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1000 Black Lines

:: digital coffee stains on the paper of the blogosphere ::

The American Male

From the chapter "Models of American Masculinity" author Weldon Hardenbrook details four models; The Tough Guy model (think John Wayne; always the lone, friendless victor), The Archie Bunker model (belittling his family to establish his personal worth), The Wimp model (i.e. Dagwood Bumstead, the submissive, can't-do-anything-right bum) and The Athlete model (self-worth through athletic achievements or athlete worship). He then concludes the chapter with this:

"These are not the only phony icons of masculinity... There is the Gender Bender, who invites men to trade their masculinity for the identity of unisex. There is the comedian, who hides his true self behind an endless stream of jokes... There is the little tycoon, who falsely equates masculinity with financial security and insulates himself from family and friends in a manipulative world of wheeling and dealing. But each of these images is just inappropriate... Following them has not helped the American male."

A friend of mine loaned me this book, Missing from Action: A Powerful Historical Response to the Crisis Among American Men, because I was struggling with the responsibilities of being a new father. I've never been a father before and I respected his advice. He seemed to be training his three children well and I thought he would be a great person to seek wise counsel. As a creative individual, I have found it difficult to find real male role models. At the university, I had an art teacher who really seemed to exhibit confidence and responsibility as male artist. How many times have you heard the expression; "He's an artist... he's in touch with his feminine side"? My art professor didn't seem to have a feminine side. He was very physical in his paintings and instructions; seemingly diving into a sketch or painting (and at times literally crashing into class with a wind swept appearance). I imitated his style of drawing, carried a black sketchbook around campus, and drew when and where ever I was able… in essence, I modeled myself under his creative shadow.

Though his impact upon my life is lasting, I still search for true masculinity in the art/lit community. A quick search through a local bookstore revealed several women's issues books, not to mention a weekly women's open-mic and on the purchase counter a 2005 women's artist calendar. The only men's issue books I found dealt with homosexuality, transgender oddities or the playboy lifestyle. Nothing really addressed the crisis among men in America. Based on Weldon Hardenbrook's searing analysis, I am patterned after The Athlete model; replacing athletic achievements for creative achievements in order to establish self-worth. In other words, please people by being bookish, artistically odd, arrogantly flamboyant or the misunderstood wounded poet.

I have almost completed reading this book. It has revealed that my journey toward true masculinity has only begun. I meditate on St. Paul the Apostle's exhortation: "I ask you to follow my example and do as I do. That is the very reason I am sending Timothy--to help you do this. For he is my beloved and trustworthy child in the Lord. He will remind you of what I teach about Christ Jesus..."

Writing Class, Coffee Meditations

Last night was the third class on creative non-fiction taught by Neal Thompson. Two things I learned last week: 1) the definitions, according to Peter Rubie’s Telling the Story: How to Write and Sell Narrative Nonfiction: "creative nonfiction refers to short pieces for newspaper and magazines, while narrative nonfiction is used… in book publishing circles to refer to book-length projects." 2) an interesting topic is not an interesting story to write.

Topics covered last night include: finding the right story idea, research for the story and interview tips, techniques and ethics.

After class, I walked over to Old Europe (a cafe that stays open late... real late). I purchased a single latte and some pastries from a dark-haired woman wearing a black sweater. One of the students in my class ruminated over the fact that Old Europe pastries seem to taste better because they are served to patrons by a lovely staff. I remembered this as I took the white paper bag of pastries and cup of latte from the counter and glanced back at the two hostesses. Both dark-haired women dressed in black, wearing smiles and serving patrons seemed enchanted. Is it because they enjoy serving others, or is it because they enjoy where they work?

As I waited for my ride, two guitarists were performing folk tunes next to The Flat Iron sculpture. I sat on a bench and watched. An old couple and later a young couple with a child dropped money into their open guitar cases. After a song about something to do with the deep, deep ocean (or something like that) a free-spirited young lady glided across the street and began dancing before them. Not a formal dance. A hippie/peace-nik/goddess dance seen at Grateful Dead of Phish concerts. If you're not familiar with that subculture, imagine San Francisco circa 1969 or Woodstock (same era)--that's the manner in which she danced. Maybe that's why people come to this mountain city to view/experience the local wild life.

