Posts from — July 2014
I am a Belgian photographer, Bernard Caelen. My photographic alias is Irving S. T. Garp in reference to John Irving’s novel “The World According to Garp.” There is, I hope, a certain form of analogy between Irving’s style and my pictural universe.
Some models sometimes want to try to get photographed naked. But the fact of showing their body bothers them. It’s not modesty or shyness that holds them from doing it, it is the fear of being recognized by people they know, friends or family. In the series “Portraits Cachés” (Hidden Portraits), the models can be photographed naked and can hide their head in an original way.
In Irving’s books, some worst disasters appear, unexpected, in the middle of sentences, slipped into a description of an common daily life. My photos are recognized by their original and offbeat staging.
Irving S. T. Garp / Hidden Portraits
Links to Caelen’s works:
July 15, 2014 Comments Off on Irving S. T. Garp / Photographer
At the foothills of the Hindu kush.
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from Northern Afghanistan
David Murphy was born on Easter Sunday, 1983.
He is currently a renewing English Language Fellow in Toluca, Mexico. He previously worked in Afghanistan on a World Bank project and in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. In Afghanistan, he served as a consultant-lecturer, and, later, as Administrative Director of a World Bank project to develop higher education at Balkh University in Mazar-e-Sharif. In Riyadh, he worked as the Curriculum Supervisor in King Saud University, which, with 11,000 students, is the largest preparatory year in the Middle East.
In his free time, he skateboards and photographs people and places.
V10-N4 DAVID MURPHY
Portraits of Afghanistan
About the Photographs
These photographs were taken in northern Afghanistan, mainly in Balkh province, during an 18-month period from the summer of 2009 til December 2010. At this time, there was war in Afghanistan, and the entire country was classified as a conflict zone. The photographs were taken with two very specific intentions: to have fun with photography, and to show the dignity and human compassion of Afghanistan’s people. Since the early 1970s, when Russia invaded Afghanistan, the country has been a fighting ground, and, while there are physical and mental scars to show the dearth that walks hand-in-hand with war, there are many Afghans who have grins on their faces, and the irrepressible happiness of the Afghan children brings hope and smiles.
V10-N4 David Murphy 2
2nd set of images
Sometimes photographers are asked which is their favorite photo of the collection. Mine is that of the camels walking under the moon towards the mountains. The space south of Mazar-e-Sharif (provincial capital of Balkh and where the camel photo was taken) is one that lies at the foothills of the Hindu Kush mountain chain, and the space is a green, fertile one in the spring and summer. These men with camels are traders, and the burlap sacks on the camels’ backs contain straw. They make a regular trek back and forth to the city — each journey takes 18 hours, including the time spent in Mazar. The camels and men in this photo are walking south, and after a while, they will pass beneath an ancient archway made of clay bricks and stone that lies beneath a mountain pass, and, on the other side of this archway they will follow a river (when it has enough water to run), and into their small, green village which is built up on the interior of the mountain range. There, the weather is cooler and fresher, and there are sheep, heavy mists, and steep paths between the mud-brick houses.
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To the question, “What do you shoot with”?
“I shoot with a Canon 50D, with an 18 – 200 mm lens, which is a walk-around lens for most people, and one that, if I had the money, I would trade in for a smaller Leica M9 — which is less likely to get me shot if I’m taking photos in unfriendly places. Such big cameras attract too much attention.”
See more of David’s work at: https://www.behance.net/DavidMurphy13
July 15, 2014 Comments Off on David Murphy/Photography
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by Fred Russell
“What America is left with is essentially what it calls its freedom, which comes down to saying whatever comes into one’s head, in thousands of academic and popular journals, in the daily newspapers, in television studios, in blogs, and in the privacy of one’s own home. None of this has the slightest effect on how the country is governed.”
1. THE WAY WE WERE
Sometimes the amateur anthropologist finds things where he isn’t looking for them. METV – Middle East Television – is a Christian TV network transmitting from Cyprus to the entire Middle East. In addition to its Christian messages it broadcasts “wholesome family entertainment.” This mostly consists of TV series from the 1950s – Lassie, The Lone Ranger, Andy Griffith, The Lucy Show – and films from the 1930s and 1940s, with a predilection for Westerns featuring John Wayne or Roy Rogers. One can’t help thinking that METV must have gotten one helluva deal on these old films, buying up the entire lot probably, but that isn’t the point. Clearly the clincher was their wholesomeness, for it goes without saying that anything produced for mass audiences back then must have reflected a “moral” America where sex was hidden and Christian virtues always triumphed. The value of these films and TV shows is that they serve as a barometer of the American psyche, for nothing reflects the basic, unspoken assumptions of American life more clearly than Hollywood films and the old family TV shows. What Americans responded to in those years tells us what America was. It documents, indirectly, how Americans saw the world, life, themselves, as no other source does.
