The Foot Locker

•February 5, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Feeling these days like “endings” are over and done, and new beginnings are … just beginning. All-new post next Friday!

Completely in the Dark

FootLock1I’ve been carrying around a coffin.

From place to place, it’s hulked in bedroom corners—a musty, scuffed thing, festooned with cobwebs and containing the rotting corpse of my early life’s memorabilia.

It’s my foot locker.

There’s no serial number, no stenciled lettering, no nothing. Just a metal plate that reads: “Poirier & McLane Corporation, Falconer, NY 1947.”

There’s also no record in the early diaries (1972–1978) of how I acquired it. It could’ve been Dad’s old Army-issue, but that’s doubtful. I would’ve remembered that.

More likely, the Family Project bought it at a garage or estate sale.

You see, when Grandpa Adams visited us he and Dad used to hit auctions, estate sales and such. Grandpa was always scavenging around for used camera equipment; Dad likely saw the foot locker, then bought and gave it to me.

I’ve been sorting through its photos, letters and memorabilia lately—I knew that…

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Hey Mr. DJ!

•January 29, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Jeff_1976Radio used to be a tiny room.

At least that’s where it started for me.

When I remember radio, it was first hearing it in small, enclosed spaces: riding shotgun in Grandpa Maupin’s station wagon; he, smoking Pall Malls while we both chomped on Juicy Fruit gum, listening to a baseball game on our way back from wherever we’d been—me, mesmerized by the red tail lights ahead and the game announcer’s commentary, there in the space of that car, enveloped in radio, stars twinkling above us on the highway.

Or that little bedroom on Casco Point, sometime between 1971 and 1975, with my bedside Panasonic flip clock radio with hi-fi AM radio (and simulated wood cabinet), where I tuned into WCCO and the CBS Radio Mystery Theater with E.G. Marshall, or WDGY, or rock music on KDWB nightly.

I’d phone DJs such as the True Don Bleu or Rob Sherwood, or even John Sebastian (no connection to The Lovin’ Spoonful one) whose home phone number I’d somehow scammed (photo at right)—you know, so I could make requests late at night.HeyDJ!

So what song would I request?

Well, while pop music was stagnating in one sector, it was blossoming in another. The Captain and Tennille’s “Love Will Keep Us Together,” Tony Orlando and Dawn’s “He Don’t Love You,” Helen Reddy’s “Delta Dawn,” Neil Sedaka’s “Bad Blood,” or The Carpenters’ “Yesterday Once More,” were being edged out by real ear-popping new stuff: Queen’s “Killer Queen,” Sweet’s “Ballroom Blitz,” The Eagles’ “One of These Nights,” Ozark Mountain Daredevils’ “Jackie Blue,” and … David Bowie’s “Fame.”

That was the summer of 1975.

What a summer it was—the transition from junior high to our first year of high school.

And those songs on the radio. They still haunt me.

***

Fast-forward ten years and, oh, six months later. The dead of winter.

I’d landed a fulltime job as a proofreader at a direct-mail marketing corporation near Hopkins, Minn.

And I’d left hopes for an undergraduate degree back in Iowa City. It was tough returning to the ’rents farmhouse in Minnetrista.

All I really wanted was an apartment of my own closer to the cities.

Cramped in an upstairs bedroom, I made resolutions for 1986. On Sunday, Dec. 29, 1985, the journal reports:

“I’ve really disliked being home this past year, I really feel like I’m thirteen, not twenty-six. I’m tired of the folks, really. And this rabbit-hutch of a room I sleep in—that’s about it: sleep in. I hate writing or reading in here. The room, for some reason, is psychologically [unconducive] to work attitudes. I’m hoping if I get a nice 1 BR apartment I can transform the living room into a work area and when I’m tired of working and want to go to bed, I can shut a door to it all. So I have a good idea of what I’m looking for in a place.”

That same weekend old high school friend Theron Hollingsworth visited me at the farmhouse. He’d first called from the Westonka public library, so I put on a pot of coffee and we chatted in the kitchen. We listened to “my ’70s tape and [talked] about Christmas, working, writing… He had the radio show to do that night [so he] left around 1 or 2 (the folks had gone out for the day).”

