Posts Tagged ‘writing’

I am so grateful for my fellow Stooshpr member Kenneth Weene for this great little short story. It is full of good humour, pathos and cleverly-observed childhood lives. I commend it to you. Stooshpr is a wonderful Facebook group that enhances the networking of all types of creative people – singers, musicians, radio personalities, writers of all kinds, and so on. If that’s you, I recommend you find out more. And/or checkout #stooshpr on Twitter.

Horatio at the Game

 

baseball-kid

Horatio tries to chew his gum in a manly way. He wants desperately for the other boys to think him one of them, to count him a teammate. They do not. He doubts they ever will.

It would help if he could blow a bubble – not a puny popper, but a real bubble – the kind that would leave a skein of pink gum to peel from his pasty face.

Horatio hates his face. He hates the nickname, Ghost, it has earned. In fact, there is little in his life that Horatio doesn’t hate. For the moment, sitting in the dugout knowing that the coach, Mr. Leven, will reluctantly put him up to bat for a certain out and even more reluctantly order him into the outfield with a muttered prayer that no balls will loft in his direction, for this moment all that hatred is focused on the three sticks of Bazooka that he knows will never yield to his tongue, will never smoothly expand into a giant chicle ball, and will certainly not burst in a moment of ten year old hilarity.

In the bleachers, his mother, determined to humiliate him, waves and points as if his brother – only seven and already a better athlete – cares what Horatio might be doing. Albert is as dismissive as his teammates. He would rather be out on the field throwing and catching and hitting. Horatio knows that his team would prefer Albert out there with them, and Horatio – though he hates to think it – knows that he too would be happier if he were in the stands watching sturdy, muscular, dark-tanned Albert playing for the Steinhartz Cleaners’ Braves.

Horatio had not wanted to play Little League. He knows and fears his limitations. He knows and fears the derision of other kids. That his teachers love him for his reading and arithmetic does nothing to reassure; adults – other than his father and Coach Leven – are easy. They do not require running and jumping; they make believe that throwing and catching are unimportant.

His mother waves again, this time with more energy, more feigned excitement. Without raising his arm, he gesticulates and hopes it will be enough. Why did she have to come? he asks himself already knowing the answer.

Part of him wishes that his father, too, were in the stands. Another bigger part is glad that he is not.

On his right are the other benchwarmers. They sit in the order of their uselessness – Tony closest to the empty space where the nine boys now on the field will sit. Next to Tony – shoulder-to-shoulder – a boy whose name Horatio still doesn’t know. That boy, too, gives a half wave, an embarrassed acknowledgment. Horatio sees the boy’s mother somewhat higher in the stands and somewhat to the left of his own. She is waving, but her movements seem more appropriate, less dramatic, less demanding of attention.

Next to that boy, Roy, blond and heavyset, lots of power at bat but slow as a freight train. The coach calls him Tubby just to watch his cringe. Roy talks about quitting the team, but something keeps him coming back – practice after practice, game after game. Perhaps it is the dream, the fantasy that the moment will come, that he will hit the game winning homerun, that someday he will be the hero. Any boy can dream.

Between Roy and Horatio sits Scott. Scott is new to America, new to baseball. He grew up playing something he calls rounders. The coach keeps saying, “You’ll get the hang if it. Don’t worry, you’ll get the hang of it.” He never says anything like that to Horatio, which is just as well – Horatio would never believe him.

Horatio watches the sweat on Roy’s temple. It is trying to escape from beneath his robin-blue cap – just like the one on Horatio’s head.

When the season started, when the regulars and the benchwarmers had first been sorted, Horatio and Scott had sat shoulder-to-shoulder; over time – as if by some mysterious process – a space has grown between them – a space big enough for another boy, a player to be named later.

In the moment – as often when they are sitting on the bench waiting for their moments of play – the boys – as boys do – tease and hit each other in a playful way that says we are together in this boat called baseball and that makes us a unit, a team, a possibility. The moment flows downhill – starting with Tony – a whack to the next boy’s shoulder and so on until it comes to rest on Scott, who is tempted to pass it along to Horatio but stops to think and decides to not.

As Tony squirms his failed attention and tries to decide what silly thing to next send down the bench, the inning mercifully ends. The Blackbird Chevrolet Panthers have only scored four runs; the game stands at nine to four favor to the Panthers; two innings are in the books. Four more innings to play; it will be a long afternoon.

Coach Leven is yelling, “Hustle, you guys, hustle.” His son, Alex, the pitcher, leads the Braves from the field. He jogs as his father expects. Alex spits as he runs. Alex spits a lot; so do the other boys. Horatio spits sometimes; he would spit more often, but he knows his mother does not approve. He knows that he doesn’t spit well, that he doesn’t spit like a real baseball player.

