Thursday, December 29, 2011

Thistle's Chapter Two

Continuing with Thistle's journey.  Chapter Two.

Thistle could take the past and move it forward.  He could see the trends of the now, study the trends of the past, and advise for the trends of the future.  He held the ability to make a killing on the stock market, if he desired.  But he didn't, as you might have guessed.
He wasn't like anyone that you might know for the assertion of one’s individuality.  He wasn't a Kurt Cobain or a Jack Kerouac. 

He was not as much of a storyteller as he was a talker.  He was not as much of a drifter as he was a wanderer.  He was not as much of a philosopher as he was a thinker.

He was not Gayatri Spivak.  He wasn't a Feminist Marxist Deconstructivist.  Oh No.  Thistle was more like the guy that they used to let pump your gas for you until it became more economical to do it yourself.  Not someone you would expect to be able to map the future. 

But the fire that burned in the belly of the body that encompassed a self concept identified to other self concepts as Thistle Penn was not a raging, acre scorching blaze; it was more of a pilot light.  Hard to blow out, some of those pilot lights.  And they just keep burnin' right along at an even, balanced pace, getting the job done, stepping ever closer to their destiny, ever closer to the doorstep of fate, where all becomes evident, and everything makes sense.

At this point in his life, Thistle didn't concern himself with his ultimate fate.  He wasn't too worried about making sense.  He was more worried about Speed.  He had memories of a time in his past when Speed was very important to him.  Not the speed that you ingest for its narcotic effect, but the concept of Speed.  Take the Type A personality.  Speed is important to this type of person.  He lives life very fast.  Efficiency means getting a lot of things done in as little amount of time possible.

There was a time when Thistle was very adamant about being efficient.  Obsessively.  As I said, Speed was very important to him.  He wanted to learn and solve and create and construct.  To experience the lifetimes of centuries into his own, to transfer the work of thousands of theorists and philosophers and scientists and wise men from all the cultures and societies of the world to the clay tablet of his mind and sculpt something even more dynamic, more controversial, more innovative, more genius than had ever existed before him-- that he could call Thistle Penn.  That he would be known for and identified with. 

The Thistle Penn Universe.

But that was in the past.  That was years ago.  That time was lost.  Thistle now thought mostly about the moment just before the water in the glass that he tipped towards his lips touched his tongue, and then the feelings as it swished in his mouth.  He didn't analyze why it swished or how it swished or even if it was a good or bad feeling.  He just swallowed the water.  Then he would set the glass down on the table.

It used to be coffee.  Espresso.  The name even implies speed.  Express.  Fast.  He used to have a coffee maker that could have a piping hot pot of coffee ready in five minutes.  And the rush-- caffeine was much more motivating than beer.  Or water.  Just a cup or two and he was out of his seat and doing things.  Mailing letters, typing resumes for friends, making lists of book ideas.  With coffee, sleep became a secondary need.

He used to be able, on one pot of coffee, to type a twelve page research paper in one day-- composing as he did the research.  And that was after a night of drinking beer and wine and smoking pot until two thirty in the morning.  He'd get up at ten or eleven and start the coffee, and by the time he had his books set up, the first cup was ready.  Top of the mornin' to ya.  Better than Cornflakes.

Now he liked to mellow more.  He didn't think quite as much as he used to.  He quit drinking coffee.  It was important, he felt, that he had drank coffee for that period in his life (ah, youth!).  And as far as drug use goes, from what he’d heard, it was a lot easier habit to break than cigarettes.

So water and the non-smoking section for Thistle.  He didn't want to chance getting roped into that vice.  He had wondered at the plight of the smoker a lot when he was pounding mugs of java.  Now, he saw the smoke, and sometimes he watched it trail up around the ceiling fans and out restaurant windows, filtered slightly by the dusty screens in the summer.  Other times he smelled it and tasted it along with his wheat toast or the first drink of water.  But rarely, anymore, did he really think about it.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A Thistle's Beginning

This is the first part of a work of fiction I started about 20 years ago that features a main character by the name of Thistle Penn.  I have a huge file of gobbledygook and nuggets to be mined in the next phase of editing, but this open is pretty good.  Well, at least, I think it is.  You tell me what you think.