Theron had returned to Minnesota in March 1984 from a 6-month gig as news director at an FM station out of Gillette, Wyo. He’d been missing his girlfriend (and soon-to-be fiancée) Michelle, and had ruled out “High Plains Radio” as a long-term career choice. Sometime in 1985 he landed a DJ gig at WLKX-FM 96 in Forest Lake, Minn., after cold calling them about a job.

During the fall and winter of ’85, I’d wriggle out of my tiny bedroom and flop into the upstairs living room sofa to make song requests while he spun records in Forest Lake.

At last. I had a disc jockey friend again, on the inside, on the call-in line.

***

We couldn’t get enough. I couldn’t get enough. The new songs on the radio played like an endless loop in our heads.

During the summer of 1975, I was learning about Elton John’s deeper album tracks from fellow Winnie-the-Pooh actor-friend Baibi Vegners. She was a dark-eyed brunette who seemed worldly-wise for all of her 15 years.

We’d spin Bowie and Elton John records in her bedroom at her Mom’s house in Mound, Minn., a stone’s throw from Surfside Park and Lake Minnetonka’s Cooks Bay. Baibi’s mom taught piano lessons and was always delighted to hear me play when I stopped over.

Baibi and I fast became music buddies.

When new friend Jeff Taylor (pictured top left in 1975), who’d played the Narrator in Winnie-the-Pooh, found out about my friendship with Baibi, he wanted to get to know her, too—romantically, he said.

He felt shy and wondered if I could arrange a get-together between the three of us … like, how about on his family’s 1974 tri-hull with a 50 hp Johnson outboard, for a spin out on the lake?

***

Before cracking open a fresh new National 43-571 journal for 1986, I’d already begun the new year in the old journal.

On Sunday, Jan. 5, the Family Project ate lunch at a buffet in Minnetonka. On the way, we stopped to look at a one-bedroom apartment in Excelsior I’d called about. My dad, brother, and I went inside to check it out, with Mom apparently waiting in the car. The journal tells the story:

“It was a real shack. …paint was peeling off the walls. A hole in the wall, patched in lumps. Convection heat! Dad and Brian were practically planted in the kitchen, stone-faced to the landlord, George, while I politely, blindly, scouted out the ‘bedroom’ and ‘bath.’ Rust, flakes of shit, flakes of rust, impenetrable windows…I thanked George for the opportunity to look, but ‘it was too small (among other politely unspoken things).’ We went and had lunch, with little else to say about the place.”

It was mid-January 1986, and my itch to move out was only getting itchier.

And music was inspiring a lot of the stories I wanted to write. I admitted that in a Jan. 14 entry:

“I hear Springsteen’s latest stuff and I have to smile. Yeap. ‘Glory Days.’ ‘My Hometown.’ It’s there. It’s like a window clear back to the ’seventies. I don’t know what’s exactly so good about it, but I smile.”

On Sunday, Jan. 26, I’d called Theron at WLKX from the Walker Art Center after attending a screening of Miloš Forman’s Taking Off, with Forman in attendance.

Then I probably quickly shuffled back to my rabbit-hutch bedroom on the farm.

***

Baibi, Jeff, and I are still friends.

In fact, we talked recently about David Bowie’s death. And our boat outing that summer of 1975.

Jeff couldn’t remember how the day went, and I wasn’t much help as I didn’t keep a journal in 1975. I conjectured that, since he lived in Spring Park, and I then lived on Casco Point, he probably picked me up in his boat first, then we motored over to pick up Baibi in Mound.

Baibi recalled via email that she’d “introduced many of [her] friends to the music of David Bowie in junior high.” We’d just graduated that spring and were off to the big high school in the fall.

We knew everything was about to change.

Like Baibi, I’d first heard Bowie on the radio when “Space Oddity” was re-released in the U.S. in November 1972. Record upon record followed, such as “Changes,” “Suffragette City,” and the Diamond Dogs LP in 1974.

Baibi convinced her father to take her to the Oct. 5, 1974, St. Paul Civic Center concert. She related the story in detail:

“When Bowie finally came out, he was dressed in a pair of baggy pants and a button-down shirt. … I bummed out when I realized he was not going to change into his makeup or do anything weird for this show.”

Baibi’s dad must’ve been a cooler parent than my own.

