I Feel Like Balls Deep Just Went Balls Deep In Me

I am reluctant to write this, mainly because it smacks of whining, or sour grapes. But I also think it’s important to give you feedback, otherwise you may not understand what’s going on. We had our first softball game last night. In the first inning, we went down 12 to nothing on our way to a 23-6 defeat. That would make any coach salty, but my problem is a little bigger than that.

You can say that we sucked (we didn’t) or that they’re really good (they are). My problem is that the team we played won every game in our division during the spring season. Kudos to them, and that’s a great achievement.

But why are they still in our division? Seriously. We paid the same as they did. We worked really hard for three months to get ready. And then, in our first game, we get a team that completely overmatches us. Every ball was hit to the fence. When they were up 17-3 they hit one OVER the fence.

That’s not competition. It’s just ego stroking. For them. I totally get that teams don’t like to get moved up in divisions. I totally get that some people just can’t stand the chance that they might ever lose. I don’t like losing either. But I think sandbagging to make sure you win every game is bush league.

And we shouldn’t have to play mat ball to be matched up against teams that give us fair competition. There are four perfectly good divisions. Why is everyone so scared to go into division II? It seems like III should be for teams that have figured it out but aren’t ready for top half competition. I hope we get to meet some of those sorts of teams before the season is over and all my players never want to play softball again.

I’m not blaming you. I know your job is hard. I know what teams do to win. But do the right thing. Move Balls Deep up to division II. Because we deserve to have fun too.

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The Silent and Brave revision page #194

The boy sits on a rock, waist high, wide enough to prop him up, flat enough that he can concentrate on the object in his hands. He’s about ten. Whiz, whir, click, he changes it, spinning its individual facets, red, blue, green, yellow, white, purple, six sides, nine smaller squares on each, spinning and mixing to the pattern he understands, whiz whir click. His hands are a blur. He doesn’t notice the cars next to him in the Wal-mart parking lot, or the people walking by. The sun is out. Whiz whir click. As I, one of the passers-by, watch, he finishes the pattern, that fast, making all the colors match up so that every side is the same. It seems effortless, boring. He pats the cube on his knee. Then he scrambles it again. Whiz whir click. His black hair is messy on his head.

A group approaches. Maybe they are not a group. Maybe they are not together. They come from different directions, converging on the rock where the boy sits. They don’t seem to know one another. In fact, they don’t notice each other, or the boy. They are looking at something each of them holds in their hands, a flat screen, their phones. They hold them up, as though scanning the parking lot. They inch forward, from every side, moving in the direction of the rock. One by one, they look up and notice the boy with his cube. Whiz whir click. He spins the colors, completes the puzzle, looks up at the gathering around him. Tableau.

Whiz whir click. He scrambles it again. He holds it out to one of the group around the rock, a short girl, of similar age, with her brown hair in braids and glasses with colorful frames. She squints at the cube, at the mixed colors. It is meaningless to her. They do not speak. Instead she holds out her phone, as if to show him the screen. His eyes drop. He is not interested. His hands go back to work, spinning, whiz whir click, putting the colors back together. The group with their phones stand in a circle around him, staring at their screens, unspeaking, intent on what they have come to find.

I get what they’re all doing, but I can’t participate. I don’t know how.

Pono

The Silent and Brave revision page #175

The revision of The Peaceful and Just is finished and sent off. Soon the revision of The Silent and Brave will be done as well. I had a great vacation, got a beautiful Hawaiian tattoo, read two great books, and spent wonderful time with family.

It’s time to start thinking about The Prosperous and Malevolent, and I have some great ideas. It will start in a Selessian village that has been destroyed by the Narze and Arrik Xermexes. The champion will arrive in the village. Angered by the killing of his people, he will destroy the rail ties that the Narze are using to travel rapidly (they have a steam locomotive) by heating them in fire and bending them around trees, a la Sherman’s neckties from the Civil War. I need to begin to cast Arrik Xermexes as my ultimate villain for Book 4, although the villain in this one will be Niisteen, who will not agree with the champion’s goal of quenching the river of fire and opening the first ward Los Lewr again.

In order to quench the Pyratine River, Salaam Aktelon I will have to work together with Arrik Xermexes. Together the two of them will drop an empty on the source of the flames from the Mandelbrot.