The other kids do not call the coach’s son Alex; his nickname is Jughead, after the Archie Comics he loves to read and after his loose-jointed way of walking when his father is not present. The coach doesn’t like his son’s nickname; he takes it as a personal affront so the boys don’t use it on the field. Jughead prefers the moniker to Alex, but he has never said that to his father; he knows he was named for his father’s father’s brother, a man he never met but who died earning a medal in a place called Vietnam. The medal sits in a plastic case on his dresser. Jughead would love to put it away in a drawer, but Alex leaves it where his father wants.

As the other team takes the field, the benchwarmers stand up and twine fingers in the chicken wire fencing that protects the dugout. They are glad to have a moment when they are allowed to stand; they are glad to be yelling. They yell encouragement to their teammates and taunts at their rivals. Even Horatio yells. For the moment his bubblegum is forgotten. Scott, too, yells. His words sound strange to the other boys; his accent is from far away. Sometimes they tease him about it; sometimes they try to copy him. One time Ray, the regular second baseman, asked, “How do people say ‘fuck you’ in your language?”

Scott thought for a moment and replied, “They say ‘Go Ray yourself,’” and laughed.

Everybody except Ray had laughed, too. Ray was pretty pissed, but the other kids all slapped Scott on the back or hit him in the arm. Even Horatio had slapped Scott that day; he had slapped him and wished that the other kids were slapping his back and giving him shots.

“Go Braves,” the boys yell; “Yay team.” Their high-pitched voices are excited more because they finally have a chance to stand than from any involvement in the game, which has already exceeded their attention spans. Other teams’ benchwarmers are less orderly than the Braves’.

Other coaches are less in charge, less demanding than Coach Leven. He has made it clear to the boys that they will behave themselves on his team. At the beginning of the season he had written a letter to all the boys’ parents. “Baseball teaches boys how to work, how to take life seriously. It prepares them for growing up. That is why I expect so much from all our sons.”

Most of the parents – especially the fathers – told their sons Mr. Leven would be a good coach. Most of the parents, especially Horatio’s father, thought it was just fine that their sons learn how to work, how to take life seriously.

The boys are not so sure. They see the other teams having fun. They see the other teams playing just as well as the Braves. They wonder why they can’t have more fun. But, like Roy, they keep coming back.

Horatio has asked his parents if he can quit the team. His father told him that he has to play out the season. “You wanted to play. You made a commitment. Now you should be a man and keep your word.”

He knew there was no point in reminding his father that he had not wanted to play, that he had not made a commitment, that it had been his father’s choice for him to be in Little League.

He wanted to remind his father that all he had said was that he wished he had more friends. He had said it hoping to find a book club, an activity at the library, maybe something at the science museum. He wanted to remind his father but knew that would only mean a yelling.

Horatio had nodded his head in unhappy submission.

The players sit; the regulars sit in batting order. Only Tim is still standing. He is just in front of the dugout swinging a bat and waiting for the umpire to call “Play ball!”. Coach Leven checks the team with a jaundiced eye – ready to yell at a squirm, at a show of disinterest. The boys are still so he turns his attention to Tim. “Challenge him,” the coach instructs. “Crowd the plate. Make him pitch.” Tim nods his head the way children do when adults talk at them.

Tim grounds out, but the team manages to close the gap. It is nine to seven, two outs, nobody on base. Coach Leven sends Horatio to bat. He knows it won’t matter if he strikes out. He will have had his one required at bat. He will then go into the field for his one required inning in the field. He feels like a fool, but Alex shouts encouragement. Of all the kids sitting behind him, Alex is the only one to shout.

“Go, Ghost,” he yells. Suddenly the nickname doesn’t seem so bad.

Horatio takes a couple of practice swings. He feels awkward, he handles the bat badly, and he is afraid of the ball. But Alex has yelled encouragement, and that makes the moment worthwhile.

Horatio takes his place in the batter’s box. He taps the dirt from his shoes and twists and scrapes his feet the way he has seen ballplayers on TV do it, the way the other kids do it, as if he is digging in, as if he expects to use the torque of his entire body to belt that scuffed white ball into long flight. He copies the big leaguers and the other kids even though he knows it is a lie.

“Strike one,” the umpire, who is himself no more than fifteen, shouts with a pumping motion. He, too, is mimicking the big leagues.

“Strike two.” This time Horatio has swung late and without real effort.

“Keep your eye on the ball,” Coach Leven yells.

“Hit it, Ghost,” Alex calls.

“Go, Ghost,” another boy.

“Ball.”

There is a moment of relief. At least it isn’t three straight strikes. He almost wants to run out to the mound and thank the dark-skinned boy who is staring past him at the catcher, who is in turn signaling as if the next pitch will actually matter.

“Ball two.”

“Good eye!” one of his teammates hollers.

Horatio is almost happy. He digs in once again. Lifts his elbows the way the coach has taught them, cocks his bat the way he has learned.