“About mid-concert,” she writes, “I noticed a joint being passed down the row, making its way toward my dad. I remember being horrified and thinking we were going to have to get up and leave and I’d never be allowed to attend another rock concert again. But when offered a hit, my dad smiled and politely declined. That was that.”

While I loved “Space Oddity,” “Changes,” and “Young Americans,” you’d find me scratching my head more than hungrily slapping down allowance money for Bowie LPs. Listening to “Fame” on Baibi’s turntable I had to ask her, “What in hell is he singing here? ‘Booger for you, sugar for me, gotta get a ration gone’?

If you were really gonna mishear lyrics, Bowie was your go-to guy.

But maybe Baibi summed him up best: “David Bowie had a style that won’t be forgotten.”

***

Then, sometime in February 1986, one of the copywriters at the office pulled me aside.

She knew I wanted to move out of my parents’ place, and said she had an apartment in Hopkins she was leaving. Did I want to check it out?

It happened on Friday, Feb. 7, as reported in the journal four days later:

“April 1st I take possession of a studio apartment at Knollwood Towers West, #615. …Friday after work the folks met me at [the office] and we drove over and looked at the apartment. I signed the application and now my next chore will be rounding up furniture. I’m happy that I was able to land a place that’s all my own. I plan to use it as a base headquarters for all my projects. The folks seem to be happy, too. Dad’s helping me plan it out. I talked to Hollingsworth on Sunday night about it.”

PhotoCITDYeah, I can almost imagine our conversation, probably on the upstairs phone outside that teeny, tiny bedroom at the farm, with Theron working the wavelengths out in Forest Lake: “Hey! Mr. DJ! Got myself a new crib today! Can you play a little tune to celebrate?

“…And say… do you have any idea what Bowie’s ‘China Girl’ is really about?”

The Play at Pooh Corner

•January 22, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Rewriting an all-new post for next Friday, somewhat related to this oldie. Enjoy!

Completely in the Dark

WinniePooh3God knows I’m no actor. Nor have I ever had a burning desire to be one.

But Mom knew I was interested in the arts, so she took me to readings and lectures. (In February 1975 we went to a talk at the University of Minnesota on “Romanticism in Literature.” Go figure. I wouldn’t have remembered that without rereading my diaries.)

She also introduced me to the theater.

In the fall of 1978, we saw a performance of Hamlet at the Guthrie, with Randall Duk Kim as the Dane. Unbeknownst to me at the time, the Guthrie’s stage manager, Bob Bye, would five years later direct me in the role of Dr. Sanderson in a Westonka community theater production of Mary Chase’s Harvey. After that we did Arthur Miller’s All My Sons, where I had the part of the catalyst, George Deever.

At one point Bye pulled…

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Still Life With Father and Seaside

•January 15, 2016 • Leave a Comment

It’s the type of canvas that demands big, broad brushstrokes.StillLife1

Just like my late father might’ve painted.

It’s the color of warm white sand. The shushing of waves on a beach, seagulls cawing and squawking above, the smell of seaweed, decaying fish, and salty air—this is the picture I have.

“JAN ’68” is date stamped on the photos, although they were taken on Wednesday, Nov. 1, 1967, on the boardwalk at Ocean City, Md.

This was long before I started writing in diaries, so the only record is some scrawled handwriting on the back of the snapshots: Nov 1967 Paul & Boys at Ocean City Md. The photos were taken just weeks before my eighth birthday.

My brother, then around 6 years old, stands next to Dad with lit pipe, blue windbreaker, both hands thrust into the pockets of his chinos. I’m leaning back against a boardwalk fence rail, buffeted by ocean winds.

StillLife2When I take a magnifying glass to the photo to examine my face, I’ve no clue about what I might’ve been feeling at the time. In another photo, I’d wandered off, surveying the horizon, while Dad looked on.

That image of Dad.

Yes, it’s almost like a painting he would’ve painted. Which is ironic.

It’s a photograph taken by Mom.

***

I went looking for a moment I hoped I’d noted in my journals many years later.

It was 1992—a year much like right now—and my living situation was seriously in need of change, stemming from career frustration and social stagnation.