It was all episodic; all coincidental.  It didn't matter what choices were made; all actions were in the flow, and you did them and just forgot them because you couldn't change them, you couldn't do it differently. The moment had past.


Begin at the beginning.  That's what logic says.  Commence.  Embark.  Meaning begins with a single thought.  The Big Bang.  Pow.  The cogito: I think therefore I am.  Voila.

But one finds that with anything one begins, there is an inevitable turn back to view what you have accomplished.  Along with this craning of the neck and refocusing on recollection come hopes of acquiring more inspiration to continue and foreclose the ideal.  Bang!  You're here, and you're doing, shaping, thinking.  You formulate goals and ideals towards which you strive.  Then those are measured, noted, and thrown back into the grinder to be broken down further into even finer bits.  One inevitably begins again and again, each time at a different ground zero, refining the original vision into another.  The ultimate is re-evaluated, the infinite redefined.  In turn, a dream is resuscitated, reborn; it steers clear of the stale, static square box and blooms into yet another circle. The whole experience of "reaching for the stars" (as Kasey Kasem would have put it) can be likened to dropping a pebble in a puddle.  The waves reach out in all directions, ripple upon ripple, circle upon circle, expanding the sphere of existence to encompass more of the imagined.  One circle is created, and another pops up right behind it, from the same point of origin, moving the same speed as the bigger circle in front of it, and the smaller one that jumps up behind it. Eventually, the ripple spreads the length of the water's surface to encompass the experience, bank to bank.  Or the ripple reaches a point where it starts to wonder if there are any limits that it can reach...

"What?" said the man, folding his newspaper down to reveal a frown of disbelief.

Thistle inventoried his recollection.  He wasn't sure what he had been saying, exactly.  He was just trying to make conversation, make the task of sharing a table with a stranger a little less cumbersome.  He often had experienced an uncomfortable reception that he likened to his slovenly appearance.  But this was usually dismantled with a little practice of social skills.  "Well, I was just asking if you were done with the sports section," he said, guessing.

The newspaper was folded and set down, no longer the first priority of attention.  "You say that you can see into the future?"  The man who asked the question seemed to have, deep below his rough, razor-burned and pocked complexion, a desire to believe Thistle.

"I don't want to frighten you," said Thistle, recovering his thoughts.  "I just kinda talk.  Like to.  Don't do too much.  But talk."

"That's mm-nice," said the restaurant patron.  There was a sense of discomfort in his expression. Thistle empathized with him, not only because of the known discomfort of the average restaurant nook, but because of the hints being forecast in his own mind that his vertical hold on the reality channel was slipping.  He could barely grasp the remote with the feeble fingers in his mind.  Yet he summoned the strength to point his sights directly at his subject and continued searching for the button that would enable a connection between the minds involved in this conversation.

Thistle’s mind crackled with potential.  He sensed that a well told story could be of great worth at this exact point in time, if only he could find the right hook that would enable his audience to suspend their disbelief beyond the greatest unknowns that the collective imaginative universe withholds.

“You see," Thistle said, "I've had a lot of pain. Rejection.  Ridicule. I've lived through much persecution to continue talking.  And so I should, in accordance with all national and state regulatory policies, exclaim all appropriate disclaimers and require my listener's consent. It's against my nature, but it seems to save a lot of trouble."

"I'm listening," said the restaurant patron, settling into the orange vinyl nook with sounds of amplified flatulence.

"First," said Thistle, "I need a glass of water."

Monday, December 26, 2011

It's Magic, You Know

Another Journal Jar entry, coming right up!

Do you have a favorite author?  Who?  Why?

I think one of my favorite authors is Tom Robbins, because he makes me laugh, and brings a sense of wonder and awe to the curious exploration of our universe.  I also love Anne Lamott, for much the same reason-- she makes me laugh and she identifies the heart and grit in life's lessons.  Both can describe things in unique ways that tug at emotions and make the words elicit a reality to be experienced.