The pitch comes in; he starts his swing. It is, he is sure, the greatest effort of his life. He feels the jolt of metal against ball. It isn’t a solid bang – not the sound of a hit. Rather it is the muted sound of …

“Foul,” the umpire yells.

He can hear his mother cheering.

“Go, Ghost.” Is that Tony’s voice?

“Strike three. You’re out.” Another pitch has flown past him.

Dejected yet triumphant, Horatio heads back to the dugout. Alex meets him at the bats, which are leaning against the protective fencing. Alex is carrying Horatio’s glove. “Good at bat,” he says as he hands Horatio the glove. Horatio can feel his chest swell.

The game is kind. No balls are hit to right field where Horatio tries to look ready. But balls are hit. It is Alex’s last inning to pitch; those are the rules – only 85 pitches. Alex struggles. Walks, a hit batter, and a number of solid hits: an eight run inning. The Braves are at the edge of the mercy rule when they return to the dugout. If they had given up one more run, the game would have been called. As it is, they will play on.

The other boys know that Alex is not a good pitcher. They know that he really shouldn’t be in the starting nine. With a different coach he probably would sit in Tony’s spot on the bench, maybe even in the spot of the kid whose name Horatio does not know.

But Mr. Leven is the coach, and no other parent wants the job. So Alex pitches and plays third base when he isn’t pitching. Sunday afternoons he plays catch with his father. His father crouches like a catcher and flashes signs. Alex throws and wishes he were reading Archie comics or watching television.

Greg, whom the kids call Mr. Cool, is easily the best player on the team. He is the second pitcher; he should be the first. When Gregg isn’t pitching, he plays first base. He’s good at first, but he is awesome on the mound. Behind his fastball, the Braves battle back.

Alex, like the rest of the team, knows that Mr. Cool should pitch as often as possible. He knows that Tony should be on third instead of him. He wishes his father would be fair. He doesn’t think the other kids resent him; he knows that they resent his father. He resents his father, too. Sometimes he wonders if he’d like playing baseball on another team. He knows that he hates playing on the Braves. He has tried to talk with his mother about it, but she doesn’t want to listen. She is busy taking Marie, his older sister, shopping. Marie likes boys and clothes; she watches TV shows about dancing and cooking. She and their mother spend a lot of time together. “Talk about it with your father,” Alex’s mother had told him. He knew that he would not.

Alex’s birthday is in September, long after the Little League season ends; but the professional season, the real season, is still on. Every year Mr. Leven takes his family to a game to celebrate Alex’s birthday. Alex would prefer to go to an amusement park, but he is not given that choice.

His father has already purchased the tickets. They are excellent seats. Marie has a party that evening. Her mother insists that a teenaged girl’s parties are more important than baseball. Mr. Leven doesn’t argue; baseball is – after all – for boys. There has been some discussion of letting girls play Little League, but at the organizing meetings he has consistently voted against the idea. He tells Alex that he can bring another boy with him to the game.

Mr. Leven has Greg or possibly Ray in mind. He wants Alex to invite a kid who will be interested in the fine points of the game – not in the hotdogs and peanuts and doing the wave. He wants to teach the boys how to keep score. He wants to give them tips on batting and fielding and especially on strategy.

Alex invites Horatio. “Hey, Ghost, it’s me, Jughead. My dad is taking me to a ballgame this Sunday. It’s for my birthday. Want to come?”

“Who else is coming?”

“Nobody. Why? Do you want to come?”

“I figured he was taking the team.”

“No, just me. My sister doesn’t want to come this year so he said I could bring a friend.”

“Me?”

“Yeah, sure. I bet we’ll have a good time.”

“Yeah, a great one. Let me ask my mom.”

“OK.”

“Hold on.”

“Yeah, sure. Go ask her.”

Moments later. “She said sure.”

“Great.”

“I’ll see you Sunday.”

“Yeah, we’ll pick you up at 10.”

“Great. See you then.” There is a pause. “Hey, Jughead.”

“Yeah?”

“Thanks. Wow, really, thanks.”

“Glad you can come.”

Alex hangs up. He has a smile, almost a smirk. Boy, will this piss him off; and he can’t say anything. He told me I could invite another kid. That Ghost is the worst player on the team; well whose fault is that?

His parents are going out. Marie will be at a friend’s. Alex’s mother calls to him, “What do you want to eat tonight. You’ll be home alone. I can order you a pizza if you want.”

He thinks for a moment. “No, how about a couple of hotdogs?”

“Sure. I’ll get them set up for you. All you have to do is turn on the microwave and take them out when the bell goes off.”

“Great.” He knows that he’ll do them right, in a frying pan. She doesn’t have to know.

I wonder how many dogs Ghost can eat. We’ve got to have a dog eating contest. He’s sure his new buddy will like the idea. Better, his father will hate it. The ballgame may be fun.

Horatio slurps a long piece of spaghetti. It whips about, hits his nose, and leaves a brand of bright marinara. His mother smiles knowing that her son is, for an unexpected moment, happy.

