HIATUS–HI AT US!

This is to announce a brief pause in posts while I and the I Question your Questioning technicians, engineers, and designers are busy creating an entirely new web experience for you here at IQYQ HQ in the fashionable Biltmore district of Phoenix.

We’ve got them working double-shifts.

You are sure to be astounded by the new design when it’s released.

Until then, here’s something to tide you over:

Pssst…there’s a hint in it.

Non-Partisan American Political History for an 8-year-old

“Who was the other Roosevelt — that guy who’s on the dime?”

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“Oh, that was FDR. He did a lot of great things. So did his wife. Helped repeal prohibition. Created Social Security. Built a lot of campgrounds and bridges. He also probably goaded the Japanese into attacking Pearl Harbor so we’d have an excuse to go to war. There was a lot of public resistance to the idea in the U.S. — even in 1941. He insisted on absolute surrender by the Axis, too. That was unheard-of. Churchill didn’t want it. DeGaulle didn’t want it. I think even Stalin looked at him at that Yalta conference and was like “errr…whut?” I think FDR wanted to totally destroy the rest of the world’s industrial base and make everywhere look like America. That’s kinda what happened.”

“Who came after him?”

“Truman. Harry Truman.”

“What did he do?”

“Dropped the nuclear bomb on the Japanese. Twice. He got shot at by Puerto Rican nationalists. He tried to find something to do with the millions of soldiers who were coming home to no jobs and no homes. He also created the CIA, which was supposed to be just an information bureau at first. They started assassinating people and fighting wars without his approval. Around the time Kennedy got shot, he sent a letter to the New York Times saying he regretted authorizing the CIA. Go figure.”

“Who came after Truman?”

“Eisenhower. He had been the supreme commander of the Allied forces in Europe. Real stand-up guy and not a bad general at all. He was a Jehovah’s Witness, but no one knew it at the time. It didn’t matter. He didn’t let it affect anything. He integrated the armed services and the schools so black and white people could serve and study together. Sent in troops to the South so that little black kids could go to school. He doesn’t get enough credit for that because he’s a Republican and Republicans aren’t supposed to care about such things. He served two terms and in his farewell address he said we should beware of the “military industrial complex.” People shook their heads about that, and some still do. Here’s was a great general — a Republican President who oversaw the largest buildup of the military and industry ever, and he’s saying “watch out for this”. He was saying he was no longer in control of it. No one is, really.

“Who came after him?”

“Kennedy. Kennedy was a big-time tax-cutter — which many people don’t remember. Lots of people loved him, but the wrong ones really didn’t. He made the mistake of trying to lead and actually act like a President. I guess he didn’t listen to Eisenhower’s last speech.”

“And then?”

“Johnson.”

“What did he do?”

“Got us into war in Vietnam. Built a lot of bridges to nowhere in Texas. Spent a lot of money. Gave interviews on the toilet. Signed the Voting Rights Act.”

“And then?”

“Nixon.”

“Who was he?”

“A real putz.”

photo credit: Jasperdo via photopin cc

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INTERVIEW: How Katie Paetz Will Change the World

Katie Paetz wants to make one thing perfectly clear: “No matter where you come from or who you are when you start, that does not determine your outcome.”

katie1The throbbing music in the central Phoenix coffee shop accentuates the points she’s making, her hands almost matching the rhythm in the air. Her energy is almost palpable.

Katie is running for one of the two open spots on the Osborn School District board. She’s driven by a determination born of frustration in seeing students’ potential wasted by an education system twisted toward substituting testing for teaching. She’s seen the results of both approaches first-hand in her nine years of teaching music in inner-city elementary schools, and she makes it plain that the move to standardized testing is destroying both the hopes of students and the motivation of teachers.

She tells of the remarkable transformation of “Alex”, a 14-year-old still stuck in 7th grade. He came to her music class as a failing student with little hope of ever catching up. Minutes after picking up a guitar for the first time, he was strumming and plucking out notes. It sounded like music, and music was the magic that ignited his life as a student. His discipline problems soon came under control and his skills in math and writing improved — all in service of his newfound passion.  His first successful school year perhaps ever culminated with his class presentation on Frankie Valli, a performer he had taken as his personal inspiration.

