R.A.F. missions over Berlin is yet another spellbinding story, one that I heard little by little, and one night at a time, at a bar in Lenox during the 1970s. "This should be a film," I told him. And so it was, later on.

When I read The Assassination of Heydrich today, I am struck by the insistent, soft cadence of Jan's spoken voice. It's in his every statement. Those who took his Modern European History course know that voice well, and will hear it again in his prose. For me, it brings back one hundred nights at Heritage House on Housatonic St., Lenox, Massachusetts.

Here's to an incredible storyteller and devoted friend. 

Even if you have already done so, I suggest that you read what he wrote again.

We need to hear it now more than ever.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

George the Horse

This horse with no name is a roper's horse, a sweet-tempered show animal used to rodeos and working with calves. He's not built large enough to hold a steer. He crow hops sometimes. He has the roughest, bumpiest trot I've ever encountered, but it quickly slides into the the smoothest lope I've ever felt.

I breathe his warm breath into my lungs, and return it. Circular breathing.

I call him George because Jim does but also because I have a lifelong friend, a parrot named George. And now I have an 80 year old writer friend named George and a literary agent named George, and I am thinking of calling myself George instead of Gerald just to confuse everyone. Just kidding.

It starts raining on our ride in the high timber above Sapello Canyon. George wiggles his muzzle at the drizzle. I watch his unshod hooves clomping in the red earth heading down into the draw where the tall grass grows. George gets a little dancy at the sight of so much lushness and goes into his famous lope, so easy that you could hold a beer glass in hand and not spill a drop.

I could have him for a month's pay at the writer's trade, but back in Florida where we live, George would be out of work, and if there's anything this horse loves it's working.

On the way back to the barn he sees a funny-looking stump, sidesteps, crowhops once, then the easy canter. I understand why my mother was a rider at age five, my wife, too. My brother's all horseman. I ride when I can and dream the ride when I cannot.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Time Capsule

My father used to say: "Where does the time go? Into a little dark hole in the ground."

Yesterday I looked at my grandmother's writing desk built before 1900. For nine years now the drawers have been swollen shut, but with the AC the ancient walnut cabinetry shrunk just enough for me to get into the desk and see what was there.

Our granddaughter was staying with us in 2004 and she'd taken over the old desk, and made it hers. All her stuff was in it. She's in college now and I didn't think she'd mind if I took a peek at her "secret things." This is what I found in the cubbies and drawers:

A deck of playing cards whittled at by silverfish
A bunch of bird feathers
Some stones in a plastic bag
A container of Elmer's Washable Glue, still soft and gooey
A set of Batman and Robin cards

And then the real time capsule treasure!

A Numi box inside of which was a nine year old's note to her grandparents on the day she went home to Miami with her mom. Summer was over. Inside the box was a nine year old, unread note that said:

Take this little box
to remember
while I'm gone.

Some things don't go into that little dark hole in the ground.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Snorting Debby at High Tide

Debby, second storm of the season, was big and fat and sat over us, dark and gray for one whole week. She's on her way out now, but still blowing foam and little bits of mad spittle. I confess to loving storms but I never want to see another bad boy like Charley. He hurt us. I've written about him before, but Debby's another matter. She's, well . . . let me tell you.

Before a named storm comes to our barrier island, I always ask Lorry if we know anyone by that name who's caused us trouble. We've always loved Charleys, so he took us by surprise, tearing the island a new one for several hours before he squashed the town of Punta Gorda flat.

Debby? "We don't know any bad Deb's," Lorry said. She proved to be rather mild -- a good storm to sleep through with the odd pelt of sporadic rain -- the sudden rush followed by the weaker flutter of pelter drops. I like to swim in stormy weather and I like drinking Dark and Stormies -- ginger beer and rum with a twist of angostura bitters. But what is it about storms?

I like listening to the rain drum on the metal roof of the lanai. I like listening to the rain toads squeak like mice under the shefelera trees. I don't mind the lights going out once or twice. And to tell the truth, a full outtage for a spell isn't bad either. I cook on the grill by lantern light. How long is a spell? Could be eight hours or more. On occasion, a week or two. I don't like those much. But when push comes to shove, we bathe in the lily pond. Lorry and I amuse our tribe of soft-shelled turtles who bite the bubbles of goat's milk soap.