I was in my early 30s and had been working as a copyeditor at a direct mail marketing company for seven years. The buzz in the office: Layoffs in 1993. Rather than wait for the axe to fall, I’d planned to move out of my Hopkins studio apartment and find a new place in the city. If I was going to move, then I was also going to change jobs—and I’d decided to try freelancing.

So I began looking for rentals in the summer of 1992. I could’ve chosen Minneapolis, but most of my friends then lived in St. Paul.

Reluctant to tell the Family Project my plans, I thought it better to set things up first and then announce my decision.

***

Back in 1967, Dad was a Type A personality, big time.StillLife3

Perfectionistic tendencies. Work, work, work. His Way or the Highway.

Show me how hard you worked, then I’ll decide if you did an adequate job, he seemed to say. See here? I’m hard at work. This is how you do it, son.

We often butted heads over the smallest matters. I always questioned things, mostly because I was a curious kid. He’d get annoyed, yell at me to knock it off, and just get back to work.

When I think of that time in our lives, it’s painful. I was emotional and often had nightmares that kept me awake at night, especially when I was around 7 years old. I was dreamy and private and loved monster movies and things that made me laugh.

But I never felt as close to Dad as I did to mother. Mom and I were so much alike. I wonder what she thought of my relationship with Dad back then.

I’ll probably never know.

That is, outside of these photographs.

***

“Am I too obsessive about relationships?” I wrote in the journal on Thursday, Aug. 13, 1992.

I’d been dating a woman at the office, Sharon, and wasn’t feeling too solid about us. The journal goes into detail:

“Coupledom—as I understand it—is a unique situation. You don’t share it with just anybody. Consequently I tend to think that all this ‘ordering’ of relationships is what has gotten me in trouble in the past. I’m like some sort of malicious Jesus Christ mentally hammering his ‘apostles’ about their allegiance. What happened to me in the past to make me sweat losing so much? I’ve never had a parent or sibling die…what could have been so traumatic that I feign indifference when I’m dying of isolation?

Two months later I’d reconnected with my old girlfriend Thérèse, who was then married and living in Santa Fe, New Mex. We spoke on the phone after many years apart, and I confessed to her my plan to leave a corporate job to write freelance.

An Oct. 2 journal entry describes our conversation: “I said I had profit-sharing money in the bank and yet I was still unsure. ‘Mike, if you’re thinking about doing it, you have to do it.’ I can’t say how much those simple words meant to me. She was as right as rain, as I knew she would be.”

So I read further in the 1992 journal, hoping to find an incident that occurred with Dad that autumn. You see, between Friday, Nov. 6 and Thursday, Nov. 19, 1992, Dad and I had a conversation I’ll never forget.

My only regret is … I didn’t write about it in the journal when it happened.

That Friday I’d finally found a rental in an upstairs room of a 1885 mansion in St. Paul, just blocks from the Cathedral of Saint Paul and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s birthplace. Thirteen days later I moved into that mansion, so our talk must’ve happened in the intervening time.

It was over dinner at the Minnetonka Mist in Spring Park, Minn. Baby brother was absent, probably off at college. We sat in a corner booth … who knows whether I sat next to Mom, or they both sat opposite me, or what we had to eat and drink.

I told them I was leaving my fulltime job in December (my last day would be Pearl Harbor Day, the seventh) and that I’d chosen to move into a St. Paul mansion, the landlord of which promised a discounted rent if I helped with renovation work.

And that I would fill in the rest of my workday freelance writing.

Dad went ballistic.

Had I thought this all the way through? Where would I get my business? What would I do for insurance? What was this rental place and what kind of work would I be doing for these people? He flipped out when I told him my first job was stripping old paint off doors.

“What about the paint fumes?!

At that point we’d probably reached shouting level and caught looks from other diners. I don’t recall.

But my plan went forward and I never looked back.

On Nov. 19, 1992, I wrote in the journal:

“There’s more to say about the move and the situation here. I’d like more certainty about things, but I’ve got to realize that Uncertainty can be positive energy. And that’s not just psychobabble.”

StillLifeTopHey, I owe all my life experiences to Dad’s ambition and will. I get that.

And I’m grateful because I have memories of a happy childhood, with a safe home, books and church and school, trips out west to the Rockies, or to Michigan lake cabins, or Atlantic seasides.

But even at a young age I realized I couldn’t paint my father’s picture.