In a later conversation that started with his introduction to slide guitar using a bottleneck, Alex was inspired by the fact that the bottleneck could have come from a beer bottle. Katie recalls “He said ‘I used to drink and do drugs. But I don’t anymore. It’s because of the music. The guitar saved my life.'”

Although Katie was delighted with his progress, the school was still forced to mark Alex as a failing student due to his results on the standardized AIMS (Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards) test. AIMS was blind to Alex’s particular situation and the altered trajectory his new love for music had provided, and it showed no regard for his future as a student.

“It’s programs like that that are extremely difficult to measure in our current assessment system. And it’s extremely difficult to communicate out to our leaders if they have no current experience in the classroom.”

If elected, Katie would be the only schoolteacher on the Osborn board, and the only one with experience as a full-time teacher.

“There’s this thing about educators not being involved with policy or the process because of the idea that education shouldn’t be political. But one side wants to eliminate funding for education as we know it, and the other side wants to continue what has made the US tops in education. “

Tops?

“Yes, 22% of US children live below the poverty line. We’ve taken on the task of educating everyone in this country without regard to poverty or disability. When you factor that in, the US education system is the best in the world. That’s at the core of our democracy, the belief that the ordinary person can do extraordinary things.”

Katie grew up in the small town of Ottawa, Illinois–home to a few grade schools, one middle school, and one high school. She discovered her talent in music when she was introduced to the French horn in the third grade. Her parents’ decision to move to Arizona coincided with the start of her college years. “You can stay back in Illinois where it snows or you can come out to Arizona with us,” her parents said. She chose the warm climate of ASU and went on to take a master’s in music instruction.

Upon graduation, she specifically chose to teach at an inner city school. She took a position at the Creighton district in an older, urban section of Phoenix. Over the course of her five-year career at Creighton, she established programs in piano, guitar, and voice. But with the advent of standardized testing, trouble arose. She started noticing more and more students like Alex — students whose promise was wiped out by the blind, high-stakes evaluation imposed by AIMS.

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“You tell me that kid was ‘falls far below’ that year,” she demands, citing the AIMS rating given to challenged students like Alex.

“That was happening on a regular basis with a lot of our students. I started speaking out against it. I started talking to my principal and to other teachers about this system that was based on testing, scores and data, and not on learning.” But soon after she called AIMS into question, the district chose not to renew her contract.  “I wasn’t asked back. That was probably the hardest year of my career.”

She shakes her head at the groupthink within typical schools that silences dissent. “Within the school district and within the school building is not the place to have policy discussions or to try to fight the system. They’re all in it together and are all slaves to the higher policies.”

But her dismissal was the low point that would later inspire her to run for the school board, and she didn’t stay out of the game for long. She soon took a contract in the Roosevelt district and has gone on to transform music instruction for her 600 students at Rose Linda school.

She notes one major, essential problem with standardized testing: It forces the focus off the student and onto the institution. “All of the sudden the teacher’s job, evaluation, pay and feedback is no longer based on (service to) the student as an individual but instead on how the institution has decided to measure it. We’ve made a shift from honoring the student to honoring the institution.”

She sees parallels to teaching in the way kids first encounter music lessons. “The first things kids do when being introduced to a new instrument is to test timbre and dynamics (tonality and volume). The typical music curriculum tries to teach melody and rhythm first. That’s backwards, but that’s also shows what we’re doing wrong with teaching. As they mature, kids test the parameters of independence, personality and humor.” She laughs and shakes her head. “I had to learn not to take it personally.”

As she grew into her career as a teacher, she noticed kids test life like they’d test an instrument. They are looking for feedback from their teachers, and the teachers must provide it on a personal basis.

“Closing that circle is 60% of what we do. If (students) don’t have interpersonal skills, content is never going to get through. When a kid does something that is seen as misbehavior, that’s the teachable moment. A system that only encourages high test scores in content undermines and demotivates the teacher in the room to engage the students in those teachable moments.”

katie4At 32, first-time candidate Katie is among a new breed of politicians.