I most recently read Tom Robbins' "B is For Beer" and enjoyed it.  Wouldn't call it my favorite Tom Robbins book, by any means, but still very entertaining.  The only thing of Tom Robbins' that I haven't yet finished is his book of short works, "Wild Ducks Flying Backwards."  Don't know why I haven't gobbled that up-- perhaps because it's a collection of short works, so there isn't the nagging suspense to pull me through to the end of it all.  Or perhaps I'm savoring it because it's the last virgin snow to navigate or consume...  I think it also has to do with the fact that I'm just now getting back into reading again.  Up until a few months ago, my reading comprehension sucked, I think mostly due to the meds that I'm on.  Lithium creates a dulling of the intellect and kind of mashes experiences together with the same mundane emotion so that everything is just kind of blah in recollection.  But I'm doing better now, on the cocktail I'm on, so yipee.  Oh, I mean, Yipee!

I still think Anne Lamott's "Operating Instructions" is my favorite book of hers.  Although I really enjoyed "Bird by Bird" as well, especially from a writer's perspective.  But the rawness that she captures of skilled navigation-- inspired, really-- of life through crisis and transformation is astounding and somehow comforting.  She finds her way through the unknown path that is motherhood, and she does it by herself, at the same time she is building sobriety and getting through /life.  Her words bring laughter and tears and no hollow emotions. 

It's been many years since I've read any of these books, and still they are with me.  And still, I would like to read them again.  That's pretty cool.

I can't decide on my favorite Tom Robbins book, but it's between "Jitterbug Perfume," the first of his that I ever read, and "Skinny Legs and All."  Both are what I aspire to do with my writing.  Tickle, taunt, ravage, repair.  Educate.  Entertain.  Love.  Learn.  Lavish.

There are trillions of things at work here.  Connections to be made and undone.  And yet, we are all connected.  We are all one.  It's magic.  Enjoy it.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Teach a Man to Fish or Buy a Violin

My Uncle Joe is ninety years old.  He came over with his wife today, and we talked about our ailing backs.  Then he gave us this little nugget, talking about his haircut;  he said he had to get a haircut or get a violin.

He said it was an "old" saying, and when we said we'd never heard of it he said, "I know, I know." 

So I googled it.  Seems that FDR said something like that, a while back.  As one site attributed, "It got to a point where I had to get a haircut or a violin." -F.D.Roosevelt  So that's the origin.  But what does it mean?

Is it that there's absurdity in the decision between the two things?  Either get a hair cut or get a violin?  Or is there a pun I'm not seeing here?  Can somebody help me out here?

Has anybody under the age of forty ever used this saying?  Can you explain it to me?  I'm totally intruigued.  I just don't know how to make sense of it. 

I need a haircut.  But I also need a violin.  Hmm.  Which should I ask Santa for?

I wonder if my dad's heard of it.  Or my mom.  Or my mother-in-law-- she's 87.  She might know what FDR was getting at.

I'm usually inspired and in awe of FDR's quotes, but this one has got me a bit differently.  I want to know more, but the internet is lacking.  I might have to go to a library or something.  Imagine! 

Eventually, I guess, the internet catches up and makes a place for all this wisdom.  But what if it misses something (no, really.  It could happen...)  What if we don't actually catch everything in words and pictures from our iPhones and texting ad infinitum?  What if there are little nuggets of truth out there, not being captured by the masses madly frothing their way through this world as if we were racing? 

What if we slowed down and noticed the bloom opening to reveal vibrant color? 

There are choices that we have to make in this life, yes.  But are we really seeing all that we have to see?  Is the news telling us the whole story?  Are we getting unbiased information?  Are we seeing what's really there, or is everything imagined?

I imagined a person,  say, a "homeless" person who lives under a bridge somewhere, going along, existing but totally outside of society's "reality, and I don't mean a mental illness per se, but just think about it-- if you're not plugged in, you don't have to decide whether or not you think Kim Kardashian's boobs are real.  You don't tweet about your most recent bowel movement.  You still exist, as does the rain and the sun, and the trees.  Or do you?  Are you just a violin?

