Archive for August, 2010

Fear

August 31, 2010

Fear

Bugaboo, bugbear
Who’s afraid?
I don’t care

Hurry, hurry
Run and hide
Worry, worry
Don’t go outside

All day long
Fret and flee
Won’t sing that song
Don’t bother me

by Richard W. Bray

Some Thoughts on On Writing

August 30, 2010

Tabitha and Stephen King

Some Thoughts on On Writing

I was built with a love of the night and the unquiet coffin, that’s all. If you disapprove, I only shrug my shoulders. It’s what I have.

Stephen King (158)

Kurt Vonnegut joked that critics often mistake the Science Fiction genre for a urinal. But Science Fiction is certainly several notches above Horror in the Hierarchy of Serious Literature. Science Fiction writers such as H. G. Wells, Ursula Le Guin and Ray Bradbury are taken seriously by Serious Literary Types. With the notable exception of Edgar Alan Poe, however, Horror writers rarely receive such literary love.

Stephen King is the undisputed master of a genre which barely elicits as much respect as Romance Novels in the Academy and among Serious Critics. Although we wouldn’t expect someone who has enough money to buy up and pulp every edition of every negative review he has ever received to worry about such things, Stephen King is obviously irked by critics who look down their noses at a particular type of literature. (King is also irked by inelegant adverbs, and he would probably deem that “obviously” superfluous.)

King’s passionate defense of Raymond Chandler’s hard boiled mysteries tells us a lot about how he sees his own detractors:

a good deal of literary criticism serves only to reinforce a caste system which is as old as the intellectual snobbery which nurtured it. Raymond Chandler may be recognized now as an important figure in twentieth-century American literature, an early voice describing the anomie of urban life in the years after World War II, but there are plenty of critics who will reject such a judgement out of hand. He’s a hack! they cry indignantly. A hack with pretensions! The worst kind! The kind who thinks he can pass for one of us (143).

When King was in eighth grade, he wrote, published and sold his first bestseller, a novelization of the Roger Corman movie The Pit and the Pendulum. King made the mistake of selling his work at school. The book was confiscated and Stephen was brought before the authorities, his principal Miss Hisler, who accused the young writer of wasting his talent by writing “junk.” This left a wound which took years to heal, if it ever really did:

I was ashamed. I have spent a good many years since–too many, I think–being ashamed about what I write. I think I was forty before I realized that almost every writer of fiction and poetry who has ever published a line has been accused by someone of wasting his or her God-given talent. If you write (or paint or dance or sculpt or sing, I suppose), someone will try to make you feel lousy about it (50).

Knowing how much Americans love a good Horatio Alger Story, King is quick to point out his humble origins. He explains how he and his brother

lived an odd, herky-jerky childhood, raised by a single parent who moved around a lot in my earliest years….Perhaps she was only chasing our father, who piled up all sorts of bills and then did a runout when I was two and my brother David was four (17).

On Writing is a testament to the virtues of hard work. Before achieving astounding success with his first published novel Carrie, King worked various demanding manual labor jobs, including a stint at an industrial laundry where “maggots would try to crawl up your arms as you loaded the washers” (68). King’s commitment to the American Work Ethic was already evident in his teenage years:

During my final weeks at Lisbon High, my schedule looked like this: up at seven, off to school at seven thirty, last bell at two o’clock, punch in on the third floor at Worumbo at 2:58, bag loose fabric for eight hours, punch out at 11:02, get home around at quarter to twelve, eat a bowl of cereal, fall into bed, get up the next morning, do it all again (59).

King suggests that the good work habits he developed in order to surmount his humble origins have served him well as a writer because

while it is impossible to make a competent writer out of a bad writer, and while it is equally impossible to make a great writer out of a good one, it is possible, with lots of hard work, dedication and timely help, to make a good writer out of a merely competent one (142).

Above all, On Writing is a Love Story. When asked how he was able to achieve such a remarkable output–forty-nine novels, including such tomes as IT, which is suitable for bench pressing–King says that the two keys were staying healthy (up until he had an accident which actually occrred while he was writing this memoir) and maintaining “a stable relationship with a self-reliant woman who takes zero shit from me or anyone else has made the continuity of my working life possible”(155).

Steven King met his wife Tabitha when they were undergraduates at the University of Maine. As King sees it

“Writing is a lonely job. Having someone who believes in you makes a lot of difference. They don’t have to make speeches. Just believing is usually enough”(74).

