Sunday, February 11, 2018

A John D. MacDonald Bread Crumb Trail

Free Fall In Crimson is the nineteenth book in the Travis McGee series of twenty-one books.  Travis was created and brought to life by John D. MacDonald, the author of over seventy novels.  You can find all of the McGee books here, on Amazon.  If you want to know more, go to Calvin Branche's lovingly and masterfully constructed and maintained John D. MacDonald memorial site.  Here you will find all of the Travis McGee books and a whole lot more about MacDonald, his life and his fans.  The page Meeting Travis alone is worth the visit.

Just after reading book seventeen, The Empty Copper Sea, I stopped reading the Travis McGee series.  Not because I wasn't enjoying them.  I was enjoying them too much.  In fact, I was devouring them like I used to devour candy in my sugar eating lifetime. Just as in those days, I pulled myself up short, like the old me eating a super large size bag of M&Ms, thinking, "Whoa, there are only four of these books left.  I've got to make them last."

So, I forced Travis out of my mind, like wadding up those last four M&Ms in the worn, once super-large size M&M bag and cramming it into my left rear jeans pockets, the one I never use for anything.

To keep my mind off those last four books, I reread Nevil Shute's twenty-four novels, and, I have to confess, I read Round the Bend twice, bringing the total number of readings of it to at least fifty, since I discovered it and Nevil gathering dust on a high shelf in the Laurel Mississippi Public Library, forty years ago.

So, why am I sitting here on a warm, wet, very early spring afternoon, telling you about John D. MacDonald, Nevil Shute, Free Fall In Crimson and Round the Bend?  Because I love books.  I've loved them as long as I can remember, and that is a long, long time.  I caress and fondle them when no one is watching and sometimes when they are watching.  I read books and I write them.  But I'm telling you all of this to tell you that sometimes books are treasure chests you don't expect.  To get to those treasure chests, you have to follow the trails, the bread crumb trails left by authors.  Some are dead ends.  Others lead to treasure.  The one I found last night lead to treasure.

I began A Free Fall In Crimson, reading slowly, in order to drag it out as long as possible.  Naturally, I read the two quotes at the beginning of the book, just after the title page.  The first I had read before, it was taken from The Night of the New Moon, by Laurens Van Der Post.

It was the second quote that grabbed me by the throat, this one:

He will wonder whether he should have told these young, handsome and  clever people the few truths that sing in his bones.  These are:
(1)  Nobody can ever get too much approval.
(2)  No matter how much you want or need, they, whoever they are, don’t want to let you get away with it, whatever it is.
(3)  Sometimes you get away with it.

Private Lives in the Imperial City by John Leonard

I didn't know John Leonard, so I decided to search for him, with a two-fold motive.  First motive, information and second motive, further delay in beginning A Free Fall In Crimson.

My search took me first to, where I found a copy of Private Lives In The Imperial City.  I only stayed there long enough to purchase a "near fine, first edition" of the book for less than $5.00 (I've loved AbeBooks for as long as there has been an AbeBooks).

My next search stop was Wikipedia, where I found this tribute, the words of a Master, about a Master, left out for me by yet a third Master, John D. MacDonald, who knew that one day I would come wandering down the road, the one that forked to the right, and when I did I would ultimately find this:

“When I read anything by my longtime friend John Leonard, his voice is that of a total stranger. He is too polite in ordinary conversations, with me at least, to set off the fireworks of all he knows and feels after reading and comparing and responding to, in the course of his long career as a literary critic, a thousand times more books than I have even heard of. Only in print does he light the night sky of my ignorance and intellectual lassitude with sizzles and bangs, and gorgeous blooms of fire. He is a TEACHER! When I start to read John Leonard, it is as though I, while simply looking for the men’s room, blundered into a lecture by the smartest man who ever lived.”  Kurt Vonnegut

As read, reread, and read yet one more time, Vonnegut's words, the same thought keeps churning through my mind, Thank you gentlemen.


Monday, August 14, 2017

It's Who You Are

Belmont 1973
The movie, Secretariat, opened September 30, 2010.  We were at the theater to see it and we weren't disappointed.  In fact, it was even better than I imagined it would be.

That was almost seven years ago and other than occasionally listening to Oh Happy Day, by the Edwin Hawkins Singers, I've had no contact with the movie since.  For some reason it came up in conversation last weekend and we decided to watch it again.  Once again we were inspired by the story and blown away by the presentation.  And then we received a bonus.

