Every Day’s the Fourth of July

•July 29, 2016 • Leave a Comment

First published late winter of 2014, reblogged late July 2016. Seems like light years. Enjoy.

Completely in the Dark

My beautiful pictureThe entire summer of 1979 is just one scant page in the journal, with only three unenlightening entries:

Monday, June 4 “And they end up wounded, and not even dead, down in Jungleland…” Springsteen … the heady rivalry of would-be friends …

July 24 Bought Going For The One back

August 3, Friday Talked with Mr. Fordahl concerning insurance bill…

The page opposite, an entry for Wednesday, May 30, isn’t helpful either. Seems spring quarter at the university had turned my brain to jelly. “—I am still alive. After a terribly stark weekend; what is living if it is practiced in groove with one’s peers?” Some doodles wrap it up, and a weather report: “—To-day is extremely hot & humid out. I cannot bear the abandon—solicitude…”

Google reveals the temperature that week did hit 82°F with a dew point of 66, but that Wednesday only topped out at 75°F…

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Talkin’ Ford-Carter Mock Debate Lovesick Blues

•July 22, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Happy Friday! I will be republishing posts through the summer while working on a side writing project.

Completely in the Dark

“Alley Cat” echoes from a banquet hall at the Thunderbird Motel in Bloomington, Minn.

It’s a Tuesday night. Nov. 30, 1976, in fact.

Pan the camera from the hall to the lobby, all decked out with faux and authentic Native American artifacts, where a 17-year-old boy slouches on a sofa, brownish-blonde hair falling into his eyes, his arms crossed.

He stares at a TV, bored out of his mind.

His mother is still in the hall, watching an organ recital hosted by Bodine’s Music.

They’re having their somewhat regular mother-son cultural appreciation night out.

It’s going swell.

***

Three days after the post-church date with Linda, I told Kristi about Linda. She … didn’t take it well. That same afternoon my first driver’s license arrived, so it was bye-bye learner’s permit. With wheels at the ready, I called Linda on Thursday to see if she wanted to go a…

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You Were My Book (Part 2)

•July 15, 2016 • Leave a Comment

[Last of a two-part post.]

BookYouFinalThe Book can’t talk back.

It only interacts with the mind.

So the mind (Silly Billy that it is) imagines: This is a relationship!

Of course it’s no such thing.

As the Book interacts with the mind’s expectations, there are none of those messy exchanges that go with actually relating to another human being.

The Book is clean and open and … just as it is.

Oh, how I love that.

It’s so … Romantic.

***

Lynn was a bridesmaid. I was a groomsman.

On Bud and Ellen’s wedding day, I rode with her to the Catholic church, bringing along her sister’s small suitcase. As we walked up to the church doors together, I carried the suitcase.

“A few people were waiting outside,” the journal reports, “and when Paul saw Lynn and I coming up together carrying a suitcase, he looked at us, smiling. …I said, with Lynn standing beside me, ‘After the ceremony, Lynn and I are flying to Jamaica.’ ‘What?’ he laughed, ‘Are you two getting married?’ Lynn and I replied at exactly the same time: ‘No,’ I said as she said, ‘Yes.’

“…I looked at her as she giggled, ‘All right with you?’”

***

For someone lacking experience in the Relationship Dept., I’ve lost years speculating on how it works. I mean, really works.

The best I can come up with is…

Love is service.

I learned this from watching my late mother. She was a nurse and instinctively knew how to care for others. She didn’t question any act of service—you just did what had to be done. If someone needed help, you helped them.

But if you’re giving and not getting what you need, that’s not going to work either. Relationships require a sort of “inner solenoid,” a regulator that both parties check to make sure each is supported and loved.

That, I think, is where a lot of people screw up.

If your relationship isn’t 50/50, you really need to end that shit—stat. No one should be a doormat for another person just because they understand love is service. Each person must realize that. But how can they?

It goes back to that solenoid again, the regulator. Guess you could also call it communication.

In the relationship, you ask: “How are you? Do you need anything? How can I help you?” Then you listen.

This is really, really hard, because sometimes the noise in our own heads gets in the way. Even so, the day-in, day-out regulating can feel burdensome. But I think if you can learn to treat others as you would yourself, you begin to see how it works.

I think.

***

“I was watching Lynn admiringly,” the journal says about the ceremony, further admitting that “I came to the conclusion that of all [her family members], she was the one who was the custodian of the family—the regulator, the mover—later, at the reception, Lynn’s stepmother Betty confirmed this for me without my bringing it up.”

