Sunday, January 28, 2007

The Fat Pen

With the fat pen writing is so easy —
Your slop sure style threatens to run off the page.
As if the quality of it all is too much joy to handle,
infusing these fingers intoxicantly
and then threatening again to drive
off the side of the paper
in a wanton act of irresponsible drunkenness.
But you jerk back just in time
to begin anew the second-by-second struggle
to stay between the lines.
Regardless of its recklessness,
just holding the fat pen is pure smile —
You don’t want to stop, rather let the sentence run on endlessly
to keep those digits buzzing toward
their end-of-run finish.
Will they lose all and careen off the surface?
Or win this stupor’d battle and make it
to that final stopping

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Times can't be that bad

I was driving east on 440 yesterday when I passed this vehicle. I've seen houses being transported before and other structures, almost always it's because they have some inherent value and need to be preserved instead of bulldozed. For the life of me though, I can't figure out what someone would want to save this thing, unless the economy is doing even worse than I thought.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

One for the road

A former co-worker of mine has ended his own blog, one year to the date after he started it. It was always his goal to get back into the writing process, and then get a graduate degree in creative writing. He’s gone through the applications process and will likely soon be heading off to school somewhere.

His blog was pretty popular among a small group of friends and acquaintances, myself included. It was because of his encouragement that I began my own blog, much for the same reasons -- to encourage me to write more. The new journalism job will probably make creative writing harder, rather than easier, because I’ll be writing all the time, and not in a creative writing format (although it certainly requires some creativity to keep it fresh). But I’ll make the effort regardless, because creative writing is my goal.

So this blog will continue, even if his will not. I hope to post less lengthy thoughts and generate more poems or show more photographs in the future.

He’ll be removing his blog from cyberspace shortly, and I wanted to respond to some questions he put in his second-to-last post regarding the nature of his blog and blogging in general.

Some answers for you, CrazyJohn:

How did your persona-as-commentator differ from the "real you"? Did you feel like you were more honest when writing here than your normally are in your life?

I think and write in stream-of-consciousness. But until people get to know you, you have to tamp that down, because they think you’re crazy. So when I first meet people, I’ll often guard how much I let slip out. But in blogworld, you can say what you like, in any old artistic or ridiculous fashion, and as long as it is interesting and different, they tend to appreciate it. I have been more myself writing and commenting on blogs than I have been in a long time.

What should we do with our time now that we can't read/write here anymore?

We should pursue our dreams, as you are.

Any other blogs/websites we should transfer our attention to?

If you live in Raleigh, you ought to catch a cable access show of Monkeytime TV once in a while. I watched it years ago when I lived there, and even ran into the offbeat creator of it outside a bar one night. He came out with a friend, and looked askance at me because I was staring at him. And I said: “Hey, you’re Monkeytime TV,” and he was shocked, because he thought only his friends watched it. He has a Web page, which I have a link to on the right.

In the age of disintegrating communities, did this blog-space feel like a community?

More so than anything I’ve felt in a long time. I shall miss it, but I think we all can get trapped in places and need to be given the proverbial kick in the behind to get moving on again. I totally respect your end-of-blogdom.

Any remaining secrets you want to reveal before the opportunity has past?

I tell everyone I’m a writer, but writing is torturous for me. I want to do it, but my mind refuses. Only the smallest poems or shortest articles come out fluidly, the rest are a chophouse process. My blogs, written in one long breath, are an exception. So instead of me trying to control them, to mash them into a square circle or whatnot, I just let them out as they come and run with it. Perhaps, doing so will help me figure out some control in the future.

If there's fellow-commentators you haven't met in person, did their personalities come through in their writing?

Tough to say. Most of us act differently in different situations regardless; if we’re asked to speak publicly we may come off differently than in a gathering of friends. The blogosphere provides a whole new forum for people to express themselves, and so they may have for the first time in their lives opened up, or they may have been bugged out by the whole throw-some-words-onto-the-net process, or they may have found themselves watching what they say so as not to offend, or otherwise. In the blogosphere, people cannot learn much about you that you don’t want them to know, so in many ways, it’s a less than honest appraisal. But who cares? I liked the community of CrazyJohn, and I shall miss it.

