Archive for the ‘books’ Category

Your mother would know

March 19, 2017

Well goll-ee.

Lights

Let’s all get up and wave to a tune that was a hit soon after your mother was born;

though she was born a long long time ago,

your mother would know;

your mother would know.

And your grandmother

and your father and your grandfather.

AlbertJohn

Uncle Albert would know it too– Uncle Albert Schram, who conducted the orchestra last night.

You see him here in the background of this alternative-fact unauthorized photo.

In fact, Albert knows those old Beatles tunes so very thoroughly. He conducted the Charlotte Pops through an incredibly rousing symphonic accompaniment last night.  I could hardly believe it.

Take the infamous John Lennon composition Day in the Life piece, for instance. It’s on Sergeant Pepper’s.

When I first heard that strange finale in 1967, my sixteen-year-old mind didn’t know what to make of it.

Whatever it meant or did not mean (we were all wondering), it signaled that the Beatles had turned a huge corner in their musical development, from pop-music fab-four phenom to . . . ???

“. . . found my way upstairs and had a smoke. Somebody spoke and I went into a dream, Ohhhh, oh oh ohhhh. . .”

Now in 2017, it means. . .hell, I don’t know what it means.

That such a cacophonic  cadence as that Day in the Life finale could actually be orchestrally performed was amazing to me last night. All these years, I thought it was just Brian Epstein’s  or George Martin’s studio tricks.

Tony Kishman, the musician who fulfills the Paul McCartney role, pointed out that John, Paul, George and Ringo had never done this with a live symphony back in the day when they were in their heyday. Pretty interesting, I thought. Now their aged Sgt. Pepper’s studio wizardry has morphed into this phenomenal “tribute” event performed by an incredibly talented Beatles-tribute band. And however many hundreds or thousands of us geezers were enthusiastically waving our lit-up phones while singing.

“Naa naa naa, na na na naa, na na na nah, Hey Jude!”

“Take a sad song and make it better. . .”

Take an old song, and make it rock again . . . is what these guys do, the Classical Mystery Tour (they call themselves) along with our jubilant audience-participle thronging of us when-I-get-older-losing-my-hair baby boomers. I mean it was, like, so far out man.

Just how many 64-year-olds there were waving their devices and singing Hey Jude in that theatre last night, I do not know. But I can tell you this. A rocking good time was had by all, including the band. Just some good clean fun, y’all.

Tony also said something to us that, as he so poignantly pointed out, Paul had never said to a Beatles audience.  “Visit our website.”

Haha! Ain’t it the truth. Who’d have thunk it, that all this stuff would happen since those halcyon smoky days of yore.

    http://www.classicalmysterytour.com/

But hey, life goes on. Times change, and most of us get a little stuck in our minds back in that time of unsure discovery when we passed through teendom while wearing bell-bottoms, wondering who Lucy in the Sky was. And if you’re have trouble remembering the ’60’s, it’s probably because. . .

Never mind. Beneath the surface, something very special was always going on.

PianoPaul

Underneath it all, such a time as that had never happened before, nor would ever again.

But this is true even now; its part of the mystery tour of this life. Our kids will never view it, nor comprehend it, the same way we did. Nor could we see it the way our parents did.

Our parents had grown up in the 1930’s with Glenn Miller and Duke Ellington, Louie Armstrong and George Gershwin, and that was all well and good and they did their thing.

That greatest generation–who then grew up to  fight the Nazis back into their holes back in the 1940’s–that generation came back from the Big War, started generating us boomers like there’s no tomorrow. And at some point in the ’60’s, there was indeed some serious question about whether there would BE a tomorrow, because Khruschev and Kennedy almost blew the whole damn world up over those alternative-fact nukes down in Cuba.

When we boomers came along, the old War–the one they call WWII–was so intense, and still fresh in our parents’ memory and experience. But it was just history-book stuff for us. As John had sung:

“I read the news today, oh boy, the English army had just won the war.

A crowd of people turned away, but I just had to look,

having read the book.”

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, read a newspaper, or a book, or hazard a listen.