You know how these Westerns operate. A morally and sexually pure hero overcomes the forces of evil and gets the chaste girl. This is the central myth of American life. The male audience lives vicariously through the hero. His triumphs, always involving violence, address the viewer’s feelings of inadequacy and resentment, of smallness, especially when the villain is rich and powerful. The purity masks guilt. The Western is therefore emblematic, if not therapeutic, operating on an unconscious level. The viewer finds it satisfying but doesn’t really know why, that is, doesn’t make the connection between the hero and himself in any explicit way, though he identifies with him and often becomes a hero himself in his daydreams. The feelings of inadequacy and resentment derive from the sense of failure that most Americans live with, for the great prizes go to the few, not the many, and for most Americans the great dream is the dream of wealth and fame. These feelings have persisted into the present century and continue to be addressed by Hollywood. On the other hand, the idea of sexual purity and the anguish of sexual guilt went out the window in the sexual revolution of the 1960s. The sexually pure hero is no longer a model, serves no purpose; the culture itself took care of the problem, setting up new norms, except among the Christian fundamentalists. Heroes, however, remain moral in the larger sense, as moral purity continues to remain an American ideal. Americans want to be decent but often are not. The hero – an honest cop, a crusading reporter, a self-sacrificing everyman – allows us to inhabit our better selves. The difference now is that the greater sophistication of Americans allows for a more realistic representation of moral ambiguity.
By reviving these films, METV does a great service, providing a snapshot of America’s inner life at its crudest level. By studying them we can discover who we are. It is these films too that will be studied in a hundred and a thousand years to tell future generations what America was. Let us hope that METV preserves them.
2. WHO DO THEY THINK THEY’RE KIDDING?
The complaint of American conservatives that the mainstream media is “liberal” or even “leftist,” heard roughly every
hour on the hour on Fox News and other right-wing outlets, highlights the inability of journalists to understand their own profession. The problem with journalists has never been their political leanings or biases. The problem has always been their competence. They are not, after all, historians or scholars or political scientists, or novelists or dramatists or film makers for that matter. Their ability to understand social or historical processes is limited, as is their knowledge of the world, given their inability to speak the languages of the countries they report from and comment on and consequently their ignorance of the culture, religion, history and politics of these countries. Their minds too, it must be said, are fairly commonplace, as evidenced by their use of language, which constantly falls back on platitudes in the absence of real perception. And yet, incredibly, it is they of all people who determine the way we see the world.
The biases of journalists, or the slant they give to their reporting and “analysis,” are really limited in the harm they do, as their audience is as biased as they are and at the most picks up arguments from them to reinforce these biases. Certainly they can sway public opinion from one day to the next, among “undecided” voters, for example, and in this way influence elections, though the end result of the voting process is to elect representatives with whom the voters are invariably dissatisfied and who are held in very low esteem. It is therefore not by swaying public opinion, and certainly not by creating an informed public, that journalists exert their real influence but by contributing to the public’s ignorance, that is, by presenting an extremely distorted picture of the world that the public uncritically accepts in the absence of any deeper knowledge. One might even say that the journalistic profession and the uninformed public deserve each other. If people really want to understand the world, they should try reading books instead of newspapers.
The belief that freedom of speech and public debate is the cornerstone of democracy is one of the great myths of American life, a self-serving myth that journalists are forever promoting to justify their existence and their methods. The cornerstone of a democracy is its legal system and the traditions that sustain it. The guardians of democracy are the courts. Criticism of politicians in the media has next to no lasting effect on American life. The media may “expose” politicians but insofar as it is their criminal activities that are exposed, what is being exposed is almost always an official investigation, making the exposure superfluous. Insofar as the media exposes what it deems to be moral turpitude or simply goes with a headline grabber – adultery, perhaps a homosexual affair, something about marijuana thirty years ago – it is questionable whether it is anyone’s business. As for simple and common government mismanagement – waste and all the rest – the manner in which governments operate has not been influenced one jot by investigative reporting.
This is not to say that journalists do not occasionally hit a home run or take on needy cases and change lives by exerting pressure in the right places. That is fine, and if the media wish to invest their enormous resources in doing work that the police do infinitely better or pointing fingers and stirring up tempests in a teacup for no practical purpose or taking one out of a million Americans under their wing and solving his problems, that is their business. Admittedly they also manage to intimidate politicians, right up to the President, but the little dance that journalists and politicians do in no way improves the quality of government. In fact, the time and effort invested by elected officials in “spinning” stories represents an enormous waste of the taxpayer’s money – hundreds if not thousands of aides playing the press every morning, rooms full of people dreaming up excuses for the President’s latest mishap – not to mention often injudicious changes in policy or courses of action simply because of the way they might look in the press.
What is left at the end of the day is some drama and entertainment bought by the American public at an enormous price – the invasion of people’s privacy by an army of reporters who will expose anything that gets them a screaming headline. Into the hands of these reporters has been placed one of the most important functions in a modern society – the control of information. Neither in terms of morality or capability are they the right people for the job.
