Suffering through years of piano lessons

In the old days years before I was born, people were expected to know how to play the piano. My parents grew up in a swing and big band era where the most popular person at a party was they guy who could sit down at a piano and play popular music that everyone else could sing to or dance to. I was, I think expected to be a modern version of Cosmo, the piano player in “Singin’ In the Rain.”

What I wanted to play.

Unfortunately, the guitar was fast becoming the instrument of choice long before I was old enough to go to a party. Unfortunately, I was what is often called “beat deaf,” defined in the Wikipedia entry as “a form of congenital amusia characterized by a person’s inability to distinguish musical rhythm or move in time to it.”

My music teacher, who probably suffered through my years of piano lessons more than I did, focused on classical music. I grew up on classical music and liked it fine, but learning to play Chopin, Lizst, and Schumann didn’t appeal to me, plus classical music was written with the assumption that the pianist could co-ordinate the use of his/her left hand on the bass clef with what the right hand was doing on the table clef.

What I music teacher wanted me to play (Chopin’s Polonaise in A♭ major, Op. 53)

The best I was ever able to do was play music themes and other songs which allowed the left hand to play chords rather than what was written. Needless to say, I wasn’t the hit at any parties.

According to my parents, the “worst” thing I could play was my own mix of the traditional wedding march and the traditional funeral march. I think mother was in the kitchen fixing pork chops while I was in the livingroom ostensibly for my daily practicing when I tried that tune on for size. It didn’t take long for her to appear and ask WHAT IS THAT? I said I was trying to use music to express what I thought about marriage. She shook her head and went back to the kitchen. I switched over to “The Darktown Strutter’s Ball” to which she shouted MUCH BETTER.

I never was invited to the Ed Sullivan Show or the Johnny Carson Show or to sit in with Paul Shaffer’s band on the Letterman show. I would have truly helped make it the world’s most dangerous band.

I still have the clarinet I used when my parents URGED me to play in my junior high and high school bands. But that’s another long and sordid story.

Malcolm

Book is done: should I throw a wrap party?

Authors react in a variety of ways to the completion of a book.

Some are at loose ends because their days and nights have been filled up with time spent working on the manuscript. Others feel empty: the plot and characters have been on their mind for so long, and now poof, they’re en route to the publisher. Multitasking authors already have a new book in mind and can jump right into it, staying busy rather than fretting about the book’s completion.

I started work on Fate’s Arrows two years ago, then got derailed for a year of cancer treatments, followed up by feeling bogged down by the virus and the nightly riots. I’m a bit of an empath and I write intuitively, so all kinds of stuff can become disruptive before a manuscript if complete.

Typical wrap party

When the production of a film is complete, cast and crew often attend a wrap party to celebrate reaching the finish line. Pat Conroy once said that a team of fifteen or more people helped with his books: editors, cover artists, book designers, fact-checkers, permissions people, publicists, etc. But, here it’s just me. Well, there is my publisher, but she lives in central Florida and probably isn’t going to meet me at the Rome, Georgia Applebee’s for a wrap party with our spouses. (I’ve urged her to buy a company jet to make traveling faster than the family car.)

I can’t very well invite the characters over since they exist in my mind and on paper. There’s probably a state law against having a party with imaginary people. In his novel The Outsider, Stephen King mentioned author Harlan Coben a number of times. Maybe Harlan came over for drinks when the book was done. Sadly, I didn’t mention either Stephen or Harlan in Fate’s Arrows. If I had, I’m sure they’d meet me at the Rome, Georgia Applebee’s. (They probably have their own planes.)

So, I’ll probably boil some water in the Dutch oven, toss in some macaroni, and fix Kraft Mac & Cheese for dinner, and tell my wife and cats, “well folks, that’s a wrap.”

Malcolm

 

Ain’t got no cigarettes or wisdom either

A commenter on my last post said, “Found a peanut? That’s your wisdom for the day?”

