Curiosity Beyond the Pale

There’s a shared quality in all living creatures called curiosity. Cat’s, dogs, grasshoppers, robins, they all have some form of it though we don’t really understand what the motivation actually is the body-brain chemistry involved. It’s natural and occurs in greater or lesser amounts in individuals as dictated by species, genetic gifts and amplified by upbringing.  Curiosity isn’t mere noseyness.  There’s a point when this desire to see becomes some sort of sick pathology. So what is this thing that drives people to the scene of disasters, not to offer help, but simply to see, and perhaps even to profit from what they find there? A lot of artists have thought long and hard about this but few answers seem to result.

This account is from William Least-Heat Moon’s PrairyErth. “About three miles southwest of Bazaar (KS) Edward and Arthur Baker were moving cattle on the homeplace (sic) when they heard the distant motors of a plane heading southeast. The noise passed. A few minutes later it returned and seemed now to be moving northwest, this time spluttering and backfiring, but in the low overcast the Bakers could see nothing: a brief silence, a quiet above, then a loud, thudding crash. The cattle jumped and banged into the corral. Edward climbed up  on a board fence to try to see better to the west.; from almost above him a long silvery and red object dropped in the slow ziz-zag of a  falling slip of paper.  The young men grabbed the  nearest horses and rode all-out toward where they had seen the silver thing float down behind a treeless ridge. About a mile away they came to it, a piece of aircraft wing – broken cleanly across but otherwise hardly damaged – lying topside up. On it was NC 999E. A half-mile west, in a broad basin on the low ridge lay an incredible tangle of something with a tall, silvery projection like a huge tombstone. They rode fast and came up to the Fokker, heaped past recognition but for the upside-down tail assembly. Gasoline fumes hung thickly, but there was no fire and there had been no explosion.

Edward got off and tied his horse to a fence, and Arthur rode around the wreckage that lay scattered over a hundred yards. They saw four bodies lying outside the plane, the farthest sixty feet away, and they could make out two more men still in the cabin. Although there was little blood, the victims were considerably mutilated and dismembered. Without question the six passengers were dead. Edward started to pick up toms strewn mail but stopped, and his brother rode back to the house, where his father had already called the operator in Bazaar. Sometime after eleven A.M. the Cottonwood ambulance, rolling at ninety five miles an hour down wet and unpaved route 13, made a slow, fishtailing climb over the light covering of snow on the pasture. More countians (Heat-Moon’s term for citizens of the county)  arrived and helped pick up letters, gasoline soaked mailbags (a Chicagoan later wrote Bazaar postmaster John Mitchell to ask for a 99E letter to add to his collection of crash mail), and large sums of cash, jewelry and five watches. Others had the grisly task of gathering up bodies and pieces of men in bushel baskets and gunnysacks. When a part-time deputy arrived he became ill and hung back from the mangled mess until his stomach settled.

Wally Evans of Matfield didn’t want to take his Model A coupe into the muddy pastures, but when four big fellows lifted the wheels off the ground so he could put on chains, then all headed out. Later he said, “The bodies was all in pieces. They’d be a shoe with a foot in it. Bodies was strung out – just a windrow of them to the southwest. The aluminum partition between the cabin and the front end where the pilot sat was laying level with the ground – the sign was till up there telling what the pilot’s name was.

By noon, news of the crash had spread over the county, and sightseers rushed out, tearing into the muddy pasture. The word came that one of the victims was Knute Rockne, and from then on, the crowed rolled in from a half-dozen counties: by early afternoon five planes had landed nearby, their pilots huddled and holding their leather helmets and guessing at the cause of the crash; one veteran of World War I said he’d never seen such mutilation on this side of the Atlantic. In the whine of stuck car wheels and the drone of circling planes, cowhands sat astride their horses and watched people from Wichita slog their Fords into the prairie and then get out and hurry toward the crash. They tore down the three barbed-wire fences, scrambled in the rocky mud for keepsakes, milled about the wreckage, photographed each other standing and waving and smiling beside it as if it were the Washington Monument; they were picking up every loose thing, all the while getting  in the way of men trying to gather up body parts. Stationed in the middle of the wreckage to protect it, the deputy sheriff (having recovered his stomach) was busy tearing out the Fokker’s radio for a memento; John Happer’s tennis racket and golf balls were long gone. The only things people handed over were letters. One man said later, “Rockne’s pocketbook was laying there just like you’d taken a corn knife on a stump and cut it right in two. There was a one dollar bill like that, just half of it.” Years afterward, former state senator Wayne Rogler told of a fellow walking around with a passenger’s ear, and when a friend admired it, he pulled out his knife and sliced in half to share.