3. STATE OF THE UNION
Most politicians have the same social vision: to improve everything. That means less crime, less poverty, more health,
more education. Some even offer specific programs. None, however, has succeeded in improving the look of society in any significant way. This is not surprising. Politicians are not social scientists, nor are the bureaucrats who administer government offices. Tocqueville noted nearly 200 years ago that in America it is the least talented men who go into politics. Nothing has really changed, though it is true that as government expanded and offered greater opportunities to exercise power and enjoy prestige, it began to attract more talented individuals with successful careers behind them – businessmen and military men, for example. However, these governed no better than their predecessors, bringing to government skills that were not especially suited to governing a nation, as well as appetites and ambitions that overrode the will to serve. Of course, governments also enlist the services of experts – those same social scientists – but even these are tied to concepts that have never really worked.
Education, for example, is still tied to the old Church idea – propagated by countless generations of churchmen serving as teachers – that as a consequence of Original Sin all men are born evil and must therefore be coerced into doing what is good, an idea that produced rigidly structured educational frameworks where teachers hammered away at the captive child until his head was ready to explode, making study a burden and creating in the child an aversion to the learning process that persists to this day in these same rigid frameworks. The result is a nation of ignoramuses (40% of Americans don’t know that Germany and Japan were the enemies in World War II). Health care, in America, has been so difficult to reform because America is tied to an ideology that makes the idea of socialized medicine anathema, an idea that one might say it took all 20,000 pages of the Affordable Care Act to get around under a system that, according to doctors’ estimates, has been costing America approximately 20,000 lives a year as a direct result of inadequate health care. The inability of Americans to utter the word socialism has cost more American lives than the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Add to this the unwillingness of the government to clamp down on a food industry that is destroying the country’s health and a drug industry that prefers to control rather than eradicate diseases for reasons of profit, and to close down the tobacco industry entirely, and you can only conclude that the government has consciously chosen economic stability over human life.
Crime and poverty in America are higher than anywhere in the West – violent crime five times higher than in Western Europe and poverty twice as high. The two are of course linked. In America, African Americans are poorer than everyone else and consequently commit more crimes than anyone else. Their condition is the direct result of the way they have been treated by the white population, but no government will ever have the courage to assume the moral debt of the American people to African Americans and make real financial amends to them. In all, about 100 million Americans are hovering around the poverty line – an absolute disgrace in what is the richest country in the world.
It can therefore be stated unequivocally that America is not going to solve its social problems. Things can get much worse but not much better because even when things are at their best the main beneficiaries are a relatively small economic elite. The most that middle-class Americans can hope for is a slightly larger margin of comfort, a little less financial pressure. This is the underside of the American Dream, a region inhabited by the overwhelming majority of Americans.
America’s great comfort in these trying years has been the collapse of the Soviet Union, perceived as representing the defeat of Communism and the triumph of Capitalism. But what has been gained? Russia is still the same Russia, a formidable enemy that nothing short of a nuclear holocaust will cause to go away, and in the meanwhile China has produced an economic model – relative entrepreneurial freedom, a mobilized population and centralized, totalitarian, undemocratic government – that is very likely to gain ascendancy over the American model within a very few years, while Western Europe has produced a social model that is considerably more equitable than America’s. What America is left with is essentially what it calls its freedom, which comes down to saying whatever comes into one’s head, in thousands of academic and popular journals, in the daily newspapers, in television studios, in blogs, and in the privacy of one’s own home. None of this has the slightest effect on how the country is governed.
America is unfixable. It cultivates the illusion that it is the greatest country on the face of the earth, and maybe it is in terms of wealth and power, but it certainly isn’t in terms of its social fabric and the way ordinary people live. To fix itself America would have to do something that is almost unthinkable: liberate itself from the American Dream, for what ordinary people in America have seldom realized is that they can live fulfilling and even exalted lives by simply being decent.
About the author:
Fred Russell is the pen name of an American-born writer living in Israel. His novel Rafi’s World (Fomite Press), dealing with Israel’s emerging criminal class, was published in Feb. 2014 and his stories and essays have appeared in Third Coast, Polluto, Fiction on the Web, Wilderness House Literary Review, Ontologica, Unlikely Stories: Episode 4, Gadfly, En Pointe, In Parenthesis, etc.
July 15, 2014 Comments Off on Fred Russell/The Decency Factor
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The Life and Death
of Timothy T. Trout, Artist
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by Bill Dixon
I met Tim Trout perhaps twenty-five years ago, while walking the halls of the Fine Arts Department at The Ohio State University, looking for a young Chinese artist I had just met at a group art show in the “Short North” Arts District of Columbus, Ohio. We were in the show together; I had liked his work, and asked if I could see more of it. We’d scheduled a date and time to meet and I’d arrived early, as I almost always do. As I was walking to the rendezvous, I noticed a gaunt, tormented-looking fellow sitting on a table in the hallway. He was studying me, peering over a copy of The Lantern, the OSU student newspaper.
