I imagine my salvation: a Menckenesque

1. The stolon and the radix: putting into words what cannot be said

I have learned to love Montaigne. This did not happened quickly or easily, but the affection began when I read this: “I write to keep from going mad from the contradictions I find among mankind, and to work some of those contradictions out for myself.”

These words felt true to me. Perhaps I did not always write for such a perfect cause, but at least I knew I should, and that I might as well be following in the steps of a better man.

Words were my first escape in more ways than just what I found on the page in the stories I read. There was also refuge in the meanings alone. There was secrecy to be had in their use in uncertain company.

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The Old Corner Bookstore

The matter is not that this place is now a Chipotle. The Old Corner Bookstore, as much as ‘Ye Olde Sweete Shoppe,’ was debauched generations ago and made to serve whatever interest was literally afoot at that moment in time. The iconic site, a beautiful vernacular Eighteenth Century brick building on a corner of Boston nearly across from the equally historic Old South Meeting House and about a block from where Benjamin Franklin was born, has long been shadowed on all sides by the assembled monstrosities of Nineteenth and Twentieth century architecture. The fact that a fairly decent chain of Mexican food restaurants has chosen to lease the physical space where Thoreau and Emerson and Longfellow once argued the particulars of the New England Renaissance is incidental in the greater scheme. After all, where are the bones of Paul Revere’s horse now?

But Rhian Sasseen picked up the story for The Millions and there it is, photo and all,  and in some visceral way the image begs for our attention. At least it does for me.  The abscess of pain which is the cause of my frequent complaint about the death of the bookshop is instantly tapped. I could go on about the importance of the bookshop to our culture as the key to any sort of livable future as much as a touchstone to the past that has made us. But is that really the matter?

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About the weather

 A recent calculation of the ‘big picture’ in cosmic theory has the universe pulsing in an endless series of entropic expansions and contractions. When things reach a certain maximum (minimum?) of composition and the black holes go ‘pop,’ and disappear, it all starts over again. Nifty. Someone or ones will get a Nobel prize for physics and the world we can know (as opposed to the ones we can’t) will go on: governments will tax and pillage while people try to find some measure of happiness with the part of this universe that is theirs; thugs will rape and kill and wars will be fought over religions both political and metaphysical; and the weather will turn and twist over an Earth we pretend to understand, for reasons we have not yet fathomed.

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What lies beneath

The quiet you’ve heard from this place was just the sound of me lying low.

For about a year and a half I have been writing ‘The knight’s tale, a novel of the future.’ And now it’s done.

Though not quite the largest single work I’ve ever attempted, it is close to that, and easily the most complicated. The story was in fact pulled from a much larger epic first begun in 1976, which has occupied thousands of hours of my life in the years since. Over that time many aspects of the original concept were altered. The natural growth of scientific knowledge forced some of this. But more importantly, I have changed, and thus the way I saw the story I wanted to tell mutated. Continue Reading →

Journey Man

Sitting in the cab of a small car, alone for many hours and over many days while traveling cross-country, will produce a lot of rethinking of old problems and the discovery of more than a few new ones. In that enclosed space, I have come to the not so subtle realization that writing (and reading) is very much like traveling. An exploration. In fact I write by question, from inquiry to inquiry, like a journey with no absolute course.

“Why did he do it?”

“Why wouldn’t he?”

“But how?”

I do have a purpose, an ultimate goal, but I tend not to pre-determine its length or breadth until a shape has been conjured out of an accumulation of questions and answers–words chosen one by one for how they illuminate the path ahead. I think it’s the way many writers do it. Continue Reading →

What we reap.

The word is not good.

On a recent journey, it was simple enough to find a bookshop in a major city. A few perhaps. A Barnes &  Noble. An independent bookshop. Larger cities might even have two or more. Especially if there is a university close. Perhaps, if the city aspires to a significant intellectual life, you will find a good used bookshop as well. But most American cities today do not have an independent bookshop. A fact. Many do not even have a book chain outlet. The great majority do not have a used bookshop. Continue Reading →

A Faith in Dreams

Faith in dreams, like the beliefs of small and ancient religions, is often lost with the simple passage of time. Mere time. Simply forgotten. A figment of a midnight dream at midday. Too vague to grasp. We all remember the faith we once had in our fathers, or mothers, for instance. Or the absence of such an absolute trust, perhaps. But what of those other beliefs, and their failure or strength, which were so instrumental to our being and to what we would become?