Smoke

“The Press”

January 24, 2017

Our world was forever changed when, about 577 years ago, Johann Gutenberg devised an effective way to reproduce printed documents. His invention enabled the printer man to apply controlled mechanical pressure to an inked image in a manner that facilitated efficient multiple printings.

When the printer man repeatedy applied “the press” (more about this later) to those blank pages, the world was changed forever.

Gutenberg’s innovation enabled printers to print multiple editions of documents and books. Our Library of Congress recently displayed  a centuries-old Bible that was printed by means of the Gutenberg innovation.

BiblMainz

The printing industry progressed rapidly. It wasn’t very long before books and other documents were being churned out all over the world in great numbers.

Books have changed the world.

Our fascination with the stories, literature and information we find in books has revolutionized the way we live. In the late 1800s, the American artist John Frederick Peto painted this image of a pile of books. His picture, recently displayed in our National Gallery of Art, captures the fascination that I find within those printed pages.

BooksPntg

The spread of printing throughout the globe induced an information revolution that has affected the way we think about, and do, just about everything. As people became more and more literate, news of the times we live in became a larger and larger factor in the ways people think about the world. People in the modern world use news and contemporary information  to inform their decisions, and modify their strategies for living life successfully.

TimesLon'37

News became such an obsessive element in our modern life that large institutions were built for the purpose of informing people about what’s happening in our world.

ChiTrib2

Those massive news-spouting institutions now find themselves being cornered into a different role.  The big picture of 21st-century information dispersal is being turned on its ear by an unruly multiplicity of online mini-sources. This development is along the lines of what George Orwell called the “brave new world.”

Actually, it’s the wild, wild West out there. What we have now is like a million Okies hightailing it across the internet prairie, every one of us hell-bound to claim our little stake of the cyber-dirt that’s now being divvied up for the media of the masses.

Or “dictatorship of the proletariat”, if that’s what rings your chimes.

It used to be that “The Press” was all those journalists and editors who gathered and published the news on a daily basis.

But not any more. Our meaning of “the press” is now something else entirely, and I’m not sure how to define or describe it.

But I do surmise that our new understanding of “the press” has something to with that collective pressure applied by reporters on public spokespersons.

Here’s an example. Sean Spicer, the new White House Press Secretary, argues with The Press about how many people showed up for the inauguration.

PressCon

That’s The Press now, and this disconnect between “us” and “them” is the new “news.”

Lastly, as Uncle Walter might have said:

And that’s the way it is, Tuesday, January 24, 2017.

Glass half-Full

A Woman from the War

January 13, 2017

I think it was several thousand years ago that we heard about a war between the Greeks and the Trojans. And this collective memory in our mankind memory bank is evidence that this war thing that we hear about– and sometimes catch a glimpse of while others of us jump bravely into the fray–this war thing has been with us for a long time.

Now it is not very often you meet a woman who has spent 28 years in the US Army, but this is what happened to me yesterday.

I walked into a room where some folks in my hometown were gathered for a certain purpose, and at the end of the meeting I met Lieutenant Colonel Lory Whitehead. What she had to say seemed important to me, so I gave her some money and she handed me a book of poems she had written. This is what happens in America. She had something to sell, and I bought it. And when I read the little book of poems it knocked my sox off. May we always be so free to exchange information without censorship and without meddling from whomever is surveilling at any particular place and time.

I’ve never been in the military, but I know people who have served us in that way. I have no understanding of what these brave souls go through; but because I read Lory’s collection of letters, memoirs and poems that she collected over almost fifty years, I at least have some feeling about what these people go through to defend our freedom.

I was born in 1951. But about ten years before I came into this world, there was one hell of a big war that happened on this planet. While growing up, I learned about it in school, and every now and then I’d meet someone who fought in it, but it wasn’t until much later in life–like about a year ago when I began seriously researching a different war, the war that dominated the politics of my youth. (You know the one I’m talking about.)