Debby brought more rain than we'd seen in ten months. I caught up on a little reading. Then Debby got rough and snorted down our chimney. That brought a family of chimney swifts into the kitchen. We put them back where they belonged. The rain stopped. The heat came on. The bees swarmed at the front of the house. An armadillo herd glittered and dug worms in back of the house.

We ate fried mullet for lunch and watched live mullet move in the canal. Mullets have faces like angelic puppies. I've never wanted to kiss one. But then I've never known a snorting Debby. "It's all good," my dad used to say, "if you like it." He also said, "I like to hit myself over the head with a hammer, now and then, because it feels so good when I stop." That explains why we like storms in Florida.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Why Las Vegas? Why Write?

Each July for the past five years, we have been pleased to do a writing workshop for writers of all kinds, dispositions and backgrounds. Not to mention ages.

Part of the experience is generated by the place itself. Old Town Las Vegas has been in more movies than most towns of its size, starting with Easy Rider and, most recently, Paul.

The first jail in Las Vegas was in back of the Plaza Hotel where we have our workshop. How strange: to think that Billy the Kid slipped out back, through the bars, off into the hills where he met a woman, who had a child, whose grandson attended classes with Loretta and me at Highlands University in 1966. That was Jim Bonney.

Place is one thing, writing is another. We come to write not necessarily about place but spirit of place. That could be what is in our heart. And it could be what is stored away, out of reach, in the lower brain stem where primal memory is stored. We talk a lot about memory. Some of us are writing memoirs. Reaching back somewhere. For something.

I guess the whole thing could be summed up by Norman Mailer's question to Jean Malaquais, "Why do you write?"

The answer: ". . . the only time I know the truth is at the point of my pen."

At one of our workshops we asked people to write thank you letters. One was directed to "the person who saved my life." One was a message written to "the one who ruined my life."

Once we asked our writers to write an outline for a book called "The Spiritual Lives of Inanimate Things."

Our basic premise has always been that everyone has a story to tell. And everyone has the means to tell it. Sometimes all we need is Dumbo's feather to fly up, up and away.

Lorry, Gerry, Alice

Green River Workshop July, 2011
Las Vegas, New Mexico

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Logical Poet

It was the poet John Ciardi who once said of children's writing -- "Just as I am ready to conclude that everything in their minds is a non sequitor, it turns out to be its own logic of perception."

Sun, sun, do you know
You are beams in the flames . . .

So said the 7 year-old whose "logic of perception" was simply that you could talk to the sun.

An 11 year-old said,

The clouds are stuck and scared to move
For fear the trees might pinch them.

The logic of perception is that everything is alive and conscious of everything else.

It's a party, said the 4 year-old child of my friend Catya,

The fingers of the sun
Touch the trees
The fingers of the sun touch the leaves
Together they go dancing
Through the breeze.

Does it really matter what age the poet is? This logic of perception is from a Japanese journalist, screenwriter friend of mine (age 40?) who said in this morning's email,

It is a warm hearted
good sad book of honesty
that smells dead rotten mouse of heart a bit.

And from poet Bob Arnold who writes of his son's . . .

5 Year Old Logic On A Winter Night

Under quilts he
says he is too hot

folding down the bed to
a sheet & one blanket

he looks up & says
he is too cold

Yes, you can talk to the sun and read a good rotten mouse heart of a book, and you can be any age, at any time and you can love your life so much that you even love the logic of not being born, and yet be there too.

End Of Story

Looking out at the hillside
Across the river and over the
Trees from our home Carson asks --
Did we climb that mountain?

I say, No, but mommy and I did.

Nodding, he decides, Oh, yeah,
We climbed that before I was born.

The proof is in the pudding and the logic. And the logic states that all things are possible when you believe in them. Go ahead, talk to the moon. She's listening.

Friday, May 4, 2012

The Unlikely Poet

The Unlikely Poet -- Every One of Us

Who is the unlikely poet?

The one least likely to write a poem.

In this case a fifth grade girl who, according to her reading teacher

doesn't like reading or writing.

It happens. The poem just bursts forth, and when you see it, it's joyous.

"Poets like to tell you how they write because they themselves do not know how it is done." That's from poet David Kherdian.

