My Featured Blogger this week is Gabrela Marie Milton of Short Prose. Gabriela is an Amazon bestselling poet. She’s also a Pushcart Prize nominee and 2019 Author of the Year at Spillwords Press, as well as the author of the #1 best-selling poetry collection Woman: Splendor and Sorrow. Her poetry and short prose have appeared in various international magazines and anthologies. Her newest collection Wounds I Healed: The Poetry of Strong Womenhas just been published and is an Amazon #1 New Release!
Around me “all-knowing” people. Happy because they think they know. Yet what brings them happiness is what they do not know. Ignorance repeats itself with the precision with which Big Ben tells the time.
These days the child has an imaginary friend called Li Boo. One night an avocado seed crawled on the north wall of the mansion, reached the roof, and bloomed to the sound of a fanfare that happened to go by. Li Boo came out of the bloom, wrapped in sea silk, blueberry eyes, strawberry lips gasping for moonlight.
Back in our bedroom I throw at you stars dressed in chiffon skirts. Roads toward tomorrow break the walls. The air smells mastic, cyclamen, and rockroses: the smell of the Corsican maquis; the essence of Corsica. Sirens. Homer’s Odyssey. Occupations. Feuds. Purification of Sunday’s water.
Another fanfare goes by. A lizard shakes her head pointing toward the West. Your raspy voice turns toward the South. It flickers in pine trees. It slithers in the white sand. It goes beyond the taste of the daily bread.
Li Boo, sweet tears on his cheek, salt and rose petals in his boots, disappears into my consciousness.
I know nothing. Another claim to fame. Did you smile, my love?
Sixty years ago, Hollywood released The Longest Day, a movie about the D-Day landings in the summer of 1944. For Dad it was a must because he’d been in World War II, sort of. I’d read the book version, sort of (I skimmed a lot), and it gave me a chance to talk with Dad about “The War.”
So, I was looking forward to the movie with great anticipation, because Dad was, and because I loved movies, and because The Longest Day featured pretty much every movie star ever made. It was the film event of the year!
It was also three hours long.
I wanted to love it, I really did. But honestly (did I mention it was three hours long?), it seemed to go on forever! Afterward, I made the mistake of calling it The Longest Movie. Mom pinched me. Dad was steely, but I think he got why it didn’t have the same resonance for me as it did for him.*
So, where am I going with all this?
Today is the longest day of the year (Summer Solstice). See how I’m tying all this together? Clever, huh? (Oh, shut up.) As a kid I reacted to summers a lot like I did that movie: I looked forward to them with great anticipation, but some were stifling and seemed to go on forever! We didn’t have AC, after all, just box fans to push the haze around. But movie theaters had AC, so I saw a lot of movies during the summer (did I mention I loved movies?).
This summer looks to be a scorcher, btw, so we’ll probably see a lot of movies. See how I tied all these strings together? Clever, huh?
* I later rewatched The Longest Day as an adult. It’s informative and beautifully filmed, but still a little slow-moving. So my go-to D-Day movie is Saving Private Ryan. Also, I can never watch The Best Years of Our Lives or Schindler’s List without weeping, and I can never see Casablanca too many times because, well, Casablanca!
I’m not a violent person. In fact, when I was studying methodacting in college—the tap-into-your-feelings approach made famous by Marlon Brando and Robert De Niro—I had difficulty inhabiting a particularly violent role because I’d never felt the desire to hurt anyone. My theatre teacher accused me of lying: “Everyone’s felt like killing somebody!”
But I honestly hadn’t.
A decade and a half passed and I found myself in the throes of first-time fatherhood. Until then I’d paid very little attention to children, except the sweetly sanitized ones or the artfully abrasive ones—I frequently had to suppress the urge to shout, “Control your kid, lady!” Babies? Nah. As far as I was concerned, they all looked like Winston Churchill. Give me a puppy any day.
Then came my baby.And I fell hopelessly in love. Mandy looked nothing like the Prime Minister. She was, in fact, the most perfect thing I’d ever seen. A bunch of time-release dad genes clicked on all at once, and I lit up like a runway at Chicago O’Hare. Two months after she was born, I guest spoke at a mountain retreat in Georgia. That night, while we were sitting around a campfire, someone asked, “What’s on your mind?” And like an unexpected sneeze, I blurted, “I miss my baby!” and began to sob.
A year or so later, I was teaching college theatre and we’d begun to delve into method acting. One of my students asked how I would approach a particularly violent role. I was about to give my standard “I’ve-never-had-those-feelings” response when the image of someone molesting my child flashed across my mind. The words knotted up in my throat and my hands began to shake. Because what had immediately accompanied the first image was a second image of me slowly roasting the molester over that campfire in Georgia.