I’m neither a man of means nor the king of the road. That means I’ve made a dreadful mistake if I gave y’all the idea I have any wisdom to dispense. I’m just a country writer, folks, living on the remainder of a farm that’s been in the family for five generations. I’m writing about the South these days partly because I live here, though, with the current political environment, I hesitate to say I’m from the South because people in the social media and on some news programs are accusing those of us living here of starting the Civil War.

That’s absurd, of course, because none of us were here at the time. We’re called a lot of things because the country seems to enjoy making fun of the South, saying we’re all half ignorant and probably bumpkins even though some of the country’s best literature came from our part of the country.

Yes, we like grits and we consider sushi to be only good for baiting one’s hook on a fishing trip. So what?

I’ve been in almost every state in the union, went to college in New York, and lived and worked in the Chicago area. Nothing I’ve experienced or witnessed gives me any reason to think the South is better or worse than any other part of the country. It doesn’t take a guru to come to that conclusion. So, I’m okay with living here–except when the taunts against Southerners get started.

According to Wikipedia, “Wisdom, sapience, or sagacity is the ability to think and act using knowledge, experience, understanding, common sense and insight. Wisdom is associated with attributes such as unbiased judgment, compassion, experiential self-knowledge, self-transcendence and non-attachment, and virtues such as ethics and benevolence.” I don’t even know what that means, but I can tell you this, I ain’t got it.

If I need a dose of Wisdom, I get out my copy of the “I Ching” just like everyone else. The oracle always tells me what’s up and what’s going down.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of magical realism and contemporary fantasy novels and short stories, including “Conjure Woman’s Cat.”

 

 

Would you eat a rotten peanut?

In the old days when I was in Scouting, we often sang the song we called “Found a Peanut. Like “100 Bottles of Beer of the Wall” and “Can’t Get to Heaven,” it was repetitive, easy to remember, and allowed for a little improvisation.

Found a peanut, found a peanut, found a peanut last night.
last night I found a peanut, found a peanut last night.
Cracked it open, cracked it open, cracked it open last night last night I cracked it open, cracked it open last night.
It was rotten, it was rotten, it was rotten last night,last night it was rotten, it was rotten last night .

We always wondered why anyone walking along would pick up a rotten peanut and eat it. And, since almost everyone knew the song, you’d think the song itself would serve as a warning since the person eating the bad peanut dies near the end of the song. It (the song) had been around since the 1940s, so everyone should have known better than to eat anything off the street.

Wikipedia graphic

I sold “parched peanuts” at college football games when I was in high school. We called them parched to distinguish them from boiled peanuts which were very popular in the south.

We’d go up and down the aisles shouting out what we had. I felt sorry for the people selling Cokes because they were heavy. The hotdogs were too much trouble. Peanuts were easy and if somebody wanted one who was 10 seats away from the aisle, he’d pass the money own the row, and then we’d toss the pack of peanuts back to him.

You could get people to laugh if you shouted out “Hey, I found a peanut.” That worked best if we were losing the game and the fans still left in the stadium wanted something to divert their attention from the field. We never ever shouted, “Get your goobers here.”

If you found a peanut on the sidewalk,

  • Would you pick it up?
  • Eat it, even if it was rotten?
  • Call 911?
  • Feed it to a friend?

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the comedy/satire novel “Special Investigative Reporter” from Thomas-Jacob Publishing.

 

Too poor to paint, too proud to whitwash

We don’t hear this much any more since most people see “whitewash” as a metaphor for covering stuff up, usually for unsavory reasons.

Actually, you can still buy whitewash, though those who need it often make their own.

To be flip about lack of money these days, one might say, “I’m too poor to pay attention.” Or, if you really mean you can’t paint your house, more people would understand “I’m as poor as a church mouse,” though that line has gotten a bit out of date because fewer and fewer people are going to church and those that do, don’t expect to see any mice there.