After the ceremony, the wedding party converged on a downtown Louisville reception hall called Stairways. Lynn’s father John was a noted Louisville mystery writer, so I had him sign a copy of his first novel for me.

“Lynn walked me out to her car to return [John’s book] to my backpack. Leaning in to put it back, I pulled out the two blue diaries from 1984-85 I’d brought. I showed Lynn as I thumbed through the pages. ‘Know what these are?’ I asked her. ‘Journals?’ she grinned. ‘Yeah, Bud and I—our years at Iowa.’”

(i am my book.)

But you … You Are My Book.

Right here, from my hands, into your hands. From your hands to my hands.

***

Things changed when “T.R.” showed up at the reception. T.R. was Lynn’s wedding date.

Like, I should’ve seen that coming.

Still, at the reception Lynn and I slow-danced to The Moody Blues’ “New Horizons,” then her eldest sister Julie pulled me back on the dance floor for The Beatles’ “I Want to Hold Your Hand.BookFinal2

When the champagne stopped flowing, we all headed to a dive called Freddie’s.

“T.R. was sitting at the bar with [a] friend of Lynn’s. We all [watched] Star Trek: The New Generation and drank Seagram’s 7 & 7s … T.R. smoked a cigar.” Apparently T.R. taught English at Bellarmine College.

“I could tell there was a little tension in the air—he was Lynn’s date, but not feeling much like it. I wasn’t sympathizing with him because I was starting to feel really close to Lynn myself. Lynn came up to me—wanted to leave—[but] I’d just ordered another drink, so we stayed for one more.”

“In her car again,” the journal reveals, “I asked about ‘T.J., C.J., R.J…what’s-his-name’ and Lynn seemed amused at my purposeful misstating of his name. She didn’t like his smoking a cigar—and didn’t seem too fond of him in general—so I laid off the subject further.”

And that’s when she drove me over to her apartment.

***

Look, what could be more intoxicating than meeting someone at a wedding?

Or engaging in the furtive workplace tryst…

Or an old friendship that suddenly comes “with benefits…”

Or the endless other awkward ways we humans have found to express our libidos? It’s as old as the hills.

According to that Book—the one that’s both a 1990s National 43-571 and The Everlasting Book of Love and Romance (written by Some Idiot Who Just Doesn’t Get It)—not much happened while we hung out at Lynn’s “wonderfully cluttered apartment.”

She got out of her bridesmaid dress and into jeans and a t-shirt. “I remember holding her and saying some smart-ass remark and hearing her soft giggle by my chest. Ah! She sat on the floor and said, ‘Mike, I’m so confused…I don’t know what you want…’ I think I said I wanted to be her friend—was that OK?—but she knew I was lying…”

We stopped by Bud’s parents’ home, so I could change clothes. We then met up with everyone at another bar called Uncle Pleasant’s…

…Where—like a bad dream, as we floated through the door—T.R. was waiting for us.

***

I lasted maybe 20 minutes, tops.

I felt more isolated and jealous the longer that Lynn sat at the bar with T.R.

When I asked her if I could get my backpack out of her Toyota, she said “sure,” and we went outside to unlock the car.

“I’m walking back to the Morris’,” I said as she handed me the backpack. “Just point me in the right direction.”

I started walking up the street. “Mike…” I think she said.

I didn’t look back.

Stopping at a Pizza Hut, I called a cab. When the driver arrived, he “told me it’d be eight bucks. I told him I’d give him ten if he’d just get going. He turned the meter off. …He asked me if I was from out of town. I told him I’d had an argument with a girlfriend.”

“‘Ah, well,’ he said as we arrived at Bud’s folks’ place, ‘It’ll all work out.’

***

It’s now over 25 years later.

Lynn and I corresponded for a couple months after the wedding, sending mix tapes and postcards from the road. She’s now happily married with a family of her own.

But I’ve veered away from the main question that began this post: Who’s the culprit here: me, or that goddamn Everlasting Book of Love and Romance?

Maybe I might’ve learned earlier that the biggest roadblock to building a great relationship is clinging to the mere fiction of romance. I might have then become a better listener, a better partner—a better servant in love.

