Friday, September 30, 2011

Pen, sieve




              And so it is written:

May the last word be the one / we come / to understand.


Thursday, September 29, 2011

What we bring


I saw the beggar again today. He was in the same place. His hair had been cut, and it seemed he’d aged about fifteen years. This time, he wasn’t strong enough to enter the roadway and converse with people as they waited for the light to change. And so he waited and watched and no one gave him any money.

The rest of the way home, I thought about how much he and I are alike. My begging merely takes a different form. But what I offer is no better or more worthy than what he brings to that street corner each day: namely, his experience, understanding, knowledge, life, and presence. I put mine in books and beg for money. He puts his on his sign and does the best he can in this grotesque society we have made.


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Canvas 284


This drawing was made after a dream, which left me with far more feelings than words. Click on it for a larger view.




Not counting dream-time, which began at my birth or likely long before, it took me less than five minutes to complete. I was present part of that time, and quite interested in what my hand was doing, not wholly certain it belonged to me. Now you’re here, and we’re dreaming together. I like that.


Monday, September 26, 2011

Crossing


A new gray pickup was parked beside the road in front of my childhood home, just past our Canary Island pine. Out of it, one by one, their feet in shoes on the ground, came several dead relatives on my father’s side — old uncles and cousins different now and restored to health, restored from suicide, cancer, and loss.




Lord, I said from a plateau of unbelieving, it’s good to see them again.

And who is this extra brother, friendly and familiar as all the rest?

The wind blew off my hat. I caught it mid-gust and put it on again.

I’d crossed the road to get the mail. Our mailbox had been chopped down, so I walked on to a neighbor’s house that wasn’t there in the past, and found the mail waiting for me on a table outside. When I turned around, the relatives were walking toward me.

Joyful greetings all around — but no touching, no handshakes or hugs or rugged back rubs.

We all knew, something.

Crossing again — whatever was there is gone.


Image: My Father’s Side, September 13, 2009, #2 Pencil on Index Card.



Sunday, September 25, 2011

Naming The Unnamable


I’d like to step aside today and direct you to a beautiful review that is, like all of this poet’s writings, perceptive, instructive, and wise. It contains passages like these, which are all the more powerful in context:

... A profound vision of the inner life ... Some of the most resonant accounts of dreams in recent literature ... Some of the funniest, most acerbic rants about American society and values in recent literature ... essentially a meditation on loneliness, it is profoundly American ... compellingly human: we never doubt that narrator is telling us the truth. In a society awash every day in public lies, it’s refreshing to realize that honest expression is still possible ...

I’m pleased to say that these words, written by Joseph Hutchison, are about my recently published novel, A Listening Thing. His review is proof of something I’ve been saying right along: What a reader brings, gives a book wings. And it proves something else, I think: that a friend can write about his friend’s novel, and remain true to his calling, and to himself. That is no small thing.

Thank you, Joe.



Saturday, September 24, 2011

Anything Helps


I also want to mention a man I saw begging at a stoplight. This, of course, is a common sight, but everything about him was uncommon, and in a very good, inspiring way. If Jimi Hendrix were still alive, he might well look like this — graceful in movement, deeply intelligent, wise in his weathered face and eyes, dusty in countenance, his presence that of an angel, his pain too great and too beautiful to hide.

This particular light is situated atop a gentle slope at a convenient bend, where the road turning left is two lanes wide. In our town, most beggars at intersections stand numbly while holding their cardboard signs, which, if I might paraphrase, say, “Homeless, anything helps, God bless.”

When I arrived, the light was red, and there were already several cars ahead of me in both lanes. This light takes awhile to change, and the beggar was making use of the time. He was engaged in a friendly chat with one passenger, who handed him some money. After thanking him respectfully, he glanced at the other cars, and, making eye contact with someone else, motioned for them to lower the window, which that person did. After another brief chat, the beggar achieved the same positive result. All the while, he held his head high. He was also amused by himself, as if he were pleasantly in awe of the life and circumstances that had brought him here.