Twenty years before we got into Vietnam, when the Big War was going on– the one where we drove the Nazis back into their holes– most of us Americans who were alive at that time, early 1940’s, banded together for the purpose of winning the damned thing.

At that time, women played a large part in our collective effort to defeat the Axis powers (Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Emperor-worshipping Japan), but what the women were doing then was not much connected to combat. You’ve probably heard that old song from the period about Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy from Company B. That song, always sung by a female vocal group, is closely associated with the role of our women during World War II–to mostly act in supportive roles, Stateside.

All that changed (like everything else) in the 1960’s when women became more and more directly involved in our military endeavors. By the time of Desert Storm, women were taking some combat roles.

Lt. Col. Lory Whitehead’s poems include profound reflections of her experience in war, most notably in Kosovo.

What I would like to bring to your attention today is a poem that whe wrote and published in her 2014 book, reluctant warriors. The poem I have selected is: mama’s two hands. I never in my life thought I would read anything like this, but as it turns out, I have read it, and perhaps you should too. Read ’em and weep.

mama was a soldier, her right hand

knew how to hold a salute

and had learned to fire

handguns and automatic weapons,

even grenade launchers

that strong hand waved men

forward as she led them

into harm’s way.

and covered her eyes in pain

at memorial services

for fallen comrades.

mama was mama, her left hand

held a nursing baby to her breast

and was always available

to erase the tears of toddlers

frightened by loud noises.

that was the gentle hand, it pulled

errant children out of danger

and toasted the living

at weddings and christenings.

poor mama, it was often difficult

to keep each separate hand

in its proper place

and always the right hand

would be envying what

the left hand was doing.

RelWarrior
(Copyright © 2014 by Lory Whitehead)

Reading a poem like this made me realize just how much the world has changed, even in the time-range of my lifetime. And this world is still changing, probably getting faster and faster. Because: while humans have always been changing, modern technology has enabled us to step up the pace of change, exponentially. I’m just hoping it does not spins out of control beyond repair.

Nevertheless, if our world does ever spin out of control, my ultimate hope is in Christ, which is to say, God. Not any man, nor woman.

Smoke

How Future comes Present

January 11, 2017

InfoMcL

I was born and raised as a child in the 1950’s. During that unique period of history, the USA was growing in many ways. Our military infrastructure, which had been necessarily pumped up during the big war in the early 1940’s, was morphing into an expansive peacetime economy. While we had needed tanks, guns, airplanes, aircraft carriers, etc in 1943, by 1953 our nascent prosperity demanded automobiles, interstate highways, refrigerators, washing machines and all the features of what was fast becoming modern life in America.

In the midst of all that economic expansion and life-changing technology, television entered the picture in a big way.

My g-generation was the first to grow up with TV, and this made a big difference in the way we thought and felt about everything. Now no one really knew what to expect of us baby boomers, because there never had been before, in the history of the world, a generation of kids who grew up with that lit-up screen projecting the world into everybody’s living room.

So the old folks, most notably Lyndon Johnson, were taken by surprise when, in the 1960’s, half the kids had no interest in carrying on with the capitalistic crusades of previous generations. We had not lived through that earlier time–the 1940’s–in which the USA’s “greatest generation” had shed blood and sweated blood and shed tears for the purpose of defeating national socialism and fascism in the world.

Furthermore, we grew up with a TV in the living room, and that changed everything.

Now our children–the X-er’s, the millenials, etc–are manifesting a similar sea-change, as they are growing up, and have grown up, in the age of the internet. So it seems to me that my generation, the boomers, are now carrying the burden of watching a bunch of kids come along who have a totally different worldview. While we were natives of the TV age, they are natives of the Online age.

Now the question in my mind is, how will they be different from us?

During the past year or so, I have been studying the historical time in which I grew up, while at the same living in the present, and seeking to understand the times in which our three children (now in their thirties)  have grown up.

My research led me to consider the work of Marshall McLuhan.

If you don’t know who he is, but you are wondering, google it.

For the sake of simplicity in this presentation, I will say that he accurately figured out, early on, a few things about the effects of TV and radio on my generation. He was prescient, which means he could see where things were headed, where history was taking us, into a wide world of information exploration. Here is an example of what I’m talking about.