Albert, her younger boy, his face a mask of sauce and a small strand of pasta clinging to his chin, complains, “I want to go. I want to go, too.”

“You can’t,” their father explains for the fifth time. “You weren’t invited. It’s one of Horatio’s friends.” He turns to his older son. “What did you say his name is?”

“Jughead. I mean it’s really Alex, but that’s what we call him.”

“I meant his family name. What’s his family name?”

“Leven.”

“Leven, Leven?” He is searching for a connection.

“Yeah, my coach, Mr. Leven; he’s Mr. Leven’s son.”

“Yes, Leven. He’s an insurance man, isn’t he?”

“I don’t know.” Horatio really doesn’t care, but he doesn’t say that. He feigns interest because he needs something. He needs money for the game, and he needs money for a present. “He used to play second,” he adds as if the information will mean something to his father.

“Yes, I’m sure he’s in insurance.”

Horatio clears his throat. “Dad?”

“What?”

“I need to get Jughead a present.”

“What?”

“He’s right, Dear,” his mother adds.

“Yeah, sure. What are you getting him – a game, a model?”

“What about a nice sweater?” his mother suggests.

“No,” Horatio answers emphatically, “I want to get him something he’ll really like.”

Albert snickers in the way seven-year-olds can, in the way that says, “You’re just stupid.”

“I’m going to get him a box of baseball cards,” Horatio says triumphantly.

Ken

Ken Weene: learn more about Ken, his novels and his other writing at http://www.kennethweene.com

 

 

At Wellthisiswhatithink we have been quietly issuing opportunities for people to appear on the blog as our guest, and we are delighted that George has taken up our invitation, via the StooshPR Facebook page which is an outpost of the very busy stooshpr.com.

This charming and insightful description of life and love as an expatriate in Japan’s snowy, mountainous, and exquisitely beautiful north is fascinating. Mrs Wellthisiswhatithink and I will visit Tokyo briefly in a  few months, and this lovely article will enrich and inform our visit. Thanks, George! Would you like to be our next Guest Blogger, Dear Reader?

George

George Polley

“This isn’t my first experience with being an expatriate, but it is by far the longest, and will undoubtedly by my last one, as I intend to spend the rest of my life as an expat living in Sapporo, Japan.

Back in late 1973 I went to Mexico City for a little over two months, explored the possibility of moving there, going so far as to check out what I’d need to do to open a counseling practice there.

But the time wasn’t right for me, so I flew back home to Minneapolis. In January. Given the fact that it was 75 degrees above zero (Fahrenheit) in Mexico City and 25 degrees below zero when I arrived in Minneapolis, that was very bad timing. If you want to explore what being really cold is like, try doing what I did. It works in spades.

The two most important things about moving to another country are deciding to move, and knowing why it is that you’re moving.

My “why” was supporting my wife’s desire to move back home after half of her life in America. Would it be a big move? Huge! That’s why the decision has to be a good one, because it’s a lot of work. Suffice it to say that, after two years of planning, three visits to Japan, and having the astonishing good fortune of selling our house days before the real estate bubble popped, I retired from my mental health practice, we flew to Japan, found a condominium to buy, bought it, flew back to Seattle, packed up the rest of our things, and on March 28th 2008, caught a flight to Tokyo, then on to Sapporo and our new home.

“Home” in this instance, was vastly different from the 1200-plus square foot house with a big yard and gardens we had lived in for eighteen years.

Our home in Sapporo is a typical Japanese “mansion” (code for “condominium”), called a “2 LDK” — two small bedrooms, a small living room, and a dining area with a tiny kitchen at one end. The bath, toilet, washing machine and water heater are off the entryway which, in winter, is cold! Then comes the reality of trying to fit everything you own into this tiny space without driving each other mad. Downsizing to something this tiny was, well, a huge challenge once everything we had shipped arrived. We were literally tripping over each other. In our Seattle home my work space was in the basement, and my wife had the first floor all to herself. Here it’s a very different world.

Tall grasses

Tall grasses photographed by George along the Motsukisamu river bank

Japanese families raise their families in places this small, and my wife grew up in one, but after spending half of her life in America, adjusting to this kind of change has been daunting for both of us. We’re still adjusting, but we have reached the stage where we can laugh about it.

The neighborhood is lovely, public transportation stops across the street, the subway station is easy to get to by bus, and there’s the nearby Motsukisamu river (we call anything this small a creek back home) to walk along.

Our condo is ours free and clear, we’re both happy, although we are a bit nostalgic at times for the things we loved about living in America.

Before moving, we had thought that I’d be the one who would find the move the most challenging. After all, I’d spent my life in America, and was going to leave family (a brother and sister-in-law, four children and ten grandchildren) and friends behind to live as a foreigner in an Asian country.