I don't have any answers here.  I'm just putting it out there.  Tell me what you think.  Let's write this story together.  We're on the crest of a creative wave, riding it like the wind.  These words gather around and net a structure for remembrance.  But what will last once the wave has crashed?  What endures?

Not even meaning is crystal.  But now I'm paraphrasing Oliver Wendell Holmes.  "Word is not crystal, transparent, and unchanged; it is the skin of a living thought and may vary greatly in color and content according to the circumstances and the time in which it is used."  There, I quoted him even.  We try to act authoritarian, like we know what we're talking about and have all our ducks in a row.  But I'm sorry, my friend.  It's not exactly like that.  You're not in control.  And all attempts to capture a signature "reality" come up short.  Because you can't be neutral on a moving train, to quote Howard Zinn.  This thing we call life is dynamic, moving, ebbing and flowing.  It's a mixture of paradox and truth.  It's a conundrum cocktail, with ingredients both massive and minute.  And if you try to stop it and figure it out, it leaves you right where you were.  Without "it."

"It" slips through the cracks, evades the spotlights.  "It" escapes to live again another day.  We clutch at the water, cupped in our hands, and still, it slips away.  Whether seapage or evaporation we don't rightly know.  But it moves, along, as does life.

So how do we keep on creating this world?  With more thought?  Or less?  Has it all been done already?  Or did we really miss the good parts?  I don't know.  But I do know that I'll more likely visit the barber than the instrument craftsman.

But that's just me.  You're entitled to your own opinion.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

There Was No Downtown When I Was Young

From the journal jar, we have:

Describe the downtown of your childhood at Christmas time.

This is not one that I can do.  We didn't really have a downtown that we even visited when I was young.  I'm trying to think of what we did do... but there wasn't a town square or centralized part of town that we'd frequent in San Jose or Santa Clara.  Now there is some stuff in downtown San Jose, like the outdoor ice skating rink.  But when I was young, we visited family and friends but not a downtown area. 

What about you all?  Do you remember something that I'm missing?  What were the surroundings like back then?  And the decorations?  What made the season?

We went to the mall to see Santa Claus.  There were a few malls to choose from.  There was Westgate, which is still there... Eastridge, and Valley Fair...  Vintage Fair in Modesto... or am I getting those mixed up again?  Now there's Santana Row with huge Christmas trees and snow machines and music and decorations-- it's like Disneyland, as a visiting friend said.

The places I recall spending time in for Christmas were department stores.  My mom and my aunt would take us shopping.  We'd go to K-mart and Mervyn's, sometimes several different locations of the same store just to get the good deals.  There was a department store called MacDonlad's over on the El Camino Real at Lawrence Expressway that they liked to shop at.  We'd hit a fair amount of Walgreen's too.  But I remember K=mart being the main staple of our shopping endeavors.

Now it's Target.  We go at least once a week.  Do most of our grocery shopping there too.  Soon, we'll have one right across the street from our house, pretty much.  I wonder if we'll drive.  I wonder if we'll have shopping carts in our yard most of the time.

I wonder what Christmas will be like in 20 years...

Monday, December 19, 2011

Oh Christmas Tree and Burnt Chocolate

Suzy's been baking... some of her brownies overflowed the pan and dropped onto the oven "floor" so the house now smells like burnt chocolate.  Not the most pleasing thing, but it did get rid of the bacon smell from Sunday morning's breakfast...

Nice weekend with the boys.  My sister's three boys, David, Timothy, and Michael came over and we went up into the Santa Cruz mountains to a tree farm to get our Christmas tree.  A tradition that we'll continue as long as the boys want to keep doing it... David is now a freshman in high school, so we're expecting him to be finding other things more important to him soon.  But we savored the time with him this weekend.  And his brothers.  Things are a lot more sedate now that they are "older".  No pillow fights or wrestling-- just verbal disagreements, if any.  They really do get along quite well.  Michael and Timothy still play with the toys that we have, and that's nice to see.  They still have imaginations separate from the XBOX's and Play Stations of the world. 