On May 8, 1966, while being interviewed by Robert Fulford on Canadian Broadcasting, Marshall McLuhan described future communication* in this way:

“Instead of going out and buying a packaged book of which there have been five thousand copies printed, you will go to the telephone, describe your interests, your needs, your problems, and say you’re working on a history of Egyptian arithmetic. You know a bit of Sanskrit, you’re qualified in German, and you’re a good mathematician, and they say it will be right over. And they at once xerox, with the help of computers from the libraries of the world, all the latest material just for you personally, not as something to be put on a bookshelf. They send you the package as a direct personal service. This is where we’re heading under electronic information conditions. Products are increasingly becoming services.”

*quoted from page 101 of : Understanding Me, lectures and interviews, Marshall McLuhan; ed. Stephanie McLuhan and David Staines, with foreword by Tom Wolfe

The above quote was spoken presciently by Marshall McLuhan in 1966.

Now, in 2017, here is my revision of his statement, according to how his prediction has actually played out:

Instead of opening the Encyclopedia, you will use your electronic device to key in a word or phrase for your search. You may refine the search including a keyword about, for instance,  the history of rocket science. The online services know that: you have an interest in physics, you’ve got a BA level of information usage, and you can lean on your device for any calculations necessary. In the blinking of an eye, the search results pops up on your screen. You choose, let’s say, the Wikipedia link for starters, because you know the site’s sources are populated by researchers and their databases all over the world. Then you get to pick and choose which linked info you want to include in your own work. This is where we have evolved to under “electronic information conditions.” Information has become both a product and a service.

If you compare McLuhan’s prediction with my interpretation of how this has played out in the real world of 2017, the textual exercise could be instructive about how history actually develops, as compared to how we think it might unfold: close, perhaps, but not exact.

And here’s something to ponder.  About nineteen and a half centuries ago, Paul of Tarsus wrote:

“For now, we see through a glass, darkly.”

Which to me means: we can formulate educated guesses about what the future holds, but the picture is not clear to us. So, what else is new?  It’s up to you to find out. My experience says this could take a lifetime of learning.

King of Soul

The Snowbird Lesson

December 30, 2016

When I was a child in Mississippi, we had a book about birds of North America. For some reason, I know not what, I became fascinated by a certain bird that was pictured therein. It was the snowbird. Being a boy from the deep south, I had not seen much snow, which was a rarity where I come from.

Perhaps that rarity factor is the reason I was fascinated by the picture of the snowbirds in my little book.

Now I’m sixty-five, and living in the Blue Ridge mountains, which can be quite snowy this time of year.

Early this morning, December 30, we did discover the first snow of the season, and I have to tell ya– along with the whitey flakes the snowbirds made their visit known to us.

Snowbird

Later in life, When I had become young man, I became fascinated with a song called “Snowbird” that was a hit on the radio at that time, 1960’s. It was a tear-jerker tune, sung perfectly by a lady known as the Canadian songbird, Annie Murray.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pq9bHd58-LA

“Snowbird” is a sad song about unrequited love.

“When I was young, my heart was young then too. Anything that it would tell me–that’s the thing that I would do.

But now I feel such emptiness within for the thing that I want most in life’s the thing that I can’t win. . .

and

“The breeze along the river seems to say, that she’ll only break my heart again, should I decide to stay.

So little snowbird take me with you when you go to that land of gentle breezes where the peaceful waters flow.”

. . . and yet, beneath the poem’s cold mantle of forlornness there is a trace of hope, a mention of “flowers that will come again in spring.

As it turned out, in my life the flowers did “come again in spring.” Those misadventures in love that later became a flood of heartache ultimately were buried in the fertile ground of life’s demands. Not only were seeds of new love sewn providentially into my life, but those seeds have yielded new flowers and more seeds.

Yet still, “the snowbird sings the song he always sang, and, as it turns out, eats the seeds always needs.