The term free-spirited expresses the mood of this area. As this young lady wearing a long-skirt, knitted hat and opened jacket danced to the music of the strumming minstrels, I thought of the nature of the free-spirited lifestyle. "Freedom isn't free" declared a bumper sticker I read recently. But what does it cost to be free-spirited? Freedom to do what you want with your life is one answer I've heard. That seems a bit myopic. It is nearly impossible to live without affecting others. Maybe that's the trade-off, freedom to do what you want at the cost of others. No rules for a free-spirited life means that at least one rule was declared. The irony of the free-spirited lifestyle is that despite the heady philosophy, the dancing young lady looked for cars before crossing the street. This implies compliance with certain social and civil behaviors. What sounds good in philosophical books and discussions breaks down when applied to everyday life.

Homework Assignment #1

It is almost eight o'clock in the morning and no one stands near the bus stop sign which leans south as if pointing to the forest or Busbee Mountain. This vigilant sign displays the grime of many years remaining upon its post—many years of gathering humble crowds to its small patch of earth. Beneath the bus stop sign an empty green Laura Lynn Mountain Moondrink bottle rests in the damp grass beside a crumpled nondescript foil gum wrapper—remnants of the neighborhood children. The same kids that would cut through the neighbor's yard en route to Ingles to buy soda pop and candy bars.

No one is here today except the heavy fog and a cardinal, which soon disappears like the surrounding landscape. Birds and crickets suggest reality beyond this void with their singing and chirping, but everything else is masked in dark shapes, specters amid this morning mist. The treetops evaporate into the thick clouds of fog—even the top of the utility pole is barely visible. In the damp grass, a white toy car is nestled beneath the old utility pole with its weakly attached upside down sign reading "we buy homes." A fresh new utility pole as been placed next the old gray pole but the cables and wires have not been transferred yet.

The asphalt street has fallen away at the edges to reveal gravel and clay. Grass and weeds have begun their campaign to claim what the asphalt could not. It's where the neighbors would stand near the line of spruce and boxwood hedge, smoke cigarettes, talk about the weather or silently wait for the bus. Some mornings are like that. No one wants to talk. They just want to wait. No one waits today. Only a solo Toyota appears from the east side of the street and disappears into the gray morning mist to the west which leads to Hendersonville Road.

It’s been this way since Hurricane Ivan came through and changed the order of things. Streets cluttered with locust limbs and oak branches divert traffic to wider more secure roads. The bus route changes. People migrate to other places. The old patch of ground near the bus stop sign becomes vacant.

Everything disappears today, the cars, the people, the houses, the road, and the sun. A child cries somewhere in the fog and like everything else this morning, the cry is swallowed up in anonymity. A hint of a breeze reveals in the grass along the hedge a discarded Baked Apple Pie container from McDonalds. Probably discarded sometime last week before the hurricane hit the city. Before water and electric became so precious. Before flushing a toilet became a forgotten luxury. And for a few days the city understands what it's like to be anywhere else but America.

The air sweetens from dank earth to moist foliage. The western crest of the street is now visible and a blue Pontiac immerges from the retreating fog with the drama of a thirty-second television car commercial. As the auto’s engine noise fades into the distance, a whistle is heard. Someone whistles from a house to the north, tweet-tee-tee-ta-tee-tee-ta. As if on cue, the sun burns a hole through the gray wisps and in minutes the fog begins to clear. Dark shadows become green trees, red roofs and blue skies. Yet the sunlight confirms no one is at the bus stop. She, like many others, has moved to the new bus stop sign that is closer to the stream of fossil fuel burning vehicles that flow north to south, south to north.

First Printed Book Review

The following is an excerpt from a book review of Late Night Writing which Pasckie Pascua wrote for the September 2004 issue of The Indie:

The poet confidently plays with visual intimacy ("Some evenings/it is difficult to discern/where the house lights stop /and the stars begin.")—as well as emotional terrain, like an artisan voyager who has mastered his every step like a shaman spewing wisdom like pipesmoke ("Scene must be committed to memory.") But unlike the bohemian freebird that finds refuge in many a temporal layovers and rest-stops, Mulder knows pretty well that at the end of the day, intimacy and emotion come home hand-in-hand: "She returns to bed /and nestles beneath /the bedclothes, smiles /and reminds me /to turn off the light."
That one, that soul that warms under a physical shelter, sets him apart from the vagabond soul that has oftentimes identify subversive romanticism in young poets. In that regard, Mulder becomes the poet outside the frame.
The poetry in "Late Night Writing" doesn't end there though. Like a sneaky feline traipsing through a bed of flaming thorns, he meticulously—almost compulsively/obsessively—aligns, levels, arranges images and figures atop, beside, beneath and arc then entices you to come leap over it. His carefully woven, well-crafted enchantment gnaws and nags then tempts you to exhaust yourself before you resign to a fulfilling denouement.
"the wisteria along the railroad tracks" to " a park bench in front of the hardware store," Mulder negates the dreamy mischief that may be hiding from the cracks and crannies of his journey—instead, he diligently collects the little, seemingly nonsensical morsels that litter the streets and avenues of his meandering and wanderings then collage them into a bewildering parchment of truths. Hence, with the painless agility of a painter and quiet power of a sage, he offers: "Sometimes volumes of verse pass before my eyes/before I discover a splinter of reality./Sometimes the only distance between/two truths is a line and always a lifetime."
Despite all the metaphorical superlatives, "Late Night Writing" is easy, feeling-good reading, almost like a Rimbaud sobering up with Miles Davis over tequila sunrises at Venice Beach on a windy September late afternoon. Here is a poet who doesn't reve[a]l perfumed nightmares or exalted glorious wounds... he simply examines landscapes, surveys memories, and then invites you to come ride along. But leave excess baggage behind—otherwise, you'd be sweetly distracted and hopelessly bothered. That is all good unless you fail to read between, beneath his lines.

Autumnal Equinox

The calendar on my desk tells me it's autumn but I can see creation has known this for awhile. From the office's library window, I look north. Beaucatcher Mountain stretches to meet Sunset Moutntain in a friendly green curtain. Chunns Cove separates the previous two mountains from Cisco Mountain and Piney Mountain to the east. These four mountains retain their emerald green covering, but that too will fade. The leaves on the maple tree north of McDonalds below the office window turned deep red during the last days of summer. First, the top most branches changed color giving a red to green gradient collage and now the tree displays a dark red almost violet robe. About a hundred feet away is another tree resting at the edge of the Wal-Mart parking lot. It begins to turn bright yellow within a week of the McDonalds's tree. Soon, the four mountains will feel the full kiss of Autumn.

Narrative Non-fiction Class

Last night was my second class on narrative non-fiction taught by Neal Thompson author of Light This Candle. Since I got a request last week about the in-class exercise, I thought I'd offer you the same exercise and post mine later this week.

Exercise 2: Write one opening sentence to a narrative non-fiction story based on the following list of interview notes:
wall of depression
open a restaurant
Willy Wonka poster
huge CD collection
cookie wrappers next to computer
smell of butter
art piece called a whirly-gig
Roald Dahl and Dr. Suess books
"Every one makes a difference."
"That quote applies to me."

Have fun!

Hurricane Ivan

This oak tree fell across the driveway and tore out the phoneline. Needless to say, without power and dial-up I couldn't update this blog. The tree did not prevent a trip to the beach (nor did the other trees that came due to Ivan the Terrible). No harm was done to family and only the fence was damaged from the storm. It's amazing to think that the same God of the heavens who designed such a storm can place His hand of protection upon my home and family. Much reading, reflecting and relaxing was enjoyed at the beach, but now the clean up begins.

Beach Retreat

Hurricane Ivan seems to be storming across half a dozen states and I'm planning on going on vacation to the beach. What! Am I crazy? We'll see--off to the beach for a much needed retreat.

High Price of Water

When the price of bottled water and bottled beer are the same, which would you most likely take to wait out a hurricane?

A River Ran Through The Village

This photo was published in this week's issue of the Mountain Xpress. I included my John Madden commentary to celebrate the Packers victory over the Panthers.

If you follow the Mountain Xpress link you'll find 14 more photos. Many of those photos were taken of the River District which houses several of the artists I have interviewed. The Village refers to the Biltmore Village (not Greenwich Village NYC).

With these photos in mind, I think I'll leave town before Ivan hits.

Creative Non-fiction Class

Tonight was my first class on the craft of writing and publishing creative non-fiction. The class is taught by Neal Thompson author of Light This Candle: The Life & Times of Alan Shepard, America's First Spaceman. Previously today, on my lunch break, I had traveled to Office Depot and purchased two new composition books for the class and looked forward to breaking in at least one of them. The chaos of work dissolved as I ate a double cheeseburger at a stoplight while waiting to drive downtown. The class started at 6 PM and Neal began by reading three published pieces that embodied the literary form of narrative non-fiction (or creative non-fiction). He read just enough to tease us to read further and then he moved onto the next selection. Neal illustrated that if you can hook the reader with a well-written introduction then the reader will want to read the rest of the story. In other words, offer the reader a reason to keep reading by providing a cliff-hanger moment in the story's openning paragragh. The rest of the class was spent with introductions. It is a small class but each member introduced him/herself, stated their purpose and goal for being part of the class and mentioned a non-fiction book they had recently read. The first in-class assignment was to write a short story about something that happened today. The class spent about five or ten minutes writing and then Neal ask each member to read what was written. Honestly, I can't think of a piece that was read which was poorly written. Everything read was a good start to a story. I look forward to next weeks class.