Authorities stopped a boy carrying away a carburetor and looked at it, told him he had a swell find an let him go off with it. Then bigger things began disappearing: a man even rolled one of the huge flattened tires over the wet fields to Matfield. The eager crowd shredded the cabin fabric beyond what the crash had done and stuff pieces in their pockets. Finally, like a great carcass scavenged by hyenas, only a skeletal plane remained; the broken frame, engines, tail assembly, the fallen wing. Harv Cox, who drove the speeding ambulance out and returned with Rockne’s body, said later, “I’ve never seen people to so crazy in my life.” When Cox died a half century later, he still had not returned to the site; he said, “I got my fill of it that day.”

The passengers were: H.J. Christen (interior design); Spencer Goldthwaite (advertising), John Happer (sporting goods), Waldo Miller (insurance), C.A. Robrecht (produce), and Knute Rockne (football). I won’t add the names of the two pilots.

So the first responders and socially responsible neighbors responded quickly, as they always do, and then came the horde of human bozos to pick over the mess like vultures.

What is it in some people that brings out this behavior? It’s not uncommon. We see it at wrecks on highways, house fires and so forth. Good fodder for writers but inexplicable to a lot of folks.

Curiosity is a wonderful thing. It leads us to invention and improvement and understanding, but there becomes a point when curiosity is no longer curiosity and though people may claim that as a motivating force, they are fooling only themselves.

I understand cops and soldiers running toward the sound of the guns and first responders and  earnest Samaritans hurrying  to the scenes of disasters, both manmade and natural, but I don’t understand ghouls. Maybe that’s why vampire crap is so popular in recent years? Sick, sick, sick.

Makes one think that mankind is not changing very quickly or changing in very positive and uplifting directions. Sad.


Seeing is Believing? Or Is It?

It’s an old saw that a picture is worth a thousand words, but is it?

The more I think about process of perception, how we imperfect humanoids see stuff,  and the more we think about it, the gooier el groundo getteth.  Lonnie and I talk about this human perception thing all the time, mostly in relation to how we see and comprehend the world and people around us. Which is to say, our focus is mostly on how we (and people in general)  look and see or don’t see the reality of what’s right there in front of us, the old conundrum of the eye-witness, whose are about as reliable as toilet paper for a roof.

As painters we are both interested in color and shapes and, as a writer, I have a similar interest — because the words I choose and use to tell any story, not only carry a certain rhythm (or music) with them, they also convey a certain tone or color that affects (at least theoretically) the reader’s reception. For a writer, words are colors or think of them as paints. Sometimes I can be graphic and write “a gunmetal sky,” or I can say the clouds were dark and moving slowly, boiling like something ready to escape its pot.” Both suggest a color, but the second approach (not particularly literary) provides movement and drama to create a color which in my mind is sort of blue gray and failing fast.

As a painter I think we often see an indistinct big picture before the details and often this big picture is nothing more than a blob of color and shape. When I paint I try to capture this sort of broad sweep thing and then develop the detail below the big picture. Thus, when I am writing I won’t often describe the details of something as mundane as a chair. I’d rather put the chair into the scene, if it belongs, and let the reader’s mind supply color, shape, etc., to fit the picture forming in the reader’s mind. As the creating writer I can affect this by the other stuff I throw into the scene, though it’s always an experiment. The writer works by revision trying this and then trying that and reading out loud and trying to figure out how a virgin mind will hear what is on the page. The creative process is one of trial and error and with painting you can immediately or quickly see if your approach has promise or not. This sort of decision-making and testing of ideas is absolutely critical to thinking in all academic subjects.

In fact, some of our greatest scientists have made their discoveries not through math but though mind pictures and experiments designed to try out thoughts and when they seem to work only then does the scientist turn to other means, such as math,. To prove the concept or theory. Music has the same relationship to other academic pursuits and this is why schools need to think of these things as extensions of other work, not extra or non-core subjects.

But I digress. Hell my life is one loooong digression.