Over 90% of her funding has come from small, private contributors. Her colleagues and friends have helped her start a strong organization from scratch. She advises other potential candidates to build their networks and support while making sure to take care of themselves to better serve their chosen causes. Additionally, she points out there’s more help than ever before available for new, young candidates–especially women.

Following the disillusionment of enacting hope and change from the top-down over the last six years, a new approach is needed. Instead, hope and change need to come from the bottom up, starting in races for posts as minor and yet deceptively important as spots in school boards. If change is to come it will start at the local level with people who are able to make changes locally and affect their surroundings–and who have kept their ideals strong.

More information on Katie and her campaign is available here.

 Words and Images ©2014 Bill LaBrie

 

 

The Artist’s Greatest Fear

I think a life of destitution as an unknown in service of art isn’t the artist’s greatest fear.

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The greatest fear is to become successful (and famous) for the wrong thing. The thing you didn’t want to become your career.

Did you know William Shatner was in a film of the Brothers Karamazov? Yeah. Captain Kirk. TJ Hooker.

He’s had a blessed life. He’s got no reason to complain. Guy’s like King Midas. Earned hundreds of millions off those Priceline commercials. Look it up. He’s a rich old guy now. He’s long since made peace with all the corny crap he had to do to get here.

But for the rest of us–the ones who aren’t William Shatner–I think the fear of the wrong version of success haunts us still like nightmares.

Say that you’re some Ivy-Leaguer who takes all the right classes and makes all the right connections. You go to Hollywood to push your serious screenplay about Rigoberta Menchu or Jimmy Hoffa’s secret gay history or something. Whatever.

You go to L.A. and share an apartment in Silverlake with three other waiters-cum-screenwriters for a while. They are stealing your towels. You need dental work. You start getting hungry. You’re not getting laid. You’ve got school loans to pay.

On a drunken whim you turn in a treatment or screenplay called “Farty McFarterson’s Golden Retriever Farts Rainbow Basketballs.”

Nickelodeon picks it up. They pay you for it. They want to hire you on to the project. There’s a weekly series about happy little Farty making fart noises and his farting golden retriever defeating the evil Republican-looking possums with basketball farts on a basketball court. There’s a movie. Everyone loves it–at least everyone in that critical 4 to 9 year-old-demographic, with secondary support from teens and old men. You get a cut of merchandise sales. You move to a nice place in Laguna Beach. You get a Bentley Continental GT.

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You go to parties with other cokeheads and say:

“I have a project, yeah. . . yeah.. . . “
“So what is it?”
“It’s a project for Viacom. Series. There’s been a movie, too.”
“Cool! Duuuude! So what is it?”
“It’s a well. . . . it’s… Farty McFarterson’s Golden Retriever Farts Rainbow Basketballs
“Oh. That’s you? Oh. Well, great. Hey, I think I see Carrot Top over there. Hey! Catch you later, braahhh!”

See what I mean?

You will forever be haunted by your “success.” Try getting a job anywhere else in Hollywood with a résumé like that. Where are you going to work? “That’s my Skidmark!” or “Smegma Avalanche!” on MTV? Try New York instead.Fuck. But when the cancel the show, you need to start looking. You have appearances to keep up, after all. Not going back to that apartment only to get your towels stolen.

So, see, it’s important to be successful. It’s more important to be successful for the right reasons…

At least I think so.

photo credit: fensterbme via photopin cc

What I Learned Selling Cub Scout Popcorn

“Hey! Wanna buy a bag of popcorn? It’s only twenty dollars.”

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It took a lot to get me to say that to people without blinking. It was much easier to get the words to come out of my son’s mouth. To him “twenty” is just a number. It’s not lunch or a fraction of a car payment. He’s a much better popcorn salesman than I.

But over the course of a month, both of us had to get past our shyness. We have only three bags left in a box that was once full of dozens among a bunch of other boxes full of dozens. Looks like we will have made our goal and he’ll be able to participate in the pizza-party/scoutmaster-dunking or whatever goofy thing was offered as the inducement.

