DG Crum

Southern fiction writer

Category: Daily Blog

He kept it because it was cool!

I tend to collect stuff – usually not collectible things like stamps or coins or Beanie Babies (are people crazy?).  I like to collect odd things.  It’s the child in me and I am not about to apologize for that and I am not about to change it.  Albert Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”  I imagine he’s right (see what I did there?).

As to keeping the child in me alive, I would like to make the point that children start off with imagination, and then we adults try to force them into emptying the “imagination” part of their brains so we can help them fill those brains with knowledge.  We do that in order to help them make rational decisions like buying Beanie Babies off eBay.  Don’t ask me why; I don’t have a clue.

As to the motivation for collecting odd things, ask any child why they picked up and kept a rock that had an unusual band of color in it, had a fossil in it, or had a funny shape.  Their reasoning tends to be relatively simple.  They did it because they liked it and they liked it because it was cool.  Try to argue with that.  It will take all of the knowledge you’ve acquired and even then, you’ll lose.  That reasoning is sufficient for them, and it is sufficient for me.  Besides keeping something for the memories involved in whatever I’ve collected, I most often keep something because I think it’s cool – or I keep it because I can imagine a story behind it.  Let me give you an example of something I’ve kept, and will go on keeping.  It is something I am pretty damn proud of.  Spoiler alert – it involves rocks.

The fossils in this picture are called crinoids stems.  They are the fossilized remains of an aquatic animal called a crinoid.  When I was going to college in Carbondale, Illinois, I enjoyed hunting fossils in the old strip mines.  I never found anything of value or anything very cool (I knew a guy who found a fossilized nautilus, the bastard!).  But I did find a lot of fossilized crinoid stems –  so many of them that I stopped bending over to pick them up.  I kept a few, but over the years the majority of them have gotten lost in our many moves (my wife and I might be considered migratory).

The rock theme continues.  I have some arrowheads.  I keep them because they’re cool, and because my father, my brother (my last remaining brother) and I walked miles and miles of fields looking for them several years in a row in early spring, right after a rain.  I keep them because someone spent a long time making them – some Indian looked for the right rock, and began chipping away all of the excess rock until the arrowhead revealed itself.

So, how do crinoid stems and arrowheads converge in my story?  This is how they converge.  I was looking at arrowheads on eBay, thinking of buying a few nice ones to finish off a frame of arrowheads when I came upon one arrowhead – a single arrowhead on eBay. Unless the arrowhead is rare and valuable, no one sells a single arrowhead, but on this particular day, someone was doing just that.  They had it listed as “Arrowhead with a hole in it.”

Look, no self-respecting arrowhead collector would ever intentionally buy a single arrowhead with a hole in it.   But I like to collect odd things, and the description “self-respecting” left this old body long ago.  So, I clicked on the link to look at the arrowhead; and sure enough, it had a hole in it.  What makes the arrowhead unusual, and of interest to me is that the hole looked a lot like a doughnut.  The hole had a ring around it.  I zoomed in as close as I could to discover that hole with the ring around it was, in fact, a fossilized crinoid stem.

Here’s the thing.  At some time in the past – not sure how long ago – some Indian found a rock with something in it.  He (or she) kept it because it was odd – maybe he liked it because it was cool.  He (or she) put his (or her) imagination to work and chipped away all of the excess rock until the arrowhead revealed itself.  I like to think about this Indian and what motivated him (damn it! or her) to make an arrowhead that had no real value because the hole makes it damn near useless as an arrowhead – but that hole – the fossilized crinoid stem – made that arrowhead cool.  I am thinking the reason the Indian made the arrowhead with the hole in the middle was – for the same reason I keep it – because it’s cool!

When old becomes elderly

I turned 68 this past year which means I am less than two years away from being 70.  That is not an age I look forward to.  It is, in my mind, the age when we go from being old to being elderly.  And elderly is one of the words people use when it is time to start looking for a retirement home or a nursing home – or to start making plans to move in with one of the kids.  God help them; God help me!