For a painting or a story, we’re talking about the creation of a dreamscape, one intentionally whipped up by the artist/writer with the objective of evoking the same sort of emotion and intellectual response to reading the story or looking at the picture as the creator had in making it.

There are hundreds of books and articles on this and not just in the realm of the arts. In working closely with conservation officers and police there is a constant reminder of each other to anchor ourselves in situational awareness and most of my partners and I are trading what do you see information back and forth trying to find a consensus from the value of two sets of eyes. If situational awareness fails in a cop, he or she can die. It’s not the same equation for art and stories, though missed details in the creative stage might very well lead to a failed story or picture.

Most good hunters I know are absolutely tops in this sort of seeing what’s really there business and reading the signs around them as a predictor of what might be coming next.

What prompted this thinking this morning was something Williiam Least-Heat Moon wrote in PrairyErth. What the author is talking about is memory and perception and he uses the example of an image of Dagwood Bumstead in the funny papers. Most of us see Dagwood because that’s what we’re conditioned to see, but that is not what we are actually looking at. What we are looking at is a product of what we now think of as pixels, but once were collections and bunches of tiny dots which suggested something greater than the parts – e.g. a picture. But if one focuses and looked closely one could and can see the dots and how they blend. This is a physical example of the difference between looking and seeing. Artists like George Seurat and Bev Doolittle play with this in different styles, but both aimed at the same point.

Of course all this chitchat, theoretical talk does not an artist or writer make. The nutty Gertrude Stein was one of our greatest literary theorists – down some lines – but not quite as good as a practitioner. Better as a critic and theoretician than creator of compelling fiction. If you read the 1933 The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas you need to go into it with the understanding that it is presented as creative nonfiction, but executed fully as fiction.  It is the nub of a new form that in some ways has had a lot of unanticipated reach, including the once new” thing” of  so-called New Journalism, in which the reporter becomes a breathing character in his or her own nonfiction work, or where the writer imagines thoughts of real-lie characters, same as a fiction writer might.

At any rate, test yourself. Pull into a parking space, take out a pencil and notepad, look around and try to tell yourself what it is you’re seeing, and write those things and observations down in the order you see the things. This will later give you some indication of how your brain works and where your focus lies, or did at that moment because our moods, physical and health condition and all else that makes us, makes us who we are from moment to moment throughout the day. We are not the same second by second and because of this unending personal flux we live in, we are different people at different times and we see differently based on who we are and how we feel. Think about it. if you’re sick with a fever, your observational skills usually are not what they are when you’re feverless.

Ever here the phrase, gorilla in the room? This is based on famous psychology experiment sometimes called the Invisible Gorilla, which has been done in many variations, but the basic  design of the experiment is to put people into a situation doing a certain task and then have a gorilla pass through their presence. The number of people who don’t see it is remarkably high, and frightening for eye-witnesses crimes, or for artists trying to capture something.

Artists need to have not only self-knowledge  in such matters, but some experience observing others to help us portray people and characters in ways that will most effectively move our stories along.

I’m sure you’re thinking by now that I’m getting painting and writing mixed up. I am, because they are to me the same thing conceptually. Only the physical execution is different. Sculptors, musicians, painters, writers of all stripes, we all attack the problem at hand with similar mental approaches and what we do with that stuff when we apply our skills and crafts, whatever they might be, produces the work of art. The value of the art is in turn then measured by what effect it has on the viewer or reader.

There are some other differences in the arts too. A sculptor for example creates by removing stuff to create shaped space, whereas a writer puts something on a medium to create that effect. But the thinking we do, to a great extent is likely to be more similar than dissimilar.

Tired of thinking. Over

Artiste  Georges Seurat.
Artiste Georges Seurat.
Pointililsm example. We see a picture. What's  really three are a bunch of little dots and marks.
Pointililsm example. We see a picture. What’s really three are a bunch of little dots and marks.

pointilism example

Blast From the Past

Ran across this in going through files, Drawing from the late 60s, now in the collection of Art Smith, my former aircraft commander and comrade.

Southeast Asia "Customers."
Southeast Asia “Customers.”