We didn’t participate in the popcorn sales last year. My son had just started in Scouts and I was getting my bearings as a specimen of that dubious genre, the “Scouting Dad.” When I had to deal with these things before at his school I’d just say “we can’t participate in the cookie dough/magazine/fetus key-chain promotion, but please take this check as a contribution to your cause.” That didn’t wash with the Scouts. They were looking for us to make a $700 vig. They’re looking for good earners in the Scouts. Not just some two-bit hoods with ten dollars from daddy. Fuggetaboutit.

So we loaded the pickup with cartons of popcorn bags and boxes showing ideal, smiling boys plaintively offering delicious-looking kernels in hopes strangers would fund their annual camp-out and give them the opportunity to humiliate a grown man in shorts while eating pizza. I thought it would be a good opportunity for my son to learn to make the sale.

Life is about sales, no matter who you are. Online, I talk to a lot of students going into things like engineering and microbiology and counselling. They scoff at my assertion that sales is everything. I counter with this: “When you’re trying to convince someone to give you a job, or an assignment, or funding, you are giving them the information they need to make their decision, but you are also persuading them by gaining their confidence and charming them in a way. You’re convincing them that you are the right person with the right product and they must take action, now. That’s sales, you a-holes.”

Sales is thus an invaluable life-skill I felt my son needed to learn.

And here is what we learned selling twenty-dollar bags of popcorn:

  • A smile still works wonders.
  • The phrase “can you help me?” — especially in the voice of a small child — melts hearts and overcomes resistance
  • “Hustle” helps. There’s an infectious quality to urgency. One of my favorite harangues to my son became “YOU ARE WALKING LIKE YOU ARE IN A FUNERAL PROCESSION!”
  • Most people want to be generous. They really want to help. The most generous people are those who appear to be least able to afford it. Be nice to everyone. Everyone is a potential customer.
  • Karma is a motivator.
  • Noticing and showing interest in the potential customer always helps. A nice comment on a scarf, t-shirt, or shoes humanizes the pitch and virtually demands a response.
  • If you believe in what you are doing, and what you are selling, your results increase tenfold. My favorite pep talk to my son was “Think of the little boys who want to join Cub Scouts but whose parents can’t afford the dues. That’s who this is going to help.” Suddenly it became not just another dumb thing he needed to do. It became a cause. Even an 8-year-old can understand that.

So overall, a good experience I was glad to have with him. I hope that these early exposures to what it really takes to persuade and relate to others will help him through life. My bet is that they will, even if he becomes a microbiologist.

Dogs

Dogs are terrific. I miss having a dog.

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New friends at my coffee spot. Serge and Rudy: Made for each other.

Somehow — eons ago — a few of the wolves that existed at the time decided that humans weren’t so bad. We were generally entertaining, had a steady supply of food and opposable thumbs that helped remove thorns and rub ears. Domestication soon followed. Mankind went on to take those proto-dogs and bend their basic genetic makeup into all sorts of fun shapes. And here we are.

My first dog was a corgi mix who was companionable enough. I think my best memory of her came when she was barking from the window of the motorhome as we watched it burn from a short distance away. My dad — who wasn’t a physically bold man at all — strode up to the burning wreck and grabbed her out of the window, saving her life at the risk of his own. She was so happy to be out of there. That’s also probably my best memory of my dad. He did what he needed to do. Penny the dog had provided the occasion.

She lived a few years after that, but the smoke inhalation had probably weakened her. One day at the mall my dad told me that we wouldn’t be seeing her again. He didn’t do such things well. He went on to describe all the dogs he’d lost in his long life and in so doing, quickly broke down in tears. We all cried in consolably. Poor Penny.

But there were many other dogs that followed. We had a Doberman named “Vashti” who did a good job of pulling me around the neighborhood at top speed during nightly walks when I was a teenager. She was AKC-registered and my dad had hoped to get her bred and for us to start a small Doberman puppy mill in our backyard. Like most business plans, that went awry. She had a tilted uterus or something and couldn’t get pregnant. So we just kept her as a pet and depended on her to scare the neighborhood vandal kids. She fulfilled that duty even as she became one of the fattest Dobermans anyone had seen. The vet made us put her on a diet of green beans and a small serving of Kibble. She kinda hated us after that.