He asked if he could help me find what I was looking for and we fell into a conversation about art. It turned out he was attending art classes at the University on a scholarship. I later learned he worked as a janitor and, therefore, was eligible as an employee to attend some classes for free. He chose art classes. We agreed to meet later when he could show me his art. He tore off a piece of the newspaper he had been reading and scrawled his name, Tim Trout, and his phone number.
My afternoon appointment showed up and I left Tim to his newspaper. I went with the Chinese artist to see his paintings in a location farther down the same hall where I’d met Tim. We had a good chat, but after review, I decided the two paintings in the show weren’t typical of his current work. I was collecting art then, as I still do, but didn’t really care much for these efforts. The prices he had on the ones I did like, back at the Short North gallery, seemed too high, and we never did do any business.
I ran a real estate sales and management company at the time and the mid-Fall quarter was traditionally a slack time. With little to do, I found myself a few days later calling Tim to see when we could get together. He was home, and told me to come on over. He was living in a tiny efficiency apartment above a popular Greek restaurant on North High Street, in Columbus. It was in a largely student-populated area. I found his door, and knocked. The apartment looked like a bomb had just gone off. There was a grubby mattress on the floor, open boxes of food scattered around, dirty clothes, empty bottles and cans, dirty dishes, junk and bags of trash here and there. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a roach scuttling to cover behind a stack of art materials. There were paintings everywhere, too. Some were hung, but most were strewn around the walls, leaned up, or set on top of his modest furnishings, which were mostly discards he’d found over time in the alley behind his apartment.
There was one chair in the room, a dilapidated, unsteady-looking armchair, that also held several of his paintings and a partial six-pack of beer, still held together by its plastic harness. Tim was sitting tailor-style on the floor, and gestured for me to sit down on an inverted plastic milk crate. I did so. We talked for some time. It became gradually apparent that he was either under the influence of alcohol or some other family of drugs, or just plain nuts. It also became clear, after several later visits and the passage of time, that it was probably all of the above. Well, I didn’t have any problem with any of those things. As a child of the ‘sixties, a time I loved, and about which I wrote what I consider my best book, I could deal with all those things. It was old hat for me and I felt right at home in Tim’s place. Alcohol, drugs and insanity? Hey, no problem, dude.
I purchased several paintings that day. Tim was fascinated by violent weather and many of his paintings depicted storms and natural disasters. There also was a little semi-nude, crudely self-framed painting titled, “Bustle.” It was reasonably priced and was the very first piece I bought from him. Loosely composed and colorful, every brush stroke was easily visible, bold and confident. There was no reworking or blending anywhere in the piece. Tim himself was not at all a confident person, however. He was, as a person, conflicted, unfocused and random. His paintings were the exact opposite of his outward persona. You could tell at a glance that he had painted rapidly, but with a vision of the final product in every stroke of his brush and in the application of every color he selected. It was amazing to me, his artistic creations were so totally different than his own outward appearance.
Several weeks later, I watched him paint a piece. It was a much larger work. He set the canvas on a crude easel he’d made from scraps of two by four lumber, and selected the oil paints to apply to his canvas, all in a rush, squeezing them onto his palette as if his life depended on the speed at which he worked. He attacked the canvas! He slashed and lunged at it in a frenzy, and I could see that in his mind, it was already composed as a finished work. It didn’t take him long to complete that vision. He used lots of oil paint, and it would obviously take some time for it to dry enough for him to seal it with damar varnish. He finished in a flourish, and turned toward me. For a moment, he was confident, bold and triumphant. Then he receded into his usual character again, a timid, disoriented fellow, weighted down and transformed by his troubles, doubts and fears.
Over the next few years, I bought more than two hundred pieces from Tim, and still have almost all of them. They’re in a temperature- and humidity-controlled storage facility, until I decide what to do with them, and when. Tim was what current parlance refers to as “high maintenance.” He never knew what day it was, or what time it might be, and as a result, he’d call me at three o’clock in the morning to tell me that he had some pieces that he wanted me to buy so that he could pay his electric bill, or deal with some other personal crisis that had presented itself. Transportation was a major problem with Tim. He called me in the middle of the night once to tell me that someone had stolen his bicycle. He was obviously drunk , or otherwise impaired when he called. The bike was his only means of transportation and obviously very important to him. I got him a replacement and soon after, took it to him. Within a couple of weeks, although I’d also furnished him with a bicycle lock, it went missing. A friend of Tim’s told me that Tim had lost any number of bikes. He’d get drunk or stoned and park his bike somewhere and by morning, forget where it was. I bought him three bicycles before deciding it was a problem I couldn’t fix.