In addition to being his life partner and “ideal reader,” Tabitha was also responsible for the major break of King’s career when she rescued the first draft of the novel Carrie from a wastebasket and convinced him to finish the story:

Tabby had the pages. She’d spied them while emptying my wastebasket, had shaken the cigarette ashes off the crumpled balls of paper, smoothed them out, and sat down to read them. She wanted me to go on with it, she said. She wanted to know the rest of the story” (77).

The rest, as they say, is publishing History.

Love literally saved King’s life when his wife and children decided they could no longer tolerate his ferocious addictions. So they staged an intervention wherein Tabby unloaded:

a trashbag full of stuff from my office out on the rug: beercans, cigarette butts, cocaine in gram bottles and cocaine in plastic Baggies, coke spoons caked with snot and blood, Valium, Xanax, bottles of Robitussin cough syrup and NyQuil cold medicine, even bottles of mouthwash (97).

King’s stubbornly succumbed only when the mother of his children laid down the law: “Tabby said I had my choice: I could get help at the rehab or I could get the hell out of the house” (97).

The bottle (and other addictions) has done damage to an extremely high percentage of American writers. But King recognizes that “Life isn’t a support-system for art. It’s the other way around” (101). King wisely (another superfluous adverb) refutiates what he calls the Hemingway Defense, which some employ in order to justify the ways if the dipsomaniacal scrivener:

I am a very sensitive fellow, but I am also a man, and real men don’t give into their sensitivities. Only sissy-men do that. Therefore I drink. How else can I face the existential horror of it all and continue to work? Besides, come on, I can handle it. A real man always can (94).

(As usual, I left out so much. Particularly the author’s witty and clever musings on the craft of writing which alone are worth the price of admission.)

I’ll leave the last word to Mr. King, describing his feelings for Tabitha:

Our marriage has outlasted all of the world’s leaders except Castro, and if we keep talking, arguing, making love, and dancing to the Romones–gabba-gabba-hey–it’ll probably keep working (61).

by Richard W. Bray

Pride

August 26, 2010

Pride

If you don’t say you’re sorry
We’ll never speak again
And you will be so lonely
Without your favorite friend
I have my pride to think of
It makes a man a man
So I hope you’re on the brink of
Doing what you can
To drop your petty grievance
And put bygones away
You could be so happy
If we could go and play

by Richard W. Bray

Heartbreak

August 24, 2010

Heartbreak

I won’t be there
To watch you grow
And share your life with you
I’ve given up
The right to know
About everything you do
I lost my chance
To be with you
And see you every day
To see you smile
And hear you cry
And learn from what you say
The memory
The times we had
Feel like a missing limb
I can’t get back
To where we were
I never will again

by Richard W. Bray

The Birdman

August 21, 2010

The Birdman

Walter Wendel Whitebrow, the Third
Is fully convinced that he is a bird
This, of course, makes him seem quite absurd
And none of his doctors believe he is cured

With wet worms washed by Wilma, his wife
Walter had the great grub of his life
He caused a major domestic strife
By refusing to cut them up with a knife

Instead, he slurped them down like spaghetti
And all the folks in Freaksville said he
Was quite insane when he grabbed a machete
And chopped up his chairs till they looked like confetti

He gathered all the string he could find
Furiously, he started to bind
Till half his possessions were tightly twined
He couldn’t comprehend why his family would mind

Every time he would visit a house
Walter took something away in his mouth
He dove off the porch while hunting a mouse
As winter approached he began to head south

Today you can seem him up in the sky
For somehow he taught himself how to fly
Whenever a gaggle of geese passes by
Poor Wilma looks up and asks herself, “Why?”

by Richard W. Bray

Peripatetic Paul

August 19, 2010

Peripatetic Paul

Peripatetic Paul went to the mall
He went to the beach and the zoo
He went near and far in his very own car
Still he found nothing to do

by Richard W. Bray

Ode to my Feet

August 18, 2010

Ode to my Feet

Considered alone they’re simply two foots
But together they make up my feet
They endure wherever I take them
This pair is hard to beat

Daily I pound them with pressure
And each time I walk down the street
The entire weight of my body
Comes crashing down on my feet

Cruelly I encase them
In sandals or stockings and shoes
At home I keep them in slippers
Protecting from fixtures that bruise

I wasn’t designed to walk upright
But you won’t see me swinging in trees
I’m resisting all primeval yearnings
To return to the salty old seas

Supporting my frame for a lifetime
They’re loyal and faithful and strong
Through corns and fungus and bunions
My friends keeps moving along

I’m planning on keeping my tootsies
I’ll treat them with kindness and care
Publicly now I salute them
This most deserving pair

by  Richard W. Bray

Some Thoughts on Washington Rules

August 17, 2010

John Quincy Adams

Some Thoughts on Washington Rules

[America] is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only to her own.