The Intimate Greatness of Small

April 22 here in Portage and it is snowing. Not with any serious intentions. More a reminder of which season is most miserable for and controlling of human life and behavior. We’ll soon head north across the bridge and I have been thinking about what the draw is for this  annual progress. Fifteen years ago in The Snowfly, I wrote of the north. The character Bowie Rhodes is thinking as he was driving. “North, I knew deep down, was where I belonged, north being as much a philosophy as a direction or destination. You knew when you were there, or you didn’t. Those who couldn’t feel it and embrace it generally only tried it once. You fit or you didn’t. The basic law of nature was the law of the unexpected. In the woods, or on a fast river, you were attuned to this; at home, in a job, in relationships, you were not, yet nature pertained in all settings to all species in one way or another. North was the home of the unexpected. North spawned chilled chaos, yet it warmed my heart.”

This isn’t to say I don’t like the South. I do. I lived in North Carolina, Virginia, Texas, and Oklahoma as a kid growing up and I  liked all of them, though I was too young to really remember N.C.

What really sticks to me is the allure of small towns hacked out of the woods.

In re-reading Wm Least-Heat Moon’s wonderful classic  Prairyerth I a ran across a passage that expresses my sense of small towns quite succinctly in a small-town slow rolling way. Heat (1939-) is a nom de plume (his “pen name”). The writer’s more “Erthly  handle” is William Lewis Trogdon. He was in a café in Chase County Kansas,  and asked the owner whether the lack of privacy wasn’t the worst thing about a small town and she replied, “And also the best. I love going to the post office in the morning and knowing everybody. The only time we honk a car horn is with a wave. It’s touching when someone asks about my son or my dad’s health. We can’t afford not to care about other people in a place this small. Our survival, in a way, depends on minimizing privacy because the lack of it draws us into each others’ lives, and that’s a major resource in a little town where there aren’t a thousand entertainments. There’s an elderly man who lost his little granddaughter to a drunk, hit-and-run driver, a few months ago. Every time the old gentleman comes into the Emma Chase (the name of the café), he retells the story and every time people listen. What’s that worth to a person? Or to a community. A café like this serves to bond us.”
In L’Anse eight miles downhill and north of us,  the two eateries like this are the Hilltop and The Nite Owl, which is more of a breakfast place.
I’ve lived in or around small towns much of my life and loved them all. Rhinecliff, Rudyard, Deer Park, Alberta. The scenery may vary but the toughness and straightforwardness of the people doesn’t vary much at all.  Moon said in his book in 1991 that 70 percent of Americans lived on 2 percent of the land.” I’m guessing that front number is even higher now as cities puff out like turf-sucking adders and small towns board up and disappear under the regional assaults of Walmart and other commercial chain dragons bent on killing all opposition as quickly and heartlessly as possible.

Now it’s true that the small-town “mindset  can pertain to  city segments or neighborhoods of larger communities but those places are more often surrounded by more such locations and thousands upon thousands of people, not to mention tens of thousands of passing-throughs, and almost none such places are surrounded by forests  or neighbored-up with wild animals the way the U.P. is.

Not exactly rocket-science thinking, but then my mind doesn’t drift in that direction very often.

Every time we cross the bridge into the U.P we can feel the different, cleaner air filtering through us, and within the first week or so we know  we’ll have our first encounters with the local wolf packs ( we live between two of them), a wandering bear, or moose on the loose. We’ll settle into our routine, me up at 0400 and writing, and afternoons filled with marauding the local hills and streams on foot. Probably the water levels will have most creeks and rivers unfishable for an old man wading until later in May, but we can wait and if I can’t, I can always cross over to the pond and pretend I know what I’m doing, to sit on the bank on a cool day warmed by memories of life’s special  moments.

It’s good to have things to look forward to, including a place to sit in the sun and remember the old passions that burned so bright.

Sadly, we anticipate departure in a new old vehicle, yet  unnamed and unpossessed.  You see, the 15-year-old Green Streamer is no more. After more than 220,000 miles I pulled all the flies out of the ceiling yesterday afternoon, and stripped out all the emergency cargo for placement in the replacement, so to speak.

I will try to keep a more regular blog this summer but there can be no promises. Fishing and other writings will take precedence, and drawing with my colored pencils. I am feeling particularly separated from painting and art at the moment and feeling a powerful urge to get back to addressing canvases with bold colors and interesting shapes. We shall see.


Thinking About Debt


I be of that tribe old enough to remember ink jars

Sunk in school desks, the little circle surfaces shiny- black as oil

Surely as valuable, our teacher wary of our replenishing the black blood

On our own, telling us such work needed surer hands, and steady nerves

Something he called experience as if it were beyond the reach of normal.

