A short story of mine

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Life from a Distance

Life from a Distance

© Sperry Hunt 2011

As with most men, Luther and I spent nearly an hour talking about half a dozen things that didn’t matter just to avoid the one thing that did.

It was a sunny morning last July. We sat in our rockers on the deck outside the Menagerie with our feet on the rails. The Menagerie was the rickety lodge he and I built on top of the White Cliffs. The grain silos, the schools and the houses of Beeville spilled out across the prairie a thousand feet below. The old drive-in movie screen listed toward the rim of the world where nearly every evening the sun sets into a pot of gold.

During the first half-hour of our conversation, we peeped around town through Luther’s telescope speculating on what we observed: Sam Black was late to work for the third day in a row. Coach Jacobs and Father Dupree drove out under the willow grove where the river bends. And, judging from the consistent vacancy in her driveway, Lucy Malloy hadn’t taken up with anyone a year after Roy ran off on her.

When Luther was too sore to put his eye to the telescope, he leaned back and spoke in short breaths for a while about the virtues of tying flies and coffee can stew. In the middle of his stew story, he turned away and said something I didn’t catch. When I asked him to repeat it, he wiped his eyes with the crook of his arm and turned toward a silver drape of rain sweeping across the highway to the east. “Back when this state was a territory, know what its motto was?” he said.

“Can’t say I do,” I said even though he’d often told me.

“I long to see what is beyond.”

“Is that so?”

“Yep, and that’s just the way I feel today.”

I squeezed his shoulder. The bones slid around like they were in one of those over-roasted chickens you sometimes get at the market.

Luther snatched up the shot glass of smoky, green juice he’d set beside himself earlier. He raised the glass once toward me and again toward the horizon before downing the contents.

A shiver of disgust roiled through him. Then he grabbed my hand, hauled himself to his feet and threw the jigger with all he had into a long arc. The glass sparkled past a wheeling hawk then tumbled down into the hay field waving like the ocean on Karl Schuster’s back forty.

Luther fell back into the rocker and winked at me.

“See you, Jake.”

I stared at him feeling that low-voltage, bilious sensation you get when your car spins on the ice.

“See you, Luther,” I said into his eyes.

He groaned once then slumped back against the slats peacefully, like he’d done a hundred times listening to a ball game.

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Hemingway and Radio

Hemingway and the Radio

Yesterday my good friend Maria Gunn sent me an article from the 9/14/2015 issue of The New Yorker. The article by John McPhee is called “Omission.”  Maria has been good enough to give me feedback on a piece of mine. I warned her that the work needs cutting, and she sent me this apres pot article.

In making his point about the importance of lean writing, McPhee rightly mentions the man considered to be its greatest champion: Earnest Hemingway. McPhee quotes, “If a writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing about he may omit things he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above the water.”

Clearly Hemingway was influenced by his years as a journalist. Writing to the point is the point of journalism. But I wonder if Papa wasn’t influenced also by radio, arguably the dominant medium of his time. The sparely written radio dramas of the ’30’s and ’40s were very powerful. Witness the national hysteria over Orson Wells’ 1938 broadcast of The War of the Worlds. People who missed the disclaimer in the beginning tuned in to hear a string of fictional news casts about enormous alien war machines ravaging New Jersey. So terrifying were these terse accounts that a few people attempted suicide during the show, clear evidence of the power of omission.

Art doesn’t change. You do.

Duane Allman Anthology

One of my favorite blues songs is Boz Scagg’s “Loan Me a Dime.” My favorite version – and there are many fine ones – is the one he recorded with the Allman Brothers in Muscle Shoals in 1969.

A decade later, I played along with the song a hundred times on my Strat in my Mill Valley basement studio . At each drop of the needle, I waited patiently for the vocal to end, so I could I could play along with Duane’s passionate but nuanced solo. Among the finest blues guitarists ever, Duane had that rare combination of flash and reserve I so admire. And this song is arguably one of his best solos.

Many, many years have passed. Now, when I play this same cut in my Seattle basement studio, I listen carefully to Boz’s heartfelt vocal. When Duane comes in, I often find myself starting the song over. Maybe it’s that I’ve heard the lead so many times, that it no longer holds my attention so closely. Perhaps it’s that I hardly touch that old Strat of mine anymore. I’m much more about my acoustics. Or maybe it’s because I understand more clearly what the singer means when he says, “Somebody loan me a dime. I’ve got to call my old time used-to-be.”

Odysseus and Calypso

Odysseus and Calypso
Odysseus and Calypso.
Red-figure vase. Clay.
Paris, Louvre Museum.