I don't know what DD, the unlikely fifth grade poet, would say about this. But here's her lovely poem --

Blue, blue like the

sky sweet like

the ocean blues

just like crying

eyes of tears

sweet just like

the blue night skies

so just sweet of


Another fifth grader, as unlikely as can be, because she said this poem while doing hop scotch on a sidewalk. I wrote it down while she hopped and scotched, and then I asked her: "Did you write that?"  

Her answer: "Did I write what?" 

"That poem." 

"What poem?" 

Anyway, it came in three and four-line jumps, as her feet tapped the beat on the cement street--

be cool

be rule

be bright

be light

be calm

be cool

be fool

be bop

be hip

be scat

be cat


I once had a conversation with Mr. Rogers about how "Anyone is a poet." 

He preferred: "Everyone is a poet!" 

Sometime after this, I was walking with my wife in the sunny streets of Manhattan when I heard a very small man say loudly into his tiny cell phone --

Sure I saw it

but what

do you want

me to do

about it?

I laughed and he looked at me, and walked by. I said to Lorry, "That guy looked like Danny DeVito, and she said, "That was Danny DeVito." 

So -- for Fred Rogers and DD and Danny -- and for the nameless hop-scotcher of New Port Richie, this is for you -- "Everyone IS a poet!"

Friday, April 6, 2012

Canyon Time: A Love Story

Today is Good Friday. For us, for Lorry and me, this marks our 46th year together.

We do not celebrate the day we were married in June, 1969, but rather the day we met and had our first date in the Gallinas Canyon outside of Las Vegas, New Mexico. Some friends had a campfire by the river but we chose to climb above to the bare rocks where the ancient flume wound around the cliff walls. We sat inside the flume, the old water-carrier, which was built like an endless trough. We sat holding hands watching the campfire burn below and hearing the laughter of our friends.

We watched the moonrise. Then we heard voices, singing. It was hard to tell what it was at first. It wasn't our friends. The singing came from far far away. At last, we knew. There was a morada on the other side of the canyon. Hidden away, secret. The singing came, it seemed, from somewhere, nowhere. A song from the Dark Ages etched in stone, in flesh.

Once again on Holy Thursday, the Penitentes were re-enacting the crucifixion. Devout, strained voices came and went on the wind. Moorish chants from another time, a world away. We sat quiet, listening,
penitents ourselves. Holding hands, in love. In canyon time.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Power of Right Thinking

It's not about thinking on the right. Or on the left. Or hitting it dead center. It's about seeing clearly and thinking clearly, for it is as Socrates said, "The unexamined life is not worth living."

In 1922 Dr. Frank Crane, a Presbyterian minister, wrote an essay entitled "The Power of Right Thinking." He followed it up with four other essays, each published separately, and each one dealing with another aspect of living.

With very little effort you can trace a timeline from Emerson (On Self-Reliance) to Crane, from Crane to Peale (The Power of Positive Thinking), and from Peale to Napoleon Hill (Think and Grow Rich). From Hill you can go to The Secret by Rhonda Byrne.

What do all of these thinkers and their books have in common?

Dr. Crane tells us. Get rid of the enemies to right thinking and you're in the clear. Here they are, we all know them, but in the course of a day, we can easily forget them. My favorite "enemies" are --


Of course Dr. Crane doesn't stop; he goes on prophetically. He states that Mind is everything. Love is everything else. And the belief in a higher power (call it life force if you will) joins the two as one. Using wisdom instead of unbridled passion, Dr. Crane comes to the conclusion that only through lack of Mind, Love and Wisdom do we err.

Easily said, you might say. So how do we . . .

Dr. Crane lays out a four-fold, eight-fold, sixteen-fold plan.  "The secret is simple," he says, "and as old as philosophy. It is that by repeating an action one can gradually induce a desire to repeat it, and by refusing a desire one can eliminate it.." So, what is the formula? Dr. Crane explains that Right Thinking is the answer. That means thinking without egotism, fear, prejudice and ignorance.

How do we accomplish this? Dr. Crane answers that we have to pay attention, we have to listen to others, we have to turn off our busy-body mind, and calmly surrender to truth.

What is truth? Truth is not what others say or what you think you say. It is not what others have told you to say or what great philosophers have said. Truth is in the center of all of these, but it stands alone. And it, alone, is pristine, unvarnished, and real. Truth stands in the middle between the arguments on either side that try to win it over to their side. Truth doesn't budge; it is what it is.