Still standing in the roadway, wise and humble and proud, the beggar was about to try again when the light changed. Sign to his chest, he turned around and took his place on the sidewalk. It was the first time I’d seen him. I might never see him again. But seeing him was a blessing.


Friday, September 23, 2011

Shower Notes


In the shower this morning, while soaped to the gills and enjoying the steam, I remembered out of the blue how our first grandson, who is nearly four years old now, went through a phase early on when he distrusted everyone except his sweet mama and my wife and me — and, because of my appearance, almost every long-haired, shaggy-bearded, disheveled person he saw in public. I’ve always been proud of that.

I also remembered a dream I had back around 1989 or so, in which a friend of mine, who was in his upper-twenties at the time, was an old, homeless, derelict man on a sidewalk downtown. He didn’t recognize me. Ever since, with no logic to support it, I have expected someday to find him that way.

I did in fact see him at the post office recently after a twenty-year interval. And by “him” I mean someone who looked very much like him, to the point that it could have been him, that it must have been him, and yet despite that I just couldn’t be sure. He wasn’t homeless, and yet there was already much of my dream in him. He was several people ahead of me in line. When he finished his business and left the building, I noticed that he also walked like my friend. I’m still wondering.


Monday, September 19, 2011

To say so, and live so, and be so


After posting an excerpt from each chapter of A Listening Thing, I wonder if I can, or even should pick up where I left off, with drawings and poems and sticks and stones and memories and dreams that go bump in the night. Part of me — a big part, bigger than you might imagine — would be quite content to spend the rest of my days in total seclusion, doing nothing but reading and writing. It’s the part that grew up on the farm and worked there in the sublime quiet for hours, weeks, and months at a time, listening to nature, listening to myself, listening to my feet on the ground, listening to sorrow and listening to bones, listening to the triumph and failure of the family of man, which is exactly the same as my own.

And here I laugh. Is it really as serious as that? Or is this just one more round of exhaustion and melancholy? Stephen would know. Stephen Monroe. And he would try his best, in the simplest of words, to say so. He would say what I feel: that we are both sailing into the unknown.

“You make plain words sing.” That is what someone told me the other day.

The fact is, I have friends in this world who understand this connection we’ve built on sunlight and air, and who are aware of its strength and fragility. They have accepted
A Listening Thing as tangible evidence of what will surely outlive us all: love and its power to heal. I am tremendously grateful to each and every one.

At the same time, in this world of preposterous wants and ludicrous needs, I understand that we cannot be everything to everyone. We can, though, let down our guard and learn to close the distance between us.

Another part of me hungers for conversation.

Another part thrives on your attention.

Another part cares to the point of depression.

Still another part remembers things I did when I was five or ten years old, and how they made me feel like a dew-drenched orange tree waking to the sun.

To say so, and be so, and live so, creates its own urgent demands. I sensed it then:
my life is not my own. And now I’m as much a witness as anyone else.

For now, though, not knowing what tomorrow or even what this day will bring, I send thanks to each and every one of you who have welcomed this book into your life.

To everyone else, one final note: The price will go up soon. If you’ve enjoyed the excerpts, if you’re tempted at all, and if you have the money to spare, I ask that you order a book for yourself or a friend. Upon reading it, perhaps you will feel as other readers did when they said:



“I can’t recommend this book enough.
So unflinchingly honest and human.”


“I can’t think of a book in recent years that connected with me so.
It speaks to all of us.”


“A wonderful book full of heart and common sense.
A must read for anyone.”


“A deep journey into the heart/mind of loneliness and hope
told in the clearest voice of true vision.”


“Tender, deeply honest, authentic.”


“Thank you for the gift of your words.”


“I’m left feeling less alone. Thank you.”


“Even in novel form, you write like a poet.”


“What a fabulous read, devoured it in a few days....
it engulfed and consumed me.”