Would I adjust? Would I find it uncomfortable to be among so many strangers I couldn’t communicate with? Would it be easy to meet other expats and establish friendships?

Central Sapporo in summer

Central Sapporo in summer

As it’s turned out, my wife has found it as difficult, and perhaps more difficult, than it has been for me, as she had lived away from Japan for half of her life, had adjusted very nicely to American culture and social norms, and discovered that readjusting to Japanese social and cultural norms was very stressful.

For example, in the US if you don’t want to do something, you say “No thanks,” and that’s it. Here it’s not so simple, as the person is likely to take offense. When you receive a gift from someone back in the States, you thank them for it, and that’s it. Here receiving a gift implies that you will reciprocate, and failing to reciprocate can – and often does – result in hurt feelings, which she finds very stressful, as she is expected to know, whereas I’m forgiven because, after all, I’m an “ignorant” foreigner and I don’t know better. Good for me, not so good for her.

The other difficult thing that’s been hard on my wife is having our roles reversed in the sense that the things I did for both of us back home (obtain medical services when we moved to Seattle, take her to medical appointments, obtain a dentist, go grocery shopping, and so forth), she had to do here, as I don’t read or speak Japanese.

This was tremendously stressful for her, as she had no idea where the good service providers were. The easiest part was getting medical insurance, which a cousin’s husband helped her to do, and getting me an ID card, which he also helped us do. And he helped her pick out utilities for our condo (“mansions” don’t come equipped with them). A friend helped us find a good contractor to redecorate (called “reform” here) our condo, which needed new wall covering, new patio sliding doors and a few other upgrades. Some of these things we’ve both learned to laugh about, but early on laughing about them wasn’t easy to do. Today we can laugh about the fact that our condo looks like a jumble store in the winter when the laundry hangs everywhere; so does everyone else’s “mansion”, which though it gives small comfort, is a lot better than none at all.

The upside is that after nearly five years, we’re both happy here, are able to laugh at the quirks and social gaffes that remain, and go our own way. What we’re not able do is become “Japanese”, which isn’t a problem for us.

Hokkaido

Hokkaido is widely considered one of the most beautiful areas on earth, enriched, of course, by Japanese sensibilities concerning architecture and gardens

What about friendships, you may ask? I’ve found several expats that I’ve become fairly close to, in the sense that we get together for coffee or a meeting of a few local writers once a month, and talk about various things of mutual interest, such as writing, politics back home, Japanese politics and so forth, much as we would do back home.

Generally speaking, I’ve not found the expat community all that open to connecting, which is pretty much the way it is back where I’m from.

We connect with people we have something in common with. I’ve established some good friends online that I sometimes chat with via Skype fairly regularly.

All-in-all I’m a happy camper as an expat living in an Asian country. The benefits have far outweighed the inconveniences for both of us, though it’s taken nearly five years for us to get to the point where we’re both feeling that way.

A wonderful, and unexpected, upside to our move to Sapporo is the way it’s stimulated my writing career. Living where everything is new and challenging is very simulating to my mind and my creativity.

Sapporo is famous for its annual Snow Festival in winter when massive snow sculptures delight visitors and locals alike

Sapporo is famous for its annual Snow Festival in winter when massive snow sculptures delight visitors and locals alike

For me moving here has resulted in writing and publishing two books (“The Old Man and the Monkey” and “Grandfather and the Raven”) both set in Japan; a short story about a Tokyo artist (“Seiji”) published in “A Rainbow Feast: New Asian Short Stories” edited by Mohammad A. Quayum and published in Singapore by Marshall Cavendish Editions; finding my publisher (Taylor Street Publishing, San Francisco, California); publication of a third novel (“Bear”, about a boy and his dog, set in Seattle), and a queue full of other writing projects that are either in process of being written or waiting to be written.

I’m sometimes asked what I would do if my wife died and left me widowed. (Indeed, she has asked me that herself.) I usually say that I’d probably move back to America, though I have no clear idea where, so I’d have to research that.

When asked why, my answer is always the same: I’m not fluent enough in Japanese to live a happy, connected life here.

But that’s mostly a passing thought that I don’t spend a lot of brain time on. Mostly I spend time living each day, enjoying each day, writing, and thinking of things Aiko (that’s my wife) and I can enjoy doing together.

And, in the final analysis, that’s the most important thing there is.”


George Polley is a writer, author and retired mental health professional from Seattle, WA. He and his wife moved to Sapporo, Japan at the end of March 2008, where they now live.

Facebook is either a complete waste of useful time (I hate to break it to you, but I really do not care what you had for dinner or where you are getting drunk – honestly – coz you didn’t ask me) or it is that most interesting thing, a portal into opinions, and opportunities, and just, well, really good stuff.

Sometimes one stumbles across little gems, like this story called “Blind” by Kenneth Weene, which I saw “advertised” (“networkised”?) on a FB page I follow called StooshPR.