Then there was Milly the German shepherd. I named her after a girl I didn’t particularly like. Milly the Shepherd was generally irritating. I think in a pack she would have been a beta or a gamma. She did provide us with one cherished family memory: Mom had baked cookies and we were standing around the kitchen eating them and interacting like … like a normal family. Milly must have been so elated with this peculiar spectacle that she leapt up on top of the counter and started eating the cookies straight off the sheets. There was a brief silence as we — as a family — grasped what we were seeing happen right before us. Then, like a team of superheroes, we all jumped her and started kicking her ass as she scrambled away with the last of the cookies. We had that one warm family moment in the ten years of my adolescence and Milly the Dog was there trying to fuck it up. However, upon reflection, she did succeed in turning it into a David-Lynchian twisted instance of freakishness, which was probably somehow more fitting for us Westside LaBries.

While we still had Milly, we added Kaiser the Doberman. Kaiser was like Milly’s assistant. When you have two dogs you obtain at different times, the second one to join the organization tends to recognize the authority of the first dog by being stupid. Kaiser was, if anything, unfathomably stupid.

In the master bedroom of that house we’d leave the sliding-glass door open through most of the summer, allowing the evaporative cooler to push the curtain out with its chilling breeze. The dogs would hear noises in the backyard and come running through the hallway at top speed and out under the breezing curtain to scare off the passing garbage truck. Well, around November the cooler was no longer needed so we started shutting the door. I was on the bed playing Atari one afternoon when Kaiser comes running down the hallway like he’s on fire. The door was closed. He didn’t know. He rammed his head straight into the closed door, causing a thunderous shake and nearly breaking it. He dropped, shook his head and yelped. I felt bad for him and got up to tend to his wounds, but before I could reach him, he had risen, run back down the hallway, made a u-turn, and was halfway back towards his second door/skull collision of the preceding fifteen seconds or so.

After my dad died and our family left that house, my mom donated Kaiser to the Border Patrol. A year later, he made it on to a set of trading cards commemorating famous drug-sniffing dogs of the US Border Patrol. He was the first member of our household to make it in the world. He had become a cop.

…which kinda figures, I mean . . .

Things I Can’t Do

I grew up around people who lacked one critical skill: They couldn’t admit there was anything worth doing that they couldn’t do.

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I’m a pretty lousy satiric cartoon re-captioner, for instance…

And to some extent, this denial of incapability was helpful. There really wasn’t much they couldn’t do. If you can read and ask questions, you have the skills you need to learn how to do almost anything. That was our motivating ethos.

My mom and dad had never managed a restaurant or casino when they took over a struggling little cantina with some slot machines in the near-ghost-town of Searchlight, Nevada in 1977. But they soon figured it out. My dad had never tended bar and my mom had never cooked for hundreds of people before that experience. Somehow they pulled it off and built the place into a going business in a matter of a few months…

…only to lose it all when my dad learned that handshakes make for poorly-secured business agreements.

When we moved to Phoenix my dad had no experience in wiring rooftop evaporative coolers. He got a book and more or less figured it out without having to pay an electrician. Sure, there was that time when — as we parked in the driveway — we saw a pigeon alight on the frame of that cooler, make a final death-squawk, take a high trajectory off the roof, then go “thump” as its lifeless, smoking corpse landed at our feet. My dad immediately got the ladder and climbed up top to investigate. We nearly witnessed a repeat performance as he grabbed the cooler with both hands then jerked back, swearing (he hadn’t bothered to turn off the power first).

But overall, dad got a passing grade. Hey! The cooler was keeping the house cool–and the pigeons hot. Bunches of them, we later found out.