Or average, we made no such distinctions back then.

We wrote all one semester with scratchy quills of soft wood shafts,

Razored spear-points we thrust into wells to nab words

We strung together in stringers called sentences

Holding them aloft proudly, our papers crinkling papery sounds,

 But chiming in my mind like a metal stringer clanking

 Take-weight leaving the scent of natural and new to the light.

And now I remember ink wells alone, not the names

Of the faceless souls who kept them wet

So we might fish, and I sense deep debt here,

Unpaid in eyeshade-think, yet every day

I scribble I feel the debt becoming less.

Some find life in their first bike, or ball-glove.

Mine was ink and pen and no limits on where I steered

A lifelong obsession, a gift few receive in the lottery.

[Portage, April 20, 2015]

Those Ghosties Inside Us

We are packing for the “progress”  north and, as usual, my mind wants to go to something other than scutdom and so I procrastinate physically and in my mind. Out studio looks out on our backyard, which has been the scene of thousands of non-regulation, unregulated baseball games, all operating on the honor system but requiring the services of imaginary “ghosties,” imaginary creatures who foster more spurious arguments and petty spats than Judge Judy’s court.   How can something as pragmatic as a ghostie foster such trouble?

This led me to thinking about how every time I go somewhere for a public reading or to sign books, I seem to have one, sometimes two people, who approach me to announce either that they have a story they are certain I should write, or that they have a story they would like to tell, but just don’t have the time to write it down. My usual approach with this is to nod and turn on my cop talk with “Okay,” or “I see.”

And change subjects. I understand the battle they refer to, even if they don’t know it is a battle. And overcoming a time deficit is the least of the hurdles they face.

I am sure that every life is a story and that within  each of those master stories  are multiple other stories and in some folks these stories are scratching at the screen like pets to be loosed to the outside world. But the fact that such things want out, doesn’t mean they should be loosed, verbally or on paper. And letting them out, transforming them from thoughts to words on paper is not the simple transaction if might seem.

 The problem here is that a lot of people confuse fiction with autobiography, and seek to draw lines from point A to point B in a story to a line from Point A to Point B in the trajectory of the author’s life. This way of thinking fails to understand what the creative process is and this way sees every book as something an author has scribbled from his mind into sight and maybe changed some dates and times to save some characters (people, relatives, friends, etc) a bit of anguish or embarrassment.

It ain’t that way.

For 30 years  I’ve done a little experiment with audiences, asking them to tell me which things in a work they think are fact and which are fiction. They almost never can separate fictions from facts, or what some call reality. I still marvel at this almost whole inability to sort reality from fiction and it makes me think that either I’m much of the time writing convincingly, or that people are just too self-focused to sort anything out for themselves.

There’s a reason for this. Virginia Woolf in her essay, “Montaigne” (In her 1925 edition of The Common Reader) has a fine run at explanations of these inner mental and emotional processes that fuel creativity. Her model for this is Montaigne, who pioneered the form we call essay, and lived in the time of Shakespeare, who no doubt knew the Frenchman’s work. The essay is different than other forms in that it was back then, the rare work that sought to expose the inner self. Shakespeare’s later plays  show a distinct lean into this way for his characters and once has to wonder did Montaigne make him stop and think, and then push in a new inner direction. I don’t know the answer, but the question is intriguing.

She begins with an anecdote of a king drawing his own portrait with a crayon and Montaigne wonders “Why is it not, in like manner, lawful for everyone to draw himself with a pen, as he did with a crayon?” Woolf offers this explanation. “Offhanded one might reply, ‘Not only is it lawful, but nothing could be easier. Other people may evade us, but our own features are almost too familiar. Let us begin. And then, when we attempt the task, the pen falls from our fingers; it is a matter of profound, mysterious, and overwhelming difficulty.”

Which is exactly my point. With all the stories boiling around inside us it would seem self-evident that scratching them down, even in the roughest public form, would be a fairly easy undertaking, but it’s not.

Woolf uses the Frenchman to sketch her own position. “There is, in the first place, the difficulty of expression. We all indulge in the strange, pleasant process called thinking, but when we think, but when it comes to saying, even to someone opposite, what we think, then how little we are able to convey! The phantom is through the mind and out of the window before it can lay salt on its tail, or slowly sinking and returning to the profound darkness which it has lit up momentarily with a wandering light. Face, voice, and accent eke out our words and impress their feebleness and character in speech. But the pen is a rigid instrument; it can say very little; it has all kinds of habits and ceremonies of its own. It is dictatorial too: it is always making ordinary men into prophets, and changing the natural stumbling trip of human speech into the solemn and stately march of pens.