“The book is wise and sad and joyful like its creator.”



To which I will add, wise and sad and joyful like Stephen Monroe.



Sunday, September 18, 2011

Observation


The bed was neatly made. Since Dad’s death, the bed has seemed larger each time I’ve seen it. His side is empty and undisturbed, like a fallow patch of ground. This sight alone seemed almost enough to explain my mother’s behavior.

[From Chapter 24, A Listening Thing]


Note: Through September 22, Cosmopsis Books is offering my novel,
A Listening Thing, at the special price of $14.00, plus shipping.

The first printing is limited to 150 numbered copies.

To order this tenth anniversary print edition
from anywhere in the world, click here.

Thank you.


the last chapter



Saturday, September 17, 2011

Secret


Mary let go of the sheet. I pulled it up to my waist. She sat on the bed. With the tip of her finger, she made a squiggly design on my chest. Touching my ear with her lips, she whispered, “I have something to tell you.”

[From Chapter 23, A Listening Thing]


Note: Through September 22, Cosmopsis Books is offering my novel,
A Listening Thing, at the special price of $14.00, plus shipping.

The first printing is limited to 150 numbered copies.

To order this tenth anniversary print edition
from anywhere in the world, click here.

Thank you.


Thursday, September 15, 2011

Love


I don’t understand it.

I don’t understand anything.

I never will.

Love isn’t what anyone thinks it is.

It isn’t what anyone wants it to be.

It isn’t anything at all.

It’s everything.

Nothing can exist outside it.

Nothing can survive without it.

And pity the fool who denies it.

[From Chapter 22, A Listening Thing]


Note: Through September 22, Cosmopsis Books is offering my novel,
A Listening Thing, at the special price of $14.00, plus shipping.

The first printing is limited to 150 numbered copies.

To order this tenth anniversary print edition
from anywhere in the world, click here.

Thank you.


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Advice


Stephen,” she said. “Let it go. Just let it go.” She looked tired. At the same time, she was incredibly beautiful. Not beautiful in terms of Hollywood, or advertising, or the current cosmetic fad. Beautiful from the inside. Beautiful from wit and intelligence. Beautiful from compassion. Beautiful from having endured.

How can I?” I said. “How? Tell me.”

[From Chapter 21, A Listening Thing]


Note: Through September 22, Cosmopsis Books is offering my novel,
A Listening Thing, at the special price of $14.00, plus shipping.

The first printing is limited to 150 numbered copies.

To order this tenth anniversary print edition
from anywhere in the world, click here.

Thank you.


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Predicament


Mary looked at me. In a low voice touched with sadness and irony, she said, “It looks like we’ll be sleeping together tonight.”

[From Chapter 20, A Listening Thing]


Note: Through September 22, Cosmopsis Books is offering my novel,
A Listening Thing, at the special price of $14.00, plus shipping.

The first printing is limited to 150 numbered copies.

To order this tenth anniversary print edition
from anywhere in the world, click here.

Thank you.


Monday, September 12, 2011

Discovery


She tasted like peppermint.

[From Chapter 19, A Listening Thing]


Note: There is something I want you to know, and that something is this: I would die for this book. Foolish? Perhaps. But for me, not as foolish as leaving the truth unsaid, or pretending to be blind or deaf. And what good would its message be if I did not feel this way? What good are any words said with lips, but not with heart? This is a gift.
Be brave. Be wise. Be kind. Accept.

Through September 22, Cosmopsis Books is offering my novel, A Listening Thing,
at the special price of $14.00, plus shipping.

The first printing is limited to 150 numbered copies.

To order this tenth anniversary print edition
from anywhere in the world, click here.

Thank you.


And my thanks to Russ Loar for his beautiful poem, “The Finger Speaks.”


Saturday, September 10, 2011

Wisdom


In the land of many crows, the man with one eye is king.”