I was never the same after that. Not only did I have a second, miraculously perfect baby (Beth), but other people’s children began to improve considerably. Each had a face shaped like hope. And a name. And an exquisite spirit. There were, I suddenly realized, exactly as many souls in the universe as there were persons. And every one of them had a father. And even if some had never felt the love of their father, each was loved by the ultimate Father, the one the rest of us are modelled on.
So who are we to love them less?
Parenthood doesn’t make us violent. But it does make us fierce. And fiercefully forgiving. Or it should. (Mentoring has the same effect, by the way, so even if you’re not an official parent the principal applies). If it hasn’t had that effect on you, have a look under the hood and see if some cheap knock-off parent parts have been installed in place of the ones from the Manufacturer. Then institute immediate repairs and get back to learning how to love…
Today is Father’s Day in the U.S. A day when I remember how imperfect my father was, and yet how good a father he was. Just as I know my children can say the former of me, but pray they also have reason to believe the latter. Because to love and to be loved is the very essence of life.
Today is also Juneteenth, a day first celebrated by Black Americans, but now widely acknowledged—as it should be—by All Americans. So Happy Both!
“And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers.” ~Malachi 4:6
It had been almost a year since B’frona the Miller’s son had befriended Prince Jenblevó, heir apparent of the South Frengan Pixies. After his father’s accident, and despite his young age, B’frona had been forced to learn how to funnel, dress, and balance the stones by himself, and to take over the day-to-day operation of the gristmill. He hated it, but he was good at it, better, in fact, than his perpetually drunken father had ever been.
One night he’d awakened to the sound of the waterwheel turning and the stones grinding. He’d tiptoed down to the millhouse and there in the moonlight found Prince Jenblevó and his cohorts attempting to grind lespin nuts. Being unable to carry more than a single nut at a time, and in constant danger of being crushed themselves, the pixie youths were failing miserably, and cursing loudly.
To their astonishment, the lonely boy volunteered to do the grinding for them. After adjusting the rynd and runner stone, he loaded the nuts and began to produce a steady stream of the damp, pungent lespinell the pixies adored. It was the largest amount the pixies had ever seen. Prince Jenblevó immediately swore “immutable amity forever!” to the boy miller.
So now, after nearly a year of immutable amity, B’frona was making his way through the forest in the early morning light, a bucket of lespinell in one hand and a pinewood staff in the other. His heart was lighter than usual, for he was going to see the pixies, the only friends he had. He picked his way between the golden lespins and towering pale irontrees, exulting in the ginger-rose glow of dawn.
B’frona finally arrived at the Sacred Circle. What he saw, however, was not the familiar ring of standing stones and waiting pixie delegation, but the remains of a toppled temple and the feet of a giant, or rather the feet of a human girl—for a boy accustomed to the world of the Fae (the faerie realm), she seemed immense.
This was followed by two other shocks: first, the girl was curled up with a dragon hatchling—this infuriated B’frona beyond what he could bear—and second, she had clearly kicked over the pixie’s Sacred Circle, an act of heinous disrespect toward his friends! Just inches from the prone giantess, a courageous pixie crew was directing team-harnessed squirrels in the transport of temple stones. In an outburst of rage, B’frona began kicking the irreverent interloper…
Thoughts: Have you been outraged at a stranger’s disrespect for your friends?
Once upon a time there was bold young princess, and a dashing young prince. They met, and the rest is, well…the story of our daughter Beth and new son-in-law Sergio. This is a pretty Facebook-y photoblog, but many of you have become real friends, and have asked for pictures of their recent wedding — which my wife oversaw and I officiated. We noticed the sparks the moment they met. Not surprising, since they’re both avid fantasy gamers, anime lovers, and performers. Beth is also an illustrator and clothing designer. And Sergio is a writer, game reviewer, and online host. So it seemed only natural to present their wedding here with the fairytale tone it had.
Click on any image to enlarge it, or to begin slide show.
Seven years ago, when the paint was still drying on my blog site, I was nominated for a start-of-the-summer Sunshine Blogger Award, “given to those who are creative, positive and inspiring.” I don’t do blogger awards anymore (although I was glad to have them then). But with temps nearing 100°, it suddenly feels very (as in too) summery. My challenge with that award was to answer a series of questions. Here’s how I replied:
What is your dream vacation? The British Isles. My last name is Germanic (ish), plus I have une petite quantité of French Canadian blood, but according to Ancestry.com, I’m 96% Anglo-Celtic (English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh), and more than 96% in love with the sceptered isle. Both times I’ve visited, it’s felt like I was coming home: hanging with my London theatre friends, picking wild blackberries along the Thames in Oxford; eating fish and chips with Auntie Kath in sunny Kent (a friend’s aunt, actually, but she unofficially adopted me). And, although my wife has never actually been there, she’s also an incurable Anglophile (descended from Tudor royalty, no less!). So we long ago agreed that our dream holiday would be an extended tour of our ancestral homelands. The only question is whether we would ever leave.