Comments Made Elsewhere

Here are several comments made on other blogs. Follow the links to the first three (the last link is rather difficult to follow) and enjoy!

The Karagraphy comment relates to packaging "God in an explainable box of rules."

The Neanderthal blog comment about the two calcified political parties that rule America.

The Exiled blog comment about sex, religion & politics.

The World Magazine blog comment about RNC Protests brought levity to an angry-eye-brow conservative discussion:
On AIGA's website, Steven Heller (graphic design guru) interviewed Milton (another designer) on his RNC protest plans. Glaser states: "On August 30, from dusk to dawn, all citizens who wish to end the Bush presidency can use light as our metaphor. We can gather informally all over the city with candles, flashlights and plastic wands to silently express our sorrow over all the innocent deaths the war has caused." If there are to be prostests, I think this would be a civil way to express discontent.
Posted by MM at August 31, 2004

Better than yelling out a window perhaps we should try the following . . .
This Friday drive with your lights on during the day if you plan to vote for President Bush. If you will be voting for John Kerry, drive with your lights off Friday night.
(Trying to add a little levity to a rather bogged-down blog!)
Posted by Jill at September 1, 2004

Levity is the best approach to serious thought. Thanks, Jill. Drive safe everyone and watch out for Kerry supporters (they'll be the ones in the dark).
Posted by MM at September 1, 2004

Three Years Later

On the newly designated Patriots Day, Ed Veith, on World Magazine's blog, posted: "It was a day of horror, yet a day of searing compassion. It was a day when our cultured experienced once again moral clarity. For a few weeks, we knew evil was real. Truth was objective, after all... America was unified. Three years later, we are back to postmodernist, relativism, cynicism, and conflict."

The Neanderthal recounts how it changed his America by confessing "Three years later, I can't honestly remember what it was like before."

I too recall the events of that day. The surreal atmosphere around the newsroom as the cover story for that week's issue was trashed and replaced with a "special report" in photo essay format. Editorial decisions changing as the event unfolded before us in the conference room via Fox News coverage. Three-page spreads vacant except for FPO (for position only) gray boxes pending related photos and copy. I remember logging onto the AP Wire to see if the network news was correct. Several dozen bazaar photos appeared. Each photo displaying the most notable landmark in NYC in smoke. Outside my office I could hear the decision to remove all advertising content from this week's "special report." It would be risky to dump ad revenue, but it was the editor's decision to run the magazine free of advertisements.

It's hard to believe that was three years ago. My first born child was born three months after that event. As I helped put him to bed this evening I wounder what kind of America he will inherit.

Worst Flooding in 30yrs

Woke up this morning an realized the power was out. Drove to work and realized the parking lot was empty because the power was out there as well. So I turned on the radio and discovered that the city was under a state of emergency because of the flooding of the two major rivers. Now the water is off because sewage has found its way into the water system. The rivers are to crest sometime tonight (because the water from higher elevations have not made it here yet). Just heard of a mudslide on the major interstate that runs east to west, but what disturbs me most is the fact that without power and water I still receive a phone call from someone trying to sell me a credit card.


My publisher recently informed me of the sales status of my book of poems, Late Night Writing. Needless to say, the conversation wasn't close to a million dollar contract. Even more exciting was the Barnes & Noble Sales Rank: 510,786. Wow, do I have a long way to make the New York Times bestseller list.

So with that in mind, let me invite you to some events where I'll be performing/reading poems from Late Night Writing.

When: Saturday, September 4th. Doors open at 6:00 pm, Performances begin at 8:00 pm
Where: The Grey Eagle Tavern and Music Hall
What: "Resonance" Art Opening/Multimedia Performance
The opening will feature the works and performances from several visual and performance artists.
Cost: Free to the public; donations encouraged.

When: Saturday, September 10, 2004. Performaces from 6pm-9pm
Where: Well-Bred Cafe
What: The Traveling Bonfires presents an evening of poetry, music, and peaceful vibes.
Cost: Free to the public.

When: Saturday, September 11, 2004. Performaces from 6pm-9:30pm
Where: Malaprop's Bookstore and Cafe
What: The Traveling Bonfires presents another evening of poetry, coffee, words, music, and peaceful vibes.
Cost: Free to the public.