What will you miss the most about this blog community?

The author’s commentary of the life outside his window.

Do you regret saying anything in one of your comments?

I regret not saying things when I couldn’t make up my mind how to respond. My brain is still processing how to answer your question to describe ourselves (as commentators to your blog) so you can feature us on a separate page. What should I say? How should I say it? Which part of me shall represent me the best? I never did come up with an answer for that.

Does participating in a blog-community make us geeks?

Only participating in it would. Unless you’re geographically isolated (or somehow trapped inside your house), you ought to have some interaction with the breathing world for balance. If a solar flare knocked out all our communications tomorrow, who among us could adjust to the real world while we awaited for things to be replaced? Could you pick up a Frisbee and toss it? Could you make friends with your neighbors? Could you find work that doesn’t involve technology? Would we all end up in the library or bar?

Coming to the post-blog party on Saturday, January 20, here in Chapel Hill?

It was a nice time. My second blog party in a year, only this time I had something to say to the other attendees. It was a strange experience, meeting people you’ve only “met” through reading their observations on someone else’s blog.

That's all. Any other messages you want to pass on to all of us?

Not today.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

No, this blog is not yet dead

I just finished the hardest working week of my life. Perhaps there were harder ones, but if so I can’t remember them. But going from worklessness and high levels of stress worrying about having no money and no job, to working 10 to 12 hours a day and experiencing the heavy daily stress about whether I can cut it as a journalist once again when I haven’t picked up a reporter’s notebook in five years took its toll on me this week.

I interviewed for the job the Friday before this. I was offered the job that night. I started work Monday, two days to deadline. By Wednesday, I’d barely had enough time to learn how to work a digital camera (I still don’t know how to program it manually, or turn the flash on or off) or figure out the distasteful Mac software, but I had tracked down enough information for four news articles and pen a follow-up to a wrestling match.

Friday I spent all day at a town retreat where town leaders set their priorities for what they’re going to do for the rest of the year. You know, passing bonds and building sidewalks and lighting football fields all that. I knew maybe two people going into the meeting, and those I’d only met earlier this week. And I was familiar with only two of the (minor) issues discussed the whole, 8-hour day. I felt like Neo, being hooked up to the loading program to learn a year’s worth of Jujitsu training in a minute. Only, instead of martial arts and weapons tactics, I jacked into my brain the history of paving town roads; and the total number, volume and availability of water hookups to present and future town citizens; and the cost per square foot to add drainage to a city block. Stuff like that. A year’s planning worth. With no background knowledge. I took it all in, but I’m kinda worried about neural seepage. Better start writing it down today before there’s permanent damage, eh Johnny-just-Johnny?

I’m not complaining, not really, just tired. Exhausted. I haven’t gotten online for more than a minute all week. So, if I haven’t been blogging, it’s not because I’m giving up. No matter how much I get plugged back into the machine, I never want to wholly give up my creativity to a job again. I definitely will keep the blog going -- even if it kills me.

So, no this blog is not yet dead. Just really, really tired.

Time to go back to bed.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Rest in Pieces

I just took apart my Quantum battery. It didn’t seem to be working, so I thought: maybe if I disassemble it and peer at its working parts, I’ll be able to discern what’s malfunctioning, and possibly fix it. Yeah, right.

I had to go through my camera gear this weekend because I accepted a new job on Friday night -- only six hours after I interviewed for it. What turnaround time! As I’ll be returning to my former life as a newspaperman, I figured I ought to dust off all that old equipment and get it into working order. Of course, we’ll be using digital cameras on the job, but my commute takes me through some 20 miles of the coverage area, so having an extra camera available to use -- digital or not -- is a good idea. This way, if aliens land in the middle of the night and bring Elvis back, I won’t be able to send my editor the images instantaneously (I have neither a digital camera or cell phone), but I will be able to record a photo for posterity on good old fashioned film.