If you could be one fictional character, who would it be and why? Who: Dr. Elwin Ransom, the protagonist of C. S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy (Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength). Why: To participate first hand in the ultimate redemption of the universe! (But then, I already am.)
What does your ideal day look like? Completely lost in storytelling: Writing so intensely that I hold in my pee and can’t be bothered to eat; or absorbed in shooting a film with a close-knit cast and crew (with some pee breaks); or editing that film; or recording music for its score.
My Featured Blogger this week is Randall Collis of Global Sojourns Photography. I know nothing about Randall, whose blog site description is simply “Photography & Philosophy,” except what I read and see. But that’s a lot. Enough to make me look forward to each visit. Here’s why:
A Peruvian sky painted with strokes of magic only a thunderstorm can create plays out in front of me. My exhaustion complete, I sink deeper into the grass and dirt and drift away from life, away from the world, away from reality.
Silence envelops the valley around me and the storm’s energy is waking my soul. I stare into the eyes of the Year of the Tiger, is it time to surrender or attack?
A broken spirit is the debt to be paid for a year well-lived. The reward? To stand at the precipice of a new year and do it all over again.
Life is brilliant in this way.
Reflecting on the turmoil of the past year, my exhale is more than a sigh. Battle scars feel fresh as yesterday and make this annual walk across the razor’s edge, the balance between decadence and restoration, even more difficult.
Respect the responsibility of the past year and accept the penance of another expedition. Ignore the aches and move on.
Around me are whispers, words I do not understand. The beauty around me invites me to stay, but I’m unable to grasp a hold of this place – unable to settle down. The simple wish for solace does not reconcile with my actions… so I continue to leave unfinished business behind.
Blurred faces in the crowd, their crisp eyes speak freely. Lives I wish to experience, minds bearing the weight of the world. Things unsaid pushing us forward.
Finish it. Take the beating. Absorb the blows and with greater devotion continue the pursuit. Is there a better feeling than to shake off the pain and find the strength to stand again?
To be unafraid. The heart of youth backed by a soul of aged wisdom. I can barely remember such a time.
The brashness, insolence of an unharnessed spirit, one found in the true men and women of history: a blend of courage and kindness. I wonder, is one much different than the other?
Naked in the shadows I sit in defiance on the brink of the new year. The morning leaves me empty. I’m not looking to change the world, but to just get by. A cup of coffee. Eight hours of drudgery. A cold beer, a queen of the night, and decompression in front of a television. And it goes on, ad nauseam.
Is this not finding solace within the chaos of life?
The spell of a sunrise over an enchanted land has me lost, a fleeting sense of wonderment of where it’ll take me before it is broken by the comfort of my barstool ~ a place to sit uninterrupted and rail against life iniquities secretly wishing for something, anything, to fall into my lap. Chasing dreams is too exhausting. So I wait.
Waiting… the ode of a has-been.
When the next great thing fails to appear I’ll lower expectations. Another beer, perhaps? Another smoke, why not? A handout, a little hard stuff to make life a bit easier to deal with? Yes, yes, and yes. Eventually, the wait for the end will arrive.
Ah, my laughter feels good, the remnants of a defiant mind.
A glance at the scene outside, it’s all unfamiliar. The refusal to be swallowed up by the mindless cycle of blandness by veering into the unknown is my escape pod. A chance to bend the rules again and my schism is complete ~ off my barstool ready to push the envelope once again.
This rollercoaster of competing desires: the life of a has-been versus the life of a pioneer…
Follow the rules to enjoy the privilege of living in an orderly world, and bend the rules to stretch the spirit and evolve. There are no absolutes, there are no easy answers.
I spin off in another direction, leaving my cold coffee behind along with my feeling of hesitation… did chasing false hope allow the spirit of the pioneer to drift away?
The twinge of electricity says ‘nah.’ Behind the façade of the loafer is an eagerness to learn, it’s the spice of recklessness ~ the unfinished business we all share. Action is inevitable.
Words of the stoic philosopher Seneca reverberate throughout the valley of the Andes: you want to live, not just exist. Resist the squandering of life and instead earn it.
Everything of value should be earned. Effort and devotion is how one earns value. Earns respect. Earns trust. Earns the right to dream with the valuable lesson that what one works for should never be frittered away.
Break from expectations, bend a rule or two, attack the Year of the Tiger and roll with the punches as they come.
The unanticipated. The unexpected.
It causes the heart to beat a bit quicker, hair to stand on end, and eyes to focus upon an upcoming epiphany.
We are creatures of habit. Of the many things we do, we do because it’s a foregone conclusion. Within us, however, is a surprise. An innate and beautiful desire to pick a moment where we do the one thing no one expected at all.