I’ve been writing a lengthy middle-grade sci-fi novel for almost two years now that I think of as an odyssey. It’s the tale of a modern girl whose city has been horribly changed be someone stealing her parents’ time machine. When the machine returns to her, she and her best friend must use it to go back three-hundred years and undo the damage.
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Edges

Climbing Pitons

I attended the Willamette Writers Conference in Portland last week. For those of you who don’t know of it, it’s my favorite.  The three-day conference has excellent speakers and is very well-managed. What it offers that is of special benefit to me is direct access to industry people willing to listen to one-on-one and group pitches.

One of the seminars I attended was a talk on writing memoirs by Jennifer Lauck. I plan to begin a memoir in about eighteen months, so I was keen to learn something about a subject which has puzzled me for a long time.  How does one write truthfully about what happened long ago? I have my memories of course, and plan to talk to people I knew at that time. But how does one construct something real from the muddle and mist that momories oft are?

I don’t want to give away too much of what Jennifer had to say. (I did that at a conference once and the lecturer let me know he didn’t appreciate it. It was, as he said, his “bread and butter.”) I’ll just leave you, however, with a helpful quote she gave us from Bernard Cooper, the American novelist. The quote states, “Only when the infinite has edges am I capable of making art.”

With that in mind, I plan to find those edges in my story that I know are the most real.  I do have some records of these edges, namely half a dozen songs I wrote during that period, photographs my wife took and, most importantly, eight hours of audio with one of the principles in the story. My idea is to drive these certainties into my tale like the pitons climbers use to secure their ropes to, as they ascend.  Climbers, I would imagine, don’t view a distant and unfamiliar mountain face and know how exactly they will climb it. It is only as they approach the rock and study its gross formations, that they rough out their possible routes. And it is not until they are literally face to face with the mountain, that really decide which paths are to be trusted, and which not.  Surrounded by the infinite, they feel their way to the summit along these edges using little more than their intuition, fingertips and shoe leather.

A piece of art that to me embodies this of an infinite with edges is John Lennon’s “Across the Universe.”

Words are flowing out like
Endless rain into a paper cup
They slither wildly as they slip away across the universe.
Pools of sorrow waves of joy
Are drifting through my opened mind
Possessing and caressing me.

Jai Guru Deva. Om
Nothing’s gonna change my world
Nothing’s gonna change my world
Nothing’s gonna change my world
Nothing’s gonna change my world

Images of broken light, which
Dance before me like a million eyes,
They call me on and on across the universe.
Thoughts meander like a
Restless wind inside a letter box
They tumble blindly as they make their way across the universe.

Jai Guru Deva. Om
Nothing’s gonna change my world
Nothing’s gonna change my world
Nothing’s gonna change my world
Nothing’s gonna change my world

Sounds of laughter, shades of life
Are ringing through my opened ears
Inciting and inviting me.
Limitless undying love, which
Shines around me like a million suns,
It calls me on and on across the universe

Jai Guru Deva.
Jai Guru Deva.
Jai Guru Deva.
Nothing’s gonna change my world
Nothing’s gonna change my world
Nothing’s gonna change my world
Nothing’s gonna change my world

Here are a few links that relate to this post.

Jennifer Lauck:  http://www.jenniferlauck.com/
Bernard Cooper quote: http://www.tumblr.com/tagged/bernard_cooper
If you’re considering going to a conference next year, I urge you to get on their mailing list: http://www.willamettewriters.com/1/join.php .

The new chair

The Chair

I can’t recall the last piece of furniture I bought for myself, but this chair spoke to me.

The chair was sitting in the store, its seat under the weight of a candelabra that had been left on it, as a matter of someone’s convince. The steel frame was elegant, yet sturdy and wrapped in leather that glowed like fresh caramel.  As I lifted the candelabra, I could see the stitching done by a strong and steady hand. The back had straps like suitcases that people carried in the Age of Steam.  With the leather, the straps and the stitching, the piece seems half-chair and half-journal. It occurs to me that furniture makers are, in their own tongue, storytellers. I liked this story, and I’m glad to have a copy in my home.

BTW, Steampunk enthusiasts may appreciate aspects of the chair as well as the steel and glass table in the background.

you can not control what you do not measure

Measure your progress

 

 

 

 

 

“You can not control what you do not measure.” It’s a phrase in business with murky origins. Someone is said to have coined it, but it seems that he was misquoted or a poorly paraphrased. Whatever the phrase’s beginnings, its meaning is profound.

There is a time to be unaware of one’s position: a dream, a moment of creation, a walk with the one you love. But I have discovered that if I do not gauge my progress, I am likely to make little of it. I count my pages now. I focus on milestones and personal deadlines. It’s made a huge difference in my writing. Everything counts, not with the same level of importance, but it matters nonetheless.