In some ways I think this describes both the inability of most folks to write anything of length – which requires rigid mental and physical discipline, but opens the door for these “moments of wandering light” to get captured long enough for FACEBOOKers to pass along the tortured, honest or insidious words and pictures of others. No real creativity here, just every person as a small microphone in the cacophony that is the barnyard we call life. Groups post slogans and stuff and others pass them on, with very little inner self placed for public inspection and that which is, often very rough and disorganized and emotional surges that rip around inside us, but have no place being made visible for others. They are not thought. They are other, lesser things, best kept in darkness.

Woolf goes on. “For beyond the difficulty of communicating oneself there is the supreme difficulty of being oneself. This soul, or life within us, by no means agrees with the life outside us. If one has the courage to ask her what she thinks, she is always saying the very opposite to what other people say. Other people, for instance, long ago made up their minds that old invalidish gentlemen ought to stay at home and edify the rest of us by the spectacle of their connubial fidelity.”

Montaigne’s soul said of this notion that it is old age when one ought to travel, and marriage, which is very seldom founded on love, is apt to become, towards the end of life, a formal tie better broken up.

Montaigne’s soul is a female spirit, I can’t explain his thinking down this line, but it sings nicely. “But watch her (the soul) as she broods over the fire in the inner room of that tower, which, though detached from the main building, has so wide a view over the estate. Really she is the strangest creature in the world, far from heroic, variable as a weathercock, ‘bashful, insolent; chaste, lustful; prating, silent; laborious, delicate; ingenious, heavy; melancholic, pleasant; lying, true; knowing, ignorant; liberal, covetous, and prodigal—in short, so complex, so indefinite, corresponding so little to the version which does duty for her in public, that a man might spend his life merely in trying to run her to earth. The pleasure of pursuit more than rewards one for any damage,  that it may inflict upon one’s worldly prospects. The man who is aware of himself is henceforward independent; and he is never bored, and life is only too short, and is steeped through and through with a profound yet temperate happiness. He alone lives, while other people, slaves of ceremony, let life slip by them in a kind of dream. Once conform, once do what other people want you to do because they do it, and a lethargy steals over all the finer nerves and faculties of the soul. She becomes outer show and inward emptiness: dull, callous, and indifferent.”

Here in one well-muscled paragraph captures the two paths of life:  what others demand and expect, or your own road.

I think when people approach me about writing their own books they are trying to tell me that the stuff inside them can’t find a way out and that perhaps I would give voice to. But here again, they are mistaking fiction for dictation of inner reality. But it is not that. If there is an inner world and an outer world we exist in, there becomes yet another world, a fictive world, when one of us manages to pull it together to be read and contemplated. It is a product of the other two worlds, but cannot exist until rendered into a form that others can see and explore. It is a creation born of the inside boil in our secret cauldrons, and put into life via scribbling ink on paper.

“Are you packing?” the boss yells from the kitchen. Yes, Dear. Over.

Research Methods and Note-Keeping: Getting Ready to Write

When I am traveling to examine potential book and scene sites (all over the world),  I use a combination of photographs, drawings, and notes, both from my  travels and from my historical research. Here is stuff from November 1990 in Belgium, pretty much in the area around Ypres (which British soldiers pronounced, “Wipers”).  Gas was  first  deployed near  here and a lot of bloody, bloody fighting took place for no gain.  People tend to forget that both sides used poison gas against the enemy, and both sides, being avowed Christian nations prayed to the same god to see them victorious. As if she was even paying attention.) I intended to write a novel called Dufour’s Star— but  this has been compressed to a short story for a future collection.I believe my training in journalism and experiences in editorial cartooning help prepare me for the sort of observations and record keeping routine I’ve adhered to since1965 when I  left MSU for the USAF. Dufour could still be a novel– or a novella, but we shall see. Ran across this stuff in my work journals as we prepare to move north to the Western U.P.





















Publishing: The Adventure in Modern Technology.