There were many such smaller religions in my past–a thousand convictions which I once held dear–all of them long since lost. The sure knowledge that summer would come and school would end. That Bill, the bus driver would always be there on the colder days or wait a moment longer. That Mel, the Good Humor man would let me the extra nickel needed for the orange-cream popsicle. That the profound chill and still-hollow of a winter night would soon be transformed into the lush dark of mosquitoes and crickets and tree frogs. All of those faiths were set aside when my first full time jobs showed little interest in the seasons and getting to work in time depended on the IRT. Continue Reading →

Seeley’s Surfside

The hanging road sign for Denton Real Estate offered a constant chirping against an intermittent wind. It was a small and familiar voice to Burk as he approached Seeley’s Surfside Diner. The murmur of tires on passing cars was dampened by the new snow. With the hood of his parka pulled tight against the cold, most other sounds were obliterated by the rub of fabric against his ears and he had to keep an eye out for the car lights through breath-fogged glasses as he made his way from his apartment.

The blaze of neon from Seeley’s was not comforting against the black and white of snow and night ahead. It never was. Even on a hot evening in the summer it was joyless. Tonight, it cut through the falling snow more pink than red. Burk had thought before that it was an odd thing, how the color in the sign seemed to change depending on the weather. He had mentioned it once to Pat, but the observation was shrugged at. Ignored.

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She Knows Her Onions

So this is what I know. At least what I’ve heard. The part that I think is true.

Florrie was the first guy to get a hook on Zim. This was something of a surprise, because Florrie was the last guy you’d a thought needed the help.

You know Florenz Patterson. Sure you do. But you probably know him better by the name of Gunther Grab or Forrest Fern. You’ve probably read some of his ‘Ready Evans’ stories in Black Mask. He wrote under a lot of names. There were issues of Wild West that he wrote almost single-handedly using five different monikers. Not many of the New York guys have ever been on a horse or much else west of the Poconos. Hell, Clarence Mulford even writes his ‘Hopalong Cassidy’ stories from up in Fryeburg, Maine, for Christ sake! And they are all good at making the best use of what little experience they know.

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That Little Old Lady and Me

She brought me down with a two by four across the back of the knees. My head hit the doorjamb as I fell. Hard headed or not, I think I was a little dazed.

I was lying then on a black and white tile floor in the half dark of that vestibule and looking up at the mouth of a model 17, 9mm Glock semi-automatic, when I first heard that voice.


This is a single word, in common use, but has problematic spelling. When I write stories now I often just resort to familiar forms, like ‘What do you want?’ Rather than be accused of stereotyping or pandering. I was actually thinking about this while I was lying there only half conscious. I had spent the morning at my one room apartment over in Cambridge, writing and dealing with the grammatics—that’s my word for dramatic speech patterns–when Connie McGuire showed up and asked me to do him a favor. That meant he was going to screw with my regular schedule and put me on a job right away. He’s been doing that less lately so I didn’t complain. Just part of the job description. Besides, he’s short on cash because of the economy and I’m on salary anyway, so it doesn’t cost him extra to dump on me. I ran through a few more ‘grammatics’ in my head on the way over to the South End. I had to decide the way to go with the piece I was working on. It made a difference.

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I don’t believe in ghosts. Any more than I believe in a tree, or a rock. What the heck does a tree care what I believe in. Why does it matter what you call a stone, unless you’re a geologist or something. I just try to live with things–as is. ‘Take them the way they are, and work on your own self,’ like Daddy said. Like you have to take Uncle Bob. It’s not going to change anything about Uncle Bob if I object to it. He’ll just get more ornery and give Mama a harder time. He’ll just ignore me, same as a rock would. You can’t argue with a stone, and Uncle Bob thinks anybody still under the age of sixteen is as dumb as a rock anyway, so what’s the use.

I’ve been watching this one ghost for a week now. He thinks I don’t see him, if he thinks about me at all. He moves up and down the stairs like he’s carrying something but I can’t see his arms. Maybe he doesn’t have any arms. But he looks busy, like he’s getting something done.

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