David stringed the lights on the tree this year.  This is something I usually do, but I got him to do it.  He did a fine job.  Then all the boys took part in hanging the ornaments.  The tree really does look wonderful.  As that guy on the A-Team used to say, "I love it when a plan comes together."

Then today I met with an old friend from my high school days.  It had been about 15 years since I saw him last.  It was cool to sit and talk with him and show him my book.  He's an artist that works in Hollywood with set design and special effects.  He's done very well for himself and keeps very busy, so it was a treat to have him visit.  I hope to see him more often.  At least more often than every 15 years...

So it was nice to have him compliment my drawings in the book.  I had thought about asking him if he'd be interested in reworking them, making them better, working his magic with the story... but I had asked him awhile back if he'd like to work on it with me and he was unable to commit to it.  He's busy doing his business and my project just didn't ring his bell or anything at the time.  But he said that he liked how it turned out. 

So we're winding up the year...  and I've fallen behind on the journal jar entries.  I'll have to go like gangbusters to get those done by the end of this year.  So I'll give it a try, but I don't know if I can make it. 

For now, this will have to do.  I hope you enjoy our tree.  Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Dreaming is Easy

Just have time for a little Journal Jar entry, so let's get going...

Describe a recurring dream you had as a child, a teen or an adult.

I have a couple recurring dreams to choose from here, but my thought is to instead recite one of my earliest recollections of a dream.  When I was very young, probably about 5 or so, I remember having a dream that my dad was featured on a family sit com on television.  The show was in black and white, and my dad was some sort of robot that kept falling apart to a laugh track.  Various parts would fall off and scurry around on the hard wood floors and people would laugh hysterically.  Don't know why I remember this.  I always meant to ask my parents about that time, and if there was a similar tv show that they recalled being on when I was that age.  But I could never remember to ask them.  So maybe they'll read this and have an answer for me and I can finally put that memory to rest...

Other recurring thoughts or dreams include the dream where I can't wake up.  I think I wrote about it here before, where I feel like I'm trapped in a comatose body that I can't control, but I try to wake up and can only muster little bits of activity...  The more recent recurring dream that I have is about being back in college, finishing up my degree, or just being back in school (be it high school or college) and reliving those experiences with my broader perspective that I've gained by living my life the past twenty plus years. 

The settings in my dreams are almost always elaborate and labyrinthine at times.  I dream in great detail, with lush surfaces and finely decorated structures.  Most of my dreams are filled with a sense of wonder and curiosity, of inspiration and nurturing.  I usually enjoy dreaming, even when the dreams startle me.  There is usually some sort of lesson.  It isn't always spelled out in plain language.  In fact it rarely translates to words.  But there is emotion that is real and exhilarating.  My dreams make me hopeful.  They recharge my imagination.

I think that's why I like to sleep so much.  There is so much more possible in the dream world, or so it seems.  In reality, it's all possible.  Imagining it into existence is what it takes to make it real.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Activities Enjoyed By Young and Old

How about we has us some Journal Jar about now?

What activities do you enjoy doing today that you also enjoyed as a child?  Describe them.

Well, I enjoy writing, we know that.  And I really enjoyed writing a story in the fourth grade about riding a BMX bike with my friend.  I'll have to put that up, if I can find it.  I'm sure I still have it somewhere.  Along with an illustration.

I really enjoy naps, although I don't think I enjoyed them as much when I was a child.  I very much enjoy eating, as my belly extolls.  But I don't know that I really enjoyed eating as much when I was a child as I do now.  Now it's a sporting event.  Now I eat for pleasure, not just for necessity.

But anyway.  What else...  I always enjoyed drawing when I was a kid.  Got pretty good at it.  And I still like to doodle now and then.  Sometimes I break out the pastels or the magic markers and let it all rip loose.  But not very often anymore.  There was a period, back in the early 1990's, where I made a habit of drawing in most of my free time.  And it produced a lot of interesting stuff, much of what I've displayed on this site.  In fact, most of my favorite works are from that time.  I had a makeshift easel set up next to my bed, with an adjustable desklamp for instant lighting.  The pastels and other assorted markers were right there too.  I could spend time laying on my bed and staring into whatever I was working on, get perspective, work out ideas in my head before attempting them on the paper.  It was a productive time for me and my art.

