Letters Never Sent (Part 1)

•April 21, 2017 • Leave a Comment

I hear virtual reality is a naturally occurring state. Drafting new posts in time for Friday due dates is another kettle of fish! Busy week but have forthcoming all-new post in the hopper. Here’s a golden oldie.

Completely in the Dark

This is the first of a two-part post.

Saturday, July 23, 2011 9:14 a.m.

Got your letter yesterday. Well, actually, your letters. All eleven of them.

I studied them in a way I hadn’t before: listing them by the date written, reading your diaries to learn about what was going on in your life then, and thinking about why you wrote them to me at all. But of course you addressed them to the “future Michael S. Maupin,” so I knew they were meant for me, even though they were never sent. Except for the last letter.

By the way, it’s finally 2011. Yep, this is the December we find space aliens in Santa’s bag. Thought you’d be all excited about that.

At 9:37 p.m., on Sunday, Sept. 9, 1973, you wrote your first letter to me. You said you’d been thinking about it for a while (I…

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The War Before The Bores

•April 14, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Transitions: that’s the theme of this year and apparently was back in the early 1980s. Hoping to get a new post up by next Friday! Enjoy this oldie for now.

Completely in the Dark

WarBefore1It’s all found there, deep in the winter of 1981–82.

The seeds of my discontent and contrariness, sown by Watergate,religious dogma, and late-20th century consumer culture, watered daily by dystopian prog rock, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, and Saturday Night Live—from all these and more came the first green shoots of who I am now.

And still fightingthe good fight against depression, hopelessness, and bitterness.

A mid-December 1981 journal entry spells it out: “Must check a tendency for cynicism I’ve had lately.”

Two weeks earlier I’d noted in the journal: “I’m bored at the moment but have a lot of things shoved back in my mind that I want to bring forward. I’m anticipating Abi’s next letter and the tape she told me about over the phone.”

Our pen pal correspondence was catching fire. And now Abi and I were calling each other.

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The Horseshoe

•April 7, 2017 • Leave a Comment

It seemed like a good time to republish this post: to fight against “The Big Time,” go get lost … literally! “I make my own luck when I choose to heed my heart.” All-new post next Friday!

Completely in the Dark

Let’s make this crystal clear: I’m no fan of nostalgia.Horseshoe1

It’s a terrible cheat—like inviting people to a dinner party where the only “food” they’re offered is the aroma.

You see, these weekly deep-dives into my journals (somewhat loosely following a timeline, which means we’re currently stuck in the mid-1980s) are less about “Hey-wasn’t-that-a-great-decade?” bullshit than a peek into what’s made me who I am over the years.

You know, what I’ve learned—or failed to learn.

So, in an entry written on Sunday, Aug. 18, 1985, two and a half months into a new proofreader job at a direct mail marketing corporation, I was already wondering if “putting in overtime at the office” was all that life had to offer me.

And I was only 25 years old.

That day I worked four hours, then took off in my Datsun GX coupe, bought some beers, and went…

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Keepsake (Part 2)

•March 31, 2017 • Leave a Comment

[Last of a two-part post.]

“This is Matthew of Arimathea, communing with Jerry the Apostle. As our Lord once said to thee, ‘Thou shalt be the Chirp upon which they’ll Rock.’”
—Matt J. Durand, “Model of a Binary Universe Set to Music,” from Buddy’s Scrapbook

On Feb. 11, 1988, I made a quick to-do list on a legal tablet with notes to Buddy’s Scrapbook, items of which included: “Pick up Buddy’s glass ‘The Holly Grail’” and “Flowers, visit Mom.”

I’ll get to the first item in a bit. For the second, some history first.

My mother was then six years into a severe depressive episode, and things were rough at home, even though I was living miles away in Hopkins. It was a difficult time for the Family Project.

Perhaps Buddy’s Scrapbook was a reminder that, as troubling as things could get, a good story might whisk me away to a better place. At least that’s what I hoped for.

And Scrapbook was developing some fun details, like this bit:

“Nancy remembered when she heard Dean’s first album, and one mellow track, ‘I’ll See You Tonight’ caused her to say to him, ‘Your voice, you know, the way you were singing…’ she giggled. ‘You reminded me of the way you used to sneak up on me when I was sleepin’ and whisper Boogie Man shit in my ear, then stick me with a rubber band…’

Dean was a troublemaker, clearly.