It’s a cracker of a little story, just 470 words or so, almost a poem in its brevity, just a breath of intense thought drifting on the air, Hemingway-esque in its sparse writing.

Take two minutes. Click the link. Feed your mind. Feed your soul.

http://cerealauthors.wordpress.com/2012/11/10/blind/

Poet in pub

I am not playing pool until I can work out what the fuck rhymes with “buttock”.

People usually enjoy it when I post my own poetry here, and I am happy to do so, so long as some of you buy the book occasionally too. Remember, any profits benefit a number of wonderful charities. You can head to: http://tinyurl.com/7tzxxgg where it is available in both book format and download.

I am always – like most writers – pondering the nature of writing and the creative process. 

This is not mere self-absorption, I feel. Well, I hope it isn’t.

Like a musician who hears notes constantly in their head which won’t go away until he plays them, or an artist who perceives the lines and colours of the world in a particular way and feels compelled to depict them, so the writer is frequently the victim of his or her words, not their master or mistress.

Sometimes – often – I simply feel an urge to write things down, to express them just so. If I ignore the urge, it becomes a mental nagging, then an indescribable emotional itch, then a full-blown obsession.

Like all writers I have been tortured by words or phrases, and eventually tossed back the sweat-drenched sheets and stumbled angrily to my typewriter or computer, willing the damn things down onto the empty page, so I can get some damn sleep.

And as any writer will tell you, it is the day you forget your shiny new portable electronic device, or more prosaically, your notepad, that the thoughts come flooding thick and fast, insistently, clamouring for attention, and you have to press confused bystanders or friends into giving you pen or paper immediately less the internal howling becomes too intense.

So: I wrote a poem about it. As you do. (Well, as you do if you’re a poet.) About how writing doesn’t just invade my life, it really is my life – has been for as long as I can recall, actually – and the rest of my life goes on around it, sometimes uninterrupted, and sometimes completely dominated by it.

The poem’s very long, but I do hope you find it enjoyable. It describes a real evening, long, long ago. Deep in the last millennium. Or perhaps, an amalgam of evenings. The pub was the Leinster Arms in Collingwood, in Melbourne, which for a while I seemingly kept open almost single-handedly through my contributions, (it would have been cheaper to rent an office, as I later did), and I only reveal that location now because I am perfectly sure that no-one there remembers me at all, and most of those that I now report on are either dead, demented, or simply moved on. And anyway, the poem is written with affection, and “no names, no pack-drill”, eh?

I am sure other poets and writers of all kinds – indeed, creative people of all kinds – will find echoes of themselves in here.

The Writer, by Stephen Yolland

OK, so – back at 10,000 hits (and again at 15,000 hits) we had a bit of a celebration because the blog had reached lots and lots of readers. Which is a Very Good Thing, capital V, capital G, capital T. And so as not to appear too self congratulatory, I said the next little milestone would be at 25,000, assuming it would be a fair way off.

Well, it wasn’t, because we have just belted through 25,000 hits and more when I wasn’t looking, helped by some wonderful advertising f*** ups, and some poetry, and not a little of being rude about the Republican Party.

Anyway, back at 10,000 it was really interesting, because Wikipedia had this really cool article about all things 10,000-ish which I shared with you.

Sadly, I have to tell you, dear Reader, that finding anything to go with a celebration of 25,000 is much harder. Much.

25,000 Dinar

25,000 Iraqi Dinars. Before you get too excited, that's about US$21.45 right now. Don't bother printing it off and trying to pass it.

The best Wikipedia could do was this rather attractive Iraqi money.

A number of websites offered to sell me cars all under 25,000 somethings, mainly Aussie dollars.

And Flat Finder told me they had over 25,000 apartments on offer in Australia.

There’s a battery charger called  CTek XS 25,000. There’s not many people know that.

And Kenya has just fired 25,000 striking health workers.

Oh, and an outbreak of Avian flu in rural Victoria resulted in 25,000 ducks getting the chop. Awww.

And a woman in Dublin received 25,000 Euros for a botched cosmetic surgery thing on her lips. The way the Euro’s going I hope she spends it soon.

But that’s about it for our massive, once in a lifetime celebration of all things 25,000-ish people.

Not terribly inspiring, I’m sorry. I will pick our next number to celebrate more carefully – and, as always, thanks so much to everyone who reads the blog, and comments, and passes it on. You’re why.

Meanwhile, un-noticed by all except close family, 21 years ago Monday just passed my darling daughter popped into this world, and after hanging around a bit, rather quickly in the end, actually.

At one point my wife asked the midwife “What’s happening?” The midwife calmly replied “You’re having a baby.” My wife somewhat tiredly asked “When?” The midwife drily replied, “Er, now.”

And out she came.

So on Monday we had a few drinks, and then a few more, and there’s going to be a big party soon, of course, and, you know, all the things people do when someone has a significant birthday.