The joys of writing.  Ny mnemory goes back to the day I spent in NYC at Lyons Press meeting the publisher Nick Lyons and we briefly discussed The Snowfly and then spent the better part of the afternoon going through a passel of flies that had been sent to him. Many of them he passed to me and they rode home to Michigan in my briefcase. Publishing was face-to-face back in those old days, just fifteen years ago. Nowadays, everything is ee-lectreeonick. For example, I got electronic page proofs for the new edition (expanded by 50 pages) of COVERED WATERS this week with request that I return them by Monday, April 13 (7 days). First I could not get the Adobe activated to edit the PDF (stands for Pretty Damn Foolish). But I then did manage to get it working after a chat with Staci in Production, who sent me Procedura per gli sciocchi (Instructions for Fools). (Dear Bozo, first do A. If A works, then do B. If A does not work go back to start.) and after completing review and revision of a chapter, the computer announced it was shutting it down for unknown reasons and would “let me know if it again became available.” WTF. Meanwhile my longtime publisher Lyons/Globe-Pequot has been recently acquired by Rowman & Littlefield,  and the IT folk there, it seems, presumably finagled the merged system, with the result being that the Rowman computers will not accept any email from me, including the one I needed to send to Production, who sent the pages to me for a look-see. Sitrep: I could get, but not give. This email problem has been on-gong for a couple of weeks.  Okay then. I jury-rigged a couple of routes, first using FACEBOOK messaging to alert (whine to) my editor Keith Wallman re my problems. And today, having gotten up early, and muscled my way through pages, I sent the revised electronic proofs to my agent Phyllis Westberg at Harold Ober Inc, who in turn relayed said pages to Staci in Production. In the old days, the publisher would have sent me hard copy, which I would have reviewed and revised (with a pencil or pen), and then mailed overnight back to the publisher. What an improvement all this electronic stuff is over the old days. Wheeee. Color me AFK, Dudes. Have to send a note to my Phyllis for bailing me out. Over.

Upper Peninsula as Geographic Split Infinitive

Declared  Dear Popeye: “I loves ta greedily eats me spinach and ta sometimes breaks da rules.”

A smidge of April rain fell at first light to lightly massage the grasses and to happily bring forth new life. Nothing like making a point to aggressively split infinitives like some of our old-timey Yooper friends are wont to happily do: You’se to da cow t’row da hay over fence, eh?

An infinitive, we are told, is a two-word form of a verb, such as to read, to write, to illustrate, to screw.

An infinitive is split when one puts a word (Usually it’s  an adverb) between the ”to” and the verb, as in: to eagerly read, or to hastily write, or colorfully illustrate, or frequently screw.

Many writers great and small tend to ignore this rule — as they often ignore all grammatical rules – because their main interest is to actively effect results in their readers’ minds and to happily satisfy readers of their prose.

Episodes of Star Trek provide a great example of the split infinitive form:” To boldly go where no one has gone before,” the split in being the adverb  “boldly” tucked neatly betwixt to and go.

The rule of not splitting has been around only since around 1834, which ironically is only a year before the states of Ohio and Michigan went to making war over what we now call the Toledo strip and to quickly take this line of thought into ether I should point out that Toledo in the 1970s where the shady operators of the Blades in the IHL (The Eye) would cheaply sell beer on Hate-the-Kalamazoo Wings Nights. Adding to the insult, the proprietors of the dinky-rink in Toledo had seats unattached to the floors, which made it easy to conveniently pick one up and to easily loft it at the players down on the ice.

Over the forerunners of these sadsack jamokes we fought a war? Good that we lost and got the Indian Territories in trade — that area across the straits of Mackinac now known as the Upper Peninsula, which in my mind we can conveniently think of as kind of geographical split infinitive, the to (to being either a prepositional or subordinating conjunction, I confess to not being certain – or to even caring) which most accurately defines it). And the main verb is the Lower Peninsula.

Oddly enough, the attitude known to widely prevail below the bridge back in the day  was that Michigan was to be robustly screwed by receiving the wilderness in return for the potentially more lucrative Toledo Strip – where eventually there would be strippers other than local residents. But times and attitudes change. The UP ended up having a whole heap of natural resources for various business interests to rape wantonly, now it’s Yoopers who feel the pain of the trade and if asked to openly express their feelings are likely to candidly tell you  “Dose below-britch pipples should send dere damn money up here,  an’ to demseffs keep down below, eh?