I started arranging art shows for Tim, too. I’d even price his pieces. He’d forget about the show dates, and I’d end up hanging his shows by myself, after transporting his work in my van to the show. When the shows closed, I would haul them back to his place. Sometimes, he’d forget where the show was, and never visit. The extra money that came from sales at these shows didn’t benefit him. He’d drink up the proceeds, or buy various drugs when he had the ability and opportunity to do so. With liver problems or psychological swings, his visits to the hospital increased. It turned out that this wasn’t a new problem, just one I didn’t know about before, and the availability of the extra cash from sales of his paintings just shortened the time between hospitalizations.
Tim eventually acquired a similarly directed girlfriend. As unstable as Tim, she was younger and somewhat healthier, physically. They had met in a bar in the University area. He tried to protect her from her destructive proclivities, but that helped destabilize Tim further. She, like Tim, was also mentally ill, and would periodically cut him with a kitchen knife if they quarreled about something. It seemed that Tim couldn’t help himself and no one else could help him, either, as trips to the hospital became more frequent.
A friend and fellow patron of Tim’s, a professor at OSU, tried his best to help Tim out of his downward spiral, but the situation was hopeless. We kept one another up to date on the situation, but that was about all we could do. Then, disaster! A local bank sent Tim a credit card. He immediately used it to buy a broken-down car. Then, using his new credit card, he took the car to a garage to get it running. He had no driver license, of course, and shouldn’t have had one. Shortly thereafter, he parked the car in a bus stop to go into a bar, and it was promptly towed away. He thought it had been stolen and called the police to complain. Since he hadn’t registered the title, a further mess was created. Then he maxed out the credit card on the purchase of a new radial arm saw and an expensive violin he didn’t know how to play but appreciated its beautiful appearance. He set up the radial arm saw on the floor of his tiny apartment. He told me that “now, he could make his own frames and stretchers, right there in his apartment.” He would fire up the saw at all hours and cut wood that he found in the alleys. Neighbors in adjacent apartments complained to the landlord, who paid Tim, generally a month or two late on rent, a visit. There he discovered not only the source of the noise but a persistent roach infestation and promptly tacked an eviction notice on the door. Hapless Tim was terrified.
Somehow, Tim got reinstated, probably because cleaning out the place to re-rent it would have cost a lot, not including the time it went empty without income and would likely take two years to recoup the losses. The landlord took the violin and and radial saw in payment. But a couple months later, Tim called in the middle of the night to say he needed money desperately. Could I come over right away. He was being evicted again, and wanted me to buy the art he had left, specifying a dollar amount he needed as his price for everything left. He said he was going to stay with his mother in Marion until things straightened out. I drove to Tim’s place the next morning, and bought the last of his art, mostly works on paper. The place was crawling again and I offered to spray, but he told me he had acquired a cat to kill the roaches and was afraid roach spray would kill the cat.
I took the last Trouts to an unheated garage, sprayed, and let everything sit for the winter. I got word a short time later that Tim was dead. He never left Columbus; I suspect he never intended to stay with his mother, that perhaps that she didn’t exist, in Marion, or anywhere else. He’d made it one last time into University Hospital, where he died in his sleep, his suffering over. The last time I saw him alive, he tearfully said he was Jesus Christ, that “he hadn’t asked for the job, but would now have to die for the sins of others.” He showed me a new signature he would use on his art: “t.T.t.,” which would symbolize the three crosses at the crucifixion, and his Christian name, timothy T trout. He also told me his Indian name was “Little Trout,” and that he might begin using that signature on some “special” pieces.
Tim was a splendid artist, but so mentally unstable that unless he was institutionalized and drugged, he would continue to suffer the indignities and torments he experienced as a free man. He was in his thirties, I believe, and had somehow served in the United States Navy, on board ship. He implied the government gave him some sort of monthly income, on which he could survive, but you could never tell fact from fiction with Tim. Neither could he, I suppose. He described the world, on canvas, as accurately as he was able. It was a world of violent storms and unending tragedies, but sometimes, with graceful nudes who emerged from gardens of blooming flowers. I lived in a far different world, and tried to understand Tim’s world to the best of my abilities, as he had tried to understand mine. Sometimes, we both missed the mark. He was a good person, gentle and generous, loyal to his friends, forgiving of those who mistreated him. He was marooned in a frightening, alien world, finding power in the paint brush he used to communicate with his demons, and the small group of fortunate people who understood and appreciated his haunting messages. Paraphrasing Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Each day, do the best you can, and tomorrow, put it behind you.” I think, no matter how things turned out, that was what timothy T. trout attempted to do.
About the author:
Bill Dixon is a contributing columnist to Ragazine.CC. You can read more about him in About Us.
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July 15, 2014 Comments Off on From the Edge/Bill Dixon
from the Novel
During my turn in the bunk, I listened to the raging storm and thought of Maggie. I didn’t want to but, as I lay awake in the late hours, I envisioned our lovemaking, especially our last time during the day. These thoughts turned me on, so I tried to concentrate on her face – her smile and how her forehead furrowed when she was searching for words. I missed her without wanting to, lonely the way only a man going to war can be. I wasn’t sure she loved me, but felt she was close, so I used her for my girl anyway. I didn’t think it harmed anyone, but the more I did it, the more I wanted to, the more I missed her, and the more I wanted to see her again. Loneliness is a strange bedfellow.