At the end of the credits, long after we had left the movie seven years ago, a song from the movie's sound track played.  A song that retold the story of the magnificent horse, and at the same time, promised the same glory for anyone who would understand and act on its message.  This time we heard it.  Now you can hear it.

"You Choose Your Race And Then You Run."

If life can be reduced to a two-step process, that's it.  Other factors, subsets of those two steps, often keep us from appreciating the simplicity of the process.

For example, years of conditioning can keep us from seeing that the choice of the race we'll run is our choice.  When we lose sight of that, we often let someone or something else choose our race or even worse, we don't make a choice at all - we stand off-stage waiting for the final curtain.

And then there's the running or to be more exact, there is how we run.  Again, we are often overwhelmed by choices: just get by or go all out;  run strong to the end or quit at the first sign of trouble.

The choices are ours and not making a choice is one of the possibilities.  How we execute the choice we make is also ours, even when we allow something outside us to set our pace.

Keep it simple - and have fun.

PS:  Here's a tribute to Secretariat you might enjoy.


Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The Last House

Rainer Maria Rilke

I tend to read the same poets again and again.  At those readings, I often hear Mark Twain chuckle and say, "When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years."

Note - if you are a serious student of Mark Twain, you know that most Samuel Clemens scholars have come to the conclusion that he didn't say that.  But since we don't know who did, and it sounds like something he would have said, I'm sure I'll continue hearing him say it every time I pick up Basho or Bly, Buson or Cummings, Barks or Lawrence, and especially when I read Rilke.  

Since I first crossed paths with Rainer Maria Rilke, at least forty years ago, I've walked much further along the way he knew and described, such that I feel it passing beneath my feet as I reread his words.  I smell its rich earthy scent on the wind, when I close my eyes and recall particularly meaningful passages.

Then I know the soul of the Panther of whom Rilke said:

Only sometimes the curtains of the pupils
soundlessly slide up.  Then an image enters,
goes through the limbs taut stillness -
and in the heart ceases to exist.

And now, more than any time since Rainer Maria Rilke and I first met, I know what he meant when he wrote:

Whoever you are, go out in the evening,
Leaving your room, of which you know each bit;
your house is the last before the infinite...

I also know why many of his translators omit that last line from their translation of Initiation.  It is startling when one first realizes that the only thing that separates each of us from the oneness of all is the flimsy affair that we've constructed from rumors, tales, misconceptions, and lies: the thing we call home.

Friday, August 4, 2017

A Collaboration Of Sorts

This is a stained glass depiction of William of Occam, an English Franciscan friar, who was both a student and teacher of logic.  At his core, Occam believed that science was a matter of discovery and God was the only necessity in understanding the nature of being.  In other words, Occam believed faith in God was all that one required.

He probably stated it this way, "God is all you need to know..."  If he did say that, or anything similar, no one remembered or bothered to write it down.  What they did remember him saying was, "The simplest answer is usually the correct one (my paraphrase)," or, to use Bertram Russell's description of what is commonly known as Occam's Razor, "If one can explain a phenomenon without assuming this or that hypothetical entity, there is no ground for assuming it."

Over 300 years after William of Occam espoused his universally known and accepted method of logic, Richard Feynman, Nobel Prize winning physicist, gave us The Feynman Method, a practical learning/teaching application of  Occam's Razor.

Feynman's four step method works this way: (1) Write the name of the concept (2) Write down an explanation, in plain English, that includes both what you understand and what you don't quite know (3) Review what you've written focusing on what you don't know, then repeat step 2 (4) Review your wording.  If you are using overly wordy or confusing language simplify.

That's it, Feynman using Occam to create a simple, effective heuristic learning method.

To wrap it up, the third member of my imagined collaboration said, "The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant.  We have created a society which honors the servant and has forgotten the gift."

Albert Einstein

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Lost In The Lights

Bryce Harper

"Where did July go?"

That's the way I began yesterday's journal entry.  Then, as it does on occasion, my pen didn't pause at the end of the sentence.

Continuing on its own the pen wrote, "July didn't go anywhere.  It got lost in the lights."

I looked at the line, thought about it a few seconds, and then wrote, "I don't get it."

"I know," the pen continued... "July got lost in the lights like a long fly ball."

Not sure where this was going, I wrote... "Lost by whom?  Where?"

Magically, the words flowed from the nib, "Lost by a baseball player during a night game. At the sound of the bat hitting the ball, he senses it is heading toward him.  Raises his head.  Locks his sight on the ball and begins to run backwards while trying to hold the ball in his sight... then the ball rises and passes directly between a light and the player's line of sight.  For a moment, he loses sight of it.  If he doesn't regain it quickly, the ball falls uncaught."