I think of 70 in this manner.  If life were a flight across the ocean on a Boeing 747, 70 is the age when the pilot shuts off the in-flight entertainment system, and announces the cockpit is making preparations to land.  It is the time when he (or she) tells the cabin crew to prepare for the landing and tells all of us passengers to return to our seats, to make sure our tray tables are up, to make sure our seats are up, to give all of our trash to the attendants and to turn off all of our electrical devices.  It is that time when the attendants walk down the aisle to make sure we have our seat belts fastened.  It is that part of the flight that is filled with a certain amount of apprehension.  Will the plane crash on landing?  Will my luggage be at the terminal or will it be lost?  Will I go to Heaven?  If two out of three ain’t bad, I am more than willing to give up my luggage.

Things being what they are, I am not optimistic that I have another ten years to live.  I suspect I will be lucky to make it to 75.  It seems a lot of people die around that age; and from what I can tell, I tend to be one of those “down the middle” kind of people when it comes to statistics and shit like that.  I am old – on the verge of elderly – so I can use word like shit.

I have a brother who is two years, two months and one week older than me.  We are the last remaining members of a family of five boys – six boys if you count the first child who died shortly after birth.  My mother saw fit to count him and mourned his death all of her life so I think I will count him too.  With that in mind, perhaps I should correct myself,  we are the last members of a family of six boys.    Anyway, my brother, by rights of first in – first out, should die before me by at least two years, two months and one week.  I am hoping that doesn’t happen.  He has grandchildren who love him and for their sake, I hope he lives longer than me.  I hope he is the last man standing so his two grandchildren can get the maximum benefit of his benevolent ignorance.  It isn’t really ignorance – more like southern pseudo wisdom under the guise of entertainment.   They, his granddaughters, love that and love him.

My mother lived to be 92. Ever hear of the term “one off?”  That, I am afraid, is what my mother was.   My father died in his late 50s, my brother got killed in the Navy when he was 26 or so, another brother died when he was in his mid 60s and another brother died in his early 60s.  Taking my mother out of the equation, I am already tilting my family’s longevity scale.  My brother has tilted it even more than me – again by two years, two months and one week.

I do not mind coming to grips with my pending death.  I have lived a fairly interesting life and I am grateful to God that my journey went from being a sharecropper chopping cotton for $4 a day to flying in the back seat of Navy attack aircraft, to living in Europe and having expensive dinners at fine restaurants in Amsterdam, Paris, Cologne, London, Stockholm and Turin.  I am grateful that I have two children who, just by thinking of them, give me joy, and a wife who has put up with me all these years.

Before this metaphorical plane that is my life lands, I have some shit that I need to get done.  I spent most of my adult life looking after my wife and children, making whatever sacrifices I had to make for their individual and collective benefits.  I gladly put aside whatever I wanted to do – what was important to my self-identity to make sure the three of them could extend themselves to distant horizons.   The thing is, now that I believe I am within seven or so years of the end of my life, I have shit to do.  People call it a bucket list.  I don’t.  I just have some things that I need to do.  One of those is to write a ten volume series of novellas, to finish a novel I am writing, and to learn to draw and paint several painting that simply will not leave my poor bedraggled mind.   These are the things I have to do within the next seven or ten years to confirm my identity, to prepare for land, so to speak.  The plane is circling.

Reckoning

By DG Crum

Oh, how I fear to walk that final path,
To bring to end my destiny,
For I have carried not the load
My Master gave to me.

Politics – the hard way

Upfront, I apologize for this being so long.

Generally speaking, I should not be using this site for political comment because I do not want to alienate readers, but I am going to make a comment this one time.  I think that what I have to say is not about one party versus the other or one candidate versus the other, but more about one of the mistakes we are making in the way we view our political system. I think, if we change that, we would start to resolve some of our social and political problems.

It seems to me that we, as a nation of people,  are so polarized that it has become difficult to ever see a path toward coalescence, and this polarization is creating conflict:

  • between males and females,
  • between gun owners and those who would limit gun ownership,
  • between those who believe in the rights of a woman to control her reproductive system versus those who would place limits on those rights,
  • between races and origins,
  • between economic classes,
  • between people of differing sexual orientation (weird way of describing that, I think)
  • and between people with varying levels of education.

Instead of a nation of 322 million people working as a team to solve our problems, we are fracturing our culture and breaking ourselves up into competing teams.  I believe we can easily find evidence that this approach is not only not solving our problems, but may be creating additional problems.