Loneliness also brought my mother with it. I thought of her as much as I thought of Maggie and with her, I was even able to bring in some smells. I would see her at the stove, fussing with the meatballs and sauce, and I swear I could smell the tomatoes simmering with basil and parsley right there on the ship.
My dad came to me in a dream one night when the weather was at its worst and several of the guys were puking. I had covered my head with the sheet to block the ubiquitous odor, and was dozing on the edge of wakefulness when the generator kicked off, cloaking the ship in darkness. In this place between wakefulness and sleep, my dad came to me.
He died before I really got to know him, killed in a building collapse when I was nine, but I was left with some warm memories. He was a small man, with thick forearms and fingers – he was a mason who could lay bricks faster than any guy I’ve ever known – teased because he was so good. They called him Brickyard because legend had it he could lay a yard full of bricks in one day. He liked his wine and his favorite food was roast chicken with oregano; he could eat two chickens if he was of a mind. I saw him do it once, after a full day of work in freezing weather. He came home and thawed out with wine, then sat down to eat. His cheeks were rosy from the cold and his hair was disheveled from his knit hat. His wool pants were too long for him and he had to cuff them up about eight inches, but he didn’t care how he looked. He just wanted to be comfortable and warm while he worked.
The night he came to me, he had on his wool pants and flannel shirt, and his cheeks were rosy, just like the night he ate the two chickens. He stood there for a while, and I tried to talk to but nothing came out when I moved my mouth.
He looked at me and said, “Be careful.” Then he turned completely around as if he were doing a little jig and said, very faintly, “Trust your instincts.” He sat down at a round oak table and placed his hands face down on it, looking straight ahead, saying, “Fight like a rabid dog if they get you in a corner.” A cloud of dust enveloped him at the table, and when it cleared, my father and the table were gone. Then I woke, and Thomas was puking below me.
By late afternoon, the storm had subsided and everyone was walking on the decks to breathe the fresh air. It was my turn in the berth again, but I couldn’t get myself to go below, so I made it up to my favorite spot to watch the sea while I drifted to sleep.
I woke to choppy slaps of chilly air on my face. I had slept through the day, and the blue sky had been replaced by millions of blinking stars. I stroked my stomach, feeling tranquil as I listened to the swish of the waves and canvas flapping somewhere astern. A meteor streaked across the sky just as I heard my name whispered.
“Hello, Johnny Stone.”
She stood before me like she’d been dropped off a star. She was wearing a military uniform, but her hair was loose and blowing around her shoulders. I froze, my mouth open in disbelief. I shook myself and started to rise when she stopped me.
“Just stay there for a moment, Johnny, while I look at you.”
I listened, too stunned to do anything else.
“I saw your name on the roster. It took me a few days to pinpoint your berth. Your bunkmates directed me here.”
“Thomas and Bobby?”
“Yes, and Stanley.”
“Yeah, they’re good guys.”
“Funny, I come here at night, too, only I use the stern to watch the stars.” She inched closer. “May I sit next to you?”
I was aching for her to sit, to let me kiss her and hold her. I moved to the side. “Yes.”
She sat, drawing her knees to her chest, and wiggled next to me so we were just touching. “I missed you, Johnny, especially since our day together.”
“I wanted to see you before I left, just in case something happened or we didn’t meet for some time. I tried to see you, Johnny, honest. Everything happened so fast, I even missed the ship in New York.”
“What, it was you at Ambrose Light?”
“Yeah, silly Maggie Hogan embarrassed to the hilt.”
And just like that, she had me smiling. Imagining her unique gracelessness, I turned and hugged her to me. The embrace became a kiss and I knew instantly she had my heart, a good hook right into it. When our lips parted, she rested her head on my chest and gazed upward.
“I love looking into the Milky Way.” She caressed my leg when she spoke. “See the constellations, Johnny? Orion, the Dippers, Draco, and Pleiades? They give me such a wonderful feeling.” She turned to me. “I get the same feeling when I’m with you. I felt it the last day we were together.”
She kissed me again and I lost it. I wanted to make love with her right there, but I pulled away as something nagged at me. She looked up at me and our eyes met. As the cool breeze caressed our hair, I swung her on top of me, her legs straddling mine, and kissed her again, our bodies pressed hard against each other.
Holding each other, we slept for only a few minutes. As the sun crept out of the ocean, we tried to part several times, but kissed again and again, waiting until the last moment when we had to part.
“We hit England tomorrow, so we can have tonight,” she said with eager eyes and mischievous smile.
“Okay, we’ll meet here?”
“Yes, I have dinner with the captain and the rest, and after that I’ll be up. About nine, okay?”