–President John Quincy Adam (232)

The Muslim masses just need to be shown that it’s possible to set themselves free.

–President George W. Bush Max Boot(184)

We did not choose to be the guardians at the gate, but there is no one else.

–President Lyndon Baines Johnson (247)

What’s the point of having this superb military that you’re always talking about if we can’t use it?

–Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to General Colin Powell (142)

We have to be forward deployed in Europe and in Asia in order to shape people’s opinions about us in ways that are favorable to us. To shape events that will affect our livelihood and our security. And we can do that when people see us, they see our power, they see our professionalism, they see our patriotism, and they say that’s a country we want to be with. So we are shaping events on a daily basis in ways that are favorable to our interests. You can only do that if you’re forward deployed.

–Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen (148)

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.

–President Dwight David Eisenhower (225)

Power tends to confuse itself with virtue and a great nation is peculiarly susceptible to the idea that its power is a sign of God’s favor, conferring upon it a special responsibility for other nations–to make them richer and happier and wiser, to make them, that is, in its own shining image.

–Senator J. William Fulbright (111)

Words uttered in Washington command less respect than once was the case. Americans can ill afford to indulge any longer in dreams of saving the world, much less remaking it in our own image. The curtain is now falling on the American Century

–Soldier and Historian Andrew J. Bacevich (16)

In the wake of the events of September 11, 2001, the few thinking Americans who refused to submit to War Fever were prone to feeling the effects of Marilyn Munster Syndrome (MMS). Everyone around us was acting weird, yet we were the ones who were generally regarded as freaks. People who should have known better were saying all kinds of ridiculous things on television. For example, the absurd proposition that Saddam Hussein (or anyone else, for that matter) would go to all of the trouble of developing nuclear weapons and then just give them away to people who thought he was a heretic (thereby relinquishing all the advantages of having such weapons while receiving no strategic advantage) was rarely challenged in world of Serious Washington Punditry.

Enter Andrew Bacevich, paleoconservative soldier and historian who had the wit, wherewithal and wisdom to see through George W. Bush’s harebrained scheme designed to usher in a NeoWilsonian age of perpetual paradise on earth.

Unlike so many commenters, however, Bacevich refuses to pretend that the belligerent foreign policy conducted by the Bush administration represents a substantial departure from policies of every president since Truman. Yes, Bush’s absurdly named and pitifully executed Global War on Terror has become a punchline, “redolent with deception, stupidity, and monumental waste,” but the predilection to seek simple military fixes to complex diplomatic problems has been a feature of every postwar administration (166). (Ford had the Mayaguez Incident and Carter had the failed hostage rescue mission.)

According to Bacevich, America finds herself caught up in two wars without any palatable exit strategy not simply because “the Bush administration had blundered into an immense cul-de-sac, from which it could not extricate itself” (180-181). Rather, a postwar political consensus (which Bacevich dubs the Washington Rules) has created a climate wherein the use of force is our first and favored response to conducting international relations. Thus we find ourselves in a situation where our

reliance on military might creates excuses for the United States to avoid serious engagement: Confidence in American arms has made it unnecessary to attend to what others might think or to consider how their aspirations might differ from our own (17).

Although the “standard story line, promulgated by journalists and indulged by scholars, depicts that history as a succession of presidential administrations,” Bacevich believes that “when it comes to assessing reality, slicing the past into neat four- or eight- year-long intervals conceals and distorts at least as much as it illuminates” (30, 31). The colossal stupidity and incompetence of the most recent Bush administration notwithstanding, there is overwhelming continuity in the conduct of American foreign policy. Bacevich’s Washington Rules represent a “consensus [which] has remained in tact” for almost the entire postwar era, spanning “[f]rom the era of Harry Truman to the age of Barack Obama” (15).