Organizations that are frugal often say they spend both sides of a penny. I’m not necessarily frugal, though I’ve spent a lot of years trying to spend both sides of a penny. I’m not sure what I’ll say when the government finally gets its way and stops making pennies.

I could start saying, I’m so broke I don’t have a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out of. That probably won’t scan too well since few people answer the call of nature that way anymore–which is just as well.

Perhaps it’s more modern to say my income has often been below the poverty line. Most people don’t know what the poverty line is (it’s $12,760 for a single person) other than it’s not enough for providing the better things of life. (A digression: when Obamacare first came along, my wife and I weren’t allowed to sign up because our income was below the poverty line. What a shock. I would have thought that that group would have been given first priority. )

My friends always thought I was probably raking in the big bucks because for most of my working life, I worked for computer companies. The trouble is, technical writers were always the first to go when the company needed to cut costs. After we were shown the door, the companies forced their programmers to write the documentation, and I think THAT is the main reason for the saying, “Nobody reads the documentation.”

My wife and I both grew up in families that had to spend both sides of a penny. My wife always told people that one reason people in the south eat a lot of biscuits and gravy is because a meal built around that is cheap and filling. My mother grew up in the midwest, so we didn’t have biscuits all that often; what we did have was meatloaf padded out with a lot of breadcrumbs or oatmeal. We had salmon croquettes so often that I can no longer tolerate them; my wife had them often, too, and still likes them. She won’t eat meatloaf and I won’t eat croquettes.

My parents were happy that I liked seafood, so living in Florida was a good thing. I also loved (and still do) hushpuppies. They taste great, are filling, and inexpensive to make. My parents would never eat mullet, a fish most Floridians considered a baitfish.  I loved it. Still do. I suppose in the old days, people might have said, “Too poor to eat pompano, too proud to eat mullet.”

I was blessed by the Gods who knew my financial future to love a lot of cheap food. Except salmon croquettes–or crab cakes either, for the same reason (we could catch all the crabs we wanted, but then we ruined them with breadcrumbs.)

I’m not whitewashing this because being broke isn’t as much fun as it sounds even though southerners have a lot of humorous ways of describing it—like, “I was so poor I couldn’t jump over a nickel to save a dime.”

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the satirical mystery novel “Special Investigative Reporter.”

 

 

Is today’s news giving us ‘truth actual’?

The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby is the title of Tom Wolfe’s first collected book of essays, published in 1965. The book is named for one of the stories in the collection that was originally published in Esquire magazine in 1963 under the title “There Goes (Varoom! Varoom!) That Kandy-Kolored (Thphhhhhh!) Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby (Rahghhh!) Around the Bend (Brummmmmmmmmmmmmmm)…” Wolfe’s essay for Esquire and this, his first book, are frequently heralded as early examples of New Journalism. – Wikipedia

Those of us steeped in traditional journalism looked askance at the so-called “new journalism” of the 1960s. It was perpetrated (or lovingly brought into the world–depending on your feelings about it) by Tom Wolfe, Gay Talese and others who–while they had newspaper reporting experience–wrote their new stuff primarily for magazines like “Esquire” and “Atlantic”?

As you might guess from the title “There Goes (Varoom! Varoom!) That Kandy-Kolored (Thphhhhhh!) Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby (Rahghhh!) Around the Bend (Brummmmmmmmmmmmmmm)…”, it focused on the immersion of the reporter into the subject matter and often used techniques common to fiction when they wrote their stories.

Truth Actual

Fiction writers, especially those of us who write and/or like stream of consciousness, magical realism, fairy tales, myth-based fiction, and other forms that are often called “literary fiction,” often call the result of our stories “truth actual” instead of “truth literal.”

This view comes from the theory that the knowledge, feelings, impressions, and intuition within the reader’s mind after reading a “truth actual” novel will be more accurate than what results from reading straight realism. We might say that we’re speaking here of “more important” truths than “how to fix your dishwasher” or “how do I get from Yellow Knife to Key West.”