[From Chapter 18, A Listening Thing]


Note: Through September 22, Cosmopsis Books is offering my novel,
A Listening Thing, at the special price of $14.00, plus shipping.

The first printing is limited to 150 numbered copies.

To order this tenth anniversary print edition
from anywhere in the world, click here.

Thank you!


Friday, September 9, 2011

Portent


I heard a sound, turned, and saw my father approaching through the mist. He was smiling, as usual. “Your mother told me to come and get you,” he said, “so here I am. Are you ready?” I told him yes, that I was ready, and that I had always been ready. He said, “Good.” He reached out and I took his hand, and we walked along in silence. Without effort, we covered a great distance, and I soon found myself outside our home in Norris. Pointing to a light that was still on in the kitchen window, my father said, “Your mother will be so glad to see you. She’s been waiting a long time.” Then he looked at me and said, “I have, too.” We walked up to the window and looked in. My mother was sitting at the table, looking at one of her old picture albums. My father opened the front door and we went inside. The kitchen wasn’t where it used to be. There were several doors, all of which had to be opened and closed without making a sound. Behind each door was a room I didn’t remember, and in each room there were people waiting. The people had familiar faces, but there was something in each that made them unrecognizable. Everyone looked concerned. No one said a word. Finally, after one last room and one last door, we entered the kitchen. Looking very tired and very old, my mother smiled up at me. She said, “Oh, Stephen, you’re here,” as if she’d been granted her dying wish. My father left me and stood by her side. “He was asleep,” he said. “That’s what took me so long.” My mother nodded. “How is Mary?” she said. “Where is she? Is she still outside?” When I told my mother that Mary and I were divorced, she said I was mistaken. My father said, “Shall I bring her, too?” My mother said, “Yes, of course. We aren’t a family unless Mary is here.” My father walked across the room and opened the door. “Mary!” he called. “Mary! Mary! Mary!” I jumped up. The room was dark. I was alone.

[From Chapter 17, A Listening Thing]


Note: Through September 22, Cosmopsis Books is offering my novel,
A Listening Thing, at the special price of $14.00, plus shipping.

The first printing is limited to 150 numbered copies.

To order this tenth anniversary print edition
from anywhere in the world, click here.

Thank you!


Thursday, September 8, 2011

Leo


I spent the rest of the evening trying to figure out exactly who Uncle Leo is, where he comes from, and who his relatives are. Perhaps he is a father sorely neglected by his self-centered, materialistic children, who think he is nuts for living in a stone house in the middle of nowhere, and are embarrassed to be seen with him because he has such a big mustache. The dopes. They don’t know how lucky they are. They should be proud to have such a father, not ashamed. On the other hand, it’s possible Uncle Leo has no children at all, was never married, and has lived alone in his stone house ever since his parents died, leaving him with a big, beautiful, aching heart and a small inheritance of crockery and dented muffin pans. But there is no way of knowing for sure, because the little story I wrote doesn’t say.

How does
anyone end up alone? That’s the question. We invent new ways every day, I suppose, but the result is always the same. The result is a life full of question marks, which gather by the door like autumn leaves, whispering softly and mourning the passing season. There is no new way to be alone, only an inexhaustible supply of new people to be alone — their anxious faces gazing out in pain and wonder at the streets and fields, far removed from life, or afraid of it, which of course amounts to the same thing.

[From Chapter 16, A Listening Thing]


Note: Through September 22, Cosmopsis Books is offering my novel,
A Listening Thing, at the special price of $14.00, plus shipping.

The first printing is limited to 150 numbered copies.

To order this tenth anniversary print edition
from anywhere in the world, click here.



Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Poverty


For a minute or so, we concentrated on our soup. When it dawned on me that it would probably be my last meal for a good day or day and a half, I was unable to suppress a wry chuckle.

[From Chapter 15, A Listening Thing]


Note: Through September 22, Cosmopsis Books is offering my novel,
A Listening Thing, at the special price of $14.00, plus shipping.