For most of our history, America has validated our founders’ distrust of Standing Armies by quickly demobilizing after war. But since Harry Truman decided that he needed to “scare hell out of the American people” in order to justify the creation of a permanent military establishment which would be large enough to challenge the Soviet Union for global domination, presidents have demanded a greater and greater arsenal in order to project American power. (Alleged doves like Carter and Kennedy actually expanded military budgets. Kennedy’s military outlays rose 15 during his first year in office (63). This departure from the sensible American tendency to eschew excessive foreign entanglements does not bode well for the future of the American Experiment. This new American ethos is a tradition which

has emphasized activism over example, hard power over soft, and coercion (often styled “negotiation from a place of strength”) over suasion. Above all, the exercise of global leadership as prescribed by the credo obliges the United States to maintain military capabilities staggeringly in excess of those required for self-defense. Prior to WWII, Americans by and large viewed military power and institutions with skepticism, if not outright hostility. In the wake of WWII, that changed. An affinity for military might emerged as central to the American identity (13).

Today America finds herself in a truly distressing situation. Embroiled in two major wars, our soldiers are pursuing a “pipe dream” as they are forced to attempt “social work with guns,” a misbegotten undertaking under any circumstances (204, 201). In Iraq our senseless quest for security has led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of noncombatants and the displacement of millions more. And we continue to charge headlong into a quagmire in Afghanistan, ten years of war in search of a justification. Yet,

Whether or not Afghans wished to be saved and exactly how they viewed salvation were matters that attracted scant attention (183).

The greatest and most enduring culprit in this sad, sad, sordid tale is the American defense establishment, a suppurating wound on the body politic which has already spewed trillions of corrupt dollars like so much pus.

This money lubricates American politics, filling campaign coffers and providing a source of largess–jobs and contracts–for distribution to constituents (228).

Sadly, there is little hope that America is prepared confront reality any time soon. Despite promising hope and change, President Obama “forfeited his opportunity to undertake a serious reassessment of the basic approach to national security formulated of the course of the preceding six decades” (220).

America is going down the tubes yet no one has been able to explain “why fixing Helmand Province should take precedence over fixing Cleveland and Detroit” (220).

by Richard W. Bray

What’s a Guy to Do?

August 10, 2010

What’s a Guy to Do?

I took Tammy’s twinkie while she was at a play
Then I made a stinky and discreetly walked away
“What they don’t know won’t hurt them” is what I like to say
Besides, I’ll make it up to them on some future day

I switched Scotty’s toothpaste with some super glue
Though he’s in the hospital, he has a lovely view
If some folks cannot take a joke, what’s a guy to do?
I’m not about to miss such fun just so others won’t be blue

Alex likes to brag about the lunches his mom makes
So I replaced his lunch bag with one full of snakes
You might think that I am mean, but I say, “Them’s the breaks.”
He should learn to be more careful about which bag he takes

Walter wrote a paper that my teacher gave an “A”
Then I filled his desk with dog doo when he went out to play
We all got extra recess so it was a perfect day
It’s really all his fault, you know, for showing off that way

I hate to brag about my brilliance, but it’s simply true
I’ve never gotten caught for all the things I do
People make me angry, so what’s a guy to do?
It’s not my fault that they’re all liars and mean and stupid, too

by Richard W. Bray

Decent Wholesome People

August 7, 2010

Decent Wholesome People

Eating tofu sandwiches
And playing tambourines
A hippie dippy scoundrel
In your tie-dye blouse and jeans
Shaggy hair and sandals
And a peace sign on your shirt
Just another sissy weirdo
Making free love in the dirt
Go find a tree to hug
Like all those other hairy clones
You don’t love nature
You’re just stoned

You hardly qualify as human
Should be locked up in a zoo
So decent wholesome people
Won’t be exposed to what you do
Only true Americans
Who look and act like me
Should be allowed to walk around
Or seen on the teevee

A long beard and a trench-coat
And a silly red beret
Don’t make an intellectual
I’m thinking you look pretty gay
Your existential posturing
Don’t score no cred with me
You’ve toured fifty-seven colleges
But you ain’t go no degree
Just an over-read degenerate
With too many student loans
You ain’t no genius
You’re just stoned

You hardly qualify as human
Should be locked up in a zoo
So decent wholesome people
Won’t be exposed to what you do
Only true Americans
Who look and act like me
Should be allowed to walk around
Or seen on the teevee

You got a creepy congregation
Full of lunatics and fools
To follow you around
And let you make up all the rules
You’re a phony and a faker
And a huckster and a fraud
Just going on and on ’bout
Your relationship with God
You couldn’t quote two words of scripture
From a book you never owned
You ain’t no prophet
You’re just stoned

You hardly qualify as human
Should be locked up in a zoo
So decent wholesome people
Won’t be exposed to what you do
Only true Americans
Who look and act like me
Should be allowed to walk around
Or seen on the teevee

by Richard W. Bray