Meanwhile, my crazy research writer, Matt J. Durand, had his own particular brand of mischief:

“The transformation took place in Dr. Buzzard’s laboratory, complete with cast iron electrical personality transformer helmets, a Marshall amplifier set at the highest level, and K.C. and the Sunshine Band cued up on the turntable. Tony (from West Side Story) became the rock star and Buddy worked for the corner druggist. A few years later, Buddy was still around, but Tony had died in a plane crash. You saw Buddy everywhere: as a busboy at the Plaza Hotel, then as a carhop, at the grocery store, years later, bagging your stuff, then carting your golf bag around the links, or bringing you and your Schnauzer up to the fifth floor. ‘That polite young man down the hall…’

Or even:

“It’s a rainy, cold night and you’re driving down Highway 61, south where it gets really winding, you turn a sharp corner and suddenly your headlights fall on the ghost of Buddy Holly in suitcoat and tie with rain-spattered, dark-rimmed glasses. You have no choice but to slam on the brakes…”

So, I now wonder, what is the connection between Dean McLeary and Matt J. Durand?

***

In 1971, Mrs. Andrea Schussler, the music teacher at Shirley Hills Elementary School, turned us on to “American Pie.” But I’d already beat her to it via late-night FM radio.

She wanted us to discover the meaning behind Don McLean’s lyrics, but I had my own ideas, even as a preteen. I’d first heard “Vincent (Starry, Starry Night),” since it formed the basis of my “Nightwalking” mode of thinking. Lyrically, Don McLean ladled it on, and I ate it up. It didn’t take a sixth-grade music teacher to sell me cool.

So Matt J. Durand, of course, is part of me. His “Model of a Binary Universe Set to Music” almost presages the Internet—like someone happily Googling random stuff for the sheer fun of it. And like Durand, I wanted to be a cultural bomb-thrower. Dean McLeary, by 1975, seemed too safe. Matt J. Durand, less Boomer and more Xer, was proto-punk.

I wanted writing to deliver more than words.

I wanted fire-in-the-blood stuff, rock and roll with a flaming typewriter. I wanted a story to be as electrifying as Jimi Hendrix onstage.

And I also wanted something I could stuff in a knapsack for later down the road.

***

On Wednesday, Feb. 3, 1988, I wrote in the journal:

“It’s late—after 1:30am and I just got back from the Crickets show at Bunker’s Bar and Grill in Minneapolis. It was sad how few people showed up. I went backstage after the show and had a toast with Jerry Allison (I still have the shot glass) … mine was a brandy and he had a beer. I asked him if Buddy had seen West Side Story in NYC in 1958—he said they weren’t close then. I understood and didn’t press the matter. I talked more with Joe B. and the cover band, the Rockin’ Ricochettes. It was pathetic Buddy wasn’t there. It’s as if the Angel said: ‘Your Lord isn’t here’ when we all came to the grave site.”

Four days later I took the shot glass to an engraver. I had “the message ‘Toast to Buddy—J.I. Allison & M. Maupin February 3, 1988’ engraved on it as a keepsake,” (pictured below right).

Meanwhile the corporate job dominated my time, and a cousin’s wedding in Indiana soon pulled me away. “I’d like to patch up the blank pages,” the journal states, “with ‘Buddy’s Scrapbook’ until that time.’”

But that never happened.

1988 was tough—snipping the bonds of the Family Project—all through 1986, ’87, and into ’88, I was building toward more work, more creative ideas—so many stories, but particularly ones that were “less about me and more about the work or project itself.”

The “ghost story” behind all this is probably how a musical icon like Buddy Holly produced a “cultural after-image” that remains burned in the American consciousness.

In the end I don’t feel too bad about not finishing the story. It was the journey that mattered to me—and still does.

I’m happy being “Keeper of The Holly Grail.”

I’m always pleased when friends make toasts from it.

And it’s a keepsake I hope to hand down as joyfully as Buddy’s music did for his friends.

Keepsake (Part 1)

•March 24, 2017 • Leave a Comment

[First part of a two-part post.]

In John Ford’s The Searchers, John Wayne’s character, Ethan, reluctantly joins a posse pursuing Comanches that have abducted his niece, Debbie, played by Natalie Wood. There’s a scene where the posse freezes upon hearing the sound of a Comanche signal. Reverend Clayton glares at Ethan; Ethan glares back.

Ethan: Well?
Reverend: You wanna quit, Ethan?
Ethan: That’ll be the day.

***

So Buddy Holly and his pals, J.I. and Joe B., are slumming around Lubbock, Texas, in 1956. J.I., known to his teachers as Jerry Allison, wipes his nose on a sleeve and kids Buddy about Buddy’s latest girlfriend, Echo. Buddy stops, looks up for a sec, then glances at a storefront window, points at the mannequin, then elbows J.I. in the ribs, snorting, “Some chick, huh?” J.I. laughs, “That’ll be the day.”

What follows is a sort of ghost story. And a complicated one at that.

I have an inkling of where it’s going, but I won’t know how it ends until we get there.

Care to ride along?

Great.

***

The fresh, new 1988 journal spells it out in a Feb. 1 entry: “A lot of hope this year, pretty much all I can say. After 1987, ’88 has to be better. I don’t think I’ve been worse than that year.”