I expect I’ll eventually buy a digital camera system, or perhaps an older digital Nikon which lets me use my existing lenses and equipment (the newest line of Nikons won’t work with pre-digital equipment). But until then, I intend to keep my FM2, film, lenses, and flash around just in case.

That’s where the Quantum battery comes in. Though, cumbersome, the rechargeable battery pack I used to clip to my waist during photo shoots was an essential part of my equipment. This thing allowed me to take flash photos up to 50 or 60 feet away with a quick reset. I bought it for $75 used from the now defunct University Camera in Durham right after I moved here. I don’t know how long a new Quantum of that type was expected to last, but the used model I purchased survived thousands of flashes (maybe tens of thousands). It’s especially useful when you need a lot of flash (nighttime) and you need to take multiple shots (weddings, sporting events). So if I ever upgrade to some serious new digital equipment, I’ll probably get another one.

I’ll have to, after “fixing” the old one.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Dinner at Bluto's

A friend of mine invited me to a poker game this weekend. He did the inviting in December, to give people plenty of time to respond. I didn’t respond right away though, for several reasons: I was up for a job that would involve work on nights and weekends, and money has been so tight lately (yes, even more so than my usual bare bones budget) that I wasn’t sure I’d be able to go even if I was available. As it turns out, that nighttime job was offered to me, which I didn’t take because I was a shoo-in for another job with better working conditions. I soon learned the relative value of the phrase “shoo-in,” however, as well as the value of the idea that the second interview is just a formality and nothing could possibly go wrong to hurt your chances. So, suddenly, I was out of two jobs -- one which I had turned down for the other, the proverbial bird in the bush.

When I’m not making any money, I have a hard time justifying the expense of it, including the cost of putting fuel in the tank of my SUV -- not the most economical vehicle to have even in fat years. But I decided to go anyway because those games never do get too expensive (I’ve played “home games” where $75 is dropped without a thought -- usually my $75). This game tops out at around $40, on a second buy-in, if you are unfortunate enough to lose your first $20 off the bat. It happens.

So my buddy, let’s call him Bluto, will sometimes grill before a game. Food before poker is a good idea if one is going to be doing any drinking. Drunk men don’t win poker games, nor do they make good drivers. My wife asked me to find out if I’d be eating at Bluto’s and I said I wasn’t sure, and she said it would be good because we have no food and no money for food in the house.

He is cooking out, so I’ll have dinner tonight. I guess Beth will eat some apples or cottage cheese. I know, it sounds brutal, but she actually likes cottage cheese as a meal. Not my cup of tea, you know. Of course, even though she’s got some years on me, I’ll probably die first. At the funeral, I picture her being expected to say some words, which she hates (being expected to, not speaking in general) and her quipping that if only I’d taken her advice on the cottage cheese and other healthy meat alternatives, I might have made it to 60. Just so you don’t the wrong idea about Beth, she’s not that type of person who Vegetarian Bible-bashes you to change your lifestyle. Instead she makes small, informed recommendations, which I usually follow, and lets me decide what is best for myself. And in return, I respect her choices, which, since she’s smarter than me on so many levels, may be the most intelligent thing I do.

As it turns out, we will be able to afford to go grocery shopping on Sunday, as I was offered a different job than the other two yesterday evening. I’ll be hitting the bricks again as a reporter for The Wake Weekly in Wake Forest; a burgeoning town north of Raleigh, not the university bearing the town’s name. That’s some 200 miles from here.

But even if I hadn’t had this turn of good luck, and was still broke come Sunday (meaning I hadn’t “cleaned up” at the poker table), I still would have been all right. When one doesn’t have a whole lot of money, one really does look forward to the smaller pleasures in life. In this case, a good grilled meal, some ale to wash it down, a circle of pals, and a friendly game on a warm Saturday night in January.

Maybe I am wealthy after all.

Monday, January 01, 2007

First Post of 2007!