The first printing is limited to 150 numbered copies.

To order this tenth anniversary print edition
from anywhere in the world, click here.

Thank you!


Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Affair


It was a dark and stormy night. I said, “My love, let us linger awhile longer. Life is too short for worries of the morrow.”

She said, “Okay, but we’re out of champagne, and I could use some crackers.”

Crackers?” I said. “We’ll send out for crackers.”

And the champagne?” she said.

I looked deep into her saucy brown eyes. “That does pose a problem,” I said. “But maybe we don’t need the champagne, if you know what I mean.”

She did know. At least I thought she did. She ran her fingertips lightly over my face. “I think there’s some beer in the refrigerator,” she said.

[From Chapter 14, A Listening Thing]


Note: Through September 22, Cosmopsis Books is offering my novel,
A Listening Thing, at the special price of $14.00, plus shipping.

The first printing is limited to 150 numbered copies.

To order this tenth anniversary print edition
from anywhere in the world, click here.

Thank you!


Monday, September 5, 2011

Loneliness


I turned on the radio. I turned it off. I hummed “America the Beautiful.” I wrote a letter to my congressman, mailed it, and waited for his office to blow sky-high. When it didn’t, I sued the Secretary of State, the Secretary of the Treasury, the Secretary of the Interior, and the secretary who answers the phone. I weaved in and out of traffic, honking my horn and making obscene gestures. I helped an old lady across the street. I saw a cave man on a horse, reading Huckleberry Finn. I attended a secret meeting of a dangerous underground organization. I ate the microfilm and had plastic surgery. I fled before the coming ice age. I wrote, performed in, and attended a play on Broadway. I took the elevator. I had a picnic with a group of Zen Buddhists who claimed to be chickens. I changed my name to Beethoven, lost my hearing, and composed a new symphony, all while waiting for a light. But none of it worked. I still wanted Mary, and missed her.

[From Chapter 13, A Listening Thing]


Note: Through September 22, Cosmopsis Books is offering my novel,
A Listening Thing, at the special price of $14.00, plus shipping.

The first printing is limited to 150 numbered copies.

To order this tenth anniversary print edition
from anywhere in the world, click here.

Thank you!



Sunday, September 4, 2011

Insight


In a rare flash of insight, I decided not to question the matter any further. I think I knew instinctively that, if given the chance, my brain would ridicule and dismantle what I had done. The fact is, it has tried dozens of times since — but each time I have resisted.

[From Chapter 12, A Listening Thing]


Note: Through September 22, Cosmopsis Books is offering my novel,
A Listening Thing, at the special price of $14.00, plus shipping.

The first printing is limited to 150 numbered copies.

To order this tenth anniversary print edition
from anywhere in the world, click here.


Another Note: This excerpt from Chapter 12 brings us midway through book. Its publication here two weeks after the novel’s release coincides with an enticing, encouraging detail: roughly half of the first printing has now been sold. Books are currently winging their way to destinations all over the country and points beyond, including Armenia, Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, England, Germany, Greece, Holland, Italy, Scotland, and Switzerland. Many have already arrived. And so I thank each and every one of you who have ordered copies.

As you know, this is a grassroots effort. In that light, I also want to thank everyone who has read, commented on, and shared these excerpts and store links, here or wherever you’ve found them, be it Facebook, Goodreads, my website, or elsewhere. Your help makes all the difference.

As Paul L. Martin said in an email the other day,

Just take a deep breath and realize the book no longer belongs to you. It is the child who has turned 18 and moved out. You’ll always love and worry about him, but there is really nothing you can do. It is up to him to find his way, as we all must do in this world. Your Stephen has good parenting and strong genes; he survived financial collapse and implosion. In short, he has been dead before, and look: he lives on. Have faith.

Indeed, that has been the beauty of this journey all along. It remains so. And yet I know I won’t rest until the first printing is all safely in readers’ hands. I owe that, and far more, to Stephen Monroe. All else I owe to my friends, my family, and you.