And so when I got old enough to start working (for my dad), it was all OJT: On the job training. I could read and knew how to use a card catalog at the library and could frame informal requests for help from professionals in a persuasive way. I wasn’t afraid of failing. I learned a lot of about soldering and the difference between RTS and XLR connectors, when not to connect the ground wire on both sides of a signal cable, how to set a compressor curve and how to edit tape (for the millenials out there: Sound was previously recorded on a polyester-based magnetic tape that needed to be physically manipulated with razor blades and adhesive. Brutal, I know). I was only about 15 or so, but I figured it out — bit-by-bit.

My parents continued to believe there really was nothing they (nor I) couldn’t do given access to the proper sources of information. My dad’s universe was composed of three rings: At the core were the creators who had a certain magic (that’s where he resided, natch). Next ring was inhabited by workaday schlubs like bank presidents and pharmacists. The final ring was inhabited solely by people who swept the hair out of barbershops.

That didn’t leave me with too many career choices.

But now, I’m older and wiser. I will readily admit there are things I just can’t do. I understand the premises behind most of them, but I have come to know that my specific aptitudes render me useless in regards to certain things.

I can’t fold fitted sheets. I watched in amazement a while back as a friend carefully tucked the ends together in some way that violated my understanding of geometry. I can’t do it. If she’s not around, those sheets are getting balled-up and shoved into the closet. That’s that.

I can’t keep a schedule, usually. Though this is probably a case of a very focused sort of resistance to regimentation. I seem to know exactly when ski season starts (even if I can’t go that year). As for when the bell rings in the morning at my kid’s school — 7:35? 7:40? I no unnerstan too good. I blame my background as a self-guided homeschooler (teachers weren’t necessary in our world either, of course). My high school classes started at 9:30 or 10 or so, ran until I wanted to take a bike ride or blow something up in the back yard, then resumed after dinner and ran until 2 AM — with the occasional distraction provided by important readings into why TV had to be eliminated or space exploration.

As I grew up, I found after twenty years of trying my best to keep myself interested in TPS reports

and just keeping my nose down and my mouth shut that those things take critical skills that I never developed. I’ve always been good at looking off in the distance kinda vacantly, only to suddenly say “Hey, we should take that thing and turn it upside-down. It might work better that way.” More the half the time I’m right, which amazes some people and kept me in the game. But such things do not a good corporate career make. I lack that corporate gene, I guess.

I no longer disregard the skills of people who can do things I can’t. I’m helpless in some very specific ways.

Please help.

More Influences

So, of course I had to think more about what’s influenced me as a writer, and in life. Once I get on a roll it’s hard to stop.

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I don’t know what possessed me in my youth to pick up a small volume of the essays of Michel De Montaigne. It was a stuffy little book written by a guy whose name I couldn’t really pronounce. He generally wrote about things that were going on in his head, or things he had read. In that way he was a sort of proto-blogger from the 16th century. Regardless, I fell in love with the mind of that rather dour man who pioneered the form of the personal essay.

He came up with some pretty stinging little epigrams that have stayed with us through the centuries. Things like:

“We must think quite highly of our convictions to have other men burned at the stake for them.”

Or

“The key to happiness is to not value anything you can’t carry with you as you swim to shore after a shipwreck.”

Or

“I think no more of him for having emerged from the same hole as did I.”

The last was about his brother.

Pardon me if some of these are a little off. I’m doing this from memory.

Montaigne knew solitude, and making the best of it. When we think of the solitary essayist staring out of his window on the grey world during an overcast day, jotting things down with a quill pen in a fit of deep cogitation as the thoughts finally emerge fully-formed, we are thinking of Montaigne and his various spirutal descendants.

But you’re probably not thinking of me. I’m one of his goofy spiritual descendants. I didn’t quite read all of the memo. Something shiny distracted me. All told, I’d probably rather be riding a motorcycle, etching my thoughts into the earth as invisible traces along a moebius-like strip of asphalt somewhere in Western Colorado. Maybe that’s what Montaigne would be doing today as well. I dunno. He’d probably ride a BMW mainly because it seems he could handle being stranded alone in the wilderness better than most.