The snowbirds visited our house this morning, and wow! did they have a feast!

Snohello

Those little critters are much like the two humans–my wife and I–who find much joy in providing seed for them during this snowy season. There’s Snowy on the ledge, and his wifey down in the tree:

SnoMates

Thanks to love and marriage, which go together, you know, like a horse and carriage, or like . . . snowbirds and snow, my life has turned out to be a love feast instead of the festival of the broken-hearted that might have been, had not a wonderful loving woman come in and changed all that lovesick blues to pure white marital love, 37 years of it.

I wouldn’t trade marital love for anything in the world. It’s so much better than the broken heart that might have become bitterness. Thank God for true love that is lasting and faithful.

Here’s another version of the song, “Snowbird,” as recorded by the songwriter, Hank Snow.

   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JBwqqH0LTyI

And here’s a parting pic of little Snowy with his Finchy friend.

Snowb&finch

Glass half-Full

Symbols that Unite or Divide

November 16, 2016

AmFlag

Here’s a timely excerpt from Glass half-Full, the novel I wrote in 2007:

Marcus opened a can of turpentine. He tipped it slightly so that its upper contents would spill onto a rag that lay on the parking lot next to his car. With the rag partially soaked, he began rubbing on the driver’s-side door. Someone had painted a black swastika on it while he was working late. His cell phone rang.

He opened it, looked at the mini-screen, saw “Grille,” which stood for Jesse James Gang Grille. In the last few days, however, whenever he would see “Grille” displayed as the caller ID, it registered in his mind as “Girl,” meaning Bridget, because she would often call from there.

“Hi.”

“Marcus, have you heard about the explosion?”

“No, where?”

“At the Belmont Hotel, about 20 minutes ago.”

The Belmont was just two blocks from the restaurant.

“That’s where the FEF convention is. Aleph told me he would be going there tonight. Has anybody been down there to see what’s happening?”

“Kaneesha left here right after we heard it, but she hasn’t returned. I don’t think anybody’s getting in there for awhile. The police have got the whole block barricaded.”

“I want to find out if anything has happened to Aleph. Don’t you think he would have left there by now?

“The TV News says the police aren’t letting anyone in or out except rescue workers.”

“I’m headed over there in a few minutes, as soon as I get the car-door cleaned up. Someone painted a swastika on it.”

LincMemNit

Glass half-Full

America Bleeding

November 7, 2016

In the middle of my teenage years, back in the day, I was a high school student. On the other side of the city where I grew up, our state university provided education for thousands of students who had already matriculated to the college level of learning.

Here is a picture which I lifted, by iPhone helicoptering technology, from a book that I recently perused. The image depicts a campus walkway, circa 1965, where students are going into and out of the LSU student Union building. A few years after this photograph was snapped, I became one of those students, 1969 version, who traipsed from class to class on the campus of LSU.

LSUnionWalk

The book from which this image is lifted is linked here:

  https://www.amazon.com/Treasures-LSU-Laura-F-Lindsay/dp/0807136786

This morning, while viewing this photo as part of the research for the novel that I am now composing, I found something interesting about it. Take a look at the apparel that these students are wearing. Most of them are clothed in solid colors, which, in this photo, registers as either black or white. On almost every student whose garb depicts this black/white arrangement, the black is on the lower half of the body–the pants, or skirt part.

Considering the way Americans dress nowadays, this seems to be a boringly plain, regimented arrangement. It is, however, perhaps a little more dignified than what we might see at a typical 2016 visit to, say, Walmart, McDonald’s, or any college or university.

Notice, however, that six of these students in the picture are wearing a clothes motif that stands apart from the black/white pattern. And in every one of these six individuals, the fashion statement is the same:

Plaid.

Six students are wearing plaid.

This was a new trend in youthful clothing  during the mid-1960’s. It was, however, the beginning of a virtual tsunami of color that would be be flaunted in the coming years, in the clothes and fashions of young people. By the end of the decade, this small bursting forth of crisscrossed chromaticism would metamorphose into a riot of  self-expressive color displayed uninhibitedly on our young bodies. Thus would we baby boomers strive, in our own threadish way, to find and establish own generational identity.