The problem, as I see it, is that we view our political orientation as being either Right (conservatives), Middle (moderates), or Left (Liberals).  It is a plane that serves as a sliding scale where folks who are very conservative see themselves as having nothing in common with folks who are very liberal.  It looks like this.

political plane

This system came to us from the French National Assembly in the late 1780s.  The labels of Left and Right came about because of where politicians sat, in relationship to the president, based upon their beliefs regarding the government. Those who sat to the left did so because they believed in revolution while those who sat to the right believed in religion and the king.  The press used the labels Left and Right as a means of easily describing a politician’s position on the issue of revolution or support for the king.    Today, as we apply this model to our country, we tend to make it a ‘one or the other’ scenario – no liberal can agree with a conservative and vice versa or the press tells us the sky is falling.

I believe the model we use to describe our political system would better serve us if it were a circle instead of a plane.  I feel it should look like this.

political_model

With this model, we can see where Liberals on the extreme left and Conservatives on the extreme right (both considered radicals) can often have similar ideals regarding such issues as government involvement in our lives.  It would explain why the ACLU often has similar ideals regarding the Constitution as do Libertarians.  Oddly enough, people whose politics tend to be radical in either the Liberal or Conservative ideology tend to be polar opposite of people who consider themselves Moderate.

The model I’ve drawn is not quite accurate but it is the best I can do.  The reality is that the blue Moderate range extends more into the  Liberal and Conservative ranges, when seen as a percent of the population.  For most social issues such as gun ownership, women’s reproductive rights, involvement in the wars of other countries, etc., better than 60% of the population fall in the moderate range.

I look forward to your feedback on this.

Make inanimate object display emotion…..

The instructor for our drawing class gave us the assignment of drawing an inanimate object and having it display emotion. We could not put eyes, lips, etc, on the object; but instead, we had to draw the object in a setting that would display emotion.

I kept thinking about that assignment and how it fits my life. My poor wife has been trying to get my inanimate butt to show some kind of motion around the house – to do some work. I know it is not the same as emotion, but still, for this story, go with me on it. It is not as easy as it would seem it should be. I am getting lazier as I get older and no matter how much work I do, there is still a great deal of work left to be done.

This is my second or third drawing and while I did not achieve all that the teacher wants me to achieve (does anyone, ever?), I think I did okay since I have only been in class for one month.

Wish I could be a minimalist……

I’ve got too much crap. My house borders on being a landfill which probably means I live on the hoarder border. It is an addiction, and it’s not so much that I want to own stuff as it is an abused need to set things right. I want to be a hero to inanimate objects, and that is a problem.

When, for example, I see a table that needs some loving care, such as some wood glue, a few repaired or replaced pieces, a new finish or is just cool but …. broken, I will buy it. I bought an old rocker that had three good legs and one split leg that had so damn many nails in it (26 to be exact) that I kept the chair…. and the leg. (If I ever need an antique nail, I may know where to find one.) The chair had sat under a leaky something and suffered from water damage along the back and in the seat. I pretty much cleaned all that up, had a friend make a new leg out of oak, and then refinished the rocker. It now sits in our family room which is pitifully overcrowded with five desk, two sofas, two overstuffed chairs, a recliner, and two office chairs, a TV and stand, a book case thing made from an old ladder (another one of my misguided efforts to save something), an old trunk that I want to convert into something, and a curio full of stuff I’ve saved. Do you see what I mean?

I bought an 18 inch round beveled mirror the other day at The Salvation Army. I think it comes from the 50s. You know why I bought it? Because it was dirty and had crap crusted on it and I felt sorry for it. Yep! I felt sorry for a mirror – not because it had my reflection in it – that’s a whole different story. I bought it because the glass is thick and I can make a nice mirror top table with it. All I have to do now is find a small round table that has been mistreated and pulls at my heart strings, saying “Mr. Weird Man, will you please save me, I didn’t always look like this.” And I will buy it, find the mirror – after I’ve moved it from one place to the other five or six times – and create a nice little mirror top table. Or I won’t and the mirror will just get put out in my next garage sale this spring.

One of these days I will die and if my wife is still alive and lucid (my wife says I am driving her crazy – how damn far can that journey be?), all of my stuff will either go out on an estate type sale or will be placed into one of those large garbage skids to be taken away. I plea the 5th on any scenario that might occur if I outlive my wife. Regardless, when both my wife and I are gone, our son and daughter will bring in two large skids and empty the house. That seems like a good plan.