Some other ideas:

Niisteen and Mesopotamia Wrath are barren, but Mesopotamia Wrath has a daughter who has traveled to Los Lewr to live in luxury. None of them are happy, but the daughter will vie with Ullane for Kavela’s affections. In the end, Niisteen will reveal that he gave Ullane the mistral because he needed her to break the Teilarata but considered her the weakest of the companions, one he could dominate when the time came. In the end they will fight a duel, as Niisteen has created another mistral. It is Mesopotamia Wrath’s daughter who will kill Niisteen, perishing herself in the process.

I have an image of a whole room of smartphones, taken and stored in Los Lewr after the empties broke. That’s all for now. My work continues!

 

Maybe It’s Time for Something Topical

And I’m not talking about anti-itch cream. In the late sixties and early seventies, when our country was experiencing a period of civil unrest that many Gen X’rs like me relate to the times we’re going through now, there were topical songs at the top of the charts, and if you owned a radio you couldn’t get away from them. The Box Tops had a hit with “The Letter.” Jimmy Cliff scored with “Vietnam.” Bob Dylan did so many protest songs (I like “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall”) that he eventually decided not to write any more of them and turned from folk to rock and the blues. Barry McGuire “Eve of Destruction”, the Animals “We Gotta Get Out of This Place”, Creedence Clearwater Revival “Fortunate Son”, and the list goes on. After a while it got to be so much that most artists did like Bob and started to write about other things. Then in the eighties and nineties those sorts of songs moved into the inner cities with rap music. Groups like NWA pissed off the establishment. Grandmaster Flash wrote maybe the best song about the plight of urban youth with “The Message.”

My point is, where there was social trouble there was also a voice turning it into poetry that everyone, white, black, rich or poor could listen and relate to. Now that has changed, partly because of the death of radio and the birth of streaming. The artists that are popular enough in the new formats are not going to write protest songs. They just don’t have anything to be upset about. Can you imagine a Justin Beiber protest song? (I mean, about anything other than his “crew” getting hassled a club.) Can you imagine a Taylor Swift protest song? (“My plastic surgeon got my left breast wrong” or maybe “My probiotic isn’t compatible with my stool softener.”)

Regardless, there is plenty to be uneasy about in the world. I think we need to find some new artists who are willing to give us their take and their social commentary. It may not be in the form of music. It may have to be in a wholly new popular format. Maybe an app. But by whatever means it finds, using art to capture popular attention can help heal and help find solutions. I think the time for topical songs has come again.

 

Meditations on God

I have wondered why the Jewish people have been so reviled throughout the course of history, even in this country and in recent times. Usually when asking this question I will be given the stock answer that they were money lenders, or that they act superior, or that they have been given their own country carved out of the land of other people and allowed to defend it at the cost of others. None of these answers seems to me to be the right one; they explain the hatred, but not the deep, unreasoned hatred that seems to be leveled on the Hebrew Nation. I have been pondering this question, and I think I know the answer.

I would postulate that the Jewish people are reviled because they did something no organized religion has ever done. They did it in the first two Commandments of their laws, and it was truly ground breaking. It broke with all other religions, in fact with the very idea of religion. It is something that had never been done before, and it will never be done again. Those Commandments are: “I am the Lord thy God, Who brought thee out of the land of Egypt and out of the house of bondage; Thou shall have no other gods before Me.” Here is what I think that means, and why it caused such a problem.

To me, these two Commandments say that God is in man, each individual man, and that man should break with any other power who refuses to admit this. These two Commandments outlaw graven images and false idols. Graven images and false isols are not “bad images or bad idols.” Graven images and false idols are anything that one man or woman designs and holds up over another man or woman, and uses to tell him or her what to do, instead of listening to the voice that is in their own heart. Basically, these two Commandments are telling people to be true to themselves.

Now why did that cause such a ruckus? Because religion has always been used to tell people what to do. Relgion doesn’t want people running amock, deciding what to do for their own selves. In fact, as soon as these two Commandments were brought down by Moses, even the Hebrew people began to invent ways around them, holy places, holy signs, holy scripture. Holy shit. What is the name of the game when you hold something up and tell people to come worship it? Power, baby, and subjugation. Kiss my ring. It’s no wonder everybody hated the Jews. They were telling people to think for themselves, and that is scary for the powers that be.

The truth is, I believe, that there should be no power greater than the one in our hearts, that it inside us that God is found, and that John Lennon was right when he said “No religion”. But it is not a popular position. It will get you killed.

Every Time You Shoot Second

It is a hard time to be a gun owner in the United States. It is a hard time to be united in the United States.