So even if it’s a little late to the party, here’s my attempt at an updated edition: The Super-Flexible 3-Step Guide to Possibly Creating a Real Relationship:

  1. Learn as much as possible about my new friend: ask questions, probe, dig deep. Don’t skimp on this. A lot of trouble comes from assumptions that are left untested, words left unsaid.
  2. Listen. Challenging for me, as someone who has “comfortably” lived in his own mind for a long, long time. I need to keep stretching this weak muscle.
  3. Lastly, find my partner’s funny bone and hit it hard. Laughter is the key. It’s also the thing that may get the relationship through hard shit. And there will be hard shit.

Of course this is all my own personal chaos theory, but hey, it’s a start.

I’m happy to finally leave the musty old book of love back on the shelf, where it belongs, collecting dust.

You Were My Book (Part 1)

•July 8, 2016 • Leave a Comment

[First of a two-part post.]Book_One

On Thursday, May 10, 1990, I wrote in the journal:

“This is an attempt to write about what happened almost two weeks ago. It’s about Bud Morris’ wedding in Louisville, Kentucky, when I went down there to be a part of it. It’s something I feel I need to write about because it was (I believe) one of those pivots that life’s changes turn upon. I’m not sure, but it’s a gut feeling. I’ve put off writing about it because I’ve been listening more to my head than my heart lately. It was the other way ’round when I was there in Louisville.”

The entry continues for another 18 pages in longhand, relating the four-day wedding trip to the best of my memory.

Now, here in 2016, after seeing some old encyclopedias at my new job (photo below left), and rereading that journal entry about the wedding, “You Are My Book” suddenly seemed like a good working title for this post.

You see, I’ve been reluctant to write about romantic relationships, mostly because I suck at them. That’s not an easy thing to admit since life is all about relationships (whether you like it or not), be it family, friends, coworkers—or spouses and lovers.

But “romantic relationships”—that’s a can of worms that only gets … worm-i-er.

I’m still in touch with Bud and his family, which made me even more reluctant to write about the wedding.

But I’m sticking with it because I might discover how and why my life has turned out this way, why I’ve consistently failed at romantic relationships.

Could it just be me, as I’ve always assumed?

Or is the idea of “romance” the real sick puppy here?

***

What are you really saying when you tell yourself, “There’s no one in this world just for me”?

I’m not for me”—that is what you’re saying: “I don’t really believe in myself.”

Examined closely, “There’s no one in this world just for me” has no basis in fact. Do you know how many people are currently alive in the world?

Seven billion human beings.

Damn right that’s a lot.

Have you interviewed each and every one of them, to assess whether they’re appropriate to be in relationship with you?

Thought not.

Furthermore, can you define “for me”? How might the appropriateness of that relationship change over time? (Because it will.) Is it possible someone who is “not for you” now might be in the future? And what will you mean to them in five or ten years?

Yep, moving targets. Always moving, always changing.

***

I flew to Louisville on Thursday, April 26, 1990, arriving in upper 80-degree humidity, at around 3:45 p.m.

I’d met Bud’s parents before, while he and I attended the University of Iowa, and his sister Beth on a visit, but the rest of his family—and his fiancée Ellen and her family—were new territory.

This is how romance often begins, by catching you by surprise:

“I remember her coming up the walkway,” the journal reports, “but I didn’t really look at her [until] I was introduced to her—we shook hands—I first thought her a little cold and hard.”

Ellen’s youngest sister, Lynn, was “very pretty, long brunette hair, small features, 5 ft. 4 in., bluish, misty, pretty eyes. …Frankly I didn’t know what to think of her at first, and didn’t say much to her while we were all in the living room.”

After Bud suggested I ride in Lynn’s Toyota to the first pre-wedding port-of-call (above photo, left to right: Ellen, Bud, me, and Lynn), at the groom’s dinner (“Hey at least you two can talk about film”), the ice had, well, broken.

I’d been writing screenplays; Lynn was line producer on an independent feature shot in Tennessee.

From that moment on we couldn’t stop talking to each other.

***

You_When I look at those old encyclopedias, I remember love.

Particularly my late parents’ love, since they made sure we had plenty of books in the house—including the World Book encyclopedia.

When I’m in the book, I’m gone. I’ve vanished down the rabbit hole between the covers—vaporized, unavailable, closed off.

There in my hands is the entire world—stories and information all leading to possibilities my young mind could only dream of.

You see, books have always been my One. True. Love.

But books are also a great metaphor because of their look and feel: the power that comes from fingering their pages, gazing into them to understand the mystery behind the words at their heart … and the attraction (or repulsion) of their design.

You can decide where a book goes: on a shelf, or back in your hands.

It’s an object you can give away—but then you don’t possess it anymore. You can no longer “read into it.”