My memory of this elaborative fashion development began in my eight-grade, 1964-65. The pattern retained in my mind from that time is a certain kind of plaid:

Madras.

The Madras plaid came from India, specifically a city there named Madras, which has since had its name changed to Chennai.

What was really groovy for us back in the day was that Madras plaids had an earthy, handwoven look. The fabric itself had curious little irregularities in it. . . little clumps in the thread, and variations in the weaving. The look and feel of it was a departure from the American stuff, which was obviously machine-made, bland and boring.

So we started wearing the Madras plaid in–I think it was–about 1965. This photograph seems to have captured the very inception of that style-shattering sea-change in our thread preferences.

A very attractive feature of the Madras was this: it bled.

When you washed your plaid shirt, or pants, the colors would “bleed.”

With each washing, the threaded pigments would migrate slightly out into the white regions of the fabric.

This was way-cool.

It was groovy. All that color was leaping out of the grooves of regimented style, testing the compartmentalism of society, violating the tick-tacky of conformity, even setting the stage for a fading American resolve to retain our post-WWII position as policeman of the world.

But this fashionable Madras bleeding was but a small shriveling on the torso of the American corpus writ large.

At the same time, in the mid-1960’s, America was bleeding real, red blood, and it wasn’t cool.

It was hot blood, 98.6 degrees.

America was bleeding in Vietnam.

America was bleeding in the ghettoes of the cities.

America was bleeding in Selma.

America was bleeding in Watts, in Detroit.

America would bleed in Orangeburg, at Jackson State, at Kent State.

But that was nothing new.

America had bled at  Lexington and Concord, at Yorktown.

America had long been shedding blood in the cotton fields, and at the trading blocks in New Orleans, in Charleston.

America had bled in Kansas, and at Harpers Ferry, Fort Sumter, Antietam.

America bled at Gettysburg and Appammatox.

America bled at Little Big Horn and at Wounded Knee.

America bled through the hands, the arms and backs and feet of thousands of immigrants who drove steel stakes into the railways that stretched all the way from Boston to San Francisco.

America bled at Haymarket, Chicago

America bled prolifically at Verdun, Amiens, Flanders

America hemorrhaged at Pearl Harbor, at Normandy, at the Bulge, at Iwo Jima  and Guadalcanal and Okinawa.

And America continued its bloodletting in Korea, at Inchon.

America bled at Ia Drang, at Khe Sanh,  at Saigon and Hué and Danang.

America wept bloody tears at My Lai.

America bled from Kuwait to Baghdad

America bled in Beirut and Mogadishu, and in Kosovo.

America bled at the Word Trade Center on 9/11.

America bled at Fallujah, and in Helmand, Qandahar and Kabul.

America weeps for the blood shed at Mosul and Aleppo.

America weeps, America bleeds in millions of D&C’d in uteri.

We have always been bleeding somewhere. It is the way of all flesh.

And America is still bleeding; she is bleeding now.

As to which way we will be bleeding tomorrow, that remains, until 11/9, to be seen.

Glass half-Full 

The Bang at Trang Crossroads

September 18, 2016

Here’s ann excerpt from chapter 11 of the new novel, King of Soul, now being written; the scene is Vietnam, about 45 years ago. . .

(Warning: viewer discretion is advised. This passage could affect your feeling of well-being in the world as it presently exists, and as it existed then. . .)