"That doesn't happen to Bryce Harper," I wrote.

My smart ass pen didn't hesitate, "Bryce doesn't play the way most outfielders play.  He hears the ball hit.  Focuses on its trajectory. Mentally computes where it is going to land.  Turns his back on the ball and sprints to that spot.  Turns around and catches it."

The pen waited while I thought about that.  I considered the times I'd seen Bryce do it that way and tried to recall another player using that technique.  None came to mind, so I wrote.  "Why doesn't everyone do it that way?"

"Because they don't trust themselves."

"What's that got to do with July?"

The pen didn't hesitate, "To trust yourself is to do what you know is right and do it instantly - without hesitation.  When you do that, you do not drop balls or lose time.  Not a month, a day, or even a second... you lose nothing."

I shook my head and wrote, "So August begins, just where I knew it would."

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Across Time

"Every day is a journey,
And the journey itself is home."
Matsuo Basho

Basho speaks to me of things that matter - to him and to me.  For example, last night, with the ease of one for whom timelessness is only another aspect of Oneness, he dropped in and without preamble said:

 "But when all has been said, I am not really the kind who is so completely enamored of solitude that he must hide every trace of himself away in the mountains and wilds.  It's just that, troubled by frequent illness and weary with dealing with people, I've come to dislike society.  Again and again I think of the mistakes I've made in my clumsiness over the course of the years.  There was a time when I envied those who had government offices or impressive domains, and on another occasion I considered entering the precincts of the Buddha and the teaching room of the patriarchs.  Instead, I've worn out my body in journeys that are aimless as the winds and clouds and expended my feelings on flowers and birds.  But somehow I've been able to make a living this way, and so in the end, unskilled and talentless as I am I give myself wholly to this one concern, poetry. Po Chu-i worked so hard at it that he almost ruined his five vital organs, and Tu Fu grew lean and emaciated because of it.  As far as intelligence or the quality of our writings go, I can never compare to such men.  And yet we all in the end live, do we not, in a phantom dwelling? 
But enough of that - I'm off to bed."

All I said was, "Good night my friend.  Sleep well."

There was nothing else to say. 

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Silver Star

Note from my journal:  7/7/17

Leaving Home Depot, I spotted a man about my age.

Pretty damn old I thought then amended the thought to include, just like me. 

He was wearing a Vietnam Veteran's baseball cap, so I walked over and started the conversation in the usual way.  "When were you there?"

Still seated behind the wheel of the gleaming silver, Ford, long bed, four-wheel drive, crew cab pickup, he raised his head and said, "66 and 67.  I was with the 173rd Airborne Brigade.  You?"

"Right behind you.  67 and 68. 1st Aviation Brigade."



As he opened the door of the massive pickup truck he tried to smile but it was too painful to manage, twisted and crippled the way he was.

I stood clear of the door, not offering to help, because we both knew I couldn't.  Finally he was out of the vehicle, standing, less-than-solidly with the help of a polished silver walking stick.

Our eyes locked for a long moment, everything that needed to be said passed in silence.  Then he nodded curtly, and I returned the gesture.

I stood a long time in the silence he had left behind, watching as he made his way slowly toward the store, noting that he had not mentioned the embroidered line of script on the bottom edge of his cap.  It read, "SILVER STAR WINNER."

I broke my stare, letting the parking lot full of unaware people flood back into consciousness. I knew he hadn't mentioned it because we both understood what it meant. Our knowing was enough.

The Silver Star Medal is the United States' THIRD HIGHEST award exclusively for combat valor, and ranks fifth in the precedence of military awards behind the Medal of Honor, the Crosses (DSC/NC/AFC), the Defense Distinguished Service Medal (awarded by DOD), and the Distinguished Service Medals of the various branches of service. It is the highest award for combat valor that is NOT unique to any specific branch; it has been bestowed by the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, Coast Guard, and Merchant Marines. It may be given by any one of the individual services to not only their own members, but to members of other branches of service, foreign allies, and even to civilians for "gallantry in action" in support of combat missions of the United States military.
Because the Silver Star is ONLY awarded for combat valor, the only devices worn on it are:
  • Bronze Oak Leaf Clusters in lieu of additional Army/AF awards
  • Silver Oak Leaf Clusters in lieu of a SIXTH Army/AF award
  • Gold Star in lieu of additional Navy/USMC awards
  • Silver Star in lieu of a SIXTH Navy/USMC award.