Which is much more of a something to celebrate, really, than a battery charger or a strike in Kenya, or even a blog. So I thought I’d mention it.

I’ve been quieter than usual, this week, because I’ve been thinking about what it means to have a 21 year old daughter. Sadly, I keep running up against the most obvious conclusion “Sh*t, man, you got old.” It’s hard to ignore the fact that the body is beginning to creak alarmingly, and the brain doesn’t go quite as quick as it used to. But all in all, I am content with my lot.

Because, you know, kids don’t come with a manual, no matter how many people try to sell us one in the bookstores, and her mother and I just muddled along as best we could, making plenty of mistakes, clinging onto each other for dear life sometimes as the waves of life rocked our little boat backwards and forwards, but we made sure that what we did do for the kid was try to teach her right from wrong – and always to hang onto what’s right – to always believe in her dreams, to be able to talk to us about anything, and to love her to bits.

Good, bad, indifferent, grumpy, cheerful, frightened, brave, loud, quiet, hard-working, feckless, in love, out of love, in sickness and in health, we just loved her to bits. And always will.

In return, she grew, miraculously, before our very eyes, into this infinitely better and more golden and more caring and more insightful human than us.

Which is all, on reflection, that I think you can really hope for when you set out – that you leave behind you a child who is just the best that you can both be, and then some.

And she is. So “well done Caitlin”. You turned out real good. Thank you. And please remember I really want cable TV in the old folks’ home. I don’t care if the place smells of cabbage and wees, but it must have cable TV.

OK? Deal.

Exactly 19 years and three days ago. My God, I look young.

 

 

 

 

EQUAL LAST

 

And sometimes, without warning, it is lost.

 

Like old men trying to finish a marathon, we keep running.

Our spindly, shaking knees taking us all over the road.

We trail behind. Even the spectators are leaving.

 

True, around corners we find unexpected relief.

Small surprises of pleasure appear without warning.

Cracking lips suck, relieved.

 

But back at the start of the race we ran with the blood singing in our veins.

Each step juddered revelations through straining fibres.

Nothing broke our tempo, nothing could stop the running.

 

Now each slight incline is a panting reminder of past fitness.

Reality sticks in our lungs like an inhaled burr.

Others run ahead, still full of the singing blood.

 

Ashamed to catch each other’s eye, we trot to a halt.

Put our shaking hands on quivering hips.

Clasping them for a little passing stability.

 

The sweat of our failure drips incessantly on the pavement.

But the night has grown cold.

Somewhere, a mobile phone plays tunelessly.

 

As if by a signal, we turn our backs on one another.

Take a last, shuddering, sucking breath.

And silently creep away.

 

When the other is safely out of sight, we strip off our shoes,

barely concealing our relief at the new-won freedom.

Fling them over high walls, and walk, now.

 

Picking our way carefully, through a slalom of dustbins.

Miles and miles of dustbins waiting to be emptied.

Filled to the brim with other’s discarded shoes.

 

Anyone interested in checking out my volume  of poetry – READ ME – 71 Poems and 1 Story – can find it here: http://tinyurl.com/7y55a7v

Great article about the never-ending pain that is blogging, or writing generally. Do yourself a favour and have a great laugh. Go here:

Did My Post Suck Today?

Well done, Sweet Mother.

Anyhow, it’s just the perfect post for one of these days … we all have them.


 

Once the decision was made,

you were ruthless.

 

You hoovered away our life.

Shuffled poems, letters, and sleeves crusty with bleeding hearts into drawers.

Locked them, and threw away the key, making sure I saw it arc, scintillating,

over the back wall and down the embankment.

 

Watching your demolition, I waited quiet at the foot of the stairs.

Like a man on his way to an execution he thinks he deserves.

The unspoken agreement that it would always end like this stapling my lips shut.

Pinned together by the promises of expecting nothing.

When you deemed it right, we were to be un-realised.

“I will run out,” you’d said. “Always do.

  No lies, not between us.”

 

No whining. No reminiscing.

No last minute pub-garden rescues over bitter ale.

No relying on fevered bodies to make things right.

You had run your hand across my belly, making it stiffen.

“It won’t be that,” you had said. “It will be other stuff.”

 

Quiet now. Waiting for the bullet. Eyes fixed on the sky.

Click, staple, click, staple.  Your timing.

That was always the deal.

 

Casting around the newly laid graveyard, now neat as a pin,

untidy man neatly stowed away,

jumbled memories marshalled into neat rows,

you straightened the flowers

I had bought you, for this day,

self consciously, in the middle of our dinner-partied, wine-soaked table

where once you had bent, looking over your shoulder,

hair tumbling, laughing madly at me.

“Afters. Come on.”

 

Brushing passed me, you hurried up the stairs, and re-appeared,

bearing in front of you like an offending sceptre,

a solitary, white edged and almost new toothbrush.