I was two and a half years into a hateful corporate job and fidgeting around for new creative work. Along with writing and doodling, I was also interested in photography and filmmaking. In late 1986 I wrote to the local PBS station about their “Screenplay Project,” so I could pitch them an idea. I’d never written a screenplay before, but attempted stage plays as a kid. I loved the idea of “making a movie,” but lacked the experience and skills.

I knew what I really needed.

I needed a story I could disappear into.

Previously it was all about “Write what you know,” just as my teachers had instructed. So I wrote about high school and living in my hometown.

What, I wondered, would it be like to write about things I didn’t know?

How would it feel to become characters whose experiences were entirely different than my own?

That’s probably what I’d hoped for in The Dumond Stories. But I was one story in before I realized I was in way over my head, so I stopped cold.

By September 1987 I had the idea for a combination teleplay/long-form piece. It would tell the story of an aging and nearly forgotten pop musician named Dean McLeary and his creative muse—the great Buddy Holly.

***

Tuesday, Feb. 2, 1988: “I rented The Real Buddy Holly StoryPaul McCartney’s documentary on Buddy Holly. I got to see J.I. and Joe B. in the film. Hopefully I will meet them tomorrow night at Bunker’s. I talked to Jon Bream of the StarTribune on the phone. I called him to find out the Crickets’ lineup for tomorrow night. He said it would be Jerry Allison, Joe B. Mauldin, and a Gordon Paine. He wished me luck in my investigations. I’m anxious.”

You see, that previous September I made a road trip to the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, to do research on a story with the working title Buddy’s Scrapbook.

The “raw writing” part would not be a script, but a straight-up short story told by the main character, pop musician Dean McLeary, and “embellished” by a “mysterious researcher” named Matt J. Durand.

This, I think, is important to the story I want to tell here, chiefly because it was the second time I’d used a pen name; my high school novella The Crowded Room was “written” by its main character, high school senior Jeffrey Dunne. Buddy’s Scrapbook was the first time I’d have one character “annotate” another character’s story. Clearly I was worried about becoming the “self-absorbed, egotistical author type.” I was trying to stay out of the story’s way.

Or so I thought.

Buddy’s Scrapbook begins with an outline of the plot:

“Dean McLeary flies into MSP airport on Feb. 6, 1975, a Thursday, from New York City. His dying mother’s partner, Chester, picks him up at the airport and takes him to his mother’s house on St. Paul’s Summit Avenue, where Dean spends an anguished night with his home-hospiced mother, sleeping in his sister’s old bedroom. There he finds some of his sister’s rock and roll memorabilia. The following morning he decides to drive to Clear Lake, Iowa, where estranged sister Nancy lives with her family. He plans to rent a car, but Chester offers him a 1964 Chevy Bel Air he’s been fixing up.”

Interposed with Dean’s story (who, by the way, was based on folk singer Don McLean, of “American Pie” fame) is Matt J. Durand’s “Model of a Binary Universe Set to Music” and his hypothesis that Buddy Holly’s life was mysteriously and inextricably linked to Bernstein’s West Side Story. It’s a stretch, but Durand makes a valiant attempt.

Meanwhile Dean “arrives in Clear Lake at Nancy and her husband Roger’s house, they have supper, drinks, and conversation around the kitchen table.” Before going to bed, Dean calls his girlfriend Missy in NYC, who’s playing Anybodys in an off-Broadway production of West Side Story. Dean decides to stay longer in Clear Lake and connects with the owner of the Surf Ballroom, where one night he takes the stage to play Holly’s “Well…All Right” to the delight of his sister and others present.

Obviously the story’s drama would work itself out “in the details.” I still have a hefty piles of notes, research, and whatnot of a draft … that never materialized.

What was going on?

What would I learn from this crazy writing process?

And would I ever finish the project?

Rediscovering Dumond

•March 17, 2017 • Leave a Comment

The year was 1989.

How did it change the course of my life?

I can’t quite go there without first examining what lead up to it. I last left off at 1986 and ’87—terrible, terrible years.

Turns out, after examining my journals going into 1988, things didn’t improve, although my intentions were more solid. A couple posts can be gleaned from ’88 that, hopefully, make things clearer.

So, where to begin?

The old 1986-’87 journal announces an end-of-year “ongoing essay,” explaining the dilemma at the time:

“…this journal [has] been a bit of a pariah with me and I figured that if I want to keep a journal for 1988, I’d like to start out fresh (I already have the book in my possession). After all, this book was begun in January 1986—two years later and I still wouldn’t finish it until, at the earliest, the middle of 1988, judging by the ‘speed’ with which I’d ‘attacked’ it before. This ‘ongoing essay’ is really intended to be rather open—the point is to write stuff, fill these pages, and maybe through the process of writing think about the things I’ve refused to think about in 1987, [though] the nature of which I’ve resented, but rather than talk them out, as most people do, I shut them up, just as I’ve wished to do to others. If this essay has any sort of Topic, that’s it.”