In my own uncertain way, I knew I’d have to create it myself.

Mitch Millison’s Last Act

•January 8, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Happy New Year! Here’s a chestnut while I finish research & editing of next week’s all-new post. Cheers, Mike

Completely in the Dark

First there was the sacred, then the profane.

Our family attended Oakdale Emory United Methodist Church, just up the road from where we lived in Olney, Md.

After we’d moved to Maryland, my Sunday morning activities included waking, eating breakfast, and the excruciating “getting ready for church.”

For some reason, raising children suddenly meant my parents were responsible for my (and my brother’s) eternal soul.

Church would fix that up right quick.

I vaguely recall the layout of Oakdale Emory, its pastor, the congregation, except for a few small things: Sunday school in the church basement and potlucks that, in late summer, were held at a congregant’s sprawling house surrounded by what seemed to be a deep pine forest.

Sunday school class was run by a dour old woman with hairs sprouting out of a mole on her chin. It was one of those things you just couldn’t ignore…

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On Thin Ice

•January 1, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Today my father would have been 84. I miss you Dad, every day. Happy New Year, my friends! Fill it with love and gratitude. :-)

Completely in the Dark

It was a reluctant winter.

Photo credits: Top, © 2014 Beth Bowman (www.bethbowman.com) Bottom, author in late 1970s by Dan Rogers. Used by permission. Photo credits: Top, © 2014 Beth Bowman (www.bethbowman.com) Bottom, author in late 1970s by Dan Rogers. Used by permission.

Back in 1979, that is.

On Dec. 10, the temps topped out at 54˚F. A 14-day heat wave followed, making it a very warm year’s end.

Final exams at Lakewood Community College hit our desks the previous week; the quarter officially ended Tuesday, Dec. 11.

Then I packed some things at my Mahtomedi rental and headed home for the Christmas holidays, reuniting with the Family Project. Since I had no car, it was likely a repeat of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend—via city bus, as I wrote about in the journal on Nov. 26:

“…Minnetonka commuters are warm bus companions and the air was charged with a sort of Christmas-like excitement as the businessmen curled up sleepily under their rain hats and let their copies…

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An Untweetable World

•December 25, 2015 • Leave a Comment
PaulasCat

Paula Poundstone’s cat, arriving via snail mail (the photo on a postcard, not the actual cat).

Oh, you Facebook.

It was so easy to forget you.

Ours was an awkward breakup, mostly because the people I left behind there were confused. And, well, a little frightened.

See, you were all about the past—yeah, that thing I try to leave behind every day.

But I didn’t come to that realization until a year or two into our relationship.

We probably met in 2006, although I know I saw you a lot in 2008. I commented to the woman I was then dating: “You should get on Facebook, hon! It’s a blast. It’s like One. Big. Party.” She said she couldn’t because of privacy concerns and, well, she worked in public education and didn’t want her students to know all about her private life.

Totally understandable.

Day7

Death By Facebook (Murder) Day 7. Click to enlarge.

But Facebook, when she and I broke up in 2009, I was feeling cold about our relationship, too.

After all, the endless stream of friend requests from people I barely knew growing up, the hokey high school memories, the religious haranguing…

It just got to be too much.

So instead of quitting you all at once, I got creative.

You may remember I used your mini-blog feature to post updates about how I was feeling, something I titled “Mike’s Internal Weather.” It looked like a weather report, with weather-condition-like categories on the left, but to the right of the colon it playfully included song lyrics, poetry, or stuff I made up on the fly.

You know, because it seemed like a fun thing to do.

On April 17, 2009, just after midnight, I posted the first “Death By Facebook” Internal Weather report with a countdown of seven days (pictured at right and left above/below). I told nobody why I was doing that. I just labeled a form of death with each mysterious entry (Murder, Electrocution, Misadventure, Drowning…). “Death By Facebook” included a forecast for the remaining days, so readers would notice it counted down to one day: Friday, April 24.

Day0

Death By Facebook (Suicide) Day Zero. Click to enlarge.

The last Death By Facebook?

Suicide.

I know, I know. Bad form.

The phone started ringing. Folks were worried.

I explained I was killing off Facebook in as many ways as I could think of, and that seemed like a pretty final way to go out.