At any rate, the new journalism reporters thought that’s what they were doing and, I think, when they wrote longer, quasi-commentary, creative nonfiction magazine pieces, they succeeded. The technique works less well for front-page news.

Opinion Journalism

New journalism, however, seems to have spawned a black sheep. Some call it fake news. Basically, it’s the warping of a story to fit ones personal opinion and/or the political agenda of the publication. I don’t think this kind of “reporting” provides us with any real truth at all, and I see it practiced with equal fervor on Fox News, CNN, and The New York Times. In the old days, we would say this approach was pure arrogance, the notion being that the facts of the world don’t revolve like planets around the sun of your opinion about them.

This is new journalism gone too far and the flip side of what all of us were taught in journalism school and on our first jobs in the field.

–Malcolm

 

 

From one culture shock to another

In Real Life

As you can see, some of our grass is more ancient pasture than yard.

In real life, I’m staying inside a lot, wearing a mask when I go shopping, taking a car with 81,000 miles on it to the shop, and constantly mowing our four acres of grass. Yesterday’s mowing, at 95 degrees and sunny, featured cows staring at me from the pasture on the other side of the barbed wire fence, unconcerned about the noise of the riding mower but startled and watchful the minute I sneezed. All of this seems far away from the protests and the pandemic.

Re-reading old books

I read fast. Always out of books. So, trying to cut down on my book-buying habit by re-reading old books.  I just finished re-reading John Hart’s gritty The Last Child and The Hush set in a small town in a rural county where bad things happen. Now I’m re-reading Lisa See’s China Dolls, set in San Francisco’s Chinatown. It features three young women who become friends while seeking dancing/singing careers. These books contrast greatly with Dark Arrows, my novel in progress, which is set in the KKK-infested Florida Panhandle where I grew up. I have to re-boot my brain when I switch genres–or watch the news.

Pandemic and Protests

Wikipedia Photos

As far as I know, I haven’t gotten Covid-19. Nor have I seen protests, looting, attacks against the police, and burning stores on nearby streets. This is, of course, real-life, but as it unfolds on social media and on the news, I feel culture shock again as though I’m looking back to the anti-war protests and race riots of the 1960s. The entire country seems to be torn apart by the multiple issues which we’re confronted with daily. Meanwhile, the Presidential campaign has heated up and we’re all trying to figure out what’s true and what’s an empty (or impossible) promise.

I’ve lived in Chicago, Atlanta, and San Francisco: thank goodness I don’t live in those cities now, much less in Minneapolis (where I once wanted to live) or Portland (where one of my brothers lives). Or St. Louis, Seattle, or NYC. The riot in Atlanta where the Wendys burnt down occurred in an area my wife and I drove through frequently when we worked there and were involved in a non-profit organization that met a few blocks away.

I don’t know where all of this is going to end up, but the polarization and lack of tolerance bother me a lot. So, I continue to read, write, and cut the grass, and when I see images of big cities on fire, I remember a 1960s riot several blocks away from my San Francisco apartment on Dolores Street in the Mission District, and I feel sad for those who are pulled into the horror of protests gone bad. Seeing it all again is the worst of culture shocks.

–Malcolm

 

8 Signs That You Are Highly Sensitive to Energy

Every day, more and more people realize that they fall in the category of people with empathy (compassion), highly sensitive to energy and emotions of the environment.

Empathetic person is a person who has the ability to grasp the mental and emotional states of others. These people have a high social intelligence and are very good at helping others to solve their problems.

Source: You See What Others Can’t: 8 Signs That You Are Highly Sensitive to Energy – Dreamcatcher Reality

This post is a nice, quick-read overview for those who (variously) are empaths, psychics, or generally highly intuitive.  This blog, in general, does a good job of staying away from the questionable “new age” claims and posts material that I find helpful–or at least very interesting.

Perhaps you will, too.

–Malcolm

Why don’t more people know what stuff is?