How can one live in the truth?

Dr. Crane suggests: "Eliminate the pronoun "I" as much as possible. Don't talk about yourself, what you did and what you like and what you're going to do. Encourage the other person to talk about himself."

The golden mean, the golden compass, the golden rule of Dr. Crane's amazing thinking is that it's so simple. So basic. "Watch your thought life," he advises, "and don't neglect the little things."

Please, excuse me, thank you. These expressions of grace are still useful. They still work.

"Everything counts," says Dr. Crane.

And he ends his 88 page masterpiece by saying, "You are not alone."

Thursday, March 8, 2012

More on Maurice Sendak

So many people have written me in the past couple of days saying that they too had a meeting with the Master. 

A bestselling children's book author told me that his career was actually launched by Maurice because he sent out his first book in manuscript to a bunch of authors he admired and only one responded. That one was the one. Yep. Maurice. And his letter made up for the missing others. 

Catherine Balkin (Balkin's Buddies) wrote the other day: "I wore the Wild Things costume a few times, once at an event where Maurice was speaking. When I came up on stage, Maurice bent toward me and whispered, "I bet you're hot in there." He was right." 

Then a friend who was a both a children's author and an actor sent me this: "Did I tell you how we met? He had a condo in the same building where I was staying and one night after the ballet or opera, I saw Maurice getting out of a cab. He held the door for me,  but I told him no thanks. He seemed a little put out that I had pretended to want a cab, so I explained to him that I had wanted a cab, but now I was more interested in meeting him. That cheered him up and we strolled around the neighborhood. He pointed out where he wrote Wild Things and we said we’d keep in touch. We did, and had lovely days in Ridgefield every now and then." 

Maurice Sendak may not be an angel but he is a saint.  In my book, and I mean book. He has helped so very many people that I know and so many more I have only read. For instance, once he told me that when Edward Gorey was not very well known and still wearing a WW I airman's hat and goggles around the streets of New York, Maurice asked him if he'd like an introduction to his editor. Gorey said, "They wouldn't be interested in me." So Maurice took that as a challenge and asked his editor if the firm would be interested in Edward Gorey. And the answer: "He wouldn't be interested in us." I don't think Maurice got EG to take off his leather airman's skullcap, but he did get him published by a major house. 

There is a tendency today for authors who've "made it", as we used to say in the 70s, to forget how it was coming up. They forget -- some of them -- how much it means to a young author, would-be or not, to hear a word of cheer. Maurice, despite the curmudgeonly play-acting, is one of the few who always lent a hand, and, thankfully, still does.

Monday, February 13, 2012

the aliens among us

A friend just emailed and said another friend said, "The times are changing and they've never been worse." I decided I'd see how much worse. I time-traveled via Google, to 1978.

Back then the headlines read THE GREAT GOD GASOLINE.

So I traveled back another 100 years to 1878. The headlines read FIRST TELEPHONE DIRECTORY. I looked at the fine print and it said there were 50 names in the book.

What else was going on in 1878?

Well, the Standard Oil monopoly was just getting started, which is to say, just getting omnipotent. There were the usual strikes, wars, famines, and hair-raising homocides, so I decided to tick the time clock forward to 1883 and see what things were like.  That was the year the U.S. Supreme Court decided that, by birth, American Indians were aliens, and dependents.

I flipped forward to 1978. The aliens were in the news again -- new aliens, ones from other galaxies. People were seeing them everywhere.

Forward . . . back, as they say, to 2012. Aliens still in the news: illegal, once again. And what about the aliens behind podiums, they were plentifully in the news but not named as such.

"Are things worser or betterer?" my grandson asks.

George Dawson, a grandson of slaves, said only a few years ago, "Things are getting better, I do believe."  If you agree, maybe you might want to do what he did -- try going back to elementary school, learn how to read, how to be polite, how to share, how to be nice. Wouldn't that be something you could call news? Mr. Dawson did it, but then again, from what I've read, he was always a nice man.

So -- worser or betterer?

Doesn't matter if we can just learn to be nice.