Saturday, September 3, 2011

Stephen Monroe through someone else’s eyes


For as long as I’ve been writing, I’ve felt awkward promoting my own “work.” And yes, even that word, work, gives me trouble, for its very use implies an importance which might or might not exist. Quite simply, while I try my best and believe with all my heart in what I do, I feel its value in the world isn’t for me to decide.

With this in mind, it gives me great pleasure to direct you to some beautifully kind, insightful thoughts about the new release of my novel, A Listening Thing. In them, Paul L. Martin refers far too modestly to his own role in this tenth anniversary edition. Paul, who knows more than I ever will about literature, is a man of grace whose friendship has been, and still remains, a guiding, assuring force. This is evident not only in his review, but in the extensive interview with me that he was so gracious to conduct, and which is included in the book.

This, too, is part of the story that is A Listening Thing. For it, I will be grateful to the end of my days.


Note: Through September 22, Cosmopsis Books is offering my novel,
A Listening Thing, at the special price of $14.00, plus shipping.

The first printing is limited to 150 numbered copies.

To order this tenth anniversary print edition
from anywhere in the world, click here.


Friday, September 2, 2011

Hunger


I finished my lunch and washed my hands. It has to do with hunger, I think. Not just physical hunger, but the hunger that drives us to great things or to ruin. It has to do with who we are at the moment, and whatever happens to be bugging us. It is a combination of things that never stays the same. The quality of everything we do depends on our mood, our state of mind, and what we want. Ability is one thing. Intention and spirit is another. It’s no wonder, then, that food so enjoyable one day can be a nuisance the next. That life, so enjoyable one moment, can be so painful the next. And that isn’t the half of it. The rest, which I don’t understand either, is just as rewarding and confusing.

[From Chapter 11, A Listening Thing]


Note: Through September 22, Cosmopsis Books is offering my novel,
A Listening Thing, at the special price of $14.00, plus shipping.
 
The first printing is limited to 150 numbered copies.

To order this tenth anniversary print edition
from anywhere in the world, click here.
 
Thank you!



Thursday, September 1, 2011

Quitting


For the ten thousandth time, I realized that there was simply too much at stake to let things go any further. Like a man regaining consciousness after a fight, I wanted to climb back into the ring. Losing is one thing, but the world despises a quitter. Losing is a temporary condition. Quitting is final. Quitting is worse than final. The person who quits denies the possibility of redemption and self-respect. He denies life. Already conscious of my own steadily lowering self-expectations, and having been witness to a friend’s disappointment in life and in himself, a voice inside me said, “All right, pal, enough is enough. We’ve got work to do.” Despite not knowing what that work was, answering the call made more sense than wallowing in self-pity — which, besides being useless, is about as glamorous and original as picking one’s nose.

[From Chapter 10, A Listening Thing]


Note: Through September 22, Cosmopsis Books is offering my novel,
A Listening Thing, at the special price of $14.00, plus shipping.

The first printing is limited to 150 numbered copies.

To order this tenth anniversary print edition
from anywhere in the world, click here.


Another Note: A Listening Thing does indeed ship internationally. That I know of, copies have either landed in or are winging their way to England, Scotland, Canada, Australia, Armenia, Italy, and Austria. One such is Copy #48, which arrived yesterday in Denmark. My thanks to Bent Sørensen for giving it such a fine welcome. And a warm thank you to everyone else who has ordered!


A Third Note: I’d also like to thank Facebook friend and fellow blogger Brent Allard for his kind words about the novel posted on Goodreads, from which I proudly quote:

“A wonderful book full of heart and common sense.... These are real relationships and real concerns. Even the minor characters sing to us as they do to Stephen. The truck drivers, panhandlers, gas station attendants, and print shop owners all trying to exist as best they can, while the specter of limited funds pushes them on.... A must read for anyone.”