Then I was done. Closed down my personal account. For good.

It was around then that a friend told me about Twitter.

“Why don’t you try that? You’ll meet cool new people there. Not like the Old Folks’ Home on FB.” He mentioned that “tweets” had to be no longer than 140 characters.

How stupid is that?” I groused. “What could anyone possibly say that was worth everyone’s attention in that short a message?”

It was May 2009 when I sent my first tweet.

It read: “Here comes the Flood.”

***

In early December 2015, this appeared in my Twitterfeed:

Poundstone1

“Computer Free Holiday Week” started this past week, but I’d made the decision the second I saw Paula Poundstone’s tweets. Why wait until Dec. 20? I’d quit Twitter for three weeks.

So the first morning off social media, Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015, I put my hand through the kitchen window.

Hoo boy. Off to a great start.

I’d knocked on the window over the sink to scare away a squirrel. The entire pane shattered. Fortunately I emerged with little damage to my hand, since the small knuckle on my right hand took the brunt of it.

But Elvis had already left the Twittertorium.

I couldn’t tweet about it.

[Insert sad emoji here.]

***

It’s been a terrible December in a terrible year to have one’s social media megaphone taken away: Seeping self-doubt from three years of under/unemployment. The aches and pains of aging—complicated by the relentless onslaught of Big Pharma TV advertising.

And being a big news junkie, I used Twitter as a source for the latest info. Any new terrorist attacks, political buffoonery, and holiday hoo-haw—all had to go into the Time Out corner.

Then it got really quiet, really quick.

Outside of the kitchen window damage, I encountered waves of fear and dread in the faces on the street. Neighbors neglected to hang Christmas lights. Local coffee shop holiday music seemed forced and insipid. A friend informed me over brunch that his 50-year-old wife had been laid off her job of 17 years … Just. Like. That. Couples had separated after decades of marriage, many planning for divorce proceedings in 2016.

And sadly, my upstairs neighbor, only 45 years old, committed suicide the week before I got offline.

It was an unimaginably bleak and untweetable world I’d stepped into.

Since I expected it would be hard, I’d planned “real world activities” to take the edge off the social media withdrawal: visits with friends IN REAL LIFE, lots of walks and trips to places in town I’d never seen before, enjoying music and reading—lots of reading.

I was going to read only classics, and worked my way down a list:

A Lesson Before Dying, Ernest J. Gaines
The Death of Socrates, Plato
Meditations, Marcus Aurelius
Reveries of the Solitary Walker, Rousseau (which I abandoned and moved on to…)
The Narrow Road to the Deep North, Basho
A Separate Peace, John Knowles
Zadig, Voltaire
The Symposium, Plato

That was probably the best idea because many of the books (only a few I’d read before, years ago) still resonate with me. I discovered that Rousseau brings me down. Basho is great when he praises the poets he meets on his travels. Marcus Aurelius was a bit one note on “being true to Nature” without describing exactly what that means.

And Plato? He’s always the shit.

In high school we’d been assigned Knowles’ A Separate Peace. I remember I never finished it. Now I have.

It was awful.

Gaines’ A Lesson Before Dying should be required reading in every 2016 classroom.

It was spectacular.

***

So what’s a social media-less world like?

Maybe the real question is: Can you tell the difference between signal and noise?

When I wasn’t reading, writing, eating, sleeping, or going on walks, I was staring out my broken window at feral squirrels romping through snowless lawns to strategically raid the back alley Dumpster. I’d become a rodent-side attendant. At odd moments I found myself singing, “I’m a squirrel watcher…”

Silence. All the silence. Then the roar of cars out in the street.

But it’s never quiet in one’s head.

We all live in our heads. And these days our heads are in everyone else’s heads. That’s a lot of heads to be living in.

The self-doubts, the money worries, job losses, ageism, racism, sexism, terrorism, the How-Fucked-Up-Can-This-World-Get-ism.

Perhaps social media, while seeming like an honest way to vent, to speak up, to give voice to a cause, only adds to the Noise Machine.

And when I think about what I may be missing, I suddenly realize I’m Not Missing Anything.

In fact, I wonder if I’ll feel the need to tweet so much when I return on Dec. 26…

Yeah …Riiiiiiiiiight.

 
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