“Another psychopathic Iowan loading up another round

While the NRA and Columbine hunt Marilyn Manson down

Powder in the Pentagon, letters in the mail

Some KKK white supremecist cooking up a dose of race hate

I don’t need no country, I don’t fly no flag

Cut no slack for the Union Jack, Stars and Stripes have got me jet lagged”

Woody Guthrie, Alabama 3

Why can’t we, as the bearers of firearms, learn to shoot second? Are our individual lives so precious that we must defend them before we even know what’s going on? Are we all that full of ourselves?

I’m talking to you, police. I’m talking to you, sniper. I’m talking to you, Sword of Terror.

When you take on the responsibilty of a weapon made to kill, you should also take up the romantic notion of chivalry, the ideals of the duel. There should be rules. The ancient kings of Hawaii knew this. That is why their weapons were ceremonial. That is why there is a sword in Scotland that must not be drawn unless it will shed blood.

You should have to know, without a doubt, what you’re doing when you pull the trigger.

Yes, it would be more difficult to be a police officer if you were only allowed to fire after you’ve been fired upon. But upholding the law (and I’m not saying that any of the officers involved in these incidents is or intends to do that, because it looks worse and worse for them every time) is not supposed to be a primarily easy or even safe profession. If I were you, I would be concerned about your image. No longer is it that of the knight in shining armor. Now it is becoming that of the wolf, slinking in the darkness, searching for prey. At this point, I can claim that I don’t trust you anymore. At this point, I can claim that blowing away your opponent before you get the true story is not making it any safer for you or your brethren.

Every time you shoot first, you are fracturing the unity of the country and the people you should be trying to protect. How can you live with that? Why would you want to? Isn’t it be better to die a hero than live as a goat?

Every time you shoot second you’re a hero. Every time.

On Cultural Appropriation

At lunch I was reading a little opinion piece in a Honolulu rag about people giving Meaghan Trainor (whoever that is) a hard time for using traditional R&B stylings in one of her songs (I think it’s called “No”.) Then Justin Timberlake said something on Twitter (whatever that is) about us all being one people and got a whole bunch of shit for that. There was a mention of people giving partygoers at raves a hard time for wearing Native American dream catchers as decorations in their hair.

It seems like we all like to give one another a hard time.

The point of the author was whether or not it was fair for a privileged (white) person to use lyrics and music that were born out of the experiences of an oppressed culture, esp. when the one being borrowed was oppressed by the other borrowing. And that got me wondering, since I’m in Hawaii, and have borrowed certain Polynesian concepts like “Mana” (and Norse concepts like “Odin” and Finnish concepts like “Sisu” and the epic poem the Kalevala) for my novel, because I think they’re cool, is that really cool or not? Do I have the right?

I don’t think the author of the piece had an answer. I think my answer would lie somewhere along the lines of “All things under Heaven are one,” but it did seem a little unfair when I heard Paul Simon borrowed a lot of the rhythms for Graceland from African tribal peoples without acknowledging or paying for them. Yes it’s a great album. Yes it did help bring American consciousness around to the evil of Apartheid. Yes it did increase Paul Simon’s bank account significantly. Bob Dylan takes a lot of heat for this too, and I don’t think it makes him any less of a genius. I do think that the affront which is sensationalized may be proportional to the amount of cash earned, and that is not intrinsically a fair reason for argument, even if it does matter.

I would like to point out another musically inspired story. It was 1965. The show was Shindig. The presenter said . . . “I would like to present Mr. Howling . . .” and a couple of kids named Mick and Keith smiled because they had just introduced the blues to popular America. That’s how it should be done, sharing your idols and inspirations with others, so that they can learn from them. That’s how we got this thing called rock and roll.

So maybe there’s two sides to this story. Maybe Ms. Trainor should do a little more to explain where she got her ideas. And maybe other little rich white kids shouldn’t throw so many stones.

Musings on the 4th of July

I just finished reading The Death of Artemio Cruz. An amazing book, about a complicated, powerful man lying on his deathbed, remembering his life. A book about Mexico. When I read it in college as an assignment from my professor in World Lit, I liked it, but did not understand it. It is a difficult read. I don’t think he understood it entirely either. Of course, it was in college, a liberal environment, but he did not seem sympathetic to Artemio, who uses his power to crush, control, and consolidate all that is around him after the Mexican Revolution. One of my most vivid memories of university is him asking me to sum up the end of the book, the symbolism of it, and me being unable to answer. He said that Artemio dies of a giant fart, a collapse of his insides caused by the stagnation of his intestines, and that it was symbolic of the death of Mexico itself, or the ideals of Mexico, and the revolution of the people, but that is not exactly what (I feel) Carlos Fuentes was going for. Instead, I think the author was much more interested in demonstrating the duality of man, the need for power and revolution, and the desire to understand (by its lead character) the good and bad that came from his actions. He bears both enormous pride and enormous regret. He has achieved great things, things that make his hangers-on worship him and desire to be like him, and he knows that all of those things came at the cost of his humanity, which he truly mourns. It is a beautiful book.