For a moment, your face trembled and hope leapt.

Then, click staple, our lips were closed again.

You swallowed the toothbrush into my breast pocket,

gave it a little pat, and then another, more thoughtfully.

Looked at me for a moment,

and walked to the door, working the key

I had just given you back.

 

I pavemented, eyes squinting against the sudden light,

refusing a blind.

 

As it closed behind me, I saw you through the bowl of glass

fish-eyed through the mock Tudor door

grasp your broom and resume your busy sweeping.

You never glanced back as you swept and swept

your tears washing

the kitchen floor we had once danced on

all night

.

Anyone interested in checking out my volume  of poetry – READ ME – 71 Poems and 1 Story – can find it here: http://tinyurl.com/7y55a7v

As I keep telling people, little matters like sentence construction, correct punctuation and carefully laid out type – or handwriting – really do make all the difference. Oh, dear. Oh dearie, dearie me.

Yes, well. You know what they meant. Or do you?

But you tell the young ‘uns nowadays, and they won’t believe you.

*sighs heavily*

(Thanks Reuben)

 

Yolly reading at the drunken poet

Yours truly reading at the "Drunken Poet". Yes, that's me, over there in the distance, struggling to see.

Apologies for the rough quality of the photo, but it was a dark and crowded pub on a dark and soggy night.

After 20 years of writing poetry, publishing “Read Me”, (see below), and innumerable public speaking appearances, this was, believe it or not, the first time I have ever actually read any of my work in public. In proper public, I mean, not at dinner parties with a captive audience who are forced to listen to be polite. Anyhow, I thought the event deserved recording on the blog.

Interesting experience it was, reading to a noisy pub full of people who’d had a skinful of Guinness and Irish whiskey. (It was near 10pm by the time I was called up.) “Shut the fuck up! Especially you noisy bastards at the back!” seemed to do the trick long enough for the work to speak for itself. I don’t feel I have quite ascended to the heights of courage of a new stand up comedian at a northern working mens’ club in the UK, but I will certainly treat their stories on chat shows with more respect from now on.

Anyhow, it was a very fun night at the Drunken Poet – was a pub ever better named? – and some of the music was brilliant, and they seemed to genuinely like my poetry. Either that, or they just thought I was too big and ugly to boo off. The walls of the pub are adorned with photos and caricatures of the greats – Yeats, Shaw, Behan, Beckett. No Dylan Thomas, though, so I may have to donate one.

The stars of the night were three kids in their early 20s who were visiting Melbourne from Quebec, who played Québécois folk music – in French, naturally – to huge acclaim. Interestingly, I recognised one of the songs from a recording of Welsh folk songs I have from Susan Davies. It would be fascinating to know how a folk song migrates from Wales to Canada and gets translated and transmogrified into French.

Next Open Mic at the DP (as we cognoscenti now call it) is the Thursday before Easter – “Hungover for Good Friday” – how appropriate! I am emboldened to have another go. Would be great to see some of the readers of this blog there.

And if you feel like investing thirty bucks in the book, I’d be delighted. There’s 71 poems and a long short story. That’s less than 50 cents a poem. Feed the starving artist! As I once saw on a little sign by a poet reading his work in public, next to his cap with a few coins in it, “Will Think For Money”.

Read Me

Go on, grab one. I dare you. I won't tell anyone you read poetry. Promise.

As many people will know, I am a poet. Well, I am a professional writer who writes poetry to keep himself sane while the other stuff pays the bills, let’s put it that way.

Occasionally other poets “friend” me, here on WordPress – incidentally, when did to “friend” someone, as opposed to befriend them, become an acceptable verb, by the way? – and one person whose work I admire has just posted a real corker. Made me laugh out loud, which is a sign of a great comic poem, using comic in the true sense, which is to say a bittersweet, wry, askance look at life which reveals something about our essential humanity, which this work does in spades.

read more here: http://dickspoetry.wordpress.com

And well done, rbh. 🙂

GOING SHOPPING

she said,
I’ve seen it all before,
but never presented
quite that much.

which made me smile,
and after a while
I said,
it is not for me
for whom the bell tolls,
or the toll bridge rolls.

to which she said,
I’m going shopping.

to which I said,
a little less shopping
will bring you
in touch with yourself.

to which she said,
I’ve been touched enough.
I’m going shopping.

 

 

 

Great article, beautifully written, about the vagaries of bad English like what she is written. Well done that man. Enjoy.

Ten lessons about writing that every scientist should learn... Yesterday, I spent the day at the horse races, taking in the pomp and pageantry of the biggest stakes card of the year. I find the racetrack fascinating, and not just in that girlish horse-crazy sense. For starters, it’s the only place I know where it is normal to see small men wearing outrageous colors and women wearing birds on their heads. Second, I love the wordplay of the racing form, with horse names like Two Horn Unicorn, Tiny Giant, We Ta … Read More

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