Monday, January 30, 2012

From Lorca to Dylan

I read The Gypsy Ballads of Garcia Lorca 47 years ago and I have been carrying them in my head ever since.  Sometimes I wake and they are there.  The myrtle and lime. The three hundred crimson roses. The trail of tears and tinny lights. The moon by sounding water. And then I come to this, and it always stops me:

Green as I would have you be.
Green wind. Green boughs.
The boat on the sea
And the horse on the mountain.

I remember reciting these lines to my professor, Dr. Richard O'Connell, translator with James-Graham Lujan of Five Plays by Lorca, and he smiled. "Whose translation is that?" he asked.

I told him, "Rolfe Humphries."

Doc, as we called him, looked a little uneasy. "Rolfe will forgive me if I say he got it wrong. It needs to be more like, 'Green, green, I want you green.'"

He emphasized it with his hands, clasping the air, grabbing at the invisible but palpable green. "Maybe desire is a better word than want," he said. "Have you heard it better?" he asked.

"Maybe I said, and I recited:

Green green rocky road
promenade in green
Tell me who you love
Tell me who you love

"That isn't Lorca!" Doc said.

"It's Len Chandler, folksinger-poet. I heard him sing his green song at The Gaslight in Greenwich Village in 1962. Len played the 12 string and he could really get you going with that song. Bob Dylan was usually in the audience."

"Who's that?" Doc asked.

Federico Garcia Lorca

Monday, January 23, 2012

All Is Beautiful All Around Me: Navajo Ways and Ceremonial Stories

I've done a post on this book earlier, but today it comes out as a digital book on and Nook, so I feel I should say something about this new edition.

What can you get out of a book like this?

The stories, all of them oral renditions of Navajo healing Ways, are evocations of a culture that as Tony Hillerman says in the Foreword deserves to be called "The Enduring Navajo" . . . he also adds that this same culture is "engulfed by a dominant materialistic society."  Guess which one.

Frederick Turner (Beyond Geography) said this book was "a useful map of the cosmogony of North America's most populous tribe."

Frank Waters commented: "This oral equivalent to our Christian Bible loses none of its power and significance in its easy readability."

So, I believe you could read this book to heal yourself, to remember yourself, to bring yourself back into harmony with all things, which is the Navajo Way.

You have only to look at the last line of some of the stories to understand what All Is Beautiful is about:

"And all was well."

"And his wish was done."

"But his spirit is always there on the Wind's breath."

"And life was restored to the village."

These endings are merely beginnings -- to your own well being. Don't take my word for it, read this book of beginnings wherein all things merge and are one.

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Lion and the Scorpion

I still think kids are the best storytellers.  Here's a story told by my grandson, Taj, when he was six.  He called it "The Lion and the Scorpion."  And he said it very fast and I had to really race with my pen to keep up with him.  Such stories have been called "Yo Mama" but basically they're just one-upsmanship word-plays called out on every playground in America.  Taj said it, I scribbled it down in my journal and then Taj illustrated it, all done -- story and drawing -- in five minutes.

The Lion say, "Can't you be my friend?"

(The scorpion raises his tail . . .)

The lion he say, "I am going to eat you for breakfast if you sting me!"

The scorpion say, "Hey, you, what are you lookin at, Turtle?"

The lion say, "Hey YOU, what you lookin at, Bird?  I will eat you for BREAKFAST and LUNCH and SNACK and DINNER!"

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Year in Review

One time when I was on the road doing some storytelling, I read a newspaper that was full of stuff that I thought had to be made up.  Of course it wasn't.  It was "real."  So I underlined the headlines, one after another.  And then cut them out of the newspaper and taped them into my journal and they looked like this --

Two die as car speeds off lift-bridge into river

Woman believed to have stolen baby

Police kill wandering emu in suburban St Louis

Man bites panda; panda bites man

Cat kills dog; man kills cat

Hawk attacks people

Voters decided on instant runoff

Maintenance man wins 163 million

Space station receives toxin scare

Bismarkers want world snow angel title back


Yes, the whole voyald, as William Saroyan once said, and all the people and animals
in it hopping and popping and scrapping.  I am siding with the five-year-old Jamaican girl
who read her own one-line poem on a stage where I was proud to be part of a program with
Cedella Marley and our daughter, Mariah Fox.  So what did the little girl read?

She stood before hundreds of people and shook a plastic bottle full of uncooked rice
and said in a very loud voice:

"Stop the violence NOW!"