On this, our revolution day, on which we remember the way in which our country and its people threw off the yoke of the powers that held them from across the sea, I think of two things in this book especially. One is Artemio’s statement that power comes from revolt. It is a truth, but he better than anyone understands that the power does not necessarily (or ever) fall out the way that we think it should as idealists. Instead, it takes a perverse turn which destines man to be forever on the verge of another revolt, another revolution, more bloodshed. Second, because my sister and I had a big argument about guns last night, is the way Artemio consolidates his own power after the successful revolution, by promising to lower the mortgages demanded of the people by his predecessors. In effect, he gives them a better deal, but he just keeps on doing exactly what the last Don did, until he owns everything that they fought for, because the common man is incapable of living without going into debt. He arms the peasants to win the struggle, and then, when the revolt is over, has his chosen men go back to them and tell them everything is all right now, so give me back the guns. When his assistant suggests that disarming the peasants might allow his enemies to return and fight him again, or even the peasants to rise up against him, he thinks about it and then says something to the effect of, all right, choose the twelve meanest sons of bitches, and let them keep their guns, but take back all the rest. He says that women don’t understand war, that only men can understand it.

My favorite scene, the death of his son Lorenzo, who he loves more than his own life, fighting as a member of the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War, where Artemio has sent him to absolve his own guilt for his cowardice during the Mexican Revolution (cowardice that allowed him to survive) made me cry. The worse scene, or most unbelievable, is the night in the Mexican jail, when Artemio waits to be executed by the beaten and retreating federales, and then is rescued when they are attacked by his own Republican forces. It is too convenient, and the duel he fights with his imprisoner Zagal, as though they are both men of honor, is cheeseball and unbelievable. This scene would have been much better if Fuentes decided to make it an invented one, a story that Artemio clings to in his own mind as a justification for his cowardice. Why didn’t Fuentes fix this, the way he did the idealized story of his first encounter with Regina, the true love of his youth? Maybe he did, and I just didn’t get it as I was reading it. Maybe it’s a matter of Latin American honor that I don’t understand, where rape is okay but not selling out your own army to save your skin. Whatever the case, I feel that Fuentes could have done better with that part, and not made me question him. All he had to do was rearrange it, or admit that we all sell out ourselves sometimes, there must be something I don’t understand . . .

It is, as I said, a very difficult read. But amazing, as full of the awfulness and hubris of man as anything I have ever read, as well as our capacity for love and ability to understand and create beauty. There are no authors like the Latin American authors, and so there must be no country like theirs either, messy, hot, deadly, beautiful, full of stillness and shouts, endless in their fighting, loving, and press onwards for the glory of man.

I want to go get my tattoo extended, and add white to my plumeria for the white terror of the Spanish Civil War, and a red hyacinth for the red terror of the same. So that I will remember how awful people can be to one another in the name of freedom and democracy. I wanted to get poppies for the soldiers of the world, but now I want this instead. I’m sorry, Kim, that it is a downer, but you know that I believe we must always remember the bad so that we can strive for the good.

What I Love About Reno

Make no mistake about it, Reno is a red city. Nevada as a whole is a blue state, thanks to our southern neighbors in Las Vegas, but Reno is as red as cherries.  On numerous occasions, there have been complaints if we turn on MSNBC at work. There have been letters. There have been notes on credit card slips. So I shouldn’t be surprised. But there I was. Still surprised.

It was political conversation day, and I had a couple of friends at the bar trying to convince me that Trump is the answer. Eventually we got on the subject of Muslims, and I shared my Muslim story. I love this story, and I have mentioned it in this blog before. Last summer we went paddleboarding on Lake Tahoe, and while I was coming back to shore I came across a girl, probably about ten years old, standing on her board in a full black hijab. I was out of my element. She was really out of hers. I mean, it was a hot day, and there she was, dressed all in black, with her hood on, in the water. I looked at her, she looked at me, and we both broke out in these shit-eating grins. It was beautiful. She wasn’t ready to pull an AK-47 out from under that robe and start laying waste to everyone on the beach. We were just two human beings, having a great time. I think it perfectly illustrates how two people from two different cultures can have a shared experience.