The “taskmaster-like punishment” in the process is interesting: no joy, no felicitous self-discovery—just crack the whip and “find out who’s to blame”:

“I’d just read over some of the last entries from 1986 on and was surprised to see how short the year 1987 was in this diary! Just what the hell did I do with my time? Summer, drinking, parties (unsuccessful Kafkian adventures at best), working late til summer’s sunset (I don’t remember hearing crickets last summer) and sleep a lot of the time. Obviously, no writing…”

In the essay I recount animosities toward friends, who, I report “have little time for me. They’re all married and are in a great respect quite boring to be around. So whaddaya have?”

There’s a lot of detail into the rituals with “the boys from the office” who hit “singles bars and dance places … our minds have been pretty closed and we usually go to [the same places] rather than break new ground and go somewhere else. Reason being we’re looking for quantity of single women wherein one may find quality. It stands to reason if you go to some hick bar in Mayer, Minnesota, chances are there may be one attractive woman in the place, but among five horny and bored single guys, that just doesn’t cut it.”

“Anyway, the point is,” a “second sitting” quickly assesses, “the past year or so, we’d been beating our heads against a social wall upon which is graffitied AIDS, earning power, clever talk and power dressing. A handful of anxious yet handsome, clever yet shy, creative yet invisible guys do not an ’80s statement make. You’ve got to have ‘your label’ sticking out now-a-days, and we all, from 25 to 31, seem a little out of step. I think we’ve refused to concede. Everytime we go out, we try to make the best of the way we look by saying to ourselves: ‘Hey, so I look sorta shitty. But what a guy inside! Take me or leave me!’ Maybe that’s not a bad attitude. But in the ’80s, it’s a poor formula for ‘success.’”

Finally a “3rd Sitting” really focuses on the moment. I loved rereading it:

“All I’ll tell you is that it’s the middle of January 1988 and it’s snowing outside. Snowing hard. There’s a good possibility that, if the snow comes down all night, work may be cancelled tomorrow. I hope that isn’t the case in one great respect: I need the money. In another way, I could use the day to finish filming the stuff I have lying around from 1987. That’d be nice.”

What was this “filming”? I’d forgotten that I owned a Super 8 camera and did some time-lapse experiments with it.

Meanwhile, the essay gets bogged down in its own muck:

“Anyway, this bit about ‘1st Sitting, 2nd Sitting and so on; I don’t know. I thought—I just noticed something peculiar about the way I’m writing now—I’m rushing—scratching away with this pen like a man with a gun to his head. I know I didn’t write this way before. I recall down at school, in Iowa, I wrote in the journal like a painter stroking canvas, caressing each word on paper, relaxed. If you don’t believe me, then compare the past year’s handwriting with the handwriting around October/November 1984. I think [I’ll] break briefly to do that, and when I come back I’ll try to write slower—through sheer effort of will…”

So I did just that (photo at right, 1987, clipped page is 1984):

“Well, I think I know the answer—much was happening then, and I remember I’d felt pretty happy, even in the most anxious moments. I’ve come a long way from then. I want to try to rehabilitate myself to the ‘old ways.’ I feel I will discover Dumond in there. I noticed the 1984 handwriting was tighter, more controlled. The 1987 handwriting is rushing to fly off the page, much I suspect, as my mind had been. The hand is, after all, only the talk the mind truly understands. It says more…”

Not sure what I meant by “rehabilitate myself to the ‘old ways,’” but “discover Dumond in there” was the hope that a planned story collection, “The Dumond Stories,” a follow-up to my first novella The Crowded Room, would finally see the light of day. Funny how I was more into thinking about writing than actually doing the writing.

You know, I wouldn’t be that young person again for all the tea in China (as the saying goes).

Where was that kid headed?

And what did he really want to do with his life?

The Heart You Break May Be Your Own

•March 10, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Republishing this oldie for today—off to fight some dragons today and readying all-new post for next week!

Completely in the Dark

Oh, to be so certain you know what you desire, and how you will go about getting it.

Or maybe you’re in the other camp: you let the world “happen” to you. That way there’s no responsibility for your actions and their consequences.

Lemme explain. Here I am, early December 2011. I’m reading the past and taking the temperature of the present: on the cold side, quiet and solitary. I’m unhappy. I feel stuck, uninspired, unloved, unmotivated—and I’ve been here before. Things could be happening, warming up, heading in a new direction. Or, maybe, that warmer place I want to be is the place I’m already at—I’m just not able to see it yet.

That’s an accurate distillation of the fall and winter of 1976. Sure, a new school year had just started, but so many things were stalling: the ambiguous “relationship” with Linda, the grind of the busboy…

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