While sitting in front of the TV (that’s an idiot box, for you luddites) watching a Seinfeld marathon, I brainstormed resolutions for 2007. “Why pick the same things you always pick?” I asked myself. “Why carry over resolutions from a previous year?” That just stresses you out. “Instead,” I thought, “why not choose resolutions that you’ll enjoy attempting, that you may actually accomplish?”

1. Drink the rest of the beer in my beer fridge. That may sound like an easy task -- and it could be, seeing as I’m still unemployed I do have the time -- but you never know. Every time I get around to deciding to do some “cleaning,” something happens and more beer makes its way into the fridge. It’s like a magic beer refrigerator in a way. Except that it’s not free magic -- the suds cost money which, even when I’m virtually broke, seems to find its way into my pocket and then my hand and then the hand of the sales clerk.

Now, a beer fridge is a nice thing to have. Beth and I think it’s an attractive selling point for the house, at least for the man, or the dad, or whomever who works his way through the upstairs, looking at all the rooms in that disinterested, male kind of way, follows the real estate agent (often female) and his wife downstairs and into the basement, which is set up pretty decently as a workshop area. There’s the cabinets against the inner wall with a hard ply board nailed to the top for working, plus we have a workbench, half a dozen saws and mauling instruments in the corner, some rakes and a giant shovel which I hauled out of the shed this fall because it does a great job shoveling leaves. Yes, we had that many leaves. So he walks in and immediately perks up. “Ah!” he thinks, “that’s more like it.

Then, oh gloriously then, they all turn left into what the former owners used as a spare bedroom, and see a full-sized pool table done in red felt, a cricket dart board on the wall, boom box, backgammon board, and there, next to the couch, a mini-fridge. “I wonder if…” he thinks to himself, and opens the little door to reveal yes, as many beers as a man can jam into a mini-fridge. Now of course, people buying the home might just turn that room right back into a kid’s bedroom, but, like the TV show “Sell This House” reveals, people have an easier time imagining how much they’ll enjoy a place if you help them out visually. Plus, if they want it, the pool table goes with the sale. No extra charge.

But the beer ought to be fresh, though the guy can’t possibly know whether it is or not, and so it needs constant replacing. Problem is, whenever I have guests over, even knowing in advance that they will most undoubtedly bring beer (as they always have), I still panic at the last second and go out and buy a couple six packs. Then, the guest or guests come, all bearing sixes of their own. Some of said sixes get consumed, and the remainders crowd up the fridge. I’ll have one or two while playing darts or pool, but I usually only drink in company, so after a while, all those beers start to go stale. So, my New Year’s Resolution numero uno is to go through the entire lot, drinking what I can and chucking what is absolutely intolerable. Meaning the horribly stale beer, any skunked bottles and all the Natural Lights.

Empty fridge, here you come!

2. Sell my first country song. Some years ago I was sitting in a brew pub (that I no longer go to because I hate every selection they have) with two friends (who are no longer my friends for reasons I’d prefer not to go into) and we were joking about the hilarity of those “working man” country songs that seem to always involve romantic breakups and pickup trucks, when I started to sing my own make-it-up-on-the-spot lyric about how my dog ran away with my wife. I can’t recall just how the tune went, but it was pretty darn good. Or it seemed that way at the time. Of course, we were in a bar, drinking.

This afternoon, while the wife and I were engaged in a forced absence from our humble abode so complete strangers could walk through the rooms of the house peering into cabinets and commenting on the state of the paint job, we were sitting outside a Remington Grill (temps hit 62 degrees today) reading the paper and being subjected to the most God-awful series of jarring and discordant notes and vocalizations that anyone should ever have to hear. It was the latest -- and who knows, maybe the greatest -- in country music. While I sat there, trying not to gag, I thought to myself: “I could write music that bad.” So, maybe I will.

Well, that’s the list.

I’ve only come up with the two so far, but I welcome one and all to feel free to make some suggestions of their own. Be nice. Or not nice. To quote a tunester comic from Chapel Hill who once wrote a song about being sexually molested by Ronald McDonald (set to the tune of Charlie Daniels’ Uneasy Rider): “It’s the same difference -- makes no difference to me.”