Ahnika was terrified; she was so scared to turn around and then see that plane coming at them, but she turned her head  anyway. The pounding of her bare feet against the road made everything in her terrified vision seem to bounce up and down with insanely out-of-place energized chaos and this only compounded her terror. The planes that usually zoomed above their village had never come this close before. Why was it flying so low, so fast, so directly toward them. And why, since it was bearing down so close, so fast–why were bombs coming out of it, tumbling projectiles? This was not right. There was something wrong. Then came the explosions. It was no bad dream. These bombs were exploding; the smoke was billowing faster than the villagers could run; it was covering the whole world. Her brothers were just ahead, running faster than she could. But Auntie was behind; that’s why Ahnika was looking behind, because Auntie was back there, with little brother in her arms. There was a part of herself–a part of her family–a part of her Vietnamese life still behind her, trying to run, stumbling, falling. Falling?! Auntie had fallen. No No No No!, but no, Auntie had not fallen, but little brother had fallen from her arms; little brother was down on the road. Ahnika saw the look of confused desperation on Auntie’s face, and just as Ahnika was about to try to do something, maybe stop, maybe try to get little brother,  a soldier grabbed him and then little brother was in the soldier’s arms but he was still wailing while the soldier was up and running again. Go! go! he yelled at Ahnika. Just ahead, other villagers were coming fast out of a the hut by the side of the road. Yellow and purple smoke was swirling as they ran through it; now there was bomb smoke behind and yellow and purple smoke ahead where the men had set off the smoke markers that were supposed to mark the temple grounds so their pilots would know where to not drop, but something was wrong and these explosions meant for the Viet Cong were hitting us instead something was wrong. After the first marker plume had fanned out but failed to prevent the pilot from hitting the wrong spots and so after he had dropped his loads off course something was wrong and while the ARVN commander was trying to stop the next drop, Auntie buckled at her knees, reached back behind herself to find out what was wrong with her leg and her pain was registered on her face she was clutching at the back of her leg and now her fingers were stuck together with the sticky napalm and so Auntie did not see it when the soldier who had got little brother took a direct hit of the stuff he was incinerated. But then the white-shrouded Caodai man who had earlier been in the temple with them picked up little brother he was not crying anymore and the whole scene was darkened with smoke and roaring noise and pain so bad you couldn’t even tell where it was coming from but then Ahnika was struck with such a force from behind that she was down on the ground gravel in her mouth in her face and the worst pain ever felt by woman or child behind her, or in her behind in her shoulders, her arms but then she was up again desperate energized by the fear and running, running, pulling at the neck of her clothes because they were too hot, too hot but when she pulled at them then suddenly their entire cloth just fell away and she was up again running, running, wailing naked, crying with the pain, past any understanding of what was happening to them all or why or why or how this burning world could have turned out this way and she had her arms flung out to the sides , like a cross while she wailed and cried, like a cross she appeared and she felt like the pain of the whole world had fell on her shoulders but it was not her shoulders it was somebody’s else’s in the nightmare, somebody else’s writhing, stretched out in pain and taking on the shape of a cross. It wasn’t her any more it was somebody else in that cross, in that Trang crossroads as they ran, ran, toward Cu Chi, but she couldn’t remember who it was taking the brunt of so much pain could it have been her or somebody else as everything in the world is going wrong and the weight of the whole damned world falls on those shoulders stretched out like a damn cross.

King of Soul 

A Boomer Looks Back

September 5, 2016

VietMem2

Now that I’ve been growing up for 65 years, I am at last approaching some semblance of adulthood.

During the course of my baby’boomer lifetime, I have seen some changes; some of them I am actually starting to comprehend.

Now I look back on it all and find myself wondering about some things, but quite sure about some other things.

Several years ago, my wife and I spent some vacation time on the island of Maui, in the great state of Hawaii. While driving one afternoon down the western slope of Hale’akala volcano, we happened upon a memorial to a great man named Sun Yat-sen.

In his lifetime, during the early 20th century–1911, Sun lead many of his countrymen in a revolution that deposed the old monarchy of their country–the Chinese Qing dynasty. But before that happened, he had spent some time in Hawaii; that’s why there’s as statue of him there.

At the base of Sun Yat-sen’s memorial a quote from him is carved in the stone, and this is what is said:

LOOK INTO THE NATURE OF THINGS

Ever since I saw that, I have been working that pearl of wisdom into my way of living as much as I can. And this principle of living and learning has been not only a motivation for me toward acquiring useful knowledge, but also a source of great joy and satisfaction.