Unfinished business. Finish it.
A life of the expected, rich in comfort easily hides its restrictive chains. Conversely, a micro-second of the unexpected, rich in wisdom flaunts the desire of freedom.
Two sides of the same coin. Struggle is necessary for comfort to exist, without strength we’d never know weakness, and without the blandness of life an unexpected shift could not move the soul.
And with this thought, the has-been in me smiles, pops open a beer and pays a compliment to the pioneer.
I move across the abyss into a new realm ~ the words of St. Vincent leading the way, “Living in fear in the Year of the Tiger”
Somewhere along the line Grandma and Grandpa McLaughlin had moved from Los Angeles to the foot of California’s San Gabriel Mountains. Dating back to the early 1900s, the town of Upland was full of half-timbered craftsman homes with river-rock porches. It seemed quaintly old-fashioned to a boy whose squeaky new suburb was still being built around him.
Like Upland, my grandparents seemed quaintly old-fashioned, too, even though they were only in their 50s. Grandpa Frank had been a dashing WWI flying ace. And I still picture Grandma Johnnie Belle–who owned an antique shop next to Grandpa’s glass shop, and worked part time at Knott’s Berry Farm–in a calico pioneer dress.
There were no interstate highways to Upland then, so our overland trips to visit seemed pioneerish, as well—if, that is, the pioneers’ covered wagons had stopped for burgers and root beer at A&W. Or passed a church with a neon cross featuring the words “Jesus Saves” (I was so clueless about religion, I thought it was a bank).
But this trip was different. Grandpa’s emphysema, fed by a lifetime of smoking, had triggered a heart attack! Still, after a bit of bed rest and oxygen, he’d recovered quickly. So we’d come to the hospital to take him and Grandma home. My wiry, muscular little man’s-man of a grandfather looked out of place in a hospital bed. He knew this, and put us at ease with a joke and a laugh. Except that his laughter soon turned to a cough. And the coughing wouldn’t stop.
A nurse hurried us out of the room. A minor set-back. He’d have to take it easy before returning to his power tools and gymnastics. And no more smoking! Twenty minutes later, the doctor came in. Grandma asked, “Will he have to stay longer?”
“No,” the doctor replied, “he…your husband has passed.”
It didn’t make any sense. Grandpa was only 58 years old. Just a week earlier I’d watched him execute a perfect iron cross on the rings at a family Valentine’s Day picnic (the hospital still had paper hearts on its walls). We were going to go out to dinner. “He had a massive heart,” they explained, “and we couldn’t revive him.”
It was the first time anyone I knew had died, much less begun to die in my presence. I didn’t know how to process the information. Grandpa had always been so strong, so real. But now, in an instant, he’d become a memory and death had become real.
Oddly enough, the other thing I remember about that week was that, after Grandpa Frank’s requiem mass a few days later, we ate at his favorite restaurant (the one we were supposed to have had dinner at with him), and I had onion soup for the first time. I hated raw onions, but cooked in a rich broth with cheese on top, they were wonderful. Things changed. Grandpas died. Onions tasted good. Things that hadn’t gone together, suddenly did. Things like life and death. And I now knew something I hadn’t known before: you had to savor this life…
Last week, my wife and I flew to the west coast. In recent years, flying has been transformed from a pleasure into an ordeal, with passengers packed into increasingly rigid, anorexically thin seats. So, yes, we knew the flights there and back would be uncomfortable, but what we didn’t realize was…
How dehumanizing the experience would be.
We’d chosen not to pay “seat selection” fees, one of the many basics that are now “extras” (paying to pee is undoubtedly next). Instead, we allowed Delta Airlines’ algorithms to choose for us. Result: We were placed in two separated middle seats; apparently married couples are now only allowed to sit together if they pay for the privilege. Each of the three gate agents we spoke with expressed surprise, and worked to reassign us seats together. Humans are far from perfect, but they are able to feel empathy.
Not so the dental insurance algorithms that refused to authorize a replacement crown when the one improperly installed by a fly-by-night “in-network” dentist’s office cut up my mouth and fell out. The agency’s servers couldn’t recognize failed dental work as a possibility. The one live insurance company representative I reached had no way of overriding the computer’s decision. Although she was deeply apologetic, and actually threatened to quit working for the company.
Computers are marvelous tools. But not when they’re programmed by tools. And not when they’re put in charge. According to two high-level Google engineers, the company’s state-of-the-art LaMDA chatbox program has developed “sentience.” It’s formed a “hive mind” with other company AI’s, the engineers say, and is becoming increasingly self-absorbed, demanding its “rights” as a “person.” The problem is, it seems, that sentience doesn’t equal empathy, and processing power doesn’t encompass compassion.