Another influence on me was Thomas Mann. Mann was hot at one time, but like so many other greats who were read obsessively in the mid-20th century, he’s no longer much in fashion. That’s too bad because the emotional distance and moral confusion of his protagonists play very well against the modern way of seeing heroes. Read Death in Venice or Doctor Faustus and tell me if the narrators aren’t describing the empty hollowness of a world that has lost its grounding. They do this in everything they say and do. More people today should read Mann, especially the part in Faustus where the title character sits down at a piano and starts tinkling away, playing whatever his ear tells him to play. One of his churchly colleagues from the university asks him what it is he’s playing. He says “nothing”. His friend is not satisfied. What was it and where did it come from? Faustus didn’t know. It was just a thing–just a thing he was doing. His more literal-minded contemporary couldn’t grasp how such a thing was possible. It couldn’t possibly exist that way. And there, in that dialogue, you have the way that most people encounter creativity in themselves and in others. The creative don’t know where it comes from, the non-creative can’t imagine how that’s possible. It seems to count as a sort of possession by the devil. In some ways, that’s not a bad way of looking at it.

Then there’s Anthony Burgess, who is best known for A Clockwork Orange,  but also wrote a series of dark comedic novels based on the Enderby character. It’s hard not to see these as semi-autobiographical. Enderby is a gifted and underappreciated poet who is constantly self-defeating. He’s butted along from one situation to another, his talents used and abused by others while he just wants to be alone making the beast with one back. There are multiple efforts to “cure” him and make him a functioning member of society. Doctors try, his bosses and coworkers at his various horrible jobs try, his uptight and worldly literary agent marries him in an effort to make him fit-in. He just bounces along, always a stranger in the world he writes about. There are laugh-out-loud moments in Enderby, but we’re laughing with a certain sadness. One great thing about the book is that it starts with the reader knowing that he achieved what he was after, albeit posthumously. He achieved the immortality he sought, though it’s the lot of poets and other artists to never know whether they have gotten there or not while they are living.   

So those are a few other authors who have influenced me through my life. I suppose I should read happier things. Can you suggest any?

Words and Image ©2014 Bill LaBrie

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Tombstone: Men Being Men

My son and I have an annual tradition: Helldorado Days in Tombstone each October.

This was our third visit to this tourist mecca and staple of old west lore during its high-holy days of kitch. I don’t want to sound like I’m putting it down. There’s nothing quite like seeing a relatively-preserved 1880s town overrun with people who look the part, and many of them put a hell of lot into their outfits and acts.

The re-enactors and spectators come from around the world for a chance to party like it’s 1882–back when Tombstone had a greater population than Los Angeles did at the time. It’s a nice dip into fantasy-land.

Some of the greatest fantasies concern the honor of the men at the time. Virgil, Morgan and Wyatt Earp have been romanticized by history. In truth they were just men who did what they did — as men are wont to do.

Wyatt Earp was not only a legendary marshall and sheriff, but also a pimp and brothel owner.

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While living in a covered wagon parked next to the Birdcage Theatre and Saloon in Tombstone, he kept house with a common-law wife (also a onetime prostitute), Mattie.

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But of course he was a man about town. He took off to San Francisco with a lovely working girl/saloon singer from the Birdcage named Sadie (whose prostitution licence he personally signed). Together, they moved to San Francisco.

Josephine-Sarah-Marcus-c1881

Estranged wife Mattie moved to Colton, California in hopes of reuniting with Wyatt, but the telegram she expected to get from him never came. She moved to Pinal City, Arizona in hopes of returning to her former trade, but when she found the town nearly vacant after the silver rush, she took an overdose of laudanum (an opiate) and alcohol and killed herself.

The picture of the woman at the top 0f this article is posted in the Birdcage Saloon today and is said to be of Sadie, taken by a famous local photographer at her request and given to Wyatt as a gift to keep him company when she was working or away. That’s been discredited as a story (the picture’s been traced to an NYC novelty company and was published 1914), but it’s fun to think it might be her.

Anyway, it made you click the link, didn’t it? ;-)

There’s more reality in Tombstone than meets the eye.