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Joseph E Bird

Let's talk about reading, writing and the arts.

questions

Listen to the silence
and think nothing of it
Who was it?
What was said?

Letterings form
inconsequential sentences
For what purpose?
Why?

Words fade
from memory
Did you speak?
Did I hear?

Let those who
have ears
Was it a whisper?
Was it a shout?

Listen to the silence
and think nothing of it.


copyright 2017, joseph e bird

Featured post

Strike the match.

It’s a cold, rainy day. Perfect for the blues.

But wait.

Even if you’re not into the blues, check out this video from Mountain Stage a few years ago.  Mark O’Conner and friends with something special. It starts out with what you might expect (that is, if your expectations include playing the blues on a fiddle) but around the 5:30 mark, O’Conner really gets warmed up.  All three of these guys are really good, but O’Conner lights it on fire.

Don’t skip ahead. You need the first 5:30 to set the stage.

The Epic Battle

Yo
Back in the day
I played
a mean game
of
ping pong
I hear ya
You’re laughing
Picturing
your momma
and your
daddy
standing
at the table
lofting lazy volleys
back and forth
gnip gnop
gnip gnop
It ain’t like that
Serious stuff this was
Crazy spins
smokin slams
so fast so fast so fast
feet always movin
strategy and anticipation
flip the backspin
over the top
hit the line
play the edge
workin hard
sweat drippin
on the table
Yeah
Serious stuff, it was,
so long ago.

And then this kid
talking smack
talking his game
I talk back
talking my game
remembering
how it was
so long ago
A table shows up
then the net
then paddles
then balls
I watch him play
he’s good
wicked spins
fast slams
I start eating
my words
playin on my age
slow reflexes
unorthodox style
I ain’t what
I was, I say
But I can’t dodge.

Last night
I’m playin
by myself
hittin
balls off the backplay
tryin to find a rhythm
and he shows up
with his own
personal paddle
in his own
personal case
Last time
I played
someone like that
I got smoked
Time for the truth

The game is on

I win serve
first five points
I hold serve
next five
he holds
but I’m
still ahead
I miss a slam
then I hit one
just like back then
I spin a shot
and he’s in the net
I can’t handle
his serve
and he slams
past me
on and
on
it goes
slams
spins
volleys
cuts
sliders
slams
fast
and
furious
sweat flying

Deuce at 20

i feel good
to have done
this well
but the
kid will
have
his day

More volleys
then he hits
off the table
My add
More volleys
and then he hits
into the net
My game
just like it was
before
I got old

My game

gnip gnop?
Yeah
I’ll show you some
gnip gnop


Editor’s Note:  In the grand scheme of important things in the world, a game of ping pong is waaaaaay down there, and the creative writing describing this non-event is likewise unimportant. The author realizes this. Nonetheless, it amuses him. Besides, you didn’t really think he was another Hemingway, did you?

Obla di, obla da.


copyright 2017, joseph e bird

Writer’s Log – You think you know your characters?

I’ve been writing about Heather for a couple of months now.  You remember Heather, the woman with the two boys, living alone now that they’re out of the house. She studied Avery’s photographs in the coffee shop until she learned that her father was being let out of prison.  I thought I knew her, too.

But when she leaves for Texas to get her father settled in with her brother, she takes a detour to stop and see her ex-husband three states away.  I didn’t know she was going to do that until she started driving. And on the way there, she reveals a little something about herself that I didn’t know. Something a little disturbing.

How can I not know these things?  She’s an invention of my imagination.

There are fiction writing gurus who will tell you to plan your characters meticulously, to know their history, their families, their personalities, their moral standings, even which toothpaste they prefer. I can see the advantage to writing that way. There is less likelihood that your character will do something, well, out of character. These same gurus will also advise you to allow for the possibility that your character might surprise you along the way.

In my previous work, I’ve tried to outline my characters as much as possible. With Heather, as well as the other characters in my story, I’m completely winging it. It’s kind of like I’m along for the ride. What better way to get to know Heather than to spend three days in the car with her?  So, yeah, I was surprised at what I learned.

Then there’s her ex-husband.  I had some thoughts about what he might be like.  Some thoughts about why they weren’t together anymore.  But Heather hasn’t really told me anything about all of that yet, not even in the four hours it took to get to Charlotte.

It wasn’t until they were face to face that I started to see some things.

The front door opened when she was halfway up the sidewalk.

“I’ll be damned.”

He was wearing jeans and a white t-shirt and looked like he hadn’t shaved for a few days. His once-blonde hair was mostly dark brown now with just a little gray around the temples. It was long and unruly and made her smile. He was aging very well.

“Hi, Robert.”

“And out of sky she fell, like an autumn leaf floating on a cool October breeze, my beautiful Heather Girl.”

He was off the porch and had wrapped his arms around her before she made it to the steps.

“It’s so good to see you.”

His voice was almost a whisper, but not quite. A true whisper would have been out of place, maybe a little threatening, a normal voice would have lost the sincerity. It was the perfect intonation, the kind of thing that came natural to Robert Scott. She had no choice but to believe his words.

And so on.

Robert is as much of a surprise as Heather.  I’m glad I didn’t plan these guys out. I really think it would have stifled the creativity.  All of this may be a complete train wreck before it’s through, but I sure am having fun writing it.  Which for me, is the whole point.

art + music

Luke Otley makes a habit of doing a sketch every day.  I love the discipline and I love his work.  Check out this sketch: Luke Otley

And then go here and check out Takuya Kuroda.  Reminds me of the old BS&T I used to listen to years ago.