This principle is expanded in the Proverbs of the Bible: Understanding is a fountain of life to one who has it. Proverbs 16:22.

Now this may seem like a philosophical idea, but it is really very productive in the living of real life. Here’s a nuts n’ bolts example:

In 1992, when I was still a young man of 41, working as a carpenter to provide for our three children, and for my wife who had not yet become a nurse, and for our household, I took a job with a construction company remodeling (a refurb job) an old K-Mart. My job was to tear old stuff out from around the inside perimeter of the store and replace it with a newer style of retail display.

I had been visiting K-Marts ever since I was a teenager in the 1960’s. So I had been seeing those retail structures for most of my life. But to look behind the facade, into the structure, and then to reconstruct the structure based on newer, more modern components–this work experience held a strange satisfaction for me, as well as a source of income for a season of our life.

Working on that K-Mart was more than a paycheck; it was a joy to behold as the various phases of reconstruction unfolded beneath my hands and before my eyes.

Look into the nature (or structure) of things!

Many years have passed; now I’m looking back on it all. Part of the outcome from this reflection will be a novel that I am now researching and writing. It is a story that takes place during the time of my youth; it has become a cathartic process for reconciling the difference between what I thought I knew then and what I now know about that turbulent period of my g-generation’s growing up.

Ours was the generation whose maturing was said to be delayed because Dr. Spock wrote a book about child care that–as some have judged it–convinced our mothers to spoil us.

While there may be an element of truth to that judgement, I have noticed in my conversations with some people lately that there is category of folks in our boomer generation who were definitely not spoiled:

Those guys and gals who fulfilled their duty to our country by going to fight the war in Vietnam–they found themselves in a situation where they had to grow up in one hell of a hurry.

What I am seeing now is, in my g-generation, there was a great divide between: Them that went, and them that didn’t.

While I was college freshman in 1969, trying to figure out what life was all about, and marching against the war, those guys who who went to ‘Nam were required–and yeah I say unto thee–forced to figure out how to keep life pumping through their bodies and the bodies of their buddies who fought with them.

Those soldiers who went over there had to grow up a lot quicker than I did.

I did not go to Vietnam. My lottery number in 1970 was 349, so I literally “lucked out” of it.

During that time, a time when I was stepping lightly through ivory-tower lala land, our soldiers on the other side of the world were trudging through jungles, heavy-laden with weapons and survival gear. While I was privileged to be extending my literacy skills,  they were committed to learning how to kill the enemy before he kills “us.”

Now it turns out my research about the ’60’s is swirling around two undeniable maelstroms of socio-political showdown: civil rights and the Vietnam war.

So, in my project of looking into the nature of things in the 1960’s, I am learning about that war and how it came to be a major American (undeclared) war instead of just a civil war between Vietnamese.

One thing I have found is that Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara undertook a similar project in 1965. When he was in the thick of it all–as one of the best and brightest industrial leaders of that age, having been recruited as an insider in the White House, then calling the shots on major events, wielding incredible military power on the other side of the planet, in the heat of the moment and in the fog of war, he found himself wanting to know. . .

how the hell did this happen? how the hell did we get here?

McNamara’s question lead to a .gov-commissioned research project, paid for on our taxpayer dime, and ultimately made public by the primary researcher of that undertaking, a former Marine Lt. Col. named Daniel Ellsberg.

Look deep into it. In Ellsberg’s case he looked deep into 7000 pages of military documentation, starting in the 1940’s and going all the way through Tonkin Gulf in 1964.

Look into the nature of things.

I’ll let you know in another year or two–when the book is done– what my search dredges up from the streets and battlefields of our g-generation’s  search to find meaning and fulfillment, and maybe even a little justice and mercy thrown in.

But one thing I want to say, now, to THEM THAT WENT:

Although things did not turn out the way we had intended, there isn’t much in this life that actually does end up like we thought it would.

You went and did what the USA asked, or compelled you, to do, while many of us were trying to pull you back to stateside.

Thank you for your service. We’ll need many more of your stripe before its all over with.

Glass half-Full

Listen: Boomer’s Choice