Well, I was telling this story, and a fellow dining with his wife to my right all of a sudden says, “Hey, I’m trying to eat my dinner here. You have a loud voice, and I’m tired of listening to you. This country is falling apart, and you obviously don’t give a shit.” Those were his exact words.

Like I said, I was surprised. I immediately apologized for offending him. I agreed that I do have a loud voice. I told him that since he thought I didn’t give a shit I really didn’t want to talk to him anymore. I also told him that the friend I was sharing the story with was a Vietnam vet. Then I apologized a second time, just for good measure. I wanted to say a few other things, but I didn’t.

I’m going to say them here. This is what I’m going to say. I’m not going to go off about Trump anymore. I am not going to belittle his plans to wall off our country, or talk about what an embarrassment it would be to have him join the pantheon of great men who have led this country, men like Lincoln, Washington, and, yes, Obama.

I am going to take it one step further. I think it is time to actively fight him becoming president. Not because of who he is, but because of who his followers are.

His followers are so filled with hatred that they can’t handle a story about a little Muslim girl having a good time paddleboarding on Lake Tahoe.

Think about that. And then ask yourself if that’s the sort of behavior we want to encourage in this country.

I say no. I say hatred is not an American ideal. I say that giving people who feel that much hatred a voice and a leader is such a bad idea that there must be some sort of legal way to keep it from happening.

Oh, and I also decided that I’m not sorry for my loud voice. Like Arlo Guthrie says, “If you want to stop war, you can’t just sing loud some of the time. If you want to stop war, you have to learn to sing loud ALL of the time.”

 

My Bio

These agents always seem to want a bio. I don’t know why. It reminds me a lot of college, where the first question out of everyone’s mouth was always “Where did you go to school?” Then they immediately go to that city for conversational impulses . . . “Did you know so-and-so” and “Have you been to such-and-such?” And low and behold, you have a friend of a friend’s friend in common, and then you’re supposed to be best buddies. It all seemed so fake to me, but I guess it’s just how it works, and the bio has the same purpose, so that when that agent gives me a call saying they can’t wait for my manuscript we can reminisce about how we both loved “Spaceballs.” (So what does that make us? Absolutely nothing!)

Maybe this is why I sometimes don’t fit in well.

I was born in Washington State, the eastern, desert side, where my father was a professor at Washington State University. I remember the cougar in the cage that looked like it was designed by an architect from ancient Greece, incongruously set beside the freeway. We moved a few times growing up, so that I have experienced the mosquitos of Minnesota summers and the endless waiting for the sun to reappear that characterizes Minnesota winters. I spent my high school years in Gladstone, Oregon, a suburb of Portland. We returned last summer and I very much enjoyed seeing my family and drinking Breakside, Gigantic, and Cascade Barrel House ales. Having watched too much Miami Vice, after high school I decided that I wanted to attend college in Florida. I arrived at the University of Miami with aspirations of a criminal justice degree.  Alone for the first time in my life, I was introduced to a whole new community: it was 1990, and the Hurricanes were playing Florida State in the Orange Bowl. Eventually I settled on a degree in English, and I have been tending bar ever since. In Orlando I met my wife, my life, Kimberly, and acquired my first beagle. We married in 2004 and now we have a family of four–legged trumpets. Their names are Woodstock, Penelope, Emily, and Humphrey Bogart. Although my interest in the trombone came to nothing, I love music, everything from Bob Dylan to Def Leppard, and from Eminem to Jerry Jeff Walker. I live in Dayton, Nevada, where I enjoy snowboarding in the Sierra Nevadas, paddleboarding on Lake Tahoe, disc golf wherever, and attempting to get on paper from 300 yards with my Winchester Model 70 Featherweight. I am an excellent co-ed softball coach, and my favorite sports teams are the Minnesota Vikings and the Miami Hurricanes. Some of my favorite authors are Faulkner, Hemingway, LeGuin, Lloyd Alexander, Cormac McCarthy, Henry Miller, Malcolm Lowry, and Laurence Durrell. I have been writing fiction since I was in the sixth grade, and strangely, my themes have not changed all that much. I have never been published, but I am hoping to change that soon.

There, how’s that for some conversation starters?