I was also writing quite a bit back then.  I was limited in that I was a slow typist, but I made time to try and write.  A lot of Thistle Penn was developed during that time, although he was and remains an enigma, a conundrum.  The mystery is what was so much fun to explore. 

Curiosity.  I've always enjoyed that.  That's part of what made me a reader of books as a child and continues to get me turning pages, or writing them.  Is curiosity really an activity?  I believe it is.  It can be.  After all, what killed the cat?

Other activities... I mentioned reading.  It's something that I really do enjoy and have written about before.  But since having to deal with my bipolar illness, reading has become more difficult.  If I'm struggling, for example, with a medication change or adjustment, reading can be near impossible.  I'm really happy that right now I'm in a place where reading is again enjoyable and that I get a lot out of it.  For a while there, I'd try to read and have little recollection or comprehension.  But that may have been the drug side effects or the illness or both.  I'm celebrating being able to read by using my local library more, going through my personal library, and trading books with friends.  The last few months I've read more books than I have in years.  It's a wonderful thing.

Kind of funny that I enjoyed math so much when I was a kid and now I don't even balance my checkbook.  I was really good at math, too.  But I just got away from it.  I chose to do other things-- me and math kind of had a falling out by the end of high school.  I got burned out with it, lost interest.  The "deeper" math of calculus and trigonometry kinda killed my interest.  I lost my curiosity for finding the answer to math problems, and turned instead toward finding "truth" or answers like it.  That's what I began to grope for-- something spiritual.  Art and writing and reading seemed more appropriate endeavors toward spiritual practice than math did, so I set to doing them instead.  But I realize now the value of mathematics, and the ability for it to address spirituality.  Someday I hope to read the book I got for Christmas many years ago, The Physics of Immortality, which purports to mathematically prove the existence of God.  All in due time.

Not sure I could even locate that book in my personal library right now...  But who has to now, in the age of the internet?  Just look up the reviews...  There are plenty.  But I think I should read it for myself (if I can...) and make up my own mind.  Slow process, but that is how things work.

So.  Another activity that I've done all my life: Thinking.  I do so enjoy it.  Most of the time.  But I do so much of it sometimes that it just gets in the way.  It's addictive.  So you have to do "thinking fasts" now and then, where you rid yourself of thinking for a spell.  Keeps one healthy.  There's an art to it.

Alrightythen.  Lunch time.  You know what that means!  Gotta run!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

So This Is Christmas

Me got the bahum bug.  Bluesy, funky cock-eyed shit.  I don't wanna have a blue Christmas, but that's how it seems to be shaping up.  Don't know why.  Not sure there's a reason.  Definitely not a single answer.  It's complicated.  Such is life.

I don't want anything for Christmas.  I don't want new socks or underwear.  I don't want a warm pair of pajamas.  I don't want the latest video game or blue-ray movies.  I don't want a place to play canasta.  I don't even want pizza.  Now you know it's serious, right?

I want a great new Christmas song, to rival the classics.  To become a classic in it's own right.  I want people to embrace each other.  Find our common ground.  Give til it hurts.  Soothe the pain.  Abandon hate.  Find a cure for hatred, cancer, AIDS, ignorance.  Santa needs to get his shit together this year and make some things happen.  This Christmas has got to make a difference. 

Find a home for every orphan that wants one.  And make it a good home.  Find homes for the homeless that want them, that need them.  Feed the hungry.  Visit the lonely.  Cure the sick.  Sing to the frightened. 

I'm wanting something different this year.  I don't want the Hallmark specials with fake people and fake premises making fake happiness and fake promises.  I want hands outreached and real connections.  I want an end to the violence.  Goodbye to hate.  I want acceptance.  I want dreams.  I want solace.  I want peace.

There's got to be a morning after, as the song goes.  There's got to be a way.  We can do this.  We can make the earth that we dream about.  We have the power, and the resources.  Let's celebrate life and make it happen.  What are we waiting for?