 

 

Jazz Poetry

Every now and then I come across someone talking about the writing of Langston Hughes and I have been intrigued enough to add him to my list of authors to read. An African-American writer from the first half the 20th century, Wikipedia describes Hughes as a poet, social activist, novelist, playwright, and columnist, who occasionally found himself in the midst of controversy. The price of being a social activist, I guess.

So I was browsing through the local bookstore this afternoon and came across Selected Poems of Langston Hughes. I picked it up and turned to this poem, which I re-publish here at the risk of copyright infringement.

Bad Morning, by Langston Hughes

Here I sit
With my shoes mismated.
Lawdy-mercy!
I’s frustrated!

There’s more like that, light and unassuming. There’s writing about music, love and romance (love and romance, not necessarily the same thing), life’s annoyances and life’s tragedies, uplifting faith and disappointing lies.

But what makes it all so special is the way he tells it. Sure, there’s the outdated vernacular that might sound offensive to our enlightened(?) ears, but there’s an honesty to the writing, uncluttered with pretense, and a rhythm that is full of life, even in the midst of despair.

Still Here, by Langston Hughes

I’ve been scarred and battered.
My hopes the wind done scattered.
Snow has friz me, sun has baked me.
Looks like between ’em
They done tried to make me
Stop laughin’, stop lovin’, stop livin’ –
But I don’t care!
I’m still here!

At the time they called it jazz poetry.  I can dig it.

Words for a winter’s evening.

Good work from The Shelton College Review.

First, Larry Ellis has this piece that I can hear Garrison Keillor reading on the Writer’s Almanac:

Blackbirds in Winter

Andy Spradling has this philosophical offering:

Body and Soul

Good work, gentlemen.

We need to talk.

a glance of the eye, the innocent look
the curl of your lips, was all that it took

That’s the first two lines of a song I wrote a few weeks ago. The narrator is beguiled by a look, a smile. It’s a wonderful thing, even if upon reflection, it seems a little superficial. Though the moment may come and go, like so many moments in a lifetime, it might be the beginning of a relationship.

we talked without words, there was so much to say

In this case, it was just the beginning. They moved beyond the magical, natural physical attraction, and they talked. They had a real relationship. Because the conversation is the relationship.

In the case of the song, it was a romantic relationship. But the conversation is also the platonic relationship. The familial relationship. The business relationship. The political relationship. The faith-based relationship.

If you want a relationship, you need to have the conversation.

Years ago I had a friend with whom I had one thing in common: our faith. We had long conversations about the fundamentals and the subtleties of our faith. Because of that, we were friends. Our situations changed, however, and he moved away and we lost contact.

Twenty years later, the contact was restored. I quickly learned that we no longer had common ground regarding faith. But there were other things. He was (and still is) an excellent writer. So we had conversations about writing. The relationship was maintained. But over the past few years, we have come to realize that our viewpoints had diverged too far to maintain meaningful conversations about anything. Neither of us said it, we just quit talking. Which is ironic, because he was the one who first articulated that fundamental truth to me. The conversation is the relationship. I still consider him a friend, but we no longer have a relationship.

That kind of thing happens all the time. Maybe Chauncey Gardner was right. Maybe it’s seasonal. Spring, summer, fall, and finally winter, when things go dormant.

And then there are all of you out there in internet land, most of whom I will never meet. At various times, we have joined in conversation about many things: music, writing, faith. Any given exchange may be only one or two sentences, but over the course of weeks, months, and years, we get to know each other because we talk. Sure, it’s in bits and pieces, but we talk. And because of that, we have relationships.

Weird how you can have friends, yet never sit across the table from each other. Never see an expression of surprise or concern or contentment. Never know what their laugh sounds like. Never hear the sound of their voice, even while you’re having a conversation.

Maybe it’s not weird at all. It’s just good.

Here’s wishing for more of the same in the years to come.


Footnote: The author Susan Scott is credited with the concept of the conversation being the relationship. In her book Fierce Conversations, she discusses the importance of the conversation in all relationships.

Joe Durango

I’ve never been big on New Year resolutions, but I think I’m going to try the George Costanza thing and do the opposite. So instead of ignoring the resolution tradition, I’m going all in, baby!

I’m going to change my writing style completely, and while I’m at it, I’m going to introduce a new character that will drive my writing from here on out. Joe Durango.

I realize that’s not so much a resolution as it is just a change, but heck, let’s not quibble. This is a big deal.

Now the name Joe Durango evokes kind of a rugged image. You don’t want to mess with Joe Durango. So with my character, I need to figure out what kind of story to write.  Here are some options.

Joe Durango.  A tough, gritty cop.  Misunderstood, with a lot of personal baggage. Solves cases his way. Women are drawn to him, but don’t understand him.

“You are one damaged cop, Joe Durango,” Damonica said. Then she walked away.  

Joe Durango, the lonely hero.

Or.

Joe Durango.  A drifter, just looking for a steady paycheck and a bunk. No one knows much about his past, but he has a way with horses. The other cowhands are afraid to ask him about the scar on his face. Women are drawn to him, but don’t understand him.

“So, Joe Durango, are you ever going to talk about what happened in Carson City?” Annabel asked. She waited.  “No. I didn’t think so.”

Joe Durango, alone on the range.

Or.

Joe Durango. Baseball prodigy, came out of nowhere. Throws a fastball like no one has seen before.  He plays one game in the majors, then walks away from it all. A living legend in baseball, but the rest of his life is a complete mystery.  Woman are drawn to  him, but don’t understand him.

“Take me with you, Joe Durango,” Willow said. “I just want to be with you, wherever that may be.”
“Where I’m going is no place for a lady,” he answered.

Joe Durango, man of mystery.

No, not really.

 

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