Writing a novel…………..

I wrote a short story and posted it in four parts on Scribophile. (Actually it’s a novelette because it is 12,500 or so words long.)  I might have mentioned, in a previous post, that Scribophile is something like a virtual water cooler, where writers and wannabee writers gather to discuss and compare stories.  Now might also be a good time to mention that I have a website with the URL of The Virtual Writer.  Seems like a perfect fit, doesn’t it?

A man who identifies himself as Memphis Trace read Part One of my four part story and said, “Hooo, boy, you got the beginnings of a good story here.”  His critique was so good and helpful because he told me stuff like “instead of saying ‘in comparison to’ say ‘in contrast with.”  May not sound like much but it was like one of those moments when you are trying to put a piece of jig saw puzzle that has three tabs and one pocket into an open spot on the semi assembled puzzle, and it just doesn’t fit right, and the picture on your piece of puzzle doesn’t quite match the scene surrounding the hole, and someone, usually your husband or wife, walks up, looks at the puzzle, picks up a piece from the unused pile and places it (viola – pronounced waa – laa because it’s French) into the hole like any child (including your cousin’s really stupid one) could’ve figured that out.

So, this man who calls himself Memphis Trace reads the remaining parts of my novelette and tells me I need to fill in the back story (that is a writing term meaning ‘before this happened, this other thing happened’) and convert this novelette into a full-fledged novel.  I tell him I had plans for 10 novelettes in a series (sort of like Longmire – but I ain’t going to admit I am copying off Longmire with the 10 episode series thing).  He tells me what he wants to read – how this happened and how that came to be – and so I am now working to convert my novelette into a novel.  Today, I get an email from him telling me I got enough ideas for a number of novels.  I am, if nothing else, motivated to write novels provided I can convince my wife that writing novels and drawing stuff is more important than fixing the gaping hole in the family room ceiling or remodeling the ‘en suite’ (also French) bathroom which I had to gut when we moved here because of the black mold, or finishing the back drop on the kitchen counter, or finishing the ceramic tile work in the main bathroom, or finishing the trim on the floor, or finish painting the living room and foyer (another damn French word), or fixing the lighting I screwed up.

Truth is, I probably ought to replace those broken panes and put some stairs on that upstairs front door.

Just say NO! to technology……….

Yesterday, my computer crashed three times. It just shut the hell down, once when I was in the middle of writing a message to someone on Scribophile (a virtual water fountain for writers and would-be writers).I am sure some folks would see the solution to this problem right off.  “Darryl” they would say, “Just go buy a new one.” What they do not realize is that I am on a fixed income.  I like that it is called ‘fixed’ when, in reality, it doesn’t fix a damn thing. In fact, the more ‘fixed’ my income becomes, the more ‘broke’ I become.

Back to the story.  I cannot completely blame my computer, because it is getting old.  In computer years, which is like dog years cubed, it was here when the oldest Sequoia tree was a sapling.  (Do you get my metaphor – if  that is what it is – about computer ages?)  Recently, one of the CTRL keys fell off and I cannot figure out how to get it back on. I am not at a complete loss with that happening because this computer (according to the salesman who sold it to me) is extra special because it has two CTRL keys.  I guess, realistically speaking, I have only lost half of my control over this computer and the bonafide crap I produce on it under the guise of fiction.

The computer is also missing the cover over the hard drive which

is on the bottom so I do not have to be reminded that I lost the cover unless I pick up the computer and feel the hard drive.  Then, the first thing that comes to mind is guilt.  I am slowly crippling this old friend. It is a bit like cutting off one hind leg of a pet pig so you can have some ham for dinner and still have your pet pig.  Sort of.  We are not here for Metaphors and Similes – those two Greek cities can go elsewhere to battle.Anyway, I am slowly getting to the subject of this post.  That is to say, I am getting tired of technology and I am about to rebel against it and go back to my ‘old school’ ways.  That is what I think, as I drink my coffee made in my Nespresso coffee brewing machine.  Then, I remember the day when my dad first used an old A Model John Deere to plow our cotton.  He was amazed.  Up until that day, he had to use a team of mules, and with my dad’s disability (one lung had been deflated and destroyed during a debauched surgery), using those mules was pretty damn hard on him.  It took his several days to plow 16 acres of cotton.  I remember the first day he plowed with that tractor and how he just kept going on about how he could plow a field in a few hours when, prior to that tractor, it took him a couple of days.