It’s no longer yours.

And that metaphor? The toxic possessiveness of romantic love.

Hey, don’t get me wrong—I’m the biggest sucker for romance. Remember? “The heart wants what the heart wants.”

But how long would you stay with a book that kept changing? One that, every time you pulled it down from the shelf and cracked it open, it was entirely different?

Maybe you’d be pleasantly surprised.

Or hugely dismayed.

That, it seems, is what you get being in an intimate relationship with another human being.

***

Later that Thursday night in Louisville we all went to a place called the Back Door Bar.

Lynn put some Van Morrison on the tape deck as we drove there. I asked her if she thought a man could accurately write from a woman’s point of view. Since I’d just finished the first draft of a screenplay about nineteenth century English actress Ellen Terry, I was curious about her opinion.

She thought for a bit, then flatly said, “No.”

Men could empathize with women, she said, but they could never know the full range of male-centric influences that women have to endure all their lives.

“I felt like I was on an equal footing with Lynn,” the journal says. “Amazed at her voracious mind and her love of thinking and talking—Wow! Like a ghost had walked over my grave.”

Lynn left before the rest of the group, around midnight. I then got into an argument with a wedding guest from California who angrily said to me, “Maybe if you didn’t have such a closed mind!” I’d had a lot to drink and was feeling deflated by not having Lynn around.

“I know now why I acted that way,” the journal confesses. “It was my infantile attempt to display my disappointment that Lynn had gone. I didn’t know it at the time. I was drunk. But I was starting to fall in love with Lynn.”

And so the old book gets pulled down from the shelf.

And the debilitating cycle of romance begins once again.

The Gravel Pits

•July 1, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Still editing all-new 2-part post, and republishing this oldie about celebrating changes. Happy Independence Day, y’all!

Completely in the Dark

My friend Skeeze was a dishwasher at our local watering hole, The Soda Fountain.

He was tall and gangly, fought the good fight against facial acne, and would’ve been considered awkward and shy if he wasn’t the best goddamn drummer in the entire school.

Along with band, Skeeze sang in the choir and later even joined the Pop Singers, our school’s vocal group.

He made a deal with his folks he’d stay away from drugs and alcohol. In exchange they bought him whatever drum kit equipment he needed.

Anything as long as he didn’t do drugs.

We became friends in 1976, just after I got my driver’s license. While Skeeze wasn’t the kind of guy who rode along in a friend’s mother’s car—he insisted on driving his dad’s Cadillac, picking me up for our regular trip to the 7-11 in Spring Park, where we bought peanut M&Ms and…

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Thunder Mug

•June 24, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Belated Father’s Day gift to all my “father friends” out there. New multi-part post next Friday!

Completely in the Dark

Dad was a big bathroom guy.

You know, with the outdoorsy magazines, the seed catalogs, paperback Westerns—all stacked beside the toilet.

The “smallest room in the house” was multifunctional—reading nook, meditation space, and day-planning war room.

Dad once told me a story about his days as a greenhorn architect. After designing a bowling alley (which just paid for baby brother’s post-maternity hospital bill), Dad was sent to the Lone Star State to work on some oil tycoon’s project.

After Pop was called into the office of said fat cat, the Texan nodded toward a far corner. “See o’er thar?” he grunted. “Monday morning I’ll be takin’ a shit there. An’ there goddamn better be a crapper ta sit on!

I veer into the scatological not to demean the memory of my father, but to evoke the physical presence of the man.

He loved his mornings: his pipe with Borkum…

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Stargazing

•June 17, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Drafting an all-new post for next Friday, but thinking now of my “triad of favorite things”: daytalking, nightwalking … and stargazing.

Completely in the Dark

Twinkle, twinkle, little star, how I wonder what you are…”Stargazing

That may’ve been the first question I ever asked as a human being.

Along with “The Itsy-Bitsy Spider” and “Happy Birthday,” it was among the first songs I ever learned to sing.

I quickly honed in on “Twinkle, Twinkle,” at the heart of which led to a lifelong need to keep asking questions.

In 2008, the year Mom and Dad died, I couldn’t stop looking up at the sky. Daytime, nighttime, sunny or cloudy—it must’ve been an old habit.

Our Maryland neighbor Mr. Harrison kept a telescope in his backyard shed. One summer he invited me and my brother to gaze at either a comet or meteor—I can’t recall which.

Wow, I thought, I have to get a telescope, too!

In Minnesota I often stargazed during the summers before high school, on our dock at…

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