Yesterday, I mentioned those Facebook memes in which an old appliance is displayed and people are asked if they know what it is. Dial telephones, can openers, cassette tapes, paper cutters, all kinds of office, kitchen, and workshop stuff. I’m amazed at the number of people who don’t know what it is.

Do you know what this is?

Most of the stuff shown was common as “recently” as 20 years ago. Some things are actually still around. If people aren’t using those things now, they would have seen them in their parents’ houses while growing up. Or in old movies and clips from old TV shows. Maybe I show my age when I say this, but anyone who’s watched a western movie or TV show will even know what a lot of objects are that were common in homesteads and ranches a hundred years ago. (Shows like “Little House on the Prairie” and “Medicine Woman” are, for example still running in syndication, showing us the tools and appliances from a hundred years ago.)

How about this?

Perhaps those Facebook memes are phony and everyone and their brother knows what the stuff is. Perhaps so much new stuff is coming on the market, it’s harder to remember what was around 20 years ago. Perhaps fewer people watch old movies and old TV shows these days and don’t see the objects in those memes in use. Maybe the people who watch documentaries on the History channel (where there’s a lot of old stuff) aren’t on Facebook and never see the memes.

Or, do fewer and fewer people care about the past–and all the stuff in it–because today’s issues are occupying all of our attention? The impression I’m getting is that fewer people these days are aware of recent history, much less old office, and kitchen appliances.  What do you think?

Have we lost our love affair with times gone by and all the stuff people used in those days?

Curiously,

Malcolm

 

 

 

Awash in dangerous nostalgia

When an author’s novels are set in the world of his childhood, the nostalgia of those old days might come out of the woodwork and turn his writing into melodrama. That’s the last thing I want.

St.-John Perse

One of my favorite poets, St.-John Perse, wrote in “To Celebrate a Childhood,” (which most of today’s critics would consider overly dramatic), “Other than childhood, what is there in those days that is not here today?”

Wikipedia Graphic

Depending on how you see the question, the answer can be either “everything” or “very little.” I have this paradoxical view of my own childhood in the Florida Panhandle. Every once in a while, somebody posts a photograph of an old appliance on Facebook and asks “who knows what this is?” My generation knows; younger people seldom know.

Pork Chop Gang

The same is true with the news that was common during my childhood years: themes and practices, and people that I often reference in my books such as “Wop Salad” and Florida’s notorious “Pork Chop Gang.” (I feel no nostalgia for these two things, by the way.)

My nostalgia arises when I think of Boy Scout camping trips, all the hours spent sailing, scuba diving, and water skiing down at the coast, delivering telegrams and newspapers, and exploring the panhandle’s backroads–many not paved–in my old car. And, too, I recall old friends, many of whom taught me how to love the panhandle–something I thought I would never do. (As a California native, I was always considered an outsider.)

KKK

If I learned anything scary in those days (except during the Cuban missile crisis), it was to fear the KKK because they were everywhere, and I wonder now–as I did then–how many family friends and acquaintances were members.  I’m surprised we never had a cross burnt in our front yard because my folks were liberal, we went to a liberal church, and people we knew well had experienced the wrath of the Klan. (No nostalgia here, by the way.)

My novel Mountain Song and my trilogy of novels in the Florida Folk Magic series have scenes set in the Florida Panhandle. Since these novels overlap the world of my childhood, I worked hard to keep the melodrama out of them. It’s often a fight because memories ofter bring back times when one was hurt or frightened or disrespected.

Keeping melodramatic personal memories out of the stories is part of an author’s work. That’s not always easy to do because, as I think of them, I’m as pissed off now as I was then. (The Campbell motto is “Forget Not.”) But I think we have to draw a line between our personal histories and our stories when we write novels. If we don’t, the novels can easily turn into rants rather than compelling fiction.

If you write, and if you set your stories and novels into the past you experienced, do you have trouble keeping your personal feelings out of it?

Malcolm