Every picture tells a story, don’t it………

I am trying to learn to draw.  It’s a skill I’ve wanted to master most of my life and now I am taking a course in basic drawing.  I believe there is something in every story teller that says, “I wish I could draw a picture here so they could see that better.”, and yet, it might be better when we can’t.

You see, there is a tenet in writing that says you must show, not tell.  That means you must find a way to let the reader see what you want them to see, i.e, the man was tall, without actually saying, “The man was tall.”  I am afraid that if I could learn to draw and could use that skill to illustrate a tall man, I might not do a good job of describing, in sufficient and appropriate words, that the man was tall.

Still, I want to learn to draw.  The bitch of it is, doing that takes away from the one thing I love to do which is telling stories.  Sometimes I would rather do that than sleep – were that not the case, these characters of mine would not come into my bedroom in the wee hours of the morning wanting attention.

Truth in blogging – I did not draw the man to the left.  I borrowed him from the internet until I can replace him with one of my own.

Drawriter?

The war within me on whether I would direct my talents toward drawing or writing was fought and the lines drawn when I was in junior high school.

As I recall, my initial desire was to be able to draw, to be an artist.  It wasn’t so much that I chose art over writing as it was that Mrs. Sybil Rogers, my English and grammar teacher, rolled out far too many rules regarding punctuation and grammar, and she forced me (well, the class) to do things like memorize and be able to repeat all of the prepositions.  She made me diagram sentences more complex than a treasure hunter’s map to the Ark of the Covenant.  It got to be daunting.

Art, on the other hand, was just a matter of picking up a pencil and drawing stuff on paper.  Unfortunately, my ‘drawings’ were not so good. The people I drew looked like dogs, my dogs looked like horses (or something with three legs and possibly a fence post), and my horses looked like they were genetic experiments conducted by some visiting aliens (not to be confused with undocumented workers).

So, while Mrs. Rogers was making the life of an artist look more and more inviting, the trouble with learning that vocation stemmed directly from the fact that, while I had to take an English course of some type, every year for the 12 years of my education, my little school did not offer one course in drawing.  After wasting an enormous amount of time trying to draw animate and inanimate objects, I gave up.  I changed my perspective, so to speak.

I learned to write.  My mother and father liked my writing, and I was given considerable encouragement from Mrs. Rogers and Mrs. Legg (two remarkable bastions of the English language).   When I went to the University, my teachers constantly encouraged me to write.  “Could be another Faulkner.  He has the life experiences.”  One teacher’s opinion, another thinks differently, “Hemingway – maybe?” Teacher One thinks not, “No, Faulkner.  DG likes to color all over the language while keeping within the lines.” How could I deny the words and opinions of such experts?  Why else would I pay so much money to attend the university if I did not respect the opinions of these tenured professors.  I apologize, Mr. Faulkner.

I never became a writer. Hell no!  I was brought into this world as a sharecropper, and I was pretty damn sure – having suffered enough years of it – I was not going to go out of this world as a sharecropper.  I got a job working in industry and gave up every dream I ever had because, upon my nagging insistence, my wife gave me a son and a daughter.  Nothing – not one thing in my bucket of dreams – mattered as much as keeping them secure.  Writers have a problem doing that.

I retired.  My battling days were over.  I stepped off the battlefield and settled down to a life of repairing a huge house.  Trouble is, the battle on whether to be a writer or to be able to draw had not ended. In the midst of thinking I had finally found tranquility in my “I wanna’ be a…” battle,  I learned it was never settled.  Apparently, it was just a cease fire until reinforcements could be mustered.

Now, I have sixty something years of stories that have built up inside of me complete with settings, characters, conflicts, and resolutions, and all of them waiting for a chance to be seen and heard.  I took a course – a great teacher – and I stepped back onto that metaphorical battlefield first with short stories that became novelettes that are now becoming novels. It seems I am also back back in college now to learn to draw because I have images – paintings – that demand to be made a part of this world.

The battle – screw it, I call a truce. These two will just have to figure out how to peacefully co-exist.  Meanwhile, my wife wants me to finish the work on this big ass house.

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