“Yeah.” The plan made it easier to part, but my time with Maggie compounded the confusion I had been living with. I knew I had to confront her, but wanted our final moments to be precious.
That night I told the boys they could use my bunk and slipped out. They didn’t question me, and I was glad to avoid making lies and excuses.
It was the most beautiful night, with a light breeze that blew away the warm air, leaving it cool and fresh. The stars had multiplied from the night before, alive with brightness, and the ocean was calm so the ship rocked like a soft melody.
Again, Maggie appeared from nowhere with a wool blanket wrapped around her shoulders. She dropped it to the deck, sat and pulled me to her. I hiked up her skirt and began reveling in our love. Lit by the stars, we moved with the waves and touched each other like the gentle breeze. It was a perfect moment, a moment to take with us across Europe, loving one another like another day wouldn’t come.
When we finished, she sat curled in my arms looking up into the sky. “I know that one,” I said, pointing to a red star in the east. “Mars. My dad showed it to me from the Statue of Liberty one night.”
“It’ll be our star, Johnny.”
“What’s going to happen with us, Maggie?” It wasn’t exactly what I meant to ask, but the words came out on their own.
“I don’t know, baby, I don’t know.” She turned to me. “I have to tell you something. I see other men, but I love you, Johnny. I don’t want to, but I do.”
“Why don’t you want to?” I was confused.
“I don’t want to hurt you, or to have this get messy.”
“Ah, naw, that’s not goin’ to happen. No, never, don’t worry, I got it covered,” I said, but she did have me guessing.
She kissed me. “Thank you, Johnny Stone.”
“You’re welcome, Maggie Hogan.” I pulled her onto me yanking the blanket out from underneath and wrapping it around her. We moved slowly with the same sway as the boat
Moments later, she pulled back and sat up. “But you have to understand, Johnny, I’m still frightened of my duplicities. I mean, I love you, but saw other men to further my career. So, I’m scared of myself, really.”
I really wasn’t expecting what she said particularly at this moment. “Like you did to me with Petrillo?” She brought it up, so I figured I might as well ask.
She grabbed my arm. “Oh no, Johnny, I thought that too, but I know it’s not true. I wish I got to him through someone else. Please don’t think that I meant to use you, I love you, truly.”
I shook my head; she was really something. “I don’t know – ”
“Please believe me. This world is a crazy mess, but even though we haven’t known each other long, I think we love each other. I don’t want it to be ephemeral. I want it to be real.”
I saw her lip quiver in the glow of the bow light and held her tighter. “What’s that mean?”
“Short-lived, like a flower, like a rose. I love roses.”
“It’s okay, baby, I’ll live through it with you.”
“Oh, Johnny you just don’t understand. Listen to me!” She turned away and paced towards the stern and then turned and paced back her eyes both on fire and watery. “It’s distance. After tomorrow, you’ll be gone and as the longer we’re apart, the farther we’ll be apart. The distance will be a big problem, I feel it.”
“Maybe you want the distance, maybe you love people who you know will be distanced from you.” I felt her shudder when I said it.
“Why would I do that? It doesn’t make sense.”
Was I ever in new territory with that one. I’d never been in love before – I wanted to spend every minute of forever with her. So what I said was natural and true. “Maybe you’re afraid of love.”
It took her several moments to respond. “I don’t know, Johnny. That’s my honest answer, and I want to always be honest with you.”
She was so beautiful, even her contradictions and duplicities, but especially her honesty. “We just have to keep telling ourselves love can bridge the distance.” I was unsure if I believed it.
“So are you, baby.”
She hugged me again. “You’re not like other men. Tonight at dinner, the other journalists were awful. I don’t understand them.”
“Maybe they’re jealous of your talent.”
“No. They think I don’t belong,” she said.
“It’s a male thing. Maybe it threatens them, you know – more competition and they get nervous about it.” It was the only thing I could figure.
“I know,” she said. “But I will succeed, no matter what it takes. And you know something else, Johnny?”
“No, what?” I loved listening to her: her defiance and enthusiasm charged through me like ungrounded electricity.
“I love the excitement of danger.” She looked up at me, her smile full of impishness and rebellion.
There was nothing I could do, Maggie Hogan was going to break my heart.
Back at quarters, Crowley’s voice came from nowhere. “Pero, get your stuff together quick and get above with the others.” I looked around and there he was, standing near my bunk. “I don’t know what you’ve been up to, and I don’t really care. But now I’m watching. Is that clear?” Crowley’s eyes were wide and his face red with anger.
I was shocked he was so mad. “Yes, sir.” I grabbed my duffel bag and rushed up to the deck just behind Thomas.
Thomas glanced back as he was going up the stairs. “Crowley did a bed check while you were gone. I covered for you, but he knew. It’s no big deal, but I think he’s gotta show us he’s in charge.”
“It’s okay. I’m alright,” I said trailing him. “And thanks.”
“You’ll do the same for me sometime.”