To bluntly ask Yoopers to try tell you the feelings they harbor is to maybe risk some roundhouse punches coming back to you.

U.P. as a geographic split infinitive with the Straits doing the splitting. I like this concept, shall have to enthusiastically fiddle with it in the future to surely come. As a friend of mine once said, “It feels SO good to REALLY be bad,” and that certainly applies to  bend or wantonly ignore our rules in any way we feel  will effectively improve a piece of writing.


April Fish, Virginia Woolf & the 39th Bullshido Camp

I woke up this morning thinking about work, not the kind I did for 30 years in the corporate world, but the kind of work I do now. In those days it was almost impossible to find time to think during the work day, which pushed such activity primarily to the night in off-work hours. During the day there were incessant phone calls and a steady parade of people dropping by, some just to jaw, most for substantive reasons. Now I work both day and night in almost complete solitude and this is so much more conducive to thought and a life in the mind than the former. The corporate world might find itself far more productive if It went to four-day work-weeks, not for production or for sales folks,  but for the various thought-disciplines that propel the ship’s perennial money-hunt.

Lonnie skipped down to her Mother’s place overnight, leaving Shaksper and me to our own devices, and we managed quite well. The dog slept on his bed, near mine, and didn’t disturb me until after 6, even though he knows I’m usually up between 4-5.  He took his bolus with pills without incident this morning and is now stretched out in the morning air, sucking in the cool,  and hoping (do dogs pray?) a rabbit makes the mistake of crossing his ground. It’s good  for a border collie to have a job.

My last reading for the first quarter is A Writer’s Diary by Virginia Woolf.

To be frank, I’ve never read any Virginia Woolf and only know her because of Edward Albee’s 1962 play, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Which, of course, has, near as I can tell,  nothing (if anything)  to do with the author. So it is with great pleasure that I have discovered her diary, which she kept sporadically and which deals with her inner writing life and various social events, giving a nice window on England and herself  from the second decade of the Twentieth Century into 1941. What impresses me is her simple, descriptive vocabulary mixed with a sort of introspective creative peek at the things around her and the currents of thought charging through her brain, wonderful phrases like, “taking a delicious draught of silence.” Or, “he had blue eyes like hard marbles. Or, “He mumbles and mutters like an old man sucking pebbles.”

I’m certain now that after we move the caravan up to our Summer digs I’ll find some Woolf novels and see if her fiction matches the writing and thinking in her diaries. I expect to not be disappointed.

Thus, here we are, Shaksper and me, watching the light grow over the garden. It is April Fools Day, which in France is called Poisson d’Avril (April Fish) and it Italy, where I once lived for some years, Pesce d’Aprile, (ditto April Fish or something close.) Why fish? Who knows, but the prank of the day is to tape pictures of fish on the back of unsuspecting classmates and wait for them to find it and act appropriately put out. If one were to affix a paper trout to my back, I’d serious consider leaving it there in perpetuity. Think of all the trees this might save for future April Fish days. The last Saturday in April. That’s how we in Michigan describe the trout opener, which has been this way for as long as I can remember. We are now sliding out the backside of April and the opener begins to loom. We will be in the UP by then, most streams unwadable until June and the weather no doubt will be awful for the opener, which is almost always is, with few exceptions, global clotting or not.

Yesterday I spent most of the afternoon fussing with a letter for our trust, one telling the kids that I want to be cremated ASAP and my ashes dumped at a favorite spot in a particular river.  Lonnie and I would like eventually for there to be a merger of ashes at that spot, hers, mine, Shanny’s, Shaksper’s and any other dogs we have in our lives before diving into our dirt-naps for eternity.  I must confess that I found it rather disturbing to refer to myself in the past tense (dead tense), but this sort of planning is the  kind of the decent and thoughtful  thing one can do for survivors and loved ones prior to our flight out to wherever (those last words would make a find title for a story).

Most of my friends are now retired. This coming summer will mark the 39th consecutive meeting of the Little L Lake, Baldwin Bullshido Club. This year it appears that we’ll get another shot at salmon. Last time this happened, Reg Bernard and I managed a couple of  fish while the rest of the lads gave up and repaired to camp for toddies.  The truth is that catching king salmon on the spawn is no great trick, and perhaps it’s not so grand to give them some aerobic exercise so close to their demise,  but I have neither the frame of mind, nor the mood for philosophizing such  trivial matters this morning. Back to work. Over.