When we got to the deck, the sun had given way to mist and we were able to see land. “England,” one of the sailors yelled from above. I stopped and, leaning over the railing, saw a thin strip of land to the east.
By mid-day, the thin line had turned into a harbor and we were moving into the docks. I smiled, knowing I had crossed the Atlantic, met and made love to the woman who was instrumental in changing my world. I won four hundred dollars and ninety-eight cigarettes and never got seasick. I was feeling pretty good when they dropped anchor. Maybe the next few months wouldn’t be so bad.
July 15, 2014 Comments Off on Maggie’s Wars/Phil Pisani
WRITING BLUE HIGHWAYS
William Least Heat-Moon’s Story
of How a Book Happened
by John Smelcer
In 1978, William Least Heat-Moon began a 14,000 miles, 38-state, multi-year journey in his van named Ghost Dancing. He took only lesser-traveled back roads, those indicated in blue on road maps. Along the way, he met people from all walks of life. As the miles accumulated, the idea for a book began to take root. The manuscript traveled its own journey toward publication. When Blue Highways finally came out in 1982, it spent 42 weeks on The New York Times bestseller list. The following excerpt is from Heat-Moon’s just-released Writing Blue Highways (University of Missouri Press, 2014), in which the author tells the story of how his masterpiece “happened.” In this chapter aptly titled, “The Secret Society Begins to Emerge,” the publisher (Atlantic Monthly Press) has been whittling down the length of the ponderous manuscript. Unexpectedly, the editor, Peter Davison, calls to deliver the devastating news that that they can’t include any of the photographs in the book due to escalating printing costs. As a photojournalist, Heat-Moon understood the importance of the images and how much the book’s success depended on them.
Although our paths had crossed a couple times in the past two decades, it wasn’t until after I moved to Missouri in the summer of 2013 that Heat-Moon and I struck up a friendship, having occasional lunch in Columbia while discussing current writing projects, and even doing a book signing together. Blue Highways has long been one of my favorite books; I’ve taught it several times alongside Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley. If it’s one of yours and you want to learn more about the book’s backstory, or if you are a writer who wants to learn about another writer’s struggles to get his book published, read Writing Blue Highways.
– John Smelcer
From Chapter IX:
One afternoon Peter Davison phoned to say the price of the book would be $13.50. A couple of days later he called
again to say it would have to be $15.95. “There’s an invisible seventeen-dollar barrier these days,” he said, “and we can’t let it go higher than that.” The next week it did, and he phoned to take up the issue a third time. “Somebody here seriously underestimated the length of your manuscript. It’s pushing two hundred thousand words. The ink on your pages weighs more than the paper.”
My condensations and dumped widows had worked — perhaps too well. That was the good news. Then came the bad, the ugly: “The photographs are driving the price of the book too high. I’m sorry to tell you this, but we’re going to have to leave them out. After all, the Atlantic proved they aren’t necessary.”
I’d humbugged experienced word-editors on the length of the book, and now the piper wanted his pay. A long silence before I could speak. Please don’t do that. “We have to,” he said. “The public’s not going to pay seventeen dollars for this book. I know the decision upsets you, but there’s no other choice.” I thought before I answered. There is another choice. “Which is?” I’ll withdraw the manuscript. The conversation had become strained. “You’re making a mistake,” he said. “A big, serious mistake.” Click, line dead. Well, boys, there you have it.
That evening Lucy was unhappy: “After four years, you find an editor to believe in your book, and then in one phone call Mister Big-Time-Author casts him aside before the book even exists? Have you lost your mind? I wondered the same thing and tossed the issue around, but I couldn’t see things as just a matter of money. The pictures of thirty-seven people, two cats, and one dog were integral and critical: A photograph can go where words cannot.
The incentive for the journey began with an urge to make environmental portraits of authentic habitants of the American backcountry. In the beginning was not the word but the image; when the book was without form, and void, there were photographs — “light-writing” — and the pictures gave off energy and sustained the journey when little else did. And on the road, the growing album gave purpose to mileage and promised a seed-bed for something larger as a gallery grew into a garden.
Those faces became prima facie evidence requiring more than just captions or notes; they demanded voice so they could attest to their lives, and even when words began rising to make affirming images subservient, to eliminate them was errantly wrong. Origins, seeds, and inceptive impulses belonged to the work as much as did their results: Blue Highways began not with a typewriter but with a camera.
When I went to bed that night, I told Lucy removing the photographs would be a death stroke to the book, and she said, “Saying no to a yes is also a death stroke.”
A ringing phone pulled me awake the next morning. It was Davison whose hello was a grudging “You win.” His fast turnabout removed any chance I would have to talk myself out of a sound principle.
My medieval notion about the Great Wheel — and one other thing — had me ready for the next rotation… My “next” was the Book of the Month Club turning down Blue Highways after two readers said they saw no significant audience for a story about “some guy in a truck going nowhere.”
* * *
July 10, 2014 Comments Off on Writing Blue Highways